Premier Doug Ford Reverses Greenbelt Development Decision, Admits Mistake

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In a significant shift in position, Premier Doug Ford has announced his intention to reverse the government’s controversial decision to open the Greenbelt to development, admitting that the land removal initiative was a “mistake.” Following discussions with his caucus during a retreat at Niagara Falls, Ford spoke at a news conference, expressing remorse and acknowledging his failed promise to avoid meddling with the Greenbelt.

He confessed, “Our caucus communicated the sentiments from their communities. I want the people of Ontario to know, I’ve heard you. I made a commitment not to touch the Greenbelt. I faltered on that promise, and for that, I am sincerely sorry.”

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He continued with a clear sense of regret, “I take great pride in upholding our pledges. Giving the Greenbelt to the developers was a misstep and the approach we took moved too hastily.”

Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, had released a damning report the previous month on the government’s management of Greenbelt land removals. The report revealed that certain developers received “preferential treatment”and directly influenced the government’s decision to extract land.

In his address, Ford detailed the selection process for land extraction, acknowledging it left “ample room for bias and personal advantages,” causing public doubt about the government’s intentions. He assured, “To regain your trust, I am overturning the changes and commit to leaving the Greenbelt untouched in the future.”

Despite the change of direction, Ford stated that opening the Greenbelt would have significantly eased the housing crisis by adding several thousand new homes to the provincial housing stock. However, he admitted that the government’s hasty decision-making process had led to a poor outcome.

According to the Auditor General, the majority of the 7,400 acres of Greenbelt land removed by the province were linked to three developers with direct connections to the housing ministry, which potentially raised the value of their properties by $8.3 billion. The report further highlighted that enough land was already available for housing construction in Ontario without encroaching on Greenbelt territories.

This announcement arrived in the wake of a second cabinet minister’s resignation due to the escalating Greenbelt scandal. MPP Kaleed Rasheed, Ontario’s minister of public and business service delivery, stepped down from his cabinet post following revelations of conflicting accounts related to a trip to Las Vegas and the subsequent investigation by the integrity commissioner as part of the Greenbelt land deal probe.

Ford’s reversal was celebrated as “a victory for Ontarians” by Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles and echoed by Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, who stressed the importance of further investigations into the alleged mismanagement of the Greenbelt.

At the news conference, Ford was unable to provide financial implications of the reversal, referencing ongoing work by the housing minister and promised public disclosure of the information when available. He admitted the potential for legal action from disgruntled developers but reiterated his commitment to cooperate with them, recognising their integral role in the housing solution.