Is Dawn Gallagher Murphy MPP happy or sad that Ontario’s Court of Appeal has struck down Bill 124 as unconstitutional?

I only ask because Dawn is a Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and I suppose she must have a view.

Looking out for the nurses is part of her job description. It's her day job.

Wage Suppression

The Ontario Nurses Association says Bill 124 was "wage suppression legislation" that limited nurses’ pay rises to 1% for three years.

Dawn is everywhere on social media, opening things, shaking hands, congratulating people, awarding certificates and giving the official PC line on the issues of the day. Always with a smile. But I don't see anything about nurses' pay and how it has been held down by the Ford Government.

In retrospect - and with the benefit of the Appeal Court's ruling - does she think holding nurses' wages down was a good or a bad thing to do? 

I think we should be told. 

Unconstitutional

In late 2022 an Ontario court found Bill 124 unconstitutional. The Ford government appealed.

The Ontario Nurses Association described the Bill as

wage-suppression legislation negatively impacting registered nurses, nurse practitioners, health-care professionals and other public-sector workers. This bill limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years.”

Violating Charter Rights

Ontario’s Court of Appeal agreed. On 12 February 2024 the Court held that the Bill violated the constitutional rights of unionized employees to meaningful collective bargaining as guaranteed by s2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Here is the ONA’s take on the Court’s decision.

Dawn was of course personally selected by Doug Ford to be the PC candidate for Newmarket-Aurora within 24 hours of Christine Elliott announcing her retirement from elective politics. 

She owes him one.

Dawn would walk over broken glass for Ford. 

Even at the expense of the nurses.

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It has taken over a year to establish in broad outline what happened when Michael Rice and John Dunlap offered land in the protected Greenbelt to Southlake for a new acute hospital. 

On 4 November 2022 Doug Ford gambled on opening up parts of the Greenbelt to development.

Ford believed he could ride out the storm. Instead, his plan backfired spectacularly. The Greenbelt became a radioactive issue for the Progressive Conservatives. But it took the Premier until September 2023 to admit his “mistake” and formally abandon the policy.

And while we still don’t have the full picture we are, bit by bit, getting closer to the truth. 

Meanwhile, out of the limelight, the RCMP investigation grinds on. 

What are the outstanding issues?

Despite the two landmark reports from the Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor General we still don’t know the full extent of the discussions, understandings and agreements between Southlake and its two declared benefactors, Michael Rice and John Dunlap, who both offered their own lands in the protected Greenbelt west of Bathurst in King as the location of a new acute hospital. 

The Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, was a key intermediary between Southlake and Rice.

Pellegrini deliberately and repeatedly misled the press and public as to what really happened. Pellegrini also knew from March 2020 that Dunlap was prepared to gift land to Southlake.

If we are to fully understand how everything fits together, we need sight of the records which show the proposed location of the hospital and all ancillary buildings on the lands in the protected Greenbelt owned by Michael Rice and John Dunlap.

The Colliers Report

In 2023 but possibly before, Southlake commissioned the real estate firm Colliers to identify sites for a new acute hospital within a 10km radius of the existing campus on Davis Drive in Newmarket and to advise on their suitability. 

Colliers considered five selection criteria: (1) serviceability (2) proximity to existing campus (3) accessibility by transit and regional corridors (4) zoning and (5) proximity to residential and incompatible uses.

The heavily redacted report says:

“the size and configuration of the site can have an impact on the suitability for flexible, healthcare-appropriate planning, for potential future development and expansion, and to minimise the impact of phasing construction over a longer period. 

"Factors considered included (1) the overall size of the property (2) the overall shape of the site (rectangular, triangular, multifaceted?) (3) the depth of the property (can limit key adjacencies, access and expansion) (4) the topography of the site (level, sloped, variable) (5) site frontage (can impact access and visibility) and (6) site features (can limit developable area and planning flexibility).”

Few potential sites available

Colliers’ May 2023 report concludes:

“…there are few potential sites available which meet all criteria. Much of the land within the search area is designated as greenbelt or Oak Ridges Moraine, significantly restricting the amount of developable land. There are significant constraints with the existing servicing system for the northern York region which poses challenges for many potential sites. As a result of these constraints, the costs for available lands that are unencumbered are very high.”

Colliers say that sites within the Greenbelt or Oak Ridges Moraine:

“were not considered as realistic opportunities based on current development restrictions”. 

And this realisation came months before Ford formally abandoned his policy in September 2023 to allow development in the Greenbelt. 

We must assume Southlake is still searching for a suitable site. 

How did we get here?

To recap. On 1 November 2022 at a meeting at King Municipal Centre the wealthy developer Michael Rice offered Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, Greenbelt land at Bathurst for a new acute hospital.

To this day Southlake insists there is no record of that consequential meeting. 

On 27 November 2023 Arden Krystal, who has since retired, explained what happened:

“During the November 1, 2022 meeting, discussions remained hypothetical and high-level with no commitment to action. It was merely a discussion of potential opportunities since the land in question was in the Greenbelt and, therefore, unavailable in its current state. Even if the land had been available, we were not in a position to provide meaningful commitment as Southlake had not even convened its formal strategic process for redevelopment.

After that meeting, I had an informal discussion about the potential opportunity with our VP of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman. Notes were not generated from this discussion, given its casual nature. I reserved the opportunity for formal discussion and accurate note-taking to the more appropriate forum, which would be the formal evaluations required for any upcoming Land Acquisition selection process.”

King Township, which was to be home to the new Southlake, also says it has no records. 

Word of Mouth or Telepathy?

The Southlake Board gave responsibility for finding a new site to its Land Acquisition Committee but how did it learn about the offer of land from Rice if there were no written records?

Word of mouth? Telepathy?

In December 2023 Southlake told me they had located records which may explain how the Land Acquisition Committee learned about the gift of land but third parties have to be consulted before these can be released. I should know tomorrow (Monday 26 February) if I can see them.

Follow-up meeting

Astonishingly, Southlake also tells me there was a “follow-up” to the 1 November 2022 meeting on 19 December 2022. This was news to me. 

When I asked King for sight of records of that meeting on 19 December 2022 I was told it had been postponed to 24 January 2023. And if I wanted to know if there were any records of that meeting I would have to file another FoI request and wait another month for an answer. 

This is the tortuous way the system works, dragging things out interminably.

Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity 

On 16 January 2023 Southlake reviewed the “Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity” at a “Southlake Site Selection” meeting. We don’t yet know who participated nor what was decided. But common sense suggests the Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity is likely to refer to the lands owned by Rice and Dunlap. 

And if the hospital development was planned to straddle the Rice and Dunlap lands (as I have long believed to be the case) it is inconceivable the two men didn’t discuss the implications.  

Declined Release in Full

The answer lies in Southlake’s “Capital Projects” records where key files on “site sketches” and “drawings” are being withheld. These would show the location of possible sites for the new Southlake.

Indeed, Southlake’s Vice President of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman, emailed the Rice Group’s Jordan Holt on 11 January 2023 mentioning a "fit test" as well as the location of the hospital. (Click "Read more" below).

On 30 January 2023 Marshman emailed Nathan Robinson, Southlake’s manager, capital development, about the “preliminary concept plan”  

“Please share with the Architects etc asap. Recognising this is not a sufficient parcel to meet our preliminary assessment, it at least provides a general location and preliminary configuration to block from.”

In architecture and planning, these “block plans” show how a proposed development relates to its surrounding environment.

We need to see these plans.

Now that the Ford Government has specifically ruled out any development in Ontario’s protected Greenbelt - including a new hospital at Bathurst - it is long past time for Southlake to open up its closed files and let the daylight in.

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From Southlake's Directory of Records:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is difficult not to feel disappointed with Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas who, last week, voted against York Region’s proposed 55-unit transitional housing/ emergency shelter for men at 14452 Yonge Street.  

His vote made all the difference and the shelter was rejected 4-3.

Bad Faith

Mrakas, Mayor since 2018, accuses York Region of bad faith. He claims that a year ago in January 2023 the Region put forward an application for housing on the site already earmarked for a wastewater pumping station. He fumed that the Region’s new application

“completely reneges on their already approved site plan agreement for that location.”

I think the Mayor protests too much.

Mrakas had known for years that the Region was considering a transitional housing project on land it owned close to a wastewater pumping station. On 4 May 2021 Region staff made a presentation to Aurora Council specifically flagging up the shelter project which they believed could be located close to the pumping station. (See graphic below)

Mrakas didn’t raise any objections.

"One of the best sites"

In the run up to the 13 February 2024 meeting Newmarket Mayor John Taylor - who also chairs Housing York - told Newmarket Today: 

"The current site (14452 Yonge Street) is one of the best sites I have ever seen for a shelter and housing site. The site is also region owned… The public has told us we need to do more and we need to act quickly. The opportunity is here to do just that. It is my deep hope that this site is approved and we can begin to move people from crisis to stability as soon as possible."

Pressured

When Mrakas voted down the Shelter proposal he took a sideswipe at “some politicians”. Who did he have in mind? John Taylor?

“I refused to be pressured into making a poor planning decision for the community I represent just so some politicians can check a box, pat themselves on the back and claim they’ve “accomplished something”.

Newmarket Today reports that some people are now accusing Mrakas of doing a flip-flop, dropping support for the project after becoming alarmed by the strength of the local opposition. 

Some fired-up people in the neighbourhood feared a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour and an adverse impact on local property values. The Region responded point-by-point. The shelter would be staffed by professionals round the clock, 365 days a year. The residents would be carefully selected. And there was no evidence that transitional housing as proposed would have a negative impact on house prices. It didn’t happen with Belinda’s Place in Newmarket.

Comparative Analysis

Mrakas claims he asked the Region to do a comparative analysis of other sites that may be suitable:

“A year ago, when this application was originally presented, instead of denying the application outright, this Council gave the applicant more time to conduct a site selection process – establish siting criteria, scan for potentially suitable properties, assign a score for each based on those criteria and provide the completed site selection matrix to this Council. Take the time to provide facts to support the applicants stated belief this is the BEST location for the proposed development and thus warrants the zoning amendments requested or to take the time to find a more appropriate site in Aurora, one that aligns with the intent of our Official Plan.”

Mrakas is now gilding the lily. At no stage during that January 2023 meeting did he explicitly mention a comparative analysis report. 

He simply asked the Region:

What other locations in Aurora have been considered or could be considered for this facility that better address the security, accessibility, transit and other issues raised this evening?

Nothing happened

Mrakas now complains this didn’t happen in the detail he allegedly demanded:

“Unfortunately, that did not occur and we are left to consider, a year later, the same application with little additional facts to support the requested zoning amendments.”

Why didn’t it happen?

Mrakas has spoken about the urgent need for a shelter so why did he sit on his hands?

He is an experienced member of York Regional Council. He is a full-time politician with support staff. So what was he doing between January 2023 and February 2024?

What steps did he take to get this “comparative analysis"?

Who did he speak to and when?

How did he follow up?

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Last month, Markham's Mayor, Frank Scarpitti, told MPPs he wants to see all nine lower tier municipalities in York Region abolished – Newmarket included. 

In their place he wants a new mega-city, presumably headquartered in Markham and with Frank as the man in charge, with a salary and with perks to match his new responsibilities.

Scarpitti, who enjoys being the centre of attention, was giving evidence to a Committee of MPPs which has been given the job of reviewing regional governance. He tells them with a straight face he is confident the Committee’s deliberations would result in positive change. 

Zero Traction

When Scarpitti first floated his mega-city idea in June last year it got zero traction. Unsurprisingly, there was no support from his colleagues on York Regional Council and even Doug Ford ridiculed the idea. 

In September the new Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, asked the Provincial Parliament’s Heritage and Infrastructure Committee to take on the work of assessing regional government structures in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo and York.

At the same time he dropped the idea of appointing “regional facilitators” who played such a key role in Ford’s 2019 aborted reorganisation.

One York. One City

In making the case for his mega-city, Scarpitti tells the Committee his proposed amalgamation will save money. 

“Last June, I offered my recommendation, through a public statement, to form one York, one city. In my view, the optimal outcome would be one city for York region. I’ve made this clear in the past, and it’s my view today. It’s time to consolidate all nine municipalities in York region.” 

Brock University professor David Siegel says there has never been an amalgamation that has saved money for taxpayers. But Frank sees savings everywhere.

“If you want to bring about the most effective change, consolidation is needed in York region: one tax bill, one planning department, one water department, one fire department—and, as you know, we already have one police and EMS organization.”

Blink an eye

Scarpitti says Markham could absorb the Town of Whitchurch Stouffville and “we wouldn’t blink an eye”.

I’d like to know what the Town’s Mayor, Iain Lovatt, thinks about that.

Frank tells us municipalities are no different from electricity companies. He says they’ve been amalgamated and we haven’t seen any downsides. No black-outs yet.

“We know what it takes to offer excellent services. It can be done, and it can be done right. Take Alectra Utilities, for example. The merger of Enersource, PowerStream, Horizon, and Hydro One Brampton saved $310 million in operating expenses and an additional $110 million in capital…. We’ve made changes to our call centre, to our customer billing, to CRM, to be able to streamline and consolidate some of our operations. And I think that can happen at the local level with municipalities.”

Last year Scarpitti received $244,096 in total remuneration as Mayor of Markham with $48,750 of this coming from his Board membership of Alectra where he sits on the Audit Committee.

Pipe-dream

On the face it it, Frank's mega-city appears to be a pipe-dream. 

But who knows where Ford is going with his latest regional review?

Not even Ford himself.

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Former Southlake Board member and King landowner John Dunlap declared a conflict of interest at the Southlake Board meeting on 22 September 2022 before resigning from the Board. 

The closed session minutes of the Board meeting say the conflict:

related to the future site selection of the new build of a new hospital”.

Dunlap’s declaration was made one week after the developer Michael Rice bought the protected countryside lands in the Greenbelt at Bathurst hoping these could be developed. Dunlap was the land agent who facilitated the $80M sale. Dunlap owns 108 acres adjacent to the Bathurst lands.

Dunlap had told King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, two years earlier that he was minded to gift land to Southlake for a new hospital.

Dunlap and Rice have both stated - each independently of the other - that they were prepared to gift land for a new hospital. 

We do not know the terms of any understanding they may have had.

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click "read more" for Board meeting extract.