On March 12, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government released the details of Bill 184. Deceptively named “The Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing’ Act”, the bill does the exact opposite. Previously if a tenant got into arrears, landlords would have to work with them to create a reasonable repayment plan that was overseen by the Landlord and Tenant Board. If passed, Bill 184 would change this policy, allowing for landlords to pressure tenants into repayment plans privately. The bill has also given landlords the right to submit eviction orders unilaterally, speeding up the process of tenants being kicked into the streets. By making evictions easier and giving landlords more power to enforce repayment, the bill will result in mass evictions in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This will lead to homelessness for many working class people, and will lead to a spike in infections. After all, how can you self-isolate in the streets?

Bill 184 coincides with the end of the evictions moratorium that the Ford government implemented at the start of the lockdown. Faced with public pressure and a mass unemployment crisis due to COVID-19, Ford was forced to place a moratorium on further evictions on May 1. However, this moratorium will come to an end Aug. 1. The end of the moratorium alongside Bill 184 will result in a mass offensive against tenants amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Workers attacked amidst pandemic

This move by the Ford government is particularly disgusting when one considers the context. As much as the Ford government likes to pretend the pandemic is over and we can go back to business as usual, reality simply does not match this delusional perspective. Ontario has the second highest number of cases in the country, and has been faced with a brutal economic slowdown due to COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, over half of all renters in Ontario could not afford their rent. The pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. With no work, many tenants have been unable to pay their rent.

This bill would drive most of these tenants into the streets and homelessness. This is against the most basic medical advice on how to deal with the pandemic. People showing COVID symptoms are supposed to isolate for up to 14 days to reduce the spread of the virus. But if tenants lose their homes, how can they isolate? Effectively, this will drive all these people into the arms of COVID-19. We must be clear: the Doug Ford government will have blood on its hands if this bill becomes law.

Tenants organize a fightback!

This move by the government has not gone unanswered. Hundreds have begun protesting Bill 184, with tenants marching to Mayor John Tory’s residence in Toronto to protest the bill. Tory has played a disgusting role in assisting the Ford government by voting against a city motion that would call on the provincial government to provide aid for tenants. Early on July 6, protestors congregated outside of Tory’s condo to hammer home his guilt. They chanted and shouted angry slogans like “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “You come for us, we come for you! That is what good neighbours do!”

It was not long before the police were called to shut down the tenants that were peacefully demonstrating. The protesters were pepper-sprayed, violently assaulted, and three were apprehended. This repression did not deter the tenants who refused to back down, and the police hurriedly released the arrestees. This shows the power of an organic working class movement.

This bill represents a war declared by the Ford regime on working class neighbourhoods in our city. They are literally coming for our homes! A proper fightback must be organized, and these protests are a great start. In the wake of the protests, Tory has quickly amended his position and has stated he is critical of Bill 184. This shows our collective power, as even someone like Tory who voted against rent relief for tenants can be forced to oppose attacks on our communities. Obviously John Tory is not an ally of the movement, and is scrambling to save face after being embarrassed at his own condo by protesters. But the lesson is clear: Protesting works!

The labour movement must continue this fight!

The NDP has also come out in support of tenants, decrying Bill 184 in late May. NDP MPP Suze Morrison stated “Tenants deserve so much better than to be abandoned in their time of need, and then be put on the fast-track to eviction…We should be doing more to help tenants keep a roof over their heads—now and after the pandemic has passed—not less.” They have also raised the demands of a ban on disconnection of utilities by landlords, a freeze on rent increases, and an 80% subsidy for tenants.

This is a good start, but more must be done to support protesters and the fight against this bill. We have already seen a series of rent strikes in March which have been sporadically occurring throughout the city for the past four months. As we have laid out in previous articles, these rent strikes and the movement against Bill 184 must be supported by the labour movement. The unions must spearhead this effort, and organized labour must get involved in these protests. Similarly, the NDP must be the voice of tenants and working people in Parliament, fighting for demands like rent reductions and a program of affordable housing for all. 

Only by spreading this movement, and the involvement of the broader working class, can we hope to stop the offensive of the Ford government against tenants and win a society that provides good housing for all working people..