A months-long campaign of intimidation to get a small-town mayor in Ontario to approve a housing development ended in 2010 when a federal auditor in the tax department was arrested for framing the mayor on a bogus allegation of tax evasion.
Three years later, that auditor was about to go to trial when the intimidation of Mayor Marolyn Morrison of Caledon, Ontario, revved up again from a most unlikely source.
At the heart of the new pressure campaign was an Ontario provincial cabinet minister---Glen Murray.
Last week CBC News carried half of the sordid story.
This is the full story as uncovered in a two-part investigative series by the Globe and Mail in 2018 (with background from other older news stories) - including an email from Murray's chief of staff warning him to stay out of the matter as any involvement by him in the contested land-for-housing dispute could be construed as interference in a quasi-judicial process. To see for yourself, scroll to the part "Queen's Park:The Housing Development, The Mayor and The Minister."
The story also contains what Murray told the Globe in 2018 about his role compared to the lies he's telling voters in Winnipeg as he runs for Mayor here today.
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Caledon is a town (2021 population 76,500) in the RM of Peel in the Greater Toronto Area. But as one news story said " “Town,” ... is a bit of a misnomer, since Caledon encompasses many towns and hamlets scattered across its 700 square kilometres of mostly rural land."
A developer presented the town council with a plan to build a subdivision near an industrial park he had built. But the council chose to freeze residential development for 15 years, following a provincial plan to control urban sprawl. The decision pitted the mayor against the developer who wanted the decision rescinded.
In January, 2008, Mayor Morrison noticed she was being followed by cars she began to recognize. That continued for 5 months, she said. In May, 2008, a man confronted her husband, a teacher, on the grounds of the school where he worked, and gave him a message. Get your wife to change her mind. Ten days later, he got another message.
Two men attacked him in the driveway of his home and worked him over, breaking his nose in the process. The police investigation eventually led to the man who tried to intimidate the husband in May and whose car license the husband remembered. The thugs behind the beating were never arrested.
From the Globe and Mail story:
An internal OPP report, dated July 30, 2008, and obtained by The Globe, states that Mr. Vranic, a resident of nearby Woodbridge at the time of the assault, “has known links to the Commission organized crime family.”
Then Mayor Morrison discovered she was being investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police for tax evasion based on a complaint from a federal tax auditor who claimed he had evidence (that he had faked) that she wasn't claiming income which was allegedly coming from kickbacks paid by developers.
It took another four months before the police told Mayor Morrison she was off the hook, that the complaint against her was baseless. But the OPP wanted to know the source of the allegations, so they kept digging and digging, until they dug up the federal auditor who was suspended in February 2010 but was finally arrested in November, 2010. There’s more to say about that court case.
In September, 2009 (as the frame-up job with CRA was unfolding), a retired politician who was a close friend of Mayor Morrison got an unusual phone call from a man she knew. He wanted her to arrange a meeting between the mayor and a "well-connected person", a private meeting, "a one-on-one."
She met the man who had phoned her face-to-face, and "he revealed that the unnamed person wanted to speak about a housing development that had been turned down."
If she arranged the private meeting, she could get $10,000 or $15,000, he said.
(The Globe obtained the audio of a statement the woman made to the OPP two weeks later.)
She eventually spoke in a conference call with the "well-connected person" and his demeanor scared her. The retired politician stopped talking to both men, but she kept Mayor Morrison informed.
The Mayor, "who made her own statement to police" was "left to ponder why (the scary well-connected man) was so keen to meet with her---and without witnesses."
Four years later, the Mayor of Caledon would find herself tricked into a private meeting with another man who also insisted, that there be no witnesses.
His name---Glen Murray.
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On Feb. 11, 2013, Glen Murray was named as Ontario Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure by Premier Kathleen Wynne. Morrison had already been re-elected mayor of Caledon. Soon after, she began negotiating with Canadian Tire to bring a distribution centre to Caledon on land that the developer wanted for his housing project.
If the deal went through, the land was gone and the project was dead.
The Globe and Mail investigative feature detailed events that followed.
"On March 23, 2013 – a Saturday – Mr. Murray travelled to the farm fields south of Bolton that Solmar sought to build on.
In an interview with The Globe last year, Mr. Murray acknowledged that he did not travel alone, but he declined to identify whom he was with, other than to say it was a “planner” or “consultant” for Solmar. (Mr. Naster, the Solmar lawyer, said that Mr. Rogato did not recall accompanying Mr. Murray that day, adding that it is “possible” that the minister was with someone from the external planning firm used by Solmar.)
During his site visit, Mr. Murray e-mailed his chief of staff, David Black, and asked him what powers he had, as minister, with respect to the housing development.
Mr. Black responded with blunt advice: “There is no action you can take.”
[Linda was Linda Jeffrey, appointed to cabinet on the same day as Glen Murray, as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. An 'MZO' is a Minister's Zoning Order. Murray was asking if she was willing to interfere in the quasi-judicial hearing already underway by the Ontario Municipal Board, take the developer's appeal out of their hands, overrule the Caledon council, and impose a decision to deliver the desired rezoning for the developer.- ed.]
Continuing with the G & M story:
Mr. Black (who is now chief of staff to Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli) declined to respond to questions from The Globe. But his e-mails to Mr. Murray – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – show he was concerned that his boss was with someone from Solmar.
And that was potentially a big problem. Solmar had taken Caledon to the Ontario Municipal Board, the quasi-judicial body that has the power to overturn the planning decisions of cities and towns, and a decision had yet to be rendered. But the OMB can be overruled by cabinet – which is why, Mr. Black warned his boss that day, ministers are forbidden from interacting with developers currently before the tribunal.
“I hope you are not in the Bolton area with anyone who might have an active OMB case,” Mr. Black e-mailed to Mr. Murray. “Ministers meeting with active OMB appellants can be grounds for the Premier to ask for your resignation because it can look like you are trying to influence the outcome of an OMB case.”
But Murray didn't heed the warning. He doubled down.
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Three weeks after his questionable site visit and the stern warning from his chief of staff, Glen Murray asked Mayor Morrison to a meeting.
On April 18, 2013, she drove down to Queen’s Park with two of her staff.
"According to Ms. Morrison and another staff member present that day, Mr. Murray scolded them for what he said was poor planning. He had a specific idea, too: The swath of land south of Bolton should be designated for homes.
Next, Minister Murray asked all of the aides, including his own, to leave the room. All of a sudden Ms. Morrison found herself in the type of meeting she had long refused to take – one without witnesses. And what unfolded next reminded her why.
“In my opinion, he threatened me,” said Ms. Morrison, who recounted the exchange, over several interviews with The Globe. “He told me that he had some complaints against me that were very serious and that he could make them go away if I changed those lands to residential.”
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Glen Murray, now the mayoral candidate, has an amnesiac recollection of that meeting.
He's said he never called the meeting, the Mayor of Caledon did. And he never met alone with her.
But in 2018 he had a different story.
Speaking to The Globe, Mr. Murray said he didn’t recall asking anyone to leave the room partway through the meeting, but did not deny doing so. “It was never rude or heated,” he also said of the meeting. “It was generally pleasant.”
As for Ms. Morrison’s account of the one-on-one portion, he declined to address any of its particulars.
Over several interviews, Mr. Murray provided a number of explanations for his interest in the housing development that are difficult to reconcile with e-mails obtained by The Globe.
When asked why he got involved in a debate about a residential-housing development, he replied: “I was not involved in those issues. They were not the business of my ministry.”
When asked to explain why, then, he wrote his staff an e-mail, which included “Solmar” in the subject line, instructing them to “let me know what … powers I have to act on this,” he told The Globe: “That might have been an older e-mail chain that I had pulled up on my Blackberry at the time and responded to.”
Mr. Murray’s e-mail is the first in the chain. There is no indication that the e-mail was created by anyone but him.
Glen Murray now remembers the specific items discussed at the meeting.
But -- he has no memory of any talk with the mayor of Caledon about land development, three weeks after he went to see the Solmar land with a company representative and immediately asked his chief of staff what he could do to enable development.
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In interviews with the Globe and Mail, Ms. Morrison’s former staffers corroborated important aspects of her account of the ‘no witnesses allowed’ meeting.
“I’ve never seen her so mad in my life,” said one of the staff members instructed by Mr. Murray to vacate the room that day. “I think it took her the whole trip back up to Caledon to calm back down.”
Marolyn Morrison's memory of that meeting has been consistent for the past seven years. She's never wavered at how Murray manoeuvered her into a meeting without witnesses at which he said he could make complaints disappear if she chose housing over Canadian Tire.
He never did tell her what those alleged complaints were.
Her last words in the CBC story should resonate with Winnipeg voters.
"A leopard doesn't change its spots."