Ford 'confident' nothing criminal about government's handling of Greenbelt amid possible RCMP probe
Published Friday, August 25, 2023 2:23PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 25, 2023 2:23PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford says he takes any potential criminal investigation into his government’s handling of the Greenbelt land removals “extremely serious” and is “confident” there has been no wrongdoing on the part of the province.
Earlier this week, the OPP confirmed it requested that any investigation into the Greenbelt land removals be conducted by the RCMP. According to the OPP, the file was forwarded to the RCMP in an effort to avoid “any potential perceived conflict of interest.”
Ford fielded questions about a possible investigation while speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Friday afternoon.
“If they (The RCMP) decide to investigate, they haven’t decided yet, but if they do, I take it very serious. Extremely serious,” the premier said.
“And I’ll have zero tolerance if there is any nonsense going on.”
The RCMP confirmed Thursday that a formal investigation has not yet been launched.
“The RCMP can confirm that we received a referral to investigate irregularities in the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto,” the police service said in a statement, adding that the probe is still in its “infancy.”
“We will review and assess the information received and will take appropriate action as deemed necessary.”
Ford said he is “confident” that nothing criminal took place.
“I am confident. I won’t tolerate that,” he said. “I’ll have zero tolerance for that and then the authorities will deal with it.”
When asked if anyone in his government had been interviewed by the OPP prior to the RCMP taking over the case, he replied, “I wouldn’t have a clue.”
“You’d have to ask the OPP,” Ford added.
Earlier this month, Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released a scathing report on the government's handling of Greenbelt land removals. The report found that certain developers received “preferential treatment” and had direct influence over the government’s decision to extract lands. According to the auditor general, of the 7,400 acres of land removed from the Greenbelt by the province, 92 per cent could be tied to three developers with direct access to the housing ministry.
The owners of the 15 land sites could see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the value of their properties,” the report noted.
The report also found that Ontario currently has sufficient available land to build much-needed housing and that there was no need to remove lands from the Greenbelt in order to meet housing targets.
This week, amid the ongoing fallout of the Greenbelt report, Housing Minister Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff Ryan Amato resigned.
Amato was the staffer primarily responsible for choosing which Greenbelt sites would be opened up for development.
Clark, who has faced repeated calls from the opposition to step down amid the controversy, did not attend the media availability with the premier this afternoon.
Ford sidestepped a question about calls for a public inquiry.
“I’m not going to answer hypothetical questions,” he said.
“We are going to move forward with the 14 recommendations from the auditor general. It is the process that could have been better. We are correcting the process.”
The auditor general made 15 recommendations in her report and the only one the provincial government will not be implementing is the recommendation to review its decision to open up the Greenbelt.
While Ford has made it clear he intends to move forward with the Greenbelt land removals, he said he expects developers to move quickly.
“I’m sending a warning shot right now. If you are holding on to land and you have permits, you better start building,” he said Friday.
“It’s very simple. And if you aren’t progressing in the Greenbelt, and we’ve set pretty strict targets, if we don’t see things moving by the end of this year and shovels in the ground by 2025, within seconds I will put it back into the Greenbelt.”