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Ontario Hansard - 28-October1998

ORAL QUESTIONS

GOVERNMENT ADVERTISING

Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question, in the absence of the Premier and the Deputy Premier, is to the Chair of Management Board.

Last night, Ontarians were subjected to the latest in an extensive series of taxpayer-funded, self-serving Conservative Party propaganda pieces. Let me repeat that: taxpayer-funded, self-serving Conservative Party propaganda.

You've decided to waste four million taxpayer dollars on television ads that are designed specifically to cover up the fact that Mike Harris has broken his promise not to close Ontario hospitals. To call these ads an obscene waste of taxpayers' money is an understatement. To call them a scandalous misappropriation of taxpayers' money would be more appropriate.

Tell me, Minister, why didn't Mike Harris just steal the $4 million from taxpayers and put it directly into his campaign? Wouldn't that be the more honest thing to do?

Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): This government, as the Leader of the Opposition is well aware, is making a lot of difficult decisions that had failed to be addressed in this province for over 10 years, and in particular in the health care field. The public has a right to be informed and a right to know. This government has a responsibility to inform the public. Overall, that's what government advertising does.

You can compare past government spending on advertising with our government spending on advertising. I think you will find they are comparable. Previous governments have done huge campaigns on programs such as Smile Ontario, which didn't eliminate one bit of fraud in the health care system, didn't improve the system.

Your government neglected to make the tough decisions to reform this health care system. All the experts talked about the need for it to be done. There's also a need to make sure the public is reassured about that and understands the direction that we're going.

Mr McGuinty: There is not a single educational aspect to that propaganda that you're showing on TV in Ontario. It is blatant, pure, unadulterated partisan propaganda. You are bringing this to new heights in Ontario.

Let's put this into some perspective here. You're going to spend more money in the next three weeks on advertising than any political party is allowed to spend during an entire election campaign. During the entire last provincial election campaign, your party spent $1.7 million on ads. During the next three weeks you're going to spend four million taxpayer dollars on propaganda.

It's an abuse of power. You know it, I know it, the people in this House know it, and everybody in Ontario knows it. When are you going to stop spending taxpayers' dollars? When are you going to send the bill to your party so they'll pick up the tab for this propaganda?

Hon Mr Hodgson: I can talk about government advertising in general, if you want to compare the Liberal record. For two years - in 1990 they spent more than most governments would in a lifetime. They had $50 million in 1990. That's $7 million more. The NDP were $45 million in 1994; they were a little more frugal. But they had $6.6 million for their advertisements on PBS for Smile Ontario.

The province is going through some major changes. The health care field in particular is a sensitive issue for a lot of people. Government has the responsibility to inform people of the changes that are taking place, of the need for change and how it's going to be managed. This government has had the courage to address what people unanimously have said in the health care field, that there need to be reforms, that there need to be changes.

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Mr McGuinty: It's very interesting how this minister, how this government is willing to have everyone else pay the price of protecting the public purse. They didn't hesitate to fire nurses, they didn't hesitate to fire teachers, you're not hesitating to fire civil servants, but when it comes to saving your own skin, hanging on to your own jobs, suddenly the sky is the limit.

What you are doing is unprecedented. Your current $4-million spending spree is just the latest. It comes on top of millions spent on education propaganda. It comes on top of millions spent on wasted welfare propaganda. It comes on top of millions wasted on business propaganda. In total so far, and it's early going yet, early days yet, you have wasted over $42 million worth of taxpayers' money in a desperate attempt to save your own skins. Minister, why should taxpayers be involved in this plot to fund your re-election campaign?

Hon Mr Hodgson: In his preamble he talked about laying off nurses. I want to remind this House of the record of his party. They shut down 10,000 beds - those are front-line nursing jobs - but you didn't have the courage to reform the system and move it from acute to something more appropriate for an aging population. I'm not underestimating that this is a huge structural change, but it's one that's long overdue and should have been addressed almost a generation ago, and this government is taking steps to do it.

I think everyone in this House would agree that governments have a responsibility to communicate change. They also encourage communication from elected officials, and I would encourage the leader of the Liberal Party to communicate his priorities and his policies around health care.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question. Leader of the official opposition.

Mr McGuinty: Same minister, same topic. Minister, you're wasting $42 million of taxpayer dollars on PC Party propaganda. It doesn't matter how you slice it and how you dice it, that's what it's all about.

Let's understand what this would have meant in terms of health care dollars for patients: $42 million would have allowed you to hire almost 1,000 new nurses; $42 million would have allowed you to wipe out the entire deficit of the Ottawa Hospital, which right now stands at $41 million; $42 million would have allowed you to pay for your share of 40 MRIs desperately needed by communities right across this province; $42 million would have allowed you to pay for your full-year funding commitment to attract doctors to underserviced areas in communities right across the province.

How can you justify wasting taxpayer dollars that ought to be devoted to health care and putting them into your campaign to re-elect Mike Harris?

Hon Mr Hodgson: If he wants to compare our advertising record to his advertising record when his party was in power, I'm glad to do that. All governments advertise. Your government in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in two years spent $94 million - in those dollars in those years.

Governments advertise. We know that. There's nothing that I think is more important than communicating to the public about major changes that are taking place. If you want to have an honest debate about health care policy, I'd invite you to do that and tell us what the Liberal position is on health care reform and the need for this change.

Mr McGuinty: Let's understand what $42 million could have done for public education in Ontario. First of all, $42 million could have bought three million new spelling books that are desperately needed by Ontario children. It could have kept 161 schools open - 161 of the 600 that you have chosen to close. It could have been used to hire 840 new teachers to help keep class sizes down and to help our students get more assistance with their education. Finally, what it could have done, $42 million, is allow 24,096 adults to go back to school to an adult day program.

You tell me, Minister, where do you get off, where do you get the nerve to use education-paid taxpayer dollars that ought to be dedicated to education to plow into your bid to re-elect yourselves and Mike Harris's government?

Hon Mr Hodgson: The Leader of the Opposition I think would agree that they were changes that were necessary for Ontario, although publicly he states he's against every change that's proposed. What is your policy on this?

As well as that, for government advertising there is a role that we believe should be informing the public. There are major changes taking place; they should be informed of that. All governments have advertised. Our budget will compare with your government. In fact, these changes are well overdue and necessary.

Mr McGuinty: The minister likes to talk about changes that are necessary in Ontario. I can tell you, the only change that is necessary in this province is a change of government.

What you are doing with the taxpayers' $42 million is wrong and you know it, and you're not going to get away with it. If Bob Rae had wasted this much money, the Taxfighter would have been swinging from these chandeliers, and you know it. Tinpot dictators would blush at your use and abuse of taxpayer dollars for self-serving propaganda. What you're doing is scandalous and an obscenity. You are diverting money away that ought to be devoted to our patients and our students, and you're plowing that into a bid to re-elect your government.

Tell me once again, Minister, how you can possibly justify taking precious taxpayer dollars that ought to be spent on our patients and ought to be spent on our students to improve health care and to improve education, and what you're doing instead is sticking them into a fund to re-elect Mike Harris.

Hon Mr Hodgson: The Leader of the Opposition just wants to talk political rhetoric. He doesn't have any policies on anything, but he thinks the only change we need is a change in parties. That's what the public finds so cynical about your position.

Interjections.

The Speaker: Order. Minister.

Hon Mr Hodgson: If you want to look at the facts around this issue, I think everyone recognizes there needs to be change and that we have to do it and do it well. This government has taken the tough decisions to bring about that necessary change on behalf of the taxpayers and the public in this province.

If you want to compare our record with the Liberal record, I'd be glad to do that. If you want to take a two-year period, you were spending $94 million on government-paid advertising. That's just in two years. Over the 10-year period, between the NDP and the Liberal governments you closed 10,000 hospital beds. That equates to 35 mid-sized hospitals. But you didn't reduce the bricks and mortar, the administration or find efficiencies and reinvest those dollars -

The Speaker: New question, leader of the third party.

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Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): In the absence of the Premier and the Deputy Premier and the Minister of Health, I feel I should address this question to the Minister of Long-Term Care. It is about your latest television propaganda. My question is very simple. Doesn't it bother you to make such an outrageous comparison, such a misleading comparison between the chaos that you've created in the health care system and the picture of a child removing a Band-Aid from their leg?

Doesn't it bother you to suggest that the people who died before they could be treated in Peterborough, before they could be treated in Wawa, before they could be treated in Scarborough - doesn't it bother you that you had nothing for those people who died? You had no time for them, no money for them, but you've got $4 million to spend on useless, disgusting television propaganda? Doesn't that bother you?

Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): The member opposite knows full well, and in his earlier statements in this House he even made reference to the fact that he'd been touring around this province offering all sorts of commentary about his vision for health care in this province.

We know for a record of five years with your government just exactly what you accomplished. You have a very extensive record of closing hospital beds but not confronting the real issues or the fact that these half-empty hospitals still required expensive administration. You laid off all those nurses. People who required those beds, the longest waiting lists in this province, predominantly for cancer care and for cardiac care and dialysis - where was your commitment to ensure that some tough decisions were made and we expanded the expenditures in health care?

This government is very proud of the fact that it has been able to expand considerably the amount of funding for health care in this province to over $18.7 billion, a record for this province, a commitment we're prepared to make -

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Supplementary.

Mr Hampton: Minister, I hate to have to give you some history over and over again, but Cancer Care Ontario was started under an NDP government, the whole strategy around dialysis was started under the NDP government, the whole Cardiac Care Network was started under the NDP government. This is about your government spending millions of dollars on useless, disgusting, partisan, political propaganda while patients wait in hospitals and some of them die. That's what it's about.

Just the $4 million that you're spending on your latest television propaganda about health care could hire, full-time, 100 badly needed nurses. Those are the choices you're making. You lay off nurses, you refuse to hire the nurses who are needed, Yet you put $4 million into this disgusting television propaganda. I ask you again, doesn't that bother you? Doesn't it bother you that people are suffering and you're taking money out of health care to finance this disgusting television propaganda campaign?

Hon Mr Jackson: The member opposite is now trying to take credit for all the things that were started in this province. Even by his own admission earlier, he says he was at the program at Dale Brain Injury Services. Yesterday I paid tribute to the NDP government for beginning the services. What I said was that they started something that the Liberal government refused to do. Under the Liberals, under David Peterson's regime, over 200 acquired brain injury families were sent to the United States.

I have to tell you, leader of the third party, that if you were that anxious to go to Dale Brain Injury Services in the last little while to talk to those residents, did you look those residents in the face and tell them why you left 76 of them stranded in the United States when you were the government?

Not this government. We're bringing every single one of them back to this province. We're doing it because we're restructuring health care and we have the courage to do it.

Mr Hampton: I think I have struck a nerve here. The question is, how do you justify spending this money -

Interjections.

The Speaker: Stop the clock. Leader of the third party.

Mr Hampton: As I started to say, I think I've struck a nerve. I've asked the minister twice now to justify the spending of $4 million on these outrageous propaganda ads, and we haven't received an answer from him yet.

Minister, if we go back just to September 1 - first to your education propaganda, now your health care propaganda and then your welfare propaganda that people are receiving in the mail - it's $10 million in less than two months. That's $10 million wasted on propaganda.

As I pointed out, adding it all together, it's at least 200 full-time nurses; adding it all together, it's close to 300 classroom teachers.

Once again, how do you justify closing schools, shutting down programs, laying off nurses, underfunding emergency rooms, underfunding mental health services, underfunding underserviced areas, while you spend this money on awful, terrible, ugly partisan political propaganda?

Hon Mr Jackson: I want to advise the leader of the third party that as he and members of his caucus run around the province trying to tell everybody how poor things are, whether it's in health care or any other aspect of life in this province, he should be reminded that this government has made a courageous commitment to expand health services, to make decisions your government and the previous NDP government didn't make.

Before everybody gets too sanctimonious in this legislative chamber about advertising, I want to remind the member opposite that I sat on that side of the House. I remember a very famous Smile Ontario program, where $10 million -

Interjections.

The Speaker: Order.

Hon Mr Jackson: Let's be clear: Government advertising wasn't begun in the last five months, five years or the last 50 years. But I want to remind the leader of the third party, as he smiles into the camera today on TV, that he reminds everyone of the Smile Ontario program of his former government, which spent $10 million. The Jobs Ontario program spent more money on advertising than it did on one single recipient in this province to help them find a job. We will be held accountable for restructuring health care in Ontario in spite of the false and misleading comments that people are making about that restructuring in this province.

CHILDREN'S TREATMENT CENTRES

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Long-Term Care. I'm going to read to you from an October 5 letter from you to MPP Jim Flaherty about Grandview children's centre:

"As you know, I met with members of PACK" - that's the Grandview parents - "on August 24th."

Your letter goes to some considerable lengths to refute or explain away many of the parents' concerns. Minister, did you even listen to those parents at that meeting?

Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): I want to confirm for the member opposite that I have consulted with people who were in attendance at that meeting, both ministry of long-term-care staff and my colleague the Minister of Community and Social Services, the member mentioned in the correspondence, and the concerns that have been expressed by those parents are well known to me. However, I believe the correspondence was in reference to the contract that was already sent and approved by the community care access centre in Durham for some of those services which they were providing.

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Ms Lankin: No, Minister. In your letter, you said you met with the parents. Let me quote from the chair of the parents' group in her letter to you:

"You state in your letter that you met with members of PACK.... But, Mr Jackson, you were not there. You have never set foot in Grandview, nor have you ever met with any parents from PACK."

It's clear that you signed the letter. It's equally clear that you didn't read it, because that's not the only misstatement of fact in this letter. You also suggest that the review of the role of children's treatment centres is underway. You may be mistaken there because you listened to your colleague the Minister of Health, who said to me on June 18 in this House: "The review is underway.... This review is getting underway and we hope to complete it as quickly as possible." Another phony health care announcement. Five months later, the review hasn't started and you haven't even announced the terms of reference.

Kids and families are going without desperately needed services while you have continued the freeze on their budgets, while you await a review that you haven't even started and that's not likely to get started until January, and while your colleagues toss around this review like a political hot potato. Will you lift the freeze, Minister?

Hon Mr Jackson: First of all, I believe the member is struggling under a misapprehension about who is undertaking the review. I would be pleased to refer her next supplementary to the minister who is responsible for the review. I'm not responsible for the review. It's the Minister of Community and Social Services.

Ms Lankin: The freeze has been in place for over five years now, over three and a half of those years under your government. That freeze started under the NDP government for two years; three and a half years you've kept it in place. You're keeping them waiting out there for this phantom review which hasn't begun, which has been tossed from the Minister of Health to the minister responsible for children's issues to the minister responsible for community services, and the children's treatment centres are under your care, Minister.

The kids, the families, aren't getting the services they need. In Durham alone, the fastest growing population, biggest percentage of kids, an increase - 900 referrals last year. They're not getting the services. You brag about them discharging people from Grandview; 150 of the kids who have been discharged simply get no services.

Minister, please, I'm asking you, under your watch and your ministry, will you at least review lifting the freeze and giving an interim budget infusion while the review takes place? For the sake of the kids and the sake of the families, will you at least look at that?

Hon Mr Jackson: I indicated to refer the question to the minister responsible for the review, the Minister of Community and Social Services.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister.

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I would like to remind the honourable member that many of the services that these families receive come not only from long-term care; they also come from health and from the Ministry of Community and Social Services. All of the ministries have been working on this review of special-needs children. That review is underway. We will be meeting with parents to discuss the contents of that.

I would also like to remind the honourable member that, yes, there has been a freeze on these institutions because we need to review how best to serve the needs of those families. We have a number of reform initiatives underway to help support those families in a better way. They have special-needs children. That's why we have our reform underway in children's services in community and social services. That's why the Durham MPPs have met with these parents many times. That's why we are undertaking this review, so that we can serve the needs of those families much better than they are currently getting.

HOSPITAL RESTRUCTURING

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): To the Chair of Management Board: Whenever my colleagues and I have asked questions about the future and status of local hospitals, the Premier and the Minister of Health have stated that these decisions were solely in the hands of the Health Services Restructuring Commission, or, as I call it, the hospital destruction commission. They have insisted that the commission is arm's length from the government, completely objective and totally autonomous, and that their decisions are final.

Today in Thunder Bay, as part of the political road show of Mike Harris paid for by the taxpayers of this province, and with an election just around the corner, Mike Harris ripped up the recommendations of the commission and announced a new and changed political solution for the hospitals in Thunder Bay.

Since we have exposed the fact that the commission is neither arm's length nor objective, and most certainly that its decisions are not final, may I assume that the Premier will elbow aside his commission and save the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines from the commission's swinging axe?

Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): Maybe the member of the Liberal Party is not aware of the facts around this. The health care restructuring commission changed its direction; it's based on their direction that the announcements were made yesterday. I can send him over the advertising around it or the press releases. That's more of a need for information to go to the public.

The people of Thunder Bay should be congratulated on working through this process that's going to improve their health care services for the next millennium, and the health care restructuring commission should be congratulated on the work that they have carried out in that community.

Mr Bradley: All this time, while you have closed or forced to merge 42 hospitals in this province despite Mike Harris's assurance - and I quote it to you again; this is Mike Harris saying, "Certainly I can guarantee you it is not my plan to close hospitals" - the Premier and the health minister have pretended that the hospital restructuring was not to be a political exercise. Yet the finance minister, Ernie Eves, in his own constituency ordered the reopening of the hospital in Burk's Falls.

Will you assure the people of St Catharines and the Niagara region that the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines, which has provided outstanding medical service to patients in our community for half a century, will receive the same treatment as the closed hospital in Ernie Eves's riding? If not, would you tell the staff and directors of the Hotel Dieu Hospital what they should do with the congratulatory scroll which Mike Harris sent to the Hotel Dieu on the celebration of its 50th anniversary?

Hon Mr Hodgson: This is a rather sensitive issue to all members in this House. Let's get the facts clear on this. The Health Services Restructuring Commission makes recommendations. They have a 30-day process where the public in those areas can have comments and refine and suggest improvements. In Thunder Bay that's what happened.

In St Catharines - I know the member is concerned about this and so are a lot of the residents - there's a 30-day period from when they make their initial recommendations to when they make their final recommendations.

In Thunder Bay, the local people gathered around and came up with some ideas on how to improve it. I think it's something that all members of this House should be proud of.

In spite of the 10 to 15 years of inaction on behalf of this province, we're moving forward and putting the dollars to better use to serve patients in this province. In Thunder Bay that's a success story, and it wasn't always that way. If you talk to the people of Thunder Bay, there's a lot of acrimony in the community, as we looked at this for the last 10 years. Today and from here on, it's good news. They're working together to make a better health care system.

Mr Bradley: On a point of order, Speaker: I request unanimous consent for the minister to answer my question about Burk's Falls and comparing it to St Catharines.

The Speaker: Agreed? No. New question.

HOMELESSNESS

Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Housing. Today the city of Toronto voted 53 to 1 to declare a state of emergency around the crisis of homelessness. Just in the past few days, two people have died here in the streets because of homelessness, yet your government does nothing.

Minister, will you join the Toronto city council and declare a state of emergency around the conditions of homelessness in this province?

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Mr Speaker, I'll refer this question to the Minister of Community and Social Services.

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Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): As the honourable member knows, this government has done a great deal to support municipalities across this province as they deal with people who find themselves homeless. Because we recognize that this is a very serious issue, because we recognize that there are many individuals who find themselves homeless for many reasons, we do have a responsibility. That's one of the reasons why we support municipalities with 80% of the funding. I've communicated with Mayor Lastman that we will continue to put forward that funding as they find new hostel beds for those who find themselves homeless. We will continue to support.

We had a task force that consulted with municipalities, and the message we heard loudly and clearly was that a great deal of money was already being spent, but one of the problems was with the way it was being spent. Municipalities were having their hands tied. We can see here in Toronto the creativity, the innovation, the solutions that can be brought forward at the community level. Our responsibility is to help fund that and we are indeed doing that.

Mr Hampton: I see now why the Minister of Housing didn't answer, because this government frankly doesn't care about housing. That's why they've discontinued not-for-profit housing programs. That's why in fact all kinds of people who rely upon social assistance -

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Third party.

Mr Hampton: Your government has made the plight of people who are struggling very hard to find housing that much more difficult. As for your boast about support to municipalities, municipalities frankly tell you there is no support.

Toronto is finding some creative solutions. They're actually taking vacant buildings and turning them over to provide shelter for the homeless. Your government has been busy shutting down hospitals and laying off people. You must have some vacant buildings that are available. Would you provide a list of the vacant buildings that you can make available so that people who don't have a home will at least have a roof over their head this winter? Can you do that, Minister?

Hon Mrs Ecker: I'll refer this to the Minister of Housing.

Hon Mr Leach: I would also say that we're working with the city of Toronto on this effort. As the Minister Community and Social Services said, we support the municipalities in their search to provide more housing for the homeless. As a matter of fact, we continue to pay 80% subsidy for every hostel that they find.

I don't think there's anybody more qualified to identify buildings that may be available in a municipality than the municipality itself. The city of Toronto, for example, is doing that. They're putting together a list of buildings within their community that may be appropriate for hostels over the period in question, and when they identify those buildings, and if they provide additional beds, this government will be there to provide the support that we've always provided, and that is to pay 80% of the cost of every bed that is found.

LONG-TERM CARE

Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): My question is for the Minister of Long-Term Care. There's a concern in St Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake and indeed all of the Niagara region about health care, and many were anxious about waiting for the report on hospitals. Yesterday, the Health Services Restructuring Commission recommended the closing of a hospital in St Catharines.

Minister, as you are responsible for long-term care, I would like you to tell me how long-term care services in St Catharines and Niagara are being improved on the one hand while on the other hand a hospital is being recommended for closure.

Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Long-Term Care, minister responsible for seniors): Thank you, to the member, for his question. I just want to put in context here that previous governments cut quite a few beds in the Niagara Peninsula, including in the St Catharines region. What we have to show for that is a bunch of empty beds and empty wards, and yet in spite of that fact today the restructuring commission has indicated that there should be an expansion of long-term-care beds.

That is a commitment that this government is already well in advance of with the restructuring commission, because we have allocated 646 new long-term-care beds to this region, 20% more than the restructuring commission has recommended.

Within the next two weeks, we'll be announcing the locations of the first 100 new long-term-care beds, the first for this region in 10 years. Last week, I announced the locations for 37 transitional beds. So we are building long-term-care beds for an aging society and in particular in the Niagara Peninsula, where they've been badly neglected for a decade.

Mr Froese: Thank you, Minister, for that great news. All of us in the Niagara region -

Interjections.

Mr Froese: Maybe the members on the other side of the House don't think it's important, but to the Niagara region it is important. We're looking forward to getting those first 100 new long-term-care beds.

Minister, community care is also a concern. My question to you is, what is the government doing in St Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake to build a more integrated community and family-based health care system?

Hon Mr Jackson: The Niagara region was one of the most discriminated against areas of Ontario in receiving its community-based services. Although two governments failed to recognize this, this government moved in less than three years to increase funding in this region by 77%. From $29 million, we're now spending $52 million on community care in the Niagara Peninsula.

On top of that, we've added additional community-based services of over $6 million for integrated programs like Meals on Wheels, Pleasant Manor care services, brain injury community re-entry programs, the Victorian Order of Nurses, the west Niagara community support services, March of Dimes, Alzheimer day programs. The list goes on and on.

This part of the province has the largest and fastest growing group of seniors in all of Canada. This government moved quickly, immediately, when it had its mandate to increase funding for badly needed services for the Niagara Peninsula, and we're proud of those expanded services.

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TUITION FEES

Mr David Caplan (Oriole): My question is for the Minister of Education. Today we've heard that your government is spending $42 million on propaganda. That $42 million is almost as much as you've taken out of post-secondary student assistance programs.

In the gallery today is Chris Chmelyk, who has come all the way from Queen's University to get you to take notice of his situation. Chris wrote to you urgently. He's an engineering student at Queen's. He's going to have to leave school in January because of your tuition hikes, because you've saddled him with crushing debt.

Here's what he said to you. He can't qualify for OSAP because his parents' income is too high. His parents can only send him $200 a month. He has exhausted the lines of credit from the bank. There is no more money available for his education.

This is your legacy, Minister. This is what you've done to thousands of post-secondary students in Ontario with your cuts to student assistance. Chris Chmelyk and the rest of Ontario's students want an answer from you here today. Tell us today, Minister, why your government has decided to spend $42 million on advertising propaganda instead of investing that money in student assistance so that Chris and 500,000 -

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.

Mr Caplan: - post-secondary students in Ontario can finish their education.

The Speaker: Come to order. Would the member for Quinte come to order as well.

Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I would say, in connection with assistance to students, that the assistance to students this year through the provincial government will total $535 million.

Let's just check and see what assistance to students was during the Liberal years. It says here that the maximum amount of support during the Liberal years was about $300 million less. In terms of the total investment -

Interjections.

Hon David Johnson: They obviously don't want to hear this. In terms of the total investment in post-secondary education, this government, through tax expenditures and normal expenditures, has invested almost $3.3 billion in post-secondary education, which is over half a billion dollars more than the Liberals invested.

We're attempting to focus in areas of greatest need to our post-secondary students. That is our program.

Mr Caplan: I just say to the minister, any way you slice it, it's still baloney.

Minister, you've made student assistance harder to access. You haven't explained why you've chosen to spend $11 million on education propaganda instead of spending it on student assistance.

In the gallery today as well are members of the alma mater society. They've come to demand an answer from you about how your government is going to ease the debt burden on college and university students. You told them on July 23 that you would finally have a framework for changes to OSAP by September 30 this year. It's now the end of October and all we've seen is new spending on government propaganda advertising.

Stand in your place and tell us why you've sat back and watched the average student debt rise to a level of $25,000 because of your tuition hikes. Tell the AMS representatives why you made empty promises in July. These students are going to meet you outside of the House today to hear your explanation. I want to hear it right now, here in the House.

The Speaker: Member for Nepean, don't hold up a sign any more, please. Thank you.

Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): The "Mom, send money" sign?

The Speaker: Member for Nepean.

Hon David Johnson: Maybe I would point out to the member for Oriole the views of the Canadian Federation of Students. The headline in this particular article from the Canadian Federation of Students says, "Martin Fails Grade Over Student Debts." Paul Martin, federal Liberal; does that ring a bell? Do we know anybody else -

Interjections.

The Speaker: Minister.

Hon David Johnson: The sad reality is that 70% of student debt is from a federal loan. That's what we have to contend with. This government has taken this matter very seriously. I take very seriously the matter of this individual student.

That's why we have increased OSAP, Ontario student assistance, by 33%. During our term, we have instituted the Ontario student opportunity trust fund, some $600 million to assist students. We've insisted that 30% of any tuition increase, if an institution increases the tuition, be set aside to help those students who need that help. We've instituted the access to opportunities program to help students in those particular courses. We've increased funding to Ontario's universities that have increased access by some $29 million. On and on it goes. We've focused the need to the student -

The Speaker: New question.

VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question for the Minister of Education and Training, a very serious, grave matter. The Toronto Star recently in a survey showed that one out of five high school students in the greater Toronto area feels unsafe at school. Earlier, my leader asked the minister about a memo issued by his ministry to the new secondary school curriculum teams. The ministry directed the teams to remove education about violence prevention from curriculum documents that are actually used by teachers to develop lesson plans.

Minister, in light of the communities' concerns about violence among students, will you reverse your ministry's directive and ensure that curriculum policy documents in each subject area include education about violence prevention?

Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I will assure the member opposite that there is a policy document governing violence in schools. It was actually created in 1994 by the NDP government. It is a document that guides this issue which is a most sensitive one. It's one that we need to spend a great deal of thought and effort in terms of addressing. This document is available and governs the conduct of all of our schools.

The school officials, as they have down through the ages, have determined that these documents, because they already exist, do not have to be duplicated in each and every curriculum. But I will also say that each of the curriculum teams has an expert in terms of violence as they create the new curriculum, and are aware of those kinds of issues as they are creating the curriculum.

Mr Wildman: The minister will know that the policy document he refers to is an important one but it does not deal with the curriculum. It doesn't deal with everyday teaching in the classroom on this issue.

Let's deal with the Violence-Free Schools Policy document that was developed after consultation with over 3,000 Ontarians by our government. That document recognized the need to involve the whole community in violence prevention. But the government's cuts to education have exacerbated youth violence. The cuts have taken away the supports that students need, like guidance counsellors and social workers in secondary schools.

The Violence-Free Schools Policy document requires the ministry to review the policy and procedures after three years. The document is now four years old. It should have been reviewed last year. Has your ministry reviewed this document? When will we see the proposals for its implementation in future?

Hon David Johnson: I'm happy to say that yes, indeed, the ministry has long ago started the review of this particular policy. We're working very diligently towards an update. I might call it a safe schools sort of approach. This is something this government is committed to. We've promised to do this. You can expect it in the not-too-distant future. It is a very high priority.

In terms of support within the classrooms for guidance teachers, for example, the amount of money within the funding formula has been increased so that there are more resources available for guidance counsellors and librarians and all the other people in that particular category, but it certainly includes guidance counsellors across Ontario.

These are all very important measures that this government considers a high priority and I hope we'll come forward in the very near future with that upgraded policy.

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TEACHERS' WORK-TO-RULE

Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): My question is to the Minister of Education and relates to the serious effect that students are feeling as a result of work-to-rule by teachers in York region.

On October 5, I read into the record a petition that had been presented to me by two students, Moe Ajram and Kari Coish, the student council vice-president and president of the Dr G.W. Williams Secondary School in Aurora. That petition expressed the serious concerns of students who are being affected by the work-to-rule strategy of teachers in York region because they're being denied all extracurricular activities.

On Monday of this week those same students came back to see me and they're now concerned that work-to-rule is affecting them not only in extracurricular activities but in the classroom. Students are being told by teachers that they don't have the time to provide extra help when asked for explanations on lessons and results of tests are often delayed for days.

Minister, these students are looking to this government for some answers. They're looking to you as minister. What advice can you offer to students in my constituency being so affected?

Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I share the concerns of these students and I would hope that each and every member of this House would share the concerns of these students. I have received letters from other students, and certainly there are newspaper articles. They express extreme disappointment with the withdrawal of teacher support for extracurricular activities.

Frankly, it's disappointing, it's unacceptable and it's very frustrating because these are activities that students need. These are very important in terms of their overall involvement within their schools in activities such as the Metro Bowl today. I see that the number of participants in the Metro Bowl has been reduced. It can be sports activities, science clubs, musical plays - many different activities that are most important.

I continue to believe in the professionalism of the teachers and I call on them to restore all of these extracurricular activities for the students who need them most urgently.

Mr Klees: The students who are affected by this work-to-rule strategy of the union leaders simply wish to participate in extracurricular activities. They simply want to get on with the education in the classroom. Their concern is not the content of the contracts under which the unions are negotiating or of their teachers' contracts. What they want to ensure is that their academic year is not at risk. They want to ensure that they can participate in sports. Many of these young people want to qualify for sports programs in universities.

This action right now of these teachers is in many cases going to jeopardize the academic year and is going to jeopardize the opportunity for these students to qualify for sports programs in universities. What can we do to support the students in the classroom so they can get on with their education?

Hon David Johnson: It is clearly unacceptable that students not receive the type of support they have received in the past, whether it be for extracurricular activities -

Interjections.

Hon David Johnson: I can hardly hear myself think, Mr Speaker.

The member has raised the issue of assignments, the marking of assignments and returning of assignments. The marking and returning of assignments would be a normal requirement of the activities within a school, and this may be a matter that should be raised with the local principal or the local school board representative and addressed because these are not voluntary activities. Marking and returning assignments are part of the job and the activities within a school.

I think we all need to call on those in the teaching profession - they're professionals - and ask them to put the students first, think of the students, get back to all of those extracurricular activities -

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.

HEALTH CARE FUNDING

Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is for the acting Deputy Premier. My leader, Dalton McGuinty, earlier today pointed out that your government has spent $42 million on government propaganda and your latest ads on health care propaganda are costing Ontarians $4 million.

I want to contrast that to the cuts. A constituent, Mr Saheed Mohammed, 68 years old, had heart surgery and was released from hospital a week later. That same evening he suffered chest pains and was rushed to the hospital he was released from. As a result of the emergency department being full, the gentleman was transferred to another hospital. Four hours later, he was en route back to the original hospital where he had the surgery and died on the way to the hospital. The wife, Mrs Mohammed, clearly believes that her husband would be alive today if it wasn't for the fact that he was turned away from the original hospital due to overflow and the emergency department being in a situation where they could not take him.

Minister, according to Mrs Mohammed, your cuts killed her husband. Can you tell me how the $4 million that you're spending on government propaganda on health care is going to help Mrs Mohammed understand why her husband died as a result of your cuts?

Hon Chris Hodgson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet, Minister of Northern Development and Mines): The particular example that the member mentions: I think everyone would feel some concern about this tragic incident. I don't think that does anyone any benefit unless we learn that we have to reform the system and improve from that example. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends.

What we want to do with the reform is make it so these situations do not occur in this province. One occurrence like that is not acceptable to anyone. We also recognize that we have to go through change to find the dollars, to prioritize under the front-line services. Taking the Liberal approach of do nothing has put us in a situation where we've had to take some rapid action to improve the system.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Supplementary.

Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): Like my colleague from Hamilton East, my question is to the acting Premier and it's about the squandering of four million hard-earned taxpayers' dollars on propaganda.

In the greater Cornwall area we could have put that money to better use. In August your government finally announced after two and a half years that a Cornwall dialysis machine would be up and running in November. Here it is, the end of October, and there are a lot of questions that are not answered, such as when the facilities will be operational and what the hours will be. Many of the working-class people in my community want to know what hours this will be available to them.

Also, in the election campaign Mike Harris promised not to close any hospitals, but we had a casualty in our riding too. The residents are very worried that it will not result in improved health care and about the dollars that it will cost them for the new facilities.

My question is, what will the hours of service be for the new dialysis equipment in Cornwall and when will it be up and running?

Hon Mr Hodgson: It's a good question and I'll take it under advisement and inform the Minister of Health to get back to the member on the question.

I should point out to the Liberals on the other side that this government has increased overall health care spending in this province far in excess of what we campaigned on and what you campaigned on to meet the needs. The only government in Canada that has cut health care spending is your federal cousins in Ottawa.

But the point is that by restructuring this system, the changes that are necessary, the changes that this government information is trying to inform the public about - and this is the need for information - are those dialysis programs, those special programs, those community care programs. The dollars from that come from restructuring the acute care system.

That's why if your government had taken the action back in the 1980s when all the experts said we have a surplus of hospitals in this province, that we need more dollars out in the front-line services, then we wouldn't have that problem. The quicker we get through that, the better off our health care system will be in this province.

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