Ontario already had enough land designated to build two million new homes – more than its overall goal of 1.5 million over the next decade – before it decided to release parts of the protected Greenbelt and force municipalities to earmark even more farmland for housing, according to new research.
The numbers, based on public figures from local governments, are contained in a report by former Waterloo director of community planning Kevin Eby that was commissioned by a group of housing and environmental advocacy organizations, including Environmental Defence. The results echo previous conclusions from other experts, including those of the government’s own industry-led housing task force, which said the province did not face a shortage of land for new housing.
The report, released Monday, adds to the controversy around Premier Doug Ford’s decision to break previous promises and allow development in parts of the Greenbelt, the protected countryside that encircles the Greater Toronto Area, in the name of solving the housing crisis.
Most recently, the Opposition NDP has focused on allegations that real estate developers or lobbyists may have attended a fundraiser held in advance of the wedding of Mr. Ford’s daughter and the fact that prominent building-industry figures, described by the Premier as personal friends, attended the wedding itself.
Allegations that some developers – and donors to Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party – knew in advance of the Greenbelt decision have prompted investigations by Ontario’s Auditor-General and its Integrity Commissioner. The Premier and his Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, have denied tipping off developers.
Campbell Clark: No, Mr. Ford, it’s not okay to host a party where developers come with cash
Mr. Eby’s report says that before the government’s recent policy changes, there was enough “designated greenfield area,” or farmland already planned for development across the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, to build 700,000 units. And that number even assumes the government’s other changes to allow more sprawl-like low-density development. Most of the units are already in various stages of the approval process.
Plus, the report says, there is enough land earmarked for more than 1.3 million new units in existing “built-up areas” inside municipalities in the GGH, which arcs around Toronto from Niagara to Peterborough.
Mr. Eby and several other members of the government’s Greenbelt advisory council resigned in 2020 to protest the province’s changes to the powers of local conservation authorities. The report was commissioned by a coalition calling itself the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario.
The report’s numbers raise questions about the government’s stated rationale for its decision to open up 3,000 hectares of the 800,000-hectare Greenbelt area, while adding back 3,800 hectares of land elsewhere. The government has said the move would lead to the creation of up to 50,000 new homes. It has also previously forced municipalities to designate more farmland on their outskirts for housing.
Chris Poulos, a spokesperson for Mr. Clark, dismissed Monday’s report as “not based on facts but rather a particular anti-housing and anti-growth ideology.” He said the Greenbelt land that was opened up is in prime locations for housing.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the report shows the government did not need to open the Greenbelt to solve the housing crisis.
Her questions in the Legislature on Monday about the Greenbelt prompted a fiery response from PC Government House Leader Paul Calandra, who falsely accused the NDP of sending a photographer to the wedding of the Premier’s daughter to take a picture of the seating chart.
The photo in question, obtained by multiple media outlets and submitted by the NDP to the Integrity Commissioner, was on posted online by the couple’s own wedding photographer. Mr. Calandra also accused the NDP Leader of implying that Italian-Canadian developers are unable to build homes “ethically.”
“We are raising these issues because Ontarians are deeply concerned,” Ms. Stiles said. “And I think the government showed yet again how desperate they are to avoid those questions.”
Also on Monday, the NDP released an affidavit from Ms. Stiles, filed with the Integrity Commissioner, as part of a complaint calling on him to investigate the Premier’s actions at the pre-wedding and wedding events.
The document focuses on the handful of developers whose presence at the wedding has already been reported, such as Mario Cortellucci, a long-time Progressive Conservative backer whose companies have received special fast-track orders from the government, and Shakir Rehmatullah, president of Flato Developments, who benefited from a Greenbelt carveout.
But Ms. Stiles also alleges the land chosen for removal from the Greenbelt did not meet the government’s own stated conditions that the properties must be “on or near readily serviceable land” – meaning land that is close to existing sewer and water pipes and roads. The affidavit cites letters to the province from York Region’s chief planner and Durham Region’s chief administrative officer who said the Greenbelt lands opened up in their jurisdictions were not in the two regions’ servicing infrastructure plans.