Ontario government ‘exploring’ putting protections back on 2 Greenbelt sites



Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Tuesday the government is “exploring” putting environmental protections back on two parts of the Greenbelt in Ajax, Ont., which had been slated for development.

In a Tuesday morning statement, Ford said the sites — located at 765 and 775 Kingston Road East — had been listed for sale by the developers who own the land.

“At no point was the intention to sell disclosed to the government’s facilitator during active and ongoing discussions,” Ford said in his statement.

“This behaviour goes against everything that our government is doing to bring home ownership into reach for more people.”

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development. Last year, the province took 2,995 hectares of land on 15 sites out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes and replaced it with about 3,000 acres elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the province’s auditor general released a scathing report that showed property developers with close ties to the government influenced the decision to open up the Greenbelt to their benefit. The fallout has triggered the resignation of the housing minister’s chief of staff and the RCMP is considering launching an investigation into the matter.

Opposition to swap

Ontario First Nations leaders also reiterated their opposition to the Greenbelt land swap this week. You can read more about that here.

Ford’s statement did not name the company nor did it outright say the land would be returned to the Greenbelt.

However, the auditor general’s report lists Buena Vista Development Corp. as the primary developer and/or the landowner for the land recently listed for sale. A large parcel of the land in question was bought in June 2018.

The auditor general found that 98 per cent of that land is classified as the highest quality soil that produces cash crop production. It is also a priority area that maintains Greenbelt connectivity in the Ajax and Whitby, Ont., corridor.

Buena Vista could not be immediately be reached for comment.

Opposition parties slam government

Ford did say his government is “exploring every option including immediately starting the process to put these sites back into the Greenbelt.”

He also added a warning to other property owners.

“To the other property owners, you’re on notice: if you don’t meet our government’s conditions, including showing real progress by year end with a plan to get shovels in the ground by 2025, your land will go back into the Greenbelt,” Ford said.

In a statement, Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the Conservatives are “changing their tune simply because they got caught.

“Clearly, this is a government that has one set of rules for those with close connections to their party and a different set for everyone else. None of this is about housing,” she said. “This government needs to recall the Legislature so we can restore all of these lands to Greenbelt protection now, and Ford needs to fire Minister Clark from Cabinet.”

In his own statement, interim Liberal Leader and MPP John Fraser similarly called for Clark’s resignation, and called Ford’s announcement a “desperate attempt to distract the people of Ontario by trying to hide the tip of the iceberg.

“If the Premier were serious, he would accept the Auditor General’s recommendation to return all lands back to the Greenbelt,” he said.

Green Party Leader and MPP Mike Schreiner called for the same.

“The Premier should absolutely do right by Ontarians and return these and all other lands to the Greenbelt immediately,” Schreiner said in a statement.

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