Wednesday, 24 September 2014

What’s Real Estate Got To Do With It? Way Too Much.

Tonight at 7 pm the Realtors and Home Builders host an all-candidates meeting at the Lions’ Club in East City. The Realtors have a history of holding well-attended, well-organized all-candidates meetings during election campaigns at all levels.

In attendance will be mayor Daryl Bennett and his latest challenger for the position, former provincial PC candidate Alan Wilson, a long-time adviser to embattled MP Dean Del Mastro. With a strong start to her campaign, Maryam Monsef has quickly gained support among those looking for an alternative to business-as-usual and her name can be seen on many front lawns around town.

Of the three, it appears that only Monsef lives in Peterborough. Bennett and Wilson reportedly reside on properties outside the city limits.

Does it not bother anyone that neither Bennett nor Wilson therefore pay any residential property tax to the city they govern, or propose to govern? Would we accept an Ontario Premier who lived in Montreal? A Prime Minister who resided in Buffalo?

Bennett’s family is involved in the realty business as well as the transportation business. If campaign contributions are anything to go by, he also has connections in the world of real estate developers. Century 21 and Cleary Homes kicked cash into Bennett’s initial campaign for mayor in 2010, as did Melody Homes principal Saverio Montemarano through his company Liberty Greens.

Montemarano was revealed by the Examiner in 2008 to be behind the unpopular plan to put a hotel and condominium complex on Little Lake which Del Mastro actively promoted while refusing to tell the public who had proposed it.

Montemarano and his associates in the Cortellucci family in York Region also control Bromont Homes and a corporation called Mocor, which contributed money to the election campaigns of Len Vass and Keith Riel in 2010.

York University professor Robert MacDermid has been studying patterns of campaign contributions in Ontario for 20 years. In 2000, he determined that the development industry was “by far the largest sector” supporting the provincial PC party under Mike Harris, accounting for 60% of a staggering $50 million given the Harris government under his first mandate from 1995 to 1999. Many who financially backed Harris were beneficiaries of corporate tax breaks his government enacted.

The Toronto Star reported that “Large development firms owned by Nick Cortellucci and Saverio Montemarano donated almost $670,000” to the party during this period (July 24, 2000). While Harris was in power, he tried to arrange a bargain-price sale of Crown land near Temiskaming to the Cortellucci Group in what became known as the Adams Mine Scandal, treated in-depth by Kingston blogger Emily Dee
More recently, Corellucci and Montemarano helped get former Barrie mayor Dave Apsden in trouble with his council and constituents when they took him with them on a business trip to China in 2007 after having made financial contributions to his campaign. Cortellucci and Montemarano reportedly owned dozens of properties in Barrie and a hundred acres waiting to be developed in neighbouring Innisfil Township. Links to Barrie news sources via Councillor John Brassard’s blog tell the story. 

Accepting campaign contributions from Montemarano isn’t the only thing Aspden and Bennett have in common. Aspden also managed to get himself in hot water with his conduct on the Police Services Board in his area, and spent $15,000 to defend himself in a case with the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, as reported by the Barrie Advance (March 2, 2010). Later that year, on the same night that Peterborough elected Bennett mayor, Aspden was soundly defeated in his bid for re-election in Barrie, attracting only 1200 votes.

Melody Homes, of which Montemarano is a principal, owns two big plots of land in Peterborough and is apparently anxious to develop them. One is on Parkhill Road West in the Ravenswood area, and the other is across the Jackson Creek wetland on Lily Lake Road. The City of Peterborough rushed the Lily Lake development plan through this past April just a few days ahead of new provincial planning guidelines. They gave the go-ahead for a massive new residential area on the city’s northwest fringes that is utterly out-of-step with the province’s call to redevelop and increase population density in the city core, and contradicts basic principles of urban sustainability. 

Approving the Lily Lake plan also meant that council had to approve the widening of Fairbairn into a high-capacity arterial road, which the Parkway plan that was approved just a few months before had supposedly sought to avoid, and which many area residents aren't at all happy with.

The Lily Lake plan is currently being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board over its incompatibility with growth policy and deficiencies in the planning process. A hearing is set for early November at city hall, shortly after the election.
MacDermid’s more recent studies of campaign financing show a continued pattern of developer contributions to municipal election campaigns in the growth areas around Toronto. You can watch MacDermid on The Agenda discussing the nature of the relationships between real estate developers and municipal government.

Will anyone press the candidates on this issue at the Realtors Association meeting tonight?



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