Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli is falling in step with Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, and the Ontario PC government's party line when it comes to the simmering Greenbelt scandal.
Chair of Cabinet and Minister of Economic Development and Trade Fedeli confirms Friday his support for the controversial land swap involving the fertile lands in the southern Ontario Greenbelt.
"Premier Ford and Minister Clark have made it very clear," Fedeli says in a statement to BayToday, "at a time when Ontario is experiencing unprecedented growth, it’s never been more important to deliver on our commitment to build at least 1.5 million homes. Our government has accepted and will be implementing 14 of the 15 recommendations proposed [by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk] but we also need to get homes built to address the housing crisis."
According to a recent report by The Trillium — Village Media's website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park — on Nov. 4, 2022, the Ford government announced its intention to remove 7,400 acres of land in 15 different parcels from the Greenbelt. It finalized the removal of these lands, and the addition of 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt from elsewhere, in December.
The move has raised considerable controversy. Ford and Clark have repeatedly defended it as crucial to relieving the province's shortage of homes and the housing affordability crisis. The government intends for 50,000 homes to be built on the lands earmarked for development.
Ryan Amato — Clark's chief of staff — is under scrutiny for his role in the Greenbelt sell-off.
The Ontario integrity commissioner's office confirmed it was considering an investigation into Amato who is a central figure in the 95-page special report Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's office released after an almost seven-month investigation. Ford's office requested the investigation, making good on one of the recommendations the premier promised to adopt from the auditor general's report on the Greenbelt land swap.
Ford says he will not alter the government's plans to "build on the protected Greenbelt despite the damning auditor general report and experts saying his housing targets can be met by building elsewhere," according to this Canadian Press report, and maintains "no one received preferential treatment in the process to open the Greenbelt to housing construction," although Lysyk concluded, "the process was biased and favoured certain developers with ties to the housing minister."
In response to the auditor general's report, Ford promised that the government would implement 14 of the recommendations. The lone suggestion that Ford's government didn't agree to act on was to revisit the 2022 land removals.
In the audit, Lysyk cited a report by a government-appointed task force that it drew its main housing target — having 1.5 million new homes built in Ontario by 2031 — as evidence that removing land from the Greenbelt was not needed to reach its goal.
It was found Amato had “substantial control” over the process of determining which land would be removed from the Greenbelt, the provincial auditor wrote in her report. "Suspension and dismissal" are among the penalties the integrity commissioner can give under the Public Service of Ontario Act, in relation to such misconduct.
Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake is already undergoing one investigation focused on Clark's role in the Greenbelt land swap.
— With files from The Trillium and The Canadian Press