Premier Doug Ford got grilled in a press conference Wednesday morning once the questions from journalists started to flood in. For those watching at home, it admittedly made for some (emotionally charged) morning entertainment.
Ontario’s premier was at Etobicoke’s Lakeshore Collegiate Institute to announce an investment in the skilled trades. But, not surprisingly, the questions from journalists – who came with all guns blazing – had nothing to do with this announcement.
Yesterday, yet another bombshell dropped in the current controversy surrounding the Ford’s government’s Greenbelt land swap, when the province’s Integrity Commissioner recommended that Ontario’s Housing Minister, Steve Clark, be reprimanded for his dealings in what many are calling a scandal. Clark was found to have violated multiple sections of the Members' Integrity Act for his failure to properly oversee the land selection process.
In the midst of the drama, which is getting more damning for Ford’s team by the day, Ford has continued to stand behind his embattled housing minister. Despite passionate voices calling for Clark’s firing or resignation, Ford hasn’t indicated that Clark will lose his job.
Ford was asked repeatedly what it would take – what criteria would have to be met – for a minister to indeed lose their position in his office. Former Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips’ infamous St. Bart’s escape during pandemic travel restrictions – for which he ended up resigning – was brought up as a comparison.
But, Ford didn’t exactly provide a clear answer to that one. All he would offer was that he was “not happy” with the process involved in the now infamous land swap. "Minister Clark is part of our team and will continue to be part of our team," Ford told reporters. He repeatedly stressed the need, and the province’s agenda, to build 1.5 million homes in Ontario.
A visibly stressed Ford repeatedly stated the urgent need for housing and was quick to turn the focus to developers. He didn’t mince his words when he ordered developers to get moving with construction plans to build homes – now.
“I have a message to all of the developers: Get those shovels in the ground,” said Ford. “Get started. Here’s another warning to you: I won’t hesitate to put you back in the Greenbelt. I did so the other day – and I almost fell off my chair when I heard it was for sale as an industrial park. To the owners of the land – and I don’t care two hoots who you are – if you don’t follow the rules, and you don’t build homes and don’t start getting shovels in the ground, guess what? You’re done, you’re gone. Test me out, try me again. You’re going back in the Greenbelt. Because I’m fed up with it – absolutely fed up with playing little games.”
In case they didn’t hear him the first time, Ford was sure to repeat himself – the emotion in his voice clear. “Again, I don’t care who you are; you’re going back in the Greenbelt unless you start building homes,” stressed Ford. “Again; try me.”
He said a lot of developers “are going to screw up,” – and will then be “thrown back” into the Greenbelt.
Yet, for his alleged passion for the Greenbelt, he still doesn’t fully understand why everyone is making such a big deal about it. “This Greenbelt, everyone’s making such a big deal about, is just a sliver compared to the problem we have,” said Ford. “Fifty thousand homes, compared to 1.5 million homes. All I want to do is help people.”
But it is a big deal – this whole unfolding situation, that is – and it will be interesting to see what Clark has to say in his own press conference later today.
While the fate of Clark’s career, the Greenbelt, a potential RCMP investigation, and Ford’s popularity are currently up in the air, one thing is certain: this is far from the last we’ll hear of this ever-evolving summertime saga.