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Ontario will ‘re-evaluate’ sites in Greenbelt land swap as part of sweeping review, Ford says

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his government will “re-evaluate” controversial Greenbelt land swaps that were selected through a process two provincial watchdogs have said was rushed and flawed. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Ford said the re-evaluation will be part of a wider review of all Greenbelt lands and development applications. The previous Liberal government mandated in 2005 that Greenbelt lands be reviewed every 10 years. The last review was completed in 2015.

Paul Calandra, who stepped into the role of housing minister after Steve Clark resigned the post on Monday, will establish the parameters of the review along with a non-partisan provincial adjudicator, Ford said.

The lands earmarked for removal and development late last year will need to survive the process “on their own merits,” Ford said. He added that in the meantime, the adjudicator will continue working with current landowners — which include some of the largest developers in the province — about their plans for building on the land.

When asked if the pending review could see more Greenbelt land opened for housing development, Ford did not rule it out.

Clark announced his resignation as housing minister on Labour Day morning, days after a scathing report from the province’s integrity commissioner found he violated ethics rules as his ministry selected Greenbelt sites for housing construction.

A similarly damning report from Ontario’s auditor general, released on August 9, found the process was heavily influenced by a small group of politically connected developers. Clark’s former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, headed up that effort and had direct contact with some of those developers or their lawyers, the auditor general said. Amato resigned on August 22.

The RCMP is currently weighing whether there are grounds for a potential police investigation into the land swaps.

The auditor general ultimately made 15 recommendations, including 14 directly related to improving the process for evaluating development applications. The remaining recommendation was for the government to revisit the land swaps.

“I wasn’t happy with the process. We are correcting the process,” Ford said Tuesday.

“We are going to make sure there is merit to every application that comes forward. That said, there is nothing more important than building more homes for the people of Ontario.”

Last fall, the province took 2,995 hectares of land across 15 sites out of the Greenbelt and replaced them with about 3,804 hectares elsewhere. Ford says the land will be used to build 50,000 homes.

One of the 15 original sites slated for development, located in Ajax, Ont., will be put back into the Greenbelt after the property was listed for sale by its owner, according to the government. Ford said last week that the intent to sell the land was never disclosed during negotiations with the province. 

More to come.

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