The Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) will publish a special report consolidating its findings on several ongoing access to information appeals into Premier Doug Ford and his staff's use of personal emails and deleted messages about the Greenbelt scandal.

The special report follows the Ontario NDP's request for transparency in the Ford government's handling of the Greenbelt. The office currently has 19 active requests for records related to the Greenbelt, Patricia Kosseim, the province’s information and privacy commissioner, said in a response to the NDP. Many of them are related to issues the NDP raised.

The report will address Greenbelt-related emails, documents, and the Ford government’s record-keeping, Kosseim said.

Transparency in government actions and decisions is a fundamental principle that underpins the public’s trust in government, Kosseim added.

Last year, the auditor general found that Ford government political staffers used personal email addresses to communicate with development lobbyists and allegedly deleted records regularly. The audit concluded that staff forwarded messages between personal and government accounts, violating provincial guidelines.

The NDP says they welcome the special report, which will provide a clearer understanding of the government’s conduct.

“We have been deeply concerned by revelations of deleted emails, the use of personal accounts, and other apparent attempts to cover-up the government’s actions as it schemed to give preferential treatment to well-connected Greenbelt speculators,” said Marit Stiles, Leader of the Ontario NDP. “Reports like these are rare and very serious.”

New documents obtained through a freedom of information request by the Ontario NDP appear to reveal previously undisclosed meetings. These documents showed that Carlo Oliviero, former executive director of stakeholder relations for the premier’s office, used his personal email to set up a meeting with a developer about Hamilton land that was later removed from the Greenbelt.

“The walls are closing in for this government. One way or another, the truth about Ford’s Greenbelt dealings is coming out of the backrooms and into the light,” said Stiles.

Ontario's information and privacy commissioner says she will also release a report on Greenbelt-related emails, documents and the Ford government’s record-keeping. #Greenbelt #onpoli

Advocates also welcome the IPC report, but expressed broader concerns.

“This is welcome news, but if this pans out, it will be yet another reason to suspect that the real motivations behind the Ontario government's sprawl-and-highways agenda bear no relationship to the ones it offers up in press conferences, in media releases,” said Phil Pothen, land use and land development program manager at Environmental Defence. “It confirms, once again, that government political staff involved in land use planning and land development policy know that they have something to hide from normal disclosure processes.”

Pothen told Canada’s National Observer that the investigation could have significant legal and political ramifications for the Ford government because “the government could be found in violation of the Information and Privacy Act and the information revealed could be useful for the ongoing RCMP investigation.”

Pothen criticized the Ford government’s use of private emails and evasion of normal disclosure processes, which he believes damages public confidence in government decision-making.

“Evading public scrutiny damages the public's confidence in government decision-making and makes them suspect favours are being done for well-connected people at the expense of the environment and the public,” Pothen said.

Pothen pointed out potential legal implications, suggesting that if political staff used private email accounts to plan the Greenbelt changes and misled the public and ethics watchdogs, it casts doubt on the legitimacy of other government initiatives, such as forced boundary expansions and Highway 413.

“Even without these revelations, a subsequent government would in our view have clear legal authority to reverse boundary expansions and greenfield development approvals made by any level of government under these new planning regimes,” he added. Further, any sprawl resulting from the government’s decisions “should come with a huge asterisk and be considered for revocation.”

Last week, Bonnie Crombie, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, requested an update from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on the ongoing investigation into the Greenbelt scandal.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to Ford's office for comments, but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 30, 2024, 11:08 am

This story has been corrected to make it clear the privacy commissioner is not investigating, but rather publishing a review of multiple access to information appeals about the Greenbelt scandal.

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Ms Stiles is the brightest light on the Ontario horizon, and her premiership cannot happen soon enough. What carnage she will have to deal with, after the reign of this stumblebum sock puppet of corporate interests.

She's initiated every single challenge to Ford's malevolence that I'm aware of.

Crombie trails along in her wind current.

For the love of heaven, Ontario, for the love of our province, for the love of our democracy, vote NDP next time around. In droves.

PLEASE

Congrats to Kathy Kilburn for the best description of Doug Ford ever. Let's be rid of this "stumblebum sock puppet of corporate interests."