NDP asks auditor general to investigate Ontario's opening up of Greenbelt lands

The province's proposal to open up protected lands, which was released earlier this month, aims to build homes on more than a dozen tracts of land now in the Greenbelt, while adding roughly 2,000 acres of protected land elsewhere. This is all part of the province's plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade to alleviate Ontario's severe housing shortage. (Giordano Ciampini/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The province's proposal to open up protected lands, which was released earlier this month, aims to build homes on more than a dozen tracts of land now in the Greenbelt, while adding roughly 2,000 acres of protected land elsewhere. This is all part of the province's plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade to alleviate Ontario's severe housing shortage. (Giordano Ciampini/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The provincial NDP is asking Ontario's auditor general to investigate how much property owners "stand to benefit" from the Ford government opening up previously protected Greenbelt lands.

In a letter sent to the auditor general, Davenport MPP Marit Stiles says the removal of protections for Greenbelt lands would "instantly shift immense wealth" onto landowners even before a single home is built.

"We are requesting your office conduct a value-for-money audit investigating how much wealth would be increased for property owners when their lands are removed from the Greenbelt, thereby enabling profitable rezoning, and whether this wealth transfer is in the public interest," Stiles wrote.

Stiles added the NDP is also calling for the investigation of the economic and environmental impacts on "agricultural and natural systems."

The province's proposal to open up protected lands, which was released earlier this month, aims to build homes on more than a dozen tracts of land now in the Greenbelt, while adding roughly 2,000 acres of protected land elsewhere. The move is part of the province's plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade to alleviate Ontario's severe housing shortage.

According to a CBC Toronto analysis of dozens of land registry and corporate records, several well-established developers are among the owners of the 15 parcels of land the Ford government is proposing to open up for housing in the GTA.

Some stand to profit

Corporations run by the DeGasperis family, longtime builders based in Vaughan, Ont. north of Toronto, who founded Tacc Developments and Tacc Construction, own 20 properties in three locations within the Greenbelt the government is proposing to open up.

The list of landowners also includes a company run by Michael Rice, president and CEO of Rice Group, and one run by Shakir Rehmatullah, president of Flato Developments.

"The difference in land values between protected farmland and unprotected developable land can be orders of magnitude," Stiles wrote in her letter to the auditor general.

In a statement to CBC News, Chris Poulos, spokesperson for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, said the NDP is "opposing changes that would lead to the creation of at least 50,000 new homes" in the province, on top of an "overall expansion of the Greenbelt.

"We will continue to explore every possible option to get more homes built faster so more Ontarians can find a home that meets their needs and budget," he said.

Province 'considering every possible option' for housing

The government's proposal to open up the Greenbelt has drawn criticism from Opposition politicians and provincial groups alike.

As recently as last year, provincial officials said they would not open Greenbelt lands for development. Premier Doug Ford reneged on that promise earlier this month, justifying the proposal by saying the province's housing crisis has worsened — and that it will become more dire now that the federal government has unveiled a plan to bring in half a million more immigrants a year.

"We have a housing crisis that we didn't have four years ago," Ford said at a news conference earlier this month. "We are going to make sure we get housing built."

In a statement earlier this week, Victoria Podbielski, press secretary for Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, told CBC News that the province is "acting decisively" to fix the housing supply problems.

"We are considering every possible option to get more homes built faster so more Ontarians can find a home that meets their needs and budget," Podbielski said.