Provincial politicians are asking the Integrity Commissioner and Auditor General to launch investigations into a massive land swap deal that would see eleven portions of the Greenbelt handed over to developers to construct new residential neighbourhoods.
On Monday, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner sent a letter to the Integrity Commissioner asking for whether Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark broke the MPP Integrity act and whether developers were given advance notice of the impending decision.
Schreiner said the integrity act prohibits members from knowingly making a decision that furthers the private interests of an individual and from providing insider information that furthers the private interests of an individual.
“I think we need this investigation,” Schreiner said. “The government’s actions do not pass the smell test.”
In early November, the Ford government unveiled plans to remove 7,400 acres of land from various portions of the greenbelt stretching from Niagara region to Durham region, and replace it with a single 9,400 acre property.
The deal, the government claimed, would allow private developers to construct at least 50,000 new homes in line with the province’s aim to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.
The Ford government, however, has been under intense scrutiny after media reports revealed that the land being sold was, in some cases, purchased by developers just weeks before the decision from Queen’s Park.
A Toronto Star / Narwhal investigation found one Ontario developer purchased 700 acres of Greenbelt land for $80-million in September which, two months later, was part of the Ford government’s land swap deal.
The NDP estimated that another developer who would benefit from the land swap stands to make more than $600-million from the government’s regulatory changes — once the land has been developed.
At Queen’s Park, Housing minister Steve Clark faced direct questions over the deal and whether any of the companies that benefit from the swap were given prior notice.
“Did the minister or any other government PC party official share with any land owner information about the government’s plan to remove lands from the greenbelt before it became public?” asked the NDP’s Jessica Bell.
Minister Clark did not say no, despite being asked the question repeatedly.
Instead, the minister later told reporters that while he routinely meets with “people who want to build housing” he “followed all of the rules” when the government posted a proposal to amend the Greenbelt to Ontario’s Environmental Registry.
“I didn’t hide the posting, I was honest, open and transparent,” Minister Clark said.
Last week, the NDP sent a letter to the Auditor General asking for an investigation and requested that if the “appropriate authorities” should be contacted if AG Bonnie Lysyk determined the Ford government contravened any rules.
“I think where there’s a whole lot of smoke, somebody better be looking for the fire,” said NDP leadership candidate Marit Stiles. “This deal does smell a bit fishy.”
Lysyk’s office told Global News that while her office received the letter the office has “not made a decision yet.”
Schreiner, meanwhile, wants the Integrity Commissioner to investigate whether the Premier or Minister Clark engaged in unregistered lobbying over the Greenbelt.
“Our initial search of registered lobbyists indicate that some of the individuals that have been reported by the media have recently purchased land in the Greenbelt are not being registered,” Schreiner told reporters at Queen’s Park.
The Integrity Commissioner’s office told Global News “the matter is under review.”