Joanne Sytsma is used to seeing Steve Clark out shaking hands and meeting constituents.
Sytsma owns the Village Store in Athens, Ont., and Clark is her local MPP. She personally opposed the controversial Greenbelt land swaps in the GTA that — after scathing reports from the province's auditor general and the integrity commissioner — prompted Clark's resignation as housing minister on Monday.
Even so, it hasn't changed her opinion of the man.
"Steve has done a lot for the community," Sytsma said Monday. "I've known him for years and years and years. He's a good man."
Last year, Clark won re-election with 57.8 per cent of the vote in Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, south of Ottawa and just east of Kingston, Ont.
In a statement announcing his departure from cabinet, he said he plans to stay on as MPP for the riding.
"I think he can still maintain his role as our MPP," said Sytsma, who doubts the controversy will hurt his chances for a fifth full term, should he seek it.
Several mayors from communities across the riding agree.
Roger Haley, mayor of the Township of Front of Yonge, said Clark "has always served his riding well" and he expects him to continue to do so.
Prescott, Ont., Mayor Gauri Shankar told CBC by email he's glad Clark will remain in office "to advocate for all his constituents."
"At some point in the future, when the political roles are reversed, I hope everyone remembers what accountability looks like," Shankar said.
Clark, right, looks on as former Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak delivers a speech during the 2011 election. Clark has been the local MPP since winning a 2010 byelection. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)
'He had little choice'
Clark has a long history in local politics.
In 1982, the then 22-year-old became Canada's youngest mayor at the time when he was elected by residents of Brockville, Ont., fresh out of university.
He served three terms, and was later chief administrative officer of the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands.
He was first elected MPP for the former riding of Leeds–Grenville in a 2010 byelection and has served four terms at Queen's Park.
Brant Burrow, mayor of the Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley, said that while he was saddened by news of Clark's resignation, he believed he made the right choice.
Public trust is at an all-time low, and to do anything but what Steve did today ... would just contribute to that erosion of public trust. - Brant Burrow, mayor of the Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley
"It's still a sad day when somebody who has spent a lifetime serving a community very well — and serving a province well for the last several years — reaches a point where he feels that, for the greater good, he has to resign," said Burrow.
"Public trust is at an all-time low, and to do anything but what Steve did today, I think, would just contribute to that erosion of public trust," he added. "I just think that he ended up in a position where he had little choice."
Clark's resignation comes after Ontario's integrity commissioner found that he failed to properly oversee a "rushed and flawed process" that led to Greenbelt lands being selected for housing development.
Burrow, a member of the federal Conservative Party of Canada but not the provincial PCs, said he accepts the commissioner's conclusion.
But he said any mistakes Clark made as housing minister should be considered separately from his role as a local MPP.
"The integrity commissioner has indicated that as a minister he should have had his eye more on the ball. Fair enough," Burrow said. "Everyone should accept that at face value. But that was in his role as a minister, not an MPP."
Burrow said he has "every confidence" in Clark's decision to keep representing the riding, and that Clark has been effective at advocating for local issues and getting results.
"I can't think of anything that he's done as an MPP that should warrant him stepping down, and basically stepping aside from his responsibilities that the voters gave him at the last ballot box," said Burrow.
"He still knows a lot of people in the cabinet, and I'm sure he'll still be able to continue the good work that he's done for us over the past many years."