Skip to content

Province issues MZO to expand long-term care home with horrific record

The Canadian Armed Forces discovered horrors at Orchard Villa during the pandemic
Participants react during a vigil for COVID-19 victims at the Orchard Villa long-term care home in Pickering, Ont. on Monday, June 15, 2020.

The province has issued an order that will allow the owner of one of the province's most notorious long-term-care homes to expand the facility over the objections of the local city council.

The people who lost loved ones at Orchard Villa are still in pain, said a local city councillor who opposed the expansion of the home, and the province's decision "just rips the scab right off."

"Nobody disputes the fact that we need to do more for our seniors and aging population," Pickering Coun. Maurice Brenner told The Trillium. "Pickering accepts it, Pickering knows that. But this is just the wrong way to do it."

Orchard Villa was one of the long-term care homes that required assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces during the worst of the pandemic. The military documented neglect, poor infection prevention and control, filthy conditions including a cockroach infestation, and alleged a resident had died from being improperly fed. 

The owner, Southbridge Care Homes, has applied to expand the home and extend its licence for another 30 years. Families who lost loved ones there, along with activists who oppose for-profit long-term care, organized a campaign against it. As of Thursday, the province had not publicly confirmed that the licence renewal has been approved. 

But on June 9, Housing Minister Steve Clark issued a minister's zoning order (MZO) to greenlight the physical expansion of the facility to include 832 long-term care beds and a retirement home with a maximum capacity of 670 units. The home recorded 70 COVID deaths and one of the highest death rates in the province.

The minister typically seeks the approval of the local council before issuing an MZO and Clark used to say he only used the powerful planning tool with the co-operation of local governments.

On May 1, Pickering City Council passed a motion rejecting the proposed MZO. On June 9, Clark went ahead anyway. There is no avenue for appeal.

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe told The Trillium he was "very disappointed" with the province's decision.

The council had three objections: the minister's staff had rushed the process, giving the city only 72 hours to decide whether it would offer its support for the MZO; the surrounding residential community has concerns about the impact of the larger facility; and the families who lost loved ones at Orchard Villa had not been adequately consulted.

Ashe said there's a split in the community over the issue.

"The feeling about Orchard Villa and the lost souls is still very current and very raw, but there's obviously a need for a renewal of our long-term-care needs," he said, adding the current Orchard Villa facility is old and in need of renovation.

The region is moving forward with plans to open a municipally run home and the community's sentiment is far more positive about that project, he said, adding that he expects the debate in the community over whether or not long-term care homes should be privately run will continue long after Orchard Villa is rebuilt.

Cathy Parkes, who lost her father at Orchard Villa and has been fighting the expansion, described the attitude of Queen's Park toward her community as "Well, we know better what you need and what you want, so we're going to do it anyhow."

"It's almost like they want us to forget what happened three years ago, that it's over now and they're just banking on that people have short memories and won't care," said Parkes. "But we do." 

The Trillium reached out to the office of the ministers of Long-Term Care and Housing. A spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said "Orchard Villa should have been demolished and replaced years ago under the former Liberal government." 

"In Pickering, nearly 700 people are waiting for long-term care, yet city councillors are standing in the way of long-term care homes that would provide much-needed additional bed capacity in the region," said Jake Roseman. "Our government will continue to use every tool available to build more long-term care beds and address this waitlist."

"The approval of this MZO is an important step in constructing a state-of-the-art building, including enhanced infection prevention and control measures so residents can receive the safety and quality of life they deserve," he added. "Without these new beds, residents in Pickering face the prospect of being forced to move away from their families and friends. We want to ensure that seniors are able to live comfortably in the communities they helped build."

The Ontario NDP slammed the government's decision, and noted that a similar MZOs were issued for a Southbridge-owned homes in Port Hope and Ottawa.

“This government’s record of bulldozing over local democracy with MZOs is deeply concerning,” said MPP Jeff Burch. “This is not the first time Ford Conservatives have undermined the voices of local residents and their elected officials, and it won’t be the last. Who is benefiting from these rash decisions? Whose interests is the government prioritizing? We need transparency and accountability.”  

This story was updated after publication with statements from a spokesperson for the minister of Long-Term Care and the Ontario NDP. 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks