‘Is democracy dying in Caledon?’: Residents outraged as Mayor Annette Groves rushes through questionable development plans, cuts them out of the process 
The Pointer Files

‘Is democracy dying in Caledon?’: Residents outraged as Mayor Annette Groves rushes through questionable development plans, cuts them out of the process 

Residents in the Town of Caledon are frustrated and fearful after recent council decisions have ignored their concerns, shut them out of critical public processes and left them wondering who exactly is planning the future of the town and its vast landscape of farmland and sensitive greenspace. 

Over the last month residents have watched as Mayor Annette Groves—elected on a progressive agenda to protect the environment, fight the Highway 413 proposal and take planning in the Town out of the hands of developers—turned her back on many of those campaign pledges. 

The new mayor promised to give power back to the community, and be a representation of their needs and values inside Town Hall.

“I’m looking forward to moving Caledon ahead,” Groves said in October 2022 following her election. “Taking it in the right direction with the help of the people by my side.” 

But recent actions have left residents stunned, including the approval of a weakened Official Plan that leaves Caledon’s sensitive ecosystems vulnerable; the abandonment of her fight against the 413 despite her vocal opposition last term; and a series of 12 zoning amendments that open up land to accommodate approximately 35,000 units with next to no public consultation.

“Is democracy dying in Caledon?” Debbe Crandall, a longtime resident asked.

Raising further questions about the decision-making of the mayor, local councillor Dave Sheen has gone public with the results of a Freedom of Information request to obtain the contract for the Town’s CAO—hired by Groves early in her term. The decision was made with no council consultation and the deal signed with CAO Nathan Hyde provides him with exorbitant pay should he ever be fired from the Town. The Strong Mayor powers allowed Groves to ignore Town policies dictating hiring and recruitment procedures and salary administration to negotiate the new contract. This was done without consultation or input from the other elected members of Caledon council. 

“It was the suspension of Town policies to hire Mr. Hyde that caught my eye and made me very concerned about what deal had been struck by the Mayor on behalf of Caledon taxpayers,” Councillor Sheen told The Pointer in an email statement.

Numerous residents have expressed concern to The Pointer over the status of the Town’s work to update its policies governing the aggregate industry, the lack of opposition from the Town to the proposed Highway 413, threats to local green spaces and farmland and a variety of other issues that affect the people and the environment.

“We're frustrated. You know that we're not getting the attention on the aggregate policies and the environmental policies that we want,” Jane Thompson, an environmental lawyer with over 30 years experience and a member of the Town’s Aggregate Resources Working Group, told The Pointer. 

The frustration has boiled over. 

The last straw being a letter from a lawyer, on behalf of Mayor Groves, included on the Town’s March 26th council agenda, which notified the Town she would be pushing through a series of 12 zoning amendments to facilitate a series of developments, many of them along or near the route of the proposed Highway 413. A large proportion of the properties are on or near sensitive Greenbelt lands. The properties in question have capacity for approximately 35,000 units. 


Annette Groves celebrates alongside residents in October 2022 after winning the election to become Caledon's next mayor.

(Rachel Morgan/The Pointer Files)


Democracy Caledon, a volunteer advocacy group made up of concerned citizens is hosting an open forum today, April 17th, to try and raise awareness about the erosion of their rights at Town Hall, and the flagrant disregard for their concerns being exhibited by Mayor Groves and council. The meeting will be held at the St. James Anglican Church hall, 6025 Old Church Road, Caledon East, from 6 to 8 p.m..

“I've worked with Annette Groves for over 20 years, I know her really, really well, probably more so than people even on the Caledon council. So I know her very well, and she's not capable of doing all of this stuff by herself,” Joe Grogan, another Caledon resident, said. “This is not something that is an accident, that's happened. She is a willing partner in this whole scheme that really emanates from Queen's Park, and she is responsible as are our other members of council."

In an interview with The Pointer, Mayor Groves defended her position on many of the issues residents have criticized her for. 

She says expediting the 12 zoning amendments, with only a single public consultation, is a tactic to avoid developers taking the Town to the Ontario Land Tribunal. 

“I'm trying to avoid very expensive OLT hearings, because they're very costly, and the only people that win are the lawyers, and God knows we've spent a lot of money in the past at these tribunals,” she told The Pointer. “Then you will lose the opportunity to negotiate and to work with the developers to get them to pay for some of these community benefits.”

This stance is inconsistent with the typical development procedure (which allows for the exact type of negotiation Groves refers to) and automatically assumes developers will appeal council decisions to the OLT. These appeals are typically filed after a council decision has been made. Fast-tracking development in fear of an OLT appeal is cutting off your nose to spite your face; an overreaction to an outcome that is far from certain. There is nothing stopping council from working with these developers through the normal development process to come to a mutually agreeable proposal. Rushing through the process not only heightens the risk of communities being planned inappropriately—missing the chance to plan “complete communities”— but it cuts the public out almost entirely.

While 11 of the 12 proposals change the zoning of the subject lands to mixed-use residential — the last one relates to the GO Train in Bolton — there are no details on what kind of housing Caledon expects the developers to build. The potential uses for each property include housing types of detached, semi detached and townhouses. There are no specifics about density and accessibility.

“Environmental Defence is gravely concerned that Caledon may be wasting its opportunity to break with the failed, low-density form of development that has made it one of the most car-dependent and unaffordable parts of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area,” the advocacy organization wrote to The Pointer in an email statement. “The kind of wasteful, cul-de-sac sprawl that seems slated for the intersection of Hurontario and Highway 410, for example, has no place in any 2024 zoning bylaw within the fastest-growing metropolitan area in all of Canada and the U.S. While the zoning considered for other parts of Caledon's new settlement area—such as north of Mayfield  —appears on its face to permit a greater density and mix of uses than many of Caledon's existing subdivisions, the bylaws do not seem to require higher densities or a pedestrian-friendly mix of uses.”

 A map showing the locations of the lands to be rezoned under the direction of Mayor Annette Groves.

(Town of Caledon)


Groves says the bylaws include holding provisions in the form of Secondary Plans which will require staff to sit with the developers and work through what the communities will look like and their needs. 

“Is it just a bunch of cookie cutter housing? No,” she said. “It would be a mixed-use type of development, it would be a development that is inclusive.”

But Phil Pothen, Counsel and Ontario Environment Program Manager with Environmental Defence, says there are no assurances in the zoning amendments to ensure this happens.  

“We can see some traces of what the site plan would be in the documents that accompany the zoning, but for other areas, the zoning is quite broad, and there isn't enough for us to know whether what's going to be proposed there is the answer or not,” Pothen said.

A public meeting about the proposed zoning bylaws is scheduled for April 25th and will subsequently come before council on April 30th. But the public meeting, the only one being held to consider each of these 12 proposals, is really just a formality. If Mayor Groves thinks she will not have council support, she can use her Strong Mayor powers to override suggestions from the community and her fellow council members.

A media release from the Town posted March 26 in regards to the 12 zoning changes, explains the move is necessary to expedite housing development to tackle the housing affordability and accessibility crisis. The initiative, which the release calls “groundbreaking and innovative” followed a $2.8 million reward the province provided the Town through the Building Faster Fund for its successful progress on its housing pledge. Under the highly contentious Bill 23, the Town of Caledon is required to build 13,000 new homes by 2031. In the release, Groves states Caledon must take “bold steps” to get housing developments off the ground. 

The Pointer spoke with Ward 3 councillor Doug Maskell who called the approach “novel” and said that while it does circumvent the traditional planning process, the end result will benefit Caledon.

“In the press release about the advanced zoning, it sure looks a lot like a Minister Zoning Order, without the minister actually doing the zoning, it would be the mayor doing the zoning,” Crandall said. While Groves has repeatedly stated that this process is different from an MZO, it cuts the public almost entirely out of the process, the same as MZOs, which has created significant anger in the community. Crandall said this is especially concerning given that Caledon’s growth forecast to 2031 is only 1,000 residents short of the provincial target.


Caledon’s south end is already taken over by sprawling developments.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


Groves obtained a large amount of her support during the 2022 municipal election campaign through her opposition to the proposed Highway 413. As one of the only Caledon councillors who publicly opposed the project, residents who found the construction of a 400-series highway through the south end of the Greenbelt abhorrent flocked to her campaign. 

As the majority of the proposed highway will run through Caledon, the municipality’s stance, and any opposition to the project is critically important, Councillor Doug Maskell previously told The Pointer. On March 26, Councillor Maskell brought forward a motion to request the Province halt plans for the highway and redirect the approximately $8 billion in costs to help municipalities provide much needed infrastructure and services to build housing. Maskell’s motion had no support, not even Groves voted in favour of it. 

When asked if her position on the highway has changed, she told The Pointer that since the federal government made the decision to remove the impact assessment designation, the battle is no longer worth fighting.

“We want to fight battles that we're going to win. With the recent announcement from the federal government, that they're no longer participating or they reached an agreement with the province, I don't believe that we need to continue to fight because it's a losing battle,” she said. “What we need to do right now is to work with the Province to say, ‘Okay, how do we mitigate some of the impact this will have on our community?’ And the approach that I'm going to take is that this battle is over.”

The stance is not only a complete turnaround of her previous stance on council, it ignores the fact that Highway 413 is far from a done deal. Numerous pieces of federal legislation and permits stand in the way of any construction, and the process to expropriate land for the highway could take years—even beyond the next provincial election. If the PCs and Doug Ford lose that vote, all the opposition parties have expressed disdain for the destructive highway proposal. 

The mayor’s new position on the 413 has shocked many residents who supported her because of the staunch opposition she displayed throughout last term—often being the lone voice speaking out against the project that will cause widespread environmental harm in southern Ontario if constructed.

While environmental protections have long been a major concern for residents of Caledon who had pride themselves on living in what was once Ontario’s greenest municipality, they are not the only ones criticizing the actions of Groves. Several of her fellow councillors are accusing her of abusing her seat at the head of the table. Something they say has been made easier after being granted Strong Mayor powers last year by the Ontario government.

Throughout 2023, the Province phased in Strong Mayor powers for some of Ontario’s fastest growing municipalities, allowing the mayor to circumvent a council decision if the matter would contribute to achieving provincial priorities. The use of these powers — which Groves has implemented at least four times since she was granted them last summer — has sparked concern and outrage from fellow council members.

In August, Ward 1 Councillor Lynn Kiernan wrote to The Pointer stating the use of Strong Mayor powers to hire Hyde, the new CAO (formerly the CAO at the Town of Erin) was “undemocratic”. 

Councillor Sheen’s FOI sheds further light on the exclusive deal agreed to between Groves and Hyde—something the Town and Groves fought to keep secret. Councillor Sheen was forced to take the matter to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) as the Town argued the document should be kept secret. The IPC has previously ruled that due to CAO contracts being “of compelling public interest”, they should be made public. Yet Town of Caledon staff fought to try and keep it from the public anyway. 

The contract, which has been shared with The Pointer, contains clauses for exorbitant severance; a $1,000 per month car allowance; and a very vague statement stating the Town would pay for "any membership dues and fees for professional development".

“Could this include membership at a private golf course? Or tuition in a graduate degree program? The contract seems to leave these possibilities open,” Sheen states. 

Regardless of the length of time Hyde is employed with the Town, his contract shows that he is entitled to at least 36 months severance. However, if Hyde stays with the Town for at least 35 months — until at least July 2026 — this amount increases to 48 months, at a salary of $270,000. 

The contract makes clear that all performance reviews for Hyde will be conducted by the mayor, and “Your performance is not subject to review by any member of Council who is not the Mayor."

“How then is the CAO ever going to be accountable to the public through their democratically elected councillors?” Sheen states. 

“I believe Caledon taxpayers are engaged and expect that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, and those who are elected are paying attention and asking the right questions for them. ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ seems a pretty fair question to ask,” Sheen adds. “It is very disappointing that the only way I could bring this employment contract out into the ‘sunshine’ was by submitting an FOI request. And as far as I can tell, no other mayor in Ontario has used Strong Mayor powers to hire and hire their Town’s CAO.”

Mayor Groves would not explain her reasoning for agreeing to the clauses in the contract, or whether she was involved or directed the Town in the fight to keep the document secret. 

“The Town of Caledon does not publicly disclose individual employment contracts. Disclosure would breach the person’s privacy because contracts contain personal information. The Town safeguards the privacy of employees the same way we protect the privacy of residents and clients,” a Town spokesperson explained to The Pointer. 

The Town did not comment on how this stance is in direct contradiction to direction from the Information and Privacy Commissioner that recommends these types of contracts be made public. 

On March 15th, the Town of Caledon was awarded for making progress on its provincially-mandated housing target.

(Town of Caledon)


This is not the first time residents have watched Groves backtrack on a major policy stance.

In the hamlet of Cataract, residents have been rallying in opposition to the proposal for an 800-acre blasting quarry that would be situated adjacent to Forks of the Credit Provincial Park. 

The Town of Caledon received the application for the quarry in December 2022 and deemed it complete in March 2023. But while a decision has yet to be made on the application, the presence of councillors at community meetings has been dwindling.

In early 2023, Mayor Groves said her and all nine members of council stood with the Town in its concerns but later clarified that this did not mean she was promising to reject the proposal for the quarry.

Groves also promised community organizers, Forks of the Credit Preservation Group, that staff would provide monthly updates on the application, the status of the Interim Control Bylaw, and the progress in updating the Town’s aggregate policies. Since then, updates have come seldom, and when they do, they lack any real substance. 

In the spring of 2023, the Town put together an Aggregate Resources Community Working Group consisting of Caledon residents to help provide input and guide the joint review process. But repeatedly members of the group have expressed concerns about being overshadowed and neglected, threatening to leave the group altogether.

Groves has repeatedly told the public that she does not agree with Minister Zoning Orders (MZO) which can be handed down by the province for a development to skip over the traditional planning process at the municipal level.

“I'm not a big fan of MZOs. I've never supported an MZO,” Groves said, previously.

She appears to have weakened that stance. 


The Torbram Road MZO would see a few country houses completely surrounded by warehouse development.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


Last year, local news broke when it came to the attention of the community and council — through an FOI request and later admitted to by staff and Mayor Groves — that former mayor Allan Thompson sent a letter to the province without council support asking for an MZO for a massive warehouse development on Torbram Road.

The admission was startling for Councillor Maskell, whose ward the property is located in. Outraged, he brought three motions to council: one, asking council to repudiate the actions of the former mayor; two, asking council to send a letter to the province asking for the MZO to be revoked; and three, filing an FOI for more information. 

Despite constant assurance that she was against MZOs, the mayor voted against the motion asking the province to rebuke the order, along with the majority of her council. 

She stressed the importance of remembering that the lands in Tullamore — the community where the MZO was granted — are already designated as employment lands under Peel’s settlement boundary expansion and the Official Plan Review. She expressed that she does not see how asking to revoke this particular MZO will change the outcome of what happens on this property.

“I understand it's the principle, it's the way in which this was done,” Groves stated. “However, this one, I believe we're a little too late at the table.”

“I think revoking the MZO would be a moot point.”

The lack of support for the motion was a stab in the back for the dozens of residents who appeared in the council chambers and spoke about the impacts the development would have on their homes and lives.

“Our society in general every day reveals more evil and dishonest people. What we all need is more integrity and honesty. We all need to look out for one another on a daily basis. If not, this country is heading for a cliff,” Grogran said in an email statement. “You do not build a community by only looking out for yourself.  That is what Annette is doing just like Thompson and others before him.”



The Democracy Caledon meeting will be held today (April 17th) at the St. James Anglican Church hall, 6025 Old Church Road, Caledon East, from 6 to 8 p.m..

Listen to Debbe Crandall, member of Democracy Caledon on the latest episode of The Pointer’s What’s the Point podcast.


Email: [email protected]

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