Pretty much a month late, and in the early morning of the third day of a blistering hot long weekend, the Ontario minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, did as close to the right thing as he’d left himself the option to do by resigning his cabinet post. After two different damning watchdog reports in August, one early from the province’s Auditor-General, the next late from the Integrity-Commissioner, both lambasting Clark’s role in not properly overseeing the Ford government’s Greenbelt land swap scandal, the ex-minister didn’t exactly fall on his sword. That would suggest a noble exit. Instead, he slunk mightily away, having realized, I figure, that there was no way he was going to power comms his way past this.
Not through a lack of trying. Accepting responsibility and buck stopping where it should were drained of any meaning in Clark’s public shows of contrition, catchphrases used in an attempt to signal accountability while displaying nothing of the sort. Blank verse. Until the obvious emptiness of everything but the overriding attempt to save his own political skin became the ‘distraction’ that Clark claimed to be the reason he offered up his resignation.
This should be a career ender, for sure. But these days? In our Age of Shamelessness? According to the CBC, many of his constituents are quite content with the job he’s doing representing them, the grease from his ministerial misdeeds not staining his MPP jacket. So, maybe he sticks around, lurking in the backbenches, biding his time, waiting for his redemption story to take shape, a very curious eye kept on the fortunes of Doug Ford as the Greenbelt scandal continues to fester and threaten the legitimacy of the government. 2026 is a long way away.
Such a sad, sordid, predictable outcome must’ve been contemplated by any sentient-minded conservative when Doug Ford grasped the party leadership and led them to victory in 2018. Steve Clark was first elected provincially back in 2010, the same year that Ford rode his brother’s coattails to a city council seat. From up at Queen’s Park, the rookie MPP had to be aware of his once future now former boss’s antics during those 4 years in office. The chaos and grubbiness of Ford’s approach to governance could not come as any sort of surprise.
Now, maybe Steve Clark was one of those who believed himself capable of taming his premier’s worst instincts. A sound, reasonable voice whispering sweet wisdom and judgment in Ford’s ear. A calming influence from a parlimentary veteran.
But that notion should’ve been dispelled when Premier Ford quickly foisted his Minster of Municipal Affair and Housing into the middle of the fall’s municipal election campaign in Toronto in order to cut the number of city councillors in half for no other reasons than personal spite and because he could. Steve Clark, as a former mayor, should’ve known better. But he proceeded to do his boss’s dirty work.
And it isn’t as if the Great Greenbelt Swindle is the first questionable land use hot mess Steve Clark got himself involved in. During his 5+ year tenure as M.A. & Housing minister, he used prodigiously, if not promiscuously, the ham-fisted power of the Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) that with a single stroke of the pen could override and upend municipal zoning plans and other trifling piffles like environmental interests. As Emma McIntosh wrote in The Narwhal this past January, Ford’s PC government issued at least 100 of them in less than 5 years in office. By contrast, the McGuinty/Wynne Liberals used MZOs 16 times in their 15 years in office. “Previous governments generally used them about once a year, for special circumstances,” writes McIntosh. “That was the original purpose of the mechanism.” Under Ford, Clark Oprahed. ‘You get an MZO! You get an MZO! Everybody gets an MZO!!’
Yet somehow, the Greenbelt land grab became a bridge too far for Steve Clark.
While both Bonnie Lysyk, the Auditor-General, and the Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, served up an epically failing grade for Clark’s performance in his undersight of the ‘process’ of the landswap, they are both more generous as to his motivations. Maybe not ‘generous’, so much as non-committal. I mean, who can truly look into the heart and mind of a man disinclined to being forthright?
One theory floated from the reports’ pages was that Clark, as minister, uncomfortable with the scheme, simply ‘stuck his head in the sand’. On a need to not know basis. Why? Who knows? No one’s talking. That’s not true. There’s lots of talking. Nobody’s saying anything.
Perhaps Clark, for some reason, taking Doug Ford at his word to leave the Greenbelt untouched back in 2018 after he was caught on video saying the exact opposite if elected, was surprised when his mandate letter arrived post-election 2022 instructing him to begin the process of opening up the very same Greenbelt for development. Certainly on the campaign trail, Doug Ford never mentioned the idea. Not out loud. Not to voters.
Did Steve Clark think it was a bad idea? At least politically, if not ethically? Did Clark point to the government’s own task force on housing affordability report, issued earlier in the year, that specifically stated there was no need to develop the Greenbelt in order to build sufficient housing going forward?
Again, no one’s talking.
Whatever the reason(s), Steve Clark seemed to want no part of any Greenbelt development, but instead of taking a principled stand to say something to the effect of Not On My Watch, he simply stood aside, closed his eyes, plugged his ears, and let his chief of staff run rampant, imagining, I guess, that he’d have some plausible deniability if it all blew up in their faces. He was correct about the second part of the assumption but hopelessly misguided on the first.
At any point during the process, he could’ve officially stepped down. From the moment he received his second mandate letter after the party’s re-election in 2022 right up to the time the process of de-Greenbelting showed itself to be hopelessly corrupted. Either privately to the premier or noisily in public fashion. He chose to take the good soldier route.
Again, purely hypothetical, and granting the man more charity than he’s earned, maybe Steve Clark stood firm in the hopes that, in the face of the growing shitstorm, Doug Ford would do the math and retreat from this course of action. Decisions would be reversed and, in time, say, by June 2026, all would be, if not forgiven, forgotten. There were precedents for such turn of events. The fact that, according to the Toronto Star yesterday, Clark’s resignation came as a surprise to the government, forcing it to scramble into a mini-cabinet shuffle and replace Clark as minister with a partisan attack dog and not someone well-versed in the housing portfolio, suggests that, once more, Steve Clark miscalculated. The Greenbelt appears to be a hill that Doug Ford is prepared to die on. It only took five years for Steve Clark to figure that out.
That’s the generous interpretation of the man’s actions.
And it still looks ugly.
He won’t be the first politician whose reputation, regardless of how threadbare, wound up sullied and in tatters by a shady association with a Ford. Probably not the last as there appears to be many more shoes to drop before this government crashes down owing largely to its own greedy hubris. We won’t be able to know if it was all worth it for Steve Clark until we see where he lands after his time in politics has drawn to a close.