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LETTER: Premier has 'declared war on the Greenbelt'

'Who are they listening to that is influential enough to counter their own staff and experts?' asks Greenbelt coalition official
2019-08-22 Doug Ford in Orillia 2
Premier Doug Ford, second from left, is shown with, from left, Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey and Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin. | Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

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On Tuesday, Premier Ford held a press conference addressing the resignation of Steve Clark, the now former minister for municipal affairs and housing.

Clark’s resignation comes after weeks of both Ford and Clark refusing to take responsibility for a process of Greenbelt land giveaways that the auditor general, in a bombshell report, found was mired in undue influence by developers, that gave certain developers preferential treatment, and that resulted in an $8-billion dollar increase in value benefiting those developers.

The auditor general found that emails relating to the giveaway were erased by political staff, and that personal emails and phones were used to correspond with developers and their representatives. Ironically, it was underhanded tactics very similar to this that the Progressive Conservative party, then in opposition, blasted, and for which a chief of staff to Premier McGuinty was ultimately sent to jail. (In the past few days Mr. Clark has hired the very same lawyers who represented that chief of staff.)

A subsequent report by the integrity commissioner also found that unregistered (a.k.a. backroom or off-the-books) lobbying had taken place in advancing the land giveaways. This explains why a whopping 56 per cent of Ontarians agree that these Greenbelt grabs were corrupt, and 73 per cent agree that the RCMP should investigate.

The people of Ontario have been sufficiently clear that they want all the lands in Greenbelt protected — 60 per cent of Ontarians, in fact, in the latest polling.

We expected that with the finding of a thoroughly improper and deeply tainted process this government would reverse course, implement all 15 of the recommendations outlined by the auditor general, and live up to the accountability it claimed while in opposition was lacking in government. But it did not.

Premier Ford and his new minister for municipal affairs and housing, Paul Calandra, announced that not only is the province not returning the land taken out through this corrupted process; they are now considering 600 to 800 other previously made applications to remove more Greenbelt lands. Under the guise of building houses, a misinformation trope the premier repeats ad nauseam, Premier Ford has clearly declared war on the Greenbelt, signalling to developers and land speculators everywhere that now is their time to cash in.

We, the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, have been a non-partisan advocate for the Greenbelt since 2017. We have worked with government officials of all stripes to ensure environmental standards, healthy communities and sustainable development, and our approach to this has always been to focus on evidence and research to help inform decision makers and enable them to make the best decisions possible.

However, no amount of evidence, whether by us or by its own appointed housing affordability task force, will convince this government to focus on building housing where jobs, services and sufficient land exists to build 1.5 million new homes. They have been told repeatedly that there is enough land available to do this, and do it in a way that strengthens Ontario’s communities and economy for the future, but they simply don’t, or perhaps can’t, listen.

Why? Who are they listening to that is influential enough to counter their own staff and experts?

Local cabinet ministers, MPP Dunlop, MPP Downey and MPP Mulroney, all spoke during their campaigns for the need to protect greenspace and farmland and some went as far to commit to protecting the Greenbelt, which is primarily wetlands and farmland. They didn’t protect it when they voted to take lands out of the Greenbelt in 2022. Do they stand behind ripping the rest of it apart? We would love to know and we think the public has a right to know. We have invited them to our public forum on the Greenbelt, on Sept. 12, 7 p.m., at Grace United Church and hope they are accountable enough to attend.

Margaret Prophet
Executive director, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition