Ontario’s big scam: Ford and the Greenbelt | David Israelson

By David Israelson

Law360 Canada (May 12, 2023, 1:13 PM EDT) --
David Israelson
On May 11, Premier Doug Ford finally told the public what he thinks about Ontario’s Greenbelt — to him, it’s a scam.

That’s exactly what Ford said: “It was just a big scam as far as I’m concerned.”

Speaking at a public event in Brampton, he grew irritated by questions about why he plans to destroy wetlands and wilderness around the Greater Toronto Area that he promised to protect — before he broke that promise.

Here’s how he sees the Greenbelt now:

“We had a Liberal government … a bunch of staffers [that] randomly got a highlighter and went up and down roads. They were going through buildings, through golf courses.” He has his own name for it now: “the so-called Greenbelt … a fancy word.”

Meanwhile, Ontario’s auditor general and the provincial integrity commissioner are both looking into whether there was any wrongdoing in the process that led to Ford’s broken promise about the Greenbelt, and the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad started a probe earlier this year.

The public may have trouble trusting someone who said explicitly that, “we won’t touch the Greenbelt,” then did.  Nevertheless, people should give Ford and his government credit for one thing: they seem to be familiar with the idea of scams.

Scamming Ontario’s environment

“We have one of the best environmental records in the history of Ontario,” Ford added in Brampton.

Oh really?

Let’s have a look.

Four days into his first term in 2018, Ford’s first policy decision was to end Ontario’s $3 billion cap-and-trade program designed to curb climate change emissions.

Ford then launched a $4 million program requiring gas stations to put stickers on their pumps with a message critical of carbon taxes. Then he spent more taxpayers’ dollars to defend the sticker move in court, where it was ruled unconstitutional.

Ontario does have a carbon pricing system for industrial in place now. Because it has to — Ford spent even more tax dollars to challenge the federal law that called for national carbon emissions standards and lost in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Not consulting the public

Meanwhile, Ford’s government was also castigated by the auditor general’s office — the same office that’s investigating his Greenbelt-busting moves — for “recurring” violations of the public’s right to be consulted on changes to environmental or energy policy.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said Ford’s government was failing to consider expert opinions at the same time as it didn’t bother to explain “the potential environmental implications of proposed legislative or policy changes, or how public consultation affected the decision-making.”

Remember the Ford government’s public consultations about building small nuclear reactors in Ontario? How about those consultations about the province’s new low-carbon strategy? Of course not — they didn’t happen.

Lysyk found that 20 per cent of the environment ministry’s decisions were made without giving the public the timely notice required under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, which has been law since 1993.

Ford’s toxic policy mess

The murk around Ford’s move to disembowel the Greenbelt only seems to add to what appears to be of a growing toxic policy mess. Ford took away powers from conservation authorities, which were set up to control building on land prone to flooding, prompting a mass resignation by members of those authorities.

Then the province’s infamous Bill 23, which eliminates great swaths of development controls, also instructs whoever is left on those conservation authorities to find land in the natural areas they’re protecting for developers to pave and build.

Ford justifies these environmental transgressions — including his broken promise on the Greenbelt — by saying that the land is needed because Ontario needs to build 1.5 million homes to accommodate a fast-growing population. The need for homes is true, but the need for Greenbelt land is not true.

“We’re going to knock down every barrier to make sure that we build affordable, attainable, non-profit homes for the people of Ontario,” he says.

Affordable homes are needed, but by the Ford government’s own calculations, ripping open the Greenbelt would provide only 50,000 homes, and there’s no consensus yet as to what would qualify any of these as affordable homes.

Meanwhile, municipalities and planners across southern Ontario have shown repeatedly through their research that there’s already enough land within urban boundaries to build as many homes as Ontario needs, without touching the Greenbelt.

Despite Ford’s talk about using a “highlighter” to create the Greenbelt, it was established under a process that began in 2003 after extensive consultation and negotiation with local governments, landowners, communities, environmentalists and yes, developers. That’s consultation the Ford government does not allow anymore — except, it seems, for well-connected developers.

So now that Ford has started talking about a “scam,” it’s time for the people to find out:

Who’s scamming who?

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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