A new trouble for Ontario’s premier Doug Ford: the “MZOs”

TORONTO – There’s a new, big “trouble” for Premier Doug Ford, and it’s called MZO, which stands for “Minister’s Zoning Orders”, a powerful tool the Province can use to accelerate building development on a specific plot of land: basically, a minister can ignore local planning rules, avoid public consultation and change what can be built on the property. Well, the Ford government has distributed MZOs at an unprecedented rate: at least 110 since 2019. Previous Liberal governments had issued just 18 between 2003 and 2018. 

For years, the Ford government has defended the use of MZOs as a way to spur housing construction or cut red tape on time-sensitive provincial projects like long-term care facilities. But now, after investigations by Ontario’s integrity commissioner and auditor general alleged that the provincial government improperly favored the private interests of some developers by approving the development of their Greenbelt properties, shadows are growing also on the use of MZOs. And if the previous investigations (and the one by the RCMP, still ongoing) led to the resignation of the Minister of Housing, Steve Clark (replaced by Paul Calandra), of his chief of staff and of another Minister, Kaleed Rasheed, forcing premier Ford to turn around on the Greenbelt operation, the MZOs could now hit his government like a hurricane.

“The provincial government should be very, very concerned about the MZO distribution process” says the NDP’s Jeff Burch. “There are Conservatives who are benefiting from MZOs just as they benefited from inside information about the ‘taking’ of the Greenbelt” he added.

But who are the main beneficiaries of these MZOs? Let’s see them, according to an NDP report published by the CBC.

Flato Developments, owned by Shakir Rehmatullah, has received nine MZOs, more than anyone else in Ontario: they will allow it to build more than 8,000 new homes on properties that include farmland and rural areas. Rehmatullah described himself as a friend of Ford.

Companies owned by Mario Cortellucci or his family have benefited from six MZOs for properties in Vaughan, Innisfil and Caledon: the projects include a warehouse and a distribution center and mixed-use development (residential and commercial). Members of the Cortellucci family have donated more than $12,000 to Ford’s PC leadership campaign, according to Elections Ontario records.

Two companies (Rice Group and Lakeview Community Partners) represented by lobbyist Nico Fidani-Diker were granted MZOs for projects in Caledon and Mississauga. Fidani-Diker worked for more than two years in the prime minister’s office, including a stint as Ford’s executive assistant.

Craft Development, whose president is Carmine Nigro, received an MZO for a project in Kawartha Lakes. Ford appointed Nigro as president of the LCBO in 2019 and as a member of the Invest Ontario board of directors in 2022. Ford also appointed Nigro as president of Ontario Place, and he is currently the sole member of its board of directors. When the MZO was issued, Nigro was vice-president of the PC Ontario Fund, the fundraising “machine” of Ford’s party.

Additionally, Rehmatullah and Fidani-Diker both confirmed to the integrity commissioner that they attended Ford’s daughter’s wedding in August 2022, and published photos of the event showed that Cortellucci and Nigro were guests at the wedding reception, seated at the Ford table. Coincidences?