A recent report from the Auditor General of Ontario on Doug Ford’s Greenbelt Project has revealed that Ford and his ministers were making decisions entirely directed by housing developers. While it was already clear to everybody that the plan was a handout to Ford’s developer buddies, this is a level of collusion beyond what anyone suspected.
At the same time, the report inadvertently reveals the emptiness of environmental regulation and exposes the government as nothing more than an appendage of the capitalists.
New depths of corruption
The Ontario Greenbelt is a 2 million-acre region of southern Ontario that is protected from development due to its environmental and agricultural importance. In November of 2022, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his plan to remove 15 sites, amounting to 7,400 acres of land from the Ontario Greenbelt to allow for private development. After the announcement was made, the value of the land to be removed shot up by $8.3 billion.
The announcement was met with outrage. Many pointed out that the developers who stand to benefit from the plan have close ties with and are major donors to the Progressive Conservative Party, with some close enough to Ford to be invited to his daughter’s wedding. Furthermore, much of the land slated for development was purchased after a 2018 speech in front of a private audience, during which Ford promised to open up “a big chunk” of the Greenbelt. The Auditor General’s report provides proof of the corruption that was already clearly apparent.
What’s shocking is that the Greenbelt Project is not just a case of Ford doing a favour for his friends—developers were in fact directing government decisions every step of the way.
The report concluded that “almost all of the properties removed from the Greenbelt were identified and were provided to the Greenbelt Project Team directly by the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff after he received material from or on behalf of certain developers”. The PCs tried to hide this fact by communicating through personal, rather than governmental, email accounts. They then illegally deleted emails and forced the project team to sign security forms prohibiting them from sharing information with external groups.
Ford, Housing Minister Steve Clark, and his chief of staff Ryan Amato went over just about everyone’s heads to push through their plan. There were no consultations with Indigenous communities or municipal governments around the Greenbelt. They deliberately rushed the team responsible for choosing which sites to open up, so that they would not have time to find more suitable lands than their own recommendations. They ignored more than 35,000 overwhelmingly negative responses from the public, as well as warnings from environmental agencies about the potential destructive impact of their plan. And, despite Ford’s claims that any construction on these lands will be paid for entirely by the developers themselves, no finalized agreement has been reached that will actually hold these developers to that obligation. It’s entirely possible that, at the end of the day, it will be the workers paying to help developers make massive profits from the housing crisis.
The report also debunks Ford’s public justification for the plan: the claim that building on the Greenbelt will somehow help to ease Ontario’s housing crisis, in preparation for the province’s growing population of new immigrants.
This claim was already obviously just window dressing. Ford has done nothing to ease pressures on Ontario services and is rather making things worse: gutting the social service programs on which many Ontarians used to rely, slashing education funding, and deliberately underfunding health care as a means to push forward privatization measures.
The report shows that there was insufficient reasoning provided to justify removing the chosen site from protection. Furthermore, it points out that there was absolutely no need for any land to be taken from the Greenbelt in the first place! The entirety of Ford’s promised 1.5 million housing units could be met by housing projects already in the approval pipelines of various municipalities.
Ford has actually decreased his chances of meeting his own target goal. The report found it very unlikely that sufficient housing could be built on the Greenbelt within the next 10 years.
In other words, the entire plan is a bare-faced cash grab by Ford’s capitalist friends.
No rules for the bourgeoisie
The report concludes with 15 recommendations from the Auditor General. Most are measures to ensure transparency, integrity, and public consultation. Ford has accepted 14 of these recommendations, rejecting the suggestion to not develop the Greenbelt.
For anyone paying attention, there is an absurdity to all of this. There were rules and regulations before, which Ford and friends either changed or ignored. What good are more regulations supposed to do?
For instance, one of the initial criteria for land removed from the Greenbelt was that the site could not contain designated specialty crop areas or natural heritage systems. And yet, 13 of 15 sites chosen fit into one of these categories.
How is this possible? When Amato realized that this condition would interfere with the government’s plans, he simply decided to remove the criterion entirely. Problem solved!
Additionally, the government repealed the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act of 2005, which protected certain lands in Pickering, to more easily implement the land swap. Incidentally, this specific area of land stands to increase in value by over $6 billion.
It is an unavoidable truth that so-called ‘democratic’ governments are, in fact, not at all beholden to their own laws. In essence, all the law is good for is controlling workers and providing a cover of legitimacy to offices that act only in the interests of the capitalist class. As the Communist Manifesto puts it, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.
In reaction to the report, there have been calls for Clark’s resignation as well as further investigation by the Integrity Commissioner. One editorial on TVO captures the general response, saying, “We need a new government and an overhaul of the culture and rules in Ontario to prevent future corruption and preferential treatment for the powerful. Otherwise, the system will stay rigged in favour of the powerful—and against the rest of us.”
It’s true that Ford is exposing just how rigged ‘the system’ is. However, it’s ‘the system’—capitalism—that’s the problem, not Ford himself. The numerous scandals that the federal Liberals have found themselves in over the years, from SNC Lavelin to the WE charity, show that no matter which party is in power, they will use that position to the benefit of their capitalist friends. Likewise, when former B.C. NDP premier John Horgan jumped from politics and onto the board of a coal company, he showed that the bourgeoisie can enmesh itself with any party that accepts the bounds of capitalism.
It should also be clear that ‘culture’ and ‘rules’ are useless against the interests of the ruling class. Ford has already demonstrated that all the reports and regulations in the world are not worth the paper they’re written on. In the face of both public outrage and official condemnation, he is blithely steamrolling ahead with his plan. After all, what’s to stop him?
In fact, the only action that has ever forced Ford to retreat did not take place in the halls of Queen’s park, but right outside of them. The CUPE education workers’ strike against Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause showed that any fightback against Ford has to take place on the streets, not in the legislature. Where the developers stand to profit from environmental destruction, the preservation of the Greenbelt and its impact on water systems, biodiversity and agriculture is in the interests of the working class and future generations. Only the collective power of organized workers can oppose the ruling class and protect the environment.