Canada’s national police force has opened an investigation into the Ontario government’s decision to allow tracts of protected land near Toronto to be used for housing, creating new political pressure for Premier Doug Ford.
(Bloomberg) — Canada’s national police force has opened an investigation into the Ontario government’s decision to allow tracts of protected land near Toronto to be used for housing, creating new political pressure for Premier Doug Ford.
The probe comes after Ford’s government removed about 7,400 acres of land from an area known as the Greenbelt, in which development is restricted. The decision immediately made those parcels worth a lot more — a report by Bonnie Lysyk, the province’s auditor-general, said the owners of the sites might see an C$8.3 billion ($6.1 billion) increase in value. But she found that certain developers had received “preferential treatment” because they enjoyed special access to the housing minister’s chief of staff.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s sensitive and international investigations unit is conducting the probe, the police agency said in an email to Bloomberg News, confirming an earlier report by the Toronto Star. The RCMP didn’t say which people are targets of the investigation, adding that it wouldn’t be providing further updates right now.
The SII unit handles investigations into corruption and criminal allegations involving government officials. A spokesperson for the premier didn’t immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
The Greenbelt controversy forced the resignation of provincial Housing Minister Steve Clark and his chief of staff. After initially defending the decision, saying it was necessary to help meet the goal of increasing the housing supply, Ford reversed the policy in September, placing the land back under protected status.
Ontario is the largest province with 15.6 million people, 39% of Canada’s population. It has added about 460,000 residents in a year, according to Statistics Canada estimates, contributing to a surge in rents and a rebound in home prices in a number of markets after last year’s slump.
(Updates with additional details on prospective land value in second paragraph)
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