When Doug Ford’s provincial government changed the boundaries for Toronto’s Greenbelt in 2022, it failed to consider environmental, agricultural, and financial risks and impacts. It also proceeded with the deal with little input from experts or affected parties, and favoured certain developers/landowners, says Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk.
The auditor general says that provincial government actions “cannot be described as a standard or defensible process,” and excluded substantive input from land-use planning experts in provincial ministries, municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations leaders, and the public, while giving preferential treatment to certain developers with direct access to the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The 2022 boundary changes removed almost 1,000 acres of wetlands and woodlands from the Greenbelt. As well, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs indicated that about 83 per cent of the area removed is classified as prime agricultural land, having the highest quality and capability for agriculture, the report says.
Lysyk also noted that the owners of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt could ultimately see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the value of their properties.
The audit also slams Ford’s government for using housing requirements as its reasoning for opening the Greenbelt at all, stating, “According to the government’s Housing Affordability Task Force and the Chief Planners of the three affected regions (Durham, Hamilton and York), the removal of Greenbelt land sites was not needed to meet the government’s housing goals. In fact, in late October 2022, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (Housing Ministry) had already allocated housing targets to regions to build 1.5 million homes, before land sites were approved for removal from the Greenbelt.”
Even though hundreds of site removal requests had been submitted to the Housing Ministry since the Greenbelt was established in 2005, only 22 land sites were considered in the 2022 selection exercise. Of those, only one was proposed by the Housing Ministry’s non-political public service staff, while 21 were provided directly by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff.
Overall, 92 per cent (6,800) of the approximately 7,400 acres ultimately removed from the Greenbelt related to five land sites involving just three developers.
What’s more, the government’s claim that the opened up land within the Greenbelt would be off-set by other land being protected elsewhere, is inaccurate and misleading. The report says that 2,400 of the added acres are “areas typically already protected and largely undevelopable, and do not contribute agricultural land protection — a core objective of the Greenbelt Plan.”
Further, although 7,000 acres of the Paris Galt Moraine were added as offsets, the Housing Ministry had recommended a larger portion be added to encompass important natural features and agricultural land. Additions to the Greenbelt were necessary to offset removals because the Greenbelt Act, 2005, prohibits a reduction in the Greenbelt Area.
“While the people of Ontario deserve prompt action to solve societal problems like those generated by a need for housing, this does not mean that government and non-elected political staff should sideline or abandon protocols and processes that are important to guide objective and transparent decision-making based on sufficient and accurate information,” Lysyk says.
Read the report at www.auditor.on.ca