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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 -
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?
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 -
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?
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.
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?
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 -
CHILDREN'S TREATMENT CENTRES
"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?
"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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Minister, will you join the Toronto city council and declare a state of emergency around the conditions of homelessness in this province?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 -
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 -
We're attempting to focus in areas of greatest need to our post-secondary students. That is our program.
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.
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 -
VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 -
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
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?
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.
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?
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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