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Ontario Hansard - 28-May2012

ORAL QUESTIONS

ONTARIO BUDGET


Mrs. Christine Elliott: My question is to the Premier. Last Wednesday, your finance minister said you need to get this budget passed because it's "what the credit rating agencies are looking for." But this is the same budget that got our credit rating downgraded and moved to a negative watch, and this is the same budget that has over $1 billion in new taxes and spending. Premier, if you're truly concerned with what the credit rating agencies are looking for, why are you continuing to push forward a budget bill that's been completely rejected by those same credit rating agencies?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: In fact, Mr. Speaker, the credit rating agencies all endorsed the plan themselves. Their fear is that this Legislature won't allow it to pass, and I think that is a legitimate fear, given the intemperate response of the official opposition in particular.

It turns out that the official opposition decided to vote against the budget before they read it, and now we find out from the third party that they may not vote for it after they read it, and they may not have read it.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, we need to pass this budget. It's the right plan for a better future for all Ontarians.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mrs. Christine Elliott: Premier, while over 500,000 Ontarians remain out of work and our debt continues to spiral out of control, it's clear from the answer given by the finance minister that you still don't get what's necessary in order to bring Ontario back on track.

Last Wednesday, the Minister of Finance showed how out of touch he is when he warned that if this budget bill isn't passed quickly, the $1-billion Liberal-NDP tax-and-spend scheme won't come into effect. That's the same tax-and-spend plan that the minister admitted that he didn't want the credit rating agencies to see.

Premier, what is it going to take for you to finally realize the magnitude of the mess that you've gotten Ontario into?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: The official opposition wants to cut taxes at a time when we want to get back to balance, Mr. Speaker, and protect the important gains we've made in health care and education. Our priorities are very different from theirs, and we have laid out a plan to get back to balance.

Let me just read to the member opposite some quotes from those credit rating agencies. DBRS says that they view "the continuation of the fiscal recovery plan and the increasing emphasis on cost containment as an encouraging step in the right direction." Moody's says that they recognize "that the province has laid out"-

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I am going to start immediately naming individuals, and if you don't think I'm serious, go ahead and say something when I'm standing.

Minister.


Hon. Dwight Duncan: Moody's says that they recognize "that the province has laid out an ambitious fiscal plan to return to fiscal balance," and Standard and Poor's says, "Supporting the ratings are what we view as Ontario's large, wealthy, and well-diversified economy...."

Mr. Speaker, we've laid out the right plan. It will get this province back to balance. Unlike the opposition, we're going to protect the improvements-


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

Mrs. Christine Elliott: The fact of the matter is, the credit rating agencies hear the words but they are waiting to see whether this government actually has the ability to put them into action, and they're very, very-

Interjection.


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

Mrs. Christine Elliott: This government talks about taking strong action, but all we've seen is another credit downgrade. Your government talks about getting public sector salaries under control, but your voluntary wage freeze has been a complete, unmitigated disaster. Your government talks about getting spending under control, but all we've seen are creative ways to increase revenue.

Premier and Minister of Finance, if you really believe this is an urgent problem, why will you not support our legislation on public sector wage freezes coming forward on Thursday?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: Simply put, Mr. Speaker, their plan won't work. They choose to ignore court rulings; they choose to ignore the legal imbroglios other governments have put themselves into, Mr. Speaker. They want to pretend that in fact they can simply impose a wage freeze in the context of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that has redefined the legal landscape. So we are taking careful, deliberate steps to move towards balance, working with our partners across the broader public-

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Frontenac is warned.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: -across the public and broader public sectors to, in fact, achieve balance and continue to make the important investments in health care and education that all Ontarians want us to make in the interests of a better province for all of our citizens.

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ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE


Mr. Peter Shurman: My question is to the Premier. For months the Ontario PC caucus has been urging you to take decisive action to get your spending under control. Your strategy was to ask government employees to make cuts to their own salaries, because you don't have the guts to do it yourself. Yet despite the fact that this voluntary wage freeze idea is blowing up in your face, you continue to dodge the issue and play games with Ontario's financial future. For months, we've been calling for a legislated public sector wage freeze, and this Thursday our party is putting forward a bill to legislate a public sector wage freeze.

Premier, will you show Ontarians that you understand the urgency of Ontario's situation and support our legislation this Thursday?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: No, Mr. Speaker, we won't support it. It won't work. The Leader of the Opposition was in Alberta last week-a government that's running a deficit-and they don't have a legislated wage freeze, nor does the federal government. In fact, the federal government had a legislated wage increase, Mr. Speaker, and they are now defending that, having, by the way, consulted, having done all kinds of negotiations. They're now defending a number of court actions, the outcomes of which are at best questionable.

Mr. Speaker, we've laid out the right plan to get back to balance. The Minister of Health, for instance, has by regulation taken some important steps on capping fees for doctors. There are ongoing discussions going on with limited bargaining, very limited bargaining mandates, with teachers. The plan we've laid out is the right one and it will get Ontario back to balance.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Peter Shurman: You know, in your nine years in government you have proven that you are not up to the job of managing government spending. Public sector salaries are completely out of control. The sunshine list has grown from 20,000 to 80,000, a 400% increase in just eight years, while government employees are earning 27% more than Ontarians working in the private sector, for doing exactly the same job. Your approach to every problem is, when in doubt, spend. That is not how Ontarians manage their finances, and it's not how they want their government to manage the province's finances.

Today we are asking you to take a new and revolutionary approach. Minister, just once, don't spend at the problem; deal with the problem. This is a matter of leadership. Will you show that the urgency has finally dawned on you and will you please support our bill to legislate a wage freeze?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: No. It's a flawed bill, a flawed strategy that will result in failure, a failure that's similar-

Interjections.


Hon. Dwight Duncan: You know, it's interesting, Mr. Speaker, when one goes back and-

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order. The member from Nepean-Carleton will come to order.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: When one looks back, that member was part of a government that raised the debt 40% on their watch. To date, we've raised it 32%. And they did it at a time of unprecedented economic growth, Mr. Speaker. Our plan is the right plan to get the budget back to balance, having responded to the legitimate challenges in the world economy, based on the advice given to us by the IMF and OECD. Those are the right steps now. This budget is the right step to a better future for all Ontarians.

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

Mr. Peter Shurman: Minister, you have proven better than most that it's easy to spend money. But one of the credit rating agencies has already downgraded Ontario's rating, and last week your government worried aloud about further downgrades if your budget isn't passed. We can sit here till hell freezes over, Minister, but facts are facts. We are staring down the barrel of a $30-billion deficit and a $400-billion debt. Our public sector wage freeze legislation, which we will present on Thursday, will save the province $2 billion. You need this money, Minister. Ontario needs this money. Will you do the right thing and finally take action?

Hon. Dwight Duncan: The action we've laid out in the budget is the right action to get back to balance and also to protect the important investments we have made in health care and education, because those are the services Ontarians demand, Mr. Speaker. We reject their approach. We are not going to do the sorts of things they do. We don't want to close hospitals; they do. They want to support the horse racing industry; we want to support schools, Mr. Speaker. They make up numbers around the budget deficit, Mr. Speaker-

Interjection.


Hon. Dwight Duncan: He just did it again. The Auditor General said quite differently about the deficit. Our plan is the right plan. Your wage plan won't work. It won't achieve what you say it will. This government has the plan to build Ontario a better future, building on our successes in health and education.

ONTARIO BUDGET


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. During the election and practically every day since, I've made it clear that I believe that we can work together to get things done in a minority Legislature. Now, last week the government ministers began rattling the election cages once again. I think there's a lot of work to be done here, Speaker, not out on the campaign trail. Does the Premier agree with me?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I appreciate the sentiment that informs our honourable colleague's observations here today. I think that on a regular basis we need to ask ourselves, what do Ontarians expect of us? They expect us to find common ground and to build on that ground together.

That's why I was so heartened by the opportunity to meet with the leader of the NDP and to establish a firm agreement that we will work together to move this budget through. Our preference is that we do this at the earliest possible opportunity, for many reasons. The fact of the matter is, I'm proud of the fact that we did, in the end, find common ground working with the third party.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, does the Premier also agree that tax measures like the freeze on corporate taxes and the NDP's fairness tax on high-income earners should be in place by July 1?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: We look forward to moving ahead with the entire budget. We don't intend to pick and choose certain aspects of the budget. These were not issues that were raised by my honourable colleague at the time of our meeting. We had a couple of meetings. We had a good opportunity to put our concerns on the table. Those of this nature were not raised at that point in time.

I fully expect that my honourable colleague will in fact do what we have both agreed to do. We both added a little water to our wine. There was quid pro quo. She did make certain requests of us. We had one basic request of the NDP, which was to work with us to pass this budget, and we look forward to doing that before the House rises.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, now I'm going to ask the Premier straight out to clear the record: Did New Democrats promise to help the government shut down debate and cancel public hearings on their 300-page omnibus bill? And if not, why does he think we would want to do that?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Again, what I can say is that we have devoted considerable time to ensuring that we can have a debate with respect to our budget. We're talking about ensuring, going forward, that there also be even more time. In fact, what I can say is there will be more debate devoted to this budget than the previous eight that we had presented in this chamber, here in our province. So I think we're prepared to do what is necessary to ensure that we have all the time that we need for concerns to be expressed and recommendations to be offered. But ultimately, we must move ahead with this budget.

ONTARIO BUDGET


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is also for the Premier. The people who elected us want us to keep working on the challenges that they're facing. They're worried about parents who are waiting for health care, or whether daycare is going to be there for their children when they need it. And they don't want another mess like the one that we've been watching unfold with Ornge. Basically, they want us to do our jobs, not rubber-stamp a 300-page omnibus bill before people have a chance even to look at it.

The Premier says he won't support our move to fast-track some of those key budget measures that are going to be necessary. Is he ready, then, to look at other ways that we can get the results that people expect from us?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I want to quote my honourable colleague from her post-budget vote media availability on April 24, when she said, "We are going to allow the budget to go forward and proudly say to Ontarians, `We did some things to make it better for you.'" She was right then, and she is right today, if she adheres to the sentiments that informed that statement.

I say this, and again I commend my colleague: We did come together; we did find some common ground; we did add some water to our wine. There was an exchange of considerations, to use legal terminology; there was quid pro quo. They asked that we make some changes; we did that, Speaker. The purpose of making those changes was so that we could move ahead with our budget.

I think my honourable colleague understands what is at stake with respect to some tax considerations. I think it's in the interests of Ontarians that we do what we agreed to do, which is to move ahead with our budget.

1050


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: This morning we got a real example of why exactly we need to look carefully at the government's omnibus 300-page bill. Legal experts who looked at the bill say that it could be used to bypass-

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Member from Eglinton-Lawrence, come to order.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: -the Legislature and hold a fire sale of public assets without any public debate. That's buried in that bill, Speaker.

Now, does the Premier plan to sell off the LCBO? Does he plan to sell off the OLG in a fire sale? And if not, then he should be agreeing with us that we need hearings and amendments to his 300-page bill.


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, we have agreed to provide those kinds of hearings. I say to my honourable colleague that there will be no fire sales. She will know that we have in the past looked at the kinds of things that she has talked about just now; that we have rejected those.

Having said that, we do think that we can look for opportunities to better introduce private sector support for ServiceOntario. We think that's a responsible move on our part so that we can find, again, savings and efficiencies so that we can give life to the priority that we've attached to our schools and our health care.

So as we look for savings and efficiencies, let's remember what the objective is here: It is to ensure that we're protecting the gains we've made in our schools, protecting the gains we've made in our health care and, over the course of time, to pay down our deficit.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: New Democrats have been very clear. We want to get some results for the people who sent us here: the working parents who need child care or the families who are worried about losing health care. They're not going to be helped by the same old politics, and they're certainly not going to be helped by another Ornge unfolding in this province.

Is the Premier ready to do the hard work to make the minority government work, or can we expect more of the same rhetoric, leading to the exact same results?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I remind my honourable colleague that we made close to a billion-over $1 billion, in fact, of expenditure changes as a result of the advice that we received from her. We made changes to ODSP. We added to that our increase in social service assistance, as well-

Interjection.


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: -and OW, Speaker.

There was a corporate tax issue which we both agreed on. There was the tax on Ontario's wealthiest, which we moved ahead with at the insistence of my honourable colleague the leader of the NDP.

The fact is, we did find common ground. I think the result of that was a better budget for the people of Ontario, and now our shared responsibility is to ensure that we move ahead with a budget that we built together.

AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE


Mr. Frank Klees: My question is to the Premier. I believe we're getting closer to the reason why the Premier and his cabinet want the Ornge air ambulance scandal suppressed.

This weekend, I just happened to come across a document prepared for Management Board of Cabinet by the emergency health services branch of the Ministry of Health dated October 15, 2004. That document could not be more clear: Someone at a very high level was manipulating the Mazza scheme through the cabinet approvals process, against the advice and warnings of senior civil servants. According to the cabinet document, there were too many risks and the supporting arguments in favour of the Mazza scheme were highly questionable.

I'd like to ask the Premier this: Why did he and his cabinet sell out Ontario's air ambulance service to Dr. Mazza for $1 against the advice of senior civil servants in the Ministry of Health and in the Ministry of the Attorney General?


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

Interjections.


Hon. John Milloy: It's always nice to be popular, Mr. Speaker.

I find it a little passing strange that the member would stand up and say that we were somehow suppressing individuals looking into Ornge. The public accounts committee, by a motion that was supported by this side of the Legislature, is holding hearings into the Ornge matter. The public hearings have now sat for 29 hours; 33 witnesses have appeared. In fact, this Wednesday, in the morning, Tom Rothfels, former COO of Ornge International, will be appearing; at 12:30, Tom Lepine, the former COO of Ornge, will be appearing.

Mr. Speaker, I'd like to stress that they have extended the number of hours that those witnesses could come forward, as is their right as a committee of this Legislature-


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

Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, I have just delivered this cabinet document to the Premier, who didn't want anything to do with it, so he sent it over to the House leader. Now that the House leader has the document, I'd like to ask him this. That document gives 15 specific reasons as to why the Mazza scheme should never have been approved. I quote from the document that was before the Premier that he just shuffled off to the House leader-but they've all seen it when they were in cabinet.

It states, "The stated bases for the recommendation are insubstantial" and "don't provide a compelling argument...." The background information is "selective and insufficient...."

Surely, someone around the cabinet table would have seen this quote as a warning sign: "The critical issue of what the role of the ministry will be in the new regime and the degree of control that will be retained by the ministry has still not been sufficiently addressed...."

I call on the Premier to stand and answer for himself: Is this how he and his cabinet make decisions on all matters? Or what was-


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Government House leader.

Hon. John Milloy: You know, Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite insists on conducting hearings on the floor of this Legislature, then I would like to ask some questions.

I'd like to know about how it came to pass that Ornge established-

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I might just give a blanket warning.

Carry on.


Hon. John Milloy: I'd like to know how it came to pass that Ornge established a new satellite operation at Oshawa Municipal Airport. You know what we found out, Mr. Speaker, through the public accounts hearings? A former Ornge executive, the senior aviation expert there, said he opposed the move and that it was a very poor choice for a host of reasons. That didn't stop the member for Whitby-Oshawa lobbying. We've seen that snazzy photo. Mr. Speaker, we also have a letter here from the member from Durham, who says, "I would like to briefly highlight the advantages of relocating Ornge to a base at the Oshawa airport rather than at the Peterborough site."

FIRE SAFETY


Mr. Paul Miller: My question is to the Premier. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, I wish to extend our condolences to the families and friends of the elderly couple who lost their lives in the Hawkesbury retirement home fire on Friday. These deaths occurred in a retirement home without an automatic sprinkler system and took place on the same day that a coroner's inquest investigating a fatal 2009 fire in Orillia recommended the retroactive installation of sprinklers in retirement homes. This was the fourth such inquest on separate fires.

How many more families will lose their loved ones before this government mandates automatic sprinklers in all retirement homes?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I want to second the sentiment expressed by my honourable colleague when it comes to the terrible and tragic loss of life experienced by a husband and wife, as I understand it, in a Hawkesbury retirement home.

Speaker, I want to say as well-I want to remind my honourable colleague that sprinklers have been mandatory in all retirement homes built since 1997. I will say as well, Speaker, that at this time, we are working with the Ontario fire marshal's office. We are consulting with respect to the kinds of changes that we need to put in place. I want to assure my honourable colleague opposite that the question is not whether, Speaker, but how we move ahead to ensure that there are additional safety provisions.


Interjection: When?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: And when is another important issue, Speaker. We look forward to the advice that we're going to receive as a result of this consultation process, and we look forward to receiving that at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Paul Miller: For two years now, I've been calling on this government to pass my bill to require sprinklers in retirement homes. Jim Jessop, chair of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs fire prevention committee, made this plea for action: "After witnessing senior citizens that are frail and were scared and were covered in smoke being carried down ladders at our fire" in Niagara Falls "in 2008 at the retirement home, it is just morally reprehensibly and criminally negligent for this not to be done."

Why won't this government listen to the experts, act now to save lives and require automatic sprinklers in all retirement homes?

1100


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, the purpose of the consultation process, which we are conducting in concert with the Ontario fire marshal, is to get the very expert advice that we need to move ahead with this.

I'll remind my honourable colleague once again that as a result of retirement homes legislation, which I think we put into place a couple of years ago, Ontario, as I understand it, is the first province to regulate retirement homes. We've put in a number of new measures, some of which address fire safety. So we look forward to receiving that advice at the earliest possible opportunity.

I'll say something to my honourable colleague as well. I have a concern about the length of time devoted to this consultation process. I'm going to be speaking to the minister to see what we can do to accelerate that.

Again, Speaker, the issue is not whether but when we move ahead and in fact what kind of retirement homes we put those sprinklers in. I thank my honourable colleague for pushing this issue.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING


Mr. Yasir Naqvi: My question is for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. This past Friday, I was very pleased to join the minister for an important affordable housing announcement in my riding of Ottawa Centre. It was fitting that the announcement took place at Beaver Barracks in my riding which, with 254 new affordable housing units, is not only Ottawa's newest affordable housing complex, but it is the largest project in the eastern region. The minister announced a $144.9-million investment to create 1,282 new housing units across Ontario. Speaker, in addition to providing affordable housing units in our communities, it will create over 3,000 jobs.

I'm exceptionally proud of our government's commitment to safe and affordable housing in Ontario. By working together with other levels of government and the community, we are seeing real results.

Would the minister please tell us, Speaker, through you, what more our government is doing to work with the federal government to ensure that there is a strong commitment to affordable housing in Ontario?


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I'm very happy to be able to talk about this project. As the member for Ottawa Centre knows-because he has advanced this and worked with the community to make this a reality-it supports so many diverse segments of the population: seniors, people with disabilities, single-parent families. Mr. Speaker, it's really a microcosm of communities from across the province.

I was very pleased to be joined by Diane Finley, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. As you know, six months ago, Minister Finley and I signed a four-year agreement to invest almost half a billion dollars in communities across Ontario. That's the Investment in Affordable Housing program, which is part of our government's long-term affordable housing strategy. But the federal funding ends in 2014, Mr. Speaker, and one of the things that we're dealing with across the country is not knowing after 2014 where the money will come from in order to be able to continue to work with the federal government and with municipalities to continue to build these projects.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: It is incumbent upon us to work with all levels of government to make certain that our communities are healthy and vibrant places that Ontarians can be proud of.

Speaker, places such as Beaver Barracks assist so many different and diverse groups in society with affordable housing. As we all know, a home is much more than a roof over our head. A safe and affordable home can open up so many other opportunities. However, we must acknowledge that often some of the most vulnerable in our society-for example, disadvantaged women-face challenges when it comes to taking that first step out of poverty.

Speaker, through you to the minister: What are we, as a government, doing to ensure that disadvantaged women in our province can benefit from the investments we are making in affordable housing?


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: The member is absolutely right. Our government's priority has been to a provide a range of affordable housing because there are people who often get left out of those equations.

Last week, I was at the official opening of the YWCA Elm Centre here in Toronto. That centre created 300 units for low-income women and their families, and 50 of those are dedicated to women of aboriginal descent.

Mr. Speaker, often when we speak about housing, we start talking about bricks and mortar and we move to, what are the supports that are necessary in order to keep people housed? Examples like Beaver Barracks and the Elm Centre are just that: They have the units, but they also the supports in place.

Mr. Speaker, we need to be able to continue to work with the federal government. We call on the federal government to continue to work with us to provide the kinds of housing that are necessary across the province for people from many, many different backgrounds.

AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE


Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. Front-line staff at the Ministry of Health, and specifically at the emergency health services branch, have lost faith in their minister and in this government as they witness the intentional avoidance of the truth about why Dr. Chris Mazza had free rein to defraud the public and destroy our air ambulance system. They know, and they know that the minister knows, that shortly after the government signed the Mazza deal, the then associate deputy minister of the emergency health services branch wrote to the emergency health services branch to stand down on its oversight responsibilities of Ornge.

I ask the minister: Why was that letter sent from the Associate Deputy Minister of Health, actually asking the emergency health services branch not to oversee Ornge?


Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, what's important to me is that Ornge get back on track. We have new leadership in place, a new board, new administration.

I think it's important that we actually acknowledge EMS Week. Last week was EMS Week, and the front-line paramedics deserve a big thank you from this House for the work they do on behalf of Ontarians every single day.

It is vitally important to me that people can count on those emergency services, and that's why we have introduced legislation, on top of other steps we have taken, that we are very hopeful the member opposite will support. Bill 50 is a bill specifically designed to strengthen oversight and transparency at Ornge. I look forward to his stopping blocking passage of this bill and actually supporting it.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Frank Klees: Why is it that everyone at the Ministry of Health knows what's going on except the minister?

The reason that Dr. Mazza and his band of thieves were able to defraud Ontario taxpayers and compromise our air ambulance service is because, as the Auditor General said in his report, there was a lack of oversight on the part of the Ministry of Health. Now we know that that lack of oversight was intentional on the part of the Ministry of Health. It was not because of a faulty performance agreement or any of the other excuses that the minister has spun for the last number of months. It was because Hugh MacLeod, the then Associate Deputy Minister of Health, directed in writing the very department of the ministry that had those oversight responsibilities to stand down and leave Ornge alone.

I want to know this from the minister: Why has she kept this information secret? Why has she not disclosed that critical information, knowing that she knew about that letter? This minister-


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

Interjections.


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

Minister of Health.


Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, I understand the member opposite has his job to do, but my job is to make sure that the people of this province get access to excellent health care, and that includes emergency care when they need that.

We have made big strides-the member opposite has actually described them as "aggressive steps"-to actually enhance oversight and transparency and improve patient safety at Ornge. Under the new performance agreement, there will be a new patient advocate. There will be a publicly posted complaints process. We're initiating annual public surveys on performance-

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Prince Edward-Hastings is warned.

Minister.


Hon. Deborah Matthews: We're improving the reporting of emergency dispatch information because we are now including cancelled calls, declined air and land ambulance calls. We're creating quality improvement committees so, just like our hospitals, we will be publicly reporting quality improvement plans.

We also have given ourselves, under the new performance agreement, the ability to have surprise audits, unannounced inspections. We're linking executive compensation to public performance. We're tying Ontario's funding to key performance indicators. We're giving the government control over Ornge's assets-


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

AIR AMBULANCE SERVICE


Mme France Gélinas: Ma question est pour le premier ministre. Internal notes provided to cabinet in 2004 show that experts within the government raised alarm bells about the new ambulance structure. Those alarm bells included: "the degree of control the ministry will retain in the new entity has still not been sufficiently addressed."

Why did the government ignore the warning signs coming from within?

1110


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

Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, right now there are hearings that are going on in public accounts to talk about some of the challenges that have been faced by Ornge, and I think this side of the House, the government, has admitted that we need to take steps to strengthen that. The minister acted promptly when she heard about the problems at Ornge in terms of administrative changes, in terms of a series of measures that have been taken.

The most important piece of the puzzle that's missing, however, is Bill 50, which has been held up by the opposition. Bill 50 is responding to the report of the Auditor General, an officer of this Legislature, and I certainly call on the honourable member, indeed all members of this House, to get behind Bill 50 and see it go through second reading and then committee so that it can address that missing piece of challenges that are being faced by that organization.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mme France Gélinas: Back to the Premier: Civil servants shared with cabinet a long list of concerns that they had with Ornge's new structure; those included questions about how much control the ministry had in the new Ornge entity. In other words, red flags were being raised before Ornge began operating for-profit services and paying its executives huge salaries.

Why did the government ignore its own warning signs? Why did they look away?


Hon. John Milloy: The strong action that has been taken by the Minister of Health is a matter of public record: We have a new board and a new CEO at Ornge; she called in the forensic auditors, which unfortunately uncovered some information which led to her calling in the OPP, the responsible thing to do; she has replaced the performance agreement and, as I said, introduced tough, new legislation.

But if the member wants to hold hearings on the floor of the House, we can talk about what happened in Oshawa and why members lobbied to have the airport go to Oshawa over Peterborough, despite the fact that senior Ornge officials were opposed to the deal. We can talk about Kelly Mitchell, who was paid tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the Progressive Conservative Party, to make sure that the Progressive Conservative Party was aware and, to quote from the document-I don't have it right in front of me but I remember-


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Answer.

Hon. John Milloy: -to make sure that they knew that Ornge was in line with the Progressive Conservative Party manifesto they were putting forward in the election.

ASSISTANCE TO FARMERS


Mr. Jeff Leal: My question this morning is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Last week, in conversation with farmers in Peterborough riding, questions were raised regarding the Grain Financial Protection Program. In December 2010, in response to industry concerns about grain farmers, your ministry approved a short-term amendment to allow deferred payments, which means payments outside the timelines specified in regulation. The amendment is in effect until July 1, 2012, so it will expire at the end of June this year.

I know that many farmers in Peterborough riding were supportive of this change of the regulation and are eager to see it continue. Speaker, through you, can the minister please update this House on the status of this amendment and whether your ministry has considered making the change permanent?


Hon. Ted McMeekin: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his question and take this opportunity to inform the House about changes to the Grain Financial Protection Program that will strengthen our agri-food business and, indeed, our economy.

As the member may well be aware, the program protects the financial interests of Ontario producers of grain corn, soybeans, canola and wheat who sell their crop to licensed dealers. It also protects owners who store grains and oilseeds with licensed elevator operators. I'm pleased to say we are, in fact, going to extend this protection, which is the essence of your question and the essence of standing up for our farmers in Ontario.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Jeff Leal: Minister, thank you very much for that wonderful answer. It was very detailed and comprehensive.

I know that the farmers of Peterborough riding will be pleased to hear that the short-term amendment has been extended beyond June of this year. These changes will modernize the regulations to reflect current industry practices, provide clarity around compensation for deferred payment arrangements and bring consistency to compensation rates across the industry, and will treat canola and soybean producers consistent with grain corn and wheat producers. It also authorizes payment on a sliding scale to producers entering into a deferred payment arrangement.

Mr. Speaker, can the minister please inform the House of the stakeholder consultation that took place to develop these changes and some of the effects of these changes?


Hon. Ted McMeekin: I'd be delighted to do that. We had a deferred payment steering committee, which examined these issues, which included representatives from the Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Agri Business Association and the Grain Financial Protection Board. They were very, very involved in developing some of the options.

In fact, Henry Van Ankum, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, has stated, "This has been a rewarding process to go through.... The government" needs to be "commended for how quickly" they have "resolved this issue."

The solution developed a more balanced approach, and it did so in direct consultation with our stakeholders. I think that speaks highly for our stakeholders and the move forward-


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

AMBULANCE SERVICES


Mr. Michael Harris: My question is for the Minister of Health. We know, as of today, that there were 154 documented incidents where no ambulances were available for the residents of Waterloo region. In fact, the Waterloo Region Record has called this an ambulance crisis, but I call this a crisis in the Minister of Health's leadership. Once again, the Minister of Health has proven she cannot manage her own ministry and has put the lives of people in Waterloo region at risk. Can the minister assure us that this problem does not rest in her ministry?

Hon. Deborah Matthews: I thank the member opposite for the question, and I think it's important to acknowledge that land ambulance services is under the responsibility of the municipality. Having said that, we, at the Ministry of Health, do provide oversight. We also have made significant investments in ways to support ambulance services. Ambulance off-load nurses, for example, are being funded in our hospitals specifically to care for patients who have come in by ambulance so that those ambulances and paramedics can get back on the road caring for patients. We monitor response times and responses carefully, and we are always working with our municipal partners to improve ambulance services for the people of Ontario.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Michael Harris: Again to the minister: Minister, you know full well that dispatch centres are under your control as well as land ambulances. Don't pass the buck.

Speaker, the same reports show that ambulances were unavailable up to 17 times a month since July 2010. Patients and paramedics in Kitchener-Waterloo have been forced to wait over 10 hours in the back of ambulances due to your colossal failure of leadership. According to the Waterloo Region Record, the figures released show the ministry has not been able to keep emergency wards operating in a manner to provide the timely service that patients expect.

I ask the minister: Given that this was a situation more than two years ago, is she even aware that the situation has gotten worse?


Hon. Deborah Matthews: It occurs to me that this actually is a spend question coming from the opposition; they want us to spend more on ambulances. I understand that, and I think the member's question actually demonstrates the importance of protecting spending on health care, and that includes the uploading of a significant portion of our land ambulance expenses.

Now, I also understand that the party opposite would have cancelled our plan to continue with the uploading of costs for land ambulance. I think the question demonstrates the sheer folly that that would have entailed.

We will continue to work with municipalities. We continue to monitor issues related to ambulance off-load times, response times and so on, and I look forward to working with the member opposite to ensure that his community, in addition, has access to appropriate emergency service.

EDUCATION FUNDING


Mr. Peter Tabuns: My question is to the Premier. This morning, People for Education came out with a report on the state of education in Ontario. It shows half of Ontario high schools continue to charge fees for core courses. Your guidelines prohibit this. When will you actually ensure that students don't have to pay to go to school in Ontario?

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Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I welcome the report, referenced by my honourable colleague, from People for Education. That group has been around for some time now. They've become a very important part of the process that we rely on to take soundings outside of government as to what's happening inside our schools, so I really appreciate the effort that they continue to make.

I want to draw to my honourable colleague's attention the fact that, as well as some concerns raised in the report, which we always expect and listen to, there also was some celebration of some of the success that we have enjoyed when it comes to full-day kindergarten, for example; our higher graduation rates, smaller class sizes and increases in test scores.

School fundraising, I think, does remain an issue. We have taken some steps, but obviously we're going to have to do a little bit more to ensure that all schools are in fact paying attention to the strongest possible advice that we've given them.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Peter Tabuns: Speaker, the Premier has picked some points out of the People for Education report, but he has ignored the fact that People for Education say there has been a reduction in grants for arts and physical education and that the government failed to make sure that opportunity grants for the disadvantaged were actually spent on them. Half the schools are capping the number of students who can have access to special education supports.

Will the government act on the recommendations of the organization that they just praised and actually ensure that all students, regardless of family income, have access to the full range of education supports?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I believe, as my honourable colleague does as well, that the single most important thing we can do to guarantee a bright future for all our families is to ensure that all our children have access to the best possible publicly funded education. That's where it all starts.

That's why, since 2003, in the face of declining student enrolment, we've hired over 10,000 new teachers. We've hired over 10,000 education support workers. We have reduced class sizes. This September, I believe, there will be an additional 3,000 new teachers working in the Ontario education system.

That's why I'm counting on my honourable colleague to do everything that he can to ensure that we pass our budget at the earliest possible opportunity so we can freeze those corporate taxes and instead devote those kinds of resources into our schools, where they really matter.

ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED


Ms. Tracy MacCharles: My question is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. About one in seven people in Ontario have disabilities, and this number is anticipated to grow to one in five within 20 years, due to our aging population. By 2036, the number of seniors is projected to be more than double the 2009 number of 4.7 million; that's quite a bit. Personally, I know first-hand the challenges and opportunities that exist with accessibility in our province, and I speak with constituents in my riding of Pickering-Scarborough East all the time about this.

This is accessibility week, and it gives us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to building an accessible province for people with all kinds of disabilities. My question is: How is this government addressing accessibility to truly make Ontario inclusive?


Hon. John Milloy: I do want to single out the member for her advocacy and leadership on this very important issue.

Mr. Speaker, each May we recognize National Access Awareness Week to honour achievements in building an Ontario that's accessible for all its residents, regardless of ability. I think all members of the Legislature, on all sides of the House, should be very pleased with the efforts that we made in 2005 when, unanimously, a bill that we had brought forward, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, was passed by this House. This act establishes a framework under which standards are brought forward for people with disabilities to make our society more accessible. These are standards that come in over time through a series of benchmarks. I'm pleased to say we have developed and implemented four of the five standards that have been recognized.

I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank all those people involved in putting together these standards, the individuals who have been part of the standards development committees and my ministry's advisory council.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Tracy MacCharles: Thank you to the minister. As the former chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council for our province, I appreciate the advice we do receive from our local advisory councils throughout Ontario. These local advisory councils continue to inform me, as a past chair, and our government about accessibility needs in my community, and they provide feedback on how our government can help.

I understand, though, that time is needed for businesses to adapt new accessibility standards, and as they are developed, it will take some work. However, some businesses are still concerned about the costs of becoming fully accessible. Through you, Speaker, to the minister: What are the economic benefits for businesses that improve accessibility?


Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, I think everyone who's involved on the business front and the non-profit front, everyone who's trying to make their place of business or their place more accessible, realizes that not only is it a matter of, call it corporate responsibility or doing the right thing, but it also makes good business sense. Study after study-one of the most famous ones was done by the world-renowned Martin Prosperity Institute-is indicating that improving accessibility is good for business. In fact, that particular study said that improving accessibility could bring Ontario up to $1.6 billion in tourism dollars, and retail sales could grow by another $10 billion.

As I say, Mr. Speaker, we have a large number of individuals in the province of Ontario who face challenges through disabilities. With an aging population, that number is set to grow. We have to make sure that we're the most accessible society, not simply because it's the right thing to do but because it makes good business sense.

MANUFACTURING JOBS


Mr. Rob Leone: My question is for the Premier. Premier, your idea for economic development involves more taxing, more spending and more consulting. Businesses today need immediate action to fix the job crisis that you created. Under your mismanagement, unemployment has been higher than the national average for more than 64 months. It seems that the only people who have a job in Ontario are those in government that create crafty schemes to actually spend more money.

Premier, rather than putting money into a slush fund earmarked for Liberal supporters and creating your so-called jobs panel, can you stand up today and tell residents of Kitchener-Waterloo how your inaction has resulted in a reported loss of 6,000 jobs at Research in Motion?


Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Economic Development and Innovation.

Hon. Brad Duguid: Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely delighted to stand up today and tell the people in Kitchener-Waterloo and the people throughout southwestern Ontario that the PC Party is standing in the way of jobs for their region. They're not moving forward with the southwestern Ontario development fund. That fund worked in eastern Ontario: 12,000 jobs created in eastern Ontario. We want to give people in southwestern Ontario access to those funds, access to their jobs. You, sir, and your party are standing in the way of jobs for Kitchener-Waterloo, standing in the way of jobs for Windsor, standing in the way of jobs for Sarnia, standing in the way of jobs throughout southwestern Ontario-

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Order. The member from Chatham-Kent-Essex will come to order.

Supplementary?


Mr. Rob Leone: You know, Mr. Speaker-

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Peterborough is warned.

Mr. Rob Leone: -what this minister doesn't understand is that we'll never be ashamed of standing up for 6,000 jobs in Waterloo region.

The first step to treating their addiction to economic underperformance is to actually admit that they have a problem. I just hope that the Premier and the government actually admit that, before there's yet another credit downgrade.

Premier, this is just not another layoff. This is big. This is a big deal for Canada and it's a big deal for Kitchener-Waterloo. RIM is one of the largest employers in Waterloo and now, as a result of doing business under your leadership, RIM is having to resort to layoffs just to stay afloat.

Minister, will you finally admit that you have mismanaged the economy and that you haven't the slightest idea of how to prevent more jobs from bleeding from Kitchener-Waterloo?


Hon. Brad Duguid: We on this side of the House are very proud of the things that RIM has accomplished over the years: the hundreds of millions of dollars that they've contributed to our economy, and the thousands of jobs. We remain confident in the future of that company.

I'll tell you something we're proud of, Mr. Speaker. Over the last five years, we have been having more business start-ups than ever before. In fact, the greater Toronto area, including Waterloo, is now number four in the world when it comes to business start-ups, behind New York, the Silicon Valley and London. That's because of the commitment we've made to innovation in this province, a commitment that you oppose. That's because of the support we provide to places in Kitchener-Waterloo like Communitech, which is putting companies out every single day, creating jobs.

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We will create the next RIM in this province, but unfortunately it's without your support, because you're opposing-


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

AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE


Mr. Jagmeet Singh: My question is to the Minister of Finance. Minister, the auto insurance industry has reported huge profits while insurance premiums in Ontario are the highest in the country. For example, the Co-operators reported profits of $150.3 million in 2011, a 100% increase from its previously reported $72.7 million in 2010. The Co-operators provided an explanation for this. They said, "Significant improvements year over year can be attributed to favourable claims experience in the Ontario automobile insurance portfolio...."

Basically, the reforms that this government has made have made profits increase, but our premiums are still the highest in the country.

Minister, will your government finally acknowledge that the auto insurance industry is flawed and it's time to bring some fairness to the system here in Ontario?


Hon. Dwight Duncan: I'd like to read the member a letter from Andrew Murie, the CEO of MADD Canada, with reference to his bill respecting auto insurance. He says, "The bill will force responsible drivers to subsidize the insurance premiums of dangerous drivers."

Here's what MADD goes on to say to the NDP: "MADD Canada would strongly advocate that this bill be rejected. In our view, the bill sends all the wrong messages, punishes responsible drivers, rewards dangerous drivers, and will increase the risk to Ontario road users." That's Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

We ought to reject his bill and his approach. It's flawed. It's failed. He'll be hearing from a lot more people like that in the next few days at public hearings.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: While I have great respect for MADD as an organization that speaks about not drinking and driving, MADD is clearly wrong on this issue.

I have in my hand an article from a professor at the University of Waterloo, an actuarial scientist who refutes that claim and all the claims of IBC and will present that today at committee. In fact, the Auditor General and the Fraser Institute both indicate that insurance premiums in Ontario are the highest in the country.

This afternoon, the general government committee will begin a review of the entire auto insurance industry. It's our sincere hope that this government will work with us to inject some fairness into the system.

Let's be honest here. The auto insurance industry in Ontario is a complete mess. Will the minister commit his government to working with the NDP to bring some fairness to Ontario, to bring the premiums down, to look at the fact that-


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Minister of Finance.

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: -insurance is making so many profits and the people of Ontario are-

Hon. Dwight Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I would urge the member's colleagues from northern Ontario to heed the advice of consumer advocates who suggest that insurance premiums in northern Ontario will go up 30% as a result of that member's bill.

Let's just review a little bit more. The member opposite wants drunk drivers and other reckless drivers to pay less insurance. The driving safety record as defined in his bill only includes actual accidents. If you get caught drunk driving but don't get into an accident, your premiums won't go up.

He also favours rich drivers over poorer drivers. He wants to not take into account the make, model and year of the car-very understandable, given the vehicles the member himself drives.

His approach is wrong. It will raise premiums in northern Ontario. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving have rejected your party and your-


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

Interjections.

POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member was kind of stepping on his own member's toes here, because-I will allow the first question. The member from Ajax-Pickering.

Mr. Joe Dickson: Thank you, Speaker. In this knowledge-based era, education and innovation will be the key to prosperity for Ontarians. That's why our government has positioned Ontario as a leader in post-secondary education in the competitive global economy. Our government's goal is to enable our students to succeed in this new economy so they have the ability to think critically, to express those thoughts clearly, and to adapt and apply knowledge to new areas and tasks. By adopting new technology, we can give students the experience they require to prepare them for their workplace.

What support are we providing to our universities and colleges through the recent Ontario budget so they can continue to build a strong knowledge economy workforce?


Hon. Glen R. Murray: Mr. Speaker, a more insightful question has never been asked in this House before.

Mr. John Yakabuski: Don't insult your member. You shouldn't do that.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): It's not too late to name someone.

Hon. Glen R. Murray: Mr. Speaker, it's sheer brilliance compared to anything that I've ever been asked by the member for Nipissing-Pembroke.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Let's just-let us-

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Yes, thank you. You said it for me.

Please.


Hon. Glen R. Murray: I guess we've lost our sense of humour. It's only Monday.

We have actually increased operating grants, Mr. Speaker, to our colleges and universities by 77%. This is the largest investment since the Bill Davis government and the expansion of higher education. This has resulted in 210,000 additional seats, which means that there are 210,000 families out there, when they go down to the mailbox to get an answer that used to be a no, it's now a yes. For probably four times that many people, when you count the families, that's a life-changing experience. Thank you so much.

CORRECTION OF RECORD


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Newmarket-Aurora on a point of order.

Mr. Frank Klees: Yes, Speaker. I rise to correct my own record. In my question to the Minister of Health I referred to the individual who wrote the letter to the emergency health services branch to stand down on their oversight of Ornge as the associate deputy minister of the emergency health services branch. It was in fact the Associate Deputy Minister of Health who wrote that letter.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): That is a point of order, and the member does have a right to correct his record. I thank him for that.

This House does not have any deferred votes. It therefore stands recessed until 1 p.m.

The House recessed from 1138 to 1300.

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