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Auditor General, Integrity Commissioner to investigate Ford’s Greenbelt plan

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The Ford government is facing new scrutiny over Greenbelt plans as two new investigations are announced.

Ontario’s Auditor General and the province’s Integrity Commissioner announced they are each conducting investigations into Premier Doug Ford’s decision to build on protected Greenbelt lands.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk responded Jan. 18 to a joint request by Ontario’s opposition leaders to look into the Progressive Conservatives’ decision to open up the Greenbelt.

She said she would conduct a value-for-money audit in the coming months in response to growing concerns among the Liberals, the Green Party and the New Democrats.

“This issue has garnered significant public attention over the past few months and has been repeatedly raised during question periods in the Legislature,” Lysyk said.

Overview of the areas included in Ford's Greenbelt plan. Photo credit: Environmental Registry of Ontario

Following her statement, Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, also announced his decision to open an investigation into whether the Ford government tipped off developers before the premier’s announcement to open up the Greenbelt.

Wake will consider if Ontario’s Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, broke Section 2 or Section 3 of Ontario’s Members Integrity Act.

These sections pertain to conflicts of interest and providing insider information and they govern the behaviour of all MPPs.

The investigation is a response to a Dec. 8, 2022 request from presumptive NDP Leader Marit Stiles.

Wake said Stiles provided reasonable and probable grounds to launch an inquiry.

Earlier this week, Stiles spoke at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference Greenbelt Rally in Toronto at which protesters expressed their concerns about Ford’s decision to allow development on previously protected lands.

“It’s not about housing, it’s about making people richer,” Stiles said.

A similar request for an integrity investigation made by Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was denied by the integrity commissioner. His request had included a call to investigate Ford.

At the same rally, Schreiner told HumberNews these investigations are necessary, whether Ford is included or not.

“To literally have a handful of land speculators making billions while the rest of us are going to pay the price for that is wrong, and it needs to be investigated,” Schreiner said.

In his decision, Wake noted that both Ford and Clark addressed and denied the allegations that they discussed opening up land with developers.

“They advised that the selection of the affected lands was made by public servants who were subject to enhanced confidentiality protocol and that the minister was briefed and accepted their proposal only a few days before he presented it to cabinet,” Wake said.

Progressive Conservative spokesperson Victoria Podbielski said in a statement the provincial government will fully cooperate. However, she also urged timeliness, as the government wants to begin construction on housing no later than 2025.

The Ontario Provincial Police also confirmed on Wednesday that their Anti-Racket

Branch is still considering looking into allegations made against the Ford government.

Greenbelt Council Chair Hazel McCallion announced her support for Ford’s plans following the decision of both Wake and Lysyk in an open letter released on Wednesday.

McCallion took the Greenbelt position following the resignation of the former Greenbelt Council Chair, along with six other members of the Greenbelt council, in late 2020. They left their posts in protest over proposed rule changes that would affect environmental protections of the Greenbelt.

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