On September 21, following a tumultuous year in office, Ontario Premier Doug Ford reversed his decision to develop Ontario’s Greenbelt into more homes to address the housing crisis.
In his statement, Ford claimed he is “very very sorry,” and that “when [he makes] a mistake, [he] will fix them, [he] will learn from them.”
However, it is clear to any Ontario resident who has seen Ford’s decisions play out during his time as premier that his apology is littered with hypocrisy. The only thing we can trust from Ford is that he has his own interests at heart and it is doubtful that he can regain Ontario residents’ trust.
Why does the Greenbelt matter?
The largest of its kind in the world, Ontario’s Greenbelt is two million acres of protected land stretching from the eastern end of Oak Ridges Moraine to the Niagara River in the west. It was created in 2005 with the goal of reducing urban sprawl and preventing the loss of natural heritage.
The land is paramount for protecting ecosystems. The forests, wetlands, and soil offset 71 million tons of carbon emissions each year by absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This also keeps temperatures stable in nearby cities in response to warming climates. Furthermore, the Greenbelt area protects 78 at-risk species, and it yields a significant portion of Ontario’s produce, driving the local economy.
Ford’s rocky statements on the Greenbelt
Since he became premier of Ontario in 2018, Ford’s statements on the Greenbelt have fluctuated. For instance, a video taken in February 2018 shows Ford telling developers that he would open a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt for development. Then, a few months later, he vowed “[he] won’t touch it.” Ford repeated his promise not to touch the Greenbelt in 2020 and 2021.
However, this seemingly reassuring narrative was abandoned in 2022 when Ford’s focus shifted to the housing crisis. It was the perfect excuse for him to justify what he said in 2018 that he wanted to do: to build on the Greenbelt.
In 2022, about 2,995 hectares of the Greenbelt were destroyed under Ford’s plan to build 50,000 homes. While the government reassured the public that the land used was replaced with 3,804 hectares of land in an elusive location “elsewhere,” that does not address the issues inherent to this development: the Greenbelt’s purpose was to prevent the ecosystem damage that comes with land fragmentation.
Hands off the Greenbelt!
From the moment the public realized that Bill 23 — the misleading “More Homes Built Faster” bill — meant slicing into Ontario’s Greenbelt, the provincial government faced backlash. Climate activist groups like Environmental Defence Canada hosted upward of 130 rallies against the bill, and Greenbelt Promise distributed information and networked among grassroots organizers. Many activists and environmental groups took to social media with the hashtags #Handsoffthegreenbelt and #Stopsprawl to spread awareness through educational content and protest images.
Officials in the provincial government echoed concerns about the Greenbelt. In January, both Ontario’s integrity commissioner and auditor general conducted separate probes and investigations on the Ford government’s handling of the Greenbelt. The integrity commissioner’s August report concludes that Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark violated two sections of the Members’ Integrity Act of 1994. The auditor general’s report further supports the mishandling, as it shares that the areas removed from the Greenbelt “were not chosen using an objective and transparent selection process.” It also reports that “there is no evidence” that the Greenbelt land was necessary to reach Ford’s objective of building 1.5 million housing units throughout the next decade.
Ford’s walkback on the Greenbelt development scheme can be attributed to nearly a year of protests and investigations taken to hold him accountable for his actions. However, his recent apology does not justify his actions.
No more false promises
In his descent, Premier Ford claimed he made a mistake, and that he prided himself in “keeping his promises” with the public. Yet, if this act — vacillating and rescinding promises — and such blatant disregard for the environment tell us anything, it’s that the only thing we can trust from Doug Ford is that he has his own interests at heart.
Ontario residents, the environment, and activists may take the win now, but it’s clear we need to employ a careful eye when it comes to Ford’s environmental policies. If he can lie to our faces and make false promises this time, we can almost certainly count on him doing so again.
Urooba Shaikh is a third-year student at UTSC studying in molecular biology, immunology, and disease. She is a Climate Crisis columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.
Hannah Katherine is a third- year student at Innis College studying literature and critical theory. She is a Climate Crisis columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.