Bill Mauro address to Ontario Legislature

Bill Mauro Kenora Queen's Park - NAN Sarah Campbell

Bill Mauro MPPQUEEN’S PARK – Bill Mauro addressed the Ontario Legislature this afternoon. The debate was on the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and the Co-operative Corporations Act.

Here is the text of MPP Bill Mauro’s speech:

Bill Mauro – Residential Tenancies Act

I am pleased to be here to support the second reading of Bill 14, an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 and the Co-operative Corporations Act.

 As the Minister has explained, these important amendments have been designed to improve the way non-profit co-operative housing boards and their members resolve tenure disputes in Ontario. 

This proposed legislation would, if passed, bring greater efficiency, accessibility and transparency to the co-op tenure dispute resolution process. 

We know that the current process for terminating occupancy agreements for co-ops is complex, costly and time consuming. 

The Co-operative Housing Federation has been a long-time advocate of legislation that would help decisions related to tenure disputes be fair to both co-ops and their members. 

As you have heard, the Co-operative Housing Federation represents housing co-ops throughout Ontario. 

I want to repeat the Minister’s message that we share the Federation’s commitment to maintaining a strong co-operative housing sector. 

In our province, the Federation’s Ontario Region promotes the successful operation of housing co‑operatives by offering services, including education, to meet their clients’ unique needs. The organization defends the interests of its members and works with regional federations to help co‑ops build links with municipal governments. 

It also promotes the growth of co‑operative housing in Ontario. All of these are laudable goals. 

History of co-ops in Ontario

 Mr. Speaker, co-op housing has a long history in Canada. It goes back as far as the 1930s when, among other co-operative initiatives, the Nova Scotia Antigonish Movement promoted co-ops that built homes for their members. 

When the construction of these homes was finished, the homes were sold to the members and the housing co-operatives were dissolved. There were building co-operatives similar to this formed in Quebec between the 1920s and 1940s.  The earliest student co-op in Canada was the Guelph Campus Co-op, which started up in 1913 as a retail co-operative and later went on to develop student housing and other services. 

Organized lobbying began in the 1960s to gain government support for co-op housing. 

In 1968, the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada came into being. These were the early days of their advocacy for co-op housing. 

And today, we see that their work has results. 

From 1973 to 1992, the government helped finance thousands of co-operative housing units through three successive co-op housing programs. From the mid-1980s on, the three most populous provinces in Canada – Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia – also set up their own development programs to finance housing co-operatives. It was at this time that the co-operative housing movement started to develop. 

These new organizations worked with the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada to provide education, development and management services to an expanding number of Canadian housing co-ops. 

It is this long history that shapes the co-op housing movement today.  Co-op housing has helped us build strong communities. 

Co-op housing helps support people from diverse backgrounds and provides an affordable option for many low income Ontarians. 

How is this done? 

It is done through the lower operating costs that housing co-ops frequently enjoy. This is partly because of the non-profit model, but also because many benefit from the members’ shared responsibilities and participation. 

Who calls co-ops home? They are families, women, single parents, seniors, visible minorities, new immigrants, people of Aboriginal ancestry, and disabled persons.

Co-op values

 However, Mr. Speaker, it is the values that underpin the entire co-op sector that truly help it stand apart. 

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  Co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. These are values our government shares. 

Co-ops are also guided by universal principles, which put their values into practice. 

First, co-ops are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without any form of discrimination. 

Second, co-ops are democratically governed. 

Their members actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions on the principle of one member one vote. 

Elected representatives are accountable to the membership, much like we are to the voting public. 

Third, co-op members contribute to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative.  At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. The co-operative’s surplus is either distributed to its members in proportion to their transactions with the co-op, or directed to other activities approved by the membership. 

Fourth, co-ops are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. 

If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy. 

Fifth, co-ops provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees. They also strive to inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation. 

Sixth, the co-operative movement works in solidarity with other co-ops, creating a strong bond of unity among members around the world. 

And finally, co-ops work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. These principles, which co-op boards and their members live by every day, make them a unique and valuable part of our province’s housing continuum. 

Mr. Speaker, just as with other co-ops, co-op housing is member governed. 

Many of those that help run co-operatives are volunteers. The people they serve are their neighbours and their friends. 

They are responsible for the decisions that affect these people’s everyday lives. 

The role of volunteers in today’s modern society cannot be under estimated.

They play a huge part in the running of our communities.  These volunteers come from all walks of life, are of all ages and they help run co-ops.  In fact, our government will soon be recognizing some of the incredible volunteers that enhance the lives of people living in Ontario.  

I’m sure volunteers from our co-op sector will be counted among them. One of the most important features of co-ops is that they are also places that respect diversity.

Here are some statistics from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (from 2003) about Canadian co-ops: 

  • 58 per cent of members are women
  • 11 per cent are members of visible minorities 
  • 20 per cent are immigrants 
  • 4 per cent are of Aboriginal ancestry 
  • 12 per cent of households include a person with long-term physical disability requiring special features such as wheelchair access 

And important players, like the Co-operative Housing Federation, are finding more ways to encourage diversity in co-ops. For example, the Co-operative Housing Federation funds innovative diversity initiatives regionally to help keep diversity issues a high priority for housing co‑ops and federations. 

Many co-ops are also participating in the Federation’s 2020 Vision program. 

This process is designed to help co‑ops look clearly at their own community values, quality of management, governance, and environmental sustainability. And, in the lens of this, plan for their future. Co-ops place special emphasis on engaging and empowering youth, while also finding ways to meaningfully involve seniors in their communities as well. 

It’s this forward thinking attitude and this inclusive and accepting environment that make co-ops exceptional.  

What we are changing

 Mr. Speaker, as the Minister has stated, the proposed legislation would amend the Residential Tenancies Act and the Co-operative Corporations Act to move most co-op tenure disputes from the courts to the Landlord and Tenant Board. 

This board is the body established under the Residential Tenancies Act, or the RTA, to resolve rental housing disputes. I would like to build on some of what the Minister already told you about the Landlord and Tenant Board. 

Under the RTA, the Board has a dual mandate. First, the Landlord and Tenant Board exercises a quasi-judicial function by hearing and determining all questions of law and fact under the RTA.  Second, the Board is required to give information to landlords and tenants about their rights and obligations. 

The Board handles a large volume of cases, due to the significant number of renters in Ontario, which represent approximately 29 per cent of Ontario’s households. 

Annually, the Board hears about 80,000 cases. About 55,000 (or 68 per cent) of these concern landlords evicting tenants, usually due to rent arrears. Compare that to the estimated 350 co-op tenure disputes that are brought before the courts each year. 

The Board strives to be efficient and deliver high-quality service to tenants and landlord – a point of pride and distinction. 

If passed, this legislation would mean that co-op providers and members would have most of the same protections, most of the same benefits, and the same responsibilities afforded to landlords and tenants facing tenure disputes under the RTA. 

For example, co-op members facing eviction would now have the right to a hearing and have better access to affordable legal representation, such as paralegals and on-site duty counsel. Both co-op providers and members would be able to seek mediated settlements.

This means the provider and member could ask a mediator from the Board or outside of the Board to try to help them reach their own agreement. Mediators assist the parties in focusing on their interests, so they can find potential solutions to satisfy those interests. 

This process can be more collaborative, more informal and can often feel more fair to all parties. 

In all cases, tenure dispute resolution applications would be based on merit, giving co-op providers and members equal opportunity to present all the facts they believe are relevant to the Board. 

Examples of Disputes

 Specifically, under the proposed legislation, co-ops would be able to seek resolutions to disputes through the Landlord and Tenant Board for things such as:

  • Arrears;
  • Persistent late payment of rent or housing charges;
  • Illegal behaviour;
  • Interfering with reasonable enjoyment; and
  • Wilful damage.

 These types of disputes are all currently grounds for eviction under the RTA. Tenure disputes based on grounds outside the RTA, however, would continue to be handled through the internal democratic co-op eviction process and the courts. 

For example, tenure disputes based on the following types of by-laws would continue to be resolved by the courts:

  • Violation of a no pets provision;
  • Failure to fulfill a co-op member’s duties, such as shovelling snow or cutting the lawn; and
  • Any other ground not provided for under the RTA. 

This process needs to be retained, Mr. Speaker, because co-ops are governed democratically. Co-op members vote to establish by-laws that set out grounds for eviction that are not provided for under the RTA. 

The proposed legislation would also amend the Co-operative Corporations Act to streamline and improve the current internal eviction processes of non-profit co-op housing. 

Benefits

 Mr. Speaker, as the Minister noted, there are many benefits to this proposed legislation. 

Streamlining the dispute resolution process mandated by the Co-operative Corporations Act would simplify the internal process and shorten the time required to resolve these disputes. 

Our proposed legislation, if passed, would use the expertise of the Landlord and Tenant Board and, in most cases, allow access to established infrastructure and procedures designed to deal with tenure disputes. 

Current co-op law and policies regarding housing charges and other requirements of membership would remain the same, and the unique system of co-op housing would be recognized. 

Although co-op members would not have the right to make applications to the Landlord and Tenant Board, the rights of co-op members to use internal co-op processes and to apply to the courts regarding co-op issues would be maintained. 

I would also mention that our proposed legislation would allow the Landlord and Tenant Board to waive or defer fees for low-income individuals. 

This is a widely supported amendment, which would bring consistency to how these types of cases are treated at other Ontario tribunals and in the courts. 

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the safety of co-op members, bringing cases before the Landlord and Tenant Board may bring additional benefits to providers and members. 

The RTA provides a fast-track eviction process under special circumstances, such as illegal drug activity or seriously impairing the safety of others. 

The fast-track provisions cut the eviction process time approximately in half, and include the following:

  • Hearings at the Landlord and Tenant Board are scheduled more quickly;
  • The eviction order must include a request that the Sheriff speed up the enforcement of the eviction; and
  • The Board may order the tenant to be evicted immediately. 

However, under the RTA, every tenant facing eviction has the right to a hearing at the Board. 

These rights have been put in place to protect both tenants and landlords, and if the legislation is passed, would be passed on to co-op providers and members as well. 

The new approach would make the co-op tenure dispute process more responsive, but also cost-effective. 

And this last point really matters in today’s fiscal climate, where every dollar counts. 

Which is why we must work together to be innovative in our approaches and find ways to stretch the funds we have. 

Co-ops, Mr. Speaker, have a history of stretching funds. They make efficient use of their members’ resources. 

By design, they are adapted to support low income individuals and families, many of which straddle the line of poverty. 

Poverty Reduction Strategy 

And poverty is an issue of great importance to our government. 

Mr. Speaker, December 2012 marked the fourth anniversary of our government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.  

Much has happened since December 4, 2008, the date our government announced its first five-year poverty reduction commitment. 

But, especially in light of ongoing economic turmoil, much more needs to be done in order to meet the target. 

This government has focused its efforts primarily on children and families. 

But we have also taken steps to create opportunity for those most adversely affected by the economic downturn, and build the economic and social foundations to achieve our poverty reduction goal. 

From 2008 to 2009, the first year of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, 20,000 children moved out of poverty. This means over four per cent fewer children living in poverty. 

This December, we announced that this number has climbed to 40,000. And that is great news for Ontario families. 

We also have made other significant achievements. 

  • Over one million children in 530,000 families are being helped by the Ontario Child Benefit. 
  • Almost 122,000 kids are getting a stronger start in about 1,700 schools through full-day kindergarten. 
  • Nearly 33,000 children and young people, who may have otherwise gone untreated, are receiving free dental care through Healthy Smiles Ontario. 
  • An additional 13,000 young people are getting help finding jobs and opportunities through the Youth Action Plan. 
  • An estimated 20,000 more children and young people are getting faster and easier access to the right mental health supports with 600 new mental health workers in schools, communities and the courts. 

We will continue to build on our momentum in the final year of the Strategy, while we consider future steps that we can take to break the cycle of poverty in our province. 

Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy 

Our government also recognizes the need for affordable housing and its role in supporting the growth and health of communities across Ontario.  

To support our Poverty Reduction Strategy, we developed the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy.  It sets a strong foundation for a more efficient, accessible system for those who need safe, affordable housing. 

During our consultations on the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, we heard that the existing housing system was too complicated and created obstacles for those in need. 

Those that deliver the housing programs told us that because of the system they were unable to develop the best possible services to those in need. 

The Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy provides municipalities and housing providers with greater flexibility to deliver housing services, recognizing that communities have different housing needs.  

And, as the Minister stated, affordable housing provides many benefits to families and our economy.  People with stable homes are better prepared to enter the workforce.  And affordable housing projects create thousands of jobs, many of which are local. 

Conclusion

 If history teaches us one thing, it is that we must work together to achieve better results. 

Our government has heard that there are frustrations with the current system. 

I want to assure the co-op housing sector that we are listening. 

We must be deliberate on our actions.  

So that we can plan and invest in tomorrow. 

We must work together. 

By strengthening the co-op housing sector, we are supporting affordable and secure housing for families throughout Ontario. 

This proposed legislation is just one more step to help strengthen the co-op housing sector so that it can continue to provide a viable choice for Ontario families. 

Together, we are making a real difference in the lives of working families and for Ontario’s most vulnerable households. 

This new process would be a win-win-win for co-op housing providers, their members and the justice system.  

I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation to help support co-ops and their members.

Bill Mauro MPP

Thunder Bay Atikokan