Housing Minister Steve Clark confirmed he will not be resigning from his position, despite two damning reports from government watchdogs detailing his office's blatant mishandling of the Greenbelt land swap.
During a press conference at Queen's Park on Thursday afternoon, Clark said he is committed to continue working on the housing portfolio in Ontario. He also said that he takes responsibility for the "flawed" Greenbelt land selection process — however, not enough responsibility for there to be consequences, it seems.
"I'm committed to making sure that the flaws of the kind outlined in the report by Justice Wake do not happen again," Clark said, later adding, "I regret that I didn't provide the sufficient oversight."
The public and political leaders alike have called for Clark's resignation for weeks following the release of the scathing Auditor General report earlier this month, which provided evidence that Clark's former Chief of Staff was allowed to run a biased and developer-influenced land selection process with no supervision.
The Integrity Commissioner's report, released on Wednesday, wasn't enough to be the final nail in the coffin despite finding that Clark violated the Members' Integrity Act after choosing to "stick his head in the sand" rather than oversee the process — one that would provide billions of dollars in increased land values to select developers.
Premier Doug Ford maintained his confidence in Clark following the release of each report and continued to do so Thursday morning, just hours before Clark's appearance.
"Minister Clark has a tough job and his goal is to continue building homes," Ford said Thursday morning, later adding, "We're going to work with Minister Clark like we work with the other ministers to fulfill our mandate."
During the Premier's press conference, reporters questioned Ford on what it would take for a minister to be held accountable and fired from their position. Ford did not provide a direct answer, instead saying he was "not happy" with the Greenbelt land selection process before reverting back to talking points about the need to build housing in Ontario.
Clark similarly evaded questions surrounding his called-for resignation and the hypocrisy of his past lambasting of Liberal cabinet ministers, having called for many of their resignations over integrity issues. Instead of providing answers to the questions being asked — a fact which numerous reporters pointed out mid-press conference — Clark continually fell back on three talking points: having accepted the Commissioner's findings in the report, having taken responsibility for the process, and the need for more housing.
The Ford government dragging its feet on implementing any sort of consequence around the Greenbelt deal has became a point of contention. Ontario Greens Leader Mike Schreiner previously called Clark's refusal to resign "a slap in the face to Ontarians," while Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Ontarians "deserve a government that respects the very ethics it's supposed to uphold."
Multiple Integrity Act Violations
The two investigations into the provincial government's dealings came after questions were raised around the removal of nearly 3,000 hectares of land from the protected Ontario Greenbelt — a two-million-acre stretch of protected farmland, forests, and wetlands in southern Ontario — which opened up those lands for the development of tens of thousands of homes.
When the removal was announced in late 2022, it drew significant backlash from both those concerned about the implications of building on environmentally sensitive land, and those raising an eyebrow at the coincidence of developers with connections to Ford having purchased now-freed-up Greenbelt land in the years immediately preceding its removal.
In his report, the province's Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, reiterated many of the points laid out in the Auditor General's report released earlier this month: that Clark's former Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, heavily steered the selection process for Greenbelt land removal in a manner that led to "the private interests of certain developers being furthered improperly."
Amato, who resigned nearly two weeks after the report came out, selected 14 of the 15 properties ultimately chosen for removal from the Greenbelt after receiving information packets directly from developers. The Integrity Commissioner found Amato effectively told developers, through his actions and inquiries about select properties in 2022, that the government was looking to open up parts of the Greenbelt.
The 166-page report went beyond pointing the finger at Amato and placed blame on Clark for his intentional lack of supervision.
"Since supervision of staff is incumbent on the minister, Minister Clark’s lack of oversight led to some developers being alerted to a potential change in the government’s position on the Greenbelt, resulting in their private interests being furthered improperly," the report reads. "Minister Clark did not question or properly oversee Mr. Amato’s selection process before the matter was presented to cabinet."
Wake said Clark chose to "stick his head in the sand" because he knew "the outcome would be politically challenging for him given his completely opposite stance on the Greenbelt for the whole of the government’s first term."
The Integrity Commissioner recommended that Clark be reprimanded for his failure to comply with the Members' Integrity Act. Whether that reprimand, in any form, will come remains to be seen.