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Ontario Hansard - 02-May2016

ORAL QUESTIONS

HYDRO RATES


Mr. Patrick Brown: My question is for the Minister of Finance. On April 19, the Minister of Finance stood in the Legislature and said that hydro rates are going down, but yesterday, everyone’s hydro rates went up. So my question to the Minister of Finance is: Is he willing to stand in the Legislature again and say that his hydro rates are going down?

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Hon. Charles Sousa: Mr. Speaker, what I referenced—and the member opposite knows all too well—was that investments were made by our government to the tune of over $30 billion to ensure that we have greater integrity and ensure that we have stability in our grid. Furthermore, we eliminated dirty coal from emissions in our province. Ninety per cent of our emissions are now free of carbon dioxide, and the member opposite knows that all too well.

Those come at a cost, to ensure that our future is protected and that we become more competitive going forward. He knows that our long-term plan had estimated much higher fees, and that has not occurred.

He also knows that going forward we are going to ensure we’ll continue to provide integrity in our grid and provide further stimulus in our economy. That has been happening, Mr. Speaker.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, again to the Minister of Finance: The Minister of Finance made a contention that his hydro rates were going down. That is not happening anywhere else in the province. So the question is: What special deal does the Minister of Finance have that just his hydro rates are going down? Because of the latest increase, everyone in Ontario’s rate is going to go up $70.

I realize it is part of their talking points to talk about coal, despite the fact that the phase-out started under the Progressive Conservatives. Instead of talking points, because every political party agreed on the—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock. Order, please. Order. Start the clock.

Finish, please.


Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, instead of answering a different question, a very simple, straightforward question to the Minister of Finance: You said that your hydro rates were going down. Are you willing to make that claim again today? Can you expect Ontarians to believe that, because I certainly don’t.

Interjections.


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

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Get it out now, because I’m going to tighten up.

Minister?


Hon. Charles Sousa: The legacy of the Progressive Conservative Party in the past was blackouts in this province and continued brownouts that always occurred, Mr. Speaker. Furthermore, they left a legacy of tremendous debt because of mismanagement of the electricity system that we are only now paying off completely.

Mr. Speaker, furthermore, we have now invested—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Finish, please, Minister.

Hon. Charles Sousa: We have invested in more than 15,000 kilometres of transmission and local distribution across our province, a distance of one and one half times from coast to coast in Canada, Mr. Speaker. Anyone who is promising you now that they’re going to reduce rates is not telling you the truth.

In the end, Mr. Speaker—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): A one-sentence wrap-up.

Hon. Charles Sousa: Anyone who promises lower rates is promising a return to dirty coal in this province, Mr. Speaker. That’s what they are talking about. We are not going to do that on this side of the House.

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

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, once again to the Minister of Finance: The drive-by smear on coal didn’t work in Whitby–Oshawa because there was no truth to it.

Now, back to the question and back to the real concern, and that’s the hydro rates that everyone in Ontario sees as going up except for the Minister of Finance.

Let me give you an example. Last week I was in Thunder Bay, meeting with mayors and councillors from northwestern Ontario communities. I would note that in 2015, the federation of northern municipalities passed a resolution calling for lower hydro rates, as they’ve been disastrous on the north. Resolute forestry, where I toured, told me they have to shut down parts of their plant every day during peak rate periods to keep their costs down. I guess they don’t get the Charles Sousa special.

Mr. Speaker, when will this government stop turning their backs on northern Ontario? When will this government actually have energy policies that don’t cripple northern Ontario?

Interjections.


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

I remind all members that we use each other’s titles and/or ridings in this House.

Minister.


Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Energy.

Hon. Bob Chiarelli: Mr. Speaker, the statement that the Leader of the Opposition was referring to is a statement that—in our 2013 long-term energy plan we had certain projected prices, and what the Minister of Finance said is that we’re coming well below those projected prices. We’re reducing from what we were projecting.

I do want to thank the member for supporting our nuclear refurbishment program. The nuclear refurbishment program, over the next 30 years, will put into the grid electricity prices at 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour, on average, and it will be clean energy.

He doesn’t mention that the recent wind prices came in at 8.5 cents, on average, per kilowatt hour—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Okay. I’m going to ramp it up since you are. We’re going to move to warnings.

Finish, please.


Hon. Bob Chiarelli: Mr. Speaker, the recent wind prices came in less than the average price of electricity in the grid, at 8.5 cents.

Northern Ontario industrial prices are the third-lowest in North America, better than all the Canadian provinces, better than all the US states. Do you want to see them? Look online and you’ll see all—


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Time is up.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): When I stand, you sit.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): In case you didn’t hear when it was really quiet, I said we’re moving to warnings. The shouting is going to stop.

New question.

AUTISM TREATMENT


Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. May 1 was a sad day for Ontario. IBI treatment for autistic children five and over is no longer available because of this government’s callousness.

Let me share a story of a letter I got from seven-year-old Warren and his family from Bailieboro. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. His parents immediately registered Warren for IBI therapy. About one month ago, Warren’s parents were notified that Warren was seventh on the waiting list for IBI treatment. They were elated. Unfortunately, because of this government’s decision, the rug has been pulled out from underneath this family and Warren. It’s not right.

Mr. Speaker, after so many years on the waiting list, why is this government proceeding with these devastating cuts that will take away IBI treatment from Warren and his family? We know how much the minister was upset. Why did the Minister of Finance allow this cut in his budget?


Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Children and Youth Services.

Hon. Tracy MacCharles: I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question.

It’s very important to acknowledge that we are not removing kids from service. In fact, we are taking those kids who are waiting for IBI, who are over five, who are not in the right developmental window, and putting them into immediate service—330 million new dollars, 16,000 new spaces. I acknowledge that it’s a shift. I acknowledge that it’s a transition.

I and many of my colleagues and, I believe, members of the opposition have been meeting with families. I’ve made sure that everyone in the Legislature has all the facts, that they understand the step-by-step process by which this transformation will take place and that the new autism program will provide longer, more intense services and will be tailored to the individual needs of the child.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance because this is his cut.

When the government cuts a service, they say, “It’s a shift. It’s a transformation”—

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Hon. Bob Chiarelli: So $330 million is a cut?

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The Minister of Energy is warned.

Leader?


Mr. Patrick Brown: Mr. Speaker, it appears we have struck a nerve. We’re decoding their language. A “shift” is their word for a cut. A “transformation” is their word for a cut. They like to say that, sure, they’re taking away IBI treatment, but they have enhanced ABA—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Well, I’ll do it: The deputy Minister of Finance is warned.

Carry on.


Mr. Patrick Brown: They say they have enhanced ABA, but we now learn from the regional service providers that there is no such thing as enhanced ABA. There is no enhanced treatment for Warren. He has been kicked off the wait-list and given a cheque that will only cover a few months of treatment. Warren and his family deserve better from this government.

My question is directly to the Minister of Finance. Autism doesn’t end at five; do you agree with that fundamental concept, yes or no?

Interjections.


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

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry is warned.

Minister?


Hon. Tracy MacCharles: Of course we agree that autism doesn’t end at five.

I’m very concerned about the opposition positioning this investment of $333 million as a cut. We have 16,000 new spaces that will be provided. Children who are currently receiving IBI will continue to receive that. Guess who will be determining what their transition is? Experts, at their next six-month checkup.

Speaker, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are stakeholders who support this change:

Leslie Suite, the chair of the Regional Autism Providers of Ontario, says, “We are very excited about what this historic investment means for children and youth with autism and their families. More families will receive the right services at the right time.”

Suzanne Jacobson, founder of Quickstart: Early Intervention for Autism, said, “Parents spoke and they were heard. The right service at the right time: individualized, expanded and timely services will be life changing. We applaud the Ontario government’s ... investment of $333 million....”


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

Mr. Patrick Brown: Once again, for the Minister of Finance: The government’s backbenches seem to share the government’s callous disregard for what this means for families with autism. On Twitter last week, the member from Beaches–East York called the parents of autistic children bullies. These are parents that are frustrated with the province because they can’t get the treatment they need.

Mr. Speaker, first the Liberal government took people like Warren’s parents to court. Now, they’re kicking kids like Warren off the wait-list. When will the government stop their war on autistic children and parents who love them? It’s not the right thing. Correct course.

Interjections.


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

Minister?


Hon. Tracy MacCharles: Speaker, I’d like to know when the Leader of the Opposition will stop using the wrong terminology about kicking kids off lists. That implies they’re not getting support; they are getting immediate support. Those children he’s talking about will go to immediate service.

Interjection: Fearmongering.

Hon. Tracy MacCharles: It is fearmongering, and I’m very concerned because this does affect families. I appreciate that, Speaker, but it doesn’t help, quite frankly, when the opposition isn’t communicating—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Finish, Minister, please.

Hon. Tracy MacCharles: It would also be helpful if the opposition talked about what this will do for the children on wait-lists he speaks about. We will reduce wait-lists for autistic children by half in two years—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Dufferin–Caledon is warned.

Hon. Tracy MacCharles: —2020.

I just wish the opposition would get the facts. His critic has had the briefing. It’s important they convey the facts during this time of transition.

FUNDRAISING


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Acting Premier. The Premier created a scandal with her system of secret fundraising quotas. Can the Acting Premier tell Ontarians—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock. My comments still stand for this next round of questions; it’s for the entire time of question period. If you want to get warned, the next step is that you’re named.

Finish, please.


Ms. Andrea Horwath: Can the Acting Premier tell Ontarians which minister had the quota to raise $430,000 from GreenField Speciality Alcohols and which ministers are responsible for $160 million in Liberal government support back to GreenField?

Hon. Charles Sousa: There are two questions there. One is the degree of investments we’re making to grow our agricultural industry and support rural Ontario, which is critical. We recognize that ethanol and our growth in ethanol will help the industry as well as move us into the low-carbon economy. The selection process in that is very non-partisan. Ministry officials are the ones who evaluate the companies. It goes through a competitive four-step due diligence process.

The member opposite also talks about fundraising activities. I think the leader of the third party, who is strongly defending her secret union-backed shell corporation, is clear as to why the NDP has not decided to act on the reforms that we’re putting forward.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Increasingly, Ontarians are concerned that this government and this Premier have manipulated and abused the rules around political fundraising in this province beyond anything that we have seen in the past. Now this Premier says, “Just trust me when I rewrite the rules on my own and use my majority to pass them.” Speaker, it is simply not credible.

When will this Premier and this Liberal government realize that the rules on how parties and elections are financed must be seen as credible by the people, and agree to put aside her partisan process?


Hon. Charles Sousa: Mr. Speaker, credibility is exactly what’s in question here from the member of the third party. They are obviously stuck in process, because they want to delay further the reforms that are necessary to meet the very demands of the public, and we recognize that.

Our questions to the leader of the opposition are, do you believe that we need to reform third-party advertising? Do you believe that we need to ban corporate and union donations? Do you believe that we need to reduce the maximum amount of those donations? Do you believe that we need to have the constraints necessary on loans, loan guarantees and phantom landowners? Do you believe that reform on by-elections is also important? Do you believe that we need an overall reduction in the spending limits by central parties in election periods and between those elections? Do you believe that we need new leadership, and nomination campaign spending limits on those donation opportunities during those campaigns?

I believe the consensus around this room, and certainly outside of this Legislature, is that we do. That’s what we’re putting forward, and we expect—


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

Final supplementary.


Ms. Andrea Horwath: The government has spent the last week, or more, attempting to smear anyone who wants an open, transparent panel to make new election rules. In fact—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock.

Finish.


Ms. Andrea Horwath: They believe that Democracy Watch, newspaper editorial boards, the Green Party of Ontario, the official opposition and the NDP are somehow all trying to delay. Yet when given multiple opportunities to move forward on a fast-moving, independent process that will report back to this Legislature by the end of September, the Premier and her government have repeatedly simply said no.

The real question is, why is the Liberal Party of Ontario insisting on a partisan process that they control?


Hon. Charles Sousa: The real question is, why aren’t we moving on the piece of legislation before this democratic House? That is the place to do our business—and it does require public comment. It does have debate. It is a democratic process.

The real question is, why is the leader of the third party defending a secret, union-backed shell corporation? Why are they continuing to throw up roadblocks in the process?

What we need is action, Mr. Speaker. We’re prepared to act now.

HEALTH CARE FUNDING


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My second question is also for the Acting Premier. Since January, Ontario has lost 800 full- and part-time nurses. That’s nearly 200 per month.

When will the Liberal government stop firing nurses?


Hon. Charles Sousa: I know the Minister of Health will want to respond to this.

But it’s important to recognize that we are investing more. Let me be clear: The opposition continues to make disingenuous claims about our health care system. In reality—


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Withdraw.

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Hon. Charles Sousa: I withdraw, Mr. Speaker.

The opposition fails to tell what are, in fact, the facts. The reality is that we’ve increased hospital funding by 53% since 2003, from $11 billion to $17.3 billion, and we’re increasing funding for every single hospital in Ontario this year. This is part of our budget proposal of a $1-billion increase to health care funding. We will continue to invest in hospitals, and we must recognize that we’re moving towards a system where more services are delivered at home and in the community.

The NDP voted against these very measures. They voted against an additional $270 million for home and community care, they voted against $75 million for community-based hospice and palliative care, and they voted against $85 million for community health centres.

We’re investing more, Mr. Speaker.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Yes, in fact, Speaker, we did vote against a terrible austerity budget, and we’re proud of it.

Here are the facts: People in Orillia have learned that 16 beds at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital will be closed, and the hospital is losing 35 full-time-equivalent staff. They’re losing seven full-time RNs, four part-time RNs, and a nurse practitioner.

The CEO says this: “On the heels of a four-year funding freeze and only a modest increase to base funding for 2016-17, it’s increasingly difficult.”

When will the Liberal government stop cutting hospitals, Speaker?


Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Health.

Hon. Eric Hoskins: I appreciate the question from the leader of the third party, because it allows me to set the record straight when it comes to Soldiers’ Memorial. We are investing an additional $1.3 million in that hospital this year.

But let’s hear what else the CEO of that hospital said. It was based on—there’s a rehabilitation alliance, the Rehabilitative Care Alliance, which is a province-wide body, and they are making changes which are in accordance with, and in fact recommended by, that alliance.

“The major budget initiative is a bed restructuring plan that will see the establishment of a newly designed program to enhance care for patients”—this is quoting the CEO—“requiring post-acute rehabilitation services and medical care. To develop this new model of care,” the hospital has withdrawn from the regional complex continuing care program and is “relocating other beds within the hospital to the new unit to be established on the fourth floor.”


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: We’re going to have to rehabilitate the entire hospital system after this Liberal government gets finished with it.

In Windsor hospitals, health care workers right now know that their cuts are coming. The situation has gotten so bad that nurses are getting second jobs and some are leaving in advance, because they’re so worried about the layoff notices that are coming. They are so stressed about the impending layoff notices that they are actually leaving their jobs before the pink slip hits them. That’s bad for nurses, but it’s also bad for patients.

When will this Liberal government start putting patients first and stop cutting hospitals and firing nurses?


Hon. Eric Hoskins: Every single indicator that we have with reference to our nurses, despite the fact that the NDP, of course, fired thousands of nurses when they were in power in the 1990s—registered nurses, since 2003, a 12.8% increase; nurse practitioners, a 312% increase in the number practising in the province; registered practical nurses, a 45% increase. Every single measure that we have—and these are independent figures and statistics from the college—demonstrates this government’s commitment to continue to hire nurses to provide that important, exceptional front-line care that they do each and every single day.

SOCIAL ASSISTANCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM


Mr. Randy Pettapiece: My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. The minister was asked if she knew about the problem with SAMS before it was launched. The minister said, “Nobody told me.”

Will the minister now admit that just wasn’t true, and will she apologize to the people of Ontario?


Hon. Helena Jaczek: I think I’ve acknowledged many times in this House that SAMS did not roll out the way it should have. No one’s denying this.

But let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. A memo was released. It was written by the project manager for SAMS and it was addressed to the administrators out in the field. I would like to read that memo in its entirety.

What he said on November 1 was, “I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there have been significant challenges both with the development of the solution and with site readiness. However, this was not unexpected in such a large and complex modernization initiative, and in every instance we have worked together to overcome these challenges.”

This was precisely the type of information that was relied upon to roll out SAMS in November 2014.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Unfortunately, I didn’t hear an apology. When the minister said, “Nobody told me,” that wasn’t true, plain and simple. On November 1, the minister received a memo from the SAMS team leader which said that the system faced significant challenges—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I’m—get the message? Withdraw, please.

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Withdraw.

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

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: The system was faced with significant challenges. That means she had time to stop the release of SAMS before the damage was done. Instead, she assured everyone that she was confident SAMS would have a seamless rollout the following week.

In previous governments, a scandal like this would have triggered resignations. Has anyone in this government accepted the consequences for such a monumental screw-up? Anyone at all? Because this minister hasn’t.


Hon. Helena Jaczek: I’d like to reiterate that the memo in question was sent not to me but to administrators in the field, and what I’d like to point out—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke is warned.

Finish, please.


Hon. Helena Jaczek: I’m wondering if the member opposite is suggesting that he would have pushed the stop button on much-needed innovation based on knowing there were challenges that had been overcome?

Having said that, we know that challenges did exist with the rollout. I have accepted the responsibility for that. I started staff working groups, front-line working groups. We hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to assist us in a third-party evaluation of what needed to be done. We have now fixed 100% of the priority issues identified by the front lines and 95% of the defects identified in the Auditor General’s report.

POLICE OVERSIGHT


Mr. Jagmeet Singh: My question is to the Attorney General. When it comes to police accountability, transparency and oversight, this government has been all over the place on this file. It’s really done a disservice to not only the people of Ontario, but to the family of Mr. Andrew Loku. Transparency is vital to maintaining public trust in the administration of justice and our justice system.

First, the Attorney General took 30 days to read a report that only she could read. Then, while the Premier made some promising remarks about perhaps releasing this report, the Attorney General said no to questions asked by media to releasing this report, four times. Now, finally, when the government releases the report, they release it late on a Friday. They release only 10 out of 34 pages, and one of those pages is blank. The pages that are released are heavily redacted. In fact, the public is left with more questions rather than answers.

Why does the government continue to disrespect Ontarians and discourage transparency turn after turn?


Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: I want to thank the member from the third party for his very important question.

As I said, our government is very committed to effective and fair civilian oversight of the police. We are aware that there are concerns about transparency and accountability in current police oversight, so the time has come to look critically at how this system is working. That’s why last week we appointed the Honourable Michael Tulloch, who is from the appeal court of Ontario, to lead an independent review of three agencies that oversee police conduct in Ontario.

He has been asked to provide the government with recommendations on ways to enhance the transparency and accountability of the province’s three police oversight bodies. Today, I want to thank him for accepting to take on this very challenging review.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Mr. Speaker, while New Democrats welcome this commission and welcome the appointment of Justice Tulloch, that doesn’t answer the question of transparency.

The government likes to talk about transparency time and time again, but when it comes to it, the government does not act on that. The government has failed to act on delivering true transparency. The community has raised a number of concerns around the circumstances of Mr. Loku’s death, and the government has an opportunity to provide the transparency. They like to talk about it, but again, they haven’t delivered on it.

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The public has questions; Mr. Andrew Loku’s family has questions; this government can provide the answers. Will the government commit today to releasing a fulsome report—understanding the concerns around privacy—that actually answers the questions that the community has?


Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: This SIU process has been in existence since 1990. I’ll remind the member opposite that when they were in power, they did not release any of the SIU reports.

We have asked Justice Tulloch to prioritize making recommendations as to how information in SIU reports could be made public in the future. He will also prioritize looking at whether past SIU reports should be made public, and the form this information would take. The government expects to receive these prioritized recommendations in the coming months. Justice Tulloch will conduct broad public consultations, including conversations with the police community, Black Lives Matter and a variety of municipal and community leaders.

I’m confident that, through this review process, we will create a more transparent approach to police oversight that has the confidence of both the police and the public they serve.

ONTARIO’S CREDIT RATING


Mr. Peter Z. Milczyn: My question is to the Minister of Finance. Each year, the four credit rating agencies assess the province’s fiscal and economic plan following the release of the budget. Their assessment provides an independent analysis and assessment, which they communicate through their rating and outlook for the province. The results are in for the first of the four credit rating agencies as Moody’s made their assessment public last week. Can the minister please inform this House on the status of Moody’s rating and what this means for our government’s record of fiscal prudence?

Hon. Charles Sousa: I’d like to thank the member from Etobicoke–Lakeshore for the question. He was quite right: Following a thorough review of our government’s economic and fiscal plan, Moody’s recently announced an improvement in the province’s rating. Moody’s outlook reflects its confidence in our government’s plan to grow Ontario’s economy and create jobs for Ontarians. The member is also correct in saying that Moody’s is the first of the rating agencies to release its rating.

Our government values the input of third-party analysis as an important checkpoint in ensuring that our fiscal plan is credible, reliable and transparent.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary.

Mr. Peter Z. Milczyn: I’m pleased to hear of the improvement to our government’s outlook by Moody’s, and I know that this is the result of a credible fiscal plan and the hard work that the Minister of Finance has done.

As the press release by Moody’s stated, “The stable outlook on the province of Ontario’s ratings reflects our opinion that the province has presented a budget plan with little risk that the debt burden will exceed recent levels.” They also forecast Ontario’s debt to “fall ... across the medium term and, as importantly, for interest expense to remain manageable as well.”

It sounds to me like our government is doing a great job at coming to balance in a way that is fair and responsible.

Can the Minister of Finance please inform this House about the status of our fiscal plan and provide some insight into why Moody’s made this change?


Hon. Charles Sousa: Thank you again to the member for allowing me the opportunity to speak about our fiscal plan and the improvement of our outlook, which was, by the way, well received by many investors around the world, as it was recently affirmed in the 2016 budget that our government remains on track to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18 and remain balanced by 2018-19. By continuing to beat our fiscal targets, Ontario’s accumulated deficit is $30 billion lower than it otherwise would have been. Across the board, private sector economists are forecasting Ontario’s economy to be among the top two growth leaders in Canada.

We will continue to reduce the deficit through a fair and balanced approach. We continue to implement our plan to balance the budget, grow the economy and create jobs. Ontarians will continue to see measurable results, as already seen around the world from those who value the work that we’ve done here in Ontario.

HYDRO RATES


Mr. John Yakabuski: My question is to the Minister of Energy. The minister will know that hydro rates went up again yesterday; on May 1, hydro rates went up. The latest line—an unbelievable line—from the government is that the increases are due to the fact that people didn’t use enough electricity. So in this Liberal energy system, people are penalized when it’s a cold winter, they are penalized when it’s a warm winter and they are punished even more when they conserve electricity.

Will the minister finally admit that the people’s skyrocketing energy rates are not a result of weather but of the colossal mismanagement of Ontario’s electricity system under his guidance, and will he commit to a real plan to stop abusing Ontarians with skyrocketing hydro rates?

Interjections.


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

Minister of Energy.


Hon. Bob Chiarelli: Speaker, the member is correct that there was a 2.5% increase. And as I said last week and the week before, the member ignores the fact that if you look at comparisons to other provinces—BC Hydro rates increased by 4% on April 1, 2016; SaskPower approved an increase of 5% throughout 2015; Manitoba Hydro applied for a rate increase of 3.95% as of April 1, 2016; and Newfoundland Power applied for a rate increase of 3.6% for residential customers as of July 1, 2016.

As I said earlier today, northern Ontario has the third-lowest industrial rates in North America.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. John Yakabuski: The minister has to stop with the numbers game. Quebec’s hydro rates could go up 300%, and they’d still be lower than ours. Stop with the numbers game. You are inflicting real pain on Ontario families.

I had a gentleman in my constituency office on Friday who said that this hydro fiasco that you’ve created is tearing families apart. I spoke to a woman yesterday in my constituency office who works at a food bank in Eganville. She said that there was a 30% increase at the food bank. They ran out. When you talk to people and ask them why they’re at the food bank, it’s because they have to make a choice: “If we pay our hydro bill, we can’t afford food.” That’s what you’ve done here in the province of Ontario.

Will you show some compassion and stop going down the disastrous road that you’ve built for Ontario families?

Interjections.


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

Minister?


Hon. Bob Chiarelli: Mr. Speaker, the member knows that we’ve created a number of significant programs to help consumers, including removal of the debt retirement charge at the beginning of the year. We’ve created the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low- and modest-income families, which would save them an additional $360 per year off their bills, or $430 when combined with the removal of the debt retirement charge.

I do want to thank the Conservative Party again for supporting our nuclear refurbishment program, which sees an average price of 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour over the next 30 years—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Some people here have Ws.

Hon. Bob Chiarelli: Mr. Speaker, I thank the Conservative Party for supporting our initiative in nuclear refurbishment, which shows 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour, on average, over the next 30 years, and that is clean energy.

We’re taking a lot of other steps to reduce the cost of electricity, including the new price of wind—


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

GASOLINE PRICES


Mr. Gilles Bisson: My question is to the Minister of Transportation. Minister, you will note—because I’m sure your staff watches this—that about a week ago, there was a 26-cent-a-litre difference in the price of gas from southern to northern Ontario, and within northern Ontario, there was a 10-cent-a-litre difference between Kirkland Lake and Timmins.

The question is very simple: When is this minister and this government going to get on side and do what we’ve been asking and what municipalities across the north have been asking; that is, either get these gas companies to stop gouging the public or, if not, regulate the price of gas?


Hon. Steven Del Duca: I want to begin by thanking the member opposite for the question. I’m happy to take that one back and have a conversation with the member offline.

Of course, you would know that cutting across all of the activity that this government does—thanks not only to the Premier but, of course, to members like the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Minister of Government and Consumer Services, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and, also, the member from Sudbury—this is a government that, for 13 years, has worked very hard in a determined fashion to make sure that northern Ontarians have a bright and prosperous future, and that the quality of life for northern Ontarians continues to improve, including, of course, in budget 2016; for example, a number of initiatives from the Ministry of Transportation on the infrastructure front to support highway expansion, roads, bridges and so much more for all of northern Ontario.

For 13 years, thanks to this Ontario Liberal government, we have moved the yardsticks forward for northern Ontario. Because of our leadership, unlike the NDP, we’ll continue to get the job done.

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The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Gilles Bisson: As my colleague was just saying, we’ve gone from question period to comedy hour.

This government is the same government who got rid of the Ontario Northland, the only train that we have in northern Ontario. This is a government who has driven the price of electricity through the roof to the point that residents and industry can’t afford it. And now I’m asking him a question about the price of gas.

How could it be that gas companies are able to charge a 26-cents-per-litre difference for gasoline across this province? If you can sell a case of beer in Kenora for the same price you sell it for in downtown Toronto, how is it that you’re going to have a 26-cents-a-litre difference on the price of gas?

I ask you again: Are you prepared to step in, get these guys under control and, if not, regulate them?


Hon. Steven Del Duca: Minister of Energy.

Hon. Bob Chiarelli: I think the member knows that the regulation of the price of gasoline is a federal responsibility under the Competition Act, Mr. Speaker. He’s talking about a differential in price. Does he want the same price? Does he want price control? If he wants price control, tell him he wants price control, okay? We know what happens when you have price control.

The provinces who have tried to regulate have seen the prices stay the same as the other provinces, or they went up, because of the cost of administrating the price control they’re trying to implement.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT


Mrs. Marie-France Lalonde: My question is to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. We all know that sexual violence has a devastating impact on the lives of survivors and their families. As a member of the Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment, I heard many touching personal accounts of this kind of violence. It was clear to me that we as a province need to do more to eliminate sexual violence and harassment right across Ontario. But because crimes of sexual violence and harassment are the most unreported in our province, it is imperative that we improve the experience of survivors who come forward to report these crimes, through better tools and training for our police and law enforcement officials.

Minister, I was pleased to join you in Ottawa in February when you announced the funding of six research projects at post-secondary institutions across the province, dedicated to improving how police respond. Through you to the minister, Mr. Speaker, would the minister please explain how he is addressing this very real and pressing gap?


Hon. Yasir Naqvi: I want to thank the member from Ottawa–Orléans for her work, along with the other members on the Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment.

Sexual violence and harassment is something that is far too prevalent in our communities and something that cannot be tolerated. That is why I was very happy to join the member from Ottawa–Orléans in February to announce that we are investing $375,000 to support six research projects at post-secondary institutions across the province, to provide our police and law enforcement officials with the tools and training they need in order to best support survivors of these terrible crimes.

This research is about identifying best practices based on evidence. It is about supporting an even more compassionate and sensitive approach from law enforcement. It is about learning and implementing best practices, to encourage more survivors to report sexual violence and to continue to improve how police respond to and investigate cases of sexual violence.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mrs. Marie-France Lalonde: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the minister for that answer.

I am glad to hear that you’re taking concrete steps to better support survivors of sexual violence and harassment, and improve training for the police who respond to these crimes.

While this research will be important in addressing these issues, we must also recognize that indigenous women are disproportionately more likely to experience violence; in fact, they are three times as likely compared to other women in Canada. Our First Nations partners have told us that there has always been a gap in the justice system, so as we move forward to eliminate sexual violence from our communities, we cannot lose sight of the indigenous women who need our help the most. That means that we must work to develop a more compassionate, sensitive and culturally appropriate response for law enforcement when dealing with sexual violence against indigenous women, while encouraging more survivors to report.

Mr. Speaker, through you, would the minister please explain what our government is doing to identify the gaps in best practices to help indigenous women across Ontario?


Hon. Yasir Naqvi: It is unfortunate that indigenous women are disproportionately likely to experience violence. As the member stated, in fact, they are three times as likely to be impacted by it compared to other women in Canada.

This must change. That is why last month, along with the minister responsible for women’s issues and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, I announced that we’re providing over $250,000 to support research that will specifically draw on the lived experiences of indigenous survivors of sexual violence. These research projects will build on Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and our It’s Never Okay action plan. They will examine how police respond to and investigate these crimes. It is my hope that this research will show us how to improve supports and empower indigenous survivors.

Speaker, this is how our government is working to identify the gaps and best practices, so we can develop tools to improve police responses and investigations to help indigenous women across the province.

SCHOOL CLOSURES


Mr. Bill Walker: My question is for the Minister of Education. This government promised to improve the quality of education in the classroom, but it isn’t happening. It’s clear that ever since the Liberals fast-tracked the reviews of school closings to 10 weeks from seven months, communities are literally being torn apart.

In my riding, five schools are closing. OSCVI alumni, parents and students have appealed to the minister to step in and review the decision—a call that’s supported by over 2,100 petitioners. Mr. Speaker, these constituents want to know: Will the minister support a one-year moratorium on the decision and allow the community, the students and all stakeholder groups to consult on the proposal to close OSCVI?


Hon. Liz Sandals: I’m quite happy to comment on Bluewater District School Board, which is what the issue is about. Actually, we had a really interesting event on Friday in Meaford, where the Bluewater board had in fact used the new expedited ARC process. As a result of that expedited ARC process, they will be closing two of their existing elementary schools. They will be closing an older high school as well.

We actually announced that they will be receiving $24 million in the small community of Meaford in order to build a new 1,000-student JK-to-12 school to consolidate all three of those schools. The community, including the mayor, was absolutely delighted.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Bill Walker: It’s unfortunate that the minister didn’t have the decency to invite the representative of that riding to that announcement.

Despite promising to address the funding formula in the past two elections, it appears the minister is indifferent to the predicament they’re creating and the impact of school closures on people and their communities. This attitude runs parallel to their waste and mismanagement pattern, the same one that has led the government to cut back on funding essential public services, such as education and health care.

Minister, you control the purse strings. You set the rules of the funding formula. You said you would change it. A busload of constituents will be arriving any minute and they want assurances from you that you’ll do the right thing.

Mr. Speaker, I ask again through you: Will the minister agree to a review of this decision to ensure that students’ best interests are served at the end of the day by this government? It’s not about the Meaford school; it’s about the OSCVI school.


Hon. Liz Sandals: As I commented to the reporters from Owen Sound on Friday, we need to sort out the process here. Actually, under the Education Act, it falls within the jurisdiction of school boards—not the Minister of Education—to make decisions about accommodation reviews. In fact, the boards are charged with that responsibility.

I would like to point out that I am the Minister of Education, not the minister of schools. My primary focus is to make sure that students receive good programming. What we know in secondary schools is that when there’s a critical mass of students, the board has the opportunity to provide a broader breadth of programs for the students. They can provide better-quality programming. That actually is my job: to make sure students receive—


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

New question.

PUBLIC TRANSIT


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Acting Premier. Throughout their history, TTC fares in Toronto have been based on the simple principle that every Torontonian deserves equal access to their transit system, regardless of their income and regardless of where they live. But now Metrolinx is quietly working on a fare integration plan that could force people living in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York to pay a higher fare for a subway ride than people living downtown.

Will the Liberal government guarantee that Metrolinx will not force people living in Scarborough to pay more to ride the subway?

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Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Transportation.

Hon. Steven Del Duca: I want to thank the leader of the NDP for the question. Of course, as everyone should know by now, the folks at Metrolinx, who are doing an exceptional job, are working hard to liaise with all of our municipal transit systems around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area to make sure that, collectively, we can deliver on fare integration for this region.

I think anyone who moves around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area would recognize—and certainly I hear it loud and clear from my own constituents in York region—in order to support the unprecedented transit investments that this government is making, that we need a fare integration system across this entire region that works seamlessly, that makes transit more accessible, more affordable, more reliable and more dependable for the people of the entire region. That’s the work that Metrolinx is embarking upon, in conjunction with all of our municipal transit systems. They will keep working hard to make sure that we can get it right.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, in fact, what Metrolinx has been quietly doing is designing a fare integration plan that could force the TTC to become a zone-based system that divides Torontonians based on where they live. So years from now, people in Scarborough might get a new subway but then find out that they can only afford to ride the bus.

Will the Liberal government guarantee that there will be no fare zones within Toronto, and that Metrolinx will not force the TTC to charge higher fares for subway riders?


Hon. Steven Del Duca: Only the leader of Ontario’s NDP would think somehow that after months of open conversations, after months in which every single board meeting has a public portion, that this is somehow hidden. It’s a conversation that’s been ongoing. It’s part of my mandate letter, which, of course, she should know. For the first time in Ontario’s history, our mandate letters were posted publicly at the time that we received them.

I think what’s also, perhaps, the reason that the leader of the NDP is mistaken about how supposedly hidden this effort is is that because—while we are investing in transit through budget after budget after budget, that leader and the NDP caucus continue to vote against them. They are obviously more focused on petty partisan politics in Scarborough instead of being focused on making sure that they support the transit investments needed to deliver the seamless integrated transit network the people of this region and the people of Scarborough deserve.

DENTAL CARE


Ms. Soo Wong: My question is for the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent yet preventable chronic diseases, particularly among children. It is the leading cause of day surgeries for those ages one to five. Research shows that untreated oral health problems can affect children’s ability to eat, sleep and focus. In my riding of Scarborough–Agincourt, it is not unusual to see children whose growth and development are impacted by poor oral health.

There is an unacceptable disparity in health outcomes between lower- and higher-income individuals in this province. It is true of dental health as well.

Speaker, through you to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care: Can he please inform the House what the government is doing to ensure that children in my riding of Scarborough–Agincourt and across Ontario receive the proper dental care they deserve?


Hon. Eric Hoskins: I have to say that it was great being with the member from Scarborough–Agincourt, and many of her MPP colleagues from Durham and Scarborough, last week when we announced a $20-million investment in diagnostic imaging at the Scarborough Hospital, and a $5-million planning grant, as well, for both Durham and Scarborough regions.

As the Minister of Health and as a parent, I want to see all children grow up to be healthy and live healthy lives. The family income level should not be a barrier to that. That’s why I was pleased last week to announce that our government is supporting families in raising healthy kids by making it easier for more eligible children and youth from low-income families to access free dental health services in Ontario.

The new Healthy Smiles Ontario program provides access to free preventive, routine and emergency dental services for all eligible children and youth. I’m very proud of our government’s Healthy Smiles program. It’s an important step in Ontario’s overall Poverty Reduction Strategy.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Soo Wong: Thank you to the minister for his response and also for his leadership role in supporting Scarborough.

Healthy Smiles is an excellent oral health program run by the public health units across Ontario. We know this type of preventive treatment, whether it’s checkups, cleaning, fillings or X-rays, saves our health care system dollars in the long run.

Studies show that early detection and identification of oral diseases are critical in children’s overall health, social well-being and learning.

As a former public health nurse and school board trustee, I know the free Healthy Smiles dental health care program will help children in my riding of Scarborough–Agincourt and across Ontario improve their oral health, keep them out of the emergency room, ensure proper nutrition, promote self-esteem and reduce absenteeism from school.

Speaker, through you to the minister: Can he please tell the House how families can access the Healthy Smiles program?


Hon. Eric Hoskins: As part of this new and improved program—where we merged six different programs with different sets of rules and six different applications into one program with one application and one set of rules—70,000 more kids will have access to these important services.

I’m pleased to report back today that already more than 323,000 young people are enrolled in the Healthy Smiles program. To bring that number even higher, we launched an awareness campaign last week across the province to encourage more people to visit ontario.ca/ healthysmiles to find out if their kids are eligible, and to sign them up for these important publicly funded dental services. Families can also speak to their local public health unit.

Of course, our public health units are essential partners, and I want to thank them and our other partners, including our dentists, as we roll out this important program.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Before we go to new questions, just to remind the member from Windsor West, it really doesn’t matter where you sit.

The member from Elgin–Middlesex–London.

DIABETES


Mr. Jeff Yurek: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. A recent Toronto Sun article detailed this government’s failures for patients with diabetes. This particular patient had to have her left foot amputated and came close to having to amputate her other foot due to a lack of preventive foot care.

A 2012 report released by Canada’s Premiers revealed that an estimated 85% of leg amputations are the result of a non-healing foot ulcer. The report recommended the use of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario’s best practices guide to prevent the need for amputation, but four years later about 2,000 patients are forced to undergo physically and emotionally traumatic amputations each year.

Mr. Speaker, why has the minister failed to implement RNAO’s preventive measures, which could save millions of dollars and thousands of limbs of Ontario’s diabetic patients?


Hon. Eric Hoskins: I have to commend RNAO and the Canadian Association of Wound Care, both of whom are participating in a Health Quality Ontario task force, a working group that I asked HQO to set up to look specifically at these issues. We’re hearing from the best experts right across this country on this important issue.

The level of amputation that we’re seeing is unacceptable. It’s important that we have a wound care approach that is based on best practices and best principles, and that that is applied province-wide.

We’ve gathered together the experts—of course, RNAO and the Canadian Association of Wound Care are part of that process—so we can actually hear from them, work with them in this working group to develop those standards of care and implement them across the province.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. Jeff Yurek: Back to the Minister of Health: That task force should have been called four years ago, after the Premiers’ report came out, not four years later, with patients suffering for four continued years.

The Canadian Diabetes Association reported that the economic burden of diabetes was estimated to be $4.9 billion in 2010 and is expected to increase to $6.9 billion by 2020. An estimated 1.5 million people in Ontario have diabetes, and that’s expected to grow to 2.3 million people by 2025. These Ontarians are 12 times more likely to be hospitalized with end-stage renal disease and 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for a lower-limb amputation than the general public.

Could the minister explain why prevention is not a priority in this government?


Hon. Eric Hoskins: Of course it’s a priority, and that’s why we’re looking at wound care. We’re also looking at off-loading, which is an important aspect of this in terms of prevention and best practices for management.

I need to remind the member opposite that Ontario was the first province or territory in Canada to fully fund insulin pumps for children and adults with type 1 diabetes.

We’ve established six centres for complex diabetes care. They have provided care to over 9,000 new patients. We’ve increased the number of diabetes education teams, which I suspect the member opposite would agree is a preventive aspect of care. We now have 321 diabetes education teams across the province. We have diabetes mobile outreach services. And we’ve invested in self-management, as well, making sure that individuals like my sister, who has type 1 diabetes, have the education and support that they need to be able to live those high-quality lives.

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS


Ms. Peggy Sattler: My question is to the Minister of Labour. Last week, we learned that the Ontario government recovered nearly $140,000 in wages owed by 18 firms to interns, after a ministry blitz of a small number of GTA workplaces. The results of the blitz are deeply troubling. Of the 36 firms with interns that were subject to the Employment Standards Act, fully half were not meeting their obligations under the ESA.

It seems that the minister’s efforts to educate employers are not working. While the blitz stopped the exploitation of unpaid interns at 18 firms, what is the minister doing to prevent the thousands of other young people who are working without pay at hundreds more firms across this province?


Hon. Kevin Daniel Flynn: Thank you to the member for this important question. Contrary to the assertions that are made by the member, I would say the work we are doing on unpaid internships in this province is working. Thanks to the work that we were able to do with the Ministry of Labour in the blitz, young people in this province will now be receiving $140,000 that they wouldn’t have otherwise received.

Let me make it perfectly clear: Unpaid internships are illegal in the province of Ontario. There is no such thing as a legal unpaid internship. If there are employers out there today—and the blitz shows us there are—that still do not understand or decide not to follow the rules, we are going to continue to level that playing field for other employers in this province that do abide by the rules. I’m proud we were able to recover the money for these young people, who deserve that money.

VISITOR


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from Kitchener–Conestoga on a point of order.

Mr. Michael Harris: Point of order. I would like to welcome Pathfinder Christian School to question period today. Thanks, guys, for coming.

MEMBER’S BIRTHDAY


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

Ms. Ann Hoggarth: I’d like to wish a very happy birthday to the member from Brampton–Springdale, who celebrated her birthday on April 27.

NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Pursuant to standing order 38(a), the member from Timmins–James Bay has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Minister of Transportation concerning gas prices. This matter will be debated tomorrow at 6 p.m.

There being no deferred votes, this House stands recessed until 1 p.m.

The House recessed from 1143 to 1300.

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