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Province to 're-evaluate' Greenbelt land swap

Doug Ford also promised a "complete review" of the protected lands
Ontario’s minister of housing Steve Clark, left, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford wait to speak at a press conference in Mississauga, Ont. on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.

The provincial government is launching a full-scale review of the Greenbelt — including the lands controversially removed last fall — the premier announced a day after Steve Clark resigned from cabinet for his role in the ongoing scandal. 

The government is still, however, moving forward with trying to develop the 14 parcels of land removed from the Greenbelt last November to build housing. 

The Provincial Land and Development Facilitator (PLDF) is in charge of negotiating with the landowners to build at least 50,000 homes on the formerly-protected land. 

The integrity commissioner’s report said there are eight draft agreements between the landowners and the PLDF as of Aug. 8. 

They include one property in each of Clarington, Vaughan, Markham, Hamilton, King and Richmond Hill and two properties in Grimsby.

Those proposals will have to “stand on their own merit” as part of the overall review, Premier Doug Ford said. 

"There's going to be a complete review, from top to bottom," Ford said, speaking to reporters at Queen's Park on Tuesday. 

Both the review and the negotiations will determine whether the 14 parcels go back into the Greenbelt, said Ivana Yelich, Ford’s deputy chief of staff, in a statement to The Trillium

“There's a chance some sites get put back in based on the work by the PLDF,” she said.  

“There are multiple points of accountability that could see these lands put back in whether it’s the work being done by the PLDF or the mandated review. As the premier said, the PLDF's work will be an important input for the mandated review,” she added.

If the PLDF reaches a final agreement to service and develop the land with any of the owners, the province will make it public, Ford promised. 

A 15th parcel of land in Ajax was also removed last fall but the government’s already started putting it back into the Greenbelt after news broke that the landowner tried to sell it. A representative for the landowner called it a “misunderstanding.” 

Paul Calandra, the newly-minted minister of municipal affairs and housing, will oversee the process. Calandra moved from heading the Ministry of Long-Term Care but will stay on as government house leader. 

Ford didn't rule out removing more land after the upcoming review. 

"We're going to see what the review says. At the end of the review, we'll analyze it and it will be up to the minister to make that decision," Ford said.

The Greenbelt is supposed to be reviewed every 10 years, according to the original legislation. The last full-scale review — which saw it grow by over 20,000 acres — happened between 2015–2017. 

It also brought about hundreds of requests from landowners to have their lands removed from the protected area. Those requests will also be considered, Ford said. 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called Tuesday’s announcement a “step in the wrong direction” and a “colossal waste of time.”

She fears the government will “look at other developers’ plans” to open parts of the Greenbelt. Instead, the 14 parcels should be put back, she said. 

Liberal interim leader John Fraser said the premier needs to “open the books” and release all emails, texts, phone records, and other information relevant to the initial decision. He also wants a parliamentary committee to review what happened. 

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the premier “declared open season” on the Greenbelt. 

Tuesday’s announcement came as the government has been struggling to turn the page on the Greenbelt scandal, which has dogged it for nearly a year.

Last November the government announced it would remove 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere. 

The integrity commissioner found former minister Steve Clark broke ethics rules for failing to keep tabs on his former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, as he personally chose most of the lands to remove from the protected area. 

Amato — who resigned on Aug. 22 — was heavily influenced by developers and gave “preferential treatment” to those with access to him, the auditor general’s report found. 

The process was “flawed,” Clark said last week, but vowed to stay in place to fix it. Ford also stood by his longtime minister. 

On Monday morning, however, Clark resigned from cabinet. He’d become a “distraction” and needed “to take accountability for what has transpired,” he wrote in his letter to Ford. 

“Although my initial thought was that I could stay in this role and establish a proper process so that these mistakes don’t happen again, I realize that my presence will only cause a further distraction from the important works that needs to be done,” he wrote. 

Clark will stay on as the MPP for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, a seat he’s held since 2010. 

The RCMP are still deciding whether to investigate "and will take appropriate action as deemed necessary," a spokesperson confirmed to The Trillium on Tuesday.


Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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