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Ontario housing minister’s chief of staff resigns following Greenbelt controversy

ontario housing ministers chief of staff resigns following greenbelt controversy

Housing Minister Steve Clark’s chief of staff has resigned after he was singled out by the Ontario auditor general for playing a key role in the province’s controversial Greenbelt land swap. 

The Premier’s office confirmed Ryan Amato’s resignation in a statement Tuesday, saying it was accepted “effective immediately.”

The resignation comes less than two weeks after Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk issued a scathing report into the government’s removal of more than 2,995 hectares of land from 15 different areas of southern Ontario’s Greenbelt in order for 50,000 homes to be built. 

The report found the government’s process for choosing which sites to remove was influenced by a small number of well-connected developers with access to Amato.

Lysyk’s report said that of the 15 sites ultimately removed from the Greenbelt, 14 were selected by Amato — not non-partisan public servants — and the majority were chosen after suggestions from developers.

In one case, two prominent developers provided him with “packages” containing information on two sites they owned at a building industry event in September 2022, the report said. Both sites, and several others requested by one of the same developers, ended up on the list of properties taken out of the Greenbelt.

Opposition leaders were quick to react to the news.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Amato’s resignation doesn’t resolve the situation and he called for the housing minister himself to resign.

“It is simply not believable that one political staffer was behind this $8.3-billion cash-for-your-land-scheme,” Fraser said in a statement. 

“The truth of the matter is that the minister and the premier brought forward and supported this scheme at cabinet with the full knowledge of what they were doing.”

Ford and Clark both told Lysyk that they were unaware that the land chosen for removal was being brought forward by Amato via the developers. Ford told Lysyk he was only briefed on the sites the day before cabinet approved the changes on Nov. 2, while Clark said he learned of the plan the week prior.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner agreed that Clark should resign, adding Ford should reverse the decision to “pave over the Greenbelt.”.

“The resignation of Minister Clark’s chief of staff is the first step in the long process to restore public trust — one that Ontario Greens have called for,” Schreiner said.

“But if the Premier believes this is the end of the story, he’s mistaken.”

Ford said his government would accept and implement 14 of 15 total recommendations Lysyk made in her report. The single recommendation it will not accept is to revisit the land swaps and possibly reverse those decisions, he said.

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