NDP demanding Ford restore the greenbelt in Pickering, fire Housing Minister Clark


Published August 16, 2023 at 10:20 am

Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles is demanding the Conservative government return the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve to the Greenbelt and that Housing Minister Steve Clark be “fired” over his role in what the leader of the Opposition in the Legislature calls the “shady” land deals that has dominated the news cycle for the past week.

“You don’t solve a housing crisis by creating a corruption crisis,” Stiles said in joining with local advocates in calling on the province to “cancel their plan” to remove land from the Greenbelt “and be honest with Ontarians about their shady dealings.”

Stiles was in Pickering Tuesday alongside environmental groups Stop Sprawl Durham and Land Over Landings to talk about the blockbuster report from Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk last week that claimed the selection of the lands in last November’s controversial land swap was “directly influenced by a small group of well-connected developers” who stand to make at least $8.3 billion in increased land value.

More than $6 billion of that is for lands inside the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP).

“Residents in Durham Region know the DRAP has massive ecological significance due to its Class 1 farmland, critical wetlands and support of the region’s watersheds and ecology,” Stiles said. “It’s why, decades ago, the municipality of Pickering, the Region of Durham and the province signed an agreement to protect the DRAP in perpetuity.”

The formerly public lands came with easements and covenants protecting them as farmland forever until Ford cancelled those protections in November.

Stiles has been calling on the Premier to fire Housing Minister Steve Clark, recall the legislature and reverse the Greenbelt changes after Lysyk’s report was released.

Ryan Amato, Clark’s Chief of Staff and the staffer primarily responsible for choosing which sites on the Greenbelt would be opened up for development, has been offered up as a scapegoat by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has asked the Integrity Commissioner to investigate his actions.

When asked recently in the Legislature if Amato should be fired, Stiles offered an enthusiastic “Ah, yes!” in response. “I’m going to go further,” she added. “The Minister should be fired.”

Ford and Clark both denied any prior knowledge of the land acquisitions in the agricultural preserve but Stiles said “something doesn’t smell right” and cast doubt on Ford and Clark’s denials. “Somebody knows something,” she said.

Amato, meanwhile, is vacationing in Italy and could not be reached for comment.

Stiles also singled out Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, who is also the Pickering-Uxbridge MPP, for failing his constituents.

“Today I’m calling Minister Bethlenfalvy’s bluff when he claims he didn’t know about the shady backroom deals his government was conducting with developers,” Stiles said. “I’m singling him out for staying quiet, for sitting on his hands, for choosing to listen to insider developers who want to bulldoze vital agricultural and ecological lands rather than the people who voted him into office.”

“I continue to urge MPP Bethlenfalvy, as well as Doug Ford and Minister Steve Clark, to stop ignoring the rallying cries from people in Ontario to keep their hands off Ontarians’ Greenbelt.”

Stephen Marshal, a Whitevale resident in north Pickering and member of Land Over Landings, said the provincial government’s decision to open up the agricultural preserve for development is “an assault” on the local community.

“This is being imposed on us for the benefit of a handful of developers. It won’t do anything to help the housing crisis,” he said at the Tuesday press conference. “MPP Bethlenfalvy promised to protect the Greenbelt. This isn’t protecting the Greenbelt. The Conservative cabinet says, ‘we didn’t know anything about this.’ Well, now you do know. Do you support this rotten deal? And if you do, how can you claim to have any integrity?”

Stiles and her party want Ford to restore environmental protections to the nearly 8,000 acres his government “ripped from the Greenbelt to benefit a few wealthy developers” last November, a request the Premier has already said he will not do.

The NDP have also asked, via letter, for the Integrity Commissioner to widen his investigation to include Ford’s personal cellphone use.

“The Premier was not using his government-issued phone for at least a full week in November 2022, raising concerns that he is using a personal phone intentionally to avoid accountability through the Freedom of Information process,” the letter reads.

The NDP is asking the integrity commissioner to look into communications between Ford and Clark, especially during the Greenbelt decision-making process, noting that the Ontario Public Service guidebook declares that using “non-government resources” for government work is not allowed.

The commissioner will deliver a public report upon completion.

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