As a diocese, our key social justice priorities include reducing poverty, working to end homelessness by creating affordable housing, and safeguarding the integrity of God’s creation – the land, water and air that sustains us all. Our faith calls us to do what we can, not only to help meet the needs of those most vulnerable in our communities, and to protect and preserve the earth from which we live, but also to use our voice and influence in public witness for the common good. We believe that our efforts as individuals and parish communities must be supplemented by public investment and policy measures in order to address the systemic issues affecting Ontarians. Here are our recommendations for the 2023 provincial budget:
As inflation has soared over the past year, Ontarians on low incomes are facing the economic pinch more than ever. Ontarians on social assistance, as well as those in low-paying and precarious employment, are especially vulnerable to the increased cost of living.
While we were pleased to see Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates raised by 5 per cent last September and indexed to inflation beginning in July of this year, this long-overdue increase is still far below the level needed to lift disabled Ontarians out of poverty. Moreover, recipients of Ontario Works (OW) have had their rates frozen since 2018, with no increase or indexation to inflation. We join with over 250 faith communities, legal clinics, food banks, and other community organizations in calling for a doubling of social assistance levels for both OW and ODSP recipients, and thereafter indexing both rates to inflation, so that Ontarians who are disabled or who have fallen on hard times are able to afford the basic necessities of life and participate in their communities, rather than being trapped in legislated poverty. We also reiterate our call from last year’s pre-budget submission to end the artificial division between the basic needs and shelter allowance components of social assistance.
At $15.50 per hour, Ontario’s minimum wage falls well below a living wage in any part of the province and is barely two-thirds of a living wage in the Greater Toronto Area. We call on your government to progressively raise the minimum wage in Ontario until it approximates the average living wage in Ontario, and to continue to index it to inflation.
In addition to low wages, the precarious nature of many jobs leaves too many Ontario workers in conditions that compromise their health and well-being and make it more difficult for them to get ahead. This government’s temporary Covid-related sick leave policy, currently extended to March 31, 2023, is too limited in scope and duration. Moreover, the eligibility requirements are complex, the program is merely temporary, and finally, it puts the financial burden of paid sick days on the taxpayer, rather than on the employer. We call for legislation requiring 10 employer-paid sick days per calendar year, accessible to all workers, on a permanent basis. We also add our voices for an additional 14 paid sick days in times of public health emergency, such as the current pandemic.
We also call for legislation requiring employers to provide a minimum number of hours per week for each position and give employees adequate advance notice of work schedules. This would give workers the stability they need to budget, arrange childcare, and take advantage of opportunities for supplementary work or training. In addition, we call for legislation requiring employers to pay part-time, temporary and casual workers the same rate as their permanent, full-time employees doing the same work, so that employers have less incentive to offer precarious jobs.
Last year, over 60 per cent of the parishes in our diocese passed motions affirming the need for these job protections. Their views are in line with a majority of Ontarians: workers deserve better.
Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic continues to rage across the province. The vast majority of opioid-related deaths are accidental, and could be averted with greater access to overdose prevention sites, especially in communities outside the GTA. We therefore reiterate our call to this government to remove the cap on the number of provincially funded overdose prevention sites in Ontario.
Ontario’s housing crisis is primarily one of affordability, not merely of supply. In our brief on Bill 23, we noted that some of its provisions are welcome, including the waiver of development charges for non-profit housing providers, measures designed to allow as-of-right additions of up to three residential units per property, and provisions to require a higher minimum density around transit hubs.
Unfortunately, the new legislation does not go far enough in ensuring housing affordability, and several of its provisions actually exacerbate the problem. Bill 23 allows the Housing Minister to override municipal rental replacement requirements, which ensure that existing rental units are replaced at affordable levels when an apartment building is being redeveloped. Losing these affordable units would put pressure on remaining affordable housing and would result in more Ontario tenants becoming homeless. Further, the new legislation waters down existing municipal inclusionary zoning provisions, resulting in fewer affordable units available for a much shorter period. We urge your government to repeal those provisions of Bill 23 that would override municipal rental replacement by-laws, limit inclusionary zoning, and shorten affordability periods. The legislation should set a minimum floor for affordability measures that municipalities could have the option to strengthen, rather than reducing all such measures to a lower standard.
While we welcome the exemption of non-profit and co-op housing providers from development charges, we do not believe these exemptions should apply to market developments producing only the minimum numbers of so-called affordable units, where affordability is measured as a percentage of market rent rather than based on what is truly affordable to people on lower incomes, and where affordability periods are limited instead of permanent, should not be able to benefit from these incentives. To do so shifts the financial burden off developers of market units, who are already making substantial profits, and onto municipal governments and individual taxpayers, who are much less able to bear the burden. The resulting shortfall in municipal revenues also leaves municipalities with diminished capacity to create new affordable homes, support other housing affordability programs, and create the infrastructure needed to serve these developments. We therefore urge you to amend Bill 23 to ensure that the waiver or reduction of development charges is applied only to the provision of permanent, truly affordable housing.
Bill 23 also does nothing to ensure that rental units in Ontario – even those built with public incentives – remain affordable. We cannot build our way out of the housing affordability crisis without measures to prevent the loss of affordable units. For this reason, we continue to call for rent control and vacancy control to apply to all residential rental properties.
Rather than placing the financial burden of ensuring housing affordability on municipal governments and taxpayers, we urge you to expand taxation measures on those who benefit most from the financialization of housing, such as taxes on real estate speculation – even for domestic investors – and on vacant properties.
The health and wellbeing of Ontarians depends on a healthy environment: local farmland and watersheds that supply us with fresh food and drinking water; moraines and wetlands to filter water pollutants and absorb potentially catastrophic flooding, and flourishing, biodiverse ecosystems where people can connect with nature and engage in recreation to boost their physical and mental, as well as economic, wellbeing. The environment is the base upon which all Ontario’s health, security and prosperity is built.
Unrestricted growth threatens that health, security and prosperity. Ontario is now losing 319 acres of farmland daily, a loss that is simply not sustainable if we hope to have any kind of food sovereignty or independence in this province. Ontario’s Greenbelt also provides “ecosystem services,” including flood mitigation, preservation of wildlife habitat, and reduction of air and water pollution, that save us billions annually. Increased development will disrupt these ecosystem services and leave Ontario at greater risk of the impacts of climate change, with disastrous financial, infrastructure, and human impacts.
Legislation such as Bill 23 takes us in entirely the wrong direction. It would allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing to amend any official plan by order without recourse, allowing the minister to impose urban sprawl on municipalities that have already planned fiscally and environmentally responsible development within existing boundaries.
Bill 23 guts the power of Conservation Authorities to regulate projects under the Planning Act or to refuse permits based on concerns about pollution or the conservation of land. It removes the obligation of the minister to consider such matters on appeal, and even prohibits Conservation Authorities from providing municipalities with the information they need to build land and water protections into planning approvals. As a result, projects undertaken will be at greater risk of flooding and infrastructure damage.
We urge your government to protect Ontario’s environment, food and water by keeping the Greenbelt free from development and repealing those provisions of Bill 23 which override protections for agricultural land and environmentally significant areas. We also call on this government to restore the powers of Conservation Authorities inhibited by Bill 23.
On top of this environmentally disastrous legislation, the construction of Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass will exacerbate urban sprawl and increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, without easing traffic congestion long-term. This is especially misguided, considering our need to reduce emissions and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. We therefore urge you to cancel the development of Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass and invest those dollars in expanding and improving public and regional transit.
Ensuring democratic governance
Finally, we wish to express our deep concern regarding the passage of Bill 39. This legislation allows “strong mayors” in Ottawa and Toronto to pass municipal budgets and by-laws with the support of only one-third of their city councils. It proposes to assess Durham, Peel, York, Halton, Niagara and Waterloo regions for the purpose of expanding such “strong mayor” tools. Moreover, it would allow the Minister to replace the legitimately elected regional chairs of Niagara, York and Peel. This legislation, introduced the day after the most recent municipal elections, attacks the democratic principle of majority rule, and erodes public faith in our government institutions. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to repeal this undemocratic legislation.
We ask your government to include these recommendations in preparing the upcoming provincial budget. While many of them are not new, the need to implement them is greater than ever. We urge you to “get it done” and set us on a path to a stronger, more resilient, and flourishing Ontario.