Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra at a press conference on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.
Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra at a press conference on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. Credit: CPAC Credit: CPAC

Ontario’s new housing minister Paul Calandra refused to back off on development of Ontario’s Greenbelt, despite the Greenbelt development scandal that led to his predecessor’s resignation over the weekend.

“There might be some lands that will be added to the Greenbelt. There might be some that will be removed, but it will be a fair and open process,” Calandra said in a news conference on Wednesday.

This was Calandra’s first press conference since Premier Doug Ford named him new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing after his predecessor Steve Clark resigned in the wake of a critical Auditor General’s report.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found that wealthy developers directly influenced the office of the minister when certain parcels of land were removed from the Greenbelt so that they could be made available for housing construction.

Lysyk found that of the 7,400 acres removed from the Greenbelt, 6,800 acres were removed on the recommendation of three developers who owned that land.

Furthermore, Lysyk’s report claims that the value of the land when developed would increase by as much as $8.3 billion collectively.

Greenbelt land not needed to meet housing goal

Calandra said that the whole Greenbelt would be reviewed and that more land could be removed as a part of the government’s goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031, but emphasized that this process would be “open and public.”

The 7,400 acres removed from the Greenbelt would also be reviewed, but Calandra did not rule out the possibility that they would still be developed, saying he hoped to see shovels in the ground by 2025.

Lysyk, however, found in her report that no Greenbelt land would be needed to meet the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years and that there was plenty of land available within existing municipal boundaries to meet that goal.

The report reads: “We found that the Housing Ministry had already allocated the entirety of the 1.5-million-unit housing target to Ontario’s municipalities in October 2022—one month before the government’s November 2022 proposal to remove land sites from the Greenbelt.” 

Calandra held a second press conference on Thursday, where he once again defended the decision to begin development in the Greenbelt, but said that any development will be reviewed first.

“Do we need to build on the Greenbelt? Well, we’re moving forward with building on the Greenbelt if, as I said yesterday, after the facilitator has completed her work, it meets the standards that we’ll be setting with respect to the full Greenbelt review then we will move forward with that,” he said. “If it doesn’t, the land will be returned back to the Greenbelt.”

Broken promises and outrage

In response to Calandra’s press conference on Wednesday, Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell called on the Ford government to return all land to the protection of the Greenbelt.

In a statement made in 2018, which is still on the Ontario Progressive Conservative’s website, Doug Ford promised not to touch the Greenbelt. The statement reads: 

“I looked at it as making sure we have more affordable housing … There have been a lot of voices saying that they don’t want to touch the Greenbelt. I govern through the people, I don’t govern through government. The people have spoken – we won’t touch the greenbelt. Very simple. That’s it, the people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the greenbelt, we won’t touch the greenbelt. Simple as that.”

Members of Dufferin-Caledon Keep The Greenbelt Promise (DCKTGP) have been lobbying their local MPP, Progressive Conservative Sylvia Jones, who is Minister of Health, to get Ford to keep his promise from 2018 and leave the Greenbelt alone.

READ MORE: Why is MPP Sylvia Jones hiding from Dufferin-Caledon constituents?

“Ontario has some of the best Class A prime soil in Canada and the best farmland which is situated in the Greenbelt,” DCKTGP member Marci Lipman said. “With the stroke of a bush the Ford government plans to pave over this soil and this land to create housing. Housing that he says is affordable but there are many other places to build affordable housing in Ontario.”

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Nick Seebruch

Nick Seebruch has been the editor of rabble.ca since April 2022. He believes that fearless independent journalism is key for the survival of a healthy democracy. An OCNA award-winning journalist, for...