Ford stands by Ontario housing minister as opponents call for firing over Greenbelt land swap

Premier Doug Ford doubled down on a pledge to build more homes in Ontario and insisted on Housing Minister Steve Clark’s continued role in his government Thursday, a day after the province’s integrity commissioner recommended Clark be reprimanded for his role in the controversial Greenbelt land swap.

At an unrelated news conference, Ford was asked repeatedly why Clark will keep his position despite a lengthy report from J. David Wake that said the housing minister failed to have proper oversight over the process that led to protected Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development, ultimately allowing the interests of some private developers to influence the project. You can read more about that story and find the full integrity commissioner’s report here.

“Minister Clark is part of our team and will continue to be part of our team,” Ford said. “At the end of the day, I’m not happy with the process, we’re changing the process, but I have to build these homes, and we’re going to continue to build the 1.5 million homes in every corner of this province.

“I’m responsible for everything that happens in the province. And I always make sure we hold our caucus and our ministers accountable, to follow the mandate that we gave them,” he said. 

At his own news conference Thursday afternoon, Clark said the integrity commissioner’s report pointed to “very clear flaws” in the process, and said he was sorry that he did not provide “sufficient oversight” over his former chief of staff and the land swap process.

“To Ontarians I want to apologize very sincerely that I did not,” Clark said.

WATCH | Steve Clark apologizes, but rebuffs calls to resign:

Ontario housing minister apologizes for lack of oversight in Greenbelt land swap

Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark said he was overly reliant on his former chief-of-staff and “regrets” that he didn’t provide sufficient oversight over the process that led to protected Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development, ultimately allowing the interests of some developers to influence the project.

Opposition parties continue to call for Clark’s firing

When asked what consequence he should face, Clark did not directly answer the question.

“We are going to implement a better process going forward … I’m here to accept responsibility,” he said.

Ontario Liberal Party Leader John Fraser spoke with reporters right after Clark, and lambasted him for not resigning.

“What he did was wrong,” Fraser said. “What he did was fail the people of Ontario … and he should have stepped down today.

“It’s indefensible.”

John Fraser speaking at a podium.
Interim Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser speaks during a press conference at Queen’s Park Thursday. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles again called for Clark to step down in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“Ontarians deserve so much better than fake apologies. His words are meaningless without any action to back them up,” she said. “Ontarians have lost all trust in this Minister and he needs to go.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner echoed those sentiments in a statement.

“We cannot trust this government to deliver accountability to the people of Ontario,” he said.

Premier says housing crisis paramount concern

Ford said he’s done with removing land from the Greenbelt, but also said he “won’t hesitate” to throw land owned by developers back in under those previous environmental protections if housing isn’t built. He said the issues that have emerged around the Greenbelt that “everyone is making such a big deal about” are a “sliver” compared to the issues other people have.

WATCH | Ford expresses confidence in Clark:

Doug Ford stands by embattled housing minister

Despite escalating calls for the housing minister to resign, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is standing by Steve Clark who he says will keep his job. The province’s integrity commissioner recommended Clark be reprimanded for his role in a controversial Greenbelt land swap that favoured certain well-connected developers.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of people that don’t have homes,” he said. “When we have a housing crisis we have two options, we sit back like the other government did and let the province fall apart, or we move forward and build homes.”

Ford also didn’t say whether he would support Wake’s recommendation to reprimand Clark. “That’s going to go to the legislature, we’ll see when we get back in September,” he said.

Minister accepts report findings

Answering questions on public trust and accountability to taxpayers, Ford responded by saying the government is creating more housing and rentals specifically for an influx of immigrants and asylum seekers. 

Wake’s report came weeks after the province’s auditor general released an extensive report that showed property developers connected to the government influenced the decision to open up the Greenbelt to their financial benefit. Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, resigned after it was published, and now the RCMP is considering if it will launch an investigation into the matter.

Steve Clark walks away from a podium at Queen's Park.
Minister of Housing Steve Clark is facing calls to step down over his handling of the process that led to protected Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Clark said in a statement following the report’s publication that he accepts its findings, stating there were “clear flaws in the process.” But he echoed the premier’s office’s comments, pledging a commitment to building housing. 

On Tuesday, the Ontario government said it’s “exploring” reinstating environmental protections on two properties in Ajax, Ont., which were removed from the Greenbelt last year and slated for development.

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