LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Wednesday 26 October 2022 Mercredi 26 octobre 2022
Report continued from volume A.
More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 / Loi de 2022 visant à accélérer la construction de plus de logements
Continuation of debate on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 23, An Act to amend various statutes, to revoke various regulations and to enact the Supporting Growth and Housing in York and Durham Regions Act, 2022 / Projet de loi 23, Loi modifiant diverses lois, abrogeant divers règlements et édictant la Loi de 2022 visant à soutenir la croissance et la construction de logements dans les régions de York et de Durham.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Niagara Centre.
Mr. Jeff Burch: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act. Before I start, I’d just like to thank all of the municipal candidates across Ontario, people who stepped forward to put their name forward. It’s a difficult time to be a politician. We’re talking about housing now, and all of these recently elected municipal officials are going to have to deal with housing and many other difficult issues over the next four years, so congratulations to everyone, whether they were elected or not in Ontario.
This is the fourth housing bill I’ve spoken about in this House, and as I was listening to some of my friends on the other side talking about, “You have to do something different”—giving developers a break and ignoring affordability is not something different for this government. It’s what we’ve been hearing for the last four years.
We just received the bill last evening, Speaker, so there are many portions of the bill that we’re still analyzing and getting feedback on. I want to once again thank our great housing critic from University–Rosedale for doing an excellent job on very short notice. I know I got notice for the strong-mayors bill at about 11 o’clock the night before, so I know how difficult it is to try to digest a bill and get something done in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately, that’s kind of the way that this government has been doing business, so congratulations on a great job to our housing critic.
In this House, I think we can all agree that one of the biggest issues we hear in our communities is housing and affordability. It certainly is for me. Wages are stagnant, but the price of gas, groceries and housing continues to rise. In Niagara, in my riding, a modest one-bedroom in Welland is going for about $1,400 a month. A basement one-bedroom apartment in Port Colborne is about $1,300 a month. This is consistent across the province. Rents have risen across Ontario over the past 20 years, particularly since 2011, and despite all of the housing bills we’ve seen, the problem has gotten worse and worse and worse since the government was elected in 2018. And I know that they will say, “Well, it takes time,” but it has been over four years, and what we’ve seen is a problem that has gotten worse and worse, not better.
Shortly after the government was elected, they eliminated rent control on new units, so there’s no legal limit set on how much landlords can charge in rent for new builds that are occupied for the first time after November 2018. That was certainly not something that helped renters.
And we continue to see things put forward in these bills that don’t help renters; they actually make things more difficult.
As was mentioned earlier, one of the planners in Toronto told the evening news yesterday that it’s open season on tenants in Toronto. They see some real issues with rising rents as a result of this bill.
The government media around the bill suggests that it’s a solution for the housing supply crisis. We all agree that we need to build more homes, and we all agree—or at least, we agree on this side that we need to build more affordable homes. We keep pointing out that there’s a difference between homes and homes people can afford. You can’t just look at supply. You have to look at demand. What is the demand out there? We seem to keep feeding the demand for what are being referred to as McMansions and not the demand for affordable units. That’s why things are getting worse and worse. So where we frequently disagree in this House is around how to increase the supply of homes people can afford.
In a ministry briefing yesterday, the government outlined that the proposed changes would provide a development charge exemption for the development of affordable housing units, and they defined affordable housing units as ones where the rent is no greater than 80% of the average market rent. My colleague addressed this, in terms of the definition of affordability, and I can tell you that 80% of a vastly unaffordable unit is still unaffordable.
In Niagara, we’re seeing people spend upwards of 60% of their take-home income on housing, and that’s on the poverty line.
It’s not just rentals that are unattainable. It’s nearly impossible for the people of this province to enter the housing market as first-time homebuyers without support from friends or family.
According to the Niagara Workforce Planning Board, in March 2020 Niagara’s average home price was $450,000. In March 2021, it had increased by over 37%, to $620,000. This annual increase in local housing costs outpaced wage increases of the average worker by five times. To put that in perspective, in 2017, the average home price was just under $330,000, so in five years in my area home prices doubled. This is clearly unsustainable. It puts home ownership, even rent, out of reach for so many people in our communities.
I respect the fact that the government is putting forward legislation on housing. We agree that we need more supply, and as my colleague pointed out, there are things in this bill that will increase supply. There’s no doubt about that. But to date, the government continues to ignore the recommendations of their own Housing Affordability Task Force.
A core recommendation of the housing task force was to eliminate exclusionary zoning and allow missing middle housing of up to four storeys everywhere that single detached homes are allowed. Yesterday, in a ministry briefing that we were in, it was confirmed that this bill does not end exclusionary zoning and does not enable missing middle housing in the way that this side of the House or, certainly, the Housing Affordability Task Force has proposed. Once again, there are things that will increase missing middle housing, but certainly not enough to make the kind of dent in this problem that we think needs to happen.
The bill simply provides an incremental change to an existing provision of the Planning Act that currently requires official plans to allow homeowners to add an additional unit to an existing structure; for example, adding a basement apartment or adding an ancillary unit which can be a converted garage or a laneway house. This change means that official plans must allow for up to three units within an existing structure, but it wouldn’t allow, for example, a replacement of a bungalow with a three-storey duplex.
The official plan provisions also aren’t accompanied by any zoning changes, so even minor changes to an existing structure could require a lot of jumping through hoops. That’s one issue where this bill could actually make things more difficult in terms of the missing middle.
Housing experts say that we need to move well beyond what’s being referred to as “tall and sprawl,” and this bill does not address those concerns, as my colleague pointed out. Our concern here is that this is another government housing bill that does not treat the housing issue for really what it is, which is a crisis in terms of affordability.
In Niagara, the wait-list for an affordable unit in Thorold, where I live, is 13 years; in Welland, you’re waiting from three to 16 years; in St. Catharines, three to 16 years. In Niagara Falls, you could be looking at an 18-year-long wait for affordable housing through the region. In London, nearly 6,000 people are waiting for subsidized housing, which is a 20% increase in two years. More than 22,000 Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon households are on the wait-list for affordable housing. The wait-list for an affordable unit with Niagara Regional Housing is more than 9,000 households right now. This is clearly an unacceptable situation which is getting worse, and ignoring the issue of affordability is not going to make it better.
In a policy brief by Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory entitled Looking Ahead and Looking Up: Affordable Housing in Niagara, Dr. Heritz outlined that less than 7% of new housing across Ontario in the past 20 has been designated as a rental. And that number is not getting better over the course of this government. Rental prices have increased 10% to 15% while incomes have not kept pace. Some 56% of renters can’t afford an average two-bedroom apartment.
Experts in the field say that the housing crisis is a perfect storm. Jamie Miller, director of community investment with United Way Niagara, agrees that wages remain one of the biggest issues contributing to poverty in Niagara. In an article in the St. Catharines Standard just this week, she said, “We’ll hear that quite often: ‘There are so many jobs, people can just go out and get a job.’ But the reality is that the conditions in a lot of the jobs that are available, and the wages, can’t support an individual to live, to meet their basic needs and not have to experience poverty.” This is having a huge impact, as the workforce planning board in my area told me, on businesses, because businesses, of course, are competing for employees and are under pressure to provide enough wages so that they can afford to live—affordable, living wages so that they can afford rent. If rents continue to increase at the rate they are, that puts a huge pressure on business as well.
In August, I brought the story of Barry Smith, a constituent in Welland, in my riding, to the attention of the House. It’s a fairly typical story, actually. Barry was faced with a single ODSP income. His wife was diagnosed with a lung disorder and is now disabled. She applied for ODSP, but because of health care backlogs, she was stuck waiting for a doctor’s report. They have lived in their home in Welland for 10 years. They’ve never been late on their rent, never had any problems. Now they have to move because the landlord says they’re renovating and moving in. Their rent was $1,000 a month. They’ve looked and looked and have been turned down by property management companies over and over. One such place was a basement apartment renting for $1,600 a month, but the requirements were a credit score of 700.
These are real stories of people looking for housing in our communities. Many of them—and more so over the last few months—I’m seeing in my community are actually ending up on the street.
This government continues to let people on ODSP live well below the poverty line, bringing in less money per month than it costs to find an apartment. This is the fourth housing bill from this government that does not build affordable housing for people, to compound the problem.
This year, Ontario’s revenue was $31.1 billion higher than expected. The government has said it ended the 2021-22 fiscal year with a $2.1-billion surplus. There’s an opportunity there to build affordable units so people like Barry and the thousands of people on the wait-list for a unit can have a safe, affordable place to live. Social housing is nowhere in this bill and that’s a real travesty, Speaker.
I want to touch a moment on conservation authorities. A portion of this bill that actually surprised me was the gutting of the scope of conservation authorities. Bill 23 repeals 36 specific regulations that allow conservation authorities to be a partner in the development process and ensure that developments are thoughtful and done with respect for our environment, and that endangered species are protected.
One of the changes is that Ontario’s conservation authorities will no longer be able to consider pollution and conservation of land. Imagine that: A conservation authority can no longer consider pollution and conservation of land. In a ministry briefing yesterday, we were informed that conservation authorities would only be able to comment on items related to the protection of people and property and their specific hazard role. They can’t comment on anything beyond the scope of the hazard. That’s a huge gutting of conservation authorities’ scope.
When we asked what conservation authorities currently provide input on that they would no longer be able to, we were told “observations of species at risk and natural heritage systems.” Those are examples that we were given. Natural heritage systems, Speaker, are sections of land that allow plants and animals to move from one area to another. Removing natural heritage systems means plants and animals cannot survive. This is, I would suggest, an unacceptable price to pay for development and goes way too far.
The bill further asks conservation authorities to identify any authority-owned land that “could support housing development and get more homes built faster.” So they’re asking to identify land currently part of conservation that they can build homes on. Why would we build on conservation areas when Ontario is home to the largest number of brownfields? I raise this a lot when I speak because when I was a city councillor, I was in an area that was a former industrial area and had all kinds of brownfields. With incentives that were provided both from the federal and provincial governments, many of those brownfields were remediated and turned into housing that was actually quite affordable. It’s a huge opportunity. Most people wouldn’t believe the amount of land in Ontario that’s classified as brownfield, and cleaning that up will also provide areas that could be used for affordable housing and other forms of housing.
In the few minutes I have left, I want to touch on the official planning. Schedule 6 of this bill would remove the planning responsibilities in upper-tier municipalities in the greater Golden Horseshoe. Now, in the More Homes for Everyone Act, this government required municipalities to refund re-zoning application fees if they failed to make a decision within 90 days, with refunds starting at 50%, rising to 75% after 150 days and 100% after 210 days. My friend from Oshawa just raised this. There are consequences for municipalities in this bill that fail to approve a site plan application within the deadlines. But these rules ignore evidence that many builders are refusing to build despite having all the municipal approvals and permits that they need to get started.
The Big City Mayors’ Caucus claims their member cities approved permits for 250,000 units prior to 2019 that have not yet been built. And there are already concerns expressed in the media last night, I heard, that with the current state of the economy, many developers will actually be pressured to sit on their land until the economy improves. That’s going to be a natural disincentive for developers. A sunset clause where developers have to build in a certain amount of time seems only fair when this government is constantly blaming municipalities for all of the problems with housing.
In the couple minutes I have left—it’s gone quickly—I want to talk a bit about stakeholder response. The bill follows a long tradition of this government not consulting with their municipal partners on the strong-mayor legislation, which was tabled just after the election, and before the municipal election there was no consultation with mayors. The mayor of Ottawa found out about it in the media, and it appears again there’s no municipal consultation on a bill that vastly impacts their operations.
In a press release, AMO commented, “AMO is encouraged to see the province focus on increasing supply, including building more affordable and purpose-built rental housing. However, we are concerned that the province is proposing to exert more centralized control over local planning decisions and limit public consultation and appeals through this plan.
“In AMO’s view, the proposed changes to municipal development charges, parkland dedication levies and community benefits charges may contradict the goal of building more housing in the long term. Unless fully offset by funding to support growth-related projects, reductions in these fees will shift the financial burden of growth-related infrastructure onto existing municipal taxpayers.
“Many of the proposed changes need to be better understood, as they seem to transfer risk from private developers to the public. At first glance these changes seem punitive in nature—at a time where staffing shortages of planners, building officials and skilled labour are a key factor beyond the control of municipal governments.” I think that says it right there and many of the same concerns expressed with the strong-mayor legislation.
Tom Mrakas, the mayor of Aurora, had a look at the bill and said, “Aurora is not Toronto or Mississauga or Brampton. We are a small community where these types of ‘as of right’ decisions will have a devastating impact on our community. Instead of giving municipalities the tools necessary to incentivize the building of attainable housing, we have instead found ourselves being bludgeoned with Toronto centric-planning legislation yet again.” And we’re expecting much more from our municipal partners which I’m sure we’ll hear about in committee.
In conclusion, Speaker, we’re still in the process of gathering feedback on this legislation—the feedback the government should have gathered prior to its introduction. Once again, I’d urge the government to implement the recommendations of its own task force. We have an opportunity to improve the quality of life of the people of this province. We can invest in the delivery of new, affordable and non-market homes if we choose, and these investments don’t have to be at the expense of endangered species, wetlands and conservation areas.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Member for Kitchener–Conestoga.
Mr. Mike Harris: Thank you to the member from Niagara Centre for his comments here today. There’s one thing that he touched on that I’m very interested to get some feedback on. He talked about the Big City Mayors’ Caucus, saying that they have all kinds of land set aside for development. Well, in Waterloo region some of that land includes a parking lot for a rec centre in Wilmot township that is set aside to be slated to be developed. They’ve included this in their regional plan going forward over the next few years, which, if you drive by in Baden on any given weekend, that parking lot is full, so I’m not really sure where they’re going to put that housing—and directly adjacent to the landfill in Waterloo region, and we’re talking about directly adjacent.
So I’m curious to know if he thinks people would want to live in those areas and whether there’s an opportunity for the province to step in and help municipalities actually move forward with plausible plans for growth.
Mr. Jeff Burch: That’s a very specific example that obviously I’m just hearing for the first time, so it’s a little difficult to answer a question like that in this format.
My experience is that people who are desperate to find a place to live, especially people who are homeless, would probably say yes to that offer if they had a roof over their head and some food on the table, but it would depend on who you’re asking is looking for a home. But I would be happy if the member wants to give me a call to give him some advice.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Member from Nickel Belt.
Mme France Gélinas: Thank you to my colleague from Niagara Centre for his 20 minutes—very interesting.
I have two quick questions for him. The first one is, did he see anything in the bill that would help the people I serve and the people all over who are on wait-lists for subsidized housing, which are longer than a decade in my riding? It is impossible to get into subsidized housing without having your name on the list for over 10 years—often 12, often 16.
The most beautiful piece of land in Sudbury is on Paris Street, overlooking Ramsey Lake. It is just beautiful. The developer that has this piece of land—there’s an old hospital on it—has had it for more than 12 years and has done nothing with it except invite a whole bunch of rats to move in. Is there anything in the bill to help that?
Mr. Jeff Burch: Thank you to my colleague for the questions.
On subsidized housing: There is nothing in the bill that I saw. We only had one night to go over it, so it’s tough to find everything, but I don’t think that there is. I outlined some of the problems in my area of wait-lists of up to 20 years for housing, so clearly there’s a huge need there.
On the second situation, I’m not aware of anything either. I touched on a sunset clause, as my friend from Oshawa did. I can admit that there may be some benefit to putting some caps on how long municipalities take—I used to be a councillor; I dealt with those issues myself—but why would we also not require developers to do their part? If they’ve gone to all the expense of getting approvals, let’s make them follow through with those in a reasonable period of time.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Brampton West.
Mr. Amarjot Sandhu: Thank you to the member opposite for his comments.
Madam Speaker, as someone who came to this country as an international student, I have first-hand experience in how difficult it is to afford a house, especially for newcomers and younger generations. Time and time again, we have heard stories from members of the opposition—heartbreaking stories about constituents who are not able to afford a house, and also lectures on affordability. But there was no action from the previous government on making life affordable for all Ontarians. This is a piece of legislation that will make life affordable for all Ontarians, that will allow younger generations and newcomers to afford a house in Ontario.
My question to the member opposite is simple. Madam Speaker, through you: Can we count on your support, or will you default to the typical answer of no?
Mr. Jeff Burch: Thank you, my friend, for the question. I can’t answer that question because we’re still going through the bill.
In terms of the concern about newcomers, that’s the field I came from before I was elected to this place—running a settlement agency, a multicultural centre. I can tell you that it’s a huge issue that both sides of this House need to work on—helping newcomers at least get into a position where they can afford a home. I can say that no one works harder than newcomers when it comes to finding a job and saving up money and putting themselves in that position. So that’s something we should all be looking at. We should look at foreign credential recognition and pathways to citizenship and things like that, which are things that, to be fair, your government hasn’t moved on.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
MPP Jamie West: Thank you to the member from Niagara Centre. I was making a lot of notes, as you were speaking, on the stats about Niagara, and I think you said the cost of a house rose from $400,000 to just over $600,000. I didn’t get the exact number. Again and again, we keep talking about the importance of building affordable houses—houses people can afford, rent people can afford. So if this bill enables, let’s say, 10,000 houses to be built that are now $600,000, how many affordable houses is that in your riding?
Mr. Jeff Burch: Well, for the vast majority of people, it’s none. Really, it comes down to mathematics. We know what a living wage is. We know what housing prices are. We know how housing factors into the calculations for a living wage, and we know what people can afford. There’s no mystery to any of that. All the numbers and stats are out there, and the fact of the matter is, what we really need is for the government to step up to the plate and do its share—it’s not even doing its share compared to the federal government right now in building homes for folks—and part of that has to be an emphasis on co-operative builds and social housing as well so that we can meet that need.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mrs. Robin Martin: Thank you to the member opposite for his contribution to the debate today.
I want to just say how proud I am of this government for bringing this issue forward. Housing is so important to everybody. This is not the first bill we’ve brought forward on housing, and I really do think that this government in the last term and now has changed the whole debate about housing, and now other people are coming on side who were before opposing those housing developments.
What I wanted to ask my friend is—I think it’s so important that we build more so that we have less expensive housing. It’s a demand-supply equation, so if we have more supply, then we’ll have lower prices, because you have more supply. That’s basic economics. So I wanted to ask my friend—he was complaining about not having enough affordable housing in the question, said we didn’t recognize what it really is, an affordability crisis—don’t you think having more supply is going to help address the affordability issue?
Mr. Jeff Burch: I appreciate the question. Supply is one of the factors that goes into affordability and the problem is that the government is pretending that it’s 100% of the factors that go into affordability, and it’s not. I heard some interesting discussion yesterday on a talk show, actually, about developers and how they decide whether to build. Developers are going to go where the math makes sense. So I understand that that’s one of the considerations of the government, but right now, for developers, they’re not incentivized to build affordable housing, and that’s something your government has failed to do. So while you are doing things that do increase some of the supply, you’re not doing anything on the demand side to increase the supply of affordable housing.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. John Fraser: I’ll be sharing my time with the member from Kingston and the Islands.
It’s a pleasure to get up and debate late afternoon—I love late afternoon debates because everyone is so chipper and engaged—
Mr. John Fraser: There we go. We found one. I’m only going to make the situation worse.
I was really excited when I was reading about this bill in the newspaper before it came forward and I think, look, there’s some stuff that was in our platform, there’s some things that I can support, and we all want to build more affordable housing—we know we need to. We know we need to do that for families, but we know we need to do that for the economy, because if you don’t have a place to live, it’s pretty hard to hold down a job.
And then we’ve got the bill, and it should be like you see sometimes on those television advertisements that come up that say, “Product may differ from what appears.” It should have that on the bottom of the bill. So it’s kind of disappointing. There are some good things in there, but I want to talk about—and I know my colleagues over here to my right have been talking about this—to my left, but anyway—
Mr. John Fraser: You got it? Okay, good. It’s late afternoon.
I don’t understand why you would want to punch a hole in city budgets by taking development charges away from them and not committing to backfill. And I heard the minister today say, “Well, they’ve got tons of reserves. Toronto has got $2 billion in reserves.” Now the minister was a mayor and he knows what the word “reserve” means. It means “held aside for a project that you’re doing”—a road, expansion, a park, expanded sewage. But he talks about it like, “Hey, they’ve got $2.5 billion of funny money that they could just dip into any time and everything will just magically—poof, pixie dust—go away.” It’s not going to happen.
So when you punch that hole in the budget on development charges, how are they going to pay for it? Does anybody know how they are going to pay for it? How are the cities going to pay for it? Does anybody want to say it out loud?
Mr. John Fraser: Property taxes. So we’re in an affordability crisis and the government has been saying, “Well, cities might have to increase your”—
Ms. Sandy Shaw: Property taxes.
Mr. John Fraser: —“property taxes”—thank you—“for these projects that they’re no longer able to get money for because the province isn’t backfilling them.” That’s pretty disappointing. If this was cereal, it would be like: It looked really sugary, but it tasted like sawdust when the municipalities got it. I think that’s a big hole.
Conservation authorities: It’s unclear whether that’s going to be an effective change or whether that’s just simply getting them out of the way. They do serve a purpose; they protect our watersheds. So we have to be very careful when we start messing around with that.
I’m going to ask this question again, so maybe the members opposite can answer this question that I’m going to ask right now in questions and answers: Why are we changing it to attainable housing? Why are we saying “attainable” instead of “affordable”? Why all of a sudden are we moving towards another word? What exactly does that mean? Why do we need another word? What’s the point? Is “affordable” no good anymore? Is “affordable” not what we want? I think that’s what everybody wants. I’m not going to say to my constituents, “I want you to have an ‘attainable’ house, which means maybe you can just get there. Maybe you have to shave off on the groceries, but you’re going to get an ‘attainable’ house.”
Look, it could be totally benign; it just doesn’t feel that way. It feels like you’re trying to change the definition of affordable housing by using a different word. I don’t think that really helps people. I really want to be able to vote for this bill, but you’re making it really, really hard for anybody over here to support it. You oversold it, and now when we look at it, we go, “Actually, they’re not doing the things they need to do to make this thing work.” So don’t sell it as wholesale, big change when it’s just really more incrementalism. There’s nothing wrong with incrementalism—but not right now; it’s not a good idea. We need to do more. Sometimes it takes a while to get there. But don’t say you’re in a hurry when you’re baby-stepping towards whatever it is you’re doing.
The three most important things we can do for people right now, as a government, as all of us in here, is to make sure that we can help people stay healthy; that they can have an affordable—affordable—and safe place to live; and that they can put food on the table. The thing we’re talking about today is this thing in the middle. The thing that’s missing right now—and I’m not going to demand to have this in the bill—is that we need a return to real rent control, and tenants and small landlords need reform. They are bidding on apartments—not houses; they are bidding on rentals in Toronto, in Ottawa. I have a friend who saw a place that she said wasn’t very good, and then it went for $400 a month over asking. How is that affordable? Actually, how is that even attainable? I know that’s not the purpose of this bill, but it’s something we have to address.
I will yield to my colleague from Kingston and the Islands.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member for Kingston.
M. Ted Hsu: Ce projet de loi 23 et ses règlements ont été déposés hier soir, donc on n’a pas eu beaucoup de temps pour digérer complètement ce projet de loi.
I’m looking forward to the debate developing in the following days as stakeholders across the province weigh in. One thing I’ll just mention right now is that I’m very interested in seeing what people say about—it looks like the Ontario wetlands evaluation system is being gutted, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Ministry of Natural Resources scientist positions, if they’re at risk or not. I would be interested in finding out what happens to that over the course of the next few days as we discover what this bill really implies.
Housing and the cost of housing have been the most important issues in the riding of Kingston and the Islands in the last five years or so. In 2019, I was asked by the mayor of Kingston to co-chair his housing task force. Interestingly enough, the other co-chair on the housing task force eventually became my opponent in the June election; she was the president of the NDP at the time. I’m very glad that some of the recommendations in our task force report have been adopted by this government. It has also adopted some measures in the Ontario Liberal election platform.
There are some good things in this bill, but I want to look at the big picture. This bill is incentivizing developers to build housing that we need. But we not only have resources on government balance sheets but resources in the real economy that we can use to lower the cost of housing. I want to explain what I mean by that.
If you walk around some neighbourhoods in my city of Kingston, you will find that there are certain neighbourhoods where old small houses, like bungalows, are being demolished right now to build big houses. Now, it’s great to have elegant houses in normal times, but right now, we’re in a crisis—I think we have to acknowledge that we’re in a crisis—and there’s nothing in this bill to disincentivize this activity of demolishing small houses and building large houses without actually increasing the number of homes for people. So there are labour and materials which are not being used to deal with this crisis. If you really believe there’s a crisis, I think you have to shift resources in the real economy.
Another example of that: renovation. There’s a serious issue of renovictions that many are feeling. Again, here, it’s to upgrade or upscale the quality of rentals. But if you’re in a crisis, it’s important to remember one way that housing becomes more affordable is that it gets older. The price of it falls down over time, relative to the average market price, because it’s getting older, and a lot of people who have lower incomes rely on that to find an affordable place to live. This bill doesn’t deal with that.
Another thing we could do is talk about new builds. I once talked to a developer in Kingston. I said, “Why aren’t you building smaller units?” Actually, landlords like that because, within a given area, if you put in more apartments, more doors, landlords actually end up making more rent from the same area. So I asked the developer, “Why don’t you do that, because the landlord is going to pay you more to build that?” And he said, “Well, I don’t think that’s what the market wants.” His point was he thought that it would be easier to sell the apartments if they were bigger because, he thought, that’s what the market wants. But I think we’re in a crisis, and I think we’re ready to admit that in order to find the housing that we need for people, we should be aligning the incentives for developers to build smaller units that are more modest and cost less. That’s part of the missing middle.
I’ll just mention here that this current bill focuses on converting existing housing into up to three units, as of right, but it doesn’t really address the idea that new housing should also be smaller and have more units per square metre.
Finally, let me just say that immediately affordable housing—so not just 80% below the market rate, but really deeply affordable housing that is needed by households in the lowest quintile of housing. That housing, if you do the economic analysis, which our mayor’s task force did, cannot be built by the private sector. Really, governments have to step in and provide financing.
There’s a really great example in Kingston where the government provided financing for affordable housing. The project was built—it had a 3% internal rate of return, which actually is what the city of Kingston was paying to borrow funds. If you’re willing to not accept the market rates of return and you’re willing just to have a rate of return equal to your cost of borrowing, you can actually—because you get income when you put affordable housing on your balance sheet. It’s not as expensive as you think. This bill doesn’t address that.
This bill could have done more, Madam Speaker. That’s what I really want to say here. I’m just listing a few examples. More information will come out in the next few days as we debate. The important thing is we should be doing more. We’re in a crisis.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mr. Mike Harris: Sometimes I have a hard time trying to understand what comes out of that part of the room. We’ve heard the phrase “sometimes the tail wags the dog,” but it’s almost like the tail is wagging the tail over there.
I guess my question to the member from Kingston and the Islands is: When we look at as-of-right zoning and a lot of the things that are contained within this bill that are going to help spur along that missing middle—or, as he was saying, more modest homes, more duplexes, triplexes—we’re giving municipalities the tools to be able to go ahead and say, “Yes, absolutely build these types of homes and accommodations for people.” Yet all I hear from him is more big government saying, “This is how you should live.”
I think when we look at what happened in the last election, seeing them relegated once again to unofficial party status, it really says a lot about the misguided things that come out of that corner. So does he believe that we should be living in a socialist society here in Ontario, where the government dictates how you get to live and you don’t get the choice?
Mr. Ted Hsu: Let me just draw a picture for the honourable member opposite. First of all, I’m sure he has heard from his constituents—I hope he has—about all the people who are having trouble finding places to live. And then you walk through some neighbourhoods and you see that bungalows have been torn down and very large single-family residences have been built up, and you see all these workers working hard and all the materials piled up, ready to be constructed into a new large house, and you think, “Is that the best use of our resources?” There’s something not working in the market.
Now, I’m not a socialist. I believe in markets, but I believe in well-regulated markets, and something is not working, Madam Speaker, in our housing market. If that member doesn’t realize that the housing market is not working, I think he’s not serving his constituents.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Mushkegowuk–James Bay.
M. Guy Bourgouin: Je suis sûr que mes collègues, avec les questions que vous avez posées sur ce projet de loi qu’on vient d’avoir, qu’on n’a pas complètement décortiqué—je ne sais pas; moi, j’ai regardé, puis j’ai essayé de trouver du logement subventionné. Je suis convaincu que dans chaque comté on entend du monde qui veut avoir plus de logements subventionnés, parce qu’il y a une pénurie chez nous. C’est un tellement grand besoin, puis ce sont des personnes qui ont besoin d’aide pour sortir de la misère et avoir un loyer.
Ma question est simple : avez-vous vu de quoi, dans ce projet de loi, qui viendrait répondre à des investissements? Parce qu’il y a tellement de loyers qui sont condamnés à cause qu’il n’y a pas d’argent pour essayer de les moderniser, de les réparer; qu’ils laissent tomber—ils sont condamnés, puis les familles sont obligées de sortir, puis il n’y pas d’autre place où aller.
J’aimerais vous entendre. Vous avez vu de quoi là-dedans que le gouvernement doit adresser pour répondre à ce besoin de loyers subventionnés?
M. Ted Hsu: Madame la Présidente, j’entends toujours de la part de mes commettants qu’ils ne trouvent pas de logements abordables ou même disponibles. C’est triste d’entendre leurs histoires et les problèmes sociaux qu’on ne peut pas résoudre à cause du manque de logements. C’est vraiment triste.
Si on fait une analyse économique de logements subventionnés, ce n’est pas possible de construire un montant suffisant de logements pour « the lowest-quintile households’ income »—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response.
M. Ted Hsu: Ce n’est pas possible. Il faut une intervention du gouvernement.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Sault Ste. Marie.
Mr. Ross Romano: I guess I’m going to start with my question and say I’m wondering if the two members opposite could share notes and talk a little bit, because what I heard from the first speaker was this conversation about, “Why is this government talking about attainable housing, as opposed to affordable housing?”, and then the second member is actually talking about attainable housing, because he wants to see more smaller, littler homes that are more attainable—because the real issue at the end day is the fact there is no supply. We don’t have supply, and as anybody knows—you don’t need to be an economist—no supply, demand increases; prices go up. We’re having an affordability crisis, so we need more homes that are attainable for those who cannot afford them, and that’s the real challenge.
But I’m really struggling with the two juxtaposed messages of the two members. So I would just ask that question again: Is it possible that they could perhaps collaborate and share notes a bit on exactly what it is that they’re trying to get across as a message?
Mr. John Fraser: I think we have exactly the same point about affordable housing. I don’t know why we need this new word. The only reason I think we need this new word is to try to change the definition. What my colleague was talking about is actually something that a person who we paid tribute to a couple of days ago, Premier Bill Davis—
Mr. Will Bouma: Yesterday.
Mr. John Fraser: A couple of days? It was yesterday. Time goes so quickly.
That was something where we saw a growth in Ontario: an investment was made—not the kind of investments that this government is timid to make in housing—in subsidized housing, and for that lowest quintile.
So I don’t understand; there is no division between us here. It’s affordable housing, and as much as you want use a new word that kind of changes—don’t go to your constituents and say, “I want to you have an attainable house.” They’re going to say, “What does that mean?” The clearest definition is “an affordable house.” You guys need to pick a lane—or, sorry, pick a word.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Algoma–Manitoulin.
Mr. Michael Mantha: My question will be to the member from Ottawa South, but you better thank the member from Kingston and the Islands for having bailed you out on that last question that was asked by the member from Mushkegowuk–James Bay, because he did a fairly good job, and I need to give you kudos on your French. You’re really doing a really fantastic job, and your terminology is even better than mine, which is something that is quite impressive, because I have that northern Ontario French that nobody understands.
My question to the member is on schedule 7, the Ontario Land Tribunal Act. I’m just looking at the summary notes that are in here. When you look at “the tribunal’s powers to dismiss a proceeding without a hearing ... give the tribunal the power to dismiss a proceeding entirely ... give the tribunal the power to order an unsuccessful party to pay a successful party’s costs”—these are red flags, to me, that are coming up. We all know what happens in the majority of times when a proponent or a developer or a complainant goes to the Ontario Land Tribunal, who gets the benefit of the decision.
Should this be something that many should be concerned about, and should this be raising a red flag with a lot of people in this province?
M. John Fraser: Merci, mon collègue. Vous êtes correct. Cette section est un grand drapeau rouge pour toutes les Ontariennes et tous les Ontariens. C’est beaucoup de pouvoir à donner à une organisation contrôlée par le gouvernement.
Mme Sandy Shaw: Le gouvernement?
M. John Fraser: Oui. Parce que le gouvernement a nominé les personnes à ce tribunal. C’est une carte blanche pour ce tribunal, et c’est une mauvaise section dans ce projet de loi.
Merci pour l’opportunité de parler français dans l’Assemblée, et je—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response.
Mr. John Fraser: Another day; un autre jour.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Hon. Kaleed Rasheed: Thank you for this opportunity to speak on this important bill.
Premier Ford, Minister Clark and Minister Parsa have been leading our government’s bold action to get 1.5 million homes built over the next 10 years. They have been working hard to bring meaningful changes that will provide a solid, solid foundation to address Ontario’s housing supply crisis over the long-term, for our children and grandchildren and our future generations.
Speaker, this bill brings meaningful change to the lives of many Ontarians who dream of a owning a new home, a dream that unfortunately for many is seemingly more and more out of reach. It is why action is needed now. It is why our government is taking the needed steps to solve the housing crisis once and for all. Many have spoken; few have acted. It’s time to get it done and say yes to more homes in Ontario.
Also, Madam Speaker, I want to say, I will be sharing my time with the Minister of Finance.
The proposed changes by my ministry will double the existing maximum administrative monetary penalty for contraventions of the NHCLA and its regulations from $25,000 to $50,000 dollars per infraction. On top of this, there will be no limit to additional monetary benefit penalties for unethical developers.
We are also doubling the maximum financial fines imposable by the code for repeat offenders of the New Home Construction Licensing Act, with individuals now facing charges of up to $100,000 for subsequent convictions, and corporations facing charges of $500,000 for subsequent convictions—up from $50,000 and $250,000 respectively. Individuals also face a two-year prison sentence if found guilty.
The amendments would also enable the Home Construction Regulatory Authority to use the money received from these penalties to make payments back directly to consumers who have been adversely affected by builders and vendors who break the law.
Speaker, bad actors will now face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, a significant portion of which will go back into the pockets of those they ripped off. With your support, if passed, the Home Construction Regulatory Authority would be able to make payments directly back to consumers who have been affected. This is something that is happening for the very first time in our province, Madam Speaker, that the money is going to go back into the pockets of affected individuals.
I’m confident that, working together, we will continue to forge ahead in shaping a bright and prosperous future for our great province and our people.
Speaker, as we all know—and this is something that we have discussed many, many, many times—there is a housing crisis in Ontario. We hear this all the time. Our government has made it clear that our top priority is building new houses so all Ontarians can have a place to call home.
I always talk about this, Madam Speaker, and we have said this many, many times—Premier Ford has said this many, many times—that unfortunately we do not have enough supplies of homes in our province. I sometimes think about my children, as a father of five kids, and I always think about the future generation. What are they going to do? Unfortunately, as a government, we need to take these bold actions to make sure that we are able to have enough supplies of homes so that our future generations can have a place they can call home.
Just last week, I was in Windsor with Minister Clark and we were making the announcement that I just talked about, how these unethical bad actors, these unethical developers will be charged hefty penalties if found guilty. It is part of this bill, and if passed, we will see that these penalties retroactively are going to go back to April 2022—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): It is now 6 o’clock. We’ll move into private members’ public business.
Second reading debate deemed adjourned.
Private Members’ Public Business
Mr. Will Bouma: I move that, in the opinion of this House, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs should continue to develop agricultural policy with an emphasis on food security and consideration of the entire agrifood supply chain and advocate to the federal government to adopt similar policies related to agriculture and food processing, in the spirit of ensuring Ontario farmers remain productive and competitive.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Mr. Bouma has moved private member’s notice of motion number 5. Pursuant to standing order 100, the member has 12 minutes for their presentation.
Mr. Will Bouma: Good evening, Speaker. I’m so happy to be able to debate my motion today on food security. Before I begin, I want to thank all Ontario farmers, food processors, agri-food producers and the amazing people who work so passionately that grow and produce the best food in the world right here in Ontario—thank you.
I also want to thank the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs—Minister Thompson—and her two parliamentary assistants for their leadership, and all the staff at OMAFRA who work so tirelessly for the people of Ontario—again, thank you.
My motion reads as follows: “That, in the opinion of this House, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs should continue to develop agricultural policy with an emphasis on food security and consideration of the entire agrifood supply chain and advocate to the federal government to adopt similar policies related to agriculture and food processing, in the spirit of ensuring Ontario farmers remain productive and competitive.”
Canada has been and continues to be a net food exporter of quality food throughout North America and indeed through the entire world. When I think of the advances that have been made in farming practices since I was a young child on our family farm, where we can produce so much more than we ever could before by using fewer and better applications of chemicals and fertilizers, I am amazed at the technological advancements that have gone into farming—but more on that a bit later.
The modern farmer does not destroy the land; they are stewards of the land. Just like generations ago, they hope that their children will be farming that land long after he or she is gone. It is very important to realize the contributions that farmers make to the environment and the environmental stewardship not only in southwestern Ontario but across the entire province of Ontario. These factors highlight the vital importance of food security, and that is the driving force behind this motion.
Almost everyone remembers at some point during COVID the gaps we witnessed on grocery store shelves, and we need to remind Ontarians that food does not just magically appear in grocery stores; it is all grown somewhere—almost all of it locally, here.
Speaker, in my home riding of Brantford–Brant, agriculture is the single biggest economic sector, and similarly, Ontario’s farm-to-fork agri-food sector is the largest in all of Canada and an important driver of economic growth in the province.
Our government is building a stronger, more secure food supply chain by supporting farms and food processors. By investing in Ontario agriculture, our government is growing this $47-billion sector that employs over 700,000 Ontarians and strengthening our food supply chain.
Our upcoming Grow Ontario strategy will provide a road map to boost innovation in Ontario’s agri-food sector, strengthen supply chains and grow the economy. This strategy is built on the work done at this year’s Ontario Food Summit, with over 160 industry leaders, from farmers to processors, transporters and retailers, meeting together to gather ideas towards this strategy in support of Ontario’s food supply chain as well as an innovation summit that was held last fall. Our government will continue to work with our farmers and agri-food businesses across the sector to grow and build resilience in our food supply chain.
Speaker, I’m going to share a few quotes in support of this motion from some agricultural stakeholders.
Charles Stevens, chair of OFVGA, said, “The Ontario Fruits and Vegetables Growers’ Association supports MPP Bouma’s motion on food security. The ability of Ontario growers to supply consumers with local, fresh and safe produce is rooted in strong, provincial and federal government policies, which must be positioned to support the success and growth of Ontario’s domestic food production.”
Here is a quote from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, Peggy Brekveld. She said, “Food security and the agricultural supply chain are significant issues for the OFA. The first step to food security is protecting Ontario farmland, ensuring farms and food forever. We fully support policy directives that support farmland preservation, the promotion of Ontario-grown and -raised food and the sustainability of farms and food processing in the province.”
Jack Chaffe, Beef Farmers of Ontario president, said, “Persistent market and weather-related volatility, combined with labour challenges and unprecedented disruptions in global supply chains, have resulted in a growing threat to food security. Increased focus by governments to ensure this volatility is minimized through supportive policies and programs that enhance and protect our domestic food system and the hard-working farmers, processors, and other agri-food businesses that underpin it, is simply the right approach. Now is not the time to make it harder to produce food in this country.”
Speaker, I want to talk briefly about the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions and Technology Challenge. Our government is committed to supporting our farmers and agri-food industry when they face challenges beyond their control, such as supply chain challenges reducing access to fertilizer. Ontario is taking action to support farmers by investing up to $2 million over two years in the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions and Technology Challenge to support made-in-Ontario solutions to increase the availability of fertilizer options, alternatives and technology, ensuring farmers have the tools they need so that Ontarians can rely on a safe and stable food supply. The challenge will focus on investing in projects, including new solutions like biofertilizers, that can reduce dependency on foreign-sourced and traditional fertilizers. This investment will encourage innovative, long-term, made-in-Ontario solutions to help meet the province’s fertilizer needs by making it possible for applicants to develop the commercialization of technologies and solutions in alternative fertilizers for farmers and the agri-food sector.
Our government is also addressing federal emissions targets.
Ontario continues to work collaboratively with our farmers in the agri-food industry to promote best practices for sustainability. Ontario farmers are leaders in innovation and implementing sustainable practices, including the 4R program that ensures the right fertilizer source, applied at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.
We have invested $21 million to assist farmers in completing over 2,000 projects to improve environmental performance, and invested $12.5 million through the Lake Erie Agricultural Demonstrating Sustainability program for over 1,220 projects to support farmers in taking action to reduce phosphorus in waterways.
Our government is disappointed in the federal government’s approach to impose fertilizer emissions reductions targets of 30% at a time when the world is struggling with food security. Ontario farmers are already facing complex challenges, including a federal carbon tax that the Parliamentary Budget Officer says will cost them $25 million this year and $108 million by 2030.
A Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey found that 72% of farmers say their ability to produce food would be reduced if the federal government requires them to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizer. Nearly 50% of farmers across Canada have already reduced their fertilizer use, and over 50% are already following the best practices for nitrogen emission reductions.
The federal government must work with provinces and farmers to find an approach on fertilizer that will not negatively impact yields and food security.
Time and time again, farmers are telling us how the carbon tax is adversely affecting their operations. Farmers are already doing their part to adopt the most up-to-date farming practices that support the environment. Speaker, nobody cares about the land more than the farmers who work it day in and day out. Higher fuel costs will make it more expensive to produce food in Ontario and will impact the ability of farmers to heat their barns, dry their crops and work the land.
Ontario’s tireless Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, my friend the Honourable Lisa Thompson, is constantly advocating for Ontario farmers, food processors and the entire sector so that the federal government can understand the unique challenges that this sector faces.
Our government stands behind Ontario farmers and our agricultural sector, a backbone industry that provides a paycheque to over 720,000 people. We are saying yes to Ontario agriculture, yes to supporting Ontario farmers and yes to a strong food supply chain. By cutting red tape, our government has saved Ontario’s agri-food sector over $3.2 million, putting money back into the pockets of hard working-farmers and giving them more time to do what they want to do: run the farm and grow their business.
Ontario is also a national leader in providing risk management support to farmers to protect our food supply chain. When farmers asked for an increase to the risk management program, we said yes to increasing the provincial portion. The Ontario government also said yes to increasing the provincial portion of AgriStability in 2021, even when the federal government would not commit to contributing their share until this year.
Our government has supported 2,800 projects in 2021 worth over $180 million that have touched every part of the agri-food sector, from the farm to the processor to the grocery store shelf.
In the first three months of 2022, our government has announced over $50 million in investments that will benefit Ontario farmers, including:
—$25 million to increase the industry’s processing capacity;
—$4 million to improve livestock veterinary services;
—$7 million to two new mental health initiatives, including the Farmer Wellness Initiative, which provides free specialized counselling services to farmers and farm families;
—$22 million in the Agri-tech Innovation Program for 170 innovative projects to support the adoption of technology and set the sector up for future growth; and
—$4 million to help build a strong, competitive agri-food workforce.
On a personal note, Speaker, I understand that owning and operating a farm can be very stressful at the best of times. My family have been dairy farmers for over 500 years, to the best of my knowledge, and my brother is raising a young family on our family farm right now.
We want our farmers to succeed. We are so fortunate to have a minister that understands farmers and their vital role in Ontario society. Three per cent of the population are farmers, but 100% of our population eats food.
Speaker, thank you for this time. I certainly urge members of this House to support the motion that underscores the importance of food and agricultural security and self-sufficiency.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam: I do appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very timely and symbolic bill. I want to thank the member from Brantford–Brant for making its submission.
Speaker, I have a bumper sticker which I actually have had for a number of years. On that bumper sticker—I think many of you probably have seen it; it’s quite popular in Toronto—is “Farmers Feed Cities.” What does that mean? To me, it means that farmers need predictability, they need a strong growing environment, and they need government supports to help bring their products to the customers, especially in large growing populations, in urban cities.
Farmers are currently being forced off their farms, and what has been traditionally intergenerational work, which means family farms passed down from generation to generation—that trend is now under threat, and it is weakening.
Good farmland—I think we can all agree on this—is the basis of all good types of agriculture. You can’t grow anything if you don’t have high-quality farmland. Ontario’s rapidly accelerating growth is putting this valuable resource at risk. This government’s recent “housing bill”—I’m going to put that in quotations—put farmland under further risk. It does so by developmental encroachment, and it also does so by the erosion of environmental protections.
MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam: It’s probably all of these devices. Take them all away. Thank you very much. If it’s making too much noise, it’s all these screens here beside me. But I’m going analog, and we’re working with paper.
In 2016, we’ve been informed, Ontario was losing 175 acres of farmland per day to development. That is a heck of a lot. This figure has now ballooned to 319 acres per day. This information came from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which has informed every single member of this House that farmland is rapidly disappearing in Ontario and we need to change course.
What we also need to do is ensure that farmers’ livelihoods are protected, and right now, they’re under risk. The bill is very good from that perspective because it actually does try to address that. What we need to do is make sure it goes far enough, to think comprehensively on all the different pieces. Literally, family farms are about to be lost. Family farms are being paved over if we, with the support of this government, don’t act fast enough. We have to protect agriculture’s most vital source, which is good farmland.
This year, as a brand new rookie MPP, I had the privilege and honour of attending the International Plowing Match with many of my friends and colleagues from the House. It was a great experience. We all went to it. We went to Kemptville, North Grenville and the united counties of Leeds and Grenville to participate in the rural expo. I was so happy to be there because I actually got to speak to farmers, who were telling me from the source. They spoke their truth.
What they also shared was not just the pride of being farmers and the pride of their communities, but they also spoke about how difficult it was, especially during COVID-19. They described a typical day for them: early in the morning and then late in the evening, as long as the sun was out; dinner with family then giving back to their community whenever they can. It was, for me, just a great, great experience, connecting with people I don’t normally get to see but every day I eat their products. Every day I eat their food, and every time I saw a farmer I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for taking care of me and my family and my community.
Southern Ontario, they told me, has some of the best agricultural growing conditions on the planet, largely due to exceptional soil quality and, of course, our climate conditions close to the lake. Ontario farmers grow over 200 crops in this region alone and each of those crops reaches our dinner tables. They fill us up at the supermarkets and they bring it to eager markets outside of Ontario and outside of Canada. There is so much for us to be proud of, so much for us to protect.
The farmers also shared their concerns that their way of life was being threatened and that their business models were being threatened. They were worried about climate change and international conflicts, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exposed the government’s need to have a new policy on domestic food security. They talked about how government must develop a comprehensive food security policy that maintains stable and affordable access to fresh, safe and nutritious food. This motion doesn’t do that yet, but it needs to. It needs to be considered as a new policy is being developed. That is something that I want to flag, that although the motion is good and symbolic, the actual policy itself, which is not developed yet, must be much more comprehensive, and it must think about that in a much more global way.
This motion is also doing very little to address growing hunger and food insecurity in cities. We have a policy that talks about food security but we have a policy that probably won’t do a lot unless you purposely find ways to address that in the actual legislation to come.
The threats of not looking after Ontario’s agricultural sector will be damaging and harmful in the long run, and will not be reversible if we don’t change course. That harm impacts about 861,000 jobs—$47.3 billion. This is big business, and we want it to grow, but we want to make sure that it’s sustainable. As we talk about food security, I don’t think we can ignore this.
During the pandemic, in the city of Toronto, the Daily Bread Food Bank saw their locations and usage go up 175%. This is very, very dramatic. What it means is that the Daily Bread Food Bank was delivering about 100,000 pounds across Toronto to hungry, starving families and children. They couldn’t keep up with the demand. Will this motion, symbolic in nature, address the food insecurity that we’re seeing in vulnerable populations, hungry, starving families in Toronto and in every other municipality, in every other community in Ontario? Not yet. It depends on how you write the actual details later on.
So think about how you will address the growing food insecurity that is plaguing our province. This is so critically important for all of us to address, because if we have a policy that talks about creating a better environment for the agricultural sector, you also need to have the same type of intentions and tools to address the growing food insecurity. At this time, the motion does not do that.
It’s not perfect, but I think we can get there. I’m willing to support it in the spirit of the fact that we will get there together.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Rob Flack: Congratulations, member from Brantford–Brant. I very much support your motion today.
Food security is important—we’re going to talk about this tonight—but just as important is making a sustainable agri-food system. I want to point out to the member opposite: Just remember, we are a net exporter of food today. We can feed everyone in Ontario and a growing population effectively, and we will continue to do so in the days, months and years ahead.
Three things I want to make a point on: Number one, the motion says that we “should continue to develop agricultural policy with an emphasis on food security....” I say not only should we, but we will, and I think I can make that point here today, along with my member opposite here who is going to share time with me, the member from Chatham-Kent–Leamington.
Secondly, agriculture and food has limitless potential. I said this in my main speech; I continue to say it when we’re out doing the Rotary speeches. It has limitless potential in Ontario. It is the most renewable and sustainable industry in Canada.
And three, I believe that our Premier, along with Minister Thompson, support the initiatives of OMAFRA and the strategic direction that it’s going and that it is championing.
I hope to make my points here tonight brief, and I’m sharing my time with my parliamentary assistant partner, the member for Chatham-Kent–Leamington. I want to focus on three things: made-in-Ontario agri-food solutions, food processing capacity, and investment in the future.
First of all, made-in-Ontario agri-food solutions: The member talked about the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions and Technology Challenge that’s before us, and I’m fortunate to be the parliamentary assistant that’s helping lead that file along with the minister. As the member said—and I won’t go through all the entire benefits of the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions and Technology Challenge—but think about it: We have a federal government that wants us to reduce 30% of our use of fertilizer in Canada. Think about the logic of that. On one hand, we are talking about feeding people, a growing population that’s going to be two million more in Ontario in the next 10 years. We need 1.5 million more homes, and here we are talking about reducing fertilizer application by 30%.
Part of the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions and Technology Challenge is good; we’re going to come up with made-in-Ontario solutions that will replace traditional and imported fertilizer. But we’ll never be 100% reliant—or we will never be unreliant on international fertilizer. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus are key. If we grow a crop and we harvest it, we need to feed the soil. We need to put nutrients back in the soil. Just like we eat every day, the soil needs to be fed, and that is part of what this challenge is about.
I think everyone understands that the majority of fertilizer is imported into Canada, and we want to come up with an opportunity to, at least in part, replace some of that imported and traditional fertilizer. So between October 5 and November 2, applications will be accepted on Bioenterprise Canada’s website, with funding to flow to successful applicants who come up with new technology and new ideas that can replace these traditional fertilizers. We look forward to showing the many exciting new innovations that will lead to more independent nutrient supply in Ontario.
Secondly, expanded processing capacity: Today, we were at the Grocery Innovations Canada trade show. If you get a chance, go. It’s unbelievable to see the made-in-Ontario solutions right there. One in 10 jobs in this province, folks—from farm gate to the consumer’s plate—depend on a sustainable agri-food system. There’s a lot of investment going on there.
I want to point out one little thing. Minister Rickford isn’t here, but there are new frontiers in the province that we can take advantage of. In Kenora–Rainy River, his riding, in northwestern Ontario, is the beginning of the Canadian prairies. We had a great conversation last week. There are abundant opportunities to invest and realize even more agri-food growth and security, and I’m looking forward to exploring these opportunities again in the future here.
Investments: Helping farmers remain competitive and productive is key, and our ministry has supported many projects like the member opposite talked about. I just want to point out that having agri-food invest in more processing and further processing capacity in this province is going to lead to better jobs, sustainable jobs and, again, feeding a growing population as we grow this province in a significant way.
Whether it’s $25 million to increase the industry’s processing capacity, $4 million to the vet services, $7 million to the mental health initiatives, $22 million in agri-tech innovation, or $4 million to help build a strong, competitive agri-food workforce, it’s working and it’s going to continue to work.
In conclusion—again, I’ll keep saying this—one in 10 jobs in this province depends on the consumer’s ability to eat food made in Ontario. One in 10 jobs, from the farm gate to the consumer’s plate, is dependent on our farmers. Over 700,000 jobs, again, rely on food processing and further processing to get the job done. We export food in this province. It’s the most sustainable and the most renewable industry in Canada. If you ate today, thank a farmer—all 48,000 of them. Farmers feed cities.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Ms. Stephanie Bowman: I want to thank the member for Brantford–Brant for this motion. I want to start by saying that there’s nothing in this motion to which I am opposed. I would like to ask the government, though, to consider the long view: What do we need to do now to make sure that the ag sector in Ontario is vibrant, resilient and productive for generations to come?
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently said that protecting agricultural land is their top priority. Encroachment of housing and industry is resulting in Ontario losing hundreds of acres of farmland per day, and only 5% of our land is farmland. We need to promote better land use planning and expand protected farmland instead of building highways like 413, which expand development on thousands of acres of farmland.
Less farmland means we need to pull even more out of the ground. Farmers know that the ground is like a bank: You can’t keep taking money out without putting money back in, as told to me by farmer Emery Huszka, who is the Grain Farmers of Ontario rep for Lambton county. They know that’s not sustainable.
The way we structure supports will determine what type of farming industry we will have in the future. A family looking to buy 100 acres to build a family farm often can’t get access to the capital they need, as the price per acre continues to rise. They’re competing with developers. It’s easy to see farming as just another business, with investment and returns, but for farmers it is so much more. Ensuring their economic security will ensure we have dedicated farmers to produce the food we need to feed us and the world.
Climate change is nothing new to farmers. They see it every year when they face more floods, more droughts, more fires, more pests. There are also indirect issues from climate change. One example to the south: The Mississippi River is at an historic low, affecting their trade route, so there is potential that American farmers will send their grain into Canada, affecting prices here. We need to protect our environment and look long-term to what technology, best practices and financial support our farmers will need to succeed.
I’m happy to support this motion and also ask that the government think about all of the related challenges that we need to address to make sure that food security for our farmland, our farmers and therefore our food is assured.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Trevor Jones: Food security is something that cannot be taken lightly. Food is fundamental, basic and essential to our survival. As such, food growing, production and processing must be appropriately protected and recognized as a priority. As legislators, our collective task in this House is to seek out solutions to a wide array of challenges while applying this critical food-security lens to ensure we create the conditions for the maintenance, preservation and success of the sector that is paramount to our survival.
In Ontario, we are fortunate to have a strong, modern, established agricultural system that includes vast productive farms, grazing lands, orchards and over 3,800 acres of controlled-environment greenhouses that produce a safe, stable supply of nutritious fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy products to feed Ontario, Canada and the world.
Ontario—Ontario agribusinesses and Ontario-grown food—is universally recognized as the global leader in safe food production. By applying a food-security lens to our everyday decisions in this House on matters involving labour, planning, development, transportation, energy, and by investing in infrastructure, education and technology and our critical supply chains, Ontario will remain resilient and truly secure. Our province, our country and our people can be more confident and more self-reliant. We won’t have to count on food producers from abroad for our own sustenance.
In terms of food security, Ontario’s farm-to-fork agri-food sector is the largest in all of Canada and an important driver to our overall economy and our overall growth throughout the province. Our government is building a stronger, more secure food supply chain by supporting farms, food processors and every component of the food-value chain.
By investing in Ontario agriculture, our government is growing this amazing $47-billion sector that employs—like my friend suggested—over 700,000 Ontarians and strengthening our own food supply chain. Our upcoming Grow Ontario strategy is going to provide a road map to boost innovation in Ontario’s agri-food sector, strengthen our supply chains and grow our economy. This strategy is built on work accomplished at this year’s Ontario Food Summit that hosted over 160 industry leaders—from farmers to processors, packers, shippers, retailers and other leaders—to gather and generate ideas on best practices to support and maintain a modern, resilient food supply chain. Our government will continue to work diligently with our farmers and our agri-food businesses across this precious sector to grow and build a world-leading food supply chain.
With respect to federal emissions targets, as my friend suggested, our government is working collaboratively with our farmers and our industry leaders to promote sustainability. Ontario farmers are already leaders in innovation, and they already implement best practices—including the 4R program, which, again, ensures that the right fertilizer source is applied at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place.
I’m proud to share with all members here in this House that in my riding of Chatham-Kent–Leamington, I have witnessed this very innovation, sustainability, resourcefulness and hard work right at home, at our farms, orchards and greenhouses. Our greenhouses, the largest concentration in Canada—all 3,800 acres of protected-environment greenhouses—grow the highest quality and the highest yield of fresh Ontario-grown produce, fruits and vegetables, with less water, recycling nutrients and investing in world-class technology solutions right here in Ontario. I saw these solutions first-hand last week at both the University of Windsor, my alma mater, and the University of Guelph, where my son is studying, where agribusiness, engineering and science leaders are working every day to improve life.
My ministry continues to listen to and partner with our farmers to promote environmental stewardship and to implement programs that improve yields, quality and truly enhance food security.
In conclusion, Madam Speaker, Ontario’s farmers and agri-businesses have long been recognized as the best stewards of the land. We have a history of investing in innovation and sustainable practices. The success of our farms depends on it. The success of our ability to feed ourselves depends on it. I encourage everyone in this House to please support this important motion to safeguard our most critical sector and to allow it to continue to flourish. An authentic view toward food security and having that lens in our daily practices will ensure Ontario-grown remains the global standard for safe, nutritious foods, while preserving the safety and resiliency of our domestic food supply.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Mike Schreiner: I want to thank the member from Brantford–Brant for bringing forward this resolution. As somebody who grew up on a farm and has spent most of my career promoting a sustainable local food and farming sector in Ontario, I recognize how essential food security is to the vibrancy of our province and our quality of life.
We know that in order to succeed, we need a vibrant agri-food supply chain that supports profitable local farms and processors. The food and farming sector contributes almost $50 billion to Ontario’s economy and generates over 780,000 jobs, and the asset base of those jobs, of that wealth, of the food security that sustains life, is the farmland that feeds us.
Ontario has some of the best farmland in the world—5% of our land mass is suitable for growing food, and half of 1% of that land is prime farmland, which is why I’ve dedicated so much of my time in this House to fighting to protect Ontario’s prime farmland and the wealth and jobs it generates.
And so, I will be voting for this motion, because I believe in food security and I believe in our agri-food system. But it is also why I encourage every member of this House who votes for this resolution to vote for policies to protect prime farmland in this province, to vote against policies like Highway 413 that will pave over 2,000 acres of farmland in this province and unleash sprawl on thousands of acres of additional farmland—because we know that that is the asset base of our successful, profitable agri-food sector, and we have to protect it.
Let’s bring forward policies that expand business risk management. Let’s make tax and regulatory changes to support local food and farmers. Let’s work with the federal government to bring in a grocery code of conduct to protect consumers, farmers and suppliers. But at the end of the day, we will not have a successful farm sector if we don’t have farmland to grow food.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. John Vanthof: It’s an honour to be able to rise today and speak to the motion from the member from Brantford–Brant, specifically about food security and agriculture. We are fully in favour of the motion, as far as it goes. It brings up many good issues. Farmers do feed cities. Farmers also need cities, if you think about it. They need customers, and they want customers.
There are several issues that I’m going to bring up in this short time. A couple of people brought up the emissions—by the federal government. I’m not supporting the federal government, but it’s not a 30% reduction in use of fertilizer, it’s a 30% reduction in emissions from fertilizer, and that’s a crucial, crucial difference.
What farmers need to do in Ontario is to show the good things they’re already doing, that they’ve already gone a long way farther down that road than the federal government realizes. That’s where we need to go, and when some people mischaracterize it as a 30% reduction in fertilizer use, they’re actually hurting the agriculture sector, not helping it. It’s a 30% reduction in emissions, and you know what? Farmers want their fertilizer to stay in the ground to feed the crops. You don’t want it going in the air or in the water because that wastes your money, but it also hurts the environment and hurts other people. That’s very crucial to remember. I heard it today: a 30% reduction in fertilizer use. That was incorrect. But we need to do a much better job of explaining what we’re doing—a much better job.
The one thing that this motion doesn’t talk about is, yes, we are losing 320 acres a day of the world’s best farmland. It’s being lost to development, and it’s happening right now every day. You can get as efficient as you want, and we have incredible increases in productivity, but if you allow the greatest gift that this province has ever had, which is our farmland in southern Ontario, to continue to be paved over at that rate, you’re not talking about food security for future generations. You’re talking about a quick buck for the current generation. That’s what you’re talking about.
This motion goes part of the way, but we need to go a lot further on saving farmland. We really need to look at that. There will be people who will say—and I’m from northern Ontario, and northern Ontario is a great place to farm, but you can’t just clear two acres in northern Ontario and expect that to replace one acre here. Because anybody who thinks that—or three acres or four acres. There’s a reason why the farmland in southern Ontario is the best in the world. You’re surrounded by the Great Lakes. It’s got a climate that can’t be equalled, and as the climate changes, it will still be protected. We have to realize how important that is.
Is this a good motion? Is it supportable? Yes, but it needs to go a lot further. We actually have to take saving farmland seriously and not just try to avoid the subject by talking about the other great things in agriculture. There are lots of great things in agriculture. But if we’re making decisions for future generations and future farmers and for farmers now, we have to be careful with the gift that we’ve been given. Thank you, Speaker.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member has two minutes to reply.
Mr. Will Bouma: I’ve got to try to hustle it up here, so I’m going to quickly thank the members from Toronto Centre, Elgin–Middlesex–London, Don Valley West, Chatham-Kent–Leamington, Guelph and Timiskaming–Cochrane for their kind and supporting words, and I agree with them all.
I also want to thank the food processors, agri-food producers, the minister obviously, but mostly I want to thank farmers, so I want to close out in the last minute and a half with Paul Harvey from 1978:
“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.
“God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.
“‘I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon—and mean it.’ So God made a farmer.
“God said, ‘I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, “Maybe next year.” I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.’ So God made a farmer.”
Then I’ve got to skip a bit.
“God said, ‘I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.
“‘Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life “doing what Dad does.”‘ So God made a farmer.”
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): On that poetic note, the time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Mr. Bouma has moved private member’s notice of motion number 5. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I declare the motion carried.
Motion agreed to.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): All matters related to private members’ public business having been completed, we now have a late show.
Pursuant to standing order 36, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member for Toronto–St. Paul’s has given notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to a question given by the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. The member has up to five minutes to debate the matter, and the ministry’s parliamentary assistant may reply for up to five minutes.
The member for Toronto–St. Paul’s.
MPP Jill Andrew: I’m rising today on behalf of Janet Abramson and Jonathan.
I first want to start by reminding this government that it is their government that cut a billion dollars from the budget of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services back in 2019.
Jonathan has autism and developmental disabilities. He’s a 29-year-old adult. He is the child of Janet. He is currently being housed in a hospital. I want to make it clear to this House that a hospital is not a home—I’m sorry; I’m just thinking about Janet, who I had in my office today for some time. She was crying and very upset with the responses, or lack of responses, from the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
He has been on the list for supportive housing since he was 16 years old. I just want to remind the House that he is now 29. According to Reena and Community Living, the waiting list for supportive housing can be as high as 40 years. This is astonishing. None of us can function, none of us can really work, none of us can live a bright, bold life if we don’t have a home.
We have an affordable housing crisis here in Ontario. I certainly know we have it in St. Paul’s in Toronto. We have a homelessness crisis, and neither of these has the government admitted to or owned up to.
I want to make it clear that the government’s job is to respond to its constituents, and quite frankly, the Premier—every single one of us in Ontario is his constituent. Janet has reached out to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services several times—more than four times—never getting a response. She has her receipts. I wrote to the minister myself on December 9, 2021. I could ask a page or someone from the House to forward that over to the government. I never received a response from the minister either with regard to Jonathan’s situation and Janet’s, his mother’s, advocacy.
Currently, as I said, Jonathan wakes up every morning and goes to sleep every night in a hospital’s psychiatric ICU unit. Again, warehousing Ontarians is not how we address the need for more supportive housing. Building highways like the 413 to mansions and houses that no one can afford is not putting Jonathan in a home that he can call his own safe space, where he can have DSWs, where he can have people, supportive folks who help him with his day-to-day. And, in fact, it’s costing the taxpayers a whole lot more money housing folks in hospitals than actually building the supportive housing that we need, especially at a time now where the government has abandoned front-line health care workers, will not repeal Bill 124, will not even pay our PSWs what they’re worth. This is not the time to be doubling or tripling down on their workload.
I want to say that today Janet was in the Legislature, and there was an actual chance for the Premier of Ontario to at least give her a head nod, at least look at her as a human being. Instead, he didn’t. The Minister of Housing literally had his back turned. I mean, you can talk like this and still talk through the Speaker. They literally erased her. They ignored her in this House.
I’m going to read an excerpt of her letter to the Premier of Ontario: “I know your time is valuable, but I am in a crisis situation and my son Jonathan needs your help. My son is currently in a hospital, with no place to live. I’m a single mother living in Toronto and I have heard you speak on the news many times about being there to help the people of Ontario. I am reaching out to you multiple times with no response.”
Today I asked if the Premier would take five lousy minutes out of his next golf engagement to speak to the mother of this adult child who is being housed in a hospital, and he couldn’t respond. The ministers couldn’t respond. Nobody could respond.
Over on this side, we have asked for more supportive housing. We need at least 60,000 units of supportive housing. I ask this government: What does affordable mean to them? When will they tell us how many supportive housing units they’re building in Ontario? And will they actually house Jonathan so that he doesn’t have to spend another night in a hospital? Because I don’t think any of us would like to be in a hospital, especially now, let alone live in one for over a year because we’re homeless. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
Mr. Nolan Quinn: I welcome the opportunity to respond to the member for Toronto–St. Paul’s and to outline the many steps our government has taken to support adults with developmental disabilities.
As the minister has noted, when we formed government four years ago, we saw that adults with developmental disabilities and service providers across the province were continuing to face many of the same challenges that they were facing 10 or 15 years prior. Speaker, we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We’re changing that and ensuring that people with developmental disabilities can fully participate in their communities.
One of the ways we’re moving toward that goal was through introducing our vision for the future of developmental services in Ontario, Journey to Belonging, in May 2021. I’d like to take a moment here to talk about the consultations that informed Journey to Belonging. Between November and December of 2020, we held eight virtual sessions with over 190 participants, including individuals with lived experience, family members, service providers and others. We also received nearly 900 written submissions.
Along with the rest of our government, I would like to thank everyone who participated in the virtual engagement sessions and online survey to share their ideas, comments and feedback. As we make both immediate and long-term improvements to developmental services in Ontario, we will continue to engage our service partners, individuals with lived experience, and families on how we can improve the supports that are available to them. Their feedback has formed our vision for the sector and will continue to.
While Journey to Belonging’s vision is for long-term change, we made immediate improvements by:
—simplifying the assessment process;
—improving the Passport program to better address people’s needs;
—reducing the administrative burden on service providers;
—building skilled staff capacity; and
—introducing initiatives that will support individuals through natural life transitions such as into school or adulthood.
We backed that work up with record funding throughout our time in government. In budget 2020, we announced funding that allowed us to continue to support clients currently in service and support more residential placements for new high-risk clients. Since then, we have made further investments in the developmental services sector through budget 2020-21, including $13 million over three years to help more people with developmental disabilities find community housing and support their independent living through an expansion of the Adult Protective Service Worker program. That investment will see more than 1,200 people with developmental disabilities receiving the help they need to find accessible and affordable housing, be part of their communities and live the lives they choose.
We also increased our investment in the Abilities Centre, with an additional $4.5 million over three years to help connect more youth and young adults with disabilities to employment opportunities, to help them build life skills that will support them in reaching their personal goals.
Since 2020, we have invested a record $2.9 billion in developmental services, including more than $1.8 billion for residential supports. We know that demand is growing in this sector, and we recognize that every individual has different needs, which is why each case is reviewed on an individual basis. Those individuals who are assessed to be the most in need are prioritized for the available resources. This is not a first-come, first-served system; it’s needs-based.
We’ve prioritized residential supports, as I said earlier, with an investment of $1.8 billion and with programs like the Adult Protective Service Worker program, which will see more than 1,200 people with developmental disabilities receiving the help they need to find suitable housing.
Madam Speaker, while I cannot comment on an individual case, this House should know that when a person with a developmental disability is identified as being in urgent need of support, a local process to address their specific needs is initiated by the local Developmental Services Ontario office. DSO offices collaborate as is appropriate to the case with a network of developmental services agencies and community partners that address the person’s specific urgent support needs that require short-term, temporary and limited-term responses to high-risk situations, as well as longer-term supports.
Our government knows we must continue to build capacity and, by extension, choice for individuals seeking residential services. We’ve backed that capacity up with record investments and we’re going to continue to pursue solutions.
As the minister said earlier today, this is about creating a place for people with developmental disabilities to live where they can achieve the life that they want to live. This is about inclusion. This is about belonging, and those are powerful words. We’re living up to those words—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you.
There being no further matters to debate, pursuant to standing order 36(c), I deem the motion to adjourn to be carried. This House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1857.