Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles is asking the province’s integrity commissioner to investigate Premier Doug Ford for a fundraising party held in advance of his daughter’s wedding and the wedding itself – amid reports real-estate developers and lobbyists were on the invite lists.
In a letter to Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake released publicly on Thursday, Ms. Stiles asks him to review whether Mr. Ford’s actions violated the Members’ Integrity Act, which includes rules for MPPs against conflicts-of-interest and bans the acceptance of gifts connected to the performance of their duties.
In her letter, the NDP Leader cites a report by Global News about a pre-wedding “stag and doe” party held last August at the Premier’s home in Etobicoke, on Toronto’s west side. The Globe has obtained a copy of a $150 ticket to a “stag” party held on that date. Ms. Stiles also pointed to a claim in the Global story, attributed to an unnamed source, that “additional communications” asked for donations of up to $1,000 and that some invitees felt “browbeaten into purchasing tickets.”
The letter says developers who attended the subsequent wedding have received special ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) from the government to fast-track development projects, and at least one owns Greenbelt land the government recently freed up for development.
“I am concerned that invitees felt pressure to contribute to the Premier’s family fundraiser, particularly as some invitees felt they weren’t being asked as ‘friends’ of the Premier – but as government stakeholders – and feared impacts on their professional reputations and working relationships with the government,” Ms. Stiles writes.
Mr. Ford was not in the Legislature on Thursday when Ms. Stiles raised the issue in Question Period. Progressive Conservative House Leader Paul Calandra dismissed the NDP Leader’s questions as a distraction.
“We have challenges that this is province is facing. And the drive-by smear by the Leader of the Opposition … ‘Let’s try another smear tactic, Mr. Speaker, let’s bring the family into it,’” Mr. Calandra told the legislature. “What we are going to do instead is to continue to focus on the priorities of the people of Ontario.”
Mr. Ford has previously said questions about the pre-wedding party and the wedding are “ridiculous,” calling them private family events.
After a reporter inquired to his office about them in January, the Premier sought his own opinion from the Integrity Commissioner. Based on information from the Premier, Mr. Wake concluded no rules were broken, as Mr. Ford had said government business was not discussed and the Premier was unaware of the gifts or cash provided to his daughter and now son-in-law.
If an MPP requests it, Mr. Wake, a former judge, can launch a more formal investigation of a member’s behaviour and recommend sanctions, such as reprimands or suspensions or even a member’s ejection. After a report is delivered to the Speaker of the Legislature, however, it is up to the assembly, where Mr. Ford’s PC MPPs hold a large majority, to implement any sanctions.
Mr. Wake is already investigating an earlier complaint from Ms. Stiles. He is looking into whether Mr. Ford’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, violated rules on conflict of interest and revealing inside information by tipping off developers before announcing the government’s decision last November to break its promises and allow development on certain parts of the protected Greenbelt.
Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Ford have said they did not tip any developers off before their decision was announced.
The province’s Auditor-General, Bonnie Lysyk, is also reviewing the Greenbelt decision. The OPP has said it was contemplating launching an investigation, but has not announced whether it was going ahead.
The Globe and Mail and other news outlets have reported that some of the land taken out of the Greenbelt changed hands as recently as September, 2022. The land is expected to multiply in value once designated for housing, delivering a potential windfall. Several of the developers that stand to benefit from the changes are large PC donors.
Guests at Mr. Ford’s daughter’s wedding included prominent developers Mario Cortellucci, Shakir Rehmatullah and Chris Bratty, according to a photograph of the seating plan viewed by The Globe.
The three developers did not return emails sent last week requesting comment about their attendance at the wedding.
Mr. Cortellucci, who was seated at Mr. Ford’s table, received a provincial appointment to the York Regional Police Services Board last fall. He is founder of Cortel Group, which has received multiple minister’s zoning orders from the Ford government.
Land in Markham owned by Mr. Rehmatullah through his company Flato Upper Markham Village Inc. was removed from the Greenbelt for housing development by the Ford government late last year.
Mr. Bratty is an executive of the Remington Group Inc., a real estate development company.