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Greenbelt Plan Was a Mistake, I’m Reversing The Decision, Says Premier Ford

Ford admitted that it was a mistake to initiate the process and acknowledged that he had broken his promise to the people of Ontario not to tamper with the Greenbelt.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford has made a significant policy reversal by retracting his government’s controversial plan to open up the Greenbelt for development. In a press conference held on Thursday, Ford admitted that it was a mistake to initiate the process and acknowledged that he had broken his promise to the people of Ontario not to tamper with the Greenbelt.

Ford expressed regret for rushing the process, stating, “It was a mistake to open a process that moved too fast. For that, I am very, very sorry… it was a mistake to open the Greenbelt.” In a bid to regain public trust, the Premier announced his intention to undo the changes made to the Greenbelt, thereby reinstating its protective measures.

Ford emphasized his commitment to correcting his mistakes and learning from them, stating, “When I make a mistake, I will fix them, I will learn from them.”

This dramatic about-face from the Premier comes on the heels of several high-profile resignations from his government, including that of Director of Housing Policy Jae Truesdell, who resigned during the press conference. Although no specific details were provided regarding Truesdell’s resignation, Ford acknowledged accepting it.

On the previous day, Kaleed Rasheed, who served as the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery of Ontario, resigned amid questions regarding a trip he took to Las Vegas at the same time as a developer who owned land removed from the Greenbelt. Reports indicated that developer Shakir Rehmatullah, who benefited from the recent Greenbelt land swap, coincidentally traveled to Las Vegas alongside Rasheed, Ford’s principal secretary, and his current housing policy director (who was in the private sector at the time).

Earlier in the month, Steve Clark, Ontario’s housing minister since 2018, also resigned following a damning report from the integrity commissioner, which found that he had violated ethics rules when the province opened up parts of the protected Greenbelt for development.

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Despite criticism and questions surrounding his government’s Greenbelt plan, Ford had initially defended the approach. However, two legislative watchdogs concluded that the process for selecting which lands would be removed from the Greenbelt was rushed and flawed.

In the previous year, the province had removed approximately 2,995 hectares of land from the Greenbelt to facilitate the construction of 50,000 homes, offsetting them with about 3,804 hectares elsewhere. This move was part of the government’s commitment to address the housing crisis by building 1.5 million homes over a decade.

The integrity commissioner’s report revealed that Ryan Amato, chief of staff for Steve Clark, played a central role in the land swap benefiting certain developers. The commissioner also found that the minister had failed to oversee his staff properly.

Ford’s stance on Greenbelt development had shifted since his 2018 declaration that he would not pursue such development, with a change occurring after the Progressive Conservatives’ decisive election victory the following year. Ford had instructed Clark, via a mandate letter, to devise a process for opening up the Greenbelt. Clark, in turn, delegated this responsibility to his new chief of staff, Amato.

The integrity commissioner characterized Amato’s process as “chaotic” and “deceptive,” favoring specific developers. Importantly, the commissioner found that neither Clark nor Ford was aware of Amato’s actions.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is currently reviewing information to determine whether an investigation into the Greenbelt land swap is warranted. Ford has expressed confidence that no criminal wrongdoing occurred.

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