TORONTO — Ontario's legislature resumes sitting Monday on the heels of two cabinet ministers' resignations, a cabinet shuffle, and a major policy reversal – and that was just in the past week.
Politicians will return to the business of the legislature after its 15-week summer break that saw the release of two damning reports from the auditor general and integrity commissioner about the process to remove lands from the Greenbelt for housing development.
The return of the legislature will see Premier Doug Ford set about backtracking on that decision, as announced last week, following nearly a year of public outcry.
But don't expect Ford's abrupt admission that "it was a mistake" to open the Greenbelt to equally abruptly quell the controversy. Opposition politicians say there are still many unanswered questions.
"I can assure you we are going to be using this opportunity to get more answers, because Ford and his Conservative government have a lot to answer for," NDP Leader Marit Stiles said Friday.
"We have every intention of continuing to hold them to account."
She said there are still questions surrounding what developers knew in advance of the official announcement that the Greenbelt was to be opened up, what the premier knew, what his staff knew, why his director of housing policy resigned last week, and what emails had been deleted, as referenced by the auditor general in the course of her investigation.
"There's endless questions and I think why it's really important is that this casts a long, dark shadow over this government in everything they do," she said.
"We have the privatization of health care, we have the selling off of the 95-year lease for Ontario Place that people are really opposed to. I think it's fair that we need to shine light in every corner."
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said "the heat is not going to get turned down any time soon," but it may take some time to get proper answers on outstanding Greenbelt questions, and the Liberals will also be advancing other priorities at the same time.
"It is really important for us to focus on the things that are important to Ontarians like housing, like health care, like education, like the environment," he said. "We have to keep doing that. I think we'll be able to walk and chew gum. So we will find different ways to dig deeper."
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he doesn't want to lose sight of the fact there is still a housing affordability crisis, and will be pushing for solutions that don't involve prime farmland or enriching developers to the tune of $8.3 billion.
The auditor general found that's how much the landowners whose property was removed from the Greenbelt stood to see their land values rise. It's unclear if any of them will pursue any type of recourse over the government's policy reversal.
Both the auditor general and integrity commissioner found that the process to select lands was rushed and favoured certain developers.
More than 90 per cent of the land removed was in five sites passed on to then-housing minister Steve Clark's chief of staff, Ryan Amato, by two developers Amato met at an industry event, the auditor said. Both Clark and Amato have since resigned.
A second cabinet minister, Kaleed Rasheed, resigned this week after news reports raised questions about his connections to developer Shakir Rehmatullah and a trip to Las Vegas.
On Friday, a third cabinet minister resigned, though he said it was unconnected to the Greenbelt. Monte McNaughton resigned as labour minister to take a job in the private sector.
Stiles said it is indicative nonetheless of the turmoil Ford's government is facing.
"I'm beginning to wonder whether, in fact, we're going to have anybody left to question on Monday at this rate," she said.
The departures prompted a mini cabinet shuffle Friday, with Ford naming David Piccini, who has been environment minister for the past two years, as the new labour minister. Andrea Khanjin, who represents the riding of Barrie-Innisfil, is promoted to cabinet to serve as the new environment minister.
Todd McCarthy is the new minister of public and business service delivery, after having been named associate transportation minister less than three weeks ago in another mini cabinet shuffle that was prompted by Clark's resignation.
Vijay Thanigasalam, who represents Scarborough-Rouge Park, has been named the new associate transportation minister.
Opposition politicians won't be the only ones at the legislature Monday armed with criticisms of the government. The Ontario Health Coalition has said it will be busing in "thousands" of protesters to pressure Ford to drop his plan to expand the private delivery of public health care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2023.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press