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Reading the Ontario auditor general’s scathing report on the removal of land from the protected Greenbelt, it is clear the Ontario government has repudiated its promise to never touch the area in the most destructive and duplicitous manner possible, all while handing out gifts worth billions to its developer friends.
What should happen next? Let’s first consider the three main conclusions the auditor general reached in her report.
The first conclusion is that the political level of government directed particular lands owned by select developers to be removed from the Greenbelt, and that the environmental screening criteria to evaluate the sensitivities of these lands were discarded when they conflicted with removing the lands owned by the selected developers. Moreover, the owners of these lands, who have also been described by Premier Doug Ford as being his friends, are likely to see a massive windfall profit of up to $8.3 billion. These developers and other developers, who are presumably not friends with the premier, were not included in any sort of open process concerning Greenbelt removals.
Second, none of the lands removed from the Greenbelt were necessary to meet the Ontario government’s home-building targets because more than enough land was already available for building new homes.
And lastly, the auditor general recommended the Ford government should consider returning the lands to the protection of the Greenbelt.
Despite the clear fact there is no way to defend the process by which land was selected to be taken out of the Greenbelt, the premier has now also vowed to press ahead to allow destruction of these areas anyway.
Obviously, this cannot be allowed to stand and Ontarians have to think about what we should do next.
To begin, the relationship between the government and developers who benefited from having lands removed from the Greenbelt needs to be explored by an investigating agency with criminal investigative powers in its quiver. The Ontario Provincial Police needs to step up and into its role. We all deserve to know how and why select developers were granted such valuable development rights.
Next, action can be taken at the municipal level. All of the removed Greenbelt lands are still zoned by municipalities as off-limits to development. Citizens must help their municipal councils resist any and all pressure and intimidation from the province to change this and open them to development. Let the provincial government take full responsibility.
The relationship between the government and developers who benefited from having lands removed from the Greenbelt must be explored by an agency with criminal investigative powers in its quiver, writes Tim Gray of @envirodefence. #onpoli
At the same time, the federal government has many areas of legal obligation that are trampled upon by both the substance and the process of the Ontario government’s Greenbelt land removals. These include Indigenous rights, climate change, species at risk, migratory birds, fisheries and impact assessment. The federal government must act to protect these values with the full force of the tools at its disposal.
Finally, the people of Ontario cannot allow this to pass.
The Greenbelt is forests, wetlands and farmlands. It was promised to be permanently protected. It guards our drinking water supply, it protects the headwaters of major rivers, streams and creeks that flow off of highlands down toward Lake Ontario. In a time of growing climate risk, it is critical these lands must not be covered in concrete. That would put downstream lives and properties at risk.
Climate change is wreaking havoc on global food systems. The Greenbelt means having the ability to grow food on some of the best farmland in the world close to where the majority of Ontarians live.
The Greenbelt is also a powerful symbol of the future where towns and cities are livable, homes are affordable and the role of natural areas in supporting them is recognized and respected.
Ontarians recognize the importance of the Greenbelt. Fully 83 per cent of us in a recent poll, conducted just before the auditor general’s report was released, oppose development on Greenbelt lands.
Talk to family, friends and neighbours. Let them know you support returning the land back to Greenbelt, support an investigation into the collusion between the Ontario government and select developers and want our federal government to step in.
Together, we can do whatever it takes to make 100 per cent of Ontarians recognize the importance of protecting the Greenbelt, including our premier.
Tim Gray is the executive director of Environmental Defence. Tim grew up on the shores of Lake Huron and acquired his love of nature there. He has over 25 years experience developing and implementing environmental policy change efforts.