ORDERS OF THE DAY
REGIONAL MUNICIPALITY OF WATERLOO AMENDMENT ACT, 1997 / LOI DE 1997 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LA MUNICIPALITÉ RÉGIONALE DE WATERLOO
Mr Leach moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 135, An Act to amend the Regional Municipality of Waterloo Act and to make consequential amendments / Projet de loi 135, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la municipalité régionale de Waterloo et apportant des modifications corrélatives.
This bill will reduce the size of regional council to 22 members from 26. This legislation will also allow for the direct election of the regional chair. These measures will result in fewer politicians and improved accountability for the municipal government in the Waterloo region.
In six of the seven municipalities which make up the region, excluding Kitchener, members of the regional council will be elected by voters to sit on both the regional and local councils in the 1997 municipal elections. In Kitchener, this form of double direct election will not take place until the year 2000, as council has not yet completed its discussions on the election of its representatives to the regional council. Kitchener regional councillors will continue to be chosen by the Kitchener city council in 1997.
As you know, municipal restructuring is a cornerstone of the government's overall agenda and I am very pleased to be able to further the process in this very important region of Ontario. The new restructuring process we have set in motion across this province will result in stronger municipalities that are fiscally better to position for the future.
We will continue to shrink government, and that's because all citizens of Ontario are shouldering too large a tax load. The taxpayers wants a smaller, more efficient public sector and they want less government.
Waterloo region has understood what some others have not: that it's important to put new structures in place now.
I would like to acknowledge the involvement and support of the government caucus members from the Waterloo region, including the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, Minister of Labour, and the municipal representatives in the area, including the regional chairman. They all agree that it is important for this bill to be in place for this November's municipal elections. They agree there is a need to streamline the representational system, improve accountability and reduce the size of government.
As we saw yesterday, there was a private member's bill introduced, for example, for Ottawa-Carleton that calls for a report to be presented by October 1. Nobody seems to know, whatever that report may say, whether it's going to be a one-tier region, whether it's going to be a number of municipalities restructured as they are in that particular area, what form it will take as far as the election in November of this year is concerned. It leaves those people who want to run for office up in the air as to exactly what they're running for, but it also leaves the general public up in the air as to exactly what kind of formal structure they will have come election time. It seems to me people have the right to know what kinds of councils with what kind of governance structure they're going to have at least three or four months before the municipal elections this year.
There were a couple of interesting comments the minister made. First of all he talks about the notion of reducing the number of municipalities we have in Ontario from over 800 to somewhere around 650, that that's a cornerstone of this government's agenda.
I have maintained all along that a bigger government isn't necessarily a better or cheaper government, and that seems to be the modus operandi this government is operating under, that as long as we get rid of all sorts of local governments and get rid of more and more politicians, local politicians, then somehow we'll all be better off. I don't think that's necessarily so at all. There may very well be situations where as a result of locally driven solutions municipalities decide to merge, amalgamate or restructure, and I'm totally in favour of that. But to go at it in a way whereby the blame for all the problems that municipalities, according to the government, have is somehow due to the number of local municipal politicians we have right now, that that is the main problem of local government, I totally reject that.
For example, when we look at Chatham-Kent and the restructuring proposal that was put into place there, which will take it from 141 municipal politicians in that area to 18, I say to myself, without knowing all that much about it other than the briefings I've had and what I've read in the paper and the contacts I've had in that area, that 141 local politicians may very well be too many, but I certainly think that going to 18 to look after that same area -- you're still going to have the same land mass, you're still going to have the same municipal problems, you're still going to have the same service levels etc presumably that were there before -- is simply going too far.
What you're really talking about, when you go down from 141 politicians to 18 politicians -- or you can pick whatever number you want -- what you're saying is that the local politicians simply will not have the same ability to react to the kinds of problems his or her neighbours or constituents may have in the same way they currently do. One thing that undoubtedly is going to happen is that the contact between the local politician and the constituent in those particular wards or areas or ridings is going to diminish tremendously the more local politicians you take out of the process.
I'm very concerned about that because I firmly believe that one of the reasons local government has worked extremely well in Ontario over the last 100 to 150 years is that in most situations there is the immediate contact between local politicians and the people they represent. What we're talking about with all these amalgamations is, number one, less democracy. The kind of input the local citizen wants in this local decision-making process will simply not be the same if the politicians he or she wants to have contact with are going to be further and further removed from the process and are going to represent larger areas with many more people than they presently do.
The basis of this seems to be that the government somehow wants the people of Ontario to believe that politicians are the people who cost money in the system. Although that may be something a lot of people can nod their heads at and say, "Yes, I think that's so," in reality that's not the situation. When you look at the fact that the average municipal politician in this province probably makes somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per year and does it on a part-time basis, certainly they are not the cost of running local municipalities. In most cases it's well below 0.001%. This whole notion that if we somehow got rid of local politicians we'd all be better off is something I totally reject.
The other thing that's part and parcel of this is the whole downloading of services on to local municipalities. I don't want to go over the whole situation again, but we all know that as a result of the suggested downloading changes the government made earlier this year, in effect an extra $1 billion was being downloaded on to the local property taxpayer. Let's never forget that. Yes, they were going to take over $5 billion worth of educational costs from the local property tax base, but about $6.4 billion was going to be added on.
Then, as a result of meetings that took place with AMO and other representatives and as a result of the human outcry that took place in the province, the government went back on some of the original proposals it had made. Where it wanted to download health services, social services, social housing costs, ambulance costs etc on to the local taxpayer, it sort of halved it.
The bottom line is, according to our calculations and according to AMO's calculations as well, that about $600 million more in costs are still being downloaded on to local municipalities by the province than is currently the case. So local property taxpayers are going to pay more if they want the same services.
The real pressure is going to be on those local municipal councils -- who obviously do not want to pass on a 10% or 20% property tax increase to their local ratepayers, which is totally understandable -- to cut out various services or increase property taxes next year. They're not going to want to increase the amount of taxation, so they're going to cut services. That is the bottom line in the whole thing.
The people of Ontario have to understand that social housing costs in this province, which amount to about $900 million, will be completely downloaded on to local municipalities. The real tragedy of this is that in many cases these costs have been incurred as a result of agreements for non-profit housing, co-op housing and other social housing where contracts were signed directly between the province and local organizations, local non-profit housing providers, where the municipality had absolutely no input. Yet those annual subsidy costs are now going to be passed down on to the local property taxpayer. That's just one major area.
Another area is the whole notion that health units are now going to be paid for completely out of local taxes. I know there's a tremendous concern within the health unit community as to exactly how that cost is going to be allocated among the many constituent municipalities that make up a health unit district or a health unit area. Nobody seems to know. The ministry doesn't seem to know; certainly the local health units don't seem to know.
New costs are going to be downloaded on to local communities as well. Ambulance services that have never, ever been part of the local municipal costs --
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
You've got to remember that we were prepared to pass this bill a month ago so that the people and the politicians of Waterloo could get ready for the election in November. I've no idea why the government held it up, but they held it up for whatever reason, and then not to have a quorum in the House to actually debate the merits of this bill is somewhat unfortunate.
Let me conclude, and I am going to conclude. I'm not going to prolong this any more than we ought to talk about this. I think I'm quoting the minister correctly. He says, "Local taxpayers are paying too large a tax load currently, and one of the reasons we're into restructuring is so that they'll be paying less." He's saying it's right.
I ask him, why have you then downloaded so many other municipal services on to the local property tax base? You took education off, yes; that's $5.4 billion. But you originally tried to unload $6.4 billion on the local property taxpayer. Then you had these meetings with AMO, and I'm sure you and your parliamentary assistants were sweating quite a bit because AMO, which I think you and I will agree is an independent organization and doesn't adhere to any one political party, came up with figure after figure for each and every municipality that clearly showed that your plan was going to cost the local taxpayer more and more money.
In the city of Kingston it was going to be an extra $28 million and I believe in Waterloo it was going to be $32 million. It was going to be $105 million in one of the regions right in the Metro area. They caught you. Here you're saying you want to unburden the local taxpayer from too large a tax load they're currently paying, yet at the same time you were downloading $1 billion on to them, which would have meant an increase of about 10% to 20% in property taxes across the province.
You met with the municipal leaders and they said to you: "Minister, you can't do this. In 99% of the municipalities in Ontario the local taxpayers are going to be paying more and more money as a result of this. We have to come up with something else." You came up with something else and they were very happy, because now the downloading is no longer $1 billion but something like $665 million.
You know it and I know it, and I'm afraid that next year the property taxpayers around the province will know it as well, because the burden you have placed on local municipal councils is to do one of two things: They can either decrease services -- and I'm convinced in my own mind that's one of the things you're after -- or they can increase taxes.
Nobody likes to increase taxes. What's going to happen in all likelihood is that there's going to be a small property tax increase but there's going to be a large decrease in the kinds of services local municipalities are currently able to give to their local taxpayers.
We can argue about this all we want. We can start blaming the province or the local communities, and you can say this and I can say that, but the bottom line is this: Is the taxpayer better off in the long run in terms of the kinds of services they demand from their municipalities, and are they going to be paying more or less than they're currently paying? That's the bottom line. That's the only thing that really matters. Nothing else matters. They're not concerned about whether it's your fault or the municipality's fault or what have you. They want the services, and they want to pay as few property tax dollars as possible. That's what this is really all about.
I hope the people of Ontario will remember that this is the government that has downloaded an extra $600 million in costs on them; that this is the government that in effect is taking away much of the democratic voice they have in each of the local municipalities, whether they be municipal councillors who in many cases are no farther away than the next concession road right now or within the immediate neighbourhood these people happen to live in or whether we're talking about school boards.
Let's face it, what the whole amalgamation process in the school board area is really all about is to have fewer and fewer school trustees. Some people may say, "Well, that's a good idea," until they actually want to speak to somebody and try to influence a decision at the local council or school board. The school boards are going to be larger and larger. Then they might say, "My gosh, that councillor who used to be down the next concession line," or used to live three or four blocks over, may be miles away now, and, "Why can't I ever get hold of the person?" That person is going to be busier and busier.
As I mentioned before, in a place like Chatham-Kent, if you get rid of 90% of your elected local politicians, when you go from 141 local politicians in total down to 18, you are simply not going to get the same kind of service, you're not going to get the same kind of response and you're not going to have the ability to speak to your local representatives in the same way you do now.
By doing that, we're losing an awful lot, because the other result that's going to happen is that the few politicians that are going to be left at the local level are going to become more and more professional. They are not going to be part-time people. Many of these people are part-timers right now; they have a foot in the community and also in the political process, which I think is a good thing. They're going to be full-time politicians who will do almost anything to hang on to their job around election time. I don't think the system as a whole is better for it.
With that, I will simply say that we will be supporting this bill. We understand it has the support not only of the region but of all the area municipalities. I'm very pleased that in actual fact these people will know about four or five months in advance what system of government will be in place for them come election time. I really wish the people in Ottawa-Carleton would know that, because they still don't have a clue about whether they will be electing a one-tier government this November, whether they will be electing people to four or five different municipal councils or whether there will be both local councils and a regional council. Certainly the reporting date of October 1 that has been suggested for the committee to report is way too late to actually have a meaningful impact on the local elections that are going to take place there in November of this year.
With that I will simply conclude my remarks and indicate that I will support this bill, but we will be talking again about the property taxpayers in this province next year, and I guarantee you -- you may think you are a very popular individual right now -- that once the property taxpayers start paying 10% or 20% more than what they are paying now or have fewer services next year, you won't be such a popular individual.
I support the changes that are being introduced through this act, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo Amendment Act, and I'm happy to hear that my good friend M. Leach, the minister, thanked Mme Witmer, the Minister of Labour, for her involvement. They must have worked very closely together because there appeared to be a great deal of cooperation between the ministers and with the regional municipality of Waterloo. He thanked Mme Witmer, the Minister of Labour, for her involvement. This is Mme Witmer, that very nice, calm, serene, tranquil person who wouldn't hurt a fly -- except maybe injured workers. But I'm happy to say that they've been working together in this regard, unlike Chatham-Kent.
You know what happened in Chatham-Kent. The minister hired some guy called Dr Meyboom, whom I call Dr Doom because of what he decided to do to Chatham-Kent. Dr Meyboom disregarded much of what people in Kent county in particular had to tell him. Many deputations were heard by Dr Doom, but in the end, Minister, it's true, he completed disregarded it. I was there in Kent county, and the people who were there -- councillors no less, not just regular people out there, councillors who came to make a deputation in front of Dr Meyboom -- told him what they thought should happen and they were completely shut out. They weren't listened to. I know Minister Leach, in answer to my questions to him, twice said: "That's not true. The guy is a respected man. Everybody loves what he did." But it's not true.
Dr Meyboom, the henchman hired by the minister, disregarded everything the people of Chatham-Kent had to say. That is autocracy in my view. It is anti-democratic. It is not respecting the wishes of people, not just in Metro but in Chatham-Kent.
The minister stands up and says that's not true, but I'll tell you, his own member in that Kent county region is going to be one unhappy fellow. He is not attending their meetings, I'm told. I think he's scared. I would be too. I would be scared to go to those people who have been shunned, shut out by Dr Meyboom and the minister. The minister is saying, "Everybody's happy," and they're saying, "But that's not true." They're shut out.
It is autocracy, anti-democratic. It is not listening to the voice of the people, which is something this Reform Party claims to listen to but does not. I'll tell you the people they're listening to. They're listening to Mme Witmer --
Do you see the people the Minister of Municipal Affairs is listening to? He listens to the Minister of Labour, Mme Witmer. He listens to her; he listens to Dr Meyboom, that well-paid hired gun, paid by the minister to disregard the voices of the people. He listens to them. But in Chatham-Kent, where people were crying against this legacy of autocracy that this government is leaving, they didn't listen; and they didn't listen in Metro.
What can you deduce from all of that? I leave that to all of you. I leave that to the people of Chatham-Kent to assess: the treatment you are getting versus the kinder and more gentle treatment they're getting in the region of Waterloo. People need to see that there are differences in terms of how they're being treated, and that's what we're here to point out.
When the regional municipality of Waterloo called us and said they had some amendments they would like to introduce and asked would we support them, we said yes. But those amendments would have to be worked out through our House leaders. I gave no commitment to do it in any other way except that I knew our House leader wanted and needed to be involved. You know what happened? In one of the committees that I was a member of, while we were discussing the Development Charges Act, at the very end of those amendments to the Development Charges Act, the parliamentary assistant, who happens not to be here at the moment, introduced these very changes we're dealing with here today. I was shocked when I discovered, in complete surprise, that the parliamentary assistant was introducing them at the end of the Development Charges Act, without notice, without discussion.
When I was alerted to that problem I said to the parliamentary assistant: "Did you talk to the House leaders? Do you have agreement? He said yes, but I urged him to check it because I didn't think there was any agreement. When he came back after we broke, and we dealt with this at the following meeting, we clearly knew there was no agreement.
What I disliked about that was the serpentine way of dealing with the issue. It was underhanded, in my view. It was not a decent way, a decent process to deal with something that all of us clearly today are speaking to and are in agreement with.
For me, when you want to make changes to something that there is some agreement on, you've got to deal with it with the right process. But it speaks to the modus vivendi of this government in terms of how they try to push through their issues: autocratically, often with incompetence and every now and then in their serpentine way of trying to sneak this thing through. But it's here today, after we have had discussion through our House leaders to have this bill introduced in this way.
Minister Leach says he's happy to introduce this, that politicians are going to be eliminated, he's happy about that, and that of course as a result of that there are going to be tremendous savings and all of you fine taxpayers out there can thank Minister Leach, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Mme Witmer and all the other ministers for all the great savings you're going to have.
I tell you, those of you who are watching, to become vigilant, to be vigilant around these issues, because they claim that there are going to be savings as a result of all these amalgamations. We have argued through the evidence we have seen from all the experts that there are no savings. In fact, as you centralize power and as you amalgamate the various municipalities in creating a big bureaucracy of that kind, you will be increasing costs not saving them. So what do I tell you taxpayers? Keep an eye on this.
If this government doesn't call an early election and we have a couple of years to see how this unfolds, you will be able to determine for yourselves without much study or experts whether the minister, M. Leach, is right or whether he's wrong. Based on the research we have to date, my view is that they are dead wrong. There are no savings to be had. You taxpayers are not going to have money in your pockets; in fact you will have less money in your pockets and more to spend to deal with the policy changes that are being introduced by these fine fellows across from me.
You can expect a heftier tax load as they download more and more to municipalities and consequentially to the homeowners and the tenants who pay for the downloading of a whole new set of things that this government wants to shed, abrogate itself from, so that you municipalities and you people in the municipalities as homeowners and tenants are going to have to pick up the cost.
That is the legacy this government is leaving you, and some of you believe that somehow this government is going to save you some money. I know many of you believe it, because they continue to repeat the fact that as we get rid of these governments and as we get rid of these local levels and all these municipal politicians, somehow miraculously there are going to be a whole lot of savings. I know some of you watching this channel today believe them. I ask you to stay tuned, follow it very carefully, because there are not going to be any savings. Speaker, you know, now that you're in the chair, there are not going to be any savings. There are going to be a whole lot of tax increases that you're going to have to explain to your taxpayers, because that's what you like to refer to your electorate as.
The changes proposed today are reasonable. These are changes that obviously the region had an opportunity to discuss among themselves. When changes happen as a result of that discussion and dialogue -- voluntary, not forced -- they tend to come up with better solutions as opposed to what's going to happen in Chatham-Kent where it was a forced amalgamation and not voluntary.
In this case the region says: "We want two things. We want to be able to have direct elections at the region as we do the council." That's okay. That's what we call the double direct system for electing its council members, and in this case they're saying mayors automatically will get a regional seat. That's fine. These are not changes I could disagree with because they grow out of the community. When democracy is at work we have better solutions.
Their suggestion of reducing the number of politicians, if accepted by the people of the area, I support, and the double direct system for electing its council members is something I support as well.
I remind the people watching that in the case of Chatham-Kent and Metro, and I suspect a whole lot of other communities, you will not get direct democracy to deal with your problems. The people of the regional municipality of Waterloo are in a much happier situation today, because consultation has been permitted to happen. That's what you need to fight for. That's what you need to remind M. Leach, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, that you want democracy to work in your communities and that anything short of that is autocracy and anti-democratic, as we have witnessed in Metro and Chatham-Kent.
The member from that region is here now today. I'm glad he's here, because I tell you, the people in your region are not happy and at some point you're going to have to become accountable to them. Usually it's at election time, but many of the members want you to be accountable in between elections. That's why they often call meetings and they invite you. I urge you, Mr Carroll -- not you, Mr Johnson -- to go to those meetings when called, because if nothing else it's good to be brave and face the populace, face the crowds, face those who disagree with you.
As the New Democratic Party, we're supporting these changes. We think because there has been involvement by the communities it's a good thing and we support the amendments introduced today by the regional municipality of Waterloo.
I believe there has been sufficient debate on this bill and I move second reading.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
EXTENDED HOURS OF MEETING
Mr Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent to split the time in three on this.
The members of this House are very hardworking members. Every once in a while there's the tendency, particularly when one is quizzed by the media about the number of days that are worked in this House, the number of hours worked in this House, that sort of thing, because the calendar is I guess from March to the end of June and from September to the end of December, to say that there's a lot of time off. But I will say that members on all sides of the House work hard not only in this House but back in their constituencies and with their various responsibilities on committees, travelling committees, committees here in Toronto. There's a great deal of effort put into the legislative process in many different ways and certainly the members are hardworking.
I would like to express my hope that we'll complete this debate as we've agreed upon today, because it is important to have those extra hours to be able to debate the many pieces of legislation. We have before us over 25 pieces of legislation at this moment, plus other important matters such as the concurrences, the Supply Act, the requirement to set a schedule for the summer. There are not only many pieces of legislation but motions that need to be dealt with. Indeed there are private members' bills --
Some of my colleagues, indeed my colleague from Nepean in particular, have asked, "Should this debate be necessary?" Given that there are very few occasions historically when the House doesn't sit at least for some period of time in the evenings, through all three parties in government, should this be an automatic trigger, that these days automatically go to midnight? I see my colleague from St Catharines biting his lower lip, but we'll get an opportunity to debate that at some time in the future as we look at the standing orders. I'd be interested in the thoughts of the members of this House. Maybe this should be an automatic requirement, let's say, or an automatic situation that during the last two weeks of the session, those eight days, the midnight sessions be in place. We'll all have an opportunity to speak to that and we'll see.
Some of the pieces of legislation, I might say, that we are attempting to implement to make life better in Ontario -- I was surprised, from the very fine work of Frank Sheehan and the red tape task force, that we still have eight bills from I think last spring which have not yet had third reading.
The Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations has legislation to reduce a number of redundant procedures and regulations. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has Bill 68. This bill apparently repeals the Canada Company's Lands Act, 1922.
What else have we got here? We've got Bill 98, which has had second reading. The people of Ontario, those who are hoping to buy a home in the future but have very limited means -- we know that development charges are a significant proportion of the cost of new housing in some areas. I'm sure we would all concur that to the degree we could take action in this House to reduce the cost of housing for the younger generations coming on, the younger generations that in future will want to buy an affordable house and an affordable property, we should do that. That's exactly what Bill 98 does. It encourages more affordable housing in Ontario. At the same time it recognizes the need of municipal governments to provide services, and those governments have to have a source of revenue to put in sewers and roads and that sort of thing.
There's a piece of legislation I'd like to see us deal with in the last couple of weeks: Bill 102, the Community Safety Act. "It would require," and this is from the Solicitor General, "that anybody applying for a change of name must disclose to the registrar general particulars of any outstanding law enforcement orders or pending criminal charges against them." The concern here is that certain individuals apparently have attempted to avoid the law in the past through a name change, I gather. This piece of legislation would deal with that issue.
In terms of services, the provision of health services to the people of Ontario is number one, but education and the justice system in Ontario are very important services to the people of Ontario that I know members of all parties would be happy to support.
The Provincial Offences Act: I would say we have agreement on how to deal with it. Unfortunately, it got a little off the rail and got involved in the committee of the whole somehow. I haven't quite figured out how that happened yet. That's another bill we need to deal with over the next two weeks, because municipalities are involved there again, and there's a revenue stream out of the Provincial Offences Act which will go to those municipalities as a result of their efforts in being involved with administration and prosecutorial responsibilities for certain offences. In other words, they will take the responsibility, as they have for parking tickets, because they can manage this on a local basis more effectively and efficiently, but they will also get the revenues and it's important that the two go hand in glove. We'll again as a result, I believe, have a better service for the people of Ontario.
We have more red tape bills again and I congratulate the red tape task force on its efforts. We have Bill 127, involving nurse practitioners, which I'd like to deal with over the next two weeks during this midnight sitting period. We are so -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- lucky and fortunate to have dedicated nursing staff in our hospitals and our public health units right across this province to give an excellent level of health care to the people. The bill provides a framework to allow nurse practitioners to provide an expanded range of front-line patient services to the people of Ontario which will improve access to primary care particularly in the rural areas, I would say. Again this is something I hope we can all get together and deal with.
Here's one we're particularly pleased about, Bill 129, and we may get an opportunity to deal with this one tomorrow. It's a possibility. I'll just put everybody on alert now that --
On my list I had the Regional Municipality of Waterloo Amendment Act, but it's already done, so there you are: We're making wonderful progress.
I also have another one on my list. It's just wonderful to see this spirit of cooperation. Now, if we can get all these bills -- bear in mind that there are over two dozen of them, but I think if we are creative, in the last two weeks we could deal with them all.
The Comprehensive Road Safety Act: This is one we've been privileged to deal with on second reading. It's out in committee now, with the cooperation of all members of the House. The committee is dealing with it, I believe, in three days of public hearings. There's a day of clause-by-clause, which expires in about two weeks' time; as a matter of fact, two weeks yesterday, I believe. I hope this would be back in the House two weeks from today and that we could give third reading to this. As we know, it deals with drinking drivers, putting in more backbone in terms of the drinking and driving issue, wheels coming off trucks and causing safety problems, the school bus safety issue.
Bill 139: I'm pleased my colleague from Victoria-Haliburton has introduced the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. I hadn't really had an opportunity to see what it accomplishes, but I'm very pleased to see --
With that, I'll bring my remarks to a close, and I believe there will be other members of the government who will wish to speak to this matter.
I want to make some remarks this afternoon in supporting the motion, although I observe, as he takes his leave, that the government House leader seemed, in passing, to suggest or at least imply that later today or tomorrow we might be seeing a package of proposals around rule changes. I myself have no difficulty with night sittings, I say to the government House leader. I've been around here a long time. I remember why we stopped having night sittings. I'm sure those problems will not recur, and if he can give me some satisfaction they won't recur, I will be the first to expedite his desire to have night sittings.
It's interesting to hear some of the newer intake proceed in this manner, as though there was not a good reason for ceasing and desisting night sittings. Would that the Minister of Community and Social Services was here today so she could perhaps share some of her memories of a former employer who was a particularly entertaining member of the night sitting regime that we used to have. I'm happy to support the motion. I'm happy to have Parliament work. I'm happy to be here morning, noon and night, if that's what it takes, because I think there is an important role for the Legislature to play in providing oversight, in holding the government accountable, not just this government but any government, for what it does or for what it doesn't do.
I must say I was also pleased to hear the government House leader say that from his vantage point he feels that the Legislative Assembly has some kind of a role to play, because that is at variance with the very careful and studied rhetoric the Harris Tories have employed over the last two and a half to three years. Never have I seen such a constant disparagement of the political class and of the parliamentary place as I've seen from the Harris Tories over the last three or four years. It has happened inside the place. It has happened outside the precinct. It has happened not only with respect to provincial politicians, but the government has had only more enthusiasm when it's been disparaging the municipal politicians.
I have been quite struck by how the party of Les Frost and John Robarts has, in this new incarnation, gone out of its way to abuse the school trustees and the local politicians. It has struck me, quite frankly, as remarkable that the Minister of Labour, a very capable woman whom I have known in her previous life as a school trustee, would actually, together with her colleague the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, sit quietly and allow the current Minister of Education to say publicly the kinds of things that he has said about people like Liz Witmer and Dianne Cunningham in their previous lives as school trustees. I find it absolutely astonishing that people as capable as Liz Witmer and Dianne Cunningham are willing to be as disparaged in public by one of their own colleagues as they have been over the last number of months. Perhaps when she takes over the responsibility of the department of education later this year, she will have an opportunity to speak more directly to that.
It does concern me that we seem to be proceeding in a way around this place that less and less time is spent really doing the public business. There's a debate we'll probably have about rule changes. I don't really have much time or energy for that stuff any more. When I see good, smart people like O'Toole getting up as he did yesterday -- and he's a smart member of this assembly -- feeling it necessary to offer up that kind of a question, I say to myself, "What is the point?" There doesn't seem to be any self-respect left. I don't mean to pick on the member for Durham East, because we've all had backbenchers who have done it. I just use him as the most current example.
There was a time when there was some honour and respect associated with being a member of the assembly, where you came here as a government member or as a member in the opposition not just to support the cause, not just to support one's party, not just to speak to riding issues, but in some more general way to speak to a public interest. The notion that the Legislature has some independent life and responsibility apart from the executive council is a notion that has basically gone. If you're a government member, it seems now all you care about is: "How do I get preferment? How do I get to the cabinet table?" I understand that. I understand that's a very powerful impulse. For opposition members, quite frankly, there is the increasing tendency to simply do the parish work.
We have collectively made this place less of a place than it used to be. So when we talk about rule changes I, for one, am not going to worry too much any more because I don't really see that the Parliament I came to 22 years ago has the kind of self-respect it has to have to do its work and to do its business. I don't blame anyone in particular. I think we've all got a responsibility. But I find it interesting that the notion that the Parliament, as Parliament, has an important independent responsibility is foreign to more and more people.
Having said that, I want to comment on some of the observations that the government House leader has made about public business. One of the reasons I'm pleased to support the motion is that there are a number of public issues my constituents want addressed and want there to be time for, a better public debate than we've had to date. They want, for example, more time focused on the implementation of the Harris government's health care agenda. The hospital restructuring in eastern Ontario is a shambles, getting worse by the moment.
I accept, as I have said repeatedly, that a restructuring is overdue and I'm not here to argue against the rising of the sun on the eastern horizon. But you know we have in Pembroke an admission this week from the hospital restructuring commission that the time lines they imposed a few months ago are totally unrealistic. We have in my community of Pembroke taken some of the deepest, harshest cuts in the hospital sector to date.
Next door in Ottawa we have a situation where independent analysts have gone into the national capital and said that the government's restructuring commission has overstated savings by as much as 80% in the national capital area. That's not some caterwauling oppositionist, that's not some special interest grinding an axe; that is a pair of independent analysts going in and looking at the work that has been done in the national capital area by the government's restructuring commission and stating that the government's own estimates, as presented by the restructuring commission, are overstating savings by 80%. My colleague from Vanier is better able than I to speak to those particulars.
We've been treated in recent weeks to the spectacle of the Deputy Minister of Health writing a letter to the commission saying, "You've miscalculated substantially the impact of closing the psych hospital in Brockville and I, as Deputy Minister of Health, implore you to reconsider what you've done about the Brockville community and what it's going to be left with under the original plan of closing the entire Brockville site."
Can you imagine, as a citizen of Brockville or Leeds county, reading in the local Recorder and Times in Brockville that no less a person than the Deputy Minister of Health is writing to the commission saying, "I think you've made a serious mistake in this respect"? If you're a farmer up in the Athens area or a retail clerk in Brockville and you read that in the paper, what confidence does that give you about the efficacy and about the accuracy of what this commission has proposed?
In my community of Pembroke, the commission came in in December of last year and offered up a plan it said would save $14.7 million worth of costs in the hospital sector in a small county town, Pembroke. The savings, they said, would on an annual basis be in the order of $14.5 million. They came back, the commission, just three months later and said: "We were wrong. We overestimated the savings by a factor of 35%." Now they've come back again and said: "We were wrong again about the time lines. This is too short. You can't shut down the emergency department at the Pembroke Civic Hospital at the end of June. We're going to give you an extension." People are crying out about the pain that's being felt about a plan that does not appear to be very well thought out.
Can there be change? Yes. Ought there be change? Absolutely. But I'm telling this House that there is a very real credibility problem in places like Pembroke and Ottawa and Brockville with what this commission has done. The government has created in Pembroke and Cornwall a very serious issue around the governance of the remaining hospitals, inviting in my community of Pembroke a serious sectarian issue that has been widely reported, and the Minister of Health stands there like Pontius Pilate, washing his hands and saying: "I have no responsibility. Let the sectarian fires burn. I don't have anything to say."
I just have to say to this House, without prejudice to either Catholic hospitals or civic hospitals, that is not good enough. Communities like Pembroke and Cornwall deserve a clearer policy on governance than this minister and this government have provided. The tragedy is that a lot of the progress that the government has won in this respect about restructuring is seriously threatened and undermined because the government has not itself developed a policy that is fair and balanced.
In my community we have been very well served. In Pembroke over a century we have been very well served, not just by the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who have run a very fine hospital -- have and still do -- at their site, the Pembroke General, but we have been very well served for a century by the people who have run the Pembroke Civic Hospital, who have been told by this government and this government's commission, "Thanks and goodbye."
The decision in Pembroke with respect to governance is unreasonable, it is unfair and it is unbalanced. It is creating no little bit of turmoil in the community, a community that is clearly ready to accept significant change in the delivery and in the organization of institutional health care services. It's bad enough that the commission has not listened to what Catholic and non-Catholic alike have said to it; but that the minister does not seem to understand that he has a responsibility in the public interest to address this is positively breathtaking.
Do I want to sit morning, noon and night? I say to the government House leader, you're bloody right I'm willing to sit here, but I want to see some clarity around these issues that -- oh yes, I have your assurance, like a good Sunday school teacher, that I will get it, but this session is a year old and I'm getting a little tired of waiting.
I hear the government House leader standing up and saying, "We've got to sit because I want to talk about our tax-cutting proposals." I want to come some night and talk about that. I think that the observations of Standard and Poor's last week or two weeks ago and of the Dominion Bond Rating Service on that subject are very timely and ought to be debated.
If I want to come here in a personal way, I could come and say what Mike Harris's tax cut is doing for me. I'm a winner. Boy, if I want to be just a selfish, greedy, self-centred yuppie, I should come here and sing a Te Deum of praise for the money you're putting in my pocket. But I am struck by what Standard and Poor's and what the Dominion Bond Rating Service have said. They have said, "We will not, two years into the mandate of this government, give an improved credit rating over that which Mr Rae had because we think this fiscal plan is inadequate in a couple of very real respects." They have said to you repeatedly that a tax cut of this magnitude while you're trying to sustain core programs like health care and education and work down the deficit is dangerous. I agree with them.
There is nobody around who is not going to want to see a tax cut, but Ontarians are prudent, sensible people. They have stated clearly and repeatedly that they want the fiscal house put in order and they want core programs, particularly health care, education, services for the elderly and children, maintained, and yes, when that is done -- it's not an easy task and I share the government's frustration with some of what they inherited. I remember a bit of that myself, going into a cabinet 12 years ago, I think it was, and inheriting a deficit line, in the good old days, of $3 billion in fiscal 1984-85. Hard to believe, I say to my friends opposite: in 1985 a fiscal plan that, when the Peterson government took office, showed an in-year deficit in the order of $3 billion.
I say to my friend the member for Chatham-Kent that it was even more remarkable when I came here in 1975, under the able stewardship of Darcy McKeough, that I saw my first provincial budget that called for a $1.8 billion deficit on about a $13-billion spending plan. That was 22 years ago. I've said ad nauseam, is there lots of blame to share for this mountain of debt and deficit? You bet. I'll accept mine, but it does not attach to one side alone.
Back to my other point: Standard and Poor's and Dominion Bond Rating Service have said your fiscal plan is seriously flawed because it does not adequately take into account the cost of your tax cut, and they point out -- I think this is especially timely in light of this past spring's provincial budget -- that they have observed the increased costs of municipal and hospital restructuring. Last year's budget, the provincial budget in Ontario in May 1996, estimated municipal and hospital restructuring to cost about $900 million. I noticed in this year's budget that that cost has risen to $2.3 billion, nearly a threefold increase. That's what Standard and Poor's is looking at and that's what the Dominion Bond Rating Service is also looking at.
Do we like a tax cut? Of course. Who is going to spit at Santa Claus? But what does prudent, commonsensical fiscal policy require?
I was struck today when I was reading the New York Times by a front page article, and a very interesting article: "Memo to Congress: Cutting Taxes a Luxury Now with Consequences Later." Tax cutting is the flavour of the month down in Washington. It is interesting to see what independent observers -- I'm just going to read one paragraph from this story in the New York Times today:
"The House ways and means committee will take the first step on Wednesday towards parcelling out tax reductions to families and investors. Many of the new tax breaks under consideration, including a lower capital gains tax rate, are being structured so that the revenue loss will be small in the next few years, but will mushroom early in the next century when some future Congress can worry about the problem."
How typical. Back to Standard and Poor's. If there's a criticism of the Peterson government, and there are many, it is an absolutely fair thing to say that we spent at a level that could only be sustained by very high levels of economic growth and activity, and I accept the blame and the shame that goes with that. I want to say to this government, which prides itself on fiscal management, how is it that you are not playing the same game that's going on in Washington today, about which today's New York Times makes proper complaint? Or, more important, how is it that Standard and Poor's is not correct when it says your fiscal plan is seriously flawed in those respects that I mentioned earlier?
I want to take a moment on another subject. I do share the enthusiasm of all members for the improved economic circumstances. I come from the Ottawa region. I am not going to be as effusive as the member for Nepean, who could hardly contain himself the other day with his joy about the Nortel announcement. There is great good feeling throughout the Ottawa region about the decision of Nortel to choose the Ottawa area for an expansion.
As members heard earlier this week, 5,000 new positions are going to be created in the next four years in the Ottawa-Carleton area, and that's great good news. They're high-tech jobs, high-skilled, high-salaried, a multiplier effect that's very considerable. The chief executive officer of Nortel, John Roth, said the other day that they chose Ottawa over other locations, including many in the United States, because in the end it was a quality-of-life issue. I hope people understand what that means. That means that many of the public investments we have made, made a difference.
Dare I say it? Is there a more lush government landscape, is there a more fertile field that has been sprinkled with more public revenues than Ottawa-Carleton, I ask my friend the judge from Rideau? Probably not. There's not a farmer in Alberta who wouldn't agree with me. Much complaint has been made about that: "Too much money spent up there in old" --
However, I want to make this point: I watched an interview on CBC television the other night in Ottawa with Mr Roth, the CEO of Nortel. When asked about some of his concerns about a very substantial expansion in the Ottawa area, he said very clearly that one of his concerns is the state of the college and university sector in this province.
I want to say to the government, having spent some time visiting Carleton University the other day, that Carleton is a main supplier of the engineering and science folks to Nortel, and it is a concern of the Nortel people that we are not funding our college and university sector to an adequate degree. They are increasingly worried about not only funding issues but instructional issues and other aspects.
I simply raise today that there is good news out of the Nortel announcement, but there is also some very real warning for those of us who have some responsibilities, particularly in areas like post-secondary education.
I want to make a final observation today before my friend Bradley engages the debate; I'm supposed to leave him a bit of time. The unemployment rate is coming down, and that's good news. The adjusted rate is 8.5% for last month. We all share in that good news, but 8.5% is still a very high rate of unemployment. But this is not the whole picture. Many of you, unlike myself, are parents of young adults. One of the great challenges we face today as a community is this very serious, stubborn problem of youth unemployment.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, together with the Canadian Youth Foundation, has in recent weeks tabled a report about youth unemployment in Ontario and in Canada. I want to take a few moments to address what I think is fast becoming a very serious problem that, if not addressed by the community at large, is going to undermine much of the economic recovery and, quite frankly, threatens the social stability of this province and country of ours.
The report just done by the Canadian Youth Foundation tells us that one in five jobs held by young people in Canada has disappeared in the last seven years. That's an incredible statistic. One in five jobs held by young people before the last recession has disappeared. All of those jobs have been full-time jobs.
"Youth unemployment and underemployment are the most important social issues facing Canada today," says the president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Al Flood. His report goes on to talk about chronic unemployment rates of 17%. Quoting now from the study, "Every work-related indicator points to deteriorating and increasingly precarious employment situations for youth in the 1990s."
The jobless rate for those with only a high school education is now at 23%; for those with a high school diploma, it's 15%; and for those with a community college diploma, it's 12%. Let me repeat that. The jobless rate in Canada today for people with some high school education is 23%.
I want to say to this House, it is not good enough for those of us, particularly people in my age category who were able to grow up in a post-war Ontario, and thanks to the sacrifices our parents made and the taxes they were prepared to pay, provided for people like myself and Bud Wildman basically free college education, and at the end of it -- the member for Scarborough East looks quite --
I want to make the point again, as I conclude my remarks today, that the Canadian Youth Foundation and business leaders like Al Flood are right to say that the single most serious social and economic problem facing Canada today is the ongoing scourge of youth unemployment rates that are averaging 17%, and for people with just part high school --
I want to say in conclusion that the Canadian Youth Foundation and the president of the CIBC are right when they tell us that we all have a responsibility, not just government.
I'm trying to make, I think, an ecumenical point, particularly for those of you with kids. When I go home and talk to my friends who've got 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids, the one overwhelming question is their employment future. When they hear from government that the only thing we have to say is, "Hike the tuition and let the private sector do the job," they don't find that a totally satisfying answer.
I agree with Mr Flood and others: The corporate and private sector has got to do more, and we've got to use the bully pulpit of government to make the private sector do more. But we have responsibilities as well in government and I don't think we've discharged those, because as I said earlier, if we want real, sustained economic growth, and maybe more importantly, if we want genuine social security for the 21st century, we had better do a better job of dealing with this current unemployment rate for young people, because 17% is going to undermine social security and seriously impair any real economic growth.
I want to congratulate my friend from Renfrew North on the comments he just finished making. I find the reaction from the members across the aisle a little bit puzzling, because we face in Canada today, not just in Ontario, a very serious problem of youth unemployment and, even more so, of youth underemployment. Frankly, this is something that should be central to our agenda as representatives of the people of this province. Unfortunately, we have not dealt with this very much in this House and I don't see on the government's agenda, as outlined by the government House leader, much to do with this.
The fact is this: Very few young people today -- I'll use an example of one person I know quite well, a young woman who is a graduate nurse who is working at two jobs. She has two jobs. She's lucky. They are both part-time jobs, because almost no agencies today hire nurses full-time. They can only get part-time positions unless they go to Texas or some other jurisdiction like that. The reason they don't hire them full-time, apparently, is because they don't want to pay benefits. So people are underemployed. This is a serious problem. It's a problem we have to face.
If you have high unemployment figures, as referred to by the member for Renfrew North in quoting the bank president, and you have a bank president expressing concern about the possible economic and social ramifications of long-term, growing youth unemployment or underemployment, it's a problem we should turn our minds to.
To have the response across the way pooh-pooh the issue or say that somehow the member is being overdramatic I think demonstrates a real problem. Unfortunately, when one looks around this chamber, one does not see anyone -- or very few; I shouldn't say anyone -- one sees very few who represent that generation, who face very serious challenges that I did not face when I was their age.
As the member for Renfrew North said, when I graduated there were jobs all over the place. My second interview, I had my full-time position; first job, two interviews. The interview was like a travelogue. He looked at my résumé, he looked at my transcript and he spent the rest of the interview telling me what a great place Sault Ste Marie was and how I should come there to work.
The point is, young people don't face that kind of situation today. There isn't anything like that today. There are a few -- a few -- high-tech positions where graduates get picked up quickly and get positions, but in most cases young people face very serious debt loads because of student loans, debt loads that were unthinkable when I was a student. They're starting off in life as if they had a mortgage, though they don't yet own a house, and they can't get full-time jobs and they have collection agencies phoning them saying, "Make your payments on your student loan, as long as you've been six months out of school."
That's what we face, and I don't see anything on the agenda the government House leader has put before us that does one thing to address those serious problems that young people face. And it's not just a problem for young people; it's a problem for a whole generation and for our whole society, because if a generation feels shut out over a long period of time, that will produce serious social problems that will affect every one of us in our society.
I want to make a couple of comments about what the government House leader had to say. He read out a long list of bills and other motions that he felt needed to be dealt with by the end of June as a reason for extending sessional days to midnight. He mentioned the Waterloo bill. Well, let's talk about what's happened in this House today and over the last few days.
When there is good, necessary legislation put forward in a reasonable fashion by the government, this assembly has demonstrated that it can deal with it and deal with it efficiently and properly and get it through. The bill on governance of the Waterloo region was one that was supported by the local community, it was reasonable, all the members of the House, in looking at the legislation, understood that we were responding to a desire from the local community, and we were able to facilitate quick passage in this House. I would point out that that kind of quick passage and cooperation can be established because of a desire on the part of all members of the House to deal with issues that are important to the community. It doesn't require changes in the standing orders to get reasonable pieces of legislation through this House in an expeditious manner, and that has been demonstrated today and over the last number of days in this House.
The government House leader went through a long list, and I think I have the list before me. I tried to pay close attention to what he had to say. I can see that a number of the bills he has put forward can be dealt with by this House in a way that will meet the needs of the community and I think meet the desire of the government to deal with pressing matters in a way that will respond to the needs of the people of Ontario.
For instance, the government wants to have Bill 102, the Community Safety Act, passed. There are certain issues that should be addressed in dealing with that. It deals with the need to protect people and provide security, but at the same time it also deals with the rights of individuals, and those are rights that have to be dealt with and discussed so we can determine that we are dealing in a way that is fair and proper in a democratic society. It seems to us that we can deal with those matters well; we can hear from those knowledgeable experts in the field and from the public and we can get that through.
I think the government House leader mentioned Bill 108. We have an agreement, by the way, that it can be passed in one day at third reading. There is a bit of a glitch on Bill 108, because somehow it ended up in committee of the whole House for consideration. I know that the government House leader does not really want it to be at committee of the whole House because he doesn't think there are any amendments necessary and it's gone through standing committee.
We have raised a very important issue that was first addressed by my friend from Cochrane South when he pointed out that in downloading the dealing with these offences to the municipalities, the government had missed the point that the rights of francophones might not properly be protected in that situation since Bill 8, the bill that in this province protects the rights of francophones, does not apply to municipalities, despite the fact that the city of Sault Ste Marie in my own area a few years ago passed a bylaw saying they didn't want it to apply to them. It's unnecessary for that bylaw to have ever been passed because it doesn't apply to them and everyone should know it doesn't apply to them.
Because Bill 8 does not apply to municipalities, if municipalities are enforcing and carrying out provincial offences legislation, the administration of those offences, we have to ensure that in that particular case the rights of francophones are protected. There is an issue around this. In Manitoba a few years ago there was a parking ticket issued to a person who was French-speaking, and that individual objected to receiving a parking ticket that was only in English. That matter was taken to the courts and it eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court in that case, referring to the Manitoba Act, which is an act establishing the province of Manitoba, which protects the rights of francophones and is protected under the Constitution of Canada, said that no, this was not right, it was not proper.
In Ontario there is no similar act to protect the rights of francophones. There is no act in Ontario like the Manitoba Act that applies in that jurisdiction. All we have to protect the rights of francophones in this province to services in their own language is Bill 8, and Bill 8 does not apply to municipalities. It only applies to the provincial government and to provincial agencies. That's why we think an amendment should be put in committee of the whole to ensure that the rights of francophones are protected.
We've indicated to the government House leader that we don't intend to prolong debate on that. We want to put the amendment. Unfortunately, the government members in the standing committee voted against a similar amendment in committee. We hope they've had time to reconsider and that the government will say that yes, it makes sense that the rights of francophones should be protected and that we should have an amendment to the Provincial Offences Act and so we should have the amendment passed. We want to give the opportunity to the members of the Assembly from all three parties to vote in favour of such an amendment.
We would like to see the government bring forward an amendment. It doesn't have to be a long debate. It could take us at most about an hour or two, and we've indicated that we'd be quite pleased to have committee of the whole debate and third reading debate on the same day, so it wouldn't prolong the process at all. It would just ensure that a very important linguistic minority in this province has its rights protected in a country which recognizes the bilingual nature of Canada.
Bill 127, the nurse practitioners bill: This is a very good bill. This is a bill, I've already indicated to the government House leader, that we support and I think it's supported on all sides of the House. As the government House leader said, this an important bill for health care in the province, particularly in small communities in rural and northern parts of the province where we may have a shortage of health care professionals and where nurse practitioners can carry out many of the tasks that in other cases might normally be done only by physicians. This is an alternative approach to health care.
We're quite prepared to have a very short debate. This issue has been around for a long time. Consideration of the legislation has been before the House before. We don't need to have any committee; we don't need any committee on Bill 127. It's favoured by the profession. It's favoured by most of the community in Ontario. Let's proceed. Let's get it through. Let's do it quickly. There has been no stalling on this legislation at all by anyone, so let's do it.
Bill 138 is another case in point. The government stalled this; they stalled it from February on. The minister initially put in what was called Bill 125, which dealt with flying truck wheels, and he didn't tell his House leader about it. I can remember the House leaders' meeting just after the minister had announced he was going to introduce the bill. Frankly, the government House leader was taken by surprise. I said, "When are you going to deal with this bill the Minister of Transportation is bringing forward on flying truck wheels?" and the government House leader was, to say the least, a little taken aback. He didn't know.
The minister went out saying, "We're going to proceed and we want to do it in a hurry," so both opposition parties encouraged him and said: "Yes, fine. We're prepared to deal with it. This is an important problem. It's one that must be dealt with. There have been too many accidents where people have been killed or injured. We've got to deal with it." Then the government came up and said: "No, no. We need a comprehensive road safety bill." We don't disagree with that. There are a lot of issues related to road safety in the province that should be dealt with, not just the flying truck wheels.
The member for Essex-Kent, for instance, had a bill related to school bus safety. There have been a lot of issues. The member for Mississauga South and other members have raised issues about drunk driving in the province. There are lots of issues about road safety that should be dealt with. But it wasn't the opposition that in any way prevented the government from moving on this piece of legislation; it was the government itself.
The minister and others on the treasury benches have from time to time said, "There was a filibuster in this House around the governance of Metropolitan Toronto bill which prevented us from bringing forward Bill 125." What a lot of bunk. If the government had wanted to go forward on Bill 125, they just had to call it and we would have dealt with it, but instead they insisted on continuing to deal with the Metropolitan Toronto legislation. If they had wanted to do Bill 125, they could have, but they didn't, because they realized that Bill 125 itself was apparently too quickly thought out, ill thought out. It wasn't comprehensive enough; it didn't deal with the issue of road safety in a comprehensive enough way.
Now we have Bill 138 before us. It has gone to committee. We have facilitated the quick passage at second reading. There is only a short period of committee hearings and it will be back in the House by the end of the month, and we will be able to pass it. That is an indication of what we're able to do in this assembly when there is an important piece of legislation that responds to the needs of the community and there is cooperation among the parties. We do not need rule changes. We do not need changes in the standing orders to facilitate this kind of cooperation in passage of legislation that is important to the people of Ontario.
The government House leader also said he wanted to move forward on Bill 139, the Game and Fish Act changes. He wants second reading of that bill. Let's be fair on this one. The minister only introduced it at first reading a couple of days ago. It's a very extensive bill. It deals with a lot of different species and enforcement and protection. We have to caucus it. We have to determine how we're going to deal with it. I don't see that it's going to be controversial. I think most members, again, will be able to respond and accept the proposed changes as being important and useful in this province for all of us who are interested in conservation.
There is a problem, a serious problem, I believe, that isn't directly in the legislation but relates to its implementation. There are a number of changes with regard to enforcement in the legislation, and that of course requires enforcement people to implement. The Ministry of Natural Resources has been decimated with cuts. It's at a point now where there isn't enough staff for the ministry to be able to do the job. That is well known across northern Ontario. Unfortunately it's too well known. That has led to the possibility of the minority of people who do not care about conservation and want to flout our game and fish regulations to poach.
I think what this government has done to the Ministry of Natural Resources is tragic. It's terrible, what it will mean for the future of our forestry resources, our fish and wildlife in this province. The Ministry of Natural Resources is just a shell of what it used to be. The staff there are overwhelmed. There aren't enough people and they can't do the job. While we may in fact support the changes under Bill 139, the new Game and Fish Act, we are very worried about whether or not it's going to mean anything to pass good regulations if they can't be enforced because there isn't enough staff.
The government House leader also pointed to Bill 129, budget bill number one, which has not yet been called by the government for second reading for some reason. He said it needs to be passed by the summer because it has some provisions that deal with trust companies, and that if the provisions aren't passed by the end of June, these trust companies may not be able to continue operating. The bill has a number of other provisions too, of course, but if it is that important and time-sensitive, why is it that we're almost at the end of June and the government has not yet called the bill? I don't understand it. In this case, if there is a problem, the government is the author of its own misfortune. My friend from St Catharines calls the section on trust companies a "hostage" part of the bill. It's a way of getting controversial legislation through by putting one provision in it that everybody knows must be passed quickly, so we pass the bill quickly and we don't deal with the other controversial measures, such as tax cuts, at a time when the government is concerned about the deficit.
I think there are a number of bills here that can be passed quickly and dealt with -- I've pointed them out -- in a spirit of cooperation because they're important to the people of Ontario. There are others here that are somewhat controversial and will take more time.
I want to deal with one serious problem that I've seen in this place over the last few years. I want to be fair and point out that this hasn't just been a problem under this government. It's been a problem under every government I've seen over the 22 1/2 years I've had the privilege of serving the people of Algoma in this place. Governments always tend to bring in a big agenda and move very slowly in the first part of the session. Then at the end of the session they always want to have everything passed in a big rush. It doesn't seem to matter what the size of their majority is. As a matter of fact, it seems to a worse problem when it's a large majority. They can't manage the agenda of the House in a very efficient way. They always then try to blame the opposition and say, "It's the opposition's fault," no matter how small the opposition. No matter how few members there are in the opposition, the large majority says, "You know, we have all these things we have to get done and it's those members of the opposition who are holding everything up." I think this is more of a problem with this government than with other governments, but it's been a problem with all of them.
The problem I see that this government has is that they do not understand or appreciate the importance of this assembly. They seem to have the view that democracy simply works on the basis that every four years or so there's an election and the people decide who among the various parties should govern the province, and that is democracy. Then, after the election is over, the government should just be allowed to govern and get its agenda through and then four years later go back to the electorate, put its record on the line, run against the other parties and see if they can get re-elected.
That forgets the importance of the assembly. There's no question that governments are elected and are given a mandate to carry through on the commitments they've made. But the assembly is made up of representatives of all the people of the province, and it is the responsibility of those representatives to scrutinize what the government is doing and to hold the government accountable. It is a particular role of the opposition in the assembly to ensure that the government is criticized and, when bad pieces of legislation are presented, to stop them if they can and to hold them up and amend them where necessary.
The problem with this government is that they see that as a nuisance. They don't want to have the opposition hold them up or slow them down; they just want everything to go through really quickly. There's a problem with that, because sometimes the most well-intentioned pieces of legislation, if they are passed quickly, can include within them serious problems that bring about effects that nobody anticipated and nobody wants. That's why it's important for the members of the assembly to scrutinize what the government is doing, to criticize what the government is doing, to move amendments, to slow them down when they think they're wrong and to try to get them to rethink their position. That's what democracy is about.
Winston Churchill once said, "The problem with democracy is that it's very inefficient," it's very messy. But he also said, "But it's the best system there is," and he was right. Sure, it's not as efficient. In a dictatorship, the dictator says, "This is the way it's going to be," and it happens -- very efficient; you can do things very, very quickly. But we've seen the results of that kind of government too often in the world, and none of us in this assembly would desire that.
Sure, it takes longer when you have to debate and persuade. It takes longer when you actually ask the public what they think. When you inform them of what's going on, ask them their opinions, give them opportunities to come before committees, criticize and say, "This is what's good and this is what's bad," sure, that takes longer. Sometimes it's not very pleasant to hear their criticisms. Sometimes they are very vehement in their opposition to what the government believes should be done. This is not always pleasant. But it's democracy.
We can move forward with legislation that is important to the community in a spirit of goodwill and give-and-take in this assembly. But let me say clearly, if the government decides that speed and expediency are more important than ensuring proper debate, the government will rue the day and so will all the people of Ontario.
We are in a system of government that actually establishes the role of an opposition. In most parts of the world, this is considered very odd, that a government would actually allow and encourage politicians who disagree with it to participate in the process and to criticize the government on a daily basis. In many, many cultures around the world, this is unheard of. It does slow things down. It does, in some cases, make for what appears on the face of it to be inefficiencies. But in the long run we all benefit from it.
The government House leader has put forward a number of pieces of legislation that can be passed in this House and should be passed. The government House leader has also put forward a number of pieces of legislation that can and must be criticized and must be looked at very carefully, that will generate a great deal of debate both in this assembly and outside it.
There are also other matters that have to be brought before this House: concurrences, the Supply Act, the House calendar. They can be dealt with and should be dealt with. The government House leader just needs to call them, we'll debate them.
We call this place a provincial Parliament. We all know what the root of that word "Parliament" is: parler, to talk. That's what this place is about. It's not just a Legislature, coming from the Latin word for law. We pass laws here but we also talk a great deal. Some might say talk is cheap. I would say talk is very, very important in our system of democracy. Debate is what this place is for. It is one of the great strengths of our system of government.
We've demonstrated today that when the government has measures that it wants to bring forward that are important to the province, they can be debated and can be dealt with in an efficient, expeditious manner. When the government brings forward controversial pieces of legislation, then the government must be prepared to debate them, and to persuade, and to inform, and to listen to what the opposition has to say and what the people have to say.
If this government is not prepared to do that and is determined to facilitate changes that will make it very difficult for the opposition to carry out its responsibilities under our parliamentary system, that will make it easy for the government to ram through pieces of legislation that are controversial without real debate, without real input from the public, and without having to listen to criticism and respond to it, then this government is going to have a real fight on its hands, not just in the assembly, but I think outside this place as well.
I've spent a lot of years here; I hope to spend a lot more, representing the people of my area. I've seen governments get frustrated and exasperated, governments of all stripes. But don't act in a rash manner that will change the process in a way that will harm the very system of government that we all hold dear. There are some quirky things about this place, but overall the system works. It works for the people of the province. I'm pleased to have been a part of that and to continue to be a part of it.
If the government would respond in the way it did to Waterloo's request for change in every instance, the government wouldn't have much difficulty getting legislation through this place. Frankly, the Waterloo bill could have passed long before this except the government didn't call it. We indicated as soon as it came forward that we'd pass it in one day.
Whatever the reasons for delay, be careful in any changes you propose.
We were elected with a mandate to do certain things. I believe a case can be made that we have honoured those commitments. The fact is, though, that time and the tides do not stand still. There have been new problems that have come to light, and clearly there are new legislative initiatives that are always required.
We have on the order paper right now 12 bills that have proceeded and are ready for third reading. We have another something like 79 bills ready to go for second reading. We have a number of other government bills that have been introduced and have not yet been debated in this House. Clearly there is a need for us to be processing these pieces of legislation in a timely fashion. I'm sure if the members' cooperation extends through these next two weeks, we'll see the ability to waive the normal rules that you can only process one bill each day and hopefully we'll be able to tackle things such as the red tape bills.
Those red tape bills alone, the first eight we introduced, seek to eliminate 1,500 fees and regulations. As the House leader alluded, some of these date back over 75 years. Talk about anachronistic, talk about redundant and out of date. The fact of the matter is, as part of our commitment to freeing the province, its taxpayers and its businesses, from the bureaucratic shackles that restrained business in this economy from 1985 till 1995, it's clearly incumbent upon us to have done the review we have done and now to proceed to the final step, which will be the elimination of these onerous and unnecessary regulations.
My colleague from Algoma mentioned a case in point, the changes we've brought to the Ministry of Natural Resources. It's true that ministry has seen a reduction in its workload. What may not be readily apparent to people who don't have a day-to-day involvement with that ministry is that as part of our business review we identified that 40,000 of the 45,000 permits MNR issues every year are absolutely superfluous. They're redundant, they're an absolute waste of time for both the clerk who processes them and the person coming to make an application.
I'll give you a case in point. Historically, if you owned a cottage on crown land, every year when you wanted to put your dock in in the spring you had to come to us to get a permit, and you'd pay your fee. We always approved it. Everybody got their permit. The fee that was charged didn't come close to the cost to the government of processing that application. In the first place, there's no sense having a licence if everybody gets it. Secondly, it makes no sense to the already overburdened taxpayers in this province to be losing money in the guise of non-regulation. As part of that review, clearly by identifying this sort of unnecessary paperwork, the reality is that the MNR could reduce its staff.
But it's also interesting to note -- and I see just in the clipping service today -- that the MNR has to augment the existing firefighting crews. Over and above the 77 firefighting crews that already existed in the north, we have now gone to the private sector for backup firefighters and we have identified another 120 auxiliary firefighters who are available -- they are on call at a moment's notice all throughout the north -- to guarantee a timely and yet cost-effective ability to respond to fires.
I'm sure the members opposite would agree with us that to have staff in any ministry sitting around with nothing to do is not in the best interests of the taxpayers, and in the case of something like fires, where obviously no one in this province wants to see them occur, and when they do occur we want to see them put out as fast as possible, it is appropriate for us to have a rapid response capability.
We think maintaining the existing 77 crews demonstrates that we aren't in any way undermining our commitment to fire safety in the north, but now we've gone one step better, and no one on the other side asked us to do this. It's in recognition of the fact that over and above whatever ability we have had to service the fires in the north, we need to go one better, and we have done that with 120 more firefighters, just one minor step in one ministry but part of a far broader agenda.
Members opposite realize, while much has been said by our colleague from Renfrew-Thesaurus earlier this afternoon, that there are still challenges in areas such as youth unemployment. The reality is that there too there is an opportunity for the members opposite to join with us in furthering our proposals for greater training, for greater skills development, for a greater ability for the universities and colleges and high schools to identify the areas of opportunity for youth, not after they have graduated, not for some remedial course, not a second or third degree because the first time they didn't hit the nail on the head. We all, the government and the schools and the parents and the students, share a responsibility to do the research and determine what the jobs are, not just today, but five, 10, 20, 50 years out.
It was somewhat ironic. The member indicated that he graduated from my alma mater one year after I did, and he had a job. He had a choice of jobs in fact when he graduated. That was certainly indicative of the times in the early 1970s. Just last week I received a letter from the principal of the same university, and the principal of Queen's indicated that 91% of the graduating class of the first MBA program to go through the new regime had a job before they graduated, and at salaries ranging from $60,000 to $120,000 a year.
For a 25- or 26-year-old graduating with their master's degree, that's not a bad starting salary. I don't think anyone in this House, in this province would suggest that, even at the low end of that scale, those individuals have not set themselves up, thanks to the education system in the province of Ontario, for a tremendous future. We, in turn, will benefit from the skills they acquire, will benefit from their ability to contribute to the growth and development in this province.
It's certainly important to recognize that we have a long way to go, but in the very statistics the member opposite quoted, those who only have some high school -- not those who graduated from high school, some who only had a year or two of high school -- there's 23% unemployment, but for those who had even gone through community colleges, it's closer to 12%. Again, where is the responsibility for the students and the parents and yes, the government to ensure that facility is there, the dollars are there to make sure every student in Ontario has an opportunity to get that college education, because as we all know, in an increasingly technologically driven world, there are no $60,000-a-year hamburger-flipping jobs. Those jobs and that paycheque will be found in tool and die mechanic jobs and by those who become class A mechanics.
The same is true here in Toronto, where any number of pharmaceutical companies are undergoing expansions. One in particular that I happened to visit a couple of weeks ago tells me they have an immediate demand for 600 employees, but these are bachelor of science, master of science and PhD in pharmacology. Quite frankly, there aren't enough graduates.
Small wonder we have constrained the growth in this province for the last number of years when we couldn't even meet the demand that did come to our shores, and that was in the context of an overtaxed, overregulated, governmentally depressed environment. Those who fought their way through that morass, who fought their way through that swamp, still faced the challenge of not being able to find enough qualified individuals to fill their workforce. We all share the responsibility of making sure that is a thing of the past.
One of the members opposite commented about the challenges in areas such as health care. There's another opportunity for us to employ higher-tech approaches to the practice of medicine. Our government has bought I believe 23 magnetic resonance imaging machines so far. These $5-million diagnostic machines all require a far higher degree of skill among those who are operating them. The bottom line is that we have to make sure that as these new tools are available to us we have the people trained to operate them in order to exploit their full potential and to make sure the patients in Ontario have access to a health care system that is second to none.
As the members opposite know full well, we were elected with a commitment to spend $17.4 billion on health. I'm very proud that two budgets later, with two successive increases in their budget, we are now spending $18.5 billion in health, a far cry from a certain other party which committed to spending $17 billion. The bottom line is I haven't heard them identify in the debate today or previously what part of health care they would cut by $1.5 billion to meet their promise to the taxpayers.
We have the opportunity in these next two weeks to debate these important issues and many more. Earlier today we had a bill -- and I expressed my gratitude to the members opposite for their assistance in ensuring that the city of Waterloo bill passed quickly. That downsized their council by four members, increased the access to the electors, created a direct democracy with the ability to elect directly a chairperson. I'm grateful that they assisted in that restructuring proposal.
As the Speaker is probably aware, that's I believe the 69th proposal that has gone through successfully, that has resulted in close to 140 municipalities voluntarily being reduced, downsizing the number of politicians by almost 600. In fact, by the time all the proposals are processed we expect almost 1,000 fewer municipal politicians.
Clearly the case can be made that we can do better with less. We are doing it here at Queen's Park, all the members. All the members' budgets were trimmed in the first year. Our spending by party, our spending by member, our spending in the whole Legislature was trimmed dramatically, far more than we've asked any municipality to reduce their own budget. It's important that we recognize, as we recognize the fact that the taxpayers only have one pocket from whence tax dollars flow, that the municipalities have a role to play in the belt-tightening we have to do in this very short time period before we reach the balanced budget to which we committed, before we reach the point at which we can reappraise all the issues before us and we can make sure --
Clearly we've had some important initiatives come through this session. It has already been a record-setting spring in terms of the number of days we've sat. It is certainly record-setting in the number of hours we've sat, thanks to our 24-hour-a-day session a little earlier. This motion allows us the opportunity to cap off that productive spring session with double sitting days, in effect, for the next two weeks.
We have a number of other bills before us. We still have a number of challenges. It's very important that we tackle some of these private members' bills. Yes, I'm very pleased to say that I have two private member's bills, but there are also bills from members opposite in the Liberal Party and the NDP that I personally have no problem supporting. I'm as frustrated as they are that we have not had the opportunity.
As the House leaders for the other two parties know full well, they are as much in control of the agenda in this House as our House leader and they know the number of days they can commit to a specific piece of legislation. It will take their cooperation to ensure that the bills from all sides of this House -- and I would expect it to be from all sides of this House. It is up to them to ensure that in these next two weeks we have the ability to make sure the bills that were prepared by their members, in their fervent belief that they have something to contribute to the improvement of Ontario, that they have something to contribute to rectifying the problems we all inherited on June 8, 1995 -- I call upon them to assist our House leader in making sure we put together an agenda over the next two weeks that deals with as many of these bills as possible.
The bottom line, and I'm sure this is a goal shared by all of our colleagues opposite as well as all of my colleagues on this side of the House, is that it is incumbent upon all of us to work tirelessly, even if it means until midnight, to make sure that Ontario has every opportunity, that we have all the tools at our disposal to once again guarantee that Ontario takes its rightful place as the engine pulling the rest of Confederation.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I add my support for this motion today.
This is the way the House has worked amicably before. The House leaders sit down from time to time to discuss the agenda. We often wonder why the government doesn't bring certain legislation forward. I'm sure some of my friends in the government caucus wonder why certain bills are brought forward and other bills aren't brought forward at certain times, because we think some of those bills could pass rather quickly.
When I suggested this afternoon, along with Bud Wildman, the member for Algoma and the House leader for the NDP, that we deal with both this motion and the Waterloo bill this afternoon, there was a little bit of surprise, but it seemed sensible to do that. There's complete agreement on that bill, so why would you hold it up? The government wasn't going to call it, but we said: "Call it. Let's deal with that kind of legislation where all of us agree." There was a relatively short debate and we dealt with it rather expeditiously because there was a consensus and agreement. We have no suggestion that would not be productive in this regard. All of our suggestions are quite productive.
Because we're allowed to do so in a wide-ranging debate, with the indulgence of the House, I simply want to extend a little more of my comments on the passing of our former mayor, Joe McCaffrey, in St Catharines. I had an opportunity this afternoon during statements to pay tribute to Mr McCaffrey.
Many of you may have met him somewhere along the way. He was a genuine character, a very much beloved individual in St Catharines, a real Irishman who wore green all the time. He had a green tie, green suits and green everything from time to time. He even had the chain of office of the mayor of St Catharines changed from a dark red to green to reflect his Irish ancestry.
Joe McCaffery passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer, but had made an outstanding contribution to St Catharines in many ways.
I know some of the ministers along the way, or opposition members they might have been at that time, would have met Joe and seen his unbridled enthusiasm for St Catharines. He would get up at the beginning of a speech, when he was bringing greetings, and list what St Catharines was the capital of. He would start off by saying it was the rowing capital of the world, and he'd say it's the recycling capital of the universe and the garden city of Canada. He had a number of promotional comments he would make about the city of St Catharines.
He was kind enough, in the last provincial election, though I think people of all political parties --
Mr Speaker, I know you and all the members of the House would want, as an extended family, to extend to his wife and his immediate family and to all his friends and to the people of St Catharines our greatest sympathy, our heartfelt sympathy. We will certainly miss Joe McCaffery, but none of us in the city of St Catharines and nobody who ever met him will ever forget Joe McCaffery.
The government House leader has moved government notice of motion number 23. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
It being 6 of the clock, the House will adjourn until tomorrow morning at 10 of the clock.
The House adjourned at 1758.
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