Ontario integrity commissioner and auditor general to investigate Greenbelt development

Both the Ontario integrity commissioner and the auditor general will be opening an investigation into the Doug Ford government’s plans to develop the Greenbelt.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk told CTV New Toronto that her office will be starting a value-for-money audit into the financial and environmental impacts of the removal of more than 7,000 acres of previously protected land.

“We’ll be starting it immediately and hoping to finish it in 2023,” she said over the phone on Wednesday.

Lysyk told CTV News Toronto last week that having a request from all three leaders added weight to her decision to investigate the claims.

In the joint request, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles, interim Liberal Party Leader John Fraser, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, argued that the removal of those parcels of land, as well as the repeal of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act, will shift wealth to property owners and have “detrimental impact on park lands and the local ecosystem.”

The final scope of the auditor general investigation will be determined in the next month or two.

The Ontario integrity commissioner has also said it will be opening an investigation into whether the province’s housing minister tipped off developers ahead of revealing their plans to open up the Greenbelt.

Commissioner David Wake announced his decision in a report released late Wednesday afternoon. In the report, he said a request made by Stiles was found to have “reasonable and probable grounds” for an investigation.

In his decision, Wake said the affidavit provided by Stiles was extensive, and included both media reports and “direct evidence.”

A separate but similar request made by Schreiner was denied by the commission.

Stiles submitted the request on Dec. 8, after multiple media outlets reported that large developers had purchased Greenbelt land since the Progressive Conservative government was first elected in 2018. One of those investments was made as late as September 2022.

In the request, Stiles argues that Housing Minister Steve Clark contravened the Members Integrity Act when it came to the decision to allow development in the Greenbelt and Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

The two sections of the act in question cover conflicts of interest and the use of insider information.

“That complaint, I want to say, was based on deep and extensive research by our team,” Stiles told reporters on Wednesday.

In the report, Wake writes that both Premier Doug Ford and Clark have denied that either had disclosed the lands selected for possible development to a developer.

“They advised that the selection of the affected lands was made by public servants who were subject to an enhanced confidentiality protocol and that the minister was briefed and accepted their proposal only a few days before he presented it to Cabinet and the government made its announcement shortly thereafter,” the report read.

Stiles said that her complaint included reports of improper lobbying, in addition to a breach of Section 2 and Section 3.

“When we submitted our requests we certainly felt there was strong case to be made, a larger body of evidence with regard to the minister and his former staff, and I maintain that and we’ll see what the integrity commissioner perceives things.”

The Ontario Liberals have called the decision to investigate the development of the Greenbelt “good news.”

“The more people looking into this, the better. It just doesn’t smell right, and it has a stench of insider trading,” Fraser said in a statement.

“The connections between the government and the people who stood to benefit the most are just too close. Ontarians have a right to know if the government gave their friends advance notice of their plans to crack open the Greenbelt.”

The Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-rackets branch confirmed Wednesday it is still reviewing complaints being made against the Ford government in order to determine if they will investigate further.

CTV News Toronto has reached out to Clark’s office for comment.

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