This is a summary of “Putting Ontario on the Road to Recovery,” the provincial pre-budget submission from Bishop Asbil and the Social Justice & Advocacy Committee. The full text can be read at www.toronto.anglican.ca/sjac.
Throughout the pandemic, Anglicans in our diocese have shown unprecedented generosity and commitment in responding to the needs of our communities. However, public investment and policy change is also needed, to address the systemic inequities that predate the pandemic, but which have also been exacerbated by it. We make the following recommendations in keeping with our social justice priorities of poverty reduction, affordable housing and care for the environment:
1. While the minimum wage was raised to $15/hr this January, this is still well below the living wage rate in any part of Ontario. Over the next five years, we urge you to continue to raise the minimum wage until it approximates the average living wage in Ontario, and index it to inflation.
2. The prevalence of workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 is directly related to the lack of paid sick days for workers. While this government has brought in a temporary measure to provide three paid sick days for COVID-19 related reasons, this provision is inadequate, temporary and overly complex. Require employers to provide employees with 10 paid sick days per year on a permanent basis, with an additional 14 paid sick days during public health emergencies.
3. Uncertainty over work hours and schedules makes it difficult for workers to know how much money they will make, to arrange childcare, to find supplementary income-earning opportunities or to pursue education and training. Require employers to provide a minimum number of hours per week for each position and give employees adequate advance notice of work schedules.
4. Ontario’s employment legislation currently permits employers to pay part-time, temporary or contract workers less than full-time and permanent workers doing the same work, creating an incentive for employers to offer precarious jobs. Require employers to pay part-time, temporary and casual workers at the same level as permanent, full-time employees doing the same work.
5. Ontario is the only province that has not yet signed on to the federal childcare plan, yet families in Ontario, especially in Toronto, pay some of the highest childcare fees in the country. Sign on to the federal-provincial child care agreement to bring affordable childcare to Ontario families and establish decent pay and working conditions for early childhood educators.
6. Social assistance rates have not been increased since 2018 despite growing inflation, and fall well below the Market Basket Measure, Canada’s poverty line. Over the next five years, align social assistance rates with the Market Basket Measure (MBM) for each community, and index them to inflation thereafter, so that people on social assistance are able to meet their basic needs.
7. Remove the artificial separation of social assistance benefits into basic needs and housing benefits. The minimal increases to social assistance rates over the past decade have accrued only to the basic needs portion of the benefit, leaving the shelter allowance ever further beneath the real cost of housing as rents increase. Thus, fewer landlords are able to offer Rent-Geared-to-Income housing to social assistance recipients. Moreover, unhoused people on social assistance do not receive the shelter allowance, making it difficult for them to access housing.
8. Since March 2020, fatal opioid overdoses in Ontario increased by 60 per cent and emergency calls for suspected opioid overdose increased by 57 per cent — not only in urban areas, but all over Ontario. We call on this government to remove the cap on provincially funded overdose prevention sites.
9. Vacancy decontrol and exemption of new rental housing from rent control have not worked to incentivize the creation of new rental housing but have led to an overall loss of affordable rental units. Implement rent control for all residential rental units in Ontario, including rent control on vacant units.
10. Prioritize the creation and maintenance of permanently affordable rental housing, especially by municipal, non-profit and co-operative housing providers, by streamlining the planning and approval process, waiving government charges and providing funding for start-up costs and capital maintenance.
11. Tax real-estate speculation and vacant residential units to cool the overheated housing market.
12. Protect Ontario’s environment, food and water supply by keeping the Greenbelt free from development. In particular, resist the use of minister’s zoning orders to override protections for agricultural land and environmentally significant areas. Once prime agricultural and ecologically protected land is lost to development, it cannot be replaced, leaving future Ontarians less resilient, more dependent on outside sources for food and drinking water and more vulnerable to climate change-related natural disasters. It does not make good economic sense even in the short term, since the cost of infrastructure for greenfield development far exceeds that of intensified or infill development.
13. Cancel the development of Highway 413 and invest those dollars in expanding and improving public and regional transit. Adding a new mega-highway will accelerate urban sprawl and lead to higher levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, without easing traffic congestion long-term. Investing in public transit at the local and regional levels will help ease congestion at the same time as reducing our environmental impact.
As we look forward to emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, we all want to build a healthier, more resilient Ontario. We want all Ontarians to share in the recovery and renewal of our province. We urge your government to include these recommended measures in your 2022 budget.