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'It's indefensible': Calls for Ontario housing minister's resignation follow Greenbelt report bombshell

Ontario’s opposition parties are calling on the province’s housing minister to step down after a report by the auditor general found the government’s Greenbelt development plans were “biased” and “favoured" select developers.

On Wednesday, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk released the findings of a value-for-money investigation into the government’s plan to remove 15 areas from the protected Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes.

Prior to the release of the probe, reports had suggested that some developers -- who are also Progressive Conservative donors -- purchased parcels of Greenbelt land despite the province's previous commitments not to build on the protected space.

“It’s indefensible what we’re seeing here. Without question. If the premier or the minister want to come out and say, ‘Actually, we were just wildly incompetent. Willfully blind.’ Fine. Otherwise. I think it’s pretty clear that these decisions serve the interests of [Progressive] Conservative Party donors and friends,” Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles, who led the request for the probe, said Wednesday.

“Very few people made, and will make, a lot of money off of decisions that the auditor general has made very clear do not serve the interests of Ontarians. That to me smells of corruption.”

Marit Stiles, Leader of the Official Opposition of Ontario speaks to the media during a press conference following the release of the Auditor General’s Special Report on Changes to the Greenbelt, at Queens Park, in Toronto, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

The probe, which was launched in January following requests from all three of the province’s opposition leaders, found that of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt, 14 were selected over the course of three weeks by Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who was not identified by name in the report.

Lysyk suggested that the value of the land up for development could see an $8.3 billion increase.

Asked if Amato should be stripped of his role, Lysyk said: “We have a recommendation in the report that there be a referral made to the Integrity Commissioner to see whether or not there was a breach of the Ontario Public Service Act of Ontario.”

“There is no way on God’s green Earth that Minister Clark’s Chief of Staff acted without the Minister’s full knowledge or direction,” interim Ontario Liberal Party Leader MPP Fraser said in a statement calling for Clark’s resignation following the report’s release. “Ministers make decisions; their Chiefs of Staff implement them.”

Meanwhile, Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner argued the report suggests that Premier Doug Ford "doesn't care about average people."

"[Ford’s] willing to break all the rules so a handful of wealthy, well-connected, elite developers can cash in at our expense,” Schreiner said in a video posted to Twitter.

Both Ford and Clark have repeatedly denied claims the provincial government tipped off developers about plans to build housing on the Greenbelt.

At a joint news conference, Ford and Clark acknowledged that the process in selecting developers for the building process was “flawed.”

“I acknowledge that we need to do better. I accept responsibility as minister to implement a better plan for Ontarians,” Clark said. 

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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