With Ontario reporting the highest number of ICU cases since January, the Premier announced that, effective Saturday, April 3rd at 12:01 am, all 34 health regions in the province will be under a shutdown for at least 4 weeks. The new orders include:
- No indoor or outdoor dining; takeout only
- Day camps required to close
- Gyms and personal care services, including salons, cannot open
- 50% capacity at pharmacies, grocery and convenience stores
- 25% capacity for all other retail, including big box stores
- 15% capacity at places of worship
- Outdoor social gatherings limited to 5 people
This news is incredibly frustrating for many. This pandemic and the lockdowns have been particularly hard on seniors, young people, small businesses and the workers they employ. I have a meeting this evening with Spadina-Fort York artists and hairstylists who have been contacting my office, many of whom have been out of work for most of the past year. Many small business owners just opened their patios a couple of weeks ago and now have to close them again. Our Small Business Workgroup is meeting next Thursday, April 8 at noon. Contact my office if you are interested in attending.
I am deeply concerned for people in our riding who are already struggling with isolation or loss of income. I wish this had been handled differently. The NDP had joined medical experts in warning the Government that the upcoming third wave would be the most dangerous one with new variants spreading.
Lockdowns were never supposed to be the solution, just a temporary measure to stop the spread and buy time to set up robust testing, contact tracing, and safety protocols so that schools, workplaces and long-term care homes do not become transmission points. Where there are restrictions, it is the Government’s responsibility to provide financial support for those whose incomes are affected.
We cannot give up on this fight at this point. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccine rollout. This 28-day lockdown is a chance for more people to be vaccinated and give us an edge so that hopefully we can have a summer. Our goal should be to follow the public health guidelines over the next 28 days to save lives and hopefully avoid future waves. I will continue advocating for policies such as rent relief, paid sick days and proper financial supports for those affected by the lockdown in order to assist with this.
Over this period, if possible, please patronize small businesses by ordering takeout and delivery. If you can, get outside and exercise for your physical and mental well-being. Call your friends, family and others who may be struggling with isolation. Let’s stick together and get through this.
In this newsletter you will find information about the expanded vaccine eligibility and where you can register to get vaccinated, the recent Ontario Budget, an update on my homelessness legislation, and safe recreational and entertainment activities.
This is a very special weekend with people celebrating Easter and Passover. Please be careful not to have social gatherings outside your own home. For those living alone, join only one other household.
I wish you a Happy Easter! Chag Pesach Sameach!
Vaccine Eligibility Update
AstraZeneca Pharmacy Vaccine Program
- Starting Saturday, April 3, residents aged 55 and older can now book an appointment to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at select pharmacies. The shot was previously available to those 60 and older. The province is preparing to expand the pharmacy vaccination program to 350 more locations across Ontario. In order to book, you must have a valid Ontario OHIP card, or other form of valid government-issued identification.
The province is pausing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 55, following NACI’s recommendations while it waits for more information on the vaccine and its effects on younger people.
City-Run Mass Vaccination Clinics
- Starting Friday, April 2 at 8:00 am, Torontonians aged 60 and older (born in 1961 or earlier) can start booking vaccination appointments at City-run immunization clinics. There are appointments available throughout the long weekend.
Or call the Provincial Vaccine Information Line at 1-888-999-6488 (TTY 1-866-797-0007).
Residents with High-Risk Conditions / Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities
- Organ transplant recipients
- Hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients
- People with neurological diseases in which respiratory function may be compromised (for example, motor neuron disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis)
- Haematological malignancy diagnosed within the last year
- Kidney disease with estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) under 30
- Obesity (BMI over 40)
- Other treatments causing immunosuppression (for example, chemotherapy, immunity-weakening medications)
- Intellectual or developmental disabilities (for example, Down Syndrome)
Please only book a vaccine appointment if you meet this eligibility criteria. Please note you may be asked for proof of your eligibility when you arrive.
Transportation for Seniors/Vulnerable Residents
- The City of Toronto announced the Vaccine Equity Transportation Plan to help ensure vulnerable residents and seniors can access COVID-19 vaccinations by making it easier to travel to clinics. This program is intended for those who have limited transportation options or who cannot afford transportation to vaccination appointments. This program is available now for limited appointments, but will continue to be expanded over the coming weeks as additional resources and capacity become available.
To book a ride:
- Toronto Ride, torontoride.ca or call 416-481-5250
- iRide, circleofcare.com/vaccinerides or call 1-844-474-3301
- Scarborough Ride, schcontario.ca/scarboroughride.html or call 416-736-9372
People who receive social assistance may be eligible for medical transportation funds to help cover costs of travel to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Social assistance recipients should contact their caseworker to access transportation funds they may be eligible for.
- For Step-by-Step Instructions on how to book, please click this link.
- People can also call 1-888-385-1910 for assistance to complete pre-registration forms and book appointments at local vaccine clinics operated by participating hospitals and OHTs.
- Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that the government plans to keep schools open despite the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the community. There are currently 63 schools across Ontario that have temporarily switched to remote-learning only due to COVID-19, including 10 in Toronto. Lecce said that public health experts consulted by the government continue to believe that schools are “overwhelmingly safe” and are not a significant contributor to viral spread. Lecce said that the plan right now is for the spring break scheduled for the week of April 12, to go forward and for students to return to new expanded safety measures that he hopes will allow the province to keep schools open for the rest of the academic year.
- The Ontario government is considering legislation that would make remote learning a permanent part of the public-school system, according to a confidential ministry document. The document from the Ministry of Education, obtained by The Globe and Mail, was shared in a meeting earlier this week with various education groups, including trustees, school administrators and teachers’ unions. It was marked confidential and for consultation purposes. “If introduced and passed, beginning in September, 2021, parents would continue to have the ability to enroll their child in full-time synchronous remote learning if they choose going forward,” the document stated. “School boards would also be required to provide students with remote learning on snow days and in the event of an emergency that results in a school closure.”
Housing and Homelessness Bill
- On Monday, March 29, I proposed a motion in the legislature calling on the government to build more affordable housing and supportive housing to meet recommendations set by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, and the Canadian Mental Health Association. I also called on the government to immediately acquire and convert shelter space to permanent supportive housing (for example, in British Columbia, BC Housing stepped in to acquire shelter space immediately in the City of Vancouver etc.). Read full details of the motion here.
Despite universal endorsement from housing & health experts, residents, business owners and non-profit advocates, the Government voted down my motion, once again failing to take responsibility or action on this homelessness crisis. They offered no alternative, or plan to resolve the crisis we see in our parks and streets here in Toronto, and in many places across the province. It is unfortunate, but not unsurprising, as this comes right after the latest Ontario budget revealed there were no new housing announcements coming from the Province. Read and share our full media statement here.
I’d like to thank the many of you who sent in comments in support of my homelessness & housing motion. Here’s a short clip from the debate where I pointed out the Government is misleading people with funding numbers, rather than showing compassion and voting to improve the situation. Over the next week we will post excerpts from the debate. Meanwhile, here are some items you can view & share:
You can also show your support by signing our petitions to Stop Homelessness, create Rent Subsidies, enable Rent Controls, and point out that Everyone Deserves a Home.
As I’ve said before, so much more is needed to resolve this crisis – from better access to mental health resources and rehab treatment, to a living wage for those on disability programs. Echoing and amplifying the recommendations of affordable housing and mental health experts in the province is just a start. We will continue to fight for an end to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis. The solutions are there – the political will from the Government is not. We will change that. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or wish to join our homelessness working group.
Small and Medium-Sized Businesses
- Ontario Small Business Support Grant Feedback
The Ontario Small Business Support Grant has provided financial relief to some businesses. I also know, from conversations I've had with many business owners, that businesses were left out by the current criteria and that the amount of relief is not adequate for Toronto’s commercial rents and taxes.
My colleague, MPP Ian Arthur, is the NDP Critic for Small Businesses. He is conducting a survey to get business owners’ feedback on the grant program and how it can be improved. We will collate the responses and use them to advocate for increased small/medium sized business supports.
If you want to provide your feedback, click this link.
- Ontario Small Business Support Grant Funding
The Ontario government announced it was providing additional support to eligible small businesses. They explained that “confirmed eligible recipients of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant will automatically receive a second payment equal to the amount of their first payment, for minimum total support of $20,000 up to a maximum of $40,000.”
To check eligibility and apply for the grant, please click here.
- Resources for Small Businesses
Sign up for BusinessTO News, a weekly newsletter that focuses on available resources and supports to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on Toronto businesses. Learn about the current health situation, changes to City services, resources, and economic support.
Upcoming free webinars:
eCommerce 101: What, Why, How
More consumers than ever before are turning to online shopping for greater convenience, safety, and variety. In this webinar, you will learn the basic steps to set up an online store.
Tuesday, April 6, 10 – 11:30 a.m. Register here
WSIB: Laws & Regulations for Small Businesses in These Challenging Times
Learn from a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board consultant about how to keep your workplace healthy and safe, and in compliance with health and safety laws.
Wednesday, April 14, 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. Register here
Budget 2021 Highlights
The province released its 2021 Budget Ontario's Action Plan: Protecting People's Health and Our Economy. This budget was a chance to give people help and hope for the future — to urgently invest in affordable housing, our students and schools. Here are some of the highlights:
Education, Childcare and Post-Secondary
- The COVID-19 Child Benefit will be doubled to $400 per child and $500 per child with special needs.
- One‐time top‐up for CARE tax credit recipients equal to 20% of their 2021 credit entitlements.
- No replenishment of school board reserves, or commitment to extend COVID-19 funding for smaller class sizes, hiring more staff - we expect teacher and other education worker layoffs as a result.
- School repair funding will remain at $1.4 billion this year, the bare minimum to keep schools operational, while the $16.3 billion backlog accrued over the last 16 years remains untouched.
- Tuition freeze in the university sector is continued, with access to OSAP expanded for some students at Indigenous Institutions and those in micro-credit programs.
- Another round of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant payments to eligible recipients. The government says that 120,000 small businesses will receive one additional payment between $10,000-$20,000 (depending on what they were approved for in the first round) and will be automatically entitled to the second payment. Note this does not change the eligibility requirements which have kept a number of businesses from accessing these funds in the first place.
- No extended tax deferral periods for businesses that were significantly impacted by the second shutdown or small business tax forgiveness.
- No insurance relief for businesses struggling to access P&C insurance due to lack of availability and/or skyrocketing rates
Housing and Transit
- The government’s five priority transit projects in the GTHA remain unfunded. The government said it would cover the federal government’s deemed share, but it has been nearly two years since the priority projects were announced in the 2019-20 budget, and the government has not closed this major funding gap.
- No new housing announcements were included in the budget, while our city and community face an affordable housing and homelessness crisis. Investments in social housing will continue to decline as federal-provincial agreements expire.
- The government is once again postponing the property tax reassessment process. Government will consult with municipalities about when to resume this reassessment process.
Environment and Climate Change
- After significant cuts in the first year of the current government, Environment Ministry funding is flatlined compared to previous years.
- $3.9 million over three years to enhance the provincial park experience by using technology and free day-use entry to parks Monday to Thursday, May 1 to September 2 this year.
- $56.4 million over four years for “Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network” (OVIN) - with details of what this looks like to come.
- No mention of combating climate change and no line item included for climate-change initiatives.
- No restoration of Conservation Authorities or walkback of Ministerial Zoning Orders.
Health and Long-Term Care
- There is no commitment to wage increases for underpaid, overworked Personal Support Workers beyond June 30, 2021.
- Despite the many deaths and failure to keep long-term care residents safe during the pandemic, the government continues to refuse to reinstate comprehensive Resident Quality Inspections in long-term care.
- No commitment to phase out “for profit” long-term care homes.
- As announced previously, there will be an additional $933 million over four years, for a total of $2.6 billion, to support building 30,000 new long‐term care beds.
- Investing up to $246 million over the next four years to improve living conditions in existing homes, including ensuring homes have air conditioning.
- $4.9 billion over four years ($500 million in 2021-22) to increase average daily direct care to 4 hours per day, and hire 27,000 positions including PSWs and nurses.
- Some support to accelerate the training of PSWs and nurses for long-term care including a training program that is publicly funded, tuition‐free. There are also some new grants coming to attract more PSWs and nurses to Ontario.
- Accelerated Build Pilot Program - building 4 new long-term care homes on hospital-owned land in the GTA, through a fast tracked process for procurement and construction. Partnering with Trillium Health Partners, Lakeridge Health and Humber River Hospital for completion by 2022.
- Creating a task force to advise the government on ways to “address the unique and disproportionate barriers women face, particularly in an economy that will look different after COVID”
- $18.2 million over three year to address violence against First Nation, Inuit and Metis women and girls.
- Other than some funding for job training and the increase in the CARE credit, there appears to be no strategy to deal with the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and women in the workforce.
- Funding to assist survivors of domestic violence is being increased by $2.1 million but that funding is over three years, and includes funding for other victims of violent crimes. This doesn’t include the funding cut for victims of crime and support for survivors in his first budgets.
Arts, Culture and Tourism
- New Ontario Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant, which will provide an estimated $100 million in one‐time payments of $10,000 to $20,000 to eligible small businesses.
- Just $10 million in additional funding for Ontario’s arts organizations with support from the Ontario Arts Council, at a time when our local arts orgs are barely getting by and facing an uncertain year ahead.
- There is nothing in the budget for individual artists or folks working in the gig economy.
Toronto Island Master Plan
The Toronto Island Master Plan is being co-created with Indigenous rights-holders, local stakeholders, and the general public. The ideas, thoughts, and other feedback received during the engagement process will feed directly into the planning process and help to shape the Master Plan.
- Register for the Public Visioning Workshop on April 7, 2021
- Pin your thoughts on an interactive map
- Take the online Visioning Survey by April 9, 2021
Toronto’s Next Chief of Police Public Consultations
The Toronto Police Service Board has begun one of its most important tasks, selecting a Chief of Police to lead the Toronto Police Service. The Board wants to know what qualities Toronto is looking for in our next Chief of Police.
If you are interested in adding your voice to this important public consultation, please visit this Eventbrite page to register for a public forum – hosted by Environics Research – and to get more information about how to participate.
Virtual sessions are planned for:
- Scarborough: Wednesday, April 7 – 6-8 pm
- North York: Tuesday, April 13 – 6-8 pm
If you are unable to join the consultations, but would still like to get involved, an online survey will be available through the TPSB website between March 29 and May 13, 2021. If you have any questions, please contact [email protected].
Florence Booth House Rebuilding Project
The Salvation Army has been operating Florence Booth House located at 723 Queen St. W. for 21 years, providing much needed shelter, social, and health supports for women struggling with homelessness in the Bathurst/Queen neighbourhood.
The Salvation Army has been developing a plan to rebuild and upgrade the facility. In November 2020, they received approval at the Committee of Adjustment to renovate and expand to allow for more beds, greater privacy for residents, outdoor space, and increased space for programs that will empower and inspire women, and result in personal growth and healing. Construction is expected to begin in early 2022. For more information, email: [email protected]
Garden Suites Study
A “Garden Suite” is a second, generally smaller, house built in the backyard of a detached, semi-detached, or townhouse property. The City of Toronto is undertaking projects about Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhood in response to Provincial requirements. In 2018-2019, Laneway Suites of up to two storeys became permitted in the backyards of homes on lots that are next to a public lane. Now the City has initiated a process to develop policies and zoning rules to permit Garden Suites to be built City wide in the backyards of homes on lots that are not next to a public lane, subject to a range of criteria to be decided. The City hopes these new homes will provide affordable rentals and homes for grown children and aging parents.
Residents and stakeholders are invited to participate in the consultation process by way of the Garden + Suites Survey. Virtual community meetings to present the Garden + Suites study and to gather input from residents and stakeholders will begin in April 2021. Further information regarding the community consultation meetings will be provided once dates have been confirmed.
Additional information about the Garden + Suites study is available at the study website.