The time to act is now

A man sits on the sidewalk holding out a cup for change.
A man begs for change in Toronto. More than 10,000 people experience homelessness on any given night in the city, and homeless encampments are springing up in smaller centres such as Barrie, Peterborough and Cobourg.
 on February 29, 2024
Michael Hudson

Our faith calls us to serve the world God loves – to respond not only to spiritual needs but also to the physical needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our communities, and to advocate for policies that will address the challenges they face. Our social justice priorities include poverty reduction, working to end homelessness by creating affordable housing, and safeguarding the integrity of the land, water and air that sustains us all. We believe that our efforts as individuals and parish communities must be supplemented by public investment and policy measures to address the systemic issues affecting Ontarians. Here is a summary of the Diocese of Toronto’s asks for the 2024 provincial budget.

Poverty reduction

The cost of living continues to rise, leaving Ontarians on low incomes still further behind. More and more Ontarians are turning to food banks to help them survive through the month, while food banks themselves are struggling to keep up with demand.

Social assistance

With Ontario Works’ rates having remained unchanged since 2018, despite rapidly rising inflation, recipients’ already meagre incomes are in steep decline and are now, in real terms, the lowest in over 30 years. A program meant to be a springboard to help Ontarians get back on their feet has become a doorway to destitution. While Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates went up 5 per cent in 2022 and are now indexed to inflation, this still leaves Ontarians with disabilities receiving a mere 57 per cent of the Market Basket Measure poverty line, which does not account for the extra costs of living with a disability. With the rising cost of living, Ontarians with disabilities face increased food and housing insecurity, and are forced to make difficult choices around medications and other disability aids.

Last year, 123 parishes in our diocese passed a motion calling the province to double social assistance rates and index Ontario Works, as well as ODSP, to inflation. We cannot afford to let Ontarians in poverty fall further behind. We urge this government to bring both Ontario Works and ODSP rates into alignment with the Market Basket Measure so that people in need of assistance are at the poverty line, instead of far below it.

Decent work

More than one in six Ontarians using food banks have their primary source of income from employment, a 37 per cent increase over the previous year. We were heartened to see Ontario’s minimum wage increase to $16.55 per hour last Oct. 1. However, there is still no place in Ontario where a person working full-time on minimum wage can make ends meet. The rising cost of living impacts those at the low end of the wage spectrum the most, as they have the least capacity to absorb price increases and are at the greatest risk of food and housing insecurity. To ensure that a job is indeed a pathway out of poverty, the provincial minimum wage should be brought into line with the average living wage in Ontario and indexed to inflation.

Another way in which low-income workers fall behind is that there is no legislation preventing employers from paying part-time, temporary or contract workers a lower hourly rate than full-time workers doing similar work. To redress this imbalance, we call for legislation so that employees working less than full-time hours are paid at the same rate of hourly compensation as full-time workers.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing high rates of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus transmission in the province are a reminder that paid sick days are a public health necessity. We reiterate our call for legislation requiring employers to provide 10 paid sick days per year for all workers, with 14 extra days in case of public health emergencies.

Overdose prevention

Overdose deaths have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic, due to social isolation, restricted direct access to services and supports, negative mental-health impacts and an increasingly toxic drug supply. Despite demonstrated need in communities across Ontario, the number of provincially funded overdose prevention sites has been capped, and the province has announced a pause on planned openings and future approvals of such sites. We believe not only drug users but whole communities are safer for the presence of supervised consumption/overdose prevention sites. We join with the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and other health care providers in calling on your government to allow already approved overdose prevention sites to open, and to expand them in every community in need across the province.

Affordable housing

We are encouraged that this government recognizes the need for increased housing supply and is taking steps to increase that supply. However, we continue to stress that supply-side measures alone are not sufficient to ensure that everyone in Ontario is able to obtain adequate and affordable housing.

Rent control

The lack of rent control on new rental units, as well as a lack of vacancy control, has contributed to a situation in which the increase in average asking rents across the province is outstripping even the high rate of inflation, resulting in a net loss of affordable housing by approximately 20,000 units per year. This alarming trend undermines Ontario’s efforts to create more housing. It also means more and more Ontarians are being pushed into core housing need, and at risk of being made homeless, which ends up costing our communities far more. While this government has taken some steps to address bad-faith evictions, the elimination of vacancy de-control would significantly decrease the number of bad-faith evictions by removing the incentive to displace tenants. We therefore reiterate our call for this government to implement rent control on all rental housing units in the province, including new units, and to eliminate vacancy de-control.

Rental replacement regulations

The province now has the right to regulate municipal rental replacement provisions. As communities across the province seek to create more housing sustainably through intensifying density, the number of rental units subject to demolition and renovation will increase. Without robust rental replacement provisions, this has the potential for displacing thousands of tenants from older affordable units into unaffordable new rentals, and potentially into homelessness. We call on this government to ensure regulations regarding municipal rental replacement by-laws do not weaken existing municipal by-law requirements, but protect tenants’ access to adequate, affordable and secure housing.

Development charge exemptions

Current legislation exempts developers from development charges on the creation of new “affordable” housing, where “affordable” is lower than 100 per cent of market rent and a rent set at 30 per cent of the gross annual income of households at the 60th percentile for renter household incomes in each municipality. Basing the affordability measure on the 60th percentile of gross annual renter incomes means that these projects will continue to be unaffordable to the vast majority of Ontarians who are in core housing need, 76 per cent of whom have low and very low incomes. Public incentives such as development charge exemptions are most effective when directed at developments that address core housing need. Current legislation reduces the effectiveness of development charge exemptions as a means of addressing Ontarians’ real need for affordable housing, while depriving municipalities of a key source of revenue to meet those needs. Therefore, we urge this government to base the definition of “affordable” housing in the Development Charges Act as housing that is affordable to low income households, as defined in the Housing Needs Assessment Test.

Homelessness prevention

The province has a key role to play in helping municipalities address core housing needs in their communities. Programs like the Canada-Ontario Community Housing Initiative, the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative, and the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit help maintain and expand Ontario’s social housing supply, fund needed repairs and keep Ontario households from falling into homelessness. We urge your government to continue, and indeed expand, investments in community housing and homelessness prevention programs to address areas of core housing need.

Supportive housing and shelter

Homelessness is exploding all over the province, with more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness at any given night in the City of Toronto, and homeless encampments springing up in smaller centres such as Barrie, Peterborough and Cobourg. Municipalities depend on the province for an assured source of revenue to be able to address the needs of those without shelter. Multi-year funding arrangements with local governments at the regional, county or municipal level would help alleviate uncertainty and allow local authorities to allocate resources effectively. In this vein, we urge this government to continue to honour its funding commitment to shelter and housing programs in Toronto, regardless of the federal government’s contribution. We also urge increased investment in supportive housing programs, which over the long term offer better housing at a lower cost than emergency shelter services.

Environmental issues

We are pleased that this government has reversed its decision to remove lands from the Greenbelt under Bill 23. However, the government continues with plans for the construction of Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. These mega-highways will pave over some of Ontario’s best farmland, exacerbate urban sprawl and lead to higher levels of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, without easing traffic congestion in the long-term. This is especially misguided considering the need to do all we can to lower greenhouse gas emissions and avoid even more catastrophic climate impacts. Investing in public transit at the local and regional levels instead would help ease congestion and reduce our environmental impact. We therefore reiterate our call to cancel the development of Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass and invest those dollars in expanding and improving public and regional transit.

We welcome the news that this government has announced new procurement targets for 5,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy over the next four to six years. At the same time, however, the province is looking to ramp up gas-fired power generation capacity by an additional 1,500 MW despite 35 Ontario communities (representing 60 per cent of the province’s population) having called for the phase-out of gas-fired power, federal Clean Electricity Regulations set to take effect in 2035 and the worldwide need to triple renewable energy generation capacity. Solar and wind power generation is also more cost-effective than either gas-fired or nuclear generation. We therefore call on this government to significantly expand investment in renewable energy sources instead of ramping up gas-powered and nuclear power generation.


Our recommendations are not new, but the need for them across our province is greater than ever. We urge your government to include these recommendations in preparing the upcoming provincial budget. The time to act is now.


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