Just two days into the job, Ontario's new Minister of Housing, Paul Calandra, held a press conference this morning where he issued yet another warning to developers whose lands have been removed from the Greenbelt: "Use it or lose it."
During his appearance, Calandra expanded — albeit minimally — on the pending review of Greenbelt lands that Premier Doug Ford announced on Tuesday. He reiterated many of Ford's points: that all Greenbelt lands, including the 14 that have already been removed, will undergo a review overseen by himself and a nonpartisan, non-political facilitator. Also like Ford, Calandra left the door open to more land being removed from the Greenbelt and used for housing development, saying that at this point, he did not want to "presuppose" the results of the review.
Calandra says he has asked his staff to develop parameters for the review, which will include looking at the hundreds of existing development applications for Greenbelt lands. He also made repeated assurances that the review process will be "full, open, and accountable" — a clear response to the recent Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner reports detailing a rushed, opaque, and biased selection process employed by the ministry when choosing lands to remove from the Greenbelt last year.
The upcoming review process will begin with the provincial facilitator looking at the 14 parcels of land that were removed from the Greenbelt last year, and working with the landowners and developers to ensure their building plans are up to snuff and making steady progress.
"I’ve given the provincial facilitator a clear mandate of what I expect," Calandra said, noting that this includes building communities and protecting the sites' natural heritage. The Minister added that this review will put these lands "under the microscope".
The developers of those 14 lands have until 2025 to get shovels in the ground, Calandra said, otherwise, they face being placed back in the Greenbelt and hit with financial penalties. In fact, the ministry is considering an increase to the province's non-resident speculation tax, which could affect idle developers.
"We're putting the development community on notice that bad actors will not be tolerated," Calandra said, later adding, "We expect shovels in the ground and we expect our partners to work with us to make that happen."
Calandra also spoke to the issue of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) — a Ford government favourite to rezone land for development by overriding municipal zoning bylaws. He said the ministry is considering changes to its approach and would instead focus on using MZOs that will advance the Province's goal of building more homes. Prohibiting the sale or transfer of development land obtained through MZOs is also being considered.
"I will not be stopped on our mission to build 1.5 million homes," Calandra said.
Calandra inherited the role of Minister of Housing on Tuesday after Steve Clark resigned from the position on Labour Day.
Clark's resignation came on the heels of a damning report from the province's Integrity Commissioner, released last Wednesday, that found the Minister had violated multiple sections of the Members' Integrity Act for his failure to properly oversee the Greenbelt land selection process.
The Integrity Commissioner's insights followed a report released by the Auditor General earlier this month that pointed a finger at Clark's former Chief of Staff, who was allowed to run a biased selection process favouring certain developers and landowners, with no oversight from Clark.