Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday September 7, 2023
Ford’s Irresponsible Greenbelt Stance Threatens Ontario’s Future
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent announcement that his government will continue development on Greenbelt lands while under review is not only misguided but deeply troubling for the province’s future. Despite mounting evidence of rushed and flawed decision-making processes, Ford remains steadfast in his commitment to forging ahead with development, seemingly undeterred by the ethical and practical implications.
At a recent news conference, Ford indicated that his administration would undertake a review of all Greenbelt lands and development applications, effectively moving up the timeline by about two years, in defiance of the previous government’s mandate for a ten-year review cycle. While a review is certainly warranted, it is Ford’s insistence that development will proceed for any sites deemed to “stand on their own merit” that raises serious concerns.
Ford has tasked Housing Minister Paul Calandra, who recently took over after Steve Clark’s resignation, with defining the parameters of this review alongside a non-partisan provincial adjudicator. The Premier has promised a comprehensive top-to-bottom examination, but the catch is that the lands already earmarked for removal and development late last year will remain in play.
In the meantime, the adjudicator will continue working with current landowners, some of whom are major developers in the province, to discuss their plans for these lands. Ford’s commitment to publicly releasing finalized agreements between landowners and the province does little to alleviate concerns about the potential for undue influence in the process.
What’s most alarming is that Ford has not ruled out the possibility of opening even more Greenbelt land for housing development. This stance seems to defy all logic, especially in the face of damning reports from the province’s integrity commissioner and the auditor general. Both reports revealed that the process was heavily influenced by politically connected developers, with Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, playing a central role in selecting the lands to be removed from the Greenbelt.
Amato resigned in August, but both Clark and Ford insisted for weeks that Clark would remain in his ministerial role. The Premier had even instructed Clark to devise a process to open up the Greenbelt by the fall of 2022. The integrity commissioner’s findings were unequivocal, pointing to a deeply flawed process that favoured a select few developers.
Furthermore, the auditor general’s report underscored the questionable circumstances surrounding the land selections, with Amato’s direct involvement with developers or their lawyers raising serious ethical concerns. The potential windfall profits for the owners of the 15 selected sites, amounting to $8.3 billion, only add to the cloud of suspicion surrounding this entire affair.
The fact that the RCMP is considering a potential police investigation into the land swaps should give Ford serious pause. Yet, he seems more intent on forging ahead with a review that many view as inadequate.
Ford’s insistence that the Greenbelt review is merely a matter of correcting the process rings hollow. It is not enough to “correct” a process that has already demonstrated its vulnerability to influence and manipulation. What’s truly important is protecting the Greenbelt, preserving vital farmland, and ensuring responsible, sustainable development that benefits all Ontarians.
The Premier’s rush to build homes cannot come at the expense of our natural environment and long-term well-being. While Ford may see the Greenbelt as a mere obstacle to development, it is, in fact, a crucial asset that should be safeguarded for future generations. His disregard for this fundamental responsibility is a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the people of Ontario, and it undermines the very essence of good governance. (AI.) Editorial cartoon printed in the Hamilton Spectator and the Toronto Star.