What’s a guy to do? You try to help out a few friends by quietly giving them a few thousand acres of weed-filled fields in the middle of nowhere and just because you’re the Premier of Ontario all hell breaks loose. Your approval ratings drop to 28% — your lowest level ever — you have to throw your Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and his Chief of Staff to the wolves and worst of all, your base is seriously pissed.
If that weren’t enough, last week the provincial Ombudsman blasted your government for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak at long-term care facilities under your control. I mean, is it really your fault that 4,335 residents and 13 staff members died between March and April 2022?
No wonder Doug Ford is upset. This isn’t the sort of treatment he expects from the hoi polloi who elected him, albeit with less than wild enthusiasm. So far, they’ve been happy with free hamburgers and hotdogs at Ford Fest and the occasional $20 bill tossed their way. Don’t remind him, but Ford won his 2022 “landslide” with the support of only 18% of voters, that’s 41% of ballots cast by 43% of eligible voters.
That’s democracy for you. First past the post, and Ford ends up with 83 of 124 seats in the Ontario Legislature, a majority big enough to allow him to do whatever he wants.
Good thing for Ford the provincial Liberals and the NDP are nowhere to be found. Lost in the vagaries of bad timing and no-name leadership, they ensured Ford’s victory despite his overlooked unpopularity.
Maybe that’s why Ford has decided to take out his frustration on all those whiney Ontarians who fight him at every turn and pretend to care about the environment, the Greenbelt, and the backroom deals the housing crisis forced him to make with his developer buddies.
He made his unhappiness clear with the appointment of Paul Calandra, trusted consigliere with a nasty family history, to the housing portfolio. The new minister can be counted on to enforce the boss’ will, regardless of the fallout. If there were any lingering doubts about that, Calandra dispelled them with the carefully crafted tone-deafness of his announcement that the whole Greenbelt will be opened up for review, not just a few thousand acres, but all two million of them. In other words, not only won’t the government change direction, it’s doubling down on its threat to allow development on the Greenbelt and undermine its environmental and legal integrity.
For appearance’s sake, Calandra served up the usual boilerplate: “It will be a full, open and accountable process,” he insisted, blatantly ignoring reporters’ questions. “It will look at the entirety of the Greenbelt. There might be lands that need to be added to the Greenbelt. There might be some lands that are removed, but it will be a fair and open process that will live up to the spirit of the original intent of the Greenbelt….” Blah, blah, blah. And by the way, Calandra also told us that development of the 7,400 acres Ford has already handed over to his builder pals would continue as planned.
In other words, the Greenbelt can go to hell and Ontarians with it. Just how the Conservatives “will live up the spirit of original intent of the Greenbelt,” remains a mystery. Especially, as the government’s very own 2022 Housing Affordability Task Force argued: “a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the [housing affordability] problem. Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts.”
Clearly, then, Ford’s stated goal of building 1.5 million homes over the next decade has nothing to do with the Greenbelt except to make its presence more vital than ever to the province’s environmental health. And let’s not forget, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Forever. The damage Ford does today will keep on giving for decades to come.
But as angry as Ford is, Ontarians are angrier still. As unprecedented as that pudgy middle finger raised above Queen’s Park may be, it is nothing compared to the rage felt across the province, and indeed, Canada. Opening up the Greenbelt is wrong in principle, and will be devastating in practice.
We’re still waiting to hear how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will respond to the Ontario Provincial Police’s request to investigate “irregularities regarding the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto.” The usual convoluted cop-speak notwithstanding, the Mounties’ decision could change everything. And if you think Doug Ford is foaming at the mouth now, just wait for what could come next. Unlike the Greenbelt, it won’t be pretty.