Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake issued an inquiry report on Thursday against Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark over alleged violations of his integrity related to the ongoing Ontario Greenbelt scandal. Wake concluded that Clark had put himself into a position with a conflict of interests. Wake also found that Clark used insider information to further the interests of some developers over highly sought-after land in the Greenbelt. Following his conclusion, Wake recommended Ontario Legislative Assembly impose a reprimand and call for reviews of processes provided in the Greenbelt Act.
Wake’s investigation also pointed to Clark’s then-newly appointed chief of staff Ryan Amato. Amato conveyed insider information to developers by receiving packages and proactively obtaining information from certain developers. Wake opined that this action was equivalent to saying that the government was going to reopen the Greenbelt. The report also found Amato improperly furthered developers’ interests due to his leading role in selecting the properties to be removed from the Greenbelt and Clark’s failure to oversee the process when Amato adopted a rushed and almost reckless process. Therefore, even though Amato was the primary offender, Clark’s failure to monitor also contributed to the improper furtherance of developers’ private interests.
Wake found that Clark breached his conflict of interest provision by misinterpreting some mandate letters to adopt a rushed and reckless process. The mandate letters were from the policy team in the premier’s office and regarded consideration for developing a process and criteria for removals and additions to the Greenbelt. The purpose was to increase the housing supply. Clark withdrew himself from supervising this significant initiative. Last but not least, Clark did not question Amato or the deputy minister before taking the proposal to cabinet.
It was because of these errors and the attribution of Amato’s actions to Clark that Wake found sufficient evidence to establish the breach of the conflict of interest provision.
Wake’s investigation surrounding the Greenbelt scandal started in March and completed in five months. During the investigation, the Office of the Integrity Commissioner summoned 61 witnesses including Premier Doug Ford. Upon the completion of the investigation, Wake accepted Clark’s testimony for his lack of awareness of the process. Wake concluded that his oversight contributed to the unfortunate results. Taking into account that Clark has never been the subject of an inquiry under the Members’ Integrity Act, Wake deemed reprimand a sufficient penalty, along with the political price to be paid in the public eye.
The Greenbelt Act 2005 created the Ontario Greenbelt circling the Greater Toronto Area. The Greenbelt encompasses around 2 million acres of both private and public lands. The purpose is to protect farmland and natural heritage by restricting urban sprawl.