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Hundreds protest in Pickering, demand province reverses Greenbelt land swaps

ONTARIO —In a move that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, developers with strong connections managed to sway the provincial government of Ontario, led by Premier Doug Ford, to unlock protected Greenbelt lands for housing development. This decision, driven by well-connected developers, has the potential to yield substantial financial gains, as outlined by the province's auditor general.

The Greenbelt, a vast expanse spanning 810,000 hectares from Niagara Falls to Peterborough, was initially designated as off-limits to development, aimed at preserving natural habitats and safeguarding the environment. However, revelations brought forth by the auditor general's report shed light on the influence exerted by certain developers in altering this protective status. The audit indicated biased processes favoring specific developers, bypassing environmental and financial considerations.

The auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, highlighted in her 95-page assessment that the decision to open up the Greenbelt land for housing was influenced by a series of interactions between developers and government officials. The Housing Minister's chief of staff played a pivotal role in advancing the interests of developers, often complying with their requests, which ultimately led to the removal of 15 Greenbelt sites from protection.

The removal of these sites, which cover approximately 2,995 hectares, is projected to accommodate housing for about 150,000 people and enhance infrastructure development. However, this shift has sparked concerns about the potential negative impact on woodlands, wetlands, and prime agricultural land. Environmentalists and opposition parties have criticized this decision, emphasizing the disregard for the ecological consequences of such actions.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation's estimations suggest that the removal of protection from these 15 sites could lead to an increase in land value by an astonishing $8.3 billion. This potential value surge has raised questions about the extent of the government's involvement in facilitating financial gains for private developers at the expense of preserving vital natural spaces.

Both the NDP and Liberal parties have called for the resignation of the Housing Minister due to the perceived breaches of political ethics and conflicts of interest. Premier Doug Ford, while acknowledging the concerns and issues highlighted by the audit, has vowed to address the housing crisis and has accepted most of the recommendations presented by the auditor general.

The audit revealed specific instances of communication and lobbying between developers and government officials, exposing a level of involvement that contradicts previous assumptions. This revelation has not only fueled the debate on the integrity of the decision-making process but has also raised questions about transparency and accountability within the government.

As the controversy continues to unfold, the Greenbelt land development issue serves as a cautionary tale about the influence of developers and the potential consequences of prioritizing financial interests over environmental protection and long-term sustainability. The ongoing discussions and actions taken in the aftermath of the auditor general's report will likely shape the province's approach to balancing housing demands with the imperative of preserving its natural landscapes.



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