EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park
NDP MPPs tried to grill a couple of cabinet ministers this week over a trip three people linked to the Ford government took to Las Vegas.
Following reporting by The Trillium, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake looked into a Las Vegas trip that took place in the early years of the Ford government as part of his Greenbelt investigation. Our stories from June 29 and July 24 said Amin Massoudi, Kaleed Rasheed, and Jae Truesdell went on a Las Vegas trip with developer Shakir Rehmatullah in early 2020, based on information from multiple independent sources.
Rehmatullah runs Flato Developments, which has benefited from multiple Ford government-issued minister's zoning orders to fast-track developments and owns land removed from the Greenbelt last year.
Massoudi was Premier Doug Ford's principal secretary, the second-ranked staff job in the premier's office, at the time of the trip. Rasheed, now minister of public and business service delivery, was a Progressive Conservative MPP and hadn't yet been appointed to cabinet. Truesdell, now housing policy director in the premier's office, was working in the private sector between stints in government.
This week, several of Ford's cabinet ministers attended parliamentary committee meetings for questioning about their ministries' 2023-24 spending plans as part of the annual budgetary process and some NDP MPPs used the opportunity to seek answers about the controversial Las Vegas trip.
At Wednesday's meeting concerning the premier's office spending estimates, New Democratic MPP Catherine Fife questioned Paul Calandra, the longtime government house leader who was recently appointed housing minister, about the Las Vegas trip.
Fife tried a couple of times to ask Calandra if Massoudi's travel to Las Vegas for "stakeholder meetings" had been paid for by the premier's office. She was not given a direct answer, instead being told by Calandra and a public servant accompanying him about the circumstances under which the premier's office or ministries cover travel costs for the premier and his staff.
She was admonished later by PC MPP Deepak Anand who advised her that "her mother was watching" the committee, as it was streamed live. Fife retorted that her mother was indeed watching, "and she wants answers, as do Ontarians."
Fife then circulated that clip on social media.
Anand also sought to have Liberal MPP Stephanie Bowman ordered to withdraw a quip she made about the "fun" and "entertainment" going on at the meeting.
"This is unparliamentary language and it should not be used," said Anand.
On Thursday, Rasheed, the minister of public and business service delivery, appeared before another committee studying the spending estimates. There, NDP MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam attempted to ask him about paying for the Las Vegas flights in cash, as he showed the integrity commissioner he had.
Wong-Tam started with a softball about his background in the tech sector and his commitment to digitizing Ontario government services, and followed up by asking about why someone with his "personal commitment to digitalization" would pay in cash.
Wong-Tam's questions were met with a couple of objections by PC MPPs on the committee, and Rasheed did not directly answer them.
As Rasheed was leaving the estimates committee,The Trillium also tried questioning him about what he told the integrity commissioner. As he did at a July 12 media availability, he would not directly answer the questions.
In separate interviews, Rasheed, Massoudi and Truesdell told the integrity commissioner that while they had all gone to the same Las Vegas hotel in early December 2019, not early 2020, that Rehmatullah was not part of their trip. Massoudi and Rasheed only "briefly encountered" Rehmatullah by chance, they said.
However, The Trillium reported new information on Monday, that challenges their accounts to the integrity commissioner, including that Massoudi booked a "Good Luck Ritual" massage at the Wynn hotel's spa on Feb. 1, 2020. Rehmatullah gave Wake's office records indicating he also stayed at the Wynn hotel from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2020, as well as in early December.
Asked on Friday if he told the integrity commissioner the truth about Las Vegas, Rasheed responded, "I have declared everything to the integrity commissioner."
Rasheed had also told the integrity commissioner that while he had been to Las Vegas many times for tech shows before becoming an MPP that the only trip he'd taken since being elected was in December 2019. Other new information The Trillium published on Monday was that another booking was made at the Wynn hotel's spa under Rasheed's name for a "Wynn pedicure" and "80-minute aromatherapy" on Feb. 4, 2023.
Rasheed's spokespeople didn't answer a Sept. 7 email containing this information and a question about if Rasheed had gone to Las Vegas earlier this year before the publication of the story on Monday.
Asked on Thursday why he told Wake that his lone Vegas trip since being elected was in December 2019, despite the February 2023 spa booking, Rasheed responded, "All my records are with the integrity commissioner."
He did not respond when asked if he could prove he was in Las Vegas in December 2019 as he was walking through an exit of the legislature at Queen's Park.
Along with the invoice from a travel agent, Rasheed also gave the integrity commissioner an email from the Wynn hotel showing he booked three rooms from Dec. 6, 2019 to Dec. 8, 2019. He didn't provide the commissioner's office with proof of payment, saying he contacted the hotel “numerous” times for it but got no response, Wake's report noted.
Massoudi and Truesdell each told Wake they paid Rasheed back with cash for their plane tickets and hotel rooms. The integrity commissioner's report didn't indicate that Massoudi or Truesdell provided its office with any other documentation showing they were in Las Vegas from Dec. 6 to 8, 2019.
Speaking to The Trillium on Sept. 6, Ford's spokesperson said Truesdell and Rasheed both now denied having gone to Las Vegas in early 2020.