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Ford shuffles out minister responsible for ‘attainable housing’ without defining the term

Click to play video: 'Ontario has a cabinet minister for attainable housing but no definition for the term'
Ontario has a cabinet minister for attainable housing but no definition for the term
WATCH: Ontario has a cabinet minister for attainable housing but no definition for the term – Feb 15, 2024

Nine months after Ontario Premier Doug Ford created a junior cabinet position that would be focused on “attainable housing” in the province, the minister responsible has been moved out of the role before the government even defined what attainable housing meant.

In a mini shuffle at the height of the Greenbelt scandal, Premier Ford appointed Paul Calandra to be his minister of municipal affairs and housing, adding Rob Flack as associate minister of housing with a specific mandate on “attainable housing and modular homes.”

But in an early June reshuffle, Ford moved Flack into agriculture and replaced him with Vijay Thanigasalam. A news release announcing the shuffle did not include the same reference to attainable housing, though the premier’s office insists it remains.

Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell said the fact the government has shuffled the man responsible for attainable housing before even defining the term shows it has its priorities wrong.

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“I worry that moving ministers out of the housing file sends a message the government has other priorities and they’re not taking the housing crisis seriously enough,” she told Global News.

A word without a definition

The idea of attainable housing has been washing around the Ford government since its re-election in 2022 but, for almost exactly two years, it has had no meaning.

Moments after being re-elected as premier in 2022, Ford told supporters during his victory speech that he promised to say “yes to more attainable housing,” a relatively new term for a government that had previously been focused on affordable housing.

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Whether the premier’s use of “attainable housing” was a slip of the tongue or intentional, the term quickly gained popularity within the Progressive Conservative government and has often been used interchangeably with affordable housing.

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“We’ve put legislation after legislation forward that (NDP Leader Marit Stiles) voted against,” Ford told the legislature in November 2023. “They voted against making sure that we have affordable, attainable housing for people who need it.”

During a February interview with AM 640 host John Oakley, Ford struggled to explain what attainable housing actually meant.

“They’re coming out with what attainable housing is, we’re working with stakeholders,” Ford said on Feb. 22.

“Basically, you’re going to be able to own a home but it’s going to be more attainable.… It’s attainable, it’s going to be a lower cost than regular-priced homes.”

At the time, Ford had Flack sitting in his cabinet to advise him on the file.

Click to play video: '‘Attainable housing’ will be cheaper than ‘regular priced homes’: Ford'
‘Attainable housing’ will be cheaper than ‘regular priced homes’: Ford

Two ministers

In the fall of 2023, the government unveiled a post-Greenbelt cabinet with Flack given specific responsibility for attainable housing.

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In February, months after Flack took on the role, a spokesperson for Housing Minister Calandra said the government was working on a definition for attainable housing, alongside municipal leaders.

Then, as part of a reshuffle that gave Ontario the biggest cabinet in provincial history, Flack was promoted to be a full minister in charge of agriculture.

Thanigasalam moved from being the associate minister of transportation to associate minister of housing. The statement announcing the move did not specify that Thanigasalam would continue Flack’s work on attainable housing.

“Associate Minister Thanigasalam has the same title and mandate that the former Associate Minister had, including a focus on delivering attainable housing and building modular homes,” a spokesperson for the premier’s office said.

With attainable housing dropped from the public materials about Ford’s new cabinet, and the term now two years without a definition, critics suggest the lack of a definition is delaying developers who may want to build attainable homes in exchange for fee breaks.

“It looks like the Conservatives can’t make up their mind when it comes to this definition of attainable housing,” Bell said.

“We’ve been waiting for over a year-and-a-half for the conservatives to come up with a definition of attainable housing, so developers know what they need to build in order to get their development fee discount.”

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At the beginning of June, the province finally released its definition of affordable housing, listing the sale price for affordable homes city by city. Developers who sell at or below those rates qualify for affordable housing rebates.

Calandra told Global News at the beginning of the month that his office was still drafting its definition for attainable housing.

“We’re working on it, we’re working on it very closely with AMO and our partners,” he said.

Asked if there was a timeline for the definition to be complete, Calandra replied: “No.”

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