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Doug Ford’s embattled Tories tabling law today to protect the Greenbelt

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are set to table a law to prevent a future government from doing what they attempted to do: open up the Greenbelt to development.
Oct. 16, 2023
Robert Benzie, Rob Ferguson and Kristin Rushowy

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are set to table a law to prevent a future government from doing what they attempted to do: open up the Greenbelt to development.

Still reeling from the $8.28-billion land swap scandal that is now the subject of an RCMP criminal probe, the Tories on Monday will move to enhance protection of the two-million-acre environmentally sensitive swath.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra said his bill would “restore all of the lands that had been removed from the Greenbelt.”

The legislation will enshrine in law Ford’s Greenbelt flip-flop last month by returning the 7,400 acres to the protected belt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“We will also ensure that the additional 9,400 acres that were promised to the Greenbelt are within the Greenbelt. We will codify the boundaries of the Greenbelt in legislation so it will no longer be able to be modified through regulation,” Calandra told reporters Friday in Oshawa.

“If ever a government wants to change it, they’ll have to bring legislation for it to the house,” he said.

Calandra said a review of the Greenbelt lands -- as required every 10 years under the previous Liberal government’s law that created the protected zone -- will begin next year.

“I anticipate no changes on the boundaries of the Greenbelt,” he said. “The people of the province of Ontario were very clear on that.”

NDP Leader Marit Stiles has said she would pore over Monday’s Conservative legislation before deciding if New Democrats will support it.

“I’m going to wait and see what they present. I don’t know what’s taking so long. I gave them a bill,” Stiles said recently, referring to a law she introduced Sept. 25 that the majority Tories immediately rejected.

“I don’t trust this government for one second. They’ve been making so many deals all across this province,” she said.

“We see over and over again this government in their dirty deals and their preferential treatment. People in Ontario have lost trust in this government.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser has said the legislation should go further by bringing more transparency to forced municipal boundary changes imposed at the same time as the Greenbelt land swap.

That’s because it appears some of those revised boundaries have also helped some developers, added Fraser.

“There’s a whole issue around who gets access to this government, who gets favours, who gets the inside information, who gets to influence government,” he said last week.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner, meanwhile, has called for protections to scrap the planned Highway 413 linking Highways 401 and 407, the Bradford Bypass from Highway 400 to Highway 404 and ban more gravel pits.

While the Tories had hoped the bill would put the Greenbelt land swap scandal behind them, the RCMP dashed that hope last Tuesday.

In a terse 94-word statement that rocked Queen’s Park, the RCMP said its Sensitive and International Investigations unit, which probes corruption and political crimes, was looking “ into allegations associated to the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development.”

One hour after the Star broke that news, Ford’s office said “the government will fully co-operate with any investigation.”

“We have zero tolerance for any wrongdoing and expect anyone involved in the decision-making about the Greenbelt lands to have followed the letter of the law,” the premier’s office said in a statement.

“Out of respect for the police and their process, we will not be commenting further at this time.”

The scandal has had the Tories reeling since August when auditor general Bonnie Lysyk and integrity commissioner J. David Wake released separate reports that found certain developers were “favoured” in an unusual process led by then-housing minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato.

Clark and Amato have since resigned -- as has Kaleed Rasheed, who was forced out as Ford’s business minister last month.

Rasheed no longer sits as a Tory MPP after misleading Wake about a 2020 Las Vegas trip with a Greenbelt developer.

Jae Truesdell, who was also on the Vegas jaunt, also stepped down as the premier’s housing adviser.

Public-opinion polls suggest the controversy has hurt the Tories.

When Ford backtracked on Sept. 21, he apologized for breaking his 2018 pledge to protect the Greenbelt and admitted “it was a mistake” to open up the lands.

Until that U-turn, he had insisted the land was needed to help meet a goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031 to ease the housing shortage.