“Alarming news for Ontarians”
Opinion by Dave Glover
Well, the latest report from Ontario’s Auditor General (AG) Bonnie Lysk — the Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt — is out.
With some alarming news for Ontarians.
The Report found that the majority, 92% of Greenbelt properties delisted for development, were chosen by the developers themselves and not as previously stated, by an independent nonpartisan committee. The person in charge was the Housing Minister’s chief of staff.
The AG report found that the bulk of these properties 12 — of 15 — are still vital to Ontario food production with a significant portion noted as Prime Ontario Agricultural Land.
The Ministers for Agriculture & Housing have much explaining to do, as does the Premier and the Environment Minister.
The report, found a clear link between the Premier’s Office, the housing minister, a single, central political staffer who drove the project, and the developers who benefited from the deal.
The end result: the owners of 15 parcels of land removed from the Greenbelt will see land value rise by $8.3 billion, according to the auditor general.
Among the key findings of the Report:
In a June 2022 mandate letter, Premier Doug Ford directed Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark to conduct “swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates” related to the Greenbelt.
The chief of staff to Clark, “working under the authority” of the Premier’s Office, implemented the policy. He received “packages” from “two prominent housing developers” with specific sites to target.
A team of government employees, bound by confidentiality, were given just three weeks to identify and assess up to 22 parcels of land for removal from the Greenbelt.
When the lands failed to meet the development standards to allow for removal, the criteria was allegedly changed to specifically allow pieces of land owned by developers to be removed.
Of the 7,400 acres extracted, 6,700 — or 92 per cent — were removed as a direct result of developer access to the chief of staff.
Remember— this isn’t crown land and therefore, it can be sold off by the property owners. There is nothing stopping them down the line cashing in on this windfall.
However, the point is, these lands were protected by the creation of the Greenbelt. Meaning that the province had determined the land wasn’t to be developed.
This is prime agricultural land and we all know Farmers Feed our Cities.
Remember, that certain Stag and Doe and a well-timed wedding where certain developers were granted VIP access to the Premier?
Now these acres that were formally protected and of relatively low value are, with the stroke of the Premiers pen worth billions.
Media friendly to the Premier, have made the point that this was privately held land and that this report is nothing more than a dispute over public policy, between the Auditor General & the Government.
But you don’t need a calculator to figure out that this grab from the Greenbelt speaks volumes about unfair political access and possible impropriety plus it has the distinct odour of conflict of interest.
If this report was about Justin Trudeau you can bet the Proud Network would be falling all over themselves painting it as just more corruption.
Yet, when it’s the Conservative premier of Ontario, apparently it’s just a policy dispute.
Can we please remember a few vital facts…
Firstly, Mr Ford promised unequivocally that he would not touch the greenbelt. He said so repeatedly on tape. He outright lied.
Then he claimed the decisions would be made by a nonpartisan committee. That too was a lie.
Mr Ford said the lands under consideration aren’t prime agricultural land. That is an another lie.
The report by the Auditor General looked specifically at the decision making process, which was kept confidential and included staffers being sworn to secrecy.
Mr Piccini, our MPP and Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks appears to have given his tacit approval by not demanding an environmental assessment. Indeed, he hasn’t even weighed in with an opinion.
Lysk’s investigation concluded that the Ford government’s decision-making process was tightly controlled, secretive, rushed and directly benefited developers with access to the decision maker and the Premier himself. It was a three-week sprint to ensure this was a done deal. Strict confidentiality agreements in place prevented the team, six, non-political staffers within the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, from consulting with anyone about the process which made it impossible for them to get feedback from experts and partners like local cities, ministries and Indigenous communities.
So, these are the basics from the report, but I don’t intend to join the pile on. Every media outlet in Ontario and their editorial boards will write extensively about this obviously questionable move by the Ford Government.
Interestingly, while the Ford government bent over backwards for its developer friends and donor, it bent in the opposite direction when municipalities have tried to acquire crown land. Case in point, the Ontario Power Generation/Port Hope land purchase that the government cancelled that was already agreed to and even closer to town, the Brookside property that was formally a youth detention centre.
Dave Glover is a well known cultural and political commentator in Northumberland. Thousands of listeners, both locally and worldwide, know Dave because of his “Drive Time” radio broadcast that ran for more than 8 years and his 15 years hosting political programs on a local cable channel.
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