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Independent journalism saved the Greenbelt from development

After 11 months of dogged reporting from The Narwhal and beyond, Doug Ford has succumbed to public pressure and walked back his controversial plans

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The trio of The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau poke their heads out of a brick hut. From top: Fatima Syed, Emma McIntosh, Denise Balkissoon.
“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt.”

It’s a stunning admission many thought they’d never hear from Ontario Premier Doug Ford. But here we are. Eleven months after the Progressive Conservative government opened up the Greenbelt to development, the premier is apologizing, putting the land back in — and vowing to never again touch — the protected area.

“I made a promise to you that I wouldn’t touch the Greenbelt. I broke that promise. And for that I am very, very sorry,” Ford said. 

A political reversal of this magnitude doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. The Narwhal’s Emma McIntosh, in partnership with our buds at the Toronto Star, first broke the story of the Ford government’s doling out of Greenbelt parcels to well-connected developers

Emma remembers digging into property records to figure out just who were the biggest beneficiaries of the Greenbelt being opened up: “Back then, we were working long into the night, figuring out how to best serve this critical information to the public — and to do it quickly, before the decision was final,” Emma said. “I never could have imagined where this reporting would take us.”
 
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Illustration of a person stringing together photos and clippings on a blackboard, with many of the clippings related to the Greenbelt.
The revelations by Emma and her colleagues caused a political crisis for Doug Ford’s government. In the intervening months, the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner published reports divulging conflicts of interest and violations of ethics. The RCMP is also mulling an investigation.

Today’s news confirms that journalism by The Narwhal and other media outlets has also saved 3,000 hectares of land from development.

We wouldn’t have arrived at this moment — four high-level political resignations and now a full reversal of the Greenbelt decision — without independent, investigative journalism.

It’s hard to believe that The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau has only been in existence for two years as of today! Week after week, month after month, Ontario reporters Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh have been investigating and covering cuts to environmental protections in the province. And they are only able to do this time-intensive reporting because of the support of the 5,711 people like you who give whatever they can.

As we celebrate our Ontario bureau’s second birthday, The Narwhal’s reporters are more committed than ever to exposing the truth of what goes on behind closed doors.

Take care and remember the 21st night of September,

Denise Balkissoon
Ontario bureau chief


P.S. Vast swaths of land remain protected in the Greenbelt as a direct result of our dogged reporting. Will you sign up as a member today so our team can keep holding power to account?
 
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What we’re reading


Taras Grescoe writes in The Globe and Mail about how history shows us what happens when food biodiversity is lost — and what we can do to preserve our future.

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How our Ontario star trio is marking their bureau’s second birthday. Want your friends to join in on the celebrations of some impactful journalism? Just tell them to sign up for our free, weekly newsletter.
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