Ontario Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty and Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk Wednesday announced separate investigations into the provincial Conservative government’s controversial decision to open protected Greenbelt lands to housing developments. The investigations come amidst concerns that the Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford tipped off housing developers in advance of the decision and fears that the development will negatively impact the formerly protected lands.The Batty’s investigation will focus on the accusations that housing developers were made aware of the government’s decision to open previously-untouchable lands for purchase ahead of its announcement, contravening sections of the Members’ Integrity Act which govern conflicts of interest and the use of insider information.The investigation will focus primarily on Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark’s conduct, although its conclusion could have serious political ramifications for the Ford government. Ford and Clark assert that the lands in question were selected by “public servants who were subject to an enhanced confidentiality protocol,” and that “the minister was briefed and accepted their proposal only a few days before he presented it to Cabinet.”Interim leader of the Ontario Liberal Party John Fraser released a statement declaring that “the connections between the government and the people who stood to benefit the most are just too close. Ontarians have a right to know if the government gave their friends advance notice of their plans to crack open the Greenbelt.” Clark’s office stated that the minister “looks forward to being cleared of any wrongdoing at the conclusion of the investigation” regarding the integrity commissioner’s probe and that the government will “fully co-operate and work with the auditor general.”Lysyk’s investigation, meanwhile, will consider the environmental impact of the removal of the Greenbelt lands and conduct a value-for-money audit of the transfer of public wealth to property owners as a result of the land sales. The audit was requested by Ontario’s three main opposition leaders, who argued that the lands’ previous zoning as undevelopable agricultural land had represented a “multi-billion-dollar public investment in Ontario’s natural and agricultural systems by the people of Ontario” and that speculative profits from the lands will now flow to private landowners with no compensation to the public.
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