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Integrity commissioner asked to investigate Ford's Greenbelt development plan

Ontario Premier Doug Ford talks to colleagues at the Queen’s Park Legislature, in Toronto on November 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Ontario's integrity commissioner is being asked to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford's plan to open parts of the protected Greenbelt for development broke any ethics rules.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has filed the complaint and says Ontarians deserve transparency about the decision because it has the appearance of harming the environment for the benefit of private developers.

"This doesn't pass the smell test, that land speculators are purchasing land in the Greenbelt that is supposedly permanently protected," Schreiner said Tuesday.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced earlier this month that he is proposing to remove 7,400 acres from 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere so that 50,000 homes can be built.

That's despite previous promises from Ford and Clark that they wouldn't touch the Greenbelt.

Media reports have suggested that some prominent developers who areProgressive Conservative donors stand to benefit from the move. Some bought that land in the past few years despite Ford and Clark's public pronouncements it wouldn't be developed, with one purchase happening as recently as September, investigations by the CBC, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Narwhal have found.

Clark was asked multiple times Tuesday, including in question period, whether he tipped off any developers that parcels of Greenbelt land would soon become much more valuable. When asked for a yes or no response, he refused to deny the allegation.

"Listen, I'm the housing minister, I meet with people who want to build housing, whether they're a Habitat for Humanity, whether they're Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, whether they're a private home builder that builds one home a year or 1,000 homes," he said.

"That's what I do. I meet with people who want to realize the dream of home ownership for Ontarians."

Clark said he followed the rules for posting his Greenbelt proposal to the environmental registry for a public comment period. Those public comments are due by Dec. 4.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Integrity Commissioner said Schreiner's complaint was received and the matter is under review.

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell, who questioned Clark in the legislature Tuesday, said his responses sound "fishy."

"I asked the minister very clearly, three times, if they talked to developers in advance and gave them a head's up before they opened up land for development, Greenbelt land that Ontarians hold dear," she said after question period.

"The minister failed to answer the question. Ontarians want to know why."

The NDP has also asked the auditor general to investigate.

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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