- Written by Gordon Prentice
It is not easy or straightforward to get information out of Southlake Regional Health Centre. Everything is shrouded in secrecy. It is a closed institution responsible to itself.
I am talking about how the hospital is run – not about patient confidentiality which is, of course, an absolute.
For months now I have been trying to piece together the chain of events which led to Michael Rice, the developer, offering Greenbelt land to Southlake for a nominal fee.
On 4 November 2022, three days after Rice made his offer to Southlake’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, the Government announced it would be opening up specified areas of the Greenbelt for development, including the Rice lands.
Rice Lands removed from the Greenbelt
In December 2022 the Rice lands were taken out of the Greenbelt.
This is not a trivial matter.
It demands complete transparency.
Southlake and the Township of King ask us to believe there are no records of that hugely consequential 90-minute meeting on 1 November 2022 at King Municipal Centre. No minutes. No emails. No jottings. No plans. No maps. No agenda. No follow-ups. No to-do-points. No meeting notes about a commitment to gift 60-80 acres of Greenbelt land to Southlake for a new hospital.
Southlake reminds me of the Freemasons. You get the information but only if you know the handshake.
I wanted to sit in on Thursday's Board meeting (23 March) as an interested member of the public and I asked the hospital how I could do this. I was told:
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board opted to suspend open meetings and meet virtually to help stop the spread of infection.There are no open agenda items for public consumption at the upcoming meeting, however a meeting summary will be available on the website for your consideration once ratified at the next meeting.”
These meeting summaries are not minutes.
The Board meeting on 22 September 2022 agreed to set up a “Land Acquisition Sub Committee”. I’ve filed a Freedom of Information request to see the background reports put to the Board.
Michael Rice bought the King lands from Bob Schickedanz on 15 September 2022. John Dunlap, the land agent intermediary who facilitated the sale, left the Southlake Board in September 2022.
I’ve also asked to see the minutes of the Southlake Board, redacted as they see fit, for the Board meetings on 22 September 2022, 24 November 2022 and 26 January 2023.
Personally, I think it would be easier for everyone if we had full disclosure now rather than later.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The big news from Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, is that he is prepared to summon “numerous witnesses” to find out if anyone had inside information about the removal of land from the Greenbelt and profited as a result.
Here in Newmarket all eyes are on Southlake’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, who was given a commitment by developer Michael Rice at a meeting on 1 November 2022 that he would gift Greenbelt land in King to Southlake for a new hospital.
Southlake tells me they have no records of that 1 November 2022 meeting on “Hospital expansion” other than the invitation from Daniel Kostopoulos, the Chief Administrative Officer of King who set the meeting up.
Southlake tells me with a straight face they have no idea when the invitation was sent nor to whom it was addressed.
This absurdity persuades me to appeal to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner. It is in now in the works and and I wait to see what unfolds.
Quite separately I have asked Southlake for sight of any declarations of conflict of interest disclosed by Board members in the period from 1 June 2018 until 30 September 2022.
We know the Township of King facilitated the meeting on 1 November 2022 but, like Southlake, they say they have no record of what happened.
In the light of this, on 8 March 2023 I asked the Town Clerk, Denny Timm, to conduct a more focussed search, examining the files of Mr Kostopolous who was responsible for bringing everyone together.
Stephen Naylor, the Township’s Director of Growth Management, was also present at the meeting and I have asked for his files to be searched.
Mr Timm tells me he is reviewing my request and “will respond accordingly”.
Why no records?
If there are no paper or electronic records of such a consequential meeting it rather begs the question: why not?
Was it a deliberate decision not to take notes of the meeting?
I don’t know. But the former IPC Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, expressed great concern in 2016 about the “culture of avoiding the creation of written and electronic records” in the Dalton McGuinty Government when it was struggling to contain the gas plant cancellation controversy.
Commissioner Wake can, of course, still ask the participants what they remember of that momentous 90-minute-long meeting.
I am sure they can all recall being there.
If so, that’s a good place to start.
Selling the Greenbelt: Southlake Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, should be questioned under oath about gift of Greenbelt land for new hospital
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, should summon Southlake CEO, Arden Krystal, to explain what happened on 1 November 2022 when she was offered Greenbelt land for a new hospital in King for a “nominal fee”.
Commissioner Wake said today he is prepared to summon "numerous witnesses".
On 1 November 2022 the developer Michael Rice offered Greenbelt land in the Municipality of King to Southlake for a new hospital “for a nominal fee”. This was three days before the Government announced that certain Greenbelt lands – including his own – would be opened up for development. Rice bought the lands on 15 September 2022 from Bob Schikendanz, the then president of the Ontario Home Builders Association, for $80M.
As I tap this out on Thursday evening (16 March 2023) the Municipality of King and Southlake continue to insist they have no records of that consequential meeting on 1 November 2022.
I do not believe either of them.
To my mind, it is inconceivable that the details of a gift of a huge tract of Greenbelt land should not be recorded anywhere by Southlake or King. Do they take us all for fools?
Southlake has charted the process to get its new hospital. (right)
But, mysteriously, the offer of land for the new hospital, essentially gifted, is not recorded anywhere.
The Toronto Star reported this evening (16 March 2023) that
"Ontario’s integrity commissioner has asked “government and non-government sources” to hand over documents related to a complaint about the province opening up portions of the Greenbelt, and plans to summon “numerous witnesses,” says an interim report issued Thursday.
In the report, J. David Wake says he is also putting on hold a second complaint by NDP Leader Marit Stiles as he investigates her first one.
In January, Stiles asked the integrity commissioner to investigate whether there was any conflict of interest or sharing of confidential information by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark regarding the government’s decision to swap land out of the Greenbelt for housing. The complaint came after what she called the “curious timing of recent purchases of Greenbelt land by powerful landowners with donor and political ties to the Ontario PC Party.”
“I have required the production of documents from government and non-government sources. My staff and I are reviewing the extensive material gathered so far and have done independent research on the matter. We are preparing summonses for numerous witnesses to be interviewed. In the end I will prepare and deliver a public report on our inquiry as I am required to do.”
Record keeping is required by law
Hospitals are required to keep records under the Archives and Recordkeeping Act 2006.
On its own admission Southlake doesn’t.
If we are to get to the bottom of what happened the Integrity Commissioner David Wake must summon all those who participated in the key meeting at King Municipal Centre on 1 November 2022 which resulted in the commitment by Michael Rice to give Greenbelt land to Southlake for a new hospital. Those called before Commissioner Wake will, I trust, give evidence under oath.
If I were Ontario's Integrity Commissioner I'd call the following to appear before me:
Arden Krystal, Chief Executive, Southlake Regional Health Centre
Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of the Township of King
Stephen Naylor, King’s Director of Growth Management
John Marshman, Southlake’s Vice President Capital Facilities and Business Development
Michael Rice, the Rice Group
I have a million questions for each of them.
But Commissioner Wake need only concern himself with one.
What happened at the 90 minute meeting on 1 November 2022 which resulted in Southlake being promised land in the Greenbelt for a nominal fee?
Who said what?
Update on 17 March 2023: I am told there is no record of the 1 November 2022 meeting. Not even in files relating to hospital administration and governance.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Bob Hepburn believes a major debate is the most critical event in the race to become Toronto’s new Mayor.
Writing in this morning’s Toronto Star, Hepburn says:
“Like them or hate them, the truth is that candidate debates are the most important events in any election campaigns.”
I feel as if Hepburn and I are kindred spirits.
He goes on:
“… given how important the outcome of this by-election is to Toronto’s future, this debate is equally important for voters, providing them with a unique opportunity to see each candidate’s character and style. It will also help residents make an informed decision on who they think is the best person to tackle problems such as poverty, affordable housing, jobs, transit, crime, access to services and more.
Despite criticism from many commentators, debates count.”
One of my abiding regrets of last October’s election for Newmarket Deputy Mayor and Regional Councillor was that there was no debate. I wanted to share a public stage with my opponent Tom Vegh taking questions as they come but it never happened.
The Chamber of Commerce and the local media for their own reasons decided not to organise one. So I wrote to Tom (handily re-elected with me not even close) on three occasions asking for a debate. I even booked a room at Newmarket Public Library after having given him three dates to choose from. No response.
Losing an election is no big deal. It happens all the time. But I feel the voters are short-changed when there is no debate – and, therefore, no public commentary on it afterwards.
Elections are more than counting votes. There is – or should be – a whole supporting architecture designed to ensure the vote is free and fair and that electors are informed. That means campaign financing rules to make sure candidates can’t buy elections. But it means more than that. (Graphic from the Globe newspaper: Federal Election 1882 when the voter turnout was 70.3%. Women got the vote in 1918. Some groups were still excluded from the franchise until 1960.)
It recent years there has been a disturbing trend where candidates boycott debates when they see no advantage in attending. Instead, incumbents rely on the rolling campaign of continuous social media posts and on-line ads designed to keep their name in front of the public.
Our new(ish) MPP for Newmarket-Aurora, Progressive Conservative Ford appointee and food fetishist, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, famously boycotted all election debates.
In the 2021 Federal Election campaign in Newmarket-Aurora, Conservative candidate, Harold Kim, similarly boycotted the debates, citing diary clashes.
In the 2019 Federal Election in Newmarket-Aurora, Conservative candidate Lois Brown was a no-show at the debate.
There’s a pattern.
Some time ago I asked Newmarket’s Mayor, John Taylor, if the Municipality would organise election debates through an arms-length, independent agency – if no other respected and independent third party was prepared to do so.
Municipalities already appoint wholly independent people as Integrity Commissioners.
So why not have Debates Commissioners?
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket-Aurora MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, charged the cost of her “Free BBQ and Corn Roast” to the taxpayers.
The event on 16 October 2022, billed as a thank you to the community, cost $11,160.50 which was reimbursed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
Gallagher Murphy was first elected in June 2022. She was appointed by Doug Ford as the PC candidate for Newmarket-Aurora on the same day – 4 March 2022 - as Christine Elliott announced she would not be standing in the Provincial election.
The rules allow MPPs to host events in their ridings and be reimbursed for expenses where the event is open to the public and is “non-partisan and non-political”. The relevant rules are here.
Personally, I think this kind of “thank you to the community” bankrolled by taxpayers is totally indefensible. If she wants to pay for a huge free BBQ out of her own pocket that’s a different matter entirely. But I don’t want my tax dollars paying for a publicly funded knees-up celebrating her arrival as Newmarket-Aurora’s new MPP.
I am left wondering if there is a cap on the amount that can be spent on any single event and if there is a cut-off date before the next scheduled election where these events are impermissible.
Gallagher Murphy says these free BBQs and corn-roasts are to become annual events.
Figures don't add up
Elsewhere… I wrote to Dawn Gallagher Murphy on 14 February 2023 about a discrepancy in her Campaign Candidate Return which she filed with Elections Ontario on 30 November 2022.
Her Statement of Expenses at line 034 shows that $5,228.60 was spent on “Meetings Hosted”. Yet in Schedule 6 (List of suppliers) the total amount paid to suppliers of “food" for the expense “Meetings Hosted” is $8,228.11.I asked Gallagher Murphy why there is a difference of $2,999.51 between the two figures. She ignored me. So I asked the Campaign’s chief financial officer, Blake Koehler, and the Riding President, Teresa Kruze, for an explanation but, again, there’s radio silence.
Auditors recall email
One week ago I wrote to the Gallagher Murphy campaign auditors – Impact CPAs LLP down in Richmond Hill.
I received a reply which gave certain figures. Then minutes later a second email came winging in telling me the auditors
would like to recall the message, "The Candidate Compliance Return (CR1) of Dawn Gallagher Murphy filed with Elections Ontario on 30 November 2022".
I wait to hear from them.
You can read my letter to Dawn Gallagher Murphy by clicking “read more” below.
Note: Candidates for election to the Provincial Parliament must submit details to Elections Ontario showing how much money they raised and what they spent it on.
Below: from Dawn Gallagher Murphy's Expense Claim:
Update on 16 March 2023: From Newmarket Today: MPP's Barbeque Expense is the top expense of all MPPs
Read more: $11,160 cost of MPP’s “Free BBQ and Corn Roast” event was paid by the taxpayers
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