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Since 1995, Transparency International, an organization that describes itself as “the global coalition against corruption,” has been compiling its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. Drawing on data from sources such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, it assesses the perception of government corruption in 180 countries.

The index measures “manifestations of public sector corruption,” such as “bribery,” “diversion of public funds,” “officials using their public office for private gain without facing consequences,” “ability of governments to contain corruption in the public sector,” “laws ensuring that public officials must disclose their finances and potential conflicts of interest,” and “state capture by narrow vested interests.”

In the first ranking nearly three decades ago, Canada was in fifth place, tied with Sweden. Public-sector corruption in Canada was seen as low and rare. Peace, order, good government and all that.

This is important because not only does corruption breed cynicism, reward injustice and undermine democracy, but it also saps economic growth. The worst-ranking countries in the index are Somalia, Syria, South Sudan and Venezuela.

The index’s methodology has been stable since 2012, allowing for year-over-year comparisons. In 2012, first place went to Denmark, with a score of 90 out of 100. Canada was in ninth place, tied with the Netherlands, with a score of 84.

A decade later, Denmark’s score is still 90, and it’s still in first. Canada’s score has fallen to 74. We’re no longer level with the Netherlands, whose score is six points higher, or Sweden, which is nine points higher. We’re tied with Estonia and Uruguay.

Opposition demands Greenbelt reversal amid revelations of Ford government appointee’s family ties

Which brings us to Ontario’s Greenbelt scandal. What’s it about? This.

Evidence of “conflicts of interest.” Evidence that “public office” was used to produce “private gain,” and “without facing consequences.” Evidence of “state capture by narrow vested interests.”

The Greenbelt scandal is not about housing. It is not about getting 1.5 million new homes built. Do not be distracted by Premier Doug Ford’s attempts at misdirection.

Reasonable people can debate how much housing needs to be built, of what type, and where. Should the two-million acre Greenbelt surrounding the Greater Toronto Area be expanded? Contracted? Perhaps expanded here, but contracted there? Should there even be a Greenbelt?

Fair questions. But they have nothing to do with Greenbelt scandal.

I believe the zone of protected farms, fields, waterways and forests should be maintained, and even increased. You may agree, or not. But I digress – because that’s not the subject of the Greenbelt scandal.

Nor is the scandal that Mr. Ford promised to protect the Greenbelt in the 2018 election (after being caught on tape telling developers that he’d open it up), said not a peep about reversing course during the 2022 election and then reversed course after that race.

The Ontario Greenbelt controversy, Doug Ford’s role and what has happened so far

Voters have every reason to be exceedingly disappointed with politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail and then do another – but flip-floppery is not normally a reason for calling in the Auditor-General, the Integrity Commissioner and the police.

What else isn’t the scandal about? That the government’s own housing task force said Greenbelt land isn’t needed to build 1.5 million new homes, and that the Auditor-General confirmed it.

The Ford government deserves to be punished by voters for that, since it’s a festering reminder that it went to great lengths in pursuit of something not in the public interest, and continues to refuse to reverse course.

The sight of a government relentlessly chasing after something not in the public interest, but rather benefitting private interests, raises an obvious question: What’s going on? And is this legal?

That’s what the Greenbelt scandal is about.

Don’t get distracted by high home prices, or how fast Ontario’s population is growing, or the precise geography of the protected land. The Greenbelt scandal is bigger than any of that. It’s not just a political travesty. It’s a neon-bright legal question mark, which may yet reveal legal exclamation points. Former housing minister Steve Clark didn’t just resign. He also hired a lawyer.

Suggestions of possible non-legal activity is why the Auditor-General and the Integrity Commissioner both investigated.

It’s also why the police are looking into the affair. The Ontario Provincial Police said last December that it was inquiring into allegations of wrongdoing related to Greenbelt real-estate transactions, but last month it abruptly handed the matter over to the Mounties. It said the reason was “a potential perceived conflict of interest.”

Which adds another layer of legal concern: The OPP either did not feel itself to be independent enough to investigate the Ford government or believes it is not perceived as independent. The latter is bad; the former is banana-republic level.

The OPP investigated and laid charges several years ago against members of the Dalton McGuinty government in relation to the gas plants scandal. Now, it is saying it cannot do likewise with the Ford government.

Mr. Ford likes to say that Ontario is “open for business.” Fair enough. But the mysterious goings on in the Greenbelt suggest his government opened the province, and itself, to something else.

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