January 28, 2023

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday January 28, 2023

Developers who bought Ontario Greenbelt land linked to Ford government

Since Ontario Premier Doug Ford was first elected four years ago, developers have paid tens of millions of dollars for a number of properties that include protected lands the province is now proposing to carve out of the Greenbelt.

Among those properties is a substantial piece of land lying largely in the Greenbelt that sold for $80-million in September, just weeks before the government revealed its new plan.

During the 2018 election campaign, Mr. Ford promised not to touch the Greenbelt – a vast arc of farmland, forests and wetlands across Southern Ontario. The pledge followed public uproar over a video that showed him saying he would allow housing development on a “big chunk” of the protected area. Again, in late 2020, he made a similar promise.

The Ford government reversed itself earlier this month, announcing plans to remove 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt for the construction of at least 50,000 new homes. At the same time, land elsewhere would be added to the Greenbelt that, the government says, would result in a net increase of 2,000 acres.

The proposal to open up the Greenbelt to development has sparked protest from environmentalists, agriculture advocates and land-use experts, who argue that swapping one piece for another may be ineffective, because land has different environmental values, and that this also paves the way for other developers to push for their properties to be removed from the Greenbelt.

The proposed carve-outs of 15 areas of land include at least nine properties that were bought by developers for $10-million or more – transactions that topped $300-million in total – since the Progressive Conservatives took office in 2018, property records show.

At least four developers who bought the properties the government is now proposing to remove from the Greenbelt have either donated to the PC Party, hired conservative lobbyists, or both.

The government defended the decision to open up parcels of Greenbelt land to development but did not address questions related to the developers.

Among the sales in the Greenbelt parcels up for potential development, the most recent occurred in mid-September, about six weeks before the government’s announcement.

On Sept. 15, a company controlled by developer Michael Rice bought the 280-hectare property in the Township of King for $80-million. The real estate agent who sold the property promoted it as a “prime land-banking opportunity,” referring to the practice of holding undeveloped land for future opportunities.

The property had previously traded hands in 2000 – before the Greenbelt protections were put in place – for about $9.3-million.

Mr. Rice’s development company, Rice Group, hired Frank Klees, a former Ontario PC cabinet minister, between 2019-20 to lobby the government “on the economic development opportunities represented by a number of the client’s emerging projects,” the lobbyist registry says. The contract predated Mr. Rice’s purchase of the land in King Township. Mr. Klees did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

In addition, provincial records also show that a person with the name Michael Rice has donated more than $10,500 to the PC Party since 2018. This individual also donated money to the Liberals in 2018. As well, three donors with the same names as Rice Group executives have given the PC Party thousands of dollars since 2018.

Mr. Rice did not respond to e-mails requesting comment. (The Globe and Mail) https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-sales-of-greenbelt-land-raise-questions-for-ford/

Ontario, Doug Ford, Young Doug Ford, YDF, greenbelt, real estate, developer, environment, crony