With Bill 23 now passed by the Ford Government and having received Royal Assent, the proposed Greenbelt changes have now come into focus. This has spurred calls for the Premier to resign, an MPP launching a complaint to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner and many calling for a criminal investigation due to the issue not passing the “sniff test”. With media linking possible names and political donations to the PC party, it seemed timely to return to our own local Greenbelt parcel of controversy, 502 Winston Road.
It has been a few interesting few weeks, learning about the high interest (21%) $100 million loan taken out to buy cheap and limited-use Greenbelt property by entities controlled by the De Gasperis family, which are now proposed to be pulled out of the Greenbelt by Ford and friends. Of course, the family’s gracious donations to the Ontario PC Party have nothing to do with that.
Steve Says No To Insider Information
At Queen’s Park a few weeks back, MPP for Niagara Centre, Jeff Burch, asked the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, whether information had been provided to these Greenbelt landowners ahead of the government’s announcement on November 4th. This one minute clip shows the exchange:
After days of deflecting that very question, the Minister finally responded “No”. Although one cannot ignore his uncomfortable body language right after uttering that brief denial. You can be the judge of those physical indicators.
The 502 Winston Lands & The Provincial Radar
So if nobody from the government spoke to any of the landowners or their agents whose Greenbelt properties are proposed to be removed or “re-designated” for possible future development, how did the Province know which lands to choose?
This question becomes even more interesting when one considers the Specialty Crop Greenbelt lands at 502 Winston Road. While most of the Greenbelt land on the Province’s hit-list are in or are very close to the GTA, why was the Province, apparently with no prompting looking at this 5.7 hectare parcel of land far from Queen’s Park, here in Grimsby.
While these lands are currently under applications to the Town and Region to be re-designated to a lower agricultural value, with intent to pursue a potential urban boundary change… the Province would not be involved in these local planning applications.
A recent Toronto Star article interviewed the principal of Burlington’s New Horizon Development Group (aka 502 Winston Road Inc.), Jeff Paikin, who said the following about the property and process:
“At the end of the day, it never belonged in (the Greenbelt), and so we took a very big risk in 2019 when we bought it on the assumption that at some level in the next 10 years, common sense would rule,” said Paikin, the brother of Ontario broadcaster Steve Paikin. “And here we are, so it’s a good day.”
The company had already been in touch with the Town of Grimsby about the property before the Greenbelt announcement, though Paikin said it hadn’t talked to the province. “There’s not really a mechanism to do so, other than to sort of call and beg,” he said. “And that’s just not our style. We go through proper channels.”
The company is now making its plans to start construction by Ontario’s 2025 deadline.
So if this is the case, how did these lands suddenly appear in the Province’s Greenbelt plans, proposing to give the developer exactly what they are asking for from the Town and Region?
Also of note, we are not really sure why Mr. Paikin says “it’s a good day” as the Greenbelt changes are merely a proposal at this stage and just recently closed their public consultation period. There is no guarantee, or at least there should not be, that these proposed Greenbelt changes will actually happen.
Open Your Hearts & Wallets
As previously mentioned, the media has been linking many of the owners of the lands subject to the Greenbelt proposals who have been “showing love” in the form of PC party donations. The Toronto Star has pointed out that companies controlled by Michael Rice that have 700 acres of Greenbelt land at stake, as well as company senior staff, and someone also having the name Michael Rice, donated almost $50,000 to the PCs since 2014.
So where did the paper get that information… from Election Ontario’s donation database of course. And what does that database reveal about 502 Winston Road Inc. or New Horizon Development Group (NHDG) as corporate entities making Provincial political donations… nothing much, other than a $500 donation to the Burlington PCs in 2016.
However, with a filtered search on donations to the PC party using names of the principals found on NHDG’s website, there are results. A search on the name “Jeff Paikin” or “Jeffrey Paikin” results in the following:
And on the name “Joseph Giacomodonato”:
Now although those donations have the same names as “Jeff Paikin”, President of NHDG and “Joe Giacomodonato”, Vice-President of NHDG, that does not necessarily mean that they are the same individuals. There could be another Jeff Paikin or Joseph Giacomodonato in Burlington, who also have the same name and are making donations to the PCs. Without access to the actual donation receipts themselves, these contributions can only be summarized as coincidence in the absence of present evidence.
If you are curious about the amounts, the contribution limit for individuals to political parties is $3,325. Prior to 2021, that limit was $1,650 until Premier Ford changed it. While those $3,300 donations as listed above are not sizeable contributions overall… they are basically the maximum permitted under law. Those high-dollar donations are truly an example of “give what you can”.
To Answer The Question…
Well, as to what voodoo, legwork or whispering in the ear led the Province to include the lands considered for Greenbelt changes, including 502 Winston Road… we may never know. But if the calls for independent inquiries, whether it be an Integrity Commissioner investigation, Auditor General or an even more formal investigative procedure come to fruition we may get more answers from the government and landowners on how they followed proper channels and protocol in reaching the proposed Greenbelt changes.
With mounting public pressure, it should be interesting to see if the proposed Greenbelt changes are enough to make the Government roll over once again, as it has in the past. Let people get riled up over the Greenbelt and if Queens Park capitulates, the public and municipalities may not have the steam or memory to fight against Bill 23.