Ex-mayor of Ontario town claims Glen Murray promised to make complaint ‘go away’ if she approved new homes

The former mayor of a Toronto bedroom community alleges Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray promised to make a complaint about her “go away” if she approved a large-scale residential development.

Murray, however, says he has no recollection of engaging in any arm-twisting during a 2013 meeting that took place at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s legislative building, when he was the minister of infrastructure in Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government.

Marolyn Morrison, who served as the mayor of Caledon, Ont. from 2003 until 2014, says Murray summoned her to his office at Queen’s Park and instructed her to reverse a land-use decision.

Morrison claims Murray told her to drop her longtime opposition to a proposal to build housing for 21,000 people southwest of Bolton, the largest residential and commercial centre in mostly rural Caledon.

The owner of the land, Solmar Development Corp., wanted Caledon to rezone agricultural fields for residential use.

Morrison claims Murray told her to change the designation, without mentioning Solmar by name.

“He just told me that he had a complaint against me, and it was pretty serious and that it could be dropped or it could go away if I made that area residential,” Morrison said in an interview in July, elaborating on allegations first reported by the Globe & Mail in 2018.

“I refused. I said, ‘Over my dead body.'”

‘He wasn’t even the minister in charge,’ ex-mayor says

Solmar first proposed to build residential homes on its land alongside Bolton in 2004. There was a high demand for new homes in the greater Toronto area, and sparsely populated Caledon had far more available land than Brampton, its Peel Region neighbour to the south.

Morrison opposed the plan, initially arguing against sprawl and later insisting the land should be reserved for industrial development. Caledon’s nine-member town council effectively voted against Solmar’s proposal in 2008. 

Continuing conflict between the mayor and developer, however, wound up in the pages of the Toronto Star and Toronto Life, as Morrison used a column in a weekly Caledon newspaper to argue against rapid development and Solmar’s owner invested in another weekly paper to plead its own case.

Former Caledon, Ont., mayor Marolyn Morrison, seen here in 2009, claims Murray promised to make a problem go away if she changed her mind about a residential development. (CBC News Archives)

Morrison said Caledon was waiting for Ontario’s municipal affairs and housing minister to approve a zoning change to allow a Canadian Tire distribution centre to proceed near Bolton when Murray requested her presence.

She said she drove to Queen’s Park with Caledon’s chief administrative officer and planning director to meet Murray and his aides, whom she said did not speak as Murray admonished her staff for doing a poor job at managing development.

“He wasn’t even the minister in charge of this stuff. He was over in infrastructure and so he really had nothing to do with this portfolio,” said Morrison in a phone interview from her new home in B.C.’s Kootenay region.

“He never, ever mentioned the developer, but he pointed to those lands on our maps and he said these lands are going to be residential.”

Morrison said her administrators attempted to argue Caledon based its land-use decisions on Ontario guidelines. She claims Murray responded by ordering all of the aides out of his office, leaving him and Morrison alone.

“If I had any brains in my head, I probably should have gotten up and left, too,” she said, adding this is when Murray promised to make an unspecified complaint go away. “He basically told me that those lands had better be residential.”

‘Wasn’t a particularly important meeting,’ Murray says

Murray said his recollection of the meeting is very different.

“It wasn’t a particularly important meeting at the time,” Murray said Wednesday in a telephone interview, claiming the Town of Caledon called the meeting, not him.

“The basic facts are there was never another follow-up meeting. There was no decision I made. I certainly wasn’t expecting her to make any decisions.”

Murray also said he has no recollection of discussing the Solmar development with Morrison.

“It was almost 10 years ago. I really I don’t remember much of it,” he said.

The former MPP said he does remember speaking to Morrison about Go Train service, rapid-transit lines, new roads, the effect of transportation on population density and the Canadian Tire project, which eventually went ahead.

“It’s really sad that she may have walked away from that feeling it was less than a positive experience,” Murray said, adding he has held many meetings over the course of his 35-year career as a nurse, city councillor, mayor, MPP and business person.

“In all of those I would literally say thousands of meetings, the only objection that I’ve ever heard — and it came after the fact — was from one mayor.”

Glen Murray, seen here in Toronto in 2014 with former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, was the provincial Infrastructure Minister when he met with Morrison. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Solmar declined to comment on Morrison’s allegations, stating it has no knowledge of her claim.

The development company donated $20,000 to Wynne’s Liberal leadership campaign in 2012, according to Ontario election-donation records.

A Solmar spokesperson told the Globe & Mail in 2018 the firm also donated to other political parties.

Morrison said she complained to Wynne about Murray, to no effect. He resigned as an MPP in 2017 to work for the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, and moved back to Winnipeg one year later.

Caledon story won’t torpedo Murray, professor says

Aaron Moore, who chairs the University of Winnipeg’s political science department, said he does not believe the Caledon story will affect Murray’s renewed campaign to become Winnipeg’s mayor.

Most voters, he said, will not pay much attention.

“The fact that it occurred in Ontario while he was away and the fact that it occurred in a municipality most Winnipeggers have never heard about may as a result not resonate with them,” Moore said.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said while it’s important for municipalities to make independent decisions about land-use planning, Morrison’s allegations remain unproven.

“If more solid evidence had existed, the story would probably have persisted and he might have been forced to resign,” Thomas said.

The professor said Murray is so confident he can convince others of his point of view, he can be “aggressive and dismissive of the perspectives of others” when he is locked in disagreement.

“The story will confirm the impression of some segment of the voting population — I do not know what percentage — that Murray is self-centered, self-important, opportunistic and not entirely honest,” Thomas said.

“It will not torpedo his candidacy.”

Morrison said her advice to Winnipeg voters is to scrutinize all mayoral candidates.

“Look at the history of the people running and choose wisely, because you want people who have integrity and are honest,” she said. “If you get a person with integrity and honesty, you can turn your city around.”

Murray is among 13 candidates registered to run for mayor of Winnipeg. The election is on Oct. 26.

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