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Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark resigns amid Greenbelt land swap controversy

Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark is resigning from cabinet, after weeks of pushback from political opponents, First Nations leaders and residents following multiple investigations into his ministry’s handling of the Greenbelt land swaps.

His resignation comes after Ontario’s integrity commissioner investigated his conduct and recommended Clark be reprimanded, saying he failed to properly oversee the process that led to protected Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development.

Weeks earlier, the province’s auditor general found the process for choosing which parcels of land would be open for housing development was heavily influenced by a small group of well-connected developers who stand to make billions of dollars.

In a letter posted Monday morning addressed to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Clark said he tried to “fulfil the mandate of getting more homes built” for the people of Ontario. 

“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,” wrote Clark in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“As such, please accept my resignation as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I will continue to serve my constituents as the MPP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.”

A man in a suit speaks at a lectern while another, standing to one side, puts his hand to his forehead.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford listens as Ontario‚Äôs minister of housing Steve Clark speaks during a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. Clark resigned from his post Monday following weeks of pressure from opposition parties and residents over his ministry’s handling of the Greenbelt land swaps. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Ontario’s Greenbelt was initially created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from falling victim to urban sprawl. 

The Ford government removed about 2,995 hectares of land from the Greenbelt in December, while adding more land elsewhere, to build 50,000 homes. The Progressive Conservative government has said the land swaps were necessary to help them fulfil their promise of building 1.5 million homes in the next decade amid a housing crisis.

The move has been condemned by residents, environmental advocacy groups and First Nations leaders alike, citing a lack of meaningful consultation and there being no need to open up Greenbelt land to meet the government’s goal, as previously noted by the Ford government’s hand-picked Housing Affordability Task Force.

Premier accepts, opposition supports resignation 

Clark’s stepping down comes after his chief of staff, Ryan Amato, tendered his resignation. The province’s auditor general found the political staffer selected 14 of the 15 sites that were ultimately removed from the Greenbelt, and the majority were chosen after suggestions from developers who lobbied him personally.

Ford, who initially said Clark would keep his job following both investigations, thanked him for his years of service in cabinet.

“As Ontario grows, our government is on a mission to build at least 1.5 million homes,” Ford said in a post on X. He made no other mention of Clark’s resignation.

“After decades of inaction, we’re seeing real results: 2022 and 2021 had the most housing starts in 30 years. Our work won’t stop.”

WATCH | Doug Ford ‘clearly implicated’ in Greenbelt controversy, says Ontario opposition:

Doug Ford ‘clearly implicated’ in Greenbelt controversy, Ontario opposition leader says

2 days ago

Duration 2:47

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles discusses the allegations of unregistered lobbying and other potential lobbying violations related to the Greenbelt land swap by ‘Mr. X,’ who sources identified to CBC News as former Clarington, Ont., mayor John Mutton. ‘This deal is really very dirty,’ Stiles said on Saturday.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Clark “finally did the right thing” but that there are still others that need to be held to account.

“We’ve been calling for this for weeks, and I’m glad to see that he’s finally stepped down,” Stiles told CBC Toronto. “That’s important. It’s time now, though, that the premier took some responsibility.”

Stiles is calling for the Ontario Legislature to be recalled to return the removed lands to the Greenbelt.

“This process was dirty,” Stiles said. “The only way they climb back from this is returning the land to the Greenbelt, and then we can talk about how we change governments.”

John Fraser, interim leader for the Ontario Liberals, and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner echoed similar calls in public statements.

“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,” Fraser said.

“The premier keeps assuring us the buck stops with him. It’s time for him to step up and prove it,” Schreiner said.

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