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Hamilton city council is exploring a possible court challenge to the provincial government's plan to remove 1,800 acres of land from the municipality's Greenbelt.

City council has asked legal experts to assess the possibility of initiating a judicial review of the Ford government's decision to build housing on some of the formerly protected land.

The motion presented by Coun. John-Paul Danko during a council meeting Wednesday was unanimously supported by Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath and all 15 council members. Danko argued analyses conducted by both the provincial auditor general and integrity commissioner provide a solid foundation for contesting the Greenbelt land development.

“The premier of the province of Ontario has publicly stated that the Government of Ontario's decision to remove lands from the Greenbelt was a result of a “flawed process,” said Danko. “Recent new information strongly suggests that the decision of the Government of Ontario to remove lands from the Greenbelt may not have been fair, reasonable or lawful.”

Hamilton is the only municipality in the province to demand Doug Ford’s government follow through on 15 recommendations from the auditor general, including the return of Greenbelt lands that were removed.

If the city files the judicial review, a Divisional Court judge will assess whether the housing minister made a correct and reasonable decision when opening up three former Greenbelt sites in Hamilton for development, according to city solicitor Lisa Shields.

“I support this motion. We have heard loudly and clearly for a very long time where the people of Hamilton stand when it comes to the Greenbelt land,” Horwath said. “This is a responsible way to determine if there is an option to force the government's hand in terms of reversing their decision for the Greenbelt lands.”

Hamilton city council's decision comes following two scathing reports released last month by the province's auditor general and its 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.

Hamilton city council is exploring a possible court challenge to the provincial government's plan to remove 1,800 acres of land from the municipality's Greenbelt. #Greenbelt #Hamilton

Danko cautioned that it's not a guaranteed solution and that the city would need to meet a "very high bar" to succeed. However, he noted the province’s housing task force, auditor general and the city all concluded there was no need to develop any part of Greenbelt to meet housing targets.

Ontario’s new Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra announced a Greenbelt review last week 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.

Ian Borsuk, interim executive director of Environment Hamilton, applauded the city’s move but said it should only be considered one tool in the toolkit to combat these land grabs. “This is such an important issue, it has a valid place among the variety of tactics and strategies that Ontarians and cities need to take to protect farmland and natural space in our province.”

The amount of land being taken from the Greenbelt in Hamilton is nearly 1,800 acres, and there are approximately 5,400 acres of previously untouched land outside the Greenbelt that will also be forced into the urban boundary, leading to further habitat loss for wildlife, Borsuk added.

A meeting with Hamiliton residents is scheduled to be held later today with hundreds expected to attend. Councillors will discuss how to proceed with the provincial facilitator, who is mediating negotiations between municipalities and developers of the removed Greenbelt land.

Hamilton initially resisted the Ford government’s push to build additional housing on former Greenbelt lands tapped by the province for development, but was overruled late last year. Feeling cornered, the council decided in July to meet with the province to discuss what the development might look like.

Ford insists the removals are necessary to build crucial housing for Ontario, despite the auditor general’s conclusion that there were other ways the province’s housing needs could be met.

The Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from development. The swath of about two million acres of protected land includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. In December 2022, the Ford government removed land from the Greenbelt to open it up for housing development as part of the province’s commitment to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. A total of 7,400 acres were removed, which the provincial government rationalizes with its commitment to add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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Ironically, Horvath may be more effective at stopping ford mayhem as mayor than leader of opposition. go Hamilton!! of COURSE you should fight them even if you lose in the end. (all evidence so far says you wont)

Ford's position on this is kind of impressive in a perverse way. "Yes, I know the decision was so bad and so corrupt that both that chief of staff guy and the minister in charge had to resign. But we still have to keep the decision! Why? Look, those fatcat developers looking to make 8 billion bucks over this gave me corrupt contributions in good faith under the expectation that I'd make it worth their while. If I don't hold up my end, what about the next bunch of corrupt contributions I'm hoping for? Plus, if they end up having bought all that land for nothing, they could end up merely PLUMP cats, and let's face it, that doesn't roll off the tongue the same way--they wouldn't be able to hold their heads up among the other corrupt rich guys, like the ones running the private care homes AKA mass death camps. Won't somebody please think of the billionaire developers?"