By OHBA Staff

Ontario’s three major political parties weigh in on pressing OHBA questions

With the Ontario election date set for June 7, and with provincial political parties aggressively campaigning for every vote across Ontario, the OHBA provided the leaders of the Ontario Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Ontario New Democratic Party with three key questions of interest to OHBA members. In this, the last story in a three-feature series leading up to the election, OHBA presents the complete, unedited answers submitted by each of these parties, while providing commentary and assessment of their responses.

Q:

Everyone agrees that Ontario needs more homes to improve affordability. What will your party do to ensure that we can build more homes and have less politics impacting the supply of new housing in communities across Ontario.

A:

Liberals: We believe that everyone deserves an affordable home that works for them and their family. Increasing the supply of housing overall is a key step in achieving that goal. That’s why we:

• Introduced a targeted $125-million, five-year program to further encourage the construction of new rental apartment   buildings by rebating a portion of development charges.
• Created the Housing Delivery Group to identify barriers to specific housing development projects and work with developers and municipalities to find solutions.
• Established a multi-ministry working group that worked with the development industry and municipalities to identify opportunities to streamline the development approvals process.
• Released a number of provincial properties for redevelopment across the GTHA to create mixed communities, including rental, ownership, market and affordable housing.
• Helping more people purchase their first home by doubling the maximum Land Transfer Tax refund for eligible first-time homebuyers to $4,000. This means eligible homebuyers in Ontario pay no Land Transfer Tax on the first $368,000 of the cost of their first home.
• Increased the permissible height of wood-frame buildings to six storeys— creating safer, more flexible and affordable design options for the construction of wood frame buildings.

We have worked with municipalities to better reflect the needs of a growing Greater Golden Horseshoe through an updated Growth Plan. New provisions include requiring that municipalities consider the appropriate range of unit sizes in higher density residential buildings to accommodate a diverse range of household sizes and incomes. This will help support the goals of creating complete communities that are vibrant, transit-supportive and economically competitive, while doing more to address climate change, protect the region’s natural heritage and prevent the loss of irreplaceable farmland.

There is much more that can be done to increase the supply of housing and we are committed to working with our partners to continue to deliver more opportunities to expand housing supply where it is needed across Ontario.

PCs:  The biggest barrier to new construction projects is the amount of red tape in the development process. The amount of time and money it takes to get approval on a project is shocking, especially when the province is in dire need of additional housing supply. We will do our part to reduce red tape in the housing sector and the constant piling on of burdensome regulations over the past 15 years of Liberal government, so that we can increase housing supply and make housing affordable.

NDP: The Ontario NDP believes that housing is a human right. The accelerated construction of new housing, particularly new affordable housing, is a top priority. We will pursue a suite of policies to keep housing prices under control, while increasing the availability of new affordable housing.

We recognize that the market alone will not ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing for every family who needs it. For over two decades, provincial and federal governments have downloaded responsibilities onto municipalities and the private sector. The market, predictably and understandably, has responded by supplying homes mainly for the middle and upper end of the housing market, while excluding many lower-income families. This must change. An NDP government will do its part to ensure adequate public investment in new affordable housing.

The Ontario NDP has long supported OMB reform that gives local communities, municipal planners and democratically-accountable representatives the authority to set the overall vision for how their neighbourhoods grow and change—in conformity with municipal and provincial plans, policies and other laws. As this planning authority shifts from the OMB to local communities, an NDP government will work with municipalities and other stakeholders to keep policies up to date and approvals consistent and fair, facilitating sustainable and responsible development, with a particular focus on new affordable housing.

OHBA Analysis: It is encouraging to note that every response from each of the parties recognizes the need for more housing choice and supply to make housing more affordable across the province. As should be expected, the Ontario Liberal response outlines the actions of the government over the last three years, including a few taken through the April 2017 Fair Housing Plan (FHP). Since the FHP announcement, the overall government residential housing approvals situation has not improved, and the government has made dramatic policy decisions that clearly undermine our industry’s ability to secure approvals and bring more homes to the market.

Overwhelmingly, the industry believes that the government decision to abolish the Ontario Municipal Board and replace it with the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal will simply drive more NIMBY councils to ignore good planning and apply local political planning to any future housing supply and choice in their community. The more recent government decision to walk back its Inclusionary Zoning partnership model and simply hand the pen to the municipality to command and demand affordable units in every project they see fit only adds more politics to the housing policy framework. The Liberal response ignores these ill-advised decisions, and although there is a commitment to work with partners, the reality is that the last year of working with this government has resulted in more housing politics and not more housing choice and supply.

However, it is important to note that this government’s decision to permit six-storey wood has resulted in more than 60 projects (from occupied to designed) across Ontario. This OBC change, supported by OHBA through evidence-based advocacy, has had a positive impact on housing choice and supply, with more to come.

OHBA appreciates that the PC’s answer goes right after the fundamental issues for the industry: Let’s get through the red tape and get on with building the housing choice and supply we need to make things affordable across Ontario.

And it’s good to see that the NDP recognize the limitations of the market to provide housing and to go on the record about investing directly into building new affordable housing. The NDP has held a long-standing position to abolish the OMB, but at least there is some recognition that municipalities must update their policies to support housing choice and supply.

Q:

The underground economy continues to negatively impact the renovation sector. Will your party consider introducing a consumer-focused home renovation tax credit so that homeowners can update their homes to match their needs, lower their bills and use legitimate contractors to fight the underground economy?

A:

Liberals: As a government, we are committed to addressing the underground economy, particularly in the home renovation sector. That’s why, in Fall 2017, Ontario completed an education campaign to inform the public on how participation in the underground economy puts people at risk of poor workmanship, lack of warranty, fraud, personal liability and health and safety issues. This online campaign was very successful, achieving more than 120 million views across social media platforms, on popular websites and through search tactics. The government will continue to deliver on its commitment to fight the underground economy to support a tax system where everyone pays their fair share.

PCs: The underground economy has a large impact on the home building industry. It is important for homeowners and consumers to understand the importance of professional workers who will stand by their work, and the potential repercussions of not using appropriately trained contractors. The province should seriously consider all options to protect homeowners and drive consumers to the use of legitimate contractors.

NDP: Yes. The Ontario NDP has long supported tax credits to help homeowners reduce their carbon footprint and cut energy costs. We agree that contractors who perform such work should be legitimate and comply with the rules.

OHBA Analysis: Since the HST was introduced in 2010, OHBA has been pressing government to take comprehensive, purposeful steps to deal with the ever-growing underground cash economy as consumers look to avoid the dreaded HST on labour. Combine that consumer motivation with the avoidance of business registration, health and safety policies and consumer warranties by cash-contractors, and government has made the situation worse. It needs to be implementing systems that will make it easier and safer for consumers to hire renovation contractors while supporting legitimate renovators who are playing by the rules and looking out for their clients.

All three parties recognize that consumers should be using professional contractors when making improvements to their homes as an extension of consumer protection and awareness. Specific to the creation of consumer tax credit, the NDP has always focused on linking it back to fighting climate change and reducing household operating costs. This is what the current government’s GreenON programs do by pre-approving contractors who can participate in the GreenON program to help facilitate consumer rebates on windows and insulation. The PCs continue to support the need to consider all the options to combat the underground economy to both protect consumers and to support professional renovators.

Q:

Increasing apprenticeships and training are a major priority for the construction sector to ensure that Ontario can address the skilled labour shortage in Ontario. What will your party do to modernize Ontario’s training system to provide more opportunities in the skilled trades?

A:

Liberals: In January, we launched Ontario’s Apprenticeship Modernization Strategy after sector-wide consultations in 2017. Over 1,000 people took part in these consultations, identifying challenges and gaps in Ontario’s apprenticeship system and proposing innovative solutions. The strategy seeks to generate greater awareness about the varied career opportunities offered in the skilled trades through apprenticeship, while setting up supports for apprentices and employers. This includes a province-wide marketing strategy already underway, initiatives to make the skilled trades more reflective of our diverse communities by reaching out to underrepresented groups, simpler and easier digital tools to support apprentices through their journey and financial incentives for employers to hire apprentices and help them succeed.

The Graduated Apprenticeship Grant for Employers will support employers by providing financial incentives throughout apprenticeship training to completion. Employers are also eligible to receive additional grants if they hire apprentices from underrepresented communities. We remain committed to working with sector partners to advance this strategy together (in order) to strengthen and support our dynamic skilled trades sector, which brings jobs, growth and pride to communities across the province.

We are also investing $170 million over three years to modernize apprenticeship in Ontario, with an emphasis on improving access and completion rates. This includes increasing youth participation by expanding the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and providing high school students with more trades-related hands-on learning opportunities. We have also created a new grant to promote pooled sponsorship models and a fund to support locally developed apprenticeship initiatives.

We have reworked tax credits for employers so that they incentivize completion rates and created an Office of Apprenticeship Opportunity to help support underrepresented groups become apprentices and enter the skilled trades.

PCs: The skills gap in Ontario costs the province more than $24 billion in lost GDP. A key part of solving this problem is encouraging more Ontarians to pursue careers in the skilled trades. We can do this by removing barriers and making it easier to enter the skilled trades. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make a career in the skilled trades easier for hardworking Ontarians.

NDP: New Democrats support the skilled construction trades leadership in developing the skilled workers of the future through apprenticeship programs, and ongoing health and safety and skills development. The option to enter the trades should be clear for everyone beginning or restarting their career.

An NDP government will work with tradespeople, employers and educational institutions to ensure that there are opportunities available for education and apprenticeships, and that our tradespeople have the skills and knowledge for a lifetime of building Ontario into the place it can be for all of us.

OHBA Analysis: Over the past three years, OHBA has been working with the Ontario Skills Trade Alliance to make Ontario the leading apprenticeship and training jurisdiction in North America. The creation of the Ontario College of Trades, as well as its overarching regulatory powers on everything from trade enforcement to ratios to the compulsory status of a trade, has only confused and distracted from the only question that our industry cares about: Are we creating opportunities and training the next generation of skilled tradespeople?

Overwhelmingly, the industry says, “No!” And we see more trades shortages across Ontario as the housing economy continues to provide over 350,000 well-paying jobs a year.

In the past year, the government has refocused its policy by taking the perspective of the apprenticeship as they map out the barriers to completing the trade ticket. Included in that was the new Graduated Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (GAGE) mentioned in the response, along with supporting new employer-sponsored apprenticeship pools. OHBA has publicly supported both new initiatives as the first real steps in encouraging employers to work with government to close the skilled trades gap.

Both the PC and NDP parties recognize that there is a skilled trades gap that needs to be addressed. While the NDP looks forward to bringing all stakeholders together to ensure there are opportunities, the PC response directly states that the need to remove barriers is a key priority.

OHBA has long stated that promoting a career in the skilled trades in our schools needs to be supported by opportunities with employers. That is how we turn jobs into careers, and how we will close the skilled trades gap across Ontario. OHBA appreciates that all three parties responded to our industry questions and urge all eligible voters to exercise their democratic right and vote in the upcoming provincial election.

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