A Promise Made is A Promise Kept

By Ray Rivers

December 5th, 2022



A promise made is a promise kept is Premier Doug Ford’s mantra. Back in 2018, Mr. Ford promised a bunch of developers that if elected he would break up its boundaries and allow development in the Greenbelt. With that, the most popular premier in Ontario’s history, Bill Davis, must have turned in his grave.

Former Premier Davis, after all, was the father of Ontario’s Greenbelt. Back in 1973 he created the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act. Even back then he was determined to preserve Ontario’s valuable natural land from the threat of exploitative development, mainly quarry activity and urban sprawl.

Ontario’s Greenbelt, the world’s largest permanently protected green space.

Even Mike Harris, who nobody could mistake for an environmentalist, created the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan in 2001, protecting 90% of the moraine. That included almost a half million acres of land protected from development activity of one sort or another. Ultimately the government of Dalton McGuinty folded both of these tracts and another million acres of prime farmland into Ontario’s Greenbelt, the world’s largest permanently protected green space.

Premier Doug Ford.

As Ford got into his 2018 election campaign, he must have forgotten what he had promised the developers because he made another election promise to Ontario’s voters that he would keep the Greenbelt intact. And he must have meant it because he repeated that promise four years later as he breezed into his second election victory.

But it seems that all promises are not equal. Because less than six months, after winning his last majority government, he passed an act to fracture the integrity of the Greenbelt, thereby green lighting more urban sprawl. In fact some of the developers had purchased even more acreage in the Greenbelt in anticipation of the inevitable. After all, a promise made is a promise kept.

Ford’s not apologizing for any of this. Justin Trudeau had proclaimed that half a million immigrants would be coming to Canada annually. And that became Mr. Ford’s get-out-of-jail card, he thought. The province forecasts as many as 300,000 immigrants a year will be coming here and they’ll all live in the Greenbelt, or so it seems.

Of course Mr. Ford could take a page out of fellow Quebec Premier Legault’s book and say no to the PM, whose immigration policies will create so much more disruption to Ontario’s housing market. But Ford has embraced the immigration numbers as proof that he needs to open up the Greenbelt.

And to add insult to injury and further confuse the public, Ford is playing a shell game with the Greenbelt – adding new replacement land which is not under development threat. Robbing Peter is still theft even if Paul gets paid.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming newcomers to Canada

In the end what is most likely to be built are more multi-million dollar estate homes. What else would one build so far from main trunk sewers, water mains, transit and employment? That is exactly the kind of urban sprawl the Greenbelt was created to prevent. And that will hardly make a dent in the supply of more housing, affordable housing least of all.

Do the math on Ford’s deal. He’s taking out 7400 acres of previously undeveloped land. That would build 740 ten acre estate homes, or 7400 one-acre homes, the minimum development tract for most rural municipalities. That is a long way from the 1.5 million homes the Premier is talking about. None of this makes sense – it just stinks to high heaven.

People keep pointing out that there is all kinds of underdeveloped land in the current urban footprint. Ford, if he was serious about satisfying the demand for housing, could consider all the empty brownfields in the GTA for a starter. And that land already has sewer, water, hydro and road infrastructure.

Schools are sitting vacant in old established areas that are ripe for redevelopment. Research conducted by the CBC confirms that a great deal of land is already available in both Halton Region and Toronto; for example 6,000 and 118,610 housing units, respectively, have been approved but not built. But the easy money is in developing virgin land.

It is difficult to see what Ford is doing as anything but catering to the economic interests of the developers, many of whom are also significant political donors. What is it called when a politician in a position of power changes the rules to help associates, contacts and/or friends to make big money? And it was Mr Ford who had falsely accused Premier Wynne of corruption.

In short, Ford has prioritized the economic interests of a handful of land developers over the rights of the rest of us to preserve our living environment for future generations. That says a lot about the Premier. There may be good reasons for a politician to break his trust with the public. But lining the pockets of the developers he knows should not be one of them.

Ray Rivers is a contributing editor who from time to time writes on matters of significant public interest.  A former federal government economist, Rivers has run for public office and has served on advisory committees at both the municipal, provincial and federal levels.



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4 comments to A Promise Made is A Promise Kept

  • Stephen White

    Doug Ford is a political opportunist of the worst kind. He has no ideology other than getting re-elected, and no clear vision other than helping his developer friends make piles of money by capitalizing on a building boom. “Shoe-horning” thousands more people into the GTA is only going to lead to more environmental stress, increase congestion, and create greater burdens on existing infrastructure. Take a look at southern California and the massive level of environmental degradation if you want to see where all this is headed.

    There are hundreds of communities in southwestern, northern and eastern Ontario that are dying economically. Their populations are aging, and many one industry towns are in decline. They would welcome an influx of new residents who could provide both a rejuvenated tax base and entrepreneurial energy. Mike R makes an excellent point: improve the local infrastructure, upgrade broadband technology, and provide incentives for new residents to move there. It’s a big province Doug! You don’t have to squish everyone into a 50 mile wide swatch between Oshawa and Niagara Falls, and tear up every forest, farm, tree and patch of green space in the process!

    I live in hope that Ford’s flaccid collection of sycophants in his PC caucus will finally grow a backbone and challenge what is inherently a short-sighted strategy. Alas, I fear not.

  • perryb

    Remember, Ford can’t do it alone (at least not yet). He needs a majority of compliant MPPs to vote on stuff on our behalf, like our own what’s-her-name who I understand lives in Burlington.

  • Mike R

    Well there have been several waves of greenbelts. They are all political constructs. We have had conservation/natural environment controlled zoning for over 45 years. Designating a swath of land was needless except for the political aspects, for example of McGuinty’s promises to his base of support (just like his reversal of the power plant). That said, I think the statement of “estate homes” is not / should not be the target. If they are looking for increasing housing units, then this should be coupled with allowing multi-unit development on rural lots. Villages and hamlets could use a mix of housing so update teh zonings and bring on the townhouse complexes. Many (older) villages used to have these.

  • Larry

    Sad but true. I guess we elected him with a majority, probably deserve what we get in return