LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 25 November 2021 Jeudi 25 novembre 2021
Report continued from volume A.
Working for Workers Act, 2021 / Loi de 2021 visant à oeuvrer pour les travailleurs
Continuation of debate on the motion for third reading of the following bill:
Bill 27, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to employment and labour and other matters / Projet de loi 27, Loi modifiant diverses lois en ce qui concerne l’emploi, le travail et d’autres questions.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: I rise today on behalf of the decent and hard-working people of York South–Weston. York South–Weston is home to many front-line and essential workers. Those workers are the transit drivers, retail workers, cleaners, foodservice workers, grocery workers, and health care providers like nurses, PSWs, registered nurses and dietary and recreational aides who fought so hard to look after the most vulnerable during COVID-19. These same workers carry on those same essential duties on a day-to-day basis that helps keep our economy moving.
In York South–Weston, we are quite proudly a very diverse and ethnically and culturally rich community. Many of those workers I mentioned are women, Black, Indigenous and newcomers. Because of the reality of the employment situation in Ontario, due to the years of Liberal and now Conservative inaction on prioritizing workers’ rights, these workers more often than not are working in low-wage, part-time work where the employer doesn’t provide benefits. They will work two and sometimes three jobs in order to get enough total hours to pay their rent and put food on their table.
Precarious work and the so-called gig work economy has meant workers in Ontario can’t plan for the future. They are lucky to just survive and have a roof over their heads. This is a shameful reality in a province as rich as Ontario.
I’m always happy to see bills presented and debated from any side of this House that look to address the terrible realities facing workers these days. Unaffordability is an ever-growing problem in Ontario, and I see no end in sight. So when I see the labour minister put forward a bill—and in this case, it is another large omnibus bill—and it is called the Working for Workers Act, I’m genuinely curious to see what is in that bill. Can it be improved? Should it be supported? They are all important questions, and I will do my best to try to cover some of that ground today in revealing exactly what Bill 27 is and its effect, positive and negative, on the workers of Ontario.
I mentioned that this is an omnibus bill, and like other omnibus bills put forward by this government, the devil is always in the details, Like the Trojan Horse entering Troy, we don’t always see what is in an omnibus bill or experience the result of what is contained until much later, when it is often too late. Bill 27, Working for Workers Act, 2021, is comprised of six schedules. The people of Ontario and the residents and workers of York South–Weston need to know what is in this bill and in these subsequent schedules. I will list them, describe them briefly and speak further to these schedules during my time here today.
Schedule 1 deals with the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009. This schedule looks to allow the principals of a recruiter of a foreign national to be liable under the principles of joint and several liability for fees applied to anyone seeking employment. Additional enforcement power is being given to inspectors under the Employment Standards Act in issuing orders against recruiters, including restricting or prohibiting recruiters found in violation.
Schedule 2 creates a “disconnect from work” that requires employers of 25 or more to have a written policy on how its employees can disconnect from work after hours.
Schedule 3 addresses the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006. This schedule deals mainly with regulated professions but excludes regulated health professionals.
Next, the omnibus bill carries on with schedule 4 and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act. This creates a new section that allows the minister to collect personal information regulated under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Speaker, like the other schedules, I will address them further in my time. I think it is important to list them for the record.
Schedule 5 adds some changes and provisions to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Finally, saving the worst for last, schedule 6 makes changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.
Speaker, some of these acts needed updating, and I have no issue with that. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997, has long been plagued with anti-worker provisions, and I believe I can speak for my colleagues on this side of the House that we cannot wait to modernize WSIB and get the playing field level again, and not skewed, in favour of protecting workers and not awarding employers.
Our workers in the province of Ontario have long had to fight for decent pay and working conditions, and they continue to do so. The pandemic really highlighted the inequities and disparities that exist for workers in the province, especially for those many who are not employed or underemployed.
This bill is called the Working for Workers Act, but I have seen little in this government’s actions since they took office in 2018 that demonstrated that they truly respect workers and that they would enact legislation to protect them. Let us recall how this government started upon them forming government in regard to their record of working for workers. After all, Speaker, it is actions, not words, that we can judge a government by.
In the months leading up to the 2018 election, the Liberals promised a $15 minimum wage after 15 years of an embarrassingly low minimum wage. The Ford government, in one of its first actions, cancelled the planned $15 minimum wage. This signalled to workers across the province that they were not valued, and as a top priority the government was swift to pull that rug out from under them.
I can tell you that workers and families I speak with in York South–Weston have told me that a $15 minimum wage in 2018 would have made a huge difference in their lives. In an increasingly unaffordable province, I wonder if the evictions and renovictions that have been so rampant might have been prevented by putting more money into workers’ pockets; in other words, so that they can pay their rent. It was one year ago, in November, that in my riding of York South–Weston over 170 eviction hearings were scheduled. This is unacceptable. Workers should be able to afford a place to live and to care for their families.
"Working for workers” also should mean that workers should get the same pay as workers next to them doing the same job. The government told employers they are not required to do that. They scrapped an equal-pay-for-equal-work law and eliminated rules making it easier for some workers to join unions.
The government also scrapped the two paid sick days that workers and health professionals had fought for over the years.
This was all done immediately upon forming government. This was their worker mission statement.
With an election now mere months away and after considerable worker pressure, this government will now lift the minimum wage to $15 on January 1, 2022, almost four years after scrapping the $15 minimum wage. I don’t have to tell anyone here that $15 in 2018 does not represent the same spending power as $15 in 2022. But an election is coming, and this government is nothing but their usual day late and dollar short.
Madam Speaker, I have no confidence in this government doing right for workers. Just this week, once again, the official opposition was proposing paid sick days, and I had the honour to speak in favour of that bill. It was defeated by this government. The government of yes said no to paid sick days over 27 times. If that doesn’t send a message to workers, I don’t know what does.
After the government blocked yet another bill that proposed permanent paid sick days for Ontario workers, the Ontario Federation of Labour responded. Patty Coates, the Ontario Federation of Labour president, stated, “This government has repeatedly proven that they do not care about the health and safety of workers in Ontario. Health care providers and workers’ advocates have pointed to permanent paid sick days as a common-sense measure since before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated our workplaces and communities over the past two years. Yet Ford’s Conservatives have ignored experts over and over again.”
I agree that this government ignores experts and only listens to the voices it wants to hear: their buddies, their friends. Those voices are usually big business, developers and lobbyists who frequently are former Conservative staffers.
Some of those experts the government listened to in drafting this bill came from an advisory committee called the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee. This committee that informed the Working for Workers Act did not have a single representative from labour, workers, or labour and employment law experts. There were bankers and business people, along with other professionals, but not a single voice from those who know labour and workers best. This collection of experts helps explain many of the motivations for changes suggested to various labour acts.
Schedule 1, dealing with changes to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, for example, is very vague on actual enforcement measures. The consequences for violating the act are deliberately short on details.
Schedule 2, dealing with employer policies for workers to disconnect after work hours, is rather meaningless without actual legislation.
Schedule 3 and its provisions around foreign credentials is an issue we have spoken about on this side of the House. The omission of regulated health professionals from the act is a curious one. Skilled trades groups have told us that barriers like a lack of Canadian experience are not so much the issue, but rather a requirement that tradespeople become apprentices, while groups representing foreign-born professionals are unhappy that health professionals are excluded. Advocates for internationally trained physicians feel that this exclusion in schedule 3 impacts gender, racial and cultural parity in our health system. However, neither of these groups were part of the committee making recommendations to this bill.
Madam Speaker, this government is not working for workers when it caps the wages of workers such as nurses and teachers below inflation, like it did with Bill 124. Bill 124 also took an iron fist to collective bargaining rights and collective agreements. This, we should remember, is the government that spent a great deal of money taking women to court to deny them equal pay for equal work. I’m happy to report the government lost that court battle, as it often has with its many court battles, but not before costing taxpayers millions of dollars in court fees instead of doing what is right by women and workers.
Schedule 6, dealing with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, raises many red flags. I have been hearing from injured workers over the years of their struggles to get the justice and dignity from WSIB they deserve. The playing field was skewed in favour of employers and not injured workers’ interests under Mike Harris. This was continued for 15 years under the Liberal government and now gets worse under this government.
The changes in schedule 6 that propose removing the obligation of the board to maintain the funds that workers in the province pay into as their insurance against future injury—or worse, for their beneficiaries—and to name a level of sufficiency of funds at a later date is alarming. This provision could only have been written by a banker, Madam Speaker. It is clear that injured workers were not considered in the schedule 6 changes.
Injured workers have previously been under attack with legislated rounds of premium rate cuts, with the dollars going into the pockets of some of Ontario’s largest employers and wealthiest corporations. Injured workers already have a tough time collecting the compensation due to them, and now the government keeps reducing that pool of money and shamelessly continues to add to the list of prescriptions and therapies that are now delisted—“delisted” being another word for removed, unavailable, “sorry about your luck.” This is heartless, Madam Speaker.
Since the government won’t listen to injured workers, I will let the government hear what many injured workers’ groups are asking for when it comes to WSIB reform. They would like to see an end to deeming, or pretending that injured workers have post-injury employment when that is not the case. My colleague from Niagara Falls has long championed an end to deeming and speaks out admirably on behalf of injured workers.
Injured workers want an end to the dismissal of the medical opinions of doctors treating injured workers and call for an end to the practice of the fishing expeditions they say WSIB uses to look to a worker’s medical past to deny and/or limit compensation for injury.
I will quote Willy Noiles, president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, who stated, “If Premier Ford honestly wants to help hard-working Ontarians, he need look no further than injured workers, who have given blood, sweat and tears to Ontario’s economy. But giving WSIB’s surplus money back to employers instead of reinvesting it into injured workers is a complete slap in the face.” To that statement, Madam Speaker, I will say that I wholeheartedly agree.
As the official opposition critic for youth opportunities, I see nothing about youth and young workers in schedule 6 or this entire bill. If labour or young representatives had been part of the committee that informed this bill, then this government might know that in a 2018 study, workers under the age of 25 accounted for one third of workplace injuries. More than 50% of young workers were hurt in the first six months of the job. New workers—and in precarious employment, they are overrepresented by women, newcomers to Canada, young workers and racialized workers. Those new workers in general are three times more likely to be injured during their first month of employment. These are disturbing statistics that everyone in this House should be alarmed by. That is what we should be addressing when it comes to WSIB and injury prevention, along with ensuring proper training exists in Ontario, because clearly many workplaces are not doing the job to ensure safety.
We also know there is pressure on workers to not report injuries, as employers like their numbers low so they collect their rebates. This is a flawed and dangerous system. Of course, among the worst offenders are those temporary employment agencies that supply workers to jobs where safety is on the line and we see injuries and deaths as a result.
Where are those “working for workers” reforms, Madam Speaker? The government’s “open for business” mantra shouldn’t mean “open for worker exploitation.”
I would like to touch on the skilled trades issue and efforts this government is doing to address that problem that come across to me as worker exploitation. I received an example today from Robert who lives in my riding of York South–Weston. He sent me an email just today and I see that he copied the Premier and the labour minister. If they haven’t had a chance to read his email as of yet, I will now read it out for all in the Legislature. Robert stated:
“I have read the article on ‘Ontario Wants ... People to Help Fix Trades Labour Shortage’ and I find this article to be very upsetting, wrong and untrue. I have been in the trades since February 2019, working as a carpenter. I have not earned the required 1,800 hours to complete my first year as a general carpenter apprentice. I have applied for jobs with various construction companies to work as a general carpenter apprentice and have been turned down. If there are carpentry jobs out there, then where are they? I have been trying to get jobs as a carpenter yet there are very little opportunities out there. If you want to prove that there are construction jobs out there, then prove it to me by getting me a job as a general carpenter apprentice. Otherwise, there are no skilled trade jobs available and your advertisement is bogus.”
Well, Madam Speaker, there you have it: the voice of a carpenter apprentice who, despite working on various jobs for coming up on two years now, is short on his hours to complete as a first-year apprentice. Is this a case of employers letting workers go before they complete hours to qualify them for the next level of pay? If so, this is a reality that needs to be looked into and one the government can play a role in. Very much like in long-term care, where we know we need full-time employees, employers would rather have several part-time, no-benefit workers to keep their costs down—
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Thank you. Questions and comments?
Mr. Michael Parsa: I thank my colleague. I always enjoy listening to him.
Madam Speaker, one of the things I was hoping to hear from my colleague is about the support that’s being provided to our small businesses. You’ve heard me speak in support of our small businesses many, many times in this chamber, as many of my colleagues have.
The previous government, for 15 years, talked about support, and they did many consultations on various areas that this bill addresses.
I want to congratulate the parliamentary assistant and the minister for the work they’ve done on this bill, because it really does address everything that the previous government had talked about that they never got done. This bill addresses many of those, in particular when it comes to small businesses—that this bill will directly provide.
I’m wondering why my colleague is not supporting this bill that will directly support a lot of small businesses.
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thanks to my colleague from the opposite side.
This bill is entitled the Working for Workers Act. We know that during the pandemic, and also prior to the pandemic, small businesses have been struggling. They’re struggling now. I’ve talked about them this week again.
Also, small businesses in my own community of York South–Weston have not been provided direct support, and this bill also doesn’t do that. The Eglinton Hill BIA contacted me recently. Their small business members there—this government has been just washing their windows. They don’t need windows being washed, spending already $2 million. They need direct relief, and this bill doesn’t provide that.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further questions?
Ms. Doly Begum: I want to thank the member from York South–Weston for his speech. I know he cares deeply about his constituents and works very hard to represent them.
One of the things that I noticed in this legislation—and despite what the government members might think, that five years is nothing for somebody to be working for minimum wage, or that it’s okay to allow someone to work for minimum wage regardless of their skills—is, this bill does not cover the bias, the discrimination, workers face by employers if they don’t have Canadian experience, which is the biggest hurdle in getting a job, regardless of what happens when they are qualified or not. Many of these workers are actually qualified and recognized, but what happens is, they’re called unrecognized by the employer. This legislation does not address that. Does the member think that was a necessary step to include in this bill?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thank you to my colleague from Scarborough Southwest.
Experience is very important. They ask for experience. How are they going to gain experience if they are not provided the opportunity head-on, as they arrive?
Also, the member from Mississauga Centre talked about the experience with her family, and this bill doesn’t address that.
We need to provide immigrants, as soon as they arrive, direct internships and co-ops so that they quickly gain the experience, but this bill doesn’t do that. We need to improve this bill and include that to cover what’s missing.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Next question?
Mr. Deepak Anand: Madam Speaker, the government wants workers in a race to the top. That is why the government has a plan to build up Ontario workers by proposing a raise in the minimum wage and providing funding to the workers so that they can learn new skills.
Just to give an example, we’re proposing a general minimum wage of $15 per hour and to eliminate the special minimum wage for liquor servers—that’s a 19% jump in the general minimum wage for them.
We talked about the immigrants, and we talked about the foreign credentials. Madam Speaker, we heard from immigrants and groups that work with them that barriers to recognize foreign credentials need to be struck down. The previous government didn’t act, and that’s why we took this swift action and we’re doing it now.
Can the member please explain what is his opinion about the foreign credentials, and is he going to support this bill?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thank you for the question from the opposite member.
Yes, foreign credentials—I think when we invite the brightest folks to our province and they have been asked through the points systems, they get high points because of their educations—yes, we need to provide them that opportunity as soon as they arrive, to make sure that they integrate and we do that integration right here in Ontario, but this bill doesn’t do that. It doesn’t provide the opportunities to put them into those experiences they need to get employment, and it looks like this is kind of an abuse of workers and a disservice to employees and their families.
Madam Speaker, I have a lot to speak about on this issue, but I will just leave it there.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Next question?
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I’d like to thank the member from York South–Weston for his presentation and his discussion of paid sick days.
We know at this stage, with our understanding of COVID-19, that paid sick days are necessary, that they save lives, that they protect everyone, that it really should be a matter of common sense. I also would say that the expectation that workers will abuse paid sick days could be called negative, and it’s rather judgmental before they’ve even been provided them.
Not protecting public health with paid sick days is almost like the government hasn’t learned anything from the pandemic, whether it’s wave 1, wave 2 or anything.
My question to the member is: What do you think will happen when paid sick days are gone in the province?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thanks to my colleague from London North Centre.
This government of yes is always no when it comes to the workers of Ontario. Paid sick days save lives, and we have seen how, as soon as this government was elected in 2018—what did they do? They immediately eliminated the little that the Liberals—it took them 15 years to just get two paid sick days.
We need paid sick days because workers, when they are sick, cannot come to work. I think that, as many employers have indicated, it makes sense for businesses to make sure that we have paid sick days.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Next question?
Mr. Dave Smith: The member opposite said that this bill was not for workers, but I’m going to give a quote:
“I’m proud to say, and pleased to see, that all our work with Minister McNaughton and his staff is paying off. So much can be achieved through conversation and collaboration, instead of just name-calling. This government is listening to us, and as a result, real working people will benefit.”
That came from Smokey Thomas, the president of OPSEU. Are you suggesting that he doesn’t represent workers? He’s endorsing this.
Mr. Faisal Hassan: I mentioned in my remarks the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Patty Coates, who represents workers in Ontario.
This government of yes is always no when it comes to the workers of Ontario, Madam Speaker. What we need is to support workers. How are you going to support workers? Provide them paid sick days.
Talking about the minimum wage: In 2018, this government eliminated it, and now, because they’re in an election, that’s why they’re doing this.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Next question?
Miss Monique Taylor: Thank you to the member from York South–Weston for his very intricate debate on this bill at third reading.
We know that many workers in this province have been troubled under WSIB. Our offices are filled with casework for WSIB. Workers always seem to get last on the list, particularly with this government.
In schedule 6, giving money back to the employers—how does he feel that this will impact injured workers in the province of Ontario?
Mr. Faisal Hassan: Thanks to my colleague from Hamilton Mountain.
Yes, it will impact workers significantly, because this bill doesn’t address it. Workers, as I indicated in my remarks, need WSIB not supporting the employer or the corporations, but supporting workers.
This government prides itself—the government of yes is always no when it comes to the workers of Ontario and when it comes to injured workers.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Seeing the time on the clock, it is now time for private members’ public business.
Third reading debate deemed adjourned.
Private Members’ Public Business
Rent Stabilization Act, 2021 / Loi de 2021 sur la stabilisation des loyers
Mr. Kernaghan moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 23, An Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 to implement various measures to stabilize rent / Projet de loi 23, Loi modifiant la Loi de 2006 sur la location à usage d’habitation afin de mettre en oeuvre diverses mesures destinées à stabiliser les loyers.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Pursuant to standing order 101, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: It’s an honour for me to rise today to debate this incredibly important bill, the Rent Stabilization Act—“Pay What the Last Tenant Paid”—and add the voices of the wonderful people of London North Centre.
Affordability right now is top of mind for everyone. For years, it has been getting harder and harder to afford the life people are working so hard for, to give kids the opportunities their parents and grandparents had. Prices for everything are going up, and nowhere is this more evident than the rapidly escalating cost of housing.
From where I sit, housing is a human right and housing is a human need. Yet, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have allowed the market to dictate value. Liberals and Conservatives let the cost of housing spiral out of control. Liberals had 15 years to rein in the skyrocketing rental market, but this was never a priority for them. They let Ontarians pay the price for their neglect.
Since then, it has become far, far worse. The Premier made some choices, but none of those choices helped regular Ontarians struggling with the affordability crisis. His decisions instead helped his insider buddies. His decisions helped the wealthy. His decisions put people at risk of homelessness and poverty. The Premier ended rent control on new apartments, leading to huge rent increases. The Premier gave landlords more power to evict people if they fell behind on rent. The Premier encouraged the Landlord and Tenant Board to hold evictions at a record pace.
Without housing, people can neither build nor maintain a life. Without housing, it’s almost as though people stop existing within society. They are at further risk of violence, addiction, mental health struggles and so much more.
As policy-makers, on either side of the floor, we ought to find within ourselves the conscience to ensure that no one is left out in the cold, that no one has to sleep rough or risk the safety of themselves or their children. But, Speaker, we haven’t seen that political will. We haven’t seen that responsibility from past or present governments. It’s time for change.
What’s missing from the rental market is continuity, fairness and respect for good tenants. Under the current neglected system, vacancy decontrol has been all but abolished. In short, vacancy decontrol is a rule under the Residential Tenancies Act that allows landlords to increase rent to whatever they like once a unit becomes vacant. Under this system, landlords have an incentive to remove good, paying tenants so they can charge more. My office has seen eviction notices that aren’t legal or renovictions, where a landlord claims that work needs to be carried out in the unit and the tenant needs to vacate for those renovations to be completed. Too often, tenants accept eviction orders without question.
Under Bill 23, vacancy decontrol will be eliminated. Instead of jacking up prices in between tenants, new tenants would pay what the last tenant paid, along with the same annual inflation-based rent increases which are allowed during a tenancy. It’s fair. It’s balanced. It’s just. Additionally, a government-run rent registry and enforcement mechanisms would be in place so that if a tenant believes a landlord is charging illegal rent, there will be consequences.
There has never been a more urgent need to address the outrageous cost of rent in London. In 2018, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment was just $877. Two years later, the same one-bedroom apartments are well over $1,000 a month. The price of rent keeps skyrocketing while our wait-list for good housing continues to increase. London’s social housing wait-list has steadily gone up over the last few years and now numbers almost 6,000 people. High rent and long wait-lists leave renters in an impossible situation. Too many renters are stuck in housing that no longer meets their needs. I’ve heard from young London couples who want to start a family but are delaying this big step because they cannot find an affordable apartment with enough space for their new family.
Even more troubling, high rental costs and a lengthy wait-list for affordable housing have kept Londoners stuck in housing that may be unsafe. A Life*Spin study found that 77% of surveyed low-income tenants reported that their rental units needed significant repairs, and the London Vital Signs report discovered that 13% of Londoners are living in “unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable housing.” That needs to change.
This bill is long overdue, and it’s about time that somebody stood up for renters. For 15 years, the Liberals chose not to rein in a skyrocketing rental market, and the Ford government, with their neglect, has taken things from bad to worse.
Tammy, a widow in my riding, wrote to me: “I am on a fixed income. I cannot find [an apartment] that is under $1,100 [which] is the total amount of my income monthly ... I may end up on the street soon. I only have days to count down.” This bill would take that into account. It would make sure that those apartments that are affordable now will continue to be affordable in the foreseeable future.
I also think about families who would be impacted by the passage of this legislation. Kayla, a young mother in my riding, wrote: “We are a two-income family, and yet we still can’t afford to move into a three-bedroom [unit]! ... My husband is currently sleeping on the couch so my son can have his own room, [while] my baby daughter and I are sharing the [principal] bedroom.” That’s no way to live, Speaker. That’s not the Ontario dream.
There are also people who are concerned about the long-term-care system as a result of what we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, people who live with their extended family. Sara wrote to me: “I am currently living with an aging parent because of the difficulties finding and affording rent, while the same building recently [with management changes went from] $1,137 to $1,280 in just a couple months.... When 60% of a person’s income is going to rental expenses alone (plus, on top of mandatory renter’s insurance and the addition of more buildings shifting from all-inclusive to charging for hydro) it all adds up.”
Speaker, I think it’s important to mention that this legislation does not affect the small landlords who are doing the right thing. I think of people like Steve in my riding, who is the son of immigrants who have done wonderful things in the community. He owns many properties, and he looks after his tenants like they’re his family. He makes sure that those units are affordable. This legislation wouldn’t impact people who are doing the right thing. This legislation instead takes on those faceless corporate landlords who want to squeeze people for every cent that they have.
This legislation should and could become part of a multi-pronged strategy that this government could use to address homelessness. Along with that, we should see further support for co-ops. We should see this government investing in bricks-and-mortar building of affordable housing.
Further, there should be legislation to ensure that all new builds have an inclusion of a certain portion of rent-geared-to-income, not simply allowing these developers to have “affordable” units, because when those units are 70% to 90% of an unaffordable market, logically those are unaffordable for the majority of people. We also have to consider that people are currently housed, and we have to brace ourselves for a wave of people who could potentially end up homeless as a result of this government not taking action today.
I must thank the member for Toronto–Danforth, as he tabled the Real Rent Control Act in 2017. It’s no surprise that the NDP has always stood up for renters, since when we were in government, we introduced vacancy control, before it was stripped by the Harris PC government. It’s no surprise that we built a massive amount of social and affordable housing during our time in government, since we understood the tremendous need. It’s disgraceful that subsequent governments downloaded the maintenance and costs for these onto municipalities. It’s an abandonment of responsibility.
Except, I’m sure that the response to this bill may be an ideologically driven answer, that the private sector will somehow magically create more affordable housing, when we know that that is not their motive necessarily; their motive is profit. Worse yet, I’m hoping that this government doesn’t have a response like, “Let’s strike a committee to investigate the homelessness crisis.” It’s a crisis, and we need to act now. We need bricks and mortar. We need to build these spaces for people.
During this incredibly difficult time when folks have struggled to make ends meet as a result of reduced employment, Premier Ford has also callously abandoned Ontario’s target of ending homelessness by 2025. There’s also talk that this government is considering cancelling the non-resident speculation tax. This will make housing further unaffordable.
As I said, Speaker, this bill would bring stability. This bill would bring balance. This bill would bring continuity between renters, so that if you’re moving from one rental accommodation to another, you would know what the last tenant paid. You would know that you’re getting a fair deal.
We also have to consider that housing has become a commodity. As I stated in my earlier remarks, housing is a human need. Housing is the basic foundation on which we build our lives.
I’m so proud, as I conclude my remarks, of the NDP’s record on affordable housing, of building so much affordable housing. It’s a shame that subsequent provincial governments have abdicated that responsibility, have not understood that it is wise not only as human beings to take care of other humans and make sure they’re not struggling, but it’s also fiscally prudent to do so. When you consider the costs, on top of the human costs, of involvement in the health care system, in the criminal justice system—the impact that it has across all levels of society—then it’s the right thing to do. It’s the socially conscious thing to do. But, first and foremost, it is the humane thing to do.
I urge this government to support this bill today as part of a multi-pronged strategy to address homelessness immediately; to make sure that the people who are housed continue to be housed and make sure that there’s fairness, so that renters are able to move from one place to another and know that they’re not being taken advantage of; and also, for the people who are in accommodations now, that they’re not removed from their place under the guise of renovation when it’s actually a renoviction. I urge the government to support this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Mr. Dave Smith: I’ve listened to the speech from the member opposite, and I think there are a lot of things we can agree on. There are a lot of things that he brought up that all of us agree on: Housing is a challenge. Housing supply is a challenge. And he pointed out that that challenge is going to get worse as time goes on, and I’m going to agree with him on that. That challenge is going to get worse, if the right measures aren’t taken.
We know that the GTA itself is going to grow by about 2.5 million over the next decade or so. That’s a lot of people who will be coming in who are going to need housing of some kind. In Peterborough—I can talk specifically about my own riding—the city itself is landlocked. Council doesn’t want to expand, to add more land, and in 2019 they only had five single-family-home building permits issued. The population of Peterborough increased, though, by about 3,000 from 2018 until now. That’s not enough homes. It’s not.
One of the challenges that we have is with purpose-built rentals. We need to make sure that we have purpose-built rentals, and a steady supply of it, but there are challenges on that.
The member opposite talked about greedy, faceless corporations. When you’re building a building that is 10 storeys, 20 storeys, 30 storeys and you’re investing $30 million, $40 million or $100 million to build it, that’s not something that the average homeowner can do, so we do have to rely on some of those individuals who have deeper pockets to buy the properties, to build those large units that are going to accommodate a lot of people.
We have density growth challenges, as well. As much as I would love to say that every person should and could have a single family home, that image of the white picket fence around the single-family home is not possible anymore because of the number of people that we have. We have to have intensification of our density, so we have to have the ability to build multi-unit, purpose-built housing.
I emphasize “purpose-built housing” because if you build a condominium and you have investors who buy those condos, who then turn around and rent them, they can’t rent them at as low a price as something that is purpose-built, so we have to make sure that we’re putting that environment in place where we can have purpose-built apartments.
We also have to make sure that whatever we put forward for legislation, although noble, does not create an environment that does more damage than it does good.
I’m going to touch on one thing in particular, because I looked this up when I knew that I was going to be talking about this, and that is Airbnb. Airbnb is one specific company; there are other companies who do short-term rentals. The concept behind it is that you take your house or your apartment or whatever it is that you’ve got—if it’s a secondary one, it’s much easier to do—and rather than renting it to somebody long-term, you’re renting it to them short-term. The reason that I bring this up is that every single Airbnb that is in an urban area also has the potential for it to be a long-term rental for someone.
In a cbc.ca article from May 2019, the CBC said that there were about 9,500 Airbnb houses, apartments or condominiums to rent in the city of Toronto. Today, Airbnb says there’s a little over 12,700. That’s 3,000 that could have been long-term rentals for people to move into.
So I’ve done a little bit of research on that. I’ve asked a number of people, because I do have friends who are landlords. I myself at one point was a landlord. The resounding theme coming back to me from small investors—and they are small investors; they’re mom-and-pops who are doing it—is that it became too difficult to rent out long-term, and it was much easier to switch to Airbnb.
One of the things that we have to be cognizant of is that we have to have an environment where people like me, who could have a duplex—just one rental unit—or a second home that they would be able to rent out, want to rent them long-term to people. The member opposite talked about a friend of his who is a responsible landlord, who’s not in it to try and gouge someone, to make every possible dollar. We have to be cognizant of all of those people, and we need to make sure that we’re doing things to make it easier and better for those people.
That’s one of the things that we actually did. The More Homes, More Choices Act gave the municipalities a tool, so that they can say a single-family residential home could put an accessory or bachelor or another apartment into it. They could convert the basement to a basement apartment. They could change a loft and turn that into an apartment, or above the garage, something that wasn’t available before with single-family residential, because it was just that: a single family.
But we see that there are a number of people who, as they are seniors, when they retire, are on a fixed income. They want to stay in their home, but they’re over-housed. It may be just one couple, and when they bought the home and raised their family, they had a three-bedroom home with a full basement. When they had two or three kids, that was perfect, but they’ve lived in that home 30 years or 40 years. It is all of their home memories, and they’re not ready to move. They’re not at a stage where they want to go to another place, but they recognize that the home is too big for them. More Homes, More Choice gives them that choice. It gives them that ability to say, “You know what? That basement that we never use, we haven’t been down there in six months. Let’s convert that. Let’s make sure that we’re not over-housed. Let’s give someone else an opportunity to move in at a very affordable rate”—and it does augment their own income.
We’ve done other things. Last fall, we passed Bill 204, Helping Tenants and Small Businesses Act, 2020. That froze rents for this past year. There was no increase because we recognized that there were challenges for people. Now we’re coming into 2022, and in June we announced what the increase is going to be for rentals. It’s 1.2%.
Again, the member opposite talked about the nameless, faceless corporations. In my experience—and I come from small-town Ontario—it’s not the nameless, faceless corporations. It’s the small person, it’s the mom-and-pop, it’s grandma. Those are the people that we’re talking about. They’re going to be able to increase their rent by 1.2%, but the cost of living has gone up by 4% so they are taking a hit on that, because there are a lot of people—a lot of people that I know from my riding—who use that second apartment in their home as a way of making sure that their pension gets them through, as a way of making sure they can still live in the home that they’ve been living in for 30 years, the home that they raised their family in.
We believe that everyone deserves a place to call home. We have to make sure that whatever we put forward as legislation, no matter how noble the intent is, does not create a situation that causes more hardship. Why are landlords leaving the business? Why are homes being converted to short-term rentals? Why are apartments being converted to short-term rentals? Why aren’t apartments being built? Those are all questions that have to be asked, and those are all questions that we have asked. Those are all things that we have been trying to address, and we have been addressing them—as I mentioned, More Homes, More Choice.
We need a full suite of housing options. We need that two-bedroom home to be built. We need that small apartment building to be built, that duplex, the triplex, the six-plex. We need a five-bedroom or a four-bedroom home for the bigger families. We need multi units, that whole suite of it. We can’t find ourselves in a position where, with noble intent, we do something that takes that entire sector out, that stops the development of it. Because when you’re talking about a multi-unit apartment complex, a purpose-built apartment complex, it can’t be built in a year. It takes multiple years. They have to be able to plan for that.
That’s what we have been doing. That’s what we have been addressing. Because for years before that was not done, that was not the approach. It made it more difficult to build. It made it more difficult to buy. It made it more difficult for families to get into home ownership. It made it more difficult for people to move from one apartment to another. We have to make sure that whatever we do, we don’t do it in a way that does create an unintended consequence that actually adds expenses for these people. That’s why we’re taking the approach that we’re taking.
I appreciate the member opposite bringing this forward so we can have the conversation, but we have to do the right thing, the long-term thing, the smart thing.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Ms. Jessica Bell: I want to thank the member for London North Centre as well as the member opposite from Peterborough–Kawartha for their presentations.
We have a housing crisis in Ontario. We have a housing crisis in Toronto. Too many people, 40% of people, pay unaffordable rent. That means they’re paying more than 30% of their income on rent, which means that they don’t have enough money for food, for child care, for electricity, for transport, for medication.
My riding of University–Rosedale has some of the most expensive housing and some of the most expensive rent in Canada, and the average rent for all properties is now close to $2,400 a month. You can cover it on a subsidy that’s given to MPPs to rent in Toronto, but it is something that the average person in my riding and across Toronto cannot afford.
What is so hard for renters these days is that their wages are not keeping up with the cost of housing prices or rent hikes. They watch as the cost of buying a property is getting completely out of reach, where you need to earn $205,000 a year to buy an average property in Toronto right now. They watch as they see homes being snapped up by investors, because they are the biggest segment of buyers in Canada’s real estate market today. And they watch when they read the news and see that 1.3 million homes in Canada sit vacant at a time when 235,000 people are experiencing homelessness. They also watch and write their cheque to a corporate landlord—it’s increasingly a corporate landlord these days—and they watch that cheque go to pay off someone else’s mortgage or to pay the profits for some shareholders. That’s what they watch. And they live in fear of an eviction, because the longer you stay in a unit, especially in Toronto and big cities, the more likely it is that your landlord is going to evict you in order to drive up the rent to what market rate is. That is the reality of being a renter today.
Renters deserve affordable housing. They deserve stability. Renters are not second-class citizens, even though the laws in Ontario today make them second-class citizens. That needs to change. It is why I’m supporting this bill, to bring in real rent control to stabilize rent prices, real rent control that exists between a tenancy and within a tenancy so that the increases are stabilized and regular and adjusted to CPI-based inflation.
The government likes to say that rent control limits supply, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that. This goes beyond what you learn in textbooks in grade 9. The reality is telling us that when the provincial government eliminated vacancy controls in 1996, they did not see a massive increase in purpose-built rental construction; instead, what they saw was a massive increase in condominium construction. It is not that simple. To take another example, in Manitoba, when they moved forward with vacancy control measures, their academic studies showed that there was no evidence that these rent regulations had a negative effect on the supply or quality of rental housing. These are the facts. This is what we’re learning, not from ideology but from reality, and I urge you to look at that.
We need a comprehensive approach to making housing affordable, and supply is part of that solution, but so is fair and effective rent control for the 60% of people in my riding who rent, for the 50% of people in Toronto who rent, for the seniors, for the students, for the newcomers, for the young people, for young professionals. This bill is for them. It needs to be passed, and it should be passed by this government tonight.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Mme Lucille Collard: Ontario is facing a never-seen-before housing crisis; there is no doubt about it, and everybody agrees. The massive amount of homeless people relying on shelters is a major and growing concern. We need innovative approaches to housing to confront this crisis. Investment in affordable housing is necessary to help those whose earnings are too low to rent at market rate. We should prioritize supportive housing over building more shelters.
In order to drive housing prices down, the power of the market should be harnessed. Zoning laws have been used to limit the supply of multi-family housing in every municipality in Ontario. Often, these zoning laws have their root in homeowners wanting to keep poor and racialized people out of their neighbourhoods. These laws ensure that neighbourhoods lack affordable options for families who are not wealthy.
In Toronto, there is something known as the “yellowbelt,” a large swath of the city where it is illegal to build dense housing. Rather than encroaching into the greenbelt, we should be allowing development of apartment buildings, duplexes, townhouses and condos in the yellowbelt. This would give people more affordable options for a place to call home. The increased supply and competition among landlords would cause lower rent for tenants across the city.
It can be unpopular to support the construction of new housing catering to well-off individuals, but the increased supply results in lower prices for everyone. Often, richer people move out of older homes that are currently highly valued in order to move into newer luxury housing. This creates vacancy and makes the older housing stock much more affordable for everyone. Other housing measures that could be pursued include incentives for private developers to include a proportion of affordable housing units in their buildings.
Rent control has the potential to be part of the solution to the housing crisis. This government has removed restrictions on rent increases that the previous Liberal government implemented. These restrictions were designed to stop price gouging that takes money from tenants’ pockets and puts it in their landlord’s bank account.
I hope that as we continue to debate the housing crisis, we remember that both the private and public sectors can play a role in alleviating the budgetary strain facing families. This government is not investing anywhere near enough in public housing, and sometimes it seems like the NDP neglects to mention that increased private development can help create lower prices for consumers.
I think that everyone in this province should have a roof over their head, and I want to ensure that consumers get the lowest prices possible. I hope that we all share this goal and can work together to achieve it.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Mr. Joel Harden: As I start, I just want to mention to someone very important to me, whose 50th birthday is two days away, happy birthday, Clare. Happy birthday, my love. Thank you for being a big reason why I’m here, every single time I’m here.
I also want to say thank you to the member for London North Centre for this bill. This is an important bill. When I think about what it’s for, I look at the city I’m proud to serve, Ottawa, and I see that in 2018-19, rents increased 13.5%, and that was on a per capita basis—the highest amount of rent jump of any Canadian city. I know we talk a lot about Toronto and a lot about Vancouver, but that’s the reality where I come from.
I think about great people like Darin Loewy, who is a low-income tenant who talked to me about what he was going through, who had lived in a unit infested with bugs, with constant issues with some of the major utilities and aspects of his unit. He went with a constant constructive approach to his landlord to say, “Hey, let’s work together to fix this”—constant non-answer, constant delay. Who did he sign up with? He signed up with ACORN, Ottawa ACORN, and tenant to tenant, through mutual aid, they helped fix Darin’s unit.
But what happened more recently to Darin is that his landlord was asking him to move out, was incentivizing him to move out, was giving him a cash bonus to move out. And why? Because someone on Darin’s floor had moved out of their two-bedroom unit, which had previously been $1,000 a month, and had sold that unit not long after for $1,400 a month.
This is happening everywhere. It’s happening to another resident in Ottawa Centre, Melissa Nigi, who was told, when someone acquired her three-unit building, that she needed to think about moving out, after told, originally, that she wouldn’t. Then, she was incentivized through a cash offer. When she wouldn’t move out and other people in her building did move out, rent increased from $1,640 a month to $2,650 a month, Speaker. This is what’s happening all over the downtown.
This is why I salute what the member is doing. The member is asking us to bring sanity and reason to our overheated housing market, to take some responsibility over a housing market where we have seen private investment and unscrupulous landlords balloon a market, which is pushing families out of the downtown.
We need more measures like this, Speaker. They’re constructive for landlords who want a sane housing market. They’re constructive for tenants who want a place to call home. And if we can’t, in the middle of a housing emergency, bring sanity and regulation to this market right now, during this Conservative government, I guarantee you, Speaker, in June, when we have an NDP government, this is going to be done.
Help is on the way to tenants. It’s going to be on the way today or it’s going to be on the way in six months. Thank you, member for London North Centre. Thank you, ACORN. Thank you, Darin. Thank you, Melissa. Don’t stop fighting.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?
Ms. Bhutila Karpoche: Imagine living in a place you call home for over 30 years, raising your child in that home, building your life, your support network in the neighbourhood you live in. Then, one day, you come home to find an eviction notice at your door.
This is what happened to my constituent Theresa De Mesa, who is a senior living on a fixed income, with her son Anthony, who is disabled and for whom Theresa is the sole caregiver. Theresa has lived in her apartment since 1987—34 years. In all those years, despite plenty of financial strain, she has always paid her rent on time.
Yet the landlord has tried very hard to evict Theresa and Anthony, during a pandemic, no less. And I know this because I personally attended not one, not two, but three of their eviction hearings. The reason for the eviction, according to the landlord: cleanliness—basically a bogus reason. Even so, Speaker, the moment the landlord suggested there was a problem with her tenancy, Theresa fixed it immediately, and even had her neighbours helping her, her community supporting her. And I want to give a shout-out here to the building’s tenant committee and to Parkdale Community Legal Services. They have provided absolutely incredible support to Theresa and Anthony. I cannot commend them enough.
Speaker, let’s just lay it out. Whatever the problem the landlord claimed they had was covering up the real incentive: to get Theresa and Anthony out. Because under the current Residential Tenancies Act, landlords can hike up the rent as much as they want once a tenant vacates the unit. It’s called vacancy decontrol. After 34 years of Theresa being a tenant, there’s no doubt her landlord could see big money if they could kick her and her son out.
This is one story of thousands. Tenants all over Ontario are served with bad faith eviction notices every day. Renovictions are far too common. False landlord’s-own-use evictions are too. But the shame of it is, Speaker, it isn’t hard for bad landlords to fabricate some unjust reason to evict long-term tenants. And why wouldn’t they? Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have, for over 25 years, built and maintained a system that rewards bad landlords with big money when they impose bad faith evictions.
Once a tenant is kicked out, rents can be doubled or tripled, and that has caused rents to sky rocket. We need to remove this incentive, which is what this bill does—and in doing so, rent prices will be stabilized. The bill also creates a rent registry so tenants can know how much rent they can expect to pay.
Tenants and tenant advocates have long called for Ontario to bring back vacancy control and create a rent registry. Judith from the Parkdale Tenants Association says, “Vacancy decontrol is the single reason that rents have doubled in Parkdale.” Professor David Hulchanski, not just one of my constituents, but also a respected housing expert from the University of Toronto, says, “It makes no sense to regulate rents during a tenancy, then let them go to any level.”
It’s past time to close these loopholes that incentivize the eviction of tenants, and it’s also time we create a transparent and accessible way for tenants to know that they are paying a fair rent price. All of us in this chamber know it’s the right thing to do, so let’s get it done.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): The member has this time and two minutes to reply.
Mr. Terence Kernaghan: I’d like to thank the member from Peterborough–Kawartha, as well as the member from Ottawa–Vanier for their comments, but first and foremost, I would like to thank my co-sponsors, the member from Parkdale–High Park, the member from University–Rosedale and the member from Ottawa Centre. They really are an example of true collaboration. They’re informed, they’re caring, they’re strong advocates for their community, they listen and then they act upon what the community needs, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have them as co-sponsors on this important piece of legislation.
If we take a look at what is happening right now in the housing market, real estate investment trusts are buying up the market, and despite what the member from Peterborough–Kawartha has said, they are really squeezing people for every dollar that they have. We heard from the government benches that they wanted to have more options, and we talked about granny flats. Well, this is an option, and this is an option that’s part of a multi-pronged strategy which will really assist renters. If we allow the market to continue and we allow the market to drive what the prices are, then we will simply have these large faceless corporations consuming people. People will suffer. People will lose their homes.
Quite frankly, I’d like to issue a little bit of a warning to this government as well: Throughout this pandemic, we’ve known that violence-against-women shelters have been receiving fewer calls. Once people have gone back to work and are employed, there is going to be a wave of people who are going to require affordable housing. It is up to you to make sure that those people fleeing violence receive the support they need.
As I finish my comments, I want to turn back to 1997, when the former member from London North Centre issued a dire warning to the government at the time when they were getting ready to close the London Psychiatric Hospital. She warned the Minister of Health what was going to happen, and the Minister of Health promised that there would be a moratorium on the closure of beds, and they didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Well, right now, in London, the homelessness crisis is such that we see people who are struggling, people who need supportive housing.
I’m so thankful that on this side of the House, we have our homes-for-all plan where we will build 69,000 affordable units and 30,000 units with supports, because that is what people need in order to build back their life.
As I finish, I want to thank London ACORN. I want to thank the members who are co-sponsors of this important piece of legislation. I urge the government to look inside themselves. I urge them to ask their conscience, what is the right thing to do for people who are being denied housing?
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Mr. Kernaghan has moved second reading of Bill 23, An Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 to implement various measures to stabilize rent. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the nays have it.
A recorded division being required, the vote on this item of private members’ public business will be deferred until the next proceeding of deferred votes.
Second reading vote deferred.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): All matters relating to private members’ public business having been completed, this House stands adjourned until Monday, November 29, 2021, at 10:15 a.m.
The House adjourned at 1843.