The Ford government has taken aim at local councillors in Durham Region after they unanimously rejected a request to fast-track the construction of a long-term care home.
On Monday night, Pickering City Council threw out an approach asking for endorsement of a request to skip the traditional planning process to build a 15-storey long-term care home.
The request was for a minister’s zoning order (MZO), which would allow the proponents of a long-term care home to bypass much of the local planning process and speed-up construction.
A spokesperson for Ontario long-term care minister Paul Calandra blasted the council decision.
“This latest council resolution was a vote against demolishing Orchard Villa and building a new state-of-the-art home,” the spokesperson said, noting there are more than 650 people on long-term care waitlists in the city.
“Despite all of the province’s efforts to address the growing waitlist, despite a time-limited construction subsidy to spur construction, Pickering continues to stand in the way of much-needed additional capacity.”
The request, however, came from a long-term care home which some in the area felt had proved unsafe during the COVID-19 pandemic — more than 80 residents at the Orchard Villa home died in that period.
“This is absolutely a slap in the face to the families who have suffered — and myself and my family,” Cathy Parkes, whose father died at Orchard Villa in 2020, told Global News.
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Orchard Villa was one of the long-term care homes forced to call in the Canadian Armed Forces at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The military’s report into conditions inside the long-term care homes in Ontario was a landmark moment in the province’s understanding of conditions and issues with long-term care.
Soldiers inside Orchard Villa said they observed patients being left in beds with soiled diapers, along with sightings of flies and cockroaches. The report also said rotten food could be smelled from the hallways outside patients’ rooms.
Southbridge Care Homes, which runs Orchard Villa, did not respond to a request for comment sent by Global News.
The letter it sent to the Ford government in December asking for an MZO said it wanted to begin construction in 2023 on 320 new long-term care beds in a “state of the art, multi-storey building.” That timeline would allow it to open by 2025.
“It shows the lack of respect the ministry has,” Coun. Maurice Brenner said of the MZO request.
“To rip the scab off of the wounds, the healing that is going on with the families and friends of those that died.”
Ontario NDP MPP Jennifer French said that if the application goes forward and an MZO is granted “that is ugly.”
Ontario’s housing minister Steve Clark, who has the power to greenlight and fast-track the request, has regularly said he wants to see approval from local council before exercising his powers.
The province, however, has also put the construction of new long-term beds at the top of its list of priorities.
“No decision on the MZO request has been made by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing at this time,” a spokesperson for Clark told Global News.