LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 30 March 2023 Jeudi 30 mars 2023
Report continued from volume A.
2023 Ontario budget
Continuation of debate on the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I’m proud to rise in favour of the budget motion today on behalf of the residents of Barrie–Innisfil. I would just like to share some comments I’ve been hearing from the residents that I so humbly get to represent in this Legislature from Barrie–Innisfil. One of those residents that I wanted to recognize today is none other than Boris Horodynsky and I want to thank Boris Horodynsky, who’s been a farmer for 40-plus years—
Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: Boris is great.
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: The Minister of Agriculture just said “Boris is great,” so Boris, be it known that the agriculture minister does appreciate you and acknowledges that you are great. I just want to thank you on behalf of everyone in this Legislature for your kind, generous donation of $1 million to the Royal Victoria Hospital for the Keep Life Wild campaign. The Keep Life Wild campaign is helping us fundraise for RVH South Campus in Innisfil. We’re a growing community; our health care needs grow and, as Boris himself has said, we are nothing without our health and he recognizes that.
This individual, Boris Horodynsky, comes from strong Ukrainian roots. He is a very proud Ukrainian and he’s grown onions for many years. He’s a very humble man, and before he even donated $1 million to the Royal Victoria Hospital campaign, he also donated $1 million to the Community Kitchen at the Rizzardo centre, which is the health hub in Innisfil. So I want to also take this opportunity to thank him for that.
It’s hard-working residents and citizens like Boris Horodynsky who’ve come to Canada with very humble beginnings, and now they’re helping so many people with their product. But in order to get their product to market, they need good soil health. So I was very pleased to see in this bill, in this motion and in the budget bill something that the Minister of Agriculture announced at the food summit, funding for soil health and soil research. In fact, Speaker, this government is dedicating $9.5 million over three years to soil data and mapping, which helps with the ongoing work we’re doing for soil health, helps compliment the work that’s happening with nutrient management, and I know the Kell family in Innisfil are certainly happy to see this. They’re doing a lot of work on their soil management and their nutrients to really maximize their crop, amongst other local farmers we have, like the Wardlaws in the area—and, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Eisses family.
Speaking of the Eisses family, I want to give the Eisses family a very big thank you, because, again, our agricultural community in this province always steps up to the plate. This family has been around for decades in the Innisfil area and they actually donated land so that we could actually build a hospital in Innisfil. Again, I want to thank the Eisses family for their generosity for donating that land so that Innisfil can continue to grow and build a beautiful RVH South Campus. That way, we can keep our life wild, as the RVH Keep Life Wild campaign keeps going.
There are many complements to what we’re doing in the health care sector, and today, as we have these great entrepreneurs and philanthropists and farmers who are fundraising for health care efforts, our government is also meeting them to the challenge in terms of health care funds. But that wouldn’t be possible without investing in the workers, And so today, one of the things our government announced, and it complements what’s in their budget, which is growing the amount of spots we have in our medical schools. For far too long, we’ve had many students who have had the aspiration to be a doctor, but unfortunately we had a cap on the amount of spots that we’ve had in this province. In addition, we didn’t have enough medical schools, so this government is not only adding more medical schools in our province, but we’re also adding 154 postgraduate medical training seats in this province. Speaker, this is a game-changer and really shows you how our government is forward-looking.
We’ve been forward-looking since day one. Whether it’s reducing the gas tax, adding more daycare spaces, reducing licence-plate-sticker fees, stabilizing electricity rates; whether it’s increasing the minimum wage, enhancing child care tax credits, enhancing the LIFT tax credit, expanding our mining infrastructure, our manufacturing sector, expanding broadband, we are very forward-looking in how we can grow this province so that we can provide a better province for more people to come, live and stay here.
But again, it wouldn’t be possible without the people who we represent in this province, and so I want to reflect back into my riding. On the health care front, there’s a lot of excitement in terms of the growth in the community and also investing in more health care. There’s this lady in our riding, her name is Katherine Chabot. She’s involved in so much musical stuff. I’m very thrilled to have her as part of my team. Every year, she has organized an event called Paige’s Passion. Paige’s Passion is to commemorate her friend Paige Doucette who unfortunately passed away at the age of 19 years old from a really rare cancer. She only had eight months to live. I know today we had some folks here from the cancer care network who joined us in this Legislature, so I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize Paige and Katherine Chabot for her efforts for organizing this annual Paige’s Passion event that’s going to be taking place on April 15 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. It’s bringing artists from around the community together to fundraise for the cancer care wing of Royal Victoria Hospital and for the overall Royal Victoria Hospital.
They’re actually featuring a really interesting local artist, Dylan Lock. I want to acknowledge Dylan Lock. By playing music in his driveway, he was able to fundraise $50,000 for front-line workers. On top of that, he also fundraised over $4,000 for the Barrie tornado victims, and he’s also helped with Barrie Families Unite where he fundraised over $2,000. So I want to thank Dylan Lock for all his efforts. He’s a true community champion, and really, it’s the fabric of these individuals that I get to represent humbly in this Legislature that I like to reflect upon and recognize, because they help make our province a better place.
That’s what our budget is all about: making Ontario a better place and really representing the people like Dylan, like Katherine and what Paige stood for, what Boris stands for, what many farmers stand for, and that is creating a better quality of life in this province, but also focusing on what we can do in terms of keeping costs low.
So what is our government doing to keep costs low? We’re enhancing things like improving our transit infrastructure. In Innisfil, lots of people unfortunately have to get up and commute. They choose to do that, but if they have different ways they can commute, it makes their quality of life better. It’s less hours they have to spend in their car if they can get on the GO train and go straight to their place of work. As I have said many times in this Legislature, about 87% of the residents in Innisfil get up in the morning and have to commute to work, but we’re making that easier on them. We are fast-tracking our development of the GO train station. In this particular budget, we have the Davenport renovation, which is actually going to affect the Barrie line. It’s going to allow us to electrify the tracks, which allows us to have more GO train times in Barrie, which will affect the quality of life for these individuals because they’ll have more train times to choose from.
In addition, we’re also introducing a shared fare system so they’ll actually save on the money of their fare. If they’re going from the GO train to the TTC, they can tap their Presto card. Finally, this type of technology is available in this province. I know when we travel to different countries we often see this, but we’re bringing this here.
So we recognize a lot of the transit riders, but, Speaker, in the few minutes that I have left, I also wanted to recognize our seniors and acknowledge that in this budget, we’re providing financial supports to more seniors by promising changes and expanding the Guaranteed Annual Income System—GAINS—program starting in July 2024 to see 100,000 additional seniors be eligible for programs and benefits adjusted to annual inflation. I think that’s very important to mention in this Legislature as we try to help all families, all people of all walks of life, in this budget.
Whether it’s our young people, helping them get the skilled trades and the jobs of the future; opening up more medical positions; recognizing our seniors, recognizing our farmers, recognizing our front-line workers, recognizing families and women who need extra supports to get ahead in life and giving them the support systems they need for child care. Our skilled trade workers, being able to lift them up, recognize them and actually bring more people into the skilled trades sector. Whether it’s folks who take the transit system, or transit workers, giving them something that’s in this budget.
Speaker, I think this budget proves that we’ve really resonated and we speak to Ontarians. And in everything we do, we really do put the people first. This is the budget that not only looks at the current population we represent but, of course, the future generation, making sure that we are fiscally prudent and we make sure we’re not saddling the next generation with mountains of debt.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The member from Humber River–Black Creek.
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: I want to congratulate and thank both presenters for their well-researched speeches on the budget.
I just wanted to say this: We did talk about ODSP prior, and I’ve spoken to many people in my community about their struggles on ODSP. I know that there was a lot of excitement in the unveiling of this budget. But what do I tell people in my community who are struggling in this time of huge inflation—hyperinflation, a crisis of inflation? And 5% of an increase? It doesn’t even meet the cost of inflation enough for these people. Please tell me what they should be excited about and if you believe that 5% is enough to help them get by their everyday living.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response?
Mr. Nolan Quinn: Thank you to the member from Humber River–Black Creek. I appreciate your insight towards this. The 5% is historic; previous times, it’s only been about 1%, on average, over the last 10 to 20 years. And I think indexing it to inflation is the most important piece of that legislation, to ensure that when we have high times of inflation they’re going to be covered with that. Understanding that there are a lot of cost pressures, our government has been trying to work on relieving some of the pressures. But what I would recommend, and what I’ve mentioned to some of my own constituents, is that we need to lean on our federal government to come through with the promise that they had a couple of years ago.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Ms. Laura Smith: Through you, Madam Speaker, thank you to both of the members for their information. The member from Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry talked about the budget and new programs that connect youth in the child welfare system. This is particularly of interest to me. I dealt with this in a previous life not so long ago—eight months ago—and I could see how children really need the services and the support to prepare for success after leaving care. Can the member talk about that and why it’s so vital to kids, after leaving care, to succeed?
Mr. Nolan Quinn: Thank you, Speaker, and thank you to the member from Thornhill, my colleague. I appreciate that question.
The Ready, Set, Go Program is exciting, it’s transformational, and I think it’s long overdue. Youth leaving care and the child welfare system unfortunately have a higher risk of being trafficked, of homelessness and developmental health issues; and have a lower high school graduation rate than their peers. The Ready, Set, Go Program is going to help set them up for success. As part of the child welfare redesign, the government is investing $170 million over three years to be able to support this new program. The government is also expanding eligibility, which currently ends at 21, to those up to 23 years of age. This skills-based development will ensure that they are ready for postsecondary education, training and pathways to employment.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further questions?
Ms. Jessica Bell: My question is to the member for Barrie–Innisfil. I noticed in your presentation you spoke about the government’s interest in bringing in some kind of fare integration when it comes to GO and the TTC. And I also noticed earlier today that the Associate Minister of Transportation did talk about the government’s interest in bringing in fare integration by 2023. Could you share the government’s plans to bring in fare integration to local transit systems, as well as GO?
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: Thank you, and I’m glad you brought up that question. I just remember, this past weekend I was at an International Women’s Day event for la Clé—well, actually, le Colibri. I was sitting with the folks from la Clé. The lady sitting beside me actually constantly commutes to come work at the public service here in Toronto, and she was saying how she’s very excited about this integrated fare idea, because it’s being able to use one card to tap on, tap off, and that she’s able to not only pay her GO train fee but that same fee will be transitioned to her TTC ride. For her, that experience is going to be seamless.
Again, it’s part of this budget, when we’re talking about creating better service for Ontarians. And then, of course, we’ll see the cost savings as a result of that for the individual person taking that particular fare.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further question?
Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: My question is for the member from Barrie–Innisfil. On Monday, you participated in an amazing initiative called the Grow Ontario Food Summit. It was our second annual, and there was a capacity crowd not only in person, with 202 people just across the road, but we held attention of over 50 people online for four hours as well.
I was wondering if you could share with the House today some of the things that you heard with regards to the importance of soil health as well as the importance of investing in services so that farmers throughout Ontario know they can count on this government to have their back when it comes to things like increasing the number of large animal vets.
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I want to thank the Minister of Agriculture for that great question. It was a great food summit and really strengthened the support for our three pillars in terms of how we’re going to grow Ontario: strengthening our supply chain, increasing agri-food technology and adoption, and attracting and growing Ontario’s agri-food talent.
What we heard resoundingly from the audience was how amazed they were that they can finally collaborate with one another and they have a government that’s listening to them and thinking towards the future. One of the presenters even said we need to be better at maximizing the yield and the land, and how important soil management, soil-mapping and soil data is to that, and that, finally, we have a minister who is actually announcing funding and sees the importance of investments in our soil health.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further questions?
Mr. Peter Tabuns: My question to the two members who made the presentation: Bill 23 is going to reduce revenue going to municipalities by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. Mississauga expects to lose a billion dollars in revenue, forcing an 8% to 10% jump in property taxes. Newmarket residents can expect to see their property taxes go up between 5% and 15% because Bill 23 eliminates the requirement that for-profit home builders pay development charges.
I know the Minister of Municipal Affairs often talks about non-profit housing, but let’s face it: With the units being built, we’re talking a rounding error here. So this budget doesn’t actually help those municipalities. Why is it that your government is not acting to protect those municipalities from the property tax increases they’re projecting because of your decision around Bill 23?
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Response?
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I think one of the reasons so many mayors are supportive of this government is they have a government supporting broadband connection. Many mayors are supportive of that. You have a government supporting lots of transit extensions. Many mayors are supportive of that. Many mayors are dealing with affordable housing issues, and today, in Simcoe county alone, they were able to report on how many affordable units they were able to build. They’re very supportive of that.
In our budget, if you were to read, on page 83, you would see we’re also providing a Streamline Development Approval Fund for $45 million to help 39 of the largest municipalities to modernize. That’s on top of the additional funding we’ve already given to municipalities through the Municipal Modernization Fund, something that both small and larger municipalities have benefited from, which I see first-hand representing the riding of Barrie-Innisfil, with Innisfil being a smaller rural riding and, of course, Barrie being an urban centre.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further questions?
Hon. Graydon Smith: I’ve enjoyed the debate this afternoon, and as we’ve talked about the budget, it’s given me pause to think about my own family and my own young children, what I hope and wish and dream for them, and what Ontario can be for them as they get older. From my experience in politics, both municipal and provincial, I know a lot of the decision-making process that we go through and the decisions we make are indeed about today, but are often very much more about tomorrow and where we want to go from where we are at today.
I just want to ask the member from Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry—because I know he’s got young kids as well—if he could expand on his thoughts and what he sees in the budget for his children in the future?
Mr. Nolan Quinn: That’s a great question from my honourable colleague from Parry Sound–Muskoka. Obviously my children, I want to have a future for them. We need to have jobs for them to have that future we’re looking for. They also need to be able to afford housing. We need to build more homes, and we need to build more homes faster, to be able to bring down the price of housing.
Inflation is out of hand right now, so ultimately some of the things we’re doing to save money will keep the economy going so that it’s healthy for when my children are at the age to go.
Some of the mental health supports—I know that my children may need to access those possibly down the line. And the Ronald McDonald House upgrade that we’re doing in the Ottawa area—I haven’t needed to use CHEO, but there is a possibility at any time I need to go to CHEO with my children, and it’s good to know that the resources are there, so that we don’t have to do the hour-and-a-half trek back and forth from Ottawa, which can be stressful when children are sick.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further debate?
Mr. Chris Glover: It’s an honour to rise today and speak about the budget bill. This is a $202-billion budget. It’s the biggest budget in Ontario’s history, and the biggest question I have about this is, we don’t know where the money is going. In last year’s budget, the government said—you put all kinds of figures. I’ve read through the budget. There’s all kinds of figures in there, but it doesn’t necessarily say where you’re actually going to spend the money in the next year, because the Conservative government’s record over the last few years is, they don’t spend the money when they say they’re going to spend the money.
They underspent $6.4 billion in the fiscal year ending this year, ending in March here. They underinvested $1.2 billion in health care, $125 million on long-term care, $361 million on hospitals, $452 million on social programs like ODSP and Ontario Works, $490 million on education.
The FAO, the Financial Accountability Office of the government, which is an independent office of the government, estimates that this government will underspend $20 billion. So you’re going to promise to spend all kinds of money to support services and housing and education in this province, but by 2024-25 you will underspend those promises by $20 billion.
The other question I have about this budget—and I had to verify this because I heard my colleague the MPP from Waterloo speak about it when she did her opening remarks on the budget—is that there’s no transparency or accountability. Last year, the government had a $4.6-billion contingency fund at the start of the fiscal year. A contingency fund could be used for anything, and to have a contingency fund that large that’s unallocated, that the people of Ontario don’t know where it’s going to be spent, is really quite shocking. This year, that contingency fund is down to $1.7 billion, so almost $3 billion has been spent with no accountability. We, and the taxpayers of Ontario, don’t know where this government spent $3 billion, and I don’t hear the government rushing to explain. At least the Liberals, when they got caught with their billion-dollar gas plant scandal, were embarrassed about it. This government is spending $3 billion with no accountability, no transparency, no receipts to the people of Ontario whose money you’re spending, and you’re not even embarrassed. You’re not even rushing out and saying, “Oh well, here’s where we spent it.”
The other thing about this budget is, it lacks the priorities of the people of this province in this moment. It’s continuing to erode our biggest competitive advantages. Those include public education, public health care—I would have said before housing and social services, but those have already been eroded by the Liberal government. Those things, the social services that deal with homelessness and the opioid crisis and the housing costs right now, are becoming competitive disadvantages.
I’m the tech and innovation critic for the NDP. Our post-secondary education system—our public colleges and universities—is one of our biggest competitive advantages. Each of them has an innovation centre, and each of them is driving the tech ecosystem that we’re all benefiting from in Ontario. But this government continues to underfund our public colleges and universities to the point where they’re not even called public colleges and universities anymore; they’re called “publicly assisted,” because in many cases most of the operating funding is coming from private sources, primarily from student tuition fees.
I want to talk a little bit about housing affordability. We have a housing affordability crisis in this province, and I think everybody in the House fully agrees with that. We have a housing affordability crisis, and it is leading to a huge out-migration of Ontarians. From March of last year to March of this year, 50,000 Ontarians left the province.
The CBC reports on one of these people, Nicole Foster, a 25-year-old nurse from London, Ontario. She’s leaving for Alberta, in part because of housing costs, but also because of Bill 124. Housing costs where she lives in London, Ontario are skyrocketing, but this government has kept her wages capped at 1% per year for the last four years under Bill 124, even though the courts came back and said that your Bill 124 capping those wages at 1% is an infringement on the right of association, the charter right that we have in Canada to form and join a union and to have that union negotiate wages for us.
The court has said, “Your Bill 124 is illegal. It’s an infringement on their charter rights.” So you would think that this government would say, “Oh well, we made a mistake. We’re going to repeal Bill 124 and we’ll negotiate fair wages for nurses, not only because it would be a fair and respectful way to treat our health care heroes who have been getting us through this pandemic, but also because it’s a charter infringement and we don’t want to be infringing on the charter rights of the people of Ontario.” Well, no, the government is actually going to be spending taxpayer dollars in order to appeal that decision because they’re hoping for a different decision. They’re hoping that they’re going to go all the way to the Supreme Court, or what I suspect is that they’re delaying this because the longer they delay it—if they delay it all the way to the Supreme Court, it will be eight or nine years and they won’t to deal with it and maybe another government deals with this mess.
It’s the same thing that the Liberals did with their Bill 115 in 2010-11. They passed a bill; they capped public sector education workers’ wages at 1%. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court said, “Hey, this is an infringement on their charter rights,” and they had to pay out $100 million in deferred payments to the education workers of this province. This government didn’t learn from the Liberals. In fact, they’re repeating the mistakes of the Liberals. The biggest thing is that it’s fueling the crisis in our health care system, because health care workers can’t afford to live with the wages that this government is paying.
I mentioned that I’m the tech and innovation critic for the NDP. I’ve talked to many, many tech companies in my riding and across this province. Last week, I was talking to the founder of a mid-size start-up. They have 100 employees, and one of the things that he mentioned in our conversation was that his employees are moving to Alberta because there’s affordable housing out there, and he’s thinking of moving their head office out to Alberta. So the housing crisis in this province is a huge competitive disadvantage. We’re losing employees and businesses because of it.
We all agree that the solution is to build 1.5 million homes—at least—over the next 10 years, but the solution the government has proposed is simply not working. The government said, “Hey, if we give developers whatever they want, they will build an oversupply of houses and that will drive down prices because it’s all a matter of supply and demand. If you increase the supply, the prices will go down.” But what’s happened is that interest rates are up so profits are down, so the developers are postponing the developments. They’re waiting until the prices go back up and then they’re going to build. So this myth that the Conservative members in this House have been perpetuating for the last four years, that if we just give the developers what they want, they’re going to build an oversupply—it’s just not happening.
I’ll just talk about some of the gifts that this government has given to developers. I will say that I’m not against developers. I live in the fastest-growing riding in this province. There are 150 developments under process in different stages in my riding alone, and the population of my riding grows between 5,000 and 8,000 people per year. So I am very pro development, but it’s got to be smart development. It’s got to be development that includes parks and schools, daycare centres, recreation centres and libraries, all of the things that make a community. Because we just don’t want a forest of towers; we actually want a real community.
But the developers, over the last 20 years in Ontario, have been making good money. Developing properties, real estate, in Ontario has been a lucrative business, but this government said, “No, no, they’re not making enough. We’re going to give them a $5-billion tax cut, a donation from the taxpayers of Ontario. We’re going to waive development charges.”
This part of Bill 23, what it’s actually done—and I was speaking with a councillor in one of the rural communities who says it should be called the “fewer homes built slower act” because it’s actually impeding the development of properties. In Waterloo, for example, they’re delaying the construction of 870 new homes because they can’t afford their infrastructure. Those development charges—when a developer wants to develop a property, they’re supposed to pay for the new roads, the sewers, the sidewalks and put some money into a local school, put some money into daycares, all the different things that you’re going to need for that community. When you waive those fees, well, then the existing taxpayers in the community are stuck with those charges. Waterloo is saying, “Hey, we’re already running a tight budget. We can’t afford those additional charges,” so the development’s just not going ahead.
The other thing the government’s done, the other gift to developers—I mentioned the $5-billion taxpayer donation—through Bill 23, the strong-mayors bill, is the overriding of democratic elections. We now have minority-decision regimes in Niagara, Peel, York and Toronto. In York, Niagara and Peel, like everybody in Ontario, we went for our municipal elections on October 28. A lot of people voted, and if you live in York, Niagara or Peel, the government then appointed a regional chair to head the regional council, and that regional chair is allowed to govern with one third of the elected regional council members. If you voted in those elections in those regions, this government has just said, “Well, thank you for voting, but we’re overriding your vote. We’re overriding your democratic rights in this municipal election.” That’s another gift that they gave, they think, for developers because they said this will help to get housing built faster.
They’re also paving over the greenbelt. That’s another gift that they’ve given. What is the result of all of these gifts to developers: paving over the greenbelt, the $5 billion, the overriding of our democratic rights in municipalities? It’s that housing starts are down 8,000. In 2022, the government expected 87,300 new homes in 2024. The projection next year is actually 79,300, so 8,000 fewer homes. So all of those gifts to developers did not result in faster home growth. It did not lead to this goal of achieving of 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.
The other thing is, I’ve heard the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing attack the NDP, They say, “Well you’re obviously against this cut to the development charges. That’s going increase the cost of housing.” Well, that argument has never made sense—it just doesn’t make sense—because the developers are building housing for profit. The development charges on a two-bedroom condo in Toronto are about $40,000. If you say to the developer, “We’re going to waive that $40,000 fee,” that doesn’t get passed on to the buyer. The developers in the business are going to sell for the highest possible price, so that $40,000 just goes into their pockets. And when you add up that $40,000 across the province, the estimate from AMO is $5 billion. That’s just going into developers’ pockets; it’s not accelerating the growth in housing and it’s not reducing the cost of housing.
Looking at the time, I’ve got to talk about homelessness. The government is boasting about spending $202 million to end homelessness. Actually, I shouldn’t say “to end homelessness,” because the government has said that the goal used to be to end homelessness by 2025; the government said that’s not the goal anymore. But $202 million for this homelessness crisis, and it is a real crisis everywhere in this province, every community that I’ve spoken with. Hastings: I spoke with somebody in Hastings, Ontario. They’ve got a homelessness crisis. Waterloo has a tent city; Sudbury has a tent city. Can you imagine living in a tent in Sudbury through the winter? It’s cold and it’s dangerous for people to be living in tents anywhere in Ontario through the winter, but people are having to do it because they’ve been priced out of housing.
This government is boasting about spending $202 million—or at least proposing to spend that over the next year—but they’ve cut $124 million from the housing budget and they’re ending $391 million in funding from this year. So, they’ve cut $515 million and they’re adding $202 million: There’s actually $313 million less to address the housing crisis than there was last year, in last year’s budget. They’re shuffling the deck chairs. It’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul, a lot of the elements of this budget.
Let’s see, I want to talk a little about—the last estimate that we have from the FAO is that there are 16,000 people experiencing homelessness in this the province; it’s gone up since then, because at that time there were 8,000 in Toronto, and the number in Toronto has gone up by 1,000. There are over 9,000 people who are experiencing homelessness in the city of Toronto. There were 216 who died on the streets in 2021; 187 last year. This is double the numbers that were taking place. The number of deaths of people experiencing homelessness has doubled during this government’s reign over the last four and a half years, almost five years.
You’ve had five years to deal with the homelessness crisis. The number of people experiencing homelessness is up and the number of people who are dying on the streets because of homelessness, who are experiencing homelessness, has almost doubled. The government wants to talk about $202 million or whatever. Really, the bottom line on homelessness is, is there anybody homeless in Ontario? And if there is, that’s absolutely a shame on the government, because we are one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world. There’s no excuse for anyone to be experiencing homelessness because housing is a human right.
I’ve got just a few minutes left and I want to talk about health care. This government keeps talking about their “innovation” for health care, which really means “privatization”—the privatization, the profitization of health care. Private, for-profit health care costs more and it delivers less. It prioritizes profit over care. We’ve seen this everywhere that it’s been tried. My colleague from University–Rosedale was talking about how this is the same thing that they tried in Australia, and it was a complete failure.
We all agree on one thing: The Liberals left our health care system in crisis. We had hallway medicine. This government is continuing the crisis. They’re actually fomenting the crisis with Bill 124, which is driving health care workers out of the system. You know, Ontario is the third-last jurisdiction in doctors per capita among the provinces. We’re the last in the number of nurses per capita among the provinces. This is four and a half years into this Conservative government, and the numbers have not improved. You are actually driving our health care workers out of the system, and one of the places that you’re driving them to is for-profit care. We’ve seen it in the Ottawa Hospital. There’s a private company now called the Academic Orthopedic Surgical Associates of Ottawa, and they are performing hip and knee replacements in the surgical suites in the Ottawa Hospital, which used to be a public, not-for-profit hospital. These rooms are empty because this government refuses to utilize the existing resources that we have, because really, it’s become pretty clear that the goal of this government is not to maximize care or to minimize the cost for that care; it’s actually to maximize the profit for these private, for-profit companies.
Oh, and the other thing about it is—and I mentioned Bill 124—the nurses and other Ottawa Hospital staff who work on these surgeries with this private clinic operating in the hospital are reportedly being offered double what they would make in a normal shift. So this government ties the hands of our public, not-for-profit hospitals and says, “You can only increase the nurses’ wages by 1% per year,” but then you bring in these private, for-profit companies and they can pay the nurses whatever they want. So you’re siphoning our nurses out of our public, not-for-profit system into the private, for-profit system. You’re privatizing health care. These things that you’re not addressing, the crisis in our health care system—in fact, you’re fomenting it—and the affordable housing crisis: This is why this budget is a failure and why you need to go back to the drawing board.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Questions?
Ms. Laura Smith: Through you, Madam Speaker, I listened to the member opposite. I thank him for his thoughtful submissions.
Our government is helping Ontario students become doctors by investing an additional $33 million over three years. We’re helping 100 undergraduate seats beginning in 2023, as well as 154 postgraduate medical training seats, to prioritize Ontario residents trained at home and abroad beginning in 2024 and going forward in Ontario. Residents will continue to be prioritized for undergraduate spots at these medical schools and in our province. We’re really making in-ways into the health care sector.
One of the things that we’re doing is also improving the system so that pharmacists can provide those needed medications at a time of need. Will the member opposite not support this so we can move forward with our health—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you. The member from Spadina–Fort York.
Mr. Chris Glover: One thing that I find very annoying in this House is that the government says, “Oh, the NDP voted against this or the NDP voted against that,” and you’ll cherry-pick one part of a bigger budget or a bigger bill. You know, there are parts of this bill that we actually support, but overall, the lack of funding for our education system—we cannot support that. The privatization of our health care system—we cannot support that. Public health care has been a godsend for this country for many of us.
How much time do I have? I don’t have enough time. I’ll save it for the supplementary question, but I do have an anecdote about the challenge of privatizing health care.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
MPP Jill Andrew: It’s always a pleasure to hear the member from Spadina–Fort York, one of my favourite MPPs—very hard-working and very dedicated to the people of Spadina–Fort York. You spoke so passionately about issues of homelessness, of housing, of health care. I’m wondering if you can express some of the testimony you received—was it a week ago or two weeks ago?—when you coordinated the arrival of so many advocates who are fighting to end poverty in Ontario from your riding and across the province. What did you hear from them about the inextricable link between housing, homelessness and health care?
Mr. Chris Glover: I think the most poignant story that came out of that press conference that we had in the day was that there was a young mother, Sofia. She has a seven-week-old baby and she’s homeless. She was discharged from the hospital. She’s got a friend that she’s staying with for a short period of time, but that friend is moving and she’s going to lose that housing at the end of April, and she doesn’t know where she’s going to go. And if she doesn’t have permanent housing, then the government—the Children’s Aid—will take her child. She’s terrified. She’s a young mother with a seven-week-old baby.
This story is being repeated across this province. I’ve talked to people sleeping on the streets in downtown Toronto. I’ve delivered meals to people. There was one guy—and I’ve got 30 seconds—I met sleeping in front of a shelter hotel that had closed that day. He had been beaten up. He had a broken cheekbone and a broken rib. He had gone to the hospital. He had been discharged and he’s sleeping on the street in front of a shelter hotel that had been closed that day. I phoned shelter services. There were no beds available for him.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mr. Rick Byers: I thank the member for his remarks this afternoon. I think I heard him say in his remarks that the budget is out of touch with the priorities of Ontarians—something to that effect. I’m just curious, because as I look at some of the numbers in the budget—infrastructure, for example—$70 billion on transit. Isn’t transit a priority for people of Ontario, and particularly your riding? Health care: $56 billion for health care infrastructure long-term and $81 billion invested in health care this year. Isn’t health care a priority for Ontarians? Education: $22 billion; highways: $28 billion.
I’m just curious. It seems to me, in fact, that this budget exactly deals with the priorities of Ontarians. Would you not agree?
Mr. Chris Glover: Let me talk about education. You mentioned education and a lot of things. Obviously, these are priorities, and we want to build a strong public health care system. We want to build a strong public education system. We need public transit. We haven’t had public transit built in this province in the way that we need for decades. But the way that the government’s doing things? You’re building public transit through P3s, so public-private-partnership financing. And the Auditor General says that this public-private-partnership way of financing projects costs 30% more for taxpayers.
So the initial estimate for all the transit that you’re going to build in the city of Toronto was $29 billion. I know it’s going to go much higher than that. So almost a third of that is just going towards the public-private-partnership funding model. If you were to actually fund it directly, you could save taxpayers at least $10 billion on those projects.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Further questions?
Mr. Todd J. McCarthy: When we talk about the priorities of Ontarians, we’ve heard that protecting our seniors and expanding access to the GAINS program is very important, and we’re doing that with these proposals. That includes 100,000 more who will be eligible. That includes an increase in the amount to deal with the reality of inflation for seniors, in particular, who are on fixed incomes. Why then, if that’s a priority that we’ve heard and we’ve acted upon, is the member opposite and his colleagues not supporting this budget?
Mr. Chris Glover: As I mentioned before, it’s annoying when the government talks about “there’s one part of this that you’re voting against,” but we don’t get to vote on individual sections of this budget in this House. We vote on the whole budget or we vote against the budget.
You’re talking about your government’s support of seniors? You’ve just delisted eye exams for seniors. You’re following what the Liberals did. In 2003, when McGuinty got elected, he actually delisted—he didn’t announce this in an election platform. You didn’t announce that you’re going to delist this. He delisted eye exams. He privatized eye exams. It used to be, you could go with your OHIP card and pay and get your eyes examined. McGuinty ended it for most people, and then your government is ending it for seniors. You can’t say that you’re supporting seniors, or that this government or this budget supports seniors, when you’re delisting eye exams.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Question?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: I want to thank my colleague. He’s always such a knowledgeable and passionate speaker. He’s the real deal.
I want to say something to all of us here, and I think this is something that we need to really, truly think about. I think that a society can truly be judged by how it treats the most vulnerable. So when you talk so proudly about this budget, I know, whatever you say in here, if you’re out there, you know that it’s absolutely missing the mark on those who need it the most. There’s no way that you could convince me that any of you truly believe that it is.
I talked about ODSP. I asked a government member about ODSP; I said, “Is 5% enough?” They conceded that it’s a start—in fact, we should be indexing it to inflation, suggesting that what’s being offered isn’t enough. But is even indexing it to inflation enough if where we’re at right now is not enough for families? Do you believe that simply indexing it to inflation even goes far enough?
Mr. Chris Glover: ODSP rates are $1,200 a month. Ontario Works rates are $733 a month. You cannot live in this province on that amount of money. There are people in this province, and I’ve gotten to know one of them, who actually applied for MAID, medical assistance in dying, because he was afraid of being made homeless because he could not afford housing on ODSP.
This government is boasting about a 5% increase in rates to $1,200. Relative to inflation, our ODSP rates have been cut by 30% over the last 25 years, and we’ve got 10% food inflation, we’ve got the housing costs. You cannot rent a room in this province for less than $1,000, if you can find one for $1,000. And to give somebody with disability $1,200 and say, “Oh, that’s all you’re going to get, and that’s all you’re going to get for food and clothing and your housing,” is simply cruel. The government really needs to revisit—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you, the member from Spadina–Fort York.
The Associate Minister of Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity.
Hon. Charmaine A. Williams: Today I will be sharing my time with the dedicated Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to take part in this important debate on Bill 85, the Building a Strong Ontario Act. The budget is our plan to support businesses, families and workers today, while laying the groundwork for a sound fiscal future for the generations of tomorrow.
As the finance minister has said, Ontario is growing and this growth is benefiting families, workers, business and public services. Our budget will make targeted investments in people and infrastructure to ensure that this growth is maintained and enhanced.
Speaker, as Associate Minister of Women’s Social and Economic Opportunity, I was pleased to see that several of the budget’s investments will support women’s continuing social and economic empowerment. I have shared with this House on many occasions my passion for championing the women of this province. I am committed to this task not only for myself but for my daughters and all of those who are growing up in this province, and every girl and every woman, who deserves to thrive socially and economically.
Our government’s vision for the future is for women across the province to thrive everywhere: at home, at work and in their communities. Helping women participate in the workforce and achieve financial security is the foundation of their prosperity and independence and Ontario’s economy, because we know that when women do well, their whole family does well: their children, their spouse and all of those who depend on her. This was true during my almost 20 years as a behavioural consultant and therapist, and this is true now, in 2023.
Women are equally critical to helping Ontario address many of the pressing labour shortages that our economy faces. For example, women are significantly under-represented in many of the skilled trades. In construction alone, the province will need tens of thousands of workers by 2027 due to retirements and job growth. So the timing is perfect. These careers are exciting, diverse and in demand, with good pay and benefits. As the Premier says, when you’ve got a trade, you’ve got a job for life.
That’s why it’s been so thrilling to meet with powerful women like Natasha Ferguson, CEO and founder of her very own construction group, or Shelly Smith, a journeywoman who pivoted from the world of retail to the world of the trades after deciding to learn new skills.
I’ve toured Ontario for many months now, and I cannot tell you how many powerful, accomplished women I’ve met who have just thrived and become leaders in the workforce. They are in the driver’s seat of their own economic future.
Since our government took office in 2018, we have been renewing and building the trades to meet the challenges of the unprecedented levels of investment planned across Ontario. Since its launch in 2020, Ontario has invested more than $1 billion in the skilled trades strategy, including investments coming this year. Many of the initiatives under this strategy include targeted supports for women and girls exploring the skilled trades, including the Ontario apprenticeship program, the Pre-apprenticeship Training Program and the achievement incentive.
So I was very pleased to see this momentum continue with the budget’s announcement of an additional $224 million in the 2023-24 year for a capital stream of the Skills Development Fund. This new stream will leverage private sector expertise and expand training centres, including union training halls, to provide more accessible, flexible training opportunities for workers, especially women. The budget also enhances the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program with an additional $25 million over three years to attract more skilled workers to the province, including in-demand professionals in the skilled trades. Many of these well-qualified newcomers will be women.
Our government has made countless investments to help stimulate and continue growth across the province. Some members opposite might seem to forget that these historic investments help all Ontarians—not just men, but women too. Increasing women’s participation in the workforce is critical to helping more women achieve financial independence and prosperity, and it contributes to the economy of our province. But for this to happen, we need to ensure that workplaces are safer and more equitable. This is especially true in fields that have been traditionally male-dominated, such as the skilled trades.
Earlier this month, we took another important step to make workplaces more accessible and safer for women. Properly fitting personal protective equipment and clothing are crucial to ensuring that women are safe in their workplaces. And providing women’s-only washrooms on construction sites is another important improvement to workplace standards that will make these industries more welcoming for women.
Madam Speaker, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pointed to the fact that we not only have the issue of getting women into the trades, we also have the issue of retention—keeping women there. Half of women who enter the skilled trades leave within four years, so ensuring that women have properly fitted PPE, clean washrooms on the job sites and ensuring women are safe while they work is key.
A few weeks ago, I joined my cabinet colleague the Minister of Education to announce that all Ontario high school students will soon be required to obtain one technical education credit to graduate. This new requirement will give Ontario’s students early exposure to technological education and the skilled trades, and it will prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. But most importantly, it will also ensure that girls will be given the opportunity to consider new pathways for their careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.
There are, of course, other supporting factors that contribute to women’s economic empowerment, and our government is making progress in those areas as well. One essential piece that must be in place for women to thrive is affordable child care. And, Madam Speaker, we put the word “affordable” back into affordable child care when we signed the $13.2-billion deal with the federal government to implement child care Canada-wide.
Another important part of empowering women socially and economically is access to safe, stable and affordable places to call home. That’s why, through the More Homes Built Faster Act, we took action to make it easier to build affordable housing by eliminating development charges for non-profit homes and reducing them for rental units by up to 25%. Our budget adds to this momentum by investing an additional $202 million each year in the Homelessness Prevention Program and Indigenous Supportive Housing Program, starting in 2023. This additional funding is a significant investment to prevent homelessness and to help ensure that women fleeing abusive homes and environments who need sheltering and transitional housing have a place to go to once they leave the shelter. So when we build, we are also building for women.
A third factor in attracting more women into the labour force is personal safety of themselves and their families. Since 2020, our government has committed more than $693 million to support victims of violence, including emergency shelters and counselling services and a 24-hour crisis line.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to see that our budget provides an additional $425 million for mental health and addictions, including a 5% increase to the base funding for community-based mental health and addictions service providers funded by the Ministry of Health. After spending almost 20 years as a behavioural consultant and therapist, I’ve seen where the gaps are, so I’m proud to be a part of a government that has taken steps to fill them.
Speaker, those are just a few of the highlights from our budget that will help women achieve financial security for themselves and their families. Ontario needs women to thrive and succeed. We also need to step up and support women who are entering male-dominated work fields. This increases the likelihood of women staying in the workforce, enjoying long and successful careers in their chosen field.
I can tell you that for myself, had I not had a mentor encouraging me to run for public office, I wouldn’t be here delivering this speech today. Let’s lift up women and lift each other up. That is the Ontario I envision for my daughters and all young girls. It is what we need to do to take us into that next step. Therefore, I urge the House to grant Bill 85 prompt and speedy passage. As always, when women succeed, Ontario succeeds.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): The Minister of Agriculture.
Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: I’m pleased to join the debate today. I really appreciated the manner in which the minister of women’s issues wrapped up: “When women succeed, Ontario succeeds.” I think that’s a nice segue over to what I’m going to be speaking about, and that’s our Ontario agri-food sector, because quite frankly, when Ontario’s agri-food sector succeeds, the province of Ontario succeeds as well.
It’s a pleasure to follow in the debate today. Just to sum up, as we look to close off the debate for this day, I want to remind everyone that when the budget was presented by Minister Bethlenfalvy last week, we presented a plan that was responsible, targeted and geared in our approach to help people and businesses today, while laying a strong fiscal foundation for future generations.
You see, we needed to be thoughtful, Madam Speaker, because we have a responsibility. Not only do we need to be forward-thinking, but we also have a responsibility given that we are the most indebted sub-jurisdiction around the world. We have work to do as well in terms of getting our fiscal house in order, and I believe that our government has done a wonderful job in assessing priorities along with the responsibility of balancing our books.
In saying that, when we can do both in tandem, we’re building Ontario. We’re building a future that’s bright for every single sector in this province.
Just to recap: Our budget touched on building Ontario’s economy for today and tomorrow; building highways, roads and infrastructure; working for workers; keeping costs down for every Ontarian; and making sure we have better services for everyone who is proud to call this province home.
When we talk about better services, that’s exactly what we accomplished with regard to our contribution to the budget. When I’m talking about “we,” I’m talking about the representatives who are proud to call rural Ontario home and for those of us who come from an agri-food background.
I want to share with you that building a strong Ontario is absolutely in our wheelhouse. I’ve always said this: Ontario’s agri-food sector has always been and always will be a cornerstone of our provincial economy, so when we speak about building a strong Ontario, we must be thinking about moving the agri-food sector forward as well.
That’s why I was really pleased to have the support of our entire cabinet, Premier Ford, Minister Bethlenfalvy and the Treasury Board to invest $9.5 million in a healthy soil initiative. This hasn’t been done for years. If we are going to move this sector forward and use state-of-the-art technology so that we can enable precision agriculture, reducing the amount of inputs, all the while focussing on the efficiency per plant as opposed to efficiency per field, I feel that we are really on the right path.
I was heartened last Thursday evening when I was reviewing some comments that were coming in about the budget. Madam Speaker, a gentleman that I really respect came on to social media—his name is John Stackhouse; he’s a senior economist with RBC. He noted that a hidden gem in the budget was our commitment and our $9.5-million investment in soil health. I appreciated that very much.
In terms of that soil health, what we’re going to be doing to enable our precision agriculture is investing in mapping. Would you believe, Madam Speaker, there are some regions in this province of Ontario that have never had proper soil maps? What does that mean to everyone in the House? It means that we need to be able to analyze and understand the makeup, the components within the soil so that we can use it to its efficiency markers and, more importantly, support it, whether it’s inputs of nitrogen, like we need in Ontario, and/or what kind of crops we could be growing in that soil as well.
Some of the data that farmers have been using actually dates back to 1920. We have a colleague in the House that sometimes says, “Get with the times. Get with the computers.” My goodness, we need to make sure that our farmers have the best data that they can access in real-time through GPS. They’re working their fields, and any day now, they’ll be getting itchy and getting their equipment ready to hit the fields to go plant their crops for another season. But again, we need to make sure not only do they have the right tools, but they have the right data as well.
That’s why we’re investing in mapping. We’re investing in good, modern data, but we’re also creating a portal called OASIS. It’s an information system that will allow farmers access to the data that I was just referencing. Again, to quote John Stackhouse, he referred to it as “a hidden gem.”
Another important thing that was shared through this budget is a proof point that the Ford government and all of us here on this side of the House take time to travel across this province and truly understand priorities. We heard loud and clear that we have a looming crisis on our hands due to the lack of large-animal vets. We just don’t have enough people throughout this province who are focused on veterinary medicine geared toward large animals. In terms of services, we need to make sure, again, that farmers have the right services when and where they need them, and that includes large-animal veterinarians.
I want to share a quote that I received from the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Guelph. She wrote, “I wanted to take this moment, fresh off the exciting news in budget 2023, to express our sincere gratitude. I know that this program”—again, our investment in expanding the number of seats in veterinary schools. It’s historic in the sense that I have worked with the Minister of Colleges and Universities on a collaborative program that will see new seats, the first time in decades, come to veterinary medicine in Ontario.
Before I finish the quote from President Yates, I just want to remind everybody that University of Guelph is going to be collaborating with Lakehead University. That collaboration is going to result in 20 new seats every year over the next four years, totalling 80 new veterinarians.
That is great news for Ontario. Why? Again, it’s because we have a need. If our agricultural sector is going to grow and have confidence, we need to make sure that the professionals are in place, in the right place, across this province, ready to serve them.
Let’s talk about this program a little bit more. It’s a collaborative program which has been coined the two-plus-two program. Students are going to take their first two years of veterinary medicine at Lakehead University, so they get acclimatized to northern Ontario. We are certain that they will come to love what Ontario has in our northern side of—I will dare say, north of North Bay. Once upon a time, there was a government in this province that didn’t know there was anything beyond Highway 7. But we’re a government now, today, that recognizes there’s so much opportunity in every single corner of the province. That’s why we’re looking to Thunder Bay, and we are taking a look at enabling students to take their first two years at Lakehead, and then they’re going to come to the University of Guelph for their final two years of veterinary medicine.
This is a great initiative. Why? Because we want to encourage young people to experience the opportunities in living in northern and remote rural communities, because there’s so much to offer. And ultimately, if they learn and they study in a particular area of Ontario, chances are very good they’re going to pursue their career there as well. That’s why this collaborative initiative between Lakehead and the University of Guelph is so important.
Moreover, we’re going to encourage young people to stay where they learn. So we’ve also, through this budget, introduced a $5-million—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): Thank you to the member from Huron–Bruce.
Debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Patrice Barnes): There being no business designated for debate during private members’ public business, this House stands adjourned until 10:15 a.m. on Monday, April 3, 2023.
The House adjourned at 1801.