Environmental group, Ontario Green Party call for police investigation into Ford government’s Greenbelt plans

In the wake of a scathing auditor general report, environmental advocates and one opposition party are calling for Ontario’s integrity commissioner and the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the Ford government’s Greenbelt plans.

“It is necessary for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to formalize their investigation and begin interviewing Ontario government ministers and staff, both at the elected level and within civil service, as well as development industry officials,” said Tim Gray, executive director of non-profit Environmental Defence.

Ontario Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner also said there should be an OPP investigation to determine whether any criminal activity occurred within the Ford government.

The auditor general’s report, released Wednesday, found serious flaws and biases in the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open a portion of the protected Greenbelt for development.

A spokesperson for the Ontario integrity commissioner confirmed to Canada’s National Observer that an investigation into Housing Minister Steve Clark’s decision to open up the Greenbelt is underway. A request last year from Opposition Leader Marit Stiles, the NDP MPP for Davenport, prompted that inquiry.

On Feb. 23 of this year, Stiles also requested an opinion on whether Premier Doug Ford contravened sections of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994 or Ontario parliamentary convention in relation to the wedding-related events of one of his daughters, said Juliet Kadzviti, a spokesperson for Ontario’s integrity commissioner. Earlier that month, the Toronto Star reported that numerous developers attended the premier’s daughter’s wedding.

Because an investigation stemming from Stiles’ original request was already taking place, the second request is currently on pause, Kadzviti explained. Once the first inquiry is complete, the integrity commissioner will file a report with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

According to CBC, the Ontario integrity commissioner is currently evaluating a request from the Ford government to investigate whether Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, broke any ethics rules during the selection of Greenbelt land for development.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found three major Ontario developers gained the most from the Ford government’s decision to open up the Greenbelt for development, the bulk of which was orchestrated by Amato, who was not named in the report. The owners of all 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt could ultimately see their property values increase more than $8.3 billion, Lysyk found.

In the wake of a scathing auditor general report, environmental advocates and one opposition party are calling for Ontario’s integrity commissioner and the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the Ford government’s Greenbelt plans.

The land selection process, which took place over three weeks, was severely limited and excluded meaningful contributions from experts in land use planning within provincial ministries, municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations leaders and the public, Lysyk said. At the same time, she added, preferential treatment was given to specific developers who had direct connections to Amato.

Ford and Clark told Lysyk they were unaware the land chosen for removal was controlled by Amato.

Gray said Lysyk’s findings raise significant unanswered questions.

“How did developers ascertain that intensively lobbying government officials about removing their land from the Greenbelt would be productive? Which developers provided packets of information about the land they wanted to remove from the Greenbelt, and who reviewed these submissions? Why did developers acquire Greenbelt land after the current government was elected, especially those Greenbelt lands purchased around the time when it was announced which lands would be excluded from the Greenbelt?” Gray asked.

Gray called on the OPP to investigate whether the government provided select developers with information about its plans to open protected Greenbelt lands to development and whether that constitutes a criminal breach of trust by a public officer, as defined in the Criminal Code.

Regardless, Ford and Clark should resign, said Kathleen Livingston, a member of Stop Sprawl Hamilton. They are both either incompetent in dealing with staffers or complicit in those dealings and are now making Amato take the fall, she said.

Given the gravity of the auditor general’s findings and the extent of the impact on Ontarians and the environment, all avenues should be examined or public trust in provincial leaders will be lost, said Helen Brenner, a member of the environmental advocacy group Stop Sprawl Durham.

She called on the government to immediately reverse all Greenbelt land removals and return permanent protection to the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP).

At a news conference Wednesday after the report’s release, Ford, accompanied by Clark, promised his administration would accept and act on 14 of its 15 recommendations. The only exception is the recommendation concerning a review of land swaps and potential reversals of decisions.

The auditor general’s report “confirmed what we’ve known all along about the Ford government’s Greenbelt giveaway. For five years, this government has favoured wealthy insiders at the expense of everyday Ontarians,” said Schreiner.

“Ontario Greens stand with the millions of Ontarians who are outraged at the Ford government’s actions to benefit elite insiders. We will continue fighting to restore accountability, transparency and trust to the public.”

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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