New Ontario minister touts progress on housing recommendations, but without detail

By Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario’s new housing minister says the government has “fully implemented” 21 of its housing affordability task force’s recommendations, but his office won’t say which ones.

Paul Calandra held a press conference Thursday, his second in as many days, the same week he took over the portfolio after Steve Clark resigned in the wake of two scathing Greenbelt reports.

The auditor general and the integrity commissioner found that when he was housing minister Clark’s chief of staff favoured certain developers over others when selecting which lands would come out of the Greenbelt for housing.

Calandra said Wednesday that a planned review of the Greenbelt could see even more land removed, but set out Thursday to put a positive spin on action the government is taking to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.

He touted the progress on implementing recommendations from a February 2022 government-commissioned housing affordability task force report.

“As of today, our government has fully implemented 21 of the task force’s 74 recommendations, and is in the process of implementing many more,” Calandra said.

The minister said a website would soon be launched with updates on the government’s progress on the recommendations, but when asked for details a spokesperson only sent a copy of the prepared remarks Calandra had read.

The recommendations included ways to increase density, and limit consultations and appeals. Calandra called the recommendations “an important blueprint on the way forward,” but the report also called on authorities to protect the Greenbelt.

“A shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem,” the report said. 

“Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts. We need to make better use of land (through changes to zoning laws),” the report authors argued.

Both Calandra and Premier Doug Ford have suggested in recent days that the report’s assertion is outdated, due to booming population growth. But Calandra declined to say Thursday whether the government had actually asked the task force members if they still stand by the assessment that more land is not needed for housing supply.

A spokesperson for Jake Lawrence, CEO and group head of global banking and markets at Scotiabank, who was chair of the task force wrote in a brief statement Thursday that, “The report speaks for itself.”

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

Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land in more than a dozen sections out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes and replaced it with about 9,400 acres elsewhere — though the auditor general found that 2,400 acres of the land added to the Greenbelt were already protected by existing policies.

Even though the ministry had received about 630 Greenbelt site removal requests since 2005, a team of civil servants struck by then-housing chief of staff Ryan Amato were limited to looking at 22 sites, all but one of which were brought forward by Amato, the auditor general found. 

More than 90 per cent of the land was in five sites passed on to him by two developers he met at an industry event, the auditor found. The property owners stand to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, she said.

Amato resigned two weeks after the auditor’s report. He said in his resignation letter he is confident he acted appropriately but that he didn’t want to be a distraction to the government’s work of getting housing built.

The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap. Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.

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