Illustration by Graeme MacKay, The Toronto Star – Saturday September 23, 2023
Ford’s Greenbelt U-Turn: A Summer of Political Turmoil
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s summer season has come to a disastrous end, as he faces the aftermath of his ill-fated plans to develop parts of the province’s protected Greenbelt. Months of intense public backlash have forced him into a major reversal, resulting in the resignation of two cabinet ministers, and casting a dark shadow of uncertainty over his political future.
Mr. Ford, in a somber press conference held in Niagara Falls, Ontario, confessed to his mistake, acknowledging that opening up the environmentally protected Greenbelt around the Greater Toronto Area was an error in judgment. He admitted that the process for selecting the land had created allegations of wrongdoing and a loss of public trust.
“I made a promise to you that I wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise. And for that, I’m very, very sorry,” said Mr. Ford, as he faced the media alongside his Progressive Conservative caucus. “It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast.”
Mr. Ford, who had initially believed that developing the Greenbelt could alleviate the housing crisis, has now abandoned that approach. He stated, “We moved too quickly, and we made the wrong decision.”
The Premier’s reversal came after consultations with the public, his cabinet, and his caucus, as he recognized that voters would ultimately judge him based on his promises in the upcoming 2026 election.
The summer has been fraught with controversy for the PC government, with independent watchdog reports revealing favouritism towards certain developers in the Greenbelt land swap. Fifteen sites were removed from the protected region, with one later being returned after being put up for sale.
When questioned about potential lawsuits from developers due to the reversal, Mr. Ford remained uncertain but expressed his willingness to work with builders on housing and promised transparency regarding any associated costs.
The scandal surrounding the Greenbelt decision has not only claimed two cabinet ministers but also two top aides, including the housing policy director, Jae Truesdell. The resignation of Minister Kaleed Rasheed was prompted by incorrect information provided to the Integrity Commissioner about a 2020 trip to Las Vegas, where a prominent developer was also present.
The Premier’s backtracking follows reports from Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner and Auditor-General that revealed a biased process that favoured certain developers and could have led to an $8.3-billion windfall for them.
The Greenbelt, covering 800,000 hectares, was established in 2005 by a previous Liberal government. Mr. Ford’s government had repeatedly promised not to touch the protected land, but it later backtracked, with the Premier even referring to the Greenbelt as a “scam.”
Environmental advocates credited the reversal to a groundswell of local activism, emphasizing the impact of citizens taking their concerns to elected officials.
Opposition critics have also raised concerns about potential insider knowledge among developers regarding the Greenbelt plans. The matter has been referred to the RCMP for evaluation.
In the midst of these controversies, the Integrity Commissioner also declined to launch a full investigation into a stag-and-doe party held for Mr. Ford’s daughter, citing insufficient grounds, but raising questions about ticket sales to developers. Mr. Ford defended his old friend’s actions, asserting that he sold the tickets independently. (AI)
From sketch to finish, see the current way Graeme completes an editorial cartoon using an iPencil, the Procreate app, and a couple of cheats on an iPad Pro. If you’re creative, give illustration a try: