Ford abandons proposal for Greenbelt development after blowback

After blowback from his political rivals and environmental advocates, Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford said Tuesday he will "maintain the Greenbelt in its entirety" should he be elected premier in June.

The 7,200-square-kilometre area has been protected from development since 2005

The Greenbelt is a 7,200-square-kilometre area that borders the Greater Golden Horseshoe region around Lake Ontario. (Courtesy of Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation)

After blowback from his political rivals and environmental advocates, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford said Tuesday he will "maintain the Greenbelt in its entirety" should he be elected premier in June. 

"The people have spoken — we won't touch the Greenbelt. Very simple. That's it, the people have spoken. I'm going to listen to them. They don't want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won't touch the Greenbelt," Ford said in a statement. 

Ford drew criticism from the leaders of the Liberals, NDP and Greens after he doubled-down on a proposal to open up areas of the Greenbelt to development. 

During an address at an event in February while he was campaigning to be PC leader, Ford said developing parts of the 7,200-square-kilometres of protected land would help ease the housing affordability crisis in the GTA.

"We will open up the Greenbelt — not all of it, but we're going to open a big chunk of it up —  and we're going to start building and making it more affordable and putting more houses out there," Ford said during the address. A video of his comments was posted online, though the provenance of the video remains unclear. 

The Greenbelt, permanently protected by legislation in 2005, was created in part to combat the deleterious effects of urban sprawl on the environmentally sensitive area that borders the Greater Golden Horseshoe region around Lake Ontario.

When pressed on the matter on Monday, Ford said he supports the Greenbelt more generally, but reiterated his plan, saying that for each piece of land developed, he would add an equally-sized piece of land elsewhere back into the total protected area.

Earlier Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ford's initial proposal was "wrong-headed" and would leave the map of the Greenbelt looking like "Swiss cheese."

"It's wrong on so many levels. When that land is gone, it's gone forever. You cannot get that land back," she told reporters at a news conference.

"The point of the Greenbelt is to keep in place the integrity of water systems, the integrity of agricultural land."

Wynne also argued that using Greenbelt land for development is unnecessary. 

"There is enough land in the GTHA to build two more cities the size of Mississauga. You know, there is a lot of land that is available," she said. 

"It's not the answer to affordable housing. The fact is that, urban sprawl does not solve any of the congestion problems, so all of that would be at risk and we would be going backwards."​

Tory MPP and Parliamentary leader Vic Fedeli defended Ford after Wynne's criticism, saying she was attempting to distract voters from real issues ahead of the election. 

However, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also criticized Ford's initial plan as bad policy.

"Newsflash: farms feed cities. There is no reason whatsoever to even contemplate paving over the Greenbelt unless you're trying to make a good buck for your friends in the development industry," she said.

"And that's not what public policy, government and public decision-making should be all about."

With files from The Canadian Press