Ford to Go Ahead With Greenbelt Plan Despite AG’s Criticism

Ford to Go Ahead With Greenbelt Plan Despite AG’s Criticism
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to the media during a press conference following the release of the Auditor General’s Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt, at Queens Park, in Toronto, on Aug. 9, 2023. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press)
Tara MacIsaac

The Ontario government’s process for choosing which parts of the Greenbelt to open for housing development was “biased” and did not show “effective land-use planning,” says the province’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Ms. Lysyk found that the selection of 15 land sites opened for development “favoured certain developers.” About 67 percent of the land is on sites two developers spoke to the housing minister’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, about at an industry function they all attended in September 2022, Ms. Lysyk said.

Another 25 percent is on sites one of those same developers later spoke with Mr. Amato about, she said.

Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark told reporters on Aug. 9, following the release of Ms. Lysyk’s report on the matter, that their process was flawed. But the flaws, they said, came from moving too quickly to meet urgent housing needs.

“We’re going to correct the process,” Mr. Ford said. He said he would follow all of the auditor general’s recommendations except one: He will not reconsider the current development plans. The land approved for development will stay approved.

“We’re going to continue building,” Mr. Ford said. “We’re not going to stop building.”

“We can stop or we can move forward,” Mr. Clark said.

Site Selection

The government has received hundreds of requests to remove sites from the Greenbelt for development, but Ms. Lysyk found the housing ministry considered only 22 sites, 21 of which were suggested by Mr. Amato.

He altered the criteria, she said, to facilitate the selection of sites he provided. Mr. Amato gave staff working on the selection three weeks to make the decision and imposed confidentiality provisions. This limited their ability to appropriately assess the land sites, Ms. Lysyk said.

Mr. Amato did not reply to an Epoch Times inquiry as of publication.

Owners of the 15 selected sites stand to gain $8.3 billion in increased property value, Ms. Lysyk said.

Mr. Ford told reporters that the developers were not his friends, despite one of them having attended his daughter’s wedding.

“I’m not friends with any of these developers,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “micromanage” and was not directly involved in the site selection.

Change of Plans

When Mr. Clark was asked why he didn’t review Mr. Amato’s work and the site selection process more closely, he said it was about moving too quickly.

“I acknowledge we moved very fast,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark mentioned new immigration data and targets as the reason for heightened urgency.

That’s also why, Mr. Ford said, the auditor general’s finding that Greenbelt land didn’t even have to be touched to meet housing targets is inaccurate.

On Oct. 31, 2022, the federal government announced the goal of having 500,000 immigrants arrive annually by 2025. Ontario’s plans for allocating 1.5 million homes, tabled earlier that month, became insufficient, Mr. Clark said.

“Almost immediately after the report was tabled, the situation changed,” he said. “We’re certainly not at the pace of new Canadians coming here.”

The Greenbelt development plan was finalized a couple months later, in December 2022.

New Greenbelt Land

The plan removes about 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt to build about 50,000 homes. It also adds 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt in other areas. But Ms. Lysyk criticized the swap.

About 2,400 acres of the added land is largely undevelopable anyway, Ms. Lysyk said. She also criticized the addition for not containing enough agricultural land, as protecting agrarian land is a key purpose of the Greenbelt.

“While the people of Ontario deserve prompt action to solve societal problems like those generated by a need for housing, this does not mean that government and non-elected political staff should sideline or abandon protocols and processes that are important to guide objective and transparent decision-making based on sufficient and accurate information,” Ms. Lysyk said in the report.

Her recommendations include clarifying the role of public service staff—including chiefs of staff—in decision-making, being more transparent, putting controls on lobbyist material, and reducing the risk of the appearance of conflict of interest.