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.