Province planning to restore Greenbelt properties and strengthen protections

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Following the revelation of a scandal that has rocked the Ontario Conservative party, and a subsequent apology from Premier Doug Ford, the province has introduced legislation that will roll back the controversial land deals that saw the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine areas split into development-friendly chunks.

In 2022 the Ontario government announced it would be removing more than 7,000 acres of land from the Greenbelt region, opening up the area to development that would see tens of thousands of new homes built. However, the province’s integrity commissioner released a report in late August condemning the decision, noting that then-housing minister Steve Clark had broken the law over the removal of those lands from the area. The report also revealed that certain developers had benefitted from the decision, and that most of the properties selected for removal from the Greenbelt had been those selected by developers, leading the Ontario NDP, the official opposition, to demand accountability from the provincial conservatives. Both Clark and his chief of staff later resigned.

In late September, Premier Ford delivered an apology and reversed the deal, noting it had been a “mistake” to allow development in those previously-protected areas.

Now, the government has introduced legislation it says will restore all of those properties previously sold through the controversial deal, as well as put enhanced protections on the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine areas to ensure any future boundary changes can only be made through “a public and transparent process that would require the approval of the legislature.”

“We are following through on our commitment to fully restore these lands and provide enhanced protections to the Greenbelt moving forward,” said Paul Calandra, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

“At the same time, we remain focused and committed to tackling Ontario’s housing supply crisis and working with our municipal partners to achieve our shared housing targets. We know there’s more work to be done.”

In addition to restoring the sold properties, the legislation will also keep the 9,400 acres (3,800 hectares) of land that were added to the Greenbelt in 2022 in response to the other properties being sold.

“Restoring the protections and policies of the Greenbelt Act in its entirety includes the need for a review every 10 years, as was mandated by the previous government when the legislation was originally introduced and passed,” the province’s press release announcing the new legislation read.

“Moving forward, this review will be led by impartial, nonpartisan experts in conservation, agriculture and environmentalism, and will include engagement with Indigenous communities and municipalities. Once final, the experts’ recommendations will be provided to the Auditor General and the Commissioner of the Environment for consultation to ensure that the review process was fair and guided by the recent recommendations to improve process.”