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Ontario NDP submits fresh evidence to integrity commissioner in Greenbelt investigation

The incoming leader of the Ontario NDP has submitted fresh evidence to Ontario’s integrity commissioner over the Ford government’s controversial decision to open portions of the Greenbelt for housing development.

The latest allegations claim that at least one developer, who purchased a swath of land in King Township in September 2022, may have had advance knowledge of the government’s plans to remove the property from the Greenbelt — a decision that was announced by the government in November.

Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark have faced questions from environmental advocates and political critics about potential insider trading of confidential government information, which has sparked an integrity commissioner ethics investigation into Clark.

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The government has strongly denied that any of the developers who purchased 15 parcels of land being removed from the Greenbelt was given a heads-up about the decision before it was made public.

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The swath of land that’s subject to the NDP complaint was purchased by the Rice Group in 2022.

The swath of land that’s subject to the NDP complaint was purchased by the Rice Group in 2022.

Government document

In a two-part letter, Ontario NDP incoming leader Marit Stiles raised concerns about a meeting involving a town in York Region, a developer and a local hospital.

The meeting, Stiles alleges, involved a development company — the Rice Group — and officials from King Township and Southlake Health Network on Nov. 1 to discuss Greenbelt land that was recently purchased by the Rice group.

“King Township wrote ‘the commitment of a nominal fee for the hospital lands was conveyed verbally to Mayor Pellegrini during an in-person meeting with Rice Group and Southlake Representatives on November 1, 2022,’” Stiles’ letter said.

Three days later, Ontario announced it was removing the land from its protected status to allow for homes in the province to be built faster.

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“It is evident that King Township did know about the removal of this land from the Greenbelt and did discuss this information with representatives of the Rice Group prior to the November 4 announcement,” Stiles wrote.

She argued that the meeting meant Clark had not been accurate when he denied informing any developers of his plans in advance.

Global News reached out to the Rice Group to inquire about whether the company had any advance notice about the Ford government’s intent to alter the Greenbelt, but has not received a response.

However, Mayor Steve Pellegrini, who took part in the meeting in question, told Global News that is not what transpired.

In an interview, Pellegrini said members of the Rice Group, who made an $80-million land purchase, wanted to introduce themselves and that meetings with developers who own Greenbelt land were common practice.

Pellegrini said he used the opportunity, unprompted, to push for land to develop new hospital infrastructure which, he said, could be allowed under provincial regulations.

Pellegrini said he opposed the Ford government’s plans to build new homes on land removed from the Greenbelt. He said it would be near-impossible to service the new homes, particularly with wastewater infrastructure.

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Both Ontario’s integrity commissioner and auditor general are working on probes into the Ford government’s decision to remove land from the Greenbelt.

The integrity commissioner accepted a request on Jan. 18 from Stiles to look into whether Clark broke conflict of interest and insider information rules.

The province’s auditor general also released a letter the same day, accepting a call from the leaders of the Ontario Greens, Liberals and NDP for a “value-for-money audit of the financial and environmental implications relating to the government’s recent decisions affecting the Greenbelt.”

The Ontario Provincial Police are deciding whether or not to launch an investigation into the decision after complaints, including one lodged by advocacy group Environmental Defence.

It comes in the wake of the controversial decision to remove 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt and convert it into housing developments.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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