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Ontario watchdog calls for probe into Mr. X's purchase, donation of tickets to premier's gala

An Ontario election watchdog is calling for a new investigation into  intrigue surrounding the removal of lands from the province’s protected Greenbelt — this time involving how a company run by the man labelled as “Mr. X” obtained and then donated two $1,500 tickets to a fundraiser for Premier Doug Ford.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says it doesn’t make sense that a company tied to “Mr. X” could give two tickets for the Progressive Conservative Leader’s Dinner in March to two Pickering politicians, and then have none of those names appear in provincial disclosures of corresponding political donations.

“The situation raises a lot of questions and the chief electoral officer at Elections Ontario should investigate to find out if any rules were broken,” Conacher said.

“Mr. X” was featured in a scathing report by the province’s integrity commissioner, who described him as one of several individuals who pushed to get land out of the Greenbelt in an unfair process that turned cheap farmland into land worth billions to developers. He is not a registered lobbyist.

The controversy sparked the resignation of former Housing Minister Steve Clark and his chief of staff, and Ford has vowed to review all lands in the Greenbelt — but has not responded to critics’ calls to undo the earlier deals.

Multiple sources have told CTV News that “Mr. X” is former Clarington mayor John Mutton.

In the report, the integrity commissioner quoted a contract that indicated he would get a $225,000 “Greenbelt fee” when 86 acres north of Nash Road in Clarington were removed from the Greenbelt, and a further $775,000 when it could be developed.

That land was one of 15 parcels removed in November, and the contract says “Mr. X” would get paid within 120 days.

Shortly after that, Pickering councillor Maurice Brenner says Mutton called him with a tempting offer: tickets to the PC Leader’s Dinner in March that were worth about $1,500 each.

“I turned it down,” Brenner said in an interview. “I really wasn’t interested in going to any fundraiser for any party in Ontario.”

“Sometimes you learn in politics where ‘black ice’ is. It’s defensive driving,” Brenner said.

Documents filed in the city’s gift registry show that Mayor Kevin Ashe and Councillor Lisa Robinson each accepted a $1,500 ticket from Mutton’s company, Municipal Solutions.

Pickering’s own Integrity Commissioner found last month those gifts were above the maximum they could accept, but didn’t levy a punishment.

The province’s integrity commissioner said in its report it is investigating “Mr. X” for possible lobbying violations, because he said getting paid on results of lobbying is against the rules.

Several photos posted by Mutton on social media show himself posing for selfies with Ford, though the premier distanced himself from Mutton.

“I take photos with thousands and thousands of people,” Ford said at a press conference earlier this week.

“Anyone that does advocacy work for anyone, if they don’t follow the rules, you’re going to be held accountable,” he said at the time.

PC Party staff said they do not accept corporate donations and a ticket for a fundraiser would count as a donation, which would be promptly reported to Elections Ontario.

However, they couldn’t answer questions from CTV News Toronto about who may have bought these tickets, or how many there are, saying the fundraiser involved some 4,000 purchased tickets.

“As per the Election Finances Act, political parties are prohibited from accepting corporate donations. Only personal contributions from individuals using their own funds are accepted. All individual donations are disclosed and posted publicly to the Elections Ontario website,” wrote the party’s director of communications, Zachary Zarnett-Klein.

Another issue, said Conacher, is that in his opinion it’s against the rules under the Election Finances Act for a ticket to be sold and then transferred to another person.

“You can’t accept a free ticket from someone, because that ticket is a donation. If they bought the ticket and handed it to you they made a donation on your behalf and that’s illegal,” he said.

In a search Thursday, neither Mutton, his company, Mayor Ashe, or Councillor Robinson’s names appear next to $1,500 donations in Election Ontario’s database. None of those people returned calls from CTV News.

The situation has come to light thanks to Pickering’s new lobbyist and gift registries, said Brenner, who says they are a great aid in transparency for voters to keep tabs on the people they elect.

“Tell the community that wants to know so it’s not a secret. It’s where you get into perceptions of things being done behind closed doors and secrecy, that’s where you get into trouble,” Brenner said.

Ontario’s Attorney-General has announced that it will review the legislation governing lobbyists after the revelations in the integrity commissioner’s report that some connected people were given an unfair advantage.

Clarington’s mayor has also said he wants to implement a new lobbyist registry for greater transparency. Top Stories

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