Environmental advocates are outraged by the Ford government’s suggestion that additional land in Ontario’s protected Greenbelt may be reviewed for possible housing development.
Ontario’s new municipal affairs and housing minister, Paul Calandra, confirmed Wednesday that a newly announced Greenbelt review will re-examine land already removed for development as well as the possible removal of additional Greenbelt lands, this time using a fair, transparent process.
"I’m not going to pre-suppose what the work of the review is,” Calandra said in a press conference Wednesday. “It will be a full, open and accountable process. It will look at the entirety of the Greenbelt. There might be lands that need to be added to the Greenbelt. There may be some lands that are removed, but it will be a fair and open process that will live up to the spirit of the original intent of the Greenbelt.”
In a press conference earlier this week, Ford also did not dismiss the possibility of building on more Greenbelt land if the pending review suggests that course of action. “We're going to see what the review says ... that will be up to the minister to make that decision."
Last December, the Ford government removed 7,400 acres from the protected Greenbelt in a bid to build sorely needed housing. Environmental advocates and opposition parties have repeatedly decried the move, which a recent auditor general's report found was the result of a process that favoured certain developers. That report also found the province could achieve its goal of building 1.5 million new homes over the next decade without using Greenbelt lands.
Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence, said he was shocked by the most recent announcements. “It might actually result in additional parts of the Greenbelt being stripped of protection,” he said. This is not just a scandal because of the process of removing Greenbelt lands, he added. “Rather, it is a scandal about the government's pursuit of policies that it knows could only make it harder to fix our housing shortage.”
Greenbelt lands have been subject to a mandatory review every 10 years since 2005. By calling for an immediate review, the Ford government is accelerating the timeline by approximately two years.
The review of the 14 sites removed from the Greenbelt last year will be incorporated into a broader assessment of all protected Greenbelt land parcels. The review of those sites is expected to be completed by the year’s end, Calandra said.
Abdullah Mir, member of environmental advocacy group Stop Sprawl Durham, said he believes the review is an unnecessary distraction. “In the midst of a climate crisis, we need more land in the Greenbelt, not less. No land removals from the Greenbelt are acceptable, and neither is any of the Greenbelt land needed for housing, contrary to what the housing minister and premier continue to tell Ontarians.”
New Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra confirmed Wednesday that a review will re-examine protected land already removed from the Greenbelt as well as the possible removal of additional land. #ONpoli
Mir is calling for all land removed from the Greenbelt to be returned immediately, including the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP), one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in Ontario. Covering a sprawling 4,700 acres of land east of Toronto, the DRAP is home to more than 1,700 species, including 42 that are considered at risk.
The announcement of the Greenbelt review follows scathing reports released last month by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner. The reports revealed the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development was the result of a deeply flawed and biased process, and that Ontario's previous housing minister, Steve Clark, violated ethics rules. Since the report’s release, Clark and his chief of staff have resigned, and the Ontario Provincial Police has handed over its review of the Greenbelt land swap to the RCMP for investigation. Ford has expressed his confidence that the RCMP investigation will reveal no criminal wrongdoing.
Pothen said removing Greenbelt lands and expanding settlement boundaries would slow construction down by squandering the finite supply of construction equipment, labour and other resources on houses located in low-density areas.
“There is no path to getting us out of this housing shortage or getting the government out of this scandal that doesn’t start with reversing the Greenbelt removals and urban boundary expansions in their entirety.”
Ontario’s Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from development. The swath of about two million acres includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. In December 2022, the Ford government removed land from the Greenbelt to open it up for housing development as part of the province’s commitment to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. A total of 7,400 acres were removed, which the provincial government rationalizes with its commitment to add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.