Housing Minister Steve Clark has resigned after Ontario’s integrity commissioner found he broke ethics rules for his role in the Ford government’s Greenbelt land swap scandal.
In a letter published on Monday morning, Clark said he felt his role in the Greenbelt decision and subsequent investigations were “a distraction” from the ministry’s work to solve the housing affordability crisis.
“As someone who has given my life to serving the people through our democratic institutions, it is my responsibility to adhere to the principles of Ministerial accountability,” Clark said in a post on social media.
In his letter, Clark said he has been reflecting since a damning integrity commissioner report into the Greenbelt land swap decision was released. The report blamed Clark for a lack of oversight over his chief of staff, who both the integrity commissioner and Ontario’s auditor general said spearheaded the removal of 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt.
Clark said his “first instinct” after reading the integrity commissioner’s report was to stay in post to create a new process that ensured the issues outlined would never be repeated. He said he had now decided he couldn’t continue.
“This crisis demands someone who is not a distraction from the important work that needs to be done,” Clark wrote. He said that remaining in his role as minister would “only cause further distraction” from the government’s work.
“I need to take accountability for what has transpired,” the letter continued. “In a parliamentary democracy, the Parliament is supreme, and the legislature will determine my ultimate reprimand.”
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In a post on social media, Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked Clark for his years of service. “Our work won’t stop,” Ford said.
Ford held an emergency caucus meeting on the Labour Day holiday Monday to address Clark’s resignation. Multiple sources told Global News that Ford thanked Clark for his time in cabinet.
The premier signalled a mini cabinet reshuffle was in the offing and late Monday afternoon, that came true.
Among the changes made, Paul Calandra was named the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
A Progressive Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government caucus has been left reeling by Clark’s resignation. The insider said Clark had been in politics since the age of 18 and hadn’t faced a single scandal in his entire career “until Doug Ford’s mandate letter.”
Clark called his role as housing minister “the greater honour of my career.” He thanked Ford for the confidence he showed in him, including during the scandal.
Pressure for Clark to resign has been growing for weeks.
A report from Ontario’s auditor general last month found the Ford government had presided over a “biased” process to swap land out of the Greenbelt. The auditor general found that the process — led by Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato, who has also resigned — benefited a few developers.
The auditor general said the value of land removed from the Greenbelt was set to increase by $8.3 billion.
Then, at the end of August, Ontario’s integrity commissioner released a report of his own. It echoed the auditor general’s findings of a flawed process led by an inexperienced chief of staff.
The integrity commissioner agreed with Clark’s repeated claim he had no hands-on role in the decision over which parcels of land were to be removed from the Greenbelt but said the minister’s ignorance was not an acceptable defence.
“It may seem incredible that Minister Clark would have chosen to stick his head in the sand on such an important initiative being undertaken by his ministry but I believe that was exactly what he did,” the integrity commissioner wrote.
“This is partly understood by the fact he was busy during this period, he was aware that 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, and here was Mr. Amato reassuringly offering to provide at least temporary relief from having to deal with it.”
Despite the blistering reports, Ford stood by his minister.
A brief statement from Ford’s office the day the report was released said he would stand by his minister. On the same day, Clark said he planned to continue working on the province’s target of 1.5 million homes.
Early Sept. 4 just after 9 a.m. ET, that changed, when Clark published his resignation on social media.
Sources told Global News the decision was made by the former housing minister and not the premier’s office. One source indicated Clark “pulled the chute himself” after facing local pressure from his home riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
Clark said he would continue to serve as the local MPP.
Opposition parties were quick to jump on the news.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles welcomed the resignation and said it was time for Ford to “face the music.”
In a statement released Monday, Stiles reiterated her call for the legislature to be recalled and the Greenbelt land swap reversed.
“Steve Clark is finally taking some responsibility for his role in the government’s Greenbelt scandal,” Stiles said, adding the issue “reaches far beyond Clark’s office.
Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser said the resignation was a “first step” and called for more action.
“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 in a statement.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the resignation was “inevitable.”