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Premier Ford stands by housing minister in ongoing Ontario Greenbelt scandal

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford scoffed at suggestions his government’s controversial Greenbelt land swap amounted to corruption as he addressed reporters for the first time since a high profile resignation over the growing scandal.

During an 18-minute news conference outside his Queen’s Park office, the premier also denied any knowledge of insider deals with developers and stood by Housing Minister Steve Clark, even as members of the opposition call for his resignation.

Ford’s government has been facing fierce backlash after Ontario’s Auditor General revealed that prominent developers received “preferential treatment,” allowing their properties to be extracted from the Greenbelt in December.

The auditor revealed that the land value of those sites will increase by $8.28 billion as a result of the Ford government’s decision.

On Friday, Ford reiterated his initial defence that the process, and not the result, was ultimately flawed and vowed to implement 14 of the 15 recommendations made by the auditor.

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“We’re correcting the process,” Ford said. “I’m first to admit the process could have been better.”

The process, according to the auditor’s report, involved developers handing “packages” directly to the Clark’s chief of staff with instructions on which specific lands to remove from the Greenbelt — instructions that were ultimately approved by Premier Ford and his cabinet.

Ford, once again, denied any personal knowledge of the communications between political staff and developers.

“You get stuff put in front of you before cabinet, which I did. My exact words cross the T’s dot the I’s [and] everything’s fine,” Ford said. “I can’t micromanage.”

When asked whether the greenbelt deals amount to corruption, Ford said it was a “nasty thing to say.”

“I’m trying to build homes, that’s my intention,” Ford said.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the Premier’s news conference an “outrageous display” and called on the Ford government to reverse the deal.

“The premier came out here an insulted the intelligence of Ontarians,” Stiles said. “This is all to benefit to a few developers who are deeply connected to the Conservative party.”

Ford responds to RCMP probe and resignation

The scandal enveloping the government has led to multiple probes of the Premier’s handling of the file including a review of evidence by the RCMP.

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Ford pointed out the Mounties have yet to launch a formal investigation but said he would have “zero tolerance” if anyone is implicated in wrongdoing.

“I take it very serious, extremely serious,” Ford said of any potential police investigation.

While Ford said he has “full confidence” in Housing Minister Steve Clark, he skirted questions about why a key political staffer resigned.

Ryan Amato, who served as the chief of staff to Clark and has admitted to receiving packages from developers, abruptly quit the role on Tuesday and hired an employment lawyer.

When asked about why Amato resigned, Ford pivoted to talking about the process of the Greenbelt land removals and promised to fix the issues.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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