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EDITORIAL: Ford needs to pause Greenbelt plans following investigation announcements

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Doug Ford’s plan to fast-track his green belt plan has hit some big ruts and if he stalls out, it might be a good thing for Ontario.

Despite his best efforts to push forward quickly with plans for development in the Greenbelt, Doug Ford is hitting some roadblocks, but delaying the process is just what Ontario needs.


Since announcing his intention to open up the Greenbelt, the premier has faced a mountain of criticism for his plans for the once-protected land.

Initially, many of those concerns were about the damage development would do to Ontario’s natural landscape and ecological future. The Greenbelt is an area of protected natural land where Ford’s government plans to build over 50,000 homes.

However, we have also recently seen growing evidence that ethical concerns extend to both Ford and his party members’ business practices.

Those concerns have now culminated in two investigations, one by the Ontario Integrity Commissioner and another value-for-money audit underway by the Auditor General. Along with this, there is a potential investigation by the OPP Anti-Racket division which would look into possible exchanges of insider information.

In an interview with HumberNews, Mike Schreiner, Ontario’s Green Party leader, said he’s happy with the decision to move forward with these investigations.

“I’m just happy that both the Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor General are both investigating this because these Greenbelt land deals, they don’t pass the smell test,” Schreiner said.

Phil Pothen is a Toronto planning and environmental lawyer who is also glad to see these investigations are happening. He’s long argued against new developments in the Greenbelt as a member of Environmental Defence Canada.

“The question of land supply is a complete red herring. We have vast untapped capacity to add more homes to our existing neighbourhoods. Almost every neighbourhood that we have built since World War 2 is built with densities that are far too low,” Pothen said.

Ford seemed to agree with that in 2018 and 2020 when he denied there were plans to open up protected lands to housing developers.

“The people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt,” Ford said in 2018.

However, a video surfaced that same year showing Ford contradicting that.

“I’ve already talked to some of the biggest developers in the country, and, again, I wish I could say it’s my idea, but it was their idea as well,” he said.

Ford’s Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, also publicly stated last year that he opposed to Greenbelt development, nor would he do a land swap.

“I want to be clear, we will not in any way entertain any proposals that will move land s in the Greenbelt, or open the Greenbelt lands to any kind of development,” Clark said.

But that is exactly the opposite of the plans Clark now proposes. Not only is he opening Greenbelt lands to development, but he’s trying to save face by suggesting a land swap of 9,400 acres.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party was contacted by HumberNews to clarify these statements, but failed to respond.

Not only did they change their minds but some opposition parties think they broke some rules. The basis of the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation is to determine if Clark spoke to land developers before the announcement.

“The commissioner is going to give an opinion in the form of a report on whether or not Minister Clark breached Section 2 and/or 3 of the Member’s Integrity Act,” said Michelle Renaud, manager of communications and outreach for the Integrity Commissioner.

The Greenbelt, which was officially protected in 2005, was created to prevent urban sprawl and loss of farmland, and to safeguard natural resources that clean our air and water.

The land also helps to reduce flood risk, and provides homes for wildlife, as 78 species currently living in the Greenbelt are considered at-risk.

However, more than 450,000 acres of farmland have been lost to development in the area since 1991, according to Environmental Defence Canada, an environmental advocacy group.

The group says the health of the Greenbelt currently affects the quality of air and drinking water for more than seven million people living in Ontario, with 13.5 million people projected to live in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by 2041.

Considering that, we can’t afford to lose more of this land under the guise of creating affordable housing.

This is why, until both the audit and investigation are completed, Ford needs to pause all plans to develop the protected land, even if this is to the detriment of development plans, which according to Clark need to begin by 2025.

Governments can backtrack and reverse course on promises. However, their citizens deserve to know if those changes came through honest dealing.

Accountability will always be important. Ontarians deserve to know not only how this will affect them environmentally and financially, but also how these plans came to be.

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