city council development acorn

All of Toronto city council is alleged to have accepted donations from developers

If you want to get a condo tower built in Toronto, you'll have to go through the local councillor and the community that stands behind them.

So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that a new report is alleging a significant share of campaign contributions donated to candidates in the lead-up to the 2018 municipal election came from people with personal or professional ties to the development industry.

And how significant is this share? How about more than one-third, the report alleging that 34 per cent of the total contribution amount from the last election came from donors with ties to the development industry.

But councillors are putting the veracity and methodology of the report into question, specifically the method of determining what constitutes a connection to the development industry. 

Produced by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) Canada, an organization fighting social and economic injustice, the report states that all 24 members of city council elected in 2018 accepted money from the development industry.

ACORN claims to have pulled the Financial Disclosure Statements of all city councillors elected and still on council from the last 2018 municipal election, then searching for public information on donors' names.

ACORN tells blogTO they classify ties to the development industry as anything "very likely to have been made by an individual who is an executive, owner, representative, manager, senior staff member, or other major stakeholders in the real estate development, property management, and infrastructure industries, and any contractors, consultants, legal or financial services related to residential construction."

This classification extends far beyond those with any real influence in the development scene.

Of the $4,065,009 total funds raised by the mayor and councillors during their campaigns, ACORN alleges a staggering $1,374,725 came from the very deep pockets of people with links to the industry.

Aside from some eye-opening allegations about how much sway the development industry could hold on municipal politics as a whole, the report also gets specific and names plenty of names, including Mayor John Tory and a dozen councillors.

Members of the Mayor's Executive Committee are alleged to have had some of the highest rates of campaign contributions from donors with supposed ties to the development industry.

Tory himself is accused of receiving 38 per cent of his donations from people in the building business.

Councillor James Pasternak is reported to have taken 59 per cent of his contributions from people with ties to development. He oversees the York Centre ward, where a massive wave of private development has been growing around Downsview Park.

Pasternak also chairs Toronto's Infrastructure and Environment Committee and North York Community Council.

All nine members of the Mayor's Executive Committee are alleged to have accepted the following percentages of their campaign donations from people linked to the development industry, with specific rates reported at:

  • Councillor Ainslie, 21 per cent of the amount contributed

  • Councillor Bailão, 42 per cent

  • Councillor Crawford, 43 per cent

  • Councillor McKelvie, 28 per cent

  • Councillor Minnan-Wong, 32 per cent

  • Councillor Pasternak, 59 per cent

  • Councillor Thompson, 40 per cent

  • Mayor Tory, 38 per cent

It could be seen as problematic that one of these names is also chair of the city's Planning and Housing Committee, Councillor Bailão having reported to have received 42 per cent of campaign donations from the building industry.

Other members of the City's Planning and Housing Committee on this list include:

  • Councillor Bradford, 41 per cent

  • Councillor Nunziata, 38 per cent

  • Councillor Wong-Tam, 21 per cent

  • Councillor Perks, 6 per cent

  • Councillor Fletcher, 18 per cent

blogTO reached out to all of the names listed in the report after its release on Thursday.

As of Friday morning, only a few have responded to our request for comment, but they are united in their message that the report doesn't paint an honest picture of campaign donations.

Sharon Ma, an administrative coordinator for Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, refutes the claims made in the report, stating that "Councillor Wong-Tam did not accept any funds from developers, she returned every single cheque that was from a developer."

Councillor Brad Bradford tells blogTO, "This report is qualitative and there's no clear explanation for how an alleged connection to development or real estate is being defined."

"In a healthy democracy, we won't always agree on how exactly how that is done but we have to agree on a set of shared facts and evidence."

"Municipal campaign finance information is exceptionally transparent and I encourage anyone who's interested to take a personal look at all of the campaign finance information that's posted online. I'd also ask them to look at my record and my actions to make up their own mind on who I represent."

It was Councillor Paula Fletcher who took a good chunk out of her evening to discuss the report with blogTO, speaking directly to the report's allegations.

"I can confirm I had 196 donations, that's a lot. It's hard to raise money when you're not getting big amounts. Real developers, it's probably seven or eight donations." Fletcher clarified that none of these donations from developers came during approval stages, meaning they had no real influence on development activity in her ward.

The report alleges 18 donations came from the development industry, and Fletcher has questions about how ACORN is determining ties to the biz. 

While listing some of her individual donors that she believed were being classified by ACORN as "tied to the development industry," Fletcher paused to remark, "The head of a neighbourhood association, a realtor, or an architect is not a developer. That's a constituent."

"A real estate agent who's on the Friends of Greenwood Park committee, who makes a donation to me: tell me what the advantage is?"

As to the report's concerns of Fletcher's position on the Planning and Housing Committee, she says that she only has one donor in the industry located outside of her ward, a personal friend of hers.

"I think the line is very blurry. It should deal with straight-up developers, not related industries like roofers." 

But what is ACORN looking to achieve by exposing these names and numbers?

The organization has been a prominent voice in shaping the city's forming of an inclusionary zoning policy that mandates a portion of new developments with more than 100 units set aside space for affordable housing.

ACORN is not only displeased with the time it's taken to get inclusionary zoning brought to council, but accuses the policy of being too weak to help curb the housing crisis.

Even with its methodology in question, the report's wording certainly applies pressure to politicians, whose constituents might not be too happy about that new tower under construction across the street.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

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