- Written by Gordon Prentice
King Township prides itself on accountability and transparency.
I applaud the Township’s commitment to openness. But despite innumerable Freedom of Information requests to King over many months there are some big questions about the Greenbelt lands in King – bought by the developer Michael Rice on 15 September 2022 for $80M - that remain unanswered.
That’s why I am asking the Township to hear an in-person deputation from me at the King Council meeting on either 16 or 30 October 2023 – whichever is more convenient to them. My deputation concerns:
The evidence given to the Integrity Commissioner by the Mayor of King relating to lands in the municipality that could be suitable for a new Southlake Hospital.
The wording may have to be tweaked a bit to ensure it is completely in order but that's what I want to talk about.
The Township asks all deputants for their speaking notes beforehand. Presumably to avoid surprises and ambushes. I have no problem with this.
As everyone now knows, on 1 November 2022 at a meeting hosted by Mayor Steve Pellegrini at King Municipal Centre, the developer Michael Rice offered Southlake Hospital’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, land for a new hospital on the then protected Greenbelt at Bathurst. It would essentially be gifted.
The Bathurst lands are designated in King’s Official Plan (2019) as “prime agricultural” lands in the Greenbelt’s Protected Countryside.
Rice told the Integrity Commissioner he believed it would be possible to build a hospital on these lands – despite their designation – and that both he and his colleague John McGovern:
"anticipated they would be able to potentially develop 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".
York Region’s Chief Planner, Paul Freeman, insists, then and now, that a new hospital or medical facilities would:
not be permitted on the King site and therefore likely directed to a settlement area.
King Township’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor, piloted King’s Official Plan (2019) through all its stages over many years. There is nothing in the Plan that even hints that the Bathurst lands would be opened-up for development. There is no mention of a hospital. He refuses to say what his opinion is on the development of the Bathurst lands. When I asked him for his views as a professional planner he referred me to the Province.
This is the background to Mayor Steve Pellegrini’s appearance before the Integrity Commissioner who was investigating whether former Minister Steve Clark had breached the Members’ Integrity Act.
Mayor Pellegrini told the Integrity Commissioner (Report of 30 August 2023 in paragraph 288):
“… the Mayor explained that other lands in the vicinity (of the Bathurst site) had already been discussed as a possible hospital site and that if Mr Rice contributed land from his recently purchased property, he (Mayor Pellegrini) believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.”
Keys to the Kingdom
Over the months I have filed many Freedom of Information requests with the Township. But, despite this, I have not been told where these "other lands" are nor who discussed them as a possible site for a new hospital. The Township says it has no records of any search for land suitable for a new hospital. And there are no records of meetings where these sites were considered.
I have been in touch with other members of King Council and they cannot shed any light on these discussions – when they happened and who was involved. The man with the Keys to the Kingdom is Mayor Pellegrini himself.
But Mayor Pellegrini’s words as reported by the Integrity Commissioner suggest (in ordinary English usage) that the “other lands in the vicinity” are, in fact, contiguous. And if “Mr Rice contributed land” it would “potentially be a viable option for the hospital”.
The Missing Link: John Dunlap
If this is the case, the “other lands” in question are owned by John Dunlap, the former Southlake Board member and the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands from Bob Schikedanz to Michael Rice.
The schematic which was presented to the 1 November 2022 meeting by Michael Rice appears to show the Southlake logo straddling the Greenbelt lands owned by Rice and Dunlap. (see right)
Southlake has pretty much stonewalled on all Freedom of Information requests that could shed light on this. Ludicrously, they say they have no records of Michael Rice’s offer of land for a new hospital. Appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner on this and other related matters are slowly grinding forward. Southlake has a duty in law to keep records.
If the Township agrees to hear my deputation I shall ask Mayor Pellegrini to identify the other lands suitable for a new hospital and who was involved in the discussions.
We take it one step at a time.
Update on 30 September 2023: From Newmarket Today: Province vetoes proposal for hospital in Greenbelt bordering Newmarket
Timeline: Southlake and the sale of the Greenbelt lands in King, click here.
Click "read more" below to read the evidence of Michael Rice and Steve Pellegrini to the Integrity Commissioner
- Written by Gordon Prentice
- 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
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