City File: Risky Business

The Ford Government took Greenbelt development out of Bill 66. Don't let that distract you from what's still on the table.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted January 01, 2019 in Essays (Last Updated 00, 0000)

This column was going to be about the controversial Ontario Progressive Conservative Government proposal to let cities open up the Greenbelt for industrial development, but on January 23, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced that the Government would be dropping the provision. Advocates for responsible government cheered the victory, but I'm not so sure. The Greenbelt provision was just one part of Bill 66, the "Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act", a monster omnibus bill making sweeping changes to eighteen major pieces of provincial legislation across a broad swath of policy areas.

I can't help but wonder whether the Government insert the Greenbelt provision into the first reading knowing it would attract the lion's share of attention due to Premier Doug Ford's history of flip-flopping on Greenbelt protection. A video emerged last April of Ford telling a backroom group of property developers that if he became Premier, he would open up the Greenbelt and let them build on it.

The party backpedaled after the intense public backlash and promised that they were committed to "protecting the Greenbelt in its entirety." So when the government presented Bill 66 for first reading on December 6, observers were flabbergasted that it proposed allowing cities to pass an "open-for-business" planning bylaw that would let the city ignore the Greenbelt Act. I found myself wondering if they did this precisely to draw attention away from the other measures in Bill 66, which also have profound impacts on people's day-to-day lives and deserve just as much scrutiny.

Schedule 3 of the bill makes important changes to the childcare rules that were put in place in 2014 after several young Ontario children died in unlicenced daycares. For decades, Ontario has effectively been a free-for-all when it comes to childcare, with most children going to unlicenced, unregulated facilities with no caregiver accreditation. A 2012 Ministry of Education analysis of 300 complaints found that 40 percent of the daycares were looking after too many children - in one case, 14 kids in a single Toronto home. The report also found that the Ministry had no statutory power to enforce safety and no consistent process for following up on complaints to ensure that violations were being corrected.

In 2013, three young children died in daycares, including a two-year-old who died in a filthy house with 27 children and whose tiny body was left to bake in an SUV for seven hours after she died. Another seven children died during a seven-month period in 2014. The system was failing to protect children, and the government responded by introducing the Child Care and Early Years Act. The Act limited the number of young children care providers could look after, including their own children under age six, while establishing stiff new penalties for violations and giving the Ministry the power to shut down facilities in which children were at immediate risk.

Bill 66 proposes loosening the number of children unlicenced daycares can look after - from two to three children with one caregiver and from four to six children with two caregivers. In addition, it lowers the maximum age at which the caregiver's own children must be counted toward the total, from age six to age four. These changes were introduced with no public consultation or engagement with child safety experts.

At the other end of life, our aging population is squeezing against inadequate funding to produce a slow-motion crisis in long-term elder care. The previous government tightened the rules and harmonized several disconnected legislative silos under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, which came into effect in 2010, but the standards of care are still too lax and the growth in funding has not kept up in demand. The result has been a pattern of neglect, negligence, elder abuse and even preventable death for too many seniors across the province.

But instead of tightening the rules to ensure our most vulnerable senior citizens receive enough hours of qualified resident care, Schedule 8 of Bill 66 loosens the oversight requirements on long-term care homes. Under the proposed rules, it would no longer be necessary to hold public consultations before issuing or renewing a licence, while the term for temporary licences is increased from 60 days to a year - and the applicant's past conduct would no longer be a factor in whether licences are issued.

Not content merely to risk the lives of children and seniors, the Government also wants to undermine the health of everyone else. Schedule 5 of Bill 66 repeals the Toxics Reduction Act, which the previous government passed in 2009 in an attempt to regulate toxic substances. Once again, the Toxics Reduction Act does not go far enough. It mandates that companies produce a toxics reduction plan, but the actual implementation of such plans is voluntary. And while the bill received Royal Assent in 2010, many of its provisions have never been proclaimed in force. As a result, according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the total release of toxics into Ontario actually increased every year from 2013-2016. That's after a 2013 report by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors found that Ontario industries release the fourth-highest amounts of developmental and reproductive toxics and known and suspected carcinogens in North America.

The Act is doesn't go far enough to protect Ontarians' health, but in 2017 the previous Liberal government began an amendment process to reduce its regulatory obligations even further. Now the current Government proposes to repeal the Act altogether, claiming that it overlaps existing federal regulations and is therefore unnecessary.

Bill 66 doesn't need tweaking, it needs scrapping altogether. Ontarians deserve better.

First published in Hamilton Magazine, Winter 2019 issue.