Earlier this month, a report from Ontario's auditor general found that Premier Doug Ford's decision to open up land in the protected Greenbelt area was influenced by a group of well-connected developers who stand to make billions of dollars from the decision.

Since then, Ford's housing minister, Steven Clark, has faced calls from Opposition party leaders and the public to resign. But so far, there is little sign that anyone in the Ford government is going anywhere, and Ford's plan to open up the areas of the Greenbelt for development is proceeding apace.

Has Ford gotten away with this scandal?

Living In Satire?

A recent joke headline from The Beaverton, a satirical website, read: "Emboldened Doug Ford sells off Brampton."

"Following the minimal fallout of the recent Greenbelt scandal ... Premier Ford has officially allowed his donors to purchase the city of Brampton at a heavily discounted price," the satirical article continued.

In the not-so-far removed world of reality, Ford justified his decision to go ahead with allowing the Greenbelt to be developed by saying it was needed to tackle the housing crisis. He told reporters: "...when you're in a housing crisis, when you have an inferno happening, firefighters run to the fire, they don't run away from it. And in my position, I have to deal with a crisis." 

Ford admitted that the process for selecting areas of the Greenbelt to be opened up could have been "a lot better," but is refusing to revisit the land swaps or reverse the decisions, as recommended by the AG report. In fact, Ford characterized the development plans as a "good news story," since it will result in more housing supply on the market.

Opposition Calls For Housing Minister To Be Sacked

The Ontario NDP, Liberals and Greens are all calling on Ford to remove Housing Minister Steven Clark from cabinet and for the government to reverse its decisions on the Greenbelt.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the Ford government should not stand in the way of any further investigation into the matter, "including any criminal investigations arising, because we know this is just the beginning and the public deserves to know everything."

The Ontario Liberal Party's interim leader, John Fraser, accused the Ford government of "lying" when officials said they knew nothing about the influence of developers on the Greenbelt decision.

"What they're trying to do is distract, and they're trying to say 'hey this one staffer, this brand new chief of staff ... orchestrated this whole thing all on his own,'" Fraser continued, referring to Clark's chief of staff, Ryan Amato.

Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said in a statement quoted by CBC News: "The Ontario government is on the wrong side of the views of almost all Ontarians, except for its developer friends. It needs to stop pushing forward senseless environmental destruction and focus on getting homes built where they are needed, and at prices people can afford."

But Ford's majority in the legislature means the pressure from Opposition parties and advocacy groups is unlikely to force any change of course on the government's part.

Writing for The Conversation last week, Mark Winfield, a professor of environmental and urban change at York University, explained:

"The Greenbelt controversy is the culmination of a series of troubling government decisions and legislative changes since Ford was first elected in 2018... These have included the widespread use of ministerial zoning orders, known as MZOs, to override local plans and city council decisions in favour of development interests."

Ford's policies have also failed to deliver housing affordability, Winfield wrote.

"In fact, in some areas, this industry-driven model is leading to significant losses of existing affordable rental housing as they’re displaced by investor-owned condominium developments."

Despite Ford's refusal to heed calls to reverse the Greenbelt decisions, Winfield predicted that the political and legal fallout from the scandal will continue for some time:

"Whether the entire episode will prompt the government to reconsider its evidence-free, friends-with-benefits approach to governing remains an open question. So does the question of whether the political and legal fallout will be substantial enough to mark the beginning of the end for Ford’s government."

In recent weeks, Ford called for a probe into the role Clark's chief of staff played in the scandal. Writing for the Ottawa Citizen, columnist Mohammed Adam slammed Ford's call as an attempt to deflect demands for accountability by throwing a subordinate under the bus.

Adam explained:

"... throwing Amato, chief of staff for Housing Minister Steve Clark, under the bus, will not wash away the stench of the scandal. Ford will wear it because he is the architect of the plan to hand over Greenbelt land that could be worth billions to fill the pockets of friends and party donors."

Adam continued:

"Amato is obviously being set as the scapegoat and he will no doubt take the fall. He will take one for the team. But the person who must be held accountable, the one who should really be in the dock is Premier Ford."

Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.

Now, let's turn to the members' corner...

Members' Corner

A deeper dive into today's story - exclusively for subscribers.

Although no heads have yet rolled as a result of the Greenbelt scandal, the issue continues to be examined and discussed in the news. Here's what else you need to know.

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