The Premier claims that he wants to reach a deal with teachers. What serious Premier behaves this way when he’s serious about reaching a deal?
When I speak to the teachers, what I’m hearing is that they’re fed up with this. They want to get back in the classroom and do the job that they enjoy doing and they love doing, and that’s teaching the students.
But we also have to have fiscal restraint. The head of the unions, they want the 1%, which is about $920 a year—I’m sorry, we’re proposing $920 a year. The unions want $1,840 a year. That’s unacceptable. We have to make sure that we’re within reason and we have a great deal. The minister has put great deals on the table. We’re going to continue negotiating in good faith.
Does the Premier think anything at all that he said yesterday will bring Ontario families closer to the deal they want to see between the government and the people who make our schools work?
Will the Premier stop name-calling, stop pointing to imaginary supporters, cancel the cuts and work with teachers to get a deal that actually improves education in our schools?
We can only do that if our union partners work with us and do what teachers are telling them. Teachers want to get back into the classroom. Parents want their kids back into the classroom. If the opposition won’t help us do it, parents can rest assured that we will ensure that that happens.
We’re going to have a civil question period for the remainder of the next 55 minutes. That’s my hope.
Start the clock. The next question: the Leader of the Opposition.
Unfortunately, in Ontario, government changes to employment standards make it harder than ever for working people to do that when they need to. What is the government’s plan to ensure that people are able to stay home when they need to?
Yesterday, the Premier said he was taking the threat posed by the coronavirus seriously. I think he’s just repeated that by pointing to the command centre that has been set up. So my question is, will he listen to the concerns raised by these health professionals and deal with the sick notes and flexible days off, sick days off for workers in Ontario?
Our government is committed to making sure that we support our communities, our population across Ontario and our front-line workers. We’ve added three new types of leave to the Employment Standards Act: sick leave, family responsibility leave, bereavement leave. Medical notes are not automatically required for those leaves of absence. Instead, employers have the option to require reasonable proof of the circumstances that entitle the employee to leave.
Although the risk to Ontarians—and I think this is a really important emphasis—is low, it is important that we take decisive action and take leadership. That’s what this government is doing in this preparedness process. We are supporting our front-line workers. We are committed to making sure our Ontarians have a proper plan to stay safe—
New Democrats are ready to work with the government to ensure expedited passage of legislation to enact flexible personal emergency leave days and an end to mandatory sick notes, even if it’s on a temporary basis. We can pass legislation in this House in one day. Will the government consider this?
I was a family doctor for almost 30 years, and so I understand the importance of support for our front-line providers, absolutely. Everyone should take comfort in knowing that our skilled health care providers are bringing all their experience. Our government is supporting them and committed to supporting them every day that they provide that front-line service to our communities across Ontario and our people of Ontario, who we are making sure we have support for and are prepared for. Minister Elliott, the Minister of Health is doing an amazing job across Ontario preparing, with her leadership, with this government. I want our front-line support workers—
The next question.
This Premier can frame this fiasco however he wants, but the truth is it took almost two weeks for this government to take meaningful action to correct the glaring safety issue of unreadable licence plates.
If the government’s approach to licence plates is any indication, how on earth can this province have faith in their plans for education, health care, legal aid, clean drinking water, transportation, housing, energy, social services or the environment? It’s just the latest mess. Buck-a-beer isn’t a thing, gas pump stickers didn’t stick, the province has lost money selling weed—and the hits just keep coming.
With such a spectacular track record, we all should have seen this coming, even without fancy scanning technology. How can the people of Ontario have faith in this government?
I can’t stress enough that the narrative that the member opposite and her entire party are trying to create is getting very old. Ontarians know that we’re out there working for them.
In terms of the licence plates, a solution has been implemented, together with our vendor, which is going to see a replacement plan roll out.
I am very proud of the people who have worked around the clock to demonstrate that we’ve taken Ontarians’ concerns very seriously. At the end of the day, we heard concerns, we understood. We’ve taken action, and Ontarians are going to be pleased with the outcome.
Ontarians still want answers about licence plates, whether this government is happy about that or not. First they buried their heads in the sand, then they admitted there was a problem, and now they’re trying to bury the problem again.
This government wants this to go away so badly that now they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with 3M. No one will ever know the cost, or what was or wasn’t involved in supposed testing, or any other details of this botched job. I would bet that the deal they made for these plates wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny, and that’s why they want it to disappear—not unlike their branded plates.
The Premier seems angry that people would dare to question him. He says there will be no cost to the taxpayer. Really? I would say, “Prove it”—but you can’t. So my question is, whose brave idea was it to hide behind a non-disclosure agreement, and why won’t you let Ontario see this contract?
The minister to reply.
The fact of the matter is, what really matters to Ontarians is that we’re a government that listens. We’ve taken action and we’re ensuring that the new plates that roll out will be based on the feedback we’ve been receiving from our stakeholders. I’ve been meeting and speaking with stakeholders non-stop. I really appreciate their feedback and their investment in helping us move forward.
That’s exactly what we’re doing, Speaker: We’re moving forward with a plan to implement plates that people will be proud of and confident in.
RING OF FIRE
Premier, the Ring of Fire represents an untold opportunity for economic greatness, not only for northern Ontario and First Nations communities, but for all of Ontario.
Unfortunately, under the previous Liberal government, they wasted that potential with continued delays, inaction and actual roadblocks to development. Major industry partners left this province, literally saying that they didn’t have hope for this project because of the impediments for success created by the previous government.
Year after year, announcements and re-announcements, and re-announcements of re-announcements, regarding potential funding by the previous government were made. Yet there was no actual commitment to getting shovels into the ground.
Mr. Speaker, can the Premier share with this Legislature the great news from our government regarding the new partnership agreement that we have secured for the Ring of Fire?
What a great announcement yesterday it was, Mr. Speaker, for First Nations of Webequie and Marten Falls. Both chiefs were there. That’s the difference between our government and the previous government, which couldn’t get a deal done for over 15 years. The only deal they ended up getting done was with Bay Street. They spent $20 million on lawyers. The NDP backed that, of course.
This is going to give an opportunity to two First Nations communities, along with many others, and the rest of Ontario—
I apologize to the Premier for interrupting. Please continue.
Premier, during your press conference, Chief Cornelius Wabasse from the Webequie First Nation said it best about the potential that this deal represents when he said, “We are looking forward to prosperity for our resource development in our area. And we are looking forward to working with Ontario and industry, as well as to be partners with them. We are looking forward to the prosperity and the benefits that will come from our land resources.”
Mr. Speaker, can the Premier please elaborate to the Legislature about the potential economic impact that Ontario could see from developments in the Ring of Fire region in this province?
This is one of the biggest announcements our government has ever made. This is an incredible opportunity, again, for our First Nations communities right across this province because they know they have a government that can work with them.
Please start the clock. The next question.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES
We have an amazing minister, and an amazing Associate Minister of Mental Health, and I’m very pleased to say that that’s $3.8 billion that our government has committed to spending for mental health—we are looking at ways to keep our youth supported across the sector. We made new investments in services and supports designed specifically for youth, including an additional $10 million in annual funding for core child and youth mental health services. We’re making an additional investment of nearly $40 million in targeted mental health for students. We have provided $6 million in intensive services, another $1 million for new provincial eating disorder prevention, and $3.3 million over four years, so we are making—
The supplementary question.
Back to the Premier: It seems that this government has forgotten also the deep cuts that the government has made to mental health and addiction services. One of the first things the government did was to cut $330 million from mental health and addictions, of which $69 million was for children and youth in crisis. Now we have ballooning wait-lists for people to receive mental health services.
Our kids deserve so much better than a Premier who cuts programs and services that our kids rely on. Premier, why are your government’s priorities focused on taking away services from Ontarians?
As I said, the historic $3.8 billion over 10 years, the Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence, the additional $10-million annual funding for core services, and $3.5 million for psychosis intervention services—the list goes on and on.
Our government is making real progress, taking real action, putting our most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable time under our focus. Our government is taking swift action to make sure that the mental health and addictions issues across Ontario that were pervasive under the previous government—you watched it build; you watched it happen. Our government is dealing with that reality, and we are making progress every day.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
For the last two years, the Lanark county OPP have benefited from a mobile crisis response team. This funded a full-time mental health nurse to be a first responder alongside the OPP. The data is irrefutable: Early intervention works. The Lanark county situation table, which deals with individuals in crisis, has reported a 45% drop in referrals as a result of this pilot.
But now the funding for the program has been cut, and I understand that no evaluation of the program was ever undertaken. This program reduced pressures on our hospitals and our courts by solving problems before they became a crisis.
Will the Premier reconsider this poor decision?
I’m sure the member opposite appreciates and understands that while we do not make operational decisions on how the OPP distributes their assets and resources, there is no doubt that situation tables and mental health workers embedded with the police have been a very effective tool.
I have seen first-hand how situation tables can actually get the individuals who need the services quickly within their communities. But, again, operationally, decisions made on where assets and resources should be deployed within the OPP are left to the commissioner.
It’s rare that we see success with such a program in such a short period of time. The MCRRT has improved communications and the sharing of resources between our service providers and our agencies. It has eased pressure on the police, who don’t have the specialized training in mental health and ought not to be expected to be mental health professionals.
Early intervention has reduced those pressures on our hospitals and our courts. It was a win-win for everyone, but the Solicitor General did not even evaluate the outcomes before making the decision to cut and eliminate all funding.
I’m calling on the Premier to review the details of this program and its success and then direct the appropriate ministers to reinstate funding.
The operational decisions are made by the commissioner and his team. What we are doing government-wide is making investments that actually impact individual lives. Those investments continue to happen through the Minister of Health, through the Associate Minister of Mental Health and across government.
Speaker, we know that women across Ontario are consistently underrepresented in managerial and executive positions. On the TSX-listed issuers’ broadsheets, women only hold 15%.
Increasing the number of women on boards and in senior management positions is good for the economy, good for business and critical for gender diversity. Can the minister please explain to the House why it is important to support women as they pursue leadership roles and what she’s doing to achieve this?
One of my top priorities as the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues is to look at how our government can support the economic empowerment of women. Last week, with the member from Flamborough–Glanbrook, I had the opportunity to visit Susan Gubasta’s auto dealership in Mississauga. Susan is the first female president of the Canadian International AutoShow. She actively looks to hire women at her dealership and mentor them in the auto sector.
Susan is just one of the many examples of women in leadership roles who are mentoring and leading the next generation of women and girls who are looking to start their own businesses or move up into leadership roles.
I’m proud to say that our government is funding projects that provide skills, knowledge and experience to women to increase their economic security. This year alone, our government is investing $4.7 million into the Women’s Economic Security Program and $2.1 million in the Investing in Women’s Futures Program—because when women in our society and economy succeed, we are all stronger.
One thing I noticed in meeting with these small business owners is that many of them are men. In fact, today, women only make up a fraction of the business owners in Ontario.
Minister, what is your ministry doing to help female entrepreneurs start, grow and run their own businesses?
Our government is committed to making Ontario a competitive business environment that helps small businesses achieve their potential and grow jobs. But in order for Ontario to live up to its fullest potential, we need to empower all of the talent and skill that makes Ontario such a great place to live, work and play.
Supporting female entrepreneurs to start and grow their business is a key part to this vision. This is one reason our government launched the Small Business Success Strategy: to help us better support small businesses and understand the unique challenges facing entrepreneurs in this province.
I’m looking forward to joining the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues to ensure female entrepreneurs are key players in moulding the Ontario Small Business Success Strategy. Our government will continue to make Ontario more competitive and build—
The next question.
Though the minister did not immediately make the review public, students, parents, educators, education workers and student support workers across Peel district already had cause for concern.
In December, the reviewers stated, “Community members, particularly in the Black communities, have expressed concern” about the review process, and that the review “may not satisfy the desire within the community for deeper and more thorough consultations.”
Premier, how many of the review’s recommendations deal specifically with anti-Black racism? And how many of your minister’s ministerial recommendations will specifically address anti-Black racism?
I know that all members on both sides of the House deplore any act of racism, and we will always do our best to make sure that that’s not the case in any one of our schools. I thank the honourable member for her question. We have a lot of work to do and we’ll get it done.
High school students across Kitchener Centre and Kitchener–Conestoga talk about an “N-word pass” that allows students to use the N-word at their schools liberally and without consequence. Students are desperate to address racism in schools.
What conversations has the Minister of Education had with the Solicitor General, who’s responsible for anti-racism strategies in Ontario, regarding the creation of an anti-racism strategy in education, and when will this strategy be released?
I applaud members on both sides of the House for helping us take action on this. This is something that I’m sure that we all understand is completely unacceptable not only in our schools but across the province. That’s why we will redouble our efforts to make sure that our schools are safe for everybody. As I said, we’ll take a look at the recommendations and we’ll be sure to report back in a very fulsome way to this Legislature on the next steps.
Speaking of big things, in his last response to me, the Premier cited a $15-billion deficit. I think the Premier must have forgotten that the last time he did that here, the Auditor General publicly corrected him on his misuse of that number—a number he is using as a context for making class sizes larger and cutting support for vulnerable learners. Can the Premier explain why he and his caucus continue to use this number?
We use the $15-billion number because that’s the number. You don’t have to ask Ontarians; they understand what happened during the previous Liberal government. They spent money like it was going out of style. They had no accountability on anything. When it comes to education, yes, they spent a lot of money, but our kids didn’t receive the benefits of the money. They had no accountability. And what I said yesterday—a proliferation of private schools, of tutoring, all across the province, and why it’s a legacy of what they have done—they failed parents. They failed our teachers. They failed our education system. We won’t.
Speaker, through you, can the Premier explain to Ontario families why he continues to cut those things that families depend on?
We’ll continue on this agenda of growth, prosperity and progress, Mr. Speaker, and we’ll let them account for the disaster they left this province in. But the people of Ontario need no lessons from them.
Start the clock.
MENTAL HEALTH IN AGRICULTURE
I know that the minister has been vocal about the many issues farmers and farm families in Ontario face. Will the minister please tell us about some of those issues?
Mr. Speaker, mental health is health. If everyone is unique, farmers are no different. They often deal with unpredictable and difficult crop conditions, social isolation, heavy workloads, farm trespassers, fluctuating markets and pricing, burdensome regulations, and are anxious about what may come tomorrow. When we speak about mental health, it’s important that farmers be part of the conversation so that we can all provide support and our assistance.
Would the minister please tell us more about what our government is doing for farmers’ mental health?
As I said, I led a series of round tables with the agriculture community to learn more about their challenges.
We’ve committed resources for mental health supports for our agriculture community.
We’re providing funding for a research project to develop mental health literacy and emergency response for Ontario agriculture.
Our government supports Ontario 211, a telephone helpline and website that provides information and mental health supports.
And we have tabled Bill 156, which, if passed, will give farmers peace of mind as we prevent farm trespassing.
Mr. Speaker, we heard rural Ontario, and we are taking action.
Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government was not up front about the cost of the Hamilton LRT. Everyone believed that the cost of the Hamilton LRT was going to be $1 billion, which is why our government committed $1 billion to that project.
Mr. Speaker, we have been clear. We struck a task force. The task force is comprised of credible individuals led by the Honourable Tony Valeri, a former Liberal member of Parliament and Minister of Transport. They are doing their work, and when they’ve completed their work, they are going to provide the government with a series of recommendations. I look forward to receiving those recommendations and then moving forward on getting that money invested in the city of Hamilton.
The bottom line is that the justification that the province used to cancel the LRT in Hamilton didn’t meet the requirements of other projects that had been approved in the province of Ontario.
Before wasting hundreds of millions of public dollars, the Premier needs to make sure that he has explored all options to keep the Hamilton LRT on track. So far, he has failed to do that, but it’s not too late.
If the federal government is willing to come to the table, and the task force does recommend this transit project, will the Premier recommit the funding to the Hamilton LRT?
It was the previous Liberal government that led the people of Hamilton to believe that the cost of the LRT was going to be $1 billion when they knew that it would not be.
We have been very clear with the people of the city of Hamilton. We know that they need transit and transportation infrastructure, which is why we have asked the task force to put together a list of needed transit and transportation options for people in Hamilton. We look forward to receiving that report and working with people in Hamilton to get that money invested as quickly as possible.
We understand the importance of strengthening connections between individuals, families and businesses in southwestern Ontario.
Speaker, in January, the minister travelled to London to announce the release of our government’s first regional transportation plan. Can the minister tell us about the contents of Connecting the Southwest?
After 15 years of a Liberal government that only focused on connecting places like London and Windsor to the GTA, we have taken a different approach. Our plan outlines real, practical transportation improvements that better connect our cities, our towns, our villages and our hamlets in a way that will preserve jobs and attract future investment.
Connecting the Southwest has over 40 actions and commitments for improving existing rail corridors, highway networks and inner-community bus service across the region. And just last week, our government announced that the province is proceeding with an expression of interest to procure a contractor to widen and install concrete median barriers along Highway 401 between Tilbury and London—a key commitment that our government is keeping.
Our government is listening to the people of southwestern Ontario, and I look forward to sharing more—
The supplementary question.
We know the people of southwestern Ontario take pride in their communities, and our government wants to see these communities flourish as much as they do. Connecting the Southwest is an important step forward, and I’m thrilled that our government is carrying out this commitment for southwestern Ontarians.
This region is home to more than 1.6 million people and will only experience more growth from here. Can the minister share what Connecting the Southwest means for the people of this region?
After we released our draft plan, the Ontario Trucking Association said this: “The Ford government has shown strong support for our sector.... Our industry, and by extension, the province of Ontario will be more competitive through the execution of this effort.”
I want to remind Ontarians to participate in our online survey, which is open until March 17. Our consultations will help inform our next steps moving forward to ensure that we meet the transportation needs of the people of southwestern Ontario.
RING OF FIRE
Agreements for all-season roads with these communities have existed for three years, but Ontario delayed the existing working relationship with all First Nations across the region by terminating the regional framework agreement. That was a step backwards that further delayed the infrastructure needed for the Ring of Fire development.
Can you tell me how ripping up previous agreements, then coming back to essentially the same agreements, is progress?
But anyway, Mr. Speaker, my friend across the aisle there knows this is probably one of the biggest announcements this province has ever had for First Nations communities because, again, it shows that we can work with First Nations.
This is a multi-multi-billion dollar opportunity—again, not just for the two First Nations communities up there, but First Nations communities right across this great province. We’re going to be working with them shoulder to shoulder, standing up, making sure that we get a road to prosperity built and we give them a better opportunity for economic development—for emergency services alone, Mr. Speaker—making sure that they prosper like the rest of the province is prospering.
Yesterday, the minister said that success is when these Indigenous communities are ready to move forward and show leadership by saying out loud, “We want to move at the speed of business,” but community decisions don’t and shouldn’t happen at the speed of business. How will Ontario make sure that First Nations who are not ready to move at the speed of business are heard and accommodated?
I want to commend Minister Rickford and the Premier yesterday for the agreement that they signed with the First Nations partners: an agreement to move forward with the corridor to prosperity. We welcome proximal First Nations communities to enter into an agreement to unlock the incredible economic opportunities in Ontario’s north for the people of the north and the great province of Ontario.
This is about more than just a road, Mr. Speaker. It’s a corridor to prosperity that will improve the quality of life for First Nations communities by providing better access to economic opportunities, health care, education and housing supports. We’re proud to support our First Nations in our north.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
—breaking down barriers in the built environment;
—government leading by example;
—improving understanding and awareness about accessibility; and
—increasing participation in the economy for people with a disability.
These areas were informed by the recommendations made by the Honourable David Onley in the third review of the AODA, as well as input from key partners and people with disabilities.
Making Ontario accessible is a journey. When communities and businesses are accessible for everyone, it benefits us all. Can the minister share what we, as a government, are doing to keep driving towards that goal? Can the minister give examples of how our government is leading by example to make our province more accessible and more inclusive?
We are working towards a more accessible and inclusive province today and for our future generations.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES
On December 6, 2018, this House, including the minister’s party, unanimously supported my motion to create 24/7 mental health drop-in centres for Niagara. So why was this commitment ignored in today’s announcements?
My heart goes out to everyone who is suffering with mental health issues, who deserves to get the care they need when they need it. That’s exactly what our government is doing. The neglect of the previous government over 15 years will not be undone in a day or a month, but we are dedicated, absolutely, to making sure that we have a plan to move forward, make sure that people can get the care they need—
So again, Premier: When people are dying in Niagara, why did you ignore the commitment your government made to the people of Niagara?
I’d like to point out that our government is launching Mindability, a new, first-of-its-kind program in Canada that will provide evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT. Through Mindability, an individual will receive an assessment from a trained mental health clinician and be offered a therapy program that addresses their needs. Services will include Internet-based modules, personal workbooks and telephone coaching, but most of all, they will be able to get the care that they need when they need it. Our government is proud to present this program.
Would the minister please tell us more about this proposed legislation and how it helps farmers?
What’s clear to me, Mr. Speaker, is that we owe it to our farmers and food processors to make them feel safe and support them in the great work they do feeding our province. That’s why we put forward legislation that will address that issue.
Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, if passed, will balance the safety of our food, the safety of our farmers and the right of people to protest. We’ve had a number of hours of debate on that bill here in the House, and I have every confidence that when it passes, it will do that and provide that safety for our food and our producers.
Speaker, can the minister please tell us more about some of the things he has heard on this important tour?
I’m happy to say that, across the province, farmers are thrilled that our government has put this forward.
One thing is clear, Mr. Speaker: Our government is one that is listening to rural Ontario. We’re listening to Ontario’s farmers, and we will continue to do so.
NOTICES OF DISSATISFACTION
Pursuant to standing order 36(a), the member for Toronto–St. Paul’s has given notice of her dissatisfaction with the answer to her question given by the government House leader concerning anti-Black racism strategy in education. This matter will be debated today at 6 p.m.top | new search