Ontario housing minister quits over breaching ethics law in land deal

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets next to downtown's CN Tower in Toronto

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Ontario's housing minister resigned on Monday, days after an independent report concluded he breached ethics laws over a land deal around Toronto, Canada's largest city.

Steve Clark said he would resign from cabinet but continue serving in Ontario's legislative assembly.

"Ontario is experiencing the most challenging housing crisis our province has ever faced," Clark wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. "...However this crisis demands someone who is not a distraction from the important work that needs to be done."

In an Aug. 30 report, Ontario's independent integrity commissioner J. David Wake concluded that Clark breached the law over the removal of lands from the Greenbelt protected area around Toronto for housing development. Wake recommended that Clark be reprimanded.

Ontario's Greenbelt spans 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) of protected farmland, forest, rivers and lake around Toronto. Last year, Ontario's cabinet approved Clark's proposal to remove 15 properties spanning 7,400 acres (2,995 hectares) from the Greenbelt for housing development, causing a public outcry.

The move would add a collective C$8.3 billion ($6.10 billion) to the value of the properties, enriching certain developers and landowners, Ontario's auditor general found in an Aug. 9 report that called the land selection "biased."

The change provided land for 50,000 homes and would help fulfil Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford's promise of building 1.5 million homes over the next decade.

Wake found that Clark failed to properly oversee the process by which Greenbelt lands were selected, "leading to the private interests of certain developers being furthered improperly." That process was led by Clark's former chief of staff, Ryan Amato, who resigned last month.

Ford, who had earlier said Clark would keep his job, thanked Clark on X for his cabinet service.

Canada has a "serious" housing shortage, according to its national housing minister. The issue has put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, even though housing is mainly the responsibility of provincial and municipal governments.

($1 = 1.3598 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Josie Kao)