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FORUM: Engage in the political process and change can happen (Fall 2023)

December 4th, 2023 · No Comments

A Greenbelt victory

By Jessica Bell

Ontarians were outraged when the Conservatives reversed their election promise and approved development on 15 parcels of Greenbelt land owned by developers with ties to the government.

Now Ontarians are celebrating because the Ford government has reversed course and agreed to return the land to the Greenbelt and enshrine the land’s protection in legislation. You don’t need to be a political strategist to predict that no government is ever going to touch the Greenbelt again. This is a victory. Thank you, Ontario.

It took teamwork to get the Conservatives to back down. Environmentalists and citizens sent emails, made phone calls, and attended and organized protests and lobbying campaigns in the 905 and beyond. 

Farming associations publicly chastised the government, which is a rare move. Municipal leaders, including the heavy hitter, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, spoke up and questioned why the Greenbelt was being opened up, when there is already 88,000 acres of land available for development. 

The First Nations Chiefs of Ontario asked the minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing to resign. We held the government to account in the legislature, formally requesting the integrity commissioner and the auditor general to investigate—which they did, with shocking and stunning impact. 

We’re back in the legislature now, and you can feel the Conservatives are still reeling from the crisis.  

No one believes the Conservative’s tired message that opening up the Greenbelt will solve the housing crisis. 

Building million-dollar homes on farmland with no infrastructure in sight won’t help anyone but land speculators. 

Three ministers are missing. Minister Kaleed Rasheed resigned in response to the integrity commissioner’s probe, which revealed he took a trip to Las Vegas with developers who had land removed from the Greenbelt. 

Rasheed and the developer even had massages at a luxury hotel at the same time. Rasheed called the meetup a coincidence, but no one’s believing that.  

Aspiring Conservative leader Minister Monte McNaughton quit for the private sector—  my guess is because he doesn’t want to be tarnished with this scandal.

 And the minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, left his post because someone had to take the fall. I predict they won’t be the last MPPs to be ousted or demoted. 

Where do we go now? The Greenbelt scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to corruption and this government. We’ve also been demanding answers from the government in question period. 

What was Premier Ford’s involvement in the decision to open up Greenbelt lands? When exactly did developers know the Greenbelt was going to be opened up? Are policy decisions really being made on massage tables in Las Vegas where a Conservative minister and key developers met “coincidentally” to chat? 

We have called on the auditor general to formally investigate other land-use planning decisions this government has made that benefit the wealthy few. We want to know if more secret deals were made before the Conservatives decided to redraw municipal boundaries in Hamilton, Waterloo, Halton, and Ottawa and greenlight sprawl on 35,000 hectares of farmland.  

We want to know about the government’s enthusiastic use of minister’s zoning orders (MZOs), enabling developers to bypass municipal planning processes. Or what about the secret deal the Conservatives gave Therme to build an exclusive spa on Ontario Place? Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and it’s awfully smoky right now. 

“If you don’t mess with politics, then politics will mess with you.” This was the wise slogan on a button I was given at a recent protest to stop the forced eviction of the residents of 145 St. George Ave. Governments need to be trustworthy, accountable, and work for us, and we must remain vigilant and engaged to ensure they do. Keep up the great work everybody.

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University-Rosedale and the Official Opposition’s Housing Critic. She can be reached at 416-535-7206. 


Tags: Annex · Columns · Opinion