If you have not heard about the Greenbelt over the past year or so, you have been living under a rock. The Greenbelt, if you are not familiar is a provincial jurisdiction where many acres of land that were never scheduled to be developed for housing was changed and now you will see new housing erected on these lands. The province of Ontario announced that it was removing about 7500 acres from 15 different areas in the protected Greenbelt lands, while adding more parcels elsewhere, in order to build many homes.
On a personal note, l am in favor of some type of housing within certain parts of the Greenbelt, however, the process that was implemented was not a fair and equitable one. And in saying that, as l am penning this piece there are breaking nees that the Minister of Housing Chief of Staff Ryan Amato has resigned. The Ford government needed a scapegoat and they got one. Regardless, this was all orchestrated by the Premier and his wingman, Minister Clarke. There is no way that this former Chief of Staff acted alone and without knowledge of the Premier and his Housing Minister. Bonnie Lysyk’s investigation report concluded that the government did not adhere to the usual standards to be followed by bureaucrats and planners and Ryan Amato selected 14 of the 15 parcels of protected land which were removed from the Greenbelt. That resulted in prominent developers getting almost 7500 acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area to build over 50,000 homes with a potential windfall profit of over 9 billion dollars.
The two most controversial characters in this ongoing saga landowners Silvio De Gasperis and Michael Rice. Let it be known that Silvio De Gasperis almost brought down Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals during their tenure, with Joseph Cordiano a close friend of Mr. De Gasperis and a cabinet minister at the time that had to resign abruptly due to controversy around the Greenbelt at the time. Many of these developers have been kicking the can on the Greenbelt for many years with different administrations.
The one thing that the Ford administration did not want is exactly what has just occurred with the OPP handing things over to the RCMP for an investigation. The force was referred the file by the OPP in an effort to avoid any perceived conflict of interest that could happen because of the Ford government and the OPP relationship. The RCMP will assess all information that is handed to them and will make a decision on whether they will launch a formal investigation.
The main person that should be credited with these moves is the leader of the NDP, Merit Stiles who has continued to put pressure on the government.
This RCMP investigation could be a game changer for the Ford government in light of the auditor generals report of how the lands were selected and rolled out for development. I could just imagine what is happening behind closed doors in the Ford camp and how they could get out front of this possible disastrous challenge for the government.
With this most recent turn of events, the Greenbelt projects could be in jeopardy especially if the RCMP find evidence of any wrongdoing. Should the RCMP find any criminally and file charges it could be the end of the Ford government.
The province’s housing task force had previously said in a report that the Greenbelt land was not needed to achieve the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes over 10 years. However, the housing issue always plays into the Ford narrative and he definitely uses this issue to his advantage over the criticism that he has received. The truth of the matter is that the minister and the premiere brought forward and supported this scheme at cabinet with the full knowledge of what they were doing.
The public trust issue with this file is truly at stake and Ford looks like he may be starting to lose that majority of trust that he once had. Whether you agree with more housing on these lands or you do not, the real question is how this process was rolled out and who really benefits the most. There are folks around town over the last year or so that were boasting over the greenbelt and if you paid a certain amount of money that you would be successful in getting some land lifted out of the greenbelt and ready for housing. Again, the trust factor in my humble opinion is very crucial and once you start losing that, things only seem to spiral in the wrong direction.
The federal government may have the ammunition it needs to derail Premier Doug Ford’s controversial plan to develop portions of Ontario’s Greenbelt. The Liberal Federal government had some tools in their toolbox if they wanted to stop the Greenbelt. Ottawa could issue emergency orders to pause or block construction if it poses an immediate threat to an at-risk species on nonfederal land.
Whether something comes out of this RCMP investigation or not, the need for more housing is a real issue and should be addressed. But with this Greenbelt process and how bluntly this government has shown arrogance and yes greed, it may come back to bite them. I have seen this before with other governments that have majorities, they lose touch with reality and what is truly the right thing to do.
This arrogant move may just be their last.