Ontario Construction News staff writer
‘I broke that promise and for that I am very, very sorry’
Premier Doug Ford said he will be reversing his government’s decision to open up the Greenbelt to developers, calling the controversial land removals a “mistake.”
“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt,” he said. “It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast. This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others.
‘It caused people to question our motives. As a first step to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future.”
He made the announcement Thursday after a caucus meeting in Niagara Falls.
“Our caucus, they shared with me what they have heard in their communities. I want the people of Ontario to know, I’m listening. I made a promise to you that I wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise. And for that, I’m very, very sorry,” Ford told reporters at a news conference.
“I pride myself on keeping our promises. It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast.”
Last month, Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released a report on the government’s handling of Greenbelt land removals. The report found that certain developers received “preferential treatment” and had direct influence over the government’s decision to extract lands.
Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land in more than a dozen sections out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes, citing the housing crisis, and Ford has faced large amounts of opposition to the plan since then.
Reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner found that the process to select lands was rushed and favoured certain developers.
The property owners with land removed from the Greenbelt stood to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, the auditor general found in her own Greenbelt investigation.
Ford was asked Thursday if the government will now owe those developers any money, and he said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra “is working through those details.”
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the reversal is a “victory for all Ontarians,” particularly the ones actively fighting the Greenbelt land removals.
“But let’s get real, because it never should have taken a series of scandals from this government for the premier to undo the damage that he’s done,” she said.
“It was clear from the beginning that this was the wrong decision and yet, Mr. Ford and the Conservative government pressed on. It was a calculated attempt by this government to benefit a few, a select few Conservative insiders, at the expense of everybody else.”
More than 90 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt was in five sites passed on to then-housing minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, by two developers Amato met at an industry event, the auditor said.
The integrity commissioner said in his August report that he had no evidence of developers being specifically tipped off that the government was considering Greenbelt removals, but that Amato’s actions and conversations with them had that effect. Clark failed to oversee his staffer, the commissioner found.
Clark and Amato have both since resigned.