On June 5, 2019 I joined the third reading debate on the government's Bill 108, the so-called "More homes, more choice Act." This bill will do little to address Toronto's housing crisis, but it will hand unprecedented power to big developers at the expense of complete communities. It also puts Ontario's endangered species at further risk of extinction.
Here are my comments from the debate:
Ms. Marit Stiles: Good morning. Speaker, as always, I’m pleased to join the debate today on behalf of my community, the great riding of Davenport, where, I have to say, the housing crisis is being felt acutely. And it is a crisis, Mr. Speaker, of affordability; I would say less of availability, more really of affordability. I hear it every single day when I’m on the doorsteps talking to my constituents.
Under the previous Liberal government, we did see housing become increasingly unaffordable in Toronto, pushing more people into the shelter system or out onto the streets, and certainly more and more people barely making ends meet because so much of their income has to go to housing. The former government talked about affordable housing—I will give them that—but when push came to shove, their agenda always put landlords and, again, big developers before people in need of housing.
This government is taking that agenda to new heights, handing developers really extraordinary powers over our communities, under the guise of addressing a housing crisis.
In Toronto, the average market rent—for those who may not reside in the city—is about $1,492 for a two-bedroom, not including utilities. Honestly, in my community, there is no way you’re going to find a unit for that price. I doubt that, actually. In Davenport, we’ve seen rents increase—and this is going to shock a few people out there—by 35% since 2012, in just seven years.
Of course, we know that under both of these governments, we haven’t seen wages increase accordingly. It’s something, again, that comes up at the doorstep every time I’m out canvassing. I meet people in their thirties—often a young couple in their thirties starting out. Maybe they both even have full-time jobs. That’s pretty awesome. They’re terrified that they will be forced to leave their apartment because they won’t be able to afford a new one in the same neighbourhood. Also, as they start their family they’re really not sure whether they’re going to find a place that’s close to a school or anywhere near a school, or if they have children that they’ll be able to find a space in a school nearby, in the same neighbourhood.
The idea of home ownership: When we talk about that at the doorstep, people laugh. It’s incomprehensible that home ownership would be an option. It’s something that simply can’t even be entertained by young people in my riding.
For people who are precariously employed—and that number is also growing in Toronto—even a legal rent increase can mean that they’re going to be forced to move, and we see that happening increasingly.
Mr. Speaker, think of minimum wage earners and how much of their income goes to rent each month. It doesn’t leave, really, anything left over for groceries or other necessities of life, and we see that increasingly. Those are the people in our food banks. Those are the kids who rely on the student nutrition programs that this government may end. These folks are worse off after this government’s decision to roll back the minimum wage that was supposed to come into effect, let’s remember, on January 1. Now that we’re in June, those minimum wage earners have about $600 less in their pockets, thanks to this government. It’s something to keep in mind as we weigh this legislation and, frankly, all legislation. We should be asking ourselves, “Will this make life better for working people or worse?”
Mr. Speaker, one thing is for sure: This bill will do nothing to ensure that new affordable housing is built or that existing affordable housing remains that way. It won’t stop landlords from jacking up rents—you had an opportunity; you didn’t take it—and it won’t protect tenants from renovictions, which is a big issue in my community. In fact, some of my constituents right now at 394 Dovercourt Road are facing renoviction. I know it’s happening across the province, actually. It’s quite terrifying.
So what does this bill do? There are a whole lot of goodies in here served up to make wealthy developers even wealthier. That’s pretty much what this bill is about.
For one, it brings back the hated Ontario Municipal Board in schedule 11. Let’s remember that this is a completely unaccountable body stacked with developers, which has the power to override municipalities completely. And let’s remember that for years municipalities pleaded with the previous government, the Liberal government, to address this structure, until finally, when they were facing an election, they agreed to shift the balance. Now this bill restores the power of the OMB to be the final say on planning decisions—a very poor decision and one that I think we will suffer for as a province.
In my community, what that means is that when it comes to major developments like those that are happening along Dufferin Street—oh, I could talk for hours and hours about the developments happening on Dufferin Street.
I think what you’ll find when you go to communities like mine is that people aren’t objecting to development. They understand the need for intensification. But they want truly affordable units. They want something for that height that’s going to be achieved. They want investment in parks and community recreation centres. Sometimes—sometimes—the city gets it right and we get some of those things.
In the case of what’s happening along Dufferin Street, there will no longer be any incentive for developers to work with the community and the local councillors before construction. They can simply wait it out, the developers; appeal to the OMB, which is now the LPAT and I guess will be the OMB again—it’s hard to keep track—and most likely they’re going to have their plans rubber-stamped. It will just be approved. So all the work that communities do to try to extract some community benefit will be gone.
This tilting of the scales back toward developers runs absolutely roughshod over municipalities, city planners, school boards, and most importantly, those local community members. It takes away any incentive, any carrot and, frankly, any stick that municipalities have to negotiate those community benefits.
To make matters worse, this bill would restrict what development charges can be levied from new developments. This is very shameful. Right now, those development charges help all community members benefit when new buildings are constructed. They pay for things, again, like parks, green space, streetscape improvement, libraries, child care spaces—all of which ultimately are great news for communities. They make sure that when that development happens, it happens within a neighbourhood where people, when they move into those buildings, can know that there is going to be a space in a school nearby, child care, community recreation services, that kind of thing—green space, my goodness.
The details of that new system are going to be left to regulation, but the act specifies that these charges will be capped based on a prescribed percentage of the appraised value of the land, and not the number of new residential units.
The bill also frees developers from the prospect of paying education development charges, an issue near and dear to my heart as the education critic for the official opposition. Once again, what we see happening is power transferred away from local boards and centralized in the hands of the minister to decide what is best for growing schools and growing communities. Mr. Speaker, in the past, I know myself, personally, and our party have advocated for more use of education development charges so that we could invest not just in schools in growing areas, but also in the $16-billion repair backlog that we have in our schools, schools that any minute now are going to get so hot—if the weather warms up like it usually does at this time of year—that our kids are going to be literally getting sick in class because of lack of air conditioning, let alone leaky roofs and freezing classrooms in the winter.
Interjection: And the education workers who work there.
Ms. Marit Stiles: And the education workers who work there, who have to deal with those poor working conditions, as do the children.
Speaker, in Davenport and other parts of Toronto, density is increasing. This bill hampers the ability of the city to ensure that amenities and public services will be there to support that increasing density. By giving developers a free hand to do as they please, a few people stand to make a lot of money, a great deal of money, at the expense of smart, urban development and what we call “complete communities.”
I’m not going to read from the city council manager’s report, as I had intended to, because there have been some new developments I want to make sure I have time to get to.
But, Speaker, the question is, how did we get here? We know that some of Ontario’s wealthiest developers were quietly funding a massive third-party advertising campaign, Ontario Proud—some across the way will be familiar with that—that was really dedicated solely to electing this government. Achieved. I know that my constituents and people across Ontario have many questions about the influence of those powerful lobbyists on government policy.
I will add, it wasn’t just this government, because I recently had the experience of sitting on a panel with a former member from Beaches–East York, I believe, Arthur Potts. He says he was a lobbyist with the city for developers, for construction companies, and many of the same people that, unfortunately, he pointed out ironically, defeated his government and helped elect the members opposite. But he gave me some really interesting insight into what this government is doing. He actually agrees, ironically, with some of what the government is doing because he supported those companies.
But anyway, Speaker, like many members in this House, my inbox has been deluged with emails opposing this bill and opposing the undemocratic way it has been rammed through the Legislature, leaving only—let’s remember—one day to hear from the public about such sweeping changes. It’s a complete slap in the face to the people who sent us here. I feel like a broken record sometimes, because unfortunately, we have to talk about that all the time, whether it’s a committee or here—
Interjection: It’s happening.
Ms. Marit Stiles: It’s happening all the time.
I don’t care what the bill is or how right the government thinks they are; the people of Ontario have a right to take part in the legislative process. This is their House, and they have a right to be heard. These are their laws.
Despite these attempts to limit participation by regular people in this process, people have certainly been making their voices heard. We have heard about many, many municipalities that have objected to this bill, from places large and small.
We’ve also had a groundswell of opposition from ordinary citizens to this bill. Amendments to the Endangered Species Act—and I know my colleague just spoke very eloquently about that. I want to revisit that issue. As many will know, Ontario currently has over 230 species at risk, including Blanding’s turtles, lake sturgeon and the boreal caribou. Bill 108 essentially allows developers to pay to break the law, buying their way out of the Endangered Species Act. This has been, I think, quite a concern for so many Ontarians. I can’t tell you how many people have emailed me about this. The bill completely ignores environmental and animal science. It sells out our natural heritage in these backroom deals, hidden away from public oversight or any scrutiny. That is, I have to say, chilling.
This is an emotional subject, Mr. Speaker, and one that I do believe transcends party politics, because no matter what part of Ontario you live in and no matter how you vote, Ontarians know that our natural environment and biodiversity are part of what makes this province one of the most beautiful, livable places on the planet. We are so fortunate, and we are at such risk. The idea that we, as humans, somehow exist outside of these ecosystems is fundamentally flawed, yet it seems to be pervasive in this government’s approach to the environment. And that is truly disappointing to me, personally, to the people I represent and, I think, increasingly to many, many Ontarians, and also, I would say, especially to the next generation, to the young people who are out there every Friday, pleading with us to do the right thing.
Speaker, our very survival as a species is intricately linked to the environment in which we live. If this bill is allowed to pass, we will only be accelerating the species loss that science has already told us is headed for catastrophic levels. I, for one, do not want to pass that burden onto my daughters or their daughters, and I expect some members opposite feel the same. I hope you will find the courage to join us in opposing this deeply flawed legislation.
Just before I close, Mr. Speaker—I have a few more minutes—I want to talk about some news that has emerged today in an interview with the Globe and Mail where the municipal affairs minister has said that he intends to send two proposed official plan amendments, one for the development of Toronto’s midtown and the other for the development of the downtown, back to Toronto officials on Wednesday—that’s today—with major revisions meant to address what he calls “the city’s housing affordability crisis.”
To comply with this directive, the city is going to have to go back to the drawing board, I guess. I want to say how deeply disturbing this is to many of us living in this city—once again, no consultation, no discussion even with people who were elected to represent our city, city councillors—nothing.
I want to quote the minister here, Mr. Speaker, in this article. He says, “As a politician, it’s very difficult, because I am looking out for those people who don’t live in those neighbourhoods right now, who don’t have that voice.” Huh? What? What does that even mean? This minister should be concerned about what’s going to happen to people already living in that neighbourhood, as well as the people who are going to move in, because those people aren’t going to have community centres or daycares.
Already, there are notices up on the fences around developments happening in these areas of the city—if you haven’t, I urge you to go out and check it out yourself, because there are signs on those fences that say, “We cannot guarantee that your child will have a space at this school,” which really means they won’t, and then they will have to be bused to another school.
I just want to point out that the cost of that, the cost of busing, as this government should know, is astronomical. It’s an enormous part of our education budget. It will continue to grow. What we need are more community schools. If you’re building high-rises and you’re going to go higher and higher and not think about those investments, we will all literally be paying that price in the future. I think that’s just one example of where this can go so badly wrong.
The minister talks about needing to allow for more development and building higher buildings in these areas near transit stations and transit growth. But the problem is, we have people literally standing on crowded platforms, kids on crowded platforms—I’ve talked about this before in this House. Kids on crowded platforms getting to school by subway, at risk of getting pushed into the—I mean, this is my nightmare as a parent. I really urge the government to understand the implications of this.
I know what this is about. This is about giving a gift, frankly, back to those who have supported you, big-time developers, and the Liberals previously did exactly the same thing. But Ontarians have had enough of this and Torontonians have had enough of this. We are going to pay the price, and all those people, those families who you say you want to support, are going to literally pay the price. It is terrifying and it is really, deeply undemocratic, so I have to say shame on the government for this.
In closing, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write in and share their views on this deeply flawed legislation. Whether you are someone who has been waiting on the affordable housing waiting list for 10 years and you know this bill will only put housing further out of reach, whether you’re a concerned neighbour who wants smart, responsible growth in your community and not a return to the bad old days of the OMB, or whether you’re someone who knows that we’re already up against the extinction clock for too many species, I want you to know that we hear you and that we will be opposing this bill every step of the way.