Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who seemed to have taken the vow of silence when it comes to commenting on political matters, must be tempted to speak out on Premier Ford’s plans to build houses on the Greenbelt.
It was McGuinty, then premier in 2005, who passed a law to protect 800,000 hectares of what make up the Greenbelt. The land is environmentally sensitive and quite attractive. A significant portion of the area is wetlands, while other sections are forests and agricultural lands. It is also a source of clean air.
Parks Canada has warned against Ford’s foray into the Greenbelt, suggesting that housing development would cause irreversible harm to wildlife, natural ecosystems and agricultural landscapes. Furthermore, Ford’s PC government has failed to consult in any meaning way on the proposal.
Operating under cover of the need to provide much needed housing, especially in the Greater Toronto Region, Ford cited the Federal Government’s plan to bring 500,000 immigrants to Canada by 2025 as one reason to open sections of the Greenbelt in anticipation of a worsening housing shortage.
But the immigrant angle is hard to believe given the astronomical prices for the cost of housing these days. And given that these prices are not likely to drop to the point where these houses could be afforded by new immigrants unless they come from Saudi Arabia, makes Ford’s claim a bit hard to believe.
His own words have given away the plot after the premier himself claimed in 2018 that the idea to develop the tracts of the Greenbelt was the idea of some of the province’s biggest developers.
We soon found out that, among these developers, were some significant contributors to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
It was pointed out by those concerned about the damage that development can do to this rather valuable but fragile ecosystem, and that prominent developers had already bought large parcels of the greenbelt that could not be otherwise developed until Ford said he planned to remove the restrictions. One developer has paid $80 million for two parcels. There were eight properties that were bought since Ford was elected in 2018 after announcing that he would rezone the area for development if he was elected.
Furthermore, researchers have identified another hustle in an area that is part of the Greenbelt called the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, where one well-heeled family owns at least 28 properties amounting to 718 hectares of land. The family, which controls seven different land development companies, are heavy contributors to Ford’s party.
While ownership of some of these lands go back many years before Ford’s premiership, it is hard to believe that, considering the money they spent in acquiring the land, they didn’t think the lands would be made available for development and the chance for enormous profits.
No, this pot was brewing for a long time, and had precious little to do with helping to create housing with immigrants in mind.
When Ford announced that Ontario was open for business after he attained power, he meant it, but it had little to do with those working stiffs who couldn’t afford to buy a house now and certainly won’t be able to afford one when the Greenbelt starts buzzing with bulldozers.