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Greenbelt scandal deserves justice, but history may repeat itself

Housing crisis solutions don't require harming the Greenbelt.
A photo from on top of the Niagara Escarpment recently, which Owen Bjorgan says perfectly sums up the mosaic of land uses in the previously protected Greenbelt.

He flip-flopped about appropriate class sizes for school children. He flip-flopped during lockdowns and restrictions — many times. Flip-flop Ford flops more than a fish out of water, and over the past few weeks, it is no secret that he flip-flopped on his own party’s original promise to protect the Greenbelt.

My end of summer touring season was clogged with work, which didn’t leave me much breathing room to write my usual weekly article. However, such matters gave me ample observation time to watch one of Ontario’s most jarring eco-political issues play out in order to write this piece. The psychology and layering of this issue is popcorn-worthy.

To be clear, I have no political dog in this fight. All political parties have acute problems, and all sides underperform grossly in the environmental sector. Additionally, I am not against housing development. However, I do get my feathers ruffled when outright corruption rides in on its high horse and impacts our local ecosystems and livelihoods.

The Ontario Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, has delivered a scathing public report on how the Ford government flip-flopped and opened up the Greenbelt for development, and how they did so without any public or professional consultation. I recall thinking “it’s probably just to get some of his corporate and development buddies really rich.” There is no way that governments would ever do something like that at the expense of everyday people and the environment — that’s just conspiracy talk, right?

Lysyk’s investigation revealed that the “decision favoured developers with connections to the housing minister’s (Steve Clark)chief of staff.” The report continues, “the government also failed to consider the environmental, cultural and financial risks and impacts of the decision,” and called the process “not standard or defensible.”

In fact, it is so indefensible, that Ford responded with his tailored, “I’m just a regular honest Canadian guy who made a mistake” tone. It would almost be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high.

“The process should have been better, and I’m admitting the process should have been better,” said Ford. Hold your breath, though — because like a child giving a jaded and insincere apology, there is always a “but” to follow. To which Ford continues, “but, when you’re in a housing crisis, when you have an inferno happening, the firefighters run to the fire, not away from it. In my position, I have to deal with the crisis.”

So not only can we unpack that he continues to have no substance to his defence, he also equated a government-created (this is a federal incompetence issue, too) housing crisis to a firefighter risking their lives to put out a fire. It is almost insulting to firefighters, as his argument holds like a strainer holds water.

Ford is also feeding into an age-old narrative of development versus environment. It’s option A or B, without middle ground or reasonable compensation. This is a classic fabricated dichotomy. As a society in recent years, we have become trained to believe that large, complicated issues must be compartmentalized into polarized sides, which is nonsense, and ineffective at solving problems.

On that precise and painful note, Lysyk’s report continues to highlight how, when certain parcels of the Greenbelt became sacrificed to development, the process had no consistency or “fairness” at all, and that it was poorly thought-out from a land planning perspective. The report states that “there was sufficient land for the target of 1.5 million homes to be built without the need to build on the Greenbelt.” All of this just steers to a facetious shocker — your elected officials are sometimes more in it for themselves and their buddies than they are for you, the voter and citizen.

Furthermore, both the Premier and the now-resigned housing minister told Lysyk that they “did not know” how the selection process of parcels to become unprotected went through. So, who is really running the ship that figuratively and literally sails through our precious watersheds?

As we speak, the RCMP is also investigating the Ford Greenbelt scandal after Ontario Provincial Police delegated the task to them. As much as I think this sounds totally appropriate and encouraging for justice, even the RCMP has had a hard time keeping a clean nose over the years. That comment, please understand, is of no disrespect to the vast majority of men and women who serve with dignity.

Now, Ford has recently come out to say that he is going to add parcels of land back to the Greenbelt. This only happened once he got caught. If this were you or I, we’d be fired or fined already.

I speculate this is just smoke and mirrors for some of Ontario’s most biodiverse and agriculturally productive farmland to be destroyed, in lieu of adding properties of much less significance. It stinks a whole lot of the 2015/2016 Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board, Niagara Region officials, a handful of mayors, and a foreign investor trying to destroy protected wetlands while advertising it to the public as “biodiversity offsetting.”

This has been just another reminder that whatever the political, social, or in this case environmental issue, the big mouths on our screens are not the end-all and be-all of credibility. Nor in any industry or conversation, for that matter.

Over the past few months I have been grateful to help MPP Wayne Gates spread the message to our local town and city councils, as well as in Queen’s Park. Yes, a housing crisis exists (as I write this from my parent’s place. Love you, Mom and Dad!), but we can address the issue without harming the Greenbelt. I will continue to be an active voice for an issue that truly affects us all, including the unique and rare species that have called Niagara home long before us.