- Written by Gordon Prentice
The latest tranche of Freedom of Information files from EcoJustice exposes the internal wiring of Government as never before.
Astonishing as it may seem, as late as 15 November 2022, senior officials in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing were completely unaware that parts of the Bathurst lands in King, owned by the developer Michael Rice, were to be gifted to Southlake for a new acute hospital. (Photo: Ford blusters in Legislature this morning)
A package of materials relating to the proposed development of the Bathurst lands was given to Ryan Amato by Michael Rice on 27 or 28 September 2022. It made no mention of the hospital. Why not? Was Rice planning to gift land to Southlake elsewhere? If so, where was this other site?
Tomorrow (1 November 2023) is the first anniversary of the meeting at King Municipal Centre when developer Michael Rice offered land to Southlake Chief Executive Arden Krystal for a new hospital in the protected countryside of the Greenbelt in King at Bathurst.
King’s Mayor Steve Pellegrini - who cannot be relied upon to tell the truth - says he has been searching for a suitable site for a new Southlake for years.
“ I have been moving this idea forward since 2019—on different lands, with different landowners.”
Two simple questions. Where are these different lands? Who are these different landowners? I am hoping to get the answers from the Township Clerk, Denny Timm, by 6 November 2023.
Knock on the door
The Toronto Star tells us the RCMP are now starting to interview people in connection with their criminal investigation into the Greenbelt Scandal.
Those involved in this drama should tell us what they know now rather than wait for the inevitable knock on the door.
Click "read more" for email exchanges between senior officials concerning the second Southlake in King, released yesterday by Environmental Defence and EcoJustice. Access the EcoJustice FoI material here.
Update on 31 October 2023: From Newmarket Today "Released documents reveal more secrets on Greenbelt boundary scandal"
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The release of hundreds of Government documents earlier today following Freedom of Information requests by the environmental group EcoJustice sheds new light on the chaotic way in which lands were selected for removal from the Greenbelt.
The report of the Integrity Commissioner revealed that on 27 September 2022 the developer Michael Rice handed over to Ryan Amato, the former Chief of Staff to former Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, a bundle of documents calling for the removal of the Bathurst lands in King from the protected countryside in the Greenbelt.
We now have these documents.
Rationale for removal of lands from the Greenbelt
The material includes a map showing the lands Rice wanted to see removed from the Greenbelt, the rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming that consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of the various servicing options for the site.
The documents from Michael Rice make no mention of the Bathurst lands accommodating a second Southlake.
I admit this leaves me baffled.
Rice could, of course, have offered other lands that he owns in the vicinity as a site for a second Southlake but all the evidence to date points to the Bathurst lands being the preferred location.
Instead of a second Southlake Rice makes the case for:
"a range and mix of housing options including additional residential units and affordable/attainable housing".
The servicing arrangements make no provision for a major hospital.
Elsewhere... I wrote to the Integrity Commissioner on 1 October 2023 asking if he could establish if Ryan Amato knew that Rice was proposing a hospital on the Bathurst lands. (See below and scroll to email)
More to follow.
(click “read more” below for documents).
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Southlake has no records of the consequential meeting on 1 November 2022 – other than an undated invitation – in which developer Michael Rice offered land for a new hospital in protected countryside in the Greenbelt in King for a nominal fee, reportedly $5.
This has always perplexed me.
I now know why.
It was an initial conversation. No more no less.
Southlake's Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, says she was not particularly invested in the Bathurst site. It was just one of a number of possibilities.
In material released to me last week following my appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner she explains:
“At an initial meeting such as this, we listen to ideas, but do not conduct any form of negotiations or even get into specifics. As such, it isn’t customary to take notes - it is essentially just a conversation.
If opportunities appear to have some merit, we would then begin more intentional or formal meetings in such cases, where minutes or notes could or would be taken.
However, because we were about to embark on a formal land acquisition process, we opted to consider this opportunity along with the other potential lands available, which resulted in fair evaluations of all lands in question.”
Arden Krystal says that neither she nor the Vice President of Capital, Facilities and Business Development, John Marshman, (who was also present at the 1 November 2022 meeting) had ever met Michael Rice before. She insists that she and John Marshman
“shared any and all records, and do not have any further records to share pertaining to this meeting.”
Southlake and the Rice Group
We know the hospital had been in contact with the Rice Group at least ten months previously. In January 2022 Jordan Holt, the Rice Group’s manager of acquisitions and finance, asked for a meeting about the hospital’s expansion plans. In an email he told John Marshman that he would:
“prepare a preliminary overview of our company/land holdings that may be of interest to you.”
On 26 January 2022 John Marshman had a follow-up meeting with Holt.
In his report at paragraph 289, the Integrity Commissioner noted that Michael Rice had been in communication with hospital officials about other possible hospital sites – not just the Bathurst Greenbelt lands.
So, when Arden Krystal said the 1 November 2022 meeting was just an initial meeting and the conversation didn’t go into specifics it was against a backdrop of previous communications between Southlake and the Rice Group.
I am left wondering if, at any stage, either of them asked if the Bathurst lands – prime agricultural lands in the protected countryside of the Greenbelt – could be developed. It is inconceivable to me that this core issue was never addressed head-on.
This is one of the key questions at issue. According to King’s Official Plan (2019) and York Region’s Official Plan the Bathurst Greenbelt lands were out-of-bounds for development.
Despite this, key players believed the land was developable.
Four term Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, insists a new hospital can be built anywhere if the Province so decides. Following that logic, even in the middle of the Holland Marsh, Canada’s most productive farmland.
Stephen Naylor, the Director of Growth Management at King, who was responsible for King’s Official Plan, would not express a view. When I asked for his opinion as a professional planner he referred me to the Province.
Michael Rice, the developer, believed the Greenbelt’s protected countryside was going to be opened-up for development to some extent because of the shortage of land for new housing. He believed it was an open secret in the development community that things were going to change. He was just sharper and quicker off the mark than other developers. After meeting Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, at the BILD dinner on 14 September 2022 and again on 27 September 2022 he had worked out for himself that the Government was “looking at the Greenbelt”.
We have never been told if Arden Krystal or John Marshman took advice from professional planners on matters which might constrain development.
Bathurst ticked all the boxes
I do not know if Michael Rice shared with them on 1 November 2022 the material he gave to Amato on 27 September 2022. This bundle showed the area Rice would like to see removed from the Greenbelt, the rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming that consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of the various servicing options for the site. (Photo right: the Bathurst lands)
In any event, it seems the Bathurst lands ticked all the boxes for Arden Krystal who told Mayor Pellegrini on 7 November 2022 that she was “truly excited” about the awesome offer of Greenbelt land at Bathurst for a peppercorn.
Criteria for site selection
From August 2021, if not before, it was public knowledge that Southlake was looking for a second site. Arden Krystal said it should be within 5km – 10km of the existing site “and the closer the better”. She hoped some land could be gifted by benefactors.
Did she just assume that a new hospital could be located anywhere?
Last month, Southlake told Newmarket Today its search for a new site remains ongoing.
“While we have evaluated more than 25 properties against criteria such as size, proximity to the communities we serve, and transit accessibility, we have not yet secured a site and are continuing our efforts to find land to build a new Southlake...”
When did Southlake first learn that the gifted Bathurst lands were in a prime agricultural area in the Greenbelt's protected countryside? And what were the implications of this?
Did Arden Krystal or John Marshman take advice on whether this land could be developed?
If so, who did they ask?
Update on 30 October 2023: from the Toronto Star: RCMP to start interviews in Doug Ford's Greenbelt scandal this week, sources say and from EcoJustice: Ontario government political staff directed changes to municipal official plans to favour the interests of select landowners
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Freedom of Information requests can take a very long time to be answered. It takes stamina to stick with it and, even then, there is no guarantee you'll get anything.
Too often we are told there are "no records" when, in fact, there are.
I filed a Freedom of Information request almost nine months ago, on 2 February 2023, for records relating to King Township’s search for a site for a new hospital. I made it clear I was seeking
“all records relating to the process or mechanism in place to identify lands in King which might be suitable for a new Southlake hospital”.
On 2 March 2023 I was told:
“A search has been conducted and no responsive records were located.”
I appealed to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Mayor Pellegrini subsequently discovered relevant records.
On 5 October 2023 I was told by the Township that a third party had to be consulted (presumably the landowner) before the records could be released. A decision on whether or not to release the records will be made by 6 November 2023.
That is over a year since the meeting at King Municipal Centre on 1 November 2022 when the developer Michael Rice offered Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, land for a new Southlake in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt, essentially for free.
The Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, told Newmarket Today on 9 November 2022 that a second site for Southlake "had been in the works" for a couple of years.
On 2 February 2023, Pellegrini had the nerve to castigate Opposition Leader Marit Stiles for “disseminating false information” about King and the Greenbelt, urging her to check her facts first before commenting. This from the man who regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth, turning it into an art-form.
“The idea of a hospital in King is not a new one. I have been moving this idea forward since 2019—on different lands, with different landowners.”
Where are these different lands? Who are these different landowners?
Onion farmer and champion of agriculture, Councillor Avia Eek, had no idea the Bathurst lands in her Ward 6 were being discussed by Pellegrini as the site for a new Southlake.
Pellegrini told the Integrity Commissioner that other lands in the vicinity of Michael Rice’s Bathurst site had already been discussed as a possible hospital site.
On 15 October 2023 I wrote to Mayor Pellegrini, copied to all members of King Council and to senior staff, asking where these “other lands” were located and who was involved in the discussions concerning their suitability as a possible site for a second Southlake.
Mayor Pellegrini replied on 20 October 2023:
“I had a discussion years ago with a landowner that brought forward the idea of donating lands for a new hospital site.”
So the “other lands” and “other landowners” have now morphed into a discussion with a single landowner.
My hunch is that the "other landowner" is John Dunlap, the former member of Southlake Board who was the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst Greenbelt lands from Bob Schickedanz to Michael Rice. Dunlap owns land immediately to the South of Michael Rice's Bathurst lands.
We shall (perhaps) be told on 6 November 2023.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Government today confirmed it has no plans to allow the Provincial Parliament to debate and vote on the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation to reprimand former minister, Steve Clark, for his misconduct in the Greenbelt scandal.
I don’t know if this is unprecedented. Personally, I find it shocking.
The decision to ignore the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation and not to put it up for debate in the Legislature strips the Ford Government of all moral authority.
It's giving the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, a very public slap in the face.
Members' Integrity Act
Under the terms of the Members’ Integrity Act 1994, the Integrity Commissioner tells us the Legislative Assembly is required:
"to consider and respond to this report including my recommendation (to impose a reprimand) within 30 days after the day the report is laid before it”.
In his report, the Integrity Commissioner wrote:
“Minister Clark has publicly acknowledged that there were problems with the process used to remove lands from the Greenbelt but has not expressed any remorse for his own role in this affair.”
Restoring Public Trust
Doug Ford's consigliere, the slippery fast-talking Paul Calandra, wants to move on from the Greenbelt scandal just as fast as he can. As Opposition Leader Marit Stiles says, he wants to bury it.
Yet Calandra has the gall to talk about “restoring public trust”. How on earth is this possible when he won't allow a debate on his own motion?
The Government tabled a “notice of motion” accepting the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation on 26 September 2023. It had to come up for decision within 30 days. But while the motion was debateable Ford and Calandra wanted to muzzle the House. They wanted a simple yes or no vote to agree the recommendation and move on. The Opposition, to their credit, didn’t go along with that. They insisted on a debate but they are not going to get one. We have a stalemate.
As a result of Calandra’s duplicity, the Motion in his name will continue to appear on the Order and Notices Paper for the rest of the session - a daily reminder of how low this squalid Government has sunk.
The Integrity Commissioner is preparing a report on the role of Ryan Amato, Clark's Chief of Staff, and whether he contravened the Public Service of Ontario Act 2006.
Click "Read more" below to read the exchange between Opposition Leader, Marit Stiles, and Paul Calandra
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