Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Ontario’s integrity commissioner could take another look at the infamous Las Vegas trip that precipitated resignations by a member of Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet and his housing policy director ahead of his Greenbelt walk-back.
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles requested integrity commissioner J. David Wake dig deeper into the trip, beyond his brief probe as part of his earlier Greenbelt investigation.
As part of the work leading to his bombshell Aug. 30 report, Wake interviewed MPP Kaleed Rasheed, developer Shakir Rehmatullah, and two others associated with the government about the early 2020 Las Vegas trip that The Trillium broke the news about over the summer.
Michelle Renaud, spokesperson for the integrity commissioner’s office, said it’ll consider Stiles’ ask, while noting that work by police can have the effect of sidelining Wake from investigating an MPP.
“If the commissioner, when conducting an inquiry, discovers that the subject-matter of the inquiry is being investigated by police or that a charge has been laid, the commissioner shall suspend the inquiry until the police investigation or charge has been finally disposed of,” Renaud wrote in an email, quoting from the Members’ Integrity Act.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it launched an investigation into the Ford government’s Greenbelt changes on Oct. 10. The federal police service have disclosed little about its work, “to ensure that the process leads to a fair and proper outcome,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The RCMP described the investigation as being “into allegations associated (with) the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development.”
Rehmatullah is one of the developers who owned land that was removed from the Greenbelt.
Rasheed was appointed to Ford’s cabinet in June 2021, but was a backbencher in the Progressive Conservative caucus at the time of the Las Vegas trip.
In early 2020, Massoudi was Ford’s principal secretary, the premier’s de facto second-ranked staffer. He left Ford’s office in August 2022.
Truesdell worked in the private sector at the time of the trip, in between stints in the Ford government.
In interviews the four did with Wake during his Greenbelt investigation, they said they’d actually all went to the same Las Vegas hotel in late 2019, that they weren’t there altogether, and that a hotel lobby run-in was the extent of the encounter the pair in the government had with Rehmatullah.
A couple of weeks later in mid-September, The Trillium and CTV News reported new information, including about bookings they’d made at the spa at the hotel that they stayed at, casting doubt on statements the Vegas-goers made to Wake under oath.
Ford announced his government would reverse its Greenbelt removals on Sept. 21, one day after Rasheed resigned.
A contract that Atlas Strategic Advisors Inc., Massoudi’s company, had with PC caucus services also ended around the same time.
In the written submission Stiles made to the integrity commissioner’s office, she expressed to Wake that she believed the trip itself and the incorrect testimonies he was given were grounds for him to launch an investigation.
“We hope our request will get people the truth that they deserve,” Stiles told reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
Stiles said in her submission that she believes Rasheed may have broken four sections of MPP ethics law, including parts around conflict of interest, the use of insider information, improper use of influence, and receiving gifts.
She also requested that the integrity commissioner consider launching investigations under the Public Service of Ontario Act, which shapes ethical rules for government staffers.
Stiles’ 10-page-long affidavit to Wake relies largely on evidence published in the integrity commissioner’s Aug. 30 report, along with reporting by The Trillium and other publications.
The Members’ Integrity Act does not require the integrity commissioner to investigate an MPP after receiving a complaint. In cases when Wake has declined to launch a full-fledged investigation, Wake often publishes reports explaining why he chose not to.
If Wake does launch a full-scale investigation into the Las Vegas trip, he’ll be posed with at least a few unusual elements.
For one, Wake hasn’t faced another scenario where an interview subject in an investigation into an MPP retroactively sought to fix their previous incorrect testimony, his spokesperson said in an email on Sept. 20.
Obstacles for him could include that the trip took place in Las Vegas, and at a private hotel. However, the Members’ Integrity Act allows the integrity commissioner to issue summonses to people involved in an inquiry, which can effectively be borrowed from the Public Inquiries Act.
There could be another potential hurdle to Wake fully understanding what happened in Vegas, if he investigates. There were notable gaps in the records informing the section of Wake’s Aug. 30 report on the Las Vegas trip.
For example, Rasheed gave Wake an invoice from a travel agent showing he paid in cash for three round-trip flights to and from Las Vegas in December 2019. His spokesperson later said Rasheed “mistakenly” shared this information with the integrity commissioner, “based off the original itinerary.”
Ian Stedman, a York University professor who worked in the integrity commissioner’s office from 2011 to 2014, told The Trillium that he thinks Wake could be emboldened by Global News’ reporting on Ford’s use of his personal cellphone for government business to seek these kinds of records in other investigations.
“When the premier himself intentionally operates in secrecy, it limits the public’s ability to hold him accountable for his action and arguably sends a message to his cabinet that this behaviour is acceptable,” Stedman said.
“Knowing this, I believe that commissioner Wake is now effectively forced to exercise the powers he has under sections 33 and 34 of the Public Inquiries Act whenever he conducts an ‘inquiry’ into a member of this cabinet.”