In a surprising turn of events, Premier Doug Ford took back his government's plans to open up Greenbelt land for housing development on Thursday, announcing the change of course at a press conference in Niagara Falls.
"I want the people of Ontario to know I'm listening," Ford said. "I made a promise to you that I wouldn't touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise, and for that, I'm very, very sorry. I pride myself on keeping our promises. It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt."
This is an extreme shift in Ford's approach to opening up 7,400 acres of the 2 million acres of protected land — a decision that landed his government in hot water with the Auditor General, Integrity Commissioner, and the people of Ontario, as well as a possible RCMP investigation.
Despite findings that the lands chosen by the provincial government for housing development were selected in a rushed, opaque manner that showed bias towards certain developers — and ultimately led to the resignation of both Housing Minister Steve Clark and his Chief of Staff Ryan Amato — as well as studies that found no Greenbelt land was needed to reach the Province's goal of building 1.5 million homes, Ford for months asserted that the Greenbelt is now needed to build homes.
In doing so, Ford specifically ignored a recommendation from the Auditor General directing the government to reconsider its Greenbelt land removal, repeatedly stating he was accepting 14 of the 15 recommendations laid out in the Auditor General's report.
Ford asserted on Thursday that "when I make a mistake, I fix them," however, his government repeatedly dragged its feet on any recourse for the sub-par selection process — one that would have generated billions of dollars more in land value for developers whose lands were chosen for removal.
Following the Auditor General's report, which pointed the finger at Amato, both Ford and Clark backed the Chief of Staff, saying he would continue on in his role despite calls from the public for his resignation. Amato resigned nearly two weeks later. Clark similarly took quite some time to step down, turning in his resignation nearly four weeks after the Auditor General Report and five days after the Integrity Commissioner report, which found Clark had personally violated multiple parts of the Integrity Act during the Greenbelt land selection process.
The controversy has led Ford's poll numbers to plummet, falling seven points in less than two months, per an Abacus Data report.
"As a first step, to earn back your trust, I'll be reversing the changes we made and won't make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future," Ford said on Thursday.
Ford's announcement comes one day after former Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Kaleed Rasheed quit over questions about incorrect information regarding dealings with developers provided to Ontario's Integrity Commissioner during his investigation into Clark.