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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks inside the legislature in Toronto on Sept. 14.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government was unmoved by nearly 30,000 largely negative public-consultation comments about its proposed Greenbelt changes, pushing ahead with a plan that has now prompted the angry resignation of one of its own top conservation officials.

In a summary of the comments received during the mandated month-long consultation process, the Progressive Conservative government acknowledged that most of the feedback opposed changes to the Greenbelt, a swath of land protected since 2005 in order to safeguard the environment and limit sprawl. In spite of this, the plan initially made public in early November proceeded unchanged.

“What this confirms is that this particular decision has never had anything to do with the public interest,” said Phil Pothen, Ontario program manager at the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

Citing the need to build housing, Premier Doug Ford’s government proposed removing 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt and adding 9,400 acres in other areas. Developers must show quick progress on the land – which the government says could hold 50,000 homes – or it could be returned to the Greenbelt.

The changes sparked broad public concern, particularly after media outlets including The Globe and Mail revealed ties between the Tory government and owners of some of the land to be removed.

Last week, the opposition Ontario Liberal Party and Environmental Defence asked for the OPP to investigate whether developers were tipped off in advance of the Greenbelt proposals. The force is currently reviewing whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation, spokesman Bill Dickson said in an e-mail Thursday.

In a social-media post this week, the chair of Ontario’s Species Conservation Action Agency, said he could not continue in the role in the face of his disappointment with the Ford government’s direction on the Greenbelt and other environmental issues.

“In my view, the province is not listening to or acting in the best long-term interests of the people of this province,” Doug Varty wrote on LinkedIn.

Last January, Mr. Varty was appointed chair of the agency, which has the task of deciding what projects and activities are funded to support the protection of at-risk species. Mr. Varty’s term was to end next month.

Mr. Varty informed Environment Minister David Piccini in October, said ministry spokesman Daniel Strauss, that he wouldn’t seek reappointment for a second term prior to the announcement of changes to the Greenbelt.

By law, the government had to hold public consultations on the Greenbelt changes. These comments were posted online late Wednesday. Many were highly condemnatory.

“In a time when we are worried about climate change and preserving our native land for our children, the proposal to build on the greenbelt is despicable,” wrote one person, whose name was not included.

“I disagree with this plan wholeheartedly and think that our future children will look back at this government and ask why would we make such a short-sighted decision, where the benefit is not for the public but for large corporations’ greed.”

The government said in a summary of the comments that some communities noted that the proposed Greenbelt removals aligned with previous requests to do so, while Indigenous communities, environmental groups and “all responding Conservation Authorities” were opposed.

“Doug Ford’s decision to ignore the results of the public consultations proves he doesn’t care what the people of Ontario think,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said in a news release. “As long as land speculators and pro-sprawl developers can cash in, nothing else matters.”

Arguing in favour of the Greenbelt changes during the consultations were some people in the home-building industry, a few of which pushed for their own protected lands to be made available for development.

One developer made a specific request for 16 hectares in Caledon to be removed from the Greenbelt. Mark Jepp, vice-president of land development for Paradise Developments, a parent company of FP Mayfield West (Caledon) Inc., argued that some of the protected lands in this area “provide no ecological benefit” and that these 16 hectares fit the government’s stated criteria for removal. The request was not granted.

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