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Canada has seen its share of ethically compromised politicians, from Bill Vander Zalm and Brian Mulroney to former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum and, if you’re so inclined, Justin Trudeau. But Doug Ford has always seemed destined to outdo his peers on this front, and a scandalous new report from Ontario’s auditor general on his handling of the Greenbelt may cement his legacy here. In the process, he’ll test one of my longest-held political beliefs, which is that the public never takes a scandal about government corruption as seriously as pundits and political opponents think they should.

It’s hard to know where to start with auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s report. What’s worse: that the land didn’t actually need to be removed to meet the province’s housing goals, that the removals were almost all directed by political staff or that the developers associated with the lands in question — which include conservative donors like Silvio De Gasperis — stand to reap an $8.3-billion financial benefit? Pick your poison, if you will: they all ought to be enough to kill a sitting government.

Let’s start with the way the Greenbelt was opened up to development.

“Political staff had substantial control over the entire Greenbelt amendment exercise,” Lysyk’s report says. “The Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff provided a small team of non-political public service staff in the Housing Ministry the criteria to be used in the selection process, directed the team to alter the criteria to facilitate the selection of many sites provided by the Chief of Staff, and imposed a three-week timeline and confidentiality provisions, limiting the team’s time and ability to assess the land sites and provide alternatives.”

Oh, but it gets worse.

“Even though hundreds of site removal requests had been submitted to the Housing Ministry since the Greenbelt was established in 2005, only 22 land sites were considered in the 2022 selection exercise. Of those, only one was proposed by the Housing Ministry’s non-political public service staff, while 21 were provided directly by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff. Of the 15 land sites ultimately approved for removal in December 2022, 14 were brought into the exercise by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff and one was identified by the Housing Ministry’s non-political public service staff.”

Not disgusted yet? Read on.

“About 67% (4,900) of the approximately 7,400 acres ultimately removed from the Greenbelt are on two land sites for which information was given by two developers to the Chief of Staff in September 2022 at an industry function they all attended. Overall, 92% (6,800) of the approximately 7,400 acres ultimately removed from the Greenbelt related to five land sites involving three developers.”

This sort of pay-to-play politics may not be new to Canada, but the scale is unprecedented — and unjustifiable.

Doug Ford's $8.3-billion Greenbelt grift is a litmus test for whether voters will actually stand up to political corruption. If they give him and his PCs a pass, it'll send a dangerous message to other politicians about just how far they can go.

This should be a crippling wound to Ford’s government and a permanent hit to his personal popularity and credibility. But that’s only true if the public actually expects elected officials to behave ethically, and I’m just not sure that’s going to hold. That’s especially true with someone like Ford, whose own decidedly sketchy past and behaviour as a city councillor didn’t stop Ontarians from electing him to majority governments twice. If the public already sees him as ethically compromised and has given him a pass on that front, how exactly will this news change anything?

Time will tell, of course, and there’s still plenty of it left — three years — until the next provincial election. But if the Ontario Liberals (and sure, the Ontario NDP) can’t make hay with this, it will simply invite other politicians to do the same thing — or worse. That’s especially true at the levels of government (municipal, for example) that don’t get as much coverage from the ever-dwindling crowd of political journalists in Canada, where investigations like this cost time and money they no longer have.

The Greenbelt, which has been a provincial political story for years, is now very clearly a national one. If Ford and his government aren’t punished for this, the public’s faith in government and politicians — which is already plumbing some pretty alarming depths — will surely fall even further.

And make no mistake: once a door like this has been kicked open wide, other bad actors will be more than happy to walk through it. Ford won’t be shamed into an apology here, I don’t think, much less a resignation. But it’s up to the voters of Ontario to ensure that the right message gets sent. Here’s hoping they prove me and my theory of the case wrong.

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People will only care if the media tell them to care. Unfortunately, the majority of voters still rely in private-sector media - i.e. Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CTV, etc. to tell them what to care about. This is how Ford got back into power. The Star actually ran a massive piece about Hwy 413 and which families were benefiting by owning the land on the construction route, a year or so before the election. 3 months before the election, they put a new CEO in - someone who was in fact sympathetic to the Conservative Convoy in Ottawa, and the Star's election coverage amounted to puff pieces about how Ford had "evolved". I expect no less from our MSM this time around. Unless there are media owners whose business interests are contradicted by Ford, do NOT expect any help from the MSM to getting rid of Ford.

Why hit out at the Star? I will look into the new Star CEO however, so thanks for the heads up. That said, they do a decent job in a hostile, pro-conservative media environment especially if compared to the Nat. Post which dominates the print media landscape in Ontario. This morning in my local mini-me Nat. Post (the usual only game in town) they did do a quarter page on the Auditors finding about the Greenbelt. And is if to atone for simply reporting this blockbuster story, they published a Doug Ford written opinion piece entitled "Ontario is choosing to build". Ah the antidote. Now, I can brush over the scandal and help keep the conservative march for power in the federal election moving forward without the baggage of Ford backlash.

People do care, but the right-wing media tends to ignore or downplay the stories and real facts. It's the same with party polls, they only publish anything favorable to conservatives and how Doug the Thug, manipulated the last provincial election. Unfortunately, people are too lazy to seek out the real facts, the free-dumbers are a classic case where they eat up all the nonsense from the media or social media, without fact checking anything. Social media influencers are typically full of nonsense, but viewers believe their garbage they spew.

Mainstream media cannot be trusted any longer to tell the whole story and most are a waste of time reading these days. Then they wonder why readership and subscriptions are declining.

In the last provincial election fewer than one in five Ontarians voted PC. The majority of votes were cast for candidates from other parties. Nevertheless, the PC's won an outright majority of seats, allowing them to do pretty much whatever they want, however they want.

This is not on "the public" or on the voters of Ontario. This is on our electoral system. If that system doesn't change, neither will the political actors that profit from its faults.

Okay but there it is, that's the system we HAVE, so how is the fault NOT with the progressive parties' stubbornly stupid narcissism of small differences splitting the vote, particularly under the circumstances when it comes down to enabling a version of thug Mafioso who still talk about "environmentalists" with a sneer in their voice? I heard that from the housing minister yesterday in that press conference.

Tris, bear in mind that voters are people, and people do not divide neatly into either of only two political/economic ideologies; not even in the U.S., which appears utterly polarized between two parties only because voters there have no other meaningful options to choose from.

Max Fawcett's article appears to suggest that Ontario's public is at fault for the PC government it has. Yet far and away most of its public did not vote for a PC government. You appear to suggest that the other parties are at fault for declining to merge into a single electoral alternative to the PCs. Yet the public does not want to be represented by either of only two parties and would understandably decline that possibility were it proposed. What's going on in the U.S. more than amply demonstrates that two-party politics are about as toxic as politics get and definitely not in the public interest.

Both you and Max Fawcett essentially appear to be faulting "the public". I'm arguing that on the evidence it's not us, the public, but rather our electoral system that's at fault for consistently failing to give us the representation we vote for.

Faced with solving our common problem by reforming either "the public" we all belong to, or an electoral system we all happen to use, I think it's reasonable and certainly not wrong to opt for the latter.

That's pure pie in the sky that we obviously don't have time for though! How many systemic changes do you think our fractious societies can realistically contemplate as global warming closes in?
This existential threat now unfolding right before our eyes is exactly the way that science and its worthy, highly educated practitioners have predicted for decades. And their cautious and thorough methodology exemplifies them as rare sticklers for the ever-more-precious, ever-more-at-risk truth, making them us at our rational best. So they've done their part.
And all this time when we could have been preparing and protecting ourselves we have instead been lied to and manipulated by political and corporate powers. This ultimate crime against humanity has now landed solidly on the right side of the political spectrum who are not only maintaining the subterfuge but are now unbelievably doubling down on denialism, just in alternate forms, which basically amounts to "going for broke."
We can all see the ongoing results of their pathological self-interest that makes them us at our absolute worst.
And speaking of pathological self-interest, the abiding notion for the times, the persistent idea that voting is just another avenue for private personal expression and/or another aspect of tribal identity completely trivializes our dire circumstances. It's both stunningly oblivious and wildly irresponsible.
So I keep stating the obvious, that the only sane course of action when it comes to our all-important government is ABC, or anything but conservatives.

Certainly many have misapprehended the principle of representative democracy badly enough as to regard voting as a trivial indulgence or indeed as though it were a sort of dangerous pathogen. We hear this especially in troubled times. Our circumstances are dire! This is no time to start huffing about democratic rights!

Yet it may often be observed that these same circumstances are somehow less dire, and that despite them progress is somehow more easily made, and that bad political or corporate actors are somehow more effectively contained, precisely in countries where no one's vote is treated as trivial.

An ideal, representative democracy but look at Maxime Bernier's party gaining traction with the whole convoy crowd. Social media is something we're only beginning to realize the dangers of, one example being its enabling of that illiterate fringe, and its proliferation. And note that the CPC could now accurately be called the Convoy Party of Canada, as Max Fawcett pointed out.
So politics has become binary like never before, and we really do NOT have time to indulge every whim. Things have changed, and progressives ARE supposed to be the more informed and more perceptive ones are they not?
And Israel has a version of proportional representation do they not?

For my part, I'd be surprised if "the public" could be changed faster than an electoral system.
Neither is it my opinion that mainstream media, generally, has *ever* been engaged mainly in truth-sharing.
For several reasons, for somewhere between 5 and 10 years, I occasionally read newspapers, but didn't listen to radio or watch TV. My exposure to "popular culture" was books, recordings, a few movies, and occasional performances.
Neither have politicians' words during elections been reliable predictions of their own behaviour in office.
But a few politicians have been more blatantly cynical in their treatment of "the governed" than most; Doug Ford is an exemplar.
The thing is that people, generally, pay less attention between elections than they do during them, and less attention to municipal government than other levels.
Doug Ford practises a communication strategy aptly described as "All lies, all the time."
Virtually nothing (zero, nada, zilch) of what he said about Toronto and his tenure there at City Hall had any truth in it at all. He was just a wrecker and destroyer, constantly angling for something that was shovel-ready (or even partly built!) to be "done over" according to his plans. That's how we lost the planned Pape subway extension to his horrid, god-awful "Toronto Line," that is fraught with issues all over the place.
That's how a transit project was "un-dug": the dug-up streets were filled up again, and paved over. Because Doug had a better plan. There's still nothing completed there, and what has been done is, like everything Doug touches, fraught with problems ... and unnecessarily and unreasonably expensive for Toronto taxpayers.
His constituency is largely similar to Trump's: uneducated, ignorant, ill-informed and hugely impressed with their own wisdom -- they "know" but, you know, can't use words to tell what they "know."
Mainly, they're bitter that they think they see others "doing better" or "taking it all." And they've all got their favorite scapegoats, which Doug will dogwhistle them about, repeatedly.
But he's not new. Any other number of municipal, provincial and federal politicians have been cut from the same cloth.
For that matter, (Liberal) Wynne before him was also a master grifter. Remember Ontario Hydro?
Neither is Trudeau, push come to shove, any shining antithesis of their example.
The voting public's *real* problem is at least three-fold:
1) For a growing proportion of the electorate, there are no good choices;
2) Good candidates, who would make good politicians, are few and far between;
3) Candidates are always limited by the party's platform; and there's the rub.

Quite aside from the nasty effects of a first past the post electoral system, whether it's the one we have here right now, or its sneakier version, ranked ballots..

There it is in the photo, the thumbs up that has become one of the trademark tics of those common sense conservatives, a sporty, grinning nod to their ever more infamous "base," kind of like Harper's sweater, and Presto Manning's contact lenses. Poilievre's "makeover" has become a bit bolder with more of a loan shark or "Miami vice" look which is more in keeping with Doug and the Thugs. He's a caricature with his oleaginous and porcine appearance.
Grins are pasted on and there's the usual bevy of blonde cheerleaders in attendance, along with the caveat that politics is Hollywood for, shall we say, less attractive people.
The one good sign is that Ford and his housing minister did do an unprecedented 50 minutes with the media yesterday on this AG report, promising to amend "the process" but defiantly insisting he was going to continue building houses with people who want to "get things done."

Brilliant comment. You nailed the whole Reform party photo/makeover critique. Let me add on your closing paragraph that a 50 min. presser where Ford and friend promised to tidy up their colossal faux pas by fixing up everything (essentially promising to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the PC Greenbelt titanic) was a mere strategic pittance. Still, the most important thing to fix ain't gonna happen as heels dug in Dougie and his minister are still gonna build on the Greenbelt, even though they don't need to. And the billions of dollars to be made by the choice on the in developers is still gonna be made. I'd say for Ford and his cabinet crony that 50 min. of self righteousness "my bad, too bad folks" under the glare of cameras was "time well invested".

In reading about the political erosion of farmland and conservation areas like this, which is identical to the situation surrounding Calgary where I watched agricultural land being seriously undervalued and thus gobbled up for five subdivisions at a time when I was a kid, and where developers of unsustainable car dependent sprawl paid off key politicians on council and actively schemed against those who resisted on principle (e.g. former mayor Nahid Nenshi), I am happy today to witness the continuing success of BC's 51-year old Agricultural Land Reserve.

Max,
As usual a fine summary on this Greenbelt debacle.
While I agree that the electorate is responsible for the people that we elect, I have a few points to offer.

1-Doug Ford has flip-flopped on opening the Greenbelt over the years but prior to his re-election settled on promising NOT to open Greenbelt land for development.

2-In their presser, the premier and the minister both pledged that going forward they would “fix” the Greenbelt process. This is nonsense as there is a process described in the Greenbelt Plan beginning with making a Land Removal Application.

3-The premier and the minister both used the “urgent need of housing” as a defence of their actions. Sadly similar urgent action didn’t occur when seniors were dying in LTCs during the pandemic nor during the Ottawa occupation and the border blockades.

Given the premier and the minister’s bluster to defend their actions combined with the broken election campaign commitments,
how is the electorate now responsible?

Placing the burden on the people of Ontario is no different than blaming outgoing Ontario
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk for doing her job well and bringing the issue to light.

Add to the situation that the government has a majority in the legislature, the MSM reporting is fickle at best and with a
Govt who is willing to admit that errors were
made but golly-gee-willikers folks, we’ll do better next time! What measures are available to the citizens who wish to hit the pause button?

Perhaps this is a concern for the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario? Is this not part of the role?

I understand the arguments in this thread about the need for electoral reform and the fact that Ford did what he promised not to do. I think the point is that now that he's done it, what will we do?

It would be hard to claim that most Ontarians haven't heard about this or don't see it as corruption.

So, what will we do?

There are already groups who have been on the streets with signs and there are people committed to protecting the land by blocking its destruction. Widespread public pressure from many groups has been part of what has created the conditions for the attention focused on the issue. Now we have even more knowledge.

If the latest report doesn't cause people - including Conservatives who voted for Ford - to push back, I agree with Max that we're in dire trouble. Absent a mass movement, those who are active will need to reconsider their tactics.

My thoughts exactly, what do we DO? March on the legislature? That would be a start but you'd need more people than you could probably get because protests are so commonplace now. It would really help if the media would blow the whistle louder and in unison but they're still trying to maintain civility and some notion of objectivity even when the Mafia or some other cult has taken over government. And we're a "tolerant" people who value civility and good manners highly, which just makes us sitting ducks....
In Alberta it's the United Clown Posse (fronting "Take Back Alberta") who are so incompetent and covert that we're starting to worry about even being able to even get the new booster this fall and in Lethbridge, a city of 100,000 people, there is ONE obstetrician/gynecologist at the moment. And they just shut down renewable energy which was in full swing here to give us hope. And are adamant that they will NOT consider the federal government's regulations on the electrical grid, even though 64% of people here apparently AGREE with the federal government, so obviously DO think climate change is REAL, and this stupid recalcitrance despite the jurisdictional question on climate change initiatives having already gone to the Supreme Court, so the rule of law is up for grabs too.
This is playing out right now in the States where the wave of "rogue" and the "unprecedented," Trump's legacy, are challenging the legal system like never before even though we all saw and heard the proof that he's guilty as hell on every charge.
With a society where the merit of everything is judged on whether or not it "goes viral" i.e. it's novelty/entertainment value, the guys going rogue are in a competition to take down our democracy in plain sight while many just keep staring at their f**king phones in their hot and oblivious little hands, feeling smug, proprietary, and on top of things.
But those of us with context and perspective ARE starting to feel a bit desperate because it's like a growing segment of the population has been hypnotized (surprisingly easily) and have become truly dangerous.
So what DO we do indeed?