The Ford government’s stated reason for removing 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt protection was to build 50,000 homes in order to alleviate the housing crisis. This was a lie and a scam. These lands were removed to provide developers with massive profits – there is no evidence that this land was ever needed to confront the housing crisis, and whether homes were ever built at all was always a secondary consideration.
The government’s real intent is now becoming clear as the ties between the Ontario Conservatives and the developers involved are being uncovered and some of the owners of the lands are now looking to cash out without building anything. This corruption, now on full display, is highlighting the root cause of the housing crisis: the privatization of housing.
The Communist Party demands that all lands removed from the Greenbelt for development be immediately returned to protected status, that there be a public inquiry into how private interests have captured development and land policy, and that the government take swift and real action to confront the housing crisis.
Soon after the 2022 election, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announced the “tough decision” to open up thousands of acres of the Greenbelt for development. This was after Doug Ford was exposed in 2018 as having promised developers access to the Greenbelt. This attack on the environment and important agricultural land was explained as necessary because of the housing crisis.
In August, the Auditor General reported that of the 7,400 acres of land removed from the Greenbelt, 92 percent could be tied to three developers with direct access to the housing ministry. The owners of the 15 land sites chosen through this process could see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the values of their properties. The report also found that Clark’s Chief of Staff provided all but one of the sites that were ultimately removed from the Greenbelt, “at least nine of which came from requests made by a few select developers and their representatives, who contacted him personally.”
While the corporate media and Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner have so far focused on Steve Clark and his Chief of Staff’s ties to profiteering developers, Doug Ford and his party have longstanding ties to these particular developers and the industry more generally. Ford invited developers, including those that benefited from the Greenbelt deregulation, to a pre-wedding fundraiser for his daughter in 2022. The Tories’ 2018 election campaign – the first under Ford’s leadership – was well funded by developers, and a further half a million dollars in developers’ money was spent by the “third party” entity Ontario Proud. Clearly, the Conservatives are the same political entity as Ontario’s largest developers.
The Communist Party joins the demands of environmentalists, farmers and unions as well as 83 percent of Ontarians who want the opening of the Greenbelt immediately reversed. This means all of the lands removed from the Greenbelt must be returned, not a portion and not a swap with other land.
This scandal is another case of corporate power directly dictating public policy. Profiteering developers have accumulated capital and power not by building homes based on people’s need, but through building homes dictated by what’s profitable: housing as an investment or speculation resulting in environmentally damaging suburban sprawl and unlivable cities with high rents. We need to look well-beyond Steve Clark and even Doug Ford and the Conservatives to see the roots of this scandal which is ultimately corporate power and the commodification of housing.
What is needed is a massive public housing program, rooted in the idea that housing is a human right and should be treated as a public utility. Over 700,000 households in the province are in serious need of safe, affordable housing, and most working people are having their living standards eroded by skyrocketing rents and mortgage rates. This money flows directly into the hands of the banks and increasingly monopolized and financialized landlords. Policy “solutions” that amount to subsidies or incentives for developers and landlords have either been inadequate or have contributed to the crisis. A comprehensive social housing program needs to be coupled with legislative changes that roll back rents and bring in rent control with teeth, to ensure that no one is compelled to pay more than 20 percent of income on housing.
While even the most willing political servants of corporate Canada now admit there is a severe housing crisis, the policy options on the table remain narrow and do not tackle the privatization of housing. Part of this is because there is so much profit in housing – in fact, governments have come to rely on people’s home ownership to displace proper pension programs. Why provide affordable housing when it is more profitable to offer home ownership savings schemes that will tie working people to a huge and profitable mortgage?
Instead, the provincial and federal governments must re-assume a leading role in building and providing housing on a rent-geared-to-income basis. Instead of hoping the private sector builds what people need, governments must take direct action and develop an emergency plan to build 200,000 new, publicly owned, social housing units, and upgrade existing units, to address the massive core housing need in all areas of Ontario. As this is done, and if such a program continues as an ongoing and expanding public service, average prices will come down, providing relief and stability to renters and homeowners.
We must fight the current reframing of the debate by both Liberal and Conservative parties that seek to blame immigration for the housing crisis. Housing policy remains a class issue – the roots of the crisis are caused by those that profit from it. Confronting the crisis means confronting and struggling against the vested interests which want to maintain power and wealth they derive from the private provision of shelter. Return all lands to the Greenbelt and build social housing now!