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‘Yes or no?’: Housing minister pressed to say whether developers were tipped to Greenbelt changes

Ontario’s embattled Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark, insisted proper procedures were followed but refused to say “no” when repeatedly asked if developers were tipped to the opening of more Greenbelt lands for housing.

The question from New Democrat MPP Jessica Bell followed an investigation by the Toronto Star and the Narwhal that found eight of the 15 areas of the Greenbelt where development will soon be allowed have been purchased since Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2018.

A growing furor over the controversial plan to build more housing on protected lands prompted Green Leader Mike Schreiner to file a complaint with the provincial integrity commissioner seeking an investigation into the property deals.

“Over half the parcels of land being opened for development in the Greenbelt were purchased after Premier Ford was elected and some of those parcels of land were purchased as recently as September of this year,” Schreiner said.

“This doesn’t pass the smell test … we need to clear the air.”

Schreiner’s complaint came three days after New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles (Davenport) wrote the provincial auditor general requesting a probe of the land deals. Neither the auditor nor integrity commissioner have commented specifically on the requests.

Clark was under pressure in the legislature again Tuesday.

“I asked the minister very clearly three times if they talked to developers in advance and gave them a heads up,” Bell (University-Rosedale), her party’s housing critic, said after the daily question period.

“The minister just needs to answer the question: yes or no?”

Clark told reporters “we followed all the procedures” in terms of posting the proposed changes that would open 7,400 acres of protected Greenbelt land to housing construction.

They are part of a controversial land swap that would see 9,400 acres added in other areas to the protected Greenbelt zone, which covers two million acres of farm fields and wetlands.

“I’m the housing minister. I meet with people who want to build housing, whether they’re Habitat for Humanity, whether they’re Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, whether they’re a private homebuilder that builds one home a year or 1,000 homes,” Clark said.

“I was honest, open and transparent.”

He noted the 15 properties should yield at least 50,000 homes to ease a “housing crisis” that has seen prices skyrocket, making homes unaffordable to many because of a shortage of supply. The Ford government has pledged to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade.

“We’ve got to get shovels in the ground … we need to do bold and transformative measures,” Clark said.

The Progressive Conservatives are facing criticism over revelations that donors to the party are in a position to benefit from the opening up of more Greenbelt land.

“The people of Ontario deserve to know, there’s been so many media reports, raising significant questions that a handful of land speculators are literally going to turn millions into billions,” Schreiner said in regard to his complaint to the integrity commissioner.

Schreiner is seeking an opinion on whether Ford and Clark breached sections of the Members Integrity Act, or any other parliamentary convention, when making their decision to open up the Greenbelt lands for development.

He also wants an investigation into whether any unregistered lobbying activities took place by or on behalf of land owners who will be able to develop Greenbelt land.

“The fact that today in question period the minister of municipal affairs and housing did not explicitly deny providing leaked information to Greenbelt land speculators about their plans reaffirms the need for this investigation,” said Schreiner.

“It’s clear, the minister should be able to simply say, ‘No, I did nothing of the sort,’” added interim Liberal Leader John Fraser. “Why wouldn’t you say that? If that was the case, it’s the easiest thing to say.”


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