The premier said he broke a promise when he decided to open the Greenbelt for housing development.
“And for that, I am very, very sorry…. It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast,” Ford said.
“This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others. It caused people to question our motives. As a first step to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future.”
The premier made the announcement during a press conference Thursday afternoon in Niagara Falls, where he was joined by his cabinet.
While meeting with his caucus during a retreat this week in Niagara Falls, Ford says his caucus members shared with him what they have been hearing about the Greenbelt from people in their communities and he is listening.
Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land in more than a dozen sections out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes, citing the housing crisis, and Ford has faced large amounts of opposition to the plan since then.
The government also added 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt.
Reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner found that the process to select lands was rushed and favoured certain developers.
The controversy resulted in Steve Clark resigning as housing minister, with Paul Calandra taking his place.
Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato had also resigned.
Kaleed Rasheed resigned as minister of public and business service delivery and from the Progressive Conservative caucus on Wednesday after news reports raised questions about his connections to a developer.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the Greenbelt reversal is a “victory for all Ontarians,” particularly the ones actively fighting the Greenbelt land removals.
“But let’s get real, because it never should have taken a series of scandals from this government for the premier to undo the damage that he’s done,” she said.
“It was clear from the beginning that this was the wrong decision and yet, Mr. Ford and the Conservative government pressed on. It was a calculated attempt by this government to benefit a few, a select few Conservative insiders, at the expense of everybody else.”
Ford said Thursday about his decision to open the Greenbelt that “even if you do something for the right reasons, with the best of intentions, it can still be wrong.”
He said he’s been clear that he believes opening the Greenbelt could have made a huge difference as the province rapidly grows amid a housing crisis, with 50,000 homes built on that land that would house at least 150,000 people.
“The truth remains Ontario is growing at an unprecedented speed and doing more of the same, accepting the status quo, will only make the housing affordability crisis worse,” he said.
He said his government remains focused on delivering on promises made in the last election, which sometimes requires hard choices.
“When I make a mistake, I’ll fix them and I’ll learn from them because that’s what I promised I would do,” Ford said.
“And in the next election, you’ll have the chance to decide how I’ve done, to decide if I’ve kept my promises, if I’ve got it done.”
He said his government will remain focused “on every avenue” to build homes in Ontario, for young people who are looking to buy a property and for newcomers.
“Our target is the 1.5 million homes, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” he said.
The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap. Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.
— with files from The Canadian Press