Greenbelt review could see more land opened to development, new housing minister says



Ontario’s new housing minister Paul Calandra says development will continue on 14 sites removed from the Greenbelt last year as he carries out a wider review of the protected lands, while suggesting more properties could be opened to housing construction.

At a news conference Wednesday, Calandra said he has asked his ministry staff to lay out parameters for a review of the Greenbelt and hundreds of existing development applications that is “public, open and accountable.”

The pending review, first announced by Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday, comes after two provincial watchdogs found last year’s process for earmarking roughly 3,000 hectares of Greenbelt land for development favoured a small group of developers with direct access to a political staffer within the housing ministry.

Calandra said a nonpartisan provincial adjudicator will continue working with the owners of that land — which include some of the largest developers in Ontario — on their plans for building new homes on the sites. Calandra said he has asked the adjudicator to complete her work by the end of the year, at which point the agreements will be made public and subjected to the wider review process. He said he expects “shovels in the ground” on those sites by 2025.

“We want to ensure the highest level of accountability on those sites and future sites,” Calandra said. He acknowledged that public trust in the government was damaged by the findings of Ontario’s auditor general and integrity commissioner, who both issued scathing reports on the Greenbelt land swap.

Asked if the review could see more land opened to housing development, Calanda said he did not want to “presuppose” the results of the work, but he did not rule out that further development applications could be granted.

Calandra also said he is considering revisions to the government’s policy on Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs), which override local zoning bylaws.The revisions would focus on ensuring orders issued to advance the province’s goal of building 1.5 million more homes are used for that purpose alone, he said.

Calandra says changes could include restrictions on the sale or transfer of lands obtained through MZOs, retroactive to 2018.

Stiffer penalties for developers who buy land but do not build on it could be introduced in the fall economic statement, he said, as part of the government’s renewed focus on a “use it or lose it” policy. The housing ministry is exploring an increase to the province’s 25 per cent non-resident speculation tax.

“I will not be stopped on our mission of building 1.5 million more homes,” Calandra said.

He was appointed in a cabinet shuffle Monday, just hours after former housing minister Steve Clark resigned the position. Clark stepped down following a damning report from the integrity commissioner that found he failed to properly oversee the process by which the ministry selected land for removal from the Greenbelt.

The previous Liberal government mandated in 2005 that Greenbelt lands be reviewed every 10 years. The last review was completed in 2015, meaning the province is moving up the timeline by about two years. Calandra did not say how long he expects the review will take, but the last one took about two years.

Opposition leaders have expressed concern the review is a pretext for the provincial government to open more Greenbelt land to development.

In a statement Wednesday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the pending review a “sham.”

“Minister Calandra’s Greenbelt review is a waste of Ontarians’ time and money. And worse, it risks opening up the Greenbelt even further,” Stiles said.

“We don’t need another review to tell us that we need to build housing inside existing municipal areas — not on prime farmland or vital ecological habitats that lessen the impacts of climate change.”

Stiles went on to repeat her call for the land taken out of the Greenbelt in last year’s swap be returned to its protected status.


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