Greenbelt is safe and more protected than before

TORONTO – The Ontario government has introduced legislation that will return parcels of land to the Greenbelt (the “green areas” where you cannot build) and codify its boundaries, increasing protection of the Greenbelt itself and the Oak Ridges Moraine areas. 

This is what the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing of Ontario, Paul Calandra, announced today, speaking of an “additional level of protection that does not currently exist” which can only be modified in the future through a public process and legislation, rather than simple regulation as has been the case thus far, particularly when the provincial government used regulations to change the boundaries of the Greenbelt less than a year ago, removing 15 sites representing approximately 7,400 acres of protected land without a vote in legislature.

As well known, since the removal of that land from the Greenbelt, both the auditor general of the Province and the integrity commissioner found that some developers had been favored in the selection process. In particular, according to the Auditor General approximately 92% of the land removed from the “green belt” had benefited three developers who had links to the Ministry of Housing and who had met with the chief of staff of the minister Steve Clark (predecessor of Paul Calandra) during an industrial dinner. Owners of the 15 lands chosen through that process would have received an increase of more than $8.3 billion in the value of their properties, the auditor found.

A scandal, which had caused the resignation of the minister’s chief of staff and then of the minister himself, which in turn came under the scrutiny of the integrity commissioner according to whom Steve Clark himself had broken the ethical rules “by failing to supervise the process by which land in the ‘green belt’ was selected for development”.

Both reports reveal a decision-making process that significantly lacked transparency and consultation, failing to take into account both environmental and financial factors. This also led to a reversal of the decision, with Premier Doug Ford apologizing for removing the lands and announcing the provincial government’s about-face, effectively formalized by the announcement made today by Paul Calandra.

The new legislation also comes in the wake of a criminal investigation that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is conducting into the opening of part of the Greenbelt to building development: the RCMP received the file from the Ontario Provincial Police who “passed the buck” to the RCMP to avoid “any perceived conflict of interest”.

Today, the official about-face: The Greenbelt Statute Law Amendment Act of 2023 would restore all protections previously provided by the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act and strengthen them. In addition to restoring all properties that had been renamed or removed, the government proposes to keep the 9,400 acres (3,800 hectares) that were added in 2022 in the Greenbelt. These include lands in the Paris Galt Moraine and in Urban River Valley areas across the Greater Toronto Area.

Restoring the protections and policies of the Greenbelt Act in its entirety includes the need for a review every 10 years, as was mandated by the previous government when the legislation was originally introduced and passed. Moving forward, this review will be led by impartial, nonpartisan experts in conservation, agriculture and environmentalism, and will include engagement with Indigenous communities and municipalities. Once final, the experts’ recommendations will be provided to the Auditor General and the Commissioner of the Environment for consultation to ensure that the review process was fair and guided by the recent recommendations to improve process.

“We are following through on our commitment to fully restore these lands and provide enhanced protections to the Greenbelt moving forward” said Calandra. “At the same time, we remain focused and committed to tackling Ontario’s housing supply crisis and working with our municipal partners to achieve our shared housing targets. We know there’s more work to be done”.

In the pics above, a protest for Greenbelt (from Twitter X – @HamiltonHeino) and minister Paul Calandra (from Twitter X – @PaulCalandra)