The Ontario government has been embroiled in corruption scandals that have now reached the point where the RCMP is investigating. This week, I tabled my Cleaning Up Corruption Act bill as a step towards restoring ethics and accountability to Queen’s Park. The bill will be debated on November 30th. The bill seeks to stop preferential treatment for companies bidding on government contracts and makes the Premier, Ministers and MPPs declare conflicts of interest when government decisions could benefit friends of family members. More on this below.
It has been another tragic week as the war in Gaza continues. My colleagues and I in the Ontario NDP have been calling for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, unimpeded and immediate humanitarian access, and full respect for international law. We must invest in building a just and sustainable peace for Palestinians and Israelis, and a world free of discrimination. I am hopeful that the 4-day ceasefire deal may lead to a more prolonged peace agreement. I have heard from many of you who have reached out to my office and have been working to respond to you as quickly as possible.
The escalating number of incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia in our city is very alarming. It concerns me that the current government has no plan to counter the spread of hate in Ontario. If you witness a hate crime, it is important that you report it so that action can be taken. Visit the Toronto Police Service site for information. The City of Toronto has provided some helpful resources to keep residents safe from hate on the website here.
During times like these it is more important than ever that we treat each other with respect and compassion.
Attending a Remembrance Day ceremony and Transgender Day of Remembrance flag raising at Queen’s Park
This morning I met with a number of community members at my monthly Coffee with Chris events where we discussed a number of issues including community safety, greening our condo buildings, Ontario Place and restoring confidence and trust in government. Thank you to the Music Garden Cafe for hosting. We will host our next Coffee with Chris in January – watch for updates.
There are a number of opportunities for you to have a say in how your government works. The city and province are hosting pre-budget consultations, and there is an opportunity to have input on the cycling network. Details below.
This week Ontario Place for All took the provincial government to court seeking an injunction to halt the development of the Therme spa until an environmental assessment has been completed. I want to thank OP4All for their leadership on this issue.
Please join me on Saturday, December 9 at 1:00 pm for my Holipalooza in-person holiday event with live musical performances, snacks and a visit from a special visitor from the North Pole! RSVP here.
Holipalooza Dec 9
I’m excited to announce that this year’s Holipalooza event will be an in-person festival! Please join us at The Bentway Studio Atrium (55 Fort York Blvd.) on Saturday, December 9, 1-3 pm.
This year, we have an incredible concert featuring live musical performances from the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, the incredible Newchoir, and amazing local talent including award-winning musician Chris Birkett, and Phusion Band.
Bring the kids! Santa will drop by with holiday gift bags! Games, activities, free snacks and refreshments – fun for the whole family!
Cleaning Up Corruption Act
On November 20th, I tabled Bill 148, Cleaning up Corruption Act as a step towards restoring ethics and accountability to Queen’s Park. This bill will be debated in the legislature on Thursday, November 30th and I look forward to seeing how the government votes on this.
Actions from our current government have eroded Ontarians’ trust – from the Greenbelt scandal to speculators buying tickets to the Premier’s family functions to corrupt planning policies that benefit land speculators. The government has been taking advantage of the loopholes regarding preferential treatment in our integrity laws. With this government under RCMP criminal investigation, it’s clear that our integrity laws need to be tightened.
The Cleaning up Corruption Act implements recommendations from the Auditor General (AG) and Integrity Commissioner (IC) to strengthen Ontario’s integrity laws, including:
- Empowering the IC to launch their own investigations, with expanded scope
- Strengthening the Member’s Integrity Act to prevent MPPs from acting in a way that furthers their own personal interest or could reasonably be perceived to further the personal interest of a friend or family member
- Preventing preferential treatment by MPPs when the government is giving out government contracts
- Amending the Auditor General Act to help the AG access information during an audit
National Housing Day at Queen’s Park
November 22nd was National Housing Day and I was joined by my colleague and Housing Critic, MPP Jessica Bell, along with other housing advocates at Queen’s Park for a press conference. Watch here. We are calling for the province to fund shelters so that no one is forced to sleep outside.
The number of people dying while homeless has doubled from 100 to 200 under this government. I asked the Housing Minister if they would support Mayor Chow’s plan to build 65,000 homes. The provincial government dodge their responsibility and blame the federal government. Watch my question here.
It is critical that all levels of government find a way to come together to provide housing for the growing population of people experiencing homelessness, as well as refugees and asylum seekers. There are 3,900 refugees currently in the shelter system and another 1,212 being supported outside of the shelter system. This number represents a 50% increase compared to six months ago and that there is no more room to accommodate people.
This issue falls under federal responsibility and Mayor Olivia Chow has requested help from the federal government to house people as local shelter systems cannot cope with the demand. She has asked the federal Ministry of Defence to open up the federal armouries at Fort York and Moss Park for use as emergency shelters. The federal government has offered $5 million, but this just isn’t enough. The City would like to see the federal government provide funding to buy an old building that could be converted to shelter space.
Update on 629 Adelaide St W Shelter
My office continues to hear from residents with many concerns regarding the 629 Adelaide St. W. site that will be operated by St. Felix Centre, particularly around the safety of children and the need for better community engagement. In my discussion with residents, most agree that the site should be used to house vulnerable community members, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t impact community safety.
Over the last few weeks, the City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) has held information sessions and has met with community members, including St. Mary’s Catholic School.
Below are the initiatives and changes that have been made in response to the feedback that was received.
- Site will now open as a shelter for single adults of all genders, instead of a 24-hour, low-barrier respite centre
- Slated to open Spring 2024 with a capacity of approximately 50 beds with room to expand
- 10-year lease for 629 Adelaide St. W. is finalized between St. Felix Centre and the landlord
- An alternate location for this service is not being considered
- Site will have mandatory intake triage processes and provide comprehensive case management and housing support for all clients, with a focus on helping them secure permanent housing as quickly as possible
- Site will provide wraparound supports and space for recreation and programming, mental health and crisis management, and income/employment supports
- Clients of the program will be expected to participate in case management activities and work on a housing plan
- Site will be staffed 24/7 by individuals who are social workers, social service workers or people with lived experience trained in providing case management for housing and supports, mental health and harm reduction services, de-escalation, conflict resolution, crisis prevention, and intervention and management
- All team members are trained to respond to immediate non-police or non-EMS-related matters when made aware by the community
- Primary health care services will also be available on-site including access to mental health support
- Building will be equipped with access control, video surveillance systems and improved lighting
- An enclosed outdoor space is also being designed for St. Felix guests to gather in with picnic tables and beautification features
- Community Safety Teams will be recruited to provide 24/7 outreach in the community and to support the successful integration of the shelter program
- Staff will have eyes on the community outside the shelter and can also safely dispose of any drug paraphernalia found
- Proactive and ongoing work will also occur with the local schools
- A Community Liaison Committee will be established with key community stakeholders including local BIA, resident associations, condo associations, other local service providers and Toronto Police Neighbourhood officers
- Exploring options to hold an on-site open house and information meeting closer to the opening of the site
- Adding a Community Liaison Worker position to the St. Felix staff team to engage with community members, local businesses and residential associations to both respond to concerns and to seek opportunities for partnership and collaboration
Feedback Requested on New Legislative Bills
Below are a number of new bills that have been recently introduced by the Ontario government. You are able to read about the individual bills and sign up to speak in committee.
Bill 149, Working for Workers Four Act, 2023
This bill proposes a number of changes in the workplace including:
- Requiring job postings to include information about the expected compensation or range of compensation for the position, and banning posts that require Canadian experience
- Banning employers from not paying a worker during a “trial” period before formally hiring them
- Banning employers from deducting wages from an employee if a customer leaves without paying
- Requiring employers who have a policy of sharing tips with employees to post their tip policy in a conspicuous place
- Permitting increases to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits above the annual rate of inflation, meaning injured workers will receive higher rates of pay
- Firefighters will be eligible for compensation for esophageal cancer from the WSIB after 15 years of employment, down from 25
Many of these proposed changes are already law, but are not being enforced. To improve working conditions for all workers, we will continue to advocate for changes that significantly improve working conditions, including making it easier to form a union, increasing the minimum wage to $20 an hour, and requiring more paid sick days.
Bill 150, Planning Statute Law Amendment Act, 2023
This bill reverses the government’s controversial decision to forcibly redraw many municipal urban boundaries and permit development on nearby farmland.
Under the direction of now-ousted Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Stephen Clark, the government opened up over 13,000 hectares of farmland by redrawing the urban boundaries of Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Peterborough, and the regional municipalities of Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, York, and Wellington County. Bill 150 reverses these drastic land-use planning moves, and also protects the province and municipalities from being sued for the flip-flop in land-use planning.
While this bill is a victory, the Conservative government is still making some sneaky moves. On November 2nd, the Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra wrote a letter to municipal mayors informing them that the province will let them keep their new expanded boundary or any part of it if they request it by December 7. The mayors do not have to get the approval of other councillors, or the regional upper-tier council, nor do they have to talk to experts, or consult with the public.
While some municipalities, like Hamilton, are choosing to return to the former boundaries and meet their housing targets by increasing density, Milton is asking the province for permission to keep their expanded boundary.
Bill 151, Improving Real Estate Management Act, 2023
This bill removes the power of some Ontario agencies to buy and sell property and assigns that power to the Ministry of Infrastructure. The government has been consolidating the authority to buy and sell real estate in the Ministry of Infrastructure for the past year.
The agencies that are affected by this bill are Ontario Health, Public Health Ontario, Niagara Escarpment Commission, Ontario Science Centre, The Royal Ontario Museum, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre Corporation, Ottawa Convention Centre Corporation, Science North, and the Algonquin Forestry Authority.
Ontario Pre-Budget Consultations
The Ontario government has announced dates for Ontario pre-budget hearings that will take place from December 2023 to January 2024. You are able to submit feedback via a survey, written submission, or in person. Details here.
The consultations provide an opportunity to speak to the committee and advocate for your priorities such as more affordable housing, supportive housing to bring an end to homelessness, small business supports, public health care and education, and for strategic investments in technology and other sectors to grow our economy.
You will notice that there are no consultations scheduled in the City of Toronto. My colleague and Finance Critic, MPP Catherine Fife, presented a motion at the Finance Committee this week asking for Scarborough, Etobicoke, and Toronto dates to be added – the current government voted against it.
City Budget Consultations
The City of Toronto has begun working on its 2024 Budget consultations to build a safe, caring and affordable city for you. Toronto is facing significant financial challenges with a projected $1.5 billion operating shortfall in 2024 and a $46.5 billion shortfall over the next 10 years. It is important for residents to speak up about what matters to them. Consultations are taking place until November 30. Details here.
2.2 Million Ontarians Without Access to Primary Care
The Ontario Patient Ombudsman released a new report that revealed that 2.2 million Ontarians do not have access to primary care, including many Spadina-Fort York residents. Over the last two years, we have heard of three medical clinics closing in our riding, leaving thousands of patients without a family doctor.
According to the report, the declining state of Ontario’s healthcare system has also led to patients being increasingly discouraged from seeking treatment unless it is an emergency due to staffing shortages. People who struggle to access primary care face limited options for referrals and continuity of care. These problems are only exacerbated in for-profit clinics, where patients are charged unnecessary fees.
A CBC Toronto investigation has revealed the current government is giving for-profit clinics far more funding to perform certain OHIP-covered surgeries than it gives our public hospitals to perform the same operations. For example, private clinics receive $1,264 for each procedure classed as minor complexity (such as cataract surgery), whereas hospitals receive $508.
This discrepancy is very concerning and raises questions regarding the government’s plan to expand the surgeries performed outside of hospitals, including the potentially lucrative field of hip and knee replacements.
Bill 60 expands the types of surgical and diagnostic procedures allowed to be performed in for-profit facilities. The rationale for the legislation was to improve health capacity and reduce wait times. But outsourcing surgeries to privately run for-profit clinics shifts resources from Ontario’s hospitals and boosts clinic owners’ revenues, without actually shortening wait lists. Hospitals are already worried that surgeons, anaesthetists and operating room nurses shifting to private clinics will weaken the ability of hospitals to provide the care expected of them.
Ontarians deserve better. Sign the petition here.
Ontario Place for All Takes Province to Court
Walter Khem provided this photo of the “blockade” that went up recently around Ontario Place
On Tuesday, Ontario Place for All announced that it has filed an application with the Ontario Divisional Court, seeking an injunction prohibiting the Government of Ontario from proceeding with its planned redevelopment of the West Island, including its mega spa, until a full environmental assessment is completed. The group is asking the court to order the government to conduct a full environmental assessment of the entire project, which the government has refused to do. You can access the environmental assessments here.
Also this week, prominent Ontario Place architect Walter Khem announced that he would be stepping away from the redevelopment project, stating that “he could no longer be tied to a project that threatens a decades-old wildlife habitat.”
Despite the clear public opposition to their plan, the province is adamant it will move forward with the project, where preparatory work has already begun. What is clearly visible is the dismal wooden fencing that went up around the property two weeks ago. The question is: what are they trying to hide?
While it looks like Ontario Place is closed to the public, the West Island and Trillium Park are still open. Ontario Place for All has posted information online on how to access the grounds.
Support Small Business This Season
November 25th is Small Business Saturday. As you start your holiday shopping, don’t forget to support our small businesses. Two-thirds (66 cents) of every dollar spent at a small business in Canada stays local, and that number is even higher for Ontario (70 cents).
Below are some ways you can shop local:
- Shop Liberty 2 Win is a campaign by the Liberty Village BIA that encourages residents to shop at local businesses and offers chances to win a cash prize. When you spend a minimum of $15, upload all your receipts (or online reviews of any local business) by midnight every Sunday to enter. Ends December 10.
- Bag of Toronto supports local businesses in Toronto by curating gift bags and sharing them with local communities in Queen West and Ossington!
- Little Portugal Toronto BIA presents a Gallery & Vintage Crawl on the last Saturday of every month in 2023. Shop more than 10 vintage shops, 12 art galleries, and free public art tours!
- Enjoy two days of festive fun with strolling Santa and Elf Band as you shop around CityPlace and Fort York on December 2-3!
Toronto Micromobility Survey
My office often hears from residents with concerns about the rising number of small electric vehicles on our sidewalks, bike lanes and roads. What is allowed on our roads, who can be licensed, and how can we make our sidewalks safer?
The City of Toronto is seeking public feedback on the use of micromobility (bikes, e-bikes and other small vehicles). The results from this survey will be used to develop a city-wide strategy including what new forms might be allowed in future. The survey will be open until December 13, 2023. Details here.
Cycling Network Public Input
The City of Toronto would like to hear from residents to help make recommendations on which bikeways to build, upgrade and study in 2025 to 2027. Take this short survey to share your feedback. Details here.
Auditor General Probes Ontario Place Deal
The Auditor General announced they will be conducting a value-for-money audit into the government’s redevelopment of Ontario Place. The investigation will also include auditing of the Ontario Science Centre, which the government wants to move to the Ontario Place grounds.
Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma repeatedly cites a “business case” for closing the Ontario Science Centre and building one half the size at Ontario Place but refuses to make the case public. While people are struggling with an affordability crisis, closing emergency rooms, overcrowded classrooms, this government believes it is a good idea to spend more than $650 million of public money on a private, luxury spa.
Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner investigations launched at the request of the Ontario NDP have already forced the government to backtrack on its Greenbelt and Urban Boundary plans, so I look forward to seeing what the Auditor General uncovers.
On October 6, the Auditor General also confirmed in response to an NDP request that it is investigating the government’s use of MZOs, which have disproportionately benefited developers with personal, political or donor ties to Premier Ford and the Conservative Party. The current government has issued 18 Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) benefiting just the guests at Ford’s daughter’s wedding reception, which took place on September 25, 2022. MZOs can dramatically increase the value of land.
Here’s a quick rundown of the facts:
- The value-for-money audit was requested by Ontario Place For All, Waterfront For All and Architectural Conservancy Ontario. The Ontario NDP wrote the Auditor General in support of this request.
- The government voted down an Ontario NDP motion to terminate the lease with Therme at Ontario Place on October 16.
- “Special Advisor” Mark Saunders at Ontario Place collected more than $70,000 in public money, but failed to produce any real work as per an FOI obtained by the Ontario NDP
- In a testimony before the Heritage, Infrastructure, and Cultural Policy committee in June, the CEO of Infrastructure Ontario Michael Lindsay confirmed that Therme’s bid had not been received prior to August 28, 2019, when IO announced a deadline extension. He also confirmed that several other bids were received before the initial deadline.
- Confirmation via a FOI request that the procurement had no Fairness Monitor, which is standard for large procurements to ensure fairness and integrity.
- FOI documents were obtained from Infrastructure Ontario that show plans to build a parking garage by Therme’s entrance at Ontario Place The document is dated January 28, 2021, which is six months before Infrastructure Ontario announced on July 30, 2021, that Therme, Live Nation, and Écorécréo Group were the successful bidders for this project, nearly two years before the public learned about the below-grade parking garage in late 2022.
- Media reports have already revealed that Minister Surma was informed by Carmine Nigro, Chair of Ontario Place Corporation, that the site had 2.8 million visitors in 2022 and a record profit. Minister Surma never shared these numbers with the public. Instead, she continues to insist that Ontario Place is not enjoyed by people.
- Minister Surma often refers to a business case in her pitch to turn Ontario Place into a luxury mega spa and destroy the Ontario Science Centre. This business case has never been shared or seen. Minister Surma refuses to answer about the questionable process that appears to have favoured Therme.
- Ontario Place Corporation has submitted reports beyond 2018. The annual reports for 2019 and 2020 have been received by the Ministry of Infrastructure but they have not been made public. Ontario Place Corporation – a public entity – is obligated to publish their reports on their website, however, they remain confidential until approved by the Ministry.
- It was revealed that a relocated Ontario Science Centre would be about half the size of the current attraction, which is located in a landmark heritage building listed on the City of Toronto’s Heritage Registry.
Thousands of Documents Reveal Alarming Level of Political Involvement
7,000 pages of internal documents were obtained by an FOI filed by Environmental Defence and Ecojustice. Documents show an alarming level of political involvement in land use planning policies in Ontario, raising questions about the Premier and former Minister Clark’s testimonies to the Integrity Commissioner and Auditor General, and showing further proof that a culture of corruption and collusion prevailed in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to appease developer requests.
The documents offer evidence that Ministers’ offices besides Housing Minister Steve Clark’s, were involved as early as January 2022 (prior to the June 2022 election). The documents also show that the Housing Minister’s Chief of Staff Ryan Amato directed senior ministry staff to “keep your mouth shut” about the changes, and made clear that maps showing how some of the preferred developer properties had been moved forward needed to be provided to the Premier’s Office.
These documents raise many questions. The most important one being: Did the Premier or his former Housing Minister lie to the Integrity Commissioner / Auditor General under oath?
Fall Economic Statement Offers No Meaningful Support
The Ontario government recently released its Fall Economic Statement (FES). I am very disappointed that during these difficult times, the FES maintains the status quo and does virtually nothing to help people with the skyrocketing cost of living.
This FES contains no meaningful affordability measures and no plan to make rent affordable or tackle rising food costs. It has no measures to address the affordable housing crisis, including anything that would help the student housing shortage. It also does not contain a single mention of Francophone affairs, autism, consultation with First Nations, climate change initiatives, or agriculture and farming support.
According to the Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO), the health care budget for this year was expected to increase by $1.2 billion ($79.8 billion to $81 billion) – a 1.2% increase. Statistics Canada reports that health care inflation is 5.6%. The budgeted increase for health care this year is less than the rate of inflation.
The government added $2.5 billion to their contingency slush fund instead of investing those resources directly into our schools, hospitals, and public supports. The contingency fund now stands at $5.7 billion (Referenced from the Financial Accountability Office Q1 Expenditure).
You deserve a government that will:
- Build homes people can actually afford, in communities you want to live in
- Raise wages, end price-gouging, and tackle real estate speculation that is driving costs up
- Invest in stronger public health care, reduce wait times, and ensure you have a family doctor
- Strengthen rules and put an end to a cash-for-access culture
Changing Building Code to Protect Migratory Birds
On Monday, I introduced legislation which, if passed, would protect migratory birds by implementing bird-safe measures into Ontario’s building code. Since fall 2021, two million birds have died in Ontario from window collisions. As we continue growing as a province, we need to ensure it is innovative and sustainable – bird-safe building legislation is long overdue in Ontario. Watch my statement here.
In the middle of a climate emergency, the current government has refused to take even the simple measure of mandating markers on glass windows of new constructions to ensure safety of migratory birds. My bill will amend the Building Code Act, 1992 to ensure Ontario Regulation 332/12 (Building Code) includes the Canadian Standards Association Bird-Friendly Building Design Standard. It mandates bird-safe windows on all new construction and major renovations.
FLAP Canada Executive Director Michael Mesure said, “Bird-window collisions represent an unacceptable, widespread form of environmental degradation caused by the design of buildings, one that contradicts objectives of the Ontario Building Code. The Bird-Safe Windows Act, 2023 is a critical step necessary to mobilize solutions — simple, affordable ways that new building construction can be modernized to protect wild bird populations and the irreplaceable ecosystem services those animals provide for the betterment of our economy and the environment.”
Homes Ontario Plan to Build Housing is Voted Down
With the housing crisis we are facing, we have to find big solutions that can help people find a home they love in the community they want to live in.
This is why my colleagues and I tabled a motion in the legislature that would call for the creation of Homes Ontario. This plan would fund and build at least 250,000 new affordable and non-market homes over ten years, to be operated and/or constructed by public, non-profit or co-op housing providers. In addition to establishing a public builder, we are also calling for real rent control, an end to exclusionary zoning, clamping down on real estate speculation and more.
On October 10, London city council voted in favour of supporting this plan, which was tabled by MPP Terence Kernaghan, and was debated in the legislature on October 24. Unfortunately, the government voted against the plan. While the current government is under criminal investigation for its housing policies, we will keep bringing exciting new solutions to the table, to make sure everyone has an affordable place to call home.
Government Finally Introduces Bill 136 to Return Greenbelt Land
The Ontario government has finally introduced Bill 136, Greenbelt Statute Law Amendment Act to return lands to the Greenbelt.
Here’s what we know of the bill so far:
The bill fully restores the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act, the Greenbelt boundaries and designations that existed prior to the changes made last December and the designations under the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Act. The bill also cancels the settlement between the government and Minotaur Holdings.
Additionally, future changes to the Greenbelt Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan will require the consent of the legislature. The government says reviews of the Greenbelt Plan will be “a public and transparent process” that is “led by impartial, non-partisan experts in conservation, agriculture and environmentalism, and will include engagement with Indigenous communities and municipalities.” However, there is nothing specifically in this bill to ensure this.
However, this bill does nothing to reverse the government’s many other harmful land use planning decisions that have enriched favoured speculators at the public’s expense, including arbitrary Minister’s Zoning Orders, forced urban boundary expansions, the reduction or removal of minimum density requirements, the ending of regional planning authority, the gutting of conservation authorities and wetland protections.
RCMP Investigating Greenbelt Scandal
The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the Ontario government’s $8.3 billion Greenbelt land swap. This is a huge victory for all Ontarians who pushed back against the removal of lands from the Greenbelt and won!
My colleagues and I have kept up the pressure on this issue. Our requests launched the Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner’s investigations into this corruption scandal. Now the RCMP will be able to use their considerable scope to investigate even further.
It is shameful that this government is under criminal investigation – that there is enough evidence that this investigation was launched.
This government’s culture of corruption and collusion has been at the heart of how it makes decisions, putting the private interests of a select few of their insiders ahead of everyone else. I hope that this investigation will get us even more answers.
Auditor General Investigating Government’s Use of MZOs
In response to an Ontario NDP request, the office of the Auditor General has confirmed that they are investigating the current government’s process for selecting and approving Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs). MZOs are granted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and allow developers to bypass normal planning processes and due diligence to receive zoning changes.
Since the current government came into power, they have issued an unprecedented number of MZOs. In 2021, former Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk looked at 44 MZOz issued between March 2019 and March 2021 and found many of them benefitted the same seven developers. The government’s routine use of MZOs has created a “two-tier” planning system where certain favoured insiders can bypass the normal rules and due diligence required of everyone else. An MZO can significantly increase the value of a property, instantly enriching the property owner even if no homes or businesses are built.
With the government’s Greenbelt grab, we’ve seen a troubling pattern of corruption and preferential treatment for well-connected land speculators. People have questions about whether that pattern extends to other decisions – such as urban boundaries and this government’s frequent use of MZOs. I am committed to answering these questions and bringing ethics and transparency back to Queen’s Park.
Government Votes Down Motion to Cancel Ontario Place Deal
The Ontario NDP has obtained documents through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Infrastructure Ontario that have revealed that the government had plans to build a parking garage by Therme’s entrance at Ontario Place nearly two years before letting the public know. The FOI document noted the government’s “obligation” for developing parking solutions on the site indicates that the $450 M parking garage may be part of the lease that the government refuses to release to the public.This obligation raises questions about the fairness of the process by which Therme was chosen to redevelop Ontario Place.
The 2019 Call For Development document clearly stated, “Participants should consider the adequacy of parking for their development concept” and “The Government will not be making any financial contribution to the design, construction or maintenance of any public or private realm that is part of the development concept.” The procurement also had no Fairness Monitor, which is standard for large procurements to ensure fairness and integrity.
During Question Period on October 16th, my colleagues and I raised questions about whether Therme was given preferential treatment, pointing to the pattern of behaviour seen within the ranks of the current government. If other bids were based on existing parking, but Therme could submit a bid that required additional government-funded parking, this would be evidence of preferential treatment and conflict of interest.
The government failed to tell us how much taxpayer money is being spent on this spa project. What obligation did this government make to Therme? Did they promise this advantage to other bidders or just Therme?
We presented a motion calling on the government to cancel the 95-year lease with Therme. The motion was struck down by the government. Please sign my petition here.
New Flu/COVID Vaccine Update
The rollout for the updated COVID-19 vaccine has begun. Currently, it is only available to priority groups, including people aged 65 and older, residents and staff in congregate living settings, pregnant individuals, children between the ages of six months and four years old, individuals who are from a First Nation, Inuit, or Métis community and their household members, members of racialized and other equity-deserving communities, and individuals with chronic underlying health conditions.
Starting on October 31, all Toronto residents will be eligible to receive their updated COVID-19 vaccine and annual flu shot at the same time at fixed-site vaccination clinics, pharmacies, or primary health care providers. Starting on October 25, members of the general public will be able to book an appointment through the TPH fixed-site vaccination clinic, using the Province’s registration system, or by calling 1-833-943-3900 (TTY 1-866-797-0007). Vaccines are also available at pharmacies.
Toronto Public Health encourages all Torontonians to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines as soon as it is their turn. Getting vaccinated is an easy and effective way to be protected. Both vaccines are free for people six months of age and older who live, work or attend school in Ontario.
Public health confirmed that while an OHIP card is not required at TPH clinics, it may be requested by other health care providers.
Ontario Place Concerns Raised in the Legislature
My colleagues, Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale – High Park), Jennifer French (Oshawa), and Official Opposition Leader Marit Stiles, and I held a press conference yesterday to raise concerns about the rushed and secretive deal with Therme for the West Island of Ontario Place.
We are pushing for answers regarding the true cost to the taxpayer for infrastructure upgrades and servicing required to let Therme build their mega spa. We are asking the government to release details of the 95-year lease.
During Question Period, I presented a question to the Premier asking about the appointment of Mark Saunders as special advisor on Ontario Place in 2021 and what he did while he was in that position. The former Toronto police chief was reportedly paid $171,500 per year. As a long time ally of Premier Ford, he would go on to be a Conservative Party candidate, and the candidate he would later endorse for Mayor of Toronto.
My office filed freedom of information requests for all advice or reports from Mr. Saunders during his time as the Premier’s Special Advisor on the Ontario Place redevelopment. But the government found no records; no advice or reports.
My question: “Can the Premier show any evidence that his special advisor produced any advice?”
Turns out, there was no special advice.
This week, we also tabled a motion calling on the government to terminate the lease with Therme Canada and stop the transfer of public funds to private profits. It is expected to go to a vote in the legislature on Monday, October 16.
Ontario Place Resubmission Now Publicly Accessible
The revised design features a park on top of the building and the floor area has been reduced by 5.8%
The Ontario Place Official Plan Amendment and Zoning By-law Amendment applications are now available on the City of Toronto’s website where you are still able to submit feedback. View the application and submit your feedback here.
City planning has identified these main changes:
- Floor area reduced by 5.8%
- The single main building on the West Island remains; the highest point now separated into multiple forms at least 4m lower
- Main building height: 36-41m (down from 45m)
- Entry building height: 19-23m (down from 26m)
- Proposed park on the roof of the building totalling 3.4 acres
- Vehicle parking reduced by 225 spaces to a total of 2,500 spaces; bike parking increased by 500 spaces
Therme has claimed that the building will be reduced by 25% in volume. But at the city’s public consultation held on September 7th, a city planning official revealed that it was only a 5.8% reduction in “gross floor area”, which is how you conventionally measure a building. However, the size of the building will remain 660,279 square feet – the equivalent of 12 football fields. The building will just be slightly shorter.
These changes are simply not enough. They do not consider the feedback received by the public and the major flaws of the project. Sign my petition here.
Rent Increases in 2024
Tenants who are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) will be receiving notices regarding their annual rent increase. Tenants whose rents are going up on January 1, 2024 should have received their written notice no later than October 3, 2023. This is because a landlord must give a tenant written notice of a rent increase at least 90 days before the day the rent goes up.
Rent Increase Guideline
For most tenants covered by the RTA, there is a limit to how much rent can increase each year. This is called the Rent Increase Guideline that is set each year by the Ontario government. In 2024, the guideline is 2.5%.
For tenants protected by the RTA, a landlord must wait 12 months after the tenant moves in before raising the rent. They can raise the rent only once every 12 months. Landlords should use one of the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) rent increase forms. The most common form is the Form N1: Notice of Rent Increase. If a landlord uses their own notice, it must have all the information on the LTB form.
Age of the Building or Unit
For some tenants covered by the RTA, a landlord can increase the rent by any amount, unless the rental agreement says something different. But a landlord can still only raise the rent once every 12 months. This affects units if no one lived there on or before November 15, 2018.
Above Guideline Increases
There are 2 situations when a landlord can increase the rent by an amount higher than the guideline:
- the tenant agrees to the increase
- the landlord applies to the LTB for a rent increase above the guideline
Tenants Not Covered by the RTA
Some tenants are not protected by the RTA at all. For example, this includes tenants who must share a kitchen or bathroom with their landlord, or the landlord’s spouse, parent, or child. Those tenants should check what their rental agreement says about rent increases. If the agreement does not say anything, their landlord can increase the rent by any amount and at any time.
How to Get Help
Here are some resources if you need some advice regarding your rent increase:
- Community Legal Clinics help tenants with low incomes
- Legal services for tenants
- Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)
- Steps to Justice Your guide to law in Ontario
If you have any questions regarding your rent increase, please contact my office at [email protected].
Rent-Geared-to-Income Housing Applications
The provincial government’s Housing Services Act is requiring housing providers to review eligibility of applicants and to take action to cancel applications if there is no response from applicants to outreach attempts. In order to help applicants to streamline their application process, complete annual reviews, view housing options, and connect with the City of Toronto’s RGI team, the city has created an online portal called MyAccesstoHousingTO.
The City is working to connect with applicants to ensure they register and are active on the portal. There are approximately 30,000 applicants who aren’t yet registered on the online portal, leaving them at risk of having their applications cancelled. If you need assistance with registration, please go to Help for RGI Applicants.
With the motions adopted on September 28th by the Planning and Housing Committee meeting, Access to Housing will not cancel any unregistered RGI applications until City Council has considered the proposed deadline of January 31, 2024.
The Concrete & Hope of Raymond Moriyama
Plus, the campaigns to save the Ontario Science Centre & Ontario Place, saying goodbye to Claude Cormier, and more…
By Adam Bunch
Raymond Moriyama at the Toronto Reference Library
When Raymond Moriyama was four years old, he built a model airplane, wound it up, and let it go. That short flight would change his life. The plane soared through the house, landing in the kitchen — right on the stove. And when the little boy climbed up on a stool to retrieve it, disaster struck. Down they went: the boy, the stool, the pot sitting on a burner… and the boiling water inside it.
Moriyama was badly burned, all down his arm and across his back. He’d be stuck in bed for the next eight months recovering. He spent a lot of that time looking out his bedroom window; his father pulled the bed up next to it. And there, outside, construction workers were erecting a new building.
The four-year-old was fascinated. “I thought it was a castle going up,” he later explained. “And every once in a while, a man used to come onto the site. I thought, ‘Well, that guy’s really good-looking.’ And when he opened these rolls of drawings, all the men would smile and nod. I thought, ‘Wow, that guy’s got talent.’”
He asked his father who the man was. And when he got his answer, he instantly knew what his path in life would be. “I’m going to be an architect, too.”
He would go on to become one of the most celebrated designers of buildings that Canada has ever known. The Ontario Science Centre. The Toronto Reference Library. The Bata Shoe Museum. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. The Scarborough Civic Centre. The North York Central Library. The pavilion in Edwards Gardens. The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Science North in Sudbury. The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. You’ll find his buildings all over the country — and around the world. They’re deeply beloved. And that’s in large part thanks to the fact that he infused these spaces with the lessons he learned in his youth.
Moriyama was born in Vancouver at the end of the 1920s. “To my mind,” he remembered, “Vancouver before the war was not a very good place for Japanese-Canadians. It was a hotbed for hating Asians.” In 1907, white residents had attacked their Asian neighbours. The Asiatic Exclusion League organized a march attended by ten thousand people, sparking a racist riot that lasted three days. In Japantown, businesses were besieged by the mob, windows broken, thousands of dollars in damage done, Japanese-Canadians forced to fight back and defend their neighbourhood. The federal Canadian government responded by cracking down on immigration from Asia, including a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Japan that limited the number of new arrivals to just four hundred a year.
Moriyama knew the prejudice of the following decades well; he felt it throughout his childhood. But when the Second World War broke out, that discrimination reached new heights. He was twelve years old when the bombing of Pearl Harbour led to war with Japan. The Canadian government rounded up more than twenty thousand Japanese-Canadians, imprisoning its own citizens in internment camps and seizing their property.
Moriyama’s father was the first in the family to go. He was a pacifist arrested by the RCMP. As the Mounties carried his dad off to a POW camp, Moriyama was given a chilling warning by one of the officers: “If we see you outside after sunset, you will be shot.” Soon, the rest of the family was taken into the Rocky Mountains, imprisoned at the Slocan City internment camp along with hundreds of others. There, they were forced to live in a bug-infested horse stall. Moriyama broke down in tears when he saw it; so did his mother. “Canada went to war in defense of individual rights and democracy,” he once explained, “but at home they were separating families and discriminating against all Japanese-Canadians.”
It was there in the mountains that Raymond Moriyama would design his first building. It was a secret treehouse.
The twelve-year-old’s project began because he hated having to shower in public at the camp. He was bullied over the scars from his burns. So, he began slipping away to swim in the glacial chill of a nearby river. “It was better than hot tears,” he explained. But he was in danger every time he snuck off; the Mounties patrolled the camp. The treehouse, built with scavenged supplies, gave him a perch from which to spot anyone approaching. But it also gave him a quiet place all his own, somewhere to escape the suffering of the camp.
“That tree house, when finished, was beautiful,” he later remembered. “It was my university, my place of solace, a place to think and learn.”
“In my sanctuary,” he added on another occasion, “I developed a new understanding of myself, of nature, of Canada and the fragility of democracy.” The thoughts and feelings he experienced there as a boy in that mountain treehouse would influence his work for the rest of his life.
After the war, many Japanese-Canadians were deported — even those born here — and the rest were banned from living on the west coast. His reunited family moved east to Hamilton, where Moriyama became the first Japanese-Canadian to attend high school in the city. And though those were hard, lean years, and he faced plenty more discrimination, he went on to study at the University of Toronto, where he’d find a mentor in architect Eric Arthur (author of Toronto, No Mean City). Then he headed to McGill for his graduate work, studying the social sciences that would inform his buildings. “Without a social consciousness,” as he once put it, “without psychology or understanding people, what’s architecture?”
He was still a young man when he set up his own firm and began to land the commissions that would make him famous. And he would invest them with that human-centered philosophy. His treehouse had taught him just how important buildings can be. “What I do as a person, as an architect, it’s not so that it looks good on paper or in a magazine. It’s not a statement of one’s ego. It has to express democracy, equality, inclusion of all people, and social justice. If not, then architecture is a hollow sham.”
“Architecture,” he once explained, “is about life.”
His buildings would be spectacular, award-winning spaces. Grand and modern titanic creations of concrete and glass. But they would also be deeply concerned with the people within; they meet us on a human scale, and they’re filled with emotion. “Architecture is not just a physical building,” he said. “Architecture is for people to come together.”
The Toronto Reference Library gives you both a soaring atrium and nooks and crannies in which you can explore millions of books, maps, newspapers and films. The Scarborough Civic Centre — the old city hall — placed the councillors in the back, without windows, while the secretarial staff got to work in the light of the glorious atrium. (“The mayor’s window,” Moriyama joked, “is low enough you can throw a brick right through it.”) And when he built the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, he insisted on interviewing people from across the country first, making sure to reflect their feelings about war and peace in the design. The building has slanted walls and strange angles, meant to unsettle visitors as they contemplate the horrors of the stories told inside it.
Horrors Moriyama knew all too well. “The treatment by the Canadian government during the war will never leave me,” he explained not long ago. “After all these sixty, seventy years, I still think about it. That injustice is still there…You think that it’s different today? It isn’t. Canada is still filled with a lot of ignorant people.”
And so, Moriyama’s buildings aren’t just buildings. They’re reminders of Canada’s disturbing past, the challenges of our present, and an optimistic roadmap toward a better future. They’re all descendants of that treehouse he built when he was twelve. “It got me out of despair and hate,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Well maybe I could do something quite positive. Maybe, as an architect, I might be able to contribute.’ And that gave me a flicker of hope for the future… I clung to my hope… You fight back and try to improve it: your country, your community.”
He spent the rest of his life working to turn that hope into reality. And when he passed away earlier this month, he left behind that lifetime of buildings — museums and libraries, high schools and civic centres that have won a place in the hearts of generations of Canadians.
But now, two of his greatest works are under threat — both of them here in Toronto.
The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre was his first major building. It opened in 1963, while the Second World War was still a relatively fresh memory. The community was still recovering from the abuses they’d suffered; the project was meant to unite them, a place filled with hope for the future. “As a young architect,” Moriyama explained, “I said, 'What can I do to make Canada a better place?' My dream was to bring the community together.” Without the money to fully fund the construction up front, dozens of families from that community mortgaged their own homes in order to bring the project to life. “Seventy people signed their lives away,” he remembered, “and this is not too much after the war; people had absolutely no money. If the mortgage wasn’t paid on time, the seventy people would have gone under. And the community, too.”
So, there are few buildings in our city imbued with more meaning than the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. It is, according to the Globe’s architecture critic Alex Bozikovic, “one of the best buildings in Toronto, artful Modern architecture that captures the spirit of its time and its users.” But now, the building has been sold to a private developer who plans to demolish much of it while building a condo tower, leaving only a few fragments. “This is an unacceptable outcome for an important work of architecture that holds great social significance,” Bozikovic argues. “It must not be allowed to proceed.”
And then there’s the Ontario Science Centre.
When it opened in 1969, it was among the first museums in the world to adopt a hands-on approach with visitors, pioneering a new way of connecting with people, using fun and visceral experience to educate. Moriyama gave it a spectacular home, a futuristic complex that descends into the ravine of the West Don River, connected by bridges and escalators. It has earned a joyful place in the childhood memories of countless Torontonians. And it has helped inspire hundreds of museums to follow a similar approach.
A model of the Ontario Science Centre, 1967 (Toronto Public Library)
Today, it’s under threat for the most cynical of reasons. The Ford government plans to shut it down and move it to the waterfront, forcing it into a smaller space in order to help justify handing over much of the public park at Ontario Place to a private spa on a 95-year lease while spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to build a parking lot for it. And as part of those plans, another piece of Japanese-Canadian history will be displaced. The Goh Ohn Bell stands in an award-winning shelter designed by Moriyama. It was unveiled half a century ago to commemorate the centennial of Japanese settlement in Canada. But it stands in the place the spa is supposed to be built — so if the provincial government gets its way, it will be forced to move, while hundreds of trees are felled and much of Ontario Place transformed into a private space at great public expense.
“I tried to work with honesty and integrity,” Moriyama once said. “The greed is conquering too many of us. People end up just doing things for the money. There’s more to life than just making money. My life has to mean something.”
It did. He has left us with a legacy of concrete and hope. Now, what to do with it is up to us.
This article was published in The Toronto History Weekly, September 19, 2023. It has been used with permission from the author.
MPP Scrolls for Special Occasions
Turning 30, 40, 80, 90 or 100? Celebrate a significant birthday with a certificate from my office.
Is there a new addition to your family? Send the name of your baby, the parents’ names and other relevant information and we’ll send a “Welcome to the World” certificate to celebrate this special event.
Chris in the House
Below are some of my recent statements at Queen’s Park:
- MPP Bhutila Karpoche and I ask the government to work with Ontarians on the redevelopment of Ontario Place. Watch here.
- Calling for more transparency on the redevelopment. Watch here.
- Questioning the Therme timeline. Watch here.
- Petition from our local schools regarding staff cuts. Watch here.
Environment and Bill 69
- Climate Critic MPP Peter Tabuns and I debating Bill 69, Reducing Inefficiencies Act and how development is taking priority over the environment. Watch here.
- Impacts on Ontario Place and the environment. Watch here.
Health Care Privatization
- The government’s funding of private, for-profit clinics will only worsen the health care crisis. Watch here.
- Culture Critic MPP Jill Andrew and I address the cuts to arts funding in Ontario. Watch here.
International Women’s Day
- Actions the government can take for pay equity, including repealing Bill 124. Watch here.
Bill 39: Red Tape Reduction and Democracy
- Is it not possible to build housing while still respecting the outcomes of our recent municipal elections? Watch my question here.
Debate on Bill 26: Misogyny in Post-Secondary Institutions
- Statistics show that 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual assault on campuses. It’s a difficult discussion we need to have to raise awareness so we can change the culture. Watch my statement here.
The Impact of Interest Hikes on Student Loans
- Ontario students have the highest debt rate and the lowest per-student funding in the country. We need to eliminate interest on student debt. Watch my question here.
Double ODSP Rates & Improve the Homelessness Crisis
- CTV recently reported that at least two Ontarians with disabilities are choosing to die through Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) because they could not pay for housing that would reduce their suffering from their disability. Current monthly ODSP payments are 47.5 per cent short of the municipal poverty line in Toronto and 30 per cent below the province's poverty line. It is not possible to survive on these amounts in Ontario and many on ODSP are ending up homeless. I asked the Ford government to double ODSP rates. Watch my statement here.
- 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.