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Farmers Clayton and Thomas Reeser install an irrigation system for farming watermelon on a family plot of farmland, within the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve, in Pickering, Ont., on June 19.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

‘Does your partner repeatedly say things that confuse you?” asks the website of the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“Do you often start questioning your own perception of reality within your relationship? Do you question your sanity altogether?

“If so, your partner may be using what mental health professionals call ‘gaslighting.’”

Which brings us to Toronto, on Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 11 a.m.

That’s when Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk released her report on the Ford government’s moves in the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto. She found that the process for opening 7,400 acres of protected land to developers last year “was not transparent, fair, objective, or fully informed,” involved “certain prominent developers receiving preferential treatment” and “cannot be described as a standard or defensible process.”

Her report lays out the details of an operation that was entirely politicized by the Ford government, bypassing the normal rules and showering benefits on those with connections. Ms. Lysyk concludes that a lucky few developers have likely been enriched to the tune of $8.3-billion. Their land, thanks to rezoning, has grown in value by more than 3,400 per cent.

The Auditor-General’s report is an open and shut case. She wrapped up her news conference around noon.

The gaslighting started an hour later.

That’s when Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark appeared before the media. In reply to the finding of a massive abuse of public trust, they offered a shower of obfuscation, denial, contrition and misdirection.

It was an amazingly brazen performance, designed to leave voters confused and questioning reality.

The Auditor-General found that Mr. Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, was communicating closely with a handful of developers, and 14 of 15 Greenbelt sites selected for rezoning came not from non-partisan ministry experts working through the normal consultation process, but from Mr. Amato.

The Premier and Housing Minister said they knew nothing about any of that. Removing protection from some land in the Greenbelt is a signature government policy – a post-election reversal of their promise to not open the area – but the two men in charge claimed to know nothing about how the policy was carried out, or by whom.

The process was entirely politicized, but the two politicos in charge somehow claimed perfect ignorance.

Had the Housing Minister’s chief of staff been carrying out the wishes of his boss, and his boss’s boss? Heavens no. It was news to them how Greenbelt land had been chosen for rezoning. Cabinet had also signed off on the rezoning in a similar state of disinterest and ignorance. Allegedly.

In short, the government admitted that something had gone very wrong. But at the same time, the Premier insisted that everything is all right. Things in Ontario have never been better.

Would the Housing Minister resign? No. Would the land removed from the Greenbelt by a dirty process be restored? No.

Would anything change? Oh, yes. The government is open and responsive to criticism, welcomes new ideas and always strives to do better. Mr. Ford accepted 14 of the Auditor-General’s 15 recommendations. Which sounds like something until you realize that the only important recommendation is the one the government rejects – namely that it must “re-evaluate the 2022 decision to change the Greenbelt boundaries.”

The other recommendations mostly have to do with modifications to internal procedures. But to get what it wanted in the Greenbelt, the Ford government simply bypassed all that. There was a fence; it slid under it to raid the chicken coop. Now it’s pledging to add a few extra inches of height to the fence.

Ford asks integrity commissioner to review senior aide’s role in Greenbelt decision

Here’s my summary of Mr. Ford’s pitch: Folks, I admit that what happened – which by the way, I had nothing to do with – was wrong. The buck stops with me. And so we have to do better, and change. Change everything. Everything except the results. The results are exactly what we wanted. So, are we all good? Can we move on now?

Moving on meant that Mr. Ford devoted his news conference to talking about how Ontario urgently needs housing, housing and more housing.

Which is true, and beside the point: “According to the Ford government’s Housing Affordability Task Force, the Housing Ministry, and the Chief Planners of the three affected regions, the removal of Greenbelt lands was not needed to meet the government’s housing goals,” the Auditor-General wrote.

The government wants to build 1.5 million new homes, but the auditor says it can hit that target – and even planned to – “without the need to build on the Greenbelt.” In any case, “most of the land removed from the Greenbelt may not be ready for housing development in time to meet government goals.”

As for the government’s claim that it’s adding more land to the Greenbelt than it’s removing? Ms. Lysyk found that 7,000 of the 9,400 added acres were already protected.

The Auditor-General has laid bare a legal and ethical sewer. The Ford government’s carving up of the Greenbelt has given off a foul odour from the get go, and the multibillion-dollar stink isn’t going away. The more that is uncovered, the worse it smells.

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