The House met at 1330.
PERCY DWIGHT WILSON
On Sunday I attended Mr. Wilson's 105th birthday celebration at Cedarcroft Place in Oshawa, along with family, friends and numerous honoured guests paying tribute and wishing him well.
Mr. Wilson enlisted in the army against his parents' wishes at the age of 15, far younger than the eligible age limit, and he is now the youngest of Canada's two remaining World War I veterans still living in Canada. The teen had felt it was his duty to sign up, and was shipped off to England. When his age was discovered, Mr. Wilson was soon returned home. He also tried to get involved in World War II but was refused as he was too old at 40, and instead rose to the rank of captain in the Perth Regiment.
Following the Great War, Mr. Wilson once performed at Toronto's Massey Hall as a professional singer before going on to work for Bell Canada for some 47 years before retiring in 1966.
Mr. Wilson says the secret to long life is honesty, faith and clean living. He has always tried to be fair and tell the truth, has never smoked, and always attended church on a regular basis.
It's a privilege to rise today to recognize this outstanding gentleman's dedication and the commitment he has demonstrated toward his family, friends, community, province and country. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with him. I would like to ask all to join me in congratulating Mr. Dwight Wilson, on him being 105 years young.
Katie Weatherston played for Canada's women's hockey team, which defeated Sweden 4-1 in the finals to win an Olympic gold medal. Weatherston began playing hockey at the age of five in Thunder Bay, and she now plays for the Big Green at Dartmouth College. As one of two rookies on the Canadian Olympic women's hockey team, she will almost certainly become a leader in women's hockey.
Amber Peterson represented Canada in freestyle skiing aerials. After grabbing her first-ever World Cup medal, a silver, in January 2006 in Lake Placid, she has vaulted into the top 10 in the World Cup standings this season. We look forward to seeing Amber in Vancouver four years from now.
Sean Crooks represented Canada by competing in cross-country skiing. Crooks has been racing competitively for more than a decade. He enjoyed a successful career as a junior, claiming national titles in consecutive years, and twice finished in the top 20 at the world junior sprint championships.
Eric Staal, while not seeing any ice time in Turin, made the Canadian Olympic three-man alternate squad. Staal plays in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes and was selected second overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft. He has already scored many points in his first two years and is fast becoming one of the most exciting young offensive hockey players in the world.
Also worth noting is Curt Harnett, who has been chosen to join the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony in Quebec City on April 29. Harnett is a three-time medallist in cycling, has won over 30 national titles, and has represented Canada in four Olympic Games.
As you can see, there's no shortage of world-class athletes coming out of Thunder Bay. On behalf of Thunder Bay, I'd like to recognize their tireless training and outstanding athletic accomplishments. We are extremely proud of them for representing us at the Olympic Games.
While this House debates the integrity of Transportation Minister Takhar, citizens in my riding of Simcoe North continue to drive over one of the roughest and most unsafe roads in our province: Highway 12 between Coldwater and Orillia. I can tell you it is simply a disgrace. Whether you are driving a motorcycle, a car, a tractor, a bus or a tractor-trailer, you can be sure that Highway 12 will provide you with the roughest road of any provincial highway in our province.
Last fall during estimates, when I questioned the minister and ministry staff on the status of the redevelopment of this portion of Highway 12, their answer was that the project was ready to proceed this spring, provided the funds are available. Well, when the minister can find time to do his job as Minister of Transportation, I would ask that he take the time to actually travel this portion of Highway 12.
Simcoe North feels neglected by the McGuinty government. While the McGuinty government is slashing more than 680 jobs at the Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, the citizens of Simcoe North are seeing absolutely nothing to compensate for the economic impact. One first step would be to allow the construction of Highway 12 to proceed this spring. No more studies; no more excuses. We want to see Highway 12 completed. While the Premier has lowered the standards for integrity for his cabinet, the standards for highway safety are also being lowered. It is time, this spring, to proceed with construction. The citizens of Simcoe North are not second-class citizens. They work hard to pay their taxes and they pay for the licensing of their vehicles. They expect --
I want to raise for the members of the House an issue that I think is fast becoming a problem probably for a lot of constituencies out there, and that is the issue of tobacco smuggling. I have been contacted by a number of stores, confectionaries, from across my riding who are starting to note that there is an awful amount of contraband cigarettes that are now coming in on the black market and being sold out of the back of pickup trucks, whatever way people are able to sell these.
What astonishes me is the degree to which there seems to be an inability on the part of this government to deal with this. I understand it's a bit of a complex issue as far as how you deal with it. On the one hand, you don't want to lower the cigarette tax, because you certainly don't want to encourage people to smoke, for all kinds of good reasons, but it seems to me that the provincial government has got to do something about the whole issue of coming at it from the enforcement side to try to find some way to deal with the contraband.
I've been contacted by stores from Hearst to Kapuskasing to Timmins and various places. I've chatted with Guy Monet and a number of other people I know, Ron Lévesque and others, who are saying it's a real issue. They are noting that sales have gone down by about 30% in competition with the contraband cigarettes. I urge this government to do something on the enforcement side to deal with this issue so that we are able to make sure that cigarette sales are done in the open and that the government takes this issue seriously.
The Ontario Spirit Tsunami Award was designed to acknowledge an individual or group that makes a significant contribution towards the tsunami relief effort. The award's motto is "Commitment to action and generosity," and that is exactly what Mohawk College and their students' association exemplified in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. The collaboration between the Mohawk Students' Association and Mohawk College could not have been better. In an effort to raise funds and awareness, the students' association and the college had a week-long loose change drive, a 12 Hours of Caring marathon on the college radio station, and heavy coverage of the disaster in the college newspaper to gain public support for the initiative.
It was a proud moment when students' association president Kyle Smith presented a cheque for $4,500 to the Red Cross on January 11, 2005, and it's a very proud moment now for me to pay tribute to these fine young men and young women for their dedication and compassion on behalf of all Mohawk College and their students' association toward this wonderful humanitarian tsunami relief effort.
ASSISTANCE TO FARMERS
I've been asking questions for the last five months for action from this government on the farm turmoil that we see represented over in Huron. Even last week, we continued to hear the blame-game answer from the Minister of Agriculture, and I quote: "It would appear that the federal government is not eager to move as swiftly as we are." Well, farmers are telling us that they are swiftly receiving the federal cheques. They're taking the federal money to the bank, to the fertilizer warehouse, to their seed dealer. The question is, where is the Ontario government? The feds are sending out the cheques. The grain and oilseeds deadline is real: March 9, a commitment on risk management. And it's not just cash crop farmers; it's beef, horticulture, tobacco, cull cow, deadstock, export dairy heifer, even the production of honey.
Not so long ago, my colleague Mike Colle, now the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, introduced a similar bill. In the interim, it was brought to everyone's attention, I think, by the fact that a defenceman for the Detroit Red Wings, Jiri Fischer, had an event, a cardiac arrest, during a hockey game. Dr. Tony Colucci said, "The AED monitor that was at the scene ... any layperson can apply it; it's fairly simple."
Currently, AED monitors are not mandatory in most sports venues. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, now coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, said he would like to see that change. So that is the intent of my bill: to allay the fears of those who may use these to save lives in Ontario.
PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES
In 2002, our Paralympic athletes won 19 medals at the Salt Lake City games. We are all confident that they will be able to build on that record this time around. All Ontarians are proud of the success of the Olympic team in Turin, but now we all have the opportunity to support our Paralympic athletes as well. As the next Olympic and Paralympic Games will be in Vancouver in 2010, this is an excellent opportunity to check out some of the Paralympic stars that we will no doubt be cheering on in favour of our great country.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee recently launched an Own the Podium-2010 campaign, which is aimed at involving more people with physical disabilities in winter sports and making Canada a top-three medal winner in 2010.
At the recent No Limits dinner in Hamilton, I met Kelly Smith, who won a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. Kelly was certainly an inspiration and a good friend and is an excellent example of the dedication and excellence of all our Paralympic athletes.
I urge all of the members in this House and across the province to support our athletes competing in Torino.
In recent debates in this House on local health integration networks, we have heard a great deal of protest from the official opposition. Given the Tories' record of gutting health care, I question whether their concerns are based on a sincere desire to improve the public health care system. I think they would rather see us sit on our hands, allow the system to deteriorate, and then point to our ailing hospitals and bulging wait times as reason enough to privatize the services altogether.
The third party is not much better, always advocating the most expensive route and paying no attention to the fact that our resources are stretched, needs are high and change is vital. The NDP formula for strengthening public health care by spending more than the government collects in revenue is certainly a recipe for further debt and deterioration.
Our government's proposed local health integration networks would ensure that taxpayers' health care dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective way possible, yielding the best results. I am proud of this government's plan to reach out to local communities, empowering them with the means to identify their own health priorities and recommend the best way to deliver health care. Together with our community-based partners, we are moving forward, seeking new ways to deliver quality care to Ontarians and ensuring that the sustainability of the health care --
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
(SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY)
AMENDMENT ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006 MODIFIANT
LA LOI CHRISTOPHER
SUR LE REGISTRE
DES DÉLINQUANTS SEXUELS
Mr. Martiniuk moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 73, An Act to protect our children from sexual predators by amending Christopher's Law (Sex Offender Registry), 2000 / Projet de loi 73, Loi visant à protéger nos enfants des prédateurs sexuels en modifiant la Loi Christopher de 2000 sur le registre des délinquants sexuels.
The member may wish to make a brief statement.
I believe my amendments would definitely provide additional protection to our children and give parents the necessary tools to protect their children.
SWIMMING POOL SAFETY ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006
SUR LA SÉCURITÉ DES PISCINES
Mr. Rinaldi moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 74, An Act respecting safety around swimming pools / Projet de loi 74, Loi traitant de la sécurité autour des piscines.
The member may wish to make a brief statement.
According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death among Ontario children under the age of five. For every child who drowned in 2002 and 2003 there were six to 10 more almost drowned requiring hospitalization. Seventy-six per cent of children involved in drowning accidents were playing or walking near water when drowning or near-drowning occurred.
By requiring individuals to build fences around their pools, we can hopefully prevent some of these terrible accidents in Ontario. At the same time, this bill does not seek to create unnecessary burdens through duplication. That's why it includes a provision suggesting that individuals who live in municipalities that already have bylaws pertaining to fences around pools would not have to come into compliance with this bill.
I ask my colleagues to consider this bill as a remedy to many unnecessary accidental deaths among children in this province.
HOMESTEAD ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006
SUR LE PATRIMOINE FAMILIAL
Mr. Hudak moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 75, An Act to amend the Assessment Act with respect to homesteads / Projet de loi 75, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'évaluation foncière a l'égard des patrimoines familiaux.
The member may wish to make a brief statement.
In the gallery, and I want to thank them for their advice and support of the bill, are Barbara Butters, a councillor from city of Port Colborne; Barry Rand, a councillor from the township of North Kawartha; Andy Sharpe, a councillor from Havelock-Belmont-Methuen; Terry Rees from the Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations; and Bob Topp from WRAFT, as well as residents of the Sherkston area of Port Colborne.
All those in favour will say "aye."
All those opposed will say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1358 to 1403.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Ontario is joining with more than 70 partners from across the country, including other governments, law enforcement agencies, consumer groups and private sector companies in this campaign. Our partners include such distinguished organizations as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Ontario Association of Crime Stoppers, the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus, Canadian Security Administrators, eBay Canada, Bell Canada and Tim Hortons, just to name a few.
The campaign's objectives are to educate consumers about fraud, encourage the reporting of fraud and make Canada a hostile environment to the perpetrators of fraud. Although we are focusing on fraud awareness this month, of course consumers should be alert all year.
This government has recently taken a number of steps to better protect consumers, expose fraudulent activities and punish those who try to take advantage of consumers. Remember that we passed a tough new Consumer Protection Act featuring the most sweeping and comprehensive changes to Ontario's consumer laws in more than 30 years. We have strengthened enforcement resources at the ministry's consumer services branch, including hiring three new investigators. We've launched a discussion paper with stakeholders to identify legislative reforms that will combat identity theft and educate consumers of the growing problem.
We have also created the Consumer Beware list. That's an on-line database that lists businesses with unresolved complaints and convictions. We've distributed more than 220,000 Fraud Free calendars, with the help of many of the members of the Legislature, featuring tips and advice for consumers to avoid frauds and scams. We have published seven consumer brochures on a variety of consumer topics -- and I might say they're available in eight languages -- and created an on-line fraud quiz available on the ministry's website to help consumers avoid being defrauded.
The province's new Consumer Protection Act has made Ontario a national leader in consumer protection. Under the new act, the fine for individuals has doubled to $50,000 and fines for corporations have more than doubled to $250,000. Jail terms were increased to two years less a day. The new act also includes a host of greater disclosure and cancellation rights for consumers.
Last year alone, more than 75,000 people contacted the Ontario government's consumer services bureau regarding consumer issues. Many of these contacts led to the successful resolution of disputes between consumers and businesses; others, though, led to charges and convictions. Altogether, the ministry laid 986 charges against businesses and individuals. Charges prosecuted in 2005 resulted in a total of 45 months in jail terms, 675 months of probation, $600,000 in fines and more than $300,000 in restitution orders.
Members are aware that identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada. My colleague from Davenport has raised this issue. My ministry is working with its partners in other jurisdictions across the country to identify legislative reforms to combat identity theft and to make it easier for victims to recover from such an experience. The consultation has received helpful feedback from the public and from stakeholders on that paper. I look forward to receiving the final recommendations on how we will prevent these crimes.
The ministry is also involved with its partners in educating consumers and businesses about things we can do to prevent identity theft, such as encouraging consumers to carry only the cards and ID they need, encouraging businesses to collect only essential data, and keeping personal information in a secure location.
The vast majority of business owners in this province are honest. It is the small handful of dishonest ones that we want to put out of business. The best way to do that is for consumers to educate themselves and to report fraudulent activities.
This government is fighting fraud every day through education and enforcement. All our partners will be engaged in action to spread this anti-fraud message. A key proponent of this campaign is PhoneBusters and its "Recognize it. Report it. Stop it." program. We will see posters, media and online reminders to be alert to scams and to report any such activities.
For those in the public and the Legislature who don't know, PhoneBusters is a national anti-fraud call centre jointly operated by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I might say it was the Ontario Provincial Police that, several years ago, originated this idea, and I'm very proud of that on behalf of Ontario.
PhoneBusters plays a key role in educating the public about telemarketing scams and other fraudulent activities such as identity theft. We are proud to participate with PhoneBusters and our other partners in this important consumer awareness initiative.
Consumers who have been victimized, know of dishonest activities or just have a question to ask can contact the consumer services bureau at 416-326-8800 in Toronto, or toll free at 1-800-889-9768. Consumers also, of course, can use our online form on the MGS -- Ministry of Government Services -- website to inform the government about consumer complaints. That address is www.mgs.gov.on.ca.
I am proud of this government's work in providing the people of Ontario with consumer protection fit for the 20th century.
Starting tomorrow, our government will lead a dialogue on issues common to the global mining industry and will continue to promote the province as a preferred destination for mining and mineral investment when we join the World Bank in hosting the 2006 World Mines Ministries Forum here in Toronto. Ministers and staff representing mining jurisdictions from around the world will meet to discuss such issues as geological survey activities, environmental sustainability and relationship-building with indigenous peoples.
The World Mines Ministries Forum is immediately followed by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada annual convention, which also takes place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The PDAC, as it is known, expects to welcome approximately 13,000 delegates from 90 different countries. Widely considered to be the most important event in the world of mining, there is simply no better place to be than the PDAC to promote our great province as a progressive, preferred destination for investment in mineral development and to highlight the potential of northern mining communities and institutions.
The Ontario pavilion will host the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, along with our partners including northern municipalities, mining-related colleges and universities, far north First Nations communities, the GO North investor program and the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster Council. Together with our partners, we will be able to tell the world -- in fact, show the world -- that Ontario is hands-down the most exciting and inviting jurisdiction in the world.
The numbers say it all. For the first time ever, active mining claims in Ontario have exceeded 200,000 units. For the third consecutive year, exploration expenditures are expected to rise and are projected to reach $300 million in 2006. The value of total mineral production rose to more than $7.2 billion in 2005, a 27% increase from the year 2003. We are a top-10 world-ranked producer of nickel, platinum group metals, gold and cobalt, and among the top 20 world producers of copper, zinc and silver. And we are on the verge of witnessing the development of Ontario's first diamond mine on the coast of James Bay, with the De Beers Victor Project, in partnership with Attawapiskat First Nations.
This current boom has only reaffirmed our government's belief that the mining sector is critical to building a strong and prosperous economy so that all communities, including First Nations communities, can begin to see a quality of life that is second to none.
These are indeed promising times in the world of mineral development. The McGuinty government remains wholly committed to continuing its leadership role in promoting sustainable mineral development and to building on our industry status as a world leader in mineral exploration and development. In fact, the concept of sustainable development is a central theme of our province's first-ever mineral development strategy. I look forward to officially unveiling the strategy in the very near future.
I know all members join me in welcoming the global mining community to Toronto.
Mining is one of Ontario's lifebloods, and particularly a lifeblood of northern Ontario. I suspect that all members are being approached, particularly in southern Ontario, regarding concerns about the environmental impacts of mining. I'm glad to say that the Ontario Mining Association is informing people through its teacher's guide, explaining mining impacts and the good work that the industry is doing. Simply click on the website of the Ontario Mining Association to experience the good work the industry is doing. I would hope that the current government aids in informing so many students about misconceptions that they have regarding the mining industry.
As well, we welcome the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and its thousands of participants. Personally, previously having owned a prospector licence, I've had a little experience from being in the field, so to speak. As a matter of fact, I had the privilege this summer to show a number of students a calcite deposit which contained several apatite crystals throughout it.
I would hope the minister is able to assist the industry in providing a skills development program, as the industry is seeking skilled individuals to be able to further work in the mining industry.
Lastly, I invite all members to attend the Meet the Miners Day here at Queen's Park on May 2.
But what is fraud, I ask. Fraud is defined in the Black's Law Dictionary as a knowing misrepresentation of the truth, or a concealment of a material fact to induce another to act to his or her detriment. An example: telling voters during an election campaign that you won't increase taxes, but after being elected, the McGuinty government brings in a health tax, the largest tax grab in the history of this province. But I digress.
Let's not talk solely about voter fraud, but talk about --
The member for Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford.
The McGuinty Liberal government has no plan to stop fraud against Ontarians, whether perpetrated in Ontario or outside of Ontario. Fraud is going up, it's not going down. It's nice to have an announcement today that we're recognizing fraud across this country when it's going up and we have a major problem. So I conclude, and I commend the minister for wrestling this fraud problem up to the ceiling.
I tell you, the scam artists, the Ponzi scheme operators are shaking in their boots. They're leaving town, make no mistake about it. They're lined up at Pearson airport, saying, "There's no room for us in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario. By God, they put out almost a quarter of a million calendars. There ain't room." There ain't room for the fraudulent roofers anymore. There ain't room for the fraudulent basement sealers anymore. There ain't room for the fraud artists who travel from town to town and lay down shabby asphalt, because, by God, this Minister of Government Services is going to take them down with a calendar, and if one calendar won't take them down, it'll be a box of calendars.
I want to tell you, my colleague in the Conservative Party strikes a nerve when he talks about the real fraud that should be addressed. Police forces are still so understaffed in this province that the anti-fraud departments of police forces are barely able to investigate serious crimes, the most senior ones, the big-money ones, never mind the plethora of bad cheques and that type of fraud which land on their desks. There simply aren't the resources to address those.
I say to you, Minister, that the protection for senior citizens who are facing ever-escalating property taxes isn't forthcoming, the protection for folks across this province -- homeowners, apartment dwellers, small business people, big business and its employees -- who are being gouged and hammered with ever-escalating electricity prices that have destroyed tens of thousands of jobs over the last 13 months, are not being protected.
Nobody is being protected from cabinet ministers who simply won't answer questions in question period. Nobody is protecting students in this province from tuition rates that are skyrocketing through the roof, preventing more and more students from not just low-income but middle-income families from even daring to think of attending college or university.
Nobody is protecting people from the list of broken Liberal promises. Nobody is protecting voters who voted for Liberals because they wanted change and end up getting spare change. Nobody is protecting consumers of health care in this province from the privatization agenda that you are pursuing with Bill 36. Nobody is protecting seniors or their children or their grandchildren from your P3 hospitals that are taking scarce health dollars and turning them into profits for some of the wealthiest international corporations. Nobody is protecting nurses and other health workers from you and your anti-public-health-care agenda.
Nobody is protecting those tens of thousands of workers who have lost good jobs in this province -- good jobs that permit them to pay taxes and to buy the things their neighbour builds and send their kids to school. Nobody is protecting them from your anti-job agenda, from your destruction of over 60,000 good jobs, value-added manufacturing jobs, in the course of the last 13 months.
I tell you, there is a lot of room for some anti-rackets investigations and prosecutions here in Ontario. It's not going to come from your non-ministry, because there is no ministry of consumer protection, and the people of this province know full well that they're not going to be protected by Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals, who will promise the world and then deliver zip, nothing, nada.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
The year 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The convention is often described as an international bill of rights for women. At last count, 180 countries, over 90% of the members of the United Nations, have signed on. Article 3 of the convention states that these nations, "shall take ... all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men."
I'm proud that my country and my province are committed to guaranteeing full equality for women. I'm proud that our government has a vision where everyone participates fully in all aspects of the province's economic, social and cultural life. I'm determined to make this a reality. Our government understands it's only when members of our society, all of us, can participate fully in all aspects of life that we in this province can call ourselves a democratic and just society.
We understand that women must have equal access to education, that through education they follow a path of full participation in the economy, and that we must protect and support women at risk of becoming victims of harassment and violence. We understand that the real change will come when young girls grow up believing they have every opportunity available to their brothers, and I know that the young ladies here from Bishop Strachan today believe that as well. They can be captain of the hockey team and be part of the women's Olympic team that leads the country to a record medal count. If they choose, they can be the dean of a university, the CEO of a corporation or the chief of police.
While we remind ourselves that we still have a long way to go, let's move forward by reinforcing our positive vision and celebrating our achievements. I'm pleased to announce that on International Women's Day, I'll be announcing details of the first Ontario government award to honour women who demonstrate exceptional community leadership on behalf of women and girls. This award will give us the opportunity to recognize women across Ontario who help build strong and safe communities. In order to make sure that we reach each and every community where women are making a difference, I'll be asking all members of this House and all members of Parliament to nominate women from their constituencies.
It will be especially appropriate to launch this award on March 8, International Women's Day, because it will give us the opportunity to express that vision, the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms so well articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It will give us the opportunity to affirm for all women in Ontario that the life they want is possible and achievable. This award will allow us to reinforce our positive message, not just on International Women's Day but throughout the year.
This is a special day that does provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the progress that has been made to advance women's equality. It also allows us the opportunity to assess the challenges that continue to face women in contemporary society, and to consider the future steps we can all take together in order to bring about full equality for women in all their diversity. But most important, I think it is an opportunity for us to take a look at the gains we have made and the gains we need to celebrate. The Canadian theme for this year's International Women's Week is Beyond Laws: The Right to be Me. Last week during the Olympic games in Torino, we certainly saw the opportunity for women athletes, particularly those from Canada: "the right to be me." I think we all applauded their achievements, particularly the women who won the hockey gold. I say that because some years ago when I was a teenager, a few friends and I attempted to create and set up a hockey team for girls in the small town of Exeter. Although we didn't get very far, it's rather gratifying to see how far women have come and then to see our own females take the gold. That was a gratifying day, and it just shows you that women do have "the right to be me."
This is a time when we need to recognize that 2006 marks the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the most comprehensive international treaty on women's rights, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. I have been watching on TV some of the discrimination that is faced by women in Pakistan, and you realize that in countries throughout the world, women have not made some of the gains that we have here in Canada and North America.
We have accomplished much in the way of putting in place legal foundations, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act, pay and employment equity laws, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, of course, maternity and parental benefits.
If we take a look at some of the other reasons for celebration, we know that in post-secondary education the barriers women faced at one time have all but been eliminated. In 2001, women comprised 59% of undergraduate student enrolment and 50% of graduate student enrolment.
If we take a look at some of the fields that were traditionally male-dominated, we see that these fields have opened up to women. Women are pursuing careers in growing numbers in the fields of medicine, law, dentistry, business and engineering, so there is growing opportunity for women to pursue these careers.
In business, it is expected that as we look ahead to the century we're in, at least half of the new companies are going to be started by women. The Institute for Small Business noted that between 1991 and 1994, Canadian firms run by women created new jobs at four times the rate of the national average. Women are creating not just jobs but entire companies at double the rate of the national average. So this is all very important.
One of the areas where women need to continue to make some gains is in the corporate field and in the boardrooms of Canadian corporations. We are definitely still lagging. Of course, if we take a look at our own Legislature, we do not hold much more than one fifth of the elected offices in Canada. In Europe at the present time, it's about a third. Today, for the first time, none of the Canadian political parties is headed by a woman, none of Canada's Premiers is a women, and none of the mayors of our largest cities. In the recent election --
It is evident that we need to do what we can to continue to be better represented in all levels of decision-making.
Certainly, I will acknowledge Hazel McCallion as being an outstanding leader and role model, not just for Ontarians but I think for all Canadians. I doubt if there's anybody anywhere.
I think the challenge that remains for us, particularly in this House, is that we need to accelerate the progress towards the inclusion of women into formal decision-making bodies, but we also need to increase their impact on decision-making.
Today, we have every reason to be proud. Our Olympic athletes have given us all reason for pride. I have no doubt that as we continue to work together, all three political parties, we can increase the opportunities for equality for all women.
Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a play about the Hamilton chapter of the Canadian Club at the Scottish Rite in Hamilton, where I played the role of a woman named Sara Calder, who was an inspirational woman of the late 1800s and early 20th century. She distinguished herself with her leadership in a place called the Wentworth Historical Society. She broke away from the men in that group to establish her own autonomous ladies' society. Long before women were routinely taking charge of decision-making, Ms. Calder was running her own show, raising funds that went to purchase and preserve what are now some of Ontario's most valued heritage sites in the community of Stoney Creek. She was one of those women of her time who was pushing the envelope.
It's ironic that here in the 21st century women are still focusing on winning full rights to participate in society on an equal footing with men. After more than 100 years, barriers continue to impede women's progress. For example, women still earn less in wages than men for similar work. They still take on a greater share of part-time work, contract and temporary employment, and receive less job security, including less adequate pensions. They remain primary caregivers for families, including now aging parents.
The Canadian theme for International Women's Week in 2006 addresses women's rights, women's diversity, and above all, the need to put words into action in the slogan Beyond Laws: The Right to Be Me. Of course, we saw the reflection of that in the success of our women's hockey team with the Olympic gold medal.
Have we, as a society, done enough to ensure that income security is there for women? Not yet. Have we seen enough women in politics? Not yet. We need only to look around this chamber: The diversity of our population isn't reflected here in this House. Have we made it possible for every woman or child confronting violence in the home to leave the abuse and have a safe, supportive place to go to? Not yet.
This really tells us, as legislators, where the emphasis needs to be. There is much more that all governments should be doing and could be doing on women's issues.
Do we have a law in Ontario that would protect women from violence and harassment in the workplace, harassment that was cited as a factor in the murder of Lori Dupont at her Windsor hospital workplace? Not yet.
As the NDP women's issues critic, I feel, as all of this House must be feeling, that we have to get beyond the time of "not yet." We have to get to a place where there are no more "not yets."
For example, we have to stop Ontario's clawback of the national child benefit from families receiving social assistance. Women in the greatest financial need are not seeing the benefit that was supposed to help them fight poverty.
A lack of housing and money is one of the prime factors that drives women and children back to the abuser; we all know this. Without money and a place to live, many women remain in violent relationships so their children will be housed and fed. That means governments need to get serious about directing promised funds back into creating affordable housing and second-stage housing, whose base funding has been all but flatlined since 1994.
Let's get serious about implementing the package of emergency measures recommended by the experts that we know, without a doubt, will save women's lives. These measures include second-stage housing; stronger laws around bail, restraining orders, no-contact orders and peace bonds; risk assessment tools implemented in every court before every bail hearing where violence against women has occurred; passage of the bill that would protect women from all forms of violence and harassment by changing the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Furthermore, women need to see promised provincial and federal investments going into child care. Real Ontario dollars need to be invested in Ontario's child care program.
There are many more issues that are on my list here, things that are practical and implementable today, that can affect the way women see the world, and the way women are able to access justice in our communities.
I want to close with a quote, one that comes from Geraldine Ferraro. What she said was this, and I hope this quote is going to inspire all women, not only today but as we move into the week of International Women's Day: It says, "We've chosen the path to equality, don't let them turn us around."
We have put an amendment that would have this go off to committee so it could be further discussed. I think that would be well within the ambit of the section on considering and responding within the 30 days. Would you consider that and allow the debate to continue, rather than choking it off?
Twenty-four MPPs have spoken to this issue so far during the course of this debate. The leader of the official opposition himself has raised this matter on countless occasions, both during question period and in other opportunities in this House, and outside the House. I think it is important for us to have that full opportunity, which we have. I believe today will be the fourth day of debate, and we look forward to bringing this matter to a conclusion.
So I repeat my question to you: If you were really interested in an open debate on this, a full debate so we can all have our chance to have our say on this, as opposed to trying to choke it off because you find it's an embarrassing matter for your government, why wouldn't you find a way to either extend the debate in this Legislature when we come back, rather than time-allocating, or go along with an amendment? We'd be happy to discuss wording with you of an amendment to the motion that could send it to committee for a period of time for some additional debate. Why are you trying to cut this debate off?
Maybe we should take a moment to properly consider what it is that we are debating. The motion that is put forward is pretty straightforward. It reads, "That the Legislative Assembly adopt the report of the Integrity Commissioner dated January 4, 2006, and approve the recommendation contained therein."
I'm not aware of any member in this House who's going to be voting against this. I think there is unanimity with respect to the outcome of this particular motion. So we look forward to getting on with this, to bringing this to a conclusion, and we do so with the confidence that we have given this a real opportunity for fulsome debate in this House.
Let me just say what long combination vehicles are. Normally, a truck pulls one trailer, but in this case, they wanted to have two trailers pulled by the truck, because the freight they carry is bulky and they carry less freight in a trailer. So they wanted to reduce their freight costs and asked us to consider that proposal. So I asked the ministry to look into it.
But before we even did that, the Premier had put a protocol in place, and we asked the ministry if there was even a perceived conflict of interest in this case. The ministry told me there was absolutely none. I, myself, as the minister, ordered to consider the proposal from the --
Your own Premier said in his letter concerning the first issue that you had informed him about a potential conflict "in relation to axle requirements for vehicles." The Premier also said, " I wish to avoid all conflicts -- real or perceived." The Premier asked your parliamentary assistant to take the file and asked that you and your staff refrain from discussion.
Minister, why did you think it was a conflict then but not now? Why was the Integrity Commissioner contacted last time but not this time?
Minister, the Integrity Commissioner was very clear in his guidance to you the first time. In his letter back to your executive assistant, he said, "I would suggest that the minister act prudently and not expose himself to the risk of being perceived as having a conflict of interest."
Minister, it was about axle requirements then; it's about axle requirements now. It was vehicles on Ontario roads then; it's the same now. You followed the commissioner's advice then, but you did not even seek his advice this time. What has changed? Why did you not contact the Integrity Commissioner about this second issue when so many things were exactly the same?
Let me state it again: The company that I was involved in made heavy-duty suspensions. These are the lift suspensions used on these trucks and trailers. It doesn't change the weight of the trucks. It doesn't change the axle requirements. So there was absolutely no conflict at any time.
Premier, does your government, the McGuinty government, have any legal opinion suggesting that an environmental assessment is not required for the Ontario Power Authority electricity supply mix report? And if you have it, will you table it today?
My question, Premier, is, when can the people of Ontario expect the McGuinty government to obey the law of Ontario and order a joint Ontario Energy Board and Environmental Review Tribunal environmental assessment of your integrated electricity supply mix plan?
We intend to ensure that whatever proposal we put forward does in fact become the subject of a full environmental assessment, and that will once again allow interested Ontarians to provide yet more advice and more input into making sure that we get this right for the future.
Premier, when will you listen to the people of Ontario, when will you listen to the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and the Pembina Institute and open your backroom nuclear megadeals to the clear light of a joint board environmental assessment? When will you obey the laws of Ontario?
In that context, I acknowledge Bob Wong, who is here, a former Minister of Energy who brought into place, for example, the Energy Efficiency Act of 1989. We will build on that foundation. We will be open to, and most appreciative of, advice we get from Ontarians, expert and non-expert alike, but we will also do whatever we need to do to keep the lights on in the province of Ontario.
But I want to ask you about your claim that your government is committed to publicly controlled, universally accessible health care. This morning you donned your Captain Medicare cape and railed against the evils of the Ralph Klein government. Premier, instead of railing about what might or might not happen in Alberta, something you have no control over, can you explain why your government, the McGuinty government, is privatizing the Trillium drug plan?
The circumstances are very clear. We're taking advantage of an opportunity on behalf of the people of Ontario to do a better job of responding to their applications with respect to the Trillium drug plan. Let me give you a couple of pieces of information that dramatically motivate us: In 2004 the time it took to process applications for the Ontario drug benefit, less than five days; for the Trillium drug plan, 22.7 days. The call abandonment, the number of people who hung up on the Ontario drug benefit in 2004, 3%; on the Trillium drug plan, 30 to 50%. This is an opportunity to deliver --
I say again, Premier: You can't do much about what may or may not happen in Alberta, but you can stop your own health care privatization scheme in Ontario. Will you abandon your scheme to privatize the Trillium drug plan?
Leader of the third party.
Again, Premier, I say to you, before you get on your high horse and rail against what might or might not happen in Alberta, something you have no control over, will you stop your own privatization of the health care scheme in Ontario?
This is the big challenge with the honourable member. He can't make the distinction between those services that are clinical and those that are clerical. This isn't about doctors. It's not about nurses or radiation technologists. It's not about the recipients of front-line health care services. It is about taking advantage of an opportunity to dramatically enhance our customer service capacity by giving people a much more timely response to their requests for assistance from the Trillium drug plan, a plan that we're proud of. Unlike that government that cut health care spending on drugs by $29 million in one year, we've increased it by $660 million. There's evidence of our commitment to a public health care system.
The member for Haliburton-Victoria-Brock.
The cellphone usage: We've heard it was your phone you used; we've heard it was your wife's phone you used. Now we hear that you all shared cellphones and, I guess, cellphone numbers. Minister, your story changes with every day that passes. The story you gave the Integrity Commissioner no longer lines up with what you have told the media or us here in the chamber. Why are you not being straight with Ontarians? Why will you not simply tell the truth about your behaviour that day and all the other times you visited your company?
Again, Minister, why are you not being straight with Ontarians? Why are you continuing to change your story by the minute? What are you hiding?
First David MacNaughton and Bob Lopinski; now we've got John Duffy. Sir, how do you explain all these Liberal insiders lined up at the nuclear trough?
Premier, if pork-barrelling were an Olympic sport, the Liberal dream team of MacNaughton, Lopinski and Duffy would be in the gold. The Premier should know and does know about the Portlands Energy Centre fiasco, where your energy minister short-circuited a bid process, handed a $700-million deal to OPG and TransCanada Pipelines. Who's lobbying for TransCanada Pipelines? One J. Bradford Nixon, Ontario Liberal MPP from 1987 to 1990, former executive director to the leader of the Liberal Party, long-time donor to the McGuinty Liberals.
Premier, you promised to put the public interest before political insiders and Liberal cronies. How do you explain this?
Minister, can you provide us with an update on International Truck and how our government's investment in strengthening the heavy truck manufacturing industry is progressing?
You already know about the good news in the auto sector: Almost $6 billion of new investment has resulted from our strategy there; $30 billion in additional infrastructure spending that this government has committed to; a $6.2-billion investment in post-secondary education, and the list goes on -- capping energy rates for large industrials. This government is investing in Ontario's future. I think there is success that's coming around.
I would like to point out that the legislation in place was, in fact, introduced and voted on by Mr. Hudak's party. I'd like to also suggest that Mr. Hudak is attempting to convey the notion that they can somehow not deal with the whole question of market value assessment, which is frankly not accurate.
There are a number of challenges. I'm looking forward to the Ombudsman's report. We have a group of our caucus that has been looking at this as well. We acknowledge the concerns of the individual, and there have been concerns from many people. The one thing we're not going to do -- seven pieces of legislation in eight years -- we are not going to just try and get a quick fix to score some political points at the expense of messing the system up more. We take into account the concerns that the individual raised, as well as many others, and we look forward to a fulsome response and discussion --
I think the minister very well knows that the Ombudsman had received over 3,500 complaints this year in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario about skyrocketing property assessments. So I say to the minister: What do you say to Mr. Diplock; what do you say to Peter Steele from outside of Parry Sound, Ontario, who sees his assessment go up 350%? You've had three years; surely you can bring forward a bill and help out beleaguered taxpayers --
I would also like to acknowledge Mr. Hudak's comments in today's St. Catharines Standard. He acknowledged -- and this is from the St. Catharines Standard, so it must be accurate -- that the problem "is an unexpected result of the legislation his fellow Conservatives pushed through under then-Premier Mike Harris." The only point I would differ with him on is that we warned him about this problem not in one piece of legislation, not in two, not in three, four, five or six, but in seven.
This government will fix the problem. We'll do it right, and we won't harm seniors --
NATIONAL CHILD BENEFIT SUPPLEMENT
I ask the member opposite if she will join us and make common cause as we urge, encourage and do everything we possibly can to have Prime Minister Harper continue to support a program that 25,000 Ontario families continue to count on.
If you really want to tackle child poverty in this province as you claim, when are you going to have the courage to keep your promise not only on the national child benefit but ensuring that that $1,200 goes to the children who most need it?
I can tell you this is a very important issue to our families, but particularly to young working women who are doing their best to get out into the world and to earn an income but they can't do so at present because we don't have in place the necessary infrastructure of good, quality daycare for our children.
This is an important issue and I ask both parties opposite if they might not join our party and ensure that Prime Minister Harper understands that when it comes to this issue, we are together: We want quality daycare for Ontario families.
Musculoskeletal disorders, MSDs, are injuries that can develop as a result of the cumulative effect of repetitive, stressful and awkward movements on bones, joints, ligaments and other soft tissues. Some 42% of all lost-time injuries recorded by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board are ergonomically related. This is an unacceptable number. The costs associated with this disorder are far too high, in terms of both human suffering and lost productivity.
Minister, what are you doing as Minister of Labour to ensure that Ontario's workers are protected from ergonomic-related injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders?
We know this is an injury that is taking a tremendous toll on not only humans but business as well. We need to do everything that we can, together, to move forward in developing a strategy to deal with ergonomic-related injuries in this province, to prevent pain and suffering of our workers, and to deal with those direct costs to employers.
Last year, in recognition of Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day, a committee was struck to look at this issue. Both business and labour were part of this committee, and I want to thank my parliamentary assistant for his work with that committee. They have brought forth a number of good recommendations that we can look at as a ministry to deal with short-, medium --
We all know individuals who suffer from the effects of RSI. The numbers are too high. However, we expect you to do more. I understand that the economics subcommittee presented recommendations to you back in September. Are you able to tell us today what recommendations the panel made, and have you taken action in any of these recommendations?
Some of the recommendations that came forward from the ergonomics subcommittee included raising awareness about ergonomic-related issues, better tracking of ergonomic-related inspections and increasing ergonomics expertise.
In January of this year, the Ministry of Labour launched the Pains and Strains campaign to raise employer and worker awareness of ergonomic issues in a very simple and straightforward manner. By targeting workplace strains and pains, we're protecting Ontario workers and strengthening the economy of this province.
We'll also be giving our health and safety inspectors -- and I think this is extremely important -- advanced ergonomics training so that they can raise awareness of ergonomic-related issues. We continue to work with our health and safety partners, and we count on the support of all as we move forward. Reducing injury rates reduces human suffering.
WOODSTOCK GENERAL HOSPITAL
Premier, how is it that you feel federal governments should honour contracts approved by the previous government, yet you don't seem to hold yourself to the same standard? The people of Woodstock have been waiting for two and a half years for your government to give final approval for the new Woodstock General Hospital.
Premier, can you assure the people in my riding that you are not punishing them for not voting Liberal and prove it by giving final approval for the Woodstock General Hospital so we can go to tender?
On the issue of Woodstock, I will speak to it more directly to the honourable member in his supplementary.
The reality is that under our government, we're moving forward with the most aggressive expansion of health care infrastructure -- five governments added together. The honourable member, if he was just a little more refreshing and a little more transparent, would acknowledge to this House and to the people in his community that it was the policy of his party to run around the province of Ontario and create expectations which no one could possibly meet --
Recently, the chief in council of the Big Trout Lake First Nation informed your government officials that they were opposed to a mining exploration company conducting drilling operations in the First Nation's traditional territory without your government first consulting with the First Nation. Instead of your government consulting with the people of Big Trout Lake First Nation, you gave the mining exploration company the go-ahead to begin drilling in the First Nation's traditional lands, and when the people of the First Nation protested this, you sent in the OPP.
Premier, can you tell aboriginal people across this province, what happened to your promise to work with aboriginal people? What happened to your specific promise to respect and observe your legal obligations in respect of aboriginal people?
I'll tell you, Minister, a chief of NAN and the chief of Big Trout Lake First Nation want to know when the McGuinty government is going to start observing the law of Canada as set down by the Supreme Court of Canada. When are you going to start observing the promise that you specifically made a year ago to First Nations to respect not only their constitutional rights, their treaty rights and their legal rights --
Let me tell you that when it comes to mining issues, we've very clearly spelled out in our mineral development strategy that the duty to consult will be lived up to as to the Mikisew Supreme Court ruling.
Rural communities know how important clean water is and are a leader in water protection. The proposed Clean Water Act builds on the great work they've already done in rural communities right across this province. Agriculture and rural stakeholders were directly involved in helping to develop the proposed act and to ensure that it does not duplicate or conflict with the requirements of managing nutrients. The proposed Clean Water Act would give communities the tools they need to develop and implement local plans to protect vulnerable drinking water. Many of those issues can be addressed through existing activities such as environmental farm plans or new and voluntary partnerships, but we also need risk-management plans, and those risk-management plans will recognize the realities of on-farm initiatives dealing with both nutrient management and environmental farm plans.
The member for Lanark-Carleton.
To proceed with an individual EA, we will have to have terms of reference and opportunity for the community to come forward and raise a number of important issues. The process is just beginning. In that process, the community will have an opportunity to raise the many issues that I understand are currently being raised in the community with respect to the future of waste management in this area and how they will manage on a going-forward basis. So I do think it is an important issue. My ministry will be paying very close attention.
Minister, you will know that the forest industry is in a very difficult situation. In fact, most of the companies, including Tembec, are pretty cash-strapped and are having to sell assets in order to raise cash to pay some of their bills. You will know that on the Gordon Cosens forest in the Kapuskasing area, the Moonbeam area, there is a plan by Tembec to sell 76,000 hectares of private land. Seeing what happened just recently in northwestern Ontario with Abitibi, where you allowed an American company to buy 196,000 hectares, what are you prepared to do now and to say in this House today that will make sure, if that land is sold, that it is bought by MNR and that the timber be made available to the local logging companies?
I'm going to say to you now that you got the heads-up three months ago. We're asking you today: Are you prepared to commit, in this House, that, should that land be sold, MNR will be the buyer and those trees will be made available to the local mills?
Minister, please explain to those who decry any raise in the minimum wage why this government chose to show compassion rather than contempt for low-income earners.
The Dalton McGuinty government believes in the people of this province. We believe in investing in our people, and we want to make sure that our most vulnerable are looked after. That's why this investment is being made. It was the right thing to do, and I'm proud that we've continued on with this.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the rural community of Sherkston, of the city of Port Colborne, in the Niagara region, sponsored two community meetings regarding the sharply higher market value for their homes; and
"Whereas in Ontario, many young families and seniors find it a financial hardship; and
"Whereas we, the taxpayers, are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, with increasing hydro rates, higher gasoline prices, a new health tax and virtually all costs of running a home and caring for a family; and
"Whereas another tax hike by way of a property tax increase due to spikes in property assessment is unacceptable; and
"Whereas, due to these tax increases in Ontario, many working families and seniors will be forced out of their homes and the community that they love; and
"Whereas the erosion of working families' and seniors' income has become a landslide;
"We, the undersigned, request the province of Ontario to immediately provide relief and remedy to working families and seniors who are hit hard by these unacceptable spikes in the likely property tax increases to come; and
That the province of Ontario be requested to end its continued downloading of provincial programs and use of municipal property tax dollars for the subsidization of provincial health and social services programs; and
That the provincial government work with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to develop a plan to begin the uploading of provincial program costs back to where they belong.
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the Parliament of Ontario to acknowledge our requests and treat citizens of Ontario fairly."
I thank Cathy Diplock and the hard-working volunteers in Sherkston, and I sign it in support.
"Whereas Bill 36, the Local Health System Integration Act, 2006, is currently before the Legislative Assembly and may be passed by March 2; and
"Whereas the bill would lead to the transformation of our public health system; and
"Whereas there are serious concerns in our community about the potential impact of this transformation concerning access to health care services, public delivery of services and central control of local health care services; and
"Whereas there should be broad public understanding of this transformation before enacting such fundamental change; and
"Whereas there is no such broad public understanding;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to delay passage of this bill to allow for wider public consultation to ensure a broad public understanding of the transformation that is proposed."
I agree with the petitioners. I have affixed my signature to this.
"To the Parliament of Ontario:
"Whereas there is a well-documented need for daycare spaces in the province of Ontario;
"Whereas the former government of Canada and the present government of Ontario recognize that need;
"Whereas the government of Canada committed $1.87 billion over five years and the government of Ontario continues to commit $700,000 a year for the purpose of expanding daycare spaces for Canadians;
"Therefore" and finally, "we, the undersigned citizens, call on the newly elected federal Canadian government to live up to the signed agreement between the government of Ontario and the government of Canada to provide thousands of daycare spaces for our children in the province of Ontario."
Since I agree, I'm delighted to sign this petition.
FREDERICK BANTING HOMESTEAD
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas Sir Frederick Banting was the man who discovered insulin and was Canada's first Nobel Prize recipient; and
"Whereas this great Canadian's original homestead, located in the town of New Tecumseth, is deteriorating and in danger of destruction because of the inaction of the Ontario Historical Society; and
"Whereas the town of New Tecumseth has been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with the Ontario Historical Society to use part of the land to educate the public about the historical significance of the work of Sir Frederick Banting;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That the Minister of Culture endorse Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson's private member's bill entitled the Frederick Banting Homestead Preservation Act so that the homestead is kept in good repair and preserved for generations to come."
I'm pleased to sign this and endorse it on behalf of Jim Wilson and the people of his riding.
"Whereas the people of Ontario expect the government of Canada to honour existing agreements with the government of Ontario;
"Whereas provinces and territories negotiated agreements with the federal government to ensure Canadians would have access to early learning and child care programs that are high quality, affordable, universally inclusive and developmental;
"Whereas parents in Ontario have demonstrated a high demand for greater access to high-quality early learning and child care programs;
"Whereas Ontario's early learning and child care agreement with the government of Canada would provide Ontario families with at least 25,000 new high-quality, regulated child care spaces in the first three years;
"Whereas Ontario's early learning and child care agreement represents a $1.9-billion investment over five years in high-quality early learning and child care;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to support the government of Ontario in calling on the government of Canada to honour Ontario's early learning and child care agreement, for the sake of the thousands of Ontario families who would benefit from it."
I agree with this petition, and I give it to page Ian.
"That the city of Orillia has two landfills on the shore of Lake Simcoe;
"That in 1991, it was reported that over 78 million litres of leachate, from the operating landfill, enters the waterways, including Lake Simcoe, every year;
"That five municipalities depend on Lake Simcoe for drinking water;
"That in November 2004 the city disposed of contaminated soil at the operating site;
"That this contaminated soil was excavated from a brownfield site where groundwater tests revealed vinyl chloride at 82,600 times the MOE limit and trichloroethylene at almost 15,000 times the MOE limit, as well as several other hazardous compounds that also exceeded MOE limits;
"That selected soil samples, used for testing for waste disposal purposes, were blended and dry and only four samples were used to test over 40,000 tonnes.
"That no order from the minister was provided to the city of Orillia as required in the certificate of approval; and
"That, even though it was reported in the Legislature that the city would store the soil in windrows, the soil was actually bulldozed into the landfill.
"Therefore, your petitioners call upon the provincial government to protect our drinking water supply by requiring the city of Orillia to remove the 40,000-plus tonnes of contaminated soil from the landfill and, further, require the city of Orillia to develop leachate collection and treatment systems at both lakeside landfills."
I will present this to Marc to take down.
"Whereas Bill 36, the Local Health System Integration Act, 2006, is currently before the Legislative Assembly and may be passed by March 2;" -- it will be passed today -- "and
"Whereas the bill would lead to the transformation of our public health care system; and
"Whereas there are serious concerns in our community about the potential impact of this transformation concerning access to health care services, public delivery of services, and central control of local health care services; and
"Whereas there should be a broad public understanding of this transformation before enacting such fundamental change; and
"Whereas there is no such broad public understanding;
"Therefore we, the undersigned," petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario "to delay passage of this bill" to allow wider "public consultations to ensure a broad public understanding of the transformation proposed."
I support this petition, affix my name to it, and will pass it to the table through Anindita.
SERVICES FOR THE DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED
"Whereas, without appropriate support, people who have an intellectual disability are often unable to participate effectively in community life and are deprived of the benefits of society enjoyed by other citizens; and
"Whereas quality supports are dependent on the ability to attract and retain qualified workers; and
"Whereas the salaries of workers who provide community-based supports and services are up to 25% less than salaries paid to those doing the same work in government-operated services and other sectors;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to address, as a priority, funding to community agencies in the developmental services sector to address critical underfunding of staff salaries and ensure that people who have an intellectual disability continue to receive quality supports and services that they require in order to live meaningful lives within their community."
It's signed by a number of residents from Port Alma, Charing Cross, Merlin, and across the river in Paincourt, and I too affix my signature.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
LOCAL HEALTH SYSTEM
INTEGRATION ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006 SUR L'INTÉGRATION
DU SYSTÈME DE SANTÉ LOCAL
Resuming the debate adjourned on February 22, 2006, on the motion for third reading of Bill 36, An Act to provide for the integration of the local system for the delivery of health services / Projet de loi 36, Loi prévoyant l'intégration du système local de prestation des services de santé.
Mr. Smitherman has moved third reading of Bill 36. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 10-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1601 to 1611.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES
STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2006 /
LOI DE 2006 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES SERVICES
À L'ENFANCE ET À LA FAMILLE
Resuming the debate adjourned on February 28, 2006, on the motion for third reading of Bill 210, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act and make complementary amendments to other Acts / Projet de loi 210, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les services à l'enfance et à la famille et apportant des modifications complémentaires à d'autres lois.
The very first was that, notwithstanding the need to have some reform of this child welfare system in Ontario, the government initially did not pay due attention to its obligations to engage First Nations in discussion from a governance perspective on the issues that are related to the care of their children and the way this legislation affects child welfare in First Nations.
I spoke a lot about that yesterday, so I'm not going to belabour the point, but I can tell you that initially the government began a process of very restricted timetables and opportunity for public input. We saw that as a dangerous and inappropriate thing to do and spent some time, both through subcommittee and through the calling around of First Nations -- some people may not realize that there are 134 First Nation communities in Ontario. There are a significant number of people this bill affects from the First Nations' perspective. We spent some time talking to some First Nations leaders, asking, "Do you know this bill is coming forward? Are you aware of the process? If you are concerned, or if you in any way want to have a voice, now is the time."
We were actually not surprised, because we had a suspicion the government didn't do its homework in terms of its obligations around First Nations consultation, that, lo and behold, we were assured that was the case when First Nation after First Nation came forward to say to the government, first of all, "This bill is the wrong thing to do. We can't support it in any way whatsoever," that it was not being brought forward in a way that was in the spirit of the federal and provincial requirements for dialogue, from a governance perspective, with First Nations leadership, and that, second, there were pieces of the bill that were absolutely offensive to First Nations communities in terms of their child welfare system.
I want to put two particular pieces on the record that I omitted yesterday because I needed to get on with other issues. One is that the government, in its first draft of the bill, actually decided, in a section that deals with the kinds of regulations that can be set by the Lieutenant Governor, and put in place a clause -- I suspect that they did so, although I don't know for sure because I wasn't on that side of the table, but certainly they put a clause in there that basically provided the opportunity for the Lieutenant Governor to simply create regulations for First Nations communities without any consultation with First Nations communities, amending the act by adding a clause allowing them to put together regulations governing "procedures, practices and standards for customary care." "Customary care" is the care of First Nations communities children.
First Nations were appalled that the government would be so ignorant of its responsibilities as to actually put this clause forward. It was through the hearings process that we were able to force the government into longer and more fulsome discussions with First Nations communities, and in fact that was withdrawn by the government. It was replaced by a resolution, a motion, that I brought forward at committee that changed that to say that the regulations would be those "governing consultations with bands and native communities under sections 213 and 213.1 and prescribing the procedures and practices to be followed by societies and agencies and the duties of societies and agencies during the consultations." So you can see the difference, and it's a very important one. I think that one change really reflects the difference between where the government started in terms of Bill 210 and where it ended up.
Having said that, yesterday I did spend some time reading and presenting in the Legislature and getting on the record a resolution that came forward from the First Nations leadership. It's in the Hansard; I'm not going to read it again today because I don't have the time. Again, I feel awkward sort of putting this on the record on their behalf, because I think they've done an excellent job of doing that. Their presentations are in the Hansard, so if anybody is interested in finding out what the concerns of First Nations communities are, in their own voice, I really urge you to look up those Hansards of the four different days that public hearings took place, as well as some of the discussion that went on around the clause-by-clause debate of the bill.
I know other members of my caucus are going to have something to say about Bill 210, and I look forward to those remarks, but the other thing I wanted to say is that there is an overall concern that First Nations have around this government's and other governments' lack of acknowledgement, of the short shrift that they get pretty much in every piece of legislation and every institution that we have in Ontario. So in that vein, what I had done was put forward a motion that was, in fact, not in order because it addressed a part of the bill that was not up for discussion, really. One of the things that the government decided to do was to actually allow for that to be put on the table. It was an important piece, and I want to read that as well because, again, I'm just trying to illustrate the fact that had we not been there voicing these concerns and putting these issues on the table, I don't believe that Bill 210 would be anywhere near where it is now in terms of trying to address the concerns that came forward from First Nations communities.
This is an amendment to the bill that wasn't actually even open for discussion but, through unanimous consent of the parties at the table -- the Conservatives had their member there as well -- we amended part XII of the act by adding a totally new section that deals with the review of aboriginal issues. It says, "Every review of this act shall include a review of provisions imposing obligations on societies" -- that's children's aid societies -- "when providing services to a person who is an Indian or native person or in respect of children who are Indian or native persons, with a view to ensuring compliance by societies with those provisions."
So that says that every time we review this act -- and there is an obligation in the act that it gets reviewed every five years, but even if it's outside of the requirements of the act -- it's done so as to ensure that children's aid societies are seriously taking a look at the way in which, the extent to which, and the failure, in some cases, in which they are meeting the needs of First Nations individuals and children.
I thought it was really important to get those two items on the record, because without the New Democrats doing our work with First Nations and making sure that they were even aware that this bill was coming down the pike and ensuring that they had the opportunity to have something to say about it, lots of these changes, I don't think, would be before us this afternoon in terms of the revised bill.
I also spent some time yesterday talking about the request that everyone knows came forward from the Ombudsman. It was a very public request. It was a very thoughtful request that children's aid societies come under the purview of the Ombudsman's office for purposes of receiving complaints and doing investigations. I did speak about this yesterday, as I mentioned, but I think it's important to remind members of the community who might be watching that this is a simple situation that was requested by the Ombudsman. It's no different from what happens in many provinces across the country, that there is a completely unbiased, neutral third party that already has all of the training and all of the staffing and all of the structure, if you will, and all the authority and all the understanding of how to go about these things, to investigate complaints laid against children's aid societies.
One final piece to that is: Unfortunately, instead of undertaking the Ombudsman's request and approving the amendment that New Democrats put forward in that regard, the government decided to set up an internal system through the Child and Family Services Review Board, which would hear complaints or appeals of complaints that weren't addressed to the satisfaction of the complainant. The problem with that -- it was even indicated by the Ombudsman -- is that it's still not a totally neutral external body reviewing the information. The minister will say, "The Ombudsman can review those decisions," but the bottom line is, if you sat in those committee hearings, you would have seen and heard from people who had reached a level of frustration that was off the Richter scale in terms of their inability to get justice within the system. That's not a blame thing; that's simply noting that there is a big, big roadblock for people to get justice within that system.
What does that system do? It removes children from their families where there is a suspicion of abuse or evidence of abuse and sets them into other places of care. If families can't be sure and if children can't be sure that they can get a fair complaint review process internally, which is what they've indicated already, then it's up to us as legislators to do the right thing and make sure that that level of scrutiny is the very highest that we could possibly provide them with. It's too important for the children, it's too important for the families and it's too important for all of those people who came and gave heart-wrenching stories of frustration about how the system dealt with them. I'm quite disappointed that the minister didn't see to it to provide Ontario children and families with oversight by the Ombudsman's office, and very disappointed that that amendment did not get passed because the government members voted against it.
There are a couple of other issues that I think are important that need to be put on the record about Bill 210. One is the issue that was raised -- and people may recall this. It didn't get a lot of media attention, but there was an article that was published in the Toronto Star. It was about something called the aging-out process. I wanted to just read this again; I did this in the second reading debate on this bill. People say, "What does `aging out' mean?" Aging out is the time at which a child who has been under the protection of the children's aid society as a crown ward begins to reach the age at which the legislation requires that they no longer receive the support of the children's aid society, the foster home or wherever they happen to be placed.
I wanted to frame this, first of all, by telling you a little bit about some research that was prepared by a woman named Anne Tweddle. It's a discussion around modernizing income security programs overall. One of the pieces that she touches on is "Youth Leaving Care: How Do They Fare?" What she said is that "recent international research examining outcomes for youth after they `age out' of the child welfare system paints a disturbing picture. The findings show that, compared to their peers, youth aging out of care are more likely to" -- and then there are a number of bullets listed:
" -- leave school before completing their secondary education;
" -- become a parent at a young age;
" -- be dependent on social assistance;
" -- be unemployed or underemployed;
" -- be incarcerated/involved with the criminal justice system;
" -- experience homelessness;
" -- have mental health problems; and
" -- be at higher risk for substance abuse problems."
There are a number of other issues that are outlined in this report. But I have to say, as a parent -- and I'm sure anyone else who's either watching or here in the Legislature who's a parent will know that these are not the kinds of outcomes we want to see for our children, so why are they the kinds of outcomes that we're prepared to live with for children who become a part of our child welfare system? That's a question that I couldn't figure out: why we would allow our system to continue to put children at risk of these kinds of outcomes as they age out of the system.
Just as another piece to that story, the story that was in the Toronto Star, written by Carol Goar back in October of last year, says that "no amount of semantic cushioning can soften what, in real life, is a brutal transition.
"At the age of 18, crown wards, whose only parent has been the state for most or all of their lives, suddenly have no parent." They're cut loose. "They're on their own."
The article goes on to describe a number of facts around what that means and what kind of income support is available and issues of that nature. But the reason I'm raising it is because I thought that was a significant piece that was missing from the legislation. I thought that this was the opportunity, in this review -- again, remember, this legislation is required to be reviewed every five years. Five years is too long to wait for five more years of children, of youth, who are aging out of our child welfare system. It's inconceivable that we would not address this issue at this point in time. Unfortunately, the government has chosen not to address that situation at this point in time.
I mentioned earlier that the minister did sit down with me, prior to having the bill called for third reading, to indicate where she thought some of my concerns were and how she thought she was going to deal with those from the broader system's perspective. At that time -- and I'll be quite blunt about it and quite fair about it -- she indicated that she was concerned about that issue as well because, the first time in debate, people may recall, I likened it to the fact that, even with our children, it's no longer the case where at 18 years old, they're out of the house and on their own. In fact, it's more likely that they are going to be 25 or 30 before they're out of the house and on their own. So why is it that we can expect this level of independence for children, especially youth who have been through some of the brutal experiences that put them in the child welfare system in the first place?
What she said is that they're going to do some things, working with agencies and communities to try to find ways to transition young people from the crown ward system into independent living. That's fine and laudable, but unless it is enshrined in the legislation, there is no guarantee that the children and youth of Ontario can expect, realistically, that not only this government but the next government and the next and the next are going to be committed to providing those resources and, in fact, are going to be obligated to provide those resources.
People can be assured that I certainly did put that on the record. I have many amendments that I have moved at committee -- unfortunately, all of them were turned down -- around extended care and maintenance, not only in terms of aging out but also in terms of various kinds of arrangements that are made for children in the new system that the government brought forward through Bill 210. I say that because it's not just a matter of the resources as children age out. That's certainly important. It's in the motions that I put forward, but they didn't get accepted.
The other piece is that the government's discussions around Bill 210 and the reasons for it talk about making more permanent placements, more permanent connections, more stable environments for children who become part of the child welfare system. From my perspective and the perspectives of other people who made presentations at the hearings, one of the things that is a barrier to the stability of a placement is resources. So some of the motions that I put forward were around extended care and maintenance agreements and the extent to which the financial and other -- financial, yes, but also programming and support -- agreements were required to be maintained as, for example, children move into a foster care situation or into the care of a grandparent, or into a situation where they're in the broader community because that's what's determined to be in the best interests of the child.
The bottom line is, unless the resources are going with those children that ensure that they're connected to some of the things that assist them in their ability to cope on a day-to-day basis -- whether they happen to be children with disabilities, whether it's an emotional and stress type of trauma that needs to be dealt with, whether there are educational supports that need to be put in place or that are in place, or whether it's simply in terms of financial supports, as these children are transitioned into these other forms of care, there really should be an obligation to support them so that those new, more permanent relationships that we're trying to get in the province of Ontario are backed up by some resources to help them grow and prosper into solid relationships and thereby give those young people and children a chance to have a bright future.
There was one other major piece that I thought was, let's say, an opportunity that Bill 210 brought forward. That was the opportunity for the government to use this discussion about child welfare to acknowledge and bring forward their commitment of about a year ago now, which was to make the office of the child advocate completely independent. I did actually put forward a motion as well in that regard. I have it with me here. It's not a completely difficult thing to do; in fact, the motion itself is barely a page long. It basically suggests that within 30 days of this bill coming into force, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, on the address of the Legislative Assembly, appoint a person to be the child advocate, to be responsible for the operation of the Office of Child and Family Services Advocacy, but that the child advocate is an officer of the assembly, which makes them independent. It also talks about the term of office, removal from office and the requirement to report to the Legislative Assembly.
The bottom line is that the previous minister made a commitment about the office of the child advocate last year, that it was extremely important that it be a separate, independent office of this Legislature. It hasn't happened yet. During the clause-by-clause discussion, there was some faint hope because government members did, in turning down this motion, indicate that there was something coming forward. So now we have another promise on record saying that legislation is coming forward to make the office of the child advocate independent. I certainly look forward to that legislation, because it's long overdue and it certainly will help in providing an opportunity for people to have an independent advocate, a voice or basically somebody who children and families can go to, and constantly move up the bar in the way that we as a province deal with children's issues.
There are a number of other smaller pieces to the bill, but I think I've outlined where we agreed with the government and where we disagreed in terms of missed opportunities, in our opinion. I know that my leader, Howard Hampton, has some things that he wants to put on the record in regard to Bill 210. I know that my colleague Peter Kormos, the member from Niagara Centre, also has issues that he was concerned about that are enshrined in this bill. They'll be speaking to it a little later.
One of those is the use of alternative dispute resolution. Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to review one of the presenters, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. I mentioned yesterday in my discussion a little bit about some of their concerns around the entire system and how at every phase there should be screening for domestic violence. One of the things they highlight in their report is the issue of alternative dispute resolution and the extent to which domestic violence is something that is often not appropriately taken into consideration.
The issue is that abusers tend to be very manipulative -- that's the history of the relationship not only with the spouse but often with the children -- and to what extent that gets perpetuated through the ADR process and to what extent the type of ADR you're using may not be able to address the power imbalances and the historic manipulation that occurs in situations of woman abuse and family violence.
Having said that, I'm almost finished with my remarks. I'm just going to do one last quick list of some of the concerns we had with Bill 210. The first is the dismal consultation with First Nations and, as a result of the activity of New Democrats, the eventual opening up of the process to get some of those voices to the table but also some changes to the bill that have left First Nations in a position where initially they were saying, "This a terrible bill and we hate it," and now they're saying, in a more measured response, that they see it as a step in the right direction but want the government to commit to the establishment of a completely separate child welfare system for First Nations. So there's that.
The independent oversight by the Ombudsman was not dealt with by the government. On the issue of aging out and increasing the age at which youth are able to maintain supports, we suggested that it should be at least the age of 25, to acknowledge that young people need those supports as they try to move on with their lives. The lack of extended care and maintenance agreements, and the lack of an independent child advocate being ingrained in the bill -- those are my remarks.
In fact, when you look at the adoption legislation as it is today, it's quite outdated. It's really based on the presumption that children who are put up for adoption are coming as infants into the city, put up largely by young women who have had babies out of wedlock. Of course, that is no longer true. Many of the children who come into the child welfare system today come from very difficult situations, from families which for one reason or another have not been able to take care of the child as well as one might hope. In those cases, unless it's been an abusive relationship, the birth family often maintains a right of contact.
Under the current legislation, if the birth family is allowed contact, then adoption is not allowed. This legislation fixes that. It allows an open adoption in which there may still be some contact with the birth family. It also makes it easier for relatives, including grandparents, to provide permanent homes for kids within their family, and it creates a number of other options which are very helpful to my children's aid.
There are some issues here with kinship care, trying to arrange adoptions closer to the kinship relationship. There's been input by First Nations, who weren't quite satisfied with that resolve.
I think we all want this to work in the best interests of children, to be placed in conditions of safety -- safety first -- and to have a process to make sure that happens. But I think there have been a couple of noteworthy inquests in the last year or so of a child having been placed in kinship care where in fact the child was treated poorly and died. That's a case that was just before the courts.
Sometimes in our ridings we get concerns from grandparents and other issues on these children's aid interventions to protect children, the need to demonstrate this, and the really nasty intrusion into families. In many cases, it's absolutely justified, but I find it difficult to get to the children's aid societies sometimes. I know it's a priority area.
What I want to pay close attention to in my remarks later on this afternoon is that the Ombudsman has expressed similar concerns. I don't think it has been addressed in the bill -- I think it was skated around -- that they should provide a mechanism to resolve some of these concerns of the Ombudsman. That is what's missing here. We've got to err on the side of the safety of children first.
Don't forget: children's aid societies, as we may call them colloquially, are private organizations with their own boards, yet they possess more power than the Ministry of Revenue, than police forces, than the immigration department. I know folks who work in children's aid societies and people who manage them, and they run from very, very good and very competent to incredibly overworked, understaffed and under-resourced. When that happens, people get put at risk -- I'm talking about organizations that are understaffed and under-resourced.
I personally and fundamentally have some problems about the lack of public accountability. The children's aid society, in my view, is an anachronism. It predates this century; it predates, at least philosophically, the last century.
But that isn't the focus of the bill. I'm going to have the opportunity, along with Howard Hampton, the leader of the NDP, to speak to this bill later this afternoon. Both of us will be expressing some concerns about the legislation and the failure of the government to get it right when it could have gotten it right.
It's important that we remember that part of the process of good legislation is that one goes to committee, listens to the advice that is provided by those stakeholders and other members of this Legislature, and adapts that to the bill and amends it.
I just want to make a comment about the fact that the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006, makes it easier for children in need of protection to find a permanent home. It makes adoption more flexible by allowing more children to be adopted while still maintaining ties to their birth family and community. Again, it makes it easier for relatives, including grandparents, to provide a permanent home for those children and youth who need one.
As a grandparent, I certainly understand the role that grandparents have when it comes to their grandchildren. To be able to have that opportunity to embrace the responsibility, should the circumstances be such, is great for the children and for those who are providing the care. I'm really pleased to say that this bill is certainly going to make a better place for children in need.
I guess what I need to reiterate, though, is that this government had some opportunities to do some other really positive and important things with this bill. I don't take too much issue with what they've already done in some ways -- although, having said that, there are still issues around First Nations communities that I think they've not done well with -- but there are issues around Ombudsman oversight, there are issues around extended care and maintenance, there are issues around the independence of the child advocate, and there are issues still remaining around resourcing, not only of children's aid societies, but of the designation of agencies within First Nations to be able to provide these kinds of services.
So there are a number of pieces that the government needs to think about in terms of moving forward, and it's unfortunate that Bill 210 didn't deal with some of these really quite important pieces. Had they done so, this bill would be absolutely the panacea for children of Ontario. Unfortunately, it's second-best.
Following second reading debate, Bill 210 received extensive public hearings from delegations from across the province. I wanted to take a few moments to reiterate some of the comments and suggestions from the various agencies we heard from.
Tikinagan Child and Family Services is one of the oldest and largest aboriginal children's aid societies in Ontario. They provide comprehensive child protection services to a large geographic area north of the 50th parallel, which includes 30 remote First Nations and several small towns and villages. They have pioneered a process of alternative dispute resolution, Talking Together. It's an innovative form of dispute resolution practised as an alternative to the family court system and is based on traditional circles held in the communities.
During clause-by-clause, we adopted an NDP motion in section 5 of the bill on the issue of alternative dispute resolution. The motion states that where a society is considering ADR to resolve a dispute, the society must consult with a native child's band to determine if ADR, established by the band or under regulation, would help resolve the dispute. As well, we would require the CAS -- the children's aid society -- to give notice of ADR, which would enable the First Nations representatives to provide culturally appropriate support and input into the process of dispute resolution.
From the time of the announcement of the formation of the child welfare secretariat, the Children's Aid Society of Toronto has been enthusiastically supportive of the new directions being contemplated by our government. The agency in Toronto serves over 33,000 children a year and provides daily care for about 1,000 crown wards. During public hearings, CAS Toronto was optimistic that Bill 210 would promote permanency options which have been unavailable until now for the vast majority of children and youth.
Carolyn Buck, the interim executive director for CAS Toronto, said, "This bill demonstrates that you have heard many issues identified by professionals in this field, as well as those identified by our clients who have received service."
The Adoption Council of Ontario supported this bill. As an umbrella organization with the adoption community, they advocate for adopted persons and all people connected with adoption. Their mandate focuses on four areas: adoption information, adoption education, support and advocacy. Their mission is to provide support to individuals, families, groups and organizations in Ontario that are concerned with adoption. ACO believes that this legislation will lift the existing barriers for children and clear the way for permanency planning that can allow for more flexibility and greater options. They welcome efforts to address the confusing and cumbersome system of adoption in Ontario.
Legal Aid Ontario is also supportive of the direction of this bill and cited that it's a signal of a major shift in thinking in the child protection field. Legal Aid was particularly supportive of the increased flexibility in how children's aid societies can use their funding with the goal of keeping children in their own homes. Of particular interest to Legal Aid Ontario is the introduction of alternative dispute resolution processes in the area of child protection.
In section 10 of the bill we put forward an amendment which would permit parties to an assessment to agree upon an assessor within a time frame specified by the court. We heard from aboriginal leaders who expressed concern about the cultural competence of court-ordered assessments and the lack of input regarding who should be deemed appropriate to perform an assessment of an aboriginal child and/or their family.
Family Service Ontario is a provincial umbrella organization representing approximately 50 family service agencies in the province, of which the Catholic Family Services of Peel-Dufferin is one. FSO touted 210 as an excellent bill, because it really tries to balance the two priorities that a children's aid society has: first, to protect children, and second, to enhance the wellness of children by supporting their parents. Bill 210 will allow children who come into the care of children's aid societies to have the same opportunities of children who have been placed through a private adoption system.
This is a stronger, improved bill that better protects the interests of children and youth who are in need of protection. I would urge all my colleagues in this House to support Bill 210. Our children cannot wait any longer. Vote to support and protect our children. They deserve no less. Please support the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act, Bill 210. We need your support.
This is serious stuff. I'm going to have a chance to speak to this a little bit later in the afternoon. I'm going to repeat one more time: Real reform around family and children's services has to take into consideration the fact that the family and children's services agencies, that structure, is an anachronism, that it predates government interest and involvement and participation in this social work approach, this caring and protection of children.
We know, based on the experiences in our offices, how publicly unaccountable child and family services are, FACS are, children's aid societies. We know how difficult it is, from time to time, to get them to respond to concerns. That's why I find it amazing that the government would block Ms. Horwath and her proposal around amendments that would create Ombudsman office oversight. Banks do it: insurance companies do it. Any government agency is subject to the supervision of the Ombudsman. And if family and children's services, FACS, isn't going to be subject to the Ombudsman and its oversight, then maybe it's time that FACS was simply dismantled and turned into a public agency that has accountability through the minister responsible here in the Legislative Assembly. That's not to speak ill of any of those hard-working professionals who work in children's aid across Ontario. It would be to their benefit as well.
It is difficult for us, I think, to imagine being a child of four or five years old and removed from birth parents, sometimes under very difficult circumstances, and then placed in a foster home. I am privileged to know so many good foster homes, yet from the child's viewpoint, being taken from the birth parents is to be sentenced to a foster home, no matter how high-quality it is. What children want is stability and permanence in their life. They do not want to move. They do not want to know that tomorrow is uncertain and there could be a change. For a four- or five-year-old, or even an 11- or 12-year-old, the uncertainty is totally disruptive in their life.
This bill provides for some permanency planning that I think is truly creative and will truly work.
Traditionally, becoming a crown ward -- and for those who are not aware, when becoming a crown ward, the courts l say that your birth parents are no longer able or willing to serve as your parents, and our government becomes responsible for them. To become a crown ward with access, meaning that there can be contact between the birth parents and the child, has traditionally meant that that child is unadoptable; that child will spend their life in limbo. This bill provides for some creativity that will allow them to be adopted, even if they have access on their order, into families; it will allow for some guardianship; and it will allow for some permanency, so that the child can get up each morning and, even more, go to bed at night knowing what will happen tomorrow and what will happen 10 years from tomorrow. I think the bill is marvellous.
I'm pleased to spend two minutes on Bill 210, the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, for this really is an important bill. I know that all of us would like, if at all possible, to help children receive a permanent home. The difficulty has been that in the past, because of the act, children were not available, or not attractive, because of constraints or access by former parents. We all join in hoping that this particular bill, which I will be supporting, in fact will expedite and make available for adoption those children who were not available in the past. This is important, because we're talking about children in their vulnerable years, the time of their formation, and without the permanency of an adoptive and loving atmosphere, these children could go astray. We, of course, are ultimately responsible for them.
I think this bill is very important for the people of Ontario, for the children of Ontario, to make adoption in general more flexible and allow people to adopt many different children who are looking for parents to look after them and nurture them for the future.
So many elements have been brought up, especially about aboriginal people. To my knowledge, the minister met with aboriginal people many different times, and she spoke with them. Not many people know that they have a different customary care system, which means differences from spot to spot. The minister acknowledged those differences and talked to them on many different occasions to address their issue and deal with it in a professional and legal manner.
Also, for the people who are looking to adopt kids, this bill will allow grandparents and family with a kinship -- it's very important -- to keep the kids inside the family, if possible, before they send them out to different people to try to look after them. I think this bill gives flexibility to many people in this province. It gives flexibility to the grandparents and to a family member to adopt a loved one in their own families. If this bill is passed, it's going to make a huge difference for many kids in this province.
I was also listening to the member from Hastings, who was talking about it from first-hand experience. This person has experience being a foster parent for a long time, and I have listened to him on different occasions talk about the importance of this bill. He gave me great information. That's why I'm going to support the bill.
In the remaining time I have, I wanted to talk a little bit about the Ombudsman of Ontario, André Marin. He lauded the improvements to our child care practices being taken in the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act. He talked about things like increasing the flexibility of dispositions to meet the needs of each child, making the system friendlier for adopting parents and the attempts to reduce the expense and acrimony of litigation by encouraging mediation.
Our government shares the Ombudsman's concern for the best interests of children within the child protection system. We agree with the Ombudsman that the clients of a children's aid society need to have an opportunity to bring concerns to a neutral third party. Children's aid societies must be accountable to the children and the families they serve. That's why we proposed the use of the Child and Family Services Review Board to replace the current director's reviews. Decisions under the CFSRB would be timely, neutral, binding and part of a province-wide complaints process based on best practices. The Ombudsman has authority over the CFSRB, making sure that the decisions made about our children and families are wise ones and are taken with care.
We need to have a system that meets the needs of the child, where the rules fit the child instead of the child fitting the rules. I believe Bill 210, which is before the House now, is a much better bill than when it first arrived. It's stronger through the amendments the NDP and the government proposed. It's a stronger bill that will protect and provide accountability for all children in care. This is the right thing to do. We need to support this legislation. Our children cannot wait any longer. The clock is ticking. We need to protect children, and this is the bill that will do that.
If you go through the explanatory notes of the legislation, you can see that there's quite a bit to it in terms of some of the areas of legislation it affects. What always triggers me to familiarize myself with a bill and what its implications are is to consult with my constituents and ask, "Have you heard of this bill?" whether it's Bill 206 or Bill 36; I've heard lots on those. Bill 210 is a more specialized bill, so I have put the word out, and I've listened to the wise advice from the member from York North.
It says, "The bill amends the Child and Family Services Act to permit courts to make custody orders for children in need of protection and openness orders for crown wards who are the subject of a plan for adoption. The bill makes additional amendments to the act and complementary amendments to the Children's Law Reform Act, the Education Act and the Vital Statistics Act."
Those don't sound that far off base, I suppose, but the general impression I got is that it's a well-intended bill. That's the impression I got listening to the minister speak in the House on it. The current minister, Minister Chambers, of course, would say that was the intent.
I looked at the notes Ms. Munro provided for us, and they say that the three key intentions of the bill are to provide permanency planning for children, openness in adoption and an alternative dispute resolution process. The government says its reforms will expand the range of permanent family-based core options for children in Ontario, enabling more children to move on to adoption. This would reduce court times and divert cases from the inappropriateness, in many occasions, of court. Those are well-intended, so I wouldn't fault that.
In our caucus discussions on this bill, I even questioned what was at risk, what were the things that we should be bringing to the debate to make sure we were addressing the issues of families and the stability of a child's current and future choices, and that someone is there watching out for their needs.
The bill broadens the definition of "place of safety," allowing children removed from a home by the children's aid society to be placed -- this is important -- with family or community members instead of taken into care or kinship care. That's very important. The case that comes to mind is the Jeffrey Baldwin case, which was before the courts. The children's aid, for some reason or another, had assigned the young boy, Jeffrey Baldwin, to a kinship relationship. The family's situation had failed the child, I guess, and the child was taken and placed with, I believe, his grandparents.
I started to become a bit suspicious, just following the court proceedings, not any other decisions. As the reports were in the media, I noticed that one of the grandparents apparently had a prior charge or conviction, I think, on child abuse, or at least there was some suggestion that there was some abuse. I thought, even though it's a grandparent, how appropriate is it to assign a vulnerable child to someone who has had a prior conviction of any sort, for that matter?
I've heard many of those cases being raised as well in aboriginal children's issues that Ms. Horwath spoke about. I think there has to be a process to make sure that any potential risk to the child can be avoided absolutely. That is the government's role at the end of the day. No one would disagree with the expeditious movement of adoption in today's world, where many well-intended young couples, middle-aged couples and couples of all sorts are going to other countries to adopt children when we have children right here at home who want the stability and the care, the love and attention that a family setting can bring to their lives. It can be transformative.
So I want to be on the record as completely supportive, when all the safeguards are in place. That's the condition that is raised by the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman says here that they have no particular role in investigating and oversight of children's aid societies. At this point, I guess my comments are somewhat controversial; I think the member from Hamilton East as well was making the point that there should be completely impartial, independent oversight when necessary, as the Ombudsman does in other areas. I say for the record that I would be personally supportive of that, because at the end of the day the fragility and the emotional situation you're in in a children's aid intervention -- there must have been justification for that investigation being assigned to someone.
We've seen, in the inquest into the Jeffrey Baldwin case, that mistakes are made -- not intentionally, I'm sure. If somebody doesn't disclose, how does the caseworker or case manager know these things? But if you looked at it, there was no one, and the Ombudsman is saying it didn't seem to him that the CAS, whichever branch of the CAS it was, had an independent process to be self-critical. What better role for the Ombudsman to come in, whether it's a government agency or a public institution, where the Ombudsman has complete autonomy within the law to have an independent review? I don't see why they didn't do it. There are vested stakeholders within any organization who may not want to deal with the answer or the inquiry in a completely open fashion. I think the Ombudsman -- I had a casual look through the Ombudsman's report today -- is doing a lot of great work in areas of property assessment and other things. Some might say he is doing too much work, but that's a whole debate for another time.
My concern here is about the children, and we do want that precaution.
I'm just going to put on the record here -- this is from the Ombudsman's office, so it's not something from John Tory, our leader. We've discussed this in caucus. It's from the Ombudsman's office. It's dated February 14 and it says the following:
"The Ministry of Children and Youth Services' proposed amendments to Bill 210" -- which we're discussing -- "the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act, fall far short of what is needed to ensure independent, third party, investigative oversight of children's aid societies, according to Ontario's Ombudsman, André Marin.
"In a letter sent to the minister on Monday, the Ombudsman wrote: `The ministry's proposal falls far short of what the citizens of Ontario, in particular, children in need of protection, deserve.'" That's the end of the quote. That's pretty strong language, but his intentions and his general thrust cannot be faulted here.
"Mr. Marin, who has called on the Legislature to extend Ombudsman oversight to children's aid societies, expressed concern and disappointment at the proposal which includes additional internal complaints mechanisms and expanding the mandate of the Child and Family Services Review Board."
I quote again here: "`It's a stop-gap measure, which does not go far enough,' said Mr. Marin. `All it does is add another layer of bureaucracy to internal processes.'"
This sounds like a typical Liberal solution -- I hate to be critical -- have an inquiry and more bureaucracy; sort of like the LHINs, actually. I don't want to inflame this, because there are ministers here, but I don't see why they wouldn't take this precaution and agree with Ms. Horwath, the member from Hamilton East. I think it's a well-intended amendment.
This is where the politics are sometimes dysfunctional here. Ms. Horwath or Ms. Munro, in a very well-intended, non-partisan way, moved an amendment that does nothing to embellish our position on it. It strengthens the legislation. Premier McGuinty said he's going to "choose change" and "democratic renewal" -- all these soft, fuzzy words. He doesn't listen.
This is starting to enrage me, because I sat here on Bill 206, and he wouldn't listen. They time-allocated. On Bill 36, the LHINs, they time-allocated. They ram this stuff through.
What has it got to do with this? I would say that the Ombudsman, or the Integrity Commissioner in the case of Mr. Takhar, had it right.
In the very limited time left, I want to make sure that -- it's frustrating. I've got to go back to Bill 210 for a moment, but this has struck me. Here again, Ms. Horwath moved an amendment, in my understanding, supporting what the Ombudsman said in the report that I've read here. It says that it completely fails. It does not go far enough to protect children, he said. It's about protecting children. It's not partisan.
What's this democratic renewal debate all about? Working together. Our leader, John Tory, is always advocating to extend the olive branch, to just go that extra step to try and reach consensus. He tried that on Bill 206. You'll probably recall that. He tried to say, "Let's have some more hearings with Sid Ryan. Let's try to find some common ground here." It was the same thing with Bill 210. We just tried to get this perfect. In fact, we tried to get it right. We had nothing to gain on that, except that the people of Ontario do have it to gain, and in this case, the children of Ontario have it to gain.
Mr. Parsons has done a lot of great work in this particular area. I want to put that on the record. I respect him for that. I would say that the member from Prince Edward-Hastings is well-known for the work he's done. He's received awards and recognition for his role in working with the CAS and with children, and I commend him for that. I'm surprised that he wouldn't stand up and insist, "Let's take every single precaution, listen to the Ombudsman, and have that final check and balance so that this Jeffrey Baldwin situation can't occur again."
You know yourself; you're closer to it than I am. There are those remote occasions where these little errors happen, and they shouldn't be. The Ombudsman's willing to embrace this, the protection of children, by having an independent review of the CAS. These are well-intended boards, for the most part; 99% is a pretty good mark. But that 1% just isn't acceptable, and the Ombudsman says that; I say that; Andrea Horwath says that; I believe Julia Munro says that, and yet they wouldn't agree with that small, non-partisan amendment. I wonder why.
It gets me back to saying right now that, given this reluctance to engage in the full meaning of democratic renewal, and to time-allocate the sensitive issues on Bill 206, Bill 36 -- even the Integrity Commissioner's report has been time-allocated -- it's shutting down the very meaning of democracy. I'd say that in the last couple of weeks, about 75% of their legislative initiatives have been time-allocated -- this hasty session.
With that in mind, for the most part, I accept and support Bill 210, under the good advice of our member from York North, Julia Munro, and the hard work she's done, but I am now going to move adjournment of the debate in protest of the decision to time-allocate the Takhar decision. So I now move adjournment of the debate.
All those in favour will say "aye."
All those opposed will say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1722 to 1752.
Mr. O'Toole has moved adjournment of the debate.
All those in favour, please stand. Take your seats.
All those opposed, please stand.
Mr. O'Toole, you have the floor.
I think it's important to refocus here on what we were in the midst of debating, Bill 210, which is the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act. I was lauding or applauding the work done by the member from York North, our critic Julia Munro. She brought to my attention some very startling facts that I think are worthy of further comment.
The CASs serve about 9,000 children in permanent care and in foster homes, who must completely sever all ties to his or her birth family before being eligible for adoption -- that's quite surprising -- and 70% of children in permanent care can't be adopted because their birth family has a court-ordered right to contact them. So it's a very technical piece of legislation.
Then you look at the plight of the children's aid societies themselves. If you look at the children's aid societies, they're currently running a cumulative deficit of $70 million. Their boards are cash-flow to keep their employees' salaries in place for child protection in our province. The bill does not address this problem at all. That's been a growing and pressing problem of children's aid.
If they wanted to do the right thing, they would have listened to the recommendations of the Ombudsman. I've cited his remarks made on February 14: "`It's a stopgap measure, which does not go far enough,' said Mr. Marin. `All it does is add another layer of bureaucracy to internal processes.'"
I think those are the points we're making. The member from Hamilton East, from the NDP, in committee made a very valid amendment, which was declined by the government. The government has always pleaded the case of, "Choose change; choose democratic renewal; we're different; we'll listen," but here we've got a bill, Bill 210, where everybody agreed that the Ombudsman should have some role to protect children. We also have the situation where we've got a couple of bills before us -- Bill 206 has been time-allocated; Bill 36 has been time-allocated; time-allocating the Integrity Commissioner's report.
I'm just trying to find a point of balance, not just in this debate but in the actual proceedings in this Legislature. On behalf of John Tory, I think we've tried to respectfully make that argument. I think I've passed comments with respect to the member from Prince Edward-Hastings on the great work he's done. The very positive initiative of Bill 210 was to provide permanency for planning for children, openness in adoption and an alternative dispute resolution process. We support that; those are laudable objectives which we support. We'd like to work with you, and yet at the same time you're resistant to a very friendly amendment.
I don't know. I really don't believe it's the minister. I really believe, quite honestly, it's that they're afraid to allow the Ombudsman to have this independent, professional oversight of a kind of inside baseball game. That's my impression, and that would be something I'd have to be briefed on. That's why we need to have more debate on this. That's what it comes down to: It was in committee, it was brought up, it was voted down, and now I'm left pondering why it was turned down.
It's something we'll certainly have to look up in Hansard, and make sure the 9,000 children in the protection services of the children's aid have that final assurance that their safety always takes precedence. That's really why I'm speaking on this bill in the remaining one second I have left. We would like to support that. With that being said, I appreciate those listening to my remarks.
The House adjourned at 1759.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.
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