The 2018-22 period marks the 42nd Parliament of the Government of Ontario. As the 42nd legislative session winds down, I want you to know that it’s been an incredible honour for me to serve our community.
I would like to thank all of those who help Spadina-Fort York thrive and, in particular, the frontline workers who have made so many sacrifices to keep our community functioning throughout the pandemic.
The last two years have highlighted the changes we need to make to our society. We must make housing affordable for everyone, invest in our overstretched healthcare system, fix our existing schools and build the schools and childcare centres we need. We must also heal the divisions that arose at the end of the pandemic.
Last weekend, I took part in several neighbourhood Earth Day cleanups as part of the city’s Clean Toronto Together event that unites residents, community groups, schools and businesses to pick up litter that has accumulated in our public spaces over the winter.
Taking part in the neighourhood cleanups in Toronto last weekend
The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights the need for rapid action on climate change so that we leave the next generation with a livable planet. Canada has one of the world’s highest carbon footprints per capita and, except for a slight downturn in 2020 due to the pandemic, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have not declined. The IPCC reports that it’s “now or never” in its most recent report on climate change.
Fortunately, in Ontario, we have the fastest growing tech ecosystem in North America with many working on transitioning to a green economy. We have carbon sequestering timber buildings in Liberty Village and others going up at the George Brown campus, along the East Waterfront and a mass timber pilot program for affordable rental housing at Dundas and Ossington. Canada’s first electric ferry was introduced at Billy Bishop airport, companies that convert food waste into energy and, what’s billed as the world’s fastest three-wheeled electric car, is being designed and built right here.
The Marilyn Bell electric ferry is the first 100% electric ferry in Canada
In my latest Tech Talk, I sat down with Peter George, owner and founder of the first A.I. hedge fund in Canada. Watch the interview here.
Ryerson University’s Standing Strong Task Force released its report this week which, among other changes, recommends changing the university’s name to Toronto Metropolitan University. This is a positive step toward addressing the horrific legacy of residential schools in Canada. There is much more work that needs to be done, including providing all Indigenous communities with the basic needs, such as clean drinking water and safe housing. It is not possible to say we are truly committed to reconciliation until these basics are provided.
My constituency office continues to serve you and is here to help with provincial services, including birth certificates, driver’s licences, OHIP and ODSP.
Chris in the House
The legislature resumed on February 22 and I have been busy working on many issues. Below are some of my recent statements at Queen’s Park:
- Rents in Toronto rose 14.5% in 2021. Those in non-rent-controlled buildings are facing rent increases of $500/month. To say that housing under the Ford government is unaffordable is a huge understatement. Watch my statement here.
- In January, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! Becoming a grandparent has further put into perspective how urgently we need to act on the climate crisis so future generations can have a sustainable world to live in. Watch my statement here.
- We need to do everything we can to support the people of Ukraine in these incredibly difficult times. Watch my statement here.
Ontario Budget 2022 Released
The Ontario government finally delivered its 2022 Ontario Budget on the last day in the legislature. The plan promises $198.6 billion in spending, with $158.8 billion dedicated for highways, transit and hospitals over the next 10 years. The deficit is expected to rise to $19.9 billion this fiscal year with a plan to balance the books by 2027-28.
The proposed budget also reveals the deep cuts made by this government in 2021-22 — during a global pandemic when people and small businesses needed help the most.
- $1.3 billion cut from education
- $685 million cut from post-secondary students
- $632 million cut from social services
- $335 million from mental healthcare services
- $71 million cut from our justice system
This budget shows that the government would spend $2.7 billion less than inflation over the next three years. That would mean the loss of tens of thousands of teachers, education workers, nurses, PSWs and other critical employees.
Ontario Extends Mask Mandate for High-Risk Settings
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced that mask mandates in select higher-risk indoor settings will be extended until at least June 11. The mandates were set to expire on April 27.
Settings where masking will continue to be mandatory include retirement homes, doctors’ offices, shelters and congregate care settings that provide care and services to medically and socially vulnerable individuals. Read the complete list here.
Unvaccinated Travellers Under 12 No Longer Require Test
Starting April 25, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children under the age of 12 are no longer required to provide a valid pre-entry test result, if they are accompanying a fully vaccinated adult. Children who are less than 5 years old are not required to test, regardless of their vaccination status. Full details available here.
Province’s Latest COVID-19 Update
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore provided his latest guidance on COVID-19 measures in Ontario and confirmed that Ontario is currently experiencing a sixth wave. While a mask mandate is no longer in place in most public settings, he did recommend that people continue to wear a well-fitted, three-layer mask or use of a medical mask in all public indoor settings. With hospitalizations rising and cases at 120,000 per day in Ontario, the province will be reviewing the plan to further remove mask mandates that are set to expire on April 27.
Despite the dramatic rise in cases in schools and child hospitalizations, the province currently has no plan to reinstate mask mandates in schools. The Toronto District School Board and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association have called on the government to reinstate the mask mandate in schools, but the government has refused. The TDSB sent out a letter to parents asking “all staff and students to wear a well-fitting mask when indoors”, but specified it remains a personal decision.
Science Table Releases Latest COVID-19 Modelling
The Ontario Science Table has released its latest COVID-19 modelling projections. You can view the slide deck here.
- Ontario is well into wave 6 of the pandemic, driven by the new, more transmissible BA.2 subvariant, waning immunity, and lifting of public health measures.
- There is significant uncertainty around the impact of case growth on our health system and deaths. Wastewater surveillance suggests that community transmission may have peaked. Regardless, modelling indicates that hospital occupancy is likely to continue to rise for some time, with uncertainty in the timing and height of the peak.
- COVID-19 infections in healthcare workers are as high as in the last Omicron wave. High infection rates combined with potentially high hospitalization rates will reduce Ontario’s ability to provide care for nonCOVID-19 patients.
- Infected individuals are at risk of developing Long COVID, which is associated with serious neurologic illness, heart attacks, stroke, and long-term impairment.
- Individuals with Omicron symptoms should stay home and isolate. At least two negative rapid antigen tests separated by at least 24 hours are required to be confident that an individual is not infected.
- Masking in indoor areas will substantially reduce the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 as will improvements to ventilation.
- A complete vaccine series (currently 2 doses in children, 3 doses in adolescents and adults, 4 doses in older adults and high-risk groups) provides strong protection against hospital and ICU admission and is the best defence against getting symptoms and spreading COVID-19.
- Access to vaccination, testing and treatment continues to be uneven across socio-economic groups. It is critical that all Ontarians have equitable access.
Access to COVID-19 Antivirals Expanding
Effective immediately, the following higher-risk groups are eligible to be tested and assessed for antiviral treatments, such as Paxlovid, in Ontario:
- Individuals aged 18 and over who are immunocompromised (have an immune system that is weakened by a health condition or medications);
- Individuals aged 70 and over;
- Individuals aged 60 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses; and
- Individuals aged 18 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk condition (e.g., a chronic medical condition)
Anyone who is eligible for an assessment is now also eligible for a PCR test at any testing centre in Ontario. Eligible individuals with a prescription will be able to access antivirals at participating pharmacies across the province. A list of pharmacies that are dispensing Paxlovid are available at Ontario.ca/antivirals.
Treatment for antivirals must be started within five days of symptoms in most cases. Individuals who are part of higher risk groups and who have COVID-19 symptoms should immediately seek testing and care, by contacting their health care provider or visiting a clinical assessment centre. Individuals can contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 for more information about where to find a clinical assessment centre or to determine if they are at higher risk.
Ontario’s antiviral screener tool can help individuals to help determine if they are at higher risk and should be assessed for treatment. A positive rapid antigen test, PCR or rapid molecular test is required as part of the assessment for antiviral treatment. Free rapid antigen tests are available at retail locations in the province.
Ontario Moving Forward with Transit-Oriented Communities
The Ontario government is partnering with the private sector and the City of Toronto to build five transit-oriented communities along the Ontario Line.
Ontario has signed an agreement with Cadillac Fairview to build a transit-oriented community at the future East Harbour station. The 38-acre site is said to include the creation of an employment centre, residential and commercial space, community amenities and park land. Transit-oriented communities are also being planned for the future Corktown, Queen-Spadina, King-Bathurst and Exhibition stations.
Our office has heard from concerned residents that there has been a lack of response to community feedback regarding these developments. Transit-oriented development is good, but handing chunks of our transit system over to private interests is not. We worry that this will help developers instead of delivering what Ontario so desperately needs: homes people can afford and transit.
The Transit-Oriented-Communities Act, which is embedded in the COVID-19 recovery omnibus bill — but has nothing to do with COVID-19 — grants this government the power to strip the hearing of necessity from the expropriations process for any land they classify as “transit-oriented community land.” The bill also changes the Planning Act, giving the minister new powers to impose new zoning requirements on land, adding to the power Ontario already has to exempt land from municipal zoning laws.
Ontario Line Final Environmental Impact Assessment Report
Metrolinx has released its Final Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) for the Ontario Line. This report includes a final description of the Ontario Line Project, environmental impact evaluation results, mitigation measures, monitoring activities, potentially required permits and approvals and other components as outlined in O. Reg. 341/20.
FAO Reports Ontario Has Lowest Health Spending in Canada
The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) released a report comparing Ontario’s fiscal results with the other provinces after the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Read the full report here.
On a per person basis, Ontario’s total program spending in 2020 was the lowest in the country, with the least amount in health spending. Since 2008 when the data was first available, Ontario has consistently had among the lowest levels of per person health spending in the country.
- Health spending per person in Ontario was $4,800 in 2020, the lowest in Canada and $536 (10.0 per cent) below the average of the other provinces.
- Despite Ontario’s higher debt burden, its interest expense per person was $834, below the average of the other provinces due to its comparatively lower effective interest rate.
- Ontario’s budget deficit amounted to $1,597 per person in 2020, the fifth highest in the country and slightly below the rest of Canada average of $1,736.
- Since 2008, Ontario’s per person budget deficit has only been smaller than the average in the rest of Canada in four years -- 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020.
CampTO Registration Open
Registration for CampTO is now open with various programs offered in neighbourhoods across Toronto beginning Monday, July 4 until Friday, September 2. CampTO runs for nine weeks for children and youth ages 4-16, at locations across the city. Register online or by phone at 416-396-7378.
Ontario Expanding Eligibility for 4th Doses
Starting on Thursday, April 7, 2022 at 8:00 am, the Ontario government is expanding eligibility for fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 60 and over as well as First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and over. Fourth doses are being offered at a recommended interval of 5 months after receiving the last booster.
Eligible individuals will be able to book their fourth dose appointment through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, directly through public health units that use their own booking systems, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, participating pharmacies, and participating primary care settings.
Locations and timing for additional boosters may vary by public health unit based on local planning and considerations.
Ontario Signs Child Care Deal with Federal Government
Ontario has finally signed an agreement with the federal government to lower the cost of child care in the province. Ontario was the only province that had not signed onto the federal plan, which aims to reduce childcare fees to an average of $10 a day by 2026. The $13.2 billion plan will be delivered over six years, with an initial $10.2 billion spent over four years instead of five.
The Ontario government claims it had been holding out for more money, maintaining that $10.2 billion would not be enough to provide $10-a-day child care for families across the province.
Under the new deal, Ontario families with children five and younger in licensed child care centres will see fees reduced up to 25% to a minimum of $12 a day, retroactive to April 1, 2022. The rebates will be delivered to families beginning in May 2022. By December 2022, there will be another reduction.
In September 2024, the price for childcare will fall to an average of $10 a day by September 2025. In total, the province said fees will be reduced by 50%, on average.
The Ontario child care tax credit program will also continue, and the province said it will work with municipalities to enroll 5,000 licensed childcare centres and home childcare agencies into the program between now and Sep 1.
While this is welcome news for parents who need relief from the sky-high cost of child care, by holding out for an extra nine months, Ontario parents have lost out on about $2,300 and have waited too long for relief.
In 2019, the current government cut $80 million from licensed child care across the province and thousands of child care spaces were lost as a result. With this federal funding, and with long-term support assured thanks to a confidence and supply agreement between federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we can finally start to fix what’s broken, and move towards the universal, affordable child care system families deserve.
Province Announces First Phase of Housing Plan
The Ontario government unveiled the first phase of its More Homes for Everyone Plan that is said will deal with the skyrocketing housing costs in the province. The plan comes after the government’s Housing Affordability Task Force released a report offering 55 recommendations, including a goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years. However, many of the recommendations were not addressed in the new plan.
Municipalities will also get a new power as part of the incoming legislation. The province says they can use its new Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator tool to speed up approvals for the creation of non-profit housing, community centres, hospitals, long-term care homes or other similar projects.
Unfortunately, this bill does nothing to make homes more affordable. It doesn’t build starter homes or “missing middle” homes like duplexes and townhomes. The bill does nothing to take on speculation and it doesn’t help renters or buyers. It doesn’t even do the bare minimum its own task force recommended.
Ontario Introduces A Plan to Stay Open
The Ontario government announced A Plan to Stay Open which the province says will build a stronger, more resilient health system that is better prepared to respond to crisis by expanding the province’s health workforce, shoring-up domestic production of critical supplies and building more hospital beds. The plan includes measures to recruit more doctors, nurses and personal support workers to the province’s health system.
On the same day of this announcement, SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents 60,000 healthcare workers in Ontario, were informed that 43 nurses would be terminated on March 31, 2022 due to funding cuts from the Ministry of Health. The jobs at risk include 3 nurse practitioners, 26 registered nurses, and 14 registered practical nurses. These nurses provide critical community care health services for people experiencing homelessness in Toronto and these cuts are devastating to our most marginalized people.
Ontario Extends Tuition Freeze for Colleges and Universities
The Ontario government is extending the current tuition freeze for colleges and universities by an additional year through 2022-2023. While a tuition freeze is helpful, we need much more.
The affordability crisis affects us all, but particularly young people who are concerned about their future, as they wonder whether they will ever be able to afford a home, or see real action from governments on climate change.
Ontario has one of the lowest per-student post-secondary funding programs in all of Canada. I proposed a Private Member’s Bill in the legislature to convert all OSAP loans to grants and eliminate interest on student debt. Sign my petition here.
Feedback on Proposals to Address Condo Cancellations
In December 2021, I introduced a Condo Transparency Motion that would create standardized contracts for pre-construction units, prohibit conflicts of interest and create mechanisms to protect people purchasing, owning and living in condos from exploitation. Not only did the Conservatives vote down my motion, they claimed the protections were already in place.
I am happy to share the news that the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services announced it is now consulting on proposed regulations to address condo cancellations, which includes many of the protections that I recommended in my motion. Proposed changes include:
- Increasing the amount of interest payable in certain circumstances to purchasers on their deposits/payments for the purchase of a new or pre-construction condo unit from a developer.
- Requiring in regulation that vendors must provide the Condominium Information Sheet to purchasers of new and pre-construction condo units.
- Permit, on request, or require in regulation that vendors provide information to the Home Construction Regulatory Authority (HCRA) related to price adjustments to purchase agreements.
- Providing additional information about condo projects and cancellations to the HCRA to post on the Ontario Builder Directory.
Ontario Place Redevelopment Update
A new project website EngageOntarioPlace.ca has been launched and includes:
- Updates on the work to make Ontario Place ready for redevelopment
- Information on how you can take part in public consultation events
- Opportunities to share your feedback on the project
A Class Environmental Assessment for the Ontario Place redevelopment project has been launched which will provide the framework for the planning, design and decision-making for the government-led activities on site. A key element of the redevelopment work led by the government will be the design of the public realm.
Public Realm Visioning Workshop
Tuesday, April 12, 4:30 pm Register here.
Provide feedback and ideas and learn more about the environmental assessment and public realm design process which includes park areas, open space, trails, landscaping, art installations, and benches. There will be small-group discussions facilitated by representatives from the project team to allow for deeper conversations about the future of the public realm spaces of this significant site.
Ontario Line Renderings Released
Artist’s rendering of the future Ontario Line station building at southeast corner of King St W and Bathurst St, incorporating historic façade of current building at 663 King St.
The province has released artists’ renderings of the future Ontario Line stations. The renderings are available on each station page under the Neighbourhood Updates section of the Metrolinx website, including the Exhibition, King/Bathurst, Queen/Spadina and Osgoode station pages.
The renderings are said to provide a starting point for conversations and feedback on station design. Please note that the renderings are conceptual only and designs are subject to change. For more information, visit the website at Metrolinx.com/OntarioLine.
Ukrainian Relief in Ontario
The Ontario government is launching a suite of supports for Ukrainian families arriving under the new emergency travel authorization to connect new arrivals with job search supports and local employers in the community.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress-National (UCC)
The UCC is working with Canadian government officials at all levels to learn what programs and assistance will be provided for displaced persons coming to Canada from Ukraine.
- Ukrainian Displaced Persons Support Committee: [email protected]
If you want to help a new arrival, complete the survey at ucc.ca
- Government of Canada Resources: Click here
Canadian Travellers Update
Starting April 1, 2022 at 12:01 am, the Government of Canada will no longer require pre-entry COVID-19 test results from fully vaccinated travellers. Travellers arriving to Canada from any country, who qualify as fully vaccinated, may need to take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival if selected for mandatory random testing. Travellers selected for mandatory random testing are not required to quarantine while awaiting their test result.
For partially or unvaccinated travelers, pre-entry testing requirements are not changing. Unless otherwise exempt, all travellers 5 years of age or older who do not qualify as fully vaccinated must continue to provide proof of an accepted type of pre-entry COVID-19 test result. All travellers continue to be required to submit their mandatory information in ArriveCAN before their arrival in Canada. Full details are available here.
The Government of Canada also announced a simplified process to renew an expired, lost or damaged passport, as long as it was issued within the last 15 years. Applicants no longer require a guarantor or to provide their original documents, such as proof of citizenship or photo identification. They simply need 2 photos, 2 references, their completed form and the applicable fees. Full details are available here.
Neighbourhood Associations Listing
- Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association [email protected]
- Chinatown BIA [email protected]
- CityPlace Residents Association [email protected]
- Corktown Residents and Business Association [email protected]
- Distillery District BIA [email protected]
- East Waterfront Community & Business Association [email protected]
- Garment District Neighbourhood Association [email protected]
- Gooderham and Worts Neighbourhood Association [email protected]
- Grange Community Association www.grangecommunity.ca
- Liberty Village BIA [email protected]
- Liberty Village Residents Association [email protected]
- Little Portugal on Dundas BIA [email protected]
- Ossington BIA [email protected]
- Queen Street BIA [email protected]
- Queen Street West BIA [email protected]
- St. Lawrence Market BIA [email protected]
- St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association [email protected]
- Toronto Downtown West BIA [email protected]
- Toronto Financial District BIA [email protected]
- Toronto Island Community Association [email protected]
- Trinity Bellwoods BIA [email protected]
- Waterfront BIA [email protected]
- West Don Lands Committee http://wdlc.org/
- West Queen West BIA [email protected]
- York Quay Neighbourhood Association [email protected]
Bathurst Quay Air Quality Study
Air quality monitoring campaigns were launched in the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood to perform an air pollution exposure assessment, identify main sources of air pollution for the neighbourhood, and develop and propose workable solutions. View the summary here.
Trinity Bellwoods Park Community Garden
A new garden located outside of the greenhouse in Trinity Bellwoods Park will provide opportunities for growing fresh food in the community. The community garden will be run by volunteer group Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Anyone interested in volunteering at the garden, can contact them directly. You can also provide your feedback on the garden design here.
Province Lifts Mask Mandates on March 21
Starting March 21, Ontario will be removing the mandatory masking requirement for most settings, with the exception of select settings such as public transit, health care settings, long-term care homes and congregate care settings. Read how Ontario intends to lift remaining COVID-19 restrictions here.
Toronto City Council has also amended its mask bylaw, so that it will expire on the same date. Prior to the amendment, the City’s Mask Bylaw was set to expire on April 8, 2022. Click here to read Dr. de Villa's report.
We all want this pandemic to end, and we look forward to the day when we no longer need public health measures. However, removing masks for everyone is causing a lot of worry especially for parents with small children who have not been vaccinated.
Experts are saying it’s a little too soon for masks to come off especially in schools. All Ontario’s children’s hospitals have joined together as the Children’s Health Coalition to call for just a couple more weeks of masks to keep kids safe. The head of the Ontario Science Table Dr. Peter Juni says just a couple more weeks of masks is a safer plan.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) held a special board meeting and decided that it will implement the changes announced by the province, however, they are also requesting additional time to remove the current protections in schools. They will continue to strongly encourage mask wearing in school.
The Ontario Principals’ Council also opposes the government’s plan to lift the mask mandate in schools and urges it to immediately pause the lifting of this restriction.
Despite this, Premier Doug Ford is discouraging school boards from seeking extensions and Education Minister Stephen Lecce released a statement saying that boards are expected to follow the province’s plan.
Small Businesses Still Waiting for Pandemic Funding
We have heard from many business owners who are still desperately waiting for the third round of small business grants from the Ford government that were promised in mid-December.
The money for businesses that the government locked down during the Omicron wave in December was supposed to flow by mid-February. But the majority have not received the grant, and it’s now mid-March, with applications for the program closing today.
The small business grant program has been rife with glitches and delays, including sending hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses that don’t qualify — some that aren’t even based on Ontario — while leaving small Ontario businesses out. Many small and medium business owners have burned through their life savings, taken on a mountain of debt and continue to be at risk of losing their business.
This government must provide our small businesses with the supports they were promised to keep paying their staff and to help them stay afloat.
Ontario Businesses Call for Action on Commercial Rent Crisis
Small businesses from across Ontario released a report calling for urgent action on the commercial rent crisis. There are currently no commercial rent guidelines, standards or protections for small businesses. It is legal to increase rent by any amount, and pass on surprise bills to tenants for operating costs. The instability of rent costs is a major stressor for small business owners, and too many are being forced to close.
Lack of commercial rent protections in Ontario is threatening small businesses, the jobs they have created, and the vibrancy they bring to our communities. The government must take action now to address this cost pressure and help small businesses recover from the pandemic.
Ontario Announces $15 Minimum Wage for Gig Workers
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced new legislation that would extend the province's minimum wage to gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers. However, the legislation only applies to active hours, which means the driver must be making a delivery or transporting a passenger to earn the minimum hourly wage. If they are waiting for their next trip, the minimum wage does not apply. Since drivers spend about half of their time waiting for a trip, waiting for a passenger, or en-route to a pickup, the average driver would have to work 13.3 hours to make an 8-hour day’s wage.
In a court ruling last month, the Ontario Ministry of Labour ruled that Uber maintained sufficient control over one of its driver’s working conditions, that they were an employee rather than an independent contractor, and that working hours included all the time spent delivering orders and waiting for work. But this bill is in direct conflict with that ruling, only providing gig workers a $15/hr minimum wage only for “engaged” time spent making a delivery or transporting a passenger.
The new bill also does not address employee status. Thousands of gig and contract workers are denied basic workplace rights because their employers incorrectly classify them as independent contractors. These workers are employees and deserve to be protected with fair pay, paid vacation, severance, WSIB coverage and more.
Province Revising Science Curriculum
The Ontario government is introducing a new science and technology curriculum and de-streaming the Grade 9 science course for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. Read the release here.
These changes are part of the government’s plan to align curriculum changes with the province’s economic needs and place an emphasis on critical life and job skills, including the fast-growing skilled trades. The government says there have been many advancements in science and technology since the curriculum was last updated in 2007.
NDP Education Critic, MPP Marit Stiles, said the move to de-stream Grade 9 science was welcome but that the Ministry had missed the opportunity to provide other important elements, namely smaller class sizes, more teachers and other education workers, and collaboration with and support for educators implementing it.
PRESTO Fare Discount for Students
Beginning March 14, youth and post-secondary students will receive 40% off PRESTO full adult fare. This applies to GO and UP customers who are 13 to 19 years old or anyone enrolled in full-time post-secondary education, regardless of their age. This discount is only available with a PRESTO card. More information is available at gotransit.com/school and upexpress.com.
For participating agencies that use PRESTO, the discount will be applied automatically when customers tap to transfer between GO Transit and local transit. For agencies that do not use PRESTO, customers can show a PRESTO card, a single-ride paper ticket or day pass GO ticket as proof of a valid GO Transit fare on local transit.
CRA Clawing Back Benefits from TCHC Residents
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is clawing back a portion of the Ontario Trillium Benefit (OTB) for some of the lowest income members in our community, in some cases asking for $950. Many of these residents live on Ontario Works (OW) ($735/month) or ODSP ($1050/month).
The OTB is a provincial benefit that taxpayers with lower incomes can claim through their annual returns. It combines the Ontario Sales Tax Credit (OSTC) and the Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit (OEPTC) for southern Ontario residents or the Northern Ontario Energy Credit (NOEC). It is the OEPTC portion of the credit that TCHC tenants are no longer eligible to receive but was difficult to communicate to tenants until the CRA recently sent notices. This is putting undue hardship on TCHC tenants who are already marginalized and are being penalized for a government error.
This week, my colleagues and I signed a letter asking the government to reverse the decision and not to collect this money from the lowest income members of our community. Next week, I will be speaking in favour of an NDP bill to increase OW and ODSP to livable levels.
New Housing at 222 Spadina Avenue
The City of Toronto will begin to move residents into new housing units located at 222 Spadina Avenue in Chinatown. The city had purchased the Super 8 hotel a year ago and converted it into 84 affordable housing units with on-site 24-hour supports provided by Homes First. Full details here.
CaféTO Registration Open
Restaurant operators can now apply for sidewalk café permits or register for curb lane cafés. The deadline to register is April 2. New for 2022, café operators are now eligible for a matching grant of up to $7,500 to cover 50% of the cost of eligible property or site improvements related to curb lane café installations, sidewalk cafés or patios on private property, through the CaféTO Property Improvement Program. Full details here.
Ontario Ends State of Emergency
After over two weeks of protest, Ontario ended its state of emergency on February 23 at 5:00 pm, in alignment with the federal government ending its invocation of the Emergencies Act.
I would like to reiterate the words of my colleague, Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden:
“We broke the political logjam that kept the convoy in place. While municipal, provincial, and federal officials dithered, the residents of this city took care of each other. That’s a legacy of which we can be proud, but we have more work to do to address rising levels of hate.
Hate grows when people feel unheard. Horns blare when people believe their suffering goes unnoticed. Rural anger boils over against downtown Ottawa when people think “urban elites” have it better than them. Politicians fanning the flames only makes matters worse.
So let’s reclaim our city, but let’s also heal our country.”
Vaccine Passport System Lifts March 1
Starting March 1, Ontario will begin to ease public health measures, including lifting capacity limits in all remaining indoor public settings. Full details available here.
Ontario will also be lifting proof of vaccination requirements for all settings. However, businesses and other settings may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination. Masking requirements will remain in place, with more information on lifting this measure coming at a later date.
Public health units can deploy local and regional responses based on local context and conditions.
Ontario Budget Postponed to End of April
The Ford government tabled legislation on Monday that would delay the Ontario budget deadline from March 31 to the end of April. The reason is supposedly to give the government the latest financial projections as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and as various levels of governments end their pandemic-related support programs.
The truth is that this government is rewriting their own law that was put in place in 2019 by then Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, which he claimed was to create firm financial reporting deadlines and an “iron clad guarantee” from the Premier. The “guarantee” would require the Premier and the Minister of Finance to pay 10% of their salaries for each missed public reporting deadline.
NDP Finance Critic Catherine Fife explained, “They’ve maneuvered the budget date because they have stockpiled a lot of money they have stockpiled from the federal government, they’re going to drop a lot of that money in a budget and then they’re going to go to an election.”
By reneging on their own rules, it appears that this government is pushing their budget promises closer to the campaign period, which is expected to start in May, with the hopes that some of their announcements may increase their popularity closer to the June election. Of course, Ontarians have seen many announcements and re-announcements by this government and have learned that an announcement is meaningless unless funds begin to flow immediately to implement programs.
Ontario Announces Tutoring Support Program
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Ontario’s Learning Recovery Action Plan, a plan intended to bridge learning gaps, supporting academic success and focus on overall mental health and wellness, following two years of learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government says that $175 million is being invested to expand access to tutoring in small groups after school, during school, on weekends and over the summer. The program is set to start in April 2022 until December 31, 2022. More information here.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said that this funding is far below inflation and doesn’t replace what has already been taken away with this government’s cuts to education. This year’s budget cut another half a billion dollars from schools despite the very real need for more teachers, more education workers, and more mental health supports.
While this funding offers a few dollars per student to tackle the massive issues of student mental health and student learning loss, it also leaves much of the $16.8 billion worth of backlogged school repairs unaddressed for up to 10 years. So students will continue to sit in classrooms that are leaking, moldy or poorly ventilated, and it keeps class sizes big and crowded.
Province Eliminating License Plate Renewal Fees
The Premier announced new legislation that will eliminate license plate renewal fees. The legislation goes into effect on March 13, 2022. The province has extended the validation period of license plates for eligible vehicle owners to March 31, 2022. The policy applies to passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, motorcycles and mopeds. Heavy commercial vehicles and snowmobiles are not included.
Anyone who paid to renew their license plate between March 1, 2020 and March 2022 will be refunded. Any outstanding tickets or fines must be paid for before receiving a refund. To get a refund, drivers will need to make sure the address on their license is up to date by March 7 online here or by phone with ServiceOntario at 1-888-333-0049. Refund information available here.
Vehicle owners will still be required to renew their license plate every one or two years for insurance purposes, but there will be no fee or sticker. Residents will still have to renew their driver’s licenses and pay the fee. You can renew your license here.
The province says it will also invest in Automated License Plate Recognition technology, which they say can read thousands of license plates per minute.
This announcement has been criticized as it saves only one segment of the population (vehicle owners) an expense, while simultaneously lowering critical government revenue that could be used to fund and improve public services such as healthcare, education, long-term care, transportation, and much more.
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer (FAO) said that the impact to the province could be approximately a billion dollars based on previous analysis of the registration fees. The lost revenue would come at a time when the government faces a post-pandemic deficit ranging between $16 to $20.5 billion.
This could be an indicator that the government intends to pursue further public service cuts as a primary strategy in order to make up for the government funding shortfall, which is a concerning threat to our various public services.
Ontario Begins Lifting Restrictions Starting Feb 17
Starting February 17 at 12:01 am:
• Increasing social gathering limits to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors
• Increasing organized public event limits to 50 people indoors, with no limit outdoors
Removing capacity limits in the following indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required, including:
• Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities
• Non-spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms
• Meeting and event spaces, including conference centres or convention centres
• Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments
• Indoor areas of settings that choose to opt-in to proof of vaccination requirements.
• Allowing 50% of the usual seating capacity at sports arenas
• Allowing 50% of the usual seating capacity for concert venues and theatres
• Increasing indoor capacity limits to 25% in the remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required, including nightclubs, restaurants where there is dancing, as well as bathhouses and sex clubs
• Increasing capacity limits for indoor weddings, funerals or religious services, rites, or ceremonies to the number of people who can maintain two metres of physical distance
• Capacity limits are removed if the location opts-in to use proof of vaccination or if the service, rite, or ceremony is occurring outdoors
• Capacity limits in indoor public settings such as grocery stores, pharmacies, retail and shopping malls will be at the number of people who can maintain two metres of physical distancing
• Businesses may still choose to require proof of vaccination
• Masking rules will remain in effect but the timeline for lifting masking mandates to come
Starting February 18 at 8:00 am:
- Expanding booster dose eligibility to youth aged 12 to 17
- Appointments can be booked through the provincial booking system and the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre, as well as at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine. Appointments will be booked for approximately six months (168 days) after a second dose. To book an appointment online, individuals must be 12 years old at the time of appointment.
Starting March 1:
• Capacity limits in indoor settings and proof-of-vaccination system will be removed
Province Expands Access to Free Rapid Tests
The province will be making 44 million rapid tests available to the public for free over the coming weeks. Starting February 9, over 2,300 participating grocery and pharmacy locations will provide free rapid tests while supplies last, with a limit of one box of five tests per household per visit.
Participating retailers will receive additional supply from the province each week and have the ability to determine how tests are distributed in order to best serve the community, including through appointment bookings, at checkout or through online orders.
The province intends to bring additional locations online in the coming weeks, including independent grocers and pharmacies. A list of participating retailers as well as information on how retail locations are distributing rapid test kits can be found at Ontario.ca/rapidtest.
Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table is urging people to change the way they use rapid antigen tests after determining the regular nasal swabs are less sensitive to the Omicron variant. The tests can be more accurate if both cheeks are swabbed, in addition to the back of the tongue or throat, prior to going up the nose.
The science table suggests following these steps:
- Swab the inside of both cheeks, between the cheek and gums while rotating the swab for 5 seconds.
- Then swab the arch at the back of the mouth for another 5 seconds in a circular fashion.
- Finally, insert the swab about 2 cm into the nose and gently wipe around the inside of the nostril about 3-4 times.
- Repeat these steps in the other nostril.
- Use the same swab for cheeks, throat and nostrils.
Dr. Peter Juni said that you “should not rely on a single negative test, and should have two tests, perhaps 48 hours or more apart.”
A nasal sample alone is about 68% effective in detecting Omicron while a combined nasal and throat sample is about 82% accurate. A positive result using a rapid test can be considered accurate.
OHIP Card Renewal Deadline Extended to Sep 30
After months of advocacy from our NDP team, the province is extending the deadline to renew health cards from February 28 to September 30, 2022. Ontario residents will be able to continue using expired health cards until the new September deadline. However, the deadline to renew drivers licenses, license stickers and other vehicle products remains February 28. Health card renewal information is available here.
The extension to renew expired health cards is welcome, but we want to ensure that the new system is fully functioning well before the September deadline. At the moment, Ontarians need to hold an Ontario driver’s license to be able to renew their health card online. The NDP is calling on the Ford government to allow government-issued photo ID to be accepted for online health card renewals as soon as possible. Requiring a driver’s license reduces accessibility for seniors and people with certain disabilities and it is discriminatory. Our province must be AODA compliant and it’s time for our government that prioritizes people with disabilities to make Ontario accessible and inclusive for all.
Anyone having difficulties renewing their health card should contact ServiceOntario at 1-866-532-3161 (TTY: 1-800-387-5559) to inquire about options for their specific situation.
FAO Releases Ontario Government’s Fiscal Position
The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) released an updated projection of the government’s fiscal position over the 2021-22 to 2023-24 period. Read the full report here.
The FAO projects revenues to be $7.6 billion higher than the government’s plan by 2023-24, reflecting stronger expected economic growth and potential unannounced tax cuts in the Fall Economic Statement which are not included in the FAO’s projection.
- By 2023-24, the FAO projects Ontario’s net debt-to-GDP ratio will reach 39%, modestly below pre-pandemic rates.
- Interest on debt as a share of revenue is projected to decline to 6.9% in 2023-24, below its pre-pandemic level of 8% in 2019-20.
- The FAO’s projections are based on current government revenue and program spending policies, the estimated impact of the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new program announcements made up to January 20, 2022. If the government announces new tax cuts or spending initiatives in the future, the FAO’s deficit projections would deteriorate.
If the FAO is right, this government is planning to take even more away from our health care, our children’s schools and our social services and use that money for corporate tax cuts. Between 2021 and 2024, the FAO calculated a whopping $9.03 billion funding shortfall in health care, another $717 million short in children’s and social services, and a $905 million shortfall in education and post-secondary. Yet, this government is holding billions for programs that have not yet been announced.
Condo School Coming to Lower Yonge
In partnership with Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Menkes Developments, the province has announced funding for a new elementary school. The Lower Yonge Precinct Elementary School will be located on the third floor of a Menkes’ condominium along with a childcare centre on the second floor, a community centre next door and a park nearby that will double as a playground. Negotiations are ongoing about how the students will get across the street to the playground for recess.
It’s taken years of negotiations between the city, the province, local businesses and the community to find a way to fit a school into the densely populated Lower Yonge area. It’s innovative, but it’s not the model we should be following. We should be planning schools first and then building communities around them, instead of trying to shoehorn them in later.
Ontario Launches Long-Term Care Homefinder
The Ontario government has launched a Long-Term Care Homefinder, a new website and search tool to provide prospective residents and their families with a one-stop-shop to find and compare long-term care homes across the province. Each home has a profile page with information about waiting lists, staff vaccination rates, amenities, inspection reports and other information. This is said to be part of the province’s plan to fix long-term care.
With rising cases of COVID-19 infections in both residents and staff, mass staff shortages, and residents confined to rooms for days, even weeks, at a time, much more is needed to fix the crisis in long-term care. The NDP continues to call for an urgent staffing plan to deal with this crisis including an immediate raise for personal support workers (PSWs), hazard pay, N95 masks, and a real program for paid sick days. As importantly, we need a full-time Minister to focus on the urgent task at hand.
COVID-19 Antiviral Treatment for Immunocompromised
Paxlovid, the oral antiviral pill, was approved by Health Canada on January 17, 2022. While it is not a replacement for vaccination, the treatment is intended for those who are at a higher risk of severe outcomes that may lead to hospitalization.
Ontario has received limited quantities and announced that it will be prioritizing the following:
- immunocompromised individuals (PDF) aged 18 and over regardless of vaccine status
- unvaccinated individuals aged 60 and over
- unvaccinated First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals aged 50 and over
- unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and over with one or more risk factors (PDF)
- must also have a tested positive COVID-19 to receive treatment
Province Seeking Advice on Expanding Health and Wellness Benefits
The Ontario government is seeking advice on designing a plan that provides workers with benefits such as health, dental and vision care, even if they change jobs. Currently, millions of people, including those working in retail, the gig economy and hospitality have limited or no benefits coverage. To start, the government intends to create and appoint an advisory panel that will look at how benefits could reside with the worker and will provide recommendations on how best to administer the new program. More information available here.
Ontario Place Redevelopment Update
On January 26, the City of Toronto will be bringing forward a report on priority areas for collaboration and the development approvals process for the province’s Ontario Place redevelopment plans. In 2019, City Council approved a set of Guiding Principles for the Revitalization of Ontario Place created through public consultation and the subcommittee on Ontario Place.
In July 2021, Ontario announced they had selected three private vendors for the redevelopment, without any prior public consultation. Chopping up and leasing out Ontario Place to corporations from outside the province means that we lose the opportunity to begin rebuilding a united Ontario Place focused on our local heritage. The after-the-fact consultations on the future of Ontario Place are just one more step in the privatization of public spaces that divides our communities. Read my op-ed here.
I have written to the Minister regarding the lack of public consultation and transparency that has been exhibited to date, including a call to protect the Japanese Temple Bell located in Ontario Place. I will continue to push this government to keep Ontario Place a public community space.
Fourth Doses for Immunocompromised Ontarians
Starting January 14, moderately to severely immunocompromised people can book a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone who has received a transplant, or anyone taking immune-suppressant medication will be able to book their fourth dose 84 days after their third shot.
Here is the province’s list of immune-suppressant medications.
The province has already begun administering fourth doses in long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.
Book via the COVID-19 vaccination portal, or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900, through Indigenous-led vaccination clinics, select pharmacies and primary care settings.
Bill 124 and the Nursing Shortage
I strongly believe that Bill 124 is a breach of the Charter rights of Ontario workers. It is almost identical to a bill passed by the previous government in 2012 that led to years of court appeals and eventually to a court decision that the then government had breached the rights of Ontario workers and $100 million in settlements. It makes no sense given this history that the current government would introduce almost identical legislation breaching the rights of Ontario workers and again being challenged in court, wasting more taxpayer dollars.
The unfair nature of Bill 124 has been revealed during the most recent wave of the pandemic, with staffing shortages due to Omicron causing strain to the healthcare system. Our healthcare workers, including nurses, have been asked to work overtime and take care of more patients than usual, leading to mental and physical exhaustion and burnout. Healthcare workers feel undervalued and disrespected, and this feeling has been amplified by Bill 124, which limits pay increases below inflation at 1% per year.
This is manifesting in nurses leaving the profession or finding work in other jurisdictions. In October 2021, the Ontario Science Table reported that 43% of nurses were considering leaving the profession. This number has surely grown in the months since this report.
But we know that a well-staffed healthcare system is vital for saving lives during the pandemic, and for allowing us to recover from the pandemic after the worst danger has passed.
I spoke about the gendered impact of Bill 124, and the importance of creating stable, well-paid, permanent positions for nurses in the legislature in October:
The Ontario NDP has asked that the Legislature be recalled immediately so that we can advocate specifically for the repeal of Bill 124.