Mr. X And Phoenix Kiss: Who Are These Characters In Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Fiasco?

In 2022, developer Peter Tanenbaum embarked on a mission to develop his 86-acre Greenbelt land in Clarington, Ontario, a long-standing dream of his. To assist in this endeavor, he enlisted the services of two consultants, each with their own unique background and roles.

One of these consultants was Nico Fidani-Diker, who had previously served as an executive assistant to Premier Doug Ford and had transitioned into a registered lobbyist, with multiple developers on his client roster.

The other consultant, however, operated without registering as a lobbyist, despite indicating in emails to his client that he was actively engaging with political staffers through invitations to golf outings and Raptors games. His contract even included a substantial $1-million bonus contingent upon the removal of the land from the Greenbelt and obtaining the necessary development approvals.

A scathing ethics probe raised questionable conduct of an unnamed Greenbelt consultant dubbed “Mr. X.” He has been identified to the Toronto Star as former Clarington Mayor John Mutton, seen here with Premier Doug Ford. Mutton stressed his work on the issue wasn’t as a lobbyist and he said he did not know who “Mr. X” was. Instagram/Toronto Star

This enigmatic consultant, referred to as “Mr. X” by the integrity commissioner, has now been identified as former Clarington Mayor John Mutton, who currently presides over the consulting and business development firm Municipal Solutions. Mutton adamantly asserted that his role was not that of a lobbyist, but rather as a provider of comprehensive development services encompassing planning and engineering.

In an interview, Fidani-Diker revealed that working with Mutton on Tanenbaum’s Greenbelt land project was a one-time occurrence and confirmed that he adhered to ethical guidelines in his dealings. The Ford government had recently faced scrutiny due to investigations uncovering preferential treatment for a select group of developers aiming to open up Greenbelt areas for housing.

The integrity commissioner’s report disclosed details from Mr. X’s contract with Tanenbaum, outlining a $6,000 monthly payment along with a $225,000 “Greenbelt fee” in the event of Greenbelt removal and an additional $775,000 for obtaining zoning approvals. Fidani-Diker emphasized that such contingency fees were not part of his usual practices, as they violate Ontario’s lobbying act, which prohibits compensation tied to the success of influencing decision-makers.

Mutton declined to respond to specific findings regarding Mr. X in the commissioner’s report and was not interviewed by the commissioner. His social media presence included photos with Premier Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark, where he described his company’s role as “cutting the red tape for all land use development.”

Notably, Mutton faced past controversy during his tenure as mayor, including criminal charges, which he was later acquitted of, and an unsuccessful bid for the position of Durham regional chair in 2018.

Meanwhile, an individual that goes by the name Phoenix Kiss is said to be a high-ranking executive in Municipal Solutions. In the company website, he is openly described as “The Fixer”.

A lawyer representing Tanenbaum did not address questions regarding the awareness of Mr. X’s unregistered lobbyist status or the origins of the $1-million contingency payment in the contract.

Fidani-Diker disclosed that when he first engaged with Tanenbaum in August 2022, the developer indicated that Mr. X had already established contact with a provincial government representative regarding the Nash Road property. Fidani-Diker understood that he would primarily collaborate with Mr. X as a liaison with the government.

One notable interaction described in the report involved a lunch meeting between Kirstin Jensen, Clark’s deputy chief of staff, and Mr. X at the Eaton Centre’s Joey restaurant. The commissioner noted that while the lunch may have appeared low-cost, it held significant stakes for the lobbyist, who stood to gain $1 million if Greenbelt removal and municipal approvals were successful. However, the commissioner refrained from disclosing Mr. X’s identity, as potential lobbying violation investigations would remain separate from his current inquiry.

The commissioner emphasized that the inclusion of evidence regarding Mr. X aimed to highlight the potential impact of unregistered lobbying on the Greenbelt removal process. Investigations by both the integrity commissioner and the auditor general revealed irregularities, particularly the personal selection of Greenbelt removal sites by Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who subsequently resigned amidst the Greenbelt scandal.

Jensen, in response to questions, asserted her lack of involvement in Greenbelt decision-making and emphasized that compliance with lobbying regulations was the sole responsibility of the lobbyist. Emails from Mr. X to Tanenbaum indicated attempts to court political staff through activities like golf and Raptors games, though some invitees denied attending such events.

Amato, who had been invited to play golf but declined, maintained that he interacted with Mr. X professionally. However, the commissioner questioned the credibility of Amato’s statements regarding his relationship with Mr. X.

Amato’s lawyer declined to comment on interactions with Mr. X, and Amato had previously denied any wrongdoing related to the Greenbelt land swap.

Information for this briefing was found via Toronto Star and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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