Ontario Premier Doug Ford is backtracking on his development plans on parts of the protected greenbelt, after months of backlash that resulted in the resignations of two ministers.
Mr Ford, who has defended his project for weeks, apologized on Thursday for breaking his promise not to develop the green belt and promised not to touch it in the future.
“We moved too quickly and we made the wrong decision,” Mr. Ford said grimly after a caucus retreat in Niagara Falls, Ont.
“This process has left too much room for some people to benefit over others. It made people question our motives.
The stunning turnaround came a day after MLA Kaleed Rasheed resigned from cabinet and the Progressive Conservative caucus. Mr. Rasheed resigned after his office admitted giving incorrect information to the province’s integrity commissioner during an investigation into the Greenbelt land swap.
Ontario’s Greenbelt Controversy, Doug Ford’s Role, and What’s Happened So Far
Mr. Rasheed is the second minister to leave cabinet following a report from the province’s integrity commissioner, J. David Wake. Former Housing Minister Steve Clark also resigned from cabinet after Mr. Wake determined he had violated ethics laws for failing to supervise his former chief of staff, who had led the process. defective” selection of Greenbelt land for development.
Mr. Ford’s government was criticized following the release this summer of reports by Mr. Wake and former Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk. Ms. Lysyk concluded that the land selection process was biased and favored certain developers, who stand to benefit from an $8.3 billion windfall following the removal of land.
The government has since said it is launching a review of Greenbelt land, but has not reversed its decision to remove 14 sites and open them to housing development.
The Greenbelt is a protected environmental area that extends around the Greater Toronto Area. Mr. Ford’s progressive government faced widespread criticism over its decision last fall to break its own repeated promises and remove protections on 3,000 hectares of Greenbelt land, which it said as an attempt to build more housing and solve the housing crisis. The government has added new protected lands elsewhere.
This summer, the Ontario Provincial Police referred the matter to the RCMP, and national police are currently evaluating whether to open an investigation.
The Integrity Commissioner released another report on Thursday into a complaint related to a stag and doe party held for Mr Ford’s daughter before her wedding. Earlier this year, Global News reported that promoters and lobbyists were invited to the event and that guests were asked to buy tickets and donate money to the couple. At the time, Mr Ford brushed aside questions related to the event and said no rules had been broken.