An unpublished decision by a provincial watchdog has removed numerous details from view of the real estate investments of dozens of candidates vying for re-election, even as the value of those assets soars to more than $36 million, according to a CTV News investigation.
Properties that may have once been middle-class homes are now worth millions thanks to a housing crisis that has seen property values triple in just ten years, according to a government report – and these properties need a closer scrutiny, not less, according to critics.
“MPs cannot have secret investments because it is a recipe for corruption, waste and public abuse, and the Integrity Commissioner should not allow them to have secret investments” , said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.
MLAs disclose their investments to Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, an independent officer of the legislature, who then decides which properties to disclose to the public in order to prevent those in power from using their position for their own gain.
This has meant disclosing the addresses of investment properties, where MPs do not live, use for recreation or use to conduct government business in Toronto.
But in 2018, revelations from the Integrity Commissioner of PC candidate in Willowdale, Stan Cho, showed an unaddressed investment unit somewhere on Redpath Avenue, a roughly 1km stretch in downtown Toronto. . A CTV News analysis using HouseSigma’s home valuation tool determined that the property was worth around $706,000.
The Integrity Commissioner said the lack of disclosure was an error by his office at the time, related to the fact that this particular building remained under construction. But in 2021, every property was released to the public without an address, preventing public watchdogs from using these lists alone to determine where MPP properties are and how government policies might impact them.
The office confirmed to CTV News that a group of MPs approached the Integrity Commissioner and asked for more confidentiality, and he gave it to all, nearly eliminating what Ontarians can know about real estate in which their deputies invest.
“Some MPs raised concerns during their meetings with him in the fall,” the Integrity Commissioner’s staff said. “The commissioner made the decision to omit the addresses before the public disclosure statements were finalized and filed.”
This included the dairy farm owned by New Democrat MP John Vanthof in Evanturel – something Vanthof said he was surprised to find out, as he put all the details on his disclosure form.
“The first time I heard about the policy change was in my conversation with you yesterday,” he said.
Vanthof said it made sense for some MPs to have investment properties because public life can be short-lived and it is unreasonable to ask MPs to divest themselves of their assets completely. He said he supports disclosure to guard against conflicts of interest.
But he said he also sympathized with the privacy argument, because recently people emboldened by the convoy protests in Ottawa approached some of these properties, even though, as investments, the provincial deputies are rarely there.
“I never experienced anything like this until during the convoy,” he said.
Cho himself did not respond to interview requests from CTV News. Earlier this year, the Integrity Commissioner found no wrongdoing in a conflict of interest complaint that Bradford’s proposed bypass was hijacked to avoid property belonging to Cho’s father.