Legal Aid Board Chair Serves Landlord Class

@dsherwoodb reports on LAO Board Chair’s real estate connections

Last week Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) made front page news when it announced a major attack on Parkdale, cutting 45% of its funding to Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS). What wasn’t reported was LAO’s Board Chair Charles Harnick’s connections to Toronto real estate interests. We think they go a long way to explaining the decision to target PCLS. 

For landlords, developers, and their investors, Parkdale represents a giant pot of potential money. They can buy property here relatively cheap, jack up rents, and massively increase their return on investment. Standing in their way are the tens of thousands of working-class people who rent in Parkdale.  

Landlords want us out of Parkdale. They know that they are best served when they can take us on one at a time. In courts and tribunals already set up in their interests, landlords almost always come out on top. Parkdale tenants have learned that we are strongest when we are organized and exercise our strength in numbers. 

PCLS supports tenants who want to organize and fight back and provides legal defense against eviction. So, it is in landlords’ interests to have PCLS shut down or severely cutback. Our interest as tenants is in a well-funded PCLS.

Having established whose interests are served by legal aid cuts, we come to Charles Harnick. Harnick was a Cabinet Minister in the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government of the 90’s, and in April 2019, the Ford government appointed him Board Chair for Legal Aid Ontario. In the interim, he’s been busy establishing himself as a high powered lobbyist under Philip Dewan, former president of the Ontario landlord’s association, the Federation of Rental Housing Providers (FRPO). One of Harnick’s recent clients, for example, was AirBnB — beloved by property owners for making it possible to be a landlord with tenants who have no rights. One of his current clients — Westdale Construction Co — is a major Toronto landlord. Through its subsidiary Westdale Properties, it owns 14 large residential buildings in Toronto alone, and nearly 7,000 apartments in total. 

The interests Charles Harnick is being paid to represent are vested in the gutting of our neighbourhood. Parkdale tenants, when faced with eviction or exploitation, impoverishment or deportation, rely on PCLS. Harnick’s attack on PCLS is an attack on us and makes clear which side he’s on.

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