A seven month investigation by Ontario’s Auditor General concluded with the release of a scathing report on the process used to remove land from Toronto’s Greenbelt and open it for housing development. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s August 9 report says that a small group of well-connected developers influenced the government, and those developers stand to earn up to as $8 billion from these projects. The report calls into question who has the ear of government civil servants and politicians.
These findings are no surprise. Since the deal was announced in 2022, questions have been asked why this particular area of the Greenbelt was chosen, considering there is neighbouring land available outside Greenbelt protection already. These developers did not own the land outside of the Greenbelt, hence the move to lift environmental protections on the land that they did own.
What we know from Lysyk’s report is that Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, received information packets from developers. Twelve of the 15 parcels of land being recommended by Amato are from developers with friendly ties to the Progressive Conservative Party, Ford, or the government. Amato is the lead civil servant at Queen’s Park who approved the plan to move land from protections. Clark approved Amato’s plan, and Premier Ford signed off on it, along with Ford’s cabinet.
Just as it is not a surprise that this deal did not smell right, it is no surprise that politicians favour their political supporters and friends. Since the time of the Family Compact, this is a tradition of Canadian Politics. Politicians of all levels and political stripes will look more favourably on those who who looked favourably on, or supported, them.
There are two issues at play here. First, environmental protections were needlessly removed based on political lobbying from select businesses. Second, and more importantly, friends of the politicians and staff in power received a favourable deal – one that has been outed – and nothing has been done about it so far but an apology.
Premier Ford said at a press conference that the “buck stops here,” but call a spade-a-spade – this is smoke and mirrors, and nothing more. It is well established that the Ford government is a top-down administration. Major files do not proceed without Ford or a key minister’s knowledge. Clark is part of that inner circle. To apologize after the fact is irresponsible. It acknowledges that Ford or his government did not care if rules were broken, so long as they can say they are sorry after. “Oops.” “Sorry.” “My bad.” All is forgiven.
In response to the report, Ford said his government needs to do better, and that 14 out of the 15 recommendations by Lysyk will be implemented. These deal with transparency, lobbying, consultation, and using personal emails for government business. All these – if implemented – will improve the process: however the one that will not be, reversing the land swap deals. The buck stops here – unless it matches the Premier’s goals and/or priorities – then it is full steam ahead.