It is difficult not to feel disappointed with Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas who, last week, voted against York Region’s proposed 55-unit transitional housing/ emergency shelter for men at 14452 Yonge Street.  

His vote made all the difference and the shelter was rejected 4-3.

Bad Faith

Mrakas, Mayor since 2018, accuses York Region of bad faith. He claims that a year ago in January 2023 the Region put forward an application for housing on the site already earmarked for a wastewater pumping station. He fumed that the Region’s new application

“completely reneges on their already approved site plan agreement for that location.”

I think the Mayor protests too much.

Mrakas had known for years that the Region was considering a transitional housing project on land it owned close to a wastewater pumping station. On 4 May 2021 Region staff made a presentation to Aurora Council specifically flagging up the shelter project which they believed could be located close to the pumping station. (See graphic below)

Mrakas didn’t raise any objections.

"One of the best sites"

In the run up to the 13 February 2024 meeting Newmarket Mayor John Taylor - who also chairs Housing York - told Newmarket Today: 

"The current site (14452 Yonge Street) is one of the best sites I have ever seen for a shelter and housing site. The site is also region owned… The public has told us we need to do more and we need to act quickly. The opportunity is here to do just that. It is my deep hope that this site is approved and we can begin to move people from crisis to stability as soon as possible."


When Mrakas voted down the Shelter proposal he took a sideswipe at “some politicians”. Who did he have in mind? John Taylor?

“I refused to be pressured into making a poor planning decision for the community I represent just so some politicians can check a box, pat themselves on the back and claim they’ve “accomplished something”.

Newmarket Today reports that some people are now accusing Mrakas of doing a flip-flop, dropping support for the project after becoming alarmed by the strength of the local opposition. 

Some fired-up people in the neighbourhood feared a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour and an adverse impact on local property values. The Region responded point-by-point. The shelter would be staffed by professionals round the clock, 365 days a year. The residents would be carefully selected. And there was no evidence that transitional housing as proposed would have a negative impact on house prices. It didn’t happen with Belinda’s Place in Newmarket.

Comparative Analysis

Mrakas claims he asked the Region to do a comparative analysis of other sites that may be suitable:

“A year ago, when this application was originally presented, instead of denying the application outright, this Council gave the applicant more time to conduct a site selection process – establish siting criteria, scan for potentially suitable properties, assign a score for each based on those criteria and provide the completed site selection matrix to this Council. Take the time to provide facts to support the applicants stated belief this is the BEST location for the proposed development and thus warrants the zoning amendments requested or to take the time to find a more appropriate site in Aurora, one that aligns with the intent of our Official Plan.”

Mrakas is now gilding the lily. At no stage during that January 2023 meeting did he explicitly mention a comparative analysis report. 

He simply asked the Region:

What other locations in Aurora have been considered or could be considered for this facility that better address the security, accessibility, transit and other issues raised this evening?

Nothing happened

Mrakas now complains this didn’t happen in the detail he allegedly demanded:

“Unfortunately, that did not occur and we are left to consider, a year later, the same application with little additional facts to support the requested zoning amendments.”

Why didn’t it happen?

Mrakas has spoken about the urgent need for a shelter so why did he sit on his hands?

He is an experienced member of York Regional Council. He is a full-time politician with support staff. So what was he doing between January 2023 and February 2024?

What steps did he take to get this “comparative analysis"?

Who did he speak to and when?

How did he follow up?

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





Last month, Markham's Mayor, Frank Scarpitti, told MPPs he wants to see all nine lower tier municipalities in York Region abolished – Newmarket included. 

In their place he wants a new mega-city, presumably headquartered in Markham and with Frank as the man in charge, with a salary and with perks to match his new responsibilities.

Scarpitti, who enjoys being the centre of attention, was giving evidence to a Committee of MPPs which has been given the job of reviewing regional governance. He tells them with a straight face he is confident the Committee’s deliberations would result in positive change. 

Zero Traction

When Scarpitti first floated his mega-city idea in June last year it got zero traction. Unsurprisingly, there was no support from his colleagues on York Regional Council and even Doug Ford ridiculed the idea. 

In September the new Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, asked the Provincial Parliament’s Heritage and Infrastructure Committee to take on the work of assessing regional government structures in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Simcoe, Waterloo and York.

At the same time he dropped the idea of appointing “regional facilitators” who played such a key role in Ford’s 2019 aborted reorganisation.

One York. One City

In making the case for his mega-city, Scarpitti tells the Committee his proposed amalgamation will save money. 

“Last June, I offered my recommendation, through a public statement, to form one York, one city. In my view, the optimal outcome would be one city for York region. I’ve made this clear in the past, and it’s my view today. It’s time to consolidate all nine municipalities in York region.” 

Brock University professor David Siegel says there has never been an amalgamation that has saved money for taxpayers. But Frank sees savings everywhere.

“If you want to bring about the most effective change, consolidation is needed in York region: one tax bill, one planning department, one water department, one fire department—and, as you know, we already have one police and EMS organization.”

Blink an eye

Scarpitti says Markham could absorb the Town of Whitchurch Stouffville and “we wouldn’t blink an eye”.

I’d like to know what the Town’s Mayor, Iain Lovatt, thinks about that.

Frank tells us municipalities are no different from electricity companies. He says they’ve been amalgamated and we haven’t seen any downsides. No black-outs yet.

“We know what it takes to offer excellent services. It can be done, and it can be done right. Take Alectra Utilities, for example. The merger of Enersource, PowerStream, Horizon, and Hydro One Brampton saved $310 million in operating expenses and an additional $110 million in capital…. We’ve made changes to our call centre, to our customer billing, to CRM, to be able to streamline and consolidate some of our operations. And I think that can happen at the local level with municipalities.”

Last year Scarpitti received $244,096 in total remuneration as Mayor of Markham with $48,750 of this coming from his Board membership of Alectra where he sits on the Audit Committee.


On the face it it, Frank's mega-city appears to be a pipe-dream. 

But who knows where Ford is going with his latest regional review?

Not even Ford himself.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Former Southlake Board member and King landowner John Dunlap declared a conflict of interest at the Southlake Board meeting on 22 September 2022 before resigning from the Board. 

The closed session minutes of the Board meeting say the conflict:

related to the future site selection of the new build of a new hospital”.

Dunlap’s declaration was made one week after the developer Michael Rice bought the protected countryside lands in the Greenbelt at Bathurst hoping these could be developed. Dunlap was the land agent who facilitated the $80M sale. Dunlap owns 108 acres adjacent to the Bathurst lands.

Dunlap had told King Mayor, Steve Pellegrini, two years earlier that he was minded to gift land to Southlake for a new hospital.

Dunlap and Rice have both stated - each independently of the other - that they were prepared to gift land for a new hospital. 

We do not know the terms of any understanding they may have had.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

click "read more" for Board meeting extract.

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.

 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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.