Does Ford's Greenbelt plan break ethics rules? Ontario's integrity commissioner asked to investigate

Ontario's integrity commissioner is being asked to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford's plan to open parts of the protected Greenbelt lands for development broke any ethics rules.

Green Party leader files complaint after reporting shows PC donors stand to benefit from plan

Ontario is proposing to remove land in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt — while adding more acres elsewhere — despite previous promises. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Ontario's integrity commissioner is being asked to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford's plan to open parts of the protected Greenbelt for development broke any ethics rules.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has filed the complaint and says Ontarians deserve transparency about the decision because it has the appearance of harming the environment for the benefit of private developers.

"This doesn't pass the smell test, that land speculators are purchasing land in the Greenbelt that is supposedly permanently protected," Schreiner said Tuesday.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced earlier this month that he is proposing to remove 7,400 acres from 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere so that 50,000 homes can be built.

That's despite previous promises from Ford and Clark that they wouldn't touch the Greenbelt.

Media reports have suggested that some prominent developers who are Progressive Conservative donors stand to benefit from the move. Some bought that land in the past few years despite Ford and Clark's public pronouncements it wouldn't be developed, with one purchase happening as recently as September, investigations by the CBC, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Narwhal have found.

WATCH |  Coalition slams plan to build housing in Ontario's Greenbelt:

Coalition slams plan to build housing in Ontario’s Greenbelt

3 months ago
Duration 2:06
A coalition of 200 groups and individuals has penned a letter calling out the Ontario government for its plans to have tens of thousands of homes located in the province’s Greenbelt, a swath of protected green space and farmland.

Clark was asked multiple times Tuesday, including in question period, whether he tipped off any developers that parcels of Greenbelt land would soon become much more valuable. When asked for a yes or no response, he refused to deny the allegation.

"Listen, I'm the housing minister, I meet with people who want to build housing, whether they're a Habitat for Humanity, whether they're Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, whether they're a private home builder that builds one home a year or 1,000 homes," he said.

"That's what I do. I meet with people who want to realize the dream of home ownership for Ontarians."

Clark said he followed the rules for posting his Greenbelt proposal to the environmental registry for a public comment period. 

That public comment period remains open until Dec. 4.

Michelle Renaud, spokesperson for the Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, confirmed in an email on Tuesday that Schreiner has made a request under Section 30 of the Members' Integrity Act, 1994.

Renaud said the Green Party leader has asked the commissioner to comment on whether a member has contravened the Act or Ontario parliamentary convention.

"The matter is under review," she said.

Minister's responses sound 'fishy': NDP housing critic

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell, who questioned Clark in the legislature Tuesday, said his responses sound "fishy."

"I asked the minister very clearly, three times, if they talked to developers in advance and gave them a heads-up before they opened up land for development, Greenbelt land that Ontarians hold dear," she said after question period.

"The minister failed to answer the question. Ontarians want to know why."

The NDP has also asked the auditor general to investigate.

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.