Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
The mysterious "Mr. X," who played a supporting role in the Ontario integrity commissioner's Greenbelt report, was contracted to work for a personal support workers' association, The Trillium has learned.
And that contract, according to two experts in Ontario's lobbying rules, includes what could be the same kind of illegal contingency fee the commissioner highlighted in his Greenbelt report.
In his bombshell report on the Ford government’s Greenbelt changes, Ontario’s integrity commissioner quoted a contract between Mr. X — a consultant who didn’t register as a lobbyist — and Peter Tanenbaum, who owns now-former Greenbelt land in Clarington, that included $1 million in contingency payments for the land’s removal and rezoning.
Lobbying is illegal at both the federal and provincial levels if payment is contingent on achieving a client’s goals.
Ontario integrity commissioner J. David Wake didn’t name Mr. X in his Aug. 30 Greenbelt report for several reasons, including a prohibition on revealing whether someone is under investigation.
Mutton runs Municipal Solutions, a consulting firm, and is involved in a few other businesses.
Mutton has denied being a lobbyist, telling the Toronto Star in August that he has “a development services company where we provide planning, engineering, and everything. I've never been contracted to do any type of lobbying to get any lands out of the Greenbelt.”
Tanenbaum agreed to pay Mutton a $6,000 monthly fee for his Greenbelt work, according to the contract in the integrity commissioner’s report.
Mutton would also earn $225,000 if the Nash Road property in Clarington was taken out of the Greenbelt, plus $775,000 once the land was zoned for residential housing development.
“It should be noted that section 3.2 of the Lobbyists Registration Act prohibits lobbying when payment is contingent on the degree of success in lobbying,” Wake wrote in his report.
A hired lobbyist — not their client — is responsible for ensuring they comply with provincial and federal laws.
The Trillium obtained another contract, between Mutton’s Municipal Solutions and the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA), that includes the prospect of a "lump sum payment" that appears, at face value, to be a contingency fee.
In September 2016, OPSWA contracted Municipal Solutions to “develop a political strategy around short- and medium-term objective goals through government relations and provincial and federal lobbying,” the one-year contract said.
The contract stipulated OPSWA would pay Municipal Solutions $1,000 per month and compensate the firm for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred in its work.
If OPSWA obtained either federal or provincial funding, Mutton’s firm would receive a “lump-sum payment.”
Municipal Solutions was also asked to provide OPSWA with “monthly updates on activities and tasks” and the two organizations agreed to “discuss any and all recommended strategies … before commencing,” the contract said.
Asked to authenticate the contract, OPSWA’s spokesperson only confirmed it hired Municipal Solutions from 2016 to 2018. They did not directly address the potential contingency fee, nor did they agree to an interview.
OPSWA president Miranda Ferrier did not respond to direct requests for an interview before this story was published.
Mutton also didn’t respond to The Trillium’s requests for comment before publication.
The Trillium spoke with a lawyer experienced with lobbying laws in both jurisdictions and an expert in public sector ethics and accountability for input on the contract. They were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive legal matters.
Overall, it’s impossible to say for certain whether the contract contains a contingency fee because it’s vaguely worded. But that vague wording deserves a “closer look,” the public sector ethics expert.
One could argue the contract was simply for drafting a political strategy — not lobbying itself — which means including a contingency fee wouldn’t be offside. Other language in the contract, however, suggests lobbying was part of the deal, they said.
“It's purposefully obtuse and I think that's a feature, not a bug. I think if the integrity commissioner saw this contract, he would have real questions that he has to ask about what work is being done and what payments were actually made,” they added.
“It's hard to say this is not a contingency fee. But it's also impossible to say that it is. And so what that means to me is that if the commissioner saw this, I think it would be the right move to investigate.”
The second expert agreed it’s not clear-cut, but contains some potentially troubling clauses.
“The agreement may well provide for an illegal contingency payment. It can certainly be read to mean that the consultant will be paid a future amount of money that is to be determined if lobbying activity they are involved in is successful. If this is what the parties intended, the payment would be offside federal and Ontario lobbying laws,” the lawyer said.
Instead of providing flexibility, the ambiguous wording could be the nail in the coffin.
“If it looks like a contingency payment and acts like a contingency payment, an investigator for the (federal lobbying commissioner) or (provincial integrity commissioner) is going to be skeptical the lump sum payment provision is intended to be something other than a contingency payment,” the lawyer added.
“If the lump-sum payment is intended to compensate the consultant for services other than lobbying, or the provision is a badly worded payment schedule renegotiation clause, the parties may have a very difficult time proving this.”
It appears Mutton's firm did some lobbying for the OPSWA at the federal level.
Mutton’s former colleague, Jenna Leca, registered with the federal lobbying commissioner to work on OPSWA’s behalf from Sept. 10, 2016, until May 31, 2017.
The Trillium could not reach Leca for comment.
Her registration shows she sought to talk to MPs and civil servants about a national dementia and Alzheimer’s strategy and raise awareness of OPSWA’s work.
She reported five meetings with MPs — former Liberal MPs Neil Ellis and Celina Caesar-Chavannes, current Liberal MPs Jennifer O’Connell and Serge Cormier, and Conservative MP Colin Carrie — from Oct. 18 to 20, 2016.
Pictures posted by Municipal Solutions’ X account (formerly Twitter) account during that month showed Mutton, Leca and Ferrier on Parliament Hill.
“Always a pleasure to meet with @ColinCarrie while in Ottawa, today Municipal Solutions is representing @OntarioPSWAssoc on the hill,” reads the caption on a picture with Mutton, Leca, Ferrier, and Carrie that was posted on Oct. 20, 2016.
“Municipal Solutions representing @OntarioPSWAssoc on the hill with @MPJenOConnell,” reads another Oct. 20 post with Mutton, Leca, Ferrier, and O’Connell.
Municipal Solutions representing @OntarioPSWAssoc on the hill with @MPJenOConnell pic.twitter.com/Og4iMZZkGh— Municipal Solutions (@Muni_Sol) October 20, 2016
No registrations or communications for Mutton are found in the federal lobbying registry.
Neither Leca nor Mutton, nor anyone else associated with Municipal Solutions has ever registered to lobby in Ontario, nor in the 10 municipal lobbying registries in the province either, according to a search in all the databases
OPSWA has hired five provincial lobbyists since 2015, the registry shows. Three registrations are currently active. Aside from Municipal Solutions and Leca, OPSWA has hired three federal lobbyists but none are currently active.
A January 2017 picture from Municipal Solutions’ X account shows Mutton, Leca and Ferrier meeting with former Liberal MPP Joe Dickson.
“Municipal Solutions and @OntarioPSWAssoc meeting this morning with MPP, Joe Dickson,” the caption said.
Municipal Solutions and @OntarioPSWAssoc meeting this morning with MPP, Joe Dickson pic.twitter.com/PHQN3lk2CK— Municipal Solutions (@Muni_Sol) January 19, 2017
OPSWA scored a major win in 2018 when former PC leader Patrick Brown released his party’s election platform, the People’s Guarantee. It committed to allowing OPSWA to “run, operate and maintain this central registry for PSWs instead of a government body,” a long-held goal of the organization.
With Brown’s resignation and Doug Ford’s ascent to PC leader and premier, however, that promise was dropped. Today, the province is partnering with the University Health Network’s Michener Institute to run the registry instead of the OPSWA. Instead, the government has budgeted $1.2 million in funding for OPSWA to promote the personal support work profession.
Neither the Ontario integrity commissioner nor the federal lobbying commissioner commented on the contract.
The Lobbyists Registration Act “outlines specific confidentiality restrictions regarding investigations," said Michelle Renaud, spokesperson for Ontario’s integrity commissioner, in a statement.
The integrity commissioner's office can't reveal if they're "conducting an investigation, or any information, document or thing obtained in the course of conducting an investigation under the Act,”
“The Office is unable to comment on any specific matter,” said Manon Dion, spokesperson for the federal lobbying commissioner.
“In terms of general process, when the commissioner becomes aware of a potential breach of the Lobbying Act, the office conducts a preliminary assessment to determine the appropriate next steps. When necessary to ensure compliance with the Act, an investigation is commenced.”
According to a separate email obtained by The Trillium, OPSWA terminated the contract in Oct. 2018, around when Mutton was running for Durham’s regional chair and his ex-wife posted a letter on Facebook describing an alleged assault against her and their daughter in 2006. Mutton’s spokesperson at the time called the allegations “false claims.” Mutton was acquitted in 2007 of two assault charges stemming from the incident.
“The OPSWA greatly appreciates all the work that your firm has done for our association but we feel that this relationship has run its full course,” said Ian Da Silva, OPSWA’s head of human resources, in the email.