A series of rallies organized by environmental activists aims to pressure Ontario’s Ford government to reinstate protections on land removed from the protected Greenbelt for housing development.
The Hands Off The Greenbelt rallies are set to take place Sept. 8 to 23 in several locations, including Queen’s Park in Toronto and MPP Christine Hogarth’s office in Etobicoke, as well as in Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Ancaster and Barrie. One of the first rallies occurred Friday in Kitchener, where Premier Doug Ford's public event, Ford Fest, was held.
“The Greenbelt removals must be reversed before any habitat or farmland is actually destroyed,” said Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence. “Rallies like the one happening today in Kitchener are vital to making MPPs understand that there is no path to ending the Greenbelt scandal that doesn't start with reversing the Greenbelt removals completely.”
Public opposition to the government's Greenbelt plan has been growing following two scathing reports released last month by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner. The reports revealed the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development was the result of a deeply flawed and biased process, and that Ontario's previous housing minister, Steve Clark, violated ethics rules. Clark and his chief of staff have since resigned, and the Ontario Provincial Police has handed over its review of the Greenbelt land swap to the RCMP for investigation. Ford has expressed his confidence that the investigation will reveal no criminal wrongdoing.
Ontario’s new municipal affairs and housing minister, Paul Calandra, announced a Greenbelt review on Wednesday that will re-examine land already removed for development as well as the possible removal of additional Greenbelt lands, this time using a fair, transparent process.
Pothen told Canada’s National Observer that a so-called “review” process, which doubles down on the policy of entertaining Greenbelt removals, is inherently corrupt and is only making the scandal worse.
“The premier and his hand-picked housing minister, Paul Calandra, have been hoping that their rigged ‘review’ process will fool the public into letting them walk away without reversing the $8.3-billion giveaway,” said Pothen, referring to the amount that developers’ property values stand to increase thanks to the Greenbelt plan, according to an auditor general’s report.
“The outpouring of public rage here today in Kitchener, and in places like Hamilton over the last few days, are demonstrating that the public is not falling for Paul Calandra's attempt to misdirect them from the important issue,” he added.
Hundreds of Hamilton residents gathered at a local community centre meeting organized by the city on Wednesday evening with signs reading “No development in the Greenbelt, Hands of the Greenbelt” to voice their discontent over Ontario's decision to remove 2,000 acres from Hamilton's section of the Greenbelt.
Public opposition to the government's Greenbelt plan has been growing following two scathing reports released last month by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner. #Greenbelt
The purpose of the meeting was to gather public input on the “community benefits” the city should aim to negotiate with provincial facilitators and potential developers looking to build on the former Greenbelt lands.
The protests and rallies are putting pressure on local electoral leaders and minor cabinet ministers who have the power to make the government reverse the Greenbelt removals in their entirety, Pothen said. “These protests show local MPPs that unless they do the right thing and make the reversal of the Greenbelt removals a condition of their continued confidence in the government, they will be the ones losing their jobs in the next election.”
Last December, the Ford government removed 7,400 acres from the protected Greenbelt in a bid to build sorely needed housing. Environmental advocates and opposition parties have repeatedly decried the move, which a recent auditor general's report found was the result of a process that favoured certain developers. That report also found the province could achieve its goal of building 1.5 million new homes over the next decade without using Greenbelt lands.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.