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Ontario city seeks inclusion of urban boundary decisions into RCMP Greenbelt probe

Click to play video: 'RCMP has not contacted government regarding Greenbelt investigation: Calandra'
RCMP has not contacted government regarding Greenbelt investigation: Calandra
WATCH: Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra said Monday, after introducing legislation to return parcels of land to the protected Greenbelt, that the RCMP had not contacted any members of the government regarding its Greenbelt investigation. – Oct 16, 2023

Hamilton, Ont. will be seeking an RCMP probe into the Ford government’s land-use policies contained in its expansion of some municipal boundaries.

Councillors approved a motion Wednesday requesting the investigation into a provincial government decision to make 2,200 hectares of the municipality’s countryside available for new housing developments.

Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson, who authored the motion, asked city staff to reach out to the federal police service and request the scope of their Greenbelt inquiry be expanded to include the unilateral expansion of Hamilton’s urban boundary.

“I think the Auditor-General and the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario found that the process that was used in … taking lands away from the Greenbelt was not transparent, (and) was not in keeping with good decision making,” Wilson contests.

“There were political actors involved as opposed to professional planning staff.”

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The City of Hamilton action comes days after Ontario reversed a decision to expand urban boundaries for several communities after finding that processes used by the previous housing minister’s office did not meet the government’s standards.

“I’ve made it a priority to review past decisions to ensure that they support our goal of building at least 1.5 million homes and to ensure that the decisions that we made were done in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust,” new housing minister Paul Calandra said Monday.

The changes affect official boundaries for Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa and Peterborough.

It also winds back changes through legislation to official plans for the regional municipalities of Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, York and Wellington County.

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Wilson, who equates the Hamilton land mass to the size of Orilla, accuses the Ministry of making 77 modifications to Hamilton’s official housing plan following “private meetings” with land developers, lawyers and their agents.

“Where they were given an opportunity to submit comment and an opportunity to engage with government decision-makers that were not afforded our professional planning staff and by extension were not afforded to this community,” Wilson contests.

A map of Hamilton from an appendix in a Province of Ontario decision estimating what areas of the city (outlined by a purple line) will be affected by an urban growth plan. Province of Ontario

Late last year, the PC government overrode a November 2021 vote by Hamilton politicians to hold firm to the city’s urban boundary, and instead accommodate future population growth through a combination of infill and intensification.

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The initiative, based on estimates that Hamilton’s population will hit 820,000 by 2051, came at the same time Ontario proposed to remove land from the protected Greenbelt province-wide in order to build at least 50,000 new homes.

Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko characterized the province’s decision as a “betrayal,” and said the council’s decision was “one of the most important” since it was based on a survey with 18,000 replies, suggesting 90 per cent of Hamiltonians favoured holding the boundary.

“Not only did they decide they are going to build houses on every single available acre of farmland in the entire city, they also added parts of the Greenbelt, which they said they would not do,” Danko said in November.

Former Conservative MPP and Hamilton councillor Brad Clark concurred with Wednesday’s motion, saying council “knew nothing” of what was going on in the expansion process.

“We were waiting for that natural back and forth from the minister and it never happened,” Clark said.

“He just sent out this letter and you could hear the thunk on the desk when it hit.”

Ontario New Democrats have asked the auditor general’s office to launch a new investigation of the Ford government’s land-use policies by probing the expansion of the municipal boundaries.

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The request follows the office’s “explosive” Greenbelt report that found the process to select lands for removal from the protected area favoured certain developers.

Premier Doug Ford ultimately reversed his Greenbelt plan after that report and another one from the integrity commissioner, which made similar findings.

The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap.

Premier Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.

— with files from Isacc Callan, Colin D’Mello and the Canadian Press

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