The federal government might intervene to stop some of the development the Doug Ford government has in store for the Ontario Greenbelt, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told a news conference late last week.
Responding to a question from the Narwhal, Guilbeault said Ottawa might challenge parts of Ford’s controversial plan under the federal Species At Risk Act, or scrutinize it under the Impact Assessment Act (IAA). He said the proposal to allow 50,000 new homes on 3,000 hectares of previously-protected Greenbelt land “flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do in terms of being better prepared for the impacts of climate change.”
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The Ontario New Housing Act faced blistering criticism from the moment it was introduced last fall, in the midst of a municipal election campaign that left cities in no position to respond. But Ford pushed back the day after Guilbeault’s statement, asserting that “this is our jurisdiction” and declaring himself “really disappointed” that Ottawa would consider intervening.
That was after the federal minister said he would have “a legislative obligation to intervene” if a proposed development affected species at risk. Guilbeault’s predecessor, Jonathan Wilkinson, has already ordered an IAA review of Ontario’s plan to build a new expressway, Highway 413, through Greenbelt land.
Guilbeault’s communications director Oliver Anderson set out to clarify his statement on Friday. “In his remarks yesterday, the minister referred to some of the legal processes that are in place to protect nature,” he told the Toronto Star. “In due course, all projects may be considered for review by the independent Impact Assessment Agency. No specific projects have yet been proposed.”
A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark told the Globe and Mail the province “will require that environmentally sensitive areas are set aside and protected before any construction begins.” But she cautioned Ontario would need “at least” 50,000 homes on Greenbelt land, “especially when taking into account the new immigration targets set out by the federal government.”
The plan calls for the province to add 3,800 hectares of protected land to the Greenbelt in exchange for the 3,000 hectares it’s opening up to development. But Ford had previously promised to keep hands off the entire Greenbelt, and a news investigation by the Star and the Narwhal “found eight of the 15 parcels of the Greenbelt being opened up to developers were purchased after his Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2018,” the Star writes. “That has triggered probes by both integrity commissioner J. David Wake and auditor general Bonnie Lysyk after opposition complaints about the land swap.”
The Star says Ford “bristled at the suggestion that anything untoward happened” and suggested the widespread public opposition to his plan reflects “a little bit of a double standard”. The premier said the previous Liberal government made changes to the Greenbelt 17 times.
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