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Premier Doug Ford speaks at Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference at RBC Place in London, Ont., on Aug. 21.Nicole Osborne/The Canadian Press

David Moscrop is a writer and political commentator. He is the author of Too Dumb for Democracy and a Substack newsletter.

After winning their second majority in 2022, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives must have thought themselves impervious to consequences. Despite pandemic mismanagement, amid other failures, 40.8 per cent of voters cast their ballots for Mr. Ford and company. (Never mind that a 43.5-per-cent turnout meant that this represented only 18 per cent of eligible voters.) Not only did the Progressive Conservatives manage to win again, they leveraged two divided and hapless opposition parties and increased their seat count from 76 to 83.

But success in politics can be its own harbinger of doom; if you’re not careful, you start to believe your own spin. And as soon as you do, well, that’s the sound of the shovel hitting the ground for the first time as you start to dig your own grave.

The Greenbelt scandal is the echo of that sound. In early August, Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk released a damning report into Mr. Ford’s plan to open around 2,995 hectares of sensitive and protected Greenbelt land for development. She found the government’s plan to be irregular and driven by developers who stood to make billions from the swap, even though building on Greenbelt land was unnecessary to meet the province’s housing targets. The process, which Mr. Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark admitted was flawed, was driven by political staff, who limited the involvement of non-partisan public servants. Which is to say that the process was first and foremost expressly political, ultimately serving partisan interests ahead of the public good.

In her report, Ms. Lysyk offered 15 recommendations for change and amends, which the government accepted, except for the big one: that it re-evaluate its decision to change the Greenbelt’s boundaries. Instead, the government appears to have offered up Ryan Amato, the former chief of staff to Mr. Clark who resigned on Tuesday, despite reported personal efforts on the part of the Premier to protect him. On Wednesday, the Ontario Provincial Police referred the Greenbelt matter to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, citing a desire to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. The RCMP is evaluating the case and will decide whether to launch a full investigation. In the meantime, the province’s integrity commissioner is pursuing his own investigation into the affair.

Where there’s this much heat, there’s usually an inferno. But lost in the blaze appears to be the fact that Mr. Ford is refusing to revisit the decision. That is an utter scandal, and he should reconsider it – or at least put the plan on hold, especially as new developments emerge.

Any government with a sense of right and wrong and concern about public trust would do this while under RCMP and integrity commissioner investigation. Yet the Ford government’s interests and priorities apparently lie elsewhere, and certainly not first and foremost with the people of Ontario. Indeed, any premier and housing minister with the tiniest shred of integrity would have resigned themselves after a report as scathing as the Auditor-General’s.

Instead, Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark claim to have had no knowledge of how lands were chosen for development under the Greenbelt plan. That’s a stunning admission and, if true, is a scandal of its own – all the more stunning and scandalous, in fact, given that the Premier says he found out which sites had been chosen a day prior to their approval at cabinet, and that the Housing Minister says he knew just a week earlier. The land choices were approved anyway. The claims strain credulity, but this degree of acknowledged incompetence alone makes the plan worth revisiting. Even if they hadn’t known until late in the process, they could have said no. They had a choice, and still do.

A government, like the proverbial fish, rots from the head down. And this government has rotted far beyond its head. Mr. Ford’s government can’t be trusted, and it certainly shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt on the Greenbelt plan – or anything else.

Ideally, the government should cancel the Greenbelt plan altogether; moreover, Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark should resign. Naturally, this is a lot to ask of a government so prone to underdelivering on matters of integrity and competence. At the very least, however, given the magnitude of what’s at stake, what has happened and the shoe, or shoes, that have yet to drop, the government ought to suspend its plan to open environmentally sensitive land for development until all investigations have run their course. It’s the very least they can do, even if it’s so much less than they ought to.

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