Ontario Premier Doug Ford met face to face with Hamilton developer Sergio Manchia about removing his land from the Greenbelt in 2021, documents reveal.
The documents contradict what Ford has previously said about his involvement in the controversy, including he has "no recollection" of meeting Manchia, nor did he know about the proposed changes before 2022.
The meeting took place more than a year before Ford's government publicly announced its plan to allow select developers to build on the protected Greenbelt, according to an email released Monday among thousands of pages of documents obtained by Environmental Defence through a Freedom of Information request.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss opening up Manchia's Greenbelt land at Barton Street and Fifty Road for development, according to an email to Ford's executive assistant from Scott Beedie, a planner at Manchia's company UrbanSolutions.
"The parties agreed to pursue the request as it was in keeping with the province's objectives of aiding municipalities in providing much-needed housing," Beedie wrote.
Also at the Sept. 20, 2021, meeting was then Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, PC MPP Donna Skelly and LiUNA vice-president Joseph Mancinelli, according to the email.
LiUNA spokesperson Victoria Mancinelli said her father never attended such a "private meeting" and has no involvement in this land.
Ford's spokesperson, Caitlin Clark, said changes to the Greenbelt were considered only after the 2022 provincial election.
"Neither the premier or the premier's office was part of any specific site selection," Clark said in an email. "This particular proposal for removal had long-standing support from the local municipality, including a letter from the then mayor of Hamilton as well as a council resolution."
On the same day, an Ontario PC fundraising event was held in Ancaster, with tickets costing $1,200 each, according to an archived Ontario PC webpage.
The integrity commissioner found earlier this year that Manchia, who lives in Ancaster, had hosted a fundraiser for Skelly in September 2021 with about 50 to 70 people in attendance, including Ford.
Manchia has met Ford at several other events in recent years, and bought four tickets to his daughter's stag-and-doe, which he handed off to one of his planners Matt Johnston, the integrity commissioner found.
"Mr. Manchia said he does not believe he talked to the premier about the Greenbelt at these events, and that it was usually a handshake and hello," the report said.
Johnston told CBC Hamilton on behalf of Manchia that it was "no secret" he had been calling for his property to be removed from the Greenbelt for years.
The meeting in September 2021 "was only the latest in a multi-year effort, asking both the previous government and Mr. Ford's government to rectify what we and Hamilton council felt was a mistake," Johnston said.
Hamilton staff supported the change, developer wrote
Ford has denied having close ties to Manchia. He told the integrity commissioner "he had no recollection of meeting him, having any telephone or other conversations with him about the Greenbelt or communicating to any staff about Mr. Manchia."
He has also told reporters he never directed staff on what lands to remove from the Greenbelt and he only became aware of what they were proposing when it was presented to his cabinet in November 2022, just before it was publicly announced.
In the email to Ford's assistant, Beedie noted Manchia had the support of Hamilton's chief planner and the mayor to allow development of 200 homes on the four acres. The site is also close to other housing subdivisions and a school, and is connected to city infrastructure.
A year later, the Ford government removed Manchia's land from the Greenbelt, along with 14 other sites across the Greater Hamilton and Toronto area. Facing intense scrutiny and an RCMP investigation, the province re-added all the sites back to the Greenbelt. They currently cannot be developed.
Manchia has benefited from other land changes by the Ford government. His land near Hamilton's airport was added to the urban boundary, opening it up for development.
The province also copied, word for word, Johnston's requests to change Hamilton's official plan to allow Manchia to build a condo building on a heritage site in Ancaster.