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Developers were favored, Auditor General Indicts Ford Government on Greenbelt Project

Project was heavily influenced by well-connected developers, Audit General report says

The Ontario government’s actions to open parts of the protected Greenbelt area for development projects took little expert opinion on the project and failed to consider risks to the province’s environment, agriculture and finances, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in a special report released on Wednesday.

In the 95-page audit report, Lysyk also determined that owners of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt area are eligible to see more than an $8.3 billion increase in the value of their properties, alluding that the decision to open up the land was heavily influenced by a small group of developers in the province.

The Greenbelt, covering about 2 million acres of farmland, forest and wetland, was created in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from urban development.

The Government’s proposal in November last year to remove approximately 74,00 acres across the Greenbelt was contrary to their earlier efforts to protect the area. Still, it argued it was necessary as part of its pledge to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years. However, Auditor General Lysyk has determined that opening the Greenbelt was unnecessary to meet the government’s housing goal.

Rather than a comprehensive assessment of the Greenbelt area, the government’s proposal last year “was substantially controlled and directed by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff,” the Audit General’s report said.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk

According to Lysyk’s report, Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff identified 21 of the 22 sites through a small team considered, ultimately settling on 15 sites. The audit report also found that 12 of the 15 parcels of land chosen for removal from the Greenbelt came from specific requests from developers or their representatives.

“Many of these individuals had advocated for the removal in emails and in-person meetings within a few months prior to their removal,” according to the report. “For example, one lawyer representing three housing developers emailed the Chief of Staff on September 27 and 29, 2022, providing site-specific details for the land they sought to develop.”

In a list of 15 recommendations, the audit report suggested re-evaluating the 2022 decision to change Greenbelt boundaries, in addition to clarifying the roles of chiefs of staff versus deputy ministers and strengthening the Officer of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, who is conducting a separate investigation into the Greenbelt decision.

The audit report included a response by Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, who says that the need for the government to build more homes is a pressing matter to handle the ongoing housing affordability crisis. The report also included that housing minister Clark told the audit general’s office that he was unaware that his chief of staff was working on this project.

Rahat Sandhu
auditor generalGREENBELT