Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Doug Ford's government removed protections from a golf course owned by prominent developers at the request of a longtime donor and appointee, internal emails reveal.
Mayfield Golf Club in Caledon sits inside one of the Greenbelt's "fingers" — spindly zones of protected land that wind south along river corridors from the thick "belt" that surrounds the Greater Toronto Area.
Mayfield's de Laat family sold the business to the Rice Group and other developers in May 2022, business records show. The current Mayfield directors are:
- Michael Rice, CEO of Rice Group
- Angelo De Gasperis
- Julie De Gasperis
- Sam Balsamo, who has been involved with various development and construction groups and has worked alongside the De Gasperises
- Mario Giampietri of Geranium Homes
Rice was, briefly, a major beneficiary of the Greenbelt land swap and is a PC donor.
Shortly after the Mayfield sale, the developers enlisted Quinto Annibale to help turn their new piece of agricultural land into developable property.
Annibale, a municipal and land use planning lawyer with Loopstra Nixon, has donated more than $46,000 to the PC party and its candidates since 2014 and currently sits as a PC-appointed vice-chair of the LCBO. In 2020, he was linked to Vaughan Working Families, a group that became the subject of an RCMP investigation after it violated election laws by publishing attack ads against striking teachers.
In a Sept. 9, 2022 letter to Steve Clark, then the municipal affairs and housing minister, Annibale asked him to transform 177 hectares of land near the golf course from "prime agricultural area," where no major developments are allowed, to "rural" land, which can enable certain residential, commercial and industrial projects.
He also asked for some of those lands to switch from an “employment area” (for uses like manufacturing and warehousing) to "community uses" (which can be developed into housing and offices).
The government approved both requests.
Annibale's letter was revealed in a trove of documents released by advocacy group Environmental Defence on Monday that detail the Ford government's involvement with changes made — and now reversed — to the Greenbelt and municipal official plans.
Annibale, Rice Group and the offices of Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Paul Calandra did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A submission from planning consultants Malone Given Parsons on behalf of the developers — sent to the ministry by Annibale — argued the Greenbelt land should be unprotected because it is "generally not agricultural but rather a forested creek."
The consultants also said the government's planned Highway 413, which is planned to run just two kilometres north of the golf course, will make the lands "difficult to safely access with farm equipment due to increased traffic volumes and planned road networks."
Just over a month after Annibale's letter, ministry bureaucrats said the change would be "Addressed by the [Official Plan] Approval," according to an Oct. 16, 2022 email among the team preparing for the Greenbelt land swap.
There were "no supporting studies" for the change, according to the note — but it was "on the [minister's office] priority list."
When the Ford government announced the Greenbelt land changes on Nov. 4, 2022, it also implemented changes to Peel's official plan and Annibale's suggestions became law.
"These changes are an important part of our government’s balanced strategy to build a stronger Ontario by protecting environmentally important lands while tackling Ontario’s housing supply crisis," Clark said at the time.
The government has since reversed all the changes to the Greenbelt and codified the protected area's boundaries in legislation, and promised to roll back the changes it made to municipalities' official plans.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly linked the TACC development company with the directors of the corporation that now owns the Mayfield club. The Trillium regrets the error.