In 2023 the developer Michael Rice was interviewed under oath by the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, who was conducting an investigation into the conduct of the former municipal affairs and housing minister Steve Clark in connection with the Greenbelt scandal. 

Witnesses appearing before the Integrity Commissioner promise to tell the truth.

Rice told the Commissioner he was gifting a site for a new hospital. At no point did he say his immediate neighbour to the south, John Dunlap, was also minded to gift land for precisely the same purpose. I would have thought this relevant.

Pellegrini knew 

King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, who cannot always be relied upon to tell the truth, knew from at least the second week of March 2020 that the wealthy King landowner and Southlake Board member, John Dunlap, was prepared to gift land for a new hospital. It is impossible to believe Pellegrini did not mention this to Michael Rice. (The undated letter from Dunlap to Mayor Pellegrini (right) was received in the Mayor's Office "around the first or second week of March 2020" according to a new disclosure from King Municipality.)

On 3 May 2022 Rice entered into an agreement to purchase the Bathurst lands though the sale was not completed until 15 September 2022.

Pellegrini met Rice face-to-face on at least three occasions in 2022 to discuss the developer’s plans to donate land to Southlake. On 10 August 2022 they met for lunch at the Terra restaurant in Richmond Hill. On 17 October 2022 they met again at King Municipal Centre for a “Southlake Hospital Expansion pre-meeting” to prepare for the one with Southlake’s Arden Krystal and John Marshman on 1 November 2022. This is when Rice made his offer to gift Greenbelt land to Southlake for a peppercorn. 


It is inconceivable those present at the "Southlake Hospital Expansion" pre-meeting - involving Pellegrini, King's Director of Growth Management and professional planner, Stephen Naylor, Michael Rice and his policy chief, John McGovern - were unaware of Dunlap’s offer of land.

We don't yet know the exact location of the proposed hospital nor its precise footprint. We don’t know where any other ancillary medical buildings were planned to be built. Nor where any Long-Term-Care facility would be located. But we know from Rice’s evidence to the Integrity Commissioner that the hospital would be on his lands. In his report published on 30 August 2023 the Integrity Commissioner writes:

[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. 

I am left wondering why Rice didn’t mention Dunlap’s offer of land. This is the enduring mystery. Would the proposed hospital straddle the Greenbelt lands owned by Rice and Dunlap as always seemed likely to me? If so, the two men must have discussed this. 

Dunlap preps Pellegrini

In an undated letter – which must have been sent after 20 July 2020 - Dunlap wrote to Pellegrini to prep him in advance of his meeting with Southlake's Chief Executive, Arden Krystal. The letter confirmed Dunlap’s wish to donate land and attached maps showing the location his property and road access to it. (see right) 

So far, this is very straightforward. It was public knowledge from at least April 2021 that Southlake was looking for a second site for a new hospital. What was unknown to those outside the golden circle was Dunlap’s involvement.

Was Dunlap obliged to declare an interest to the Southlake Board? I don’t know. But I expect to hear something next month on this point.

Southlake’s former Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, has never publicly acknowledged Dunlap’s offer.  

Sequence of Events

On 27 November 2023 Arden Krystal explained the sequence of events in a letter to Southlake’s Privacy Office:

"In the spring of 2022, the Ministry of Health announced a $5M grant to Southlake to plan a new redevelopment. This brought attention from local landowners, donors, and our Foundation, as everyone was curious about where this new build would be. During that time, our VP of Capital and Facilities, John Marshman, and I were approached by a range of community members, including local mayors, identifying potential parcels of land. None of this was formal as we had not yet convened our Board Land acquisition Committee. I had a number of conversations with local developers introduced by donors and/or Foundation staff during fundraising and other community events. Notes were not taken as these were solely conversations at an extremely high level. It was in this way that I also approached the November 1, 2022 meeting with Mayor Pellegrini and Michael Rice."

 "Towards the end of September 2022, I received a phone call from Mayor Steve Pellegrini. I believed he called my office line since I have no record of his call on my cell phone. On that call he suggested that he may have a potential land donor that I should speak with. I agreed for his office to contact my assistant to schedule a meeting. That meeting was set up for November 1, 2022 at the King Township Offices. There were no other calls, emails or texts exchanged other than a text to my cell from Mayor Pellegrini on September 26, 2022 at 3:04 pm that stated: "We will co-ordinate. Daniel our CAO will be in contact." Subsequent to that, calendar invites were extended and these have already been shared with your office

“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 redevelopment.

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

On 15 September 2022 Rice bought the Bathurst lands for $80M. On 27 or 28 September 2022 he met Steve Clark's Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, at his (Rice's) offices in Markham. He gave Amato a bundle of papers including a rationale for developing the Bathurst lands. But there was no mention of a hospital.

We don’t know when John Dunlap told Arden Krystal that he was prepared to donate his 108 acres of Greenbelt land at Bathurst and Davis Drive West for a new hospital. He told Pellegrini he would continue

“to work with Southlake on a donation process”

... if Pellegrini thought the idea had merit.

Dunlap's 108 acres was enough for Southlake's purposes.

But now it has all turned to dust.

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Blog updated on 2 February 2024 to indicate that Dunlap's letter to Pellegrini - shown above right - was received in March 2020.

John Dunlap, the former Southlake Board member and land agent, is revealed as the mystery landowner who offered his own land at Bathurst and Davis Drive West as the site of a new acute hospital. 

The site lies in the Greenbelt’s protected countryside in King Municipality. 

Confirmation came from King Township last week following my appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

In a letter to King Mayor Steve Pellegrini on 20 July 2020 Dunlap wrote: 

“Further to our discussion, my family would be interested in donating land to create a new site for Southlake Regional Hospital. Our family has supported Southlake for three generations and we want to see it continue to grow and meet the needs of King Township and the regions beyond.

Our corner property is at the northwest corner of Davis Drive west and Bathurst Street. Our property is approximately 108 acres which could meet the needs for Southlake and related medical services. The site is 4 kilometres west of Southlake Regional Hospital and the property is 7km east of Highway 400 and 7kms west of Highway 404.”

Why is this significant? 

It means that John Dunlap and Michael Rice both offered land to Southlake for a new hospital. Dunlap’s 108 acres was more than enough for a new hospital and its location ticked all the boxes. 

Dunlap had a close professional relationship with Rice. Dunlap acted as the land agent who facilitated the sale of 2.78 sq kms of protected countryside from Bob Schickedanz, the former President of the Ontario Home Builders Association, to Rice on 15 September 2022. Dunlap came off the Southlake Board on 22 September 2022 after a four-year stint.

It is inconceivable that Dunlap was unaware of Rice's overtures to Southlake. Or are we expected to believe that each acted independently of the other? 

If that seems fanciful - and they instead acted in concert - then the question arises: what was the nature of the understanding they had?

There is no evidence that I have seen which indicates that Dunlap withdrew his offer of land for a second Southlake. But Michael Rice's schematic shown to the meeting on 1 November 2022 clearly shows the Southlake logo straddling the lands owned by Dunlap and Rice. (see graphic right)

The Go-between

King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, was the go-between, teeing things up and bringing Michael Rice to the table. Since at least July 2020 Pellegrini had been aware of Dunlap's offer of land. 

In February this year Pellegrini told the King Sentinel:

“I have been moving this idea forward since 2019 – on different lands, with different landowners.” 

On 1 November 2022, at the now famous meeting at King Municipal Centre, Rice offered some of his newly purchased land to Southlake for a new hospital. The land was to be gifted for a peppercorn.

But, scandalously, there is no note of what was discussed nor what was decided other than the offer of land. 

Everyone present at the meeting – Mayor Steve Pellegrini, Southlake Chief Executive Arden Krystal, Southlake’s VP for Capital Facilities John Marshman, Michael Rice and his policy chief John McGovern – would have known about Dunlap’s offer. 

Viable Option

The Integrity Commissioner noted in his report of 30 August 2023 at 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 believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.”

Pellegrini and Arden Krystal would get a new hospital. Rice believed he would be able to develop – at least in part – his newly acquired lands at Bathurst for a long-term care home and ancillary medical facilities. And, presumably, Rice and Dunlap would get a donation receipt from Southlake which would allow them to offset against tax the value of their gifted land. And the rest of us would lose precious, irreplaceable protected countryside.


On 7 November 2022, Pellegrini moved a Council motion celebrating Rice’s offer of land for a new hospital. Earlier that day, Krystal emailed Pellegrini saying the offer of land was “truly exciting”.  She suggested changes to the text of Pellegrini’s motion “to make it less controversial” and when he agreed she told him that was “awesome”.

It has always perplexed me that Southlake’s Chief Executive never made a file note or generated any emails about that hugely consequential gift of land on 1 November 2022. 

On 27 November 2023 she explained it this way: 

“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 redevelopment.

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

She went on to say she had diligently shared all records related to the November 1, 2022 meeting and provided context. She said:

“I have exhausted all disclosure and have no further details.”

Follow-up meeting

Despite this ringing declaration, and after almost a year of probing, on 21 December 2023 I learned from a bundle of newly released answers to Freedom of Information requests - filed with Southlake many months ago - that a “Follow-up” to the 1 November 2022 meeting was held on 19 December 2022 involving Mayor Steve Pellegrini and Southlake people. This was news to me. I have now asked for all records of that meeting.

And what exactly were they following up? Is there an agenda? Minutes? Or is this another phantom meeting where no notes were taken?

We know that less than four weeks later - on 16 January 2023 - there was a Southlake meeting to discuss “site selection” – specifically looking at the “Bathurst-Davis Drive Opportunity”. The agenda included reference to “LTC fit” which I take to mean “long term care” and an MZO (Minister’s Zoning Order). These agenda items most likely came from the discussions on 1 November 2022.

So, where does this leave us?

We still don’t have a site plan or sketch showing the location of the hospital complex and any ancillary medical facilities. We still don’t know where the long-term care facility – if there is one – was to be located. This information from Southlake’s Capital Projects records has been withheld by the hospital chiefs. (Click "read more" below)

But, most importantly, we do not know the nature of the understanding between John Dunlap and Michael Rice that allowed them both to offer land for a second Southlake in the protected Greenbelt.

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Update on 24 December 2023: From the Newmarket Era: Newsmakers 2023: Newmarket Hospital President, Arden Krystal, retires amid Successes and Challenges

Click "read more" for sight of documents withheld by Southlake. 

Canada’s Freedom of Information laws are not fit for purpose.

The Globe and Mail’s “Secret Canada” series shows how difficult it is to get information from the Government and from public bodies. 

Their conclusions chime with my own experience.

For the past year I have been searching for the answers to the Greenbelt Scandal in the municipality of King, next door to where I live in Newmarket. I am interested in the story of how prime agricultural land in the protected countryside in the Greenbelt came to be opened-up for development. Some people were in line to make millions of dollars - until Doug Ford did his U-turn. We still don’t know the full story and await the outcome of the RCMP investigation.

Endless delay

I’ve filed countless Freedom of Information requests with King and with Southlake Hospital and with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and hit road blocks at every turn. Endless delays. Staggering costs. Hoping I just go away.

I have been told no records exist when they do. Yet there are no consequences for those who dissemble and who knowingly give false information. There have been unconscionable delays with every request strung out for as long as possible before I get an answer. 

Public institutions such as municipalities and hospitals are obliged to keep records. But, too often, they pay lip service to this legal requirement. 

And the costs of getting information can be significant. It all adds up.

"Expedite development" 

On 7 November 2022 King’s Mayor, Steve Pellegrini moved a motion at Committee supporting the location of a new Southlake on Greenbelt lands gifted by the developer Michael Rice. The motion directed staff: 

“to work with the landowner, Province, and Southlake Regional Health Centre to expedite development approvals for these lands” 

But when I asked King to show me how staff implemented this direction from Council I was told this information would cost me $1,035.

After some toing-and-froing with the Township I narrowed down my request to save money. Under the terms of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act 1990 I only wanted “exempted information” (ie information they couldn’t withhold because, for example, it was already in the public domain.) But I was told this exempted information was mixed in with other protected information that would not be released. 

The Township’s Clerk, Denny Timm, told me:

 I understand you wanted to narrow your request by excluding responsive records where sections 9, 10, 11 and 12 would apply and for those parts of section 7 other than the exceptions. In reviewing the responsive records, all records that have section 7 applied to them also have other exemptions applied to them, such as section 12 or section 11, and therefore would still be exempted from disclosure.

I am unsure how you want to proceed at this stage knowing this. Please give some consideration to this and let me know.

Clearly, all this material would have to be reviewed by King staff and much of it would blacked-out. In these circumstances do I still want to go ahead and spend $1,035 and, perhaps, be none the wiser? Probably not.

Shared Vision

When I asked the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for sight of records relating to the draft agreement between the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator and Michael Rice, the owner of the Bathurst lands, I was told it would cost $482 and would likely be heavily redacted as the request involved the interests of a third party (ie the landowner).

The Integrity Commissioner’s report on Steve Clark refers to the work of the Provincial Land Development Facilitator:

[255] The Provincial Land Development Facilitator, Paula Dill, advised that she was given a mandate by Minister Clark to facilitate discussions on the 15 sites that were removed or redesignated “to achieve development agreements that would accommodate a shared vision for attaining the government objectives on these sites.”

[256] As of August 7, 2023, Ms Dill advised me that no final agreements have been reached but she has reached agreements in principle or draft agreements with respect to eight of the 15 areas removed or redesignated, namely: King Township, Minotar, Block 41, Leslie Elgin, Cline Road, 502 Winston Road, Nash Road, and Barton Street.

What was this shared vision between the Provincial Government and Michael Rice relating to the Greenbelt lands at Bathurst? I doubt we shall ever know. But whyever not? Surely the public interest demands disclosure.

Mystery landowner

I have several long-running appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner who shortly may order the release of some key information, allowing me to join up squillions of dots. I hope to learn by 21 December 2023 the name of Mayor Pellegrini’s mystery landowner who offered land in King for a new Southlake. And perhaps, at long last, I shall learn the name of the Southlake Board member who declared a conflict of interest to the Board meeting on 22 September 2022.

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Click "read more" below for relevant sections of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act 1990

Yesterday’s big news is, actually, very old news. (Photo: Doug Ford yesterday). 

Our bumbling Premier, the hapless Doug Ford, is finally going to deliver on his stale 2018 promise to (sort of) open-up the beer market to greater retail competition in…. 2026. 

The policy was initially celebrated with great fanfare by Ford’s enablers. On 7 August 2018, former PC Health Minister, Newmarket-Aurora MPP and now health lobbyist, Christine Elliott, told the Ontario legislature:

“Buck-a-beer is part of the government’s commitment to transforming alcohol retailing in Ontario, which includes expanding the sale of beer and wine to convenience stores, grocery stores and big box stores. This is just further evidence that our government is going to do what we said we would do, and that’s put Ontario consumers first.”

The Beer Store Bill barrelled through the Legislature with no Committee stage. No thought had been given to the consequences of Ontario breaking its contract with the Beer Store owners. 


But this casual disregard for proper process was an early indication of how Ford would govern. Cack-handed and spur-of-the-moment decision making.

In 2019, after months trying, I got an appointment to meet Elliott at her constituency office in the Nature’s Emporium plaza in Newmarket.

Dawn Gallagher Murphy - who was appointed by Ford as PC candidate to replace Elliott  – sat in on the meeting, taking notes. Gallagher Murphy asked me to let her know beforehand what I wanted to talk about. It soon became clear to me that I knew more about the issue than they did.

I wanted to know what, if anything, would stop the Beer Store owners going to Court for breach of contract? And if the Province negotiated with the Beer Store owners and settled out of Court, what would that settlement look like?

I remember the blank faces.

I saved a few minutes to talk about the subversion of Parliamentary process and procedure. The story is rich with irony. 

Choking off debate

The disgraced former Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark, used to complain about the way in which the (then) Liberal Government was constantly trying to curtail debate. On 28 May 2015 he fumed:

“Time after time, we’ve had negotiations where all of a sudden the government stops talking to us and presents bills that will either choke off debate or move bills through quickly without hearing from constituents.”

There is now a very long list of consequential Bills that reached the Statute Book with absolutely no public input whatsoever. 

Does that concern Newmarket-Aurora’s Dawn Gallagher-Murphy?

I doubt she has given any thought to it. 

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See also Toronto Star editorial 15 December 2023.

Another screeching U-turn from the Ford Government as Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra abandons plans to dissolve Peel Region. 

In a news release earlier today Calandra talks about "recalibrating" the mandate of the Peel Region Transition Board to focus on local government efficiency and responsiveness instead of dissolution.

The Government forged ahead with plans to break up Peel without considering the costs of a huge municipal reorganisation. And the Bill was rushed through the Legislature with no opportunity for the public and experts to comment. This is the result.

Calandra says:

“While we originally thought that the best way to achieve our goals of better services and lower taxes was through dissolution, we’ve since heard loud and clear from municipal leaders and stakeholders that full dissolution would lead to significant tax hikes and disruption to critical services the people of Peel Region depend on. This is something our government will never support.

Oh dear! The Government is becoming a laughing stock. One step forward. Two steps back.

I am left wondering how much this pointless exercise cost the taxpayers.

The new Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie, the Mayor of Mississagua, will be spitting feathers. 

Too bad. She was always on the wrong side of the argument.

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Update on 13 December 2023: From Newmarket Today: Audit of Newmarket among Ford Government walk-backs