LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Monday 20 July 2020 Lundi 20 juillet 2020
Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020 / Loi de 2020 visant la protection des locataires et le renforcement du logement communautaire
Report continued from volume A.
Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020 / Loi de 2020 visant la protection des locataires et le renforcement du logement communautaire
Continuation of debate on the motion for third reading of the following bill:
Bill 184, An Act to amend the Building Code Act, 1992, the Housing Services Act, 2011 and the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and to enact the Ontario Mortgage and Housing Corporation Repeal Act, 2020 / Projet de loi 184, Loi modifiant la Loi de 1992 sur le code du bâtiment, la Loi de 2011 sur les services de logement et la Loi de 2006 sur la location à usage d’habitation et édictant la Loi de 2020 abrogeant la Loi sur la Société ontarienne d’hypothèques et de logement.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: I’ll be sharing my time—did you? Okay, so I won’t be sharing my time.
Today I rise to speak to Bill 184, a bill that will further make the lives of tenants more insecure and will place additional stress on Ontario families in the middle of a pandemic. I myself was a tenant for over 30 years and know the hardships and limitations that come with it. Now, in the middle of COVID-19, I know that these hardships are more challenging than ever.
It is difficult to expect those who have suffered some of the most severe economic hardships during COVID-19 to be able to afford rent, groceries and other necessities when the average rent in Toronto is over $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit. This government’s plan to fast-track evictions will negatively affect a great many Ontario families who are struggling with bills and living expenses during this global pandemic.
It is this government’s duty to protect everyone in this province—this includes both tenants and landlords—and if the government wants to ensure that landlords do not experience financial losses, then the government needs to make sure that tenants are also able to pay the rent in the midst of a pandemic. Bill 184 does little to protect tenants, the same way that the provincial government has done little to ensure that Ontarians receive the aid they need to pay their bills, rent and groceries during this health and economic crisis. This has put many Ontarians in a situation where they have to choose between feeding their families and paying the rent.
And it’s not just renters who are placed in a difficult situation. As of May of this year, the cost of an average home in Toronto is nearly $900,000. Because of this, many new homeowners have taken to renting out their basements or other portions of their home so they can afford to pay their mortgage. Yes, these are not multi-million-dollar landlords.
At the beginning of this crisis, Ontario’s NDP provided a number of suggestions to improve their upcoming spring economic statement in light of the pandemic. One of the very first items we brought forward was a provincial supplement to coincide with those eligible for CERB. This supplement would have allowed tenants to feed their families and to pay the rent, and it also would have allowed homeowners to have had enough income in order to continue to pay their mortgages. And like many other proposals to help everyday Ontarians during this pandemic, the government ignored it. Such a proposal would have helped tenants as well as those landlords struggling to pay their mortgages while renting out their basements. Nobody in this province, whether you’re a tenant, homeowner, small landlord—whoever you are, you shouldn’t have to fear being homeless.
Unlike this government, the NDP government in BC took decisive action to help both tenants and landlords. Not only did they provide additional funding for those who had lost their jobs over and above the CERB, the BC NDP government also provided an additional $500 a month directly to landlords as long as tenants were able to prove that COVID-19 had caused them significant economic hardship.
On April 22, BC’s Premier John Horgan said, when he announced his plan: “With lost jobs and lost wages due to COVID-19, many tenants are worried they can’t make the rent. It’s a challenging time for landlords too. Nobody should lose their home as a result of COVID-19. Our plan will give much-needed financial relief to renters and landlords. It will also provide more security for renters, who will be able to stay in their homes without fear of eviction or increasing rents during this emergency.” This way, tenants were given the assistance they needed to help them to pay rent, while at the same time, landlords were assured they would receive at least some payment.
In coming up with this plan, the BC government consulted with both landlord and tenant advocacy groups and did their best to strike a balance between the needs of tenants and of landlords. Looking at Bill 184, it’s clear this government is catering to the needs of multi-million-dollar property management corporations over tenants in financial distress during the pandemic.
I want you for a second to imagine yourself as a tenant in a high-rise building in one of the areas most harshly affected by COVID-19 in our province. That’s my community. That’s even the Premier’s community. You are an essential worker, and because of high insurance rates in your neighbourhood, you must rely on public transit to get to your workplace. You have to take a crammed elevator to get to your lobby. Your lobby may not be sanitized properly. Your job as an essential worker puts you and your loved ones at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. You do not have the luxury to work from home, and more than 50% of your salary goes to rent alone.
Your landlord, in this case, happens to be a wealthy, incorporated property owner who also owns many other large high-rises in the area. This landlord does not face the same financial challenges as you, drives a vehicle and can work from home.
Now, ask yourself: Does Bill 184 protect both of these parties equally? Life during COVID-19 in big high-rise buildings is harder now than ever before. We know the difficulties that exist when trying to socially distance in apartment buildings, with many tenants, no green open spaces and crammed elevators. Many of the people who live in these units are essential workers who have lost their jobs or may not qualify for CERB or other benefits.
I want to share with you the words of a frustrated tenant in my riding who has had to deal with landlords that do not provide healthy homes or acceptable living conditions. Mr. Robert Lazar has lived in the riding for over 30 years. He is a tenant and has a single-income household with three children. On Thursday, June 25, Mr. Lazar’s refrigerator broke and, as of July 3, it still has not been repaired. His perishable food is spoiled. His children now have to visit their grandmother’s three times a day for meals and drinks. We’ve seen a heat wave in Toronto these last few days. Imagine not being able to access cooling drinks and beverages. The superintendent has offered Mr. Lazar a temporary fridge, which was filled with roaches. He states:
“Our superintendent did her best and was able to bring me a loaner refrigerator and told me that she ordered a new refrigerator for me on Friday.
“However, I cannot believe that you will ... give such a refrigerator to tenants.... The refrigerator had dead roaches inside and live ones coming out from underneath. I quickly removed it from my apartment.
“Over the years I did my best to keep my apartment roach free and it has been that way for quite some time. To bring a filthy, roach-infested refrigerator into my apartment was shocking and even worse, the audacity to give such a refrigerator to tenants.
“We are a family of five (two adults and three children) and have been without a refrigerator since Thursday June 25.
“What will the landlord do if two or three of your 144+ apartments have refrigerator and stove issues at the same time?
“The landlord is only prompt at the following:
“—collecting rent on time (even under COVID-19 conditions) and issuing eviction threats;
“—checking who has installed washers, freezers, air conditioners etc. so they can collect extra money;
“—issuing intimidating eviction letters to long-time good tenants;
“—monitoring which tenants use their laundry cart the least and issue them a warning.
“Annual inspections are an excuse to search for washers, air conditioners and freezers installed. My rusted sinks and bathtubs have been passing annual inspections every year. Extremely dated and rusted light fixtures, all dented doorknobs, all broken/cracked light switches I have had to replace out of pocket because management is cheap to replace them. And not much has been done to ensure sanitation during COVID-19.”
COVID-19 is a time of financial uncertainty, and tenants like Mr. Lazar should not have to deal with neglect from big corporate landlords that are not invested in the well-being of their tenants. This bill will further empower landlords like Mr. Lazar’s.
I would also like to share the words of Peter D’Gama, a tenant and member of Toronto ACORN’s Etobicoke chapter. He wrote: “This bill gives priority to developers’ profits over the rights of tenants.
“One of the issues renters have is getting landlords to fix maintenance backlogs. This bill puts tenants at a disadvantage when trying to defend themselves on withholding rent due to the landlord not fixing issues regarding poor maintenance of buildings.
“Many tenants will have been in arrears due to the economic circumstances brought on by the pandemic. Many do not qualify for CERB payments or if they do have to put much of it towards the basics such as food, and utility bills. This bill harms any plans to pay the arrears. Currently if a landlord agrees to a plan for payment of arrears and the tenant is unable to meet conditions of agreement, the tenant is entitled to a hearing before eviction can proceed. Bill 184 would allow landlords to proceed straight to an eviction order without a hearing.
“Thousands of tenants in Ontario will be trying to catch up on back rent after losing their income or job. What if they feel pressured to accept a repayment plan and fall behind on payments despite their best efforts? What if their financial circumstances change because there’s a second wave of COVID-19?
“Under Bill 184, there is no opportunity to revisit the repayment plan at the Landlord and Tenant Board. Tenants could find a sheriff knocking on their door, ready to enforce their eviction, the second they miss a payment.
“This could lead to a nightmare scenario as happened in some American cities where to address the backlog mass hearings are conducted in a fashion in which tenants have few opportunities to present their case.
“The bill also takes away tenants’ opportunity to get crucial financial and legal advice from the LTB mediator as it allows for legally enforceable repayment agreements to be made outside of the LTB hearing process.
“The bill also makes it easier for landlords to pass on illegal rent increases. An illegal rent increase will now become legal if the tenant doesn’t file an application to fight the increase within one year.” I mentioned earlier during questioning, why not, then, simply make it illegal? Many of these tenants are marginalized. They’re signing documents—in some cases because of a language barrier—they may not understand. To then have them be taken advantage of and make it legal? That’s not the way forward.
“Finally the most pernicious aspect of Bill 184 is it also adds a massive caseload of debt collection to the Landlord and Tenant Board’s workload. It transforms the LTB into a debt collection forum, by allowing landlords to pursue tenants for rent and utilities arrears through the LTB, instead of Small Claims Court as is currently the case.
“Bill 184 puts the lives of tenants amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in jeopardy. Thousands of tenants are already struggling to make difficult choices—to pay food or rent.”
When you’re about to move into a new place, one of the things that you’ll need to know as a tenant is how much it will cost to live in your unit. Are the utilities included, and if they aren’t, then what is the average cost of utilities? This legislation will make it so that landlords don’t have to provide the information on how much the previous tenant had been paying for utilities to some prospective tenants.
A further barrier: The province has to ensure that everyone is able to have a roof over their head, particularly during a pandemic. We need legislation that protects both tenants and landlords and ensures that no one will have to be thrown on the street, through no fault of their own.
Finally, this bill would create a new delegated administrative authority to oversee the Building Code Act. As critic for government services and consumer protection, DAAs fall within my purview, and I will spend some time discussing them here before I conclude.
Delegated administrative authorities are private, not-for-profit corporations that operate at arm’s length from the government and are accountable only to their board. Over the years, we have seen many issues with the DAA model, particularly when it comes to overall lack of accountability. The Tarion Home Warranty Corp. was the very first delegated administrative authority when it was created in 1976. Back then, it was known as the Ontario new home warranty plan. Back on June 19, 1976, a Globe and Mail column written by Jacob Ziegel, a U of T law professor, expressed some serious concerns about the DAA model, and now, after more than four decades of the use of delegated administrative authorities in Ontario, these words have proven to be prophetic. I will read to you what Professor Ziegel wrote back then:
“What is without precedent in Ontario consumer protection legislation is the nature of the body entrusted with the administration of the important powers contained in them.
“For it is not the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations or any government agency that is entrusted with the task. It will be a non-profit corporation of undetermined composition incorporated under the Ontario Corporations Act and at best only indirectly accountable for its actions to the Legislature”—which, of course, is the case of Tarion. “This meant that home builders were able to stack the board with their representatives, ensuring that it was the builders themselves that Tarion served to protect and not the consumer for whose interest the organization was supposed to look after.”
Back in 1976, Professor Ziegel provided an answer for that too:
“There is no secrecy about the reasons for this feature of the act.” Of course, he was speaking about that creation of the delegated authority. “It is a surrender to the long-sought goal of HUDAC, the Housing and Urban Development Association of Canada”—not the former PC leader, which was the home builders’ association back then.
Dr. Ziegel further stated that the home builders’ association “has argued for several years that warranty schemes for new homes should be administered by the builders themselves and that the construction industry should have majority representation on the corporation to be established for this purpose. In earlier discussions involving the establishment of a national home warranty scheme, the federal government refused to accede to this demand. There are strong indications the Ontario government will prove more compliant,” and they did. History has proven that Professor Ziegel was absolutely right.
Over 40 years later, the recent audit of Tarion conducted by Ontario’s Auditor General revealed that the promise pointed out at the outset of this DAA still remains. Here’s what she had to say: “What is often a person’s single biggest purchase in their life was sometimes turned into a frustrating and unnecessarily costly experience, because the organization to which the government delegated the responsibility to help them resolve disputes with their new home builder didn’t always come through. Tarion’s rules, in some cases, favoured builders at the expense of new homeowners.”
The new delegated administrative authority that this bill will create is supposed to oversee building inspections in the province and the building code. But with all that we have seen, and with what the Auditor General has reported on, how are consumers supposed to trust that the very same issues that have plagued Tarion for more than 40 years aren’t going to manifest themselves within this new DAA proposed by this government?
The government’s actions so far with regard to HCRA, the DAA charged with regulating new home construction, where builder representatives and former members of the Tarion board are now sitting on this board, certainly doesn’t inspire confidence that the brand new authority created within this legislation will be any different.
Will this government once again stack a board with developers who will prioritize the profits of home builders over quality construction? One need only look at the billions of damage caused by BC’s leaky condo crisis—a clear example of builders dancing around the building code, to disastrous results. Time and again, we have seen the many problems that occurred in delegated administrative authorities.
Take the Technical Standards Safety Authority, for example, which is charged with enforcing public safety: Despite opposition from their own Operating Engineers Advisory Council, a volunteer panel consisting of industry experts, the TSSA has quietly launched an online consultation right in the middle of a global pandemic that would allow power plants to choose alternate rules for their risk safety management plans. That is what’s happening right now.
Under these alternate rules, power plants could submit their own safety plans to be overseen by the TSSA, a private organization, rather than follow safety regulations enacted by the government. The Institute of Power Engineers has said that this plan “basically amounts to self-regulation.” By moving forward on regulatory changes, allowing power plants to basically regulate themselves when it comes to safety, this government is undermining safety rules that apply to boilers, turbines and other critical systems for generating stations and industrial plants. In doing so, the government is applying the same sort of short-sighted thinking that led to the Walkerton tragedy.
If the equipment inside the province’s power plants is not properly maintained and proper safety guidelines are not followed, it could cause a major disaster. Because of this, we cannot afford to allow plants to design their own safety plans without proper government oversight. That’s happening now.
Now listen to this: When the Operating Engineers Advisory Council wrote to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services stating their opposition to this extremely dangerous plan, the minister wrote back, erroneously suggesting that the Operating Engineers Advisory Council in fact recommended these changes. They’re writing to say, “This is a bad idea,” and the minister is saying, “It was your idea.”
For the record, in the minutes for the Operating Engineers Advisory Council meeting dated October 22, 2019, a TSAA policy adviser stated in his report to the council that during industry consultations, and now I’m quoting from the minutes, “He advised that the majority of respondents are not in favour, with only 25% of respondents in support of this regulatory model. He explained that when that data is disaggregated by stakeholder type, business owners tend to be most in favour of the path 2 approach.”
And it is here that we get to the heart of the issue and the problem with delegated administrative authorities in general. It is plant owners and not the workers who are in support of this dangerous regulatory change. Why? Because, presumably, this self-regulatory approach might save them money on safety protocols. The National Institute of Power Engineers are opposed to this plan, as are the Power Workers Union and Unifor, who have all written their opposition to this.
We have seen this pattern with delegated administrative authorities time and time again, where it is often the interests of big money corporations that are served, rather than those of the people of Ontario. And they’re able to do this with very limited oversight. Right now, only the Auditor General will be able to oversee the new authority created in this bill. The Ombudsman of Ontario would not be able to look into it.
In April of 2018—and I’m going to go back there—the former Conservative MGCS critic tried to add an additional layer of accountability and transparency to delegated administrative authorities by subjecting each of them to the oversight of the Ombudsman of Ontario. This is something I certainly agree with. In fact, during committee, I proposed this as an amendment to all schedules of the recent Bill 159. Unfortunately, this government has had a change of heart when it comes to real DAA oversight. Creating another DAA and handing over its control possibly to developers is definitely a bad move.
Speaker, Bill 184, which is also known as the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, does not protect tenants or strengthen communities; it divides them. It pits landlords against tenants when the government could have avoided any tension by committing to additional emergency funding for all who need it. Instead, the bill favours wealthy corporate landlords and makes it harder for tenants to keep a roof over their head, especially when so many have fallen behind on their rent during the pandemic without any help from the provincial government. This lack of assistance from the government creates more tension, particularly for small landlords who are also falling behind on their mortgages because of the lack of rent coming in. Rather than find more ways to put families on the street during a pandemic, this government should focus on helping these individuals to pay, and ensure that neither landlord or tenant is left hanging.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Mr. Dave Smith: I was listening intently, trying to pick out some things about Bill 184 that you were talking about. It seemed to meander off on a few other tangents. So I would like to find out from you—part of the bill makes it more difficult for landlords to do the renovictions, as it has been called by the opposition. Can you describe why you think it’s a bad idea that landlords have to pay a month’s rent to a tenant to evict them that way, and if they’re caught doing something illegally, they would pay double what the fine is currently? Could you explain why you think that’s a bad idea?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: You know, it’s always the same premise, right? There are elements in bills that are completely disagreeable—and, by the way, talking about delegated authorities is part of schedule 1 to the bill. I recommend, perhaps if you haven’t fully studied this bill, that you should take a look at that part. That’s why I brought it up.
I was a tenant for over 30 years, and I know what it’s like. I know people in my community who are struggling in the midst of a pandemic. They reach out to us. They reach out to you. Overall, this bill seeks to empower more of those who have the power, the big multi-landlords. If you have small elements that you think are helping small landlords, why don’t you address them separately? Why do you always have to introduce everything in such an unpalatable way that constantly puts those who have so little power in the system and our society in a worse place? Why?
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thank you for your presentation, the member from Humber River–Black Creek. That was an excellent presentation.
The Residential Tenancies Act—it’s supposed to be amending it, but it does the opposite, the exact opposite, further weakening tenants’ rights in multiple ways. Also, you mentioned how it doesn’t support small landlords as well. Could you elaborate more on how that would impact both the tenants and the small landlords, that are not big landlords, as well?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: Thank you for the question. At the beginning of my presentation, I did talk about how the official opposition NDP had reached out to the government, talking about providing supports to tenants that would have certainly helped those small landlords.
This is something that is happening in other parts of our country. In fact, BC has been seeing very strong results in dealing with COVID. And it was really what the Premier wanted in that province: to ensure that both small landlords and tenants were helped, because that money would have reached tenants, which, in turn, would have reached landlords.
But right now, we’ve heard some stats saying that there might be about 10% of evictions coming out of this pandemic. So with proper support, we will not have to deal with all the back-end issues, which could be really terrible, that come out of this pandemic.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Mr. Michael Parsa: This bill, by design and implementation, will work to make life in Ontario more affordable and strengthen protection for tenants.
I’m going to go over a couple of the proposed changes. It says that it would require tenants’ compensation of one month’s rent for no-fault evictions, where no compensation existed before; allow the Landlord and Tenant Board to order up to 12 months’ rent in tenant compensation for eviction notices issued in bad faith; and double the maximum fine amounts for offences under the act to $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, from $25,000 and $100,000, respectfully.
Madam Speaker, my question to my honourable colleague is, how does he think that that’s unfair when it is clearly a bill that brings, finally, some balance to both sides?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: Again, it’s the same iteration of the same question. You have a bill. There are many elements to the bill. Some elements may be supportable, and other elements are not supportable, all right?
The issue is this will allow the fast track of evictions. This bill will put more power into the hands of landlords, particularly the big, multi-millionaire ones that really—you hear this if you have many of those landlords in your area, that tenants often don’t face good situations in having to deal with them.
There are barriers that exist for tenants. For instance, the issue of allowing a landlord to illegally charge above-guideline rent that a tenant is unwittingly paying, and then a year after that—making that a law. I don’t understand. Members in this House can just envision: Perhaps their parents came from another country, and English wasn’t their first language—it wasn’t my father’s—and they’re made to sign documents they don’t understand, and they don’t want to be thrown out on the street. This bill will make situations for people like that worse.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Ms. Doly Begum: I just want to thank the member from Humber River–Black Creek for his presentation, because he pointed out some of the things I think the government always notes: Why isn’t the NDP talking about this? Why isn’t the NDP talking about small landlords? Why isn’t the NDP talking about how this bill will help, in this or this section?
I want to give him a chance to talk a little bit about how this bill may have some good parts to it, but there are always some really evil creatures placed inside the bills brought forward by the government that will really hurt people in this province, especially during a pandemic. I want to hear the member’s thoughts on those.
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: I appreciate the question. Thank you very much for that.
Again, the issue of fast-tracking eviction is a huge problem. We could have helped small landlords, just like we could have better helped small businesses, by providing them the funding and the supports. That was lacking. The government chose not to take this path in dealing with COVID. Quite frankly, a lot of the heavy lifting has had to come from other areas.
What this bill doesn’t address is the fact that the small landlords could have been helped in other ways by this government, and it’s just going to make it so much easier, come the end of this pandemic, to see a mass amount of evictions.
This is seriously something that the government is going to have to deal with. It’s going to be a big problem. As we’re going to find with this pandemic, which has been a crisis, there will be aftershocks and ripple effects from this crisis. We have to do everything we can to stop that from happening, and we should be working on both sides to be able to achieve that.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Mr. Roman Baber: It’s good to ask a question of my neighbour to the west.
One of the discrete issues in this bill that we’ve been talking about this afternoon is the repair and maintenance defence, and specifically the availability to plead thereof. But the suggestion of the opposition that tenants can no longer advance repair and maintenance is simply false. What the bill simply says is that you can no longer delay a hearing on non-payment of rent by using repair and maintenance. You’re always welcome to come back and plead repair and maintenance, but if you wish to plead it, you should provide some evidence—which, coincidentally, is good, because if you provide a picture in advance, maybe your leaky faucet will be fixed in advance.
There is no question that what this seeks to do is not to deny the tenants’ rights. What it does is it seeks to expedite the proceeding and potentially abuse of that section. So my question to my friend to the west is as follows: Technically, the act is there for tenants. It’s tenant protection. That means that they want to get their justice and recourse quicker. Why wouldn’t we want to expedite proceedings in the tribunal, when tenants want to avail themselves of the tribunal?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: Thanks to my neighbour for the question. There is an absolute barrier to justice, regardless of whether it’s tribunal, court or whatnot, for the poor, for the people who are facing barriers, okay? This is the reality.
He’s my neighbour. I would love to be able to take him to visit some of my buildings in my constituency where, quite frankly, families—some of them are newcomers—don’t understand how the system works. They are fearful of basically being evicted and put out on the street. They don’t know what all their recourses are. So in the case where they now face a tribunal hearing and they’re facing this LTB for the first time—most of the landlords have lawyers representing them—they’re often there representing themselves, not understanding the system. The whole point is to say to them, “Have all the stuff in preparation”—again, we are not enabling tenants to be able to properly access justice in this. We need to be doing more so that they have better outcomes in the system, and that’s not what this legislation has done. This is only going to make things worse for tenants.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): We don’t have any more time for questions. Further debate?
Mr. Chris Glover: It’s an honour to rise in the House today to talk about Bill 184.
One of the things that this bill does that we’ve been talking about this afternoon is it’s actually going to make it faster and easier to evict tenants. In the middle of a global pandemic, this legislation makes absolutely no sense.
I want to talk about the homelessness crisis across the province, and in particular, in my experience, in my riding. In March, when the pandemic started and we shut down, I got asked to help out with a group called Seeds of Hope, which was delivering care packages to people in homeless encampments, because the shelters were full and the shelters could not take any more people because of the pandemic. In fact, they had to thin out. The city of Toronto actually secured some hotel rooms to put people in. When we were delivering these care packages with food, feminine hygiene products, socks, hand warmers and foot warmers—because it was March—people were incredibly appreciative.
The conversations that I had with the people in those homeless encampments were not the conversations that I expected at all. I want to talk about one woman, in particular, who was with her daughter. Her daughter is in her early twenties. They lived in a small town in Ontario with shared accommodation, with a roommate. The roommate was dating, apparently, a guy who was a drug dealer. The drug dealer sort of moved in and kicked them out, and they had no place to go. So they got moved down to a shelter in Toronto.
When they were in the shelter—this is what the mother told me—her daughter was picked up by a human trafficker, kidnapped and injected with fentanyl, to the point where she became addicted to the drug. Eventually—this was over the past year and a half—he was caught and he was tried. She was one of the very few people who actually testified against him, and he’s now in jail. There were many other victims of his trafficking.
So this woman went from living in a small town—she had had before this a job doing social work in a community centre—to suddenly becoming homeless, ending up in this shelter and going through this horrible nightmare experience with her daughter. They are now in temporary housing in the city of Toronto.
The other stories that I’ve heard in the pandemic: There’s one young man who is a graduate from the Royal Military College. He’s been homeless for the last few years and he would love housing. He says, “I don’t mind being outdoors, but I would really love housing.” He wants to get on with his life. He can’t figure out how to do it and he needs support to do it.
These are stories that I’ve heard. More recently, in the past weekend, I was out with this group, and we were delivering care packages. The stories are changing. Two of the people I talked to—one was a construction worker from Alberta, and he was with a guy who was a kitchen designer, also from Alberta. Because Alberta’s economy had gone down, because the oil prices went down, they moved to Ontario to look for work, and they haven’t been able to find it. They got settled here, the pandemic hit, they haven’t been able to find anything and they’re now sleeping in a tent in the park.
The construction worker goes to Tim Hortons every day because he knows that contractors will eventually show up at Tim Hortons. He goes there, he stands there and he talks to anybody who looks like a contractor and says, “I’m willing to work. I don’t have a place to stay, but if you can employ me, employ me.” So he’s looking for something, for work.
The other person I talked to on the weekend is also sleeping in a tent in the park, and he came from British Columbia, where he worked in the film industry. He came here at the beginning of the pandemic—just before the pandemic actually hit—and wasn’t able to find work because the pandemic hit and the film industry shut down. So there’s no work for him at the moment. He was renting a room in a hotel. Eventually, that used up all his money, and he’s now sleeping in a tent in the park.
There are going to be hundreds and hundreds of more people sleeping in tents in parks unless the government actually takes action, and it’s happening all over the riding, all over the downtown core. I don’t know whether it’s happening in the suburbs as well, but just about every park in downtown Toronto—even city hall has people in tents. These people are in tents because there’s no place for them to go. Last week, the Premier said, “Well, they should be in shelters.” There is no space in the shelters. The shelters are full. The city has secured over 1,000 hotels and temporary apartments to put people in, and that’s still not meeting the demand because more and more people are becoming homeless.
So in the middle of this global pandemic, when we’ve got a homelessness crisis in this city and in this province, this government is introducing a bill that’s actually going to make it easier and faster to evict tenants. You’re not fixing the problem in any way. I don’t mind being here in July if we are passing legislation that is actually going to help the people of this province, if we’re actually doing something that’s going to address the crisis that we’re facing and the crises that are coming up because of this pandemic.
I want to look at the reasons for homelessness and what this government should be doing, and one of the reasons is the opioid epidemic. When I visit these homeless encampments, there are many, many needles left behind. A lot of this opioid crisis is due to the fact that for decades, pharmaceutical companies were promoting opioids as pain relief and downplaying the addictive impacts of them. We have seen lawsuits against these pharmaceutical companies, particularly against Purdue, which is now bankrupt, because of the way they were promoting opioids. People have talked about having painkiller parties—teenagers—not realizing this would be addictive. This is part of the reason we have this opioid crisis.
The other part of it is fentanyl. Fentanyl is coming in. You can buy a 10th of a gram of fentanyl, which will give you a high, for about $25 online, or you can get it in Toronto on the streets for about $25. You can buy it in Owen Sound for $40 and you can buy it in Thunder Bay for $60. So there’s this fentanyl trade going on. This fentanyl is now being laced into other drugs. That’s why we have thousands of people dying during this opioid crisis.
Because of the power of that addiction to opioids, we have people who are not able to control their urges, so they lose their housing. Eventually, they lose their housing and they’re on the streets. So we absolutely need to—instead of passing the legislation that’s before us, we should be addressing homelessness by addressing the opioid crisis.
The other thing we’re facing is the mental health crisis. When you talk to people on the streets, many of them are facing mental health crises. The problem is that if you have a mental health crisis and you lose your housing because of it, you go to a shelter and the shelter does not help. It does not get you back into housing. It often leads to a downward cycle for people. We need to address these crises.
I just want to go back to the opioid crisis for one second. There was one person I spoke to who works in shelters. She said that when people come to her and they say, “Look, I’ve got an opioid addiction. I want to go into detox,” there’s no space in the detox centres. There’s no wait-list for the detox centres. She has to get on the phone and start phoning the detox centres, and over the next three days, she will be on the phone constantly, trying to find a place for this person to go. By the time they find a place, that person is gone. That person has disappeared or they’ve changed their mind.
When people are actually trying to get off their opioid addiction, we’re not dealing with it. So when we wonder about why we have this homelessness crisis in the city of Toronto and in the province of Ontario, it’s because we’re not dealing with the opioid crisis, we’re not dealing with the mental health crisis, and the other reason is that we have let our housing become financialized, what’s called financialized.
There’s an amazing film about this by a woman who works at United Nations housing. Her name is Leilani Farha and she talks about—the housing crisis that we are facing in Ontario is not isolated to Ontario; it is a global problem. The problem is that these large corporations are buying up huge tracts of housing, pushing up the prices and then selling. The film is called Push, and it’s all about how these large corporations are buying up and pushing that price of housing beyond the reach of what people can afford to pay.
The price of housing used to be determined by the amount that people were making in Ontario. It’s no longer determined by that. It’s determined by this international speculation. That’s why people can no longer afford to live in the housing that we have in this city. The average house price in Toronto and in the GTA, the 905, is over $1 million for a detached home. It’s increasing by 10% a year. The rents are increasing by 10% a year. But wages are not increasing by 10% a year. If this government really wants to address the crisis in homelessness, they need to address the financialization. They need to stop the international speculators from driving up the prices beyond what people can actually afford.
I know this government talks about supply. Supply is part of the problem, because our rental rates are very low. But a lot of the problem with supply is that there are 60,000 units that are either rented on Airbnb or that are sitting empty because speculators are waiting for the prices to go up to sell. We need to address the supply by addressing the housing that’s already there.
In my riding, there are a hundred development projects in play right now. In my riding, the population increases by 10,000 people per year. Between one election and the next, there will be another 40,000 people. So it’s not that we’re not building housing fast enough; it’s that the housing is unaffordable and the housing is in the hands of speculators. We need to get the housing back into the hands of the people who are actually going to live there. So if we’re talking about a housing bill or a bill that addresses housing, those are some of the things that should be there.
The fourth point I want to make is, for the last 25 years, no provincial government in Ontario has built co-operative or social housing. The last time it was built is when the NDP was in power, between 1990 and 1995. This housing crisis that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, it’s been 25 years in the making.
At the beginning of this pandemic, we had 8,000 people without housing in the city of Toronto. That number has doubled over the last four years. The city of Toronto just can’t keep up with building shelters, with securing hotels, with securing apartments for people. They simply can’t keep up. Now, with the pandemic and the need to reduce the actual number of people in shelters so there can be some physical distancing, there are tents all over this city. That’s the housing that people have. The impact is not just on the people who are in the tents; the impact is on the community because—as a person who lives in a condo downtown, the parks are our backyard. They’re not supposed to be campgrounds. But that’s where people are forced to live. That’s where we’re forced to take care of people for the time being because this government and the previous government and the federal government have not really addressed housing.
In fact, the actions that this government has taken have exacerbated the problem. I’ll just give a couple of examples: You cut $160 million per year out of the Ministry of Housing budget. This is in spite of a federal housing strategy that’s providing $100 million to the province. That $100 million is supposed to flow through to build housing in Ontario. The $160 million that you cut out of the Ministry of Housing should be building affordable housing in Ontario, but none of that money is being invested. So this problem on the ground, the number of people living in tents, just keeps growing. In the meantime, we’re debating Bill 184, which is only going to make it faster and easier for landlords to evict tenants. You’re actually increasing the problem. You’re exacerbating the problem.
The other thing you’ve done, this government, that’s exacerbating homelessness: You cut legal aid by 30%. When a low-income tenant is being evicted, renovicted or whatever, and they want to go to the Landlord and Tenant Board, it’s best if they have legal representation. They need to be able to go to a lawyer, and they usually can’t afford a lawyer. But you’ve cut 30%, so you’ve actually cut out the avenue for legal support for people who are facing evictions.
Let’s see. Bill 184 does a number of things that make it more difficult. The other piece about this in Bill 184: Tenants can’t raise the issue of repairs at the Landlord and Tenant Board unless they give advanced notice. But the only way they’re going to be able to know that they have to give advanced notice is if they’ve had legal representation, if they’ve actually gone to a lawyer and the lawyer says, “Well, you’re going to the Landlord and Tenant Board, so these are the things that you need to do to prepare.” Because you have cut legal aid, they can’t get the lawyer. They’re going to go there and they’re going to say, “Look, I withheld the rent because the fridge wasn’t working, the air conditioning wasn’t working, the roof was leaking, there are cockroaches”—whatever, but they’re not going to actually be allowed to bring that up at the Landlord and Tenant Board if they didn’t give advanced notice that that was one of the issues that they’re raising. So you’ve actually made it more difficult for people to represent themselves at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
I’ve got just a couple of minutes left. There’s another piece to this bill that deeply concerns me, and it’s the creation of a delegated authority for building inspectors. I was with the MPP for York South–Weston for the Tarion bill, Bill 159. For the last 42 years, what we’ve heard is that everybody who buys a home in Ontario has to pay for a home warranty. But these home warranties are scams. They don’t actually provide support to people who buy the homes. If the developer doesn’t build to code or if the developer leaves defects, the homeowners are often left with a nightmare situation.
There was a homeowner from Ottawa who bought a home, and there was more than $300,000 worth of repairs that needed to be done just in order to make it habitable. We heard nightmare story after nightmare story about people who are in that situation, because the delegated authority of Tarion doesn’t provide them with real home warranties.
Now this government is taking home inspections away from the control of the municipalities and giving them to delegated authorities that will be in the control of the government and probably in the control of the developers. That is just going to exacerbate a problem that’s already there.
Mr. Speaker, Bill 184 is not the bill that we should be debating right now. The bill that we should be debating is how to deal with the homelessness crisis that has been building for 25 years and that is being exacerbated by the pandemic. The other bill that we should be debating is how we actually fix the delegated authorities, including Tarion, and not create another one that’s going to be in the hands of developers that will put homeowners at an even greater disadvantage. Those are my words, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Stephen Crawford): We now have time for questions—10 minutes—starting with the member for Thornhill.
Mrs. Gila Martow: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker from Oakville. The member opposite was speaking very passionately and was very worried about tenants and that they wouldn’t be able—I believe he said that he was worried that they wouldn’t be able to bring issues forward if they had problems with a refrigerator that wasn’t working or cockroaches or something in their unit.
Basically, they are able to bring things over, but they have to give prior notice, because it’s not very fair. Just like in the court of law, you have to have disclosure. You have to let the opposing side know what you’re going to be saying so that they can prepare their rebuttal, their remarks, bring their proof so it also won’t necessitate further hearings.
I just want to know what you think could be better, in your mind, to be fairer to the landlords and the tenants so that they would both be aware of what the other side is bringing forward at these hearings.
Mr. Chris Glover: Thank you for the question. What should be done is if somebody is going to the Landlord and Tenant Board and they have a language problem—they don’t speak English—or if they have no experience with the legal matters, then they need legal support. What should be done is they should get that legal support so that they can prepare their case for the Landlord and Tenant Board.
But in order to do that, in order to get legal support, the first thing this government should be doing is actually reversing their cut to legal aid, because people need legal representation when they’re going to the Landlord and Tenant Board. What this bill does is just make it more technical and more difficult for people to represent themselves at the Landlord and Tenant Board.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Stephen Crawford): Question?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thanks for the comments to the member from Spadina–Fort York. That was very educating on the impact of Bill 184.
Housing is a human right. In the middle of a pandemic, to create massive evictions would also create a crisis. And the cuts also, the 30% you talked about—you could elaborate, because the tenants who are low-income families and working people don’t have resources to hire lawyers. So legal clinics really have been very helpful to them.
How would, then, the cuts to legal aid impact them, and also the evictions, with regard to Bill 184? If you could comment with your thoughts.
Mr. Chris Glover: A lawyer who works at Pro Bono Ontario said they are being inundated with calls and concerns from people who are receiving eviction notices. Even though there’s a freeze on evictions right now, when that freeze is lifted, there is going to be a tsunami of evictions. That’s what they’re worried about. Pro Bono Ontario can only do so much. They need financial support to be able to represent those people.
The number of people who are sleeping in tents right now in the city of Toronto keeps growing week by week, and it’s going to continue to grow unless this government takes action, unless you make a bill to actually address homelessness.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Stephen Crawford): The member from Brantford–Brant.
Mr. Will Bouma: I always appreciate listening to the member from Spadina–Fort York. His passion for the people in his riding and, indeed, for all the people of Ontario comes through very, very strongly.
I’ve heard from so many average, ordinary people in my riding who are landlords, and they’ve been asking for some balance in how that works, even just something as simple as if you’re a tenant and you go to the Landlord and Tenant Board, you get a hearing within eight days; for them, it takes months—and just to bring some of that back. I appreciated the member from York South–Weston, who said that we need to bring that balance back to that.
If we don’t change things from the way they are now—and without getting into just the rent subsidy, because we can’t get an accurate costing of what that is anyway—what would your solution be when we have no landlords left, because it’s getting harder and harder to be a landlord in the province of Ontario?
Mr. Chris Glover: I appreciate the question. You’re right: There should be fairness. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for fairness between landlords and tenants.
There are some landlords who are horrendous landlords, who mistreat their tenants.
There are tenants who go in—just a very small percentage—and don’t ever intend to pay rent, and that’s unfair to the landlords.
What’s really unfair right now is that in the middle of this pandemic—the landlords still have to make their mortgage payments. The tenants have often lost their jobs, lost their income. The CERB is a help, but it’s only $2,000 a month, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,200 a month, so that’s not even keeping people in the housing that they have.
The rent subsidy is the solution—and it’s where the provincial government has been asked by the federal government to step up and provide rent subsidies for both residences and for small businesses.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Questions?
Ms. Sandy Shaw: Clearly, the government’s talking point is to say “balance” a lot, but saying it a lot doesn’t make it so. I would say that the only thing balanced about this is that the government, in equal measures, has managed to fail tenants and to fail small landlords. They’ve also managed to fail commercial tenants and commercial landlords by not enforcing a ban on commercial evictions. This is happening all across our ridings, where small businesses are being put out of business because this government has failed to protect them. And now we’re seeing the same effect—that this government has failed to protect people in housing.
This is a huge disappointment. People are very disappointed to hear the Premier get up and say one thing but in fact present a bill that does exactly the opposite.
Can you share with me what your greatest disappointment is in this government and this failure of a bill that should be withdrawn?
Mr. Chris Glover: Well, there are so many. Thank you for the question.
I’d say the biggest failures, especially during the pandemic, have been around rent subsidies, both for commercial tenants and for residential tenants. On Queen Street West, which is in my riding, there are hundreds of businesses just along that one strip that are going under, because they have not been able to meet their rent requirements. The rent down there for a storefront is between $10,000 and $20,000 a month. The federal government has provided some supports, but it’s not enough to keep you going for three months of being shut down if the bills keep piling up.
The other thing this government has done is, they’ve deferred taxes—health taxes, property taxes etc.—but they haven’t actually subsidized those. So the small businesses just keep seeing this mountain of debt pile up during this pandemic, and then at some point, many of them just say, “I give up.”
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Question?
Mr. Will Bouma: Again to the member from Spadina–Fort York, I appreciate that.
I’ve been looking into what BC has done a little bit, and try as I might, I can’t find any accurate costing of what that’s actually going to be. The real question that I have, though—what they’re doing is between $300 and $500 a month, two people. As you’ve mentioned, and I would completely agree, that will in no way save anyone from being evicted in the province of Ontario, because that will not be enough. My question for you, to put a little bit of accuracy to this, is, what number would you put on that rent subsidy to actually make it work in the city of Toronto?
Mr. Chris Glover: The proposal was to create a rent subsidy, a pool, that people would apply for, and then they would look at it on an individual basis. I think, you know—sorry?
Mr. Jamie West: Eighty per cent, up to $2,000.
Mr. Chris Glover: Right: 80% of rent up to $2,000 was the actual costing.
You’re right. We don’t know how much that would actually cost the provincial government. What we also don’t know is how much homelessness is costing the provincial government. The state of Utah looked at homelessness a few years ago, and they said it costs $120,000 per year to keep a person on the street, whereas they can provide housing for $25,000 a year.
There’s a residence in my riding that provides housing for the most hard-to-house people, and their operating cost is about $23,000 per person per year. So if we’re going to create a whole bunch more people on the street, you’ve got to compare—it’s not that you’re going to save money by putting people on the street. The cost of that has to be weighed as well.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Thank you. We don’t have more time for a question.
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I rise to speak in favour of Bill 184, why we’re here today.
When this majority government was elected, it was because people had lost hope in their province—affordability, housing supply, the fact that there needed to be more balance in this province, because it’s gone a little too extreme. What we hear about these radical and extreme ideas—that wasn’t working for the province. Certainly, they didn’t buy into that option. They bought into the option, and they elected an option, where there was balance. That is why it’s so important, more housing supply.
In my riding of Barrie–Innisfil, we were top six, something my predecessors didn’t realize. It’s certainly why the folks of Barrie–Innisfil didn’t select those individuals. We were top six, top five in terms of the most expensive rental market in Canada. So, of course, they wanted a government that would do something about it rather than just talk.
As soon as we got elected, we did do something about it. We introduced the More Homes, More Choice Act, where, again, it struck the balance of protecting the environment and the greenbelt with the ability to bring up more housing supply. I mentioned this earlier: The vacancy rate in our province was 1.8% in 2018. Certainly, that was an issue, because we had no rental supply, again, causing prices to go up—basic economics.
I often hear members of the opposition talk about stories in their riding. I too got letters and emails from constituents who do want to see a balance. I’ve had Jason in my riding who sent me an email. He’s currently a landlord, but he was also a tenant once. He recognized that the current Landlord and Tenant Board was broken and it needed to be fixed. When he heard about the changes that we’re striking within this bill, he felt hopeful and supportive of these changes.
I also mentioned another constituent of mine, Susan, who helps her mother. She has power of attorney for her mother, who collects OAS and CPP. Her mother has COPD and she’s on a fixed income. She relies on the rental payments to subsidize her income. These are people who are hurt by bad tenants, just like we have bad landlords—again, striking that balance for this province, not going with radical and extreme ideas. That’s something that people like Susan and her mother support. When people call my office, we direct them to supports—supports, for example, like the low-income energy program, because again, the basis of why some people can’t afford to pay their rent is maybe the energy bill that they need help with. So again, direct them to those energy bill programs.
Just this year, on behalf of the Minister of Housing, we funded Lucy’s Place in my riding of Barrie–Innisfil, where we worked with the county of Simcoe and we worked with the mayor of Barrie to provide more affordable housing units for people who are combatting homelessness. Our government alone put in $1.8 million in capital funds and $140,000 in operational funds. Again, this is pre-COVID-19, helping the housing crisis.
Of course, this bill that we’re debating today is something to address not just what is happening in the housing field, but again, to strike that equilibrium between landlords and tenants.
Certainly, we have done our fair share to support those individuals with COVID-19. This is the very opposition who supported us with those elements of COVID-19, so it’s interesting for them to criticize those supports when they voted for those supports.
But do you know, Madam Speaker, what they did not vote for? They didn’t vote for our first budget as a government—the very budget that supported people in terms of homelessness supports and that helped people in terms of affordable and attainable housing in this province. No, they didn’t support that, so I find it really rich that they would criticize us now. It’s really not surprising that they wouldn’t support this bill because, frankly, they didn’t support any of the supports that would help people with disabilities or people with mental health issues and addictions.
This very same government introduced historic funding for mental health, addictions and housing supports, but again, the NDP voted against it. Instead, they would rather have radical and extreme ideas. Here, we want balance. That’s why we were selected, and that’s why I’m supporting this bill on behalf of my constituents.
On that note, Madam Speaker, I will move adjournment of the House.
Third reading debate deemed adjourned.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Ms. Khanjin has moved the adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carries?
Ms. Doly Begum: On division.
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Carried on division.
This House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1906.