Ontario Premier Doug Ford is reversing his plan to open the protected Greenbelt lands for housing development, he announced September 21, after sustaining nearly a year of pushback over the decision.

Critical reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner about the process to remove lands from the Greenbelt for housing development found that the process to select lands was rushed and favoured certain developers.

According to the reports, more than 90 per cent of the land removed was in five sites passed on to then-housing minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato. Both Clark and Amato have since resigned. A second cabinet minister, Kaleed Rasheed, resigned this week after news reports raised questions about his connections to another developer.

The departures prompted a mini cabinet shuffle, with Ford naming environment minister David Piccini as the new labour minister. Andrea Khanjin, who represents the riding of Barrie-Innisfil, is promoted to cabinet to serve as the new environment minister.

The Greenbelt’s agricultural system of connected, working farmland is the cornerstone of southern Ontario’s rural economy and provides residents of the Greater Golden Horseshoe with a reliable and diverse source of local food and drink. It is home to the province’s only two specialty crop areas – the Holland Marsh and the Niagara Tender Fruit and Grape Area – whose fertile soils and unique climate conditions allow Greenbelt farmers to grow crops that can’t be grown anywhere else.

The Greenbelt Foundation applauds the Government of Ontario’s decision to reverse the removal of land from Ontario’s Greenbelt, signaling a return to permanent protection of its critical water, natural heritage and agricultural systems:

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“Our Ontario Greenbelt contains the productive farmlands that feed us, the landscapes that clean our water, the trees that filter our air, and supports the health and economies of numerous communities big and small in the most densely populated area of the country.

The incredible outpouring of support for the Greenbelt and the Foundation’s work over the past ten months has been a testament to the strength of our community and a reminder of the place of importance that the Greenbelt holds in the lives of every Ontarian. We thank each community member, partner, advocate and citizen who gave voice to the necessity of permanently protecting these lands.”

Ecojustice lawyer, Laura Bowman, also welcomes the reversal of the decision: “Greenbelt giveaways were never going to meet our affordable housing needs. Finally, today the Ontario government put the brakes on one key part of a biased process that is undermining plans to develop in urban areas.”

“Developing on the Greenbelt would have resulted in large, unsustainable, and unaffordable homes. Destroying environmentally sensitive land, and destroying Ontario’s future food security, is not the answer to Ontario’s housing crisis,” explains Bowman. “But the provincial government is still using poor planning policies such as highways through the Greenbelt and forcing communities like Hamilton to expand onto greenspaces. These are big giveaways to many of the same speculators who benefited from the Greenbelt removals, and many followed the same kind of biased, chaotic process. These other attacks on greenspace around the Greenbelt and across Southern Ontario need to be reversed too.”

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Environment Journal has been covering the prospective Greenbelt development for the past year and will continue to cover the fallout, queries into the decision-making process, and alternative solutions.

Adds Bowman: “Today’s decision is thanks to the journalists who have covered this scandal, to the local communities who rallied and campaigned for its reversal, and to environmental groups like Ecojustice and our allies who highlighted the importance of the Greenbelt to this province.”

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