King Township prides itself on accountability and transparency.  

I applaud the Township’s commitment to openness. But despite innumerable Freedom of Information requests to King over many months there are some big questions about the Greenbelt lands in King – bought by the developer Michael Rice on 15 September 2022 for $80M - that remain unanswered.

That’s why I am asking the Township to hear an in-person deputation from me at the King Council meeting on either 16 or 30 October 2023 – whichever is more convenient to them. My deputation concerns:

The evidence given to the Integrity Commissioner by the Mayor of King relating to lands in the municipality that could be suitable for a new Southlake Hospital.

The wording may have to be tweaked a bit to ensure it is completely in order but that's what I want to talk about.

Speaking Notes

The Township asks all deputants for their speaking notes beforehand. Presumably to avoid surprises and ambushes. I have no problem with this.

As everyone now knows, on 1 November 2022 at a meeting hosted by Mayor Steve Pellegrini at King Municipal Centre, the developer Michael Rice offered Southlake Hospital’s Chief Executive, Arden Krystal, land for a new hospital on the then protected Greenbelt at Bathurst. It would essentially be gifted.

The Bathurst lands are designated in King’s Official Plan (2019) as “prime agricultural” lands in the Greenbelt’s Protected Countryside. 

Rice told the Integrity Commissioner he believed it would be possible to build a hospital on these lands – despite their designation – and that both he and his colleague John McGovern:

"anticipated they would be able to potentially develop medical buildings, a long-term care facility and other long-term assets on land that was in the Greenbelt and not necessarily available for other types of development".

Rice refused to meet the Auditor General.

Not permitted

York Region’s Chief Planner, Paul Freeman, insists, then and now, that a new hospital or medical facilities would: 

not be permitted on the King site and therefore likely directed to a settlement area. 

King Township’s Director of Growth Management, Stephen Naylor, piloted King’s Official Plan (2019) through all its stages over many years. There is nothing in the Plan that even hints that the Bathurst lands would be opened-up for development. There is no mention of a hospital. He refuses to say what his opinion is on the development of the Bathurst lands. When I asked him for his views as a professional planner he referred me to the Province. 

This is the background to Mayor Steve Pellegrini’s appearance before the Integrity Commissioner who was investigating whether former Minister Steve Clark had breached the Members’ Integrity Act. 

Mayor Pellegrini told the Integrity Commissioner (Report of 30 August 2023 in 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 (Mayor Pellegrini) believed it would potentially be a viable option for the hospital and a significant benefit for King Township.”

Keys to the Kingdom

Over the months I have filed many Freedom of Information requests with the Township. But, despite this, I have not been told where these "other lands" are nor who discussed them as a possible site for a new hospital. The Township says it has no records of any search for land suitable for a new hospital. And there are no records of meetings where these sites were considered. 

I have been in touch with other members of King Council and they cannot shed any light on these discussions – when they happened and who was involved. The man with the Keys to the Kingdom is Mayor Pellegrini himself.

But Mayor Pellegrini’s words as reported by the Integrity Commissioner suggest (in ordinary English usage) that the “other lands in the vicinity” are, in fact, contiguous. And if “Mr Rice contributed land” it would “potentially be a viable option for the hospital”. 

The Missing Link: John Dunlap

If this is the case, the “other lands” in question are owned by John Dunlap, the former Southlake Board member and the land agent who facilitated the sale of the Bathurst lands from Bob Schikedanz to Michael Rice.

The schematic which was presented to the 1 November 2022 meeting by Michael Rice appears to show the Southlake logo straddling the Greenbelt lands owned by Rice and Dunlap. (see right)

Southlake has pretty much stonewalled on all Freedom of Information requests that could shed light on this. Ludicrously, they say they have no records of Michael Rice’s offer of land for a new hospital. Appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner on this and other related matters are slowly grinding forward. Southlake has a duty in law to keep records.

If the Township agrees to hear my deputation I shall ask Mayor Pellegrini to identify the other lands suitable for a new hospital and who was involved in the discussions.

We take it one step at a time.

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Update on 30 September 2023: From Newmarket Today: Province vetoes proposal for hospital in Greenbelt bordering Newmarket

Timeline: Southlake and the sale of the Greenbelt lands in King, click here.

Click "read more" below to read the evidence of Michael Rice and Steve Pellegrini to the Integrity Commissioner

The evidence of Michael Rice and Mayor Steve Pellegrini: 

King Township

[272] Approximately 522 acres was removed from the Greenbelt at the King Township site and 132 acres within the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan was redesignated from “countryside” to “settlement area” for a total of 654 acres.  

[273] As set out above, at the September 14, 2022 BILD dinner, Mr. Rice mentioned this property briefly to Mr. Amato as a good candidate for removal from the Greenbelt.

[274] Mr. Rice told me that Mr. Amato called him at his office a few days or a week after the BILD dinner and asked if he could put together a package of information on the site. As a result of receiving this request, in combination with their brief interaction at the BILD dinner, Mr. Rice believed the government was looking at the Greenbelt.

[275] Mr. Rice said he would put together a package, which he then did, and then Mr. Amato came to his office to pick up the package around the end of September. They spoke briefly again at his office, and Mr. Rice said he “walked him through it,” saying “here is the site, here are the benefits.”

[276] Mr. Rice provided Mr. Amato with a document dated September 27, 2022, with a map outlining the area proposed to be removed from the Greenbelt, a rationale supporting the removal, a summary confirming consultants had been retained to do environmental and servicing assessments and an explanation of various servicing options for the site. John McGovern, Senior Vice President of Policy and Planning for the Rice Group, confirmed that he pulled together this package of information for Mr. Rice and that it was his understanding that Mr. Rice would be meeting with Mr. Amato the next morning. This indicates that Mr. Rice and Mr. Amato met on or about September 27 or 28, 2022.

[277] Mr. Amato confirmed that he called Mr. Rice a few days after the BILD dinner. He said he asked “if he could provide me with any additional information on the property. And I ran through some of the high-level criteria that we were discussing at the time. Those were questions that needed to be answered and he said he would get something together. But in that conversation, there was no mention of a program. It was just a question following up on something hementioned to me in passing.” He confirmed he met with Mr. Rice at Mr. Rice’s office to pick up the package.

[278] Mr. Amato told me he did not know if he had met Michael Rice prior to meeting him at the BILD dinner. 

[279] Mr. Rice told me he had met Mr. Amato at a handful of fundraisers and events prior to the BILD dinner. He also explained that in the spring of 2022 Mr. Amato assisted his daughter in organizing a fundraiser for Minister Caroline Mulroney, attended by approximately 25 people. This occurred while Mr. Amato was working for Minister Mulroney. Mr. Rice advised that he did not recall corresponding with Mr. Amato at the time, but that his daughter was in touch with Mr. Amato in March of 2022, after her earlier contact in Minister Mulroney’s office took a leave of absence, to decide the date of the fundraiser.

[280] When asked about this, Mr. Amato confirmed that he was briefly in touch with Mr. Rice’s daughter to confirm a date for the fundraiser, but said he had no further involvement with it. He said it was not part of his duties to organize the fundraiser, only to coordinate it with the minister’s schedule.

[281] There has been speculation in the media and in Ms. Stiles’ affidavit that Mr. Rice must have been tipped off about the government’s intentions, in part because he obtained title to it on September 15, 2022. This was less than two months before 522 acres of it were removed from the Greenbelt and 132 acres of it were redesignated as a settlement area within the Oak Ridges Moraine.

[282] Mr. Rice is an experienced land developer, who has significant industrial and commercial land holdings, in addition to some residential holdings. He is adamant that no one tipped him off or told him that the government would be taking land out of the Greenbelt. He said “[t]he crystal ball that they mentioned in the paper that we must have had is our knowledge and what we do on an every day basis on Greenbelt land, on Whitebelt land, on developed lands, lands that aregoing to come into the urban belt, airport land, that’s our business.” As set out above, at paragraph 95, Mr. Rice explained to me his longer-term rationale for thinking the government would permit development on Greenbelt lands at some point in the future because the housing crisis was becoming so acute with an increasing population and limited land supply. He told me he was convinced that the Greenbelt would open if even the Liberal Party came into power in the 2022 election and that if, by 2022, a developer was not thinking about the Greenbelt opening up “they were asleep.” He noted that his staff track every municipal meeting in addition to provincial developments. As factors shaping his thinking, he pointed to some actions of this government, including that he understood the government had “told the regional municipalities, ‘We want your [official plan] in here in June of ’22. File it. It has to be done or we will take action on our own.’” He also mentioned the 2019 More Homes, More Choice Act, telling me “I mean that was the beginning of the smashing of the conservation authority which changes your perspective on land.” He told me “So this government has made it abundantly clear since like ’19 or ’20, ‘This is what we’re doing, we’re moving development ahead.’ That didn’t mean ‘Yes, we are taking it out of the Greenbelt.’ They never said that. I said they’re taking it out of the Greenbelt because we don’t have land.”

[283] Mr. Rice shared with me copies of agendas for his company’s acquisitions meetings from April through November 2022, indicating there was a “Greenbelt Strategy” item discussed regularly with a number of different areas and sites discussed, including the King Township property.  

[284] Mr. Rice candidly admitted that his interactions with Mr. Amato, specifically their brief interaction at the BILD dinner and then Mr. Amato’s request for further information and visit to Mr. Rice’s office to pick up that information, “told me that they were looking at the Greenbelt.” However, he said that “in fairness to Ryan and the minister, he never told me they were doing it.” Mr. Rice was also clear he didn’t think it was going to happen as early as November 2022.

[285] Mr. Rice provided me with a copy of the investment proposal he developed for potential investors. He advised that he “syndicated” this land deal, by taking on several other investors to fund a large proportion of the $80,000,000 purchase price for this property. Taking on limited partners lowered both his risk and the profits he might earn from this investment. He told me, and I accept, that if he had known the lands would be removed from the Greenbelt so soon, he would have funded the purchase himself. He also told me that he offered the vendor, Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., an opportunity to participate in the investment but that they declined.

[286] I spoke with Bob Schickedanz, a partner in Farsight Homes and former president of the Ontario Home Builders Associations from 2019 to 2022. He confirmed that while he is not on the leadership team of Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., he worked there from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, he has an interest in this family company and was familiar with the sale of the property to the Rice Group. He explained that Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. was leaving the land development business and offering this property for public sale for $80 million was part of this process. He was aware that subsequent to entering into the initial agreement of purchase and sale, Mr. Rice had made two further offers to Schickedanz Brothers Ltd. with respect to this property. One was to participate in syndication and remain invested in the site, and the other was to agree to a one- year extension of the agreement of purchase and sale, with a new price of $200 million. He said his family business decided to proceed with the initial agreement closing in 2022 because they thought it was a good deal and, in their view, the one-year extension would not likely result in a sale and the land would have been tied up for another year. He said they had absolutely no idea the government was considering removals from the Greenbelt.

[287] It also has been brought to my attention through media reporting and submissions received from the public, that there was speculation that Mr. Rice must have known something in advance about the government’s intentions. This speculation was founded largely because before the November 4, 2022 announcement on Greenbelt removals, Mr. Rice was in discussions with a local hospital and representatives of King Township about using some of this property for a new hospital site.

[288] My staff interviewed the mayor and chief administrative officer of King Township. Both confirmed that in the summer of 2022 the mayor raised with Mr. Rice the possibility of using some of this land for a hospital. The mayor explained that he was of the view that a hospital located within King Township would be very beneficial to his community and it was his understanding that, unlike other types of development, hospitals were permitted to be built on Greenbelt lands and not subject to the sewage treatment allocation rules that could potentially limit residential development in the area. The mayor explained that other lands in the vicinity 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.

[289] Both Mr. Rice and Mr. McGovern, who also attended the meeting with the mayor and the chief administrative officer, told me these officials initiated the conversation about using some of this particular piece of land as a new hospital site. They also told me that Mr. Rice had already been discussing using other properties he owned in the region for the new hospital site and provided documentation to support his evidence in this regard with respect to past communications with hospital officials and other sites under consideration. With respect to the King Township site, Mr. Rice and his employee told me they were interested in the hospital option, as they anticipated they would be able to potentially develop medical buildings, a long- term care facility and other long-term assets on land that was in the Greenbelt and not necessarily available for other types of development.

[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.

[291] Mr. Rice also confirmed that he had retained Nico Fidani-Diker, Principal at ONpoint Strategy Group, to assist with obtaining municipal support for projects in the Town of Caledon and Region of Peel in the summer and fall of 2022. He said that Mr. Fidani-Diker was not hired to lobby at the provincial level.