Philanthropic Bribery and Corruption in High Places

The May edition of The Lindsay Advocate focussed on housing and there appeared an editorial in support of the Ontario developer, Shakir Rehmatullah.

Rehmatullah’s company, Flato Developments, has been busy in the area around Lindsay, Ontario buying up farm land for high end housing development.

Sylvia Keesmaat and I have gathered together with a collective of neighbours to raise opposition to Flato, with specific focus on a golf course/housing resort that Rehmatullah has proposed on environmentally sensitive land a few kilometres away from our home at Russet House Farm.

We launched a website called No To Flato, facilitated letter writing campaigns and addressed City Council on matters of housing, justice, and good governance.

The Lindsay Advocate editorial did not address the question of affordable housing. Nor did it question the urban sprawl involved with buying up farmland. Rather, editor and publisher Roderick Benns picked up on the controversy around Rehmatullah’s philanthropic activity.

Before building anything, or even having permits to build anything, this developer entered the community with millions of dollars of donations to the local community college, the hospital and the local theatre. Of course all of this money came with naming rights, so the name of this developer and his company is now prevalent in the community.

The story got even more interesting and sordid over the last couple of years when a controversy erupted over some land swaps in Ontario. The Greenbelt is a swath of land across the top of Toronto that is reserved for agricultural and environmental protection. But the government announced that certain parcels would be released for development, and curiously enough, those were all parcels recently bought by developer friends of Premier Doug Ford.

And who should be in the middle of it all, but Shakir Rehmatullah! And where did some of the conversations happen about the rezoning of this land, but in a Los Vegas hotel spa with Mr. Rehmatullah on one massage table and the Premier’s right-hand man on another.

You can’t make this stuff up!

And has there been a word out of The Lindsay Advocate on this scandal?
Of course not.
Has there been any investigative reporting from this local magazine into potential corruption in the land deals in our area?
Of course not.
Has there been any word from this magazine about the former mayor now being a consultant to Rehmatullah?
Of course not.
Why not?

Well, here is an interesting twist to the tale. For the last three years The Lindsay Advocate has sold the back page, plus one full page within the magazine, to Flato for advertizing. Not once has there been an editorial about Flato’s role in the community, until this issue. And not surprisingly, a number of people wrote letters in response to this editorial. They published a significantly shorter version of my letter, and I am taking this opportunity to put my full letter out for public reading.

A Letter to the Editor of The Lindsay Advocate:

Somehow it came as no surprise
that the first editorial to be written in The Lindsay Advocate
about Flato Developments would be in defence of
Shakir Rehmatullah’s philanthropic largesse in the community.

While this magazine is not a recipient of Rehmatullah’s philanthropy,
Flato advertizing has been the most prominent feature of the back page for many years.

Forgive me if I am just a tad cynical
when a publisher comes to the defence
of his largest single source of advertizing revenue.

The editorial is correct in arguing that gaining “naming rights”
is normal business practice,
but does not address the question of philanthropic bribery in this instance.

Rehmatullah had much to gain from spreading a few million dollars
around prior to gaining any permissions or permits to build in CKL.

I mean, how can you say no to a guy who already has his name on public buildings in the city?

However, the editorial is wrong in saying that where Flato can build is a municipal decision.

The rezoning of prime agricultural land on the east of Lindsay
was not by an act of Council but through a Ministerial Zoning Order.

Ultimately, it was Rehmatullah’s friends at Queen’s Park
who paved the way for this development.

When I think of Shakir Rehmatullah,
it is not local griping about his philanthropy
that comes to mind,
but the news last summer about the Greenbelt land swap controversy,
which is now under RCMP investigation.

Investigative journalism revealed that Premier Doug Ford’s friend,
Shakir Rehmatullah, was at the heart of those shady land deals.

I may not like the renaming of the Academy Theatre,
but it is the image of Mr. Rehmatullah
on a massage table in Las Vegas
beside Ontario cabinet minister Kaleed Rasheed
that I find so disturbing.

Mr. Rasheed had to resign from caucus
for his role in the Greenbelt land swap.

Mr. Rehmatullah enjoys the editorial support of The Lindsay Advocate.

Brian Walsh

Cameron, ON

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “Philanthropic Bribery and Corruption in High Places”

  1. Alain Macdonald

    Thank you Brian for this very revealing and compelling letter to a free but obviously not so impartial local press. The widespread blatant, complicit, blind and oblivious support and hand shaking towards everything Flato not only at the provincial level but also at the local commercial and municipal government levels have reached gargantuan proportions. It is totally bewildering and mind boggling and unimaginable how this chronic “Flato Infatuation” disease fired by big money has been allowed to flourish unchallenged in the City of Kawartha Lakes in the midst of vehement public opposition and outcry obviously ignored by a city which has happily and blindly entertained and prioritized Flato’s philanthropic bribes at the expense of all else. Kudos to you for your courage and commitment and determination for speaking out on our behalf when no one else cares to listen.

  2. Jane English

    I feel the citizens of the whole area are not getting the truth or information that they should be getting from their local councils, and through the newspapers. What we are seeing is underhanded activity. The soul of the area is being bought.


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