Newly elected Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), Billy Pang visited with the Unionville Residents Association (URA) this past Thursday, to discuss changes by his government.

The long standing former York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Trustee for Ward 2, 3 and 6 addressed hotly debated topics like the greenbelt, regional government review, healthcare, tuition, and housing.

The lower-than-expected turn out in the heavily conservative riding could be attributed to the 80-90 km winds blowing outside.

It is also a feat for anyone, much less MPP Pang, a respected community leader, to have to answer for the new Ford government.

The structured discussions, accompanied by a text-heavy slideshow, allowed for two-way dialogue, even if Pang “didn’t have an answer” for us. He said he was there to “answer general questions” and “listen”, falling in line with his governments’ promise to subject final proposals to local consultation.

Regional government review

The first topic on the block was the regional government review that see’s the possibility of new boundaries in already established ridings. Pang immediately offered that the government “could freeze certain taxes” for businesses.

He also shared that the over 190 government agencies currently in place in Ontario were established over a decade ago. The URA asserted that new boundaries maintain and enhance local communities and identities.

It was at that point that Pang was asked about changes to the now defunct Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), an independent administrative board that functioned as a tribunal. Up until 2012, local residents took their municipal and planning applications and appeals to the provincially appointed board.

The OMB was known for using it’s extensive power to quash municipal development. The Local Planning Appeal (LPA) now stands in its place, with less power and a limited scope of activities and area.

Pang defended the LPA, saying the new agency better protects the needs of locals, and has “given a lot of liberties to municipalities.” He went on to site unique characteristics of different parts of the GTA, like the Danforth with a “greek population downtown” and Markham with a “chinese population here.”

Time will tell if this recognition of the uniqueness of each and every area within each and every municipality in Ontario actually plays out.

The region has already seen a 2018 shake up of the York Regional Chair position, with it going from an elected to an appointed one. URA perspectives state that a regional government review include the election of representatives of new boundaries.

Other areas covered by the URA on the municipal government review are:

  • balance sheet suitability
  • efficiencies vs service levels vs property taxes
  • sustainable funding for downloading changes
  • consider carefully resulting impact on emergency services, school boards, social services
  • final proposals will be subject to impact assessment, transitions funding, and local consultation

Education

The cancellation of $127 million in funds for the construction of a local York University campus was next up. Pangs assurance that his government did not cancel the project, just its funding, provoked scoffs and laughter from the small crowd.

He then explained that he’s working closely with the university to manage additional costs associated with capital and upkeep of the 445,755-square-foot campus. The project, one of many axed by the newly elected Ford government, will go ahead under the Markham Centre Campus partners.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to replace the lost funds within the touted high-tech capital of Canada; a city that houses numerous corporations.

Other areas mentioned, but not discussed, during the meeting are public consultations on sex education and the highly controversial removal of classroom size caps from Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The Ontario government is also planning to cut post secondary school fees by 10 per cent, small compensation for eliminating free tuition for families with incomes lower than $50 thousand.

Healthcare reform

The issue of tuition tied in nicely with healthcare reform, another highly controversial and hotly debated topic brought up at the meeting. While presenting his argument under the heading “Ending Hallway Medicine”, Pang stated that his government is open to a two-tier system.

It was then that examples from Britain and France were cited by the audience, and embraced by Pang. What he didn’t realize was that the same systems in Europe offering two-tier healthcare ALSO provide free tuition.

For the Ford government to pick and choose which socialist alternatives better neutralize their plans for education and healthcare, is a contradiction.

Just this past week, the New Democratic Party (NDP) released leaked documents showing that a new privatized healthcare system is a done deal. There was no discussion of public consultation on healthcare by Pang at the URA meeting; only statistics:

  • system hard to navigate, wait times too long, receiving care in wrong places i.e emergency room (ER)
  • ER admissions increased 72% in 11 years; more effective coordination at point-of-care, centralize 14 Local Health Integrated Networks (LHIN) to one SUPER LHIN using a call centre to navigate
  • 79% increase in children and youth mental health cases in 11 years, 1/3 of mental health cases going to emergency rather than physicians (need more community mental health)
  • 16% patients staying in hospital need alternative care, 59% require long term care 148 days of average wait time, need 41,000 long term care beds

A recent CBC expose of abuses at a local long-term care home showed a dire need for more care and nursing staff. Pang was asked how the government was going to encourage more people to train to be Personal Support Workers (PSW)s.

Ideas were exchanged, but what wasn’t considered was the complete lack of legislation in Ontario limiting the number of patients to PSWs. Luckily this red herring was brought to Pangs attention, along with his position as our representative at the legislature.

Greenbelt

The greenbelt, a protected green space and wetland in Southern Ontario, particularly the Golden Horseshoe, was also brought up early in the discussion. There wasn’t much debate as Pang assured, and re-assured the group, when asked about protecting agriculture, that they “are not touching those lands.”

Premier Doug Ford was famously videotaped promising developers access to the Greenbelt during his campaign in April 2018, but Pang went on to say that “we have enough land in Ontario to develop.”

Ford also redacted his position on the matter immediately after receiving major push back from environmental agencies and the voting public.

Housing

Increasing housing supply was also addressed, although likely not a major concern of homeowners in Unionville. Shrinking the greenbelt was surprisingly included in the URA’s list of possibilities to create more housing options:

  • legalizing secondary suites
  • rooming housing
  • inclusionary zoning
  • streamline approvals
  • encourage intensification
  • incentives for “missing middle” homes
  • purpose-built rentals
  • more social housing
  • shrink the greenbelt
  • restrict Air BnB
  • re-purpose surplus, government or industrial land

Contacting your local MPP is easy, just visit www.ola.org.

To contact Billy Pang, click here.