- Written by Gordon Prentice
I see the Newmarket-Aurora Progressive Conservatives are organising a night of Oktoberfest fun at the Old Flame Brewery (140 Main Street South) from 7pm - 10pm on 10 October 2023.
Tickets are a snip at $200-$400 per person but, remember, there are no refunds!
The invitation tells us:
We will be joined by MP John Brassard, Barrie-Innisfil, MP Dan Muys, Flamborough-Glanbrook and other special guets. With Fine foods and refreshing beer this is not a night to miss!
Attendees who have purchased a VIP ticket will be invited to an intimate reception with our special guest MPs prior to the main event. Then the evening will really get Going with a Fireside Chat for an insiders look at the recent Conservative Convention in Quebec City. The energy was electric, and our CPC Caucus members will share with us what happened at the Convention, plus where our Party is headed!
Reserve your spot today and help turn Newmarket-Aurora blue in the next election!
After last week's U-turn on the Greenbelt, I suspect Progressive Conservatives need a little something to lift their spirits.
"FREE" BBQ and Corn Roast
And here's another date for your diary...
On Sunday 22 October 2023 from 2pm - 4pm Dawn will be hosting her second annual "FREE" BBQ and Corn Roast.
There is no entry fee and there will be plenty to eat. No-one will be turned away. Everyone is welcome.
Just like last year, Dawn will be billing the taxpayers for the $11,000+ cost.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
This rancid Ford Government is deeply corrupt.
The Greenbelt scandal has been dominating the front pages for months yet even after two important inquiries by the Auditor General of Ontario and the Integrity Commissioner we do not have the full unvarnished truth.
The developers Michael Rice and Silvio De Gasperis refused to meet the Auditor General whose report, though damning, is accordingly incomplete. The Integrity Commissioner interviewed both developers but not the complete cast of characters.
That is why a Public Inquiry is required.
Under the Public Inquiries Act 2009 it is the Lieutenant Governor on the recommendation of the Government of the day who establishes the Commission of Inquiry. (But see update below)
The conclusions of an independent Inquiry with powers of subpoena would be the kiss of death to the Ford Government.
So much continues to come out. This morning’s Toronto Star chronicles the latest instance of an Ontario developer (a client of the MZO Greenbelt consultant Mr X)
“apparently trying to resell a property after getting special zoning to fast-track building”.
The stench is suffocating. (Photo right: an earlier Ford apology)
If Ford were serious about atoning for his past sins he would tell Steve Clark to be completely frank with MPPs when accepting the Legislature’s reprimand – likely to be this coming week. Clark should make a fulsome statement and, if it is in order procedurally, take questions.
But that is not the end of the matter. There's too much we still don't know.
Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
Prime Agricultural Lands in the Protected Countryside
The Bathurst lands in King were purchased by the developer Michael Rice on 15 September 2022 for $80M. These are prime agricultural lands in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. The lands include a slice of the Oak Ridges Moraine which the Government decided in December 2022 to redesignate and open up for settlement.
At a meeting at King Municipal Centre on 1 November 2022 – before Steve Clark’s public announcement on 4 November 2022 opening-up parts of the Greenbelt for development – Rice offered part of his Bathurst lands to Southlake Regional Health Centre for a new hospital campus.
After Ford’s statement on Friday (21 September 2023) we must assume these lands will go back into the Greenbelt and we return to the status quo ante.
Rice's Bathurst lands: still home to a hospital?
Incredibly, despite this, and their protected countryside Greenbelt status, the lands at Bathurst may still be partially developed for a new hospital.
We know that Rice, a developer of long standing and monumental business experience, knew the lands were protected countryside in the Greenbelt. Nevertheless, he told the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, he believed part of the lands could be developed for a new hospital and that he anticipated being able to develop lands adjacent to the hospital for medical buildings, a long-term care facility and
“other long-term assets on land that was in the Greenbelt and not necessarily available for other types of development.”
What made him say this? Are there other examples elsewhere in Ontario where hospitals have been built on prime agricultural land since the Greenbelt was established in 2005? I don’t know. Perhaps there are. But I know the Greenbelt plan says this:
New or expanding infrastructure shall avoid specialty crop areas and other prime agricultural areas in that order of priority, unless need has been demonstrated and it has been established that there is no reasonable alternative.
Are there alternative sites for the new Southlake?
Rice told the Integrity Commissioner he had been discussing using other properties he owned in the region for the new hospital site and said he had been in touch with Southlake about these other sites.
Unfortunately, the Integrity Commissioner did not interview the hospital’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, who has not commented publicly on Rice’s gift of land – or indeed anything else. All we have is an email exchange with the Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, in which Krystal coaches Pellegrini on how best to word a resolution being put to King’s councillors congratulating Rice for his offer.
Pellegrini was also interviewed by the Integrity Commissioner. He told Mr Wake that other lands in the vicinity “had already been discussed as a possible hospital site” and that a new hospital there would be a significant benefit for King.
Where are the other lands in the vicinity? Who owns them? My long list of Freedom of Information requests to King Township tells me it has no records of any search for lands suitable for a new hospital. No names. No addresses. No details. Nothing.
The Township’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor, refuses to say if, in his view, it would be possible in Planning Law, to build a new hospital on protected countryside in the Greenbelt. When I asked him for his own professional view he referred me to the Province. We know there is nothing in King’s Official Plan (2019) which anticipates any development on the Bathurst lands.
Pellegrini says he has been searching for a suitable site for a new hospital since 2019. This is before Southlake publicly confirmed it was searching for a second site. Southlake’s Master Plan which flagged up the two-site strategy went into the Ministry of Health on 31 January 2020.
John Dunlap, King landowner, land agent, Southlake Board member
In February 2020, Pellegrini received an email from King landowner, John Dunlap, asking for a meeting
“to catch up on a few businesses trying to come to King. One is a large equestrian group who would be great to have in the Township.”
The Township has no other records of contact between Pellegrini and Dunlap except this one.
John Dunlap is the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands from Bob Schickedanz (the then President of the Ontario Home Builders Association) to Michael Rice. But, importantly, Dunlap at this time was a member of the Board of Southlake. He also owns land immediately adjacent and to the south of the Rice lands.
To this day, Southlake says it has no records of the offer of land made by Rice to it on 1 November 2022. It will not say when the offer was reported to the Board. It will not say which Board member declared a conflict of interest at the Board meeting on 22 September 2022 nor its nature. It will not say if it took independent advice from professional planners on whether a new hospital could be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. I have a clutch of appeals on these matters – some outstanding since March 2023 – which are now actively being dealt with by the Information and Privacy Commissioner. (Photo right: Arden Krystal)
Rice believed protected countryside in the Greenbelt was suitable for a hospital
Which brings me back to Michael Rice.
Astonishingly, this developer with decades of experience seems to have bought the untutored Pellegrini line that the Bathurst lands could accommodate a new hospital. The Integrity Commissioner writes:
“… it was his understanding (Pellegrini’s) that, unlike other types of development, hospitals were permitted to be built on Greenbelt lands and not subject to the sewage treatment allocation rules that could potentially limit residential development in the area.”
Did Pellegrini ever ask Stephen Naylor if a hospital could be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt? If so, what was the answer? Did he ever ask Paul Freeman, York Region’s expert and experienced Chief Planner?
Rice "sticking to it"
But, for me, the most astonishing revelation to come out of the Integrity Commissioner’s report is this one. In paragraph 290:
Mr. Rice explained that if he had known in the summer of 2022 that the King Township property would be removed from the Greenbelt, he would not have entered into the discussions about using part of this particular site for the hospital. However, he told me that given his earlier discussions, he is “committed” and “sticking to it” with respect to making land available for the hospital.
We are asked to believe that Michael Rice only offered land to the hospital because he believed the land was to remain in the Greenbelt!
If he had known the Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt he would not have offered a chunk of it for a new Southlake. The inference being he would have developed it all but minus a hospital.
The penny drops
It was only in late September – when Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, personally called on Rice at his office in Markham – that the penny finally dropped and Rice figured out his Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt with all the millions of dollars that would come his way as a consequence.
If Rice only became certain in late September 2022 that his Bathurst lands were coming out of the Greenbelt then I believe in leprachauns.
The hard-nosed businessman, Michael Rice, told the Integrity Commissioner that because he had been in discussions with Southlake for some time about offering a site suitable for a new hospital he was going to stick with it. Even though no firm commitment had been given to Southlake until 1 November 2022. That is very noble of him.
Clearly, we are nowhere near ready to close the book on this chapter on Ford’s serial corruption.
We still do not know in its entirety who knew what and when they knew it.
And it beggars belief that one of the main actors in this drama – Southlake Regional Health Centre – has escaped forensic scrutiny.
We need a Public Inquiry.
(Click "Read More" below for the evidence of Michael Rice as reported by the Integrity Commissioner)
Update on 26 September 2023: Yesterday Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called on Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake "to exercise the powers afforded to him under the Members’ Integrity Act to trigger a public inquiry into Doug Ford’s $8.3 billion Greenbelt scandal". Comments from Patrick Macklem, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Toronto, start at 6m 45s in to the video.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Doug Ford, in a truly toe-curling and pathetic mea culpa, today dropped plans to develop lands in the former Greenbelt. He admitted it was all a big mistake.
The risible Doug Ford has lost all credibility.
He is a figure of fun. And of ridicule. And few politicians can survive that.
Update on 21 September 2023: From the Toronto Star editorial: Doug Ford's Greenbelt reversal does not restore his credibility
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The report from the Integrity Commissioner on the conduct of the former Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark, will likely be tabled at the Ontario Legislature on Monday 25 September 2023 – the first day back after the summer recess.
The Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, is asking the Legislature to reprimand Clark for breaching sections 2 and 3(2) of the Members’ Integrity Act 1994 and specifically for his failure:
“to oversee an important initiative in his ministry which led to some developers being alerted to a potential change in the government’s position on the Greenbelt with the result that their private interests were furthered improperly.”
Wake went on:
“It may seem incredible that Minister Clark would have chosen to stick his head in the sand on such an important initiative being undertaken by his ministry but I believe that was exactly what he did.”
Procedural fancy dancing
MPPs have 30 days to consider and respond to the report. But there is a good chance the Government will try to get it out of the way ASAP with some procedural fancy dancing. We should be on guard for Ford shenanigans.
I want to hear from the evasive Clark himself. I expect him to be contrite, not sullen and resentful at being found out.
A million questions are still crying out for answers.
How often was he briefed on matters by his Chief of Staff, the untrained and unsupervised Ryan Amato? How often did they talk to each other? Every day? Once a week? And what did they talk about? The weather? The hapless fall guy, Ryan Amato, insists he would be vindicated in a fair investigation. In his resignation letter he says:
“I am confident that I have acted appropriately, and that a fair and complete investigation would reach the same conclusion.”
Is that Clark’s view?
What will Clark’s Progressive Conservative colleagues do with the Commissioner’s recommendation? There is a huge PC majority in the Assembly. They can approve it or they can reject it and, either way, that would be the end of the matter. There is no appeal. But people are watching to see which way Ford jumps.
Last report considered 14 years ago
There have been 16 previous reports from the Integrity Commissioner which found contraventions of the Members’ Integrity Act or parliamentary convention.
The full list of all Integrity Commissioner reports is here.
Some, such as the 2018 report on former PC leader, Patrick Brown (who was recommended to be reprimanded) did not proceed as he had left the legislature. Despite the serious nature of his violations of the Act the Teflon coated Brown bounced back to become Mayor of Brampton.
Of the 16 reports only four of these were considered by the Legislative Assembly.
The Four Reports
On 3 July 1997 there was a debate and a motion to refer the report on Allan Leach to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly. The Committee went on to recommend the Legislature adopt the report of the Integrity Commissioner. (Open the page and type “Integrity” into the search box to take you to the debate)
On 2 March 2006, again after a debate, the Assembly carried a motion to approve the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation on Harinder Takhar. This was the first reprimand ever issued to a Cabinet Minister.
More to come
The twin reports from the Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor General provide the backdrop to the debate I hope to see in the Legislature. But, astonishingly, there is still much more to come out. We wait for a report on Ryan Amato which is currently with the Integrity Commissioner. And Southlake hospital in Newmarket still insists it has no records of the developer, Michael Rice, gifting to it prime agricultural land in the Greenbelt for a new hospital campus. Do they take us all for fools? (We wait the result of appeals to the Information and Privacy Commission.)
Steve Clark’s reprimand (if we get one) will be cold comfort to the tenant farmers on the former Greenbelt lands at Bathurst who are now being evicted to make way for asphalt and concrete and yet more urban sprawl.
Update on 21 September 2023: From the Globe and Mail: Second Cabinet Minister resigns in Greenbelt Scandal. And from the Toronto Star: Doug Ford to face reporters Thursday after second Cabinet Minister resigns. And again from the Star: Khaleed Rasheed, Cabinet Minister in Ford Government, resigns after Greenbelt probe. And from CTV
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The absurd and perverse decision by Doug Ford and the detached former Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark, to allow development on ex-Greenbelt land at Bathurst in King (and elsewhere) should be challenged in the Courts. (Photo right: Clown-in-Chief Steve Clark)
I’d like to see York Regional Council do this.
Prime Agricultural Lands
The prime agricultural lands at Bathurst, bought by Michael Rice on 15 September 2022, were never earmarked for development in King’s Official Plan nor York Region’s Official Plan.
It seems to me, M’Lud, that Mr Ford acted unreasonably by allowing Minister Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, to decide which Greenbelt lands should be opened-up for development.
Both Ford and the clown, Steve Clark, say they were kept completely in the dark and didn’t know what Amato was doing in their name.
A Judicial Review would allow the Courts to test the reasonableness of the Government’s decision to press ahead with the development of lands removed from the Greenbelt in December 2022.
The Courts will decide whether the actions of the decision makers (in this case the Provincial Government) were, in all the circumstances, “reasonable”. Ontario's guide to Judicial Review says this:
A reasonable decision is “based on internally coherent reasoning” and is justified in light of the facts and law that constrain the decision-maker. Where a decision-maker has provided reasons, those will guide the Court’s review. The reasonableness standard recognizes that there may be more than one reasonable interpretation or more than one reasonable possible result. On this standard, courts will not interfere with decision they consider reasonable, even if the judges themselves might have come to a different decision
When a court applies the reasonableness standard, the person applying for judicial review has to persuade the court that the decision was unreasonable. A court will find that a decision is unreasonable if there are any fatal flaws in its overall logic or if it does not respect the factual and legal constraints on the decision. Those constraints include the evidence, the relevant law, the issues before the court as framed by the parties, the parties’ arguments, past practices, and the effect of the decision.
The Courts will also look at procedural fairness, the nature of the decision being made and the process followed in making it.
The Auditor General tells us that public comments on the proposed removals from the Greenbelt were not considered. That doesn’t sound reasonable to me. The Courts have held that the public should be meaningfully consulted and have input to the policy and legislative process. In this case the public consultation was a complete sham.
And is it reasonable to approve the development of ex-Greenbelt land when no-one knows how the lands are to be serviced and whether any costs will fall on residents of King or Newmarket?
Sidelined. Abandoned. Flawed.
When she released her withering special report on the changes to the Greenbelt on 9 August 2022 the Auditor General said:
“Our review of the procedures used to amend the Greenbelt boundary in 2022 raises serious concerns about the exercise used, the way in which standard information gathering and decision-making protocols were sidelined or abandoned and how changes to the Greenbelt boundaries were unnecessarily rushed through…
We found that the reasoning for the Greenbelt changes was just as flawed as the selection process itself….And, finally, given that both the premier and the housing minister communicated to us that they were unaware that the 2022 pre-selection of Greenbelt lands for removal was biased and flawed, we recommended that the government revisit the particular lands site selections that were made to adjust the Greenbelt boundaries now that it has the benefit of the information contained in this report.”
So the whole exercise was flawed right from the beginning.
And yet Newmarket-Aurora’s MPP, the metronomic Dawn Gallagher Murphy, mindlessly repeats the Ford line:
“The government... requires that new home construction begin on these lands no later than 2025, with significant progress on approvals and implementation achieved by the end of 2023.”
Seems to me that “significant progress” is increasingly unlikely.
There is a whole stack of reasons why York Region should go for a Judicial Review. And without delay.
There's a Council meeting coming up on 28 September 2023.
Go for it.
Elsewhere… On 13 September 2023 the new Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, asked the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Heritage and Cultural Affairs to take on the work of assessing regional government structures in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo & York. I'm told that as of today:
At this time the Committee has not determined whether or how to proceed with the Minister’s request.
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