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Ontario Hansard - 14-June2021

QUESTION PERIOD

ELECTORAL REFORM


Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, before I start, I just want to welcome the thousands of people who are tuned into an OFL-hosted virtual gallery this morning.

My first question, of course, is to the Premier. We’re here because this Premier is desperately trying to silence his critics and cling to power. Ontario has never used the “notwithstanding” clause. In fact, every other government in Canada has managed to put in place election laws without using the “notwithstanding” clause. No other government has had to do it. They’ve all been able to figure it out, except this government. Why is the Premier unable to bring in reasonable legislation instead of trampling on our democracy?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Again, just the opposite, Mr. Speaker: Of course, we are bringing in legislation, reintroducing legislation that will guarantee third parties access to the Ontario elections, as is their right to do so. We are doing that at the highest levels in Canada, bar none. That’s the legislation that we brought forward. We think a 12-month period where there are criteria, again with the highest limits in the entire country, is the right balance.

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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Certainly this House leader is smart enough to bring in a constitutional law that we could have had passed in a day—apparently not, because this Premier’s go-to is to be vindictive and punish his enemies. He was booed at a public event; he stops doing media avails. He’s got families who are looking for justice in long-term care; instead, he brings in a law to reduce the right to sue. A court rejects his legislation, deems it unconstitutional; he invokes the “notwithstanding” clause.

The people of Ontario need a government that’s focused on helping them through the last of this crisis, not helping a desperate Premier cling to power. Why is the Premier’s only goal to get back at his enemies and keep his job?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Again, we know that the opposition would prefer that there be no rules with respect to pre-election spending. We saw that for a number of years in Ontario. That was a fixture. It was a fixture that, of course, the Chief Electoral Officer himself said had to be fixed, Speaker, and that’s why we are moving forward with what we believe is very balanced legislation, recognizing that the highest limits in Canada should be offset by a 12-month period where there are rules in place.

I note that when asked about what the NDP thought those limits should be, the deputy leader of the NDP was unable to provide an answer. Now, we know what the answer for the NDP is: maximum three months or no rules whatsoever, because they fought all weekend to try to have no rules whatsoever.

We think that to ensure fair elections, we have to have rules in place. The ruling suggested that that had to be the case. The ruling suggested that these are constitutional. The Chief Electoral Officer has asked us to do this. We are moving on it, and we think that we’ve struck a good balance.

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The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Final supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, Speaker, unfortunately, the competency of this government House leader apparently excludes the ability to bring in constitutional legislation around election financing laws.

But do you know what? The Premier just doesn’t like to listen in Ontario. He doesn’t like to listen to parents and teachers. He doesn’t like to listen to families of children with autism. He doesn’t like to listen to science advice or public health experts. Instead, he brings down the hammer. He brought down the hammer on his former colleagues at Toronto city hall that he didn’t like. He is bringing down, of course, the hammer on his critics, because they speak out against his bad choices and big cuts. He has gone too far.

In fact, here’s what one of the old allies—former allies, I guess—of the Premier said: “Petty dictators wield power to silence the voices of their critics. In liberal democracies, we demand better.” That’s none other than the taxpayers federation.

Overriding the charter rights of Ontarians in the middle of the night, in the dark of night, is not the Ontario we know. How can the Premier justify such an unprecedented attack on people’s rights?


Hon. Paul Calandra: It’s no surprise to me that, given the opportunity, the Leader of the Opposition would go personal, because for her, it’s not about the policy. It’s not about ensuring fair elections. It’s not about putting rules in place to ensure that third parties can participate in an election, Mr. Speaker. I would submit that’s probably why the NDP, under her leadership, has sat in opposition for 14 years.

We will not stop doing what is right to ensure that elections are fair in the province of Ontario. We saw what happened in this province when there were no rules in place. In Ontario, more money was being spent by third parties than all other provinces and federal elections combined. That is what the opposition is fighting to retain. We heard the Chief Electoral Officer suggest that that is not what is in the best interest of Ontario. The judge himself, in making his decision, suggested that limits are in fact needed and confirmed that they are both needed and constitutional. So if the opposition won’t stand up for fair elections, we certainly will.

GOVERNMENT’S AGENDA


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is also for the Premier, but I can assure this House leader we are, in fact, fighting for the charter rights of the people of Ontario and against the government that’s taking them away.

Look, this debate is just another example of this Premier’s bad choices. We could be working on a plan for safer schools, to make sure that our kids, whose education has been disrupted badly in the last two years, are getting the support they need to succeed. We could be ensuring that kids are actually getting the vaccinations they need before school starts. Instead, this government is trampling on people’s rights and freedoms, attacking parents, teachers and education workers instead of working with them to support our kids.

Why is the Premier so willing to trample on people’s charter rights to help himself politically but not willing to put forward a real plan to support our kids as they return to school in the fall?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Of course, Mr. Speaker, as I’ve said on a number of occasions and as you continue to see here today, the NDP will stop at nothing to try to eliminate rules which should be put in place—which has been confirmed by the Chief Electoral Officer, which has been confirmed by the justice in his ruling. They want a system where there are no rules. Like the Liberals, the NDP seem incapable of winning elections based on their policies, so they want other means to do that. We insist that elections be done fairly. It’s the hallmark of what good governments do.

Having said that, I know that the Minister of Education has been working very hard to give us one of the safest return-to-school programs in North America. It has been extraordinarily successful. I thank him for that.

Mr. Speaker, I know that the Minister of Health, along with the Solicitor General, has done a record-breaking vaccination program in the province of Ontario, which has allowed us to move up our opening across this province and get our economy roaring back. I know those are things that the NDP don’t support, but the people of Ontario certainly do.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: We will stop at nothing to fight against what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says is “petty dictators” wielding “power to silence the voices of their critics.”

Look, we could be here talking about the crisis in our health care system. The surgical backlog now sits at about 400,000. We know there are about 2.5 million tests and procedures that have been delayed or postponed that need to be addressed. We have PSWs who are still only getting a temporary increase, and we have long-term-care homes that are scrambling to try to find enough staff to take care of our seniors in long-term care.

Why, instead of fixing our health care system, is the Premier sitting through the dark of night to override the basic charter rights and freedoms of Ontarians in an attempt to cling to power?


Hon. Paul Calandra: It’s almost as though the Leader of the Opposition wasn’t here all weekend to hear what the Attorney General had talked—

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’m going to ask the member to withdraw.

Hon. Paul Calandra: I withdraw.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): You can’t make reference to the absence of a member, indirectly or directly.

Hon. Paul Calandra: Sure. Mr. Speaker, I know that the Attorney General outlined why this was important. I know that we have been talking about why it’s important. The Leader of the Opposition suggests they are going to work so hard to ensure that this does not pass and use all of the tools, but then suggests that we took away all the tools. But when asked what tools we took away, what did the Leader of the Opposition say? Nothing. She couldn’t name one tool that was taken away by this government to stop them from doing what she says they want to do. Then the deputy leader of the NDP, when asked, “What do you think the limits should be”—nothing. Nothing. No suggestion as to what those limits should be.

We know that 12 months with the highest limits in Canada strikes a very good balance in a parliamentary democracy with a fixed election date, and we are going to pass this bill to make sure that happens.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: This government House leader knows very well that he could have brought a constitutionally acceptable bill into this Legislature and it could have gone through in a day. But he chose not to, because, as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says, “Petty dictators wield power to silence the voices of their critics. In liberal democracies, we demand better.” That’s what your official opposition is doing today, Speaker. We’re demanding better from a government who thinks it’s okay to override people’s charter rights.

But here we are. We could have been making better choices today. We could have been talking about local businesses that are hanging on by a thread and all of those families who are worried about their futures and all of those folks who lost their jobs because this government didn’t want to put a plan in place to help them out. This Premier has no plan to support local businesses. Instead we’re meeting in the middle of the night, in the dark of night over the weekend, to suspend charter rights so this government can hold on to power.

Why, instead of putting a safe reopening grant in place for our small businesses in Ontario, our local community businesses, is this government shutting down democracy?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Some of us were working overnight to ensure that that happened, Mr. Speaker. I have said right from the beginning that I would use every tool at my disposal to ensure that this legislation passed. That’s how important it is to ensuring a fair election in the province of Ontario, and that’s what we will be voting on later today.

Now, it is important to note that when we brought in measures to help our small businesses, this Leader of the Opposition and her party voted against it. When we brought in a second round of supports for all small businesses, they voted against it and didn’t support it. When we brought in measures to increase long-term care, they voted against it. When we brought in measures to increase health care funding to the highest levels that this province has ever seen, they voted against it. When we brought in transit and transportation infrastructure improvements, they voted against it.

Before, during and certainly after a pandemic, we will continue to focus on the things that make this province great and that will ensure a vibrant and strong economy that leads the nation, like it did before the pandemic, like it will after the pandemic. And the one thing you can be certain of is the NDP will be against every single one of those measures.

COVID-19 RESPONSE IN INDIGENOUS AND REMOTE COMMUNITIES


Mr. Sol Mamakwa: My question is for the Premier. I’ve spoken many times here on how there are two Ontarios. Your Ontario cannot be proud of your COVID response when there is a humanitarian crisis happening in Kashechewan.

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There are now 222 cases of COVID in a community of 1,800 people. About 70% of the cases are children and youth 17 and under. Mr. Speaker, the youngest is seven weeks old. Families in Kashechewan are now calling the chief to ask for help feeding their children, as the whole family is sick and the parents cannot do it. What is Ontario—your Ontario—doing to help Kashechewan?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: The member raises a very important question and one that needs considerable assistance. We did have a good response with Operation Remote Immunity for first doses where we worked with Ornge and we worked with leaders in the First Nation communities to make sure that anyone who wanted to receive the first vaccine was able to do so. But we’re also working on second doses as well, and we’re also working with communities that have had breakouts, where there are situations that demand assistance in a very timely manner. We want to work with the communities to make sure that we can deal with the cases of COVID and then also make sure that people receive the doses as soon as they’re able. A seven-week-old child isn’t able to receive a dose, but of course we want that baby to be brought back to good health. We will work with you to make sure that happens.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary? The member for Mushkegowuk–James Bay.

Mr. Guy Bourgouin: Minister, I have spoken to the chief this morning. Not one minister made a courtesy call—a courtesy call—to Chief Friday to ask his needs. We have an 18-year-old kid taking care of 11 children, the youngest two months old.

My question is to the Premier. COVID is impacting all the Cree communities along the James Bay coast, especially Kashechewan. I’m asking—no, begging—the Minister of Health and the Minister of Indigenous Affairs to work with the communities. The communities desperately need supplies, humanitarian assistance, and isolation tents for families already living in unsafe and overcrowded conditions. Community leaders and workers who are not in isolation are exhausted and burnt out. We cannot sit here and act like nothing is happening.

Mr. Speaker, will this government step up and provide resources and assistance for Kashechewan and the rest of James Bay to get through this crisis?

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Members will please take their seats.

Minister of Health.


Hon. Christine Elliott: Yes, of course we will provide assistance—whatever is required—in order to make sure that people receive their immunizations; and for those that are ill, that they receive the health needs they require as well as the other resources. We know that as a result of COVID, there are many different communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. Our goal is to make sure we protect the health and well-being of every Ontarian, regardless of where they live in the province. So to answer your question: Of course we will provide assistance.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING


Mr. Parm Gill: My question is for the Solicitor General. I was pleased to see that our government passed the Combating Human Trafficking Act with all-party support. This fulfills a key commitment by the Premier during last year’s announcement of a five-year anti-human trafficking strategy that Ontario would take a hard look at legislative options available to combat this heinous crime.

I know that all members of this House agree that human trafficking has absolutely no place in our communities across Ontario, as demonstrated by all parties supporting this bill. But, Mr. Speaker, I’m sure that this is no easy feat, given Ontario has the most reported incidents of human trafficking in the country. Can the minister please provide more details on how this legislation will help hold offenders accountable so that those who perpetrate this heinous crime face real justice?


Hon. Sylvia Jones: Thank you to the member from Milton for raising this important issue. It was a real honour when the Premier asked myself and my co-lead, Minister Dunlop, the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, to lead this important work. I am pleased that we have had support from all members and parliamentarians.

As you know, our young people are at the greatest risk of being exploited by traffickers. The average age of an individual who is recruited into trafficking is just 13 years old. The Combating Human Trafficking Act creates a number of very important tools to help ensure that investigations into human trafficking can proceed quickly. The legislation will provide police services with the authority to access hotel guest registry information, with a penalty for non-compliance of $5,000, and provide the authority to expand guest registry requirements to other accommodation providers. It also requires companies that advertise sexual services to have a contact for law enforcement and other agencies to request information in support of human trafficking investigations.


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

Mr. Parm Gill: I want to thank the Solicitor General for that answer. It is definitely reassuring to hear the Solicitor General highlight how the proposed legislation would provide new tools to more effectively hold offenders accountable. But this House is most concerned with the victims.

I’ve heard the Solicitor General speak at length about how important it is that we remember the survivors of human trafficking. So my question to the Solicitor General: Can she identify what resources we’re making available and putting in place for the survivors of this heinous crime?


Hon. Sylvia Jones: The member is absolutely right. Human trafficking investigations can be complex, spanning across jurisdictions and over many years. I’m proud to say that, today, we have announced we are investing $5 million over two years to enhance services and supports available to victims of intimate partner violence and human trafficking through the new Victim Support Grant Program. We continue to provide our police services and community partners with the funding they need to develop new or enhanced services, supports and resources that will strengthen local prevention efforts and help protect victims and survivors.

Successful applicants will be able to use the grant funding to support a number of projects and initiatives, such as:

—developing multi-sectorial teams to support specialized intervention in suspected instances of intimate partner violence or human trafficking;

—setting up collaborative community initiatives to build local capacities to support victims and survivors; and

—supporting initiatives that are survivor-led and/or involve meaningful collaboration and involvement of individuals with lived experience.

There is so much happening on the human trafficking file, and I’m pleased to share just a small bit of it today.

COVID-19 RESPONSE


Ms. Catherine Fife: My question is for the Premier. For months now, we have been bringing the voices of small business owners to this House as they have begged this government for additional supports. But a hopeful and successful restart may not be possible if we can’t control the outbreaks, a lesson this government should have learned by now.

Waterloo region’s COVID cases over the weekend were just shy of Toronto’s. We need to put this fire out with accelerated vaccines, contact tracing and pop-up vaccinations—removing all barriers to vaccinations. These are urgent concerns, but we’re here during this emergency session and we’re not addressing the rising cases in Waterloo. We’re not addressing business support concerns. We are here so that this government can override Ontarians’ charter rights. That’s why we’re here, instead of the real concerns of Ontarians.

To the government: Why is violating charter rights more important than stopping the outbreaks in Waterloo or Kashechewan or anywhere else in the province of Ontario, and why are your priorities so out of whack with the people of this province?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: I thank the member for the question. It is a very important one. We are continuing our work with vaccinations and we are receiving significant responses. We have now vaccinated 74% of the people of Ontario with at least one dose. We’ve administered over 11,300,000 vaccines.

But we still know that there are variants of concern out there, particularly the Delta variant, which is why, as of June 14, individuals who live in areas of high Delta prevalence—including Halton, Peel, Porcupine, Toronto, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and York public health units—and who have also already received their first dose of the vaccine before May 9 will be able to receive their second accelerated dose, because we want to make sure we continue with the opening up of Ontario, that we don’t allow these variants, particularly the Delta variant, to take over. So, we are concerned about it. We are dealing with it, particularly in the Waterloo area.

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

Ms. Catherine Fife: Speaker, there seems to be a lack of urgency here to prevent a fourth wave or support small businesses. There has been very little understanding of the challenges that small businesses have faced during this pandemic.

Take commercial insurance, for instance: How can small businesses be part of the economic recovery of the province if they can’t access affordable insurance? But have we been debating legislation to help small businesses access affordable insurance so we can be open for business in the province of Ontario? No, we have not.

We are here because the Premier wants to silence his critics, using the “notwithstanding” clause and overriding charter rights.

Why is this PC government so disconnected from the real needs of Ontario? You need to put the people of this province first, ahead of your own political interests.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I remind members to make their comments to the Chair.

In response, the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.


Hon. Victor Fedeli: Thank you very much for the important question about Ontario’s small business. Speaker, we have had an unprecedented and historic level of support going out to businesses, one that was made necessary throughout this entire pandemic. To date, we’ve made almost $3 billion in grant payments to support over 110,000 businesses across Ontario. And right now, until the end of the month, these further small businesses in the tourism and the travel sector can apply for up to $20,000 in further government support and grants.

Speaker, there has been, as I said at the beginning, an absolutely unprecedented and historic level of commitment from this government towards our much-needed help to the small business sector.

GOVERNMENT’S AGENDA


Mr. John Fraser: We’re nearing the end of the Premier’s five-alarm, all-hands-on-deck emergency debate, rushing to override the charter and people’s rights, yet he didn’t utter a word in debate other than a heckle directed at the member from Essex. Not a peep about why he didn’t look for a stay or consider other options available to him. That would be the reasonable thing to do. Instead, he’s killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

The “notwithstanding” clause is about protecting people’s rights, not taking them away. The courts told the Premier, “You’ve gone too far.” Now, it’s like his house is on fire, an urgency that’s been missing all year long.

Speaker, through you: Why is the Premier in such a hurry to override people’s charter rights when there are other more appropriate and reasonable options available to him?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Of course, Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely no surprise to me that the Liberal Party would like to see no rules in place.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order.

Hon. Paul Calandra: Between—

Mr. John Fraser: Give your head a shake.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Ottawa South, come to order.

Government House leader.


Hon. Paul Calandra: You know, Speaker, it’s unfortunate that the opposition always have to revert to character assassination and insults to try to make a point. It is precisely why we are here, Mr. Speaker.

Laughter.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order. Government House leader, please reply.

Hon. Paul Calandra: It is precisely why we’re here, Mr. Speaker. We are here because the Chief Electoral Officer of this province understood that third-party involvement in Ontario elections in the first, second, third and fourth Liberal administrations—there were no rules on the table—was inappropriate. We had limits that ensured that more money was being spent in the province of Ontario than all provinces and federal elections combined. That was inappropriate.

We’ve struck a good balance, Mr. Speaker, and that is why we’re going to pass this legislation later today.


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

Mr. John Fraser: Speaker, I was looking for an answer, not piety, okay?

The “notwithstanding” clause is not a get-out-of-jail-free card because you don’t get your way.

The Premier has shown that his urgent priorities are his friends: MZOs, a university, the top job. He has no plan for the two million children who are waiting to go back to school. They’re still waiting for a plan. Families with children with autism: They’re still waiting. We’re still waiting for a commitment to implement the long-term care commission’s recommendations. PSWs are still waiting for a permanent wage increase. Clean water—I could go on and on.

The Premier’s priority is his political interest, not those of Ontarians. Clearly, his priorities are just out of whack. Speaker, through you: Why is the Premier putting his own political interests ahead of what’s most important to Ontario families?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Is this member really getting up and asking a question like that? Let’s look at what he said.

We have no priorities, he said. Let’s put it this way: We are prioritizing the construction of 30,000 long-term-care beds, when his government, for 15 years, built 600.

We are prioritizing education. While they were closing 700 schools, this Minister of Education and this Premier were building schools.

While they under-funded health care, we started to reform health care, bringing in Ontario health teams and bringing funding to the highest levels in provincial history.

Although they could not build transit in transportation, this Minister of Transportation is finally building subways in Toronto, subways that will reach all the way to York region for the first time.

Every single thing he mentioned in his question, he highlights the failure of his government, not over one, not over two, not over three, but four Liberal administrations—a record of failure unsurpassed by any other party in the history of this province.

SMALL BUSINESS


Mr. Parm Gill: My question is for the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. We know that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, the heart of our local communities and will be key to restoring confidence in a safe return to in-person commercial activity.

With Ontario taking the first step on the Roadmap to Reopen on Friday, can the minister tell this House how the government is using rapid testing as a tool to keep small business employees, customers and communities at large safe?


Hon. Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria: Thank you to the member from Milton for that question and his steadfast support of small businesses during this pandemic.

Ontario has been a national leader in the deployment of rapid tests, and we’ve managed our supply of rapid tests to ensure ongoing availability for organizations and businesses across the province.

We know that rapid tests can prevent workplace outbreaks from otherwise asymptomatic employees and keep our hard-working businesses open. That’s why we have partnered with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, their chamber affiliates and municipalities across the province to introduce more COVID-19 rapid screening initiatives.

Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to report that less than a month after the launch of this program, Ontario has shifted over 2.4 million rapid tests into these chambers and communities across the province. I look forward to continue working with these chambers and municipalities to deploy more tests.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): And the supplementary question?

Mr. Parm Gill: I want to thank the minister for that answer.

Helping small businesses operate safely while protecting the broader community will be key to keeping us progressing on the Roadmap to Reopen, and I’m pleased to hear of the success of this initiative for small businesses across our great province. Could the minister please tell us how rapid testing is accomplishing similar successes for essential businesses?


Hon. Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria: Thank you to the member once again. Ontario has delivered over 12.3 million rapid antigen test kits to over 2,600 worksites across the province. This includes the COVID-19 rapid screening initiative with the OCC. Our total rapid testing strategy effort is helping businesses and other organizations keep employees and their families safe by helping keep the virus out of those workplaces.

For essential businesses that are allowed to stay open and require staff to be on site, the rapid antigen screening at the workplace is giving peace of mind and ensuring that operations continue steadily and safely across Ontario, especially in hot spot areas. Test shipments to essential industry workplaces have nearly tripled since April, and this includes 719 essential industry sites, many of which are in hot spot regions. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners across the province to continue deploying these rapid tests.

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EDUCATION FUNDING


Ms. Marit Stiles: Good morning, Mr. Speaker. This question is for the Premier. A lack of transparency around the decision to keep schools closed this month has parents once again worrying about what’s going to happen in September. There has been no plan tabled to show what public health metrics will be used to determine reopening in the fall, no public information on how many education workers are fully vaccinated or how many will be, no update on how guidance will change on masking or cleaning or screening based on new evidence.

We could be debating that now, this weekend, so that kids are back in school this September. Instead, we’re here debating a bill to silence the Premier’s critics. Will school boards, education workers and parents be left waiting again until August before they see any kind of plan for safer school reopenings?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce: I announced, over a month ago, the Grants for Student Needs as well as the PPE funding. In that announcement, I made clear that this July, the incoming Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Moore, will provide the final counsel and advice to the province based on public health indicators and vaccination rates.

What we have intended to do—notwithstanding that advice that will come in some weeks, once we’re closer to September—is create a more normal, stable and, yes, safe September for all children and staff. I’m proud to report that nearly 40% of children aged 12 to 17 have received their first dose of the vaccine, and we’re well on our way by August to get every student and every staff member who wants one a second dose ahead of September. That’s part of our plan for the broader population to be double-dosed this summer.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve allocated $2 billion in increased investment, with $1.6 billion specifically for COVID resources to maintain asymptomatic testing, the doubling of public health nurses, the enhancement of cleaning our schools and strict screening before kids and staff enter. As well, there is additional money for learning loss. We’re going to continue to invest in mental health, learning loss and COVID-19 resources to ensure students and staff remain safe this September.


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

Ms. Marit Stiles: This is what we’re worried about. Is it going to be mid-August, late August before they change the plans again and school boards are scrambling and families are struggling? Speaker, the minister is offering families more of the same things that led to the longest closures in Canada: vague promises; a lack of transparency; $800 million less, according to the Financial Accountability Office, for our schools.

Getting kids safely back in school must be our top priority, both for their well-being but also for our economic recovery. We could be working through the night on a plan to do that, instead of the blatant abuse of power we witnessed here this weekend.

Speaker, can the Premier explain to families and to the thousands of Ontarians who are watching through the OFL livestream right now why he’s prioritizing his own political future ahead of our own kids’ education?


Hon. Stephen Lecce: The opposition have foreshadowed what they’re offering this September, which is fear for the population instead of working with the government to ensure students and staff are safe. It’s why a month ago, well before this weekend, we announced an investment within the Grants for Student Needs, which is the principal vehicle of funding for school boards, of over $500 million more this coming year than last year; $1.6 billion in COVID-19 resources—entirely provincial dollars, unlike last year provided in part by the federal government—to make sure we maintain every infection prevention protocol to ensure Ontario remains one of the lowest jurisdictions in the country with case rates for children under the age of 18.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve also invested an additional $85 million for learning recovery, recognizing reading and math have seen regression, really, right around the Western world. That’s why we’ve put in place a plan to support expanded summer learning as well as tutoring for children. For mental health, recognizing, as was noted earlier, the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, we have ensured an $80-million investment—400% higher than when the former Liberal government was in power—because we’re committed to the wellness as well as the success of students, now and into the future.

GOVERNMENT’S AGENDA


Mme Lucille Collard: My question is for the Premier. At the trial, the Attorney General’s own expert witnesses conceded that the present third-party spending restrictions during elections are strong enough to prevent electoral interference.

Given both the broad expert recognition of the strength of the existing spending restrictions for third parties and the clear conflict of interest that the government creates when it changes the rules of the upcoming election, why does the government think that this is an appropriate instance to use the “notwithstanding” clause for the first time in Ontario’s history?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Because we believe that, in a parliamentary democracy with a fixed election date, confirming the highest spending limits in the country—even higher than the federal government—and extending those protections to the elections for 12 months is an appropriate balance. That is what we brought forward when we brought forward this legislation early on in the spring session. We went through extensive debate in this House, we went through committee hearings in this House, and that legislation has passed. That is the will of this Parliament, Mr. Speaker. The judge also confirmed that such limits are important, are necessary and that they are constitutional.

We will stand up for those principles. We will stand up for fairness in elections. We won’t be dragged kicking and screaming, like the previous Liberal government was. We think we’ve struck an appropriate balance. That is why we are here today and that is why we will use every tool at our disposal to make sure this fairness for Ontario elections remains in place.


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

Mme Lucille Collard: Ontarians have been able to rely on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms for protection when they have found their rights compromised by government policies. LGBTQ+ people, refugees and persons with disabilities are all examples of communities who have used charter litigation to fight discrimination and live dignified and fulfilling lives in Canada. Ontarians are right to be concerned that this government is now sending a clear and very concerning message that it is willing to use the “notwithstanding” clause as a simple tool to override their protected charter rights when their rights conflict with the government’s policy agenda.

Moving forward, my question is to the government, what will be the government’s bar for invoking the “notwithstanding” clause to override Ontarians’ charter rights?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Honestly, what an unfortunate question to ask, especially given what this province has gone through in the last number of days.

We are using the “notwithstanding” clause to protect the fairness of Ontario’s elections. I don’t have to remind the member opposite that, in fact, this House spoke in a unified voice, led by the minister of small business, when we discussed and debated the use of the “notwithstanding” clause in another province, specifically on taking away people’s rights and their ability to show or use symbols that this other province considered not acceptable. We spoke as a unified voice against that, Mr. Speaker.

What we are doing today is ensuring that elections are fair. We saw in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014 a Chief Electoral Officer who saw out-of-control third-party spending—again, four Liberal administrations; four failures. We’re moving quickly in our first term to ensure elections remain safe and fair.

CURRICULUM


Mr. Parm Gill: My question is for the Minister of Education. For over a decade under the former Liberal government, our students fell further and further behind due to the outdated discovery math curriculum. Too many children were not being prepared for the world of tomorrow, and we have seen great strides to right the ship in terms of math education in Ontario, with updated curriculum now being provided from grades 1 to 9.

Last week’s announcement was another by the Minister of Education that shows our Premier’s dedication to preparing youth with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.

Can the Minister of Education please share with the Legislature what is changing in the grade 9 math curriculum in Ontario?


Hon. Stephen Lecce: I want to thank the member from Milton for his advocacy for financial literacy within Ontario’s education and curriculum.

Indeed, we have unveiled a new curriculum in this province. Last June, we announced a modernized grades 1 to 8 math curriculum, and just last week, a new grade 9 destreamed math curriculum, fulfilling our commitment to the people of this province in the last campaign to end discovery math and to revert to a system of learning the foundations and building up numeracy in Ontario. It’s why we announced a four-year $200-million math strategy to do just that, of which $40 million is flowing this year alone.

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The new curriculum we unveiled for the first time puts a real emphasis on real-life application of mathematical concepts, connecting the theory to the everyday experiences of students through their journey in life, from owning a home, taking a mortgage and paying tuition to paying taxes. These are the foundations of learning that we need in our curriculum, that, this September, students in grade 9 will have.

We’re also creating a greater understanding of STEM education, skilled trades and the opportunities in these high-wage industries. We’re going to continue to champion modernization of our curriculum to ensure students achieve their full potential in Ontario.


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

Mr. Parm Gill: Minister, it is great to see that this government is providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in this world.

It is also very exciting to see that the announcement of the new curriculum has been receiving high praise from employers. To quote Mathew Wilson, senior vice-president at Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters: “By updating its grade 9 math course to include coding, data literacy and mathematical modelling, Ontario is taking key steps to ensure future prosperity through a growing and innovative manufacturing sector.”

FIRST Robotics Canada president is also excited about this new change. He said, “We are excited about this change!”

Can the minister tell us more about why employers are receiving these curriculum changes so positively and how we will continue to modernize the curriculum to best prepare our students for the future?


Hon. Stephen Lecce: I appreciate the question from the member, because it underscores a truth, which is that over 16 years, the curriculum of this province was outdated and disconnected from the labour market needs of our young people. It is not a coincidence that under the former Liberal government, youth unemployment was twice the rate of the average, and it’s unacceptable. Young people want to work. They want to own a home. They want to aspire to fulfill their life’s dreams, and yet they were impeded by, often, an out-of-date curriculum, disconnected from the job market and the skill sets they need in life and in employment. That’s why we have unveiled a new curriculum from grades 1 to 8 and, again, a new grade 9 math curriculum that is going to really help make the difference.

We are going to go further, apply the same critical lens of connecting the fundamentals within our curriculum to the job market in the grades 10, 11 and 12 math curriculums. We’re going to go further. We’re going to continue to build momentum to ensure young people graduate with the life skills, the job skills that will ensure that they have a competitive advantage when they graduate in this province.

LONG-TERM CARE


Ms. Sara Singh: I’d just like to start off by also echoing the comments made by the leader of the official opposition this morning at the beginning of question period and welcome the members of the Ontario Federation of Labour, who have filled our virtual galleries for today’s proceedings.

Nearly 4,000 seniors and staff lost their lives in long-term care. There was no emergency debate for that.

The Canadian Armed Forces released their report in May 2020 outlining the crisis in long-term care. The government didn’t think that it was an exceptional priority to debate that crisis and address it at that time.

As of today, 46% of our long-term-care homes still do not provide air conditioning to residents in their rooms as we prepare for a sweltering summer. That should be a priority for this government, but it’s not.

No emergency debate to help manage the ongoing staffing crisis in long-term care—this government needs to get its priorities straight.

Can the Premier explain to families of residents in long-term care why ramming through undemocratic changes to the Election Finances Act is more important than protecting seniors in long-term care in the province of Ontario?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Well, in fact, there actually have been two debates with respect to the use of emergency powers in this province. The Solicitor General as well as the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Minister of Health have appeared in front of a committee with respect to the COVID-19 response and the emergency powers that are within that.

I note that, prior to the pandemic, we were talking about long-term care, unlike the opposition, which was not. We said that we needed to build 30,000 new long-term-care beds. We did that. We’re well on our way to building 30,000 new spaces. We said that we had to have more PSWs. That’s why we’re hiring over 27,000 additional PSWs. We said that our homes needed to be air-conditioned. That is why we are progressing and have almost completed that work.

We are hiring 2,000 new nurses, four hours of care—on every single measure before, during, and certainly after, we continue to focus on long-term care. We continue to focus on the priorities of Ontarians.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary.

Ms. Sara Singh: It’s clear to everyone in the province of Ontario that this government dithered and delayed on actually taking action in long-term care. That’s why we had more deaths in long-term care during this second wave than we did the first. So they can pretend they were taking action while seniors died, but they did nothing.

Nurses, families of resident seniors in long-term care, personal support workers and front-line heroes have been raising the alarm bell about the crisis in long-term care, but there was no urgency from this government to act. They waited an entire year before actually releasing any form of a staffing strategy. These are workers like members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Federation of Labour. They are speaking up because this government is trying to silence their voices. They have called this bill an undemocratic power grab aimed at silencing those that this government hurt the most.

Families, workers, nurses, seniors in long-term care deserve to have their voices heard. Why is this government trying to silence those that they hurt most—their critics—for their own political gain, rather than protecting workers and families in this province?

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Members will please take their seats.

Government House leader.


Hon. Paul Calandra: Of course I remind the deputy leader of the NDP that when asked specifically what you would do differently, she could not answer, Mr. Speaker.

When it comes to long-term care, we have provided significant resources. In light of the fact that the previous Liberal and NDP administrations, the coalitions, did not, we decided that we needed to move quickly in ensuring that long-term care was taken care of. Thousands of additional PSWs, hundreds of new beds: This is the legacy of this government in only its first term, Mr. Speaker. We are very proud of that. There is much more work to be done.

As they have mentioned, the OFL is watching today. To our friends in the OFL and in the labour movement, I can tell them good news for them is also on the way with hundreds of kilometres of new subways being built, expansions of GO train, highways being built. The future looks good for labour, the backbone of those individuals who will be building these new roads, who will be building these new subways—the future looks good for them, unlike what we saw in the previous administration, where hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. Ontario is on the right path to growth and sustainability for a long term to come.

SMALL BUSINESS


Mr. Mike Schreiner: Good morning, Speaker. My question is for the Premier. This past weekend was revealing. It showed how quickly the government is willing to act to violate people’s charter rights and silence critics to address government priorities: re-election.

I don’t understand why the Premier doesn’t move with the same urgency to make pandemic pay permanent or to support small businesses. Many eligible small businesses have not even received their grant money yet from the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program. Others, such as small contract brewers and independent travel agents, have received no support whatsoever.

So, Speaker, will the Premier show the same urgency and support small businesses by fixing the small business support grant and delivering a third wave of funding to get us through the third wave of the pandemic?


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

Hon. Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria: We recognize the significant challenges that many small businesses have been facing and have been going through during this pandemic. That is why we rolled out the largest investment to help support those small businesses. To date, $2.9 billion of direct payments have been made to small businesses in Ontario that have been highly impacted. We recognize that.

Along with that, we have put forward programs to ensure that 100% of their energy costs are recovered, 100% of their property tax are covered. We will continue to work with small businesses as we have since the start of this pandemic. I have personally done over 130 round tables with small businesses, industries, associations and business owners to see what other supports are needed, how we can better support them. We have, on the back end of the small business support grant, tripled the supports they could get through those applications, because we recognize how important it is to get the supports and money to those businesses; the $2.9 billion has already flowed through.

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

Mr. Mike Schreiner: Speaker, there’s no need for more consultation or asking. Small businesses have been telling the government for weeks and months now that the Ontario Small Business Support Grant is broken. Many eligible businesses have still not received funding; others have completely fallen between the cracks.

I guess the answer from the associate minister was no, but I’m going to give the associate minister one more opportunity while we’re still sitting. Will the government deliver a third round of funding to help struggling small businesses get through the third wave of the pandemic, and will they fix the eligibility criteria of the grant program to support all small businesses in this province?


Hon. Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria: As I have noted before, every eligible business in the small business support grant that has applied will receive their money. On top of that, as we continue to look at other businesses to support, this government introduced the travel and tourism support grant that increased the access to that small business support grant to those industries that have also been impacted. Those are payments of up to $20,000 for businesses; a $100-million program that we encourage all businesses that can apply and are eligible to apply to.

This government, whether it was the start of the pandemic or before the pandemic, has always supported small businesses. The members opposite voted against a 9% reduction in a small business support grant. They have voted against WSIB premiums being reduced for small businesses. They have voted against $333 million in regulatory reform and cost reduction for small businesses.

This government will continue to do whatever we can to support small businesses.

HOSPITAL FUNDING


Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: My question is to the Premier. Residents of Ontario find it puzzling that it took you less than 48 hours to recall the Legislature to jam through a law that silences your critics; meanwhile, for the entire month of January you refused to recall the Legislature as the province was seeing the highest monthly numbers of COVID-19 deaths. In Niagara, we saw weekly peaks where seniors or family members were dying every three and a half hours. However, you recalled it back for this?

So many sacrifices, like patients who, heartbreakingly, have had their surgeries delayed. Within my community, there are significant backlogs with surgeries. This is because many residents have had their surgeries postponed because of concerns with ICUs and hospital capacity.

Premier, what do you have to say to the residents who are still waiting on surgeries when your priority is to recall the Legislature to silence your critics and be silent on hospital funding?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you for the question. Getting people to their surgeries that were delayed because of COVID-19 when the hospitals were full is a priority for us. We know that many people have been waiting for a very long period of time to have surgeries done, and diagnostic procedures as well. We know we have to get back to that as soon as we can, and we have; although I would note that even during the course of the pandemic, if people needed surgery, most hospitals did over 88% of their targeted surgical allocation and were able to complete over 430,000 scheduled surgeries even during the course of the pandemic.

However, recently, because we are seeing that the numbers are going down because of so many people in Ontario doing the right thing and becoming vaccinated, we, first of all, rescinded directive 2, which allows hospitals to go back to conducting a number of surgeries, and now there has been further direction indicating that, in addition to day surgeries, in-patient surgeries can now be completed. We’re actively working on reducing that backlog in the number of people who require those surgeries and procedures starting as of—several weeks ago, as a matter of fact. We’ve been working on it.


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

Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: While I have the chance, I’d like to thank the thousands of OFL members who are watching this debate today.

We needed hospital funding that made a difference back in the first or the second or the third wave. Ontario residents needed investments to stop hallway medicine before the pandemic. We’ve been left flat-footed. No one will ever forget that the June before the pandemic, Ontario’s own data collection agency had shown it was the worst June for hallway medicine ever.

Hospital funding was a problem under your watch before this pandemic. Now Ontarians are predicting an elective surgery backlog of nearly 420,000 by the fall. These backlogs were created because our hospitals needed more supports during the pandemic as ICUs were overrun.

Will this Premier turn and speak to the residents in my community waiting for surgeries and explain why it is more important to call back the Legislature to pass a law that helps him silence his critics rather than pass laws—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you. I’ll remind members again to make their comments to the Chair, please.

The Minister of Health to reply.


Hon. Christine Elliott: Our government recognized the issue with hallway health care. It was one of the promises we made to the people of Ontario as part of the last election, that we would deal with it, and we are dealing with it. We have put in hundreds of millions of dollars into hospital funding since the start of the pandemic to over $5.1 billion, and hundreds of millions of dollars even before that.

We’re also dealing with the backlog in scheduled procedures. That is a priority for us because we know that people have been waiting for a very long time. But, again, thankfully because of the efforts of the people of Ontario in getting tested and in getting vaccinated, we are starting to see the numbers in our hospitals go down.

We are going to continue to invest money, but we’re going to continue to invest in the surgical procedures that we know need to be made in order to get people the surgeries that they need. We’ve put $500 million into advancing that, and we’ll do more as we need to, to make sure that people get the care they deserve.


Ms. Catherine Fife: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): There are no points of order during question period.

ANTI-RACISM ACTIVITIES


Ms. Kathleen O. Wynne: My question is for the Premier. Mr. Speaker, last night I attended two vigils, one in Thorncliffe Park and one in Flemingdon Park, for the family that was murdered in London this week because of Islamophobia. I know that every member of this Legislature mourns the loss of Talat and Salman Afzaal, Madiha Salman and Yumna Afzaal. We all worry about the future of nine-year-old Fayez, and we will need to hold him in our hearts, Mr. Speaker.

But in order to tackle Islamophobia, here’s what else we need to do: We need to make an action plan. We need to be really specific about the steps we can take as policy-makers. If ever a situation called for an all-party process, this is it.

Speaker, will the Premier agree to work with all parties in the Legislature, as well as civil society organizations, to develop an action plan to tackle Islamophobia that will include reinstatement of the Anti-Racism Directorate?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): To reply, the government House leader.

Hon. Paul Calandra: Of course, we’ll continue to work with all parties in the Legislative Assembly; I think that goes without saying. As I said earlier in question period, this assembly spoke as one voice earlier on in its mandate with respect to how this Legislature jointly felt with respect to the use of the “notwithstanding” clause in another province. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done with respect to not only Islamophobia, but all forms of racism.

I know that the Solicitor General has been working very closely with other members to ensure that we not only strengthen the Anti-Racism Directorate—but I know it is a priority of the Premier, it is a priority of this government, and I certainly know that it is a priority for all members of this Legislature. We will continue to do that important work, all of us, and I’m sure it’s work that will not stop and will go beyond the life of this Parliament.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): That concludes our question period for this morning.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Waterloo has a point of order.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Thank you, Speaker. I seek unanimous consent to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 153, the Long-Term Care Homes Amendment (Till Death Do Us Part) Act, brought forward by myself to help ensure that seniors are not separated from their spouses in Ontario long-term-care homes.

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The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Waterloo is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to immediately move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 153, the Long-Term Care Homes Amendment (Till Death Do Us Part) Act. Agreed? I heard a no.

Mr. Michael Mantha: Point of order, Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Algoma–Manitoulin on a point of order.

Mr. Michael Mantha: I seek unanimous consent to immediately pass private member’s motion 137, tabled by the member for Davenport, calling on the Ford government to implement a back-to-school plan with improved funding for classroom caps, better ventilation, and a safety committee made up of experts, parents, students, education workers, unions and boards.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Algoma–Manitoulin is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to immediately pass private member’s motion 137, tabled by the member for Davenport. Agreed? I heard a no.

Miss Monique Taylor: Point of order, Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Hamilton Mountain on a point of order.

Miss Monique Taylor: I seek unanimous consent to bring forward a motion to pass Bill 244, the No COVID-19 Evictions Act, tabled by the member for Toronto Centre, so we can better protect Ontario’s tenants from losing their housing during the pandemic.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Hamilton Mountain is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to bring forward a motion to pass Bill 244, the No COVID-19 Evictions Act, tabled by the member for Toronto Centre. Agreed? I heard a no.

Mr. Gurratan Singh: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Brampton East has a point of order.

Mr. Gurratan Singh: I seek unanimous consent to bring forward a motion to pass Bill 239, the official opposition’s paid sick day bill, so we can follow the science table’s advice to protect Ontario’s workers from COVID-19 and make sure that no one has to make the difficult choice between staying home when they’re sick and being able to pay the bills.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Brampton East is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to bring forward a motion to pass Bill 239, the official opposition’s paid sick days bill. Agreed? I heard a no.

Mr. John Vanthof: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Timiskaming–Cochrane has a point of order.

Mr. John Vanthof: Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to immediately pass private member’s motion 136 calling on the Ford government to provide financial assistance for small businesses not eligible for other supports during the pandemic.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Timiskaming–Cochrane is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to immediately pass private member’s motion 136 calling on the government to provide financial assistance for small businesses not eligible for other supports during the pandemic. Agreed? I heard a no.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for London West has a point of order.

Ms. Peggy Sattler: Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 297, the Centering Youth in Pandemic Recovery Act, brought forward by the members for Davenport and University–Rosedale, to make sure the needs of Ontario’s children and youth are prioritized in the measures to recover from COVID-19.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for London West is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 297, the Centering Youth in Pandemic Recovery Act, brought forward by the members for Davenport and University–Rosedale. Agreed? I heard a no.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Waterloo has a point of order.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 199, the Taxation Amendment Act (Travel Ontario Tax Credit), brought forward by the member for Niagara Falls to help Ontario’s tourism sector recover from the pandemic.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Waterloo is seeking the unanimous consent of the House to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 199, the Taxation Amendment Act (Travel Ontario Tax Credit), brought forward by the member for Niagara Falls. Agreed? I heard a no.

Hon. Paul Calandra: Point of order.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader has a point of order.

Hon. Paul Calandra: I seek unanimous consent of the Legislature to pass Bill 299, Anti-Asian Racism Education Month Act.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader is seeking unanimous consent to move a motion regarding Bill 299, Anti-Asian Racism Education Month Act. Agreed? Agreed.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The House has given unanimous consent to move a motion regarding Bill 299, An Act to proclaim May as Anti-Asian Racism Education Month. Someone has got to move the motion if it’s going to be considered.

Government House leader?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to move second and third readings and pass immediately Bill 299, Anti-Racism Education Month Act.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader is seeking unanimous consent of the House to move a motion regarding second and third—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’m advised that the government House leader has to move it in place of the member whose name is on the bill.

ANTI-ASIAN RACISM EDUCATION MONTH ACT, 2021 / LOI DE 2021 SUR LE MOIS DE SENSIBILISATION AU RACISME ANTI-ASIATIQUE

Mr. Calandra, on behalf of Mr. Ke, moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 299, An Act to proclaim May as Anti-Asian Racism Education Month / Projet de loi 299, Loi proclamant le mois de mai Mois de sensibilisation au racisme anti-asiatique.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?

Mr. Gurratan Singh: The issue of anti-Asian hate is an incredibly important issue. We’ve seen the impact of this hate across North America. It is such a pervasive kind of hate, and we’ve seen in the context of COVID-19 that it’s become more pervasive across the province. We’ve seen the tragic lives that have been lost, unjustly so, inspired by this hate-filled rhetoric and belief towards people from the Asian communities.

I actually had the benefit of recently speaking to a group of students about the impacts of anti-Asian hate. As someone of Asian background, I shared my own stories, my own experiences of growing up and facing a lot of bullying, growing up and feeling the sense that I didn’t belong because of who I was, because of my heritage, because of my background. There are a lot of ways that that impacted me: the anxiety it would create, the stress it would create.

I think that’s why it’s so important—we need to recognize that, though I did experience a degree of racism, there are those who experience far more negative consequences as a result of this hate. That’s why it’s so important that each and every one of us speak unequivocally against anti-Asian hate and each and every one of us understand that we have a responsibility in acknowledging the impacts of anti-Asian hate. And also, beyond that, go further and start looking at it—and this is a conversation that has come out now with respect to the really terrible and tragic terrorist attack that happened in London, that was fuelled by a variety of forms of hatred and bigotry.

What people are calling for now more than ever is systemic change. We are calling for systemic change, and that’s what people want from government. It’s so important that we unequivocally condemn forms of hate, and we need words in that respect, but we can’t have just words. If we are limited to just words, then we do a disservice towards those who are victims of hate, and that’s why people are calling for systemic change to combat all forms of hatred, including anti-Asian hate.

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Since this is my first time rising, Speaker, and it is very applicable to the conversation that we’re having, the debate we’re having right now, I do want to take a moment to address the terrible terrorist attack towards the family in London, the Afzaal family. To think that a family that was going for a stroll was then victim to a terrorist attack that killed four out of five family members, leaving a nine-year-old boy with serious conditions, who is going to wake up and realize that his whole family was taken away from him just because they were Muslim—this kind of evil hate, this terrorist attack, is fuelled by things like Islamophobia, racism, anti-Asian hate. That’s why it’s so important right now that we have, across the board, an unequivocal condemnation to what happened in London and that we use the appropriate words, that we call it a terrorist attack that is fuelled by white supremacy, by right-wing extremism, by Islamophobia, by anti-Asian hate; that we unequivocally denounce this hate; but beyond that, that we commit to systemic change to combat this kind of hate.

That’s something that each and every one of us in this Legislature and every single Legislature across Canada need to commit to, because if we do not look at this from a systemic angle, then we are going to be in a position where we’re going to see continual forms of hatred continue.

It’s not enough to just say we need to condemn this hatred. People have been saying this. I was at a walk, actually, on Saturday in support of the Afzaal family. There, people were very clearly stating that the time for words alone is over. We need commitment.

When we talk about what those forms of systemic change are, we understand that systemic racism is pervasive in a variety of forms and of structures that impact us. So let’s look at what are the forms of racism that impact folks? We know that we have direct racism; the impacts of violence and murder and attacks upon folks. But we also have cultural, we have structural forms of racism. That’s why, when folks are calling for a systemic approach towards combatting racism, these are the angles that they want to look at.

I do want to take a moment, actually, to talk about another way that we can oppose these forms of hatred. It’s something that is connected to folks with Asian background. This is something I’ve spoken about in the past many, many times, and I want to talk about it again right now because it’s important.

My name is Gurratan Singh. It means the jewel of the bringer of light into darkness. I think of other beautiful names from diverse communities across—well, I think of the names within my own family. My brother’s name: Jagmeet, friend of the world. My mother’s name: Harmeet, friend to the universe. There’s so much beauty in our names. Even names from other communities and other cultures, names like Mohammed and Tehoriwathe; from Indigenous communities, names like Sol Mamakwa, which are so beautiful and diverse—it’s so important that we have our names said properly and that we, ourselves, say our names properly.

One of the ways that we can empower ourselves in combatting all forms of hate is by embracing the diversity that makes us unique, embracing the diversity that makes us distinct, embracing the diversity that often makes us the subject of discrimination or of hatred or of being made to feel the other. That’s why I am calling on everyone to embrace their names, to love their names, say their names properly, say them with pride and recognize that you don’t have to change your name because you think it’s easier for someone else to pronounce. If someone can say “anaesthesiologist,” “Saskatchewan,” if they can say those words, then they can say Gurratan Singh; they can say Mohammed; they can say Ravi. They can say the beautiful diversity of names that make up who we are as a community.

So let us embrace our names. Let us love our names. Let us love who we are, and by doing so not only lift ourselves up but lift others up around us.

I want to make a challenge to other folks: If you have a problem communicating or pronouncing someone’s name, then just ask them. I always tell people, if you’re confused, ask an individual. We’re more than willing to help pronounce it. I know folks amongst the caucus sometimes have a hard time pronouncing Gurratan. They come to me and they say, “How do I say it properly?” I’m more than willing to communicate that name properly. But I think it’s part of this conversation of combatting hate, and combatting anti-Asian hate specifically.

When I think about—my brother, actually, has spoken about this a lot. It’s an experience you have to reflect on. When I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, I grew up in a school where I was probably one of the few not only people of Asian heritage, but people of racialized backgrounds as a whole. In that time, being one of the few racialized folks, it was a time where—I’ve spoken about this many times; my brother has shared this as well. It was tough growing up. Not only did I have what was perceived of as a funny-sounding name, people were not aware of the Sikh community. They were not aware of our Sikh traditions. They were not aware of our practice of keeping long hair. They weren’t aware of our traditions and our beliefs. When people are not aware, ignorance is often the ground in which fear and prejudice grow.

As a result of that, I faced a lot of bullying. I faced a lot of tough experiences being one of the few racialized kids in my school, with, on top of it, a name that others perceived as difficult to pronounce or as funny-sounding, and I also had really long hair. It was something they had never seen before and it was something that resulted in a lot of taunting and bullying and a lot of schoolyard fights.

In that process, though, I had an opportunity; I had a decision, I could say. I had a decision where I could begin to resent those aspects of me that made me unique or different, or I had an opportunity to double down, to love myself even more despite those who would make me feel or would want to make me feel lesser for being different.

I was lucky, because I had a really great role model. My brother had gone through a lot of these struggles himself, and he always taught me and showed me this way to say that the response towards hatred is by loving ourselves more. By doing so, we can be in a position of strength and a position of really fostering our own self-worth as we oppose this kind of racism and hatred. It was something that—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I hesitate to interrupt the member, but I need to ask the House to come to order and quieten down so I can hear the member for Brampton East, who has the floor.

The member for Brampton East.


Mr. Gurratan Singh: Thank you. I appreciate your words, Speaker, because this is one of those issues, of anti-Asian hate, that I really think each and every one of us in this House should be paying attention to, especially in the current context where we know the impact of this hate is incredibly—it’s always been existing. We know that forms of hatred and bigotry, especially for the Asian community, have existed for quite some time now. But in the current context of COVID-19, we know that the Asian community is often used as a scapegoat, and wrongly so, for the spread of COVID-19. We’ve seen the resulting acts of hatred, of terror, of violence towards communities and people from Asian backgrounds as a result of this hatred.

So I really do think it’s important that, especially on a subject like this, we do have all ears focused and ready to partake in this conversation, because it’s so important that we tackle anti-Asian hate, in the same way that I think, as a whole, the conversation is being constructed towards how we start properly opposing hate across the board. What that is, is opposing hate in a form where we do condemn it—you need to condemn it, and you need people in positions of power and authority to condemn it. But it’s not enough to just condemn it, because when you only use words, it doesn’t actually reflect the systemic inequities that result in the spread or the negative impacts of this kind of hate, because hate is pervasive in a variety of ways. You have direct hate. You have structural hate. You have cultural hate. You have these different forms of violence that result in communities that are marginalized being either further subject to violence or further subject to structural violence or cultural violence.

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That’s why when we talk about our role as people in the Legislature, it’s really important to recognize that this is where we talk about properly funding the Anti-Racism Directorate. This is where we talk about ensuring that communities that are disenfranchised, that are marginalized have access to resources they need so they can live their best lives.

This is where we start looking at it from a manner which is not just about saying—I give this example in a variety of ways, just to articulate how approaching and fighting hate in a structural form is so important: I have a lot of privilege, and I recognize my privilege. I’m a lawyer, I’m a man, I’m elected as a political representative, so if someone calls me a racist name or calls me something that is hate-filled or something that is borne out of bigotry, it hurts me and it impacts me, but it doesn’t impact my ability to put food on my family’s table. There’s a distinction in that, because when you talk about forms of structural hate and structural racism, when you talk about forms of cultural hate and cultural racism, when it impacts an individual’s ability to feed their family, access resources, access education, that becomes a far more impactful form of discrimination, because you’re now talking about a person’s ability to put food on their family’s table, to provide for their family, to be able to provide education for their family.

For me, when I am a victim to racism—and I have been many times. It’s been documented publicly in many forms. At the end of the day, because of my privilege, it impacts me differently than it may impact a new Canadian who doesn’t have the same fluency in English, who may be struggling to find gainful employment, may be struggling to gain access to the resources they need to ensure they’re living their best lives and ensure they’re able to get the help that they need.

That’s why we must look at this anti-Asian hate from a form that is direct, cultural and structural. And I hope that the government will actually not just pass this legislation, which is so important to pass, but also provide a commitment for funding to start fighting anti-Asian hate, because we need to start looking at it from that lens. To do otherwise in the current context will come off as tone-deaf.

I was just at the walk for our London family in Mississauga, and there, on the stage, people said, “We’ve had enough words from elected officials. We now need a commitment.” A true commitment in this fashion is one that will have a commitment of funding, that will tackle this structural form of hatred that will result in and has resulted and continues to result in people of different backgrounds being victim to racism—structural, direct and cultural. It is so important that we understand from that commitment.

I encourage the government to listen to the moment that we’re in right now and ensure that the actions they’re taking are ones in which you actually hear the pulse of Ontarians, of Canadians, especially in light of the terrible terrorist attack that just happened a couple of days ago—just a couple of days ago. We need to understand how we combat anti-Asian hate, and part of that is having that conversation of looking at what those factors are that inspire anti-Asian hate. That means challenging white supremacy, that means challenging Islamophobia, that means challenging right-wing extremism, because we know that these are the factors that are propelling and are motivating and are inspiring these evil acts of hatred, of terrorism, across the world and, of course, in our province as well.

As I look to the clock and I see that my time is coming to an end, I want to recap on the importance of the passage of anti-Asian hate month to ensure that we are recognizing the importance of recognizing anti-Asian hate. But I want to ensure that we are looking at it in a manner that looks to how we not only condemn this as a Legislature—because that’s important; I will never take that away, because that is an important step. But it’s not the only step, so we have to look beyond condemning it. I hope to see that we have a commitment from the government for funding to battle and fight anti-Asian hate. I also hope that we look towards continuing to challenge and have this direct approach towards—really approaching it head-on, fighting white supremacy, right-wing extremism, Islamophobia, bigotry and hate in all its forms.

I also then want to ensure that we are looking at this—and maybe I’m speaking right now to that young Gurratan, who was growing up in Windsor and faced a lot of racism, and to those young folks out there right now, or folks, quite frankly, from any age group who might be feeling alone right now because of the impacts of this hate; and to really say that we need to challenge it structurally, but we also need to send that message: to say, love yourself. Stand with your head tall and proud. Say your name properly, with pride, with love. Love your community. Understand that a tree is only as strong as its roots, so understand your roots. Feed your roots. Let them go deep into the ground. Let them hold up the tree that you are, and together, we can fight anti-Asian hate, and we can do it in a manner that lifts each and every one of us up.

Also, I want to end by saying this: We need to fight anti-Asian hate. We need to fight anti-Black racism. We need to fight anti-Indigenous racism. We need to fight Islamophobia. We need to fight anti-Sikh hate. We need to fight every form of hate that exists and holds people back, and by doing so, we will create a more just province.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?

Ms. Andrea Khanjin: I rise to obviously support my colleague from Don Valley North’s bill and the importance of it. We recognize the need, and we are taking action, whether it be on anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Indigenous sentiments—you name it.

Our government has been elected to represent the people from day one, whether it’s helping newcomers or people who have been here for many generations—I know my family were newcomers. But we’re helping them on all fronts, whether it’s a small business grant, whether it’s making sure their kids are safe in school and they have the right math skills to get ahead. On all fronts, we’re putting all people first.

We recognize that there should be no tolerance for any sort of racism in Ontario, especially when people are coming from all different countries to this great province, when they’re fleeing tyrannical regimes, when they’re fleeing intolerance and they’re coming to a province that really thrives off of its diversity.

On that note, Speaker, I am very thrilled to support this private member’s bill, and I move adjournment of debate.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The member for Barrie–Innisfil has moved adjournment of the debate. Are we agreed? I heard a no.

All those in favour, please say “aye.”

All those opposed, please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

Yes, there will be a vote, so call in the members. There will be a bell. Prepare the lobbies, please.

The division bells rang from 1210 to 1240.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Ms. Khanjin has moved the adjournment of the debate.

The Clerk of the Assembly (Mr. Todd Decker): The ayes are 64; the nays are 24.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I declare the motion carried.

Motion agreed to.


Mr. Michael Mantha: Point of order, Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Point of order, the member for Algoma–Manitoulin.

Mr. Michael Mantha: I seek unanimous consent to move a motion regarding the immediate passage of Bill 191, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act, brought forward by the member for Niagara Falls to protect Ontario’s front-line workers who have contracted COVID-19 on the job.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Is the member able to cite a standing order that he feels we’re in breach of at the moment?

Mr. Michael Mantha: Section 14(a), Speaker: “shall decide questions of privilege and points of order.”

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I don’t find that this is a valid point of order, but I understand what the opposition is trying to do at the present time. We do have other business scheduled that was to take place right after question period, a deferred vote that was scheduled that everybody knew about.

I’m going to have to ask the House if there is unanimous consent to consider any other business at this time other than the deferred vote on time allocation on Bill 307. Is there unanimous consent to continue to deal with any other business of any sort? I heard some noes.

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