PRIVATE MEMBERS’ PUBLIC BUSINESS
TRANSPARENCY IN GAS PRICING ACT, 2017 / LOI DE 2017 SUR LA TRANSPARENCE DANS LA FACTURATION DU GAZ
Mr. McNaughton moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 146, An Act to amend the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998 to provide transparency in gas pricing / Projet de loi 146, Loi modifiant la Loi de 1998 sur la Commission de l’énergie de l’Ontario pour assurer la transparence dans la facturation du gaz.
Bill 146 is about common sense and basic fairness. This is an idea that has been supported by consumers, gas distributors, the Auditor General, school boards, hospitals, even the former Liberal Minister of Energy. Voting for this bill would be an opportunity for the government side to support making cap-and-trade the transparent and accountable program that they promised the people of Ontario.
Currently, the cost of cap-and-trade is lumped into the delivery charge on natural gas bills. By hiding this cost from families and businesses, the government is not only failing to be accountable for the money they’re taking out of people’s pockets, but also failing to show the cost of emissions. This is an inconsistent policy in every way possible. It is inconsistent within Canada, where British Columbia and Quebec disclose the cost as a separate line item. It is also inconsistent within Ontario’s own energy sector, where fuel vendors not regulated by the OEB, such as propane and oil providers, have a separate line item for these costs.
When asked about disclosing cap-and-trade costs for natural gas in the past, the former Minister of Energy, the member for Ottawa West–Nepean, said that the OEB represents “the interests of consumers in this province.... I have trouble believing that the Ontario Energy Board would not, in every instance, be 100% transparent with the public.”
Since then, however, the Liberal government has gone back time and time again to the tired talking point that this was a decision by the Ontario Energy Board, an arm’s-length organization, and that government won’t interfere by issuing a ministerial directive to fix it. It’s an excuse that is hard to credit once you dig a little and find that this government has issued nearly 100 ministerial directives to date, yet they won’t issue one in this case. They won’t take responsibility for the proper implementation of a program they designed and put into operation.
The cap-and-trade program is a difficult one for everyday people and families to understand. By nature, it’s not a very transparent way to price emissions. I know I’ve spoken with countless small and medium-sized business owners who have had to throw all kinds of money and other resources at trying to get a handle on it. This program is challenging enough for families and businesses to grapple with; we owe them at least this basic level of disclosure.
When you buy something at a store, you will see a full breakdown of costs. If you bought a barbecue, for instance, at Home Hardware, you would see the HST, delivery charge, assembly charge, all as separate line items. Is the bottom-line cost important? Absolutely, but so is knowing what you’re paying for. It’s a level of accountability that consumers assume will be there. By not disclosing cap-and-trade in the same way, the government is abusing the people’s trust.
The Auditor General was very clear in her recommendation that to ensure that people have a clear understanding of the impact on them of cap-and-trade, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change should ensure that communications to the public are open and transparent.
I brought forward this bill to enable the House to fix this through legislation and a vote. It is unquestionably the will of the vast majority. In addition to ratepayers from across Ontario, organizations as varied as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Industrial Gas Users Association, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Colleges Ontario and even gas distributors such as Enbridge and Union Gas have advocated for this measure.
Madam Speaker, if I wanted to read you a sentence or two from everyone who advocated for this to the OEB, I’d be here all afternoon, so I’d like to read what just a handful of the dozens of concerned groups and individuals had to say.
The Independent Electricity System Operator has said, “While the IESO acknowledges that a customer’s overall gas bill is likely of most interest to customers, the IESO notes that the board has a statutory mandate to (a) promote communication within the gas industry and the education of consumers; and (b) promote energy conservation and energy efficiency. These statutory objectives, in the IESO’s view, are furthered by having a customer clearly know and understand that there is a carbon cost to their natural gas usage. A separate line item makes this clear, and quantifies that cost for consumers. Burying the customer-related GHG charge in the delivery charge does the opposite. Armed with better information and a clear price signal for the carbon costs associated with their gas usage, a customer should be able to make more informed decisions regarding energy conservation and efficiency measures.”
I think that this is right on the money. The whole point of this program, we’re told by the government, is to send a price signal that emissions should be avoided. Burying this cost prevents ratepayers from being able to see this program at all, let alone make a comparison of costs of emissions if they’re making decisions about fuel usage.
The president of Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd. seems to agree. He submitted to the Ontario Energy Board that including “the cost of allowances and other administrative costs in the delivery charge for natural gas seems contrary to helping consumers understand the cost of carbon. One would think that we should be encouraging transparency, not making it more difficult to understand actual emission-related costs.”
Trish Fournier, the CEO of Lake Erie Farms, said, “I was dismayed to learn this week that the OEB staff is recommending that the cost to consumers regarding cap-and-trade not be displayed separately on our energy bills. In my opinion, taxpayers, consumers and voters should be fully aware of how government policies are affecting both themselves personally and their businesses.”
I fully agree with Ms. Fournier. Taxpayers deserve to know how government policies are working. If money is leaving people’s pockets and flowing to government, people deserve to know why and how.
A recent Fraser report estimated that the average taxpayer is losing 42% of their income to taxes—42%, Madam Speaker. As an elected representative and a taxpayer, I find that unbelievable. It underscores why we need a fair and simple tax system, which is one of the most basic duties of government. Instead, this Liberal government continues to build a system of taxes and fees that is deceitful and confusing. It is creating resentment not only for the costs, but also for the deceptive way that they’re collected.
The London Property Management Association was clear that they think burying this cost is not only unfair but is kneecapping the program itself: “Ratepayers cannot be expected to react positively to the cost of GHG and look for ways to reduce their own emissions if they do not know what the cost to them of these emissions are included in their bills. Indeed, LPMA submits that the vast majority of ratepayers would not even be aware that they are paying additional amounts for a cap-and-trade system if this cost is not identified as a separate line item on the bill.”
Colleges Ontario had a similarly practical rationale for advocating a separate line item. They submitted to the OEB that: “As utility customers, colleges are recommending that, for purposes of transparency as well as comparability for cost tracking against previous years, that these new costs associated with the cap-and-trade program be aggregated and shown as a separate line item on all utility bills.”
The CFO of the Hamilton Port Authority said, “As a customer it should be shown as a separate line item on our invoice, rather than have it buried in delivery or other charges. If our gas bills go up and if it is significant, we need to understand the reason for the increase.”
St. Joseph’s Care Group of Thunder Bay said: “Masking the cap-and-trade costs into the delivery and transportation charges essentially hides the procurement costs from consumers. This makes it difficult for natural gas users to track their own emission profile, and also goes against the spirit of transparency promised by the OEB. Rolling these costs into existing line items also make it more difficult for consumers to hold the gas utilities accountable to optimizing their carbon procurement costs.”
If all this testimony sounds redundant, that’s because it is. This is a straightforward issue with an easy, common-sense answer. There is simply no reasonable justification for burying these costs. If the only excuse the government can find to ignore the overwhelming support for this measure is their desire to be deferential to the OEB, I think that should really give the government members in this House pause. Remember, this could be fixed with a ministerial directive, which this government has issued almost 100 of already. But the Minister of Energy won’t stand up for our constituents, for the families and businesses who are paying these costs. That is why we need to do that here today.
In a survey of natural gas ratepayers, which was commissioned by the Auditor General, 89% of respondents said that it’s important to disclose the impact of cap-and-trade on natural gas bills. How often do we get a chance to vote for a simple measure with 89% support? That is what I’m asking you to do today: Vote for this bill and fix a simple problem that constituents across the province clearly want dealt with.
The people of this province are frustrated. They’re sick of politics as usual and politicians operating under a veil of secrecy. They’re at the end of their rope with deleted emails, hush-hush grants to corporations on an invitation-only basis and hidden fees. It’s the job of the opposition to hold the government accountable, and that’s what this bill is about. I hope the government will step up and take responsibility for the implementation of their cap-and-trade program by joining me to support this bill to give constituents a measure of the accountability they deserve and the transparency they were promised.
We must all be on the side of the families and businesses that pay the bills in the province of Ontario. I urge all members to join with the opposition PC caucus in supporting Bill 146 today.
As I’m sure we all are aware, this bill, in short, will make it so that gas distributors will be required to prominently show on a customer’s invoice the exact portion of charges attributed to Ontario’s cap-and-trade program.
Today I want to focus my attention on two key points: outlining the practical benefits of this bill, as well as discussing the reason we need to be skeptical of Conservative legislation surrounding Ontario’s cap-and-trade system.
To lead off, I would like to say that, yes, this is a practical bill that should be implemented. It gives customers more transparency when it comes to their gas invoices. When you really think about it, it’s always beneficial for there to be full transparency on financial statements. The way I see it, it’s similar to shopping at a grocery store. If at the end of your shop, you received a final bill that only had listed the grand total of your purchases and not the cost of each item, you would be justifiably upset. There would be no way for you to confirm that the correct amount was charged for each item, no way for you to determine that the final charge was fair.
Essentially, Bill 146 is all about making sure that your gas bill is fair. It gives the customer a better understanding of the breakdown of the charges they may have incurred, thus giving them the power to confirm these charges are correct.
The relevance of Bill 146 is accentuated in many ways by a story from CBC’s Go Public, which surfaced earlier this year. In January, several residents living outside the Calgary area complained of discrepancies on a funeral bill they had received. All were shocked to find an unexpectedly high $100 carbon tax associated with a cremation fee. Of course, this was a mistake on the part of the funeral home responsible for the cremation. Later, it was determined that the correct charge was only $10.09, off by a decimal point.
There are some particular facts in this story that are not directly transferable to our discussion here; however, this Canadian case does establish a need for transparency when it comes to levies for cap-and-trade. Without this type of transparency, without a separate line on gas bills that makes explicit the amount spent on the cap-and-trade levy, there is no way for Ontario residents to know if they are being placed in a similar situation. To maintain the credibility and fairness of the cap-and-trade system, Bill 146 should be supported.
With that said, there’s another side to the coin that must be laid out in full for the House: that while rigorously ensuring the cap-and-trade taxation system is fair, effective and transparent, we must also make sure that the original purpose of the cap-and-trade system is upheld. I, along with my NDP colleagues, supported Bill 172, which allowed for the implementation of the cap-and-trade system in Ontario. We supported this measure because we believe that climate change is real, a fact that should not be dismissed because it’s convenient to do so. Whenever I hear a Conservative talk about our cap-and-trade system, I fear that the end goal might be to reverse the developments that have accumulated.
It wasn’t so long ago—about a year, in fact—that Progressive Conservatives were filibustering Ontario’s cap-and-trade legislation, trying to delay it so that it would not become law. This party’s history of detest for our new cap-and-trade system is in line with their newest proposal to defund the climate change action plan and use cap-and-trade revenue instead to hand out tax cuts to their friends. That is counterintuitive to the whole plan. With that proposal, the accomplishments that our province has made on the climate change front would be reversed.
In summary, I think it is important to make clear that this legislation takes us down the right path towards transparency, credibility and fairness in regard to our natural gas bills. However, we must not forget that these changes should not be made in spite over our province’s climate change objectives. They must be made in conjunction with them, not against them.
We will be supporting this bill.
What makes it particularly a pleasure for me, as I sit on this side of the House as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, is that I am finally seeing movement from the members of the opposition party. They are actually addressing a climate change plan, and this is it. They’re concerned with the paperwork. They are not concerned with the broader issues, as the member from Hamilton West—
We’ve heard on the other side some inkling that they may want to adopt something in the order of a tax-on-dividends scheme à la the BC plan, but they are not committing to it. In fact, over six months ago, the Leader of the Opposition did commit to bringing forward his energy plan in the next few weeks. Over six months later—200 days—we’re still waiting for it.
I was on a wonderful radio show with my good friend Jerry Agar not too long ago, with Alex Pierson, who is an adviser to the Leader of the Opposition. She was on with me, and it became very clear that, “No, no, we’re not going to have an energy plan at all until we have our broad consultation with the members of the Conservative Party of the province of Ontario at our policy convention,” which I think is in November. But we’re already getting some leakage in advance of the policy convention of what they’re going to do, and it looks like they’re concerned about the optics around this.
Let’s be very clear that this is not a decision we took, Speaker. This was a decision of the Ontario Energy Board, which did go on a broad consultation to assess the best way to put the pricing of carbon that was coming forward into the system. They concluded that it was not necessary to break out the charges associated with the cap-and-trade program in the energy bill.
One of the easiest reasons, you should all recognize, was to keep the bill simple: that it’s all part of the infrastructure, and the cost of the delivery of the gas is built in. We’re not applying a tax or carbon pricing to the utility that’s delivering; they’re passing on the cost that they’re getting from the supplier. That’s where the carbon pricing is applied. They are just passing through those costs, as they do on the cost of the energy that is being supplied—typically, now more than ever in Ontario, from fracked gas from the United States. They’re just passing on a cost that’s part of the cost associated with the product that they have here.
The member talked about a price signal. And he’s absolutely right that, with a cap-and-trade program, we are attaching a price signal. But the price of carbon is not the pricing that we put on the carbon; the price of carbon is the entire cost associated with using that gas. It is a bottom-line cost, including taxation, including the HST component. It is a bottom-line consideration. Do I spend this much per cubic metre of gas, or do I avoid that and take a bicycle, or heat with ground-source heat? That’s the price signal. The messaging is based on the cost associated within the bill, as opposed to one smaller line item.
Let me reinforce that it is a very small component of an overall bill, in the order of maybe $20 on an average bill. That’s so incredibly important—because we do have a plan on this side of the House, and I’m very proud of the plan that we have. I’m very proud of the previous Minister of Environment and Climate Change, who has now resigned. He is off at the Pembina Institute, and I wish him so well because he’ll bring some of that visionary action that he had bringing forth our legislation to a much broader audience around the world, starting out of Alberta. I’m so proud of Glen Murray—and our Premier—for having the courage to do what I think is the most significant piece of legislation that we’ll bring forward in this whole term of office, because it is visionary. What we are doing in this bill will be affecting Ontarians for generations to come. It’s not about the next year or the next election cycle. This is long-term visioning and I’m extraordinarily proud of it on this side of the House.
I have the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is very active in my riding of Beaches–East York. They come in to see me on a regular basis—Cheryl McNamara and others—and they’re a very thoughtful group of people. They’re concerned about the neutrality of the system to make it saleable. Let’s be very clear: What we are doing in Ontario is a carbon-pricing-neutral program. We do have the cost associated with natural gas in the gas that’s being used, and the cost associated with driving your car with petrol is embedded in the fuel cost of driving your car. But all the proceeds from that are going into programs that are specifically outlined in the legislation; they must go to programs that are reducing carbon. We can predict the carbon reductions we’re getting because we are investing directly and using the monies that are raised through our cap-and-trade auctions for exactly the purpose of reducing carbon in the province of Ontario.
We’ve just come through our third auction. I know the members of the opposition must be reeling in disbelief that it has been so successful, that the Liberals would have got something so right, that our third auction—over half a billion dollars—increased expectations. And every penny of the money raised through these auctions is going to really important programs to help people in the province of Ontario: retrofitting your homes; driving electric vehicles; business programs to take the carbon out of a smokestack of a cement kiln and mix it with hydrogen to make liquid natural gas, for instance. This is the circular economy at work: $1.9 billion predicted in the first year to be put to direct carbon-reducing programs. I’m very proud of that.
Trying to direct the OEB on such a minor piece of the equation is something so minuscule and so insignificant that I’m not going to support it.
The proposed measures in Bill 146 are designed to ensure that the government adequately addresses the recommendations. To ensure that Ontarians have a clear understanding of the impact on them of cap-and-trade, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change should ensure that its communications to the public are open and transparent and explain clearly how it plans to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including all costs to Ontarians associated with implementing the system.
During the Auditor General’s audit process, a survey was conducted of natural gas ratepayers, and 89% of the respondents said it was important to disclose the financial impact of cap-and-trade policies on their natural gas bills. In conjunction, the Auditor General found that 75 of the 80 stakeholder groups who interact with the Ontario Energy Board also supported the disclosure of cap-and-trade costs on invoices and bills. This is precisely what the proposed measures in Bill 146 seek to accomplish: transparency and openness.
The bill would amend the Ontario Energy Board Act to require that every natural gas distributor who issues an invoice for supplying gas to a consumer must clearly show all the costs to the consumer associated with compliance obligations under the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016. Ultimately, this bill responds to the demands from Ontario consumers, who are tired of paying more on their hydro bills due to this Liberal government’s bungling of the energy portfolio.
While the Liberal government continues to make Ontarians work harder, pay more and get less, the very least the government could do is offer transparency and openness to families and businesses on their hydro bills.
What’s clear is that the cap-and-trade scheme implemented by the Liberal government is too complex and does not openly disclose the line cost impacts on ratepayers and business owners. There’s a precedent here as well. Both Quebec and British Columbia include the cost of carbon pricing as a separate line item on their customers’ bills.
In closing, Speaker, the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus is always supportive of measures that increase transparency and openness for consumers and ratepayers in Ontario. We owe them no less.
This one, the Transparency in Gas Pricing Act, basically to force the OEB to get natural gas companies to list the price of cap-and-trade on their bills, makes sense. It makes sense. It is open and transparent and, in the long run, it will increase accountability.
I always find it interesting listening to members defending each side of their political spectrum. The member from Beaches–East York talked about the money that the cap-and-trade auctions were raising. We voted in favour of cap-and-trade. But the big red flag that we waved with cap-and-trade was the total lack of accountability for where this money was actually going to be spent. You can spend money on almost any program and say it’s for cap-and-trade, but you don’t know exactly how efficient that spend will be, or how efficient that spend will be to eliminating carbon. They subsidize electric cars. Is that a bad thing? No. But do we for sure know that the subsidization of electric cars is the best way to remove carbon out of the atmosphere? We don’t, because the government has been very reluctant to actually put a calculation in place that if we spend a million dollars, we should be able to take this much carbon out of the atmosphere—because then the decisions will be different.
If you bring that back, if the people who are paying the cap-and-trade fees—and whether it’s a fee passed down from the supplier or whether it’s a tax doesn’t really make much difference. It makes no difference to the end-user. If John and Joe and Jane and Barb Public are talking to me in my riding and I say, “Oh no, this isn’t actually a tax. It’s a fee administered by the government,” that’s no different, Speaker, to the people out there. That’s no different. But if they continue to see that, then they are going to continue to ask us questions to make sure, whether we’re on the government side or the opposition side, that we are held accountable for where that money actually goes. That’s why I believe that the true costs of any program should be visible on the bill to the end consumer.
The idea that you have to keep the bill very simplistic because your average consumer isn’t smart enough to read the bill—I don’t buy that at all. The other argument that I don’t buy is, “Well, we shouldn’t force them to list it because it doesn’t cost that much.” I remember—and I believe it was a former Minister of Energy—when we were talking about how much the gas plant scandal was going to cost: “Oh, it’s just a cup of coffee.” It’s that attitude that causes not only governments and governing parties trouble—who it causes trouble in the end is the people of Ontario, because it’s their money that is wasted and their future, their children’s future that is squandered with that attitude: “We don’t have to worry about it because it’s not that much money. And look how great our plan is. But we don’t want to be held accountable for that plan.”
A very good example of how this government likes to talk about their plans but how they dislike—actually disdain—accountability is their plan to sell off Hydro One. You can agree or disagree; we totally disagree with the idea of selling off Hydro One. But the first thing this accountability-driven government did when they initiated that plan was to take away the powers of the Auditor General and the Financial Accountability Office over Hydro One. That’s the first thing they did. Those are non-partisan accountability officers. Let’s call them accountability officers. So the first thing you’re going to do on a plan is take away accountability.
When I hear a member from the opposite side say, “It’s just a little bit of money; we shouldn’t list that,” that waves a big danger sign to me and to us.
We agree with cap-and-trade, but we fully agree that those costs should be accountable to the people who are paying them. Also, the results of where that money is going and how much it’s actually doing to achieving the goals set out—that should also be accountable.
The government is unwilling to be accountable on the consumer end and unwilling to be accountable on the program delivery end. So despite how good they claim their plans are, there is a very big chance that the program will not be nearly as effective as they claim.
We disagree with a lot of the other Tory plans on energy—mainly because no one knows what they are. But other than that, we support this bill.
I’m happy to end on that note.
Speaker, the first issue that the Legislature ought to have with the member’s proposed bill, and it’s a fundamental one, is that it’s actually outside the scope of the Legislature. The decision about what is and is not on electricity and gas bills isn’t made here in this particular room. It’s not a decision made by MPPs. It’s a decision made by the Ontario Energy Board, or the OEB. The OEB is an independent and, most importantly, arms-length regulator for the energy sector. Think of it as, this is the court system for the energy sector. So in simple terms, the member’s proposed bill is much the same as dictating to the courts or the police on how to manage the process of law enforcement or the administration of justice, and to do so in the context of energy decisions. To override an existing decision by the OEB on how to present the costs of capping emissions on consumer’s bills is essentially to challenge the independence of a body specifically established to prevent the adjudication of energy policy from being made on an ad hoc, issue-specific basis right here on the floor of this Legislature. He’s proposing doing exactly what the OEB was set up to prevent.
To do what the member’s bill proposes is bad energy policy. It’s bad politics. The member will be awfully sorry if his bill is a success. It’s an ill-conceived idea.
I’m just offering you some advice here. I think you should take it.
One could ask, “Why do it at all,” or in specific terms, “What difference would it make if it were a success?”
Will it affect the consumption of natural gas? Probably not.
Will it promote or enhance conservation of energy? This is an interesting point. His statement never mentioned “conservation”; he never said the word. The member’s own words say clearly that conservation is not an objective of the bill.
Will it lead to better distribution of natural gas in Ontario? I think we can conclusively say no to that.
Currently, the charge to recover the greenhouse gas emissions is included in the delivery line on natural gas bills. The Ontario Energy Board made a ruling that cap-and-trade costs are part of doing business in delivering natural gas to homes and businesses.
If the member wants to accord special treatment to one component of the cost of doing business, then why not do it with others, as well? For example, why not have a line item that shows the cost of labour or executive salaries on the gas bill? Or the cost of building gas storage? Or the cost of building pipelines? Or the cost of office equipment—all in separate lines on the gas bill? Except, of course, that research conducted for the OEB and for the province conclusively shows that people want simpler bills, not more complicated bills. If the member’s bill were a success and people looked at their bills, somebody would say, “Well, what about that line? Is there anything you can do about it?” And they would say, “Nope, there’s nothing you can do about it.” “Then why isn’t it folded into the cost of delivery”—which is exactly what the OEB suggested.
If business pricing is to be consistent, then natural gas companies should treat the cost of doing business the same in every sector. They should treat it the same in natural gas or groceries or home building or public transit—everything.
If the member’s bill, then, sounds unnecessary and infeasible, it could be because it is unnecessary and infeasible. So why would it be proposed? Well, you ask yourself: Do you believe in climate change or not? If you don’t believe in climate change, you’ll do everything you can to present it as a never-ending form of water-dripping torture. You either believe in the independence of the OEB or you don’t. And if you believe in it, then you respect its decisions or you don’t.
Speaker, there is no point to this bill, which is why I will oppose it.
My dear friend and colleague from Whitby–Oshawa asked me before I stood up to make sure I could straighten out our friend the member from Mississauga–Streetsville on a few things that he said.
I must say that this is a common-sense bill. It aims to provide more transparency on our already complicated hydro bills—the ones we receive and that have been going up and going up and going up in recent years. We know that the Auditor General supports this type of legislation. We know that our hospitals and our schools across Ontario support this type of legislation. We know that people have become disillusioned with energy pricing in the province of Ontario and that we need to know, in order to understand these bills, what we’re actually paying for.
If the member opposite wants to talk about itemization on our hydro bills or our natural gas bills, I would suggest that we do that. Let’s see how much those cancelled gas plants actually cost each and every ratepayer in Ontario. We should know what cap-and-trade is going to cost Ontarians in each and every hydro bill. We should find out what the distribution costs, the transmission costs—all of the different cancellations and all of the different boondoggles that we’ve seen. I think my constituents in Nepean–Carleton, and perhaps in the greater, broader city of Ottawa, would really appreciate knowing exactly what kind of money this government is taking in on their hydro bills and where they’re spending it.
Speaker, I think the best thing that we can do as a Legislature is provide openness and transparency for all of our constituents on their hydro bills, on their natural gas bills, and every other piece and itemization list that we have.
That is all the time I have today to speak in support of my colleague from Lambton–Kent–Middlesex. I do urge the members opposite to reconsider their lack of support for something so basic.
The goal of the cap-and-trade being exposed on the bill, if you really care about carbon emissions in the air, is to show people how much they’re using and how much it’s costing them. If your only goal with the cap-and-trade is to tap into a gigantic pile of tax revenue so you can spend it all over the place, then you’d probably want to keep it secret so that people didn’t know how much they were actually paying, so that the government could go and they could use that money however they want in another Liberal slush fund.
That speaks to what the goal, I guess, is of the current government with cap-and-trade. Is it actually to reduce carbon emissions, or is it just to get their hands on a whole bunch of new tax revenue? I think we all know in this Legislature, given the track record of this Liberal government, what their intentions are with this bill.
Now, to the independence of the Ontario Energy Board, a quasi-judicial creation: I think that right now, when you look at all of the different things that have been happening with the Ontario Energy Board, when the Minister of Energy or the Premier’s office speaks and says, “Jump,” the OEB says, “How high do you want me to jump?” That’s what is happening. The independence is gone. When 49 out of 50 delegates show up to the consultations on whether or not cap-and-trade should be on the bills, and 49 of the 50 say that it absolutely should be on there, to send a price signal to consumers, and then the government decides that it’s not going to happen, or the OEB decides it’s not going to happen, because one delegation says they don’t think it should be on there, I think that speaks volumes about what the OEB heard from the delegations and what they intended to do.
Here is one quote for you, and this comes from an Adrian Morrow story in the Globe and Mail last year on this subject. He did a lot of work on this subject. It says, “The Liberals made no mention of carbon pricing during the 2014 election, and chose cap-and-trade over a direct carbon tax. Unlike a carbon tax, which is a straightforward charge on consumers, cap-and-trade imposes costs on businesses, which then pass them down to customers in an often hard-to-trace way.
It says that “anything that’s a consumer-visible tax is scary.” It certainly is to this government.
So we have a bad policy. We have a senior government member, or numbers of them, meddling with independent agencies. We basically have the formula for every failed Liberal energy policy for the last 15 years. That’s why I’m going to be supporting the bill put forward by my friend and colleague from Lambton–Kent–Middlesex today.
Of course, we’re debating it at second reading, and I think there is support on this side of the House for the bill. I’m dismayed and rather discouraged to hear that there seems to be a lack of support on the government side, but we’ll see how it turns out in the vote.
The fact is, Madam Speaker, this bill is put forward in an effort to ensure that the government is transparent and accountable. Government would purport and claim to be transparent and accountable, but I would submit to you that if they vote against this bill, they’re voting against transparency and accountability, without question.
I think it’s also important to point out that this summer, when the Hydro One bills went out, the government was quite proud to place, right on the bill, a statement that their so-called fair hydro plan was reducing the hydro bills by approximately 25%. That was on my Hydro One bill that I saw in the summertime. I wondered if the government directed Hydro One to put that on the bill. If not, why did Hydro One decide to put that on the bill?
Obviously, the government concurs with Hydro One putting that on the hydro bill and, in all likelihood, directed them to do so. If that’s the case, Madam Speaker, how can they now say that they are opposed to disclosing the full cost of the cap-and-trade program on the natural gas bills? It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s completely inconsistent and contradictory. I would encourage the government members to think about that before they consider how they’re going to vote.
The member for Lambton–Kent–Middlesex has served in this House since 2011. He has done an extraordinary job representing his constituents. He has brought forward a number of very thoughtful and constructive private member’s bills, suggesting that there needs to be a municipal referendum before any new casinos are built, and suggesting that there needs to be a rollback on the cap in Ontario’s administration death tax in 2015. He has also brought forward a bill that would have capped Ontario’s growing provincial debt in 2016. All of those were good initiatives that he brought forward in this House. Bill 146 is another in a long line of private member’s initiatives that the member for Lambton–Kent–Middlesex has advocated.
In closing, Madam Speaker, I would suggest to all members of the House that they take into consideration the arguments that have come forward in favour of this bill from the opposition. We maintain that stakeholders and ratepayers have been clear that they want a separate line item on the natural gas bill, so that they know what is being charged for cap-and-trade programs. We say that consumers are already frustrated by the opaque global adjustment fee. We add that this bill is about standing up for consumers who are tired of giving the Liberals a blank cheque.
I think it’s important to point out as well that cap-and-trade is complex and difficult to understand. The government owes families and businesses at least this basic level of transparency. Already we’re seeing evidence that cap-and-trade is adding more to bills than the Liberals claimed it would. We need hard numbers, not empty Liberal promises. Certainly, if this bill were passed into law, we would see exactly what cap-and-trade is costing gas consumers and we would have transparency and accountability. That’s why we need to support Bill 146.
I brought forward what I think is a very common-sense approach to this issue of cap-and-trade. Deep down inside all of us, regardless of which party we belong to, we think cap-and-trade should be a separate line item on everybody’s bill. It makes sense. It’s what the people want. It’s an idea that has been supported by consumers and gas distributors. The Auditor General did a survey: 89% of consumers in Ontario support this initiative. We have school boards and hospitals; Colleges Ontario; even the former Liberal Minister of Energy from Ottawa West–Nepean supports this initiative. So I would encourage all members to support my Bill 146 when we vote this afternoon.
As I said in my opening, transparency in taxes and fees is necessary to hold politicians to account. People need to see what they’re contributing to their government. It will make all of us spend more wisely.
Let’s get this to committee where we can debate this further. If there are more recommendations from government members, I’d be willing to discuss those at committee.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and to all members of this House.
I have been working with these families and firefighter safety advocates for two and a half years now, and it is my honour to introduce them. Adam’s parents, Al and Christy Brunt; sister Ashlee and family; family members Debbie and Larry Brunt; Carl Pearce; and Brent and Tracey Pearce are here today. The Kendall family: Gary’s wife, Brenda; brother Paul and daughter Myrissa; and family friends Wes Mazur and Tyler Mazur also join us.
From the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, we’re joined by OPFFA district vice-president Dan VanderLelie. Also joining us: T.J. Thompson, who was a student with him in the course, and Alex Van Kralingen, who was a lawyer involved in this for seven years, who spoke today at our press conference, joined by Nick Hanson.
Thank you all for coming today.
Two and a half years ago, I learned of the death of Adam Brunt, a young man who wanted to be a firefighter and who tragically died during a private rescue training course. I felt heartsick and was compelled to know what had gone wrong. We then found out that another family, the family of Gary Kendall, had lost a loved one the same way five years before. It has been a long and emotional journey for everyone involved, and it has been my privilege to know these families and to struggle through this exhausting and frustrating process with them. It has taken a long time to get here, but hopefully, today we can begin to move forward.
Before we do, I’d like to take us back a bit. The reason we are here is because two men died, and I want us to know who they were.
Gary’s daughter, Myrissa, wrote this for me to share: “Gary was 51 when he was involved in the ice water training exercise. He was a hard-working, loving father, husband and brother. Everything he did in life was for his family. He had a wife and three children, who were his whole world. He was the type of dad who worked hard during the day and spent his evenings taking his kids to sporting events, helping them with homework, or supporting them in their current interests. He was the type of man who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone in his community with never having an expectation of receiving anything in return. When he joined the Point Edward fire department he was beyond happy because it was something he could do to not only help protect his community, but it was something he could do to give back.
“Gary is missed every single day by his family and they are sitting here today after seven long years in hopes that the government will support the prevention of another needless death.”
Adam Brunt’s father, Al, shared this on behalf of Adam’s family:
“Adam was our second child, born on January 31, 1985. He touched many lives in his 30 years; he is greatly missed. It is difficult to put into words who Adam was; he seemed larger than life. He was an animal lover with many pets, he was an avid fisherman and loved camping and his friends. He had a huge heart and you could rely on Adam to be readily available, no matter the time. He was unique, with his own style sense—best remembered as a young man with a mullet relaxing around the house in his boxer shorts or track pants. He was daring and fun-loving, always looking for new challenges. If you told him something was not possible, he would spend hours figuring out a solution.
“Though he was the middle child, he was the ‘protective older brother’.... It did not come as a surprise when Adam decided he wanted to be a firefighter” like his uncle, “a career in which he could dedicate his life to helping others. He had never been happier in school than when he was doing the firefighting program at Durham College. Adam had found his calling.
“Although Adam was taken from us too soon, he certainly lived his short life to the fullest. We can only imagine the things he would have done if he was still with us.”
Speaker, Gary Kendall was 51. He was a volunteer firefighter who died during an ice/water rescue training exercise on January 31, 2010. He was a 17-year veteran of the Point Edward fire department. He was taking a course run by a private training company when he died.
Adam Brunt was 30 and was a firefighting student from Bowmanville who died during a swift/cold water training exercise in Hanover on January 8, 2015. He was a Durham College student in the firefighting program at the time. He was taking a weekend course run by the very same private training company as Gary Kendall.
Speaker, both men died under similar tragic circumstances, five years apart. Gary Kendall’s family called for an inquest after his death in 2010, but there wasn’t one. Instead, there was another death five years later, and another family grieving.
Adam was a student in a program who, like many firefighter hopefuls, wanted to gain experience and pad his resumé to compete for a job with the fire service. There are many private safety and private rescue courses marketed to firefighter hopefuls. Adam found a Herschel rescue course on Facebook and assumed it was legit because others had taken it. It was a swift-water and cold-water rescue course. It was an overnight weekend course with 12 students. They learned about safety and techniques and spent the weekend learning and practising advanced level skills.
On the last run of the second day, all 12 students and the instructor jumped in the Saugeen River and floated down, one after another, through a narrow, swift-moving section of river between two banks of ice. One by one they emerged through the narrow rapids, bobbing out the other side downriver. But Adam didn’t. When he went through the narrows, he was forced under the water and his exposed strap got caught on underwater metal. The group was helpless to save him. The young students had neither the skills nor the equipment or tools to reach him or save him. They desperately tried, but it was many minutes before actual firefighters arrived and helped, with proper tools, to free him. By then, tragically, it was not a rescue but a recovery.
T.J. Thompson was one of the other students on that course and joins us today. She worked with the other students to try to reach him. She even ran up to the road to flag down passing cars, to beg for an ice scraper or an axe or rope—anything to reach him. They had no rescue equipment there.
Speaker, so many things went wrong that day, and nothing has been made right. Adam was a firefighter trainee. However, he was unprotected. He was unprotected, and others continue to be, and here’s why: These private companies are unregulated.
Sorry, Speaker; it’s been quite a journey.
These private companies are unregulated.
They do not have to adhere—
They do not have to adhere to safety standards or industry best practices. Their certificates mean nothing. Their only value is what fire services give them. It is a “buyer beware” situation. Trainees unfortunately assume private courses must be legitimate since they are very technical, hands-on and industry-specific, and they are allowed to operate in this province.
Adam was a college student, but he took a private course that was not affiliated with his or any other college. So Adam was unprotected by any laws or regulations under the ministry of advanced education and training. Adam was not yet an actual firefighter, so he was not protected by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. If he had been employed by a fire service, their training would have had to have met safety requirements. Also, the Ministry of Labour does not have jurisdiction, because these training environments are not technically workplaces and these trainees are not employees.
While these firefighter trainees are learning to keep us safe, we still haven’t figured out how to keep them safe. None of these ministries is technically responsible for these trainees or their safety. This is an area that doesn’t fall under any ministry’s jurisdiction, which, in my way of thinking, makes it a shared responsibility.
Alex Van Kralingen spoke earlier, at our press conference. He was the lawyer for the Kendall family in 2010 and again during this inquest. He said, “I will tell you what I told the jury in my closing submissions: It is crazy, given everything that we regulate in our everyday lives, that this sort of high-risk and technical firefighting training is not regulated.
“The government has the power to fix this problem, and this matter needs to be dealt with now, especially given this government’s history of inaction on the issue.
“This is not a partisan issue. Keeping firefighters and pre-service students safe is not controversial.”
Since Adam’s traumatizing death, Miss Thompson has been a relentless advocate. She testified for hours at the inquest. I would like to share some of her thoughts:
“I was one of the 12 students training on the swift, icy Saugeen River on February 8 when Adam Brunt was killed. Adam’s death was preventable in many ways and completely unnecessary. Firefighters take risks when there is life and property to be saved and protected. This was training. There was no reason for unnecessary risks. Reasonable precautions for safety were not taken. It was not a sacrifice for another life. There was nothing gained from Adam’s death.
“But we can change that together....
“I call on this government to protect this vulnerable group of inexperienced trainees from unregulated training providers who choose to operate below the best industry practice. They need to be protected. You, the government, heard this for yourselves at the coroner’s inquest, and you agreed.
“The safety loophole remains open for trainees and workers. How much longer will it take to protect this province and give closure to the families who have lost their loved ones for nothing? We have waited too long. It’s time for this government to act....
Speaker, I have written four letters to government ministers. I have given two member’s statements. I have asked a direct question for the Premier about regulating this industry. I held a press conference with the families and firefighters to call for an inquest. There has been a police investigation and a Ministry of Labour investigation. I have met with ministers and their policy folk. We had a two-week inquest this past May. This afternoon we held another press conference, and now I have put forward this motion.
There are 15 jury recommendations, all with merit. This isn’t a time to cherry-pick; it’s the time to adopt them all to keep people safe. Families, industry experts, lawyers and the crown all invested precious time and sincere effort to get the most out of the two-week inquest. Government, please do not let this inquest be a PR exercise.
Rob Hyndman, the president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, has said, “The verdict of the jury in these inquests provides valuable recommendations put forward by concerned citizens.... Given the disappointing rate of coroner’s inquest jury recommendation adoption, I would urge all parties to provide an opportunity for these points to be implemented, hence providing the deceased a platform for change. Doing so will ensure we learn from their tragedies and not repeat mistakes. We must ensure their loss is not in vain.”
Speaker, we have gotten a lot of assurances from this government, but so far, little else. Gary and Adam are remembered as being men who wanted to keep others safe and protected. I challenge all of us in this House to endeavour to do the same. We must adopt the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest and keep firefighters and firefighter trainees safe. We must keep them safe because they would do it for us.
I’m so honoured to be able to speak to this motion.
Adam was a constituent of mine who attended Durham College in pursuit of his dreams of becoming a firefighter, and his life was cut short far too soon.
I’d like to take this time to thank the member from Oshawa for her long advocacy on this important issue and for bringing forward this motion. I know how passionate she is about this, and she has been pursuing this for over two and a half years. That’s to be commended.
In this House, Madam Speaker, a lot of times we get partisan. This is not an issue to be partisan about; this is an issue that affects all of us. It’s an issue about life. It’s an issue about two young folks losing their lives in pursuit of something that they enjoyed doing.
Our government—your government—is carefully addressing the findings and recommendations of the coroner’s inquest into Adam’s death and Gary’s as well. Such findings from the coroners’ inquests help ministries across government ensure their policies and procedures are in line with best practices. Recommendations from inquests over the years have led to numerous steps in developing new policies and procedures. There are several examples of these, including increased mental-health training for police and correctional officers, expanding police use of non-lethal weapons like tasers, and your government—our government—implementing Canada’s first concussion legislation.
I know that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management took action to suspend the water rescue program of the Ontario Fire College unit until further notice, immediately following the inquest.
Our government—your government—also recently launched the first Fire Safety Technical Table, where our fire-safety partners meet to examine current emergency fire-safety challenges and opportunities.
Firefighter training has been discussed at the table by leading fire-safety and protection experts and leaders. In addition, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is currently working towards a mid-November technical working group to discuss the more technical aspects of the recommendations related to ice and swift-water rescue.
The findings from this inquest are being addressed and considered as we all work to further enhance fire safety in Ontario.
Again, I want to thank the member from Oshawa for this motion, which brings forward a great opportunity to further discuss the conditions our firefighters work in.
It’s not just firefighters; all of our emergency responders need to be protected and need to work in a safe environment, and we need to make sure their safety is paramount, because we all count on them to protect us and to keep us safe. They do a tremendous job every day in the face of life-threatening conditions, and we are forever indebted to them.
Fire safety and protection and protecting our dedicated firefighters is an important issue for everyone across this province.
I, personally, will be supporting this motion along with members of our government, Madam Speaker. Thank you for the opportunity to address this matter today.
Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve others in their respective communities. They’re valued members of our communities; they are our friends and also family members.
It’s particularly fitting, Speaker, that this motion is before us this afternoon, as the Ontario firefighters’ annual memorial service ceremony will be held at Queen’s Park on October 1.
On February 8, 2015, Adam Brunt passed away during a firefighter training exercise on the Saugeen River. Adam was a Clarington firefighting student participating in a training exercise for situations involving icy-water rescues.
In a 2016 National Post story, the past president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, Mr. Carmen Santoro, said:
“We’re the only first responders without a set of standards.... We need standards, standards in training, standards in fire prevention.... We accept risk as first responders, but in a training evolution?
“Training should be regulated, safe, and you should walk away alive.”
Unfortunately, the accident involving Adam Brunt was not an isolated situation. Gary Kendall of Point Edward passed away during a similar ice-training rescue exercise five years prior.
These two incidents rightly raise concerns over the need for scrutiny of the industry that offers private training courses for firefighters, as currently the industry is unregulated. That is why a coroner’s inquest was called in June 2016 to investigate and make recommendations to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. In May 2017, the coroner’s jury made a total of 15 recommendations to several ministries—including the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the Ministry of Labour—the centremost of which was an immediate halt of all cold-water training on sites where the underwater current is too swift.
The jury also made other crucial recommendations, such as calling for the establishment of a committee of experts to investigate how to administer ice-rescue training in a low-risk manner; creating an approved training curriculum using examples from the National Fire Protection Association as the baseline standard; taking all necessary steps, including changes to legislation or regulations, as required, to ensure that all trainers, instructors and service providers abide by the approved curriculum and that the courses take place only in appropriate or approved locations; and creating a system where trainers, instructors or providers of icy- or cold-water courses are certified to offer those courses.
Speaker, the effected ministries were given up to three years by the coroner’s jury to respond to the recommendations. In a May 25, 2017, Toronto Sun article after the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest were made, Adam Brunt’s father, Al, spoke to the importance of the implementation of the recommendations. He said, “The people that are opting to get into first responders as a career deserve to be protected, deserve safety.... Just to take a training course they shouldn’t have to put their life on the line and that’s hopefully what these policies, once enacted, will protect going forward.”
This brings us back to the motion before us today, which calls upon the government of Ontario to “immediately and fully adopt the recommendations” from the inquest. The Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus is proud to stand up for the safety of firefighters and firefighter trainees, and I’m therefore pleased to support the motion brought forward this afternoon by the member from Oshawa.
We look forward to the government’s response to the coroner’s office’s recommendations, because, as I said at the beginning of my comments, firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve others in their respective communities. We owe them no less. It is time for us to stand up this afternoon and show our support for firefighters and firefighter trainees.
I would like to start by commending my colleague from Oshawa for her tireless advocacy on this particular issue. As you could tell during her 12 minutes, this is an issue that is very close to her heart.
I don’t think that any of us could or should be able to look at a motion like what we have before us and not support it. All you have to do is look to the gallery to my left to see the faces of those loved ones, the families and friends and fellow firefighters and trainees of the two men, Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall, that we’re talking about today who lost their lives during training in order to keep all of us in this chamber and all of us in this province safe.
It was two and a half years ago that the member from Oshawa first raised this issue—two and a half years since these tragedies took place—and there has been no action. That is truly shameful, frankly, that nothing has been done in that time frame to prevent another tragedy like that, that happened to the two gentlemen who lost their lives during training. Action should have been taken faster. I’m pleased that what I’m hearing from all sides of the House is that they’re going to support the motion, that they’re going to support the recommendations from the inquest and actually start to make training for firefighters and firefighter trainees much safer than what it is today.
I had the pleasure of standing here when we were debating PTSD legislation, where I was able to share a story that was written by one of the firefighters in my area—he’s actually the president of the local in my area—and some of the experiences that firefighters have on a regular basis in their line of duty, and much like the member from Oshawa, I couldn’t make it through that without having to stop and take a moment and collect myself. At the time, I had mentioned that I was having a hard time reading back their lived experiences, sharing what they’ve actually lived. I could not imagine actually seeing some of the things that they see and experiencing some of the things that they experience.
I think that’s really at the heart of what we’re talking about today: that we have men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis. Whether they’re on duty that day or not, they are driven to protect all of us in this province, to make sure that we are safe and that our families and our friends are safe. Yet we have a situation where those who are going to train to be firefighters, or those who are firefighters and are taking additional training, are being put into situations where they are not safe, where they could possibly not return to their family and loved ones and not provide the service that they do to us.
So it’s incumbent upon us all to not just support the motion that is before us, because it’s easy to stand up and support a motion. The difficult part is to actually act on it. I’m hoping today that we don’t just have a government that’s going to stand up and say that they support the motion before us, but that there are going to be actionable items, that they are actually going to fix a broken system. They are actually going to go forward and make sure that these training procedures are regulated and that those who are entering into these training procedures are as safe as they possibly can be; to make sure that the private companies providing the training are qualified to do so, and that they have proper equipment, should there be an emergency that arises during the training; and that they are giving our firefighters and our firefighter trainees the best possible skill set going forward, so that when they are in our communities and providing services to us, they can do that not only to keep us safe, but to keep themselves safe.
Before I wrap up, I just encourage not only that everybody support this motion, but that we actually do something about it and that it happens quickly.
This motion does bring forward a good opportunity to further discuss the conditions that our firefighters work in. They do a tremendous job every day in the face of life-threatening conditions, and we are forever indebted to them.
Fire safety and protecting our dedicated firefighters is an important issue for all of us. I think we can all agree that Ontario is one of the leading jurisdictions in the world when it comes to fire safety and the delivery of fire services. Ontario’s firefighters are respected worldwide for the outstanding work they do in emergency response and fire safety education.
Enhanced fire codes and fire prevention awareness have changed the landscape for our province’s firefighters. Between 1995 and 2015, the annual number of fires in Ontario, excluding federal and First Nations properties, dropped by almost 45%. The numbers of fires and fire-related deaths are trending downward. We want to see that trend continue, and must start to address the gaps in the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, to improve fire safety.
The act is almost 20 years old, and has not been modernized to keep pace with advancements in technology and new challenges. These challenges include training, standardized fire code inspections, and issues surrounding dispatch—some of the things that we are working on.
This is why our government launched the Fire Safety Technical Table, in which the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services meets with fire chiefs, fire safety representatives and municipal representatives to examine current and emerging fire safety challenges and opportunities. The input and advice from this table will enhance and inform the ministry’s recommendations to enhance fire safety in Ontario and help to ensure that our firefighters return home safe to their families.
We know from prior experience that the round table approach works. In early 2012, the fire marshal set up the technical advisory committee to recommend new initiatives to better protect residents in licensed retirement homes and care facilities. This committee included expert representation from the firefighter community, community stakeholders, and owners and operators of retirement homes and care facilities. Aided by their excellent work, Ontario became the first province to make automatic sprinklers mandatory in these buildings. This is a testimony to the collaborative approach.
I know that the member is very passionate about this issue, and I just want to reassure her that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management has worked with a number of ministries, before and after the inquest, to address the issues raised in these tragic incidents. Upon conclusion of the inquest, the OFMEM led an inter-ministerial working group to discuss the implementation of the recommendations. This is in addition to immediately adopting the recommendation to put this particular rescue program on hiatus, until further notice, at the Ontario Fire College.
I know that the OFMEM is currently working towards a mid-November technical working group to discuss the more technical aspects of the recommendations related to ice and swift-water rescue.
All in all, I just want to commend the member for bringing this motion forward. We look forward to working with all parties concerned to figure out a way to make sure that our firefighters come home safely.
Adam Brunt, who was a Durham College student and only 30 years old, died on February 8, 2015, during cold-water rescue training. Gary Kendall was 51 years old when he died on January 31, 2010, during the same firefighter ice rescue training. I’d like to offer my condolences on behalf of our PC caucus to the families of both Mr. Brunt and Mr. Kendall.
The inquest examined the events surrounding their deaths. As the members heard, the deaths happened during a private safety training course which currently has no government oversight for certification. The inquest jury’s verdict ruled that the deaths were accidents, and the jury made 15 recommendations in May of this year aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
The key recommendation was to suspend all swift-water ice training until a committee of experts establishes standards to minimize risks. They also recommended that the province allow designated locations for training so long as the proper equipment, techniques and standards are in place to allow for safe training. Creation of a training curriculum was also recommended, to ensure all instructors and fire protection services are certified or qualified to an appropriate standard, including public and private services.
Sadly, this government has a pattern of fumbling on implementing jury recommendations. As the long-term-care and seniors’ critic for our PC caucus, for some time I have been raising the situation stemming from another inquest, the 2005 Casa Verde, into two long-term-care murders, where only 30% of the recommendations have been adopted by this Liberal government. There’s simply no excuse for them to not implement all of those recommendations; they have had 12 years. The government has to take responsibility and action.
Our caucus has certainly done that over the years. My colleague the MPP for Perth–Wellington, Randy Pettapiece, tabled the Ray and Walter Act, a bill that aims to save firefighters’ lives by requiring buildings to alert fire crews to any use of trusses in their construction.
We have also had long-time advocacy for two-hatter firefighters by my colleague the MPP for Wellington–Halton Hills, Ted Arnott, who since 2002 has been calling for professional firefighters to have the right to volunteer or serve part-time in their home communities on their days off.
More recently, our leader, Patrick Brown, has been relentless in his calls on the Premier to fast-track the passage of Bill 2 and offer up much-needed supports for firefighters and other first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
I have the greatest respect for our firefighters, both volunteer and professional, and I extend a sincere thank you to all of them, those in the audience and those listening at home and every firefighter who has ever served in any of our communities, and their families, for their dedicated service.
We are fortunate and privileged to be able to go out in our communities. One of my greatest honours is going to the fire departments, chatting with them and showing our thanks and gratitude. I thank them for their time, their effort, their dedication, but also to their wives and families and their spouses. Every time the bell rings, every time that pager goes off, you never know if that person is coming back through the door. There’s nothing more solemn than when we say, “Thank you for your dedicated service.”
We agree that all firefighters are risking their lives every day to protect us and our communities’ well-being. It is my hope and my challenge to the government that they will support and fully adopt the recommendations and put them into action, to get our firefighters the protections they need and deserve.
We’ve recently just, sadly in some ways and regrettably in some ways, celebrated and remembered 9/11. It’s a scene that all of us will probably remember for all of our lives. You’ll know where you were. You’ll know the time of day when we saw that. One of those images for me will always be that as other people were running out of the buildings, firefighters were running into the buildings. They were taking their lives and putting them in danger, for the benefit of others.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing a lot of family members and friends, both female and male, who serve. Particularly in a rural area like ours, most of it is volunteer firefighters, who dedicate their lives, who take a passion and go out a couple of times every week to hone their craft.
My late cousin Carl Jones was a captain of the Sauble fire department. One of the things I know from Carl—he was a very talented guy, a very low-key guy, but one of his greatest passions and pride was when he put on his captain’s uniform and showed up at a fire. I know his family. He’s been gone for a number of years now, but just recently, I remember that my cousin Carl’s son, his daughter Peggy and I were chatting, reminiscing about how much he put into that. Of all the things—he wasn’t overly educated, but he was a guy who the other firefighters knew, when he showed up, had their back. That’s what firefighters do: They make sure they are there.
The firefighters in our area have to do a lot of fundraising for a lot of the equipment they have, just because of the reality of the situation. Again, I dedicate and I honour them, and I say thank you to them and their families, because not only do they volunteer to do the firefighting, but they’re out a couple of times a week or on the weekend, dedicating their lives to raising money for equipment, to ensure that they and their colleagues—their brothers in arms—have the proper equipment and life-saving opportunities, and the training, frankly, that they deserve.
I’ve attended a couple of times, whenever my schedule permits it here at Queen’s Park, the annual ceremony for fallen firefighters. It’s humbling to stand, and it touches you. It raises the hair on the back of your neck to look at the inscribed names. Almost every riding in our province has at least one name on there of someone you may not have known, but you know that they did that with dedication and pride, and because of their service to their community.
Madam Speaker, I think this is a good resolution. Again, I implore the government of the day to stand with us, along with the NDP, who have raised this issue, and to make this law, to make this happen. Put the actions into place so that we ensure, forever, that our firefighters and firefighter trainees have the proper training, equipment and safety that they so deserve.
The member just mentioned Bill 2, on PTSD. That bill took five tablings and eight years to get passed in this House. That was the work of our party, the New Democratic Party of Ontario.
I have to say that consulting and inaction—even voting a motion in—is not real action. It does not save lives. A good metaphor is exactly what our firefighters do. Imagine if our firefighters, upon getting a call or a bell ringing, sat down and had a meeting about it, or voted together on whether they’d go out, or convened a panel around whether something should be done. We as politicians, as representatives of the people, unfortunately don’t take action when we should take action.
The appeal to the government to act is an appeal—the same as it is when those bells go off—to save lives, because I can tell you that over the years that we do not act, lives are lost. There were a number of suicides since that first tabling of the PTSD bill. One of them, a firefighter, phoned our office at Queen’s Park and said he wanted to kill himself. I said, “You know I’m going to have to phone 911,” and he said, “Please don’t. I don’t want to traumatize any of our other first responders.” That was after three tablings of that bill. That life, luckily, was saved, but that was one. Many were lost.
How many more Adams and Garys will it take to get this bill put into action—not debated, not to come back over and over again, not another consultation, not another coroner’s inquest, but to get those jury recommendations actually put into force? Every month that we don’t, we risk lives, as surely as if our first responders, our firefighters, didn’t go out on calls once the bells were ringing, didn’t act once they were called to. In the same way that they would risk lives, we risk lives.
We think this is a passive job, but it’s not a passive job. It truly is a calling upon all of us to do what is necessary and what is right. It’s time, Madam Speaker. How many more times will our member from Oshawa have to come back? I warrant that she shouldn’t have to come back one other time, that those 15 jury recommendations should be acted on now. The government has a majority. They can do it. Get it done.
How could it be that we have something as dangerous as swift-water and cold-water training with no oversight whatsoever of who offers this training? It blows my mind. How could it be that they were teaching cold-water rescue and they did not have the proper equipment to rescue their own students?
I must admit, my husband was a professional firefighter for many, many decades, and cold-water rescue is something that they trained in every year. I live in northern Ontario; we do lots of cold-water rescues. People go through the ice with snowmobiles. The time it takes to train them—the entire department is there. Half of the department is there, because while some of the firefighters train, everybody else is on duty making sure that if something goes wrong, they rescue one another. And it has happened. It’s not like it’s one chance in a thousand; it happens all the time.
Water, ice, cold water and swift water are extremely dangerous, yet we had a private company offering that kind of training with no oversight. We have had two families that are here today grieving, and now it is our chance to step up to the plate. Now it is our chance, when we vote, to not only speak but commit to changing things, commit to taking action. As to why we have a government action: so that this government will protect the public. And how do you protect the public? You make sure that dangerous training for firefighters has oversight, it has accountability and it has backup so that if something goes wrong, you are there to protect those people.
It seems pretty logical. We had an inquiry; we had a jury that put it into 15 recommendations, in ways that are way better than I could—but the spirit is the same. If you put into place those 15 recommendations, there will be oversight; there will be everything there to make sure that Gary and Adam have not gone in vain, that something positive will come out of this horrendous tragedy, and that we will have done our basic job as legislators to protect the people of Ontario.
Again, I’d like to thank the families and safety advocates who are here today in support of this motion to adopt the inquest recommendations. I think it’s important for this government and for this House to not only support this motion, but to make these recommendations have teeth, and to also reassure these families and the rest of Ontario that the inquest process isn’t just an exercise in shifting responsibility, or public relations.
These inquest recommendations are very thoughtful and strong. There was a lot of emotional and expert input that went into their creation, and they are the right fit. We want them to be adopted entirely. The government shouldn’t just, as they put it, “carefully” consider or try to cherry-pick and break these recommendations into pieces. We are calling on them to fully adopt and implement the recommendations, and to close this loophole to keep every firefighter trainee safe in this province.
This has been a very personal process, starting with two tragic losses. Adopting these recommendations and supporting this motion is about ensuring that no one else suffers this kind of loss.
This has been a long and emotional journey: for Adam’s family, two and a half years; and for Gary’s family, more than seven. Adam and Gary wanted to make their communities safer. There has been a real sense of purpose along this journey as we’ve been working together through this with the families and with firefighters across communities that support appropriate training and safety.
It is in a firefighter’s DNA to keep people safe. Today, it is in our power to keep people safe and to close a very real loophole that tragically took two lives. To Adam and Gary, thank you. You answered the call. I urge all members of this House today to respect the inquest process and to support my motion today, in memory of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall, to fully adopt the recommendations of the coroner’s inquest into their unnecessary deaths. In the wake of such loss, it is the least we can do.
ILLEGAL PILL PRESS ACT, 2017 / LOI DE 2017 SUR LES PRESSES À COMPRIMER ILLÉGALES
Mr. Harris moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 126, An Act to amend the Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act / Projet de loi 126, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la réglementation des médicaments et des pharmacies.
We in Ontario, in Canada and across North America are in the midst of a sweeping opioid overdose epidemic whose impact is tearing families and communities apart and is indiscriminately claiming the lives of opioid users and those who unintentionally take drugs laced with opioids.
Speaker, two Ontarians die every day from opioid abuse or inadvertent use. Let me say that again: Two Ontarians die every day due to opioids. In the first six months of last year, that amounted to 412 opioid overdose deaths for Ontarians, an 11% increase year over year. In my area of Waterloo region alone, 20 people have died of opioid overdoses between January and April of this year. Here in Toronto, opioids were to blame for a third of all accidental deaths in 2015.
The numbers don’t lie. They are catastrophic, frightening, and they demand a response. Without government action, intervention and leadership, this epidemic shows no signs of stopping. In fact, its toll is growing every day, month and year we fail to act.
That toll calls out for provincial action to address these tragic outcomes in Ontario. That’s why I have come to this Legislature today to ask the support of all parties and all members in a united effort to take one direct step to tackle one of the root causes of this crisis at its source.
We all understand that there is no silver bullet in fixing the opioid crisis. However, the measures I am proposing today can be key pieces to complement a requisite broader strategy from governments at all levels.
The fact is that while the misuse of legitimate opioid prescriptions is absolutely a significant part of the agonizing stories families are bearing the brunt of every day, equally concerning are the fatal consequences of counterfeit, illegal or black market opioids. As we speak here in this Legislature today, there are dealers working pill presses in their basements to churn out black market pills that look exactly like an OxyContin or Xanax pill, but in reality are laced with a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
We see the toll it is taking out on our streets every day. We hear the stories of unsuspecting users taking what they think will be a quick fix that turns out to be a final death blow. I think of that tragic story out west, when word of the deadly impacts of Canada’s opioid crisis was beginning to emerge back in 2015. I’m sure many of us recall the feelings of dread and sorrow for the family and baby boy of 31-year-old Hardy Leighton and his 30-year-old wife, Amelia, who had just dropped their toddler off at Grandma’s on July 20 before a tragic sequence of events began to unfold. Two days later, the couple was found lifeless on the floor of their home among the boxes they were in the process of packing up, with a turquoise-coloured powder and straw nearby.
Coroner Barb McLintock later confirmed the presence of fentanyl at the time of their deaths, noting that “they had been taking prescription medication that had a respiratory depressant effect that compounded the effect of the fentanyl.” She added that while she did not know what the couple had bought that was laced with fentanyl, in some cases users have ingested fentanyl believing that they had been sold either illicit drugs such as oxycodone, cocaine or ecstasy.
Speaker, these are the tragic outcomes playing out in so many of our communities, literally pulling families apart due to unsuspecting users being given a fatal dose by a dealer and black-market drug producer lacing common street drugs with deadly fentanyl.
I want to mention that closer to home, we’ve watched as the wave of opioid-related deaths moved eastward across our province creating sorrowful stories here, of course, in our own province.
This morning in the media studio, we heard the frightening circumstances that faced Ottawa teen Leila Attar, who has joined us this afternoon.
Leila is lucky to be alive after an overdose of fentanyl from a pill that looked like what she believed to be a Percocet. As was reported by the CBC and Global, and as we heard this morning from Leila herself, if it weren’t for the frantic banging on her door from a concerned friend, Leila Attar might not be here with us today. I’m happy to report that she is here, in fact, watching us from the very gallery over there.
Leila told us how, after three years of battling addiction, her drug dealer gave her a handful of Percocet without telling her the pills had been laced with a deadly opiate, fentanyl. The dealer was well aware, but he didn’t bother to let her know. After the pills made her violently sick and pass out last November, it was the quick thinking of a friend banging at Leila’s door when she ignored her text messages that led to the necessary attention and eventual recovery from what her dealer eventually admitted were fentanyl-laced pills.
Now, thankfully, Ms. Attar treated this as a turning point in her life, leading her to treatment and now into an advocacy role warning of the dangers of opioids.
Sadly, not all are lucky enough to survive the opioid overdose trauma. It was just a few short months later, in February, that a death of another Ottawa-area teen, 14-year-old Chloe Kotval of Kanata, from pills laced with fentanyl that helped spur Leila on to speaking out to teens across the province of the dangers of laced black-market drugs.
Speaker, Leila’s passion for helping people is now motivating her to turn her difficult history into something others can learn from. We, of course, applaud her for her leadership.
That said, it’s similar leadership we need today from legislators in this building to help turn the tide in this toxic wave of illegal-opioid deaths.
One vital step that we can take together would be to address the problem at its source by taking direct aim at the dealer or the pill makers who are working pill presses in their basements every day to churn out black-market pills identical to OxyContin and Xanax, but which are in reality laced with potentially lethal doses of fentanyl. Doing so would be one way we, as elected members of this provincial Parliament, can reverse the ease of access to pill presses in our province that has allowed illicit pill production to flourish.
A quick Google search will provide a list of eager websites ready to sell you one of these death machines for anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. Get it shipped for free from China to Canada, and they even throw a kilogram of fentanyl in with it.
Why fentanyl, Speaker? Because, despite the clear fatal implications, fentanyl is one of the quickest ways to boost a dealer’s bottom line. In the end, that is all that they care about.
You see, while a kilo of fentanyl powder may cost the same as heroin the fact that fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more powerful than morphine means that a dealer can use smaller amounts per pill or dose to maximize their profits. With as little as two milligrams of fentanyl—the equivalent of about four grains of salt—able to kill users, the profit comes, of course, at a terrible price.
A police officer I spoke to indicated that every one gram of fentanyl can be turned into 100 grams of street-sellable product.
A kilo of fentanyl costing around $10,000 is enough to make one million tablets that sell from anywhere from $20 in a major city, for total proceeds of tens of millions of dollars. Multiply that by the power of carfentanil, fentanyl’s 100-times-stronger cousin, and the profit margin grows even further and, of course, even deadlier.
Regrettably, what the black market pill producers see as a lucrative business venture is literally killing people, young and old, in our province. They must be stopped. They’re using these machines as we speak to convert raw fentanyl or other opioid powder into pill form, often stamping and dyeing them to look like legitimate pharmacy-produced pills, or mixing them with other street drugs, including meth, cocaine, MDMA, Xanax and even a blotter of acid, because the criminals making these pills are not concerned with quality control. These are not chemists; they’re drug dealers. They’re perhaps the lowest form of society. Any one of the tablets churned out by a pill press may contain a hot patch of fentanyl. That’s an instant death sentence for someone who unknowingly takes one.
Victims, their families and police themselves are sounding the alarm on illegal opioids and the pill presses that create them, but so far, few are answering the bell. RCMP Corporal Eric Boechler, a member of the federal Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response Team, has indicated the potential huge impact of regulating pill presses on a provincial and federal level. He goes on: “The pill presses are pumping out pharmaceutical-grade tablets that are directly mimicking what a drug user would assume is a pharmaceutical pill.”
Victoria Staff Sergeant Conor King has argued that there is no legitimate reason for someone to have a pill press, noting, “The proliferation of those pills on the street is responsible for a great number of fatal overdoses.”
While we recognize the federal government on this front for their action to ban the further importation of pill presses to prevent further proliferation on our streets, we must, as provincial legislators, recognize our responsibility to legislate and prevent the use of those pill-producing machines that are already here and have come here over the years while Ontario was seen as a haven for unregulated pill presses.
That’s why I’m asking, fellow colleagues, for your support of my private member’s bill, the Illegal Pill Press Act, which will directly address black market opioid production through (1) prohibition of the use of a pill press by someone other than a licensed pharmacy or otherwise authorized professional, which would make it illegal; (2) policing tools—evidence of illegal pill press use will allow police further grounds to support a request for a warrant to go in and stop these dealers in their tracks; and, most importantly, (3) the penalties—a first offence: a $200,000 penalty and/or six months in jail; a second offence: a $350,000 penalty and/or one year in jail; and a third offence, two years in jail and a half-a-million-dollar penalty. If you’re not authorized, if you’re not a pharmacy or a pharmacist, you are going to face jail time and fines for possessing one of these machines.
We understand that there is no one, single solution that is going to be able to solve this opioid crisis with one blow. We recognize that both proper use and misuse of the often vital pharmaceutically-produced legitimate opioids must be fully addressed before we can dig ourselves out of this dark epidemic. Again, I ask all here for their support. If we can save one life with this meaningful step, I feel it is our duty to do so. I ask that you take that step with me today.
The member talked a lot about the lethal drug fentanyl and the horrible outcomes that can happen when people ingest amounts that are fatal. From that, he has brought this motion forward. We all know that there is an opioid crisis in Ontario. Actually, Speaker, there’s an opioid crisis across the country. He has brought this bill forward in trying to move the government a small step toward helping to stop the opioid crisis and having illegal pill press machines in legislation. That way, we can stop the black market, the underground market, from putting traces of fentanyl in pills—which means people will suffer injury, illness and death.
I want to commend the woman who’s here today, Ms. Attar, for coming forward, sharing her story and helping the member push this bill forward into the House. She was one of the ones able to turn her life around, but many aren’t so fortunate.
In London, we have an opioid crisis. Right now, the London council is talking about safe injection sites because it’s such a crucial thing that is happening throughout the province. Cities are recognizing that we need to do something. Not so long ago, back on August 28, just recently, 700 health care workers called on the Ontario government of Kathleen Wynne, in an open letter, to address the opioid crisis. They asked this government to declare a provincial emergency due to the disturbing increase in overdoses and deaths related to the opioid crisis, and the government hasn’t yet done that. They haven’t acknowledged there is an emergency situation in this province, and they need to deal with that.
If they were to acknowledge that, according to the letter, the Ontario government could declare an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. It says that such a move would enable harm reduction workers, public health, primary care, addiction medicine, psychiatric and internal medicine teams to develop safe and effective equitable responses to the rising number of deaths. If they declared that, these health care workers, the health care sector, could come together and help solve some of this problem, but they haven’t done that.
By making that declaration, the government could actually send a message that it’s crucial that we deal with this crisis because families are suffering, because people are losing their lives, because health care workers are burned out. This is something that is so important.
I have to tell you that, being in this Legislature, there are certain things that I have noticed lately. We are creating legislation around people dying. We are creating legislation in long-term care because we had the criminal case of eight murders under Wettlaufer. We want a public inquiry. We got the public inquiry into those murders, but we are asking for a broader scope so that we can address systemic issues. Those are things we need to do.
We are creating legislation around an opioid crisis because people are dying. We are creating legislation around corrections because people are dying. We need to take a serious look at the opioid crisis, and we need to understand that this is a small-step solution so that we can save lives.
I want to start by putting my heart out to the families of the loved ones who have been lost to drug addiction in general, to opioid crisis addictions and death, and particularly to fentanyl, which has become this silent, little killer that’s affecting people across the country and the world.
It has crept up on us in the most pervasive sort of way. It’s just landing at our door. We’ve had, no doubt, a very serious addiction and drug problem going back decades and decades, but the silent killer of a little fentanyl has made this so important and so immediate that all of us, I know, believe that we have in front of us an incredibly serious crisis, an opioid crisis that needs to be addressed.
I appreciate the member from Kitchener–Conestoga. This is not the be-all, end-all solution. This is one step in what will be and has to be a multifaceted approach to dealing with the issue.
I want to talk a little bit about a good friend of mine, almost a family member, who is out in Vancouver, BC, Donald MacPherson. Donald MacPherson is head of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and he has been an actor with addiction issues, men’s health issues, men’s awareness and men’s personal issues for the last 30 years. He has formed a coalition that is seeking very radical changes to how we address the issue in order to find solutions to the issues.
He was just recently, in the last couple of days—he won a controversial award at Simon Fraser University. It’s called the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy. He won it primarily because he is driving very unconventional policy solutions to address the drug problem, particularly the drug problem he witnesses on a daily basis in BC, on the Lower Eastside, and the kinds of community responses that have been necessary there to address this problem.
The theory behind this award is that it is given to people whose work provides and contributes to the understanding of controversy. His sense is, the law-and-order-style approach that we have taken towards drugs—drug addictions, drug enforcement—over the years simply is not working. His goal would be to see all drug substances decriminalized, to take the criminal element out of drugs—out of drug production, out of drug distribution, sale and use—so that people who are addicted can get the materials they need for their addiction from safe sources, and can use addictive materials in safe places so as to not come to undue harm.
This is an extremely controversial direction because, as we are now dealing with the concept of decriminalization and the legalization of marijuana in Canada, he would like to see, basically, this happen for all addictive substances, advancing, as he has over the years, this controversial policy, because what we’re doing now hasn’t worked. Banning the pill presses—already happening, in a sense, from an importation point of view. You could be manufacturing them in Ontario; this would be another avenue to get at it. It’s a question of who is managing those pill presses. They still have pill presses and will always have pill presses for the purposes of legitimate drug manufacturing and distribution. Those, ultimately, will find their ways into the hands of bad people who want to do bad things. I’m absolutely concerned about that.
One of the things that we don’t talk enough about in this House is the courage of communities and families who come together around those who have found that their families have been devastated by an untimely death. In Beaches, we’re not isolated. There have been far too many occasions. We have a number of families, and whether the death is the result of an addiction or a drug overdose or such, it’s that community spirit of people who rally around and support the family with food, meal programs and such, in order to lessen the burden. Because, as we know with the opioid crisis, it is affecting people at such a young age: their mid-twenties and thirties and forties. I don’t think any of us don’t know of someone who’s had an untimely demise.
We should appreciate that while banning the pill presses is a step, our government is doing a lot of other work in this area. The minister talked today about the investments that the province of Ontario is making in drug addiction initiatives, including almost over $220 million in additional spending initiatives, including $21 million available immediately to help community-based addiction services. We are giving naloxone, as much as we can—which is an immediate drug to help recover from an overdose—to pharmacies, free of charge, and to police and emergency service operators.
We see in BC how untrained volunteers are there taking action, who are probably doing something illegal in injecting strangers with a substance, but it’s the only thing that’s going to save their lives. You have that uneasy place of doing something that’s necessary, even though you’re not trained to do so.
I know the province of Ontario is taking this issue extraordinarily seriously. We will be supporting the bill as one step—or I will be, in any event. It is a free vote. I don’t want to presume for all of the members on this side. I’ll be very proud to support this bill.
This is a very important issue. Make no mistake, it is probably the biggest crisis in drugs of our time—not just of our generation, of our time. This is the most deadly drug available to man. It is more powerful than morphine and heroin put together. It could kill you the first time you take it. I think it’s important that this is a private member’s bill, but I would submit to this assembly that we need to have a larger discussion as members about this through an emergency debate because it is hitting each and every one of our constituencies and it is killing kids as young as 14 years old. That’s why I’m proud to support this.
I first started raising the issue of fentanyl in 2012 after there were deaths in my community, in Manotick. I worked with the Royal Ottawa Hospital at the time and we were able to bring in a fentanyl opioid resource centre, but it’s not enough.
Last February, my friend Sean O’Leary wrote an open letter that received international attention. He couldn’t take it anymore. His 17-year-old daughter is addicted to fentanyl. He witnessed an overdose in his garage on New Year’s Eve, and some of his daughter’s friends died. We had a number of deaths last fall. Sean created something called We the Parents to bring parents together to help them facilitate and help the kids help themselves. I started raising this issue last February after I read his open letter. We hosted a community meeting together. I’ve asked him for some concrete steps for the Liberal government.
I do not believe this is a partisan issue. I believe anybody who thinks that should check their partisanship at that door. We have young kids here who are going to high schools and junior highs right across this province. When I met with Sean’s daughter, and when I met with her friends, I asked them, “When did you start taking drugs?” One of the girls said she was 10 years old. That scared me. I have a 12-year-old who just started junior high.
My husband is with the St. John Ambulance, he’s the national capital chair, and he has made sure that each of our cars has a naloxone kit in it in case we know anybody who’s going to need it. Recently, when we dropped our daughter off for a sleepover with some of her friends, my husband looked at her and he said, “Don’t take a pill.” So to my pages here: You have your whole life in front of you. Don’t take a pill.
That’s why this is important. Yes, it is one of the tools in the toolbox. We need more information. We need to talk about education and awareness; we need more detox beds; we need more treatment facilities. We need to do so much more, but this is important, and I’ll tell you why: because there is nothing more sinister in life than somebody taking and counterfeiting a pill and lacing it with something that could kill you. I think—and we’ve had this discussion—perhaps those folks should be charged with manslaughter if there is an overdose death. That’s why we need to have that conversation.
But the one before us today is to support banning these pill presses and tougher penalties for those who are that sinister, who will go to Leila Attar from Ottawa and sell her a counterfeit Percocet, knowing that she could have died taking it. You know what she said to me today? The reason she got off drugs? A very simple reason: She found out that to her drug dealer, all she was was $60—$60 to him.
I don’t have much more time because I have other colleagues that want to speak, but I’ll leave you with this one parting thing. A young girl in Ottawa who has become addicted to fentanyl through these fake Percocets left her home this summer, and some of the drug dealers tried to traffic her. So when we think about this issue as just a fatality or a possibility of a fatality, or when we look at some of these criminal issues—it is organized crime, and it is happening here in the great province of Ontario.
I support this bill and every measure that we are taking in this assembly today.
Fentanyl is an opioid. It’s a painkiller. It can be used safely when it is used by a health care professional and taken as directed. But that’s not what’s happening right now. It is being counterfeited throughout our province and sold to people who are desperate. When you get your drugs from Satan’s Choice and the Hells Angels, they don’t care what’s in it; they care about the 60 bucks. In my end of the world, it’s 100 bucks, just so you know. They don’t care. They see it as a profit-making affair. Yet we are left to pick up the pieces of this money-making affair, and that’s 865 deaths last year. Every single one of these deaths was preventable.
To get there, we all agree that we will need a multi-faceted strategy to be effective and to have an impact. What the member is doing today is to take this one small step on a journey that will bring us to where we want to go, which is that there will be no more overdoses, there will be no more counterfeit pills, and there will be no more deaths.
I could not imagine why anybody would say, “Because it’s a small step, let’s not take it.” That makes no sense. When I heard the Minister of Health this week talk about how we need a multi-faceted strategy and dismiss this small step, this is wrong-headed. Every small step counts. The member from Kitchener–Conestoga said it clearly: This is not the strategy to bring us to the end goal, but it is one step in that direction, and therefore it is worth taking. I would encourage all of my colleagues to do so.
In a way, it is our way to applaud the leadership of all of the health care workers out there in the trenches who are trying so hard to make a difference. I’m worried, Speaker. I’m worried that those health care workers, those harm reduction workers, are burning out trying to save their clients, their patients, because they never know if today is the last time they will see them. That is how deadly this drug is. To people like you and me, to people like myself, who has never taken this drug, two grains of salt worth of that drug put into anything and I’m done; I’m dead. We all are. That is how deadly this is.
A small step on the road to bring us to a place where we will protect people from dying is a step worth taking. I know that it is a step that doesn’t have to do with health care; it has to do with law enforcement. But this is part of a multi-faceted strategy that will bring us to where we want to go.
I’m glad we had this short opportunity to talk about this crisis, this short opportunity to show that any step that brings us in that direction is a step worth taking.
The member from Nepean–Carleton spoke earlier about the crisis we have here in Ontario. There’s no question that it’s a crisis that is hitting many jurisdictions across this country and around the world. One of the main reasons is the cheapness of this drug and the accessibility that’s out there.
I believe that if we look at the pill press as one piece of a multi-faceted plan, then, obviously, it’s something that will complement a larger plan. The member opposite from the third party was saying that the Minister of Health dismissed this earlier this week. I disagree with that, because the Minister of Health has stood up in this Legislature for quite some time to talk about the approach this government wants to take.
This is not a partisan issue. I think all of us in this Legislature agree with it. I don’t think anyone in this Legislature—and I’m not going to assume where people are going to vote and how they’re going to vote, but I don’t think anyone would disagree with the member’s bill, that this is something that is good for Ontarians.
I know that as a government we’ve put forward a plan that will invest an additional $222 million into the health care system and for prevention services that will really look for ways to ensure that people are safe, and safer, here in Ontario.
Madam Speaker, I don’t know if anyone noticed, but last week I missed a couple of days in the Legislature, and it was because I lost someone who was close to me because of fentanyl. In fact, in my community, there were two people who passed away on the weekend. I didn’t know the other person. But this is something that hits every single community here in Ontario.
I remember earlier this year the member from Nepean–Carleton talking about the young people—I think it was three people within a two-week period—who died because of drug overdoses in their communities. This is an issue that is affecting young people in our community. In fact, I went to the Ministry of Health’s website and used the tool that they have, the tracker, and I was surprised to see the 65-plus category in that list as well. This is affecting all ages within our society and all parts of Ontario, and we as a Legislature need to rise to the occasion as leaders in our community, as people in whom citizens and constituents have put faith and sent us here in that old, traditional way to advocate on their behalf. We need to work together on this issue to find solutions.
I want to thank the member opposite for his bill. I think it is part of a larger plan. But we are going to continue to move forward in making sure that there is an educational component to what we are doing. We need to make sure—and the Minister of Health talked about this earlier in question period—that there are testing strips available for people, that naloxone is available for people. The minister has said that over 200 towns now have access to naloxone. I encourage all of the members here to make sure their folks on the ground have access to this as well. In addition to that, the minister suggests that we are going to delist high-strength, long-acting opioids. I’m not sure if that has been done yet, but I know it’s something our government supports.
One of the pieces that I thought was very effective is making sure that there are people on the ground, support workers, to work with people who may be struggling with addiction to ensure that they have options presented to them and that there is guidance on the ground, because we are talking about mental health and addiction in many of these cases. Yes, there are cases where someone takes something and they assume that it’s something else, but there is an addiction component to it.
We need to really have a multi-faceted approach to taking on this issue because, like the member from Nepean–Carleton said, this is a crisis unlike any we have ever seen here in this province when it comes to substances, illegal substances, that can hurt people. As the minister responsible for children and youth services, I want to make sure that we continue to build the type of Ontario that we can be proud of, where people can reach their full potential and be safe doing so.
Speaker, you may recall that after 15 fentanyl deaths in my hometown, North Bay leaders came up with the Patch4Patch program. It’s a protocol that basically states that before you get a new fentanyl patch, you return the used patch undamaged. This Legislature adopted it province-wide, and since that time, fentanyl-related deaths have been stopped in their tracks in my hometown of North Bay. It has been zero. I relate this because it’s my hope that the same kind of non-partisan lens can be used to move this bill forward.
I want to congratulate the member from Kitchener–Conestoga for taking the lead on this in his community. Last month, he and our leader Patrick Brown convened a local round table in his riding, which included senior law-enforcement officials, public health officials and community members.
When so many preventable deaths are occurring, we need to help protect our communities from the criminal activity of bootleg fentanyl, and one part of the solution is cracking down on illegal pill press machines. Bill 126 would prohibit anyone other than a pharmacist or a licence-holder from possessing a pill press.
This Legislature heard earlier all the details of this very important bill. But there are other things our party has said we can do as a result of the ongoing and growing crisis, as well as this pill-press bill:
—release weekly overdose reporting data to the public;
—create a ministerial task force to take urgent action to address the opioid crisis; and
—invest 10% of the $57 million the government spends on advertising on an opioid education program.
But Bill 126 is before us today—right now, here—and we can move this bill forward today.
In closing, I want to read a letter from Sherry Albert of New Liskeard. Sadly, she wrote:
“In 2011, I lost my 19-year-old son to this tragic abuse of medication.
“He was a gentle young man with many plans, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and, as many others, did not know the dangers of prescription medication.
“The police determined that fentanyl was sold to his friend for $100.
“Since May 2011, I have a heard of at least four more senseless, fentanyl-related deaths in our very small community. I, too, am afraid for our youth.
“My life has been forever changed and my heart eternally broken by the loss caused by this serious problem.”
It’s a reminder there are families just like Sherry’s all across this province who are hurting. Their anguish is very raw, very human and very real, and we, in this House, need to remember that. Michael Harris’s Bill 126 will prevent someone else’s death.
I also want to congratulate and thank Leila Attar for being so brave. Leila found herself in a position that many of our kids could quite easily find themselves in. She was given something that she thought was one thing, took it and realized very quickly that it was something else and that she was in danger. That could happen to our children. It is happening to our people in this province. This is a measure that could hopefully dampen some of that from continuing to happen.
We’re seeing fentanyl in many different forms. Fentanyl has touched my family with the loss of my daughter’s best friend. She unknowingly ingested fentanyl, and she’s gone. She is not here with us today. I know that many people just here in this House have probably, in some way, been touched or have a third-person connection to someone who has been addicted to some form of drug or other.
There was a woman in Hamilton. Her name was Lenore Power. She was in the Hamilton media not long ago, a woman who broke her back. She was a business woman. She was a very successful woman. She broke her back, and the doctor prescribed opioids. Before she knows it, she’s completely addicted. She’s paying $500 to $700, I believe, a day to try to feed her habit.
What happens then? She can’t keep it up any longer and she becomes a dealer. Luckily for Lenore, I’d have to say, she was arrested. It changed her life, and she realized where she had ended up in her life from this addiction and was able to turn that around and now share her story of addiction with the people of this province.
The opioid crisis is happening and the deaths are reaching epidemic proportions in Ontario. In my city of Hamilton, we have some statistics. Last year, 52 people in Hamilton died of opioid toxicity. That’s a death rate 48% higher than the provincial average. It’s also a number that has been increasing year after year. Just since January 10 of this year, Hamilton paramedics have responded to 248 calls related to suspected opioid overdoses. This month has had the most number of calls in any month. We’re only at the 21st of September and we are already over our numbers from years past.
The city of Hamilton has held an opioid response summit where they concluded that they are on the game and willing to tackle this and trying to do it, but they’ve asked the province for financial support, and I know they’re looking forward to getting that response to come back to ensure that we are keeping people in this province safe. It’s the right thing to do. Thank you to the member for bringing this forward.
His bill, Bill 126, the Illegal Pill Press Act, would prohibit the possession and use of a pill press machine by anyone other than an authorized pharmacist. It would also enable police to get warrants and seize the machines and hit dealers with fines up to $500,000 plus jail time. It gives law enforcement the tools they need to combat this illicit and fatal pill-manufacturing trade.
These so-called death machines allow the user to manually press different types of granulated raw material to make it into a single pill or tablet, later to be sold by organized crime. A single machine can produce a staggering number of illegal pills, about 15,000 pills an hour, which is why we need to ban the source of their production.
Consider how easy it is to source the pill machine online, as my colleague has said. I Googled it just moments ago and want to share with anyone who is still in doubt: “Press your own pills for $586.99. 47 sold. Free shipping too”—deplorable. What’s even scarier are the viewings, which are usually sorted, ironically, under health and beauty pages. Each ad was being viewed by anywhere from 60 to 100 people at a time, and there are thousands of ads online for illegal pill press machines.
Clearly, organized crime is proliferating, and it’s profiting in human misery and death, and we have to stop it. All of us have a duty to stop it. It’s a crisis—two deaths per day. It’s fatal. I implore all of the pages, all of the young people, every single person watching out here to just say no, especially to fentanyl. Fentanyl is so fatal. Sadly, two friends of my sons, Zach and Ben, have died from these horrific opioids, from fentanyl specifically. A little smidgeon is enough to kill you instantaneously. I know it really impacted my boys. They came home and they just couldn’t understand why people would play Russian roulette. In the blink of an eye, their friends were gone. May they rest in peace.
We haven’t even discussed the impacts and suffering of babies born to opioid-dependent mothers or mothers medicating for chronic pain—infants who, as a result of their parent’s addiction to painkillers like fentanyl, are born with severe withdrawal and had to be started on morphine to stop their seizures. The medical term for it is neonatal abstinence syndrome. More than 950 are born to opioid-addicted mothers in a year, according to Ontario’s Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health.
I want to, as many of my colleagues have done, commend advocate Leila Attar, who spoke this morning and shared her story during Michael’s media scrum. Leila, thank you so much for being brave and standing up. I’m so fortunate and happy that you’re still here with us. Even though someone gave you a pill that they knew could kill you, I’m so glad that you’re here and for speaking up.
Madam Speaker, I ask the Minister of Health and all of his Liberal colleagues to please do the right thing: Support my colleague Michael’s act, Bill 126, the Illegal Pill Press Act. For all of the people today, we all have a duty to say no. Illicit opioid drugs are fatal. They’re killing our youth. They’re killing our friends and our family members. There is nothing worth—as Leila said, $60 is all that person valued her life at. That’s deplorable. It’s absolutely disgusting. Every one of us has to do our due diligence. We all have to take a piece of this and help. Michael’s act is going to certainly give law enforcement the tools, but we all have to say no to illicit, illegal opioid drugs.
I asked members today this one question: If we could save just one life, why wouldn’t we step in the right direction and move to support an initiative that would actually help take these illicit, counterfeit pills off our streets?
I accept that this isn’t going to solve our opioid crisis problem. It’s not going to. We are limited, of course, with the tools that we have as private members, but I believe that this one step to give tools to law enforcement will assist in removing those counterfeit opioids from our streets, opioids that were sold for $60—$60 that could have killed Leila’s life.
I want to say thanks, also, to those who provided input on this bill: My good friend York Regional Police Staff Sergeant Sony Dosanjh, who assisted in this and let me know that they’ve got a bill over in Alberta—MLA Mike Ellis also moved an illegal pill press act in Alberta, and it’s now law there; Detective Ian Young of the Waterloo Regional Police Service; our own Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief Bryan Larkin; RCMP Sergeant Eric Boechler; OPP Detective Sergeant Lee Fulford; my own Queen’s Park staff, Kate Ivanchenko and Rob Willett; of course, OLIP intern Alex Overton, who was great on this bill, as well as Sydney Oakes; and even my own sister, Jennifer Harris, who helped advise me on how tragic a situation this is in our province.
Again, I thank those in attendance today. I look forward to all of you voting to just save that one life.
TRANSPARENCY IN GAS PRICING ACT, 2017 / LOI DE 2017 SUR LA TRANSPARENCE DANS LA FACTURATION DU GAZ
Mr. McNaughton has moved second reading of Bill 146, An Act to amend the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998 to provide transparency in gas pricing. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion, please say “aye.”
All those opposed, please say “nay.”
I believe the ayes have it.
We’re going to be voting on this item at the end of this.
Motion agreed to.
ILLEGAL PILL PRESS ACT, 2017 / LOI DE 2017 SUR LES PRESSES À COMPRIMER ILLÉGALES
Second reading agreed to.
I’m going to call for the bells. It will be five minutes.
The division bells rang from 1609 to 1614.
TRANSPARENCY IN GAS PRICING ACT, 2017 / LOI DE 2017 SUR LA TRANSPARENCE DANS LA FACTURATION DU GAZ
All those in favour, please rise and remain standing to be recognized by the Clerk.
Second reading agreed to.