EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
As part of her audit of the Ford government's Greenbelt changes, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has reached the point of having a "quick" talk with Housing Minister Steve Clark, he revealed on Wednesday.
Ontario's housing minister also said he'll be meeting with Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake as part of the commissioner’s investigation revolving around the government's decision to remove 15 parcels of land from the province's signature protected area late last year.
"I had a quick conversation, briefly, with the auditor general, and I'm looking forward to meeting with the integrity commissioner," Clark told reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday.
It is the first time the housing minister has said he's been involved in either investigation.
By the time this story was updated at 3:32 p.m. on Wednesday, the premier’s office hadn’t answered questions sent by email about whether Ford, any of his staff, or any staff in Clark’s office had spoken to the auditor or commissioner for their investigations.
Lysyk told The Trillium on Wednesday that she was unable to shed any more light into who she's spoken to as part of her office's audit. She's previously said she's pushing to publish her report about the Greenbelt changes before her 10-year-term ends on Sept. 3.
In a report from March 16 mentioning the progress he’s made in his Greenbelt changes inquiry, Wake wrote that his office was “preparing summonses for numerous witnesses to be interviewed.” By that time, the commissioner and his staff had started “reviewing the extensive material gathered so far,” and had “required the production of documents from government and non-government sources,” Wake wrote.
Last week, The Trillium asked the integrity commissioner’s spokesperson a series of questions about the status of Wake’s investigation. The office declined to answer them, with a spokesperson writing that it’s “the office’s practice not to provide information about an inquiry being conducted under the Members’ Integrity Act.”
“Information about documents and summonses will be included in the Integrity Commissioner’s report,” Wake’s spokesperson added.
Wake’s and Lysyk’s investigations differ due to the nature of their jobs. But both revolve around the controversial decision by the Ford government late last year to swap out 7,400 protected acres from Ontario's Greenbelt and replace it with 9,400 acres from elsewhere. Much of the land inserted into the Greenbelt was already under other conservation protections.
Several developers, including some with ties to the Ford government, had protections removed from their land as part of the swap. Some purchased the land after 2018, the year the Progressive Conservative government was elected.
The government's justification for removing the land it did from the Greenbelt was so 50,000 homes could be built, helping it reach its target of having 1.5 million homes built in Ontario by 2031.
Lysyk’s office’s work involves a value-for-money of the Greenbelt changes. It’s been working away since January. The government promised its “full co-operation,” Lysyk told the leaders of Ontario’s NDP, Liberals and Green party, who requested the audit, in a letter.
Wake’s inquiry is looking into whether Clark broke laws MPPs have to follow around conflict-of-interest and the sharing of insider information.
Pending the findings of his current investigation, Wake will choose to continue or abandon another related inquiry on Ford’s daughter’s wedding festivities, which lobbyists and developers attended last year.