Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday September 22, 2023
Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Reversal and the Trust of Voters
In politics, trust is a commodity as valuable as gold. It can take years to build, yet mere moments to shatter. In the realm of Ontario politics, Premier Doug Ford recently experienced the weight of this truth firsthand. After months of relentless protests, public outrage, and the resignation of key cabinet ministers and staff, he has made the extraordinary move of reversing his decision to open Greenbelt lands for housing development. This U-turn has left many wondering if, in the grand theatre of politics, it is possible to regain the trust of voters after such a dramatic reversal.
Ford’s about-face on the Greenbelt issue is a remarkable example of the power of public protest and collective action. For nearly a year, concerned citizens, environmental activists, and community groups rallied against the government’s plan to carve out a significant chunk of the protected Greenbelt for housing development. Their relentless efforts, which included peaceful demonstrations, lobbying, and raising awareness, played a pivotal role in pushing the Premier to reconsider his stance.
During a caucus retreat in Niagara Falls, Ford admitted that he had made a grave mistake in ignoring the voices of his constituents and breaking his promise to protect the Greenbelt. This rare display of humility, combined with a pledge not to make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future, demonstrates the impact that public outcry can have on even the most entrenched political leaders.
The decision to backtrack on the Greenbelt issue is not only an acknowledgment of public sentiment but also an admission of a flawed process. Reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner highlighted the rushed and biased selection of lands for development, favouring certain developers. It was a process that left many wondering if political connections played a more significant role than the needs of the people.
The magnitude of the Greenbelt reversal is further underscored by the potential financial ramifications. Property owners whose land was removed from the Greenbelt stood to see their land values rise significantly. The Premier’s acknowledgment that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra is working through the details of potential compensation for these developers is a significant concession and one that may not sit well with all Ontarians.
The fallout from this reversal has also claimed the careers of several high-ranking officials, including two cabinet ministers, Steve Clark and Kaleed Rasheed, and other staff members. The integrity commissioner’s reports shed light on questionable connections and actions, including a trip to Las Vegas that has raised questions about ethical conduct.
Kaleed Rasheed, Ford’s principal secretary at the time Amin Massoudi, and Jae Truesdell – at the time in the private sector but who served as Ford’s director of housing policy starting in January 2022 – told the integrity commissioner they went to Las Vegas in December 2019. Rasheed and Massoudi “briefly encountered” developer Shakir Rehmatullah there, they said.
While Ford has expressed confidence that nothing criminal took place regarding the Greenbelt land swap, the RCMP is now reviewing information to determine whether an investigation is warranted. The Las Vegas trip adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing scrutiny of the government’s actions.
In the aftermath of this reversal, the Ontario government faces a critical test: the restoration of trust. Can voters forgive a leader who has admitted to a mistake of this magnitude, particularly in light of the Las Vegas trip and other questionable connections? It is not an easy feat, but history has shown that genuine contrition and concrete actions can pave the path to redemption.
The power of protest and collective action should not be underestimated. It is a reminder that in a democracy, the voices of the people can shape policy and hold leaders accountable. As Ontarians reflect on this remarkable turn of events, they should remember that the strength of their collective voice played a pivotal role in preserving the Greenbelt. It is a testament to the enduring power of democracy and the potential for positive change when citizens come together for a common cause.
Ultimately, Premier Doug Ford’s Greenbelt reversal, coupled with the Las Vegas trip and other revelations, serves as a poignant reminder that political leaders must never lose sight of the trust placed in them by the people. Trust can be elusive, but it can also be rebuilt through humility, transparency, and a commitment to the well-being of all citizens. In the end, it is the voters who will decide if the Premier’s actions have earned back their trust, and the legacy of this episode will undoubtedly shape the future of Ontario politics. (AI)