MPPs, advocates, demand police investigation into PC Greenbelt land swap following scathing AG report

Photos: Legislative Assembly of Ontario

In light of the damning auditor general’s report released last week that exposed the deeply flawed process behind the removal of 15 parcels of land from the Greenbelt, opposition leaders are in unanimous agreement that the Ford government acted unethically, resulting in billions of dollars going into the pockets of developers while Ontarians continue to suffer. Opposition leaders are calling for remedies, including the resignation of the PC party officials responsible as well as a criminal investigation by police authorities.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Liberal Party told The Pointer in an email statement that they are calling for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark to step down and for development on the Greenbelt lands to be frozen. The Liberal Party has completely rejected the claim from Premier Doug Ford and Minister Clark that they were unaware of the way the process unfolded.

“There is no way on God’s green Earth that Minister Clark’s Chief of Staff acted without the Minister’s full knowledge or direction,” MPP and interim leader of the Liberal Party, John Fraser, said in a press release. “Ministers make decisions; their Chiefs of Staff implement them.”

The Ontario NDP agree and are calling for Minister Clark to be removed from his position. NDP Leader Marit Stiles, who has repeatedly questioned Ford and Clark at Queen’s Park about their development antics, is also demanding that the Legislature be recalled in order for the lands to be officially added back to the Greenbelt. The Party is also expecting that the PCs will comply with any ongoing investigations by the Integrity Commissioner and, if it comes to it, the OPP.

“We know the auditor general’s report is just the beginning, and there is a lot more to come. We believe the people of Ontario deserve to know everything, and we’re not ruling anything out as we continue to uncover more about this shameful scandal,” a spokesperson for the Ontario NDP told The Pointer in an email statement.

While the NDP stopped short of calling for the OPP to step in, Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner did not shy away from the idea.

“The Premier and his cabinet have demonstrated a complete lack of respect for Ontarians a willingness to break all the rules when an elite insider comes calling, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill,” the Party wrote in a press release.

On top of requesting the Greenbelt lands be returned, the resignation of Minister Clark, and the completion of the Integrity Commissioner’s report, the Green’s are also pushing for an OPP investigation to assess potential criminal activity associated with the process that led to the parcels of Greenbelt land opened for development.

“We stand with the millions of Ontarians who are outraged at the Ford government’s actions to benefit elite insiders,” Schreiner told The Pointer in an email statement. “We will continue to work across party lines to restore accountability, transparency and trust to the public in the wake of Ford’s Greenbelt scandal.”

In March, the OPP stated they had yet to find any incriminating evidence in the way the Greenbelt lands were handled in response to a complaint filed by Patrick Macklem, a constitutional lawyer and University of Toronto professor. Macklen’s complaint was one of many filed by environmental organizations after 7,400 acres were removed from the Greenbelt.

Environmental Defence is also demanding an OPP investigation.

“I know that the auditor general was asked explicitly about 1/8whether an OPP investigation would ensue 3/8, and if some of the recommendations from her report would be made available to the OPP,” Keith Brooks, Programs Director at Environmental Defence told The Pointer following the release of the audit. “I think that there’s questions that have not yet been answered here and I think further investigation is warranted.”

Neither the OPP nor the RCMP would comment to The Pointer on whether they have received any complaints or requests for investigations.

The rise in anger and calls for investigations has come to light after the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report found that certain developers were heavily favoured in the process of choosing lands to be removed from the Greenbelt. Despite receiving 630 requests for removal of land, the Greenbelt Project Team, led by the MMAH Chief of Staff, only assessed 22 plots of land, 21 of which were chosen directly by the Chief of Staff. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk determined that the redistribution of lands would put over $8.3 billion in the hands of some of the nation’s most wealthy developers.

The Ontario Integrity Commissioner is currently undertaking an investigation into Ford’s daughter’s wedding and stag and doe which was attended by representatives for prominent developers and believed to be one of the places where information about parcels of land could have exchanged hands. A conclusion from the Integrity Commissioner has yet to be drawn.

A memo released to Ontario government employees Monday from the Premier’s Office stated that a “comprehensive response” to the audit is a “top priority” for the government. Despite this overarching claim, the PCs have only agreed to 14 of Lysyk’s 15 recommendations, leaving out the consideration of returning the 15 parcels of land to the Greenbelt.

The Premier’s Office states they are establishing a working group to aid in the implementation of the other recommendations. In the meantime, Ford is requesting government employees provide complete submissions on cabinet proposals, conduct appropriate consultation with community and Indigenous groups, flag confidentiality agreements and solely use government emails for work-related matters, all conditions that Lysyk had found to be broken throughout her investigation.

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