In 2022, near three thousand hectares of the Ontario Greenbelt was sold to developers as part of plan to build new houses. Now, the government has returned the land back to its protected status.
The Ontario Greenbelt is a two million-acre area of protected land created in 2005 to prevent the loss of farmland and natural spaces, restrict urban sprawl, and benefit local communities. The Greenbelt, containing seven coastal wetlands and twenty-one urban river valleys, is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in Canada and has given hope to seventy-eight at-risk species that inhabit it. The Greenbelt also offers climate resilience benefits: its forests and wetlands absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and its terrain absorbs rainwater, preventing flooding.
In 2022, despite election promises that the Greenbelt would remain protected, the Conservative Ontario government announced the sale of 2,995 Greenbelt hectares to developers, framing this move as part of the government’s effort to create one and a half million homes by 2031. But Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s own Housing Affordability Task Force declared that availability of land wasn’t an issue for housing supply. There was an immediate outcry from environmental groups, citizens, and opposition parties.
Reports from Ontario’s Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner found that the land swap favored certain developers. The Auditor General also found that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steven Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, was responsible for selecting ninety percent of the removed land, and that he chose these sites after being lobbied by developers. Both Clark and Amato have resigned. Kaleed Rasheed, the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, and Jae Truesdell, who served as Ford’s director of housing policy for a time, also resigned after reports circulated about their connections to a developer.
Premier Ford announced in September that the land would be returned to protected status. “It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast. This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others. It caused people to question our motives. As a first step to earn back your trust, I'll be reversing the changes we made and won't make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future,” Ford said in a statement.
Following the news of the Greenbelt Reversal, Environmental Defence, an environmental group that has been vocal in condemning Ford’s actions, said in a statement: “We hope this change marks the beginning of a broader shift away from the government’s current misguided policies, including: forced boundary expansions in Hamilton and Halton, Waterloo and elsewhere; its lowering of Growth Plan density requirements; its gutting of Conservation Authorities; and its dismantling of regional land use planning.”
Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra has announced that the developers will not be compensated for the land being returned to the Greenbelt and has drafted legislation that he says will codify the boundaries of the protected land in an effort to prevent a similar incident in the future.