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Ford at developer's party same day as Greenbelt removal talks: sources

Premier told integrity commissioner he had ‘no recollection of meeting’ the developer, and said on Tuesday that he ‘can’t remember’ going
Premier Doug Ford makes his way to meet with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

In September 2021, Sergio Manchia had a party with a very special guest.

Premier Doug Ford went to the fundraiser at the developer’s Hamilton-area mansion and gave a speech, according to information from two sources who were there.

That same day, Manchia talked to Ford about removing Greenbelt land owned by the developer, his employee wrote in an email two months later to Ford’s assistant.

Just over a year later, the developer got his wish.

The premier says he doesn’t remember any of it.

The event took place on Sept. 20, 2021, about a year before Ford's housing minister's chief of staff embarked on his mission of selecting land to remove from the Greenbelt. 

The premier has maintained he wasn’t involved in the process, nor did he select properties himself, and only found out what specific lands were picked for removal a few days before his cabinet signed off on the plan.

Asked on Tuesday about the 2021 party, Ford said, “I can’t remember that, but I do talk to thousands of people throughout the year with great ideas.”

The Trillium sent Manchia questions about the Sept. 20, 2021 event in an email but did not hear back from him before this story was published.

During the investigation leading to his Aug. 30 Greenbelt report, integrity commissioner J. David Wake questioned Ford and Manchia about their relationship with one another.

“(Ford) said he was not immediately familiar with Mr. Manchia but it is possible he has met him,” the commissioner’s Aug. 30 report said. “He said he had no recollection of meeting him, having any telephone or other conversations with him about the Greenbelt, or communicating to any staff about Mr. Manchia.”

Manchia, meanwhile, told Wake he and Ford had met “about six times,” including “maybe two to three times” in 2022. These meetings were at “functions” like annual PC Party events, Manchia told Wake. The commissioner wrote that Manchia “does not believe he talked to Premier Ford about the Greenbelt at these events, and that it was usually a handshake and hello.”

One time Manchia recalled meeting Ford was at a fundraiser the developer said he hosted for PC MPP Donna Skelly in September 2021 — which The Trillium has confirmed was the Sept. 20 party at his house.

Ford prorogued Ontario’s parliament just over a week before the event amid the final stretch of that year’s federal election campaign. The fundraiser Manchia hosted on Sept. 20 was the same day as the federal election. About 50 to 70 people attended the event, Manchia told the integrity commissioner. Tickets were $1,200, benefiting the PCs, an archived version of the PC Party’s website shows.

Manchia told Wake that Ford briefly stopped by the event.

The party was held at Manchia’s house in Ancaster, which records under his wife’s name and online images show is a multimillion-dollar home that’s one of the larger and more secluded ones in the suburb.

A couple of months after the event, a planner working for Urban Solutions — a company Manchia ran until this summer — emailed one of Ford’s assistants about the developer’s long-sought desire to remove land he owned from the Greenbelt.

A Nov. 15 email, sent by Scott Beedie of Urban Solutions, summarized a Sept. 20, 2021, meeting that the planner said the premier, Manchia and others had in which the employee said they discussed the removal of land at Fifty Road in Hamilton from the Greenbelt.

Manchia part owns Fifty Road lands removed from the Greenbelt last year.

“The parties agreed to pursue the request as it was in keeping with the Province's objectives of aiding municipalities in providing much-needed housing,” Beedie wrote in the Nov. 15 email, which Manchia was copied on.

Beedie also references a discussion he and Ford’s assistant had about the property and provided “supporting materials,” including some from the City of Hamilton.

Manchia had for years tried to get the Fifty Road land removed from the Greenbelt. His various recent attempts were catalogued in the integrity commissioner’s report. In August 2022, Ryan Amato, the then-chief of staff to the housing minister who led the land-selection process, said in a text to a colleague that “the premier needs to stop calling (Manchia),” Wake’s report notes.

Wake asked Manchia about any “personal phone calls” he had with the premier. Manchia said he couldn’t recall any. 

Asked on Tuesday if he lied to Wake about his recollection of the 2021 fundraiser, Ford said, “I have the utmost respect for the integrity commissioner and the job he does and I’m always there to assist him any way I can, and I’ll continue to assist him.”

The next summer, Manchia bought four $150 tickets to Ford’s daughter’s stag and doe from Tony Miele, chair of the PC Party’s fundraising arm, Wake wrote in a report his office recently published about the Aug. 11, 2022 pre-wedding celebration that Ford hosted at his house. 

Manchia didn’t attend, he told Wake, instead giving the tickets to his colleague, Matt Johnston. Johnston said he went, “met the premier, shook his hand, said a quick hello and had no other conversation,” wrote the integrity commissioner in his earlier Greenbelt report.

Manchia also told Wake that he’s organized fundraisers for the PC Party for three decades, and supported Ontario’s Liberals and NDP in other ways as well.

On top of hosting fundraisers, Manchia has donated nearly $16,000 to the PC Party, riding associations, and Hamilton-area candidates Skelly and Neil Lumsden since 2014, Elections Ontario’s donor database shows.

Lumsden told reporters at Queen’s Park on Tuesday that he didn’t attend Manchia’s Sept. 20, 2021, party.

The Ford government is in the process of returning lands it removed from the Greenbelt.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating whether there was any criminal element leading to the Greenbelt changes.

—With files from Jessica Smith Cross