Thursday, November 17, 2022

Tory government donors stand to win big-time from Ford's backrracking on the Greenbelt

Not content with attempting to circumvent the democratic process by establishing (and now extending) "strong mayor" rules for some of Ontario's largest cities, and attempting to break the province's unions with legislation and the controversial use of the Constitution's "notwithstanding clause", Ontario Premier Doug Ford is now looking to use his inexplicable electoral majority to do away with some of the environmental protections of the Greenbelt that surrounds Toronto, Hamilton and much of the rest of the Golden Horseshoe.

Ever since he was elected in 2018, Ford has insisted that he understands that the Greenbelt is sacrosanct and not to be sacrificed on the altar of commerce and development. Ford in 2018: "The people have spoken - we won't touch rhe Greenbelt". Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, also in 2018: "We remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the Greenbelt for future generations". Ford again in 2021: "We weren't going to touch the Greenbelt for developers", and "we've kept that promise". Then, finally, after re-election this year: "We are going to make sure we keep every single promise". I guess he's just a politician after all, if anyone was in denial about that.

The Greenbelt was established in 2005 by Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government, and comprises about 800,000 acres of environmentally-sensitive and agricultural to land in southern Ontario near the province's most densely populated centres. It was designed to protect these areas from further development and urban sprawl by prohibiting new developments.

Some wealthy developers, nevertheless, bought up large parcels of land in this prime but supposedly undevelopable area, presumably in the expectation of the Greenbelt rules being relaxed at some point. In particular, some prominent Conservative donors have been spending many millions of dollars on technically undevelopable Greenbelt land, largely through numbered companies, and particularly so since Doug Ford's election four years ago. Which is pretty suspicious, wouldn't you say? These is no direct evidence of backroom deals being struck, but it certainly smells that way.

Now, after years of insisting that he would never touch the Greenbelt, the Ford government has published a list of 15 parcels that they intend to remove from the Greenbelt, enough to build over 50,000 houses on land that was previously protected for its environmental value. The Tories' "justification" is two-fold: there is a housing crisis and more house need to be built fast any way possible, and some additional (less valuable, and in some cases already protected) land will be added to the Greenbelt elsewhere to compensate.

Can they even do that? Well, apparently, at least from a legal standpoint. But it creates a horrible precedent, and could lead to a flood of other requests to open up the Greenbelt for development. It's also far from clear that the move is even necessary to "solve" the housing crisis: a shortage of land is not the problem, and there is plenty of land available for development, both within already built-up areas and in undeveloped areas outside the Greenbelt. 

So, it doesn't have to be this way. Which brings us right back to the fact that more than half of the land to be removed from the Greenbelt as part of this change was land purchased by Conservative donors since the start of Doug Ford's premiership.

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