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Ontario Hansard - 01-March2012

NORTHERN ONTARIO


Mr. John Vanthof: I move that, in the opinion of this House, a committee of the Legislative Assembly, with authority to meet at the call of the Chair, should be established as follows;

That the membership of the committee be comprised of every member of the Legislative Assembly whose electoral district lies north of the French River; and

That the committee be empowered to consider and report to the House its observations, opinions and recommendations on all policies and legislation of the province that directly impact northern Ontario; and

To which any bills whose principal focus and impact affect northern Ontario may be referred.

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The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Mr. Vanthof has moved private member's notice of motion number 9. Pursuant to standing order 98, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation.

Mr. John Vanthof: Thank you, Speaker. Northern Ontario: 6% of the population and 90% of the land mass. One of the places you can appreciate that, in the rest of the province, is on the big map on the east side doors. That's one of the few places outside of northern Ontario you can actually appreciate it, because when you use a road map, it's a different scale. And that's an important point to remember.

A few weeks ago, I was at a hockey game, on a Friday night. The New Liskeard Cubs lost to the Nickel City Sons. But I was speaking to Terry Willard. Terry's the owner of a local bus line. He survived. But when they changed the bus procurement rules, what you are fighting now in the south, they didn't bother with a study or a moratorium. We found out about the moratorium after we lost all the bus lines. And there's a big difference there. On that one, we were like the canary in the coal mine, the big 48-seat canary.

Terry talked to me a long time about that, and as our conversation ended, Terry said, "You know, John, when are we going to do it?" And I said, "Do what?" He said, "Separate, before they kill our way of life."

Now, Terry is not a separatist. He's a Canadian. He's a proud Canadian. He's a father, a businessman, a community volunteer, but he's frustrated. He's more than frustrated; he's alienated, like many of us. And there's a big difference, because being frustrated and disagreeing with government policies-you know what? That's part of democracy. We don't always agree on the same things. That's part of democracy. But the difference between frustrated and alienated is when, deep down, you don't believe that you have any impact, any possible impact on government policy; when you, deep down, don't believe that you matter. That's the problem that a lot of us face in northern Ontario.

The first time I felt it personally: Probably some of you were in this House when we fought Adams mine, and in this House, the Adams Mine Lake Act was passed. There was a huge fight. It split my riding completely in two, and those scars are still there. But you know what? That was democracy. It was a bit dirty at times, but it was democracy.

Now I know, Speaker-I'm new here, I'm still learning, but now I know that between the second and third reading, you have a hearing where you're supposed to hear the people's views. Perfect. For the Adams Mine Lake Act, which was the name of it, the closest hearing-there were two hearings, actually: one in Windsor and one in Milton, seven hours away from the Adams mine. That was when the people on both sides-


Interjection: Did they Skype?

Mr. John Vanthof: There was no Skype.

The people on both sides, for and against the Adams mine, were all alienated. That was the first time I felt it personally.

But that was long enough ago, and so you say, "Oh, well, has it gotten better?" No, it hasn't, and I will name a few examples.

The Far North Act: You'll have a hard time finding someone in northern Ontario, be they First Nation or non-aboriginal, in favour of the Far North Act or portions of it.

The Endangered Species Act: Once again, good ideas, some of them, but in northern Ontario-and not just in northern Ontario-there are some threats in that act. I was at a public meeting a while ago, and it wasn't funny, but in a way it was: The only endangered species they forgot in the act was the northern, and that is a big point.

This isn't a partisan thing, because there's lots of blame to go around. We all remember the cancellation of the spring bear hunt. Once again, whether you agree or do not agree, the fact that northerners had nothing to do with it, that was alienating.

Now, there are those who are going to scoff and say, "Oh, come on. We have consultations with you guys all the time. We've had round tables, technical tables. We've had conferences, summits. We've had one-year plans, two-year plans, three-year plans." The last one, folks, was 25 years. How can we not be satisfied with a 25-year plan? And each time, northerners dutifully prepare comments, and we prepare good ones. I was president of the Federation of Agriculture when we did the 25-year plan, and we did everything we could, because we think, "You know what? We've got to be at the table, just in case this time it's for real; this time, they're going to listen."

What happens? We do our best, and then we wait. And then when they do come around-and usually it's in the four-year election cycle-most of the things we put in are somehow changed or moulded so that they appear that they're what we wanted, but when you try and make it work on the ground, it doesn't work.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a meeting sponsored by the Timiskaming First Nation. They had a speaker there who was one of the main speakers in the conference, David Nahwegahbow, and he was describing the problem that First Nations were having with consultation. To the First Nations, consultation is two parties having a serious dialogue, and based on that dialogue they move forward on action. What the First Nations were feeling was that there was lots of dialogue, but the actions weren't based on the dialogue.

You know what? It hit me. That's what's happening to non-aboriginal northerners too. We do lots of talking, and we do everything we can, but by the time that the policies come out of the bureaucratic meat grinder that's down here, they don't look anything like what we started with. And that is a very, very big problem.

Interjection.


Mr. John Vanthof: That's one of the reasons, honourable colleague, you should vote for this.

But one of the things that I've often heard-and this is not a partisan thing. I've often heard Minister Gravelle say, a few times already, that one of the problems we're facing is the problem of balance. I fully agree. We have to return the balance, and one of the ways to do that is to create a committee of northern MPPs who would have the power, after second reading of a bill that impacts northern Ontario, to look at that bill, hold hearings if necessary with the stakeholders, and return some of the balance. Not change the bill-we're not talking about a veto. It's up to this Legislature to come up with good legislation. But it would be up to that committee to make sure that the legislation works on the ground, because having legislation that sounds really good here and works very well in the press and works very well on paper-if it doesn't work on the ground, what good is it going to do? It's not going to do any good.

With this committee, one thing we're looking at-because we realize it's not just northern Ontario that's facing these problems. I think we've faced them maybe longer because we are far more isolated, but if we did this as a pilot project, if this worked, it's a way of bringing government back to the people. It really is. I really believe that.

At the end of the day, I think the most important thing we have to realize-and I'm maybe going to step out of bounds here. But with the Endangered Species Act, people in northern Ontario are fully in favour of protecting endangered species, but the way the act is written, in some cases, you're making the species more endangered, because it works on paper, but it doesn't work in practicality.

I truly believe that if you had a committee made up of all the MPPs from northern Ontario-and once again, this isn't partisan, because I don't think anyone in this House runs other than to help their people, to work for their people. Certainly, I don't know any MPP in northern Ontario, with the miles and the hours and everything that we have to put in it-I'm just learning this-who runs for the fun of it. I truly believe they run for their people. And if you put those people in a room-and not on every act. One thing is really important here: We're not proposing this to slow things down. I truly believe that if we had a committee like this, we would actually speed things up, because northerners, aboriginal, non-aboriginal, would have a place to go where they truly believed that they would have a say at the end of the process.

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Once again, we don't want to have the only say, but we want to have a say to make sure that when legislation is proposed, we can look and say, "You know what? It's a good idea, but how is this going to work on the ground?"

There are going to be people who say, "Oh, this is not what we need." But what we are doing now is not working.

Since I've been elected and since I've sat in this great House, I've only heard northern Ontario mentioned a few times, and it has been with three words: Ring of Fire. And do you know what? It's a great opportunity for this province; it's a great opportunity for the north.

My colleagues in the north from all sides know we're going to run into trouble if the people of the north feel that, once again, they're being talked to but being ignored, because we've been through all this. We've been through it all before, and the First Nations have been through this all before. They've been through it for a lot longer than us.

It's time that we looked at a model of government-and the goal of this committee-that would not only make northern Ontario stronger-because, yes, I'm from northern Ontario; I want to make northern Ontario as strong as possible. But you have to realize that a strong northern Ontario can be the cornerstone of a better, stronger Ontario.

We want to be part of this province. A lot of us feel like we're a colony. We don't want to be a colony. We want to be a partner. We want to be a part of this province and help rebuild it.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Mrs. Liz Sandals: I'd like to congratulate the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane for the support that he's showing for his region of northern Ontario, for the work that he's doing to advocate for the families in his region. I truly do think that he's sincere in that advocacy.

Quite frankly, our government does recognize that northern communities face unique challenges. I think for many of us who just were at ROMA this past week or so, we've actually spent the last week talking directly to communities in northern Ontario about the challenges that are quite unique to northern Ontario, saying that we do understand that we need to work with northerners so there will be a stronger north. We totally get it that a stronger north helps build a stronger Ontario.

We do, obviously, have northern members who, unfortunately, aren't here today, because we actually tend to let our northern members go home on Thursday afternoons and try to get back into the community. We recognize it takes a bit longer to get there than it does for some of the rest of us. So, unfortunately, our northern members-which is why I'm talking, because if they were here, they would love to talk. I'm the adopted northerner or something today.

With respect to the actual motion, though, I do have some concerns. The first is, just from the point of view of making it a standing committee of the Legislature, that the membership of the committee, the way it's structured, does seem to sort of violate one of the principles on which standing committee membership is normally structured, which is proportional representation, rep by pop, within the parties that are represented here in the House. As far as I can figure out from your motion, which says ridings "north of the French River," there would be four that right now happen to be Liberal. If it had been a year ago, it would have been different, or if it had been nine years ago, it would have been different again. I recognize that, so I'm just using the situation as it happens to be right now.

There would be four Liberals on your committee, the way you've described it, because the Minister of Natural Resources-actually, he's Northern Development and Mines. Anyway, there is Superior-Greenstone, or is it Thunder Bay-Greenstone? Speaker, you've got the list of ridings there. I have a feeling I've got the riding name wrong.


Mr. John Yakabuski: Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Mrs. Liz Sandals: Thunder Bay-Atikokan. It is Superior-Greenstone. Okay. And then Sudbury and the Soo. There's four, so four Liberal.

It appears to me that there would actually only be one PC because the wording in the motion says members of the Legislature "whose electoral district lies north of the French River." Part of his riding lies north of the French River, so I'm assuming the member from Nipissing is in. It would appear that the other two members that I would think of as somewhat north are out, because for the member from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, his piece of Nipissing is south and east of the French River. I have been looking at maps very carefully today, I would like you to know. For the member for Parry Sound-Muskoka, I didn't actually have to look at the map; I knew Parry Sound was south of the French River. It would appear that we've sort of magically only got one PC member.

The NDP has five members: Timmins-James Bay, Kenora-Rainy River, Timiskaming-Cochrane, Nickel Belt and Algoma-Manitoulin. It's a good sort of gimmick. You're going from third party to first party on this committee-a good trick if you can get away with it. I'm not sure that it's quite appropriate, but I do recognize that-


Ms. Cheri DiNovo: It's not a trick. It's a genuine motion.

Mrs. Liz Sandals: I understand that it's a genuine motion. What I was going to say was that perhaps the way to try and get at what I understand is a genuine request for how we get these issues discussed is that maybe where we start is with something more informal with the members from northern Ontario from all parties getting to have a discussion and looking to see if there are areas of common interest in which they work.

I want to challenge you on a few things. One was the idea that the only thing that has ever been discussed in here, in mention of northern Ontario-I know the member from Timmins-James Bay has actually mentioned on a number of occasions the northern Ontario heritage fund because as we've been discussing creating southwestern Ontario and eastern Ontario development funds, the member has actually been quite enthusiastic about telling us about the success of the northern Ontario fund that you already have there. In fact, if you actually look at it-


Mr. Gilles Bisson: Created by northerners. It was created by us.

Mrs. Liz Sandals: That's okay. That's okay. It was a good idea. We agree you had a good idea. If you look at some of the ridings like Algoma-Manitoulin, it's provided $70 million in direct investment, leveraging about $263 million; $90 million into Kenora-Rainy River, leveraging $239 million; $69 million into the member's riding of Timiskaming-Cochrane, leveraging over $186 million; $66 million into Timmins-James Bay, leveraging over $160 million. There has been tremendous job growth that has been created, about 18,000 jobs in northern Ontario. We actually agree that that was a great idea, creating that fund, and have been investing in it.

I hope we can find another way to address what I agree is a genuine need to discuss northern issues. I don't think the idea of a formal standing committee is quite how we get there, because the rules are so unlike those of normal standing committee membership. Thank you, Speaker.

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The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Mr. Norm Miller: It's is my pleasure to join in the debate today on ballot item number 14. The motion would require that a northern committee report its observations, opinions and recommendations to the House on anything that directly impacted northern Ontario.

As the PC critic for northern development and mines, I've travelled by car from Parry Sound-Muskoka to Kenora, to Kapuskasing, to Sault Ste. Marie, to Kirkland Lake, and I've flown to many of the most remote places in the province, including Webequie, Fort Severn, Pickle Lake and Attawapiskat.

Without exception, people in northern Ontario told me that they want the government to stop using a one-size-fits-all approach to policy and regulation. Time and again, we see that what's good for southern Ontario is not necessarily good for northern Ontario, and the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane mentioned a couple of different acts. Certainly the Endangered Species Act-you could spend a lot of time talking about how it affects northern Ontario; or the Far North Act. We have this continuing Toronto-centric decision-making coming from this government, and we have many pieces of legislation that come, frankly, from environmental lobby groups, and it's not suiting the best interests of northern Ontario.

This motion is really about a disconnect between the government and bureaucrats in cubicles who write those policies and regulations and the people in the real world, who have to live with their impact. The unintended consequences of red tape and regulation, as we have seen, is crippling. Ontario is suffering from its effects, and it points to a flawed approach to policy. It's time the province moved from risk-based to outcomes-based regulations and policy.

Personally, though, I support the principle behind this motion, and I agree with a lot of what the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane said. I cannot support this motion because, once again, a member of this Legislature has elected to exclude my riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. It's been eight years since the last time that was done, and it was done by the current Minister of Northern Development and Mines. It was an underhanded and mean-spirited move at that time. I would like to believe, in this instance, that it was an accidental oversight on the part of one of this House's new members. Nonetheless, it's an attack on Parry Sound-Muskoka, and I cannot and will not support the motion for that reason.

To enlighten the member, Rick Williams, the commissioner of social services at the district of Muskoka says that the increase in Ontario Works welfare cases is among "the most dramatic in the province." The district reports that there was 931 cases in Muskoka in December 2011 alone, a 12.3% increase over the number of cases in November and 13.7% higher than in December 2010. Simply put, these are the highest numbers in 15 years in Muskoka, and the district anticipates further increases in the coming months as business closures announced before Christmas-Tembec and Grandview Resort, for example-unfold this year.

Muskoka's median average income places it well behind Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins, and it has become a black hole where there are no government programs. Whereas the government creates a southwestern program and has an eastern program and has the NOHFC, Muskoka, despite its lower average incomes, is not benefiting.

The district of Parry Sound also struggles with lower than Ontario average incomes and high unemployment. If you look at all the northern ridings, Parry Sound has the lowest median household income in the north, at $50,921, according to 2006 Statistics Canada numbers. That's $19,000 below the provincial average. That's lower than Algoma at $58,800. It's lower than Sault Ste. Marie at $63,377. It's lower than Timiskaming at $55,551. It's well below every other region.

The district of Parry Sound also features-it has many similar qualities to the north. It has five First Nations. It has unorganized territories. It has very larges spaces in terms of the geography. And Parry Sound, I might point out to the member, is considered part of northern Ontario for provincial funding programs.

I know there are some other members who would like to speak to this. I simply would say that I'm disappointed that my riding is not included. I think the idea of a committee is a good idea but, unfortunately, I will not be able to support this motion today.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: It's my pleasure to get up in this chamber and support the motion brought forward by the member for Timiskaming-Cochrane. I have to tell you, I have spent many, many days in the north for the last couple of years, and everything that he speaks about in that motion, everything that he talked about in his remarks, is reflective of the sentiment that I hear from northerners every time I travel to the north, Speaker.

I'm going to talk a little bit about that, but I first want to say how shocked I am that the member from Guelph made the remarks about the northern members from the Liberal benches not being here to speak to this motion. I think that's endemic to the problem that we're trying to fix with this motion: putting an actual forum together where northern members have an opportunity to talk about the legislation that comes through this House and the impact that it has on northerners. I'm utterly disappointed-maybe not surprised, but utterly disappointed-that the member from Guelph can talk about this being a gimmick. How dare that kind of language come up when this is an extremely serious situation that northerners have been facing for so long now that they are actually contemplating breaking away from the province and joining Manitoba? That's how serious it is. So to be so flippant about this problem shows that there's a real lack of understanding on the government benches about how problematic the situation is in Ontario when northerners don't feel like their voices are being heard in the halls of this Legislature by the government or the by bureaucrats who draft legislation.

I have to say that the idea that this is somehow a power thing and somehow a gimmick to get power is, again, extremely distasteful. Unfortunately, once again, the Liberals fall into their old pattern of everything being about them and their own power instead of about doing the right thing and doing the job that needs to be done for the people in this province and, as far as this motion goes, the people of the north. Very disappointing.

I have to say that the member for Timiskaming-Cochrane spoke about some of the very specific areas of legislation that he has been concerned about. There are many, many more. I agree with him on everything that he said. The biggie, if you will, the biggest example of the north not being heard, not being spoken to, not being listened to, was in the Far North Act. Holy smokes. We had a Far North Act rammed through this Legislature, and everybody in the north was against it. The chambers of commerce in northern communities were against the Far North Act moving forward. Every First Nation community across the north was against, opposed to, the Far North Act moving forward. The heads of municipalities and all of the elected officials in all of the municipalities in northern ridings were against the Far North Act going forward. What did the Liberals do? They rammed through the Far North Act. So if there's one thing that's very symbolic about how northerners are not having their issues dealt with by this Liberal government, it's the Far North Act. It is symbolic of the problem that has been ongoing for a long time-as we watch the forestry sector fall apart in the north and lose over 40,000 good-paying jobs, by the way, Speaker.

I just want to say one last thing, because I know there are other members in my caucus who want to speak about this. It's not just the big policy pieces; it's the implementation, as the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka was indicating. It's the implementation; it's the regs. In northern Ontario, for example, if you work for a social services agency, you have to travel sometimes 40 minutes between clients, sometimes two hours between clients, sometimes three hours between clients. If you're delivering home care services, that's the kind of travel time that you have between clients. When I go to the north and I talk to the people who sit on the social services boards there, the mayors and the municipal representatives, they are beside themselves because they get the same amount of administrative cost coverage as is happening in the south, when it is a completely different situation. They simply cannot afford to provide the kinds of services that need to be provided and that should be provided equally to all Ontarians on the same kind of dime that gets allotted in the south.

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It's that cookie-cutter approach that is simply not working for the north, that hasn't worked for the north for a long time and that we need to address, and the only way to seriously get at it is to get serious about putting a committee together that will be a lens on these kinds of problems and bring forward not partisan suggestions but practical, pragmatic suggestions of how we can start fixing the real problems that northerners are facing.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Mr. Jeff Leal: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the discussion this afternoon on the motion that's been put forward by the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane. I recall a number of years ago, when I think the International Plowing Match was held in Timiskaming-Cochrane for the very first time. I believe the current member was very involved-and I know that his uncle, the member from Oxford, has just helped me here to verify the historical record that indeed he was instrumental in the organization. I know from people in my riding of Peterborough who were up to that International Plowing Match that they still have many fond memories of the great hospitality that was shown by the people of the north and, indeed, the people from that particular riding.

You know, it's interesting that when you divide lines in northern Ontario, it's always been the subject of some interesting debate. I heard the member from Parry Sound-Muskoka articulate very well some of the concerns that have always been put forward when we start delineating on the map. Indeed, his former federal colleague from Parry Sound-Muskoka, a very good friend of mine, Andy Mitchell, who served so ably as a federal member and federal cabinet minister-we've always had discussions about delineating that line in northern Ontario and the impact that has on programming for northern Ontario. I think that inherent in this motion today is an opportunity, if this committee does get established, to look at ways we can be perhaps a touch more flexible and certainly give the opportunity to include the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, because I think good arguments can be made for the inclusion of Parry Sound-Muskoka with this particular motion.

There have been a number of key initiatives in northern Ontario in the last number of years. I certainly want to give the official opposition credit. During their term in government they established the northern medical school, and I always believe in giving credit where credit is due. During our time in government, of course, we developed an architectural school in northern Ontario and, indeed, a law school in northern Ontario to provide the academic training for those professional areas, along with the medical school, to assist the north in many areas to have those professions in place, which many of us in the House would agree are the building blocks for a very successful future.

We also, of course, have the Ring of Fire development, which I'm told has the largest deposit of chromite in the world, a material that's going to be in increasing demand. Particularly, evolving communities and economies-China, India, Brazil and other nations-are certainly going to demand chromite for a wide variety of steel processing and other manufacturing activities. So in future, like nickel, copper and other minerals, we certainly believe the Ring of Fire has unlimited potential for northern Ontario.

This forum that has been proposed here this afternoon can bring individuals together, and I'd just like to encourage the member for Timiskaming-Cochrane-I just happen to have an article here from the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, and I think what's described in this article is a need for a little more outreach for other members in northern Ontario, indeed, to be kind of fully briefed on what the intent of this legislative committee is all about. I know that in my case, some of my colleagues have not had the opportunity to take a look at this legislative committee, and it's an opportunity that they would like to have before this committee is in place.

I think there are some very good elements in what's being proposed this afternoon. I think it needs to move forward. But I would actually include the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Mr. Victor Fedeli: I rise today to thank the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane for what I consider to be a very thoughtful motion.

There are areas of improvement that are needed, as you've heard about, but nonetheless, the very fact that you had to bring something like this to the Legislature speaks to the fact that there's a demand for a northern Ontario voice.

As a former mayor of the city of North Bay for seven years, I can tell you that we looked at the government and thought, like you, "They believe that Ontario ends at Steeles Avenue." As we travelled a little bit, and as the province developed, we think-we believe-they now think it ends at Vaughan. But nonetheless, they absolutely do not take a northern Ontario lens to anything at all.

I'm going to give you perhaps only one example today of why I believe in what you're doing today. I'll give you the story about Bill 26, oddly enough named the Strong Communities Act.

Now, here I am, as the mayor of the city of North Bay at that time, and I read about this Bill 26 coming, and I think, "Do they not have a clue about what is northern Ontario?" It is one that pretty much closed off the $40-million industrial park in North Bay because there are wetlands, and this Strong Communities Act stops you from building where wetlands are. I can understand why that's so important here in the GTA; I understand why. But in northern Ontario, our exemption is that if you need to build on a wetland, you can re-create that equal amount of wetland elsewhere in northern Ontario.

So in North Bay, the provincial government, the federal government and the municipality spent tens of millions of dollars to build an industrial park and, yes, it was built on a wetland years ago. But now today, under Bill 26, you cannot build in our industrial park. So we now have a $40-million industrial park with fully serviced streets. We've got paved roads, fire hydrants, utility poles, high-speed Internet-it must be the only wetland park that has Internet access.

It's unbelievable that the members of this government would pass a bill, not understanding that northern Ontario is built on rock and swamp. Sadly, those are the words we use: We're built on rock and we're built on swamp. There's nothing else. We have built beautiful cities on our rock and on our wetlands. We have built remarkable cities.

As mayor, I was so thrilled to be able to take 100 acres of wetland and turn it over to our conservation authority. We were able to take a wetland and build a huge retail complex at the entrance of the city, but replicate that wetland that we covered and move it and rebuild wetland in another area of the city, with wooden boardwalks, signage-it's a nature preserve. It's beautiful. We made something beautiful, because that was what we needed to do.

So here we are, with this $40-million wetland that we can no longer build on in northern Ontario, and that's because we do not take a northern Ontario lens and shine it on what this bill does for Toronto and area and the rest of Ontario, and what kind of impact this bill will have on northern Ontario. Had they only taken this approach that the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane is suggesting, they would have realized it's not good for northern Ontario.

So I commend you on this approach. It needs a little finessing to correctly satisfy the member from Muskoka and the member from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. But I commend you on your bill, and I thank you for it. And I thank you for shining the lens on northern Ontario, even if it's only for these few short minutes this afternoon. Congratulations to you.

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The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Further debate?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Whether it's jobs, the cost of living or what northerners do in their spare time, it's clear that governments are always trying to tell northerners what to do and how to do it. It's very paternalistic, and I think today it's clear for the people in the northwest, if they were ever unsure, that the Liberals just don't care about us in the north.

I'll be honest when I say that I was extremely offended by the comments made by the member from Guelph-to let some of the northern members go home early because their ridings are so far away. Well, I can tell you that nobody in Ontario has a larger riding than I do, at about 300,000 square kilometres, and I live the furthest away-


Mr. Gilles Bisson: And here you are.

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Yeah, and I'm here. I'm here doing work. I think it's sad and it's telling that the Liberal members would rather go home than stay here, engage and do some meaningful things for their constituents.

There are a few other things. I wanted to talk about hydro. Again, the lack of consultation about our hydroelectricity system has resulted in an unfair hydro system for people living in the north, where the people living in the north actually subsidize the cost for people living in the south. Despite having our own grid and producing electricity at about 2.5 cents a kilowatt hour, despite having colder and longer winters, despite the fact that a person in Kenora pays about $50 more a month for electricity than they would if they lived a couple of hundred kilometres away in Winnipeg, and despite the fact that a large industrial operation in Ontario in the northwest pays about $1.1 million more a month for electricity, and this is about twice as much as a company would pay if they were operating in Manitoba or Quebec-and we wonder what's happened to our mills and our forest industry? It also begs the question of what will happen, with the ridiculous and prohibitive electricity costs-what that will do with the Ring of Fire.

I wanted to talk about a few other things, but all I want to leave you with is the fact that life in the north is different. We need people at the table who understand the north. We've seen what kind of solutions we get when we have people at the table making decisions that affect us and who don't understand our culture, values or needs. It's time that we put northerners at the table too, and I'm proud to support this motion.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. Further debate?

Mr. John Yakabuski: It's a pleasure to join the debate on the motion from the member from Timiskaming-Cochrane today, and I commend him for bringing forth the motion. However, I'm in the same boat as my friend from Parry Sound-Muskoka with regard to this motion. I would have liked to hear at some point during the debate the member say that he includes all areas that are currently within northern Ontario. My riding is Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, so a very small portion of my riding is actually in northern Ontario: the townships of South Algonquin, which include the hamlets of Whitney and Madawaska, nothing big.

When my friend from Parry Sound-Muskoka talks about low incomes, well, the incomes in Renfrew county are the second-lowest of any county in the province of Ontario. The only county that's lower is the county of Haliburton. The lowest in my riding is not within the county of Renfrew; it's actually in the townships of South Algonquin. There is nothing to sustain economic development. We've got two major businesses there, both of them lumber mills, and we know what the McGuinty government has done to the lumbering and forestry industry in this province.

So my section of northern Ontario is, I'm absolutely certain, the poorest in northern Ontario, yet it is excluded from the benefit of this committee. For that reason-and as I said, we were waiting for the member to include all parts of northern Ontario that are currently within northern Ontario by definition, and all of the district of Nipissing is part of northern Ontario. My riding would be excluded from this committee as it is written right now. So, for that reason, I have no choice but to stand with the people that I represent in the townships of South Algonquin and vote against this motion.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member from Algoma-Manitoulin.

Mr. Michael Mantha: I'll be very brief, Mr. Speaker, and thank you.

Nothing more, nothing less is what we're asking for for northern Ontario-just a voice.

I will argue with you that this will bring the relationships between north and south, rural and urban, a lot closer. It will give us that opportunity to engage with the rest of the province.

Nothing more, nothing less is what we're asking for. We just want to be part of the decision mechanism. We want to be there at the table. We want to be involved. We want to have a voice. We want to have a say. We want to participate in building Ontario to become the province that it should be and will be, but we need to be part of it. Nothing more, nothing less.

All we want is basically to be part of the solution in building Ontario-nothing more, nothing less. No games, no partisanship-we just want to be part of it. We want to be there with you. We want to be amongst this province in order to build it to where it should be.

Interviews in northern Ontario communities are not consultation with municipalities and our mayors and our First Nations. Sitting and having interviews over at the local shop is not consultation. We want to be engaged, we want to be at the table, and we want to be sitting there, is the message that we're trying to convey to this government and our friends across the way.

Bring us together, establish this committee, and let's build Ontario.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Further debate?

Mme France Gélinas: In the last Parliament, the one before, many bills came forward that absolutely made no sense for northern Ontario. I'd like to start with the Narcotics Safety and Awareness Act. Is there a problem with narcotics in this province? Absolutely. Is there any geographical area of the province where narcotics are prominent? It is in northern Ontario. But the narcotics problem in northern Ontario is very different from what's happening in southern Ontario.

I begged, I pleaded, I put out a motion. I said, "Come to the North, because we're putting forward a solution. I'm all in favour. It will do great work for some of the people down south, but the people up north need help too, when we have 50% of a community addicted to narcotics. Those people need help." But they never came.

We now have a bill that helps some of the people some of the time if they live down south, but the narcotics epidemic has gotten worse in northern Ontario, not better.

Then we have bills like the Excellent Care for All Act. It looks good. I get it, Mr. Speaker. If somebody does a thousand surgeries, they will be better, faster and get better outcomes. I get all of this. But what does that mean for the 34 little hospitals in northern Ontario? That means that you pick at the programs and services they offer until there's nothing left in there and they self-implode. The people in northern Ontario still need access to health care. They still need access to their hospitals. Sometimes the hospital is the only show in town. But we have this idea that better, bigger, faster, gives better outcomes. I get that. But it comes at a cost, and the cost is always borne by the people of northern Ontario who lose their access.

This committee will help everyone in this Legislature understand that the reality of northern Ontario counts.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): The member for Timiskaming-Cochrane has two minutes to reply.

Mr. John Vanthof: Thank you, Speaker. First off, I would like to thank all the members who had comments. As far as a test of who is and isn't in northern Ontario, I think we have to have a passion meter, because the passionate speakers were from northern Ontario.

I am not partisan on this issue at all, but there are two comments that I take some exception to. One is the word "gimmick." This is not a gimmick. Anyone who has known me in my past-I don't do gimmicks. That's one comment I take exception to.

As a new member, sometimes I don't read my stuff, because I just get too much stuff. But I don't buy that some of the people across the way knew nothing about this when it's published. I don't buy that it's totally new. One other thing-do you know what? The heritage fund is a great thing, but it's always used whenever we bring something up about northern Ontario. It's always, "Oh, but we give you so much from the heritage fund." Do you know what? This city was built on Kirkland Lake's gold. Just hold it a minute here. Once again, this province will be built on the back of the Ring of Fire. So let's build it together and let's build it so this time northerners and First Nations all benefit from it, because riches have come out of northern Ontario-billions of today's dollars-and we have people living in squalor. So while we argue who is or isn't, let's get this committee on the road and start fixing it. It's what we have to do. I ask for your support. Thank you.

1520


The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bas Balkissoon): Thank you. We'll take the vote at the end of private members' business.

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