Emails support claims Ford knew about Hamilton Greenbelt swap long before official announcement

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Published January 3, 2024 at 9:46 am

An email exchange as far back as November 2021 between senior staff members of Premier Doug Ford about a plot of land in Hamilton removed from the Greenbelt appear to debunk Ford’s claims he wasn’t aware of the lands involved in the controversial land swap until just before it happened a year later.

The emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Queen’s Park watchdog The Trillium, show that Ford’s then Chief of Staff Jamie Wallace said he’d “look into” a request by development company Urban Solutions – run by Ancaster resident Sergio Manchia at the time – to remove a plot of land near Barton Street and Fifty Road from the Greenbelt.

The land was partly owned by Manchia.

Urban Solutions has also claimed Ford attended an event at Manchia’s home on September 20, 2021, where they discussed removing the land from the Greenbelt. Two other sources support that claim, The Trillium declared, but the Premier is on record saying he does not remember being at the event.

The lands were also discussed in conversations between Manchia and Ryan Amato, who was then-Housing Minister Steve Clarke’s Chief of Staff at the time.

The Fifty Road lands, the news organization learned, was also the subject of another email exchange between developers and Ford staffers, as well as a letter in support of removing the 10-acre plot of land from the Greenbelt sent by then-Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Clarke.

Wallace, who had served in his Chief of Staff role with the Premier since 2019, left his post shortly after the Greenbelt swap was announced, moving on to become CEO Of Supply Ontario in January 2023.

The provincial government removed 7,400 acres of land across 15 different sites from the Greenbelt on November 4, 2022 with the expressed intent of building 50,000 new homes.

Investigations were subsequently launched by both Integrity Commissioner David Wake and Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Lysyk’s scathing report declared that the homes could be built without the need to use lands set aside in the Greenbelt. Her report also claimed that developers would stand to gain more than $8.3 billion in increased land value from the swap, with most of that potential profit in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve in Pickering.

The dominos began to fall quickly after that, with Amato the first to resign, followed by Clarke. The next day, September 5, 2023, Ford announced a “review” of the Greenbelt deal. On September 21, barely six weeks after Lysyk’s report turned the swap into a full-out scandal, Ford apologized and on December 5 his government officially reversed the land swap.

The RCMP have been investigating the Greenbelt chain of events for more than a year with no timeline announced for their report.

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