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I Can't Believe I Have to Say This: Doug Ford is to Blame for the Greenbelt Scandal
The housing minister and a chief of staff are a part of the government's shame, but the indignity starts at the top.
Note: As I was writing this, the Ford government decided to reevaluate Greenbelt land site choices. I’ve removed a reference to him not doing so from the piece and updated with the latest news. The re-evaluation (though it comes with an asterisk) and admission of failure is a win. It’s also not enough.
Over the long weekend, Steve Clark resigned as Ontario’s housing minister. In his resignation letter, Clark said he was leaving because he didn’t want to be a “distraction” and noted he wanted to “adhere to the principles of Ministerial accountability.”
Well, good for him, though he is staying on as a member of provincial Parliament, keeping his seat and his salary. But he’s gone as a minister, and that’s something.
We might ask what took so long. Did Clark not think accountability was important a week ago? Two weeks ago? When the Greenbelt deal was being put together, with a plan to choose lands that he was allegedly unaware of? We might also ask what finally did it for Clark. It doesn’t seem to have been the searing-hot auditor general’s report that recommended the government reverse its decisions on the Greenbelt. Maybe it was the integrity commissioner’s report, which found that Clark had broken the law, running afoul of two sections of the Member’s Integrity Act and recommended he be reprimanded by the legislature.
Throughout the Greenbelt scandal, Clark and Premier Doug Ford have repeatedly admitted the Greenbelt land selection process was flawed. Ya think? The process was heavily influenced by developers set to make billions from it. Through it, sensitive environmental lands unnecessary for development to meet the province’s housing goals were opened for residential building — which may take decades. Plus, once again, the lands weren’t necessary to hit housing goals.
Despite repeating that the buck stopped with them, Ford and Clark seemed disinclined to face any actual consequences for their government’s shady plan. Clark eventually realized his time was up. But Ford isn’t there. Yet.
Ford claims he was unaware that the Greenbelt plan was coming until it hit Cabinet. Maybe that is true, but he did eventually learn what was up and went ahead it. Now, Ford has just decided to re-evaluate the development plans (although, again, see the asterisk) while the RCMP investigates the whole affair.
On Monday, Ford rushed to shuffle is Cabinet and do some damage control. He selected Paul Calandra, of various career failures, especially on long term care in the province, to replace Clark. I’m sure he can clap and repeat talking points as well as anyone. He’ll no doubt take directions from the premier’s office like a champ. But I can’t imagine he’s going to do much to solve the housing crisis. He doesn’t have the capacity, nor, I doubt, does the Ford government itself.
Despite Ford’s attempt to douse the flames, the Progressive Conservative caucus is starting to feel the heat from the Greenbelt scandal, suggesting Ford’s capacity to manage his government has been further compromised. As Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello report for Global News,
A Progressive Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government caucus has been left reeling by Clark’s resignation. The insider said Clark had been in politics since the age of 18 and hadn’t faced a single scandal in his entire career “until Doug Ford’s mandate letter.”
Oops! Of course, we can’t see that mandate letter because Ford insists on keeping it secret. No matter, we know the basics: whatever it contains, it’s not a credible desire or plan to end the housing crisis in Ontario. And we know who to blame for that.
As premier of Ontario, Doug Ford is responsible for his government. He’s fond of saying the buck stops with him. It doesn’t, because he has no integrity. But it should. Ford chooses his Cabinet. He chooses government priorities. He’s meant to check in from time to time, when he gets back from Tim’s and a rip in the Skidoo, to see how things are going. He’s the captain of the ship.
Ford maintains he didn’t know how lands were chosen in the Greenbelt land swap. If that’s true, given how important and sensitive the matter is, he ought to have known. And if it is in fact true that he didn’t know, once he found out the whole thing was being run by a political staffer — Ryan Amato, who has since resigned — contrary to the Planning Act and good sense, he should have said “You know what, how about no. How about we do this again because it looks awfully shady?” But he didn’t say that. He went ahead with the plan, threw everyone else under the bus, and now here we are.
Let’s break down what we’re dealing with here. Either Doug Ford didn’t know what was happening on one of the most important files in the province or he did. As I’ve said before, if he didn’t know, he’s incompetent. If he did, he’s something worse still. Either way, he’s ultimately responsible, since he’s in charge of his government and he signed off on the dodgy plan. Again, if he didn’t have sufficient information at the time to know the plan was dodgy, he ought to have. And he ought to have nixed it right away. And if he did have sufficient information, well, see above.
There’s nothing good to say about Ford and his government. That was true before the Greenbelt scandal. It’s truer now. Ford is unfit to govern and his government is corrupt. And any way you look at it, the person who’s ultimately responsible for this fiasco is Doug Ford. He’s responsible. He’s to blame.
While the resignations of Clark and Amato are welcome and appropriate, Ford should go, too.
I know, I know. I’ve hummed that tune before. A few times. But I was right to say Ford should resign when he bungled the province’s Covid response (and plenty of other things) and I’m right to say it now. I’m going to keep saying it every time he adds to the pile of failures that is his record. The fact that he should resign for many reasons doesn’t make any single instance of resign-worthy failure any less valid. Indeed, the fact that me and so many others who watch governments for a living see resign-worthy failures aplenty bolsters the case. His record is a shit Voltron.
So, one more time with feeling. Doug Ford leads his government. The Greenbelt affair is such a massive scandal and policy failure that the only appropriate resolution includes full accountability at the top, from which all else flows. That’s Ford. He botched, directly or indirectly, a major file and he presides over a corrupt government that is failing Ontarians and abandoning the public interest in favour of a handful of rich people.
The Greenbelt failure and scandal is on Ford. Say it with. And if it’s true that Clark was a distraction, well, what does that make the premier? For one, also a distraction. But, as I just mentioned, he’s also the primary culprit in the government’s Greenbelt failure. He should at least be held to the same standard as those down the food chain.