Should Ford resign over greenbelt? | David Israelson

By David Israelson

Law360 Canada (February 27, 2023, 8:55 AM EST) --
David Israelson
Now that Toronto’s mayor has resigned, Ontario residents might wonder: why is Premier Doug Ford still sticking around?

True, the situations are not the same. John Tory quit as Toronto’s mayor because of a private transgression that violated his own personal ethical standards and which crossed a line in the workplace. People can respect his decision and allow him the privacy he now seeks.

Ford’s situation is different. Whatever he has done, or declined to do, involves the public much more, and arguably, it’s worse.

The people have spoken

First, he lied. Ford promised not to tamper with Ontario’s Greenbelt, which skirts around the Greater Toronto Area and the Golden Horseshoe to Niagara. He made this promise five years ago:

“The people have spoken — we won’t touch the greenbelt. Very simple. That’s it, the people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt. Simple as that.”

Late last year, though, he took a big bite out of the Greenbelt. His government removed 7,400 acres from the two million acres, opening wilderness, wetland and farms to a select group of developers and to potential sprawl.

While the government did substitute the purloined property with Greenbelt land elsewhere, much of the added land is already protected under other laws and regulations, so it’s really not adding anything.

Already room for affordable housing

Ford has tried to justify his big lie by citing the need for more affordable housing, saying that the province wants to see 1.5 million new homes built by 2031. He has failed so far to explain how building sprawling, car-dependent tracts on the Greenbelt will provide even a single home that’s affordable to ordinary families.

New research by the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario (ALO), a coalition of public interest groups, shows that there is already capacity to build two million housing units in southern Ontario’s urban and adjacent areas without touching a square inch of the Greenbelt.

The report, prepared by Waterloo, Ont.-based planner Kevin Eby, finds that “no additional overall housing capacity would be required in the GGH [Greater Golden Horseshoe] to meet its share of the 1.5 million housing target …” In other words, why destroy the Greenbelt?

And why lie about it? Of course, a politician telling a whopper is not necessarily cause to resign. Circumstances change, new facts arise, and sometimes it’s necessary for governments to move in directions they said they weren’t going to go.

Ontario already faced a shortage of affordable housing, and it still does. But when Ford said “We won’t touch the Greenbelt,” there was no shortage of serviced land for building housing, and there’s no shortage now.

Who benefits?

The reasoning is murky. In any policy decision, a key question is: who benefits? If the ALO’s report is correct and there’s little or no benefit to the housing supply by wrecking the Greenbelt, who stands to gain by letting developers rip it apart?

A joint investigation by The Narwhal and the Toronto Star found that of the 15 areas to be opened up, eight included properties purchased by developers since Ford was elected. Six developers bought Greenbelt land after Ford’s first election win in 2018. It also turns out that just before Ford promised not to touch the Greenbelt, he told a private audience he would “open a big chunk” of it if he became premier.

So what exactly is Doug Ford’s truth? Who gains when he follows private words and breaks the public ones?

Both Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner and Auditor General are looking into possible wrongdoing, and the Ontario Provincial Police are investigating too.

Meanwhile, though, it raises eyebrows to learn that developers attended Ford’s daughter’s wedding in September, as well as a pre-wedding event in August. They sat at his table, brought gifts and hobnobbed with the Premier and his family. What did they talk about?

Ford said nothing happened, and gets angry when people ask, yet months after the wedding and pre-wedding events he went to the Integrity Commissioner for an opinion. He says the Commissioner’s office said it was okay; the Commissioner’s office says its view is just an opinion, “not a finding or the result of an investigation into a matter.”

Maybe we should take Ford’s word that inviting developer friends to his daughter’s wedding is a private matter. But maybe it’s also fair to ask: which promises were kept and which were lies? And why is Ford still here?

David Israelson is a writer and non-practising lawyer who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.  

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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