Whereas government scandals have dominated news headlines for the past 14 years;
Whereas the current government has faced five OPP investigations;
Whereas the people of Ontario may question the integrity of this government;
Therefore, in the opinion of this House, the government should support an Ontario ethics and accountability act with the following provisions:
—Close the loophole on ministers fundraising from their own ministerial stakeholders;
—Make it illegal for ministers to have fundraising targets;
—Expand the one-year lobbying cooling-off period to prohibit former ministerial staff from lobbying all government ministries on behalf of companies their former ministry did business with;
—Amending the Public Service of Ontario Act to require the results of Integrity Commissioner investigations of ministerial staff to be made public;
—Restoring the Auditor General's full oversight of government advertising;
—A ban on government advertising 90 days prior to an election;
—Legislating the practice of ministerial responsibility and requiring ministers named in a police investigation to temporarily step aside until their name is cleared of any wrongdoing; and
—Strengthen government document retention polices to ensure records like the gas plant documents are never deleted again.
This is addressed to the Premier.
Mr. Speaker, the public’s expectations are to have good governance. They expect a government that is working hard on behalf of Ontario families. Here in Ontario, what they’re getting is a government plagued with scandal, waste and mismanagement. The ethical lapses just keep on piling up.
This government has faced five—five—OPP investigations. Two of their court trials are beginning in four months. It’s the only time in Ontario history, when you ask about the government’s criminal investigations, that you have to ask: “Which one?”
They’ve deleted emails, blocked the Financial Accountability Office’s access to information and stripped the Auditor General of her independent oversight powers. They’ve abused their privilege to extract as much money as possible from their stakeholders. And they always, without fail, prioritize their Liberal friends over hard-working Ontario families.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud that today the Ontario PCs have introduced our accountability and ethics action plan.
Je suis fier qu’aujourd’hui les progressistes-conservateurs de l’Ontario annoncent notre plan d’action pour la responsabilité et l’éthique.
It includes eight measures that will promote fairness in politics and government. The status quo is not acceptable. Whatever the Liberals have said they have done to clean up government, it does not go nearly far enough.
C’est simple, parce que tout ce que les libéraux ont dit qu’ils ont fait pour nettoyer le gouvernement ne va pas assez loin.
Did the members opposite put a stop to their cash-for-access scandal? No. It doesn’t go far enough. There is nothing to stop ministers and their staff from soliciting personal donations from stakeholders. We want this loophole closed.
But the Liberals’ unethical fundraising practices went deeper than cash for access. Did the government close the loophole to prevent ministers from fundraising, or ban the practice of having fundraising targets? No, they haven’t gone far enough. It was incredible hearing of targets of several hundred thousand dollars per minister. That’s not what a minister is supposed to be working on. They’re supposed to be working on their ministries, on their jobs, on their mandate letters, not having to meet some party fundraising quota. It’s not right, and I think Ontarians were right to be aghast. I don’t understand why this government can’t support closing this loophole. It’s the right thing to do.
Have they stopped helping out their friends? This week, we’ve learned that a key player in the Premier’s Hydro One sell-off scheme has been appointed to the Home Capital board, which is embroiled in the news in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” scheme.
Are former ministerial staff engaging in unethical lobbying practices? We want to ensure they aren’t. Is there enough transparency in Integrity Commissioner investigations of ministerial staff? No. A minister whose reputation is on the line can decide if they want the information released. How is that appropriate?
Are the Liberals feathering their nest for the next election using taxpayer dollars for partisan government advertising? Of course they are, and they need to stop. It isn’t fair. The Auditor General should have the power to call this out. And no matter what the government says, when the Auditor General is saying that her powers have been stripped and that partisan advertising is allowed in Ontario, I’m going to trust the Auditor General 10 times out of 10 over this government.
Is it fair that ministers can keep their jobs if they’re named in a police investigation? You would think that it would be abnormal that there would be police investigations, but this is now common practice with this government, so we do need to have rules around this. We believe they should temporarily step aside until their names are cleared of any wrongdoing. That’s not happening in Ontario, and it’s not right.
Finally, are we sure that staff are not still deleting emails inappropriately over matters such as the Global News story, which detailed that the government has utterly failed to monitor violent criminals, including sex offenders, out on parole? We want an audit to ensure that 100% of the rules are being followed. Once again, you would assume that you wouldn’t have to worry about this, but what we’ve learned is that we do in Ontario. Don’t even get me started on the gas plant scandal and the billions that have been lost for Ontario taxpayers because of a practice where the government cleans up and hides their own ethical lapses and errors.
Every single action this government has taken in the past 14 years has been about one thing: the partisan self-interest of the Ontario Liberal Party. It is not about the people of Ontario; it is about the Liberal Party. It should come as no surprise that Ontario families continue to question the integrity of this government. How can you not, when you have a government that has been under five OPP investigations, when it’s scandal after scandal after scandal?
I’m asking the government to vote today to clean up Queen’s Park. If they are committed to bringing integrity to our political process, if they are proud of their legacy, then what they would do is, they would welcome these ethical reforms. They would welcome having an accountability act. All we want to do today is to close these loopholes. All we want to do is make sure that lines that have been crossed before, that have required the OPP to come in, cannot be crossed again. Unless they want to cross those lines again, unless they want to abuse those loopholes, they would have no problem supporting these eight measures to bring accountability and ethics to Queen’s Park.
Mr. Speaker, I implore the government side to do the right thing. Vote for integrity. Vote for ethics. Stand up in the Legislature today and say, “We have no problem with accountability.” It is the right thing to do, and I hope we can count on their support.
Through the years of Dalton McGuinty, they had grown tired of the Liberal approach that always put their own fortunes ahead of the people they were meant to serve. I still hear people talking about the gas plants scandal, when the Liberals decided that it was worth a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money just to save a few seats in Mississauga and Oakville. And eHealth and Ornge added to their bitterness—scandal after scandal.
He got out hoping that a new captain would turn the ship around. And it did turn around—at least it did in terms of public perception, but not so much in actual Liberal priorities, their real priorities: themselves, their party and their friends in high places.
Under the Wynne Liberals, the same attitude that we saw under Dalton McGuinty has just continued. It has carried on as if there was no change at all. After the rhetoric of the last election campaign, the public feels terribly let down by Kathleen Wynne. They had high hopes, but those hopes soon came crashing down. She has allowed hydro prices to soar while pushing forward her plan to privatize Hydro One. Just yesterday, they went ahead, selling another 120 million shares, taking it to 60% private ownership.
They say they are done and that we should believe them. I have a hard time doing that, Speaker: a plan that nobody voted for, a plan that 85% of the people of Ontario oppose, a plan that pushes prices even higher, a plan that removes public oversight and, yes, a plan that takes money out of the pockets of families and small businesses and puts it into the hands of their rich friends.
And let’s not forget that it was the Conservatives that started us down this road of privatization.
We witnessed the scandalous behaviour of Liberal Party operatives in the Sudbury by-election in early 2015. Others are under investigation for destroying documents. If the OPP didn’t know the route to the Liberal headquarters, they certainly do now, because they have travelled it often.
We saw the undignified cash-for-access debacle when it was disclosed that cabinet ministers were given targets for the amount of money that they needed to raise from stakeholders. The Wynne Liberals got a lot of bad press for that, and deservedly so. So they decided they needed to do something to stall their criticism, but just before they did, just before they introduced their new fundraising legislation, they cynically held a huge fundraising dinner with all of those stakeholders in attendance. Knowing they were going to lose this particular avenue, they pulled in $2.5 million from one dinner, $1,600 a plate, plus add-ons for a private pre-reception. With another $2.5 million stuffed in their pockets, they changed the rules.
How much have things actually changed in the legislation? Not too much. The new rules say that ministers can no longer attend fundraising events, but they also extended this particular law to all MPPs. A law to supposedly stop cabinet ministers from raising their target goals, which could be up to half a million dollars, was equally applied to the rest of us. As a result, we can no longer attend simple spaghetti dinners at $20 a head. It’s absolutely shameful, Speaker. Rather than trying to find a suitable, reasonable response to legitimate criticism that cabinet ministers were using their position to raise millions of dollars, what did they do instead? They were vindictive and they were spiteful.
To make matters worse, they didn’t even actually outlaw the practice of cabinet ministers being able to shake down their stakeholders. Yes, they can no longer attend their events, but there is nothing stopping them from soliciting donations through other means.
The only thing that has changed is that it’s been taken out of the public eye. Donations are, of course, made public through Elections Ontario. Anyone with a computer or an interest can go and look up how much each person gave to which party. But gone are the glitzy affairs and the huge fancy ballrooms where all of those who could afford to pay $600 for a meal and rub shoulders with some of those who pull the levers of government—events that actually attract media attention, all out there for everyone to see. This aspect of this legislation wasn’t put into place to clean things up. It was simply a way to deflect from a bad media story, and it’s not good enough.
They also changed the rules on government advertising, purely to suit their own self-interest. Previously, ads were considered to be partisan if they were considered to be promoting a positive impression of the government or a negative impression of their critics. Under the Wynne Liberals, that definition was changed so that an ad would only be considered partisan if it depicted an image, name or voice of a member, or if it had a colour or logo identified with a party.
After noting that taxpayers funded millions of dollars in partisan government ads, plus millions more in social media, the Auditor General had this to say about the move last November: “We cautioned when the government changed the law in 2015 that it was opening the door to this sort of thing.... Sure enough,” they “walked right through” it.
The Wynne Liberals have also allowed executive salaries at public institutions to go through the roof. While families and small business struggle to pay their bills, the CEO at Hydro One gets $4.4 million a year in compensation. That’s absolutely obscene, Speaker. There can be no word for it other than “obscene.”
Kevin Smith, the CEO at St. Joe’s in Hamilton and the Niagara Health System, earned over $726,000 last year. But apparently, even with a pay packet that size, the jobs don’t seem to keep him busy enough, because he also had time to chair the board of Home Capital, holding $1.6 million in shares, at the same time. He also served on the board of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, which gave his mortgage company, the one that he chaired, a line of credit for $2 billion.
Experts in the field of ethics said he should never have been sitting on both of these boards, but that’s how things happen when the Liberal government sets the bar so low on ethics. The attitude trickles down to other positions of power in public institutions.
Speaker, governments have a responsibility to the people of this province to lead by example, but that example should be one that encourages us—that encourages those of us who serve—to set the ethical high ground. No one does that.
The Liberal government has lost its way, Speaker. They have no appreciation for the difficult choices families have had to make each and every day. Ever-growing hydro bills, completely unaffordable child care, trying to scrape by on a minimum wage that is drastically below the poverty line: That is the reality for far too many in Ontario in 2017. That is the true legacy of this government.
Speaker, today there was a major analysis of the Leader of the Opposition that dealt with his integrity with respect to the public policy positions and political positions he’s taken. The headline of the column in the Toronto Star by Martin Regg Cohn is entitled, “Patrick Brown’s No-Policy Policy.” It has pointed out, “No one really knows”—speaking about the Leader of the Opposition’s policies—“because no one knows him. It’s hard to know why he stands out, or what he stands for.”
It goes on to point out the history of his integrity in the political context: “Back in Ottawa, he was”—
Continuing on, “Back in Ottawa, he was the darling of social conservatives for opposing gay marriage and supporting greater restrictions on abortions. During the PC leadership race, and a subsequent by-election, he opposed updates to Ontario’s embarrassingly outdated sex education curriculum.
“Today, he is renouncing the social conservatism of his past. Without announcing the political conservatism of his future.
“Running for the party leadership, Brown proffered few policy positions, on the grounds that they should emanate from the grassroots, not be imposed from the top down. On the environment, his plan was to have no plan for a carbon tax—a position he quickly reversed after winning the leadership. Brown later announced a policy conference for November, but that” policy conference has now been quietly written in advance—and the conference event itself in the fall has been downgraded to a mere policy rally.
“The bad news is that the PC leader doesn’t do much policy”—if any.
So, in terms of integrity, it would seem to me that as a politician and particularly as a leader of a political party, particularly as the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, there is an obligation on the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to be honest with the public. How is one honest with the public? One is honest with the public by, among other things, clearly stating your policy alternatives to the governing party. That’s something that he won’t do, so he criticizes the government, says they’re doing the wrong thing, he harps away at it, and when asked, “Well, what do you offer the public?” he’s silent.
That is the fundamental grassroots of integrity: Be honest with the public where you stand on positions. Be honest with your supporters where you stand on positions, because they’re saying to you, “I’ll support you because I identify with your policies.”
But he’s not honest with his supporters, the leader of the official opposition. He is not honest with his constituents. He is not honest with the public. He is, in effect, in breach of his duties as the leader of the loyal opposition. It requires that he and his political party, if they’re going to criticize government—and they should criticize government; that’s their right. But there is also a corresponding obligation to tell the public what their alternative is. That is being honest. That is being a politician with integrity—which, sadly, he lacks.
Actually, Speaker, it’s sad that 14 years of Liberal waste, mismanagement and scandal have brought us to the point where we actually have to have this debate. Under any government with integrity, a motion like this wouldn’t be necessary. You shouldn’t need to have a motion to legislate ethical, transparent and accountable behaviour from your government. People expect that it will come naturally from their elected officials.
But this Liberal regime isn’t any other government, is it? Whether it’s their conduct in the Sudbury by-election, the billion-dollar gas plant fiasco or the many, many, many scandals, they have repeatedly put their self-interest ahead of Ontarians’.
With the Premier’s record-low popularity threatening to plunge into single digits, Ontarians have essentially said they’re fed up with this kind of Liberal behaviour. I suspect that the Premier and her government will pay a very steep price on their shameful record when the people go to the polls in just a little over 12 months. Their reckless behaviour, five OPP investigations and complete disregard for the public purse have done more than I can think to make the Liberal brand tostic—toxic. Sorry, I can’t even—
While it’s unfortunate that we need the motion, I have to commend our leader, Patrick Brown, on this motion he’s tabled today. I’m so proud that our party has brought forward the accountability and ethics action plan today because, Speaker, it sends a clear message that if Premier Wynne and her cabinet can’t be counted on to do the right thing, then the Ontario PC Party is working hard, and we’re going to do the right thing: We’re going to bring ethics and accountability and transparency back to Queen’s Park.
I look down at the measures that we’re proposing today, and I know that the members are going to try to heckle these proposed measures, but I’m reminded of the number of times I have raised these issues in question period. Yet time and again, this Premier and her cabinet ministers refuse the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions.
There’s one word that pops up repeatedly when it comes to reviewing this government’s behaviour, and that word is “unprecedented.”
I wrote the Chief Electoral Officer in December 2014, asking for an investigation into the alleged breaches of the Election Act by Liberal operatives in the Sudbury by-election. In his bombshell report a few months later, the Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, found “apparent contraventions ... of the Election Act.... Consequently, I have reported this matter to the Attorney General of Ontario.” That’s a quote. It was, in Mr. Essensa’s words, “unprecedented.” Never before had Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer investigated—let alone reported—an apparent contravention of the Election Act.
As we all know, this sordid tale only gets worse. For months, the Premier refused to ask her deputy chief of staff, who was at the heart of the OPP probe, to step aside. That kept the scandal right inside the Premier’s office, undermining the public’s confidence in the highest elected office in this province. It wasn’t until OPP laid charges against Pat Sorbara for alleged bribery in the by-election that she stepped aside.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but the situation gets even worse. We learned that the Minister of Energy himself was named in those charges. It was—and here’s that word again—unprecedented. Now, parliamentary custom would dictate an immediate course of action: A minister of the crown would do the right thing and step aside until their name was cleared. There are many circumstances of ministers in far, far less serious circumstances taking that honourable route. I want to mention my colleague the member for Simcoe–Grey, Jim Wilson, who, when a cabinet minister—and also my predecessor in Leeds–Grenville, Bob Runciman, now Senator Runciman. They knew to do the right thing. Both those gentlemen knew to do the right thing. They didn’t need legislation. They didn’t need a motion before the House. They willingly stepped aside temporarily and returned once exonerated.
Liberals used to understand this. The former Minister of Finance, Greg Sorbara, was named in a 2005 RCMP warrant, and he stepped away from cabinet. There’s never any shame, never any dishonour in doing the right thing.
But in the midst of our demands for the Minister of Energy to step down, 15 newspapers, including his hometown Sudbury Star, wrote editorials in agreement. They wrote that the minister “needs to step aside and allow the justice system to take its course. This is, after all, the great province of Ontario, where the rule of law is paramount. We’re not a banana republic.
“In any previous government, the slightest whiff of scandal caused ministers to quit. To have one mentioned in an Election Act trial is unprecedented.” And there’s that word again, Speaker: “unprecedented.”
The editorial concluded:
“Respect the integrity of the justice system and of cabinet.
“Step down, Mr. Thibeault.”
Of course, the minister didn’t do the right thing. The Premier refused to intervene. She refused to demand it. That’s why our accountability and ethics action plan includes that provision, to legislate ministerial responsibility. It’s going to require ministers named in a police investigation to step aside until they’re cleared of any wrongdoing.
Provisions 3 and 4 in our plan go directly to an issue I raised in question period regarding the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’s former chief of staff. As we know, he left his position as the minister’s right-hand man to take a government relations job with Tesla in February. And guess what happened in February? The government reinstated a subsidy that gave Tesla buyers up to $14,000. That doesn’t pass the smell test. I happen to think Ontarians side with me. It does not pass the smell test, and that’s why we’re committed to strengthening the rules beyond the one-year ban on ministerial staff lobbying their former ministry.
We’re also proposing a measure to require ministers to make public the results of an Integrity Commissioner’s investigation into ministerial staff. That’s not the case, regardless of what was said this morning by the government House leader. I found this out when I wrote the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the situation involving the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’s former chief of staff. The commissioner responded to say that he could investigate, but it was up to the minister to make any findings public.
I think that’s completely unacceptable. If the Integrity Commissioner files a report with the minister, it shouldn’t go into a filing cabinet. It’s got to be made public at the earliest opportunity, which is what our plan proposes.
Our plan includes much more to start rebuilding the confidence that Ontarians have in the integrity of the government. But I want to make one thing clear: It’s too late for this Premier. I hear every day from people who see through the cynical attempts by this government to fool voters and to say they have changed their ways. The hydro plan: They’ve had plenty of ads to promote the government but no legislation to enact it. Their so-called balanced budget: People on this side of the House have pointed out that there’s a $5-billion hole from it being in balance. Ontarians aren’t buying any of it, because at a fundamental level they’ve lost trust and they’ve lost faith in this government. Life is harder under Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals, and it won’t be better until a government comes forward that will always act in the interests of Ontarians, not in the Liberals’ self-interest.
Our plan sends a clear message that Ontario PCs will rebuild their faith in government and act with integrity. Reasonable people are going to disagree about policy, but the public expects the Premier and ministers to always act with accountability and transparency.
Our motion is a big step in ensuring that those standards are met. I want to again congratulate Patrick Brown on doing it. But our work won’t be finished until this government is sent packing on June 7, 2018. That’s the goal. That’s what we think should happen. Integrity will then reign, transparency will reign. We will restore it. I hope all members support this motion. It’s the right motion for the right time.
But today I have some of my own history. I’ve been around here for about seven years. You start to accumulate your own historical data after you’re here for a while. I had a private member’s bill back in 2013, called the Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, which would have incorporated some of the things that the PCs are looking for today in their motion. It would have tightened up a lot of stuff around lobbyists. I went back and actually reviewed my bill; it was at a period of time when the Liberals were announcing their plans to have a more open government, if you remember that.
We were surprised by that because they had spent two years covering up the gas plant cancellations. They were wiping emails and hard drives, which is still before the courts, I believe. Then we had the Sudbury by-election scandals, bribes. It took months for the government to even remove Pat Sorbara from her position with the government. Now we have the actual sell-off of our public hydro, which has 80% of the public against that sell-off. As of today or tomorrow, whenever that last piece happens, we will no longer have a major stakeholder piece.
The PCs are not blameless or shameless around this whole hydro issue either. Under Ernie Eves, 15 years ago, we had—you know, we talk about the CEO today making $5 million, but back in the mid-1990s, Eleanor Clitheroe actually was making $2.2 million. She was hired to completely privatize the hydro system here in Ontario. And then, after some scandals there, sponsoring sailing dates and lots of public pressure, they fired poor Eleanor and away she went with her $307,000-a-year pension. She was back in the courts in 2010 trying to increase that pension to $464,000 a year, which is probably 20 times what the average public sector worker in this province takes home as a pension after 30 or 40 years of work. So, you know, the Tories have their own history there.
When we talk about lobbying and a higher level of transparency, we also had at that time the PCs, to my right, bringing forward a motion on behalf of EllisDon, which stripped unionized workers of contracts with EllisDon, brokering the deal with the Liberals of the day in a programming motion. Do you remember that historical data? Yes, a programming motion. The PCs were putting forward the motion so that the Liberals wouldn’t be embarrassed by the outcome with the unions, which, in some cases, were supporting them.
So Graham Murray, who we all know—Graham is retired now; he was with Inside Queen’s Park—had this to say about the situation: “It was John Duffy of StrategyCorp, working as a government relations consultant to EllisDon, who devised a classic back-scratching scheme to get it through. The PCs would undertake sponsorship of Bill 74 to relieve the Libs of the embarrassment of taking the lead on another contract-stripping measure, worse even than Bill 115”—the last Bill 115—“and enough of the Libs would take part in the vote to ensure its passage.”
Then we have the issue of the Liberals actually taking on the teachers in the other Bill 115, if you remember; the other Bill 115, where they interfered in the bargaining rights. This has made its way through the courts and now the taxpayers of this fine province of Ontario are going to have to pay out their hard-earned tax dollars to the tune of about $50 million to settle that court case for teachers in this province, who rightly deserve that settlement because their bargaining was interfered with.
Enough on that piece. I want to move on to number 4 in this motion—and please, somebody stop me if I go too long.
Amending the Public Service of Ontario Act to require that the lengthy Integrity Commissioner investigations of ministerial staff be made public: Well, I want to talk a little bit about what’s happening in the Niagara region. The MNR minister was here, and I’m sorry that she left, because I asked her to appoint a supervisor to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. This is all about lack of integrity at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. I just want to get some facts on the record here.
In December 2013, David Barrick, a regional councillor and a sitting NPCA board member, is hired for a newly created and unadvertised senior management position at the NPCA which he did not even apply for. He got the job and has since got a promotion to director. The mandate under the Conservation Authorities Act says that you are not to benefit from your role as a board member at the NPCA.
In April 2014, another sitting board member at the NPCA, Carmen D’Angelo, applies for and is awarded the job of CAO at the NPCA. Carmen D’Angelo was a paramedic and actually came to sit as a board member, I think, for the city of Hamilton. He ends up with the job of CAO for the NPCA while he was a sitting member, a position that he wrote the terms of reference for, two months prior to his appointment to that position, as part of his consulting work. There were 31 applicants for the position, but this guy, who wrote the terms of reference, ends up getting the job.
Then, there’s another regional councillor whose name is Andy Petrowski. You’ll have read about this in the Niagara newspapers today. Andy Petrowski is taking most of the regional councillors and the regional chair in Niagara to court to get an injunction tomorrow to prevent the integrity commissioner at the region of Niagara from releasing a report of which he is the subject of three complaints. There are 17 other complaints against other people at the region of Niagara, and he is actually trying to get an injunction in court. I raise this because it falls right into what is in this motion before us by the PCs.
Then we’ve got people scratching backs, like has happened with the PCs and the Liberals around EllisDon. We’ve got one guy getting a contract with the Niagara regional police board for a survey, and then a friend of his who’s on the police services board getting a contract at the NPCA—not tendered, either one of these.
At the end of the day, of course, all of this comes out in public. We have our member, Ed Smith, a retired military official, being sued by a number of people because, of course, he put this information out into the public.
Is there a need to amend the Public Service of Ontario Act to require the results of Integrity Commissioner investigations of ministerial staff to be made public? Absolutely. Is the cooling-off period, at one year, long enough? I don’t think so. I know that in my bill, I actually suggested that it should be five years and that it should be ministerial staff as well as MPPs. Everyone supported the bill on that day, but here we are in 2017 and we still don’t have any improvements to that.
The last piece I just want to mention is that the member from Hamilton Mountain did talk about the changes in the fundraising rules. I just want to point out that those changes didn’t take place until the Liberal government made sure that they had filled their coffers.
Those are my remarks for today.
But do you pay a price. I remember the time I went out to work one morning as mayor in a Kevlar jacket because the police had come and joined us for breakfast because of the number of attempts that were made on my life. At that time, we were living in an era of much more rampant homophobia, where people thought they could make attempts on your life. So I’ve dealt with some very serious things, and a lot of those things are matters that develop character. My story isn’t better or more special than anyone else’s here.
But we are very lucky, because I worked in parts of the world where there really are corrupt governments. I worked in Ukraine, where I was working on a project to introduce, for the first time in Ukraine, a democratically elected local government and land use in a country where no one had ever owned a home privately. Those struggles are enormous.
What I find most distressing about this piece of legislation is—
One day, I will retire from this place. I won’t have a pension. I’ve worked mostly in public service. I’ve worked a lot. I could have made other choices in life, and I don’t complain. But I’m also really proud that the heritage of this place is that we are an honest government and that our parents and grandparents fled countries that were either not democratic or were led by fascist or totalitarian governments or completely corrupt regimes.
We have the toughest legislation I can find in the world. I was in California and I was asked a question about it. People could not believe—they had never heard of a jurisdiction where elected officials couldn’t attend their own fundraisers. They thought this was comical. They said, “Compared to the money in the United States,” where the congressman I met has to raise about $6 million every two years without restrictions on it—he says, “Do you want to understand how money talks? You guys have to raise $60,000 to $80,000 to run in a seat if you’re lucky, and that doesn’t buy you much influence.”
So I’m very disappointed in the official opposition, because of all the serious issues facing Ontarians right now, the one issue that this House has gone further on than any other is in tightening up the accountability and transparency to a place where many of our peers view our legislation to the point of actually being absurd. We have gone so far that we even get the butt of jokes when we travel.
If anyone believes the member from Hamilton Mountain—she is an honest person. We can have differences. But it is absolutely astonishing to me, what I see people put up, when I talk to people’s families, when I look at my spouse, who served in the Canadian military at a time when you couldn’t be openly gay and put his life on the line. When I think of all of the sacrifices he made, I find this so degrading, I find it so insulting to the character of people here, because it assumes somehow that we can’t trust each other or that somehow I, as a minister, am going to profit off some personal relationship in a province—
We can’t take corporate and union donations. We’ve got very severe caps on it. It’s a pretty tight system.
But what is the distraction from? Why do they want it always off on a different channel?
This has been a darn good government, and it’s leaving a legacy unlike many others.
When I used to come to Toronto, the health care infrastructure out the front door here was not in great shape. The MaRS centre didn’t exist; this government put that in, took some risks, tried some models. It didn’t work out perfectly. But the research cluster there is one of the best in the world. Right behind it is the SickKids research centre, and around the corner, at St. Mike’s, is the Li Ka Shing centre, and across the street is the Princess Margaret research centre. In seven or eight years, we have gone to having the largest, most advanced research cluster in the world, and there are all kinds of children and seniors who have better health care.
One of my staff who recently left has a spouse who struggles with tumours. The breakthroughs that have happened in the last three years are the differences between some of my friends living and not living. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment.
Toronto Rehab has been rebuilt and expanded. St. Mike’s is undergoing a $750-million expansion right now.
The Munk centre—talk to Bob Bell, our deputy minister, about how many billions of dollars have gone into the UHN system. My partner is an operating room nurse at Toronto Western. He works in the best facilities in the world, with what is arguably the best neurosurgical team. That building is twice the size it was. Those operating rooms are brand new.
Mount Sinai, one of the most advanced places in orthopedics, has a brand new research centre and brand new buildings. Toronto Rehab has brand new buildings. Princess Margaret has brand new buildings. Women’s College across the street has a brand new hospital.
The Grace hospital is brand new.
Every single hospital—nine hospitals, over $12 billion of investment in my constituency in the last decade—completely rebuilt. No government since John Robarts and Drew made the investments in health care. Is that for my constituents? No. You can tell by the helicopters that fly in and out of there that that is the health care biomedical machine for the province. No one has ever invested in that. That’s why we keep getting re-elected, because of that.
Go to the University of Toronto, from the pharmacy school to the brand new engineering school. U of T has not seen the level of investment, again, since the 1950s and 1960s, have we built out the capacity of that place. But that would involve actually acknowledging the government. I make the point that the Robarts government was the last government to spend 5% on infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, we have the new student centre at Ryerson. We built out three new buildings at Ryerson. We have an indigenous centre at Ryerson. We have a brand new George Brown campus on the waterfront, which is one of about 30 brand new campuses, with one of the best nursing schools. It is architecturally winning. That was all done through honest RFP, brilliantly managed by Infrastructure Ontario, in what is one of the most award-winning capital and contracting models that is being implemented—not just because it’s free of bias and corruption, but because it creates a value proposition and allows more buildings to be built faster and on budget than just about any other system in the world. That is the legacy of this government.
We have a new YMCA. We have a partnership that has put $1.5 billion into Regent Park, which was rotting for 50 years and no one did anything about it. There is a birthing centre and an aquatic centre, and a music school in the Daniels centre, where you see kids learning culture and celebrating culture. It’s home to about a dozen different youth organizations lifting people out of poverty.
Pathways to Education—$28 million—has probably seen one of the biggest uplifts in getting low-income people in that.
Then there’s the tuition. We are now finding in my constituency that we haven’t found a family yet whose income is under $80,000 that isn’t getting free tuition, and we’ve had several hundred people through that. Do you know what that is?
And graduation rates from every school, from the Nelson Mandela school to the new Catholic school—the education infrastructure in my community—kids who have been going through crappy buildings are now, for the first time in a generation, seeing schools that are enormously brand new with incredible facilities. We have hundreds more schools—and it’s challenging because you’re going through population moves and you see that.
But do you know why the NDP is the third party? Because you can listen to them in the background, Mr. Speaker.
There is no doubt right now that, by most independent evaluations, we have the best public education system in the English-speaking world. I was in the United States, recently, at a conference, and three different speakers cited Ontario as having the best graduation rate and the best system in the English-speaking world. This was a conference of international experts. But if you listen to the debate in this House, Mr. Speaker, you would think the kids were on the street, the health care system was in crisis and the graduation rate must be about 20%.
It is not perfect, Mr. Speaker, but there is absolutely no place I would rather live than Ontario. There is no place with a fairer tax system. There is no place with a better health care system. There is no place where my family—and my child could actually now get drugs, because I have a child who has severe health challenges, and I, in Manitoba, struggled to pay his drug bills.
Our Premier led a national discussion starting in Ontario on pensions, and we won that nationally. Had it not been for Kathleen Wynne, we would not have a national pension plan. She took incredible criticism for that.
We’re the lead in direct foreign investment. We attract more capital than California right now; we finally pushed them out of first place. Little Ontario, with 14 million people, just kicked California’s butt on direct foreign investment.
Some 80% of the jobs that were created—almost a million, if you want it use the actual number; net, about 750,000—are full-time. Three quarters are in the private sector. Over 80% of them are above the median range. That is not just the best job creation record in the world that I’m aware of right now—outside of the China engine, which is a bit unique—but no one comes close. Our GDP growth is better than the G7. Little Ontario: twice what the US is, and leading Canada.
If anyone ever sits over here, and in 10 years can describe the record that I’ve just described, you would probably be a better government than we have been or at least as good. But I can’t think of a government since the 1960s and the early years of the Big Blue Machine that had that kind of record—because, to be fair, Drew, Frost and Robarts did exactly what we did. That was the age of building the seaway. The only other subways that were ever built in this province were built in that era, in the 1950s and 1960s. This is the first generation where we’re building four times as many kilometres of subways as they were building back then, but there was nothing for 40 years.
For 40 years, we were spending 25% of what other provinces were spending on energy infrastructure—25%—and that was under parties of all power, all colour, here. You want to know why you’ve got a problem with transmission lines and you have to massively repair nuclear plants? Because every party in this House for 40 years didn’t invest in any of that infrastructure. But no one wants to talk about that.
When I leave this place, Mr. Speaker, there are two things that I’m going to remember: One—
They love to talk about the gas plants, Mr. Speaker, but the joke about that—let’s just take that “scandal and waste” thing that they do all the time that I just find ridiculous. That was during one of my first elections. I had a friend who was a volunteer who phoned me and said, “The Tories just announced that they would cancel the gas plant, and there’s a big debate going on whether we should do that too.” Then, the NDP announced they were going to cancel the gas plant.
Mr. Speaker, that was a decision that was being made because every party judged that people didn’t want that and that there were problems. You all ran on the same thing. Have a little humility and dignity and decency, at least, to own your own stuff. If you didn’t make the promise, then I could understand the sanctimony. But you were going to do exactly the same thing, and none of you had a clue of what it may cost when you made the commitment. But when you were knocking on doors, you heard it loud and clear from the public.
The third party, in conclusion, loves to talk about polls: “80% of people believe this, therefore you must do it”; or “51.2% of people do it; you’ve got to do it, because we’re democratic.” If Bill Davis had listened to polls, we wouldn’t have a college system, because as the Toronto Star said when Centennial College opened—“universities for dumb people” is what the media said but Bill Davis said, “No. Colleges are important.”
One of the most important things that happened in the last century was that Bill Davis introduced the college system. If you want to know why we have a skilled workforce, it is because of that vision of leadership that that party hasn’t seen in 40 years.
Now they like to nitpick. But, Mr. Speaker, we have 50, 60 years of honest government. We have a history, from the day I was born, of excellent Premiers in this province. I would have been proud to serve under just about every one of them. It’s not that I agreed with all of them, but I don’t think that any of them were ever on the take, were ever corrupt.
I have never seen a period in history where we have so denigrated our leadership, where we in this House say things about each other and assign motives that we all know are not true. No one in this House, I don’t believe, while we may disagree, actually proposes bills or legislation because they don’t believe it. There aren’t insiders. No party has had friends—you can’t point to a whole lot of people who are like that. People have been honest in this government, and they’ve been honest when the parties opposite have been here.
Mike Harris was a very determined guy who had a view that many of us may disagree with, but no one should ever doubt that he didn’t actually come here with the full force of his values and convictions—nor Bob Rae, nor David Peterson, nor Frank Miller.
We live in a country that is a blessed democracy, that is about as far away from corrupt and self-serving as you can get. As my mother always said, “Just listen for the person who has no manners in the crowd, because that’s the person that doth protest too much.” My mom’s not usually wrong, Mr. Speaker.
In fact, I would expect, then, that this government would be sailing in the polls at the highest approval ratings ever. But that’s not the case, and it’s not because of what’s happened in this Legislature or what’s been said in this Legislature, or what bills or motions have been debated in this Legislature. The public have come to their conclusions on their own, based on the actions of this government, not on the actions of the opposition.
While it is our job to point out the flaws of the government, I can assure you that none of the Liberal members on that other side will be travelling through Ontario telling people what’s wrong with the new budget; that’s our job, and we will be. They will be going door to door in their ridings and touring all across Ontario, telling them that this is the best budget that we’ve ever seen, because they’re on the government side and they want people to support the budget. And they want the members of this House to support the budget.
But what I heard from the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is just nothing but empty rhetoric, in hopes that somehow—I’m not sure who he thinks he’s convincing; he’s certainly not convincing the people on this side of the House. I was here before he got here. My colleague from Leeds–Grenville, who spoke earlier, was here before he got here. My colleague down the line has been here since 1990; he’s seen it all.
The motion today is a motion to hold the government to account for its actions over the past 14 years. He talks about integrity and everybody’s—I believe everybody comes here with the right motives, but it wasn’t Steve Clark or John Yakabuski who initiated OPP investigations. The OPP are independent.
But this is a government that is under, as my colleague used the word so appropriately—I’m not sure how many times he used the word “unprecedented.” Unprecedented. No government in the history of this province, in fact in the history of our country, has ever—well, no other province could be under five OPP investigations. We understand that the Ontario Provincial Police is only in Ontario. But no government across this country has been under five police investigations regardless of the force that was doing the investigation. This government can hide from that if they want, but that is a matter of accountability and ethics.
The Minister of Climate Change, who talked oh so eloquently—and I thought he was going to cry for a minute there. He talked about all of the wonderful motives. Well, if he wants to be completely transparent and accountable to the Legislature, perhaps he should release the Integrity Commissioner’s report on his own former chief of staff. His former chief of staff—and this is why this is in this motion; I’ll come back to it in a minute.
In the motion, it says, “Expand the one-year lobbying cooling-off period to prohibit former ministerial staff from lobbying all government ministries”—all government ministries—“on behalf of companies their former ministry did business with” and “Amending the Public Service of Ontario Act to require the results of Integrity Commissioner investigations of ministerial staff to be made public.”
You see, that comes right home to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, because it was his chief of staff who left his job as chief of staff to the minister and almost immediately took a job with Tesla. Tesla manufactures electric automobiles that are in some cases worth $150,000. So he goes to work for Tesla.
The government, years ago, when they brought in the electric car or hybrid car rebate, established a ceiling of $14,000. But then they realized, “What are we doing? We’re giving people who can afford an automobile that is much more than the average incomes of people—we’re giving them a $14,000 rebate?” If you can afford a Tesla, you don’t need the poor widow who’s living on a pension to be covering some of your cost of that car. The government correctly and wisely reduced the rebate so that cars of that amount of money weren’t eligible for the same amount of rebate. That made sense, and that was this government.
Now, isn’t it just maybe a little more than passing strange that when his former chief of staff went to work for Tesla lobbying—I know it comes out of the Ministry of Transportation, but all of a sudden, Tesla is now eligible to get that full $14,000 rebate again. As my colleague from Leeds–Grenville says, that just doesn’t pass the smell test.
Those kinds of activities and the questionable behaviour surrounding them would be covered by that part of this motion.
An investigation at the Integrity Commissioner’s office was initiated, but when it came time that we were to get the results of that, we were told that only the minister could make the results of the investigation public. So I would ask the Minister of the Environment, if he wants to talk about all the integrity and all of the high level of ethical standards that he upholds and believes in—as I would say if I was from Missouri, “Show me.” Show me by releasing the results of the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation. Release that report so that the public can make their own determination. Doesn’t it make sense, Speaker, that if there’s nothing to hide, you would then feel that that report would be something that fully exonerates you and your former chief of staff? You would want to release it to the public. You would want to get that message out. You would want to get that information out so that people could see with their own eyes, by reading that report, and knowing that nothing untoward took place. That’s what you would want to do.
Let’s talk about ministerial responsibility. This motion here would make it clear that if a minister became the subject of an investigation—and we’re even saying “named in a police investigation.” That’s a bar that goes pretty high: “Named in a police investigation.”
I can talk to you about my former colleague Bob Runciman and my current colleague the member for Simcoe–Grey, who were never subjects of a police investigation. Never were they the subject, or ever named, in a police investigation, but they stepped aside when there was even the whiff—even the whiff—of any kind of ministerial responsibility on an action that should not have taken place. Just the naming of someone was enough for those ministers to step aside until such time as an investigation could be completed. Then, once they were exonerated and cleared, they were able to return to cabinet. Mr. Wilson still sits here in this House and the Honourable Bob Runciman is a member of the Senate of Canada. Even a whiff of a scandal and they stepped aside.
In the case of the Minister of Energy, it was suggested to him by even 15 editorials that he should step aside. And why wouldn’t he have stepped aside? Because this Premier didn’t want that to happen, because she believes that if she can maintain this façade of everybody acting in the best interests of Ontario, that somehow she’ll weather this storm and things will be all right in June 2018.
The minister is right and the member for Leeds–Grenville is right: The people will be the final arbiters. If this government wants to send a message to the people that they should be re-elected, then they should vote for this motion. Vote for this motion and stand up and uphold the edicts in this motion so that the people can say, “We’re moving in the right direction when it comes to the ethical standards of government.” If they choose to vote against the motion, then they’ve made up their mind that they do not want the people of Ontario to have a government that is accountable.
What about government advertising? There are so many things that I haven’t even gotten into. They brought in legislation because they were going to set the bar higher than any government before them when Dalton McGuinty became Premier. They were going to set a bar so that advertisements that involve the government—government advertising—would have to be vetted and approved by the Auditor General. They brought in the rule. They changed the old rule and strengthened it, and they were lauded for it.
But you see, as things started to get a little shaky for them, I think they would have said something like this around the cabinet table: “We’re going to have to spend a lot more of the taxpayers’ dollars making us look good.” So they changed their own law. They had a law that required the Auditor General to vet and approve their ads, and they changed it so that she basically has nothing to say anymore. She can’t stop any kind of ad.
That’s why you had an ad earlier this year telling the people how wonderful the government was that they were giving them a rebate on their hydro bills. Interestingly, no one had to apply for this rebate. No one will have to apply; it will happen on your bills. Yet the government felt they had to go and spend in excess of $1 million to advertise that fact.
Yet in all of the past increases—and you have to remember, Speaker, in 2003, when they became the government, the cost of electricity was 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour; it’s now over 18 cents at peak—never once did they ever advertise, “Effective May 1, you will be having an increase,” or, “Effective November 1, you will be having an increase.”
They didn’t feel the need to inform the people when they were increasing their rates, but when they were going to reduce them, that was time to put a feather in the cap of the government at the people’s expense.
Well, this motion would change that as well. This motion would force them to be accountable to the people. I could go on and on and on when it comes to the integrity in government and this government. But I have another colleague who, I know, does want to speak to this motion.
Speaker, all I’m asking for is for the members on the government’s side—look inside and ask yourself if there’s a single line in this motion that a government of integrity could not support. Ask yourself that question, and I know that this motion will be approved unanimously later today.
I read the motion, and there’s not much in here that I can’t agree with. It’s pretty straightforward: “Close the loophole on ministers fundraising from their own ministerial stakeholders.… Make it illegal for ministers to have fundraising targets.” I think that that’s reasonable. You would want your ministers to have no fundraising targets. You would want them to be concentrated on the job at hand, the task at hand, which is supporting their communities through their various ministries and listening to the needs and also listening to the opposition.
But as I try to jog my memory, I put myself in the shoes of those folks in our communities that trust in us. I think there is a measure of frustration, and I think that they do want to have the certainty that the operations of this place are above board and that all protective measures are in place so that we aren’t self-governing our operations.
We do need third-party independent oversight in this place sometimes, and that’s why we have various officers of the Legislature: the Ombudsman; the Integrity Commissioner; the Financial Accountability Officer, who is a construct of New Democratic policies, one that that we proposed and fought for and forced the government to initiate and that was initially born out of the scandals that we have seen come through this place.
I know that it is important, but I question if it is, at this very moment in time, the most important endeavour that we could undertake in this House at this moment, given that it is a motion. It’s non-binding.
It signifies the intention or the will of the House. I certainly will support it. Our caucus will be supporting it.
But could the Conservatives not have used their time potentially to address and initiate legislation that would have made a difference for the lives of the people who come in and out of this place every day; for those with developmental issues, disabilities, who are here today lobbying on behalf of their friends and their colleagues and their neighbours; for those who are talking about affordable housing, who are talking about employment access and supports and raising the level of the Ontario Disability Support Program? These folks travelled here today expecting us to talk about their issues, to focus on them. Instead, we’re focusing on a political party and their transgressions over the years. And that’s good, that’s right, and it’s part of our job. But at some point, people are frustrated enough that they’re going to throw all of us out of this House, and I won’t blame them. You can’t blame them, because when you have just a legacy of failures and actions that are self-serving, it speaks to the intent and it speaks to the priorities of the government of the day.
We know—we can rhyme them off: Ornge air ambulance, eHealth, gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga. But I would be remiss if I didn’t level the blame accordingly and fairly. I’m not a historical expert here, but I’m sure that there have been, again, transgressions within all parties. I certainly will point at the federal level. The current leader of the Progressive Conservatives was a member of the federal Conservative Party, and under their tenure, they had the in-and-out scandal. We remember that. They had the Mike Duffy Senate scandal. How about the point person for the Conservative Party at that time on ethics and accountability? His name was Dean Del Mastro. For the robocall scandal, he spent some time in jail for his ethical transgressions. Mr. Del Mastro was on the ethics committee, appointed by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but missed 26 consecutive meetings on that committee. So his commitment to ethics was apparent in his lack of attendance, and it ultimately cost him re-election. He spent some time and, I’m sure, paid a price for that.
But again, if this is what we focus on and this is what consumes our time here, how can you fault people for tuning out? Sometimes you wonder if that’s the intent of governments: Get the populace so frustrated and so cynical that they don’t pay attention anymore. That’s where it frustrates us, as New Democrats, because each and every day, we fight to bring those issues to the forefront on behalf of our constituents, yet we’ve got, really, two parties that seem to be focused on their own political success and advantage over the other. I would much rather us be talking about reforms to the WSIB in this House right now, where people are calling my office at their wits’ end, without anywhere to turn, absolutely being crushed by a system that was designed by both political parties here, the Conservatives and the Liberals.
I would point to the disaster that was created when the Liberal government dismantled and destroyed the horse-racing industry. I would point to $9 billion in wasted funds through the initiation and the use of public-private partnerships, P3s, in financing all of their infrastructure wishes and dreams—$9 billion. They’ll throw billions of dollars out there, but without the accountability that traditional models of financing would give. That is an enormous amount of waste. I point to the crisis in mental health care that exists, that is creating a crisis in our corrections system and in our health care system. And of course, let’s not forget families across this province who struggle in dealing with autistic children and the supports they require. That’s, to me, a scandal in the way this government has handled that.
I don’t think anyone is without blame in this House, but I think we are definitely to be faulted if we aren’t using our utmost efforts, and we should be criticized if we aren’t focusing on the needs of the people of this province. They’re the ones who should come first. They’re the ones who sent us here to advocate on their behalf. Playing political games for political advantage only adds to their cynicism and lack of hope in the entire process.
I hope that we get back very soon—like, I’m talking minutes—get through this debate and get back to focusing on the needs of the people, because that is indeed what we were sent here to do.
I’m sure that in the PC staff rooms, they were thinking to themselves, “Hey, we’ve got an opposition motion coming up. What are we going to do?” And they said, “Well, I don’t know. What can you do? Can you criticize the government for bringing in an Ontario pension?”
“Oh, no, that really wouldn’t look too good on us.”
“Well, how about for effectively making post-secondary education free for families of under $50,000 or $60,000?”
“Well, no, that probably wouldn’t look too good on us.”
“Well, what about pharmacare? Should we bring in an opposition motion criticizing them on pharmacare?”
“Well, that wouldn’t look too good on us.”
So they came up with this other one here, which is this compendium of just about every rant they’ve gone on. They thought to themselves, “Well, maybe we can sound a little sanctimonious, and we’ll just get past it. It’s the last opposition motion before the House rises, and nobody will remember this.” It does give us an opportunity to comment on it and talk about it.
There’s one comment in here that, substantively, I really, really take exception to. It refers to the activities of the Integrity Commissioner and to the outcome of their investigations. The whole point and purpose of the Integrity Commissioner is that there is someone whom members and ministerial staff can go to on a confidential basis to sit down and say, “Let me talk to you. Here’s the situation that I’m in. I just need another opinion in here, and an opinion from someone with some legal training.”
The whole idea here is that the Integrity Commissioner will sit down, think about it, write you a letter back and either say, “You’re okay,” or, “I recommend you either do something differently or not do this at all.”
When we get down to it, our function here is to envision what that change is, try to imagine how we’re going to get there, find some support for it, put together a plan to take us from where we were or where we are to where we’d like to be and, as we go forward, to adjust that plan. We do that rather well in Ontario. We don’t do it perfectly, and there’s not a jurisdiction on earth that does it perfectly. In the process of doing this, we often have to adjust those plans.
The PCs have gone on about some of the things that have happened on the watch of our government, none of which were illegal. Now let’s talk about something that’s not done now, hasn’t been done for more than a generation, but once was commonplace practice on the watch of former PC governments. That is that every single job in the Liquor Control Board of Ontario used to be an appointment by order in council. In other words, before you got a job to stock the shelves, it used to be that somebody down the hall in the Premier’s office, in the Cabinet room, had to say, “You know, I approve of this person,” which is totally, completely, in the present context, inappropriate, unfair and regressive. In due time, when that was pointed out—and I’m going to have to say that I believe the change occurred during the watch of the NDP government in the 1990 to 1995 era. The Premier of the day—it wasn’t as if he was coming at the former government, but—when confronted with this, said, “We have to do what? That’s bizarre. We’re going to change that.”
That’s something that, in the context of the times, as they evolved, we looked at and said, “However we feel about it today, and while we felt it wasn’t the right way to use a public appointment, in its time, it wasn’t wrong, but we do feel that it should be changed.”
They’ve talked about measures that have happened on the watch of our government and of their government before us and of the NDP government before them, and they’ve said, “Should we still be doing this, that or the next thing?” A lot of those discussions, particularly in the realm of fundraising, took place in this chamber. We looked ourselves in the mirror and said, “Maybe we should not have been doing some of that stuff.” There are some of those changes that I look at and think to myself, “I don’t get why I can’t attend my own fundraisers.” And I still don’t get why I can’t attend my own fundraisers, but let’s set that aside.
To go back to the Integrity Commissioner, I think, if the Integrity Commissioner is there to offer you advice, then that advice is subject to the equivalent of solicitor-client privilege. In the absence of that, it would require each party and the civil service to have somebody else that they could go to before they went to the Integrity Commissioner, thus adding a completely redundant, absolutely useless level of bureaucracy where it’s absolutely, positively not needed at all, just to make sure that, if somebody discusses something that’s sensitive—before you bring it to the Integrity Commissioner, where it would be released to the public—maybe you should have your pre-meeting with whoever would replace the Integrity Commissioner, in essence resolving the problem before it goes to the Integrity Commissioner, which means: Why do you have an Integrity Commissioner at all? But that’s just part of this omnibus PC opposition day motion, which not a lot of thought went into. It brings to mind some of the other things that have happened.
When our government came into office nearly 14 years ago, only two thirds of Ontario’s secondary school students were graduating. If that was their benchmark—and I’m not sure that it was; I wasn’t in government at that time—it was certainly a very low bar to hurdle over. Today, seven eighths of students who start in Ontario secondary schools finish with an Ontario secondary school diploma.
About seven years ago, for the first time, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released a report—and the findings remain true today—that said that Ontario has the best education system in the English-speaking world. That’s interesting. At the time, I was the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Education. I was also, during that period, chairing the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly. I thought to myself, “What are those qualifying words all about: in the English-speaking world?” I actually went back and I asked at the ministry, “So who’s better than us?” It turned out that Ontario, worldwide, was actually fourth. Number one, which remains true today, is Finland; number two was Singapore; number three was South Korea; and number four was Ontario, Canada. The Canadian provinces were ranked individually because education is a matter of provincial jurisdiction in Canada rather than federal jurisdiction as it is in many other places.
As it happened, a few weeks later, there was a delegation here from Scandinavia. I brought aside a couple of the guys from Finland, and I discussed the report. I said, “So tell me about your education system.” It was almost exactly the same. The standards were the same; the means of instructions were the same; the curriculum was substantially the same: The parallels just piled one on top of the other. Almost as a throwaway, the gentleman who was talking to me said, “Of course, when our secondary school students graduate, we expect them to be able to communicate in the regions around us.” I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Well, of course, in addition to their own language of Finnish, they have to at least be conversant in Russian, German, Swedish and English.” Five languages. I thought, “Oh, okay, there’s a difference.”
At home, we have some very good friends, a family originally from Singapore. One night, we were having dinner with them, and I related this conversation. My friend David said, “Oh, yes, it’s actually very similar to Singapore, where, in Singapore, in addition to being able to speak your own language of Malay, you have to be conversant in the languages commonly in use around you: Mandarin and English.” That’s three.
Two years and a bit ago, I had a chance to visit South Korea. In addition to talking with some of their energy people, I arranged to talk with some of their educators, and without telling them what I was looking for, I wanted to step them through the similarities between Ontario and South Korea. Finally, one of them just volunteered the information and said, “Oh, yes, at high school graduation, of course our kids have to be able to speak Korean, but they’ve also got to speak the languages we use around us.” I said, “Which are?” They said, “Well, Japanese and English. Of course, in Ontario, you’ve got to speak English.”
It was right around that time that some of the research was released, which has since been validated and repeated, that showed that if you can speak more than one language—and it doesn’t really matter which languages—not only are you in general a smarter person, you have a greater capacity to learn and a measurably greater capacity to resolve inconsistencies because you have developed an ability to see the world from the vantage point of two different languages.
One of the lessons from that is that as good as we are—and here in Ontario, we’ve gotten pretty good at many of the things we do—there’s a lot of room for us to get a lot better. One of the best ways of getting better has always been to say, “We’re not going to be afraid of the future. We’re not going to be afraid to make a mistake. We’re not going to be afraid to talk about our plans here in this House before people who are going to do it in an adversarial fashion,” which in my nearly 14 years here, I’ve become accustomed to from men and women whom I’ve grown, in many cases, to both respect and like across the floor, and be able to say truthfully that some of the ladies and gentlemen whom I would run against for a period of a month or two every fourth year as colleagues in government, they’re smart people, they’re honest people, they’re decent people.
They share with our side in government a passionate view of the kind of province that we want to create in British Columbia, the kind of people that we want to attract, the kind of prosperity that we all want to share. Whether they’re criticizing the actions of the government, which I think they should focus on in considering the actions of the government, one thing that we should not get into is to personalize it into calling into account the ethics and the morals and the values of the people who send us here. Because each person that I look at who is sitting on the other side has been sent here with the full confidence of the riding that elected them. From their vantage point, who are they to say to people in Lisgar, Meadowvale and Streetsville in the city of Mississauga, “Here’s why I disagree with Bob Delaney...”? They can take any policy, any remark that I make or any speech that I stand up and make or any position I take on behalf of the ministry that I serve; that’s fair game. But in the same way that I don’t criticize them as individuals, I don’t think this motion should be supported, because what this motion says is that it’s not about the work we’re here to do, it’s not about the people we’re here to serve and it’s not about the province we’re here to build.
This motion says to this Legislature that this is all about finding fault with the ladies and gentlemen who came here to serve all 13.5 million of us and, for that reason, Speaker, I don’t believe this motion deserves the support of this Legislature and it’s the reason that I’m going to vote against it.
I want to just say on that issue alone that the most important job that we can do in this assembly is to make sure that the people of Ontario have reason to feel confident in the decision-making that is made, that they have confidence in the manner in which it has been made and that they trust government. Certainly, there are examples that we look at in today’s debate which question the opportunity to have any sense of confidence.
I think the first one that strikes me in that list is the five OPP investigations going on. It’s an unprecedented breach of accountable government. I remember that earlier in the debate, one of my caucus colleagues referred to things being “unprecedented,” and I thought, “Well, I’ll be coming along at the end of this opportunity today and I will use the same language.”
Ministerial responsibility is one of our democratic traditions. Unfortunately, it is a tradition that this government chooses not to follow. I never thought I would see the day that we would even need to discuss legislating on it, and yet here we are.
We all know that the current Minister of Energy “sought certain benefits” when he agreed to run in the Sudbury by-election. Yet, as Minister of Energy, he refused to resign or step aside while the investigation was under way. I remember when cabinet ministers understood the importance of integrity. Ministers named in police investigations must temporarily step aside until their names are cleared. It’s just that simple.
I also want to shine a light on the restoration of the Auditor General’s full oversight of government advertising. Some of you may know that as I have sat in public accounts for several years, I have a special interest in understanding the Auditor General’s responsibility. The government does have a role in advertising, but these advertisements should be in the public interest and in the form of public service announcements, something along the lines of the importance of getting a flu shot, how to enrol your child in kindergarten, and the dangers of fentanyl. For years, the auditor would approve these advertisements to prevent partisanship. This government has removed the oversight and rewritten the rules. Now they can use public funds to create promotional advertisements. Think about the recent hydro and ORPP ads. That isn’t right. Taxpayers deserve better.
In the few moments that I have, I want to particularly draw attention—although it’s not directly part of this opposition motion—to the letter that was sent out, the statement from Ontario’s independent legislative officers. Again, this was unprecedented:
“The officers report to the assembly, not to the government of the day, and provide independent, expert reports and analysis of government operations and service delivery. We take seriously the legislated authority to hold government and provincial agencies and corporations accountable on behalf of the Legislature and all Ontarians.”
This letter was signed by all of Ontario’s officers of the assembly. They say in their letter that it is their work that “depends first and foremost on their independence from government. This principle is sacrosanct because there is value to independence, to the public trust in government.”
Today’s debate has taken a broad look at areas that are missing in the opportunities for transparency and accountability. When you lose track of those, you lose democracy.
When you have a document such as the one I have right now in front of me from the Ontario Court of Justice of the province of Ontario—this is the information of Shawn G. Evans of the Ontario Provincial Police. He’s a police officer. He writes:
“I have reasonable and probable grounds to believe and do believe that ... Patricia Sorbara, between the 19th day of November, 2014 and the 6th day of February, 2015, in the City of Sudbury and elsewhere in Ontario, did directly or indirectly give, procure or promise or agree to procure an office or employment to induce a person, to wit, Glenn Thibeault, to become a candidate, contrary to section 96.1(e) of the Election Act, R.S.O 1990, Chapter E.6, thereby committing an offence pursuant to section 97 of the Election Act, R.S.O 1990, Chapter E.6; and further, that the said Patricia Sorbara committed the offence knowingly, and is thereby guilty of a corrupt practice, as provided by section 97.1 of the Election Act, R.S.O 1990, Chapter E.6, and is liable to the increased penalties provided for by section 97.1 of the Election Act....”
This is still very much alive in Sudbury. When something like this happens, when a scandal like this happens, it shakes the confidence of the voters. It shook the confidence of the people of Sudbury that our electoral process was fair, that it was going to be open to all.
Now we have those good people, including Gerry Lougheed, who are going to go to trial this fall. This is terrible, Speaker. This is a scandal, and it tarnishes all of us, no matter who we are.
I also wanted to talk about Ornge. I spent over two years of my life looking at Ornge with Frank Klees from the Conservative Party. Basically, what Dr. Mazza did—he drove our air ambulance service that used to be the best in the world into the ground. What is really sad to say is that what happened under his leadership was really a symptom of a bigger problem. The bigger problem was the Liberals’ appalling lack of oversight. Why was it that many, many red flags were put in front of them, letters were written to them, dozens of whistle-blowers went to them—my leader at the time, Howard Hampton, spent an entire afternoon questioning the Minister of Health about Ornge because the whistle-blower had come to us again, and they ignored it all.
For years and years, they allowed this man to drive the service into the ground. Why, Speaker? Because of Alfred Apps. Alfred Apps was the president of the federal Liberal Party. Alfred had been retained by Ornge to be their spokesperson whenever they went and saw the Liberals. The Liberals saw a friendly Liberal speaking to them, and it did not matter what was going on behind that, that our air ambulance was falling apart. There was a president of the Liberal association in their office, and that’s all they saw. They saw that they were there to help their own, no matter what happens to the rest of Ontarians.
Those decisions had consequences. Those decisions had appalling consequences. We look at the chief coroner’s report. The report said that operational problems at Ornge directly contributed to the deaths of two patients. One of them is from my riding. It probably contributed to the death of a third person and it possibly contributed to the deaths of five more patients. This is eight families who have lost loved ones, who will never get them back again because the Liberal Party was so committed to holding on to their own, was so committed to focusing on a friendly Liberal and not doing their job.
If the president of the Liberal association came into their office and said, “All is well. Don’t look behind me. Don’t look at what’s going on at Ornge, because I’m a friendly Liberal and all you have to do is look at me,” that’s all they did. They looked at Alfred Apps. They never looked at what he was bringing forward. They never looked at what he was hiding. They never looked at what was happening at Ornge.
It didn’t matter what we did. We could have had pyrotechnics to show them that “Hey, you need to look here.” They refused to do this. They looked after their own, and the people of Ontario suffered. This is why it is a scandal.
But the scandal did not stop there and it did not stop at the hundreds of millions of dollars that were squandered and wasted. We also had this horrible accident in Moosonee, where an Ornge helicopter crashed, killing Don Filliter from my riding, Jacques Dupuy, Dustin Dagenais and Chris Snowball. The 17 charges that were laid against Ornge are still in front of the court as we speak, but it doesn’t matter what comes out of the court proceedings; the three kids who have lost their dad will never get their dad back. Mr. Snowball, who lost his son Chris, will never his son back.
Those scandals shake the confidence of the people of Ontario to the core. How could we have this? How could it be that we had a government that was so incapable at doing anything but focusing on their own success, focusing on their own fundraisers and on the success of the Liberal Party, no matter the cost? And Ontarians paid the ultimate cost.
So I’m not surprised that we are debating a motion that talks about government scandals, because any of us who do constituency work, any of us who listen to our constituents, hear it all the time. It is sad. It should not have been like this. All of this was 100% preventable. But it shows the symptoms of a bigger problem. It shows the symptoms of a Liberal government that is so focused on itself, that is so focused on ensuring their own success, they forget what they’re there for. They forget that, yes, they hold the public purse, but this is for the good of the people in Ontario, not for their own political gain.
This is what this motion is all about. This motion is about making sure that when a government is in power, they keep the good of the people of Ontario as their primary goal, not the good fortune of the Liberal government, no matter the cost. In the case of Ornge, the cost was the loss of life. This is an awful price to pay.
Mr. Brown has moved opposition day motion number 5. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I believe I heard a no.
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. There will be a 10-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1750 to 1800.
Mr. Brown has moved opposition day number 5. All those in favour of the motion will please rise one at a time.
There is a late show, so I will give you an opportunity to disperse quietly but yet quickly.top | new search