Ontario Premier Doug Ford is reversing his plan to open the protected Greenbelt lands for housing development, he announced Thursday, after sustaining nearly a year of blowback over the decision that has seen two cabinet ministers and two top staffers resign.

While meeting with his caucus during a retreat this week in Niagara Falls, Ont., Ford said his caucus members shared with him what they have been hearing about the Greenbelt from people in their communities and he is listening.

"I made a promise to you that I wouldn't touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise and for that, I’m very, very sorry," Ford said.

"It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast. This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others. It caused people to question our motives. As a first step to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future."

Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land in more than a dozen sections out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes, citing the housing crisis, and Ford has faced large amounts of opposition to the plan since then.

Reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner found that the process to select lands was rushed and favoured certain developers.

The property owners with land removed from the Greenbelt stood to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, the auditor general found in her own Greenbelt investigation.

Ford was asked Thursday if the government will now owe those developers any money, and he said Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra "is working through those details."

More than 90 per cent of the land removed was in five sites passed on to then-housing minister Steve Clark's chief of staff, Ryan Amato, by two developers Amato met at an industry event, the auditor said.

#Ontario Premier Doug Ford backtracks on decision to move land out of #Greenbelt for development. All of the land slated for removal is going back in. #onpoli

The integrity commissioner said in his August report that he had no evidence of developers being specifically tipped off that the government was considering Greenbelt removals, but that Amato's actions and conversations with them had that effect. Clark failed to oversee his staffer, the commissioner found.

Clark and Amato have both since resigned.

A second cabinet minister, Kaleed Rasheed, resigned this week after news reports raised questions about his connections to developer Shakir Rehmatullah and a trip to Las Vegas.

Rasheed, Ford's principal secretary at the time Amin Massoudi, and Jae Truesdell – at the time in the private sector but who served as Ford's director of housing policy starting in January 2022 – told the integrity commissioner they went to Las Vegas in December 2019. Rasheed and Massoudi "briefly encountered" Rehmatullah there, they said.

Truesdell has now resigned, Ford said Thursday without offering further details.

The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap. Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.

Ford said a review of the Greenbelt that he announced earlier this month will still proceed, as reviews are mandated every 10 years. When the review was originally announced Paul Calandra, the new housing minister, said it could mean more lands get removed, but Ford said Thursday that won't happen now.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.

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Very very sorry? Doubt it! Political, yes, he wants to get re elected!
Donors are out millions unless escape clause, wonderful! Maybe we voters do have a say! Write your federal MP with your thoughts on a Pharma care plan that Big Pharma is spending big bucks with lobbyists to prevent and save we consumers 5 billion a year on medication costs

Very very sorry? Doubt it! Political, yes, he wants to get re elected! Mistake, no way. He just did not get away with it
Donors are out millions unless escape clause, wonderful! Maybe we voters do have a say!

Ahhhh, this is perfect. Perfect 1: Ford was forced to backtrack, so the damage to the Greenbelt won't be done.

Perfect 2: He backtracked far too late to head off most of the political damage. With the amount of stonewalling he did, with his willingness to throw ministers under the bus to keep the graft scheme going, nobody's going to believe a word of his well-worded apology. If he'd done the about-face the moment that damaging report came out, he might have salvaged some credibility; way, way too late now!

I hope the aftermath of this helps get him not re-elected.

The most important element in this story is just how essential land use planning is to society.

Ontario's greenbelt has now survived Doug Ford. BC's Agricultural Land Reserve has survived several Doug Ford equivalents over 50 years and, though not unscathed, remains relatively intact.

Sprawling low density mono-zoned, freeway-dependent subdivisions are not just bad for the planet, they also present terrible economics and grossly inefficient urbanism. And our ability to grow food locally and stop relying on distant imports is diminished.

Ford needs to keep his promise to build housing alive. Land shortages in Canadian cities are manufactured on the myth that everyone must have a big open lot upon which to build a detached house. Multiply by tens of thousands and you have a serious problem. Focus on exclusionary zoning to preserve said sprawl and force all the alternatives into primarily one form, the tower, and you have an even a bigger problem.

Canadians have largely forgotten their historic 19th Century urban character, which offers many clues about densification and building walkable communities that are the antithesis of sprawl and offer a harmonious counterpoint to high rises.

Urbanize the suburbs using primarily high capacity rail. Infill with appropriate scales of development.
Use diverse zoning bylaws to catalyze self sufficent neighborhoods where work, home, shops, services and recreation are close together. Enact major energy conservation measures. These are some of the ways to move forward and fight climate change while accommodating demographic growth and improving citizen's quality of life all around.

I have not trusted any of the Fords since the day they leapt into politics.
I do not trust either his apology or his promise of not repeating his malfeasance
He regrets his mistake only because his hubris was uncovered.
The first sentence in the foregoing says it all. But Land use Planning is a fallible too easily manipulated process, and too rarely does it take into account the realities of geology, geography, REAL human needs, as opposed to the appeal to vanities and greed.

On the contrary, holistic, independent and principled land use planning certainly does take into account geography, geology, demographics and equitable human-scaled urbanism. It's the political interference part that distorts and abuses the planning process mainly by decreasing planning altogether to favour one aspect over all others: private interest gain.

Indeed, I think Ford's sorriness exists only because he and his cohorts got caught. Nonetheless, the result is the same: the greenbelt remains protected ... for now.

Credit must be given to staff at the Toronto Star and The Narwal for their extensive research into land records that first exposed Ford's threat to the greenbelt.

Bless the unquenchable curiosity of humanity. It may be slow to stir but it usually finds its target.