Jessica Bell MPP, University–Rosedale

Government of Ontario

Here’s what I said about the Govt’s Fall Economic Statement in the Legislature this week

Published on November 18, 2021

This week, I was proud to speak to Bill 43, the Ford government’s Fall Economic Statement. This is a summary of what I said:

  • I told the gov’t off for cutting $467M from education, and called for increased funding for our kids and schools, and how that could benefit our riding.
  • I asked why the gov’t has no commitment to introduce $10 a day childcare, even though every other major province has a deal with the Federal government in place.  
  • I gave govt MPPs a lecture for cutting funding to housing and municipalities at a time when housing affordability is getting worse.  
  • And finally, I pointed out that govt’s plan to tackle money laundering and tax fraud in the real estate sector by requiring businesses in Ontario to keep a record of their true human owners leaves some big loopholes. To truly address the issue of tax fraud, speculation and money laundering we need a real public land registry so no one can buy and sell property anonymously.

The bill now goes to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs where you can submit comment and register to speak, and we can submit amendments.  If you are a UniRose resident, please cc-us at [email protected] so we know what you care about.

Here's my full speech. 

Ms. Jessica Bell: I’m pleased to be here today to speak to Bill 43, the bill accompanying the fall economic statement. It is a big omnibus bill; I’m not going to cover it all today, but I do want to raise some of the issues that I see that particularly affect the residents of University–Rosedale.

The big issue that I see is that base funding to education is being cut by $467 million. It’s going down from $31.3 billion to $30.8 billion. This is very concerning, because funding education and health care is fundamental to who we are as Canadians and Ontarians. It is very concerning to see an additional cut to education funding because it will affect the 33 schools in my riding and the thousands of parents and kids who rely on schools to get kids ready, teach them what they need to know, help them get the support they need and help them thrive.

It is very clear that the pandemic has had a huge impact on children in a negative way and it’s also had a huge impact on parents, especially women. We see the statistics. The participation in the workforce has dropped, especially for women. It has dropped down to 1980s levels. We have seen a 40-year reversal in the gains that we have made to address equity in the workplace—taken away in a short 18 months.

We know that there are things that we can do to help parents, especially women, get back into the workforce. One way we can do that is by making sure we have high-quality, well-funded schools that are as safe as possible so that they can remain open. That requires a fair amount of funding so that the school boards across the province can do what they need to do to provide schooling to the million-plus kids who need it. That, unfortunately, is not what’s happening.

I want to summarize some of the issues that parents, parent councils and my trustee, Chris Moise, have raised with me over the last two months since schools have returned in September.

We are getting reports of class sizes that are very large—32, 33 children, even in the smaller classes, the JK, the SK classes where kids really need that extra support so that they can be socialized, so that they learn how to read and write.

There’s no additional funding for online learning. So what that means is that teachers that have taught in in-person classes are being pulled out to teach online. As a result, schools are being forced to do last-minute shuffling, often merging classes together, in order to accommodate the loss of that teacher. That’s happening in many schools across my riding.

When it comes to COVID safety, there have been some improvements. I have seen the HEPA filters; principals have communicated with me about the arrival of HEPA filters across schools in my riding. But what we’re not seeing is a comprehensive rollout of rapid tests. We see them piecemeal here and there but we’re not seeing the comprehensive rollout of rapid tests, even though other countries have moved forward with a comprehensive rapid testing program and it’s been very effective in curbing the spread of COVID, especially in schools, which is where we know the spread of COVID is happening. It should have been here in September. We are now in November and we are not seeing it rolled out in the way that we need.

I am not seeing the public health nurses that I’ve heard the Minister of Education speak about again and again and again. I don’t know where they are, but I’m not getting calls from principals telling me that they’ve arrived.

We’re not seeing the mental health supports that are really critical, including reliable access to social workers.

We’re seeing kids in special-needs classes being forced into hybrid models of learning. In the mainstream classrooms, by and large, it’s been in person or online. You get a separate teacher for each. But when you go into developmentally delayed classes, classes where there are kids on the spectrum, we are seeing that there has been a move that the TDSB has made, because of a lack of funding, to move forward with a hybrid model. So a teacher is required to teach in person and online at the same time, and I’m getting calls from parents who are really concerned about that because they’ve had enough. They need help.

The testing for air quality in schools is still not being done, even though we know that’s critical. It’s being done elsewhere. It’s been working effectively in New York City. It is a measure that we are calling for here. This government has chosen not to move forward with it.

The facility condition index: After years of advocacy, the Ontario government started tracking how poorly maintained schools were across Ontario and what amount of funding is needed to get them up to a state of good repair. The facility condition index is getting worse. Schools, in order to be maintained to a state of good repair—so the heating is working, the cooling is working, there are no bricks falling on kids, which happened in my riding—is short $16.3 billion. And Jesse Ketchum, which is a school in my riding, is one of the worst—no funding in this fall economic statement for that. What I find so concerning is that the poor maintenance of our schools, the facility condition index, actually doesn’t include a whole lot of things that are needed to keep schools well-maintained. So the number is actually larger than $16.3 billion. 

The example I like to give is that the water quality in schools is not included in the facility condition index. Many schools in my riding are very old. There’s lead in the pipes, so kids cannot drink water from the drinking fountains. They have to fill up a bottle at home and take it to school with their own water, just like we do here in Queen’s Park because there’s lead in the pipes here. But with schools it’s a bit different. And we don’t even have a plan for that.

So it was very disappointing to see a cut of $500 million to schools in the fall economic statement. What it tells me is that this government is continuing on its agenda of wanting to cut funding to schools in order to move forward with a privatization model, in order to drive parents away from the public education system and move them into private schools and charter schools, all with the goal of reducing taxes and giving big contracts to big business to provide education when it should be the public sector to do it. It is an ideological approach, and it’s our kids that are suffering as a result. I urge you to change that approach.

The second concern I have with the fall economic statement concerns the issue of housing. It is the number one issue in my riding when I go door to door and I ask constituents, “What is top of mind for you? What do you want me to raise with the Ontario government?” Housing is the number one issue that comes up at the door, and that makes sense. In University–Rosedale we have some of the highest rents in the country. The average rent for all properties is getting close to $2,400 a month, which is astronomical. Over a third of Ontarians now pay unaffordable rent, and many of those people are in my riding of University–Rosedale.

Owning a home is also completely out of the picture. A new national Bank of Canada report shows that in Toronto, a household needs to make $205,000 a year—we’re talking top 2%, 3% of income earners here—to afford an average home and must save for 28 years for a down payment, which is five times more than the historical average. It’s deeply concerning. Many people have given up.

You would think that this government—because this government knows full well that housing affordability is an issue in their constituencies too. You know that. You’re getting these calls just like me. You would think that the Ontario government would put measures in their fall economic statement to address the housing affordability crisis, but when I looked through the fall economic statement, I didn’t see much. I’m going to summarize what I saw.

One is that the government decided to create a task force to study the problem, which is really very disappointing because the whole purpose of a task force is to identify whether you’ve got a problem or not—hey, we’ve got a problem; we already know we have a problem—and the task force is to identify solutions to that problem. There are already solutions that other provinces and countries and municipalities have tried and successfully implemented in order to stabilize housing prices and make rent more affordable for the nearly 50% of Ontarians who now rent. The measures already exist. We know what needs to be done. Proposing to study an issue is the oldest trick in the book. It’s to pretend that you’re working on a problem when really you’re doing very little at all.

The second measure that I see—well, there are two others, actually, that I noticed in the fall economic statement that address housing. The other one is this government is looking at moving forward—a small step forward—in bringing about real estate transparency within the housing sector in Ontario. I support this move. I think it’s a good measure.

The challenge is that there are loopholes in the fall economic statement’s measure to truly address real estate transparency. I’ll just explain it for a minute. Many experts have said time and time again for many years now that Ontario, like BC, has issues with money laundering and tax fraud. Investors come here and take advantage of some of the loopholes we have in our laws which allow them to use trusts, numbered corporations and partnerships to buy properties anonymously. They hide their human individual identity behind a number and they buy and sell properties in order to make profit.

By and large, many of these transactions are legitimate, but there is a small section of people that use them in order to engage in money laundering and to engage in tax fraud. It is deeply concerning, because many experts and academics have made it very clear that this habit and activity is contributing to the massive increase in speculation that we are seeing in the housing market and a run up in housing prices. It’s also just not fair, because, if there are some companies that are not paying their taxes, it means other people, the rest of us, have to pay more in order for us to get the services that we need to run our province.

So this government has decided to bring in a measure that would require businesses that are registered in Ontario to track who their true beneficial owners are: the actual human individuals who own that business and stand to benefit if that business sells or makes profit. Now, that’s a good thing, but here are the loopholes, and I’m asking this government to introduce amendments to improve these loopholes. The loophole that it creates is that if they are businesses that are incorporated elsewhere, in another province, in another country, they are not required to disclose the identity of the individuals who own that property. That’s a very big loophole.

The second thing is that the information around these individuals is not public. It’s a secret registry. It’s available to financial authorities and the police, if they need it, but it’s not a public registry. We think it should be a public registry.

This issue doesn’t apply to individuals like you or me. We are already required to track our identity, and it’s public within the MPAC tracking system. This would apply only to numbered corporations, trusts and partnerships. So that’s a large loophole.

Finally, partnerships are exempt. If you’re a money launderer and you see this new law, you’re like, “Okay, I just won’t register in Ontario and I’ll turn my company from a numbered corporation into a partnership,” and then you can just avoid this whole process overall.

My request to you is that you address these loopholes in order to clamp down on money laundering and tax fraud in the real estate sector. The measures already exist; they have been tried elsewhere. I urge you to move forward on those measures.

The final thing that I see in the fall economic statement, when it comes to housing, is the amount of funding that is going to municipal and housing sectors. It’s a cut. A cut is being made from $512 million—that’s what it was in the 2020-21 budget—down to $481 million in the 2021-22 budget. That is really a travesty.

I fail to understand why this government would choose to cut funding to municipal services and housing at a time when we have a homelessness crisis. We have a mental health crisis. We have an utter need for the construction and the purchasing of supportive housing so that we can help people who are sleeping in our parks right now.

If you travel across Toronto and visit the parks, you will see people who are in very desperate circumstances sleeping outdoors: Dufferin Grove; the park in Kensington, formally Alexandra Park; and parks near the lake in the MPP for Spadina–Fort York’s riding. It is an absolute crisis.

What is very clear is that the municipality of Toronto needs financial help to work with social service providers to provide permanent housing to people so that we can address our homelessness problem. In fact, the city of Toronto last week passed a motion calling for an additional $45 million from the provincial government in order to assist in dealing with the homelessness crisis that Toronto has right now—the worst homelessness crisis I have ever seen and that Toronto has experienced in decades. It would be a positive move for this government to increase the amount of funding that goes to municipalities and housing so that the city of Toronto and all municipalities across Ontario have the additional support they need to get people off the streets and housed.

An example I like to use on how effective this could be is the building 877 Yonge; 877 Yonge is right near the Toronto Reference Library. It used to be a retirement home; we did a lot of work with the seniors who lived there. Now, it is a supportive housing building. So people who are in really difficult circumstances are being moved into—not a hotel, not a short-term, temporary hotel, but a permanent home, with social workers and supports living on-site to provide people with the care they need. That building is part of the Housing Now program, and it was funded by money that came from the federal government and the city. They just bought it outright. We don’t need to spend five or 10 years getting the approvals to build a new building; they just bought it outright. It’s 200 new homes that are available right now to move people in.

But you know who wasn’t at the table? The Ontario government wasn’t at the table. I think that’s a real travesty, because those kinds of initiatives should get the Ontario government’s support, so that we can really tackle the housing affordability crisis and the homelessness crisis that we have today.

I want to conclude by talking a little bit about the lack of support for child care. The reason why this is such a big issue—what I expected to see in the fall economic statement was a commitment to roll out $10-a-day child care, which provinces all across Canada are moving forward with in partnership with the federal government. I was hoping to see that kind of statement here, but I didn’t.

The reason why it is so important is because in my riding of University–Rosedale, it costs about $1,500 a month, on average, for a parent to find and pay for a child care spot for that child. That works out to about $36,000 a year if a parent has two young children. That’s a lot of money. That’s more than a lot of people make in the city of Toronto. And this government—I’ll give them a tiny amount of credit—introduced a tax credit in the fall economic statement of $1,500. Let me tell you, there’s a big difference between $36,000 a year and $1,500. There’s a massive amount of money that still needs to be paid forth by the parent: $34,500 a year.

Also, this government, instead of investing in high-quality, non-profit and public child care, has watered down standards by increasing allowable staffing ratios within private child care facilities. Now, I don’t think that that is a good way to address the child care crisis, because those rules are there for a reason. They were developed in response to tragedies of children getting injured and dying, and government doing the wise thing and responding with fair and sensible regulation. Keeping those regulations is a good idea.

What also needs to be done is the Ontario government needs to step up and work with the federal government and make a deal to bring in affordable, high-quality, $10-a-day child care that is provided by non-profit and public providers. That is what parents in my riding need. That is what this government needs to do.

So that’s a summary of what I see in the fall economic statement that really affects the residents of University–Rosedale. There needs to be more funding for housing. There need to be more measures to make housing affordable on all levels. There needs to be a greater commitment to invest in public education, because it is fundamental to who we are as Ontarians and Canadians. And there needs to be a real commitment to move forward on affordable, $10-a-day, high-quality, non-profit and public child care.