Ontario Liberal Party Leader Responds to OBCM Election Survey

Posted on May 30, 2022

Ontario's Big City Mayors (OBCM) would like to thank the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Steven Del Duca, for providing the below respones to our survey.  

OBCM met with the leaders of the Ontario PC Party, the Ontario NDP, the Ontario Liberal Party and the Green Party of Ontario earlier this month, and as a follow up to those discussions, requested responses a survey of questions on key municipal priorities.  The Ontario Liberal Party leader responded to our questions with the following: 

Housing

Ontario is in the midst of a Housing Crisis. The need for a collaborative “all-government approach” has become apparent, no one level of government can solve the problem on its own. Municipalities play a large role in the development of new housing supply and believe that unilateral actions, absent municipal input, may have unintended consequences that slow down development and reduce the community support needed to continue to sustainably add housing in our communities. OBCM members are supportive of a number of initiatives that are grounded in the following principals:

Ensure that every level of government is part of addressing the solution;
Improve the way we collect and analyze data so we have the tools to define problems, setgoals, and track  progress on implementing solutions;
Reduce the time for approvals by applying digital tools and streamlining the process;
Invest in training to ensure we have the skilled trades needed to build new homes;
Develop a suite of tools to address housing costs and supply shortages;
Ensure local flexibility in building the right mix of housing; and
Share in communicating to residents the need for growth to help overcome NIMBY opposition.

  1. Can you please outline how your Party plans to address the Housing Crisis?
     
  2. How does your Party’s plan align with the abovementioned principles?
     
  3. What role do you see municipalities playing in the creation and delivery of this plan and its policies?
     
  4. The number of individuals and families who are at-risk of and experiencing homelessness in our communities continue to increase at a rapid rate.  How does your Housing plan address the needs of our must vulnerable residents?

    An Ontario Liberal government will build complete communities and respect the importance of local input and municipal decision-making, grounded in the principles outlined by OBCM.

    One of the biggest reasons why housing costs are so high is because demand continues to exceed supply. To meet demand, we’ll work together to get at least 1.5 million new homes built in Ontario over the next 10 years – doubling the pace of building from the past decade. This ambitious target is what experts say we need to catch up to the rest of Canada, keep up with population growth and bring affordability back to Ontario’s housing market.

    Local communities know best when it comes to where and how to build more homes, so we’ll make sure you have the resources you need to approve housing as quickly and responsibly as possible – providing up to $300 million in new funding over five years. This will also support the use of community planning permits that help bring more homes to market faster.

    We’ll reward local governments that meet or exceed housing targets in an environmentally-sustainable manner with dedicated capital funding to use for local priorities, like better transit or community amenities like parks and libraries. We’ll also help find and eliminate bottlenecks to new housing by requiring municipalities to regularly publish transparent housing statistics, such as approval timelines and building permits issued.

    As we build 1.5 million new homes, we need a lot more people in the skilled trades who can be those builders. Immigration to Ontario is currently a federal issue, but it’s time Ontario take over its own immigration and gain control over who we welcome to our province, just as Québec has. Ontario knows best what skills it needs, so Ontario should be in the driver’s seat. To get more people into the skilled trades – especially those underrepresented in the trades – we’ll enhance the apprenticeship system, working with unions, employers and schools to promote these great opportunities and make it easier to participate in an apprenticeship. This includes expanding the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and reintroducing shop classes in more high schools, as well as funding union and employer-led training at more comparable levels to colleges. We’ll also give $2,000 to those who go into apprenticeship training by doubling the existing federal incentive grant.

    An Ontario Liberal government has committed to providing $360 million in annual operating funding province-wide to operate and improve social, supportive and community housing services – funding that will increase as we work together to build more homes. We have also committed a new $1 billion over 10 years to support the preservation and repair of 260,000 existing social and community housing.

    An Ontario Liberal government will also establish the Ontario Home Building Corporation and unlock provincial land for home-building. The Ontario Home Building Corporation will be tasked with collaborating with municipalities, not-for-profit housing partners and developers to build, fund, and maintain affordable homes of all types. It will also develop surplus provincial lands, including safely burying more electric transmission lines underground to unlock up to 80,000 acres of land for new homes. The Corporation will receive an historic $15 billion in capital funding subject to strict oversight – including a hard cap on administrative expenses and salaries and a 15-year mandate to ensure housing is built rapidly, cool the housing market and end the waitlist for affordable public housing.

    This will include building 138,000 deeply affordable homes – 78,000 new social and community homes, 38,000 homes in supportive housing and 22,000 homes for Indigenous peoples. Further, any homes sold by the Ontario Home Building Corporation will be available only to first-time home buyers, and any proceeds will go directly back into creating more affordable homes.

    An Ontario Liberal government will also work with municipalities to implement an empty homes tax of 5% of assessed value on non-Canadian owners and 2% for Canadian owners with vacant residential units in all urban areas – and any revenue raised will be spent on affordable housing. We will also collaborate with our federal partners to ban new non-resident ownership in Ontario’s housing market for at least the next four years. To discourage delays in house-building, we will work with municipalities to introduce a new ‘use it or lose it’ levy on speculators with serviced land and approved building permits.

    We’ll work to establish housing as a fundamental human right in Ontario and provide people with safe and reliable shelter, as well as the robust wrap-around services they need to live with dignity and stability. We’ll provide municipalities and housing support providers with $100 million per year to promote a ‘Housing First’ approach to ending chronic homelessness that will quickly move people into independent, permanent housing with comprehensive supports. We’ll fund new emergency shelter beds and improve the condition of existing shelters so that there are safe and respectable options to those who need them. We’ll also help renovate older shelters as long-term residences and supportive housing units as people are effectively transitioned into stable housing. 
     

Mental Health and Addictions

Ontario’s Big City Mayors recently released a Mental Health and Addictions Policy Paper that addresses the clear need for action now (https://www.ontariobigcitymayors.ca/news/details.php?id=747).  While the provincial government is responsible for funding and coordinating mental health and addictions supports, all levels of government have a role to play in improving services for our residents.  Without a comprehensive mental health regime, Ontario municipalities will continue to face increased emergency service costs that put pressure on first responders and other front line community services.

  1. Has your party committed to fully funding the province’s Roadmap to Wellness plan?  Or will you be releasing a fully costed plan that addresses Mental Health and Addictions?
     
  2. Does your Party support mandating Mental Health Crisis Response Teams across the province, which have been shown to have significant outcome improvements for residents, with the necessary funding to ensure their success?
     
  3. OBCM has been encouraging the federal government to decriminalize the possession of certain controlled substances. The criminalization of mental health and addictions exacerbates the challenges our communities face, and we believe that often a public health response rather than enforcement response is what is needed in our communities to succeed.  Does your Party support our call for decriminalization?

    We'll reverse the Ford Conservatives’ deep cuts to mental health care and connect more people to mental health support by investing an additional $3 billion over four years in mental health and addiction services. This will expand coverage and reduce wait times for OHIP-covered mental health care for those that need it – including psychotherapy – also providing free ‘mental health first aid’ and guided online mental health support to everyone. To make sure our kids get help without waiting, we’ll hire 1,000 more mental health professionals for children and make mental health first aid training more available to school staff.

    To meet demand for mental health care, we’ll train 3,000 new mental health and addictions professionals, social workers, psychologists and psychotherapists, ensuring they reflect Ontario’s diversity and are culturally-competent – particularly for Indigenous, racially diverse and French language communities.

    Recognizing everyone goes through a time when they need support, we’ll also require private employer benefits to include mental health services and ensure mental health professionals are available in a crisis in hospital emergency rooms and to respond to low-risk emergency calls – diverting people with addictions and disabilities away from the justice system and into care.

    As part of our housing plan, we’ll build 15,000 new supportive homes over the next ten years, providing safe environments and access to counselling for those struggling with mental health and addictions. Finally, we’ll measure and publicly track the performance of our mental health system, including wait times and emergency visits.

    Deaths related to opioid use and addiction have seen a staggering rise – devastating families and communities. We want to build a compassionate, nonjudgmental and supportive Ontario that aims to help those with addictions, follow evidence and reduce harm. We’ll do so by investing $300 million over four years across the addictions sector to prevent, intervene and treat opioid addiction and overdoses – including providing an ample supply of naloxone kits, fentanyl testing strips and harm reduction supplies at pharmacies, community spaces and with first responders. We’ll lift the arbitrary cap on new Consumption and Treatment Services sites. We’ll look to approve applications from unserved communities, and those offering culturally-competent programs for diverse and Indigenous communities. We’ll also support the 24/7 operation of these sites in key locations and provide additional support to safely reduce needle debris.
     

Climate Change

Ontario is a leader in emission reductions. The province and municipalities are well placed to transition to net-zero and many cities have developed plans to get there but need the support of both the federal and provincial governments to deliver on this critical priority.  As we move deeper into decarbonization, a shared approach to reducing emissions in sectors such as building, energy, and transportation, will be essential. OBCM is in the process of creating a Climate Change Policy Paper that will be released later this summer.

  1. How does your Party’s plan to address Climate Change address key municipal priority areas, including buildings, energy, transportation, waste, and adaptation?
     
  2. Municipalities often feel the effects of Climate Change before anyone else does, and as the on-the-ground delivery agent for the change required to support the road to net-zero, what involvement will municipalities have in the development and implementation of your Climate Change plans?

    Our Ontario Liberal Plan outlines our ambitious plan for cutting Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

    We’ll repeal the Ford Conservatives’ environmentally-harmful changes to legislation related to conservation, land planning, the environment and endangered species. We’ll also strengthen the powers of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities to prevent flooding and protect green spaces, farmland, drinking water, biodiversity and species at risk. We’ll restore and expand natural infrastructure like wetlands and green roofs and support municipalities in becoming more resilient to extreme weather through a new $250 million annual fund.

    We’ll provide 100,000 easy to access grants of up to $3,000 each year for people and businesses to make high-performance energy and climate-resiliency retrofits, including new windows, insulation, heat pumps and flood protection, in addition to providing interest-free loans for deeper retrofits. We’ll also retrofit schools, hospitals, colleges, universities, social housing and other public sector buildings through a $500 million annual investment to make them energy efficient and climate resilient. We’ll also update the Ontario Building Code so all new buildings and renovations are built to tiered and leading energy-efficiency and climate resiliency standards starting in 2025.

    We’ll plant 800 million trees over the next eight years – as part of the national commitment to 2 billion – focused on restoring ecosystems and protecting drinking water. Planting this many trees will be the equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the road and will create 2,000 green jobs for graduating students who want to dedicate a year toward nature-based solutions and engaging local communities on climate action and resilience. Municipalities and every household in Ontario with a yard will be able to get trees through this initiative.

    Right now, gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles make up about 35% of Ontario’s total carbon pollution – making our air harder to breathe, getting people sick and worsening extreme weather caused by climate change. Public transit is the best tool to reduce traffic and have fewer cars on the road, but the pandemic hit local transit services hard. On top of any emergency funds we provide, we’ll invest an additional $375 million in annual transit operating funding – supporting more routes, extended hours of service, improved accessibility and more intercity connections. We’re also going to cut public transit fares to $1.00 per ride and $40 for monthly passes until January 2024. This fare rate will be applied to all public transit in Ontario – including municipal, GO and Ontario Northland transit, with the province fully replacing transit systems’ lost revenue. We’ll help people replace polluting cars and trucks with electric or zero-emission ones by introducing an up to $8,000 rebate, in addition to the existing $5,000 federal rebate, on the purchase or lease of a non-luxury electric vehicle (up to $65,000 retail price) and $1,500 for charging equipment. And we’ll continue electrifying all GO trains, public transit and school buses.

    hen it comes to climate action, we’ll be transparent in our progress and accountable for our results through an independent Environmental Commissioner. We’ll take the politics out of climate action by creating an all-party Cabinet committee to find new ways to tackle carbon pollution, and work closely with municipalities in doing so.
     

Collaboration with Municipalities

As delivery agents for many provincial initiatives, we believe actively involving municipalities in program design would help deliver these programs more efficiently and effectively. Often, by the time a municipality has details of a program, it is in the final stages of creation.  

  1. What does your Party see as the role of municipalities in this process?

    We’ll respect and empower the autonomy of municipalities – refusing to use the notwithstanding clause to trample over local decision making like the Ford Conservatives did. An Ontario Liberal government will be a true partner with municipalities in designing programs and policies. We are committed to being open, transparent and accessible to our municipal partners in identifying challenges and co-designing solutions together.
     

Municipal Operating Budgets

Building on Question #4 – often funding is announced to support new infrastructure projects and other critical services, however not factored in are the operating and maintenance (O&M) costs that the municipality is left to cover. While grateful for these funding opportunities, it is often a struggle to budget for current O&M costs, let alone new costs that will be incurred – and when in the midst of recovery from COVID-19, it is nearly impossible.

  1. How will your party support municipalities and their operating budgets both as we continue to recover from the pandemic, and as more infrastructure is being built in our cities (community buildings, transit, etc.) leaving municipalities with rapidly increasing operating and maintenance costs?

    An Ontario Liberal government is committed to reviewing municipal fiscal sustainability coming out of the pandemic. We will continue the joint federal-provincial investments needed, including the initial planned $632 million in 2022, to maintain the operation and delivery of critical municipal services, like public transit and homelessness support. We will also make new, sustainable and annual investments totalling approximately $1.3 billion annually to support municipalities, including $375 million for municipal transit, $360 million for operating social, supportive and community housing services, $250 million for climate resilient infrastructure, $100 million for homelessness, $100 million for cycling infrastructure, $60 million for planning and housing approval and $53 million for mental health first responders. Our plan to slash public transit fares to a buck-a-ride and replace all fare revenue will also help recover transit ridership. An Ontario Liberal government will always be there for municipalities to support delivering the critical services that Ontarians rely on.

 

Media Contacts:

Mayor Cam Guthrie, Chair
mayor@guelph.ca
519-837-5643

Michelle Baker, Executive Director
Michelle@ontariobigcitymayors.ca
647-308-6602