Environmental advocates and political critics are furious over Premier Doug Ford's decision to promote MPP Steve Clark, who previously resigned over the Greenbelt land swap scandal.

Clark served as the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister until the $8.3 billion Greenbelt land swap scandal and two scathing reports by the province's auditor general and integrity commissioner forced his resignation. The reports revealed the Ford government’s 2022 decision to open part of the protected Greenbelt for development resulted from a “seriously flawed” and “biased” process, while Clark himself violated ethics rules.

But he was promoted last week, with Ford appointing him Government House Leader.

“It's deeply troubling,” said Keith Brooks, program director at Environmental Defence. “The premier is wrong if he thinks that Ontarians will forgive and forget the minister and others involved in his government's complete betrayal on this file.”

The ongoing RCMP investigation and recent news that government staffers were communicating with developers using their personal email accounts also suggest there may be more wrongdoing still to come to light, Brooks added.

Ontario's auditor general revealed that during the Greenbelt land swap process, preferential treatment was given to specific developers who had direct connections to Clark’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who was not named in the report.

Ford and Clark both told the auditor general they were unaware the land chosen for removal was controlled by Amato. The report revealed the Greenbelt removals were approved without full consideration of environmental and agricultural risks.

Abdullah Mir, a member of Stop Sprawl Durham, described the cabinet shuffle as “nothing more than smoke and mirrors.” He is particularly critical of Clark's promotion, given his involvement in the Greenbelt land removals.

“He should no longer hold office — yet he seems to be failing upwards, instead being promoted for engaging in such a destructive policy that would’ve hurt many Ontarians,” Mir said. “This government does not care about the people and is not for the people. It’s only for its own interests and the interests of its small amount of supporters and donors.”

Steve Clark served as the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister until the $8.3 billion #Greenbelt land swap scandal and two scathing reports by the province's auditor general and integrity commissioner forced his resignation. #onpoli

The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the Ford government's Greenbelt land swap in the fall.

“It is astonishing to see a disgraced minister… promoted by the premier to such an integral role in government,” said Kevin Thomason, vice-chair, Grand River Environmental Network. “It either shows a massive lack of skills and talent within the Conservative Party, or how out of touch the premier is with how concerned citizens are about good governance, democracy, the Greenbelt scandal and how this government continuously puts well-connected developers ahead of the greater public good.”

Ford, in announcing the reshuffle, emphasized his focus on economic growth. He highlighted his renewed team's commitment to rebuilding Ontario’s economy and delivering on core commitments, including building Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, fighting the carbon tax and expanding training opportunities in skilled trades.

“As our province and economy continue to grow, this is the team that is working side-by-side with workers, businesses, labour partners, Indigenous leaders and every member of Team Ontario to rebuild our economy,” said Premier Ford in a statement. “We’re at an important moment in our province’s history with clear choices. Our team is choosing growth and prosperity. We’re choosing lower taxes and better jobs with bigger paycheques. Let’s Get it Done!”

Opposition politicians are less enthused. In a statement, New Democrat Leader Marit Stiles also criticized Clark's promotion. “Instead of coming clean about the Greenbelt scandal, Ford is promoting one of its key players,” reads the statement.

The cabinet reshuffle saw Stephen Lecce, the former education minister, appointed as the minister of energy and electrification. Todd Smith, who previously held the energy portfolio, has taken over as education minister.

Lecce spoke to reporters after the reshuffle, outlining his goal to strengthen the province's energy capacity. He emphasized the government's main objective going forward is to expand the energy supply to drive economic development.

Brooks also criticized the ministerial swap between Smith and Lecce, expressing skepticism about any meaningful change in energy policy.

“When it comes to swapping Ministers Smith and Lecce, we don't anticipate much of a change in direction,” said Brooks. “As best as we can tell, Enbridge and the nuclear power industry seem to be in control of energy policy in this province.”

Brooks highlighted Lecce's contradictory stance, noting that while the minister claims to focus on growing Ontario's clean, affordable and reliable energy supply, the government is actually contracting expensive gas plants and pursuing nuclear options without transparency.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
June 11, 2024, 11:27 am

An earlier version of this article said Clark had been reappointed to cabinet. Government house leader is not a cabinet position; rather, it is a position usually held by a cabinet minister, but Clark does not have a ministerial portfolio.

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