Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford says he would keep the province’s Greenbelt “in its entirety,” reversing himself after a video released by the Liberals showed him pledging to allow development on a “big chunk” of the ring of protected farms and wetlands.
In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Ford said he had changed his mind on the Greenbelt “after consultations with the people of Ontario” and that the coming PC Party platform would pledge not to touch it.
“I looked at it as making sure we have more affordable housing,” Mr. Ford said in his statement. “There have been a lot of voices saying that they don’t want to touch the Greenbelt. I govern through the people, I don’t govern through government. The people have spoken − we won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
His move came just a day after the governing Liberals released a web video shot in February that showed Mr. Ford pledging to release a large portion of the Greenbelt in order to reduce housing prices. He says in the video that the idea came to him from “some of the biggest developers in this country.” The plans had not been announced publicly.
Environment Minister Chris Ballard, who is also a Toronto-area MPP, called the idea reckless. His party accused Mr. Ford of making “secret promises” to developers.
The Greenbelt video appears to be one of few punches from the trailing Liberals to land on Mr. Ford.
When first asked by reporters about the Greenbelt on Monday, Mr. Ford responded by pledging to replace any land removed from the Greenbelt with other land.
Environmentalists warned any such tinkering would spell the end of the protected Greenbelt as developers renewed a speculative rush for farmland. The Ontario government and urban planning experts say there is already more than enough available land around the greater Toronto area for more than 20 years of development.
Even the Ontario Home Builders’ Association says it supports the Greenbelt and is now focusing on red-tape and other government policies it says are slowing efforts to build housing.
In comments sent to reporters on Tuesday, Mr. Ford said he still believed the way to address the “housing affordability crisis” was by increasing the housing supply, but he pledged to do so “while protecting our green space and our prime agricultural land.” He did not provide more specifics.
Polls commissioned by the Greenbelt Foundation have suggested high levels of support for the Greenbelt in recent years across Ontario.
While a recent government review of the Greenbelt did make some policy changes that resulted in small changes to its boundaries, a vast majority of requests from municipalities and developers for carve-outs to allow for more new development were rejected.
Before Mr. Ford issued his retraction, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne had also criticized Mr. Ford’s idea to open up the Greenbelt on Tuesday, warning that he would turn the protected land into a “Swiss cheese map.”