Published September 21, 2023

'Insufficient grounds' for full probe into Ford stag and doe: commissioner

By Allison Jones in 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.

The report from Commissioner J. David Wake landed just hours before Ford announced a reversal of his decision to open several parcels of protected Greenbelt lands for housing development, following months of public outcry.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles had asked the integrity commissioner to issue an opinion on the pre-wedding event for Ford's daughter, which was attended by some developers ahead of the decision to open the Greenbelt in November 2022.

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, 2022 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, 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.

Ford was asked Thursday where the proceeds from the party went, and he said he has "never taken a penny from absolutely anyone."

"I've never even expensed a hamburger or chocolate bar," he said at a press conference. "I pay out of my own pocket. As for people (who) want to talk to me, they can show up to Ford Fest. Thousands of people do. But no one can influence me, simple as that."

Representatives for Miele did not immediately respond to questions about who else bought tickets from him, but Ford came to his defence Thursday.

"Tony has been a friend of the family for many, many years and he did it on his own accord," Ford said.

Johnston – Manchia's associate who received the stag and doe tickets – 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 Manchia'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.

"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?" Schreiner said.

More than 90 per cent of the Greenbelt 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 general found in her own Greenbelt investigation.

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.

Rasheed, Ford's principal secretary at the time Amin Massoudi, and Jae Truesdell – at the time in the private sector but who served as Ford's director of housing policy starting in January 2022 – told the integrity commissioner they went to Las Vegas in December 2019. Rasheed and Massoudi "briefly encountered" Rehmatullah there, they said.

Truesdell has now resigned, Ford said Thursday without offering further details.

Massoudi told the integrity commissioner he had only met Rehmatullah a handful of times, including at the wedding of Ford's daughter, but Rasheed said he and Rehmatullah are close friends and Rasheed's wife worked for the developer.

Rehmatullah said he was in Las Vegas in December 2019 and late January to early February 2020 and recalled seeing Rasheed in a hotel lobby on one of the trips.

CTV News reported this week that Rasheed, Rehmatullah and Massoudi got massages on Feb. 1, 2020 at the same Las Vegas hotel spa. A spokesperson for Rasheed told the outlet the trip was originally booked for December 2019 but got rescheduled and Rasheed "mistakenly" shared incorrect information with the integrity commissioner based on the original itinerary.

Rehmatullah attended Ford's daughter's wedding, Wake said in his stag and doe report.

"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 said Wednesday that if Rasheed could clear his name through the integrity commissioner there may be a path for him to return to caucus, but the integrity commissioner's office said it has received no request to issue an opinion on Rasheed's actions. NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she is considering making a request.

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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

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