Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Fiasco - Liberals at the Gate

By Ray Rivers

August 24th, 2023



Ontario’s Premier must think we are all stupid. Everyone knew he had promised developers that he would open up the Greenbelt in his early days campaigning in 2018. And having come off from an impressive majority victory last year he obviously thought it was now or never to deliver on that original promise to his most keen supporters. Nothing else in this entire fiasco makes any sense.

Premier Ford and his Minister of Municipal Affairs: Will Steve Clark still have that job at the end of the year?

Political staffers don’t undertake this kind of mission without authorization at least from their minister, and in the case of something as politically sensitive as the Greenbelt, from the Premier himself. And this chief of staff for the housing minister’s office was apparently hired by Mr. Ford. So the Premier has to be lying or hopelessly incompetent when he says he was unaware of what he was approving until the last minute. What kind of senior executive gives his approval to something like this without taking the time to review it?

Like in any decent crime story, the staffer, Ryan Amato, has now left the scene, resigned his post. That would allow the mob bosses to escape culpability by laying all the blame on him. Ford isn’t going to back down on his approval, or even reconsider it. Instead he and his housing minister claim it was ‘the process’ at fault.

But there was no ‘process’. Breaking up the Greenbelt was a covert operation, an ad hoc project led by a political staffer and a small cadre of trusted civil servants. The provincial government does have an exhaustive process for policy development, but this wasn’t it. The Auditor General provided an excellent summary of this matter.

It could take up to 20 years to get approvals and the required urban services into these lands, given their location. The developments, in the boonies, are likely to be neither higher density nor affordable. It is wishful thinking that 50,000 homes will actually be built or that this could happen in time to deal with Ontario’s current housing crisis.

Details on some of the properties shown on the map were handed to the former Ministry of Municipal Affairs Chief of Staff in plain brown envelopes at an industry dinner.

This is all just one big lie. It is a mess and it stinks to high heaven. And it’s Ford’s mess – a crisis of his own making. And it will be his undoing. The Green Party and some environmental groups had requested that the OPP conduct an investigation of this affair. But the OPP, wisely, have bumped it up to the RCMP Anti Rackets Branch, to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

The next provincial election is scheduled for June of 2026. Clearly Mr. Ford is hoping that the public has a short memory and that this indiscretion will be forgotten by the electorate. Or like Mr. Amato he too may find it more comfortable to leave the scene. And from a partisan perspective this affair is fodder for the opposition parties.

The Liberals are in the throws of selecting a new leader for their party after disappointing performances in the last two elections. So the Burlington Liberals are hosting meetings for each one and I sat in for the two candidates thought to be leading the pack.

Nate Erskine-Smith: He was happy to be in the room.

Nate Erskine-Smith is a federal MP and former Toronto litigation lawyer. Perhaps his exclusion from Cabinet and the prospects of re-election by an eight year old government now struggling in the polls factored into his decision making. It’s my guess that given what he’s been saying, he fits pretty clearly on the centre right of the party. That is if we need yardsticks to help us understand our politicians.

He spoke in opposition to universal basic income; doesn’t like the idea of buck-a-ride subsidized public transit; will not promote ending Catholic school funding; and would only implement proportional representation after another referendum, like the failed McGuinty effort. In all fairness he supports meeting federal emission targets, protecting the Greenbelt and restarting the renewable energy program.

Watch where you put your feet.

Bonnie Crombie, was widely expected to be the front runner until she put her foot in her mouth, being quoted as labelling herself right-of-centre and apparently musing the it was OK to move some land out of the Greenbelt under the right conditions. She claims she was misquoted and has since come down hard on keeping the Greenbelt intact.

Crombie is a natural politician, personable, engaging, warm and very relatable, somewhat in contrast to the more matter of factly Erskine-Smith. So it is surprising that this three time mayor of one of Canada’s largest cities and former federal MP could have erred so easily this early in the game. Perhaps she was just testing the waters and found herself in the midst of sharks.

It appears these two candidates haven’t yet learned the oldest lesson for getting elected and succeeding as a Liberal. Govern from the centre but campaign from the left.

The election for leader will be later this year and there will be a series of public debates among candidates before that. Only party members can vote but membership is free and on-line, though the deadline to join is only a couple weeks away. The ballot will allow ranking by preference for candidate and the leader announced early December.

Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor, writes regularly applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Ford’s Record    Greenbelt-Gate     Greens Call for Police Investigation

Bonnie’s Error      Leadership Debates      Nate’s Policies      RCMP

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5 comments to Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Fiasco – Liberals at the Gate

  • Rick Law

    Is there any surprise here? This Premier couldn’t even do license plates. His record in Civic politics was abysmal. He was befuddled by his laptop and needed lessons. What an embarrassment!

  • Gary Scobie

    Great article, Ray. Spot on and hard hitting as it should be, A majority government should not mean a dictatorship by the leader pushing only his own personal views and agenda against the interests of citizens of the province.

    His simplistic thinking on complex issues should be a caution and a worry to his party’s MPPs. The Liberals have a chance to come out of the wilderness, but must use the time they have to choose a leader wisely and assemble a team of talented candidates that can make inroads against a still strong base of conservative voters. Not a slam dunk by any means.

  • Brenda Oliver

    Terrific article–clear and well thought out, Ray!

  • Stephen White

    You really summarized this issue well Ray!

    Ford’s intensification agenda is an absolute train wreck! The PC’s have seriously mismanaged this file, and in the process, severely damaged their credibility and reputation. Ford and his feckless minions have run roughshod over municipal governments, threatened marshlands and conservation areas, and angered the public. As a former PC supporter I might have forgiven the license plate fiasco, the mess around funding for children suffering from autism, or maybe the disaster around Bill 124. However, the Greenbelt fiasco is the final straw! It’s not only bad policy, it is flagrantly reckless and irresponsible.

    I’ll be paying close attention to the provincial Liberal leadership convention in the hope that someone, anyone, can mount a credible challenge to Doug Ford. I haven’t voted Liberal provincially since 1979, but maybe hope springs eternal.

  • Don Fletcher

    Well put! This is the first Gazette article of yours, Ray, that I can agree with.