The chief of staff to Ontario’s Housing Minister resigned on Tuesday, almost two weeks after a report from the province’s Auditor-General concluded that a government decision to open parts of the Greenbelt to housing construction favoured a handful of developers and delivered them a potential $8-billion windfall.
The senior political staffer, Ryan Amato, led an internal government project to select the properties that were later opened to development. The report’s release placed him at the centre of an intensifying controversy over the Greenbelt, an environmentally protected zone that arcs around the Greater Toronto Area.
“The Premier’s Office has accepted Ryan Amato’s resignation as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, effective immediately,” Ivana Yelich, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s deputy chief of staff, said in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon. Neither Mr. Ford nor Housing Minister Steve Clark commented on the resignation. Mr. Amato could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has faced widespread criticism over its move last fall to break its own repeated promises and redraw the boundaries of the Greenbelt. The government removed protections from 3,000 hectares, which it said was needed for homes, to address the province’s housing crisis.
After Mr. Amato’s resignation, opposition parties reiterated their previous calls for Mr. Clark to step down.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles called for Mr. Clark to resign, for the government to recall the legislature to reverse the Greenbelt decision and for Mr. Ford and his party to “start providing Ontarians with the transparency and accountability they deserve.”
“This is the bare minimum of accountability for one of the most serious breaches of public trust in Ontario’s history,” Ms. Stiles said in a statement.
John Fraser, interim Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, said in a statement that it is “simply not believable that one political staffer was behind this $8.3 billion cash-for-your-land scheme.”
“The truth of the matter is that the Minister and the Premier brought forward and supported this scheme at cabinet with the full knowledge of what they were doing,” he added.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Mr. Amato’s resignation “is the first step in the long process to restore public trust.”
The report by provincial Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk, released Aug. 9, found that the process of opening up the Greenbelt lands to development, led last year by Mr. Amato, was biased, “favoured certain developers” and lacked environmental or financial analysis. The report estimated that the 15 formerly protected sites could now balloon in value by more than $8.3-billion.
Ms. Lysyk’s report says the process of selecting the properties for removal from the protected zone took just three weeks and was “seriously flawed.” Mr. Amato, the report says, identified all but one of the properties for a small group of civil servants assigned to the project.
The bulk of the removed land was identified in documents that Mr. Amato received from two prominent developers, who were asking for their lands to be taken out of the Greenbelt at an industry banquet in September, 2022, according to the report.
“Direct access to the Housing Minister’s chief of staff resulted in certain prominent developers receiving preferential treatment,” Ms. Lysyk wrote.
Both Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark have said they weren’t aware of the way Mr. Amato had chosen the specific sites and weren’t aware of the properties until just days before they were presented to cabinet. Mr. Amato told the Auditor-General that he didn’t inform the developers and landowners the government was considering removing land from the Greenbelt. But the report says he did tell them the government would consider their requests “if it decided to do so.”
After the release of the report, Mr. Ford asked the province’s Integrity Commissioner, J. David Wake, to review Mr. Amato’s conduct and determine if he violated the Public Service of Ontario Act. This was one of 15 recommendations Ms. Lysyk made in her report.
Ms. Lysyk has said she met with the Ontario Provincial Police about the matter. The force has said it is considering whether to launch an investigation.