Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s controversial Greenbelt land swaps felled another cabinet minister Wednesday, with Kaleed Rasheed resigning after news reports raised questions about his connections to a developer.
Ford’s office said Wednesday afternoon that the premier and Rasheed agreed that he would resign as minister of public and business service delivery and from the Progressive Conservative caucus.
“If Mr. Rasheed can clear his name through the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, he will be provided an opportunity to return to caucus,” the premier’s office wrote in a statement.
Rasheed said he made the “incredibly difficult” decision to resign in order to not distract from the government’s work.
“I look forward to taking the steps required to clear my name with the Integrity Commissioner so that I can return to the Ontario PC team as soon as possible,” he wrote in a statement, noting he’d continue serving as the MPP for Missisauga East-Cooksville.
Rasheed’s resignation came after reporting from CTV and the Trillium called into question the timeline about a trip to Las Vegas.
The province’s integrity commissioner in his investigation into controversial Greenbelt land swaps interviewed Rasheed about the trip after the Trillium reported that Rasheed travelled there with Amin Massoudi, then Ford’s principal secretary, and at the same time as developer Shakir Rehmatullah.
Rehmatullah’s company owns land that was among the parcels removed from the protected Greenbelt in November 2022 for housing development.
The integrity commissioner’s investigation into that decision found that then-housing minister Steve Clark failed to oversee his chief of staff, who led the process that improperly favoured certain developers. Clark resigned his cabinet post days after the commissioner’s report was released.
Rasheed, Massoudi and Jae Truesdell – at the time in the private sector but who now serves as Ford’s director of housing policy – told the integrity commissioner they went to Las Vegas in December 2019. Rasheed and Massoudi “briefly encountered” Rehmatullah there, they said.
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Massoudi told the integrity commissioner he had only met Rehmatullah a handful of times, including at the wedding of Ford’s daughter, but Rasheed said he and Rehmatullah are close friends and Rasheed’s wife worked for the developer.
Rehmatullah said he was in Las Vegas in December 2019 and late January to early February 2020 and recalled seeing Rasheed in a hotel lobby on one of the trips.
CTV News reported this week that Rasheed, Rehmatullah and Massoudi got massages on Feb. 1, 2020 at the same Las Vegas hotel spa. A spokesperson for Rasheed told the outlet the trip was originally booked for December 2019 but got rescheduled and Rasheed “mistakenly” shared incorrect information with the integrity commissioner based on the original itinerary.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the revelations are “very serious.”
“It’s time that (Ford) took some responsibility here and come clean about what he knows about this government’s relationship to developers and how that impacted the latest land swaps around the Greenbelt,” she said.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said it was notable that Ford’s former principal secretary and current director of housing policy were on the same trip at the centre of Rasheed’s removal from cabinet.
“All roads lead to the premier’s office in this $8.3 billion backroom deal that benefited Doug Ford’s friends and fundraisers,” Fraser wrote in a statement.
Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.
Last year, the province took 7,400 acres of land in more than a dozen sections out of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes and replaced it with about 9,400 acres elsewhere.
More than 90 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt was in five sites passed on to Clark’s then-chief of staff Ryan Amato by two developers he met at an industry event, the auditor general found in her own Greenbelt investigation. The property owners stand to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, she said.
Even though the ministry had received about 630 Greenbelt site removal requests since 2005, a team of civil servants struck by Amato were limited to looking at 22 sites, all but one of which were brought forward by him, the auditor general found.
Amato resigned two weeks after the auditor’s report. He said in his resignation letter he is confident he acted appropriately but that he didn’t want to be a distraction to the government’s work of getting housing built.
The RCMP is reviewing information to determine whether it should investigate the Greenbelt land swap. Ford has said he is confident nothing criminal took place.
Ford earlier this month announced a new review of the whole Greenbelt, including looking at the sites that were removed.
Premier Doug Ford meets with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow at Queen’s Park
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