The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) condemns the Ford government’s sweeping legislative changes designed to give even more power to his government and their developer and corporate landlord backers. Last week Ontario ended the officially declared state of emergency. However, working people in Ontario are still facing an emergency: a pandemic without a cure and a government that is determined to place the burden of the capitalist crisis on their backs while eliminating democratic rights.
Throughout July, the Conservative government rammed through three key pieces of legislation designed to curtail labour, environmental and housing rights: Bill 195, 197 and 184. These reforms, cynically justified by the health and economic crisis, are in line with other sweeping pieces of legislation that this government forced through before the pandemic that are designed to deepen exploitation in order to boost corporate profits and expand corporate power.
Bill 195, or “Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19)”, extends emergency orders and allows for their modification despite ending the state of emergency. It allows the government to override collective agreements, cancel vacations, and eliminate rights around seniority-based lay-offs, redeployment, work assignments, shift schedules and the grievance process. The Ford government has joined the rest of the province in saluting the heroic work of health workers. It is now clear that this was only lip service as the Ford government has indefinitely gutted labour rights for these same workers.
Bill 197, the “Economic Recovery Act, 2020”, is a piece of omnibus legislation that, among other things, guts the Environmental Assessment Act, and violates the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights, with the enthusiastic backing of large developers. The government will now decide which projects need environmental assessments, as opposed to most requiring a review. Bill 197 also eliminates the key mechanism that allows for the public to ask for a full review of a particular project and allows for the bulldozing of opposition through new ministerial zoning orders (MZOs).
Bill 184, the “Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act”, was more appropriately renamed the “Mass Eviction Bill” by tenants. The new rules allow for immediate eviction orders should a tenant default on a repayment agreement pushed on them by their landlord. Previously, a tenant would have been able to explain why they were no longer able to keep up with a repayment agreement in a formal hearing, however this important right has been removed. Toronto City Council is now challenging Bill 184 in court.
Bill 184 is retroactive and applies to all repayment agreements since the beginning of the pandemic, meaning the hundreds of thousands of people that lost work in Ontario in March and who have been unable to find new work or make up for lost wages through piecemeal federal support, may now be immediately evicted. Agreements that may have been signed by people who did not know the lockdown would not last five months can still be used to evict tenants without a hearing.
The Landlord and Tenant Board began processing thousands of eviction applications by landlords on August 4, with the end of the moratorium on residential evictions. More than 6,000 eviction applications were sent out during the shutdown that can now be enforced with the potential for thousands of more applications in the coming days and weeks. Corporate landlords have regained eviction powers, now expanded by Doug Ford, with the continuing incentive of throwing people out of rent-controlled units and raising rents to market rates which skyrocketed to an average of $2,200 for a one bedroom in Toronto earlier this year.
The Communist Party demands the immediate repeal of Bill 184, the forgiveness of any rent debt accrued during the pandemic, an extension of the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for two years, rent rollbacks for all renters in Ontario so that no one is compelled to pay more than 20% of household income on rent, a comprehensive social housing program that treats housing as a public utility and delivers it according to need and the closure of rent control loopholes (such as “renovictions” and the lack of rent control on new units).
Safe housing must be immediately found or requisitioned for the homeless and the federal and provincial governments should provide funding to address cities’ shelter crises and create systems where underhoused people can find temporary shelter with dignity. Housing is a fundamental human right and should not be a commodity for corporate landlords to own and extract massive profits from working people.
The pandemic is far from over but the corporate drive towards business as usual has been steadily pushed by the Ford government. This can be seen in the government’s latest announcement that it will reopen schools, to allow parents to return to work, without addressing ballooning class sizes. With federal emergency benefits wrapping up, many will be forced to take any kind of work they can find and exploitation and precariousness will deepen, while the global capitalist economic crisis continues to unfold. Harsh austerity is on the horizon to make people pay for a recovery of profits. The Ford government has shown that it is creating the infrastructure to aid in a corporate recovery by restricting democratic rights.
The working class cannot, and will not pay for the crisis. A People’s Recovery is possible with struggle and unity. Instead of being curtailed, labour rights can be expanded, the minimum wage raised to a living wage of $20/hr, a 32/hr work week with no loss in take-home pay legislated, and a full employment strategy developed by expanding manufacturing and secondary industry, and public ownership and democratic operation of key resources and industries, massively expanding publicly-owned and developed renewable energy, and expanded social programs and public infrastructure. Progressive tax reform is urgently needed to shift the tax burden onto corporations and the very rich, who do not have a way out of this crisis besides through forcing more misery on working people.
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) demands the immediate repeal of Ford’s anti-democratic legislation and the implementation of a recovery plan based on a People’s Alternative for Ontario.