Premier Doug Ford said he will be reversing his government’s decision to open the Greenbelt to developers.
Ford made the announcement on Thursday afternoon at a news conference in Niagara Falls where his caucus has gathered for a party retreat.
“I made a promise to you that I wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise. And for that, I’m very, very sorry. I pride myself on keeping our promises. It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt. It was a mistake to establish a process that moves too fast,” Ford told reporters.
Ford said the process involved in selecting what parcels of land would be removed from the Greenbelt left “too much room for some people to benefit over others.”
READ MORE: A timeline of the key events in the Ontario Greenbelt scandal
“It caused people to question our motives. As a first step, to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future,” Ford said.
“Because even if you do something for the right reasons, with the best of intentions, it can still be wrong.”
Despite this reversal, Ford still asserted that developing the Greenbelt “would have made a big difference” for adding tens of thousands of homes to the province’s housing stock.
“But we moved too quickly. And we made the wrong decision,” Ford added.
Ford’s about-face comes just one day after a second cabinet minister was forced to resign in the wake of the Greenbelt land removals controversy.
MPP Kaleed Rasheed, Ontario’s minister of public and business service delivery, resigned from his cabinet post and the PC caucus on Wednesday after records revealed contradicting accounts of a Las Vegas trip that was investigated as part of the integrity commissioner’s probe into the Greenbelt land deals.
According to the integrity commissioner, Rasheed and Amin Massoudi, the then-principal secretary to the premier, said they took a trip to Las Vegas in December 2019 and “exchanged pleasantries” with developer Shakir Rehmantullah in the lobby of a hotel. The former minister confirmed that he is friends with the developer, whose company FLATO Development is listed as the owner of two of the sites removed from the Greenbelt, but said he did not know Rehmantullah was going to be in the area at that time.
Records now show that the minister actually took the trip in February 2020 and multiple hotel employees also confirmed to CTV News Toronto that the three individuals got massages at the same time.
The trip, the minister’s office said, was originally planned for December 2019 but had to be moved due to scheduling conflicts. The original date was mistakenly shared with the integrity commissioner, they said.
Rasheed has said he resigned to avoid being a distraction to the “important work of the government” and added that he is looking forward to “taking the steps required” to clear his name.
The premier’s office said if the integrity commissioner clears Rasheed, he will be “provided an opportunity to return to caucus.” He will sit as an independent until that time.
Rasheed is the second minister to resign from the Ford government in the wake of the Greenbelt scandal. Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark stepped down earlier this month after Ontario’s integrity commissioner found he violated ethics rules in his role overseeing the Greenbelt land removals.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Katherine DeClerq and Jon Woodward