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Ontario Hansard - 02-November2021

QUESTION PERIOD

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My first question is for the Premier. The Premier’s three-year-long low-wage policy has hurt so many workers in this province. It has been three years that this low-wage policy has been in place, and what we know about this Premier is that at least in the past, he has called the $15 minimum wage a “job killer.”

Meanwhile, the cost of everything is going up: Auto insurance is up, hydro is up, gas is up, milk is going up by 8% and butter is going up by 12%. Everything is going up but people’s wages. Under this Premier, literally the price of everything has gone through the roof. So why has this Premier stubbornly stuck by his low-wage policy for three long years, hurting so many workers?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Actually, it’s just the opposite. What we set out to do in 2018 was to rebuild the Ontario economy so that it would work for all Ontarians.

Look, in 2018, I think everybody would acknowledge that Ontario was a province in decline. We were losing thousands of jobs. High electricity rates were forcing small, medium and large job creators to make investments in other parts of the country—and in other parts of North America, frankly. But because of the hard work of this government, we’re seeing those jobs start to come back, despite the fact that we are battling a global health and economic crisis. We’re seeing those jobs start to come back to the province of Ontario, and we ae very excited about that.

But the Leader of the Opposition is correct: We do understand how tough it is. The prices of goods are starting to increase. Inflation is a problem. It is something that we continue to fight against every day. It’s something that we started off in 2018, saying it was too expensive for the people of the province of Ontario to live here because of those high prices. That’s why we started immediately to—


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

Supplementary question?


Ms. Andrea Horwath: Workers have been robbed of over $5,000 since this Premier’s low-wage policy was enacted three years ago. A $15 minimum wage is not going to make up for those losses and that hardship. Meanwhile, the Premier’s buddy, this very government House leader, just got a raise of $27,000—by the way, that’s a raise of $13 an hour.

The Premier’s low-wage policy has hurt workers; it’s very, very clear. It has robbed them of more than $5,000—$5,300, in fact—since it started three years ago. Why is the government and why is the Premier still short-changing workers?


Hon. Paul Calandra: As I said, it’s just the opposite, Speaker. When we took power, when we took office in the province of Ontario, Ontario was in the midst of one of the largest declines that it had had in generations. We had lost some 300,000 manufacturing jobs in the province of Ontario. The once economic engine of this country, one of the most powerful economies in all of North America, had been brought to its knees by the high cost of electricity, by overregulation that had left Ontario one of the most overregulated jurisdictions in North America.

We knew we had to do something right away to bring those jobs back to Ontario. That’s why we set out to reduce taxes for the people of the province of Ontario. To encourage business development, we cut taxes for our small, medium and large job creators. We cut hydro prices so that there would be an incentive to invest here in Ontario. Again, the hard work of the Minister of Economic Development helped to ensure that people wanted to invest here. The hard work of the Minister of Health made this an important jurisdiction that people could rely on. The massive investments that we are making in infrastructure will make jobs for generations of Ontarians—


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

Final supplementary?


Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, we all saw what the government did. One of the first things they did was decide to attack workers. That’s what they did three years ago: They took away the minimum wage increase. They took away their paid sick days. That’s what this government did.

When housing is more expensive, transportation is more expensive, food costs are more expensive—so much more is going up here in the province of Ontario, and the Premier has literally taken $5,300 out of the pockets of workers over the last three years. A $15 minimum wage is simply not going to cut it. It would take a minimum wage of at least $17 just to make up for what this government took out of the pockets of workers.

My question is, the Premier has all but admitted that he was wrong to take away the minimum wage increase three years ago. He was wrong to implement a low-wage policy then. Why is he not announcing today a minimum wage that at least puts back in the pockets of working people what this Premier took out?


Hon. Paul Calandra: The Leader of the Opposition is obviously making it up on the fly. We were right in 2018 when we said the Ontario economy needed help. We were right to focus on reducing electricity prices. We were right to focus on eliminating useless and outdated regulations. How do I know we were right? Because jobs started coming back to the province of Ontario in numbers that we hadn’t seen for generations.

The Leader of the Opposition was wrong when she insisted that we have a carbon tax that would cost the people of the province of Ontario hundreds of dollars—a tax that she still supports. The Leader of the Opposition was wrong when she and her friends in the Liberal Party voted against tax cuts for our small, medium and large job creators. The Leader of the Opposition was wrong when she voted against important measures that the Minister of Education brought in to make child care more affordable. The Leader of the Opposition was wrong when she voted against subways. She was wrong when she voted against long-term-care investments. She was wrong when she voted against health care—


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

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order.

The next question.

COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION


Ms. Andrea Horwath: The House leader’s revisionist look at the history of this government’s performance is something else; I can tell you that.

My next question is actually for the Premier. It’s really clear that nurses and health care workers are leaving in droves because of this government’s low-wage policies. That’s what’s happening in our province. It’s not vaccine policy that’s driving nurses out of their profession; it’s that they are overworked and underpaid and undervalued by their government. Bill 124 made sure of that, Speaker. But they deserve, at the very least, the safest possible workplaces that we can give them.

Weeks ago, the Premier asked for advice on what to do about vaccine mandates in health care. Lo and behold, yesterday, the Minister of Health admitted, acknowledged that she had all the information needed for the government to make the decision. My question is, when will the Premier make a decision on mandatory vaccines for health care and education workers?


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

Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you to the Leader of the Opposition for the question. This is an important question, because we’ve seen what’s happened in other jurisdictions that have brought forward mandatory vaccination policies. In British Columbia just recently, they’ve had to cancel some of the surgeries that had already been postponed because of COVID-19, because there were 4,000 workers that were going to be put on leave. We don’t want to see that happen in Ontario. That is why the Premier sent out the letter.

We are reviewing the responses right now to ensure that, whatever determination is made, we protect the health and well-being of everyone in Ontario, whether it’s preventing COVID or taking care of people who need to have those surgeries. They’ve waited long enough. They need to have those surgeries and we need to make sure that we have sufficient health human resources to care for them.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The science table already weighed in quite some time ago. The science table weighed in on October 19. We’re now well into November, Speaker.

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Mandatory vaccine policies protect health care workers. They protect patients. They protect visitors. They protect everyone. They will further protect our health care workers from getting sick. The science table said, “Requiring that hospital workers be vaccinated is an evidence-based policy that protects Ontarians.”

So my question, again, is will the Premier and the minister actually listen to the advice that they’re getting from the science table and from others who are telling them that vaccine mandates in health care and education are necessary to keep Ontarians safe?


Hon. Christine Elliott: Our government has been listening to the science and the evidence since this pandemic began well over a year ago—20 months ago, virtually. We’ve been listening to what the science advisory table has to say. We’ve been listening to the Chief Medical Officer of Health. We’re listening to experts across the province. We’re listening to people who are on the ground in the province: the CEOs of hospitals and of different health organizations. What the recommendation is, is that everyone should receive a vaccination. That is what we’ve been saying since day one. We are increasing the numbers. Over 88.2% of the population of Ontario has now received a first dose; 84.5% a second dose.

But there are other considerations that come into play here as well, and that is the health human resource issue, which has been strained as a result of COVID-19. It is our obligation and our responsibility to make sure that we are going to have sufficient health human resources to take care of all of the people in our hospitals who need care.


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

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, the Premier asked for advice by October 19. The Ontario Hospital Association has weighed in, as has the science table, which I’ve already mentioned, but this government has never taken decisive action during this pandemic. We saw it with the Hunger Games rollout of the vaccines when they arrived in our province. We still see it, with no concrete plan for children, knowing that the vaccine is coming our way for young ones. The advice is in, but all that Ontario is missing is a government that takes action, that takes decisive action. That’s what we’re missing.

My question is, when will this government finally take action and mandate the vaccines that their experts are telling them they should be doing in hospitals and in education? It needs to be done, Speaker. When will they do it?

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Please stop the clock. There are some constant interjections coming from the government side. It’s very distracting. I’m trying to listen to the person who has the floor and has the question. It’s difficult to tell who’s interjecting when people are wearing masks. I would ask all of you to please show respect for your colleague in the House and allow me to hear the person who has the floor.

Please start the clock. Minister of Health to respond.


Hon. Christine Elliott: Decisive action has been taken by this government at every step along the way during this pandemic, starting with building up our testing strategy, building up our assessment centres, making sure that we tested people and making sure that we vaccinated people.

Ontario has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and that is because of the people of Ontario coming forward to take these vaccines, to make sure that we can vaccinate people in every part of this province. With 88.2% of people having had a first-dose vaccine and 84.5% having had the second dose, clearly there is a successful plan in place. And clearly, there is a successful plan ready to go for children aged five to 11.

The other issue that we’re dealing with, and we need to deal with this very cautiously, is the issue of, if we bring in a mandatory vaccination program, what will be the effect of on our health human resources? That is the responsible step to take, to make sure that people who are in need, wherever they are in the province of Ontario, will—


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

The next question.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY


Ms. Catherine Fife: My question is to the Premier. A public Facebook post by the Silver Lakes golf course dated March 23, 2021, reveals that the previous week, the golf course hosted the Minister of Transportation as well as the Associate Minister of Transportation, whose father is a co-owner of this golf course. At the time, this golf course was directly in the path of the proposed Bradford Bypass highway. But one month later, the ministry revealed a route change that spared the golf course.

There is no clear reason or rationale as to why the minister and the associate minister would be at this golf course at the same time. Why was the associate minister with the Minister of Transportation at the site of this proposed highway if he wasn’t lobbying for his father’s business? Will somebody on that side of the House recognize how inappropriate this is?


Hon. Lisa MacLeod: That sounds like a Taras Natyshak question. She’s taking your question, Taras.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Stop the clock. The Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries will come to order.

Please start the clock. Minister of Transportation.


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: I rise and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address the member opposite’s question and her comment. Let me be clear: Minister Cho has been screened from the file pertaining to the Bradford Bypass since his election in 2018. Neither myself nor anyone in my office has had any conversations with Minister Cho about the Bradford Bypass.

But let me also be clear: Minister Cho and his family, immigrants to Canada, have worked hard to contribute greatly to our community, and they are success stories that should be celebrated. The depictions of the Chos as anything but success stories are unacceptable, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Congestion is a real problem. It robs people of time with their families, it robs workers of productive time at work and it makes it harder for farmers to get their goods to market. It also contributes to GHG emissions. The opposition wants to put its hand in the—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member will take her seat. I’ll remind all members to make their comments through the Chair.

Supplementary question.


Ms. Catherine Fife: I’m not going to take any lessons from you on what you can be ashamed of and what stands as ethical actions in the province of Ontario—no way.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’m going to remind the members again to make their comments through the Chair.

The member from Waterloo has the floor.


Ms. Catherine Fife: Ontarians now know that the main beneficiaries of this $1.5-billion, four-to-six-lane highway through the greenbelt are well-connected landowners with political and donor ties to the PC Party of Ontario. One of these beneficiaries is the father of the Associate Minister of Transportation, who himself has donated over $10,000 to the PC Party since 2016. These are facts. I said it yesterday and I will say it again: This reeks.

With all the transportation infrastructure projects that need funding in this province, why is the Premier prioritizing destructive and unnecessary highways through our greenbelt, whose main beneficiaries happen to be the Premier’s buddies and donors? Who are you choosing in this decision-making process? Because we see it very clearly.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Once again, make your comments through the Chair, please.

Minister of Transportation.


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: Mr. Speaker, the opposition doesn’t see it. The main beneficiaries of this highway and other new highways are the drivers of Ontario. Commuters in York region and Simcoe county have been calling on governments to build the Bradford Bypass for decades. Congestion is a real problem, and members of the opposition just want to keep their heads in the sand and not recognize this reality that plagues people—drivers, commuters, families, workers, farmers. It has been a problem for decades. It’s a problem today. As Ontario welcomes millions of new people every five years, the problem is only going to get worse.

Our government doesn’t shy away from taking decisions that will benefit Ontarians. That’s why we’re going to build the Bradford Bypass and the 413.

LONG-TERM CARE


Ms. Donna Skelly: Since 2008, we have been hearing calls to increase the average daily direct care received by residents to four hours. Many of my constituents were disappointed that from 2009 to 2018, the Liberal government only managed to increase the average of daily direct care by 22 minutes per day. Speaker, that is just not good enough.

Throughout the pandemic, I have seen first-hand all of the great work that nurses and PSWs working in long-term care have done in my riding of Flamborough–Glanbrook and right across Ontario. Front-line health care workers, residents and families are tired of past governments that were all talk and no action. Will the Minister of Long-Term Care tell this House what he is doing to ensure that our residents receive the care they deserve?


Hon. Rod Phillips: I’d like to thank the member from Flamborough–Glanbrook for that question and the work she does for her constituents. The member is right: Our government has now a legislated commitment in the legislation I proposed to four hours of care. That means that instead of 22 minutes, which was the experience of the nine years before we were in government, care will improve by one hour and 22 minutes. That means we need to hire 27,000 new PSWs, new nurses for our long-term-care homes.

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Recently, we announced the first step towards that: $270 million to hire the first 4,050 new long-term-care staff. That includes $1.5 million this year just in the riding of Flamborough–Glanbrook. That will be raised to $9 million annually by 2024.

This government realizes that we need to build a system that supports our seniors. We understand that the need for staff is critical among that, and that’s why it’s such an important part of our plan to fix long-term care.


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

Ms. Donna Skelly: This newly hired staff will go a long way to providing quality care to our residents in long-term care across Ontario and right in my riding of Flamborough–Glanbrook.

While it’s great to have investments like this in place to hire new staff, we need to make sure that we can retain this staff. It’s vital that we have enough staff to deliver high-quality care to residents. The best way to do this is to provide opportunities for long-term-care staff to advance the careers in their field.

Speaker, does the minister have a plan to support the training and advancement of long-term-care staff and ensure we can retain this staff?


Hon. Rod Phillips: Again, I thank the member for her question. She is right: We need to protect the progress we’re making by making sure that there are staff available.

That’s why last week, with the Minister of Colleges and Universities, we announced $100 million to support two new, innovative programs to train thousands of PSWs and registered practical nurses to move up to the next step in their career ladder.

The first initiative is partnering with WeRPN and the Ministry of Health to provide tuition support for eligible PSWs and RPNs who wish to become either RPNs or RNs, respectively. We’re also partnering with colleges in Ontario and the Ministry of Colleges to increase access to nursing programs and create 500 additional enrolments.

The CEO of WeRPN, Dianne Martin, said, “WeRPN is thrilled to collaborate with government to create the BEGIN initiative that will give PSWs and RPNs new opportunities to grow their careers while expanding Ontario’s nursing workforce.” This is just one of the many initiatives and investments we’re making to make sure that our seniors receive the care that they deserve.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY


Mr. Taras Natyshak: My question is to the Premier. The Premier’s personal lawyer Gavin Tighe was up in court again last week, defending the Premier’s failed attempt to appoint his long-time friend Ron Taverner as OPP commissioner. We all remember Ron Taverner in here.

Speaker, Mr. Tighe, you’ll remember, is a close ally of the Premier and was a high-profile recipient of another gravy train appointment in 2018. But what we know now is that this guy has been raking in public money for years. Public accounts has revealed that Mr. Tighe’s law firm, Gardiner Roberts, has made $771,000 since the Premier was elected. That’s three quarters of a million dollars, paid for by the people of Ontario.

Can the Premier explain how exactly he has managed to find this staggering amount for his buddy while the people across Ontario have lost wages, have lost their jobs and have lost their livelihoods?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: I think the important part of that question is the fact that we are starting to see the Ontario economy rebound. As I said earlier on, in 2018 we saw a province that was in decline—a province that was in decline, ostensibly, because of the years that the Liberals and NDP shared in office. They failed to make important investments. They overregulated the province. They caused hydro and electricity rates to skyrocket and forced manufacturers, small, medium and large job creators, to leave in droves, losing 300,000 jobs in the process.

We decided to do things differently. That’s why the Minister of Labour has put a focus on the skilled trades. They, of course, voted against those important initiatives. That’s why we’re bringing in important transit and transportation initiatives: to bring the economy, to get it moving. They, of course, have voted against that. We heard about gridlock in the city of Toronto. New subways: They voted against them. The subway for York region: We’ve long been waiting for a subway in York region. They voted against it. Highways in the member’s own riding: They voted against them.

So when it comes to creating jobs and economic growth, Mr. Speaker, I know that the people of Ontario can trust this side of the House and not—


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

Supplementary question?


Mr. Taras Natyshak: Speaker, when no reasonable answer can be given by the government House leader to a very flagrant abuse of public tax dollars, the government House leader deflects. That is his MO. Maybe that’s why he just got a $27,000-a-year pay raise, because that’s what he seems to be best at.

Speaker, the Premier’s low-wage policy for workers affects everyone, like nurses, water safety mechanics and snowplow operators, but we now know that that low-wage policy doesn’t extend to the Premier’s buddies, like Gavin Tighe, who is hauled into court every time the Premier lands himself in hot water, which is a lot. Cash has flowed freely to the Premier’s buddy’s law firm while everyday Ontarians have had to struggle to make ends meet. It would take a minimum wage worker, at $15 an hour, more than 24 years to earn what the Premier’s buddy’s law firm has raked in in three years. Why are the only people that have benefited from the Premier’s generosity his buddies—the wealthy lawyers, developers and corporate insiders?


Hon. Paul Calandra: I think that question in itself highlights why nobody takes that member seriously. In fact, in his own community, when they wanted to talk about transit and transportation and the widening of the roads, they didn’t actually go to that member, they went to another member. When they wanted to talk about a new hospital for that community, something that this member failed on for years, they actually came to this side of the House and said, “Can you get us a new hospital?” and we got them that new hospital. The Minister of Transportation got them an expanded highway, and it’s ostensibly because they know that this member really adds no value to the community.

Now, when you talk about the important things that are happening in the economy, we have brought jobs and economic growth back to the province of Ontario—

Interjections.


Hon. Paul Calandra: And I know it hurts them. I know it hurts them, Speaker. You hear them catcalling across because they are so bankrupt of ideas, just as bankrupt as the province was when they shared power with the Liberals. We’ve turned the corner. It upsets them, but it makes us happy and it will make Ontario even more prosperous.

COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION


Mr. Rick Nicholls: My question is to the Minister of Health. Minister, you’ve stated that no child has been vaccinated without having had parental consent. You’ve also stated that the side effects to the vaccines are being reported. Well, I’ve received correspondence informing me of some very disturbing news:

—severe skin blistering after having his second shot, but his doctor wouldn’t report it to VAERS;

—a teenage daughter received the vaccine without the mother giving consent; and

—recently, a 54-year-old doctor died in his sleep after receiving his third Pfizer dose, a booster.

Many who had COVID chose not to seek hospitalized treatment for fear that they would be given remdesivir, a drug recommended by the Ontario science table for hospitalized patients at over $3,000 per treatment, yet the World Health Organization cautioned against the use of the drug as being ineffective, plus it had significant renal and liver toxicity. They also feared being put on ventilators, with high risk of death.

My question is, Minister, what are you willing to do to address these inconsistencies in reporting and concerns about pharmaceutical treatments that could cause more harm than good?


Hon. Christine Elliott: Speaker, what I would say, through you to the member, is vaccination against COVID is your best protection. It will save your life. It will save your life, and we’ve seen that by the countless millions of Ontarians who have already received the vaccine. We’re recommending it for everyone. We’re preparing for children aged five to 11 to receive the vaccines, but no one will receive a vaccine without it going through very careful scrutiny.

These vaccines have been approved by the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration in the US, Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. All of those organizations have indicated that it is far safer for you to receive the vaccine because it will prevent you, in most cases, from being hospitalized and being in intensive care. But ultimately, what’s most important is they will save your life. That’s what’s most important.


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

Mr. Rick Nicholls: Back to the minister: I’ve been in contact with a number of medical experts in Ontario and the US who are widely accredited in their fields of expertise. They’ve expressed their willingness to make themselves available for a publicly accessible discussion via Zoom to discuss effective early treatment for and prophylaxis measures against COVID-19, to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death and risk of long COVID.

Minister, the other day I asked you to welcome an open debate that engaged doctors on both sides of the vaccine issue and the therapeutics for early outpatient treatment of COVID. Many face unemployment because they are hesitant to receive the vaccines, creating a labour crisis in all sectors, including health care.

So, Minister Elliott, would you agree to facilitate this discussion between your senior health team officials and engage these individuals on this topic of public interest? Overall, it will give our public health officials an excellent opportunity to inform the public about their views on this topic and to exchange ideas of interest for the benefit of all.

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The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Again, members, please make your comments through the Chair.

Minister of Health.


Hon. Christine Elliott: The short answer to your question is no. It is very commonly accepted in Ontario by medical advisers that we’re speaking to, by the Ontario Medical Association, by our Chief Medical Officer of Health, by the science advisory table that the best way to deal with COVID-19, to protect your health, the health of your loved ones, the health of your community is to receive the vaccine. There is no other answer to that. It will save your life.

ECONOMIC REOPENING AND RECOVERY


Mr. Lorne Coe: My question is to the Minister of Health. This pandemic has tested us, and many Ontarians are still searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. With vaccination numbers rising and key health indicators improving, I’ve heard from many constituents in Whitby who are eager to get back to some of their pre-pandemic routines.

Could the Minister of Health please tell us how the government plans to safely reopen Ontario while managing COVID-19 for the long term?


Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you to the member from Whitby for your question and for your excellent representation of the residents of Whitby.

Ontario is doing well compared to other jurisdictions, thanks to the continued efforts of Ontarians and our government’s cautious, phased approach to reopening. Because of this, we are now in a position where we have a plan for lifting public health and workplace safety measures in Ontario.

Together in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we released a plan to safely reopen Ontario and manage COVID-19 for the long term, which outlines the province’s gradual approach to lifting remaining public health and workplace safety measures by March 2022. This plan is built for the long term and it will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring that we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we have already made.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary.

Mr. Lorne Coe: Back to the Minister of Health: We know the challenges that Ontarians have faced throughout the pandemic. Ontarians are counting on the government to do everything possible to ensure a cautious approach so that no business will have to close their doors due to another lockdown.

Many of my constituents are still eager to know more and have questions about the plan to reopen. Can the minister tell us when we can expect to move forward with the next phase?


Hon. Christine Elliott: Our government’s plan is based on a phased approach and will be guided by the ongoing assessment and monitoring of key public health indicators and health care indicators—such as the identification of any new COVID-19 variants, increases in hospitalizations and ICU capacity, and rapid increases in transmission—to ensure that public health and workplace safety measures are lifted safely and carefully. We know that we still need to be vigilant and want to make sure we don’t lose these hard-fought gains.

With the plan having begun on October 25 and with the lifting of capacity limits in most settings, in the absence of concerning trends in public health and health care, we will continue on to the second phase on November 15. Furthermore, we are happy to have been able to announce that based on key health indicators continuing to improve, by March 28, 2022, we intend to lift remaining public health and workplace safety measures.

VETERANS


Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: My question is to the Premier. The federal Veterans Affairs Canada provides a disability award to any veteran who applies after suffering a debilitating injury, such as the loss of a limb. But Ontario has a practice of taking this money from the veterans who need it the most, clawing back these funds from the injured veterans who need Ontario’s social programs that provide basic needs like housing support. This is because Ontario considers this one-time award for their permanent injury as income.

No veteran should go to bed hungry at night. No veteran should fear the loss of the roof over their head. Will the Premier make this right by, today, ending the clawback policy for disability awards in Ontario?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Ottawa West–Nepean and parliamentary assistant.

Mr. Jeremy Roberts: Thank you to the member opposite for this question. I know that this is something that she is incredibly passionate about, and I thank her and her family for their service to our country.

Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to make our country and province what it is today, and we need to be there for our veterans when they need us. That’s why our government passed a new law last year to expand the Soldiers’ Aid Commission program to include all Ontario veterans and their families, regardless of when and where they served.

This was the first meaningful change in their mandate after years of neglect by previous governments which saw the commission’s financial assistance constrained to a very limited group of former servicemen and -women. I’m pleased to add that to support this expanded mandate, the commission’s funding has been increased by about 600% to $1.55 million each year.

Our Premier and our government will continue to stand behind every man and woman who has served in our armed forces.


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

Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: I did stand here last year and I asked for the award that was given because I put pressure on this government, but the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command operates a program that everyone in this chamber will agree does important work, Operation: Leave the Streets Behind.

The provincial president wrote a letter last week outlining clearly what is at risk with this practice of treating a disability award as income. It can lead to some low-income veterans becoming homeless. It is shameful to consider that a veteran’s physically debilitating loss would result in homelessness. No veteran should have to worry that the Ontario provincial government will claw back their basic needs like shelter until their disability award is spent.

Will the Premier end this shameful practice of clawing back injured veterans’ disability awards and honour our veterans ahead of Remembrance Day, not with ceremonies alone but with actions that ensure injured veterans who are struggling with poverty continue receiving assistance for basic needs like food and shelter?

Do the right thing. Make the change today.


Mr. Jeremy Roberts: I appreciate the supplementary question. I hope that all members of this House will join in supporting the Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism’s new bill to ensure mandatory policies are in place that allow workers to wear poppies, because I know we all want to recognize the valiant sacrifice of our brave men and women in our armed forces.

I’d like to speak a little bit about the Soldiers’ Aid Commission and how it provides assistance for veterans and their families. The Soldiers’ Aid Commission provides veterans and their families up to $2,000 over a 12-month period for household goods like health-related items, hearing aids, glasses, prescriptions and dental needs; home-related items, like repairs, moving costs, replacement and repair of roof and furnace; specialized equipment like assistive devices, wheelchairs, personal items and employment-related supports.

We’re going to continue to support our seniors through this expanded mandate of the Soldiers’ Aid Commission, and we look forward to working with all members of this House to make sure—


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

The next question?

LAND USE PLANNING


Mme Lucille Collard: My question is for the Premier. Good governance is about making responsible investments where investments are needed. Our schools definitely need more investment, and there is a backlog to catch up with.

School boards submitted their priorities for new infrastructure back in the spring, and there is still no approval for investments, yet this government is still planning on spending $6 billion on Highway 413 that will destroy the environment and provide no relief. The Liberal Party has committed to spending that money on new education infrastructure, where the investment is needed.

What is the Premier’s reasoning for spending billions on a highway that nobody wants, except for a few developers and speculators, instead of on our education system?


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

Hon. Stephen Lecce: I want to thank the member opposite for the question. I will remind the member that under the former Liberal government, the repair backlog in Ontario schools rose to $15 billion, creating a maintenance backlog that children in every region of Ontario are paying the price for today. But thanks to the leadership of our Premier and the investments on an annual basis of $500 million, we are remediating that backlog. We are investing in new schools every single year, net new schools that are being added to the province that are modern, that are accessible, that are Internet connected, that provide STEM education opportunities that are critical to our future prosperity.

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We’ve also invested $1.6 billion, of which 600 million additional dollars was provided to improve the air standards, the ventilation of those schools.

It’s not an either/or proposition. We can build infrastructure for the next decade for future growth while continuing to improve the schools that our children depend on, now and into the future.


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

Mme Lucille Collard: If you build it, they will come. This rule of transportation planning is the reason why adding new lanes almost never results in less congestion.

The government speaks as if it is inevitable that new residents in the 905 region will need to drive on highways, but that’s not taking into consideration the impact of the pandemic and the fact that people may not need to commute as much to urban centres for work as we adapt our ways of living. Rush hour is not the same. People are working from home.

Rail transport is the most environmentally friendly way to travel. The greenhouse effect of gas emissions per kilometre on railway transport is 80% less than cars. If the government would instead prioritize rail travel, residents of these areas would be able to use this greener alternative.

What is the government’s plan to get people out of cars and into trains?


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

Hon. Caroline Mulroney: I thank the member opposite for the question.

Our government has the most ambitious transportation plan that has ever been unveiled in Ontario. We have a $28.5-billion new subway plan for the GTA. We have the largest expansion of GO rail in Ontario’s history. We have a massive infrastructure plan that’s going to get people out of their cars onto rail and into subways.

We also understand that we do need new roads. We’re welcoming millions of new people to this province over the next few years, and we need roads for our trucks to get our goods to market.

Commuters spend hours idling in traffic. That increases greenhouse gas emissions and it reduces people’s quality of life. While members of the opposition want to pretend like congestion isn’t a problem today and it won’t be a problem tomorrow, our government is committed to doing what we can to improve the quality of life of Ontarians.

SERVICES FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES


Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Community Living organizations in my riding do incredible and compassionate work to serve our loved ones with varying levels of abilities every day. I’m grateful for their work and commitment. Shockingly, under the previous government, housing support for people with disabilities was unaffordable and scarce and left many unsupported once they transitioned out of childhood support, putting strain onto them and their families.

There’s a need for more independence and housing that will allow people the freedom they want and deserve. Would the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services tell us what this government is doing to help people with disabilities achieve greater independence in living?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Ottawa West–Nepean and parliamentary assistant to reply.

Mr. Jeremy Roberts: Thank you to the member for Perth–Wellington for that question. I know that he has been a passionate advocate for some of our most vulnerable citizens throughout his time in office.

Our government recently released Journey to Belonging: Choice and Inclusion, which is our long-term plan for developmental services reform. Part of that plan for developmental services reform includes ensuring that individuals are supported to find suitable housing in their communities. These supports are especially needed for those who may be transitioning to the adult system or who are living with aging family members.

That’s why our government also invested an additional $13 million to help people with developmental disabilities access more inclusive housing options in the community and to expand the Adult Protective Service Worker program to support more independent living. This investment will mean more people with a developmental disability can receive the assistance they need to find an accessible and affordable home.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary?

Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Speaker, I’m sure we’ve all heard from hundreds of people around Ontario on this issue, and their message is clear: They need access to support and services that are available, easier to understand and more flexible to meet individual needs.

People have said that it can be confusing trying to navigate support from multiple government programs. People are frustrated waiting for developmental services because they don’t know what support they can expect to receive and when. Can the minister tell this House how this program will make sure these concerns won’t fall on deaf ears, as they did with the previous government?


Mr. Jeremy Roberts: I appreciate the supplemental question from my colleague. The member is right when he points out that this $13-million investment aligns with the goals of Journey to Belonging. We’re moving quickly to improve current supports and streamline processes for those accessing services, by simplifying the assessment process, improving Passport to better address people’s needs, building skilled staff capacity and introducing initiatives that will support individuals through natural life transitions such as into school or adulthood. When fully implemented, this investment will see more than 1,200 people with developmental disabilities receiving the help they need to find accessible and affordable housing.

Speaker, as our government makes both immediate and long-term improvements to developmental services in Ontario, we will continue to engage our service partners, individuals with lived experiences and families on how we can—


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

Next question.

TREATIES RECOGNITION


Mr. Sol Mamakwa: Meegwetch, Speaker.

Remarks in Oji-Cree.

I come from Treaty 9 territory. Our lands are resource-rich but the quality of basic infrastructure—water, health care and education—is poor. This government has said it’s open for business to develop the Ring of Fire in Treaty 9 territories, promising benefits for all those who make agreements with the province. But, you see, Speaker, we already made that deal under Treaty 9.

My question to you is how do you intend to honour any new agreements, given that Ontario does not honour its responsibilities in Treaty 9?


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

Hon. Paul Calandra: Mr. Speaker, I agree with the honourable gentleman. The Ring of Fire offers an enormous opportunity for the people of the province of Ontario and our First Nations who will be a very, very important partner.

Mr. Taras Natyshak: “Our” First Nations?

Hon. Paul Calandra: I apologize; they’re not our First Nations. First Nations—I do apologize to the member for that.

A very important partner in this, Mr. Speaker—the member is absolutely correct. This could provide the province of Ontario with billions of dollars in economic activity. We’ve heard the Minister of Economic Development talk about how important the Ring of Fire is to bringing on board some of those other investments in electric vehicles.

Of course, we’re going to have to work not only with First Nations but with other partners in the area, and I’m very happy to hear the honourable member talk about this because he and all of his colleagues will be equally important in helping us open up this area.

He’s correct; we waited for far too long. The fact that this resource has been sitting there for far too long I think is just another indication of how ill-prepared the previous Liberal government was to open up the economy over 15 years. We’re getting the job done.


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

Mr. Sol Mamakwa: Speaker, I have children as young as eight years old—I see them emotional, crying. They just want clean drinking water. The treaties were intended to benefit all parties, but many First Nations’ people struggle in Third World conditions since these agreements were made. Yet mining and logging continue to happen in these territories.

With the economy still recovering, we hear that the development of the Far North is a major part of Ontario’s recovery plan. I want to be clear, Speaker: This government has no right to request development on our treaty territories without a plan to improve baseline necessities like water and infrastructure.

I would like to know how the Premier plans to honour Ontario’s treaty obligation to the people of Treaty 9 before allowing development.


Hon. Paul Calandra: Again, Speaker: by working with First Nations in the area and other partners in the area. We understand fully that this is a resource that cannot be developed if we do not all work together.

The member raises very important points when it comes to education and when it comes to basic infrastructure in the area. We’re making those investments. A number of these remote and rural communities still don’t have access to high-speed Internet. We’re making that investment to ensure that even rural and remote communities across this province will have high-speed Internet.

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We’re making the investments by working with community leaders to ensure that there are roads so that we can access the Ring of Fire and the thousands of jobs and the billions of dollars in economic activity that will come with it. We are very excited by this opportunity. I think all Ontarians are disappointed that it has taken so long to get here. This is a resource that we knew existed and should have been productive for the people of the province of Ontario generations ago. We’re getting the job done, but we will work very closely with First Nations, because they have to be a partner in this.

LAND USE PLANNING


Mr. Mike Schreiner: Good morning, Speaker. My question is for the Premier. A 2014 transportation study showed that the Bradford Bypass poses significant risk to communities and the environment. It will pave over 17 hectares of the Holland Marsh, destroy 39 hectares of wildlife habitat, 10 hectares of provincially significant wetlands, cause groundwater contamination and put Lake Simcoe and the greenbelt at risk—all while increasing climate pollution by 87 million kilograms a year.

The Premier will make significant alterations to his transportation schemes to protect a golf course. My question is, will the Premier make alterations to his highway schemes—which primarily benefit wealthy land speculators—so that we can protect the Holland Marsh, Lake Simcoe and the greenbelt, by cancelling the Bradford Bypass?


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

Hon. Caroline Mulroney: I thank the member opposite for the question. Let’s be very clear: With respect to the Bradford Bypass, we are not reducing environmental protections. Current and future work on the Bradford Bypass will continue to be subject to all conditions under Ontario’s robust environmental assessment process.

The first environmental assessment was done back in 2003. Many proponents of the Bradford Bypass said, “We’ve already got an EA in place. We don’t need to redo one.” But our government said, “No, we need to make sure that all the steps are followed.” Therefore, we could resume the EA process and we are committed to seeing it through.

We must alleviate congestion before it gets worse for commuters and for the environment. The member opposite knows full well the impact of congestion on our environment. That’s why we’re committed to getting the Bradford Bypass built in an environmentally sustainable way.


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

Mr. Mike Schreiner: Speaker, if the government had any credibility on reducing commute times, they would take the $6 billion to $12 billion they’re planning on putting into the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 and increase their investment in regional transit. They would increase the amount of investment they’re making in affordable housing within existing urban boundaries so people don’t have to move an hour away from their work just to be able to afford to find a place to live.

In a previous answer, the minister said, “We want to help farmers get their product to market.” Well, then we need to not pave over farmland—the 2,000 acres of farmland that the 413 will pave over, not to mention all the sprawl it is going to unleash.

Will the government say yes to protecting Lake Simcoe, yes to protecting wetlands, yes to protecting prime farmland and yes to protecting all the jobs in the food and farming sector by saying no to these destructive highway projects?


Hon. Caroline Mulroney: The member opposite talks about credibility on the environmental record. Well, I would like to ask the member opposite why he voted against our $28.5-billion subway plan for the GTA. Why did the member opposite vote against our budget that funded the largest GO rail expansion in Ontario’s history?

Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to getting drivers off the road and reducing GHG emissions. We have the largest transit infrastructure plan in North America today. Our government is incredibly proud of our record on public transit, but we also know how important it is to address congestion in Ontario. Previous governments did not have the will to do so, but we believe that it is essential to improving people’s quality of life. To reduce congestion time, we need to build new infrastructure, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

ÉDUCATION POSTSECONDAIRE DE LANGUE FRANÇAISE


M. Jamie West: Ma question est pour la ministre des Affaires francophones.

Les membres de la communauté francophone du Nord-Est se sentent ignorés. Ils font face à beaucoup de problèmes et de stress depuis que l’Université Laurentienne a déclaré faillite.

La direction de l’Université de Sudbury aimerait pouvoir rencontrer la ministre, mais le gouvernement conservateur ne retourne ni leur appel, ni leur lettre. Personne du gouvernement veut leur rencontrer ou leur parler. L’Université de Sudbury ne fait pas partie du processus de la LACC.

Monsieur le Président, quand est-ce que la ministre va prendre rendez-vous avec l’Université de Sudbury pour une rencontre?


L’hon. Caroline Mulroney: Je remercie le membre pour sa question. Bien sûr, il est très inquiétant que l’Université Laurentienne se soit retrouvée dans une situation où des mesures aussi radicales et immédiates sont nécessaires pour assurer sa viabilité à long terme.

Nous travaillons avec le ministère des Collèges et Universités pour assurer la pérennité de la programmation postsecondaire francophone dans le Nord. Mais comme le membre de l’opposition le sait très bien, le gouvernement continue de suivre de près la procédure de la LACC. Le gouvernement a clairement indiqué qu’il sera là pour soutenir l’éducation postsecondaire francophone à Sudbury et dans le nord de l’Ontario lorsque la Laurentienne sortira de la LACC.


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

M. Jamie West: Après mon élection en 2018, j’ai commencé à apprendre le français. J’ai été capable de lire mon premier livre en français cet été. C’était au sujet de l’histoire de ma ville. Je peux vous dire que les francophones de Sudbury ont dû se battre pour le droit d’avoir des écoles élémentaires, secondaires et des collèges qui sont gouvernés par, pour et avec les francophones.

Maintenant, la communauté francophone est unie et parle d’une seule voix. Elle veut que l’Université de Sudbury devienne une université par, pour et avec les francophones.

Ma question est simple : Est-ce que la ministre appuie l’Université de Sudbury par, pour et avec les francophones?


L’hon. Caroline Mulroney: J’aimerais féliciter le membre de l’opposition pour son travail sur son français, qui est vraiment excellent.

Monsieur le Président, j’ai lu le plan d’affaires de l’Université de Sudbury et je vais travailler avec la ministre des Collèges et Universités pour déterminer la meilleure marche à suivre pour l’avenir. Mais comme cette affaire est toujours devant les tribunaux, il serait inapproprié de commenter davantage.

Mais j’aimerais dire que notre gouvernement reconnaît l’importance de la gouvernance pour et par les francophones. C’est pourquoi c’est notre gouvernement qui a mis sur pied l’Université de l’Ontario français, et c’est pour cela que notre gouvernement a donné la charte à l’Université de Hearst pour reconnaître son indépendance. Nous sommes là pour les francophones, pour l’éducation postsecondaire francophone et pour la gouvernance pour et par les francophones.

ÉDUCATION POSTSECONDAIRE DE LANGUE FRANÇAISE


Mlle Amanda Simard: Le projet de l’Université de Sudbury par et pour les francophones doit voir le jour. C’est un projet que j’appuie à 100 % et que la communauté appuie. Il est essentiel à l’épanouissement et à l’accès à l’éducation en français dans le nord de l’Ontario.

L’Université de Sudbury est indépendante, a déjà sa charte et est prête à continuer à fournir une éducation de qualité à tous les francophones et francophiles de l’Ontario, du Canada et du monde.

Mais, à chaque fois qu’on parle de ce projet, le gouvernement nous répète : « C’est devant les tribunaux », pour refuser de parler, quand cette règle ne s’applique même pas dans ce cas. Ce n’est pas l’Université de Sudbury qui est devant les tribunaux; c’est l’Université Laurentienne.

Alors, monsieur le Président, une fois pour toute : Quand le gouvernement va-t-il accepter le financement public de l’Université de Sudbury? Et pourquoi le gouvernement se cache-t-il derrière une règle qui ne s’applique même pas dans cette situation?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Francophone Affairs.

L’hon. Caroline Mulroney: Comme la membre de l’opposition sait très bien, la situation est présentement devant les tribunaux, et un membre du gouvernement ne peut pas commenter sur une situation qui est devant les tribunaux.

Mais la situation à Sudbury est très intéressante. J’ai lu le plan d’affaires. Je travaille avec la ministre des Collèges et Universités pour développer un plan, une fois que la Laurentienne soit sortie de la LACC.


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

Mlle Amanda Simard: Le gouvernement fédéral a dédié 121 millions de dollars pour appuyer l’éducation postsecondaire dans nos communautés de langue officielle en situation minoritaire et place un accent particulier sur la gouvernance par et pour. Pour avoir accès à ces fonds, les gouvernements provinciaux doivent faire demande. La date limite pour cette demande était le 15 octobre dernier.

Aujourd’hui, le 2 novembre, le gouvernement de l’Ontario n’a toujours rien soumis, alors que nos universités demandent très clairement pour cette aide. Ce n’est pas la première fois que ce gouvernement laisse des millions de dollars du gouvernement fédéral sur la table.

Monsieur le Président, est-ce que le gouvernement va finalement soumettre les demandes de financement des institutions postsecondaires par et pour tels que l’Université de Sudbury? Oui ou non?


L’hon. Caroline Mulroney: Je remercie la députée de l’opposition pour cette question. C’est très bien que notre gouvernement travaille de très près avec le gouvernement fédéral sur cette question. C’est notre gouvernement qui a eu un partenariat avec le gouvernement fédéral pour mettre sur pied finalement l’Université de l’Ontario français, une revendication de près de 40 ans de la communauté francophone.

Ce n’est pas le gouvernement libéral précédent qui l’ait fait, monsieur le Président; c’est notre gouvernement qui l’ait fait, en partenariat avec le gouvernement fédéral, et on est très fier de cette réussite.

Alors, on va continuer d’être à l’écoute de la communauté francophone pour qu’on puisse être prêt lorsque la Laurentienne sortira de la LACC.

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS


Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: My question is to the Premier. A recent PressProgress article revealed that this Conservative government is considering contracting out employment services for social assistance recipients to Maximus, a for-profit company with a treacherous track record. This is the same company that caused serious harm to individuals with disabilities in Kansas because of a backlog issue and lost documents. Kansas eventually brought back most services in-house. In Kansas, it was found that oversight and training at Maximus were lacking.

Social assistance recipients have been neglected by this government, and the Liberals before them. Recipients with disabilities live in deep poverty, without enough money for housing or food. This government refuses to adequately raise social assistance rates.

In BC, Maximus was fined at least three times and cost the province almost 50% more than was originally projected.

So Speaker, my question is this: Why is the Premier contracting out Ontario jobs and prioritizing padding the bank accounts of for-profit companies with billions in revenue and terrible track records, rather than supporting and protecting existing Ontario social assistance workers, who have well-paying, unionized jobs, and the vulnerable people who they support?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Ottawa West–Nepean and parliamentary assistant.

Mr. Jeremy Roberts: Of course, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our government has been there to support some of our most vulnerable through, for example, the $1 billion in the Social Services Relief Fund.

But now, as we begin to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the hard work of all Ontarians and our health care system and all those who have been vaccinated, we’re now going to begin to pivot towards how we get the Ontario economy back working again and get Ontarians into good-paying jobs.

Ontario’s employment and training programs are critical to building the skilled workforce that we need to rebuild and revitalize Ontario’s economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Auditor General highlighted, the current system has not produced results for the people of Ontario. In fact, even before the pandemic, only 1% of people on social assistance were finding employment every month. That’s why we’ve launched three pilot programs as we move forward on our work to strengthen employment services for those on social assistance. We’re going to keep doing this important work.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Question period has ended.

There being no further business at this time, this House stands in recess until 3 p.m.

The House recessed from 1133 to 1500.

REQUEST TO THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I beg to inform the House that I have today laid upon the table a request by the member for Essex to the Honourable J. David Wake, Integrity Commissioner, for an opinion pursuant to section 30 of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994, on whether the member for Willowdale, Stan Cho, the member for Etobicoke North, Doug Ford and the member for York–Simcoe, Caroline Mulroney, have contravened the act or Ontario parliamentary convention.
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