Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his government will “re-evaluate” Greenbelt land, including hundreds of additional applications for land removal, which could result in further changes to the protected land.
The evaluation of the is part of a larger review mandated by the previous Liberal government, which legislated in 2005 that Greenbelt lands should be reviewed every 10 years, Ford said.
It will also be one of the first tasks for new Housing Minister Paul Calandra, who comes to the position after the resignation of Steve Clark from cabinet.
The premier said it will be up to the new housing minister to decide after the review is complete whether further Greenbelt land will be removed.
There’s going to be a complete review from top to bottom and they’re gonna have to stand on their own merit. And it’s not just the 14 lands, it’s gonna be the seven or 800 lands right across the board,” Ford told reporters on Tuesday.
When asked for details about what it means to “stand on their own merit,” the premier wouldn’t provide further details.
“We’re putting together a process, a process through government officials that we’re going to make sure the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. We’re gonna make sure that there’s merit to every application that comes forward.”
An auditor general report released last month found that, among other things, the criteria for what lands were chosen for development were altered after most of the proposed sites were found not to fit the parameters.
Some of the proposed sites were also changed in order to fit the minimum criteria set forth by the government.
The 15 sites originally selected by the province for development will also be reviewed by a provincial facilitator, Ford said.
The premier has already decided that one site in Ajax should be returned to the Greenbelt after discovering the developer had listed the property for sale rather than build housing.
Despite the re-evaluation, Ford said that progress will continue on developing the 14 remaining sites, and that the assigned facilitator will ensure that developers include community centers, hospitals, parks and long-term care on their property.
Ford told reporters he will release his agreements with developers once they have been finalized.
“We’re going to show how these builders these landowners are going to spend billions of dollars and supporting the community that they’re building,” he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to journalists at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Ontario will review the Greenbelt land swaps that two provincial watchdogs have said was rushed and flawed, Ford said Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
The government first announced it would be removing 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt in November 2022. Another 9,400 acres of land was added to the Greenbelt elsewhere.
Two reports released in the last month, one by the auditor general and another by the province’s integrity commissioner, have revealed that a lack of supervision and leadership led to certain developers with ties to the housing ministry gaining an advantage in the selection process.
The integrity commissioner’s report also found that Steve Clark broke ethic rules by choosing “to stick his head in the sand on such an important initiative being undertaken by his ministry.”
Clark resigned from his position as housing minister Monday, saying that while he thought he could stay to work on fixing the decision-making process, his presence on cabinet is proving a “distraction.”
He remains the representative for his riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato, largely described in both reports as the staffer at the center of the Greenbelt land swap, has also resigned as a result of the Greenbelt investigation.
The auditor general recommended the government re-evaluate its 2022 decision to change Greenbelt boundaries as a result of its findings; however Ford has made it clear that he will not be doing so unless housing is not built.
The last review of the 200-million-acre Greenbelt began in 2015 and was completed in 2017.
The next one should occur around 2025 according to this timeline, one year before the next provincial election.
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