EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have launched an investigation into the Greenbelt changes made by the Ford government.
The investigation, reported first on Tuesday by the Toronto Star, was revealed by the federal police force about seven weeks after the Ontario Provincial Police handed off responsibility for looking into whether there was a criminal element to the Greenbelt scandal.
“Following a referral from the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP O Division’s Sensitive and International Investigations (SII) unit has now launched an investigation into allegations associated (with) the decision from the Province of Ontario to open parts of the Greenbelt for development,” an RCMP spokesperson said in an email.
“While we recognize that this investigation is of significant interest to Canadians, the RCMP has a duty to protect the integrity of the investigations that it carries out, in order to ensure that the process leads to a fair and proper outcome. Therefore, no further updates will be provided at this time.”
Premier Doug Ford’s office published a statement in response on Tuesday, promising to “fully cooperate,” saying it has “zero tolerance for any wrongdoing,” while declining to comment further.
Controversy around the Ford government’s decision late last year to remove 7,400 acres in 15 different land sites from the Greenbelt was escalated by revelations contained in scathing reports published separately by two of Ontario’s watchdogs.
Each determined that the process leading to land being unprotected for homes to be built was significantly influenced by, and favoured, many of the developers owning the affected properties.
Then-auditor general Bonnie Lysyk projected that land-owning developers could make upwards of $8.3 billion, thanks to the increase in the value of their lands.
The Ford government’s plan to change the Greenbelt is no longer, however. On Sept. 21 — amid plummeting public opinion poll numbers, and after the resignations of two cabinet ministers and two senior staffers involved in the scandal — Ford apologized for removing land and promised to reverse the Greenbelt decision.
“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt,” Ford said in Niagara Falls on Sept. 21, after meeting with his cabinet and the Progressive Conservative caucus over the span of two days.
The Ford government is expected to table legislation that would return the land it removed from the Greenbelt when MPPs return from a one-week break from sitting next Monday.
The RCMP was handed responsibility for reviewing whether to undergo a now-launched criminal investigation into the Greenbelt scandal by the OPP in mid-August. The provincial police said this was to avoid any “potential perceived conflict of interest” — the details of which it hasn’t disclosed.
Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, whose ministry the OPP falls under, wouldn’t comment on this either when asked by The Trillium last week.
Ontario’s opposition parties — which had vehemently fought against the removal of land from the Greenbelt — were quick to applaud the RCMP for launching an investigation in a series of statements.
“I hope that this investigation will get us even more answers,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said.
“It’s good news for Ontarians that the RCMP will be launching an investigation into Doug Ford’s $8.3 billion backroom deal,” interim Liberal leader John Fraser said.
“An RCMP investigation is key to delivering the justice and accountability Ontarians deserve,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner said.