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Ford Supports Housing Minister Despite Integrity Commissioner’s Finding

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he stands behind his housing minister, telling reporters that he won’t heed calls for his ouster following a critical report by the province’s integrity commissioner. Minister Steve Clark has also confirmed he will not resign.

The report, released Aug. 30, says Mr. Clark did not properly oversee his chief of staff’s actions in selecting properties to remove from the Greenbelt for development.

Under the Integrity Act, Commissioner J. David Wake said, a minister’s “undue carelessness or inattention” amounts to failing in his duties. Mr. Clark is thus accountable, Mr. Wake said, for his chief of staff’s actions “leading to the private interests of certain developers being furthered improperly.”

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Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, has resigned but Mr. Ford said his housing minister will stay in place.

“I have confidence in Minister Clark,” Mr. Ford told reporters in Toronto on Aug. 31. “We understand the process can be better. But our goal at the end of the day is to build 1.5 million homes.”

He added, “We’re going to build those homes, that’s the right thing to do.”

The Ontario NDP called for Mr. Clark’s resignation, and NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Ford should fire him.

At a separate press conference at Queens Park later in the day, Mr. Clark said: “I accept that I ought to have had greater oversight over my former chief of staff and over the process. To Ontarians, I want to say very sincerely that I apologize.”

He said he will continue to work on the task of tackling the housing supply crisis.

Mr. Ford said he also takes responsibility. Although the commissioner confirmed Mr. Amato was acting independently, Mr. Ford said he and the housing minister are both responsible for oversight. Mr. Ford emphasized, however, that it was inattention on their part rather than a personal desire to further the interests of certain developers.

“The buck stops with me,” said Mr. Ford. “I don’t give two hoots about these developers.” He said he’s concerned about getting shovels in the ground and building houses and if they don’t, he won’t hesitate to put the developers’ land “back in the Greenbelt.”

Mr. Ford read quotes from the commissioner’s report, which included, “The Premier’s Office was kept in the dark by Mr. Amato,” and “In this matter I find that neither Minister Clark nor Mr. Amato had a close personal relationship with any of the developers.”

Mr. Wake’s report describes Mr. Amato as being new to his position and inexperienced. He took the lead on planning the Greenbelt changes and did it in a rush. In the process, some developers were alerted to potential changes in the Greenbelt, leading them to profit improperly, Mr. Wake said.

The site selection heavily favoured developers from whom Mr. Amato improperly received information, according to Mr. Wake and also according to a reportreleased by the province’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, on Aug. 9.

Land previously protected as part of the Greenbelt became much more valuable once opened up to development. In late 2022, the Ford government finalized the plan to open about 7,400 acres, while adding about 9,400 from other areas in the interest of building some 50,000 homes.

The premier and housing minister have both said the process was too rushed, as they felt the urgency of building needed housing.

Mr. Wake said that Mr. Clark “misinterpreted the mandate letter’s timing,” leading to a process that was unduly sped up.

He listed two other points on which he found fault with Mr. Clark’s performance. One was his decision to withdraw from the decision-making process, and the other was his failure to review the process of property selection before presenting the proposal to the cabinet.

“He made the decision to withdraw from the supervision and direction of this highly significant initiative within his ministry, leaving it to his recently appointed chief of staff who had never served in that capacity before and who was ‘drinking from a firehose’ trying to grasp all of his new responsibilities,” Mr. Wake wrote.

Aside from those three points, Mr. Wake found that Mr. Amato was solely responsible for the improprieties in the process.

“By his own admission and that of other witnesses, Mr. Amato was operating largely alone and undirected,” Mr. Wake said in the report. “I find that Mr. Amato was the driving force behind a flawed process which provided an advantage to those who approached him.”

Mr. Wake suggested that Mr. Clark be reprimanded for failures in his oversight. When asked whether Mr. Clark would indeed be reprimanded, Mr. Ford replied: “That’s going to go to the Legislature. We’ll see when we get back into the House in September.”

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