The leaders of Ontario's opposition parties are jointly calling for the province's auditor general to investigate the Ford government's decision to open up almost 3,000 hectares of previously protected agricultural land for development.
Ontario's NDP, Liberal and Green parties penned a letter Thursday to Bonnie Lysyk asking for a value-for-money audit and an assessment of the financial and environmental impacts of removing land from the Greenbelt and repealing the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act — things residents, experts and advocates were in "broad opposition of" based on provincial public consultations.
"The removal of protections from these lands has instantly shifted wealth to property owners, who have likely benefited substantially from the rezoning of this land from undevelopable agricultural land to developable land," the letter reads.
"Collectively, we are very concerned with the impact that the removal of these Greenbelt lands will have on the future well-being of our province."
Cabinet passed two regulations on Dec. 14 that enacted its controversial plan to open up land for development in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine. It did, however, add some 3,800 hectares in other areas.
The province says the move was made to pave the way for 50,000 homes as part of its goal to build 1.5 million homes over 10 years.
But prominent developers — some who bought land that couldn't be developed as recently as September, according to investigations by CBC News, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Narwhal — stand to benefit from the move.
Lysyk told CBC Toronto her office will be making a decision on the request next week.
The letter comes nearly a week after Ontario Provincial Police said investigators are working to determine whether they should launch their own investigation into the government's plans to open up the Greenbelt to development. Police say they're still looking into the matter.
Premier doubles down on decision, government's transparency
When asked to respond to the letter, Ford defended his government as "very transparent," adding the move was necessary to prepare for the province's future growth.
"At the end of the day, we need more homes," said Ford at a press conference Thursday.
Ford says an additional 3 million people are expected to settle down in Ontario in the next decade.
In response to a related question on the province's choice to expand Hamilton's urban boundary despite council's choice not to, Ford says the province needs to "create the climate" for companies to come here, invest and "build rentals."
"We have to make it attractive for them to build, right across the province here."
The premier's response comes in stark contrast with past election pledges.
In 2018, Ford backtracked on an election pledge to allow housing in the Greenbelt after public backlash. He also made a vow in 2020 not to "touch" the Greenbelt. Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005.
In 2021, when announcing plans to expand the Greenbelt, Housing and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said he would not cut the protected area or do a land swap.
The government's recent moves have sparked criticism and spurred protests throughout the province.
Parties join forces on issue
Incoming NDP party leader Marit Stiles first wrote to the Auditor General in November asking for an investigation into how much property owners stand to benefit from the province's plan.
Similarly, Greens leader Mike Schreiner previously submitted a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner asking him to investigate whether Ford or Clark violated the Member's Integrity Act with respect to their Greenbelt development decisions.
Whether a full investigation will be opened is currently under review by the commissioner, a statement from the Greens reads.
This move comes months after Lysyk's November report that found the Ford government failed to live up to its obligations for the fourth straight year under Ontario's main environmental law that gives residents the right to participate in government decisions.
Lysyk's latest findings include failing to consult the public and not sharing "key information" about a plan to exempt projects related to provincial parks and conservation reserves.