Toronto Star: Some Toronto mayoral candidates are targeting developers for campaign donations. Others say they won’t
Posted April 17, 2023
Some Toronto mayoral candidates are targeting developers for campaign donations. Others say they won’t
Political observers say large-scale events hosted for municipal candidates by developers — common in provincial politics — have until now been a rarity.
Some prominent Toronto mayoral candidates, including city council’s current housing and planning chair, are holding campaign events aimed at raising money from developers.
Mayoral candidates asking deep-pocketed homebuilders for campaign donations is not new. However, political observers say large-scale events hosted for municipal candidates by developers — common in provincial politics — have until now been a rarity.
Toronto’s new mayor will deal with developers on a host of issues, including changing zoning rules to increase density in neighbourhoods to help alleviate the housing crisis and the city’s response to Bill 23, a move by the Premier Doug Ford government to reduce or freeze the fees that cities charge developers.
Coun. Brad Bradford, the housing chair, is appearing Monday evening at a dinner hosted by Al Libfeld, co-founder and president of Pickering-based Tribute Communities, which has multiple condominium projects in Toronto.
“Brad is running for Mayor of Toronto, and I’m supporting him because I believe he has the energy, skill and determination we need to move the city forward,” Libfeld states in an emailed invitation to the event, at the Royal Canadian Military Institute on University Avenue, obtained by the Star.
Invitees are told that, for donations ranging from $1,100 to $2,500, they’ll have a chance to asked Bradford about “his vision for solving problems that need fixing in Toronto,” and learn how they can support his campaign for the June 26 byelection.
An aide to Libfeld said he was unavailable for comment on Friday.
The Star’s questions to Bradford — who as a councillor and housing chair regularly has a say in council decisions on development projects — were answered by Stephanie Smyth, his campaign spokesperson.
Bradford “is the only candidate for mayor who knows how to deliver affordable housing for Torontonians,” she wrote in an email, noting that he was an urban planner for the city before being elected to city council in 2018.
“Brad has met and will continue to meet with everyone who has ideas for building more affordable homes, whether when knocking on doors, at community meetings, or campaign events, such as fundraisers …,” Smyth wrote.
“The development community is an important stakeholder among many others that Brad has engaged. Brad sets a high ethical standard for all his work as a councillor and now as a mayoral candidate. He abides carefully by all applicable rules, including all guidance from the Integrity Commissioner.”
Ana Bailão, a former city councillor and city housing advocate who briefly worked for developer Dream Unlimited before resigning to run in the race to replace John Tory as mayor, is having a developer-focused fundraiser on May 10.
An invitation to share cocktails at Acqua Dolce Supper Club at Exhibition Place, obtained by the Star, states the minimum donation is $1,000 and the maximum is $2,500, a portion of which is rebated by the city under election donation rules.
The event will be hosted by Fred Dominelli, a former city councillor and wealthy landowner, and Matt Young, chief executive of Republic Developments which, according to its website, has seven condo projects ongoing in Toronto.
The Star was not able to reach Dominelli or Young on Friday.
The Star’s questions to Bailão were answered by her campaign spokesperson Taylor Deasley, who wrote: “We are seeking support, including for fundraising, from all individuals.”
Mark Saunders, the former police chief also running for mayor, held a fundraiser last Wednesday at Posticino restaurant on the Queensway in Etobicoke.
While not a developer-only event, some people from the industry attended including Tony Miele, a development consultant and chair of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party’s fundraising arm.
“I have no comment, I’m sorry. I’m a volunteer,” Miele said when reached by phone.
Asked about the event and if the Saunders campaign will hold fundraisers directly targeting developers, campaign spokesperson Laryssa Waler Hetmanczuk told the Star in an email: “Mark is running to be Mayor because he’s tired of city hall insiders prioritizing pet projects …
“The City of Toronto has stringent election fundraising parameters and reporting requirements and our campaign is following all the rules in place. Individuals who support our campaign are doing so because they agree that without safe communities we can’t have prosperous communities.”
Two other prominent mayoral candidates, Coun. Josh Matlow and Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, said they will not hold developer-focused events.
“Our campaign isn’t going out of our way to court donations from developers, nor do we expect developers will go out of their way to support our campaign,” Matlow wrote in a statement.
“I’ve already announced that I will have the City build affordable housing at cost by cutting out developer profits and launch a comprehensive new Tenant Support Program that cracks down on bad landlords.”
Hunter said in an email: “There may be some larger donations and some might come from individuals who are developers and, while they will be accepted, I do not have a specific strategy of soliciting multiple donations from developers.”
In a 2021 report, housing advocacy group ACORN said 34 per cent of campaign contributions in Toronto’s 2018 civic election came from people with ties to the development industry, and “many important decisions on the right to housing are being influenced by these donors, to the detriment of regular people.”
Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, an ACORN organizer, said Friday that mayoral candidates holding developer-focused events “is totally concerning. The worry is how much influence developers have on council members, we believe we can already see it in how they vote on things like affordable housing.”
Dave Wilkes, chair of BILD, a developers’ lobby group, said in an email: “Subject to the applicable laws, rules, limits and regulations, it is every voter’s democratic right to make donations to support candidates of their choosing. How candidates choose to raise funds to support their campaign is their decision.”
Article by David Rider for Toronto Star