Backstory: King’s Mayor Steve Pellegrini says he has been searching for a suitable site for a second 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 was hoping to get the answers from the Township Clerk, Denny Timm, by 6 November 2023. He says the Mayor has discovered two records that appear to be "responsive".
He tells me these will now be released to me after 6 December 2023 – so long as the third party (who has to be consulted first) doesn't object. If so, it goes to appeal.
Why don't they just ask him?
My Freedom of Information request was filed with King Township back at the dawn of time, on 2 February 2023. At first I was told there were no responsive records. I appealed to the Information and Privacy Commissioner and now there are records. Magic.
Throughout this long drawn-out saga - with so much press commentary and so much at stake - I find it astonishing that no-one on King Council has apparently asked Pellegrini who the mystery landowner is. Why don’t they just ask him?
I’ve long believed the mystery man is King landowner and land agent John Dunlap who served on the Southlake Board for four years until September 2022. He facilitated the sale of the Schickedanz lands at Bathurst to Michael Rice. (The Rice Group's portfolio is here.)
We now know from his evidence to the Integrity Commissioner that, on 27 or 28 September 2022, Michael Rice handed over a bundle of material to Steve Clark’s former Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, giving reasons why his Bathurst lands should be removed from the Greenbelt’s protected countryside. Rice proposed new housing but there was no mention of a second Southlake.
Just three weeks later, on 17 October 2022, Rice had a pre-meeting “on hospital expansion” with Pellegrini and King’s Director of Growth Management, the tight-lipped Stephen Naylor. This was to get their ducks in a row before the consequential meeting on 1 November 2022 with Southlake’s Arden Krystal when Rice offered land for a new hospital for a peppercorn.
What happened at that pre-meeting on hospital expansion? What on earth did they get to talk about?
Did Rice tell them he now had reason to believe his Bathurst lands would be removed from the Greenbelt? And that his preference would be 100% housing with no hospital. But did he then reassure them he wasn’t going to let them down? He was going to stick with his commitment to provide land for a second Southlake.
The Integrity Commissioner wrote in paragraph 290 of his report:
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.
Did Rice let Pellegrini and Naylor into his thinking?
Pellegrini insists he had no prior knowledge of the Province’s plans to open up the Greenbelt for development. On 1 February 2023 he demanded an apology from the Official Opposition at Queen's Park for their “slanderous” allegation.
Elsewhere... We have had some movement from Southlake but there is more to come out.
Rice evidence to Integrity Commissioner
 Michael Rice leads the Rice Group of Companies. Mr. Rice explained that the Rice Group is a traditional land developer -- it buys land, takes it through the development process and frequently retains industrial and commercial assets. When it has a residential development project, it either sells lots or it partners with other companies that specialize in residential development.
 Mr. Rice advised that for many years he has believed that the Greenbelt would need to be opened to some extent for housing development, as he is of the view that it has caused a land shortage which has increased the price of housing. He told me that he believes Ontario has had a housing crisis since at least 2017, and all political parties agree that many homes need to be built. He explained that he was aware of Premier Ford’s statements about opening up the Greenbelt in early 2018, and has observed that since being elected in 2018, this government has taken steps that indicated to him the “writing was on the wall” that lands in the Greenbelt would be opened for development. He cited as examples the More Homes More Choice Act, 2019, the ability of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to decide growth areas, and the reduced role for conservation authorities and consideration of endangered species. In December 2021, he asked his staff to identify potential land acquisitions in the Greenbelt that met specified criteria. Pursuant to this plan, on May 3, 2022 he entered into an agreement of purchase and sale to purchase a 687-acre property in King Township offered for public sale by Schickedanz Bros. on March 28, 2022. The deal for this property was closing on September 15, 2022.
 Mr. Rice told me he had previously met Mr. Amato at a handful of political fundraisers or other events, while the latter worked for the Minister of Transportation. He had also assisted in hosting a political fundraiser for the Minister of Transportation in early 2022, with which Mr. Amato had very limited contact. These details are covered later in this report at paragraph 279. Mr. Amato initially told me he did not recall if he had met Mr. Rice prior to the BILD dinner.
 Both agree they spoke briefly at the BILD dinner. Mr. Rice told me that, as the closing of the King Township property was the next day and on his mind, he said to Mr. Amato “Hey, if you guys are looking at the Greenbelt lands, I have something great that is the site you need to look at.” Mr. Rice says that Mr. Amato responded “okay.”
 Mr. Amato recalled Mr. Rice mentioning a property to him in passing at the BILD dinner. Specifically, he recalled Mr. Rice saying that he had some property in the Greenbelt and if we were to do something, he would like us to take a look at it. He says he responded to Mr. Rice by saying “I will let you know.”
 Approximately 522 acres was removed from the Greenbelt at the King Township site and 132 acres within the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan was redesignated from “countryside” to “settlement area” for a total of 654 acres.
 As set out above, at the September 14, 2022 BILD dinner, Mr. Rice mentioned this property briefly to Mr. Amato as a good candidate for removal from the Greenbelt.
 Mr. Rice told me that Mr. Amato called him at his office a few days or a week after the BILD dinner and asked if he could put together a package of information on the site. As a result of receiving this request, in combination with their brief interaction at the BILD dinner, Mr. Rice believed the government was looking at the Greenbelt.
 Mr. Rice said he would put together a package, which he then did, and then Mr. Amato came to his office to pick up the package around the end of September. They spoke briefly again at his office, and Mr. Rice said he “walked him through it,” saying “here is the site, here are the benefits.”
 Mr. Rice provided Mr. Amato with a document dated September 27, 2022, with a map outlining the area proposed to be removed from the Greenbelt, a rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of various servicing options for the site. John McGovern, Senior Vice President of Policy and Planning for the Rice Group, confirmed that he pulled together this package of information for Mr. Rice and that it was his understanding that Mr. Rice would be meeting with Mr. Amato the next morning. This indicates that Mr. Rice and Mr. Amato met on or about September 27 or 28, 2022.
 Mr. Amato confirmed that he called Mr. Rice a few days after the BILD dinner. He said he asked “if he could provide me with any additional information on the property. And I ran through some of the high-level criteria that we were discussing at the time. Those were questions that needed to be answered and he said he would get something together. But in that conversation, there was no mention of a program. It was just a question following up on something he mentioned to me in passing.” He confirmed he met with Mr. Rice at Mr. Rice’s office to pick up the package.
 Mr. Amato told me he did not know if he had met Michael Rice prior to meeting him at the BILD dinner.
 Mr. Rice told me he had met Mr. Amato at a handful of fundraisers and events prior to the BILD dinner. He also explained that in the spring of 2022 Mr. Amato assisted his daughter in organizing a fundraiser for Minister Caroline Mulroney, attended by approximately 25 people. This occurred while Mr. Amato was working for Minister Mulroney. Mr. Rice advised that he did not recall corresponding with Mr. Amato at the time, but that his daughter was in touch with Mr. Amato in March of 2022, after her earlier contact in Minister Mulroney’s office took a leave of absence, to decide the date of the fundraiser.
 When asked about this, Mr. Amato confirmed that he was briefly in touch with Mr. Rice’s daughter to confirm a date for the fundraiser, but said he had no further involvement with it. He said it was not part of his duties to organize the fundraiser, only to coordinate it with the minister’s schedule.
 There has been speculation in the media and in Ms. Stiles’ affidavit that Mr. Rice must have been tipped off about the government’s intentions, in part because he obtained title to it on September 15, 2022. This was less than two months before 522 acres of it were removed from the Greenbelt and 132 acres of it were redesignated as a settlement area within the Oak Ridges Moraine.
 Mr. Rice is an experienced land developer, who has significant industrial and commercial land holdings, in addition to some residential holdings. He is adamant that no one tipped him off or told him that the government would be taking land out of the Greenbelt. He said “[t]he crystal ball that they mentioned in the paper that we must have had is our knowledge and what we do on an every day basis on Greenbelt land, on Whitebelt land, on developed lands, lands that are going to come into the urban belt, airport land, that’s our business.” As set out above, at paragraph 95, Mr. Rice explained to me his longer-term rationale for thinking the government would permit development on Greenbelt lands at some point in the future because the housing crisis was becoming so acute with an increasing population and limited land supply. He told me he was convinced that the Greenbelt would open if even the Liberal Party came into power in the 2022 election and that if, by 2022, a developer was not thinking about the Greenbelt opening up “they were asleep.” He noted that his staff track every municipal meeting in addition to provincial developments. As factors shaping his thinking, he pointed to some actions of this government, including that he understood the government had “told the regional municipalities, ‘We want your [official plan] in here in June of ’22. File it. It has to be done or we will take action on our own.’” He also mentioned the 2019 More Homes, More Choice Act, telling me “I mean that was the beginning of the smashing of the conservation authority which changes your perspective on land.” He told me “So this government has made it abundantly clear since like ’19 or ’20, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re moving development ahead.’ That didn’t mean ‘Yes, we are taking it out of the Greenbelt.’ They never said that. I said they’re taking it out of the Greenbelt because we don’t have land.”
 Mr. Rice shared with me copies of agendas for his company’s acquisitions meetings from April through November 2022, indicating there was a “Greenbelt Strategy” item discussed regularly with a number of different areas and sites discussed, including the King Township property.
 Mr. Rice candidly admitted that his interactions with Mr. Amato, specifically their brief interaction at the BILD dinner and then Mr. Amato’s request for further information and visit to Mr. Rice’s office to pick up that information, “told me that they were looking at the Greenbelt.” However, he said that “in fairness to Ryan and the minister, he never told me they were doing it.” Mr. Rice was also clear he didn’t think it was going to happen as early as November 2022.
 Mr. Rice provided me with a copy of the investment proposal he developed for potential investors. He advised that he “syndicated” this land deal, by taking on several other investors to fund a large proportion of the $80,000,000 purchase price for this property. Taking on limited partners lowered both his risk and the profits he might earn from this investment. He told me, and I accept, that if he had known the lands would be removed from the Greenbelt so soon, he would have funded the purchase himself. He also told me that he offered the vendor, Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., an opportunity to participate in the investment but that they declined.
 I spoke with Bob Schickedanz, a partner in Farsight Homes and former president of the Ontario Home Builders Associations from 2019 to 2022. He confirmed that while he is not on the leadership team of Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., he worked there from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, he has an interest in this family company and was familiar with the sale of the property to the Rice Group. He explained that Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. was leaving the land development business and offering this property for public sale for $80 million was part of this process. He was aware that subsequent to entering into the initial agreement of purchase and sale, Mr. Rice had made two further offers to Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. with respect to this property. One was to participate in syndication and remain invested in the site, and the other was to agree to a one- year extension of the agreement of purchase and sale, with a new price of $200 million. He said his family business decided to proceed with the initial agreement closing in 2022 because they thought it was a good deal and, in their view, the one-year extension would not likely result in a sale and the land would have been tied up for another year. He said they had absolutely no idea the government was considering removals from the Greenbelt.
 It also has been brought to my attention through media reporting and submissions received from the public, that there was speculation that Mr. Rice must have known something in advance about the government’s intentions. This speculation was founded largely because before the November 4, 2022 announcement on Greenbelt removals, Mr. Rice was in discussions with a local hospital and representatives of King Township about using some of this property for a new hospital site.
 My staff interviewed the mayor and chief administrative officer of King Township. Both confirmed that in the summer of 2022 the mayor raised with Mr. Rice the possibility of using some of this land for a hospital. The mayor explained that he was of the view that a hospital located within King Township would be very beneficial to his community and it was his understanding 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. The mayor explained that other lands in the vicinity had already been discussed as a possible hospital site and that if Mr. Rice contributed land from his recently purchased property, he believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.
 Both Mr. Rice and Mr. McGovern, who also attended the meeting with the mayor and the chief administrative officer, told me these officials initiated the conversation about using some of this particular piece of land as a new hospital site. They also told me that Mr. Rice had already been discussing using other properties he owned in the region for the new hospital site and provided documentation to support his evidence in this regard with respect to past communications with hospital officials and other sites under consideration. With respect to the King Township site, Mr. Rice and his employee told me they were interested in the hospital option, as they 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.
 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.
Rice told the Integrity Commissioner he believed a hospital could be built in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. Pellegrini told him the same thing. Did the Commissioner just accept this without question? Paragraph 290 reads as if Rice was committed to using part of the Bathurst lands (“this particular site”) for a hospital. Indeed, that was the public commitment Rice made to Southlake on 7 November 2022 at King’s Committee of the Whole.
 Mr. Rice also confirmed that he had retained Nico Fidani-Diker, Principal at ONpointStrategy Group, to assist with obtaining municipal support for projects in the Town of Caledon and Region of Peel in the summer and fall of 2022. He said that Mr. Fidani-Diker was not hired to lobby at the provincial level.