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Niagara Falls
Saturday, July 20, 2024
Op-ed: Ford lied and flip-flopped on Greenbelt development
New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates says the provincial government has corrupted the process around freeing up land in the Greenbelt for development. Evan Loree/FILE

Wayne Gates
MPP for Niagara Falls riding

While celebrating the Peach Festival in Old Town here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I spoke to many business owners, farmers and workers who all reinforced my belief in how important our local tender fruit industry is.

We know our agricultural and wine industries are the backbone of the economy in NOTL and that we must do everything we can to support local growers and preserve farmland.

This is why I have been such a strong advocate for protecting the Greenbelt and why I am so outraged at the recent report issued by the provincial auditor general on the investigation into the Ford government’s decision to open up the Greenbelt for development.

The report was clear in its findings: to quote directly, “About 92 per cent of the approximately 7,400 acres ultimately removed from the Greenbelt are five land sites put forward by two developers … who had access to the (housing ministry’s) chief of staff in September 2022.”

This is corruption, flat-out.

After telling the people of Ontario repeatedly he would not touch the Greenbelt when running for office, Premier Doug Ford then flip-flopped and pushed forward Bill 23 (the so-called More Homes Built Faster Act), without proper consultation or input from municipalities, or committee hearings at Queen’s Park.

His housing minister’s chief of staff then met with developers, who had direct input over what lands were chosen to remove – and those developers now stand to make $8.3 billion or more in profits on those lands.

The report also restated what we already know: that there is enough land available right now in the province to build the target of 1.5 million homes without touching an inch of the Greenbelt. The government’s own housing task force also said a shortage of land wasn’t the cause of the housing crisis.

It’s clear – this was never about building more housing or working constructively with municipalities to tackle the housing crisis. It was always about benefiting well-connected developers.

And it comes directly at the expense of our local economy, natural heritages, and resources: Bill 23 has removed tender fruit farmland from Greenbelt protections and can lead to removing areas that were previously considered protected wetlands.

This is terrible in and of itself: we are already losing close to 320 acres of farmland every single day across Ontario. If the pandemic have taught us anything, it should have been the importance of our farmers and local food supply.

But our natural resources and farmland are also a massive part of the $2-billion tourism industry in Niagara. More than 13 million people visit the region annually and we have some 2,800 tourism businesses and more than 40,000 tourism jobs here.

I spoke on this topic when I visited NOTL council earlier this year to discuss my opposition to Bill 23.

From the beginning, I opposed the legislation, because I knew it was not a serious proposal to fix the housing crisis, that it would jeopardize local farmland and our economy, and that it was pushed through without thoughtful or proper consultation with municipal governments, like the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Now, we know the process was tainted from the start.

Premier Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark have eroded the trust people have in their government.

Ford lied, flip-flopped and his minister’s staff took part in backroom deals that put developers ahead of municipalities, farmers, young people and our environment.

It’s clear that Clark has lost the public’s faith in his ability to carry out his duties and he should resign.

I have also called for us to return to the legislature immediately. Bill 23 needs to be repealed and we also need to ensure this entire affair is investigated properly.

As your MPP, it is my job to advocate for our community’s interests and to hold the provincial government to account when it betrays the public trust.

I will continue to do so.

Wayne Gates is the New Democratic Party MPP for Niagara Falls riding, which includes NOTL and Fort Erie.

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