iPolitics: Ford government increase class sizes in bid to save cash

TORONTO—The Ford government is loosening restrictions on class sizes in Ontario as it tries to cut down a multi-billion dollar deficit.

The union representing secondary school teachers is already warning that the gap between the planned changes and class sizes protected in collective agreements is “unbridgeable.”

The average high school class size will be raised from 22 students to 28 students, the government announced Friday morning. Education Minister Lisa Thompson made the announcement at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

The news is part of a major overhaul of the education system and the provincial curriculum, including highly anticipated and controversial changes to sex-education.

In a backgrounder provided by the government, the change in class size was justified to “align” it more closely with other jurisdictions in Canada.

The average class size of 28 students will have to be maintained school-board wide for grades 9-12. School operations funding will be adjusted accordingly.

The government says the change in class sizes will be phased in over four years.

Thompson did not say how much money will be saved once the changes are fully implemented, but she said this year it represents less than one per cent of the education budget.

There will be no change to class caps for students in kindergarten through Grade 3 for the 2019-20 school year.

The average class size for grades 4 to 8 in 2019-20 will also stay the same at 24.5 students, but the funding ratio will go up slightly from funding based on 23.83 students to 24.5 students per class.

The government says it’s still consulting on class size, so more changes are possible.

More to come.

Article by Marieke Walsh for iPolitics

Ontario Health Coalition: Preliminary Analysis of Ford Government Health Care Omnibus Bill

This is a radical piece of legislation. It is an omnibus bill and it amends or repeals dozens of other health care Acts. Fundamentally, it sets up a new Super Agency and gives the power to the Minister of Health to merge a range of existing health care oversight agencies into it. Then it gives the new Super Agency extraordinary powers to order, negotiate, facilitate and coerce (through funding measures) mergers, amalgamations, service transfers, closures etc. It gives the Minister sweeping new powers to order mergers, closures, service transfers, etc. These powers include new powers to privatize entire sections of health care services. The public interest protections that we won, largely through amendments to the LHIN legislation, have all been removed. There will be no open Board meetings, no right to access documents, no appeals etc. The Super Agency is to be made up of political appointees. The new powers override the existing democratic structures of local community, public and non-profit health care providers. All health service providers, integrated conglomerates, the Super Agency are required to find endless “integrations” – defined as service transfers, mergers, closures, partnerships etc. This is a very very large health restructuring bill with no democratic process, no democratic protections and will result total loss of any remaining local community control over health care. The following gives a quick overview of the key elements of the legislation:

Title: The People’s Health Care Act 2019

SCHEDULE I. Continuing Care Act 2019

General Overview

This Act takes the existing LHINs and other key health care agencies and transfers them into a new Super Agency. At the same time, the Super Agency and the Minister are given new powers to order megamergers, takeovers, closures, transfers of health care services, including the privatization of public and non-profit health care services. There is no progressive language about the goals and principles, there are no democratic protections, there is no ability for the public to intervene in the transfers/closures/mega-mergers/privatization of their health care services. This is a radical piece of health restructuring legislation first and foremost and it requires continual health care restructuring in perpetuity as long as this legislation is in existence.

Creation of New Super Agency, Transfer of Existing Entities into It

The Act creates a new Super Agency and gives the Minister powers to transfer into it: Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario, Health Force Ontario, Health Shared Services Ontario, Ontario Health Quality Council, Trillium Gift of Life Network, the LHINs, any other entity Cabinet includes later. It gives the power to the Minister to transfer the assets and employees of these organizations over into the Super Agency.

No Democratic Provisions/Public Input

The Super Agency will be unelected. It will be appointed by Cabinet (thus the Board is to be made up of 15 political appointees). Cabinet will determine their pay. There will also be a CEO and the Board will determine that person’s pay within a range that may be set by the Minister. There are no provisions that make the Super Agency or Minister accountable to the people of Ontario in any meaningful way. The already-weak public engagement language of the LHIN legislation has been further weakened and is almost non-existent in this legislation. The provision requiring open Board meetings for LHINs has been removed. There is no appeal for restructuring decisions and privatization, no public access to restructuring plans and documents, basically no public interest/democracy provisions.

Scope

The Bill gives the Super Agency and Minister extraordinary powers that cover much of the health system including: hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, long-term care homes, home and community services, community mental health and addiction services, non-profit family health teams, non-profit nurse practitioner-led clinics, primary care nursing services, maternal care or interprofessional primary care programs and services, hospices and palliative care providers, physiotherapy clinics, independent health facilities (private clinics), anyone else by regulation (which means that Cabinet can expand the entities covered without going back to the whole Legislature). These are called “health service providers” (HSPs).

Goals of Super Agency Do Not include Sound Planning, Public Health Care, Non-Profit Provision, Equity

There is a list of the goals of the Super Agency included in the new Act that pertain to directing the health system to follow the Minister’s goals. But notably, none of the principles of public health care are among the goals of the Super Agency. There is nothing supporting public and non-profit provision of services. The Super Agency is not required to measure and plan to meet population need for care. The list of goals includes the possible takeover (including language that would enable the contracting out) of supply chain management across all health providers covered under the Legislation and any “related service” (not defined). Importantly the listed goals include “integration” of health service providers. Integrate means to: coordinate, merge, amalgamate, partner, transfer, start or cease providing services, cease operating and close down a health service provider. There is no language to support the health system creating better health, or equity, or improving access to care.

Exemptions and Changes to Labour Relations Protections for Health Care Workers

In the legislation the Ford government has given the Super Agency exemptions under the Labour Relations Act. We are looking more deeply into this.

Centralization

The health system will be run through funding /Accountability Agreements – a “command and control” structure that ties the funding relationship to an accountability agreement that can be forced on a service provider by the Super Agency. This system is the same kind of top down centralization of powers as under the existing LHINs only it will be further centralized to the Super Agency.

Endless Restructuring, Mega-Mergers and “Integrated Care Delivery Systems”

The Minister can order a person or entity or group thereof as an Integrated Care Delivery System (ICDS). Each one of these mergers has to be a mega-merger and must include 3 or more services including hospitals, home care, long-term care, primary care, mental health and addictions, palliative care, and any other services cabinet approves including non-health care services. Mergers can include for-profits taking over non-profit and public entities. The Legislation expressly allows the transfer of charitable good and assets. The law requires the Super Agency, health service providers and ICDS to find integration opportunities in perpetuity. (Endless restructuring.) The Super Agency has new powers to “integrate” services by changing the funding of Health Service Providers (HSPs) and ICDS, and facilitate mergers between HSPs and non-HSPs. In plain language, they can cut funding and force a Health Service Provider into one of the proposed mega-mergers. The Minister has extraordinary powers to order transfers of all, or of part, or the closure of all of a health service, and the closure of Health Service Providers and ICDS. Only with regards to the Minister’s orders there shall be 30-days notice followed by 30-days to make an written submission. This is not called an appeal. There is no provision for appeals of restructuring/privatization decisions. There is no provision for notice for the the Super Agency’s orders.

Powers to Appoint Investigators/Supervisors

The Super Agency can appoint Investigators for any Health Service Providers (HSPs) or Integrated Health Delivery Systems (IHDSs). Long-term care homes and ICDSs that include long-term care homes are excluded. In the case of public hospitals and ICDSs that include public hospitals, Cabinet (not the Super Agency) can appoint an Investigator. The Minister of Health can appoint Supervisor to take over a Health Service Provider or ICDS. (Same exclusions apply here). [The power to appoint Investigators and Supervisors existed in the Public Hospitals Act. Investigators can go into an organization, compel the production of documents financial and other to review, and then make a report. Supervisors can then be appointed to take over the powers of the CEO, Board and members for a period of time, run the service and replace the governance. These provisions have recently been expanded to other health care services. This Legislation gives different powers to the Super Agency, the Minister and Cabinet in this regard. Not clear how this works when the services are merged, then merged again and so on, as the Bill sets out.]

Cabinet may or may choose not to establish regulations for public consultation and various advisory councils.

There is one extraordinary regulation that bears mentioning allowing Cabinet to override any part of the legislation.

SCHEDULE II. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Act

This very perfunctory Schedule sets out an Indigenous and a French Language Health Council. All of the members of these councils would be appointed by the Minister of Health. They will not be elected. There are no specific powers set out for these councils. They don’t have any specific role. There is no meaningful requirement to consult with them. They are no accountable in any way to their communities.

SCHEDULE III. Amendments & Repeal of other legislation

This schedule sets out pages and pages of amendments/repeal of other health care legislation. We have not had a chance to go through this section yet.

By Ontario Health Coalition

Ford government considering ways to speed up evictions

Premier Doug Ford’s government is looking to make it easier for landlords to evict tenants by slashing the waiting periods for eviction notices and allowing private bailiffs to remove renters, the Star has learned.

Internal government documents show the Progressive Conservatives are considering a proposal to “shorten the waiting period for eviction orders from 11 days to six days” and “allow for private bailiffs” to turf unwanted tenants.

Under the current Bailiffs Act, bailiffs must be appointed by the government and “cannot use force to seize or repossess your things or evict commercial tenants, evict residential tenants (or) execute court orders,” according to the province’s website on tenant rights.

But the Conservative discussion paper reveals Ford’s administration hopes “to streamline the process” as part of an overall strategy to boost the supply of rental housing.

The document suggests the government is aware such plans could be unpopular with renters.

“Tenant organizations would support the current notice provisions as it allows tenants time to pay rent without starting the eviction process,” the paper says.

In a statement, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark’s office confirmed it is working to “develop an action plan to increase the supply of housing in Ontario, which will be announced this spring.

“Creating more housing, of the types and sizes people need, will help make home ownership and renting more affordable and give people more choice,” the statement said.

Last fall, the Tories lifted rent controls on newly created housing units in a move to spur construction, but those on existing units were preserved for tenants.

Queen’s Park is also studying additional changes to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), which was recently moved under the umbrella of the new Tribunals Ontario organization that oversees a slew of adjudicative bodies.

“Over half of eviction hearings for rent arrears are not disputed by tenants,” the document says.

“Should the LTB only hold eviction hearings when a tenant wishes to dispute an eviction? What safeguards would ensure tenants receive proper notice? (This) may require mitigation and safeguards to ensure tenants receive proper notice.”

The government is concerned that “some vulnerable tenants … could be disadvantaged by this proposal (e.g. tenants with low literacy, English as a second language, persons with disabilities, elderly, etc.)”

In a bid to expedite proceedings, the province is examining whether there should be a “disclosure requirement in advance of an eviction hearing.”

“Raising new issues at eviction hearings is unfair and leads to delays,” the paper says.

In an interview with the Star’s Tess Kalinowski last fall, Clark said he had been pushing Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to appoint more adjudicators to alleviate the backlog of rental disputes.

“I believe very strongly we need to hear from landlords and tenants. We want to hear from them on a variety of issues. I get a lot of letters from both landlords and tenants’ groups about the tribunal, about the length of time the tribunal takes to make decisions,” said Clark.

“It’s very important that we allow both sides to give the government some advice on how to move forward.”

The thorny matter of cannabis use and cultivation in rental properties is another hot topic in the discussion paper.

“We want to continue to ensure that tenant protections are at the forefront of any changes we consider regarding making it easier for landlords to manage their housing,” the document says.

“Certain behaviours may cause damage to the rental unit and impact the reasonable enjoyment of other tenants in the building (e.g. smoking, cannabis, and direct physical damage).”

To that end, the government is consulting with stakeholders on whether tobacco smoking and cannabis “rules in lease agreements” should continue to be enforceable.

“Tenant advocacy groups have expressed that tenants should have the same rights as homeowners (regarding) cannabis cultivation,” says the paper, referring to the law that allows anyone 19 or older grow as many as four marijuana plants per household.

“However, small landlords have requested to be able to limit problematic behaviours when they live in the same unit as the tenant.”

Article by Robert Benzie for the Toronto Star

New leaked documents show PC health-care changes ‘done deal, ‘ NDP leader says

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath leaked new internal government documents on Monday she says show the province had already signed off on leaked health-care legislation the Progressive Conservatives dismissed as “just a draft” last week.

The NDP says the documents released on Monday appear to be government presentations, and include references to cabinet approving the plan and appointing board members.

“It’s a done deal,” Horwath said. “But the entire Ford government has been hiding this plan from the public. Why? Because people won’t like it.”The documents follow last week’s draft legislation, also leaked by the NDP, showing the Doug Ford government wants to create a “super agency.” The NDP will not say how they were obtained and they have not been verified.

The NDP accused the government of trying to create a two-tier private health system in Ontario, but Health Minister Christine Elliott denied that allegation last week, maintaining the government is committed to strengthening the province’s health system.

Elliott is set to hold her own news conference at 12:30 p.m. on Monday in response to Horwath’s announcement.

New care model based on bid system, NDP says

In December, high ranking officials received confidential information of the government’s planned changes to Ontario’s health-care system, Horwath said. 

Horwath said the changes would give the PC government “unprecedented power to farm out” services to private sector entities. 

The NDP also says the documents introduce a new model of care delivery, called MyCare groups, which would outsource services such as laboratories, many of which are already privately run, and the province’s air ambulance service.

The NDP leader said the contracts would be won through a bid system, which will have “expression of interest” due in March, if the legislation were approved. 

Last week, the NDP released a draft version of upcoming PC health-care legislation, which would dissolve the province’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) and create a “super agency” to oversee the health system.

The NDP received all the documents last week, but only released the draft legislation last week and held onto the internal government documents over the weekend. 

“I think it was important for our staff to take as much due diligence as possible,” Horwath said, defending her decision to withhold some details last week,” she said.

“We do not have anything else to share with you on this subject, and who knows, we all know how this works, today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow and next week is next week.”

Article by CBC

MPPs hike housing allowance by 20 per cent as Toronto rental rates jump

Ontario legislators have quietly increased their rental housing allowances by around 20 per cent arguing that they’ve been paying out of their own pockets to subsidize housing in Toronto’s hot real estate market.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show the Board of Internal Economy — a little-known body that operates the legislature building and sets politicians’ living expense budgets — decided to hike the housing accommodation ceiling in October retroactive to July 1, 2018.

The monthly rental allowance, which applies to all legislators who live at least 50 kilometres from the seat of government in Toronto, went from $1,910 to $2,300 — a jump of just over 20 per cent. Cabinet ministers and opposition leaders also received a similar increase of nearly 20 per cent, hiking their monthly accommodation budgets from $1,993 to $2,383.

Speaker Ted Arnott informed legislators of the change on October 16 but a report that reflects the increase won’t be made public until sometime this summer.

The increase comes on top of already approved annual hikes tied to the province’s rent control rate — 1.8 per cent in 2018 and 1.5 per cent in 2017 — put in place by the board under the previous Liberal government.

Tory legislator Sylvia Jones, one of two voting members of the board, defended the board’s decision, saying it was necessary.

“After receiving a report showing how many members subsidized their Toronto accommodation, the Board of Internal Economy agreed that the housing allowance would be increased to deal with an increase in housing costs,” she said.

PCs, NDP agree on raise

The other voting member of the board, which meets behind closed doors but files its meeting minutes with the province’s legislative library, is NDP legislator John Vanthof. The New Democrats, who are the official Opposition, also said the 20-per-cent increase was necessary due to the higher rental prices in the GTA.

The average one-bedroom condo apartment rental in Toronto is $2,055 a month, and a two-bedroom condo apartment rents for $2,755, according to a Toronto Real Estate Board report released in October. It also said strong competition between renters continued to sustain double-digit or near double-digit annual average rent increases on a year-over-year basis.

The move comes as the Tories implement an aggressive cost-cutting agenda in order to deal with what they say is a $14.5-billion deficit.

Liberal legislator Michael Coteau, who did not benefit from the latest increase, said the move makes politicians look bad.

“The government has decided to increase their own housing allowance when they’ve eliminated after-school programs for some of the most vulnerable kids in this province,” he said. “They continue to say that everyone is going to have to sacrifice but for some reason they’re not part of that sacrifice.”

Allowance hike follows other cuts

Since taking office, the Ford government has come under fire for introducing a number of cost-cutting measures like ending a $100-million school repair fund and rolling back a planned social assistance rate increase from the three per cent to 1.5 per cent.

John Milloy, a Laurier University political science professor and former Liberal cabinet minister, said expenses at Queen’s Park have always been a sensitive issue.

“Nobody was living in the Taj Mahal,” he said of legislators’ apartments during his time in office.

Milloy, who once sat on the board of internal economy, said it could make its decision-making process more transparent. Meeting out of the public eye removes a lot of partisanship from decision-making, he said.

“In terms of the information they deal with, there is a practical side to this,” he said. “I think if voters take a deep breath, you don’t necessarily want … a system that you can be a politician but your expenses aren’t going to be covered.”

At the federal level, the Internal Board of Economy began holding public meetings in early 2017 after the Liberal government promised to make its proceedings public during the last election campaign.

The board had come under criticism for meeting behind closed doors and offering few details about their deliberations or decisions regarding its duties governing MP spending, budgets and other administrative issues.

Article by The Canadian Press for CBC

Free-tuition program is gone, tuition reduced and student fees are no longer mandatory, Ford government announces

The Ontario government says universities and colleges will have to “adapt” to the loss of $440 million in revenue under its plan to cut tuition for post-secondary students by 10 per cent.

Post-secondary Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s set of reforms, announced Thursday, will also mean an end to the previous Liberal government’s “free tuition” program, reverting to a grant-and-loan system that she said will target the neediest students.

Along with the tuition decrease for students, Fullerton also announced the end of most mandatory “ancillary” fees starting this fall, which can add as much as $2,000 a year to students’ post-secondary costs.

Such fees fund all kinds of on-campus activities and clubs, including student government, and students will only be required to continue paying for those programs that support health and wellness, or mental health — like athletics, walksafe programs or counselling and career services. The rest they can opt-out of.

The changes mean “significant savings for students and their families,” Fullerton said, while also addressing the concerns of the auditor general about the cost and effectiveness of the current student aid system.

Regarding the loss of revenue with the tuition cut — a decrease Fullerton called “unprecedented” in a province where university tuition is now the highest in the country — she said “I have full confidence in our institutions, colleges and universities where they will be able to determine what they need to do to change, to adapt, and innovate.”

She later told reporters that, otherwise, she can “say clearly the operating grants will not be reduced” to institutions.

Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, now her party’s post-secondary critic, said the Ford government’s plan will “jeopardize” the quality of education and lead to skyrocketing student debt, while universities’ warned the move will “negatively affect” them.

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter — a former post-secondary minister — said “only (Premier) Doug Ford would introduce a student aid plan that will help the wealthiest students” who are “being given a 10 per cent tuition cut even though they can afford it the most.”

Fullerton said the government’s revamped student aid, or OSAP, system, is more financially sustainable. Under the changes, students from the lowest-income families will qualify for non-repayable grants, though part of their student aid will also include a repayable loan.

No student whose parents earn more than $140,000 will be eligible for any grant.

In her report last December, Ontario’s auditor general was critical of the previous government’s free tuition programs, saying the cost would soon hit $2 billion a year — 50 per cent higher than estimated, and that there was no proof more low-income students were entering post-secondary.

While student leaders were pleased with the tuition cut, they warned that without mandatory fees to cover the costs of student governments, the province “has effectively destroyed student representation at the college level,” said the College Student Alliance.

“Student unions have become more than a just a vehicle for advocacy — they provide students with essential services and supports, improve the affordability of post-secondary education and provide experiential learning opportunities that help students develop skills to enter the workforce,” said the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

Article by Kristin Rushowy for the Toronto Star

Ontario ACORN takes action on housing

ACORN members rallied across Ontario today, outraged at the Province’s Increasing Housing Supply consultation. The consultation document reads like a developer’s dream list, and the government has seemingly pre-determined that the solution to Ontario’s housing crisis is to give more powers to big developers while ignoring the needs of tenants. In response, ACORN members in Peel, Ottawa, Hamilton, and Toronto delivered hundreds of consultation submissions to MPPs and other representatives.

Did you miss the action today? Click here to take action in solidarity!

Updates and press from each city:

TORONTO

Twenty-eight Toronto ACORN members went down to the Ministry of Housing to deliver our submissions to the flawed Increasing Housing Supply in Ontario consultation. Members were joined by MPPs Suze Morrison, Peter Tabuns and Jessica Bell. This rally came one day after yet another homeless death on the streets of Toronto and our members spoke passionately about the need for real and deeply affordable housing to address the city’s housing crisis. Members of the media spoke with ACORN leaders as well as the MPPs who came out in support. After a series of chants and speeches, ACORN members marched into the Ministry of Housing, where they were met by a staff person who accepted our “Red Tape or Red Flag?” package and a letter demanding a meeting. They agreed to a meeting with ACORN leaders to discuss our demands. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Press coming soon

HAMILTON

Twenty Hamilton ACORN members rallied outside the Ellen Fairclough Building today to bring attention to flaws in the Province’s Increasing Housing Supply consultation. With local MPP Donna Skelly’s office not transit accessible, Hamilton chair Mike Wood delivered our submissions to staff that the Landlord Tenant Board to pass on to Housing Minister Steve Clark. Outside, ACORN leaders spoke about rising rents and displacement issues in Hamilton and made a call to MPP Skelly to share our demands.

Press:

The Spec – Hamilton anti-poverty advocates call for tighter rent controls

CBC – coming soon

Hamilton Rising – coming soon

KX-947 – coming soon

PEEL

Members delivered our demand the letter and massive stack of submission papers to Mississauga East Cooksville MPP Kaleed Rasheed. After some negotiating, members entered his office and have arranged a meeting for next week to discuss our demands in more detail. Toronto ACORN leader Alejandra Ruiz even managed to give members a briefing on the excitement in Toronto via telephone!

OTTAWA

Seventeen Ottawa ACORN members gathered outside of MPP Jeremy Roberts’ office in Ottawa-West Nepean to deliver over 930 pages of tenant consultation submissions. The action started with speeches from ACORN tenant leaders, Mavis Finnamore and Norma-Jean Quibbell, two members who know first-hand the impact of our city’s affordable housing crisis! Mavis’ home of 30 years in Herongate was demolished in 2016 to make room for luxury rentals and Norma-Jean has faced two AGIs in the past two years. Members spoke with Jeremy Roberts’ staff about ACORN’s demands for investments in affordable housing and tenant protections, and presented him with a decorated box containing our tenant submissions.

Press:

Ottawa Citizen – coming soon

310 News – coming soon

 

Ontario ACORN housing action

Peel ACORN affordable housing action



Cutting red tape for developers, or a red flag for tenant protections?

Outraged by recent cuts to tenant protections and the lack of a plan for meaningful action on affordable housing, ACORN members will rally across Ontario on Thursday, January 17th to respond to the government’s housing consultation that ignores the needs of low and moderate income tenants.

The Increasing Housing Supply in Ontario consultation documents indicate that the government seeks to continue increasing powers for the private sector, in the guise of “cutting red tape”. This is a red flag for tenants, who have good reason to worry. The Province recently allowed unlimited rent increases on new units, despite promising not to touch rent control during their 2018 election campaign.

With almost half of Ontario renters living in unaffordable housing, tenants need more protections, not less. Stronger tenant protections, including rent controls, help people sustain their homes, providing security for tenants and landlords. In addition, when the previous rent control exemption, the “1991 loophole”, was in place, rental housing supply shrank and rents rose.

ACORN is deeply concerned by the government’s assumption that deregulation will increase affordable housing supply. Evidence shows that deregulation is unlikely to significantly increase supply and could instead increase costs. Instead, government intervention can lead to increased development in areas where services are already located, reducing the cost of public service provision. Clear rules for developers to follow could also speed up the development process. Further, the government should encourage the creation of a range of housing options, including rental housing for low and moderate incomes.

Make sure tenants have a voice! Join ACORN on January 17th to deliver 100s of submissions to the Province’s housing consultation!

TORONTO Where: Ontario Ministry of Housing: 777 Bay St. (meet at corner of Bay & College) When: Thursday, January 17th at 11:00am. Contact 416-461-9233 or torontofo@acorncanada.org

PEEL Where: Kaleed Rasheed’s office (MPP Mississauga East-Cooksville): 1420 Burnhamthorpe Rd. East, Mississauga ON When: Thursday, January 17th at 12:00pm noon. Contact 416-461-9233 or peel@acorncanada.org

OTTAWA Where: Jeremy Roberts’ office (MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean): 1580 Merivale Rd., Ottawa ON When: Thursday, January 17th at 1:00pm. Contact 613-746-5999 or ottawa@acorncanada.org

HAMILTON Where: Ellen Fairclough Building: 119 King St. West, Hamilton ON When: Thursday, January 17th at 1:00pm. Contact 905-393-5734 or hamilton@acorncanada.org

Ontario Bill 66: A summary

Bill 66 included a number of changes that will impact low and moderate income communities. Some key changes:

HYDRO
Bill 66 proposes that provisions in the Ontario Energy Board Act are repealed so that there is no OEB approval required for Unit Sub-Metering Providers prices, meaning that sub-meter providers will be able to charge whatever they want for energy provided to tenants.

CHILD CARE
The government proposes to deregulate how many children are allowed in a home day care, to allow up to three children under the age of two in an in-home daycare. Currently, only two young children are allowed. The changes would also allow two child-care providers to look after six infants at a time, an increase from four infants currently allowed. In addition, providers no longer have to count their own children towards the total number of kids in their care after their child turns four. In addition, there is no mention of the tax rebates of up to $6,750 that were promised during election.

PLANNING
Bill 66 will give municipalities the power to pass an “open-for-business planning by-law” (OFB By-law) to authorize uses of land for “prescribed purposes” not yet specified. The OFB by-laws will allow cities to exempt development from land-use planning and environmental protections laid out in a number of acts, including the Planning Act, the Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act. In addition, cities will be able to bypass density bonusing by way of Section 37 Agreement and would also be able to exempt developers from laws around public notice and hearings.

LABOUR
The Bill proposes to reclassify public entities, like municipalities, hospitals, universities and schools as ‘non-construction employers’, to allow the hiring of non-unionized workers on public infrastructure projects. The Bill would also eliminate the requirement for employers to gain approval from the Director of Employment Standards for excess hours of work and overtime averaging, and would remove the requirement for employers to display an Employment Standards Act poster in the workplace.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Bill 66 seeks to increase power for Big Telecoms companies by scrapping the Wireless Services Agreements Act, which requires service contracts for smartphones to be written in plain language that customers can easily understand. It would also cancel rules around the cancellation fees and consent. Although the federal Wireless Code of Conduct exists, it fails to provide many important protections for consumers.

Ontario redefining disability, rewarding staff for cutting off benefits: ACORN members and OW/ODSP recipients deeply concerned

Despite reiterating that the government was focused on taking a compassionate approach, Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod announcement today has left many low-income Ontarians fearing the worst. On top of the 1.5% cut to social assistance that was announced in July, the government intends to redefine disability, which will likely make it more difficult to qualify for ODSP in future. Although we are glad that existing recipients will be grandfathered in, we are deeply concerned about that the new definition will mean that people with disabilities or mental health issues who may find it harder to qualify for social assistance.

Although the Liberals’ plan for a $6,000 annual exemption for people working while receiving ODSP has been maintained, the clawback rate has been increased to 75%. People with disabilities who earn over $6,000 from employment will only receive 25 cents for every dollar they earn. We are also disappointed that the exemption has been cut from $400/month for OW recipients, to $300/month. This cut will further entrench poverty in our communities.

Since they took office, we have frequently heard the government’s divisive rhetoric that social assistance recipients just need to get a job. ACORN’s recent report reveals the impact of the UK’s punitive welfare system, where reforms have centered around cuts and work requirements. We don’t want Ontario to go the same way as the UK, where people are dying as a result of cuts. Unfortunately, today’s announcement marked a step in that direction, as the government indicated that they will be rewarding Employment Ontario staff for cutting off benefits. Other red flags include increasingly digitized services, which make it more difficult for low-income people and people with disabilities who do not have internet access to apply for benefits, and individual action plans, where recipients will likely be forced to track their every move or risk having their benefits stopped.

Slashing social assistance, scrapping rent controls, rolling back minimum wage, cancelling funding for social housing retrofits, while cutting taxes for the most wealthy. This government might be waging a war on low-income Ontarians, but ACORN members are fighting back.

We call for all cuts to social assistance to be halted and demand that Social Service Minister Lisa Macleod meets with ACORN members.