Documents reveal federal government has the power to block Ontario’s Greenbelt development plan

A Blanding's Turtle is basking in the sun on a floating, man made island in a pond. Greenbelt development Photo by Paul Reeves Photography/Shutterstock

Up to 29 at-risk species live in the swath of land Ontario plans to develop, a fact the federal government could use to halt the process altogether. 

A recent investigation by Global News found documents revealing that Environment and Climate Change Canada flagged at-risk species in the area under federal protection, meaning threat to their habitat could be grounds to intervene. Ottawa could take steps such as ordering lengthy Impact Assessment Studies, or blocking the destruction of a specific section endangered animals are known to inhabit. 

A spokesperson for the province’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark told Global News that the province is aware of at-risk species and that the development “will be subject to all rules and regulations as set out in Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.” The statement also said the federal government, “shares our goal of building 1.5 million homes in Ontario over the next 10 years, particularly at a time when it has set ambitious new targets for immigration.” 

Premier Doug Ford’s bid to build more than 50,000 homes on 7,400 acres of previously protected Greenbelt land has been riddled with controversy since it was announced this past November. 

The plan was met with opposition from residents near the Greenbelt, environmental advocates and more recently, federal government officials. In January, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault referenced ways Ottawa could intervene, stating at a press conference that Ford’s plan, “flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do in terms of being better prepared for the impacts of climate change.”

It’s unclear whether development could continue while protecting at-risk species, but environmental advocates have said otherwise. Late last year, leaders from the Toronto Zoo spoke up about potential threats to the Blanding’s turtle, an endangered species that inhabits Rouge Urban National Park, one of the key areas slated for development. Residents in Pickering also voiced strong opposition to development, and Indigenous leaders have stated they were not fairly consulted. 

Furthermore, the province’s integrity commissioner recently launched an investigation into the plan, at the request of Mike Schreiner of Ontario’s Green Party. Schreiner raised the question of whether Premier Ford and Minister Clark violated the Members’ Integrity Act by providing insider information to developers before Greenbelt plans were finalized. Around the same time, the province’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk agreed to conduct an audit of Greenbelt policy after calls from other opposition leaders.

Just today, CBC revealed that Silvio De Gasperis, CEO of prominent GTA developer the Tacc Group, asked Ontario courts to cancel or delay a summons from Lysyk for an interview about lands that Tacc owned in the Greenbelt. According to court filings, Lysyk wanted information on Tacc’s experience working with the Ontario government to identify and make plans for that land, but a lawyer for De Gasperis claimed he does not have that information and that the summons is unlawful.

Ford’s government has previously said that if the plan can’t show “significant progress” this year, the land will be returned to protected status by 2025.

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