Greenbelt is Ontario’s jurisdiction, Ford says after federal minister raises concerns

The province has announced it is removing 7,400 acres of protected Greenbelt lands to build 50,000 homes

By Allison Jones in Brampton

The Greenbelt is provincial jurisdiction, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday after the federal environment minister indicated he’d consider intervening in Ford’s plans to develop parts of the protected lands.

The province announced in November that it is removing about 7,400 acres from 15 different areas in the protected Greenbelt lands, while adding more parcels elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes.

Media outlet the Narwhal reported that Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday that Ford’s plans run counter to the goals of preparing for the effects of climate change.

The plan “flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do in terms of being better prepared for the impacts of climate change,” the Narwhal quoted Guilbeault as saying.

Ottawa “will be looking at the potential use of federal tools to stop some of these projects.”

The Narwhal reported that Guilbeault raised the possibility of emergency orders under species-at-risk legislation and the Impact Assessment Act.

Ford said Friday he was “really disappointed” to hear those comments.

“This is our jurisdiction,” he said.

Ford said Ottawa’s new immigration targets will mean hundreds of thousands more newcomers to the province each year, and they need somewhere to live.

“You can’t complain about not having enough housing for years and then complain when we come up with a solution to do it,” Ford said.

A government-commissioned housing affordability task force report said a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the housing crisis.

Guilbeault would not repeat the comments outside a caucus meeting Friday in Ottawa, but his office provided a statement noting that no specific development projects have been proposed yet.

“In his remarks yesterday, the minister referred to some of the legal processes that are in place to protect nature,” the statement reads.

“In due course, all projects may be considered for review by the independent impact assessment agency.”

Ontario’s auditor general is conducting a value-for-money audit of the financial and environmental implications of the Greenbelt development plans, which are part of the government’s efforts to get 1.5 million homes built in 10 years. 

The province’s integrity commissioner is also investigating a complaint from the incoming NDP leader into what she calls the “curious timing of recent purchases of Greenbelt land by powerful landowners with donor and political ties to the Ontario PC Party.” 

Ford and his housing minister have denied any developers were tipped off about plans to open the Greenbelt.

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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