Yes, developers potentially made money the day the Ontario government re-designated Greenbelt lands. They do every time new development land is approved
Is Ontario’s plan to redevelop a tiny portion of the Toronto-area Greenbelt a political scandal or not?
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s eagerly-awaited report Wednesday failed to conclusively resolve that question. Lysyk did find a smoking gun, but she found no conclusive evidence on it of the fingerprints of Premier Doug Ford or his housing minister, Steve Clark. Instead, Lysyk discovered that Clark’s chief of staff hastily put together the Greenbelt development plan and changed some criteria in a way that favoured particular developers.
Both Clark and Ford say they weren’t aware of the selection process details and there is no evidence to the contrary. Nor did Lysyk uncover any evidence that anyone in the government benefited from the redevelopment plan. Suspicious minds will form their own conclusions, of course.
The AG spent most of her report on an auditor’s favourite subject: process deficiencies. Had the government consulted the usual experts, it would have found that there were many reasons not to develop the 7,400 acres of Greenbelt land, which constitutes about 0.3 per cent of the two-million-acre protected area. That’s hardly surprising. Since the land was in a Greenbelt, one might have presumed there were reasons not to develop it, including reserving it for farm use, wetlands and forests.
Lysyk further argues that the province had already assigned housing targets to all Ontario municipalities, targets that would enable it to meet the Ford government’s goal of building 1.5 million houses in a decade. The AG failed to distinguish between targets and having the land to meet them, but concluded that the Greenbelt land wasn’t needed. That point of view was supported by planning directors in the municipalities affected by the redevelopment. The auditor did not address what optimistic intensification assumptions might underlie that conclusion.
In their response to Lysyk’s report, Ford and Clark were quite happy to focus on the process criticisms. The government has accepted all but one of Lysyk’s recommendations and will make sure things are more transparent in the future, they said. The main point, they argued, is that the province is in desperate need of housing, with 500,000 people arriving in the last 12 months. The government considers itself guilty of nothing more than going in the right direction too quickly.
The Greenbelt affair is shocking to some for what it tells us about how development works in Ontario. For those familiar with the industry, it wasn’t surprising to learn that developers were speculating on land in the sacrosanct Greenbelt. Many Ontario developers are as much land speculators as home builders.
It’s a long play. At least one of the parcels in the new development area was acquired suspiciously close to the government announcement, but others had been owned by developers for years, some before the creation of the Greenbelt in 2005.
Developers can make serious money by buying land that they reasonably assume will eventually be approved for development. In the case of the Greenbelt lands, developers got a big heads-up when Ford said in 2018 that he intended to open up big chunks of the Greenbelt if elected premier. That was publicly reported, although Ford later changed his mind, then changed it again.
The idea that developers would reach out to Clark’s chief of staff to suggest that their properties be re-designated isn’t surprising, either. Lysyk’s report might create the impression that the normal state of affairs is for development decisions to follow from the impartial work of professional public servants. In fact, politicians can do whatever they like. Ottawans saw that in 2021, when the city council approved a remote suburban development fronted by an Algonquin group, calling it an act of reconciliation. That wasn’t the recommendation of city staff.
Yes, developers potentially made money the day the provincial government re-designated Greenbelt lands, but they made money when it recently expanded development lands in Ottawa and Hamilton, too. In fact, developers make money every time new development land is approved.
The Ford government is aggressively trying to change Ontario housing development from a process-driven approach designed to limit housing land to one that strongly encourages housing. That’s what Ontario needs as it tries to grapple with the effects of surging immigration. The former Greenbelt lands could yield 50,000 homes.
If Ontario is to have any hope at all of meeting housing demand, the government needs to focus on results, not process. The location of new housing development is always a political decision and it’s invariably preceded by vigorous lobbying. Some don’t like that, but it’s business as usual, not a scandal.
Randall Denley is an Ottawa journalist, author and former Ontario PC candidate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education
In the coming days, Canada will see heightened activity in the nation’s ongoing gender identity politics debate. The “1 Million March 4 Children” protest against how gender identity is taught in schools, is set to occur on Wednesday, with synchronized events in more than 50 cities countrywide. Two days later, separate Toronto rally will spotlight two figures prominent in the gender-critical movement: Chris Elston, colloquially known as “Billboard Chris” for his distinctive method of protesting against childhood medical transition, and Josh Alexander, a Renfrew, Ontario student who was expelled earlier this year after objecting in class to his school’s transgender washroom policy.
Organizers of these events bill them as a defense of the safety and wellbeing of children, though the protesters’ opinions span a wide spectrum of positions. While some desire personal discretion in how matters of gender identity are handled for their own children, others urge broader constraint on transgender-related discussion and accommodations for the entire student body. The perspectives reflect the diverse community backing the movement.
As parents’ voices grow louder, there’s a perception in the progressive left that all of these emerging movements are rooted and inspired by “far-right” extremism. Many in leftist circles suggest that parental rights advocacy is a dog-whistle: a veiled attempt to advance anti-transgender policies. A recently leaked video from an Ontario Federation of Labour meeting offers a glimpse into how some of the province’s most influential union members perceive these protests. As one member notably stated during the meeting: “The fascists are organizing in the streets … . This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest. They’re fundamentally racist, they’re fundamentally anti-union, they are fundamentally transphobic, and it’s just a matter of time before they come for us.”
Such language of a growing fascist movement, evoking images of 1933 Berlin, is more than a little unhinged, particularly when all they are discussing is parents uniting together to demand involvement in their children’s education. As a covert spectator in the union meeting, there was an undeniable sentiment among participants that if not for them democracy would surely collapse.
It’s a grave mistake to deride the parental collective pushing back against the status-quo as fascist sympathizers motivated by transgender hate. A glance past such alarmist rhetoric reveals that — while a fringe group of hate has always existed — the concerns many parents are championing are much more moderate than a “far-right” moniker suggests.
For many parents, the core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education. They want transparency about what is being taught, the option to excuse their child from content they believe doesn’t align with their values, and the discretion to determine age-appropriateness for activities, such as certain reading material or events like drag queen performances at schools. Perhaps least surprisingly, parents want to be involved in the key decisions of their own child undergoing a social transition in the classroom.
Many of these matters have been surfacing in school board meetings for several years, largely to be ignored by Trustees and Education Directors. The shared sentiment among these parents is the perception that the education system increasingly sidelines them, diminishing their role in their children’s upbringing. This sense of alienation is leading a growing number of parents to take a stand, even if it means confronting accusations of extremism.
The matter of social transition behind parents’ backs in particular is so condemning of their role in upbringing that it has thrust the entire gamut of gender identity matters into the national spotlight, revealing just how out of balance transgender accommodation has become. The manner in which the left has responded — by doubling down in their rhetoric and deriding parents as militant zealots, has played powerfully into the rapid growth of this grassroots movement.
Many parents, even amid those who will stand in protest, have little desire to limit other families’ decisions regarding gender teachings and expression for their children. They realize that their objective of ensuring their own parental autonomy is intertwined with safeguarding those same freedoms for other families as well.
Over time, the persistent branding of even modest parental rights positions as far-right extremism does injury. As the left cries foul each time they encounter a perspective they don’t like, they desensitize the meaning in such a label. By regularly branding modest parental concerns as extremist, progressives may very well be shoehorning the adoption and normalization of more hardline positions that do straddle the line of the parental rights of others. As grassroots gain traction, a vocal minority have now taken to calling for sweeping bans on gender affirming teaching and accommodation for all children and families alike within the public education system.
So where do we go from here? What might a balanced approach to parental rights look like within the nuanced landscape of gender identity politics? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch; history offers us a model for the coexistence of diverse ideologies within our educational institutions. Look no further than religion.
For years, Canada has upheld an educational system truly inclusive of students from all religious backgrounds. The classroom approach to religious topics is robust; it sidesteps direct religious instruction, and when religion intersects with the curriculum, it is presented academically rather than doctrinally. Instead of dictating what’s “true” in religious contexts, educators shed light on what various groups “believe,” cultivating an environment of both choice and critical thinking.
Amid religious diversity, we teach acceptance. Students are taught to make space for varied faith expression among their peers, whether through clothing or other customs, and with a strong desire to maintain neutral, religious symbols are not adorned by the institution. The lesson for students is to embrace and include, even where personal beliefs diverge; Meanwhile, the guiding principle for the institution is to avoid actions that display favouritism toward any specific religious doctrine.
Such a solution could address a significant portion of the concerns fuelling the rising parental unrest. Moderate parents would applaud such an education system, and this would still be inclusive of transgender students. But in order for this to be realized, the two factions moving ever further apart will first need to come to the table and talk. Given the recent rhetoric from progressive quarters, the prospect of this dialogue anytime soon appears distant.
A month after Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it was looking into claims that the Polish government asked one of its diplomats in Canada to gather information on a former Alberta cabinet minister, the dismissed consul general at the centre of the affair says he still hasn’t heard from the department on the matter.
Andrzej Mańkowski told CBC News the only official he has heard from is a B.C. bureaucrat who asked him to return his diplomatic licence plates and identification.
“[Officials with Global Affairs] haven’t tried talking to me,” he said.
Mańkowski showed CBC News a copy of a letter dated Aug. 31 he received from B.C.’s Chief of Protocol for Intergovernmental Relations Lucy Lobmeier asking him to turn in his identity card and to return his diplomatic plates “within 30 days of this letter.” She also thanked him for his service.
Mańkowski alleges he was dismissed from his post in late July after he refused to carry out orders from the Polish government to gather information about Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta who often provides commentary to CBC News about the province’s politics.
“It’s clear that Polish diplomacy during Communist times, the main responsibility was to collect information, to gather information on some Polish representatives abroad,” Mańkowski said, adding he felt as if the request was a throwback to that time.
“The analogy’s extremely evident.”
Last month, Global Affairs Canada said it was taking the allegations seriously.
Spying allegations ‘out of this world’: ambassador
In August, Lukaszuk said he believed he had been targeted by Poland’s department of foreign affairs over his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.
Rydzyk, who has ties to the Polish government, has been criticized for delivering sermons featuring homophobic and anti-Semitic views and for preaching against the European Union.
Lukaszuk also shared what he said were encrypted messages Polish government officials sent to Mańkowski asking him over the course of a year to prepare notes on the former Alberta politician.
CBC News has not independently verified these messages were official government communications. Mańkowski did not dispute their veracity in his interview.
“Asking for my opinion about Lukaszuk was just a kind of trap, was just a political test of my loyalty,” he said.
Poland’s Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski called the allegation “totally absurd.”
“The idea of Polish diplomacy spying on a former provincial politician … it’s really out of this world,” Dzielski said.
He said he has never met Lukaszuk and did not know of his previous career in politics before Lukaszuk emailed him about an unrelated consular matter long before the reports about Mańkowski came out.
Dzielski said that if the notes cited by Lukaszuk are real, they were leaked illegally because they would constitute private diplomatic communications.
The affair has captured attention in Polish media, where the story first broke.
In July, Polish opposition politicians cited the messages released by Lukaszuk when they asked Piotr Wawrzyk, a secretary of state in the government’s foreign affairs department, whether Mańkowski was dismissed because he refused to spy on Lukaszuk.
In reply, Wawrzyk said the government could recall a diplomat who refused to carry out an assignment.
“The minister, Wawrzyk, was laid off because of a totally different subject,” Dzielski said.
He pointed out that those documents were cited by opposition politicians in the context of a heated election campaign.
Dzielski� also said it’s normal for diplomats to be asked to gather information on notable members of diaspora communities.
‘A very marginal conversation’
“We are working very closely with them,” he said. “It is obvious and natural, and it is an element of diplomatic workshops, that we provide and we build ourselves opinions about the quality of cooperation with particular actors.”
He said Global Affairs has spoken to him about the allegations. “We had a very marginal conversation on this which reflects the level of seriousness of this topic,” he said.
A NATO member, Poland has worked closely with Canada to help out its neighbour Ukraine ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.
Asked for comment, Global Affairs said in a media statement it “continues to work closely with security and intelligence community partners to assess the situation and identify next steps as appropriate.”
The department said last month it had contacted Lukaszuk and that it took the responsibility of protecting Canadians from “transnational repression” very seriously.
The Current20:05Putting politics aside to tackle the housing crisis
Political leaders of all stripes must find a way to work together to solve the housing and climate crises impacting Canadians, says former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.
“Toronto is the best example. NDP mayor, provincial premier who’s Conservative, federal Liberal who’s the prime minister,” said Raitt, co-lead of the new non-governmental Task Force for Housing and Climate, which launched Tuesday.
“And if they don’t figure this out, one voter is going to punish them all.”
The new task force is concerned with accelerating the construction of new homes, while ensuring that’s done in a sustainable way. In a press release, the group of former city mayors, planners, developers, economists and affordable housing advocates said it intends to convene until April 2024 to develop policy recommendations. The work is supported by the Clean Economy Fund, a charitable foundation.
Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. But as co-lead of the task force, Raitt said she won’t engage in the political partisanship that she thinks “poisons the well” around these issues.
“Part of the reason why we’re coming together as the task force is to have a real pragmatic and practical conversation about these issues instead of weaponizing it into a political arena, and finger pointing back and forth,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.
Justin Trudeau announced funding to build more housing in London, Ont., as he and Liberal MPs kicked off their caucus retreat. The agreement comes as the government faces growing pressure to help make housing more affordable.
Speaking in London on Wednesday, Housing Minister Sean Fraser called on municipalities to “legalize housing,” urging them to remove “sluggish permit-approval processes” and zoning obstacles if they expect federal investment in housing construction.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government’s ‘inflationary deficits’ and ‘taxes and bureaucracy’ are holding back construction of new homes.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plans as not going far enough, while pointing out it echoes some of his party’s proposals. He’s proposed measures that tie federal funding to the number of housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while cities that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.
Poilievre’s proposals also include a “NIMBY” fine on municipalities that block construction because of opposition from local residents, and the sale of 15 per cent of federally owned buildings so the land can be used to build affordable homes.
Don Iveson, former mayor of Edmonton and co-lead of the task force, said he understands why partisan politics can creep into the debate — but Canadians expect more.
He said the task force intends “to help all orders of government” understand what’s needed to tackle these problems from an economic, technical and planning perspective.
“We’re not going to be able to solve the housing crisis [by] building housing the way we built it for the last several generations,” said said Iveson, who was mayor of Edmonton from 2013 to 2021.
Your kids need a place to live: Raitt
Iveson said the challenge of scaling up housing construction will require some new ways of thinking.
That might mean a greater emphasis on automation and building houses from components prefabricated off-site, which he described as “essentially a more factory approach” that could also reduce construction costs.
Raitt said the task force will examine where houses are built, and in what kind of density, to ensure scaling up can “get the most bang for the buck.”
That might mean Canadians might need to have difficult conversations, including whether to build multi-storey buildings instead of single-family homes.
Raitt said older Canadians who already own their own homes might not like the idea of taller buildings going up around them, but they should speak to their kids about it.
CBC’s Sohrab Sandhu reports on an unorthodox strategy where some people are deciding to buy homes with strangers.
“They don’t care if it’s going to be four, six storeys in a residential neighbourhood. They just want a place that they know that they can purchase,” she said.
“Talk about whether or not our kids are going to have a place to live, let alone rent, let alone own, let alone a house in the communities where they were brought up, because right now it’s not looking so good.”
Counting the cost of climate change
When it comes to climate change and sustainability, the task force’s goals come down to a “very simple equation,” Raitt said.
“Whatever we’re building now is going to be here in 2050. So if it’s going to be part of the calculation of our net-zero aspirations, whatever they’re going to be,” she said.
She said the task force will work to formulate ways to build housing that take emissions into account, but don’t include prohibitive costs that slow down the rate of construction.
“It’s going to be a little bit more costly to build with climate indications built in … but you’ve got to make sure that there’s policies surrounding that to make sure it still makes it affordable,” she said.
Officials say the fire, which is burning out of control as of Monday morning, is expected to grow.
Iveson said wildfires, floods, heat domes and extreme weather events are already disrupting the economy, as well as posing huge financial burdens for the Canadians caught up in them.
“Climate change is already costing us a fortune,” he told Galloway.
Building without those climate considerations “maybe seems affordable in the short term, but it’s false economy when it comes to the real costs ahead of us,” he said.