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Ford shuffles cabinet after housing minister resigns amid Greenbelt scandal

He'll stay on as MPP for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes
Steve Clark delivers speaks to reporters at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, a day after Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake found him to have contravened the Members' Integrity Act for his role in the Greenbelt land swap.

Premier Doug Ford shuffled his cabinet Monday after Steve Clark resigned as municipal affairs and housing minister in the wake of two damning reports on the government’s decision to open some Greenbelt land for development.

Clark has been a Progressive Conservative MPP for over a decade and held his ministerial portfolio since the first days of Premier Doug Ford’s government.

On Monday morning, Labour Day, Clark shared a letter that he had written to Ford, notifying the premier of his resignation from cabinet.

“Since the Integrity Commissioner’s report was released, I have continued to reflect on my role and my obligations to the people of Ontario,” wrote Clark in the letter he posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

He goes on to thank Ford for maintaining confidence in him to improve upon the mistakes highlighted in the report that Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake release last Wednesday.

The now-former housing minister chose "to stick his head in the sand" to avoid managing a deeply flawed process to remove land from the Greenbelt, Wake wrote in his report.

In the letter dated Sept. 4 that Clark posted, he wrote that “as someone who has given my life to serving the people through our democratic institutions, I feel that it is my responsibility to adhere to the principles of Ministerial accountability” by resigning as minister of municipal affairs and housing.

Paul Calandra will take on Clark's role. The former federal MP has stepped into politically challenging roles for Ford before, including the long-term care portfolio after the sector was devastated during the pandemic.

Stan Cho, who'd served as associate minister of transportation, is the new minister of Long-Term Care.

Prabmeet Sarkaria and Caroline Mulroney are trading roles, with Sarkaria becoming Minister of Transportation and Mulroney president of the Treasury Board, while she maintains her position as minister of Francophone Affairs.

Rob Flack is joining cabinet in a new role: "associate minister of Housing with a specific mandate on attainable housing."

Todd McCarthy is joining cabinet as well, stepping into Cho's associate minister of transportation role.

Nina Tangri becomes associate minister of Small Business reporting to the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

Andrea Khanjin, deputy whip, takes on an additional role as deputy government house leader reporting to Calandra, who remains Government House Leader.

The other cabinet roles remain unchanged.

Clark will remain MPP for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. He was first elected as an MPP in a 2010 byelection.

During the years of the previous Liberal governments, Clark was a fierce opposition member, including as critic for ethics and accountability. 

His impassioned calls for various Liberal ministers to do “the honourable thing” and resign when they were embroiled in scandal and under investigation came back to haunt him in recent weeks.

The integrity commissioner ultimately found Clark broke the ethics law for MPPs by failing to oversee the Greenbelt land removal process.

While it was Clark’s former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who led the “process marked by misinterpretation, unnecessary hastiness and deception” that improperly furthered the interests of private developers, Clark was guilty of averting his eyes to what was going on, according to Wake.

“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,” Wake wrote. 

Wake also surmised that this was because Clark didn’t want to go forward with Greenbelt project. It meant he’d be going against the past decision he’d made not to touch the Greenbelt “and so it was a tough decision,” Wake wrote.

Details of the “biased” process Clark’s chief of staff oversaw were first laid out in a report by the province’s auditor general on Aug. 9. 

Bonnie Lysyk found Amato had “substantial control” over the Greenbelt land swap process and gave “preferential treatment” to prominent developers with “direct access” to him.  

The owners of the 15 parcels of land removed from the Greenbelt could ultimately see their property values increase by $8.3 billion, according to an estimate from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.  

Despite the harsh criticism from the integrity commissioner and auditor general, the premier initially stuck by Clark, expressing full confidence in his minister last Thursday morning, the day after the release of the second scathing report.

Clark had also signalled he would remain Ontario’s housing minister at a press conference later that day where he apologized for his role in the saga.

"I accept that I ought to have had greater oversight over my former chief of staff, and over the process, and to Ontarians I want to say very sincerely that I apologize," Clark told reporters last Thursday afternoon at Queen's Park.

He also promised to remain in Ford’s cabinet, saying in an earlier statement that he remained “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.”

By Monday, his position had changed. 

“This (housing) crisis demands someone who is not a distraction from the important work that needs to be done,” Clark said in his letter to Ford.

“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.”

Editor's note: This story was updated Monday evening after the premier announced his cabinet shuffle.

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