In Brief: Protecting the Greenbelt, and the premier deflects questions on his political ambitions

In Brief: Protecting the Greenbelt, and the premier deflects questions on his political ambitions

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark re-affirmed the government's commitment to the Greenbelt in remarks made Thursday morning.

The minister told reporters at an announcement near Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood that the government has no plans to build into the environmentally-protected Greenbelt lands as it makes an effort to increase the housing supply.

"There's no change," he said. "We're going to protect the environment, including the Greenbelt."

"In terms of development in the Greenbelt, it's not going to happen. We're going to protect it."

The comments follow remarks made by Premier Doug Ford to the C.D. Howe Institute yesterday, where he noted that billionaire developer Silvio DeGasperis was smiling from ear-to-ear after he alluded to prospective policy changes. DesGasperis has long wanted the government to open up the Greenbelt for development, and sued it in an effort to do so.

The premier also made comments yesterday about prioritizing "affordable housing ownership" as opposed to affordable housing. QP Briefing asked Clark what that might look like from a policy perspective.

"The premier has talked to me about his feelings, and obviously I've had a number of non-profits I've met with," he said. "People like Habitat for Humanity, who do have a great plan for affordable home ownership. We've also got an incredible amount of private sector support. Obviously the announcement I made on World Habitat Day was with the Daniels Corporation, that has, for example, a long history of working with habitats on a variety of developments to create those home ownership opportunities. So there are already a number of communities working on that home ownership model."

He continued to say that he wants to work with a variety of stakeholders to increase the housing supply.

"You will see me with more non-profits, you will see me with more habitats and hopefully more private sector [partners]," adding that he wants industry to know that his door is open to the private sector if it's interested in building more housing.

Asked whether a focus on home ownership could leave behind people struggling to pay rent, Clark acknowledged that "this issue isn't a one-and-done," and that it will take multiple efforts to tackle housing affordability. "This is something that we have to continue to work on, whether it's building more purpose-built rental or more affordable rental, or repair sustain and grow community housing."

Cabinet ministers concluded a 12-day trip to Asia that saw efforts to reach out to business interests in South Korea and Japan.

Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman and Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho represented the government in a trade mission that focused on agri-business, trade agreements, aerospace and the automotive sector.

In a statement, the government touted the trip as "successful," citing a $20 million global healthcare venture fund deal and another deal to increase the availability of beef products in Japanese grocery stores.

"Ontario businesses and agriculture organizations have made important connections with importers, retailers and government representatives, and they've set the stage for future business opportunities that will help our agriculture sector thrive in the future," stated Hardeman.

While the premier has mostly stayed away from the media for the past five months, he made post-federal eleciton media rounds that included a stop on one of his favourite radio stations, Toronto's Newstalk 1010.

The premier shrugged off jabs from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail, saying that it was part of the back-and-forth of politics.  "I was out governing and he was out campaigning," Ford said.

Now that the election campaign is over, he feels things will be different. "People expect us to work together," he added.

Ford defended the government's mid-federal election deal with CUPE, where the union that represents custodians and education support workers claimed they got everything they wanted following some tense negotiations.

"We did a fair deal with them," Ford said, noting that the salary increase was limited to 1 per cent, which was "absolutely critical."

Ford was asked about his political ambitions, and whether he would want to make the jump to the federal level in order to replace Andrew Scheer, who failed to make the inroads into Ontario that the Conservatives needed to form government.

"I'm focused on Ontario and fixing the absolute mess we inherited from Kathleen Wynne," said the premier, who deflected the question without committing himself either way. "Over the next couple years we're going to make sure we fix Ontario."

Host Ryan Doyle tried to nail him down on the question again, and Ford deflected by taking a new tack. "We need to unite this country," the premier said of Ontario, noting the alienation in Western Canada that has been articulated following the Liberals failing to win any seats in Alberta or Saskatchewan.




David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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