Doug Ford’s decision to appoint Steve Clark as Government House Leader is truly jaw-dropping

Last week’s reshuffle which massively expanded the Cabinet also brought Steve Clark, the developers' friend, back into the inner circle.

Clark - the disgraced former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing – is currently outside the Cabinet but that won’t last for long. 

As the Government House Leader, Clark will be responsible for planning and managing the Government’s legislative program as well as facilitating motions and debate in the Chamber at Queen’s Park.

In his report on 30 August 2023, the Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, recommended that Clark be formally reprimanded for his role in the Greenbelt scandal. 

Contravened the Members' Integrity Act

The Integrity Commissioner found that Clark 

“contravened the Members' Integrity Act, 1994. Minister Clark contravened sections 2 and 3(2) by failing to oversee the process by which lands in the Greenbelt were selected for development, leading to the private interests of certain developers being furthered improperly.

The inquiry established that Minister Clark’s former Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, was the driving force for the process by which lands in the Greenbelt were selected for development. Mr. Amato was involved in the selection of 14 of the 15 properties that were removed from the Greenbelt or redesignated and received information provided to him by certain developers.”

Ford's Progressive Conservatives were reluctantly prepared to put the Integrity Commissioner's recomendation to MPPs but they set their face against a debate where Clark's behaviour could be forensically examined and dissected.

The Opposition parties, naturally enough, insisted on a debate on Clark's role in the scandal.

The motion, tabled on 25 September 2023, has never been brought forward for debate by the Ford Government. Fancy procedural footwork at Queen’s Park has meant there has been no vote on the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendation – that the legislature formally reprimands Clark. To this day, the Motion lies on the Order Paper.

And now the person responsible for bringing forward such Motions for debate and a vote is none other than Steve Clark himself, the Government’s new Business Manager in the Legislative Assembly.

You couldn't make it up.

Ryan Amato

The Integrity Commissioner has also been investigating Clark’s former Chief of Staff, Ryan Amato, on the key role he played in opening up the protected Greenbelt for development. But once the RCMP announced it would be investigating the Greenbelt Scandal the Integrity Commissioner was obliged to put his investigation into Amato on hold.

It beggars belief that Ford’s consigliere, Steve Clark, will now be deciding what gets debated at Queen’s Park and what doesn't.

Whatever happened to ethics in the Ford Government?

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Progressive Conservative MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, spent $408,735 in 2023-24 serving her Newmarket-Aurora constituents. 

Out of this sum, she spent $11,495 on her second taxpayer-funded BBQ at Riverwalk Commons on 22 October 2023. 

Her first "Annual BBQ" on 16 October 2022 cost $11,160. 

Late filing

I had previously relied on her expense filings for the last quarter of 2023 and calculated there had been a 19% drop in her BBQ costs between 16 October 2022 and 22 October 2023. This was serious belt-tightening! 

But the inventive Gallagher Murphy went on to file a further $2,118 BBQ related expense claim in the first quarter of this year.

We now know the second “Annual BBQ” in 2023 was more expensive than the first. Up by a modest 3%.

These BBQ costs come out of Gallagher Murphy's "Office Operations" budget.

Waste of public money

Forget the figures. Personally, I think these BBQs are a disgraceful waste of public money – designed to butter up the voters. But, astonishingly, they are within the rules set by the Legislative Assembly.

If Gallagher Murphy had the brass neck, there’s no reason why she couldn’t spend $50,000 – or more - on her third annual BBQ in October 2024.

Last week, the full list of MPP expenses for 2023-2024 was posted on the Queen’s Park website by the Speaker, Ted Arnott. They cover the fiscal year to 31 March, an entire 12-month period. For MPPs elected for the first time at the last election - such as our own Dawn Gallagher Murphy - the expenses for 2022-2023 cover a shorter period from the election on 2 June 2022 – 31 March 2023.


Gallagher Murphy is allocated a pot of taxpayer money for the fiscal year. In her first ten months as an MPP she spent $235,496 on her global budget. Like all MPPs, she decides how the money is spent across the global budget’s four constituent categories. These are: 

(1) Support Staff. The explanatory notes to the Individual Members’ Expenses tell me this includes: Salaries paid to Queen's Park and Constituency office staff, includes funding for Members' staff who were away for extended sick leaves. In this category Gallagher Murphy spent $217,154 in the full year 2023-24 compared with $118,743 in the ten-month period in 2022-23.

2) Constituency Office Rent. This includes expenses such as rent, utilities and janitorial services. Gallagher Murphy spent $47,507 in 2023-24 in this category compared with $27,718 for the 10-month period in 2022-23.

(3) Office Operations. This includes expenditures for urban travel and Northern (N) Members travel, office supplies, advertising, staff travel, professional services, etc. In this category Gallagher Murphy spent $91,678 in 2023-24 compared with $46,921 in the 10-month period in 2022-23. Her BBQ costs come out of this budget.

(4) Communications. This includes postage, mail preparation and distribution, and printing, typesetting, artwork and photography for newsletters, flyers, and target mailings. In this category Gallagher Murphy spent $52,395 in 2023-24 compared with $42,115 in the billable 10-month period in 2022-23.

No breakdown

All this information is published annually in June, just before the Legislative Assembly rises for the summer break. There is no breakdown of costs within each of the above categories. The Federal Parliament has different rules and it is possible to easily find out how much our MP (currently Tony Van Bynen) spends on, say, advertising. The Queen’s Park regime does not have this level of granularity. We don’t know what Gallagher Murphy spends on advertising – but we see her everywhere, all the time. She is impossible to escape.

Most of her advertising is shameless self-promotion: congratulating people, opening things, handing out certificates. Gently reminding us we live in a wonderful Province under the beneficent guidance of Ford@Nation. 

But, when so instructed, she can be overtly political, recycling material straight out of Head Office. (See attack ad right)

Some expenses published quarterly

Information on travel expenses, hotel accommodation, meals and hospitality expenses is published four times a year, each covering a three month period. The releases are posted on the OLA website on 1 September, 1 December, 1 March and 1 June. 

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Below: Additional expense claims for the 22 October 2023 BBQ submitted by Dawn Gallagher Murphy for the January-March 2024 reporting period


Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner says her office has 19 active files concerning requests for records related to the Greenbelt – including my own.

The Commissioner, Patricia Kosseim, told Opposition Leader Marit Stiles on 21 May 2024 that once the appeals had been concluded:

“my office plans to publish a special report consolidating our findings and providing a comprehensive summary of our conclusions and insights into the access to information and record keeping issues relating to changes to the Greenbelt.”

She says:

“Transparency in government actions and decisions is a fundamental principle that underpins the public’s trust in government. Ensuring such actions are open to external scrutiny is essential to maintaining this trust and upholding the values that guide our work at the IPC.”

No Records

On Friday (31 May 2024) Southlake told me they have no records of the 24 January 2023 “follow-up” meeting to discuss the momentous earlier meeting on 1 November 2022 when developer Michael Rice offered lands in the Protected Greenbelt at Bathurst as the site of a new acute hospital.

I asked for sight of any records three months ago. 

King Township tells me they too have no records, only the invitation list:

Arden Krystal, then Chief Executive of Southlake; John Marshman, Southlake’s Vice President, Capital Facilities; Steve Pellegrini, Mayor of King and Daniel Kostopoulos, the Township’s Chief Administrative Officer.

Known Opportunity

Southlake’s Land Acquisition Sub Committee, chaired by John Marshman, met for the first time on 5 December 2022 and considered the one “known opportunity” for a new hospital development at Bathurst and Davis. 

On 16 January 2023 Southlake’s Peter Green convened a Microsoft Teams meeting to take the “known opportunity” forward. We now know from the invitation list that this meeting was a gathering of very important people – architects, planners, facilities experts, and, of course, Southlake’s top people on this file. The participants included Nathan Robinson, John Marshman, Krista Chroshuk, Marbara Miszkiel, Vlad Pavliuc, Chuck Wertheimer and Angela Sciberras.

It is reasonable to expect there would be some basic briefing documents, emails and other records given that we now know what was on the agenda. 

Long-term care facility & MZOs

They were discussing the location of the new hospital, the “fit test”, the incorporation of a new long-term care facility within the acute hospital complex and the possible application of Ministerial Zoning Orders. 

But, astonishingly, there are no records.

Not even a glancing reference to the proposed long-term care facility - only the agenda's Delphic "LTC fit". 

Long-term care hadn't been flagged up once by Southlake's top management when they were consulting the public on the hospital's Master Plan, their vision for the future.

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The UK General Election on 4 July 2024 is almost certain to result in a Labour landslide. The ruling Conservatives - who have had five Prime Ministers in the last decade – are predicted to get 66 MPs, down from the 376 elected at the last General Election in 2019. It will be a wipe-out and one that is richly deserved. 

For all its absurdities and distortions, the key virtue of First-Past-the-Post is that it allows disillusioned voters “to kick the bums out”. 

Trouble in the ranks

If Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, gets a towering majority next month – and sticks to his policy of smothering dissent in the Party – there will be trouble in the ranks.

In 1997 Tony Blair won by a landslide and believed he could walk on water. At the time I was a newly appointed PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary) to Cabinet Minister, Gavin Strang.

Within months of the election, the new Government, flexing its muscles, whipped Labour MPs to vote for cuts in lone parent benefit. We had never been consulted about this. It was not what my constituency wanted so I voted against – one of 47 Labour MPs who rebelled. It was career ending.

The cuts went through but the scale of the rebellion shocked 10 Downing Street and the Treasury. The policy was quietly reversed the following year.

Squashing dissent

Writing in the UK’s Guardian last week, the celebrated diarist Chris Mullin reminds us of the dangers of overbearing Party leaders squashing dissent wherever they find it. 

The realisation that a single unwise tweet, however ancient, or even the mildest dissent from the official line, can be career-ending will have a chilling effect on debate within the party… all healthy governments need a degree of internal challenge. In governments of all parties, unwise or downright foolish initiatives are often quietly junked before they see the light of day as a result of threatened backbench rebellions…”

He goes on: 

“And who with the benefit of hindsight can say that the 139 Labour MPs (I was one) who rebelled over the government’s decision to help the US invade Iraq were wrong? Had he listened, Tony Blair’s reputation would not now be stained by the shadow of Iraq.”

I, too, voted against the war in Iraq. 

At the time Chris and I were members of a small Committee - elected by Labour MPs - who met Tony Blair weekly on Wednesdays to discuss the Government’s agenda. On 5 February 2003, I put forward a critical motion on the Government’s line on Iraq, backed by the late Tony Lloyd, but our concerns were dismissed.

Dissident and enforcer

In his marvellously entertaining diaries Chris writes about his experiences as a backbench MP and as a junior Minister in three Departments. He was famously a dissident but there were times when he, too, enforced the Government’s line.

I vividly remember Chris raging at me during a pre-meeting for Labour MPs on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. At the time he was a junior minister in the Department of the Environment responsible with Michael Meacher for shepherding the Bill through the Commons. He furiously demanded I withdraw an amendment I had tabled to the Bill to ban foxhunting. The amendment was backed by over 100 Labour MPs. The Clerks had assured me the amendment could happily sit within the CROW Bill and was procedurally in order.


I had been working for ages to get the Government to act on foxhunting and – along with the vast majority of Labour MPs - I was fed-up with Blair’s endless foot-dragging. Any number of Bills on foxhunting, promoted by private members, had foundered. It needed the Government itself to act. 

Chris – usually mild-mannered and even tempered - raged at the top of his voice that my amendment would scupper the Bill that Michael had been determinedly working on, in the teeth of opposition from Number 10. I didn’t believe for one moment that my amendment would kill the Bill. 

Chris insisted it had to be withdrawn immediately. Michael Meacher, in the chair, just looked on. 


I said I would withdraw my New Clause 5, which was scheduled for consideration at Report Stage when the Bill returned to the floor of the Commons, but on one condition - that the Government would announce from the Despatch Box that it would bring in its own Bill to ban foxhunting.

Which is what happened.

Had he not been a Government Minister at the time, Chris, whom I like very much, would have been proud of me.

The clash was a moment of high drama for me but the exchange didn't make it into Chris's Diary: "A View from the Foothills". Happily I got quite a few other mentions, but not the one that counted.

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Click "read more" below for CBC's Aaron Wherry's newsletter earlier today where he talks about dissent in the Canadian House of Commons. And Parliamentary reform.

This morning’s Toronto Star tells us there will finally be beer and wine in corner stores after Labour Day thanks to a $225 million payout to the privately-run Beer Store. 

So, at long last, Doug Ford is delivering on his stale 2018 promise that convenience stores should be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks from September. 

Almost six years ago, on 7 August 2018, Ford’s deputy, Christine Elliott, told the Ontario legislature:

“Buck-a-beer is part of the government’s commitment to transforming alcohol retailing in Ontario, which includes expanding the sale of beer and wine to convenience stores, grocery stores and big box stores. This is just further evidence that our government is going to do what we said we would do, and that’s put Ontario consumers first.”

I am left wondering... Whatever happened to Buck-a-Beer? 


I remember meeting Christine Elliott in the summer of 2019 to discuss Ford’s buck-a-beer policy. Our current MPP, Dawn Gallagher Murphy, then Elliott’s Office Manager, was sitting in, taking notes.

It was clear to me from the outset that Elliott didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Gallagher Murphy, sat silently, pen in hand. 

Now, incessantly, Gallagher Murphy parrots the message from FordNation - whatever the topic.

Soviet Style

Personally, I'm all in favour of liberalising the market in alcohol. But not the Ford way.

When I first arrived in Canada it struck me as completely weird that wines and spirits could only be purchased in a special store designated as such by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. This way of shopping seemed straight out of the Soviet Union.


That said, Ford’s move to liberalise the market has been boneheaded and cack-handed, burning through hundreds of millions of tax dollars. And for what? 

So that Ford can meet a self-imposed deadline to deliver on his tired, endlessly recycled promise?

Or to get another headline?

Both. I suppose.

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Update on 27 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Ford is betting that beer will help him win an early election

Update on 28 May 2024: From the Toronto Star: Tory Insiders say fear of a Pierre Poilievre has Doug Ford considering an early election

Update on 31 May 2024: Toronto Star editorial: No need to rush booze to corner stores