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

The Greenbelt scandal deepened after the Integrity Commissioner found Doug Ford's Housing Minister violated the integrity act which led to some developers benefiting from the controversial land swap

By The Canadian Press and Michael Ranger

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.

Late Wednesday, the province said it was returning two parcels of land at 765 and 775 Kingston Road East slated for development back to the Greenbelt after the owner listed them for sale.

“At no time was the intention to sell or change the ownership structure disclosed to the government’s Office of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator despite active and ongoing discussions,” the government said in a statement. “This lack of transparency raises serious concerns about the owner’s ability to meet the government’s expectation that homes be built in a timely manner, including the need to show meaningful progress before the end of year.”

A representative for the land owner has said the international owner was seeking a development partner and “at no time was the property going to be sold outright.”

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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