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The Ontario Greenbelt decision: Who knew what and when?


A newly released auditor general report provides a glimpse into how the Ontario government decided to remove 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt and make it available to developers.

The findings show that a small handful of government staff were involved in the decision-making and that most of the recommendations were being funneled through the housing minister's chief of staff.

Here is a breakdown of when the decisions were made and who was involved:

June 2022

Weeks after Doug Ford is re-elected as Premier of Ontario, his office presented the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with a mandate letter urging the ministry to “codify processes for swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates for the Greenbelt.” The timeline for this goal was noted as the fall of 2022.

The mandate letter also included a “comprehensive plan to expand and protect the Greenbelt.”

July 2022

The Premier’s Office appoints Ryan Amato the chief of staff for the minister’s office.

August 2022

In early August, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association released a plan to build new homes that specified the need for making “new land available.”

The premier’s daughter’s stag and doe party was held on Aug. 11. The integrity commissioner’s office noted that developers were among the list of attendees as they were friends of the Ford family. The premier has repeatedly said that no government business was discussed.

On Aug. 30, the housing ministry briefed the Amato on potential tools available to amend the Greenbelt.

September 2022

On Sept. 14, two prominent housing developers approached Amato at a BILD chair dinner and handed him packages with information on five sites on the Greenbelt.

The staffer told the auditor general that he did not open the packages at the dinner. Instead, he brought them to his office, where he put them on another stack of packages from developers and their representatives for further review.

These sites would eventually make up 92 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt.

On Sept. 15, a day later, a developer closed the purchase on the Greenbelt in King Township for about $80 million. Records show the property was sold to Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc., a company connected to developer Rice Group.

The following day, Clark’s chief of staff informed the housing ministry that the government wants to consult on removing lands from the Greenbelt using a site-specific approach, rather than evaluating the area as a whole. At this time, he provides three potential “priority” sites for review.

Ford’s daughter’s wedding takes place on Sept. 25 and developers were in attendance.

Between Sept. 27 and Sept. 29, a law firm sends multiple requests directly to the chief of staff regarding the removal of Greenbelt land and the rezoning of the Official Plan review of York Region.

October 2022

The six-person Greenbelt Project Team is formed between Oct. 3 and Oct. 5. They are provided with hardcopy packages on eight proposed sites as well as initial criteria for land removal.

Team members sign confidentiality agreements within the next few days.

Between Oct. 13 and Oct. 31, five USB keys are given to the Greenbelt Project Team by the chief of staff with information about proposed sites and previously identified sites.

On Oct. 25, the housing ministry posts a proposal notice on the Environmental Registry for public comment. The notice establishes policies for development in central Pickering and alters protections for the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

The following day, the chair of the Greenbelt Council resigns and is replaced by the late Hazel McCallion, a long-time supporter of the Ford government.

Housing Minister Steve Clark is briefed by the Amato on the removal of land sites from the Greenbelt on Oct. 26.

Between Oct. 27 and Oct. 31, staff within the Premier’s office and cabinet office are briefed by the Ministry of Housing on two occasions.

November 2022

Housing Minister Steve Clark and Premier Doug Ford are both briefed by political staff on Nov. 1, a day before the proposal goes to cabinet.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left), and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark (right), speak to the media during a press conference following the release of the Auditor General’s Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt, at Queens Park, in Toronto, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

On Nov. 3, before members of the public are told, developers are notified that land is being removed from the Greenbelt.

A broader briefing to caucus is provided on Nov. 4. This is when the government publicly reveals its intention to cut 7,400 acres of land and add an additional 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt. Mayors of affected municipalities are notified and a 30-day public notice is placed on the Environmental Registry. The Auditor General’s report noted that municipal elections were held in the end of October, meaning that some municipal councils were limited in their ability to comment on the proposal.

The Greenbelt Council, which provides advice to the minister on land use planning matters related to the protected land, is briefed on Nov. 7.

The following week, the province introduces the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Repeal Act, which proposed to remove additional development protections. The government exempts it from the public consultation process.

The More Homes Built Faster Act was passed on Nov. 28, the same day members of provincial parliament requested the integrity commissioner investigate whether the housing minister or premier contravened the Member’s Integrity Act.

December 2022

The Housing Minister and staff within the Premier’s Office is briefed by the ministry on the Greenbelt Project again on Dec. 12, days after the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Repeal Act passes.

On Dec. 21, the housing ministry posts a notice on the Environmental Registry saying the land removal has been finalized with no revisions. Top Stories

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