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Ontario Hansard - 03-March2020

QUESTION PERIOD

EDUCATION FUNDING


Ms. Andrea Horwath: This morning my first question goes to the Premier. After weeks of avoiding media questions, the Premier finally took some yesterday, but he seemed unwilling or unable to answer basic questions about his failure to listen to what parents, students, teachers and school boards told him in his government’s own consultations. Instead, he lashed out at teachers, calling them greedy and claiming they were holding us hostage, and went on to make a whole series of wild accusations against the people who educate our kids.

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?


Hon. Doug Ford: Through you, Mr. Speaker: I’d just like to correct the Leader of the Opposition. I’ve never called the teachers greedy. I’ve called the head of the unions greedy, but not the teachers, because I appreciate the job that teachers do. They go in and work hard, day in and day out.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Leadership means actually working with people, even when you don’t agree with them. The Premier seems to think it means avoiding blame. Yesterday, he blamed the media for asking the wrong questions. He blamed teachers for not caving in to his classroom cuts. He blamed everyone but himself for the crisis that he has created in our education system and in our schools.

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?


Hon. Doug Ford: Through you, Mr. Speaker: Again, our minister is working day in and day out to get a deal, a fair deal for the teachers, a fair deal for the students and the taxpayers. We’re going to continue working hard, day in and day out, to get the kids back in the classroom. But we committed to a deal that’s protecting full-day kindergarten, ensuring teachers are hired based on merit, making sure we maintain the smallest class sizes in Canada for the earliest years. On online learning, we went from four down to two. We are negotiating in good faith, our minister is negotiating in good faith and we’re going to continue working hard to get the kids back in the classroom.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Ford government, in fact the Premier himself, keeps claiming that they want to negotiate a deal with teachers in the classroom, but the Premier called them greedy hostage-takers yesterday. He claims that parents and students support his classroom cuts, but he has been hiding a report that shows that they begged him not to make those cuts. He wants to be a leader, but he is showing the worst kind of leadership. Kids deserve better, Speaker.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Government to reply: Government House leader.

Hon. Paul Calandra: We’re all proud on this side—Conservatives on both sides of the House are all proud of the work that this Premier has done to improve the education system in the province of Ontario. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that we can do better. Of course we can do better. That’s what we’re sent here to do each and every day, do better. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s an agenda of progress, growth and prosperity: progress on math and sciences, growth so that our kids can benefit from those changes that we made, and prosperity that comes when our kids have the best education possible. That’s what we’re trying to do.

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.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Stop the clock. So we’re basically five minutes into question period, and there’s a lot of energy in the House. I’m hearing, on both sides of the House, quite a number of members who are yelling at each other across the floor. They don’t have the floor; they’re just yelling across the floor. I’m going to start calling you out individually if you continue to do that and then of course, if necessary, warning you and then, if necessary, naming you.

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.

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EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is also to the Premier. As concern about the novel coronavirus spreads all over the world, Ontario’s public health officials are doing an extraordinary job keeping people informed and safe. They have a consistent message for people when they fall ill: Stay home.

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?


Hon. Doug Ford: We had a great announcement yesterday about having a central command table. The Minister of Health is working hard, getting briefed every day. I just ended up getting briefed again this morning. We have all the confidence in Dr. Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. They’re communicating right across the province with other chief medical officers of health. We’re going to be doing our due diligence to make sure that people in Ontario are safe.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, Speaker, just last month, 175 health workers, including physicians, nurses and public health professionals, wrote the Ford government and implored them to reinstate flexible personal emergency leave days and end mandatory sick notes. They’ve warned the current provincial labour laws are “a serious threat to the health and safety of Ontarians.”

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Long-Term Care, to reply on behalf of the Premier.

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Thank you to the member opposite. I want to first thank all the people who are working in health care, providing front-line care, and our public health agencies, who are working so hard every day to be prepared in an instance like this. I want to make sure that we value what they do, and that’s what we’re doing.

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—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you.

Final supplementary.


Ms. Andrea Horwath: The government says that they are taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously, and health professionals are saying that Ontario’s current laws encourage people to go to work sick, putting themselves and all of us at risk. There’s no better way to value the professionals that the minister was talking about than taking their advice.

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?


Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Again, thank you for that question. I’m going to reiterate the importance of what our government is doing to show support for our front-line support workers and our communities across Ontario. I’m a little disappointed that the NDP is trying to play politics.

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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The next question.

LICENCE PLATES


Ms. Jennifer K. French: My question is to the Premier. Yesterday was the first time in a while that this Premier has made himself available to publicly answer questions about the state of things in Ontario, and it was fascinating to watch his unhappy and unhinged answers about licence plates.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Government and Consumer Services.

Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: It’s an easy answer for the member opposite—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Member for Essex, come to order. Premier, come to order.

Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: Ontarians can have faith in this government because we’re demonstrating, we’re listening. We’re not only listening; we’re understanding their concerns and we’re taking action.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Jennifer K. French: My question is again to the Premier.

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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I would remind members to make their comments through the chair.

The minister to reply.


Hon. Lisa M. Thompson: I think what we’ve just seen here in this House today is a very clear misunderstanding of what business is really all about. The NDP do not respect commercially sensitive information.

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


Mr. Daryl Kramp: My question today is to our Premier, a man who is leading the way.

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?

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Hon. Doug Ford: I want to thank our great member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington.

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—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Official opposition, come to order.

I apologize to the Premier for interrupting. Please continue.


Hon. Doug Ford: —give them an opportunity for better access to health care and social issues; give them opportunities for economic prosperity and growth. That’s what we’re looking forward to, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Daryl Kramp: Back to the Premier once again: Premier, thank you for that. That’s incredible news, and it’s certainly worthy of acknowledgement. I’m proud to be a part of this government, which is finally helping to ensure that our province is once again working and benefiting all Ontarians.

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?


Hon. Doug Ford: Again, I want to thank the member for the question, Mr. Speaker. The First Nations communities from that area deserve to be finally part of the economic success in the province. This is going to create up to 5,500 jobs annually, $9.4 billion in gross domestic product, $6.2 billion for Ontario’s mining industry, and $2 billion in government revenue divided among the federal government, provincial government and the municipal governments, along with First Nations communities.

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.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’ll ask the members to take their seats.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order. You can’t heckle the press gallery.

Interruption.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): And you can’t reply.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order.

Please start the clock. The next question.

MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES


Ms. Bhutila Karpoche: My question is to the Premier. Wait times for mental health and addictions support in Ontario have reached an all-time high. In fact, just last month we found out that the wait times for children and youth have nearly doubled because of years of failed action from Liberal and Conservative governments. The Liberals let families down when it came to delivering mental health services for those in need. But instead of fixing the problem, this government has spent two years making empty promises. When will the Premier finally commit to matching this year’s federal mental health investment of $232 million?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Long-Term Care to reply.

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Thank you for that question. I look at our Minister of Health—and of mental health and addictions as well—and I say to myself: Look at the good work that they’re doing, the progress that we’re making. And I’m looking at the last 15 years of absolute neglect in this whole sector.

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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you.

The supplementary question.


Ms. Bhutila Karpoche: What the minister has failed to mention is that this government has put exactly zero dollars of provincial funds into mental health and addictions.

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?


Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Thank you again for the question. I can tell you, legitimately, in all my experience in health care for 30 years, this is the first government that has prioritized mental health—the very first one.

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


Mr. Randy Hillier: My question is to the Premier, but first I’d like to just congratulate the Premier on signing the deal on the Ring of Fire yesterday—long overdue.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I recognize the Solicitor General.

Hon. Sylvia Jones: We’re both very anxious to answer it because it is a government-wide issue that we’re dealing with.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Randy Hillier: Speaker, let’s not deflect from the question. It was the Solicitor General who eliminated the program. This was not an OPP decision.

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.

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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.


Hon. Sylvia Jones: To be clear, 40% of front-line police officers’ work today in the province of Ontario, across Ontario, involves individuals who are in crisis with mental health. It is, frankly, why our government has such a government-wide focus on actually getting the services where they need to be.

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.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY


Mrs. Daisy Wai: My question is for the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues.

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?


Hon. Jill Dunlop: Thank you to the member from Richmond Hill for such an important question.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mrs. Daisy Wai: This is encouraging. Thank you to the minister for that answer. I’m proud that of the business owners I know, there are many other female entrepreneurs in my riding of Richmond Hill. I have met with many small business owners who have told me that they were ignored by the previous government.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.

Hon. Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria: Thank you to the member for Richmond Hill for that question.

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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The next question.

ANTI-RACISM ACTIVITIES


Ms. Jill Andrew: My question is to the Premier. On Friday, the minister received the final report from the Peel District School Board Review—a review that was meant to address anti-Black racism across Peel schools.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader to reply.

Hon. Paul Calandra: The minister, as you know, took a leadership role on this very early on. I know he reached out to the members of this Legislature from Peel region in advance of the review. There’s a lot of good work that has been done, but obviously we’ll review any of the recommendations that come forward and be sure to not only work with the legislation but with members on all sides.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question? The member for Kitchener Centre.

Ms. Laura Mae Lindo: Back to the Premier: This government is failing Black youth. Students have raised concerns about anti-Black racism in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Toronto District School Board. The review under the Liberals did not address the root causes of anti-Black racism in the York Region District School Board, because I’ve heard from them too.

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?


Hon. Paul Calandra: I appreciate the questions from the members opposite. But as I said, Minister Lecce took a leadership role on this as soon as we were made aware of the situation.

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.

PROVINCIAL DEFICIT


Mr. John Fraser: My question is for the Premier. Yesterday the Premier told the media, “You keep pounding on the little things.” If you can’t get a 12-by-6 piece of metal right, how can anyone have confidence that you’ll get the big things right?

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Government House leader to reply on behalf of the government.

Hon. Paul Calandra: I appreciate the awkward situation the member opposite has been put in, Mr. Speaker. He has been asked to account for 15 years of Liberal failure. I know that this is the last week of him being a leader of the party, and I know he’s probably anxious to hand over that mantle to somebody else.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

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Mr. John Fraser: That was just a bunch of horsefeathers. Speaker, people in Ontario are genuinely concerned, and each time the Premier uses that number, he loses credibility. I can’t really understand—after the Auditor General schooled him in public, the FAO told him, the public accounts told him—that he continues to do this, why his caucus continues to do this. And here is why: The Premier is creating a context for cuts, cuts to things that families depend on, making class sizes larger, less support for vulnerable learners, cutting services for the developmentally disabled, making a mess of the Ontario Autism Program. They’ve even been using it as a context to cut public health, at a time when we can least afford to do that.

Speaker, through you, can the Premier explain to Ontario families why he continues to cut those things that families depend on?


Hon. Paul Calandra: The member opposite has absolutely no credibility in anything that he just said there. This government, since day one, has been focused on three areas: progress, growth and prosperity—progress on education, our math scores; progress on transit and transportation; progress on balancing the budget while removing the lowest-income earners from the tax rolls altogether; progress on long-term care. And what does that lead to? It leads to growth, an economy that is growing each and every month that we have been in office, Mr. Speaker. And you know what that leads to? It leads to prosperity, prosperity that comes when over 300,000 people have the dignity of a job and can pay their bills.

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.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Stop the clock. Order. I ask the government side to come to order so that we can hear the next question. I think he might want to get a chance to ask his question, too.

Start the clock.

MENTAL HEALTH IN AGRICULTURE


Mr. Lorne Coe: My question is to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Our government has been clear that we support greater mental health supports for the people in Ontario. We’re listening and we’re taking steps to address the many problems people face. In doing so, we recognize that everyone is unique in the issues they face. And farmers, Speaker, are no different.

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?


Hon. Ernie Hardeman: I want to thank the member from Whitby for the excellent question. It’s something that we don’t often think about, but it’s always present. Farmers face unique challenges every day, and unfortunately those come with their own struggles with mental health.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question.

Mr. Lorne Coe: Thank you, Minister, for that response. Speaker, it’s encouraging for all of us here who have farmers in their riding to hear such words. Many of us have heard about farmers struggling with the difficulties of the occupation, and the many uncertainties it brings. It’s important that we take action. Our government has made it clear that we’re taking mental health seriously, and we’ve made it clear that we’re listening to the voice of Ontario’s farmers and rural communities.

Would the minister please tell us more about what our government is doing for farmers’ mental health?


Hon. Ernie Hardeman: I thank the member again for that great supplementary question. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank the member.

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.

PUBLIC TRANSIT


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Premier. The Hamilton Transportation Task Force that the Premier appointed will soon report on its recommendations, so my question to the Premier is a very simple one: If the task force recommends that the Hamilton LRT project continue, will the Premier in fact come to the table to get that project back on track?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Transportation to reply, on behalf of the government.

Hon. Caroline Mulroney: As the Leader of the Opposition knows, our government has committed $1 billion in new funding to the city of Hamilton.

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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, it’s unfortunate that the government decided to fudge around with the numbers and not treat Hamilton the same way as they treated all other transit projects—

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’m going to ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the unparliamentary comment.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I’ll withdraw.

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?


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: Let me be clear, Mr. Speaker: In 2018, our government said that we were going to give $1 billion to the city of Hamilton. In 2019, we said that we were going to give $1 billion to the city of Hamilton. And today, in 2020, we are still committed to give $1 billion to the city of Hamilton.

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.

TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE


Mr. Rick Nicholls: My question is to the Minister of Transportation. Our government has been clear in our commitment of improving the safety and efficiency of Ontario’s transportation network, and I know the minister has been diligently working towards this.

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?


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: I’d like to thank the member from Chatham-Kent–Leamington for the excellent question.

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.

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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 Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The supplementary question.


Mr. Rick Nicholls: Thank you, Minister, for that answer. Boy, if I had a million dollars—

Interjection: A billion.

Mr. Rick Nicholls: Maybe a billion dollars.

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?


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: Our government wants to encourage more growth in southwestern Ontario, and we know that our plan will help sustain an open-for-business environment in the 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


Mr. Sol Mamakwa: Good morning, Speaker. My question is to the Premier. Yesterday, the Premier and the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines made a familiar-sounding announcement about road access to the 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?


Hon. Doug Ford: I want to thank my friend from across the aisle. We have a great relationship, by the way; we really do—probably better than with the leader over there.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Sol Mamakwa: We have to understand that development in the Far North does not happen without free, prior and informed consent of all communities affected.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Associate Minister of Energy to reply.

Hon. Bill Walker: Under the former Liberal government, there was a decade of talk and more than $20 million spent and still no shovels in the ground.

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


Mr. Rudy Cuzzetto: My question is for the outstanding Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. Recently, you announced our government’s plan to improve accessibility and make a positive difference in the lives of 2.6 million people with disabilities in Ontario. Can you please share with the House what the government is doing to advance accessibility and inclusion in our beautiful province?

Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: I’d like to thank the member for raising a very important question. On January 28, I proudly announced our government’s framework, Advancing Accessibility in Ontario. This framework helps to build a more inclusive and accessible Ontario. Our plan focuses on four key areas:

—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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Rudy Cuzzetto: I’m very pleased to hear about the great work the minister is doing to improve accessibility for all in this province. As well, I would like to thank him in advance for coming out to our blind hockey game tomorrow night in Mississauga–Lakeshore. For the first time, we’re going to have a blind hockey team playing in Mississauga.

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?


Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: Thank you, again, for the great question. The government will lead by example in its role as policy-maker, service provider and employer. Our government, under the leadership of Premier Doug Ford, has shown that accessibility is a priority by creating a dedicated, stand-alone ministry entirely focused on making a more accessible, inclusive Ontario. Another example of how we will be leading by example is by applying an accessible lens when evaluating capital project applications and spending tax dollars.

We are working towards a more accessible and inclusive province today and for our future generations.

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MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES


Mr. Wayne Gates: My question is to the Premier. On February 5, myself and my fellow members from Niagara attended a mental health round table put on by the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. The round table was a result of a meeting between myself and the minister on the overwhelming need for increased supports to front-line staff who are battling the mental health and addiction crisis in Niagara. While I’m glad he came, I hope the round table showed him how quickly we need him to act.

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?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I recognize the Minister of Long-Term Care to respond on behalf of the government.

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Again, thank you to the member for the question. As I said earlier, our government is spending $3.8 billion on mental health and addictions. It is the first time this level of commitment has ever been made. Our government is very proud to launch the Roadmap to Wellness, a plan to build Ontario’s mental health and addictions system. I know that the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions is extremely dedicated to this area. This announcement follows extensive engagement with experts, grassroots organizations, health care providers on the front lines, and first responders, as well as people with lived experience.

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—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

Supplementary question.


Mr. Wayne Gates: Back to the Premier: People in Niagara are dying today. They’re dying, and they’re dying in Niagara West, whose member is on your side of the House. In Niagara, we lose—think about this—to suicide one person every seven days. Upwards of 70% of our calls to police and first responders received are related to mental health crisis. Preventative supports and supports to family members helping their loved ones are stretched thin. Even worse, after 9 o’clock at night, there’s almost nowhere for people to go who are in crisis, except our hospital. My motion would have addressed this need by allocating 0.002% of the provincial budget to three 24-hour drop-in centres across Niagara.

So again, Premier: When people are dying in Niagara, why did you ignore the commitment your government made to the people of Niagara?


Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Thank you for that question. It’s a very important question to ask: How are Ontarians going to get the health care and the mental health care that they need? Every year—and I want to acknowledge—1.4 million Ontarians experience a mental health or addictions challenge. That has a serious impact on their quality of life, including their ability to go to school or make a living.

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.

FOOD SAFETY


Mr. Lorne Coe: To the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs: We’ve all been hearing for some time now that farmers are dealing with the issue of on-farm trespassing. We trust our farmers every day to provide us with safe and healthy food. And yet, farmers are feeling unsafe in their own homes and on their farms. I can imagine that farmers were very happy when our government tabled Bill 156 to deal with this issue.

Would the minister please tell us more about this proposed legislation and how it helps farmers?


Hon. Ernie Hardeman: Thank you very much to the member from Whitby for the great question. I think I can fairly say that members in this chamber who have farms in their ridings have encountered or heard about the issues farmers face.

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.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question?

Mr. Lorne Coe: Back to the minister: Since the tabling of this legislation, we’ve heard from farmers, and they’re thrilled. I understand that a few weeks ago, the minister went out to tour the province to hear more from farmers, to see how they feel about the legislation and whether it addresses the concerns they’ve had for some time now.

Speaker, can the minister please tell us more about some of the things he has heard on this important tour?


Hon. Ernie Hardeman: Thanks again, Mr. Speaker, and to the member. A few weeks ago, I travelled across the province, holding round tables with many of my colleagues here in the chamber to get a better understanding of how farmers feel about our legislation and to see what sorts of issues they are facing. These are farmers who know what it means to have someone walk onto their property and interact with their animals and know that there is nothing that they can do about it.

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


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Pursuant to standing order 36(a), the member for Lanark–Frontenac–Kingston has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Solicitor General concerning mobile crisis response teams. This matter will be debated at 6 p.m. today.

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.

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