Ontario Greenbelt plans were 'biased' towards select developers: AG report


The Ontario government’s decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for housing “favoured certain developers,” lacked transparency and failed to consider environmental, agricultural and financial impacts, a scathing report by the province’s auditor general has suggested.

Of the 7,400 acres of land removed from the Greenbelt, the report found that 92 per cent could be tied to three developers with direct access to the housing ministry.

The findings were released in a “Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt” by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on Wednesday.

The report also found that 14 of the 15 sites were proposed directly by Housing Minister Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff Ryan Amato.

The remaining site was proposed by a six-person team of public servants tasked with assessing land sites for possible removal.

According to the report, Amato altered criteria for land removal when the majority of the sites would not be approved within those parameters and implemented a three-week timeline on the assessment. The team, the report found, had to operate under strict confidentiality terms that prevented them from contacting partnering ministries as well as municipalities and conservation authorities.

Ninety-three confidentiality agreements across multiple ministries were signed over the course of the project, the report found.

“We could have had a better process,” Premier Doug Ford told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “As premier, the buck stops with me.”

Opposition parties have called for Clark’s resignation as a result of the report, with NDP Leader Marit Stiles going so far as to say it “smells of corruption.”

Clark reiterated Wednesday he has Ford’s support and seemed to indicate that neither he, nor his chief of staff, will be leaving their positions.

The investigation into the Doug Ford government’s decision to remove 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt for development began in January after a joint request from all three of the province’s opposition leaders.

The decision was first announced in November 2022, years after Premier Ford promised not to touch the protected land. The argument at the time was that it was necessary as part of its pledge to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

The goal was to build at least 50,000 homes on the Greenbelt land, with construction beginning no later than 2025.

However it was soon revealed several large developers had purchased Greenbelt land since the Ford government was first elected in 2018 before the announcement had been made. At least one investment was made in September 2022, a month before the government revealed the land was among 15 sites being opened up for development.

Opposition leaders and advocacy groups have claimed that developers were tipped off and given advance notice of the government’s plans.

Premier Ford has repeatedly said that he did not know which sites would be opened until shortly before the announcement.

The auditor general’s report appears to confirm this fact; however it also lays out a decision-making process that lacks transparency, communication and proper consultation.

“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 promote objective and transparent decision-making based on sufficient, accurate and timely information,” the report reads.

The premier said he would be adopting 14 of the 15 recommendations within the auditor general’s report. When asked by CTV News Toronto, he clarified that the one recommendation his government will not be implementing is the re-evaluation of the land removal from the Greenbelt.