The Ford government set for changes to the planning act, education and health care

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They’re back and should be busier than ever.

MPPs return to the legislature Tuesday after the Christmas break with a full slate on their plates.

“We’re moving at breakneck speed on all kinds of stuff. We’re going to have a robust schedule when the house resumes,” government house leader Todd Smith said in an interview Friday.

First up will be a revised version of Bill 66 to eliminate an amendment to the Planning Act that would have allowed municipalities to bypass existing development requirements and restrictions for companies creating jobs.

Projects would have been granted expedited provincial approvals within one year, allowing businesses to begin construction, but critics warned that would have put prime farmland and the 1.8-million acre Greenbelt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at risk.

Smith said another piece of legislation in the days ahead will be Health Minister Christine Elliott’s bill to reorganize the health-care system.

A draft version — which confirmed the incorporation of a new “super agency” called Health Program Initiatives that the Star revealed in January — was leaked to the NDP and a mid-level bureaucrat was fired Feb. 4 for the breach.

While the New Democrats claim the bill will usher in additional privatization to health care in Ontario, Elliott has dismissed that as “fear mongering.”

Also expected this month are potentially controversial bills on policing oversight from Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones and on schools from Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has already called for the resignation of Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod over the Tories’ contentious revamping of funding for autism services, warned the government is in for a bumpy ride on many fronts.

Horwath pledged to “fight for the services people care about, whether that’s young people, whether that’s children with autism, whether that’s our public health system that we so fiercely want to defend, that’s what we’re going to be doing.”

“Doug Ford is not the king of Ontario. He has to answer for his actions,” she said Friday.

With such rhetoric, Smith conceded it should be an emotionally charged session.

“They scream that the sky is falling no matter what we do. They seem to be a protest party and they like to plan protests,” the house leader said of the New Democrats.

Still, Smith said autism funding is “a tough file” and the Tories are bracing for the issue to dominate question period this week.

The opposition parties will also be hammering the government over its bid to appoint Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, a 72-year-old friend of Ford’s, as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.

That OPP posting is now subject of an ethics investigation by integrity commissioner J. David Wake.

Horwath said she will be highlighting the “tidal wave of criticism” over the appointment.

The government, which took office last June, is also looking ahead to its first budget.

Although Ford has promised to cut 4 per cent of spending — the equivalent of $6 billion on a $150 billion budget — he’s insisted “not one job” will be lost as the Tories move toward balancing the books.

“We’re going to be responsible. If it takes a year longer, so be it,” the premier said Thursday, referring to the timetable for being back in the black.

“I’ve said over and over again, I’m not going in there hacking and slashing, and with a chainsaw cutting it up. It’s not going to happen under our administration. We’re going to find efficiencies.”

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who is hoping to reduce a $13.5 billion deficit, is signalling Ontarians to gird for austerity measures.

“We have to start with the understanding that the previous government was spending $40 million a day more than they brought in,” said Fedeli of the Liberals of former premier Kathleen Wynne.

“We know that in this budget we must also indicate our path to balance. It’s mandatory in this budget,” he said, declining to tip his hand on when the province will be out of the red.

“I like to use my Goldilocks reference: it won’t be too soon, because, quite frankly, nobody would believe it; it won’t be too long, because anybody can do that; it will be just right.”

Asked what that means, Fedeli smiled and said: “It means that the 2019 budget will see a detailed path to balance.”

With files from Rob Ferguson

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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Ottawa planning larger effort to safeguard 2019 election

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OTTAWA–The Canadian government is planning a larger push to protect the integrity of the 2019 federal election against foreign meddling, the Star has learned.

Ottawa is expected within weeks to announce a broader effort by federal agencies and departments to safeguard the 2019 vote, sources have confirmed. The total number of departments is not yet known but it is described, in Ottawa terms, as a “whole of government” effort.

Both the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) are expected to have a role, but non-security agencies like Global Affairs Canada and the Privy Council Office are also involved.

The initiative was described to the Star by a number of officials from different agencies, who requested anonymity because the government’s planning is not yet complete. A spokesperson for Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould told the Star that her ministry was not prepared to comment. “I can only say we continue to work on new measures to protect against foreign interference as we approach the 2019 election,” wrote Amy Butcher in an email.

One of the key questions officials are grappling with is how exactly Canadians would be informed about any attempt — either by influencing Canadians’ debates through disinformation campaigns, or by a more direct efforts — to meddle with the election.

Call it the “James Comey question,” after the former FBI director who reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails in the middle of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

It could also be called the “Barack Obama question,” since it’s exactly the same issue Obama’s administration dealt with in 2016 according to David Sanger, a New York Times reporter whose recent book, The Perfect Weapon, details Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election and the Obama administration’s internal debates.

“(Obama argued) he would be accused of trying to swing the election in Hilary (Clinton’s) favour by arguing the Russians were coming in Trump’s favour,” Sanger told the Star.

“There’s not an easy answer (to that) but there’s an answer. The naming and shaming of cyber actors, once you’ve got reasonable confidence in the attribution, (becomes) routine … Once you’ve started that process, long before the election begins, the populace becomes accustomed to it. And you’re just calling balls and strikes, to use a very American metaphor,” he said.

“The hard thing would be not doing that, and then start doing it during the election.”

Obama’s decision was to largely keep quiet, except for a few short statements about Russia’s campaign. It doesn’t appear that the Canadian government, if it detects a foreign influence campaign, will do the same.

Melanie Wise, a spokesperson with Elections Canada, said the arm’s-length agency has been working with partners — including some in the security community — about how the Canadian public will be informed if a foreign agent or government is trying to swing the election.

“It’s a big question,” Wise said. “We’re meeting, actively, regularly, to discuss roles and responsibilities under various scenarios and we’re developing appropriate communications plans.”

Officials including Wise stressed that Elections Canada is independent of government. But Wise said the agency has been meeting with the commissioner of Canada Elections, who investigates and enforces elections law, CSE, CSIS, the RCMP, Public Safety Canada, and the Office of the National Security Advisor on elections integrity matters.

Michael Pal, a professor with the University of Ottawa’s faulty of law, said that more transparency around how the federal government would deal with these issues would be a positive.

“One of the things I’d like to see is a bit more public disclosure of what the protocols would be in the case of foreign interference … which the U.S. has done,” Pal said.

“They deemed elections critical infrastructure, but they also made public what would happen — Homeland Security contacts the secretary of state, then we announce it under these factors and conditions — because it can get very partisan very quickly, especially if the foreign interference is seen to help or hurt one party.

“I would like to see a commitment to setting out those standards in public,” Pal said. “I think it’s better for building trust in the Canadian public, if everybody knows the rules in advance.”

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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Housing in Focus workshops aim to make urban planning a more inclusive conversation

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Cheryll Case had barely graduated from Ryerson University last year when she made a splash as an urban planner with a project that laid a map of the city’s zoning boundaries over census data.

Her peers are still hailing the work that shows how vast tracts of Toronto are effectively overhoused, squeezing younger, less affluent residents into smaller areas.

Urban planner Cheryll Case (from left) stands with Penny Fisher, a Housing in Focus workshop participant; Jennifer Oliverrie, a housing support worker at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area; and Tetyana Bailey, who helped facilitate workshop discussions, outside LAMP Community Health Centre in Etobicoke. LAMP was the charity sponsor of Case’s Housing in Focusing project, designed to elicit ideas for city building from residents in under-served communities.
Urban planner Cheryll Case (from left) stands with Penny Fisher, a Housing in Focus workshop participant; Jennifer Oliverrie, a housing support worker at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area; and Tetyana Bailey, who helped facilitate workshop discussions, outside LAMP Community Health Centre in Etobicoke. LAMP was the charity sponsor of Case’s Housing in Focusing project, designed to elicit ideas for city building from residents in under-served communities.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

But rather than joining Toronto’s urban planning establishment, Case’s after-graduation encore is a project called Housing in Focus, which challenges the status quo in her chosen field.

Using grants from the Laidlaw and McConnell foundations, Case, 23, organized a series of workshops, drawing about 140 participants from low-income areas — people she says have little say in how their neighbourhoods are developed — and asking for their ideas on how to make more affordable housing in vibrant, well-serviced communities.

“My goal is to bring forward a conversation that communities have been wanting to have — the whole idea that the planning process should be serving those with the most needs. It’s to see how the planning process can best suit their interests — ensuring the conversation is welcoming to those communities,” she said.

The ideas Case collected ranged from a waterfront marketplace in Etobicoke to new rules that would allow residents to convert their garages into homes — something that might provide more affordable shelter since it doesn’t involve buying more land.

“As a planner trained to think a certain way, I have certain ideas of what good development looks like. Talking to these communities they had different ideas about really cool, neat ways to build complete neighbourhoods,” she said.

Affordable housing was the jumping-off point for the discussions. But the participants talked about their desire to mix subsidized rentals with market-rate units, to build equity through co-ops and rent-to-own programs.

“They’re open to providing opportunity. They acknowledge that to have opportunity you need to have development,” Case said. “They see really holistically the way you can use development to build more affordable housing, to build more culture, more vibrancy in the neighbourhood.”

Participants in six workshops were drawn from community groups and services in Etobicoke, Scarborough, Weston, Parkdale and the Danforth area. There were also five workshops dedicated to building youth engagement — developing their leadership and research skills.

The women, who meet at a weekly cafe at Women’s Habitat in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area, are hungry for opportunities and believe they have a role to play in making their neighbourhood function better, said Jennifer Oliverrie, a transitional and housing support worker, who helped co-ordinate one of Case’s workshops.

“They want their neighbourhood to be safe. Women who use our services need rent geared to income housing,” she said.

Oliverrie cited an example of a building in the area where some of the agency’s clients live for which rent on a two-bedroom unit jumped from $750 a month plus hydro to $1,775 in less than two years.

Those women wanted to see more consideration given to shared accommodation — something similar to a program that connects seniors with students who exchange affordable rent for help around the home.

“If seniors can do this why not other individuals?” she said. “Why not youth, why not people with families … to help them not use their entire paycheck plus their child benefit to pay rent.”

Gerry Dunn of the Danforth Village Community Association admits he was skeptical when Case approached him about helping organize a workshop.

“She presented a document, an outline of her idea. At first I thought it’s a bit academic. It’s like somebody looking for a thesis,” he said.

He said he was leary right up until the event.

“What she did was fairly spectacular. There were four tables of about 10 people each. Not a big crowd but they got going. They were engaged,” Dunn said.

If he has any criticism of the project it’s that, so far, it was a one-off.

“The question that is on everybody’s lips is, ‘Where do we go from here, what’s next,’” he said.

Case says she is developing a report on the workshop ideas that will be released later this month and distributed to the city and as many planners and housing professionals as possible.

Although community consultations are part of virtually every development project in Toronto, Case thinks there’s room for improvement.

“These communities, when I’m talking to them, they’re feeling they’re not included or they’re not being asked the right questions or they’re not being invited to the right spaces. I’m trying to help both sides figure out what conversations do we need to have, what kind of spaces do we need to build to make sure everybody is included in the decision-making process so we can actually develop an adequate supply of affordable housing that meets all our needs,” she said.

If it sounds like advocacy, Case insists she is a planner first.

“As a planner, I’m seeing a gap I’m trying to fill — discussions with people who are underserved.”

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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