Ontario has given out 18 Minister’s Zoning Orders for developer projects to guests who attended a wedding of Premier Doug Ford’s daughter last summer, the New Democrats said Monday.
The land-planning tool can be used to fast-track development in a given area and the Progressive Conservative government has been criticized in the past for how often it uses the mechanism also known as an MZO.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said being friends with Ford has its benefits.
“We’ve uncovered that Mr. Ford’s Conservatives have issued as many MZOs to benefit attendees of a single Ford family wedding reception as the previous Liberal government handed out in 15 years,” Stiles said.
Nine of those 18 MZOs were given out to Flato Developments, which is owned by Shakir Rehmatullah, a longtime Ford friend, the NDP said.
Former minister Kaleed Rasheed resigned along with Ford’s former housing policy director, Jay Trusdell, after revelations they went to Las Vegas with Rehmatullah and the premier’s former principal secretary, Amin Massoudi.
Rehmatullah also benefited from the Ford government’s move to take out land last year from the protected Greenbelt for housing development. The government has since said it is reversing those removals and returning 15 parcels of land to the Greenbelt following public outcry and scathing reports from two legislative watchdogs.
The 18 zoning orders highlighted by the NDP on Monday largely enable development on farmland in the Toronto area.
Stiles said the murkiness behind issuing zoning orders is a problem that needs to be fixed, and accused the Ford government of malfeasance.
“It really seems like being a friend of the Ford family does have its perks,” Stiles said. “This is an outrageous way for a government to operate.”
In early September, Steve Clark resigned as housing minister after the auditor general and the integrity commissioner found in separate reports that the process to remove lands from the Greenbelt was rushed and favoured certain developers over others.
The RCMP has launched an investigation into the matter.
Housing Minister Paul Calandra said Monday that he is conducting a review of MZOs, but said the province will continue to use them to build housing faster.
“The vast majority of the ministerial zoning orders specifically were requested by municipalities,” Calandra said.
“But where I want to go back and look are those that have not made any progress, that aren’t meeting the goals of building housing.”
Calandra said he is not concerned about most of the zoning orders handed out because he gave out the majority of them for long-term care homes when he was in charge of that portfolio.
But he said he is committed to changing the process for using MZOs.
“I think there’s a better process of doing it and making it more open so people can see exactly why the request is being made and how it’s being made,” he said.
Calandra also recently reversed course on the province’s urban boundary expansions of several cities and regions, including Ottawa and Hamilton.