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Ontario's Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery Kaleed Rasheed has resigned from cabinet and the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus. Rasheed's departure follows an integrity commissioner's investigation into the controversial Greenbelt land swap.

Rasheed is the second cabinet minister in Doug Ford’s government to resign over the scandal. Housing minister Steve Clark's left cabinet early this month over his role as overseer of the Greenbelt land swap for housing development.

The resignations followed two scathing reports released last month by the province's auditor general and its integrity commissioner. The reports revealed the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development was the result of a deeply flawed and biased process, and that Clark violated ethics rules.

Part of the integrity commissioner’s Greenbelt inquiry scrutinized a trip Rasheed took to Las Vegas in early 2020. Media reports alleged that on the trip with Rasheed were prominent developer Shakir Rehmatullah and Amin Massoudi, who was principal secretary to Premier Ford at the time. Massoudi is no longer in a government position and is now involved in lobbying activities.

The media reports raised questions about the timing and purpose of the trip, suggesting it might have aided Rehmatullah, who benefited from the Greenbelt land swap.

The reports highlighted that Rehmatullah's companies had received at least five provincial ministerial zoning orders, which ease the path to development, since 2020. Rematullah also owned lands under his Flato Developments that were removed from the Greenbelt in 2022 and is one of three developers that could ultimately see their property values increase more than $8.3 billion, the auditor general found.

According to the integrity commissioner's findings, Rasheed and two of his staff members claim to have encountered Rehmatullah in Las Vegas but insisted their trips were unrelated. However, CTV News reported that Rasheed, Rehmatullah and Massoudi had all booked massages at the same time during their stay.

“Today, I submitted my resignation to Premier Ford from cabinet and the Ontario PC caucus, effective immediately,” Rasheed posted on his X account (previously known as Twitter).

“While incredibly difficult, this decision was made so as not to distract from the important work of the government.”

Rasheed is the second cabinet minister in Doug Ford’s government to resign over the scandal. Housing minister Steve Clark's left cabinet early this month over his role as overseer of the Greenbelt land swap for housing development. #Greenbelt.

He expressed his commitment to continuing to serve his constituents in Mississauga East-Cooksville as MPP.

“I look forward to taking the steps required to clear my name with the [integrity commissioner] so that I can return to the Ontario PC team as soon as possible,” he added.

Ford also released a brief statement over the resignation. “Premier Ford and MPP Kaleed Rasheed have agreed that Mr. Rasheed would resign from cabinet and the Ontario PC caucus, effective immediately,” read a statement from Ford’s office sent to Canada's National Observer. “If Mr. Rasheed can clear his name through the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, he will be provided an opportunity to return to caucus.”

A replacement will be named in the coming days, the statement added.

Rasheed told the integrity commissioner that he and Rehmatullah are longtime friends, but that he never went to Las Vegas with him.

He told the integrity commissioner he planned the trip with Massoudi and Jae Truesdell, a former trusted aide of Ford's, now serving as the director of housing policy for the premier.

“Mr. Truesdell had recently finished his federal election campaign and there was an opportunity to go on a ‘boys’ trip’ before his life was going to change with the arrival of a baby,” the report states.

Rasheed told the commissioner that when they got to Vegas, he was shocked to spot Rehmatullah in the hotel lobby. Rasheed insisted he “keeps his work as an elected official separate from his friendship with Mr. Rehmatullah and they do not talk about their work, except that he is aware of Mr. Rehmatullah’s general request to ‘cut the red tape.’”

The Ontario Provincial Police has handed over its review of the Greenbelt land swap to the RCMP for investigation. Ford has expressed his confidence that the RCMP investigation will reveal no criminal wrongdoing. And he continues to hold firm on plans to develop the Greenbelt, insisting the land is necessary to build crucial housing for Ontario, despite the auditor general’s conclusion that there were other ways the province’s housing needs could be met.

The Greenbelt was created in 2005 to permanently protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from development. The swath of about two million acres of protected land includes farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes. In December 2022, the Ford government removed land from the Greenbelt to open it up for housing development as part of the province’s commitment to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade. A total of 7,400 acres were removed, which the provincial government rationalizes with its commitment to add another 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt elsewhere.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

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One errant cabinet minister, maybe. Two? Time for Ford to step up and recognize he is responsible.
He should step down as premier.