Ontario housing minister violated Integrity Act in Greenbelt land swap: Integrity commissioner

By Michael Talbot

Ontario’s housing minister violated ethics rules when the government removed land from the protected Greenbelt for development, the province’s integrity commissioner found in a report released Wednesday.

Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake found Housing Minister Steve Clark violated two sections of the Members’ Integrity Act that governs politicians’ ethics, conflict of interest rules and insider information rules.

Wake found Clark failed to oversee the land selection process, which led to the private interests of certain developers being furthered improperly.

“I have recommended to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that Minister Clark be reprimanded for his failure to comply with the Act,” Wake wrote.

Clark issued a statement, saying he accepts the Integrity Commissioner’s findings despite its “flaws.”

“As minister, the buck stops with me… There were clear flaws in the process that led to today’s report. I am fully committed to fulfilling our government’s promise to build at least 1.5 million homes and will ensure the process is done with integrity and trust,” Clark said.

Premier Doug Ford also released a statement, saying that Clark will remain in his role.

“Minister Clark will continue to work towards delivering on our promise to build at least 1.5 million homes and ensure public trust and confidence is maintained every step of the way,” Ford said.

Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes and replaced it with about 9,400 acres elsewhere.

That decision led to a public outcry as well as a complaint filed with the integrity commissioner by Official Opposition and New Democrat Leader Marit Stiles.

The commissioner’s findings echo what Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found in her own Greenbelt report released earlier this month.

Both Clark and Premier Doug Ford have denied any wrongdoing but have previously admitted the selection process was flawed.

Wake concluded that Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, was the “driving force” behind the lands that were selected to be developed.

“The evidence paints a picture of a process marked by misinterpretation, unnecessary hastiness and deception,” Wake wrote in his report.

“It shows that Mr. Amato advised Minister Clark to ‘leave it with me’ as he embarked on a chaotic and almost reckless process that I find led to an uninformed and opaque decision which resulted in the creation of an opportunity to further the private interests of some developers improperly.”

Amato resigned after the auditor general’s report but has denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, the Ford government said two parcels of land could soon be returned to the Greenbelt after the property owners listed the land for sale.

The properties in Ajax were chosen as part of a land swap that the province says will bring tens of thousands of new homes to Ontario. A statement from Premier Doug Ford alleges the two sites at 765 and 775 Kingston Road East were put up for sale without disclosure and the government has immediately started the process of putting the land back into the Greenbelt.

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

Earlier this month, the auditor general found the Ford government gave preferential treatment to certain land developers when it removed the land.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) says it will be up to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to decide if there will be a police investigation into the matter.

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