TORONTO — The senior Ontario political staffer at the centre of a scathing report into the provincial government's decision to open up protected Greenbelt lands for housing development resigned Tuesday.
However, the departure of the chief of staff to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark failed to quell opposition calls for the minister himself to resign in the wake of the auditor general report.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found that all but one of the 15 sites ultimately removed from the Greenbelt last year were suggested not by civil servants, but by Clark's chief of staff Ryan Amato, who was given packages at an industry event by two key developers.
Developers who had access to Amato wound up with 92 per cent of the land that was removed from the protected Greenbelt, Lysyk found.
Both Clark and Premier Doug Ford have said they were unaware the process was being controlled by Amato, but opposition politicians have said that defies credulity.
“This is the bare minimum of accountability for one of the most serious breaches of public trust in Ontario’s history," NDP Leader Marit Stiles wrote in a statement.
"The auditor general’s report was very clear – this staffer obviously didn’t act independently."
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Amato's resignation does not resolve the situation.
"Minister Clark must resign and Premier Ford must open the books to a full investigation," he wrote in a statement.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also said Tuesday that Clark still needs to resign.
Ford has said no one received preferential treatment.
Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes and replaced it with about 9,400 acres elsewhere.
Lysyk found Amato formed a small team of public servants to look at specific sites and if some of those did not meet the criteria for selection, such as for environmental reasons, the criterion was simply dropped, rather than selecting a different site.
In selecting the areas where development would ultimately be approved, Amato used the packages he received from developers, the auditor general found.
Amato told the auditor general he did not disclose to the developers that the province would open up the Greenbelt.
Ford has said he accepts 14 out of Lysyk's 15 recommendations on process changes, but not the recommendation that he reconsider the removal of those lands from the Greenbelt. He has said that the province has an urgent need to build housing as the population rapidly grows.
The province's housing task force had previously said in a report that the Greenbelt land was not needed to achieve the province's goal of building 1.5 million homes over 10 years.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2023.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press