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We must not let the Greenbelt scandal slide: Op-Ed

For the sake of our democracy and our economy, we cannot let this slide.
Greenbelt Guardians
Greenbelt Guardians

A democratically elected government’s job is to make decisions that benefit the people of Ontario. Operating with transparency and fairness is fundamental for a democratic society.

On this account, the Ontario Conservatives have failed us. Not because they chose to develop parts of the Greenbelt but because it seems abundantly clear that the process for selecting which lands to develop was designed entirely to benefit conservative party donors.

What is at stake for all of Ontario is more than the tens of thousands of homes and beyond the thousands of acres of greenbelt. It undermines our democracy as well as the foundation of our economy.

Let’s accept for the time being that the Greenbelt land needs to be developed. I am aware that there are arguments to be had about that, but I think that what is far more sickening are the points in the Auditor General’s report (Special Changes to the Greenbelt) that seem to be clear indicators of corruption.

We found that how the land sites were selected was not transparent, fair, objective, or fully informed. It also can be shown that there was sufficient land for the target of 1.5 million homes to be built without the need to build on the Greenbelt - Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk

1) The first red flag is that out of hundreds of proposed site changes, only 22 sites were reviewed, and 15 were chosen for development. Of those chosen, 14 were proposed personally by the Housing Minister’s chief of staff, as told to him by developers who had close access to him. So over 90% of the land area developed was selected by developers who were party donors.

2) The process was rushed, meaning the team did not have time to review other potential sites within the Greenbelt properly.

3) The Minister’s chief of staff changed or eliminated review criteria in order to suit the land proposed to him by developers. 

The only way to interpret this exchange is that the Ontario Conservative government is allowing staff to favour big party donors, effectively robbing $8bn from the rest of Ontario. 

This should bother us all, regardless of political stripe. First, how many politicians or chiefs of staff do you know personally? How many of them call you up to help make you money? On a simple personal level, it is unfair. Beyond that, it is woefully undemocratic and undermines the foundation of our economy.

In Canada, we are supposed to stand for fairness. Hard work is supposed to bring you success. This is a demonstration of how much who you know and how much money you have create an unfair advantage. 

Our whole economic system is based on the idea that working hard and smart will bring you a good and comfortable life. This is one of the things that drive us to work, to innovate, and to create. In other words: to build our economy.

What happens to that drive when a person looks at this situation and rightly sees that by virtue of wealth and personal connection that, these people were enriched to the tune of $8 billion dollars?

What happens when it becomes unwritten law that it is through favours, patronage, and personal position that one becomes rich? That it is wealth that makes wealth.

Equally, what happens to our lawmaking when, instead of listening to the will of the people, a government chooses the path that most enriches its donors? When companies and people with great wealth get a personal phone call from government departments and a louder voice when shaping law – how does the average citizen still believe in voting? At what point do people lose trust and faith in the government?

I am writing this to implore every single Ontarian to remember these charges. I want you to read the Auditor General’s report. I want you to talk about it at dinner, at work, and to everyone you can. For the sake of our democracy and our economy, we cannot let this slide. 

Now, the Ford government isn’t the first to face accusations of corruption and scandal. It happens so often in politics that I think we are somewhat desensitized to it and see it as part of partisan political attacks. We can be stronger than that. We can and must learn to call out corruption every time.

It is only ourselves we hurt when we let it slide.