Auditor: Ontario Greenbelt deal ‘biased and dismissive’

Three developers stand to reap most of the benefits.

The sun sets in Ganaraska Forest in the Greenbelt. – The Greenbelt Foundation

Key Takeaways:

  • The government’s target to increase housing did not require removing land from the Greenbelt.
  • Political staff had substantial control over the entire Greenbelt amendment exercise.
  • Overall, 92% of land removed from the Greenbelt related to five land sites involving three developers.
  • The owners of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt could ultimately see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the value of their properties.

The Whole Story:

In a scathing report released this month, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has criticized the Ontario government’s actions in 2022 to open parts of the Greenbelt for development.

Lysyk’s report argued the deal heavily favoured a small group of developers and did not consider environmental impacts.

Ontario’s Greenbelt protects farmland, communities, forests, wetlands and watersheds. It also preserves cultural heritage and supports recreation and tourism in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe. 

Prior to 2022, the Greenbelt included over 800,000 hectares of land and extended 325 km from the eastern end of the Oak Ridges Moraine, near Rice Lake, in the east, to the Niagara River in the west.

Lysyk asserted that the move was executed without due consideration of environmental, agricultural, and financial risks. The auditor general’s report argues that the process proceeded with minimal input from experts or those directly affected, while allegedly favouring specific developers and landowners.

While the people of Ontario deserve prompt action to solve societal problems like those generated by a need for housing, this does not mean that government and non-elected political staff should sideline or abandon protocols and processes that are important to guide objective and transparent decision-making based on sufficient and accurate information


The investigation found that the decision to remove land from the Greenbelt for housing development was not supported by a need for increased housing. The report noted that the Housing Affordability Task Force and the chief planners of the affected regions demonstrated that the removal of Greenbelt land sites was unnecessary to achieve housing goals.

The report stated that political staff wielded considerable influence throughout the Greenbelt amendment process, with the chief of staff to the housing minister providing a select team of non-political public service staff with criteria tailored to expedite the selection of sites brought forward by specific developers. Lysyk added that the timeline for this selection process was remarkably short, severely limiting the team’s ability to conduct a thorough evaluation of the land sites and explore alternative options.

Further criticism was levelled at the fact that the government considered only a small fraction of the land removal requests submitted since the establishment of the Greenbelt in 2005. Only one out of the 22 land sites initially considered for removal was proposed by the Housing Ministry’s non-political public service staff, while the rest were directly submitted by the chief of staff. The report highlights that 92% of the land ultimately removed from the Greenbelt stemmed from proposals made by three specific developers.

“We moved too fast and there were severe flaws in the process,” said Housing Minister Steve Clark when confronted by reporters during a press conference. “We are committed completely to ensuring that the recommendations get moved forward.”

Clark denied any personal knowledge of how his chief of staff was planning land removal.

Lysyk’s findings indicate that the owners of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt could potentially see an increase of over $8.3 billion in the value of their properties. 

The report points out that almost 1,000 acres of wetlands and woodlands were removed from the Greenbelt, undermining the original vision and goals of the Greenbelt Plan. Furthermore, approximately 83% of the land removed is classified as prime agricultural land, exacerbating concerns about food security and sustainable land use.

Despite some offsetting measures, the report reveals that the additions made to the Greenbelt in exchange for the land removals did not adequately address the loss of agricultural land and natural features. These additions were largely confined to areas already protected and not conducive to development.

“The exercise to change the Greenbelt boundaries in Fall 2022 cannot be described as a standard or defensible process,” Lysyk stated. “The truncated and highly restricted land selection exercise excluded substantive input from land-use planning experts in provincial ministries, municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations leaders, and the public, while giving preferential treatment to certain developers with direct access to the chief of staff to the minister of municipal affairs and housing.” 

Premier Doug Ford stated that his government plans to work to implement the auditor general’s recommendations and urged people to focus on the positives of the deal.

“I have admitted numerous times that the process could have been a lot better and we are moving on that, but the good news story is that there are going to be 150,000 people with a roof over their heads,” he said.


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