Caledon council voted to repudiate the actions of former mayor Allan Thompson when he sent a letter to the province without council support asking for an MZO for a massive warehouse deveopment on Torbram Road. 

The motion to admonish him came from Ward 3 Councillor Doug Maskell who, despite the warehouse being situated in his ward, only found out about the MZO and the application from a memorandum on the April 11 Planning and Development Committee Agenda. 

“[It] is the responsibility of elected officials to uphold the integrity and ethical accountability, which are the foundation of public confidence in government and the political process,” Maskell said, quoting the Town of Caledon’s Code of Conduct. “And then Mayor Allan Thompson drafted and delivered his letter to minister (Steve) Clark with his personal request for this MZO. He circumvented established Council practices and undermined the people’s competence in the political process. His action broke the trust given to him by the town and the people of Caledon.”

Maskell has kept the topic of the MZO located at 12245 Torbram Road at the top of the agenda for weeks after it was revealed at the April 11 meeting by Antonetta Minichillo, director of planning and chief planner at the Town, that a private request was sent by a former member of council for the MZO. It was learned through a freedom of information request initiated by a resident of Caledon, and later confirmed by Mayor Annette Groves, that this letter was written by former mayor Thompson on July 22, 2022. 

The admission of truth was a shock to residents and councillors alike who were unaware of how the process for the MZO unfolded. Now they are demanding answers. An MZO is a planning approval issued by the housing minister which overrides the typical local planning approval process controlled by the municipality, cutting the public out of the decision making. 

“This motion is for the Balzanos, the Singhs, the Capuanos, the Randhawas, the Atwals,” Maskell said, referring to concerned residents whose homes will be enveloped by the sprawling warehouse development. 

“It really is unfortunate that we’re sitting here dealing with his actions. And we’re getting the repercussions and we’re getting the blame and we’re having to take the hit for this,” Mayor Groves said. 

She admitted that even she was blindsided with how the MZO process unfolded. She told council that on Thompson’s last day as mayor, he handed her the letter he had sent to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and left it at that.

“I believe the actions of the former mayor put this council in a very, very difficult position,” she said.

The sentiment was the same in one of the delegations given by Caledon resident John Rutter. 

“I would like to remind many of you sitting on our current council that you ran a campaign promising accountability and transparency,” he said. “Well here is an opportunity to show your constituents that it was not just political rhetoric and that you live by your promises.”

Regional Councillor Christina Early said she was confident that no sitting councillor supported the actions of the former mayor. But the motion asking council to disavow Thompson’s actions was only passed five to three. 

“I can’t support the motion because there are parts of it that are based on inaccurate information,” Ward 2 Councillor Dave Sheen said. Town Clerk Laura Hall assured that she had checked with the integrity commissioner prior to the writing of the motion to ensure that all of the facts were accurate. Regardless, Sheen, along with Councillors Nick deBoer and Mario Russo, opposed the motion asking for council to disavow Thompson’s actions.

“One of the delegates said that former mayor Thompson  went beyond his ethical and legal obligations. I don’t agree,” Sheen said. “I don’t see what it accomplishes besides perhaps sullying the reputation of the former mayor.”

The comment caused an uproar from the group of residents who watched in the council chamber. 

Despite support from a majority of sitting councillors who voted to repudiate Thompson’s effort to secretly cut council and the public out of the planning process — Councillor Lynn Kiernan was absent from the meeting — members could not agree with Maskell’s second request to write a letter to the province asking it to revoke the MZO.

Mayor Groves stressed the importance of remembering that the lands in Tullamore — the community where the 12245 Torbram Road MZO was granted — are designated as employment lands under Peel’s settlement boundary expansion and the Official Plan Review. While she stated that she does not support the use of MZOs, she does not see how asking to revoke this particular MZO will change the outcome of what happens on this property.

“I understand it’s the principle, it’s the way in which this was done,” Groves stated. “However, this one, I believe we’re a little too late at the table.”

“I think revoking the MZO would be a moot point.”

But the principle, for Maskell, is the point. In the Province’s Environmental Registry of Ontario, it is stated that the Town of Caledon requested the MZO, which is not true. Thompson lobbied for it without council or the public knowing about it, and months later only told Groves after the fact when she won the mayor’s race. 

“Who helped Mr. Thompson create his letter?” Rutter asked in his delegation. “Who typed the letter using Caledon letterhead? The numbers quoted in Mr. Thompson’s letter as to the benefit to the Town, who supplied them?”

Maskell said he understands that the area has been deemed employment lands and that inevitably some sort of development will happen in that area. But as he has previously stressed to The Pointer, he is a stickler for rules and procedures and the way this MZO was pursued, without any public participation by a mayor who acted on his own, violated those policies. 

“If he [Steve Clark] wants to revoke [the MZO] and give us another one, go ahead,” Maskell asserted. “That’s why we have the law, that’s why we have due process, that’s why we have a process to go through.”

“I am not implying that I want the town to fight this MZO, I just do not agree with the way it was done”.

Councillor Tony Rosa said that while he respects and applauds the motion, he believes that “putting a letter in an envelope and putting a stamp on it, that’s not going to get us the result we’re looking for.”

Rosa emphasized that if the Town really wants the MZO revoked, it will have to take the fight further, a fight which will cost the Town and its taxpayers more money than he would like to spend. 

For Groves, it is time the Town starts putting the matter behind it and works within the best interest of constituents, given the circumstances they are now facing. Under a request by Groves, the Rice Group, which owns the land, recently had a meeting with the residents who will be directly affected by the development a couple weeks ago. Groves said it was a “good meeting”, and the residents had the opportunity to share their concerns with the developer. She also noted that a public information meeting will be held on June 13 for any resident of Caledon with an interest in the application to attend. 

Despite no support for Maskell’s second motion, Marit Stiles, the NDP Official Opposition Leader at Queen’s Park, made a request to Doug Ford in question period on May 11 to cancel the MZO after learning about the antics that led to the MZO being granted.

“Does [the premier] think that those secret undemocratic dealings are acceptable?” Stiles asked. “Will he revoke this MZO?” The majority PCs ignored her request. 

Groves also noted that within the Town’s housing pledge to the province under Bill 23, Caledon asked that no more MZOs be applied on lands in the Town and that the provincial government allow Caledon to be planned by the direction of council. Despite the ask, under the PCs’ new sweeping housing/planning legislation, the Province can now use its authority to overrule the Town in favour of developers, while further MZOs can also be issued.

The final motion from Maskell asked for the Town to submit a Freedom of Information request for any and all communications between Thompson, Town staff and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the issuance of MZOs between July and December 2022. The motion was defeated with four councillors in favour — Groves, Maskell, Napoli and Rosa — and four opposed — de Boer, Early, Russo and Sheen.

Councillor Sheen said he was voting against the motion because he believes the Town has nothing to hide.

His apparent contradiction prompted Groves to challenge him.

“If we really want to be completely transparent to these folks, I don’t see anything wrong with providing the documentation that you’re asking for,” Groves responded. “If we have nothing to hide, then really provide the documentation. When we don’t provide it, it makes us look like we’re hiding something. And in this case, I do believe that we owe it to these folks to provide this information.”

Email: rachel.morgan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

By Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 30, 2023 at 12:04

This item reprinted with permission from   The Pointer   Mississauga, Ontario
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