Doug Ford recently announced his plan to carve 7,400 acres out of the Ontario Greenbelt so that it can be opened up to housing development. This is directly going back on his promise in 2018 to leave the Greenbelt untouched, and people are rightfully outraged—except for Ford’s developer friends, who now stand to make massive profits.
The Greenbelt is a region of 2 million acres in Southern Ontario protected from development due to its biological diversity, its importance to the water system, and the quality of the farmland it encompasses. The whole region is an interconnected ecosystem and the removal of these lands would unleash a whole host of problems, from increased pressure on at-risk wildlife, to negative impacts on agriculture and endangering the drinking water of millions.
Addressing these concerns, Ford said that 9,400 acres of land would be added as protected land elsewhere, ending in a net gain of protected land. But as climate change policy analyst Gideon Forman puts it, “This idea that you can destroy part of the Greenbelt and then somehow make up for it—it’s just not the way the natural world works. When you start to take chunks of the Greenbelt out of the Greenbelt, you compromise the integrity of an ecosystem.”
The Greenbelt is one of the most biologically rich areas in all of Canada, and developing the proposed lands would severely disrupt the wildlife there. Ford cannot just nicely ask local wildlife to move their habitats to the new acres of land he plans to set aside. Moreover, these changes will not only affect the land that is being opened up—the parts of the Greenbelt that border on these new developments will also be affected by the introduction of people and pets next door.
Some of the highest quality agricultural soil in all of Canada is found in the Greenbelt. This makes it not only an important part of Ontario’s economy, but also a valuable resource for the entire working class—one that cannot be recovered after the capitalists pave over it.
The Greenbelt also plays an important role in the water cycle, filtering water through wetlands back into Lake Ontario. Building houses over wetlands would severely damage water systems. If regions that play a role in slowly feeding water back into the lake are replaced with hard surfaces such as housing and roadways, the rainwater that would typically be absorbed will have nowhere to go. This will result in increased flooding in the area. On top of this, development on these lands will also create more opportunities for the drinking water that comes from Lake Ontario to be contaminated.
… to put up a parking lot
Ford is seeing growing pushback against his proposal, as well as against the revival of the controversial Highway 413 that would also encroach on these protected lands. So what is Ford’s justification? He cites Ontario’s housing crisis as the reason that parts of the Greenbelt must be opened up for development, going as far to say that it’s necessary due to a projected rise in immigration.
This argument is nothing more than an attempt to pit working class people’s anxieties about the current housing crisis against concerns about protecting the environment. Framing the interests of workers and the protection of the environment as mutually exclusive has been a favourite trick of capitalists. Trudeau is playing a similar game around trying to justify pouring money into the Trans Mountain Pipeline. He (falsely) claims that the pipeline would create thousands of new jobs for workers. The opposition between working class interests and the environment has always been a false dichotomy, engineered by the ruling class.
In the case of Ontario, 14,000 hectares of land outside of the greenbelt have already been set aside for development. Even the provincial government’s own Housing Affordability Task Force contradicts Ford in their report. It says, “a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem. Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts.” The report also reiterates the importance of continuing to protect the Greenbelt.
So then, why is Ford doing this?
Ford’s real constituents
Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party’s connection to development companies has not been well concealed. There are several million-dollar development and construction companies with links back to him and his party, both through personal connections and in the form of significant donations. Ford’s proposal would primarily benefit these companies, who are the same ones who own the majority of the land that has been selected for development.
Plenty of these companies bought their land before the Greenbelt was created, but there has been an upswing in developers buying Greenbelt land in the last few years, clearly with the perspective of it being used for development. As recently as two months ago, Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc. bought a piece of land in King Township—a parcel Ford’s proposal would now see being opened to development.
Developers’ confidence in buying land that was supposedly not available for development may or may not have to do with the fact that in 2018 Ford told a private audience that if elected, he would “open a big chunk” of the Greenbelt. While Ford backtracked on his remarks at the time in the face of public outcry, this was apparently one promise that he was intent on keeping. The $813,000 that development companies have donated to the Tories since 2014 likely also helped to dampen concerns about public opinion.
The most notable beneficiary of these developments is the DeGasperis family’s collection of companies: TACC Developments (owned by Silvio DeGasperis), Leslie Elgin Developments Inc. and Aspen Ridge. These companies own large portions of the Greenbelt land and would see this land skyrocket in value if the Conservatives go ahead with this proposal. Coincidentally, several former PC party members, such as Former Minister of Transportation Frank Klees and Former PC Party president Peter Van Loan, both now serve as lobbyists for TACC Developments.
This is just scratching the surface of the cronyism and collusion that the government engages in behind closed doors. Ford has a history of green lighting projects that primarily benefit the millionaires that donate to his party, hire party officials as lobbyists, and wine-and-dine Ford himself. A clear example of this is the revival of the controversial Highway 413, another project that would cut into the Greenbelt. It is these developers, the most parasitic kind of capitalists, who Ford represents, not the working class majority of voters.
To save the Greenbelt, kick out the capitalists!
We’re told that under our democracy our votes matter. That the elected politicians are expected to act in accordance to the will of the voters. But when Ford was elected, he promised to leave the Greenbelt untouched. What we see is that Ford is free to govern in the interest of his capitalist friends, without repercussions. While Ford provides us with a particularly clear example of government for and by the rich, this is true of all politicians under capitalism. It is the nature of capitalism to exploit whatever sources of profit it can find, and no amount of environmental regulation will change that. Even the most democratic of bourgeois governments are still ruled in the interests of profit.
We cannot trust politicians to govern in the interest of the working class. While Ford’s capitalist friends reap the benefits of building over the Greenbelt, it is the working class who will suffer the effects: declining quality of food and water, increased environmental instability, and destruction of the legacy left for future generations. The working class can rely only on itself to defend its interests. We will only have true democracy when the running of society is directly in the hands of the people that create all value in society. We will only be able to protect the environment and plan for the future when the economy is planned, democratically, for need instead of profit.