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Ford surrenders on Greenbelt! Now up the pressure on health privatization

John Bell

September 22, 2023

In a startling reversal, Doug Ford has raised the white flag. He announced today he is reversing his plan to open swathes of the Greenbelt to development, and has no plans to rezone any more of the protected land surrounding the GTA.

Only a week ago it looked like Ford was going to try and bluff his way out of a corruption scandalthat has so far claimed two of his cabinet ministers’ jobs, and at least one highly placed Tory staffer. He defiantly said he was going to open even more Greenbelt land for his developer pals.

Trying to go back on the offensive, he said this of the farmland and environmentally sensitive moraine lands that are source of the GTA’s watershed: “It was just a big scam as far as I’m concerned.”

But almost daily revelations linking his government to the real estate oligarchswho virtually rule the province have convinced even Ford’s own voter base that Greenbelt is synonymous with corruption. A tight-lipped Ford emerged from a policy meeting with his caucus, held in Niagara Falls, to utter the words: "I made a promise to you that I wouldn't touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise. And for that, I'm very, very sorry.”

We can bet that the usually obedient “trained seals” of the Tory caucus finally clapped back. The phones and emails in their constituency offices must have been working overtime, registering the anger from their base.

Of course, as we have seen, a Ford promise is never carved in stone. But to continue to use the Greenbelt as means to transfer billions of dollars into the pockets of a handful of developers  would mean the end of Tory rule in the next election, or even sooner.

What happens in Vegas…stays in the legislature

The crisis in the Tory backroom came to a head when it became clear that Kaleed Rasheed, Ford’s Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery (and by the way, just what is the mandate of such a sleazy-named ministry?) had lied to the Integrity Commissioner. He swore that his encounter with developer Shakir Rehmatullah in a Las Vegas luxury hotel was a passing coincidence. Rasheed was there with Doug Ford’s former personal aide Amin Massoudi.

Investigation revealed that Rasheed, Massoudi and soon-to-be Greenbelt billionaire Rehmatullah didn’t just pass in the lobby. The 3 indulged in an “opulent” massage together shortly before Ford announced which lands were to be opened up for development. Rehmatulllah just happened to grab some of that land. 

The high-end rub and tug cost Rasheed his seat in cabinet and his place in Ford’s caucus. Unlike Steve Clark, Ford’s former Housing Minister who quit cabinet but remained in caucus, Rasheed will sit as an independent MPP until the next election.

What has so far slid beneath scrutiny is that Rasheed and Massoudi were accompanied in Vegas, but not in the massage parlour, by Jay Truesdale. This former real estate honcho, who coincidentally is married to the CEO of North Edge Properties, is currently Ford’s appointed “director of housing policy”.

Nothing fishy there.

Don’t ease up on Ford

People will be celebrating tonight, and Doug Ford will be crying in his mom’s rec room, at his evident defeat. A victory on the Greenbelt is important, a win for our environment, a humiliation for Ford, and a slap on the wrist of the developer oligarchs.

But when your enemy is on the ropes, that is not the time to ease up on your attack. Why did Ford cave in on the Greenbelt now?

It is because he has to protect other parts of his agenda – especially dismantling public healthcare and education. The $8.4 billion at stake in the corrupt Greenbelt dealings is a gross amount. But it pales to insignificance next to the kind of money that corporations stand to profit from privatized public services.

And it should come as no surprise that Ontario’s hospital boardsare studded with real estate developers and hedge fund financiers. 

And it isn’t just the money at stake – privatizing social services  and busting public service unions are a higher ideological priority for Ford and his oligarch friends.

This means ALL OUT for the Stop Ford rally organized by the Ontario Health Coalitionon Monday, September 25. Backed by the Ontario Federation of Labour, the demonstration against privatization coincides with Ford’s return to Queen’s Park after his disastrous summer holiday.

Remember – Ford also promised never to privatize our healthcare. He blatantly broke that promise. Now we can force him to surrender on this as well, but it won’t happen if we let up the pressure now.

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