Noor Javed, Steve Buist, Emma McIntosh, Sheila Wang | Hillman Foundation

2022 Honourable Mention

Noor Javed, Steve Buist, Emma McIntosh, Sheila Wang
Torstar/Toronto Star and Canada’s National Observer
Winner headshots

Toronto Star/Torstar and the National Observer pulled back the curtain on the money and power pushing Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government’s breakneck move to build more highways and increase urban sprawl.

The province wants to drastically reshape and develop the outer suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. Yet, despite costs to the environment and communities along the route, the government has offered little transparency into how key decisions are being made, or who influences them.

Their first investigation looked into the government’s push to build the contentious Highway 413 and delved into the Ford government’s ties to eight powerful developers with vast holdings along the planned route of the project. The team, with the help of Star investigations deputy editor Jesse McLean, pored through more than 1,500 property records of lots along the 413’s 60-kilometre route, identifying roughly 3,300 acres of valuable land owned by powerful developers. Cross-referencing the land holdings with incorporation records and a custom-made database of political donations, the reporters uncovered the close ties some of the landholders had to Ford’s PC party. The reporting prompted a complaint to Ontario’s ethics commissioner over ties between a lobbyist representing some of the developers and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

Their second story explored the government’s prolific use of Minister’s Zoning Orders. The blunt and controversial planning tool allows the housing minister to fast-track development with limited public consultation, and often atop environmentally sensitive lands. Star reporter Javed and Torstar reporter Buist researched dozens of corporations and hundreds of properties across southern Ontario. Their work revealed the beneficiaries of the MZOs granted by the province. They also found the connections between those beneficiaries and municipal and provincial officials. The reporters investigated the executives of the connected corporations and painstakingly sifted through the expense records of mayors and councilors and found substantial political contributions and donations made before the MZOs were issued. Their reporting proved MZOs have “created a system that appears to be less about procedure but more about who you know.” Two days after the story was published, and feeling the heat of mounting criticism spurred by the story, the province pledged to add 6,000 acres of land to the Greenbelt. The announcement came with the next election less than a year away and a looming cabinet shuffle.

Finally, a joint Torstar/National Observer investigation lifted the veil of secrecy shrouding the Progressive Conservatives’ rush to resurrect the Bradford Bypass highway project despite opposition from environmental groups and local communities. This reporting relied on digging up and analyzing political donations, land holdings and lobbying records to prove, once again, that developers standing to gain from the construction have strong ties to Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet. But Sheila Wang and Emma McIntosh also unearthed another secret connection: The government sought to divert the Bypass around a golf course co-owned by the father of Ontario’s associate minister of transportation. Using documents obtained through freedom-of-information, the reporters also showed the government had secretly been building a business case to toll the highway and had ignored alternatives, bringing light to behind-the-scenes discussions that were never before made public. The story prompted a complaint to Ontario’s ethics commissioner from an NDP MPP who alleged the associate minister, Stan Cho, and his boss, Transportation Minister Mulroney, had a conflict of interest. It also rattled officials at Queen’s Park, where the Premier’s Office initially denied the story to other media outlets, then recanted.

These reporters went beyond simply reporting the news coming out of Queen’s Park about these major infrastructure investments and campaign promises by the Ford government. Together, they reveal how the well-connected stood to benefit from political decisions made with little transparency but that impacted taxpayers, their communities and their environment.

Noor Javed is journalist with the Toronto Star who covers suburban municipal politics and stories reflective of the GTA’s diverse communities. In 2011, Noor won a National Newspaper Award for her analysis and reporting on Toronto’s booming condo market. Since then, Noor has focused her attention on municipal issues in the booming 905 Region, and has extensively covered education, the environment and political decisions that directly impact taxpayers. In 2018, her year-long investigation into the turmoil in the York Region District School Board was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in politics. When she’s not chasing stories, Noor can be found chasing after her three kids, ages 11, 8 and 3.

Steve Buist is an investigative reporter and feature writer at the Hamilton Spectator. He is responsible for producing large investigative projects, such as the highly acclaimed Code Red project, which began in 2010 and has been examining the connections between health and poverty by mapping the health of Hamiltonians at the neighbourhood level. Buist has won four National Newspaper Awards and been nominated seven other times. He’s also been named the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Investigative Journalist of the Year three times and been named Ontario’s Journalist of the Year five times. In 2014, Buist was the winner of one of the world’s most prestigious cancer journalism awards as he earned the Best Cancer Reporter Award from the European School of Oncology. Buist was the first winner of the Canadian Hillman Prize in 2011.

Emma McIntosh is a Toronto-based reporter who worked at National Observer before taking on her current role covering the environment in Ontario for The Narwhal. She started her career in newspapers, working for the Calgary Herald, the Toronto Star and StarMetro Calgary before finishing her journalism degree at X University in 2018. She was part of a team that won the 2019 Journalists for Human Rights/Canadian Association of Journalists Award for human rights reporting for a story about how a leak from the Alberta oilsands affected Fort McKay First Nation. Stories she’s worked on have also been shortlisted for the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Jackman Award for excellence in journalism, and she was part of a team that received a Canadian Hillman Prize honourable mention in 2018. 

Sheila Wang is a reporter for Torstar Corporation, where she has worked for Metroland Media York Region and the Toronto Star’s Investigations Team. Holding a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she had worked in broadcast and print news with a special interest in data in the United States before immigrating to Canada. Sheila covered municipal politics and general news in York Region for more than two years. In addition to English, she speaks Mandarin.