Ford government using special provincial powers to help developer friends, NDP alleges
Unprecedented number of ministerial zoning orders issued since April
Premier Doug Ford's government is increasingly using special provincial powers to help developers with ties to the Progressive Conservative party, according to research by the Ontario NDP.
The New Democrats have produced evidence that 19 of the 38 ministerial zoning orders issued by the Ford government since March of last year have benefited developers with a record of donating to the Ontario PC party or with links to PC insiders.
Ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) are a provincial tool — used infrequently before Ford took power in 2018 — by which the government can immediately authorize development, regardless of local rules for land-use planning decisions.
The government has issued 33 of these orders since April alone, more than successive Liberal governments issued in the previous decade, said NDP municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch.
"The government is lining the pockets of their donors and developer friends under cover of a pandemic and hoping no one will notice," Burch said in question period Tuesday.
"I'm shocked by the number [of orders] quite frankly, and it's unprecedented," Burch said at a news conference earlier in the day.
"Something stinks here, and I believe people deserve an explanation,"
The government's explanation is that it's trying to expedite developments supported by local councils that are slowed down by red tape.
But the NDP questions why so many of the projects getting this provincial green light are run by developers friendly to the governing party.
Two minister's zoning orders issued by the Ford government this year benefited two companies linked to longtime PC party donor Silvio DeGasperis, according to the NDP's research:
- An order issued in April allows TACC Holborn Corp. to develop a property on The Gore Road in Brampton.
- An order issued in November gives the go-ahead to the Block 41 Landowners Group to develop farmland in Vaughan, north of Teston Road and east of Pine Valley Drive.
Another order allowing development in Vaughan, at the southeast corner of Rutherford Road and Jane Street, came at the request of real estate development firm The Cortel Group.
Its president is Mario Cortellucci, who along with members of his extended family, donated more than $12,000 to Ford's PC leadership campaign, according to Elections Ontario records.
Another order enables a 200-home residential project in Lindsay by Craft Development Corp. Its president is Carmine Nigro, who is also vice-president of the PC Ontario Fund, the party's fundraising arm.
Nigro personally donated to Ford's leadership campaign and was appointed chair of the LCBO in 2019.
A list published by the NDP of all municipal zoning orders issued under the Ford government shows another 15 that clear the way for development by companies whose principals have donated to the PCs or whose lobbyists have party ties.
The Ford government dismisses the claims of favouritism, pointing out that some of the developers involved also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Ontario Liberal Party in previous years.
For instance, one minister's zoning order allows the Triple Group of Companies to build a warehouse distribution centre and film studio on the ecologically sensitive Duffin's Creek wetland in Pickering. The firm's CEO and co-owner Steve Apostolopoulos has donated to the PCs in recent years, but also made frequent donations to the Liberals before 2018, according to Elections Ontario records.
Municipal councils typically request the provincial orders to shorten the time it takes for planning consultation and approvals, say government officials.
"These requests came to the minister to help accelerate the development of critical projects Ontarians rely on," said a spokesperson for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark in a statement.
"Every single MZO the minister has issued has been at the request of the municipalities, unless the lands were provincially owned," added Clark's parliamentary secretary, MPP Parm Gill, in question period Tuesday.
Some of the orders issued in recent months will fast-track development of new long-term care homes on provincial land.
Burch calls MZOs a "nuclear option" that ignores local decision-making processes.
"Rules are there for a reason," Burch said. "We don't need to flout good environmental policies and proper planning rules and public consultation in order to have development."
The mayor of Stratford told CBC News this week he now regrets asking the province to issue an MZO for a proposed glass factory owned by the Chinese company Xinyi, which has become the focus of growing local opposition.
At least two of the MZOs issued this year apply to projects that were in the middle of hearings at the province's Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the quasi-judicial body that rules on zoning disputes.