Kathleen Wynne’s previous portfolio: Municipal Affairs and Housing
By Anja Karadeglija
Ottawa Construction News writer
Ontario’s residential construction industry is optimistic about working with the province’s new premier, because of her familiarity with the industry from her time as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Joe Vaccaro, chief operating officer of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), says Kathleen Wynne, who won the Ontario Liberal leadership in January, understands the industry and issues it’s concerned with.
He notes that not only is Wynne Ontario’s first female premier, but also the first municipal affairs and housing minister to serve in the position.
“I’m confident when I say we have a premier who understands our issues and has a different depth of knowledge of our issues than most premiers have in the past,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time with her as minister over the last year, year and a half, she’s given us lots of audience and attention, and we’ve been able to provide her with a lot of fact-based concerns and information that she has taken and clearly understood.”
That doesn’t mean the two sides have always agreed on the solutions to the issues, but Vaccaro says be believes Wynne “will always give us a fair audience,” and that her past experience as transportation minister will also be a benefit.
“She comes to being premier with an appreciation for what we do at OHBA and with an appreciation also of what the industry contributes to Ontario, both on the new construction side and on the residential renovation side,” he explained.
Wynne’s new position also means that there is also a new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the MPP for Brampton-Springdale, Linda Jeffrey.
The OHBA worked with Jeffrey when was natural resources minister; previously, she served on the Brampton City Council.
“Again, someone who we have a history of working with, someone who again appreciates and understands the complexities of our industry, the challenges we have on the ground, and our concerns,” Vaccaro said.
Jeffrey has a strong knowledge of some of the key files important to the OHBA, and since many of those issues are also municipal issues, her city council background, in addition to practical ministerial experience, is important, he said.
“For us, that’s great news. We as an industry don’t start from zero. We start our conversation from where we left it with the last administration, so whether we engage the premier on an issue, or this minister on an issue, we’re not starting from scratch,” explained Vaccaro.
He says former premier Dalton McGuinty and his ministers always made themselves available to the industry; for example, when the HST was introduced in a budget, the OHBA thought the tax structure was inequitable and successfully worked with the finance minister to put changes in place.
“We got a budget changed 10 weeks after it was introduced – that’s unheard of… But again, that’s because the premier provided that opportunity. So I feel like this administration will provide a similar continuum of working together,” said Vacarro, noting that another key minister the OHBA will also be working with is the infrastructure and transportation minister, Glen Murray.
One of the issues the OHBA will be focusing on in the coming months is the taxes and fees that affect the industry.
“We continue to have challenges around government-imposed taxes and fees, and how that sort of adds to the cost of new housing and renovation,” he said, adding the organization was very supportive of the Health Homes Renovation Tax Credit and is going to be arguing for its expansion.
When it comes to new housing, OHBA fill focus on “working with the government to find ways to fund and support infrastructure and transit,” and will also push for changes to the building code that would allow six-storey wooden residential structures.
The OHBA would also like collaborate with municipalities to improve the development approval system.
“An approval for development actually has to work through four five levels of governments and government agencies,” he said. “So we believe there’s a way of finding some streamlining of that process that benefits everybody.”
Of course, the new premier heads a minority government, Vaccaro adds, but the OHBA hopes that the government and opposition parties can work together to maintain stability and certainty.
“We’re in the process of getting approvals for development that takes four or five years, so whenever there’s significant changeover in government and then policy, it does disrupt our ability to move things forward.”