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EDITORIAL: Ford exploits housing crisis (Summer 2023)

September 14th, 2023 · No Comments

Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, and now, protests across the province, have the Ford government playing their best defensive game. In a scathing investigative report released in August, Lysyk showed more of the same in terms of the Ford government’s approach to decision-making and democracy. For those of us who have been paying attention, none of it comes as a surprise, but we can only hope that this spells the end of a corrupt regime, and that these Greenbelt decisions won’t move forward.

Lysyk’s report, released Aug. 9, shows that in the process of removing more than 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt, planning rules were bypassed. Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, was communicating directly with specific developers about 14 out of the 15 Greenbelt sites slated for rezoning. These communications, in part, came in plain manilla envelopes delivered to him over dinner, which Amato claims he waited until he got home to open. The developers gained a 3,400 per cent increase in land value as a result of the zoning changes recommended in those communications.

In June of 2022 the premier mandated the housing minister to conduct “swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates” related to the Greenbelt. These did not happen in accordance with planning rules and regulations, but the premier touts this as a proactive response to the housing crisis. This is hard to believe, when even his own housing task force said the Greenbelt lands were neither necessary nor desirable for housing development. The auditor general agrees with that perspective and says that the province can meet the target “without the need to build on the Greenbelt…most of the land removed from the Greenbelt may not be ready for housing development in time to meet the government’s goals.”  

The province had criteria to determine which land could be removed from the Greenbelt. The proposed sites could not be “in a designated specialty crop area or part of the Natural Heritage System,” and they  should be “adjacent to already developed or planned infrastructure.” When the selected lands could not pass those tests, the criteria were changed. Of the 7,400 acres removed from the Greenbelt, 92 per cent was removed as a direct result of requests made by developers—over dinner with the housing minister’s chief of staff. Meanwhile, the province has 630 requests for rezoning in hand from landowners within the Greenbelt; it chose to consider just these 22.

The landowner set to enjoy the largest windfall benefits in the former agricultural preserve are companies linked to prominent GTA developer and PC donor Silvio DeGasperis. Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner is still investigating this connection, and the Ontario Provincial Police indicated they were aware of the AG’s report and that the file is subject to an “ongoing review” by the OPP’s anti-rackets branch. 

Ford claims: the means justify the ends. His means are blatant corruption; his ends, he claims, are to solve the housing crisis—but for those of us who have been watching, we all know this deflection is just another steaming pile of lies. The ends here are not valid, and the means really stink.  The means are so egregious (drawing the public through the stench of a legal and ethical sewer), that it’s hard to imagine that getting 30,000 homes one day is really worth it. The government is exploiting the housing crisis to help its wealthy friends first. 

Who will stop this? The federal government has the power to do so on a myriad of environmental grounds including the protection of endangered species and watersheds—but we are stuck in the world of wait and see. Ontario’s First Nations’ leaders are asking for the housing minister and his chief of staff to step down, and a spokesperson from the David Suzuki Foundation says this level of public opposition to a government policy is unprecedented. It’s time to push the Ford government out of office and bring democracy back to the table.


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