Group Behind Mysterious Anti-Teacher Attack Ads Chaired By a Well-Connected Conservative Millionaire
Mysterious 'Vaughan Working Families' group is linked to one of the richest and most powerful men in Vaughan
It turns out the mysterious “Vaughan Working Families” group is actually linked to one of the richest and most powerful men in Vaughan, Ontario.
Last weekend, full-page ads attacking teachers appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post, all paid for by a mystery group calling itself “Vaughan Working Families.”
First reported by PressProgress, the fake parents’ group’s ads featured a fake mother (in reality, a stock photo model from Poland) accusing teachers of using children as “pawns.”
On Thursday, the Toronto Star traced the money that paid for the ads to a law firm in Etobicoke called Loopstra Nixon LLP.
Following the Star’s report, the law firm acknowledged “Loopstra Nixon partner Quinto Annibale serves on the board of directors of the VHCC (Vaughan Health Campus of Care) / Vaughan Working Families in his personal capacity.”
The law firm said that it is a “legal registered office for organizations who do not have a physical place of business” and emphasized that this is a “standard practice in the legal industry.”
According to the Star, the name “Vaughan Working Families” was “registered in 2018 by an advocacy group called Vaughan Health Campus of Care.”
According to the Globe and Mail, corporate records identify five directors for Vaughan Health Campus of Care:
- Quinto Annibale
- Sam Ciccolini
- Robert Colelli
- Robert Maggisano
- Michael DeGasperis
Michael DeGasperis, the wealthy Vaughan developer who serves as the board’s chair, did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress about his role with the VHCC or whether he had knowledge of the “Vaughan Working Families” ads.
Corporate records obtained by PressProgress show the VHCC also operates under the name “The Vaughan Health Care Foundation” (VHCF), a registered charity that also lists DeGasperis as its chair.
As the president of Arista Homes and the CEO of TACC Construction, DeGasperis is one of the richest and most powerful men in Vaughan, Ontario.
DeGasperis’ name has appeared listed as a generous donor to Holy Trinity School, an elite private school in Richmond Hill.
Vaughan Health Campus of Care has described itself as a “citizen-led, non-profit organization of community members” dedicated to building a mega-hospital in Vaughan, Ontario.
However, the group has previously been registered as a third party advertiser and taken out highly partisan ads calling on Vaughan to vote for the Ontario PCs.
#Vaughan can do better than @StevenDelDuca and @Kathleen_Wynne pic.twitter.com/u4WVDjWK8q
— Vaughan Health (@CampusofCare) June 9, 2014
In 2011, the VHCC found itself at the centre of a controversy after Stephen Harper’s Conservative government directed a $10 million grant to the group, something that raised eyebrows given DeGasperis served as fundraising co-chair for former Harper cabinet minister Julian Fantino’s 2010 by-election campaign.
Fantino’s spokesperson at the time, Stephen Lecce, defended the $10 million grant as an “investment will benefit Vaughan families.”
The VHCC blamed the controversy on “political game playing” and said $8.7 million in grant money was later returned to the federal government.
DeGasperis still appears to be actively involved in partisan politics.
Elections Ontario records show DeGasperis has been both a Tory and Liberal donor in the past, but most recently made a $1,050 donation in support of Doug Ford’s Ontario PCs in 2019.
Last September, the Copper Creek Golf Club, which his family reportedly owns, also hosted a $1,000 per-plate dinner and reception organized by the King-Vaughan Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
Later in October, DeGasperis was spotted at a campaign event in Vaughan with federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer held in a suburban subdivision.
That moment was helpfully captured by Paul Greco, a local businessman with ties to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who was recently portrayed as an angry parent in a widely criticized column by the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington.
In fact, as recently as last month, Ontario’s education minister rang in 2020 with his annual “New Year’s Levee” at DeGasperis’ private golf club.
DeGasperis also made a $250 donation directly to Lecce’s riding association in 2018.
Two weeks before the end of 2018, the education minister tweeted a photo of himself and his wealthy donor when DeGasperis was awarded the Order of Vaughan.
Lecce singled out DeGasperis and the three others award recipients by name, describing them as “leaders of character and true city builders.”
Lecce has repeatedly denied having any advance knowledge of the ads.
So far, DeGasperis has not explained what — if anything — he had to with the ads that were paid for by the organization he chairs.
Both Ontario’s NDP opposition as well as a Toronto Catholic school trustee have called on Elections Ontario to launch an investigation into the ads.
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