OpEd: Ford’s secret Greenbelt sell off was never about affordable housing

OpEd: Ford’s secret Greenbelt sell off was never about affordable housing

AUGUST 11, 2023 – This morning, the Toronto Star published an Opinion Editorial by our president, Burkhard Mausberg. Burkhard is the former CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation and has been a leader on the Greenbelt for nearly 2o years. You can read Burkhard’s thoughts below.

If you’d like to help us save the Greenbelt, you can donate to our campaign here.


Ford’s secret Greenbelt sell off was never about affordable housing

As a leader on the Ontario Greenbelt for almost 20 years, I realize we didn’t make the Greenbelt Act strong enough. It’s not too late to fight back.

Wednesday’s report by Ontario’s auditor general about the Greenbelt land grab is truly unprecedented.

Never has so much wealth been transferred through a land-use policy in this country: with the stroke of a pen, a few privileged developers gained $8.3 billion.

All this without any due process, without any consideration of the impact on the environment and farming. And all done in secrecy, knowing full well that there is enough land for housing already.

As a leader on the Ontario Greenbelt for almost 20 years, I now realize that we didn’t make the Greenbelt Act strong enough. We didn’t put in place enough rules, guardrails and procedures to make an assault on the Greenbelt virtually impossible.

Maybe we made a mistake in not requiring public hearings under the act when changes to the Greenbelt boundary were up for consideration. Maybe we made a mistake in even permitting changes to the Greenbelt in the act.

But if what was revealed yesterday by the auditor general tells us one thing, it’s this: that mistake is not set in stone.

When the auditor general revealed that most of the land wasn’t just handed over to a few developers by politicians and their staff, but ordered by them at a private dinner, she told us that the fight is anything but over.

The facts are so strong, the collusion so wide, the disregard of any “environmental, agricultural and infrastructure considerations” so blatant, that the decision to move forward with the land grab simply will not stand with the public.

Indeed, an Environics poll released yesterday by the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario showed:

“ … 83 per cent of Ontarians believe there is no need to build housing on the Greenbelt and farmland to solve Ontario’s housing challenges, because there is enough land already available in existing towns and cities.”

Perhaps even more remarkable is that 76 per cent of 2022 Conservative voters agree with this statement. And the number of Ontarians who trust the opinion of Premier Doug Ford on housing? Just 10 per cent.

The data supports the public’s opinion. In fact, the amount of land currently set aside by Ontario municipalities within their borders is enough for 2 million homes, more than sufficient to meet the premier’s target of 1.5 million housing units built by 2031.

Carving up the Greenbelt is not about a lack of land for housing — and it certainly isn’t about building affordable housing, either. Instead, those who stand to financially benefit from this loss of green space and farmland are holding up the housing crisis as a scapegoat.

To be clear, this issue transcends political boundaries. Bonnie Crombie, Mississauga mayor and leading candidate in the Ontario Liberal leadership race, has indicated that she is willing to open up the Greenbelt for development. Political figures often have their eye on the Greenbelt. We just never dreamed it would get this far.

Twenty years ago, we who fought for the Greenbelt Act trusted that governments wouldn’t overrule an incredibly, even uniquely, popular policy like the Greenbelt.

We won’t make that mistake again. Greenbelt champions have been fighting the removal of these Greenbelt lands since November. The report from the auditor general provides essential fuel to reignite our fight to keep the Greenbelt whole with new strategies and new conviction. We now know the size and scale — and audacity — of the machine we are up against. And we need more help than ever to fight it.

Now is the time to act to recover and safeguard Greenbelt lands, while the light of the report is shining on the bias, hastiness and political manipulation of the Greenbelt annexation and the population is united in its opposition.

It’s not over, not by a long shot. We have a ton of fight left in us.