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'Greenbelt just the tip of the iceberg': Scrutiny turns to boundary changes benefiting developer who bought tickets to Ford stag party

The scandal over the removal of land from the protected Greenbelt for a connected few could be just "the tip of the iceberg" as opposition parties called for a new investigation of a different set of land changes that may prove to be another type of headache for Ontario's beleaguered government.

Land south of Hamilton was moved into the city's urban boundary — a boon for developers — on the same day as the Greenbelt land swap, and just months after the integrity commissioner found a landowner bought tickets to the stag and doe party for the daughter of Premier Doug Ford, documents show.

"We're going to be writing to the auditor general to investigate this. We're going to be asking tough questions in the legislature. This is not over," NDP MPP Sandy Shaw said in an interview.

That landowner, developer Sergio Manchia, told CTV News Toronto he had no insider knowledge.

 "It was widely known that the minister might take the action that he did later that fall to impose expansion. We had no inside information. When properties came onto the market that year, we thought it would be a good investment, considering what was publicly known. We had expressed interest in them as far back as 2020," Manchia said in an emailed statement.

 "My company did buy tickets to the premier's stag and doe, but I did not attend. And we had no insider advance knowledge that the province was going to release several parcels of land from the Greenbelt."

At issue are several properties on White Church Road that were put into Hamilton's urban boundary in November 2022. Documents show that Manchia is a director of a company that purchased at least two properties on that road, one for $2.9 million in 2021 and another for $6 million in 2023.

A swath near those properties was brought out of the Greenbelt in November 2022 in a process that reports from the province's auditor-general and integrity commissioner found was flawed and biased, and resulted in a potential $8.3 billion windfall for the landowners.

The scandal prompted the resignation of former Housing Minister Steve Clark and his Chief of Staff Ryan Amato. And when it was revealed that Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Kaleed Rasheed and a former aide to the premier had massages with a developer in Las Vegas, the minister and the premier's housing director also resigned.

The integrity commissioner found that Manchia bought tickets to the premier's daughter's stag and doe in August 2022.

 "I found it interesting that Mr. Manchia stated that the tickets to the stag and doe were purchased from Tony Miele, who is the Chair of the PC Ontario Fund, the fundraising arm of the Ontario PC Party," Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake wrote.

Wake found the premier did not break ethical rules in part because he didn't personally accept the money. Last week, Ford pledged to cancel the Greenbelt changes, saying they had become a distraction.

But concerns about the process that were validated in Greenbelt investigations could also touch on other urban boundary changes, according to Hamilton councillor Mark Tadeson.

"If we're looking at land across the street, I'm going to suggest that probably the same processes that were flawed were probably followed for that process, too. Not pointing any fingers, but I'm saying it should be investigated," Tadeson said.

The leader of the Ontario Liberals, John Fraser, took aim at the boundary changes in the legislature's Question Period.

"No one believes the premier's stories anymore. The Greenbelt is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more gravy trains on the rails in Ontario," Fraser said.

Ford responded by questioning the Liberal's record in its own gas plant scandal, and then reiterated a familiar line about building homes in a housing crisis.

"Mr. Speaker, we're going to move the province forward, we're going to create 1.5 million homes," he said.

Manchia said he had also owned land in the area for about 20 years "before the Greenbelt was even created."

"Our land is actually completely surrounded by an existing community and abutting elementary school. We had been asking for years that they be taken out of the Greenbelt, long before Doug Ford was elected Premier. Hamilton City Council agreed with us that it was a mistake to include this land in the Greenbelt," he said.

"It's really disappointing that our properties have been caught up in the broader Greenbelt lands controversy because we could have been moving quickly to build much-needed housing with the support of the City," Manchia added, pointing out that he was active in the community and politics, was a school board trustee for some time, and had contributed to the NDP.

"I believe in responsible development and in working openly, fairly and always in accordance with the law with municipal and provincial governments to help build better cities, and to do our part to help ease our shortage of housing." Top Stories

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