It’s a name that sounds like it’s borrowed from a spy thriller — but an unregistered lobbyist known as “Mr. X” is a very real part of the report released by Ontario’s integrity commissioner into how lands were selected to be removed from the province’s Greenbelt.
Mr. X’s name is kept out of the report, but it describes his outsized role in offering Raptors tickets and golf games to senior figures in the housing ministry while negotiating a $1 million “Greenbelt fee” contingent on getting a parcel of land developed in Clarington.
“It seems like a cheap spy novel, in a way. You’ve got someone named Mr. X,” said Lloyd Rang, a Clarington councillor, in an interview with CTV News. “It just seems too salacious for Ontario politics.”
In the report, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake found that Housing Minister Steve Clark broke ethics rules in a process to remove land from the protected Greenbelt that was marked by “unnecessary hastiness and deception.”
His former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, resigned, and Clark has apologized but vowed to stay on despite calls for him to step down too. Premier Doug Ford also stood by the embattled minister on Thursday, admitting there were flaws in the process but said they were in the effort of the larger goal of building new homes in a housing crisis.
According to the report, Mr. X was contracted to work on getting 86 acres of land north of Nash Road out of the Greenbelt by its owner, Peter Tanenbaum, who had owned the property since before the creation of the protected green space.
Records show Tanenbaum purchased the property for about $2.7 million about 20 years ago. The land value would sharply escalate with the legal ability to develop it for homes.
Mr. X and Tanenbaum negotiated a contract on August 9, 2022, where Mr. X would be paid a $6,000 per month fee and a “Greenbelt Fee” of $225,000 earned when final approval has been obtained to remove the lands from the Greenbelt and a “Rezoning fee” of $775,000 when authorization to develop the land was granted.
Put together, the payments would total $1 million. That could pose concerns because the report says Mr. X never registered as a lobbyist, where getting paid contingent on the results of lobbying isn’t allowed by law.
In September 2022, Mr. X wrote Tanenbaum saying that he had a lunch meeting with Amato and deputy chief of staff Kirstin Jensen.
“Ours is the only file that I am discussing. I also have them coming to golf at Goodwood in 2 weeks with me and to a Raptors game,” he said in an email, the report says.
Amato denied to the commissioner that he met with Mr. X, and Jensen admitted he probably paid for lunch, the report says.
The interaction is one of many by lobbyists whose activities Wake tracks on Greenbelt removals the province’s auditor general has estimated would be collectively worth billions to landowners.
“Mr. X certainly adds to the intrigue,” said University of Toronto political scientist Chris Cochrane. “I don’t remember an integrity commissioner report that outlined so much of the palace intrigue.”
NDP MPP Jeff Burch said the flawed process shouldn’t stand — in part because it attracted mysterious figures like Mr. X.
“This is the kind of thing you see in movies. It’s not the kind of thing you see in the province of Ontario,” said the NDP’s Jeff Burch.
The reason Wake doesn’t disclose Mr. X’s identity is because he says the commissioner can’t disclose a lobbying investigation by law.
“There will almost certainly be a subsequent investigation, he says as much when he says he’ll be looking into the relationship between Mr. X and the government,” Cochrane said.
Meaning this isn’t likely going to be the integrity commissioner’s last word on Mr. X — or the Greenbelt.
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