There’s corruption, and then there’s what Doug Ford’s government is doing with the Greenbelt. After promising (and promising, and promising — as many as 18 times between 2018 and 2021) Ontario voters that “we won’t touch the Greenbelt,” his government did just that with a recently announced land swap, one that will see parcels of land inside the Greenbelt traded for ones currently outside its borders. That trade just happens to benefit a group of real estate developers with ties to his Ontario PC Party — including one who scooped up a piece of land in the proposed swap zone just two months ago.

This is hardly the first time Ford’s government has made decisions about the Greenbelt that seem disproportionately beneficial to a small group of developers — who, by the way, are also major donors to his Ontario PC Party. As Canada’s National Observer and the Toronto Star reported in 2021, the government’s plan to build Highway 413 and connect the regions of York, Peel and Halton in the northwest of the Greater Toronto Area would threaten environmentally sensitive areas and chew into land that had been designated as part of the protected Greenbelt. It also promised to help some already wealthy real estate developers make a killing on land they had accumulated.

“The group of [eight] developers own 39 properties covering 3,300 acres that are conservatively valued at nearly half a billion dollars, according to land registry documents,” Emma McIntosh, Noor Javed and Steve Buist wrote. “The value of those lands could rise dramatically if the highway is built and residential, commercial and industrial development is allowed to spread along the route.” Those developers, they noted, had also contributed a combined $813,000 to the Ontario PC Party since 2014.

Now, it seems, Ford’s government is at it again — with some of the same players, no less. The DeGasperis family, which featured prominently in the Observer/Star reporting, stands to be the single biggest beneficiary from the Ford government’s latest incursion into the Greenbelt. They even borrowed $100 million in 2021 (at a reported interest rate of 21 per cent) to purchase a property in Vaughan that included protected land. That land, it’s fair to assume, is now worth many multiples of what they paid.

The Ford government, which removed 15 parcels of land totalling 7,400 acres as part of its “More Homes Built Fast Act 2022,” is trying to suggest this is part of its effort to reduce home prices and increase affordability. But carving into the Greenbelt won’t actually help address, much less solve, Ontario’s housing shortage. The 50,000 homes that will be built on these newly opened lands will be anything but affordable, given their proximity to the Greenbelt, and they’ll do little to apply downward pressure on prices. Instead, they’ll make the developers who owned those lands in advance of the Ford government’s decision even richer than they already were — and they were already plenty rich.

Given Ford’s massive majority government, and his personal immunity to being shamed, it’s unlikely the stench from these sweetheart deals will make him walk them back. He could, if he wanted to, expropriate those lands, pay the developers who bought them what they were worth before June’s election and put them out for an open bidding process. At least then the taxpayer would get full value.

But Ontarians should also reflect on how Ford won that majority, and the role they might have played in helping facilitate it. Housing was the defining issue of the recent provincial election, and Ford sold Ontarians on his commitment to solving it. A big part of that was his plan to tackle the sort of NIMBYism that has made it nearly impossible to add meaningful density in most parts of Toronto. “NIMBYism is a large and constant obstacle to providing housing everywhere,” a 2022 report from Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force says. “We cannot allow opposition and politicization of individual housing projects to prevent us from meeting the needs of all Ontarians.”

And yet, for the most part, that’s exactly what has happened. For all of its recent growth over the last two decades, Toronto’s housing stock is still dominated by the single-family home. As a result, while comparable cities like London and New York have more than 11,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, Toronto has fewer than half that number. When you combine substantial in-migration from other parts of the country and world with a stubbornly stagnant housing stock and ultra-low interest rates, you’re effectively mixing an explosive cocktail — one that has blown up housing prices over the last few years.

In that sort of environment, people — especially the young buyers and renters bearing the brunt of that explosion — will look past almost anything in search of a solution. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and Ford is more than happy to take advantage of that desperation. He blamed his decision to carve into the Greenbelt on the “inaction of previous governments that didn’t want to take the bold steps to get housing built.”

Doug Ford's decision to carve up the Greenbelt for more sprawl will make his developer friends richer but do nothing to solve Ontario’s housing shortage, @maxfawcett writes. #opinion #onpoli #Greenbelt #Bill23

The only thing bold about Ford’s decision, mind you, is the way it rubs the public’s nose in the smell it makes. But the unwillingness of homeowners and their neigbhourhood associations to entertain genuinely bold housing ideas in the past, especially those which threatened the equity they’d accumulated in their own homes, has led us to this point. Now, the choice is clear: either we address the growing desperation among renters, young people and other non-homeowners and offer up some real sacrifices, or someone else will do it for us.

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he is a liar and we need to get rid of him. His only concern is to make more money for himself by supporting these builders that will benefit. These will not be affordable by any means and do not belong in the greenspace. Lets kick him out.

This is a myopic piece that fails to mention the 80,000 acres of land ready for housing in large blocks in major urban areas and seeks to blame people for exercising their rights against what may have been bad proposals. Its last line is also a chilling excuse for autocracy.

Perhaps the claims are true for some residents associations (the author did not specify any in particular). The Annex Residents Association and the Harbord Village Residents Association are the only two with which I am familiar, and both work hard for intensification within their areas and to protect - and provide more housing for -- renters. There is much opportunity for increased housing without touching the Greenbelt.

With hybrid work arrangements the demand for office space in the downtown parts of cities such as Toronto and Ottawa is decreasing. With the right government incentives some of that office space could be converted to rental units, even perhaps affordable ones.