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Published September 21, 2023

A chronology of key events following Ontario's decision to develop Greenbelt lands

Toronto

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday that he is reversing his decision to open protected Greenbelt lands for housing development.

Here is a timeline of events in the Greenbelt controversy:    

Nov. 4, 2022: Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announces via news release that Ontario would remove 7,400 acres in 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes. It contradicted a pledge he made in 2021 not to open up the Greenbelt "to any kind of development."

Nov. 11: CBC reports that the landowners who stand to benefit from the Greenbelt land removals include prominent developers and that one purchase happened as recently as September.

Nov. 30: Clark says he did not tip off developers ahead of announcing changes to the Greenbelt. Premier Doug Ford says the same a day later.

Jan. 6, 2023: Ontario Provincial Police say they're working to determine whether they should investigate the matter.

Jan. 18: Ontario's integrity commissioner and auditor general both announce that they will conduct separate probes. The integrity commissioner launches an investigation into Clark based on a complaint from NDP leader Marit Stiles. She asked the commissioner to investigate whether Clark broke ethics rules around making a public policy decision to further someone's private interests.

Feb. 23: Stiles asks the integrity commissioner to issue an opinion on Ford's actions surrounding his daughter's stag-and-doe event ahead of her wedding. Ford has acknowledged that some developers, who are friends, attended the $150-a-ticket event and media reports say lobbyists and government relations firms were also invited. Stiles says in her complaint that several individuals and developers who attended the subsequent wedding have received favourable Minister's Zoning Orders and at least one has benefited from Greenbelt changes.

March 16: The integrity commissioner temporarily sets aside the stag-and-doe request, saying there is overlap with the Greenbelt investigation that's already underway.

Aug. 9: Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk releases her report. Her findings include that all but one of the 15 sites removed from the Greenbelt were suggested not by civil servants, but by Clark's chief of staff, who was given packages at an industry event by two key developers, and that developers who had access to the top staffer wound up with 92 per cent of the land that was removed. If some sites did not meet the criteria for selection, such as for environmental reasons, the criterion was simply dropped, rather than selecting a different site, Lysyk finds.

Aug. 10: The integrity commissioner's office says it has started reviewing a request from Ford's office to investigate Clark's chief of staff Ryan Amato.

Aug. 14: Ford's office says it is creating a working group to implement Lysyk's recommendations on improving processes.

Aug. 16: Stiles asks the integrity commissioner to consider Lysyk's findings that political staff were using personal email accounts and were regularly deleting emails.

Aug. 22: Amato resigns.

Aug: 23: The OPP refers the matter to the RCMP out of concern over a perceived conflict of interest. The RCMP says it will evaluate the information and assess whether to launch an investigation.

Aug. 25: Ford, in his first comments since Amato's resignation, says he's "confident" nothing criminal took place on the Greenbelt file.

Aug. 28: First Nation chiefs across the province call on Ford to return land to the Greenbelt. The Chiefs of Ontario say the Greenbelt moves violate the Williams Treaties that were settled with the province and the federal government in 2018.

Aug. 29: Ford threatens to return land back to the Greenbelt after he found out one of the sites earmarked for housing in Ajax, Ont., was purportedly put up for sale. A representative for the landowner, who lives in China, said it was a misunderstanding.

Aug. 30: Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake releases his report looking into Clark. He found Clark violated two sections of the Members Integrity Act and recommended to the Ontario legislature that the minister be reprimanded. Wake found that the process of selecting lands to be removed from the Greenbelt was marked by "unnecessary hastiness and deception." He also found that Amato was the "driving force" behind that process and that Clark was unaware, although he should have known, what his chief of staff was up to on such a sensitive topic. Later in the day the province says it was returning the Ajax site back to the Greenbelt.

Aug. 31: Ford backs Clark, saying "he has a tough job." Clark, in a separate news conference, apologizes for his role in the Greenbelt controversy and pledges to do better going forward but doesn't provide specifics.

Sept. 4: Clark formally resigns his cabinet post. Ford appoints Paul Calandra as the new minister of municipal affairs and housing.

Sept. 5: Ford announces a review of all Greenbelt lands, including the parcels that were removed.

Sept. 20: Kaleed Rasheed resigns as minister of public and business service delivery and from the Progressive Conservative caucus over a Las Vegas trip that coincided with a trip developer Shakir Rehmatullah took there. The two are close friends and Rehmatullah's company owned land removed from the Greenbelt. Reporting from CTV and the Trillium called Rasheed's timeline of his trip into question and a spokesperson said Rasheed had "mistakenly" given the integrity commissioner incorrect dates.

Sept. 21: Ford says he is reversing his plan to open the protected Greenbelt lands for housing development and won't make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future. He says it was a mistake to open it up in the first place and is "very, very sorry." Earlier in the day, the integrity commissioner finds "insufficient grounds" for a full investigation on the stag-and-doe event held for the premier's daughter. He notes that it's "interesting" that the head of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party's fundraising arm sold about 20 tickets to the $150-a-head party, including four to developer Sergio Manchia, who ultimately had land removed from the Greenbelt. 

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.

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