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Ontario Hansard - 24-April2012

ORAL QUESTIONS

ONTARIO BUDGET


Mr. Tim Hudak: A question to the Premier: Premier, I realize that you and your Liberal caucus acted yesterday as people very worried about the future of your careers, but on this side of the House, we are worried about the future of the province of Ontario. Your budget took a very weak response to a serious problem of taking us down the path of a $30-billion deficit. Now you’re digging the hole even deeper.

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Premier, I know you see yesterday as a win, because you fail to grasp the gravity of the crisis that’s facing the province of Ontario. I see yesterday as a loss for our province, because the task ahead is so much more difficult now that he’s increasing taxes and digging a deeper hole with more spending.

Sir, let me ask you directly: How many more hundreds of millions of dollars will we be forced to borrow for your compromise deal that ratchets up spending in our province?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: It’s nice to see the Leader of the Opposition back in the Legislature and off the campaign trail. You know, he’s been AWOL—absent without leadership—over the last four years. He should have been here talking about how to make the budget better. Instead, he chose to be out nominating candidates. He chose to be ordering lawn signs.

We’re proud of the fact that, not only does this agreement with the third party hold the line on expenditure, it reduces the deficit from what we projected.

That leader is not up to the job. He’s been absent without leadership, he’s disappointed his party, he’s let Ontario down. He ought to be ashamed of his performance over the last—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Be seated, please. I will start by being very specific to members.

Supplementary?


Mr. Tim Hudak: Speaker, I want to say I’m disappointed that the Premier refused to answer the very first question on his climbdown; his increase in spending and his increase in taxes. His finance minister argues that they were forced to negotiate a deal because we refused to negotiate—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Peterborough, come to order.

Mr. Tim Hudak: They say they were forced to take this deal because the PCs refused to negotiate. I say back, you’ve shown yourselves very capable of abandoning your principles without any of our help. It seems to come naturally.

Here’s the problem: The credit rating agencies are watching very closely to see what kind of one-off deals, waiting for gimmicks, quick fixes, accounting tricks, a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to fiscal management—we saw that yesterday with unspecified savings. You have not told us how much more this deal is going to cost us by digging the deficit hole even deeper. So I’ll try again: Premier, can you tell us exactly how many more hundreds of millions of dollars we’ll have to borrow for your climbdown yesterday?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: The Leader of the Opposition has had four weeks to sit down with the Premier and the leader of the third party, who worked all weekend to get this arrangement. Where was the Leader of the Opposition? He was AWOL, absent without leadership.

It was not easy for the third party to come to terms with this. They worked hard. While you were out getting nominated, while you were out ordering lawn signs, while you were out abandoning the people of Ontario and abdicating your responsibility, the leader of the third party and the Premier of this province were working together to find an accord that keeps our expenses where they were.

Mr. Speaker, I’ll be reporting more completely. We’ll actually lower the deficit for this fiscal year. I’m looking forward to that debate.

You have been absent without leadership. You’re not up to the job. You should have been at the table instead of—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Be seated, please.

A quick reminder, everyone: When I get to the second warning and I gave a warning, there will be no second warning. I suspect there isn’t anyone in this place who wants to get named.

Final supplementary.


Mr. Tim Hudak: I’ll try the Premier again, to respond to the deal, or as the finance minister called it, the “accord” he signed with the third party. Premier, you said very clearly over and over again that you had two basic principles; you drew two lines in the sand. You said that you would not increase taxes, and you said that you would not increase spending. Sir, you broke both of those promises. You’re increasing taxes and you’re increasing spending in the province of Ontario.

Just because the Premier is so willing to toss his principles overboard doesn’t mean that we will. We will stand firmly for lowering spending, not increasing it; for creating the right environment for job creation in the province of Ontario. We want to see Ontario as a leader again in Canada, not falling further and further into the hole.

So, Premier, let me ask you a third time. You said that the NDP proposals would cost $1 billion: Is that right? Is it more? Please tell us how much deeper the hole will be.


Hon. Dwight Duncan: Not only has the Leader of the Opposition been AWOL, absent without leadership, now he’s using the numbers completely inappropriately and not giving full—I want to respect the Chair. He’s not being respectful of the facts here.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Guelph Mercury had to say: “Tim Hudak, the Tory leader with a one-word vocabulary—’No!’—will be left looking as foolish and irrelevant as he has since the election last October.”

Here’s what the National Post says: “Standing aside from all of this is PC leader Tim Hudak, who shunted himself out.... Some have suggested” that he “miscalculated by ceding the floor to the NDP leader....”

Not only did he miscalculate, he did not fulfill his responsibilities. He has been absent without leadership.

This is the right budget, the right plan that reduces the deficit, holds the line on spending and helps to get Ontario back to balance in the time frames outlined.

ONTARIO BUDGET


Mr. Tim Hudak: Speaker, I’ll say to the Premier, who is only a few feet in front of me here, that I would actually like an answer to the question. You said that this would cost $1 billion. Is that accurate? Is it more or less?

More importantly, this gets to leadership. The Premier said he had two principles: One principle was that he wouldn’t increase taxes; his other principle was that he would not increase spending. He drew a line in the sand and then he backed away from that line over and over again. And just because the Premier of the province of Ontario is so willing to compromise his principles at the drop of a hat, that doesn’t mean we are. That doesn’t mean the people of Ontario are. We’ll stand firmly on our principles to do the right thing in our province.

Premier, let me ask you for the fourth time: Is it $1 billion, more or less? How much deeper will the hole now be?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, to the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: Leadership is about rolling up your sleeves, about working a minority Parliament, which the leader of the third party and the Premier have done, to arrive at an accord that holds the line on expenses and reduces the deficit.

But again, don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear what the St. Catharines Standard had to say—not exactly a bastion of liberalism, if there was one: “Tory boss Tim Hudak has already said no, unwisely taking himself and his party out of the ... equation.”

You took yourself out of the equation. You did not offer ideas. You’ve been absent without leadership. Leadership is about working together in a minority Parliament. It’s about making tough choices. It’s about compromise. You were out getting nominated. You were out buying lawn signs. The Premier and the leader of the third party were working together—


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I’m going to remind the member to focus on government policy.

Supplementary?


Mr. Tim Hudak: Speaker—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I’m not looking for the heckling after I get attention and I move to the leader’s question.

Leader.


Mr. Tim Hudak: Thank you, Speaker. With all due respect, leadership is standing up for what you believe in, and why you were sent here to Queen’s Park: to fight each and every day for more jobs and for balancing the budget in our province. Leadership means not looking out for the day to day or saving their political skin. It means doing the right thing for the future of our province of Ontario, making it strong again, making it prosperous again.

Premier, your entire budget is premised on achieving a voluntary pay freeze with the unions, which will require some tough negotiations. In the negotiations with the third party, you basically wrestled Ms. Horwath to the ceiling. You gave away the store. How can anybody believe you’ll actually stand up in tough negotiations when you gave us a billion-dollar greater hole and a tax hike that’s going to cost us jobs? How can you carry your plan when you caved so easily?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I think the first rule of leadership is, you have to show up. Leading is about standing up for what you believe in. We believe in full-day learning; they don’t. They want to give generous subsidies to the horse racing industry. We believe in smaller class sizes; they don’t. They want to cut corporate taxes more and more and more. We believe in strong government working together in a minority Parliament with open colleagues who are prepared to negotiate; they don’t.

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They were out nominating candidates, they were out raising money, they were calling members of this Legislature names, and they’re still doing it, Mr. Speaker. They’ve been absent without leadership.

This deal, I assure Ontarians again, will not only hold the line on expenses. It will reduce this year’s deficit and allow us to build that future that all Ontarians want, one with the best health care and education in the world—


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Final supplementary.

Mr. Tim Hudak: It seems the Premier is absent today, even though he’s sitting in his chair and refusing to answer basic questions.

Premier, you refuse to tell us how much this deal is going to cost and refuse to tell us that if you’re going to have to negotiate tough with the unions and hold back spending, why anybody would give you credibility now, after you wrestled the NDP to the ceiling and basically gave away the treasury. It’s a billion dollars, a new tax increase.

You know what, Speaker? Leadership is about telling the truth. Leadership is about standing on your principles. Leadership is about fighting for a better, more prosperous future in the province of Ontario, and we will never apologize for doing what’s right and looking to the long term: a strong, prosperous province that leads Canada in job creation, not the short-term gimmicks and giveaways that these guys are bringing forward—strong leadership for a strong province of Ontario under the PCs.


Hon. Dwight Duncan: The Leader of the Opposition missed the boat. Now he’s on the dock waving frantically, Mr. Speaker. You know, you might even compare it to leading like a fish out of water. As recently as this weekend, he was at his nomination meeting instead of being with the leader of the third party and the Premier, dealing with the real problems that Ontario is confronted with. And again, don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Hamilton Spectator had to say: “Tory leader Tim Hudak is the odd man out. Despite winning more than twice as many seats as Horwath, he dealt himself out of the budget negotiations by rejecting it out of hand.” Absent without leadership: You, sir, are not up to the job. Ontario deserves better from the Leader of the Opposition.

JOB CREATION


Ms. Andrea Horwath: Thank you, Speaker—

Applause.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please.

I understand what happened, but I would ask the member to be quick with the question and I ask for a less animated response from some members.


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier this morning. Since the proposed budget was first tabled, we spoke with thousands of everyday Ontarians, and they told us very clearly that they didn’t want an election but they weren’t happy with the budget. So we made some progress and we put a little more fairness in that budget, and against the government’s will, created some fiscal capacity. But people are still worried, Speaker, especially about jobs, and we’re going to keep fighting for them. What is the Premier’s plan on jobs, Speaker?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Well, Speaker, first of all let me take the opportunity—

Interruption.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock. I want the Sergeant-at-Arms to ask our protesters to leave.

We will take a 10-minute recess.

The House recessed from 1055 to 1105.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Before we start the clock, I would just like to offer a reminder not only to all members but obviously to all of our guests: It is not the case and the tradition and the convention here that our visitors participate in any way, shape or form during the debate. That will be maintained. I thank you for your patience, and I appreciate the opportunity to remind everyone that outbursts will not be tolerated.

We are now on the—the leader of the third party.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Oh, yes, I’m sorry. Premier, you have the answer.

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Thank you, Speaker. I want to thank my colleague for the question, but more than that, I want to take this opportunity for thanking her for the work that she did outside of the context of question period, which is understandably characterized by cut and thrust. It has a certain partisan overtone that’s understandable and to be expected, Speaker, but there is good work to be done outside this chamber, I would suggest, by all three party leaders. I extend a continuing invitation to my honourable colleague the leader of the official opposition. There is still more work that we need to do on behalf of the people of Ontario, and we are always at our best when we work together.

Speaker, my honourable colleague knows that, among other things, the budget makes a specific commitment to 170,000 jobs.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: There are 550,000 people in Ontario looking for work right now, and we won’t find balance in this province if those people cannot find a job, Speaker. Would the Premier agree that the job creator tax credit, which would reward companies when they actually create jobs, is better than rewarding companies that ship jobs away?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, on the matter of the job creator tax credit, I have committed to my honourable colleague to have our new jobs and prosperity council give that very careful consideration so that we might consider it, as a government, with respect to the next budget.

There is some good news, Speaker, on the jobs front. Last month, Ontario created 42,000 new jobs. That’s 56% of all the new jobs created in Canada. Since the depths of the recession, we’ve created over 350,000 jobs. That’s more jobs created in Ontario than the other nine provinces combined. So I think we’re moving in the right direction.

There is clearly more work to be done, but it’s important to understand that an important part of the foundation for a job-creating jurisdiction is to eliminate the deficit, and that’s why we’re so absolutely committed to getting that done too.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, the government has been forced to make this Liberal budget a little more fair for everyday Ontarians, but New Democrats know very well that this budget still falls very short for the people of this province. One of the things that’s clear is that this province will not recover until everyday folks are back to work.

We proposed the job creator tax credit, which will reward the companies that create jobs. It’s an alternative to the kinds of tax giveaways that the government has handed to companies that ship jobs away. The Premier has promised that our proposal will be considered by the jobs and prosperity council, and my question to the Premier is: When is that going to happen?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, we are in the process of deciding who it is that should provide us with some leadership, but I can say that on the jobs and prosperity council we want representation from the business community, we want representation from the labour community and we want representation from academia and any other groups that might have something to offer in that regard.

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The fact of the matter is, the Ontario economy continues to evolve. I think it’s very important that we develop a broad consensus, in business and labour in particular, as to where it is that we are going to apply our collective muscle. We have some $2 billion that we continue to invest in supporting business development and growth in Ontario. Are we using those monies in the best way possible? If we get more input on the part of labour in particular, I am convinced that we could do a better job together to grow this economy and create more jobs.

JOB CREATION


Ms. Andrea Horwath: We all have to roll up our sleeves, get to work and work together to help those people who are still looking for work in this province. We’ve been very, very clear to the government that they need to do a little bit more, but on some key issues, they’re still going in the wrong direction.

Does the Premier agree that forcing layoffs and destroying job-creating infrastructure when so many people are looking for work simply doesn’t make sense?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I’ll draw to my honourable colleague’s attention once again the fact that, as part of our infrastructure plan, we’re investing some $35 billion over three years. That represents, annually, three times as much as they did under the previous PC government; every year, we’ll be spending three times as much as they did, and we’re doing it in a very challenging fiscal and economic environment.

We understand that that $35 billion alone over the course of three years means 100,000 new jobs every year. When we build and repair our roads, that represents 26,000 jobs a year. The work that we will do in our schools—2,000 jobs; the work we will do in our colleges and universities—3,000 jobs; the continuing investments we make in our hospitals—26,000 jobs; and modernizing the OLG—6,000 jobs. Again, there are the jobs that will flow from our investments in the northern Ontario heritage fund and the eastern Ontario and the southwestern Ontario economic development funds.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, for the half a million people who are out of work, there’s no time to delay on job creation. I have to say that the people who make this province work need to see a real plan to get those jobs created.

The Premier could get started today by moving on the job creator tax credit that the New Democrats support and we have asked them to consider. We want to see a rewarding of job creators in this province because we think that’s the right way to go. We want to ensure that our natural resources in this province aren’t shipped away to be processed somewhere else, bringing good jobs to northern Ontario.

These are items we put on the table many times. The government says that they’re open to these new ideas. When can we expect some action?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I think we certainly share the objective to strengthen this economy, to create as many jobs as we can and to process as much as we can by way of our raw materials here inside the province of Ontario. But I would argue that we have perhaps a more comprehensive and a broader understanding of the global economy, our limits and our potential as a province.

I would also say that we’ve gone a long way to ensure that we have a much more competitive business environment. We have reduced corporate taxes, we have eliminated capital taxes, we reduced small business taxes, and we did something notwithstanding the opposition of my honourable colleague: We’ve adopted the HST, a very difficult measure, but it has decidedly made Ontario businesses more competitive.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I’d ask the other side to give me a standing ovation after my next question. We’ll see if that’s going to happen.

This is what people are telling us. Jason from Cambridge writes, “The ... government [is] taking people’s jobs away! And not making new ones! ... It’s hard times for us working people!” Shane from Brantford says that he’s worried about the budget. He worries that the budget “wipes out too many jobs and creates fewer jobs to replace those jobs that can’t be replaced.” What does the Premier have to say to people like Jason and Shane about a plan for job creation that works for everyone?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I would, through my honourable colleague, have her convey to those people that we’ve got a very strong budget. It takes strong action. It is suited to the times. It lays out a five-year plan for us to eliminate the deficit, which is absolutely essential to inspire confidence in our economy on the part of families, businesses and the international investment community. It protects health care and it protects education. By the way, it protects jobs in health care and it protects jobs in education, which I think is a very important message to send to our public sector partners, and it builds a new foundation for new jobs and new growth. That’s exactly what this budget is all about, and I’m sure that my honourable colleague will want to convey that to those people who are contacting her.

ONTARIO BUDGET


Mr. Peter Shurman: My question is also for the Premier. The consistent thing about your government is a predisposition to making Ontarians pay for your broken promises, for your debt and for your uncontrollable spending, and your budget is proof of that. The budget your government presented was unacceptable to most Ontarians, and it was unacceptable to the majority of us here. You’ve made concessions at the 11th hour only to keep your government alive. But you have not solved any problem. In fact, you only deferred the jobs and debt crisis, and you’ve condemned Ontarians, right down to our grandchildren, to repayment.

Is this your idea of accountability and responsible management of our province’s finances?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: Accountability and transparency are important, and I would ask the member opposite to deliver to his leader the message that he needs to be part of this, that we need to work together, instead of saying before reading the budget that you’re voting against it. You need to show up. You need to participate. You need to stop the name-calling. You need to work together. I think that’s what Ontarians expect.

This is not a giant talk radio studio, Mr. Speaker. This is an important place where public business is done. The Leader of the Opposition and the official opposition have been absent without leadership.

We’re going to continue to work with all sides of the House to build a better Ontario for all Ontarians.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Peter Shurman: I particularly find it interesting that the Deputy Premier, the Minister of Finance, uses this acronym, so I’ll use one too—SNAFU: situation normal, always fiscally unsustainable.

Look, your government has simply done away with the concept of living within our means. In fact there is a real disconnect in your government between your spending and your ability to pay. Your budget certainly doesn’t solve the problem.

Only last week, your government voted against a motion put forward by my colleague from Wellington–Halton Hills to systematically pay down the deficit. Instead, you decided to once again raise taxes. As usual, you’re only too happy to shift the burden of your failures to Ontarians—their children and their grandchildren.

Some 82% of respondents to a CFRA Ottawa poll say Premier McGuinty is not a man of principle.

Is that your idea, Premier, of leadership?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: Mr. Speaker, leadership involves laying out a balanced budget plan that has been accepted by most independent thinkers. It involves listening to other people when they have suggestions that will make things better.

It’s not about talk radio and polls on radio stations. I’ve spoken to more than 100,000 people through my telephone town halls; my colleagues have had them all over Ontario.

Mr. Speaker, the opportunity still exists for the official opposition to get back to work. Stop the nomination meetings. Quit ordering the lawn signs. Stop playing games. Quit the name-calling. Let’s work together to build a better Ontario for all Ontarians.

ONTARIO NORTHLAND
TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION


Mr. John Vanthof: My question is to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. As we all know, the ONTC provides 950 jobs in northern Ontario. A lot of people think it’s just a passenger train, but it’s freight, telecommunications, a ferry service. It also has a railcar refurbishment division. The refurbishment division has got a proven track record. It’s got skilled employees.

What I want to know and what those employees want to know is, will your ministry direct the interim board that you have created to bid for contracts as they come up, or are you just planning to dump the company?


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: First of all, I want to thank the NDP for supporting the budget motion. This allows us to work together as we divest the ONTC—

Interjections.


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: I also want to thank the member from Nipissing for his—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order. The member from Durham, come to order.

Minister.

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Hon. Rick Bartolucci: I also want to thank the member for Nipissing, who has given his support to privatization of the ONTC. He’s from North Bay, and he understands that the business line is good; the business model isn’t. So as we work forward together with the two opposition parties in our divestment of the ONTC, we will ensure that we put in place a transportation system that is effective, efficient and will meet the present and future needs of northern Ontarians.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Mr. John Vanthof: Unfortunately, although we’re trying to work together, the minister did not answer the question.

Via Rail has an outstanding contract for 98 cars and it can’t be completed by the company that had the bid. The company is in trouble. They’re looking for a new outfit to rebuild these cars.

My question is, can we work together to get those jobs into North Bay—that’s the question—or are you only interested in dumping—your word is “divesting”; my word is “dumping.” Can we get those jobs in North Bay?


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: The third party refers to letters. I’d like to refer to a letter. This letter is from Mike from North Bay. He writes, “The NDP Was No Friend to Ontario Northland.” He goes on to say, “When in power, the Ontario New Democratic Party reduced bus service from Timmins to Chapleau and Wawa, docked the new ferry in Tobermory, cut norOntair service from 21 to six communities and sold off Star Transfer, the trucking firm of the ONTC.”

I look forward to working with the members in the third party to ensure that as this divestment takes place, we have in place in the future a very efficient, very effective, very modern transportation system that will meet the present and future needs of northern Ontario.

ONTARIO FILM, TELEVISION
AND DIGITAL INDUSTRY


Mrs. Donna H. Cansfield: My question is for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Ontario’s screen-based industries are key economic drivers for our province. Film and television production contributes over $2 billion annually to our economy, supports 23,000 jobs, and digital media adds almost $1.5 billion and 16,000 jobs. In fact, they had their best-ever industry year in 2011. But in order for this sector to continue to grow, it needs to be able to provide jobs and to help our economy. We need significant investment from the province.

Mr. Speaker, through you to the minister, what is the government going to do to support Ontario’s film, television and digital industries to ensure that they remain stable and competitive?


Hon. Michael Chan: I want to thank the honourable member for asking this very important question.

Screen and television projects supported by the province contribute $1.2 billion to our economy, a $300-million increase over 2010. In 2011 alone, our government provided about $290 million in tax credits to Ontario’s screen-based industry through the Ontario film and television tax credit, the Ontario production services tax credit, the Ontario computer animation and special effects tax credit and the Ontario interactive digital media tax credit. We will continue to support the film and television sector, because this is a sector that will continue to create jobs and drive our knowledge-based economy.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Mrs. Donna H. Cansfield: Obviously we’re all pleased to know that the government remains committed to creating additional sustainability and growth. By the year 2014 the global market for interactive digital media products and services is expecting an annual growth rate of 9.7% and $500 billion. I think industry leaders would agree this is a fairly significant number.

With proper funding, Ontario will remain competitive in international markets and will excel as a world leader in film and television and digital media. Can the minister indicate what positive steps we are taking to enhance these areas, and perhaps share with us if there’s any feedback from the industry itself?


Hon. Michael Chan: Thank you again for the question. Sarah Ker-Hornell, executive director and CEO of FilmOntario, recently said that Ontario’s tax credits, combined with the breadth and depth of our infrastructure, talent, technology and expertise, have enabled the Ontario film industry to grow an additional 32% over 2010 and put us at the number one position in Canada.

Speaker, in addition, since 2003 we have invested almost $1.6 billion in program and tax credit support to the screen-based industries. Under Ernie Eves, the PC government cut $23 million from film-developing support. In contrast to that, our government will continue to move forward and make investments into our film, television and digital media sector.

AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE


Mr. Frank Klees: My question is to the Premier. Last week, we had the pleasure of Mr. Alfred Apps’s debut at the public accounts committee. The Premier, I’m sure, has been well briefed on the fact that the former president of the Liberal Party of Canada was not very complimentary to his government or to the Auditor General. He was helpful, though, in that he confirmed for us that the Premier met with the now infamous Dr. Mazza and that there was a discussion during that meeting about Ornge and how well things were going there. Does the Premier recall that meeting with Dr. Mazza, and can he tell us today what the nature of that discussion was?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Community and Social Services.

Hon. John Milloy: Again, as we spoke yesterday—

Hon. Dwight Duncan: The only thing worse than Ornge is that caucus.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The Minister of Finance is not helping.

House leader.


Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, as we spoke yesterday, as we’ve spoken numerous times in this Legislature, the public accounts committee is in the middle of hearings into the Ornge situation. The member referenced the testimony of Alfred Apps. Tomorrow, the committee will be sitting again. We’ll be hearing from a long list of witnesses who have been agreed upon by all parties working together: Barry McLellan, a board member of Ornge; Tim Shortill, chief of staff, Ministry of Finance; Carole McKeogh, deputy director, legal services branch, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care; and the list goes on.

Mr. Speaker, there’s an opportunity for members on all sides of the House to pose questions to these witnesses and put together a report of their findings in terms of Ornge. I think it’s time that the honourable member lets the committee do its work and look into a whole range of matters—


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, how can the government House leader possibly know the answer to the question that I put to the Premier; namely, what was the nature of the discussion that you had with Dr. Mazza?

I presented to Mr. Apps a memo that he, Mr. Apps, wrote as direction to Dr. Mazza, his client at the time, prior to a meeting with the then health minister. In that memo, his direction to Dr. Mazza is as follows, “My advice: Downplay meeting with the Premier, perhaps not even mention it at all....” Well, Speaker, I wonder why he would get that direction from Mr. Apps, and I wonder if the Premier has had the same instructions to downplay his meeting with Dr. Mazza, which is why he’s refusing to answer the question today.

I ask the Premier one more time, does he recall his meeting with Dr. Mazza, and can he tell us what was discussed at that meeting?


Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Be seated, please. Thank you.

Government House leader.


Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member wishes to conduct committee hearings here on the floor of the House, perhaps he can talk about the relationship between his party and Kelly Mitchell, who is a top Hudak insider. He received $400,000 specifically to lobby and schmooze PC MPPs for Ornge and its subsidiaries. Kelly Mitchell received lobbying contracts while serving as a board member at Ornge for its profits. He was the top fundraiser and close adviser for the PC leader’s leadership campaign. Mitchell and his company donated over $17,000 to the PC Party’s 15 candidates and personally donated $7,500. If the member insists upon holding committee hearings here on the floor of the House, we’d like to know a little bit more about Kelly Mitchell.

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ONTARIO NORTHLAND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION


Mr. Gilles Bisson: My question is to the Premier. Premier, can you tell people in northern Ontario why you think it’s okay—and we agree there should be a subsidy to GO Transit—but you’re not prepared to provide a similar subsidy to the Ontario Northland?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Northern Development and Mines.

Hon. Rick Bartolucci: The reality is that we provide a subsidy to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. We have for many, many, many years. The member from Timmins–James Bay knows that. It’s now at a point that we can no longer subsidize the ONTC to the tune of in excess of $100 million a year. We understand that the business line is good; the business model isn’t. And so, in our divestment, we will look to put in place that type of model which will provide an effective, efficient transportation system that will meet the present and future needs of northern Ontario.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Gilles Bisson: Well, I wish the Premier would answer the question because ultimately the decision is yours, Premier—and that is, we agree that we agree that GO Transit should get support from the provincial government. It is an essential part of the infrastructure transportation here in southern Ontario. We agree that we should do more in order to be able to support transit authorities across this province, in Hamilton, in Toronto, in Ottawa, in Sudbury and Timmins. But why is it that this government refuses to support an essential part of the infrastructure of northeastern Ontario with the Ontario Northland Commission?

So I ask again: Why is the government not prepared to give the vote of confidence to northeastern Ontario in the way that they have here in Toronto?


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: First of all, I think the comparison is not a fair comparison. Let me tell you why. There are 57 million riders of GO Transit. There are 320,000 riders of the ONTC. That’s not a fair comparison because if you break it down, the subsidy to GO Transit is less than the subsidy to the ONTC. We now subsidize riders to the tune of in excess of $400 per ride. That’s not sustainable. That cannot continue to be in place, and we are going to look at a model that is more effective, more efficient, and will meet the present and future needs of northern Ontario.

NON-PROFIT HOUSING


Mr. Yasir Naqvi: My question is for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I have a number of co-operatives in my riding of Ottawa Centre as well as the Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario.

Minister, I’m pleased to have fostered a good relationship with these residents and organizations, and they have consistently brought to my attention the challenge that co-op housing providers have faced with dispute resolution. The way co-operative housing is currently managed, co-op tenants and co-op housing providers cannot resolve their disputes through the Landlord and Tenant Board. Instead, to resolve such issues, they must go through the much more costly and time-consuming legal system.

As I’m sure the minister knows, these additional costs, sometimes as much as $5,000 per dispute, can be quite a lot for co-operative housing providers to take on and adds to the already high demand on our courts.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, could the minister please tell us what action our government is taking to ensure a fairer system is in place for other non-profit housing providers and remedy the problem?


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I want to thank my colleague for his work with the co-op sector. Our government realizes the vital role that co-op housing providers play in providing affordable housing in the province. That’s why I’m pleased to say that we’ve recently introduced the Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act, 2012. What this act will do, if it’s passed, is allow co-ops to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to resolve certain disputes, things like persistent late payment of rent, illegal behaviour and wilful damage. It will streamline the process and create a more cost-effective process for co-ops in three ways: It would save our co-op providers time and money; it would bring Ontario in line with other jurisdictions in Canada, such as Manitoba and Quebec; and it would relieve our courts from hearing approximately 300 co-op eviction cases per year, allowing them to devote those resources to other higher-demand needs.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: I know that co-op residents and stakeholders will be pleased to know that the government has heard their concerns and is taking action. Minister, as I mentioned in my question, the co-op sector has been active in highlighting this issue and others to members like myself and to the government. I’ve always been pleased with the constructive approach and good ideas they have brought to the table.

Would the minister tell us how the government has an engaged the co-operative housing sector in preparation for these proposals, and what are their reactions about our proposed legislation?


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Actually, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has conducted substantial consultations with our co-op housing stakeholders. The co-operative housing federation—and it represents the vast majority of the 550 non-profit co-ops in Ontario and works with the government to ensure that the interests of co-ops in Ontario are protected—is completely supportive of the proposal. The Premier committed to them last year, actually, to move quickly in our government’s mandate to reform the current co-op eviction process, and that’s what we’re doing.

I should also say that I’m happy to see the support that we’ve already received from the opposition parties on these proposed reforms, including a letter from the leader of the third party, who wrote a letter to the co-operative housing federation in September showing support for changes to the legislation. So, as the bill proceeds through the legislative process, I remain hopeful that we’ll have unanimous support for this change to the co-op federation.

MINING INDUSTRY


Mr. Norm Miller: My question is for the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. Your government likes to play the Ring of Fire card every chance you get. You played it in the throne speech a couple of years back. You played it in the last couple of budgets. You throw it out there every time someone challenges your tepid Grow North plan while you simultaneously gut key northern infrastructure.

Frankly, there’s no substance to your plan and nothing to your Ring of Fire posturing. Years later, all you have to show for it is more high-priced help to coordinate a growing staff who are doing precious little to make the Ring of Fire a reality. Minister, when are you finally going to live up to all the bluster and get on with creating some prosperity and jobs, like Drummond recommended?


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: I’ve got to be perfectly honest, Speaker. When it comes to the Ring of Fire, we won’t do what this party did; we won’t be absent without leadership. Tim Hudak is away without leadership. The last thing Ontarians want is an unnecessary election. As we work towards realizing the potential of the Ring of Fire, we will work with anybody who is interested to ensure we maximize the potential that is the Ring of Fire.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Norm Miller: Minister, how long do you think you can keep stringing people along? It’s beginning to look like no one in the McGuinty government knows what’s going on—not MOI, MNR, NDM, MAA or EDT. Who exactly is coordinating this train wreck?

Last week, Perrin Beatty praised the federal government for tackling regulatory inefficiencies, and he specifically named the Ring of Fire. Meanwhile, your government can’t make a decision on whether there will be a road, which direction it will go or who will own it. First Nations want to know, mining companies want to know and miners want to know: What is happening with this most basic key piece of infrastructure—the road to the Ring of Fire?


Hon. Rick Bartolucci: The reality is, the road to the Ring of Fire is going to be filled with job opportunities for those in northern Ontario. It’s going to be filled with job opportunities for those in the supply and services sector of the mining industry. It’s going to be filled with jobs for those who are in the exploration and development business. It’s going to be filled with jobs for those who are mining companies. The reality is, those consultations, those discussions, are ongoing. We are moving very, very positively and favourably, because we understand, as a government, that in order to ensure that we maximize the potential of the Ring of Fire, we have to do it in a very, very businesslike way and in a way that ensures that that potential is realized for everyone in northern Ontario, including—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. New question.

AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE


Mme France Gélinas: Ma question est pour le premier ministre. After three days of hearings at the public accounts committee and more than a dozen witnesses, this government’s role in the Ornge fiasco is becoming increasingly clear. Here’s how Alfred Apps puts it: “The government was thoroughly, painstakingly and, in all cases, truthfully briefed in advance of Ornge taking any of these actions. If the government had raised any objection to anything, I am confident that Ornge would not have proceeded.”

Will the Premier admit today that his government is to blame for the fiasco at Ornge?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Community and Social Services.

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Hon. John Milloy: Again, we have a parliamentary committee which is seized with the matter. In terms of the member’s specific questions about government actions, the Minister of Health had an opportunity to go in front of the public accounts committee. My understanding is, she stayed for two and a half hours—although only requested for an hour—with senior officials, where she outlined the measures that she took when she learned about the inappropriate activities that were taking place at Ornge—the activities that she took in terms of replacing the board, in terms of the new CEO, in terms of, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, having to call in the OPP because of suspicions that came out. The committee is seized with this matter, the committee is continuing its work on it, and I think we should allow the committee to do its work.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mme France Gélinas: Back to the Premier: Mr. Apps went on to say that Ornge “wanted to brief the government, wanted to brief it broadly—finance, health, economic development and trade, the Ontario Financing Authority. We obviously left it to the government to decide who” attended “those briefings.”

As we heard from representatives of these ministries, it became clear that your government knew of the bizarre corporate structure; your government knew of the high salaries; they knew of the relationship between Ornge and the Liberal Party, yet we are to believe that those who could take action were never informed. How much longer will the Premier and the health minister tell this House that they knew nothing until December 2011?


Hon. John Milloy: Again, the Minister of Health gave a very lengthy explanation of the decisive action that she took, the action that was taken on the part of the government.

In terms of this question, Mr. Speaker, that the opposition seems to go over and over again as to when people were briefed or informed: Again I’ll remind the honourable member of correspondence that was received by her party in 2010 outlining many of the issues at Ornge which she now finds disturbing. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, we learn about the official opposition and the contacts that they had at Ornge in terms of written briefings and, of course, through this individual Kelly Mitchell, who was paid some $400,000 expressly to schmooze and lobby the members of the opposition.

Mr. Speaker, if members want to hold committee hearings here on the floor of the House during question period, they have a lot of answers to provide about their conduct over the last several years.

PUBLIC SAFETY


Mr. David Zimmer: My question is for the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Minister, it’s the responsibility of government to protect our communities, our families and, most importantly, our children. Ontarians worry when they hear about shootings in the news media. Torontonians and Ontarians have a right to feel safe when out on a family outing in the community, taking their kids to school or parents to a doctor’s appointment. Minister, what are you doing to deal with gun violence in Toronto?

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: First of all, let me say thank you to the member for Willowdale for this important question. I want to assure your community that safety is of paramount importance to this government. That is why we have invested more than $100 million in three initiatives geared toward combatting gun violence, including the guns and gangs task force. In 2006, we worked closely with Toronto Police Chief Blair to establish the Toronto anti-violence intervention strategy. Since 2006, under TAVIS, the Toronto Police Service has led over 19,000 arrests and the seizure of more than 1,200 firearms. Plus, last year, Toronto recorded its lowest murder rate in 25 years. Mr. Speaker, TAVIS is working.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. David Zimmer: Minister, that’s not the only thing that I’m concerned about. My constituents in Willowdale often ask me: On a proactive basis, what are we doing to prevent crime, to prevent future gun violence? Making arrests and seizing weapons is one way to fight crime, but as we all know in this House, prevention is a powerful tool as well.

Minister, what preventive measures are you taking to protect Ontarians and Torontonians from gun violence and other crime?


Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Crime prevention is a very important component in the fight against crime. We’ve invested $5.2 million in the Safer and Vital Communities Grant program, which is aimed at preventing and reducing crime. For the fourth year in a row, we’ve doubled the RIDE grant program funding to $2.4 million across the province.

This is much different from the previous government and its federal cousin. The federal government claims to be tough on crime, only to download costs on the province. The previous provincial Conservative government fired 500 police officers across the province.

Our government is committed to protecting Ontarians, and it shows. In December, Maclean’s magazine reported that Ontario is the safest province in Canada.

GASOLINE PRICES


Mr. Steve Clark: My question is for the Minister of Consumer Services. Yesterday, Minister, I asked what you’re doing to protect consumers from being gouged at the pump. You actually said a lot, but I was shocked that at no time did you even mention the word “gasoline.” I’ve never heard, in my time here, a more out-of-touch answer.

But Minister, I’m a good sport, so I’m going to give you another chance. Maybe your staff have provided you with some better talking points, or maybe, just maybe, you’ve actually visited a gas station in Ontario. So Minister, I’m going to ask you: Can you tell me the average price per litre of gasoline in the province this morning?


Hon. Margarett R. Best: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for the question. I’m certain that the member opposite knows that that is an issue which falls under the federal jurisdiction. Also, I am certain that—

Interjections.


Hon. Margarett R. Best: This is a great opportunity for me to talk about consumer protection and the commitment of our government to consumer protection in the province.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Minister.

Hon. Margarett R. Best: Mr. Speaker, our government is a strong ally of consumers, and we have a great track record on consumer protection. We have improved consumer protection—when they buy cars, make funeral arrangements, book trips etc. We have placed caps on the cost of borrowing for payday loan agreements. And in 2012, Mr. Speaker—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Mr. Steve Clark: Minister, I know one thing for sure: None of your Liberal colleagues passed over for cabinet are going to use any of your answers to prove what your government’s doing for gas prices. Yesterday, you talked about cellphones, vacations, funerals and purchasing a car. At no time did you talk about gasoline. Okay, you did; you blamed the feds. You can’t have a McGuinty minister without making sure they do that somewhere in their answer.

Well, Minister, as I told you yesterday, the federal Competition Bureau is doing something: They’re charging retailers. Why is it that all you have done is to then add new taxes to increase the pain at the pumps for Ontario families?


Hon. Margarett R. Best: It is certainly an apropos time for me to talk about the strong actions that we are taking, Mr. Speaker, as the Ontario government with our proposed legislation to help eliminate the cell shock that many consumers get from opening wireless service bills for their cellphones, smart phones and other similar mobile devices. Under our proposed legislation, if passed, Ontarians will benefit in a number of ways, Mr. Speaker, including that contracts will be written in plain language, contracts will spell out which services come with basic fees and which would result in a higher bill, and that providers would need express consent before they renew, extend or amend a fixed-term contract, with a cap on the cost of cancelling a contract. And we will require—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. New question.

JOB CREATION


Ms. Sarah Campbell: My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Families in northwestern Ontario want jobs and they’ve looked to this government to help bring those jobs. One of the few times of optimism was in 2009, when this government announced the creation of 100 jobs at the Aspenware plant in Dryden. Last week I received an invitation to the grand opening of the new Aspenware Generation Two plant in Vernon, BC. Will the government explain to this House and the people of Dryden why those promised jobs are in another province?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I appreciate the question. I think, as the member would also know if she was speaking to the Aspenware people, that they are indeed in conversations with our government and with our ministry about future opportunities. She will also know that a decision was made very specifically to make sure that the operation was commercially viable before they continued their discussions with us.

The fact is, we have so many pieces of actually very positive news related to the forestry sector in terms of the incentives that our government has provided to a number of industries, certainly when one looks at the opportunities that are happening at Resolute Forest Products, in terms of the commitments they’ve made to expand their operation in Thunder Bay, to expand the sawmill, the work that they’re doing in Iroquois Falls and other places as well. Our government continues to support them in terms of a northern electricity rebate plan. The fact is, we are excited about those opportunities. Those discussions continue, and I look forward to them happening in the future.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Dryden has been hit hard with the loss of 800 forestry jobs since 2004. The city of Dryden has invested millions of dollars in building an industrial park to house this Aspenware facility because they took this government at its word. The industrial park is done, but the primary tenant is setting up shop in Vernon, British Columbia, because this government could not deliver on loan guarantees and wood supply.

We know this government is supporting jobs in Tennessee, but what is it doing for the people who actually reside in Ontario?


Hon. Michael Gravelle: I think the member is being disingenuous. If she has had—

Interjections.


Hon. Michael Gravelle: No, if she has had conversations with the Aspenware people, she will understand that indeed we are in discussions with Aspenware and have been for some time.

Indeed, may I say, when one looks at the northern Ontario heritage fund and the amount of support that has gone, including, may I say, to the industrial park that you reference in Dryden, the member also knows—we were together in fact when there was a very significant announcement made related to the Centre for Research and Innovation, the bio-economy, between Domtar and a major US research firm in terms of finding new value-added opportunities for the forestry sector.

So the opportunities are there. We’re continuing to look towards the future. We’re in discussions—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Before I continue, I did finally click in and I would ask the member to withdraw his comment earlier in his answer.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Withdrawn, Speaker.

VISITOR


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Today with us in the west members’ gallery is a personal friend and the former MPP for Brantford in the 32nd and 33rd Parliaments, Mr. Phil Gillies. Welcome.
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