Developer hired a former Harper minister to lobby Ford government over land-use planning and a ‘proposed highway’ on their land
A development company with links to a fake parents’ group lobbied Doug Ford’s government shortly after the group’s ads attacking school teachers ran in three of Canada’s biggest newspapers.
Earlier this month, a mysterious group calling itself “Vaughan Working Families” took out full-page ads attacking teachers in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, despite few signs the parents’ group truly exists.
The group’s ads included no contact information and most of its materials were sourced from the Internet. In fact, the angry mother presented as the public face of the group turned out to be a Polish stock photo model whose husband insists she has no opinions about Ontario politics.
The ads appear to be the handy work of wealthy Vaughan developers rather than working families in Vaughan.
The Toronto Star traced the “Vaughan Working Families” back to an advocacy group called “Vaughan Health Campus of Care.” That organization previously registered as a third party advertiser and has a history of running partisan attack ads.
PressProgress later reported that millionaire developer Michael DeGasperis, who is well-connected in conservative circles, chairs the “Vaughan Health Campus of Care.”
DeGasperis is also on familiar terms with Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Last fall, Lecce’s riding association held a $1,000 per plate fundraiser at the developer’s private golf club, which also happened to be the location of the education minister’s 2020 New Year’s Eve party last month.
DeGasperis identifies himself as CEO of Arista Homes and Vice President of the TACC Group of Companies. Corporate records show he is also a director of TACC Developments, a subsidiary of the TACC Group of Companies.
Lobbying records published by the Office of the Integrity Commissioner show a lobbyist working on behalf of TACC Developments had a rendez-vous with Ford’s government on Valentine’s Day — two weeks after “Vaughan Working Families” ran its controversial anti-teacher attack ads.
Peter Van Loan, a former federal Conservative MP and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons under Stephen Harper, lobbied several ministerial offices on behalf of TACC Developments on February 14.
The lobbying communications report indicates TACC Developments targeted the offices of the Attorney General of Ontario, the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as the Minister of Transportation.
The lobbying record states Van Loan lobbied the Ford government to influence the “impact of a proposed highway on Client’s lands.”
The company has previously pressed the City of Vaughan on issues relating to the expansion of Highway 427. Provincial documents indicate the new highway would cut across a subdivision owned by TACC Developments.
The registry also notes TACC Developments wanted to provide input into how Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal interprets “transition provisions” in the 1990 Planning Act — the act has sections specifically pertaining to Vaughan.
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is a body that was set-up to settle disputes over how communities are developed, “such as where industry should be located, where roads and transit should be built, or how to protect our forests and farmlands.”
In response to questions about what TACC hoped to achieve through its lobbying, Van Loan offered a partial explanation.
“The interpretation sought was that matters approved under the legislation adopted by the previous Liberal Government should be decided under that same legislation,” Van Loan told PressProgress.
Neither TACC nor DeGasperis directly responded to requests from PressProgess seeking more information about their lobbying activities.
In mid-November 2019, another member of the TACC Group of Companies lobbied the Ontario government in connection to the redevelopment of the former Ontario Power Generation Lakeview Power Plant.
That communication report notes TACC lobbied the government though a different lobbyist named Amir Remtulla — who previously served as Rob Ford’s chief of staff.
According to Maclean’s, Remtulla is a key lobbyist firms look to for access to the Ford government, representing mostly developers including those pushing for changes to laws around the greenbelt.