How it started.
(With a hand caught in the cookie jar feint.)
Where we are.
Shocked, but not surprised. Not in the least. Not even a little.
Shocked because it’s all been so nakedly blatant. The Ford government hasn’t even tried to hide it. Well-connected developers, heavy donors to the PC party, attendees of Ford family events, buy land cheap because it has been designated undevelopable, and then get to pick the parcels they want from the Greenbelt. Or vice versa in some cases, according to the auditor general’s report. Pick the parcels they want from the Greenbelt and then buy them.
Shocked by the staggering value of land essentially expropriated for private interests. Spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a return of billions. Land speculation girded by government influence, by government largesse, by a government fundamentally ethically unrestrained.
Shocked by a premier and his housing minister absolutely unrepentant. Sure, the ‘process’ could’ve been better. Mistakes of ‘process’ were made. Going forward, blah, blah, blah. But there’s a housing crisis to be addressed. Nothing more important than getting down to the business of putting up a roof over everyone’s head especially the immigrants, Premier Ford takes great pains to point out over and over again. Coming to Ontario in droves. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Ontario is, after all, the greatest place in the world. Who can blame them for wanting to come.
The ends justify the means, the premier confirmed when a reporter asked him last Wednesday. All hands on deck. Did he mention the province is in the midst of a housing crisis? So what if a few people get obscenely rich in the process? (Not the bad ‘process’ he pledged to sort out. The good process. Supply meeting demand and all that.) So, no. No heads will roll if he can help it. Nobody did anything wrong. They just did the right thing the wrong way. When the time comes, he’ll proudly wander the communities built on the Greenbelt, knocking on doors, welcoming the newcomers to the neighbourhood.
It’s all bullshit, of course. Every last fucking word of it. Except for the part of a few people getting obscenely wealth(ier). Doug Ford’s friends/not friends, depending on when he’s asked. Friends when they pony up to attend his daughter’s stag & doe and wedding. Not friends when they’re parceling up the Greenbelt for their own benefit.
As the auditor general pointed out in her report, developing the Greenbelt isn’t necessary to address the very real housing crisis the province is facing. The government’s own housing committee that it struck back in 2021 told them that very same thing. Plenty of other places to start building around the province. Places for building actual affordable type housing which the Greenbelt pillaging most certainly won’t. Places certainly less ecologically damaging to boot. All information the government simply ignored.
The need for more housing is simply a sunny smile to slap on the sordid face of their dirty business.
Equally as egregious in the Ford’s Spectacle of Mistruth of Misinformation is the claim that neither the premier nor his housing minister knew anything about the details of the Greenbelt ‘land swaps’ being set in motion right under their noses. Not until the day they were brought to cabinet, no wait, the day before, what was it they told the auditor general again? The day of the meeting. Let’s go with that. Caught completely by surprise, evidently. The work of Steve Clark’s Chief of Staff who, if the heat gets a little too hot, hot, hot, they’d be willing to throw under the bus being driven by the Integrity Commissioner. If a sacrificial lamb proves to be necessary.
This, despite the fact that, as Colin D’Mello of Global News pointed out, “In a June 2022 mandate letter, Premier Doug Ford directed Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark to conduct ‘swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates’ related to the Greenbelt.” Mandate letters Ford has gone all the way to the Supreme Court to try and keep from the public. After being re-elected the premier mandates his housing minister to basically look into updating policy toward the Greenbelt and then both men, a year or so later, throw up their hands in surprise that the minister’s chief of staff did just that?
He doesn’t ‘micromanage’, the premier told reporters.
The man who assured a room full of developers before he even was first elected that he would deliver up Greenbelt lands for them is trying to get us to believe that he had no oversight or knowledge about how his government was preparing to do just that?
We’re facing a crisis, folks. We just have to roll up our sleeves and do what I had no idea I instructed the housing minister and his staff to do and then had no idea what they went and did. Next question?
Will such glaring obfuscation work?
It’s all the Ford government’s got. The actual facts as presented by the auditor general are damning to a degree no government should be able to survive. In a just and fair world. It’s not clear if we’re operating in such a world.
Misdirection and tight messaging are what this government is really good at. That, and enriching the best and most favourite donors, of course. So, we shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if they do get away with it, and those donors make off with bundles and bundles of cash, and the Greenbelt lies decimated with yet more sprawl that in no way actually impacts the housing crisis in any meaningful way except for increasing the stock of unaffordable monster homes.
If they do, it doesn’t stop there. The Greenbelt is certainly not the only swath of real estate the Ford government has its eye on in order to further stuff their donors’ pockets. You don’t actually think they revived the 413 highway project in order to help with the GTA’s commute, do you? Their plans for Ontario Place and the Ontario Science Centre? For the benefit of ordinary Ontarians? Track the progress of their public transit build throughout Toronto. The Ontario Line subway. The Scarborough subway. The extension of the Eglinton Crosstown. To actually ease and accommodate the movement of public transit users?
Secondary considerations, we, the Ford folks. Our tax dollars hard at work, first and foremost, to enrich the privileged few. That’s it. There’s nothing else. The sole, defining feature of the Ford government. The shadowy, squalid figure behind the curtain.