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Bonnie Crombie’s last campaign raised 10s of thousands of dollars from developers

Political donations she received were much more significant than her OLP leadership opponents have from developers in their recent campaigns
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who is running for leadership of the Ontario Liberals, at the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Bonnie Crombie received nearly $60,000 in political donations from major property developers in her last election campaign, an analysis by The Trillium shows.

It’s significantly more than her opponents in the Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership contest have raised from developers in their political careers.

Of the donations Crombie’s financial filings from her 2022 campaign for re-election as Mississauga’s mayor show came from developers, at least $16,800 came from those expected to benefit from the Ford government’s recent Greenbelt land swap. These donations came from owners or executives of companies including the Greenpark Group, Fieldgate, TACC Developments and other DeGasperis family companies.

The Trillium analyzed political donations to the five Liberal leadership candidates during their careers and found that three have scarcely been financially supported by developers.

Aside from Crombie, only Yasir Naqvi has been a beneficiary of any more than a few thousand dollars in donations from property developers, which he has by way of his riding association.

Executives at two Ottawa-based development companies, Phoenix Homes and Claridge Homes, have donated to Naqvi’s provincial and federal riding associations in Ottawa Centre. Both developers have lengthy records of political donations.

From the financial filings of Adil Shamji, Ted Hsu and Nate Erskine-Smith, and their riding associations, The Trillium was able to confirm less than $5,000 in donations from developers or those less directly linked to the industry to any of the three. Naqvi has also benefited from a handful of others with indirect connections to the development industry.

Other trends unrelated to development could be found in the candidates’ donation histories, which tended to reflect their own pre-politics backgrounds. 

Naqvi and Erskine-Smith share popularity with donors who are lawyers, civil servants or work in the financial services industry. They were both lawyers before politics.

Health-care professionals are common among donors to Shamji, an emergency room doctor before running for the Liberals last year.

Many academics, especially from Queen’s University, populate Hsu’s donation history. Hsu has a background in academia, graduating from Queen’s before completing his PhD at Princeton University, and represents Kingston and the Islands, where Queen’s is located.

The Trillium’s analysis of donations to Liberal leadership candidates included scans of their respective municipal, provincial and federal financial statements.

The leadership candidates’ political careers are varied, so a one-to-one comparison is not possible.

The Trillium emailed the five candidates’ campaigns with the high-level findings of its analysis plus questions about whether they were actively seeking major developers’ donations and if they planned on proposing any political fundraising law changes. 

Each campaign suggested they’d at least be open to changing the province’s political campaign-financing laws if elected. 

While the Ford government’s changes to Ontario’s political financing laws have enjoyed added dramatics thanks to court fights that have followed them, it’s not uncommon for governments to alter these to their own liking.

Shamji’s and Erskine-Smith’s campaigns both said they didn’t plan on actively courting donations from major Ontario developers. None of the five leadership campaigns said they’d reject developers' donations, however.

“On my campaign, a donation is a statement of support. It’s never a symbol of transaction,” Shamji’s campaign said. “That’s why I feel comfortable accepting donations from a wide variety of donors.”

“I will be seeking donations from everyone, including from developers, but also doctors, entrepreneurs and everybody else, to give what they can,” Hsu’s campaign said in an email, while also highlighting that he’s promised to protect the Greenbelt.

“Yasir and the Ottawa Centre Provincial and Federal Liberal Associations always follow all Elections Ontario and Elections Canada rules and accept donations with full transparency,” Naqvi’s campaign said. 

“The Crombie campaign in its efforts to rebuild, rejuvenate and re-energize the party welcomes support from a wide range of individuals and will strictly adhere to all rules and laws concerning political fundraising in Ontario,” Crombie’s campaign said in an email.

Erskine-Smith’s campaign was the only one that directly went after any others in its response. It called out Crombie over how developers’ donations to her, and comments she made, and has since walked back, about being open to more of the Greenbelt being developed.

“When people show you who they are, believe them. And when a politician can’t keep a straight answer on protecting the Greenbelt, Ontarians are right to follow the money,” Erskine-Smith’s campaign said.

“Doug Ford publicly pledged not to touch the Greenbelt and privately told his developer donors the opposite… If she (Crombie) was listening to these (same) donors when she spoke about opening up the Greenbelt, who is to say she won’t if she is elected as leader?”

Crombie is considered the early favourite in the Ontario Liberals’ leadership race.

Housing and the Greenbelt have already emerged as marquee issues in the race’s early goings. Hsu and Erskine-Smith have already released preliminary housing platforms.

Crombie’s comments about being open to further Greenbelt development with the right “justification” partly overshadowed her campaign launch three weeks ago. Each of her opponents pounced, promising to maintain the province’s signature swath of protected lands. Crombie quickly insisted she misspoke, publishing a statement calling the Greenbelt “sacred” and promising to protect it.

Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect environmentally sensitive lands like farmland, wetlands, and forests, and to restrict urban sprawl in southern Ontario. It includes more than 2 million acres of land, stretching from east of Cobourg through the outer limits of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area around the western tip of Lake Ontario to the Niagara region. 

After creating it, the Liberals changed the Greenbelt 17 different times while they were in power. These were mostly small tweaks.

Ford’s Progressive Conservative government — which the winner of the Ontario Liberals’ leadership contest will seek to replace in 2026 — has been nagged by controversy over the last eight months over its Greenbelt land swap. It removed 7,400 acres in 15 areas from the Greenbelt late last year, also adding 9,400 acres elsewhere. Its justification is so 50,000 homes can be built on the newly unprotected lands. 

The Ford government is working toward having 1.5 million new homes built in Ontario by 2031, based on a target set by its housing affordability task force. “If we build 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years, Ontario can fill the housing gap with more affordable choices, catch up to the rest of Canada and keep up with population growth,” the task force said in the report published in February 2022.

The close personal ties that Ford and others in the PC government have with certain developers have been the source of much of the controversy around the province’s Greenbelt changes.

—With files from Jessica Smith Cross and Aidan Chamandy.

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