Questions linger about Ford’s Greenbelt press conference in Niagara Falls

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Published September 22, 2023 at 11:25 am

doug ford
Premier Doug Ford announced a stunning reversal of the Greenbelt land swap yesterday in Niagara Falls,

When Premier Doug Ford announced his stunning reversal of the Greenbelt land swap yesterday (Sept. 21) in Niagara Falls, he was peppered with questions from the attending media.

With that being said, there remain unanswered questions about his reversal and the press conference in general. Let’s look at a few of them.

Why were there so many Conservative cabinet ministers in attendance at the Niagara Falls press conference?
The answer to that is they were already in the city for the Conservative caucus meeting before Queen’s Park reopens on Monday (Sept. 25). On the YouTube live conference announcement, 19 of the ministers were visible behind him. Subsequent photos afterward show that number to be closer to 25.

Why did the cabinet ministers walk across the street in unison to be a human backdrop for the press conference?
Since the press conference was in the parking lot of the hotel in which most of them were staying, it was likely meant to symbolize a show of unity for their leader, knowing what his surprise announcement was going to be.

If the controversial lands have been sold to developers already, how will the Province simply place them back into the Greenbelt?
While the situation was alluded to by reporters, Ford answered that the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra, “is working through those details.” The short answer, however, is that the government will have to buy back the lands – as much as 7,400 acres – from the developers to reinsert them back into the Greenbelt.

How will the developers who bought the Greenbelt lands react to the reversal? 
While it’s unlikely they’re happy with the news, the fact is developers usually have multiple projects on the go – all of which need government approval at some point. Thus no one is expecting any lawsuits over the reversal from developers. When Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her scathing report on the Greenbelt land acquisition on August 9, she estimated the developers would collect $8.3 billion for the lands that under the Greenbelt were assessed at $240 million. That’s a net gain of 30 times the initial price.

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Why did Ford suddenly reverse his Greenbelt stand after months of saying he stood by the decision to remove 7,400 acres in 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere, to build 50,000 homes?
A few reasons are likely. While most scandals have a shelf-life before a new scandal comes along, drawing the media’s attention in a different direction, this one was not going away. Ever since Lysyk’s report was released, Ford has had to deal with dozens of Greenbelt questions daily. As well, since the Auditor General’s report, the Conservatives have seen a sharp decline in the polls. Finally, it’s quite likely that Ford heard from his cabinet ministers at the caucus meeting, that they’ve been pummeled by questions and anger from their constituents.

What’s the damage report to the ruling Conservative party thus far?
Two ministers and two key aides have been forced to resign thus far since August. Today (Sept. 22), Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, who had no direct connection to the Greenbelt saga, announced he was leaving government for the private sector.

Here is yesterday’s press conference in its entirety – about a half hour long including the media questions.

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