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FORUM: Ford’s fall agenda deeply flawed (Dec. 2020)

December 21st, 2020 · No Comments

Environment, evictions, schools dominate final days of Queen’s Park 2020 Session

By Jessica Bell

Queen’s Park closed for the year on December 8. Here are the legislative highlights from the final few weeks:

The Ford government continued trampling on Ontario’s natural environment. Government Bill 229 stripped the power of local conservation authorities to protect water quality and floodplains from development. 

We also learned that Premier Ford has issued 38 Ministerial Zoning Orders to allow developers to override local planning rules as well as municipal opposition in order to start building immediately on farmland, protected conservation areas, and wetlands. We calculate that 19 of these developers are PC party donors. 

There are very few Ontarians who support these anti-environment moves. The government’s attack on Ontario’s natural lands is why six members of the Ontario Greenbelt Council, including former PC cabinet minister David Crombie, have resigned from their positions in protest. As Premier, Doug Ford is granted huge formal power, but he must use those powers for the good of the people, not for personal political gain.

The auditor general’s recent annual environmental report also exposed the Ford government’s failure to meet its own miserly climate change goal of reducing emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. It looks like they didn’t even try. Our collective work to tackle climate change goes beyond any four year term. In the coming weeks, we will be releasing our bold Green New Deal plan. I also urge all of us to work with local residents and groups (Fridays for Future, The Ontario Clean Air Alliance, The Palmerston Residents Association are a few examples) to push for real climate solutions.

Premier Ford said no one will be evicted during a pandemic, but in August the government lifted the eviction ban and now the Landlord Tenant Board is undergoing an eviction blitz. We are hearing disturbing reports of people being evicted without even receiving a notice of their hearing. There is no benefit to society or our economic recovery in evicting people who can’t afford to pay rent because they have lost their job to a pandemic. Ontario needs a well-run Landlord Tenant Board with competent and fair adjudicators, a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, and rent subsidies so people who have lost their job can pay the rent. 

In response to public pressure from so many of us, Doug Ford extended the commercial eviction ban so tenants can’t be evicted for non-payment of rent. The federal government has also eased the eligibility rules to access the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy Program so tenants can apply directly for financial aid. Previously, businesses could only access this federal rent subsidy program if the landlord signed up. 

Sadly, this rent subsidy program is too late for many. The Kensington BIA calculates that over 20 businesses have permanently closed since the pandemic began in Kensington alone. As we campaign for governments to save our main streets, I encourage all of us to shop at local independent stores for items we need. We have launched an ‘I Shop Local’ sign campaign for our area. If you want one for your window or business, please contact us. 

Like every parent, I am watching the spread of COVID-19 in our schools very closely. The asymptomatic testing of staff and students at Thorncliffe Park School revealed 26 positive cases, and showed that COVID-19 in our schools is more prevalent than originally thought. 

I support the government’s decision to listen to public health and quickly tighten public health screening guidelines for kids in schools. I know how hard is it take time off work to get your child tested for COVID-19, but I also know these measures, and many more, are necessary if we want to keep our schools open and our kids learning.

The money to do more is available. The latest Financial Accountability Office report reveals the Ford government is sitting on $12 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds, most of it transferred from the federal government. Some of these unspent funds must go to investing in smaller safer classes immediately and more expansive testing and contact tracing. 

These holidays, I implore you to stay safe and follow all the public health rules as the pandemic’s end appears on the distant horizon. The global rollout of vaccines demonstrates the astonishing ability we have to survive and adapt. Let’s hold tight to our hope, ingenuity, and capacity for change as we tackle the bigger climate crisis to come. 

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University-Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion