Appetite for construction

Appetite for construction r1 ... BECOME A MEMBER | SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER The Narwhal's masthead logo A photo of the Holland River in Ontario's Greenbelt Emma McIntosh knew in her gut it was going to be a weird Wednesday.

“I just feel like something’s going to happen,” she remembers telling fellow Ontario reporter Fatima Syed and bureau chief Denise Balkissoon as she arrived at The Narwhal’s Toronto office. “But we really had no idea how dramatic things were about to get.”

Things unfolded fast and furious: first came Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s announcement that his office would be investigating the Ford government’s moves to open up the Greenbelt protected area for development.

Wake’s investigation was prompted by a request from incoming Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles. She submitted a letter, along with 145 pages of exhibits that included “direct evidence,” detailing concerns about whether Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark broke integrity rules by greenlighting Greenbelt development.

Just when Emma thought that might be it for Wednesday surprises, she heard a clatter in the other room.

“It sounded like someone had dropped two dictionaries on the floor.”

Fatima and Denise were tuning into a press conference where Stiles revealed Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk would be looking into Greenbelt land sales.

News of the two probes followed complaints from the NDP, Liberals and Greens, which cited The Narwhal’s joint investigation with the Toronto Star from November (that investigation found eight of 15 areas opened up for development traded hands since the Progressive Conservatives came to power in 2018).

“The last few months have been an endless rollercoaster of non-stop news,” Fatima told me, referring to all the ways the province is watering down Ontario’s environmental protections. “I’ve been chatting with sources well after work hours. Most of the leaked documents I’ve received for our reporting usually land during conversations between 8 and 9 p.m., when me and my sources have some downtime.”

That legwork has paid off, resulting in scoops like Fatima’s new story on the changes to conservation authorities Ontario snuck in over the December break.

“My source sent me documents this month with the note: ‘I just held off sending you stuff because of your holiday.’ I obviously responded with

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