The Ontario NDP wants a lawyer who sits on the LCBO’s board and is linked to the obscure group behind a series of pro-government newspaper ads to answer questions before a legislative committee.
The Progressive Conservative government named Toronto-area development lawyer Quinto Annibale vice-chairman of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario last year. His name surfaced again last week, after ads placed by a previously unknown group to which he is linked, Vaughan Working Families, appeared in Toronto’s major dailies.
Now, NDP ethics critic Taras Natyshak says Mr. Annibale should be brought back before the legislature’s standing committee on government agencies, which scrutinizes government appointments, to answer questions about his role in the ads.
“If Mr. Annibale is going to sit on a public board, control public assets and collect a public paycheque, he needs to answer questions about his connections to these attack ads,” Mr. Natyshak told reporters at Queen’s Park.
Mr. Annibale, who lives in Vaughan, north of Toronto, appeared before the committee last March and answered questions from NDP members about his links to the PC Party. (He has given the party more than $30,000 since 2014, according to Elections Ontario records.)
The Vaughan Working Families ads accused teachers’ unions of using students as “pawns” in the confrontation with the government that has seen schools shuttered for a series of one-day strikes.
According to corporate records, Mr. Annibale, along with prominent developer Michael DeGasperis, is on the board of a corporation, Vaughan Health Campus of Care, which registered the name Vaughan Working Families in 2018.
The Toronto Star reported that invoices for the ads were sent to Mr. Annibale’s law firm, Loopstra Nixon LLP. While his law firm issued a statement saying that Mr. Annibale was involved in the group in a personal capacity, neither he nor Mr. DeGasperis nor other board members have responded to requests for comment.
The NDP has previously called for an Elections Ontario investigation into whether the ads violated the province’s rules for third-party advertising with two Ottawa by-elections under way, and whether the sponsors of the ads colluded with the government.
Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford, said the government, which holds a majority on the standing committee, would not support ordering Mr. Annibale back to answer questions. The government has said it was not involved in the ads.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who represents a Vaughan riding, said last week the minister had no knowledge of the ads and had not spoken to any members of the group’s board, which is comprised of other PC donors, including insurance businessman and philanthropist Sam Ciccolini.
On Thursday, the minister – in a standoff with teachers’ unions that have pledged another one-day walkout next Friday – deflected questions about Mr. Annibale.
“I am not in any way involved in that matter,” Mr. Lecce said. “I was unaware of the matter. And I am not going to be distracted from my priority of getting a deal [with teachers’ unions].”
Mr. Lecce did acknowledge that Mr. Annibale sits on the board of a long-term care home in his riding and that they had met to discuss that and other issues.
According to corporate records, Vaughan Health Campus of Care was established in 2007. The organization was originally set up to lobby for a new hospital in Vaughan, aiming to raise private- and public-sector funds for it and seeking to be involved in its construction. It had previously registered as a third-party political advertiser in the 2014 and 2018 provincial election campaigns.
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