Gather round, dear readers, and attend the tale of how Doug Ford’s political rivals learned that some prominent Ontario developers (with an interest in the Greenbelt, natch) attended the premier’s daughter’s wedding in September.
It’s kind of a funny story.
Ford has come under heavy scrutiny in recent weeks for inviting some suspect guests to a stage-and-doe fundraising party for his daughter Kayla Ford’s wedding to police officer Mohammed Hadi.
Invitations to the $150-per-ticket party, held at the Ford family residence on Aug. 11, 2022, we were said to have requested donations of up to $1,000 for the couple, to help them pay for the wedding.
News broke in early 2023 that the party had been attended by a number of developers who stood to benefit from the recent Greenbelt land swap — a deal that was revealed to the public months after said stag-and-doe party took place, and after many choice parcels of (then-protected) land had already been purchased up by corporations whose leaders must have had really good hunches or something.
— Jenny Lee Shee (@jennyleeshee) February 13, 2023
Ford himself confirmed in a statement made to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner that some developers had attended the party, calling them “personal friends” and rebuffing insinuations that he’d tipped anyone off to the impending Greenbelt decision.
The commissioner ended up clearing Ford of violating the Members’ Integrity Act, noting to Global News that he had “no knowledge of gifts” and that there was “no discussion of government business” at the event.
Critics are reluctant to let the issue go, however, given the potentially long-lasting ramifications of removing 7,400 acres of environmentally-protected land from Ontario’s world-renowned Greenbelt for the purpose of building more houses (especially when less-invasive options are considered to exists).
Last week, NDP Leader Marit Stiles filed a new complaint with the integrity commissioner requesting a formal investigation into whether Ford had “acted improperly,” citing a guest list from Kayla’s actual wedding that included multiple prominent Ontario developers, lobbyists and provincial appointees.
“Concerning details have come to light about developers and lobbyists with donors and political ties to Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party being invited to participate in two Ford family events,” wrote the official opposition leader in her letter to integrity commissioner David Wake.
“The premier is obligated to avoid conflict and the appearance of conflict.”
This guest list at Doug Ford’s family wedding also included provincial appointees and a Greenbelt lobbyist.
One guest at Ford’s table was later given a provincial appointment.
— Ed Tubb (@EdTubb) February 23, 2023
The issue came up once again at Queen’s Park on Monday, when Stiles accused the Ford government of “paving over our vital farmlands and wetlands” to benefit “their well-connected, personal friends.”
“In fact, nine of the developers who benefit from the Greenbelt land swap are top PC donors. Some event attended the premier’s family festivities,” said Styles. “Did the premier, his ministers or their staff tell developers about their intention to open up the Greenbelt before their public announcement?”
This is where things actually get humorous.
In an attempt to deflect the question or villainize the NDP or something, PC government house leader Paul Calandra (Ford’s boy, so to speak) lobbed a wild accusation back at Styles.
“This is an opposition that sent somebody to the premier’s daughter’s wedding to take a picture of the seating plan,” he said. “I don’t know of any other opposition party that would sink to that level, Mr. Speaker.”
After Stiles dismissed Calandra’s words as desperate, the house leader went on to suggest that she was biased against Italians.
“Why doesn’t she just come out and say what she really means, because we’ve heard it for decades in this place? ‘If you’re an Italian and you’re building homes for the people of the province of Ontario, somehow you can’t be doing it ethically,'” said Calandra.
“Again, this is a Leader of the Opposition who sunk to the level of sending a photographer to take a picture of a seating plan at a family wedding.”
As it turned out, though, the picture Calandra was referring to — an image submitted as part of the NDP’s recent request to the integrity commissioner, making it a public document — had been taken from the website of a wedding photographer who shot Kayla Ford’s wedding .
The NDP didn’t send any secret sleuths to the Pearle Hotel on September 25 — they simply swiped an image of a table seating chart from a public website containing tons of lovely photos from the event.
— Alan S. Hale (@Alan_S_Hale) February 27, 2023
It is of note that, as of Wednesday morning, the seating chart no longer appears in the Ford wedding gallery on photographer Sandra Monaco’s website. The photo (and a few others that have been taken down) can still be seen on an archived version of the page accessed via The Wayback Machine.
As previously reported by The Toronto Star, the image displays such prominent names as Shakir Rehmatullah, Carmine Nigro, Amin Massoudi, Ron Taverner and Mario Cortellucci “whose family’s companies have benefitted from at least four minister’s zoning orders that fast-track development since Ford’s Progressive Conservatives came into power.”
There has been no word yet from the integrity commissioner regarding whether or not his office will launch a formal investigation — which only a complaint from another MPP can prompt and holds more bearing than the opinion asked for by the premier himself in January.
Integrity Commissioner David J. Wake is already investigating whether Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, specifically, violated any laws in his Greenbelt dealings.
Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk is also conducting a “value-for-money” audit on the Greenbelt land swap to determine its financial and environmental impact.