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Ontario NDP submits 'additional evidence' in Greenbelt development investigation

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The Ontario New Democratic Party has submitted “additional evidence” to the Integrity Commissioner that they allege shows the government tipped off developers about its plans to carve up sections of the Greenbelt.

Integrity Commissioner David Wake announced earlier this month that he would be launching an investigation into a complaint made by incoming NDP Leader Marit Stiles.

The complaint, submitted on Dec. 8, was extensive, and included both media reports and “direct evidence” to support the claims, Wake said in his decision.

In the request, Stiles argued that Housing Minister Steve Clark contravened the Members Integrity Act when it came to the decision to allow development in the Greenbelt and Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

The two sections of the act in question cover conflicts of interest and the use of insider information.

MORE: Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner launch investigation into Greenbelt development

This week Stiles submitted further details to the integrity commissioner’s office. The NDP released the “additional evidence” to the media on Wednesday.

In a letter dated Jan. 27, the NDP alleges that details about the removal of at least one portion of the Greenbelt were discussed verbally days before the Ontario government announced its intention to remove 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt to allow for development.

Ontario NDP MPP Marit Stiles speaks to the media following the Speech from the Throne at Queen's Park in Toronto, on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

The allegations build on reports by multiple media outlets that large developers had purchased Greenbelt land since the Progressive Conservative government was first elected in 2018.

One of those investments was made as late as September 2022. That piece of property lies in King Township, next to the boundary with Newmarket. Records show the property was sold to Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc. for about $80 million.

Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc. is a company connected to developer Rice Group.

On Nov. 7, King Township’s committee passed a motion endorsing the use of these lands as the site for a new health-care centre. A resolution said “the landowner has made a commitment to provide the necessary lands for the Southlake Regional Health Centre for a nominal fee.”

Councillors concerned about land removal from Greenbelt at hospital site

Documents released by the NDP show this negotiation about a “nominal fee” for a hospital to be built on this protected land occurred on Nov. 1, three days before the Ontario government officially announced their plan. A Freedom of Information Request made by a blogger, and obtained and released by the NDP, show the commitment was made verbally between King Township’s mayor and representatives of Rice Group and Southlake.

A sign promoting Ontario's Greenbelt is seen in this undated image. (Katelyn Wilson/CTV News)

“It is evident that King Township did know about the removal of this land from the Greenbelt and did discuss this information with representatives of the Rice Group prior to the November 4 announcement, and it is our opinion that this suggests that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing lacked a factual basis for his answer to MPP Jeff Burch during Question Period on November 30, 2022,” the NDP wrote in their submission to the commissioner.

However, Steve Pellegrini, the mayor of King Township, told CTV News Toronto that his government had no knowledge of the province’s plans to open up the Greenbelt for development. In fact, he is asking the NDP to issue an apology for their “slanderous” allegations.

“We're extremely disappointed with the false information,” he said over the phone. “It's important that people understand we have not spoken with Minister Clark or the premier about the Greenbelt for the Oak Ridges Moraine in King.”

Pellegrini said he met with representatives of the Rice Group at their request and discussed the possibility of them donating the land for a hospital.

“Hospitals are permitted within the Greenbelt,” he said. “The province is permitted to put that type of infrastructure, which quite frankly when you talk about healthcare, we need all the new hospitals we can get.”

At no time did they discuss further development of the Greenbelt land, Pellegrini added. He said King Township opposes any further development of the area.

“What the NDP leader alleges is totally false and I expect an apology from her.”

Clark and Premier Doug Ford have repeatedly been asked about allegations that developers knew about their plans to change the Greenbelt and have denied them.

“The government has been very clear in our postings on what our intention is regarding the property. We’ve been open, clear and transparent, and we look forward to receiving comments from the public,” Clark said in Question Period on Nov. 30.

The integrity commissioner also made note of Clark and Premier Doug Ford’s denial that they disclosed the site locations for possible development ahead of its announcement in his decision to launch an investigation.

“They advised that the selection of the affected lands was made by public servants who were subject to an enhanced confidentiality protocol and that the minister was briefed and accepted their proposal only a few days before he presented it to Cabinet and the government made its announcement shortly thereafter,” the report read.

A spokesperson for Clark said earlier this month the minister "looks forward to being cleared of any wrongdoing at the conclusion of the investigation.”

Ontario’s Auditor General is also launching an investigation into the province’s plans to develop the Greenbelt, focusing on a value-for-money audit on the financial and environmental impacts of removing the protected land.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk told CTV News Toronto they hope to complete the investigation by the end of the year. 

IMPROPER LOBBYING ALLEGATIONS

The NDP have also made allegations of improper lobbying. In particular, the party notes that a former chief of staff to the minister of municipal affairs and housing is now acting as the chief executive officer for the Ontario Homebuilders Association (OHBA), who is registered to lobby the government on matters related to housing.

Luca Bucci worked in Clark's office from January 2021 to April 2022. A month later, on May 30, Bucci registered to lobby the ministry; however, in the application, it states that he “has not and will not lobby the minister of municipal affairs and housing, the office of the minister of municipal affairs and housing and/or the ministry or municipal affairs and housing until at least April 1, 2023.”

“Ms. Stiles continues to omit this fact in her various statements to the media, despite it being mentioned twice on OHBA’s lobbyist registration and her statement that Mr. Bucci registered to lobby the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is wrong,” the OHBA said in a statement.

The association also noted that Bucci is required by law to file a lobbyist registration as the most senior officer of the organization.

“This registration discloses the lobbying activities of all employees and officers of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and not just the activities of Mr. Bucci, as Ms. Stiles continues to wrongly suggest in her public statements.”

In its registration form, the OHBA says its goals are to propose legislative changes that would impact the Development Charges Act, the Planning Act and the Conservation Authorities Act.

All three pieces of legislation were impacted by Bill 23, which overrode some municipal zoning laws and eliminated some development fees in an effort to follow through on the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Jon Woodward

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