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Former mayor ID’d as mysterious consultant known as ‘Mr. X’ in Greenbelt report: sources

The mysterious development consultant who Ontario’s integrity commissioner identified only as “Mr. X” in a scathing report about the removal of land from the Greenbelt has been identified to CBC News as former Clarington, Ont., mayor John Mutton.

In a report released on Wednesday, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake said Mr. X was one of two consultants hired by landowner Peter Tanenbaum to work on getting about 34 hectares of land on Nash Road in that community, about 83 kilometres east of Toronto, removed from the Greenbelt and rezoned to permit development.

Wake found that Mr. X may have engaged in unregistered lobbying and other potential lobbying violations while doing that work. 

Nico Fidani-Diker, principal at the lobbying firm OnPoint Strategy Group, confirmed to CBC News that he worked with Mutton as a consultant on the Nash Road project.

“I had no interactions with Mr. Mutton other than this one file,” said Fidani-Diker, who previously worked as an executive assistant to Premier Doug Ford.

“I am unaware of the details of Mr. Mutton’s contract with Mr. Tanenbaum.” 

A sign on a grassy field indicates the entrance to the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve. There are trees in the background.
A sign welcomes drivers to the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, the largest parcel of land Ford’s government removed from the Greenbelt last December. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Two other sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, who are close to the province’s Progressive Conservative government, identified Mutton as Mr. X on Friday.

CBC News was unable to reach Mutton for comment on Friday. 

However, the Toronto Star, which was first to identify Mutton as Mr. X, reported that Mutton said he had worked for Tanenbaum for “over 17 years” but stressed that it wasn’t as a lobbyist.

“I’m not a lobbyist. I have a development services company where we provide planning, engineering and everything,” the Star quoted him as saying. “I’ve never been contracted to do any type of lobbying to get any lands out of the Greenbelt.”

The revelation is the latest twist in a controversy that erupted after successive reports from two independent legislative watchdogs revealed major flaws with the province’s decision to build homes on the Greenbelt — a vast 810,000-hectare area of protected farmland, forest and wetlands stretching from Niagara Falls to Peterborough meant to be permanently off-limits to development.

Wake found that Mr. X interacted with senior political staffers in the office of Housing Minister Steve Clark, arranged golf with them that apparently didn’t happen and a paid lunch that did, and offered them tickets to a Toronto Raptors basketball game.

A map of a portion of Durham region with land in Clarington highlighted.
This document provided by the Ontario government shows the land in Clarington, Ont., that was removed from the Greenbelt in December 2022. (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing)

He was also promised a million-dollar payout if he succeeded in influencing governments to allow housing to be built on his client’s land.

Wake, who also serves as Ontario’s lobbyist registrar, said Mr. X didn’t register with the Ontario Lobbyists Registry with respect to the Greenbelt, which raises questions about possible non-compliance with the Lobbyists Registration Act.

“I will deal with the possible non-compliance separately, in my capacity as Ontario’s Lobbyist Registrar, outside of this report and inquiry.”

Mutton served as mayor of Clarington, a municipality with a 2021 population of about 101,000, from 1997 to 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. The profile says he has been president and CEO of the development firm Municipal Solutions since 2006.

Opposition criticizes Greenbelt land swap

Ontario’s opposition parties were quick to respond to the news.

“Every new revelation in the Conservatives’ growing scandal makes it even clearer that their dirty dealings on the Greenbelt Grab were corrupt,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said in a statement referencing the Star story. 

“Ontario’s land-use policy shouldn’t be run by Mr. X., or unregistered lobbyists; policy changes shouldn’t be written by developers who stand to make billions and handed off to government officials on USB keys or in envelopes at private parties.”

Watch | Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles discusses the Mr. X allegations: 

former mayor idd as mysterious consultant known as mr x in greenbelt report sources 2

Doug Ford ‘clearly implicated’ in Greenbelt controversy, Ontario opposition leader says

58 minutes ago

Duration 2:47

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles discusses the allegations of unregistered lobbying and other potential lobbying violations related to the Greenbelt land swap by ‘Mr. X,’ who sources identified to CBC News as former Clarington, Ont., mayor John Mutton. ‘This deal is really very dirty,’ Stiles said on Saturday.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser called the whole situation “shady.”

“You’ve got this person who’s an unregistered lobbyist who’s got this contract that gives them bonuses if they get the piece carved out of the Greenbelt that’s working with the person who’s the executive assistant to the premier at one point,” he said. “It’s just all too close, it’s starting to look like all roads lead back to the premier on this Greenbelt file.”

Reached late Friday, Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner told CBC News the Greenbelt scandal is not about solving the housing crisis. 

A man in a suit smiles for the camera.
Ryan Amato resigned as the housing minister’s chief of staff in August following the publication of the auditor general’s report. (Ryan Amato/LinkedIn)

“It is clear that the premier is more focused on helping well-connected Ford insiders cash in millions and billions than helping ordinary Ontarians find a home they can afford,” Schreiner said. 

CBC News reached out to the premier’s office for comment late Friday but did not immediately hear back. 

Raptors tickets, golf and a $225K ‘Greenbelt fee’

Tanenbaum purchased the land for $2.75 million in 2003, property records show, two years before the Greenbelt was created. 

The integrity commissioner said Tanenbaum signed a $6,000 per month contact with Mr. X’s consulting company on Aug. 9, 2022. The contract promised Mr. X a “Greenbelt fee” of $225,000 if he helped successfully remove the land from the Greenbelt and another $775,000 “rezoning fee” if the municipality agreed to allow residential development.

This contract appears to run afoul of the lobbyists act, according to Wake, which “prohibits lobbying when payment is contingent on the degree of success in lobbying.”

On Sept. 18, Mr. X told Tanenbaum in an email that he had a meeting scheduled for the next week with Kirstin Jensen, Clark’s deputy chief of staff, and that Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato was expected to attend.

“Ours is the only file that I am discussing. I also have them coming to golf at Goodwood in two weeks with me and to a Raptors game,” the email said, according to the report.

On Oct. 7,  Mr. X wrote in another email to Tanenbaum that Amato had asked for a “legal description” of the Clarington lands and a “GIS shapefile,” which is a data file containing detailed information about the shapes of geographical features.

Amato was evasive when asked by the commissioner about the extent of his interactions Mr. X.

He said he didn’t attend the meeting with Mr. X and didn’t remember being invited to lunch. Wake found the time of the lunch, however, was blocked off on Amato’s calendar for an event labelled “private.”

Amato said he never went golfing or to a Raptors game with Mr. X.

A man in a suit speaks at a lectern while another, standing to one side, puts his hand to his forehead.
Ford, right, listens as Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark speaks during a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., on Aug. 11. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Jensen did attend the lunch with Amato, according to the integrity commissioner. She confirmed it took place at Joey restaurant at the Toronto Eaton Centre on Sept. 27 and that Mr. X “probably paid.”

She said they didn’t discuss anything Greenbelt-related but that Mr. X gave her a handout he asked her to give to Amato.

Jensen also denied ever going golfing or attending a Raptors game and denied receiving such invitations.

Wake found that information about the Nash Road property in Clarington was eventually included in the first package of properties Amato gave on Oct. 3 to the so-called Greenbelt Project Team — the small team of ministry officials Amato oversaw that eventually selected the 15 properties for removal from the Greenbelt.

The Clarington site was among the properties that were removed.

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