Leader of the Opposition Marit Stiles’s tour of the County last week coincided with a rush of press coverage of the widening Greenbelt scandal.
Another report, in addition to that of the Auditor-General earlier this month, had just come out. From the office of Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, it details the reckless, rushed, and top-secret process that led to the removal of 15 plots of land from protected status in the Greenbelt, land now worth billions of dollars.
That report was initiated by Ms. Stiles, who requested the Commissioner examine the process the government followed.
The Integrity Commissioner shows the office of the former Housing Minister, Steve Clarke — he has since resigned — arranged for the removal of land belonging to individual developers from greenbelt protections — without making a public call for applications.
What resulted was a process of insider trading: developers acted on knowledge that was not public, rushing to buy plots of land they knew would soon be made available for development, and jockeying for insider access to the Minister’s Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, who seemed to claim to be acting for the Premier.
The report details steps taken to ensure secrecy: staffers were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. Data, such as GIS maps and site descriptions, were transferred on USB sticks or on paper, in packages exchanged at fancy dinners. Cell phones disappeared, and with them whole trails of text messages.
“The process was corrupt from the start,” notes Ms. Stiles.
“Perhaps even more shocking, though, is that the Conservatives even undertook such a thing — an attack on the Greenbelt while the province suffers the intense fallout of the climate crisis.”
“It just shows how completely out of touch the Premier and his entire party are with all Ontarians and their concerns.”
“The Conservatives seem to think people are not listening to what they say. The Premier may not care about farmland, ecosystems, energy policy or climate change mitigation, schools, or healthcare, but we do, and the first thing we need to do is stop him before he does even more damage.”
Stewardship of the environment is becoming central to what Stiles and her party stand for.
It is the cornerstone of what will be her next campaign, for Premier of Ontario.
“We feel we should be able to win this seat [from incumbent Todd Smith] in the next election,” she said, “because of the way we are connecting with small-town and rural Ontario.”
“So-called ‘rural’ interests are everyone’s interests. Protecting Class ‘A’ farmland, native ecosystems, mitigating the effects of climate change, building affordable housing, finding doctors and nurse practitioners, and paying them enough to live on — what are called ‘rural concerns’ are our priority, because rural concerns are all of our concern. These issues go to the heart of life in Ontario.”
Ms. Stiles comes from a farm in Newfoundland. She has been an MPP at Queen’s Park since 2018, representing Davenport in Toronto. She swept to prominence after the resignation of Andrea Horwath in 2022, and became leader of the NDP in 2023.
She sees the intense interest in the Greenbelt as just another a reflection of what concerns Ontarians most.
“The premier’s relationship with these developers just casts a pall on all the development that’s going on in the County. He clearly thinks that satisfying his developer buddies is more important than take care of Ontario and Ontarians.”
“The developers wrote up the Greenbelt land swap plan in order to pay themselves billions of dollars. It was never about housing. It’s certainly not about affordable housing. If any housing at all gets built, it will be about sprawl, luxury suburban sprawl.”
“The Premier’s own housing task force said he did not need the Greenbelt lands, prime class ‘A’ agricultural land, to build more houses. The land must be returned,” said Ms. Stiles, “and I am going to fight for that to happen.”