Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner says her office has 19 active files concerning requests for records related to the Greenbelt – including my own.

The Commissioner, Patricia Kosseim, told Opposition Leader Marit Stiles on 21 May 2024 that once the appeals had been concluded:

“my office plans to publish a special report consolidating our findings and providing a comprehensive summary of our conclusions and insights into the access to information and record keeping issues relating to changes to the Greenbelt.”

She says:

“Transparency in government actions and decisions is a fundamental principle that underpins the public’s trust in government. Ensuring such actions are open to external scrutiny is essential to maintaining this trust and upholding the values that guide our work at the IPC.”

No Records

On Friday (31 May 2024) Southlake told me they have no records of the 24 January 2023 “follow-up” meeting to discuss the momentous earlier meeting on 1 November 2022 when developer Michael Rice offered lands in the Protected Greenbelt at Bathurst as the site of a new acute hospital.

I asked for sight of any records three months ago. 

King Township tells me they too have no records, only the invitation list:

Arden Krystal, then Chief Executive of Southlake; John Marshman, Southlake’s Vice President, Capital Facilities; Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King and Daniel Kostopoulos, the Township’s Chief Administrative Officer.

Known Opportunity

Southlake’s Land Acquisition Sub Committee, chaired by John Marshman, met for the first time on 5 December 2022 and considered the one “known opportunity” for a new hospital development at Bathurst and Davis. 

On 16 January 2023 Southlake’s Peter Green convened a Microsoft Teams meeting to take the “known opportunity” forward. We now know from the invitation list that this meeting was a gathering of very important people – architects, planners, facilities experts, and, of course, Southlake’s top people on this file. The participants included Nathan Robinson, John Marshman, Krista Chroshuk, Marbara Miszkiel, Vlad Pavliuc, Chuck Wertheimer and Angela Sciberras.

It is reasonable to expect there would be some basic briefing documents, emails and other records given that we now know what was on the agenda. 

Long-term care facility & MZOs

They were discussing the location of the new hospital, the “fit test”, the incorporation of a new long-term care facility within the acute hospital complex and the possible application of Ministerial Zoning Orders. 

But, astonishingly, there are no records.

Not even a glancing reference to the proposed long-term care facility - only the agenda's Delphic "LTC fit". 

Long-term care hadn't been flagged up once by Southlake's top management when they were consulting the public on the hospital's Master Plan, their vision for the future.

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The UK General Election on 4 July 2024 is almost certain to result in a Labour landslide. The ruling Conservatives - who have had five Prime Ministers in the last decade – are predicted to get 66 MPs, down from the 376 elected at the last General Election in 2019. It will be a wipe-out and one that is richly deserved. 

For all its absurdities and distortions, the key virtue of First-Past-the-Post is that it allows disillusioned voters “to kick the bums out”. 

Trouble in the ranks

If Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, gets a towering majority next month – and sticks to his policy of smothering dissent in the Party – there will be trouble in the ranks.

In 1997 Tony Blair won by a landslide and believed he could walk on water. At the time I was a newly appointed PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary) to Cabinet Minister, Gavin Strang.

Within months of the election, the new Government, flexing its muscles, whipped Labour MPs to vote for cuts in lone parent benefit. We had never been consulted about this. It was not what my constituency wanted so I voted against – one of 47 Labour MPs who rebelled. It was career ending.

The cuts went through but the scale of the rebellion shocked 10 Downing Street and the Treasury. The policy was quietly reversed the following year.

Squashing dissent

Writing in the UK’s Guardian last week, the celebrated diarist Chris Mullin reminds us of the dangers of overbearing Party leaders squashing dissent wherever they find it. 

The realisation that a single unwise tweet, however ancient, or even the mildest dissent from the official line, can be career-ending will have a chilling effect on debate within the party… all healthy governments need a degree of internal challenge. In governments of all parties, unwise or downright foolish initiatives are often quietly junked before they see the light of day as a result of threatened backbench rebellions…”

He goes on: 

“And who with the benefit of hindsight can say that the 139 Labour MPs (I was one) who rebelled over the government’s decision to help the US invade Iraq were wrong? Had he listened, Tony Blair’s reputation would not now be stained by the shadow of Iraq.”

I, too, voted against the war in Iraq. 

At the time Chris and I were members of a small Committee - elected by Labour MPs - who met Tony Blair weekly on Wednesdays to discuss the Government’s agenda. On 5 February 2003, I put forward a critical motion on the Government’s line on Iraq, backed by the late Tony Lloyd, but our concerns were dismissed.

Dissident and enforcer

In his marvellously entertaining diaries Chris writes about his experiences as a backbench MP and as a junior Minister in three Departments. He was famously a dissident but there were times when he, too, enforced the Government’s line.

I vividly remember Chris raging at me during a pre-meeting for Labour MPs on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. At the time he was a junior minister in the Department of the Environment responsible with Michael Meacher for shepherding the Bill through the Commons. He furiously demanded I withdraw an amendment I had tabled to the Bill to ban foxhunting. The amendment was backed by over 100 Labour MPs. The Clerks had assured me the amendment could happily sit within the CROW Bill and was procedurally in order.


I had been working for ages to get the Government to act on foxhunting and – along with the vast majority of Labour MPs - I was fed-up with Blair’s endless foot-dragging. Any number of Bills on foxhunting, promoted by private members, had foundered. It needed the Government itself to act. 

Chris – usually mild-mannered and even tempered - raged at the top of his voice that my amendment would scupper the Bill that Michael had been determinedly working on, in the teeth of opposition from Number 10. I didn’t believe for one moment that my amendment would kill the Bill. 

Chris insisted it had to be withdrawn immediately. Michael Meacher, in the chair, just looked on. 


I said I would withdraw my New Clause 5, which was scheduled for consideration at Report Stage when the Bill returned to the floor of the Commons, but on one condition - that the Government would announce from the Despatch Box that it would bring in its own Bill to ban foxhunting.

Which is what happened.

Had he not been a Government Minister at the time, Chris, whom I like very much, would have been proud of me.

The clash was a moment of high drama for me but the exchange didn't make it into Chris's Diary: "A View from the Foothills". Happily I got quite a few other mentions, but not the one that counted.

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Click "read more" below for CBC's Aaron Wherry's newsletter earlier today where he talks about dissent in the Canadian House of Commons. And Parliamentary reform.

This morning’s Toronto Star tells us there will finally be beer and wine in corner stores after Labour Day thanks to a $225 million payout to the privately-run Beer Store. 

So, at long last, Doug Ford is delivering on his stale 2018 promise that convenience stores should be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks from September. 

Almost six years ago, on 7 August 2018, Ford’s deputy, 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.”

I am left wondering... Whatever happened to Buck-a-Beer? 


I remember meeting Christine Elliott in the summer of 2019 to discuss Ford’s buck-a-beer policy. Our current MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, then Elliott’s Office Manager, was sitting in, taking notes.

It was clear to me from the outset that Elliott didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Gallagher Murphy, sat silently, pen in hand. 

Now, incessantly, Gallagher Murphy parrots the message from FordNation - whatever the topic.

Soviet Style

Personally, I'm all in favour of liberalising the market in alcohol. But not the Ford way.

When I first arrived in Canada it struck me as completely weird that wines and spirits could only be purchased in a special store designated as such by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. This way of shopping seemed straight out of the Soviet Union.


That said, Ford’s move to liberalise the market has been boneheaded and cack-handed, burning through hundreds of millions of tax dollars. And for what? 

So that Ford can meet a self-imposed deadline to deliver on his tired, endlessly recycled promise?

Or to get another headline?

Both. I suppose.

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Update on 27 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Ford is betting that beer will help him win an early election

Update on 28 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Tory Insiders say fear of a Pierre Poilievre has Doug Ford considering an early election

Update on 31 May 2024: Toronto Star editorial: No need to rush booze to corner stores

Last week (on 13 May 2024) King Township Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, tells councillors he supports a change in the law to allow a new Southlake hospital to be built on Protected Greenbelt at the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst. 

He tells councillors:

I want this to be very crystal clear then. If we have an opportunity to put a hospital at the corner of Highway 9 and Dufferin… I’m sorry! Bathurst. Highway 9 and Bathurst. On the corner…”

He goes on:

“I believe a hospital there… not a whole development… a hospital would be an incredible asset to this community. It serves this community. Southlake is a hospital that serves King Township.”

On 1 November 2022, the developer Michael Rice offered Southlake land in the Protected Countryside at Bathurst for a peppercorn. He bought the 2.7 sq km block of land for $80M  less than two months earlier, on 15 September 2022. The background is here.


Since then, Pellegrini has repeatedly made statements to the press and media about the planned development on the Rice lands which are known to be false

After the Greenbelt scandal, a chastened Doug Ford announced that no development would be allowed on the Protected Greenbelt or on the Oak Ridges Moraine. 

But despite this, in plain sight, Ford is taking a chainsaw to the Province’s planning system. What he said wouldn't happen - development in the Protected Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine - may now very well happen.

Bill 185

Bill 185, currently before the Ontario Legislature, proposes a new framework for Ministerial Zoning Orders which would allow development in the protected Greenbelt if it delivers on a Provincial priority such as long term care and hospitals. 

A request to the Minister to permit development on the protected Greenbelt would have to be supported by a single tier or lower tier municipality either through a resolution from Council or from a letter from the Mayor - if he or she has "strong Mayor" powers.

Fortunately, Pellegrini doesn’t have strong Mayor powers. Otherwise it would be game over.

The debate at King Council last week - responding to the Ford Government's consultation on Bill 185 - focussed on the Bill’s proposal to allow certain types of development on the Protected Greenbelt. Cllr Debbie Schaefer and Cllr Mary Asselstine object. They move an amendment saying King Council does not want to see development in the protected Greenbelt.

Pellegrini is all over the place. The four term Mayor doesn't know which side is up or down.

"At the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst"

Finally, Pellegrini calls the vote with two in favour (Shaefer and Asselstine). Pellegrini says the amendment is lost without asking for those voting against. A third councillor, Jennifer Anstey, asks for the vote to be taken again as she wasn’t asked how she would vote. 

Pellegrini brushes the objection aside saying it needs two-thirds of the Council to ask for another vote. Anstey demurs and doesn’t press the point.

So, King Township is now happy to see a development on protected Greenbelt “at the corner of Highway 9 and Bathurst”. 

The land in question is owned by John Dunlap, a former member of the Southlake Board.

Dunlap facilitated the sale of land at Bathurst - immediately to the north of his property - to Michael Rice, the developer.

Incredibly, the Township takes their You Tube videos down after two weeks and the verbatim video record is lost forever.

I shall keep this clip up - just for the record.

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Note: Councillor Avia Eek appears throughout in the frame bottom right. She is a farmer. She says Bill 185 would not allow development in the Holland Marsh - one of the top agricultural areas in Canada. It is also protected Greenbelt.

Update on 24 May 2024: From Newmarket Today: King still hold on to hope for hospital on Newmarket Greenbelt border

Newmarket needs a new Library. 

That's been my view for years.

But it looks like no-one on the Council nor, astonishingly, the Library Board agrees with me. They are happy to make do with what they’ve got, putting their money in “outreach”.

The Library Board’s resident clown, Councillor Victor Woodhouse, dangled the prospect of a new Library at the Town’s Committee of the Whole on 8 April 2024 which was considering the Library’s “Report to the Community 2023”. He asked the Board Chair, Darryl Gray, and the Library’s Chief Executive, Tracy Munusami:

“We talk from time to time about the library expanding and doing something different and something more and I wonder if you can shed any light on the new building we've talked about? I think in the order of $40 million.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he confessed it was just a joke!

Oh dear!

Ten years ago, in 2014, I recall the former Library Chief Executive Todd Kyle making a very persuasive case for a new building. The Park Avenue library was too small. Newmarket spent less per capita than successful libraries in similar-sized communities. Ours is one of the smallest libraries per capita in the Province. The building was difficult to service and there was insufficient parking. People have been talking about a new library, off and on, for years.

Space at a premium

The Library Board admits space is tight. But they believe the way around this is to take the Library out into the community through “outreach”.

Unfortunately, we do not have statistics showing where (a) new members and (b) existing members of the Library live. Some councillors, such as Ward 7’s Christina Bisanz, have been wondering aloud if library services are reaching people in her patch, a million miles from the Library’s downtown location.

At the time of the last municipal election in 2022, there was some talk about opening a second branch but this never really got off the ground. Then people toyed with the idea of a mobile library. But that too was parked.

And the Deputy Mayor, Tom Vegh, no longer says:

“The debate over the need for a new public library is long over. The only question now is where and when.”

Today, his focus of attention is the Lendery, the Library of things, like pots and pans and power washers that people can borrow free of charge.

New Library no longer an aspiration

But what I find so depressing is that a new library is not even an aspiration. Not even to the Library Board.

Of course, the Town has other things to spend its money on such as Mulock Farm (which I support) but, at some stage, it will have to start thinking about a new building.

In the meantime, we need accurate, up-to-date statistics and explanations of what they mean. There are 5,357 new members but we have no breakdown showing how many live in Town and how many outside.

This information used to be given as a matter of course. 

In-person visits to the Library is new. How is that measured?

Annual Reports

Library Board Vice Chair, the effusive Councillor Kelly Broome, told the meeting on 8 April 2024 when discussing the Library’s “Report to the Community” that if councillors had all the annual reports lined up before them they would see the significant increase in services in recent years. Hmmm. I think that’s gilding the lily somewhat.

Library usage dropped off dramatically during the COVID years (as expected) but is now recovering. But many of the key metrics show us only slowly getting back to where we were in earlier years.

We still don’t have the full palette of usage statistics for 2023 (which are normally presented to the Board by April) but we do have figures from previous years. Here are the statistics for 2014 - the year Todd Kyle spoke out. And here are the figures for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

A report going to the NPL Board later today shows that, in our area, Georgina and East Gwillimbury have three libraries apiece. Neighbouring municipalities such as Aurora and Whitchurch-Stouffville have a single library like us but with much smaller populations.

At some point Newmarket will have to bite the bullet. 

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Update on 16 May 2024: Newmarket Today: Newmarket Library eyes Monday openings







Click "read more" below for the discussion on the Library's Report to the Community 2023 which was presented to the Town's Committee of the Whole on 8 April 2024.