Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province’s “so-called” Greenbelt area is a “scam” that he claimed was initially drawn up at random by a previous Liberal government, while defending his recent move to allow developers to build houses on parts of the protected lands.
The Premier faced questions from reporters on Thursday about how his government decided last year to break repeated promises and allow development on 3,000 hectares of the protected 800,000-hectare Greenbelt, made up of farmland and countryside that arcs around Toronto.
The move, which the government says is needed to create 50,000 homes amid a housing crisis, has prompted investigations from both the province’s integrity commissioner and its Auditor-General, amid allegations that developers with links to the government unfairly benefited from the changes.
On Thursday, the Premier cast doubt on the previous Liberal government’s process to create the protected area in 2005, alleging it came up with the plan using a dartboard and highlighters. He also said Ontario has more than enough green space compared to other jurisdictions. Yet he added that his government had enlarged the Greenbelt overall, adding 3,800 hectares to compensate for its removals.
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“It was just a big scam, as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Ford said at a transit announcement in Brampton, northwest of Toronto. “I think we’re doing pretty good on the so-called Greenbelt … as the Liberals made up that name.”
The Ontario Premier said former Toronto mayor John Tory, who was Progressive Conservative leader when the Greenbelt was proposed in 2005, called it the “dartboard.”
“They literally put a dartboard and they just start throwing darts wherever it was convenient with them. There was no study, no rhyme, no reason. A bunch of staffers grabbed the highlighters and just randomly just started going down streets,” Mr. Ford said, adding the Liberals created the Greenbelt as a “fancy word.”
Victor Doyle, the former senior provincial planner who led the development of the Greenbelt, said the Premier’s comments denigrated the many experts and scientists who worked on the plan. He said it was drafted during a year-and-a-half long process that included an advisory committee made up of stakeholders, including developers, and “detailed analyses” of agricultural growing conditions.
“All land that was included in the Greenbelt was intensely evaluated and warranted inclusion for protection and any notion that this was drawn up with dartboards or … highlighters is simply not true,” Mr. Doyle said in an interview. “And it demeans the value of the lands that need protection for the sustainability of this region.”
Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said Mr. Ford’s comments on the Greenbelt show how little value he places on a protected area that has been internationally recognized.
“To dismiss it as being some kind of back-of-the-envelope idea that has no basis in science or economics or in social policy is just ridiculous,” Mr. Gray said in an interview. “None of the things that he is saying are true about the Greenbelt. And I suppose that’s consistent with him saying not-true things about his commitment to protecting it.”
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Mr. Gray pointed to the Greenbelt consisting of lands added to the already protected Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment – preservation initiatives enacted under previous PC governments.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the Greenbelt is intended to protect the environment and sources of water for the health and well-being of future generations.
“The Greenbelt isn’t a partisan issue. People that support all political parties support the Greenbelt,” Mr. Fraser said. “The Premier is just disappointed it took him this long to carve up our green space to reward his rich friends.”
The Official Opposition NDP issued a statement criticizing the Premier’s Greenbelt comments, including his assertion that his government has “one of the best environmental records in the history of Ontario.” The statement pointed to his moves to curtail the powers of local conservation authorities, cancel 700 renewable energy projects, and weaken protections for endangered species, and said: “Um, okay Doug.”