What “Understanding” Did Niagara Falls’ Mayor and Ontario’s Premier reach with a China-Based Developer on Fate of Thundering Waters Forest?

Why – After More than a Year – Hasn’t the “Memorandum of Understanding the Mayor and Premier signed with China-Backed Developers Been Publicly Disclosed?

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted March 6th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – It’s going on a year and a half since Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne crossed paths in Beijing, China and participated in the signing what has been described in Niagara regional and other documents as a “memorandum of understanding” over plans by China -backed GR (CAN) Investments Inc. to build a billion-dollar commercial/residential “Paradise” development project on portions of close to 500 acres of land known as Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Members of the Indigenous community in the region rally to save the Thundering Waters Forest from urban development outside Niagara Falls City Hall in July of 2016. File photo by Doug Draper

In late March and early April of 2016, a hastily tabled motion, signed by the Niagara regional government’s Commissioner for Planning and Development Rino Mostacci  for regional council approval, called first on the regional planning committee, then on the council to “support a pilot project and ask the Province to allow for biodiversity Offsetting of wetlands for the development in Niagara Falls known as the Paradise Development to facilitate the proponent’s proposal.”

Some of the preamble to the motion read as follows; “Whereas the Premier of Ontario has recently participated with the Mayor of Niagara Falls on a trade mission to China, ” and; “Whereas the Premier signed a Memorandum of Understanding representing significant direct foreign investment in the Niagara Region.”

So where is this “Memorandum of Understanding” or MOU, as some prefer to call it?

And why, in the spirit of the City of Niagara Falls and the developers claims of wanting to be transparent and keep the public informed about all of the why’s, what’s and where’s and when’s of this controversial building project, has the MOU still not been made part of the public record with other documents involving this project more than 15 months after it was signed?

This journalist began asking for a copy of the MOU shortly after the March/April motion on biodiversity offsetting was tabled at meetings of the regional planning committee and council.

My first call was made to Mostacci, the regional government’s Planning Commissioner, who told me he didn’t have a copy of the MOU and hadn’t seen it – a circumstance which I find interesting in that past government planners I have dealt with normally have all the documents referred to in any motion they sign, and often include them with motions to council as addendums.

A few months later, I made a call to Cynthia Lai, a representative for the GR development firm, who advised me to take my request to the City of Niagara Falls.

After Niagara Falls city staff told me to direct my request to the Mayor, Jim Diodiati, and the city’s CAO, Ken, I sent them a formal request for the MOU which read, in part – “To Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Niagara Falls CAO Ken Todd – A memorandum of understanding was signed sometime in the last 12 to eighteen months by parties to the proposed Thundering Waters/Paradise project, including representatives for the GR developers and City of Niagara Falls.”

“That memorandum of understanding has been publicly referred to, including in a  report prepared for the Niagara regional council this past April 7, 2016 and I have included a full copy of that report below,” my September 2016 email to Diodait and Todd continued,  “and yet this memorandum of understanding, in so far as I can determine, has never been released and made part of the public record as an open review of this project proceeds.”

“I am therefore sending you this email letter as a formal request from me, as a Niagara citizen and a journalist in the region, for a copy of this memorandum of understanding so that its wording is available for all parties, including members of the public to see.”

I sent this same email request to the Mayor and CAO twice in September of 2016 (and have kept records of the email to prove it) and despite word back from an assistant to the Mayor that he or someone else at the city would get back to me with a response, no one ever did.

Other members of the public in Niagara have informed me that they also made requests for this MOU and, in the wake of Niagara Regional Chair Al Caslin recently sending a letter to Premier Wynne about the interest he and others have in moving the Paradise/Thundering Waters Forest project along, interest in the wording of that MOU and in who signed it for the purposes of approving or witnessing it is back on the radar screen (not that it every really left) for at least some of us in the region.

This photo, showing Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the signing table in China, was accompanied by the following caption in a GR company newsletter – “Today (November 13th, 2015) , an exciting real estate development project- “PARADISE” in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada was announced in Beijing by GR (CAN) Investment Group in the presence of partners from XINCHENG Real Estate Fund(a subsidiary of CITIC Group), ZHONGLUN W&D Law Firm, and government officials from the City of Niagara Falls and the Province of Ontario, Canada. …During the event, a MOU, witnessed by Premier Wynne and her delegation, was signed between the City of Niagara Falls, GR (CAN) Investment Group and XINCHENG Real Estate Fund, wholly owned by CITIC Asset Management Corporation Ltd., in regards to strategic cooperation between government and enterprise.”

So where is it and why hasn’t it (at least to the best of my knowledge) been made available for public review?

This document has the earmarks of a key piece of information that may very well have set a framework of understanding for how the developer could expect to proceed with any building on the Thundering Waters Forest lands.

Is there something in it that certain parties do not want the public to see? Would its disclosure possibly reveal that the Ontario Premier did more than simply “witness” its signing by the others, and that despite all of the motions underway for reviewing this project before any more consideration is given to approving it, the fix is already in?

Enough of the guessing. At long last, show us the MOU!

I would encourage any and all members of the public who are concerned about the fate of the Thundering Waters Forest lands to email the mayor and councillors in Niagara Falls, Ontario and call for the release of this document.

You can email some or all of them at once by clicking on the following link for their email addresses and attaching a request of your own for the disclosure of this MOU that was signed by Mayor Jim Diodati and others in Beijing, China on or about November 13th, 2015. Here is the link for the email contact information for the mayor and members of council – https://www.niagarafalls.ca/city-hall/council/members.aspx .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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2 responses to “What “Understanding” Did Niagara Falls’ Mayor and Ontario’s Premier reach with a China-Based Developer on Fate of Thundering Waters Forest?

  1. To show this deal is truly dead the province should reaffirm the current policy which does not permit offsetting to open up protected, provincially significant wetlands to development. Unless this is done, this sinister deal is still alive.

    Like

  2. Sheila Krekorian

    done!

    Like

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