Ontario housing Minister Steve Clark resigns amid Greenbelt controversy

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Published September 4, 2023 at 11:26 am

Steve Clark, Ontario’s housing minister since 2018, has resigned from his role days after a damning report from the integrity commissioner found he violated ethics rules when the province opened up parts of the protected Greenbelt to development.

Clark apologized for his role in the Greenbelt fiasco on Thursday, but had the backing of Premier Doug Ford to continue in the job.

Two legislative watchdogs found the process to select which lands came out of the Greenbelt hasty and flawed.

The reports sparked widespread public outcry, with opposition politicians and First Nations chiefs across the province calling for Clark’s resignation.

“Although my initial thought was that I could stay in this role and establish a proper process so that these mistakes don’t happen again, I realize that my presence will only cause a further distraction from the important work that needs to be done and that I need to take accountability for what has transpired,” he wrote in his resignation letter to Ford.

Ford thanked Clark for his years of service.

“There’s still more to do as our government keeps building the homes our growing province needs,” Ford wrote on social media.

“As we do, I have no doubt Steve Clark will continue to serve his community well as an important part of our team at Queen’s Park.”

In his report, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake recommended to the legislature that Clark be reprimanded.

“In a parliamentary democracy, the parliament is supreme, and the legislature will determine my ultimate reprimand,” Clark wrote.

“As some who has given my life to serving the people through our democratic institutions, I feel that it is my responsibility to adhere to the principles of ministerial accountability.”

The integrity commissioner found Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who resigned last week, was the driving force behind the land swap that benefited certain developers. He also concluded the minister failed to oversee his staff.

The auditor general came to a similar conclusion about Clark, who appeared to have little knowledge of what his chief of staff was up to on such an important file for the government.

Bonnie Lysyk said developers who had access to Amato at a developer conference wound up with 92 per cent of the land. The owners of the sites removed from the Greenbelt stand to see their land rise in value by at least $8.3 billion, she found.

The opposition was swift to applaud the resignation, but also reiterated demands to government to return those lands to the Greenbelt.

“Now it’s time for Doug Ford to face the music,” New Democrat Leader Marit Stiles said in a statement.

“Recall the legislature so we can restore these lands to the Greenbelt; and give Ontarians the transparency and accountability they deserve from a Premier.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser renewed calls for a legislative committee investigation on the Greenbelt moves.

“Minister Clark’s resignation today is the first step in what needs to happen to get to the bottom of this $8.3 Billion cash-for-your-land scheme,” Fraser said.

“What needs to happen next, is the Premier needs to open the books on the Greenbelt land swaps and waive Cabinet Privilege as it relates to this decision.”

Clark has been in politics since the age of 22, when he was elected mayor of Brockville, Ont., in 1982. He served three terms as mayor and was also president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

Clark entered provincial politics in 2010 when he won a byelection in Leeds-Grenville. He held several critic portfolios while in opposition, including municipal affairs and housing, and ethics and accountability. He has been in cabinet as minister of municipal affairs and housing since the Ford government won its first term in 2018.

Clark said he intends to stay on as the representative for the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2023.

Liam Casey and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press


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