This is a very thick piece of legislation that we have before us in Bill 57. There are 45 schedules. There are multiple pieces of existing legislation that are amended by this bill. To date, we have allocated six and a half hours of debate for these 45 schedules of this very thick omnibus bill. If you do the math, that works out to be about eight or nine minutes per schedule, in total. That’s eight or nine minutes for every member who has something to say about each of those 45 schedules to do the due diligence, to bring the concerns of our constituents to the floor of this House so we can make good decisions about the legislation that we are bringing forward for this province.
Today I want to share a couple of those voices that we should be hearing from—people that I represent in London West. First, I want to talk about a young woman named Elsbeth Dodman. Elsbeth is an inspiring advocate. She is a young woman with autism. She has been very outspoken about the challenges that she has faced because of her autism: the underemployment that she continually experiences and the barriers that she has encountered. One of the things that she was able to do to empower her voice, to amplify her voice across the province, was to be involved with the advocate for children and youth office and the We Have Something to Say project.
She sent me an email, and she said that the decision that is in this bill to eliminate the child advocate is heartbreaking. She said, “This is heartbreaking for myself and my colleagues who have worked through the office on various projects. I’ve been in touch with some of them through social media and we are all upset, shocked and confused—especially at the prospect of what comes next.
“The Ombudsman’s office does not have the time to direct its full attention to the work the advocate’s office was doing.
“I’ve been calling whoever I can, reaching out to whoever I can. The office and the people there and the work we were doing means so much to me. I cannot sit and watch Ontario, the very first province to have an independent child advocate, be the first to lose it. And all in the name of a budget.”
In her email to me, she attached a photo of herself and others who were involved with the We Have Something to Say project, which was initiated by the child advocate’s office. She says, “I wish Doug Ford could see this photo and see the faces of the people he’s saying no to.”
Now, Speaker, those of us who have been in this place for some time will be aware that in 2014 the We Have Something to Say project was started by the advocate as an attempt to begin to close the gap between provincial policy and the realities facing children and youth with disabilities in this province, and their families and caregivers. It put the voices of young people with disabilities right at the centre of these policy discussions and the development of recommendations, to ensure that their rights were respected.
We have no way of knowing whether the new Ombudsman that’s going to take over the role of the provincial advocate—whether that office will be able to continue the We Have Something to Say project. The loss of that project, as Elsbeth Dodman says, is going to be devastating for those young people who have been involved.
The other voice from my constituency that I wanted to share is from a constituent named Lee Richardson Symmes. She forwarded me an email that she sent to the Premier about the elimination of the Environmental Commissioner. She says, “Whether it be ignorance or guile on the part of his government, I think this move paves the way for some bad policies and actions by the Ford government, and I hope the NDP will highlight this issue.”
She says, “I was shocked and dismayed to learn that your government is eliminating the Office of the Environmental Commissioner. This action is the environmental equivalent of eliminating the province’s auditor, an essential non-partisan assessment for the public of any government’s stewardship and a valuable source of constructive suggestions. This is a serious mistake and the optics are terrible.
“No one familiar with environmental conditions or issues will believe that the financial analysts in the auditor’s office have the skills or interest to perform this function with credibility.
“The cost of the” Environmental Commissioner of Ontario “is trivial within the Ontario scheme of things so the contribution to deficit reduction or tax cuts will be lost in rounding the numbers.
“Many people will conclude the real reason is that your government is poised to adopt a number of actions and policies that will be backward and detrimental to the quality of air we breathe, the nature we love and the environment which is essential to our quality of life.”
Speaker, I think that my constituent Lee Richardson Symmes has really hit the nail on the head here. We know that the Environmental Commission was highly critical of the very first actions that were taken by this government to cancel cap-and-trade without any kind of alternative plan in place. The Environmental Commissioner has been outspoken about the negative impact of the actions that have been taken by this government on protecting our climate, on preserving our climate for future generations, on ensuring the quality of the air that we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty clear that this government’s decision to eliminate that position was basically a pre-emptive strike, because they know what’s to come and they didn’t want to face that criticism from the Environmental Commissioner about the policy decisions that they were making.
The third thing that I wanted to highlight is the elimination of the French Language Services Commissioner. In my community of London, there are 7,000 students who are enrolled in French immersion schools throughout our community. There are 2,800 students who are enrolled in French-language schools. That’s almost 10,000 students who were looking forward to the French-language university, whose language rights had been protected because of the office of French Language Services Commissioner. These are all young people and families who will be affected by this government’s decision to eliminate that position, which is also a part of this budget bill.
These decisions have an impact. They have a very profound ripple effect throughout many of our communities across this province.
The final point that I wanted to speak to in one of the other 45 schedules of this bill—one of those schedules talks about rent control. It allows dwellings that are built after 2018 to no longer be subject to rent control legislation.
This morning, I met with realtors from my community, realtors from London, who pointed out that in the last three years in London, there has been a 50% increase in the average home sale price. What that does for entry-level buyers, for young people who are looking to get their first home, is it forces people to remain in rental buildings. By allowing these new rules, allowing builders to build new rental units and to be able to raise the rent however much they want—do you think that’s going to incentivize builders to build affordable housing, to build affordable homes? No. It’s going to incentivize the development of more high-end rental dwellings where the rent can be raised wherever the developer decides or the landlord decides. This is not going to do anything to address the housing crisis in my community.
We know that it’s not just our social housing stock that is in crisis; there is a crisis of affordability across the board. In my community in London, we have the London Poverty Research Centre that’s doing amazing work to highlight the reality of the precarious labour market. Some 50% of people who are working in London are employed in unstable jobs that provide no security and no benefits. Half of our workforce who are working are in precarious jobs. They can’t afford to buy a new home when there has been a 50% increase in the price of a new home over three years, and they are unlikely to be able to manage rental units where the landlord is now exempt from rent control if there are new rental units that come onto the market.
There are so many things to address in this bill. I’ve highlighted, certainly, the loss of the independent, non-partisan watchdogs of this Legislature: the Environmental Commissioner, the child and youth advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner. The loss of those positions is going to be very detrimental to our ability to provide the kind of oversight that people expect from government.
There has been an erosion of trust in terms of people’s trust that government has their best interests at heart. It’s no wonder when we watch, particularly with this government, the decisions that have been made. To have these independent, non-partisan officers providing that third-party, neutral level of oversight is absolutely essential. This government has no interest in transparency despite the title of this bill.
If they were interested in transparency, they would keep those officers in place, because those officers shine the light on some of the systemic problems that people in this province are facing. They challenge the government to take action on those issues, they push the government, they push all of us, to acknowledge and recognize and act on these concerns. To have those voices silenced is going to be devastating. It’s irresponsible.
I’m going to conclude now. Thank you very much.