The provincial integrity commissioner should investigate the Ford government's move to open up parcels of protected Greenbelt land for development, the leader of Ontario's Greens said on Tuesday, citing concerns about potential conflicts of interest and sharing of insider information.
Mike Schreiner, the MPP for Guelph, issued the complaint to integrity commissioner David Wake just days before the end of the government’s month-long public consultation on a plan to open up protected lands. If the plan goes ahead, it would provide a major windfall for several property developers in the Greater Toronto Area, including some who are big donors to the Progressive Conservative Party.
“The people of Ontario are rightfully suspicious of the timing of the sale of certain protected Greenbelt lands that will now be open for development and the ties these land speculators have to the PC Party," Schreiner said.
Schreiner said the commissioner, who considers ethics complaints raised by one member of the provincial parliament against another, should investigate whether Premier Doug Ford or his housing minister, Steve Clark, breached rules when deciding to open up the parcels of Greenbelt lands for housing and if any developers had engaged in unregistered lobbying.
The move adds to the Opposition NDP’s request last week that Ontario’s auditor-general calculate how much wealth would be created for landowners by the plan, which would remove 15 parcels of land totalling about 7,400 acres from the edge of the Greenbelt area.
The government says it will add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere, while critics say removing protections meant to be permanent undermines the entire project, created in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands around Toronto from development.
The government says the deal would encourage developers to build at least 50,000 new homes, part of a goal to construct 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
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Ford had first mused about opening up parts of the protected lands before coming to power in 2018 but backed away and promised not to touch the lands after a public outcry.
Investigations by CBC Toronto, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Narwhal have found that some landowners bought the properties in the past few years, including one as recently as September, despite Ford and Clark's public pronouncements it wouldn't be developed.
“I appreciate these are serious allegations, and I didn’t file this complaint proudly or without due consideration,” Schreiner said. “Unfortunately, right now people feel that their government has let them down and threatened the land they love for the benefit of private interests.”
Clark, the housing and municipal affairs minister, ducked several NDP questions in the legislature on Tuesday about whether officials from the government or the Progressive Conservative Party had shared information about the plan with any landowners ahead of making it public on Nov. 4.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer