The report from the Auditor General and yesterday’s report from the Integrity Commissioner together paint a picture of a chaotic and dysfunctional Government where Doug Ford and Steve Clark don’t talk to each other about the big policy issues of the day. 

In his pathetic mea culpa earlier today Steve Clark said he was sorry but he wouldn’t be resigning. Brazenly, he believes he can tough it out. He has the confidence of the only person who matters, the Premier.

The Auditor General and the Integrity Commissioner deserve a round of applause for getting us this far. But we still don’t know the whole story nor do we have the complete unvarnished truth.

It is obvious from reading his report that the Integrity Commissioner bends over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to people who know more than they are letting on. I have no quarrel with that. Being even-handed is in David Wake’s job description - and in his DNA.

The former President of the Ontario Home Builders Association (OHBA), Bob Schickedanz, who sold the Bathurst land to Rice told Wake:

“they (the Schickedanz company) had absolutely no idea the government was considering removals from the Greenbelt.”

I laughed out loud at that one! Luca Bucci, former Chief of Staff to Steve Clark, was Schickedanz’s right hand man at the OHBA. (Bob Schickedanz photo right)

Forgetful congenital Liar

Ryan Amato comes across as a forgetful congenital liar, inventing meetings with the Premier to get staff to do his bidding. They believed his orders came from on high – from Clark or the Premier’s Office. (Click "read more" for the G&M Editorial) 

The Auditor General relied on Amato’s evidence to tell us that at the BILD dinner on 14 September 2022 two prominent developers (Gasperis and Rice) approached him and gave him packages containing information to remove the Duffins Rouge and Bathurst lands from the Greenbelt. Yet David Wake gives an alternative version where no package was passed over by Rice at the dinner. Instead, the package was collected in person by Amato at Rice’s offices on 27 or 28 September 2022. I am surprised Wake didn’t call Amato back to clarify which version was true. 

For the rest of us looking on, the events described by Wake require the willing suspension of disbelief.

Evidence Under Oath

Both the Auditor General and the Integrity Commissioner have powers to summons witnesses to give evidence under oath. 

Members of the public like me don’t have that power. So when we file Freedom of Information requests and the institution stonewalls or says records don’t exist, we are stymied. The only option is to appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner whose analysts, though incredibly helpful, have a huge backlog of cases to work through. There is also a limit to the number of appeals anyone can file at any given time. The appeals will simply wait in the queue until an analyst is ready to deal with them. I have six appeals in the pipeline, the first filed on 17 March 2023.

Neither the Auditor General (so far as I can gather) nor the Integrity Commissioner interviewed the Chief Executive of Southlake, Arden Krystal, or her Vice President of Capital Facilities, John Marshman. And, to this day, Southlake says it has no records of the 1 November 2022 meeting at King Municipal Centre when Michael Rice offered land for a new Southlake for a nominal fee. Yet hospitals are public institutions and are required by law to keep records.

Was there a tip-off?

Commissioner Wake looked at Rice’s offer of land for a new hospital and whether it signalled that he had been tipped-off that the Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt. Wake concludes it was all above board. 

Wake says Rice provided documentary evidence that he had contacted Southlake earlier about other sites that could be suitable (see schematic for adjacent Rice lands). And we are told it was the Mayor of King, Steve Pellegrini, who first raised the issue of using some of the Bathurst lands for a new hospital.

All this is very familiar. Pellegrini says he had been searching for a site for a new hospital since 2019 but the Township has no records of how the search was conducted or, indeed, if it was done at all. Pellegrini has long insisted a hospital can be built anywhere if that is what the Province decides. But there are no records to show if Pellegrini asked his own Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor, if it would be possible to site a new hospital on prime agricultural land in the Greenbelt and Naylor won’t say. There’s nothing in King’s Official Plan about a new hospital in the Township. I’ve filed an appeal on Stephen Naylor and what he knew. 

I also don’t know when Pellegrini told his fellow councillors that he had been scouring the municipality since 2019 for a site for a new hospital. Presumably four years ago.

Rice tells Wake he knew the Greenbelt would be opened-up

Wake tells us that Rice asked his staff to identify potential land acquisitions in the Greenbelt that met specified criteria. We are not told what these were. But “pursuant to this plan” Rice entered into an agreement to purchase the Bathurst lands on 3 May 2022. 

Rice mentioned this agreement to purchase the Bathurst lands when he met King’s Chief Administrative Officer, Daniel Kostopoulos, at the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority dinner on 22 June 2022. At this stage and subsequently, it seems clear Rice was talking about the Bathurst lands not his other land holdings in the area.

According to Commissioner Wake, on 27 or 28 September 2022 Rice gave Amato 

“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.”

We do not know if this information was made available to Pellegrini or Naylor on 17 October 2022 when they had a briefing meeting with Rice. Pellegrini is on record saying servicing was a huge issue.

Servicing Challenges

Amongst other things, the Auditor General wanted to talk to Rice to find out more about his approaches to servicing housing developments and whether land recently removed from the Greenbelt would be expected to create additional servicing challenges. Rice’s lawyers told the AG that their client would not be able to contribute anything that would be relevant to the audit. So he refused to appear.

In Wake’s narrative we are invited to believe that it was, in effect, an open secret in the development community that parts of the Greenbelt were to be opened up for development. Paragraph 282 sets out Rice’s thinking. We learn that Rice had his staff track every municipal meeting in addition to provincial developments. This was Rice’s day job and if other developers didn’t realise what was happening “they were asleep”.

Despite all the horizon scanning Rice did not believe the Greenbelt changes would come as early as November 2022. Which rather begs the old question: when did he first know that his Bathurst lands were to be removed from the Greenbelt and opened-up for development?

Up for grabs

In one sense it doesn’t matter. Rice had worked out that, with Ford at the helm, the Greenbelt was going to be up for grabs. 

So he made his offer to Southlake on 1 November 2022, betting on a hunch that, at some point, the Bathurst lands would become developable.

And Commissioner Wake believed him.

There will be a debate on the Commissioner's report at Queen’s Park within 30 days. 

More will come out.

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Update on 1 September 2023: a blistering editorial from the Toronto Star: From bad to worse on the Greenbelt

Update on 2 September 2023: From the Toronto Star's Martin Reg Cohn: Doug Ford made it his job to know as little as possible about the Greenbelt deals but his fingerprints are all over them.

The Integrity Commisioner, David Wake, is recommending that within 30 days the Ontario Legislature reprimands Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark, for being asleep on the job, leaving key policy decisions on the Greenbelt to his forgetful and amateurish Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato. 

The full report is here. The press release is here.

The picture Wake paints is disturbing. A chaotic slap-dash process. Uninformed and opaque decisions

“which resulted in the creation of an opportunity to further the private interests of some developers improperly”. 

Wake tells us Amato is the rogue element, acting on his own volition with no steer from his boss, Steve Clark who, even now, expresses no remorse for his role in this affair.

Wake says it may seem incredible that Minister Clark would have chosen to stick his head in the sand. 

We are asked to believe the incurious Clark did precisely that when, instead, he should have required Amato to keep him closely informed on such a key policy initiative. 

The penalty is a reprimand when it should be, at the very least, a lengthy suspension from the Legislature.

More to follow…

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Update on 30 August 2023 from the Toronto Star: Doug Ford stands by Steve Clark despite report the Minister violated Integrity Act in Greenbelt 

Update on 31 August 2023: From the Toronto Star: Steve Clark says "I'm sorry" for poor oversight in Greenbelt deals and vows to stay on as Housing Minister (click "read more" below)

I see Toronto City Council is reviewing its Noise By-Law. Good for them. 

They say that in a city as large and vibrant as Toronto certain levels of noise are reasonable and reflect life in a densely populated city.

“The Noise By Law balances the city’s vibrancy with the needs of residents and visitors and provides time restrictions and sound level limits for various types of noise.”

They want Ford to increase fines

“for violations of modified exhaust and excessive vehicle noise under the Highway Traffic Act”

And they want the Province 

“to develop stricter and more specific regulations related to illegal after-market vehicle modifications intended to increase vehicle noise, including penalties for both vehicle owners and technicians that install such modifications…”

With Doug Ford in the driving seat, fat chance. 

Nevertheless, the City is consulting the residents to see what they want and that’s good.

Pet Hates

We all have our pet hates.

I have a big thing about thunderous, ear-splitting noise which is generated by unthinking people who are well aware of the discomfort they are inflicting on others.

From time to time I see a young guy roaring along Dawson Manor Boulevard with a bumper sticker which reads:

“Hated in my neighbourhood”

I am not surprised. He knows exactly what he is doing. 

This may not be the case with the Harley Davidson pensioners who phut-phut-phut past my front door all summer long.

I regularly yell at them from my front lawn as they roar away from the intersection at a majestic 10 mph and 150 decibels. 

Leaf blowers

And then there are the leaf blowers!

Last Fall, a neighbour of mine courageously confronted an ignoramus who was blowing huge piles of leaves from his garden onto the street where they would clog up the Town’s drains. 

Decibel Limits

Toronto is looking at options for setting decibel limits for leaf blowers and other power devices. And for further restricting the times when they can be used. 

Other jurisdictions do it.

Why can’t we?

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I came to the conclusion some time ago that Justin Trudeau has no intention of banning handguns.

Over the years we've all been strung along with promised initiatives to tackle the problem of gun crime but they all fall short of what is needed. A complete ban.

No-one outside the police and military needs a handgun.

I’ve been living here in Canada since 2010 and over that time gun crime has shot up. In the major national or big city newspapers, reports on killings involving a handgun have moved from the front page to the inside pages. It's different, of course, if someone famous is shot dead.

Handguns have even been used on Main Street here in Newmarket - generally regarded as a safe Town - and people have been wounded

Not so lucky

Away from the downtown, others have not been so lucky.

The Globe and Mail editorial yesterday drew our attention to a

“sharp, and accelerating, increase in gun crime, which hit a record 4,741 incidents in 2022, a doubling since 2015. Adjusted for population, there were 12.18 gun crimes for every 100,000 Canadians last year, the highest rate on record.”

The centre-right Globe and Mail says:

“Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have proposed what would be a necessary first step in curtailing gun violence: a complete ban on handgun ownership.”

Handguns banned in UK after Dunblane massacre 

There is no right to bear arms in Canada. 

This is also the case in the UK which banned handguns after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland where 16 elementary school children and their teacher were shot and killed in the school gymnasium on 13 March 1996.  The killer, Thomas Hamilton, had a firearms certificate and could legally own handguns. 

I was an MP at the time and voted for a complete ban. I've no regrets.

Portapique and the Mass Casualty Commission

After Portapique, the worst massacre in Canadian history, the Government danced around the issue. Instead of acting purposefully Trudeau dragged his feet, unwilling to risk alienating the gun-owners. So he triangulated in true Clinton fashion.

Now, after a long drawn out inquiry, the attention of the public has inevitably moved on to other issues. And so too has the Prime Minister’s.

Our own MP in Newmarket-Aurora doesn't create waves. He will just go with the flow. 

It's so sad.

It doesn't have to be this way.

(Click "Read more" below for the Globe and Mail editorial: The rising tide of violent crime can’t be ignored. It’s time to ban handguns)

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Update on 30 August 2023: From CNN: And this is what it is like south of the border. Since 2014 one eighth of the American population is estimated to have lived within one mile of a mass shooting. And Congress is paralysed, unable and unwilling to act.

Dawn Gallagher Murphy's job is to deliver Ford's message. That's what she gets paid to do. 

It is not to exercise independent thought.

Constituents who contact her about the Auditor General’s scathing report on the Greenbelt will receive the boilerplate response below. Dawn hasn't added any commentary of her own. Nor did she proof read and correct the original.

Here is Dawn’s email which is being sent to constituents. I have added my comments. 

Dawn Gallagher Murphy (DGM): Thank you for your email to the office of MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy on the Greenbelt development and the Auditor's report.Summarized below is the government’s response to the Auditor’s report and the steps that will be taken moving forward.

At a time when Ontario is experiencing unprecedented growth, it’s never been more important to deliver on our commitment to build at least 1.5 million homes.

My Comment: The CBC reports that Ontario has more than 1.25 million potential new homes already in the development pipeline — it just needs to figure out how to convince builders to get shovels in the ground. Developers are sitting on planning approvals, choosing not to build. Municipalities are, in general, not housebuilders. They give approvals to developers.

In March this year York Region's Housing Affordability Task Force showed total housing supply of 1,126,960 units - that's housing approved and proposed. The figure excludes over 225,000 units under construction. The Regional Planning Commissioners say: 

"Data shows there are already over 1 million approved and proposed housing units in the development approval process. If a proxy of as-of-right accessory units is added, this number totals more than 1.25 million potential new homes." (See table at bottom)

York Region is planning to hold a workshop in the Fall to look at the number of approvals granted by their nine constituent municipalities and the number of construction starts. But we shall get a glimpse of what is to come on Thursday 7 September 2023 at the next meeting of the Housing Affordability Task Force. I hope Dawn is invited to sit in. And offer her views.

To continue reading click "read more" below.

Update on Saturday 26 August 2023: From the Toronto Star's Martin Reg Cohn: Here's why Does Ford needs to back down on his Greenbelt fiasco.

Update on 29 August 2023: From the Toronto Star: Doug Ford says Ajax sites could be returned to the Greenbelt after learning developer aims to sell