Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government continue to face issues with its development deals in Toronto’s Greenbelt – issues that have now cost him a cabinet minister.
Last week, the province’s Integrity Commissioner reported that Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark contravened two sections of the Members Integrity Act, 1994. Those sections dealt with Clark’s supervision of his staff. The report found that Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato was not properly supervised in dealing with the Greenbelt development issue, and Clark’s lack of oversight led to developers being alerted to the selection process. Amato resigned after a report by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk was released finding that 14 out of 15 parcels of land removed from Toronto’s Greenbelt went to developers in a rushed process that “was biased in favour of certain developers and landowners who had timely access to the housing minister’s chief of staff.” Clark initially accepted responsibility for admittedly not doing his job properly, and resigned as minister Monday morning (September 4).
Premier Ford also has repeatedly said that the “buck stops here” and he also accepts full responsibility. The problem is that these are just words and, in Ford’s case, have no action to back them up.
There is a disturbing lack of oversight going on in the Ford government. In the housing file, a political staffer was improperly supervised by a cabinet minister, and a government process was removed from the civil servants. The fruit of that tainted process is a multi-billion dollar housing development on formerly protected land: a set of property development deals that despite the controversies are still moving forward. This is all in an effort to help address Ontario’s housing crisis.
Premier Ford continues to use the housing crisis as an excuse to cut ethical corners. Amato’s actions were wrong; Clark’s inability to do his job was wrong. Until these resignations, Ford has said the buck stops with him, and yet he excused the behaviour of those who work for him because we need more homes in Ontario. If this is the standard operation procedure of the Ford Team, where else have corners been cut because of a crisis and things need to get done? There have been a lot of crises in the last four years and a lot of government contracts involved. Were there corners cut for only one crisis?
Ford is not wrong that we need more homes, but those homes have to be affordable too. A single-family home in the Greenbelt area around the Toronto suburbs – where these new developments are to take place – currently has an average starting price of $1 million. Townhouses and condominiums in those areas start at the low $800,000s. That is not affordable housing and it does not address rental housing market issues.
It is clear that Ford’s housing development plans were ill-thought out, improperly run, and easily co-opted. Ford’s plans for the Greenbelt need to be outright scrapped, and an independent review of all government ministry contracts needs to be undertaken to see if Clark’s missteps are a one-off, or the sign of a much bigger problem.