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A property at 11861 McCowan Rd. in Stouffville, Ont., photographed on Jan. 16, 2023, is one of several that was bought shortly before an announcement that housing would be built on the Greenbelt.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The mayor of King Township says he knew nothing about the province’s intentions to remove land from its Greenbelt area when he met with a big landowner and discussed putting a hospital on the protected property days before the Ontario government announced its plans.

Mayor Steve Pellegrini was responding to what he called “slanderous” allegations made by incoming NDP leader Marit Stiles, who submitted new documents on Wednesday to the province’s Integrity Commissioner as he investigates whether Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tipped off developers before unveiling a list of properties to be removed from the Greenbelt last November.

“At no time did I ever speak to Minister Clark or the Premier about removing land in the Greenbelt,” the mayor said in an interview, calling the NDP “show boaters” for issuing allegations with “no facts.”

The NDP seized on evidence of a meeting held on Nov. 1 between Mr. Pellegrini and developer Michael Rice, who according to property records, controls a company that purchased Greenbelt land in King Township, north of Toronto, for $80-million in a deal that closed in September. The land was included in the list of removals from the Greenbelt the government unveiled just days after the meeting, on Nov. 4.

The mayor says it was a routine meeting with a developer who had recently purchased land in his municipality, adding that he understood Mr. Rice had made the deal months before it closed.

Mr. Pellegrini also says was it was him, not Mr. Rice, who suggested the site as a potential location for a new branch of Southlake Regional Health Centre, a proposed hospital for which his and other municipalities in York Region have been vying since at least 2019. The mayor said Greenbelt rules allow for the construction of a hospital.

“I asked Mike Rice, this is the whole thing, I asked him, would you donate land if we could get a hospital? And he said yes,” the mayor said. “That’s the only time I’ve talked to him.”

Mr. Pellegrini said he could not “speak to the relationship between the Rice Group and the provincial government.”

He said he also asked Mr. Rice why he bought Greenbelt land when it was frozen out of development. The developer responded that he has “holdings all over,” as many other developers do, Mr. Pellegrini said.

Mr. Rice did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

The mayor said he and his council have long opposed removing land from the Greenbelt, and still do. The previous owners of this property, the Schickedanz family, had long sought exemptions from Greenbelt rules in previous years to build homes on the site but failed to win their case under the previous Liberal government when it made minor changes to Greenbelt boundaries in 2017.

Mr. Pellegrini said he and his municipality also opposed that bid for a Greenbelt exemption, because the land, in the sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine, is not the right place for housing. But the mayor said the site was a good one for a hospital.

Mr. Rice, the NDP documents say, offered it for a “nominal fee.” Mr. Pellegrini acknowledged that a landowner would likely hope to profit from such a move by developing ancillary buildings around the hospital.

Victoria Podbielski, a spokesperson for Mr. Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said no one from the province was at the Nov. 1 meeting “nor was anyone notified prior to the decision that their lands would be removed from the Greenbelt.”

She said the government’s decision to remove 3,000 hectares from the Greenbelt – while adding 3,800 hectares of land elsewhere to the 800,000-hectare protected area – is needed to address the housing crisis and aims to allow the construction of 50,000 homes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ms. Stiles, the incoming NDP Leader, held a news conference at Queen’s Park, alleging that the new information about the Nov. 1 meeting between Mr. Pellegrini and Mr. Rice she was submitting to Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake showed the government had leaked its Greenbelt plans in advance.

“Maybe they had a crystal ball? But it seems to me like someone knew something,” Ms. Stiles told reporters.

The Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor-General have both launched probes of the government’s decision to reverse previous promises and alter the Greenbelt. The Ontario Provincial Police have also said they were considering opening an investigation.

The Great Swap

Ontario has removed 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt, a region

surrounding the Toronto area that was intended to be protected

in perpetuity. The government hopes 50,000 homes will be

built on these lands, beginning no later than 2025. They’re

offset by a 9,400-acre block to be added to the Greenbelt's

western fringe, near the Town of Erin.

SIMCOE

DURHAM

Location of 9,400

acres added to Greenbelt

YORK

LEGEND

TORONTO

Greenbelt

Settlement areas

inside of

Greenbelt

PEEL

HALTON

Settlement areas

outside of

Greenbelt

Lake Ontario

Locations of

lands removed

from Greenbelt

HAMILTON

NEW YORK

NIAGARA

matt mcclearn and john sopinski/the globe and mail,

Source: ontario government

The Great Swap

Ontario has removed 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt, a region

surrounding the Toronto area that was intended to be protected

in perpetuity. The government hopes 50,000 homes will be

built on these lands, beginning no later than 2025. They’re

offset by a 9,400-acre block to be added to the Greenbelt's

western fringe, near the Town of Erin.

SIMCOE

DURHAM

Location of 9,400

acres added to Greenbelt

YORK

LEGEND

TORONTO

Greenbelt

Settlement areas

inside of

Greenbelt

PEEL

HALTON

Settlement areas

outside of

Greenbelt

Lake Ontario

Locations of

lands removed

from Greenbelt

HAMILTON

NEW YORK

NIAGARA

matt mcclearn and john sopinski/the globe and mail,

Source: ontario government

The Great Swap

Ontario has removed 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt, a region surrounding the Toronto area that

was intended to be protected in perpetuity. The government hopes 50,000 homes will be built on

these lands, beginning no later than 2025. They’re offset by a 9,400-acre block to be added

to the Greenbelt's western fringe, near the Town of Erin.

SIMCOE

DURHAM

Location of 9,400

acres added to

Greenbelt

YORK

LEGEND

TORONTO

Greenbelt

Settlement areas

inside of

Greenbelt

PEEL

HALTON

Settlement areas

outside of

Greenbelt

Lake Ontario

Locations of

lands removed

from Greenbelt

HAMILTON

NEW YORK

NIAGARA

matt mcclearn and john sopinski/the globe and mail, Source: ontario government

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