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Tory betrayal - Ford's plan to pave the Greenbelt

John Bell

November 18, 2020

Once upon a time, back in the days before the plague, back when Doug Ford was just campaigning to become Ontario’s premier, he convened a not-so-secret meeting with a cabal of powerful real estate speculators and construction moguls.

These are people usually (and charitably) referred to as “developers”. They develop nothing. They oversee the slapdash construction of the badly planned suburban nightmares, super highway gridlocks and eternal mortgage indebtedness that blight the Canadian landscape.

They also funnel a fortune into the election support for Tory politicians. Leading the way are corporate sharks like Mattamy Homes, Merit Ontario (an anti-union contractor’s association), Nashville Developments, Opportunities Asia Ltd., and many others. Since corporations are not allowed to directly donate to political parties, these entities use executives and employees to front the money, or create “third party” entities like “Canada Proud” to push pro-business, pro-Tory propaganda.

These are the land sharks. And politicians like Ford are the remora fish, parasites that subsist on eating their excrement.

The Greenbelt

The Greenbelt was created in reaction to the runaway urban sprawl created during the Mike Harris Tory regime. It was intended to control the loss of prime agricultural land to suburban housing tracts, indiscriminate mining of landmarks like the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, and despoilment of the watersheds serving cities in the Greater Toronto Area.

It was proposed and created by the Dalton McGuinty Liberals, but was to a large extent the result of a strong grass roots environmental movement.

And to some extent it worked. It saw a patchwork of Conservation Areas, protected wetlands essential to wildlife diversity, and prime farmlands serving urban centres of the “Golden horseshoe” at the west end of Lake Ontario. It was accompanied by a noticeable improvement in water quality in the lake.

It had limitations, and land-hungry speculators concentrated on getting their vassals into seats on town councils in the area. They nibbled away at the protected areas, searching for loopholes (is a golf course a legitimate part of a greenbelt?). And they longed for the day they could cash in on the rest of the prize.

Ford and the land sharks

At that February 2018 meeting, Ford promised them the keys to the kingdom.

The meeting was filmed, and the footage leaked to the press several months later in the heat of the election campaign.

In it Ford waved off the environmental significance of the Greenbelt as “a bunch of farmers’ fields”. “I’ve already talked to some of the biggest developers in the country, and, again, I wish I could say it’s my idea, but it was their idea as well.”

This from a man who could never see further than the piece of pork at the end of his fork.

The video was a bombshell, and Ford was first forced onto the defensive–yammering about how developing more sprawling suburban tracts was equal to building “affordable housing”–and then into full retreat.

“The people have spoken — we won't touch the Greenbelt. Very simple. That's it, the people have spoken. I'm going to listen to them. They don't want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won't touch the Greenbelt,” Ford told the press.

Very public, very heart-felt, and sadly very effective. Of course it was a lie.

Promises made, promises broken

In September of 2019 it was revealed that Ford was in talks with land speculator Rizmi Holdings, owned by Lucia Milani, to develop a section of protected wetland in the Oak Ridges Moraine. Milani family members have donated more than $100,000 to Ford and the Tory Party in recent years.

Again, under the media spotlight, the plan was put on the back burner.

Next came announcement that a new 400 series highway would be built to “serve” Vaughn, Caledon, Georgetown and Oakville. On its way, the 4 to 6 lane blacktop would directly destroy 1,000 hectares of protected land. Secondarily it would encourage developments that would erase much more.

The highway announcement came without public debate or input, thanks to emergency powers the province had granted itself to deal with the COVID crisis. And people were so focused on the pandemic that the news barely made a ripple.

At the end of October, Ford used those emergency powers to do what he promised back at that meeting with his buddies in 2018. He issued a special provincial order to override Greenbelt protection and authorize building a 40 football field sized suburb amidst a wetland on the Lower Dufferins Creek, near Pickering.

The cynical lie from the province prompted the resignation of a high-profile member of the Ontario Greenbelt Council, Linda Pim. The Tories shrugged her off as just a Liberal malcontent. In fact she is a veteran environmental biologist, planning expert and a 40-year activist in protecting Ontario’s environment.

In her public resignation letter she wrote: “I cannot in all conscience continue to sit on the Greenbelt Council which has provided you with its best advice on urban and regional planning issues in the Greenbelt and the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) — advice which seems to me to have not been given due consideration.”

So Ford is ignoring the advice of environmentalists and planners in favour or land sharks, just as he ignores the advice of infectious disease specialists in favour of the “keep business open” lobby.

Ford isn’t done yet. Early in November he announced that he was restricting the powers of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities. Beside maintaining the parks and natural enclaves many of us are familiar with, the CAs oversee flood control, water quality and the issuing of building permits in protected lands.

The CAs were created post-WWII to deal with greedy, unplanned developments. They were beefed up in 1954, in the wake of Hurricane Hazel when 81 people were killed by flooding in houses that had been built on flood plains. They were reinforced again in the wake of the Walkerton disaster, where at least 7 people were killed and over 2000 sickened after an E-Coli outbreak poisoned the town water supply as a result of weak regulations.

So Doug Ford is literally turning back the clock 75 years to enrich his friends and benefactors, shrugging off generations of improvements and reforms as “red tape”. He is using the chaos of the pandemic, to short circuit democracy via “emergency powers” and to keep us distracted while he does it.

At risk are the air, land and water that sustain us. To us they are things to be carefully protected, as their existence protects us. To the land sharks and parasites like Doug Ford, they are only dollar signs waiting to be grasped.

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