TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday he's confident that nothing criminal took place in his government's process of removing land from the protected Greenbelt for housing development.
Ford took questions for the first time since the housing minister's chief of staff resigned this week and the RCMP announced that it would weigh the available evidence and decide if an investigation is warranted.
"If they decide to investigate – they haven't decided yet – but if they do I take it very serious, extremely serious, and I have zero tolerance if there was any nonsense going on," he said Friday.
Ford said he is "confident" there was no criminality.
A report this month from the auditor general found that the chief of staff to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark selected most of the sites that were removed from the Greenbelt for housing, rather than a team of civil servants struck for that purpose.
The auditor also said that developers who had access to chief of staff Ryan Amato at an industry event wound up with 92 per cent of the land, and the property owners of the 15 sites removed from the Greenbelt stand to see their land rise in value by $8.3 billion.
Ford and Clark have said they didn’t know how the sites were selected, which opposition politicians have said defies belief. Ford explained Friday that he was unaware of the details when he signed off on the plan at a cabinet meeting because he believes in delegating.
"You get stuff put in front of you before cabinet, which I did, my exact words (were), 'Cross the T's, dot the I's, everything's fine,'" Ford said.
"I can't micromanage one of the largest – I call it a corporation – one of the largest corporations in North America of $204 billion of revenue, hundreds of thousands of employees, a GDP over a trillion dollars and micromanage every single person. I don't believe in micromanaging."
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Ford's certainty that there was no criminality doesn't jibe with his assertion that he was unaware of the details.
"He's so confident, and yet he says he doesn't know anything," she said. "So which is it?"
The RCMP said Wednesday they have started to look into the Greenbelt matter, weighing whether to launch an investigation by evaluating information sent over by the Ontario Provincial Police.
The provincial force had been assessing information for months and turned the potential case over to the Mounties to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.
Ford also expressed frustration Friday in an, at times, testy press conference at the magnitude of media coverage of his decision to remove 7,400 acres in 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes.
"Folks, it's one-third of one per cent," he said, referring to the amount of land being removed from the Greenbelt. "When I talk to people and I say, 'one-third of one per cent, it's like a speck on a map,' they say, 'Really, and they're making that big of a deal?'"
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk said that 2,400 acres of the land added to the Greenbelt are already protected by existing policies. She also found that 83 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt is prime agricultural land and 76 per cent was in active agricultural use up to last year.
Stiles said the opposition and people across the province wouldn't be so strongly opposing the Greenbelt moves if it wasn't so important.
"It has been made clear in report after report after report that we do not need this land to build housing," Stiles said.
"In fact, it's going to be deeply inefficient and ineffective. This is going to build more luxury sprawl. That's what it has always been about. It has not been about building truly affordable housing, and he's wasting time. He's wasting absolutely precious time because we do have a housing crisis."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2023.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press