The Newmarket-Aurora Conservatives have chosen their candidate for the next Federal election, Sandra Cobena

I know very little about Sandra Cobena but that will change. 

She says she believes in “fiscal sanity, social stability and moral clarity”.

I’d like a few more specifics. Especially that bit about "moral clarity".

Waiting on the sidelines

Her video says “waiting on the sidelines is no longer an option”.

I’ve just googled Sandra but there’s not a lot there. A bit like Dawn Gallagher Murphy. No footprints in the sand. No articles in the press. No letters to the editor. But maybe they’ll surface. I hope so.

Cobena, a senior manager in commercial credit at TD, defeated Harold Kim for the nomination. Harold – like so many Conservative candidates – boycotted the local election debates when he was the candidate last time round, so, for that reason if for no other, I’m glad’s he’s gone.

I’d be very surprised if the sitting Liberal MP, 73 year old Tony Van Bynen, seeks another term. 

Cruising into retirement

The middle-of-the-road Tony Van Bland is gently cruising into his third retirement.

The Prime Minister could always rely on his support and his vote in the Commons.

Since his election in 2019 Van Bland hasn’t put a foot out of line.

Well, except once. A few weeks ago he joined 33 other Liberal MPs in urging a ceasefire in Gaza.

Since then, he’s gone quiet again. 

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Update on 13 December 2023: From Newmarket Today

The Ford Government is deeply corrupt.  

The annual report from Ontario's Auditor General, published today, lists failings which go to the very heart of the way in which we are governed.

Ford doesn't consult people before legislating. (Photo: Boris Johnson - on his money-making speaking circuit - jokes with fellow Conservative Paul Calandra at last week's Realtor's Conference.)

No meaningful consultation

The Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos says the Government made:

“significant changes to energy, land-use planning and housing policies without meaningful consultation, undermining Ontarians’ ability to participate in decisions that can impact the environment.”

and it didn't follow the Environmental Bill of Rights

“when it made sweeping changes to the Province's land use and housing framework and removed lands from the Greenbelt. The Government… made these changes to increase housing supply without adequate public consultation… and did not give the public complete information about the proposed changes.”

Brains behind the operation

Increasingly, we are governed by fiat and edict with the rules bent and manipulated by Paul Calandra, Ford's consigliere and the brains behind the operation. 

Shamefully, after more than two months on the Order Paper, he refuses to bring forward for debate the Integrity Commissioner's recommendation to the Legislature that it reprimands the disgraced ex Minister Steve Clark for his role in the Greenbelt scandal.

Second thoughts on dissolving Peel Region

We read today that Ford is having second thoughts about breaking up Peel Region because of the huge impact on taxes. 

The Bill dissolving Peel Region was never sent to Committee for detailed line-by-line scrutiny by MPPs. It just rocketted through the legislature at warp speed with no consultation with experts or the general public. 

Bill 136 which returns lands to the Greenbelt, Bill 150 which restores Official Plan boundaries and Bill 154 on Ontario Place have all sped through the Legislature in a matter of days.

Public consultation doesn't feature in the process. 

No Committee sessions

Paul Calandra was the sole witness giving evidence to MPPs in the Bill Committees for the Greenbelt and Planning reversals (Bills 136 and 150). The legislation on Ontario Place (Bill 154) went through with no Committee session at all.

The Acting Auditor General says the decision to move the Ontario Science Centre to  Ontario Place  was made without a full comparison of its costs or proper consultation.

How a Bill becomes Law

The Ontario Legislative Assembly's website explains "How a Bill Becomes Law" but this bears little comparison with the reality where legislation is rushed through.

Ford is not remotely interested in making sure policies are stress-tested before they reach the Statute Book. That's not his style.

What is to be done?

So what do we do with Governments which break the rules, jettison long-standing Parliamentary conventions, stifle and smother debate and ignore the law? 

There is no quick and easy answer to this.

Under our system the Government of the day, with a good majority, can pretty much do as it pleases and push things through - even when these have not been explicitly flagged up in an election platform. The Greenbelt changes were never mentioned by Ford in the June 2022 Provincial Election. Nor for that matter was Ontario Place.

In the absence of a written constitution we rely on politicians observing established rules and conventions. Not casually throwing them overboard. And yet this is what Ford does. He acts now and thinks later.

Deep Trouble

Professor Peter Hennessey, an authority on contemporary British political history, had Boris Johnson specifically in mind when he warned:

 “If the prime minister is the number one wrong ’un, you’re in deep, deep trouble. It’s shown us the fragility of our constitution.” 

So what do we do when our Premier is "the number one wrong'un"?

I'd like to see the Integrity Commissioner report on the rules and conventions of the Ontario Legislature as a way of sparking the debate we need to have.

But that's not going happen without Ford's agreement. 

Which takes us back to square one.


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Update on 8 December 2023: the Toronto Star editorial: Another flawed plan by Ford

Update on 9 December 2023: from the UK's Guardian newspaper: Peter Osborne writes: Boris Johnson is gone for good but his brand of empty populism lives on

Update on 13 December 2023: From the Toronto Star: Ford abandons plan to break up Peel Region

The legislature is now in recess until 20 February 2024.

From the Order Paper: Filed by Paul Calandra 30 November 2023









The celebrity Newmarket-Aurora Progressive Conservative MPP and foodie, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, filed an expense claim for her 22 October 2023 BBQ at Riverwalk Commons in Newmarket which comes in at $213.91 

This year’s modest claim contrasts with the extravagance of last’s year’s BBQ which was bankrolled by the taxpayers to the tune of $11,160. She believes this was money well spent and was absolutely appropriate. (Photo right: this year's vibrant and fun BBQ)


However, the $213.91 looks as if it has been filed in error as the expense figures published today by the authorities at the Ontario Legislative Assembly (OLA) only cover the period 1 July 2023 – 30 September 2023 and not expenses incurred in October.

The BBQ expense, in its glorious entirety, will be revealed in Gallagher Murphy’s claim for October-December 2023 which will be published by the OLA on 1 March 2024. These quarterly expenses do not show the cost of running her constituency office or the advertisements and flyers which are everywhere. These and other major expenditures are reported annually

On 1 November 2023 she told MPPs:

On Sunday, October 22, I hosted my second-annual community barbecue event for Newmarket–Aurora at Newmarket’s Riverwalk Commons. It was an eventful afternoon and I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces while meeting some new ones too from our vibrant community. This event is more than just an opportunity to enjoy good food and fun activities. It is about bringing people together, fostering a sense of unity, building relationships and celebrating the diversity that makes my community so special.

Casual with the facts

Dawn Gallagher Murphy describes herself as "a proud mother, wife and entrepreneur with 25 years in the secure payments industry”. She says her business served the Canadian and international banking industry. So how can she be so casual when it comes to financial reporting?  

Gallagher Murphy’s Statement of Expenses filed with Elections Ontario after the June 2022 election showed an expense of $5,228.60 for “Meetings Hosted” but in the supporting Schedule 6 the figure shown for the same “Meetings Hosted” amounts to $8,228.11. 

I have no idea where these meetings were. Or how many voters were treated to a free lunch. 

In February I asked Dawn to explain why there was a difference in the two figures. She didn’t reply so I wrote to the Chief Financial Officer, Blake Koehler, who signed off her Campaign Return to Elections Ontario and to the Riding President, Teresa Kruse. I didn’t hear from them either.

Incorrectly categorised.  

So I wrote to the auditors and was told that food expenses of $947.72 and $3,159.28 were incorrectly categorised as “Meetings Hosted” expenses and should have been reported under "Victory Party” expenses. I was told:

“We have gone through the file and supporting documents. $947.72 of food expenses from Wicked Eats and $3,159.28 of food expenses from A Million Mouthfuls should be reported under “Victory Party” expense instead of “Meeting Hosted” expenses in Schedule 6. This results in a total of $4,121.11 of Meeting Hosted reported in Schedule 6 and the remaining balance is expenses not exceeding $200 for each supplier.”

These adjustments would have changed the figures shown for Gallagher Murphy on the Elections Ontario website. But this proved to be unnecessary as I learn from the auditors that unnamed suppliers billed Gallagher Murphy for unspecified goods and services which conveniently balanced everything out. These individual bills came in below the $200 reporting threshold where suppliers have to be named.

Personally, I think candidates owe it to the public and to their fellow candidates to submit financial information in their election return which is squeaky clean and 100% accurate. 

And that's also true for MPPs claiming taxpayers' money for BBQs and other expenses.

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I learned on Tuesday (28th November) that King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, was the person who invited Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, to the hugely consequential meeting on 1 November 2022 when developer Michael Rice promised to gift land to Southlake for a new hospital, located in the Greenbelt’s protected countryside.  

Why should this simple fact be considered remotely newsworthy?

Because for the past year Arden Krystal has been insisting Southlake had no records of that meeting – not even the details of the invitation she received to attend it. 

She continues to insist no notes were taken on what happened during that one-and-a-half hour meeting at King Municipal Centre.

Hypothetical and High Level

Arden Krystal says:

“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 development.”

Krystal says that Pellegrini got in touch with her towards the end of September 2022 by phone and said he had a potential landowner she should speak with. This was Michael Rice whose people had been in touch with Southlake’s capital and facilities chief, John Marshman, eight months earlier in January 2022 suggesting they had land which might be suitable for a new hospital.

We know from his evidence to the Integrity Commissioner that on 27 or 28 September 2022 - after Rice met the then Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, at his Markham head office - he (Rice) concluded that Government policy on the Greenbelt was going to change. 

No mention of a new hospital

In the package of materials Rice handed over to Amato there was no mention of a new hospital on the Bathurst lands. In his submission to the provincial government Rice, for his own reasons, proposed developing the land for housing.

On 17 October 2022 Pellegrini hosted a Southlake expansion pre-meeting at King Municipal Centre which involved Rice and his planning policy chief John McGovern as well as King’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor. The Township says it has no records of this meeting and what was discussed. 

The pre-meeting most likely rehearsed the themes for the 1 November 2022 meeting with Southlake.

Long Term Care

Rice told the Integrity Commissioner that he believed planning law would allow a new hospital to be built on prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt. He further believed there was a possibility of building adjacent medical facilities and a long-term care home alongside, again in the protected Greenbelt.

It is likely these issues formed part of the agenda on 1 November 2022. But locating a long-term care home next to an acute hospital had never been flagged up in Southlake’s public consultation exercise nor in its Master Plan so far as I can gather. (The Master Plan is not available to the public.)

In her letter of 27 November 2023, Arden Krystal strenuously denies that any notes were taken following the 1 November 2022 meeting when Rice made the offer of land, essentially for free.

“After that meeting, I had an informal discussion about the potential opportunity with our Vice President 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.”

Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity

On 16 January 2023 Southlake held a site selection meeting to review the “Bathurst and Davis Drive Opportunity” which may have been part of the land acquisition selection process. I don’t know. But the agenda (below) clearly raises issues which would have been discussed at the 1 November 2022 meeting, namely the location of the hospital, the acreage required and the LTC fit – which I take to be a reference to long term care. 

So the question arises: how was the discussion on 1 November 2022 reported back to the Site Selection meeting if not by notes? Perhaps it was all done by word-of-mouth. I simply don’t know.

On 30 January 2023 John 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.”

We know that Rice was looking at making lands available in the south-east corner of his Bathurst lands but, on their own, did this meet Southlake’s requirements?

The "other lands"

The Integrity Commissioner interviewed Steve Pellegrini who told him 

"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 believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township”.

I have long believed the proposed hospital site straddled the lands owned by Rice and John Dunlap, a former member of Southlake Board and the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands to Rice. The very familiar graphic (right) which was presented to the 1 November 2022 meeting by Michael Rice suggests as much. Dunlap’s lands are to the immediate south of the Rice lands and are contiguous.

Ten months ago, I asked King Township the name of the landowner who offered land in the vicinity of the Bathurst site and its precise location. Only now, after an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) and months of endless foot-dragging is King Township willing to disclose this information, telling me I can expect a response on 7 December 2023 (after the landowner has been consulted). If the landowner appeals, citing an invasion of privacy, the matter could drag on into 2024.

Similarly, I know that a Southlake Board member declared a conflict of interest which was reported to the Board meeting on 22 September 2022. Again, after the intervention of the IPC, Southlake is now prepared to disclose that information but the person in question has the right to appeal on the grounds that disclosure may affect their personal privacy.

After a year looking at the Greenbelt scandal in King we are only now getting close to a full understanding of what really happened when the protected countryside in the Greenbelt at Bathurst was opened up for development by the Ford Government.

Dr Paul Woods takes over from Arden Krystal as Southlake’s Chief Executive on 3 January 2024.

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I laughed out loud when I read in this morning’s Toronto Star that the Progressive Conservative government at Queen’s Park was not going to hold public hearings on its new Greenbelt protection law because Ford believes most Ontarians “don’t give two hoots about that”.  

How does he know what Ontarians think? 

We are told he gets thousands of calls to his personal cell phone every week, keeping him grounded and in touch with ordinary folks. This is "buck-a-beer" fiction.

Ford’s consigliere, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Government House Leader and Minister of Legislative Affairs, Paul Calandra, also believes listening to the public is unnecessary.

And this from the comedian who has been telling us for the past month that in opening-up the Greenbelt for development the Ford Government:

“made a policy decision that was not supported by the people of the Province of Ontario”.

Two Hoots

So where is Ford’s evidence that people don’t give two hoots about his legislation that returns land to the Greenbelt?

I can think of lots of people who would wish to give evidence to MPPs on the Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy Committee who are examining the Bill.


What about the tenants who were evicted from their homes on the lands in the Greenbelt’s protected countryside at Bathurst in King Township? If they were forced to leave on the grounds the lands were to be developed can they now go back? What remedy, if any, do they have?

Unless the Government opens-up legislative committees to the public and outside experts – and that’s the way the system is supposed to work – Ford and Calandra won’t know what they are missing. 

Entertaining Guy

Yesterday when NDP MPP Sandy Shaw protested about the absence of the public in the one hour of committee hearings allocated to Bill 136, the Greenbelt Statute Law Amendment Act, Calandra quipped:

“I’m a pretty entertaining guy when I get up there. I add value to the hearings. I think that the members opposite would want to hear from cabinet ministers.”

I think I’d prefer to hear from people with knowledge of the issues rather than this cast of clowns.

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Update on 23 November 2023: From the Toronto Star's Noor Javed: Doug Ford Government'd sudden reversal on boundary expansion leaves municipalities scrambling

Update on 28 November 2023: From the Toronto Star: Ford says he'll turn over phone records if the RCMP asks