Yesterday afternoon at a press event in Niagara Falls, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made a big annoucement.
After many months of debating and public pressure, his government is cancelling its plans to develop land in an area called the Greenbelt.
The Greenbelt is protected land in southern Ontario that stretches from around Georgian Bay down through the Golden Horseshoe (which wraps around the west side of Lake Ontario). It covers about 810,000 hectares of land, which is larger than all of Prince Edward Island.
This land was labelled protected in 2005 because it is environmentally important. It is full of wetlands, grasslands, and forests. These are habitats that are vital to animal and plant species.
In late 2022, Ford and his government said that they were removing the protection from some land in the Greenbelt so that homes could be built there. Now he is reversing this decision.
"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," he said.
What was his promise?
Doug Ford has gone back and forth on this issue before.
In 2018, Ontario was having a provincial election. Doug Ford was hoping to win.
During a debate, he said that if he was elected that he would open up parts of the Greenbelt for new housing. But many people disagreed with this choice.
After noticing this public opinion, he made a promise that he "would not touch the Greenbelt". Ford went on to win the 2018 election and become premier. He also won a second election in June 2022.
Why did he want to develop the land?
When Ford announced that he was opening up around 3,000 hectares of the Greenbelt, he was doing so to respond to a crisis.
Like much of Canada, Ontario is in need of more homes. This is known as a housing shortage. In short, there is more demand for homes than there are homes available.
This means that the homes that do exist (whether for sale or for rent) are more expensive than ever. The more people want something, the more expensive it tends to become.
To solve this problem, experts agree than more homes need to be built. A lot more. The Ford government has made a pledge to have 1.5 million new homes built over the next ten years.
But while everyone agrees that we need new homes, people have different opinions on where to build them. Many experts feel that developing homes on parts of the Greenbelt is not necessary. This opinion even includes a 2022 task force that was put together by Ford's own government to look at how to handle the crisis.
But instead, Ford announced that he was moving forward turning parts of the Greenbelt into homes. Of course, the government itself wasn't building the homes. Instead, they would be hiring companies known as developers to do the job.
And this is where the controversy really got bad for Ford and his team.
In August 2023, an investigation into his government found evidence of corruption (when decisions are made to unfairly benefit some people over others).
The report said that two developers had influenced, or help make, key decisions about what land in the Greenbelt would be used for homes. These two developers got almost all of the contracts to build homes. And even worse, their advice was used over input from environmental experts, whose job it was to decide how to best protect the land.
Since the August report, Ford and his government have faced weeks of fiery criticism. And now he has announced that, just like in 2018, he is back on the side of the Greenbelt.
"It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt," he said at the press conference. "It was a mistake to establish a process that moved too fast. This process, it left too much room for some people to benefit over others. 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."
Will this change stick? Certainly many in the public will wonder if they can trust Ford.
But for now, this is a real example of how public debate and criticism can have a real effect on what governments choose to do. And whether or not they change their minds.