Does AG’s report bode well for Nanticoke?

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk delivered a report last week that revealed what many of us have suspected – developers had a massive influence over the Ontario government’s Greenbelt land swap. I saw shades of the Nanticoke development proposal in the Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt.

First and foremost, the role of the Auditor General is to watch over the administration of Ontario’s finances to help hold the government accountable. Lysyk does this by carrying out detailed scrutiny of government spending and then producing reports. In this most recent report, Lysyk delivered a scathing report that said the Ontario government’s decision to open up parts of the Greenbelt for housing lacked transparency, failed to consider environmental, agricultural, and financial impacts, and “favoured certain developers.”

This, despite Premier Doug Ford repeatedly saying he would not allow housing to be built in parts of Ontario’s Greenbelt. Last November, Ford ushered in Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, which allowed for the removal of 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt. There was a backlash from municipalities, environmentalists, and many in Haldimand-Norfolk who felt development was out of control, and the Premier was on a slippery slope.

Along with colleagues at Queen’s Park, I have been vocal about how this government has made more land use planning changes over the past while than we have seen in years. Municipalities are struggling to keep pace with the changes, which are to help achieve the building of 1.5 million new homes by 2031.

I will digress as Ontario must get a few items in order before encouraging newcomers to settle in the province. It’s time the Premier tells the Prime Minister to slow immigration or pony up the funds to help build infrastructure like new schools, hospitals, and water and sewage, to name a few. Those items don’t come free, and there is only one taxpayer!

Lysyk’s report made 15 recommendations for the Secretary of Cabinet and Chief of Staff in the Office of the Premier. Ford has said he will accept and adopt 14. The recommendation the Premier will not accept is to re-evaluate the 2022 decision to change the Greenbelt boundaries.

In interviews following the report, Premier Ford said he was sorry, but the government quickly threw a staffer under the bus. Sorry doesn’t quite cut it, and the Premier’s portrayal of not knowing doesn’t sit well with me either.

I have seen and continue to see similarities between taking land out of the Greenbelt and the proposed city at Nanticoke. The concept is baffling. The idea of building a town from the ground up has never been tried, except in Haldimand County. We all know the success, or lack thereof, with Townsend. I have said moving droves of people next to heavy industry is dangerous and foolhardy. Dangerous due to health concerns and foolhardy because we must do all we can to protect the good-paying jobs at Stelco and Imperial Oil.

This government said it wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt. This government also said it would protect significant employment zones like that at Nanticoke. The fate of the Ministerial Zoning Order for the Nanticoke development sits on the desk of Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, whom many feel should resign on the heels of Lysyk’s findings. Given recent events and especially considering the level of community opposition, I can’t imagine motivation is high for issuing the MZO.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk