Published September 27, 2023

Ontario will not compensate Greenbelt developers, housing minister says

By Liam Casey and Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario will not compensate developers whose lands are returning to the protected Greenbelt, the province's housing minister said Wednesday. 

Paul Calandra said he has put that provision into draft legislation that will also "codify" the boundaries of the Greenbelt. The legislation is set to be tabled soon, he said.

"At this point nothing had changed, the lands had been temporarily moved out of the Greenbelt, but no zoning had been changed, the circumstances for them had not changed, so that's why I'm not going to be offering any compensation," he said.

The province removed land from the Greenbelt last year as part of its broader push to build 1.5 million homes by 2031. The decision prompted large amounts of opposition and investigations by legislative watchdogs. 

Premier Doug Ford announced last week that the province would return 15 parcels of land to the protected area and apologized for opening it up in the first place after damning reports from the auditor general and the integrity commissioner found the process was flawed and favoured certain developers.

The auditor general found that property owners stood to see their land value increase by $8.3 billion. 

The aftermath of the reports saw several high-profile resignations, including then-housing minister Steve Clark and another cabinet member, Kaleed Rashed.

The government's upcoming legislation will see any future changes to the Greenbelt done through the legislature and not by regulation, as the Ford government did last November.

Calandra said the former Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty had put protections for the government in place when it created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Calandra said the government was now reviewing those protections.

One developer objected both to the decision to return the lands to the Greenbelt and to the lack of compensation.

Jeff Paikin, who is the president of New Horizon Development Group and a director of the company that owns one of the 15 parcels of land in question, said "it is an interesting position to take" by the government.

His company owns 15 acres of land in Grimsby, Ont.

"If it happened in private industry the answer is quite obvious as to what would happen to someone who went back on their commitments and had others spend considerable amounts of money and allocate resources based on those commitments," he wrote in an email to The Canadian Press. 

"I don’t think civilized democratic societies operate on this basis so I guess that will be for others to decide if that position is reasonable or not."

He said his company has put in a "huge amount of work" and he is considering his options. 

"We have signed contracts and completed designs and negotiated with the municipality for the benefits," Paikin said. "Met with (non)-profit groups to determine the affordable housing component that is now lost to the marketplace."

Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles said it's hard to know what the government promised or agreed to with the developers because those deals have never been disclosed.

"I don't trust them to protect the people of Ontario," she said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said he's worried about money that may be coming to developers in other ways to make them whole.

"Are they going to favour these same people in other decisions that have to do with making a lot of money? That's my question," he said. 

The owners of the 14 other parcels of land did not respond to a request for comment. 

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

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

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