Toronto councillors question why residential construction is still essential

Kristyn Wong-Tam and Josh Matlow want Doug Ford's government to explain the public health rationale for including residential construction on the essential workplaces list


On Wednesday, the province announced that it had extended residential construction hours after deeming constriction sites an “essential” workplace.

Toronto city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Josh Matlow are now calling for the province to explain the rationale behind the decision after receiving complaints from residents.

They say some people working from home and home-schooling their children have taken issue with the noise, while others have noted a lack of physical distancing between contractors on the sites.

The province made noise exemptions for essential construction projects, like medical facilities, so that they will be able to operate 24/7 as COVID-19 response efforts. Other sites that do not meet those criteria, including those belonging to residential developers, will now be able to work from 6 am to 10 pm, seven days a week.

Under the city’s noise by-law, construction equipment can only operate Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 7 pm, and Saturdays from 9 am to 7 pm. No construction noise is permitted on Sundays and statutory holidays. 

“From the beginning, when the province released their list of essential workplaces that could remain operating during this pandemic, many questions were raised about why residential construction sites were considered an ‘essential service,'” Wong-Tam wrote in a statement on her website. “One wonders how these new residential condominium units, very few of them affordable, will assist Ontario in combating COVID-19.”

Residential construction sites that are considered essential include those where a footing permit or above-grade structural permit have been granted, or projects that began renovations prior to April 4. 

In an open letter published on Thursday and addressed to Premier Doug Ford, Matlow also requested that a rationale be provided to the public.

“The guidelines for construction safety issued by your government does not require employers to take the steps that public health officials suggest are necessary for keeping workers, or anyone, safe,” he wrote. “While some construction companies may have good intentions toward their workers, on many job sites it is almost impossible to maintain two metres of physical space due to group lifts or other tasks that involve support.”

Matlow also noted that, due to the extended hours, there is a greater potential of placing workers, residents, their families and neighbours at risk of infection, while also impacting their quality of life and mental health.

Part of the reasoning behind extending these hours is to allow for staggered shifts and have fewer workers on site in an effort to practice physical distancing.

At a press conference on March 24, Ford said that, although he believes construction must continue during the pandemic, he will shut down any sites not taking the proper precautions to protect contractors.

He added that he has “put the industry on notice,” while dozens of labour inspectors have been placed at job sites to ensure appropriate protocol is being followed.

“If there is a public health rationale for residential construction during a health pandemic to be considered ‘essential’ – especially housing that will not address our very vulnerable homeless population – then the Provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health needs to provide it,” Wong-Tam added in her statement. “If the province is going to override municipal noise by-laws, then they must be surgical in their approach, not broad. It is easy to see how this change will benefit condominium developers, and hard to see how this will benefit residents trying to manage living through COVID-19.”

If residents hear work happening outside hours that noise by-laws allow, she is requesting residents contact the province’s hotline to ask why residential construction has been deemed essential, and to sign Matlow’s letter as show of support. 

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One response to “Toronto councillors question why residential construction is still essential”

  1. We are now in a 2nd lockdown and my neighbour’s basement renovation continues on. I am teaching classes from home and have to record narrated lectures after work hours so that I won’t have a background noise issue as this made it difficult for students to hear my lectures clearly last semester. I can understand if my neighbour’s house was badly damaged and at risk of falling down but it is intact and the work which started in the Fall and coincided with one semester, stopped over the holiday season then resumed suddenly on Jan 11, 2021, just a few days before the current lockdown. I have observed the construction workers grouped together less than 6 ft apart and none of them wear masks. When the supervisor visits, he talks to them at close range and also doesn’t wear a mask. There is either a cavalier attitude about masking and physical distancing or they are blissfully ignorant of the risks. If a construction worker gets injured (which is a significant occupational hazard) and requires emergency medical care, they have to go to the hospital alone with EMS personnel. They won’t be permitted any visitors while they are there even if their injuries are life-threatening. COVID case numbers in our province are at an all time high. Nothing has really changed with this new lockdown. We’ll continue to have more outbreaks, more cases and more deaths. The vaccine roll out is so slow that it will likely not make much of a difference till next year. In the mean time, we all suffer.

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