By Tyler Griffin in Toronto
First Nations leaders from across Ontario are calling for Housing Minister Steve Clark’s resignation or his removal from cabinet over his handling of changes to protected Greenbelt land.
The Chiefs of Ontario, a group representing 133 First Nations, said it was “extremely” concerned by the issues raised by the province’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in a damning report last week.
“The way in which government representatives are evading responsibility and ignoring critical findings within the auditor general’s report is unacceptable,” the group said in a statement Friday.
The report found the government’s plan to open Greenbelt lands for housing favoured certain developers who had access to the minister’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, in a process that disregarded or ignored possible environmental, agricultural and financial risks and impacts.
Premier Doug Ford has said no one received preferential treatment, and that the government would accept all of the auditor’s recommendations to change the process, but not the recommendation that he reconsider the removal of those lands from the Greenbelt.
The Chiefs of Ontario say they will continue to work with the ministry, but will cease any current relationships with Clark until “an adequate resolution of this issue has been confirmed.”
The chiefs say they will also request a meeting with Ford and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford to make a number of demands to repair their working relationship. Among them are reinstating environmental protections for the Greenbelt and returning removed parcels of it.
A spokesperson for Ford said the province remains committed to its goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years in a way that ensures public trust in the process, including the province’s duty to consult Indigenous communities.
“We have accepted all 14 recommendations related to process outlined in the report, including the recommendation related to Indigenous consultation, and are implementing a working group to ensure these recommendations are implemented as soon as possible,” Caitlin Clark wrote in a statement.
In addition to the housing minister’s resignation, one of the demands calls for Clark’s chief of staff Amato to resign immediately.
Amato did not immediately respond to a request to for comment.
Further, they are joining calls from opposition politicians for the Ontario Provincial Police to launch a formal investigation into the issue.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles also said Friday she had written to the province’s information and privacy commissioner, as well as the secretary of cabinet — who is the head of Ontario’s Public Service — asking both offices to recover all records related to the Greenbelt changes.
The request follows news reports suggesting Ford used his personal cellphone for government business.
“The NDP believes these facts constitute a troubling pattern of behaviour by this government: a pervasive disregard for record-keeping and transparency, and possibly deliberate attempts to avoid public scrutiny,” Stiles wrote in a statement.
Lysyk’s report found that political staff received emails from lobbyists on their personal accounts, sometimes forwarded emails from their government accounts to personal ones, contrary to public service guidelines and were regularly deleting emails, contrary to the rules.
Two of her report recommendations focus on reinforced training for non-elected government staffers on inappropriate use of personal email accounts for government business and records retention.
The Integrity Commissioner of Ontario is reviewing a request from Ford to look into Amato, Clark’s chief of staff. An ethics investigation into Clark’s handling of the Greenbelt process is already underway.
Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2023.