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TORONTO — Ontario's integrity commissioner said Thursday there are "insufficient grounds" for him to conduct a full investigation into a stag-and-doe event for Premier Doug Ford's daughter, though he noted an "interesting" finding about ticket sales for the gathering.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles had asked Commissioner J. David Wake to issue an opinion on the event, which was attended by some developers ahead of the government's decision to open several parcels of protected Greenbelt lands for housing development.

She asked him to look at whether Ford breached ethics rules on furthering someone's private interests and accepting a benefit connected with the performance of his duties. 

Wake said in a report Thursday that the evidence doesn't meet the threshold for a full investigation.

"I have explained previously the 'reasonable and probable grounds' threshold that the (Members' Integrity) Act requires for me to commence an inquiry," he wrote. 

"It is a higher bar than many members of the public and many members realize, requiring more than having a 'reasonable suspicion.'"

A related report last month from the integrity commissioner found that the process of selecting lands for removal from the Greenbelt favoured certain developers.

Thursday's six-page report does reveal some new details about the Aug. 11 stag and doe – an event typically held to raise money for an engaged couple – and the Greenbelt removals. 

Developer Sergio Manchia, who owns a property in Hamilton that was ultimately removed from the Greenbelt in the province's Nov. 4, 2022 announcement, bought four tickets to the party, Wake said.

He gave the tickets to colleague Matt Johnston, who "said a quick hello" to the premier, Wake said.

"I found it interesting that Mr. Manchia stated that the tickets to the stag and doe were purchased from Tony Miele who is the Chair of the PC Ontario Fund, the fundraising arm of the Ontario PC Party," Wake wrote. 

"I interviewed Mr. Miele who told me that he is a friend of the Ford family and that he was approached by the premier’s future son-in-law, whom he referred to by name, to assist in selling some tickets to the event."

Miele sold about 20 tickets, Wake said, though he doesn't note who bought the remaining 16. Ford has said the tickets were $150 each.

"Mr. Miele insisted that he did this to help the couple and that his involvement was wholly unrelated to his duties on behalf of the Fund," Wake wrote.

Representatives for Miele did not immediately respond to questions about who else bought tickets from him.

Johnston – Manchia's associate – also acted as a planner for a client who owned a 78-acre piece of land in Grimsby, Ont., Wake said, and on Oct. 6 he requested that parcel be removed from the Greenbelt. He made a similar request for Mancia's property. Both were among the 15 land removals from the Greenbelt.

The leaders of Ontario's three opposition parties said the Miele revelation raises more questions. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said it further bolsters his call for a public inquiry.

"The stench from Doug Ford's $8.3 billion Greenbelt scandal gets worse every day," Schreiner said. "What the heck is the head of the PC fundraising arm doing selling tickets to Doug Ford's wealthy elite developer friends to a stag and doe party for his children?" 

The property owners with land removed from the Greenbelt stand to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, the auditor general found in her own Greenbelt investigation.

More than 90 per cent of the land removed was in five sites passed on to then-housing minister Steve Clark's chief of staff, Ryan Amato, by two developers Amato met at an industry event, the auditor said. 

The integrity commissioner said in his August report that he had no evidence of developers being specifically tipped off that the government was considering Greenbelt removals, but that Amato's actions and conversations with them had that effect. Clark failed to oversee his staffer, the commissioner found.

Clark and Amato have both since resigned.

A second cabinet minister, Kaleed Rasheed, resigned this week after news reports raised questions about his connections to developer Shakir Rehmatullah and a trip to Las Vegas.

Rehmatullah attended Ford's daughter's wedding, Wake said.

"Although he maintained that no one in government alerted him to the fact that the government was considering changes to the Greenbelt boundary I found his evidence questionable," Wake wrote. 

"However any suggestion that Premier Ford alerted Mr. Rehmatullah, on the basis that he was a guest at his daughter’s wedding, I found to be fanciful."

Ford earlier this month announced a new review of the whole Greenbelt, including looking at the sites that were removed.

The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap. Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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