TIME ALLOCATION / ATTRIBUTION DE TEMPS
That the vote on second reading may not be deferred pursuant to standing orders 9(c) or 28(h); and
That, at such time, the bill shall be ordered referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs; and
That the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs be authorized to meet on Monday, December 3, 2018, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for public hearings on the bill; and
That the Clerk of the Committee, in consultation with the committee Chair, be authorized to arrange the following with regard to Bill 57:
—That the deadline for requests to appear be 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28, 2018; and
—That the Clerk of the Committee provide a list of all interested presenters to each member of the subcommittee or their designate following the deadline for requests to appear by 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28, 2018; and
—That each member of the subcommittee or their designate provide the Clerk of the Committee with a prioritized list of presenters to be scheduled, chosen from the list of all interested presenters received by the Clerk, by 12 p.m. on Thursday, November 29, 2018; and
—That each witness will receive up to five minutes for their presentation, followed by 10 minutes for questions divided equally amongst the recognized parties; and
That the deadline for filing written submissions be 6 p.m. on Monday, December 3, 2018; and
That the deadline for filing amendments to the bill with the Clerk of the Committee shall be 6 p.m. on Monday, December 3, 2018; and
That the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs shall be authorized to meet on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday, December 5, 2018, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill; and
That on Wednesday, December 5, 2018, at 5:30 p.m., those amendments which have not yet been moved shall be deemed to have been moved, and the Chair of the Committee shall interrupt the proceedings and shall, without further debate or amendment, put every question necessary to dispose of all remaining sections of the bill and any amendments thereto. At this time, the Chair shall allow one 20-minute waiting period pursuant to standing order 129(a); and
That the committee shall report the bill to the House no later than Thursday, December 6, 2018. In the event that the committee fails to report the bill on that day, the bill shall be deemed to be passed by the committee and shall be deemed to be reported to and received by the House; and
That, upon receiving the report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the Speaker shall put the question for adoption of the report forthwith, and at such time the bill shall be ordered for third reading, which order may be called that same day; and
That, notwithstanding standing order 81(c), the bill may be called more than once in the same sessional day; and
That, when the order for third reading of the bill is called, one hour of debate shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the bill, with 25 minutes allotted to the government, 25 minutes allotted to Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, five minutes allotted to the independent Liberal members and five minutes allotted to the independent Green member; and
That, at the end of this time, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and shall put every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the bill without further debate or amendment; and
That the vote on third reading may not be deferred pursuant to standing orders 9(c) or 28(h); and
That, in the case of any division relating to any proceedings on the bill, the division bell shall be limited to 10 minutes.
I have a point of order as well, Speaker.
I heard a no.
Would the minister care to lead off the debate?
You’re going to read the amendment?
I move that, pursuant to standing order 57 and notwithstanding any other standing order or—no, that’s not the one I want? Okay.
I just have to say, I remember sitting in opposition with the now government that was then the official opposition, and all the honourable members there, most of which are in cabinet now and others that are not, unfortunately—I’m sure you will get your turn eventually. You will get your turn eventually. They were so solid when it came to speaking against time allocation. The Conservatives used to come into this House, used to rail against the Liberal government and talk about how it is that time allocation was a horrible thing.
My good friend the member from—whatever riding it is—Nipissing. He would get in here and say, “Here we go again, the guillotine,” and he would slap his desk. It was all just so much—it was something to watch. I had to think, all kidding aside, that some of it wasn’t just acting; some of it was that they actually disagreed with time allocation, because I think as I, and a number of members back then who are now in government, who were in opposition to the Liberals, thought that there may be the odd time where time allocation may be the only way out of a particular situation, but to use time allocation on a regular basis as a means to be able to move the government’s agenda forward, quite frankly, is just a situation where the government is incapable of managing its own affairs in the House.
For example, currently the rules without time allocation would allow the government to be able to, first of all, call the bill into the House, introduce it, bring it in so that we can get a first reading, sit down with the opposition, figure out how much time the opposition wants on the bill and what you have to trade in order to be able to move the bill forward. That’s the way this place works best.
On a bill like this, on Bill 57, there is no question that the official opposition, the New Democrats under our leader, Andrea Horwath, has a problem with this bill. There are sections of this bill that are quite problematic, and we’ll talk about those in a few minutes. But we would have wanted some amendments to the legislation. We would have wanted possibly more hearings on the legislation so that people can come and speak to us.
For example, the francophone community across Ontario sont en rage. Ils regardent ce projet de loi, puis ils regardent l’élimination de l’officier responsable—comme le commissaire aux langues officielles, le commissaire qu’on a présentement, M. Boileau. Ils se disent : « Écoute, comment est-ce qu’un gouvernement qui prétend être en support de la communauté francophone peut éliminer un tel poste? Ça ne fait aucun bon sens. »
Cette position, ce n’est pas quelque chose de dispendieux. Ça coûte à peine une couple de millions de dollars. Ce commissaire est essentiel quand ça vient à s’assurer que le gouvernement provincial et ses agences suivent les mandats qui sont donnés par cette Assemblée et par le cabinet quand ça vient à donner des services en français. Mais plus important, ce commissaire a une opportunité d’être capable d’être proactif quand ça vient aux services des francophones.
Je vais vous donner un petit exemple. Nous autres, à Timmins, on a voulu commencer un projet qui était très important pour notre communauté. Une des affaires qu’on a faites, on était au commissaire, puis on a demandé au commissaire de regarder la question. En effet, il a trouvé que les services pour les francophones—qu’on n’était pas bien desservis à Timmins quand ça venait à un certain service. Ce commissaire a fait un rapport et ce rapport faisait partie du—comment dire—bilan ou bien du volume d’information qu’on a utilisé, finalement, pour amener ce service à la ville de Timmins.
So, donc, ce commissaire, ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui est là pour prendre des plaintes seulement; c’est quelqu’un qui est là pour être capable d’avancer des dossiers. Dans ce projet de loi, le gouvernement élimine son poste et met quelqu’un au Bureau de l’ombudsman qui va répondre à l’ombudsman et non à l’Assemblée, tel qu’on a fait dans le passé.
So there’s a lot of stuff inside this bill that, quite frankly, we don’t agree with. The government: Yes, I understand they’re a majority and they will get their legislation through the House—rightfully so; that’s what they’re able to do. But there should be an ability on the part of the government to listen to what the public has to say—in this case, the francophone community when it comes to the commissioner of French-language services; those in the province who are engaged with protecting children when it comes to the child advocate; those who believe in the environment, being the Environmental Commissioner; and a whole host of other issues that you can listen to. Some of the things that this government is doing in this legislation are very problematic, and it ain’t saving any money; if anything, it’s just going to make things worse.
For example, we just heard yesterday, Mr. Speaker—and you would know, coming from Windsor, how devastating news like this can be—that GM is going to just close their production facility in Oshawa. We know what the story is: The company has decided it wants to change its production line and move into different technologies when it comes to vehicles that we buy in the future—more electric, less gas, more technological when it comes to the features that those cars have.
Well, here we are as a province, we’re eliminating the Environmental Commissioner, we’ve gotten rid of cap-and-trade, we’re the only large jurisdiction that doesn’t have a plan to deal with how we’re going to limit greenhouse gases, and we’re supposedly saying to industry, “Come and invest in Ontario.” Why would anybody come here and why would GM decide to stake its future in Ontario when you’ve got a province that’s going exactly the opposite way than the company is when it comes to trying to green their product?
That’s what this is about, to a degree: General Motors, along with Ford and the rest of them, are trying to move to vehicles that use less fuel. When a government sends a signal such as this government is sending in this bill that it, quite frankly, doesn’t believe in climate change and that they want to turn the clock back, well, you’re not sending a message to industry out there that this is a jurisdiction that understands that the green economy is where we need to go to.
So I think there are opportunities with GM—
As we saw at the turn of the previous centuries, economies always evolve; they go from pre-industrial to industrial. You see the transition that’s happened to the economy in Europe, Canada and across the world when it comes to the last 150 years. Nothing remains stagnant, it always moves with time, and that’s sort of what’s happening with GM.
The government, I think, made two errors: One is to throw in the towel so early after the announcement yesterday. Quite frankly, it just shocked me when I heard the Premier say, “It’s done. There’s nothing we can do.” The second thing is that you’re signalling to the world by your actions, by eliminating positions like the Environmental Commissioner and other things that you’ve done around eliminating cap-and-trade, that Ontario is not a jurisdiction that believes in moving into the green economy. So you say to yourself, “Why did GM pick Ontario?” That’s probably one of the reasons, quite frankly.
I think that we could do something about GM if we really tried sitting down and saying, “Let’s talk about how we bridge ourselves to your new production plans when it comes to whatever you’re going to build,” and that GM Oshawa be part of that, because we’ve invested into that company a fair amount of money to be able to move to those new technologies, we invested in that new centre that was built in Oshawa, and we should be able to get some benefit out of that. I think Ontario, if it so decided, could actually put a fair amount of pressure on the company to do something.
I know, Mr. Speaker, because I was part of a government in the early 1990s where, on a daily basis, because of the recession, we had sawmills closing down. We had paper mills closing down. We had steel plants closing down. We had de Havilland Aircraft talking about shutting down production facilities in Canada. We decided to roll up our sleeves and work with communities and work with industry in order to try to find solutions to the problem and keep those places open, and we succeeded. De Havilland continued on to become Bombardier, which made both the Dash 8 Series 300 and the Dash 8 Series 400, the RJ series, and now moving into this new commuter jet that they’re going to be building out of Montreal. Unfortunately, governments after allowed them to be sold to Airbus. Now we’ve sold off the Ontario division to a western company, which is going to affect jobs here. But we, as a government back in the early 1990s, said, “Listen, we’re not taking anything off the table.”
The reality is that there is always a possibility of trying to find a solution. If you sit down with the players, be they workers, be they the community, GM and anybody else that is involved in it, we could probably come up with something. But you certainly don’t send a good signal by moving in the way that you have, when you’re saying you’re going to get out of green energy. This government says it wants to move in that direction, and I think it’s completely the wrong direction that we have to go.
I want to point out something else in Bill 57 that’s actually quite troubling. I’m just going to take a quick look here. I think it’s in schedule—let’s just find it here. Okay, we find it in schedule 12; that’s one place. It’s everywhere that we have an officer of the House.
In schedule 12, which is the election officer, there are amendments being made by the government to the legislation that governs how the officers of the Legislature are hired, how they are remunerated and how they’re able to appoint a deputy in order to replace them in the case of illness. As we know, that’s already happened once with the FAO.
I don’t have a big argument with the government trying to standardize the legislation. I think there’s maybe some sense to that. But when you look at what they are doing, there’s a really, I think, dangerous thing that we’re putting in this legislation.
The first part is under section 3 in schedule 12. I just have to find the right section. I’ll paraphrase it, because I’m trying to find it as I speak here. That’s always a little bit more fun.
Anyway, what it does is it entrenches the process by which we hired officers of the House—that the government in itself cannot hire an officer of the House. There’s a process where the recognized parties each sit on a panel. We shortlist, we interview, and we only hire the person we’re all in agreement on. In other words, if you’re two parties or you’re three parties, the two or the three parties—in this case, because we’re only two, the New Democrats and the Conservatives—both have to agree on the successful candidate for that person’s name to come to this Legislature so that we can enact it when it comes to a vote here in the House. And that’s fine. That’s the way it should be. That’s something that we, as New Democrats, pushed very hard to get some years ago and that the government is seeing their way forward on. Entrenching that in legislation I don’t think is a bad thing.
However, the section by which you can get rid of the auditor or get rid of the Ombudsman or any other officer of the Legislature is simply by a vote of this House. This is problematic, because if I’m the auditor and my job is to hold the government to account—if you end up in a confrontation with the government over your doing your job, how much are you thinking that the government might use their majority in order to, essentially, chase you out of office? If you don’t like this particular auditor, you don’t like this particular Ombudsman or you don’t like the Integrity Commissioner, whoever it might be—those people are going to have, over their shoulder all of the time, the thinking that, “The government, if I don’t do what they tell me, might fire me,” because it’s by a simple majority of the House that they’re able to get rid of the person.
We’ve never operated like that as a practice. It has always been that if there was an issue, we would get together—the recognized parties—to discuss it. We would do the proper HR stuff in order to deal with the issue. But if it ever did come to a decision of having to get rid of somebody, it was only if the parties agreed—the recognized parties of the House, be it two parties or three.
This government is giving itself a majority to fire these people should they want to. I think that’s very dangerous, because we know that Mr. Harris—Mr. Harris; that was a Freudian slip. Mr. Harris, I must say, looks more of a socialist than this government, these particular guys, but anyway, that’s a whole other story.
Under the Ford government, we know that they’re going to have to make some pretty tough decisions, and the auditor, the Ombudsman and others are going to take exception to some of the stuff that this government does. To allow the government to utilize its majority to hold a threat over the officers of the Legislature I think is wrong. We’ve always operated with the practice here that we do this only when the parties all agree. What the government is doing is stepping out of that by doing what they’re doing now. So I just say that this is certainly a problematic situation.
I think the government is going to want to speak to this as well, and I’m sure some of my members want to speak for a bit, so I’m not going to go for very much longer. I just want to end on the child advocate. The child advocate has done a whole lot of really good work when it comes to protecting children. It’s not about taking complaints; the job of the child advocate is to be proactive and to work with those people involved in trying to protect children.
I look at what he has done in my part of the world in northern Ontario: a huge initiative when it comes to working with First Nations youth in order to better protect them. He has put in place boots on the ground, as they say, in places like Thunder Bay and other places in northern Ontario so that there’s a place that people can go to when they know that young people are at risk. I think that the government getting rid of the child advocate is a really nasty thing to do, because this child advocate has done some great work.
We’ve had, as you all have in your ridings, issues when it comes to youth with disabilities, either physical or intellectual, who are unable to access a particular service. As a result of that, those children go without the service. We’ve had the child advocate come to Timmins to meet with agencies, to meet with parents and to meet with community groups, to help us launch strategies so that we’re able to deal with better serving the kids in our communities so that they get the kind of supports that they want.
For example, the whole idea of people transitioning out when they were 16 years old and moving out of the system because they turned 16: The child advocate was a large part of making sure that we actually moved the age up to 18 so that those kids, while they were still in school, were not falling out of the system as a result of turning 16.
So I think them moving in order to get rid of the child advocate is just problematic as heck. With that, Mr. Speaker, I would just say that I think my other members would like to say a couple of words, and we’ll leave it to them.
In my office, I’ve received a number of calls and concerns about the elimination of the advocate in particular. I know that there are people in my riding who would want to speak to the government about the impact of these changes. By not providing them with sufficient time to bring their concerns to the table, I don’t know how we’re actually enacting anything that’s going to bring back trust in government processes. I think that that’s something that we really have to take seriously. If the goal of having the community come out to speak is to, in fact, provide opportunity to build trust etc., then you have to give the community an opportunity to speak to changes that are so vast.
I was actually reading an article from yesterday in the Globe and Mail, “Ontario Has Undermined Its Ombudsman’s Independence.” At the very, very end—it’s quite interesting—the author writes, “Asking an”—ombudsperson—“to take on new responsibilities while installing a trap door underneath them is not in anyone’s best interest. If the rationale is to save public funds, well and good—but undermining the independence of oversight is one of the most short-sighted and expensive decisions any Legislature can make.”
I bring that up because that, I think, is a sentiment that’s shared by many people who are in my riding, and likely in ridings across Ontario. The idea of taking away an advocate is problematic on its own, because somebody who’s an advocate is actually fighting for changes to the system; somebody who’s an ombudsperson generally takes complaints. Those are two very distinct operations, so combining the two is problematic on its own.
Then, to have a clause within this bill that suggests that if the government or the House feels that a decision made by the ombudsperson is incorrect or wrong-headed, we can vote and have them suspended, is really troubling. How are they supposed to do their job independently? How are they supposed to do their job in good conscience if, hanging over their head, as my colleague had just said, is the possibility of them losing their job? That, to me, is an indication that there is no desire for oversight.
That brings me right back to the beginning: If we do not provide sufficient time for people across the province to come in, to write about their concerns, then there seems to be a lack of desire to hear from the people about issues that are going to arise with these changes. Something like an advocate—if we mess that up, that’s people’s lives. That’s the lives of children that are going to be lost if we don’t make sure that there is somebody who they can speak to who can advocate for change. I think there is insufficient amount of time for us to keep reiterating that point, in my opinion. This is a huge, huge, huge challenge.
With that being said, I’m quite nervous about the fact that so little time will be allocated to people being able to speak to some of these changes. I think all three of the independent positions that have been eliminated in this bill are things that everybody in the province worked really hard to have, to have that kind of independent oversight. I don’t think that strong leadership should be so worried about people being critical about what it is that they’re doing.
That’s kind of my final point, really: Strong leadership should have no worries about sitting and talking to people across Ontario about the changes that they want to make. They should be open to having people across Ontario provide them with criticism, suggestions, concerns, and they should be willing to speak to those concerns. If everything in this bill is being suggested for something positive and good, then there should be no problem with somebody asking questions, but there seems to be resistance to anybody asking the government questions. That piece is very scary.
Then, when you take the next step and start to take away advocacy roles, roles that independent folks—their job is just to take a look at what is happening here. It’s not just for this government; that’s for the future of all governments when they make this change. That means that we’re actually setting ourselves up, then, across Ontario to have to advocate again to get these positions back. It doesn’t make any kind of sense.
If it does make sense, then why can’t we just have time to have that discussion? Instead of decreasing the amount of time that we have to debate these ideas, why can’t we actually debate the ideas? Why can’t we open it up and have people send in their thoughts and their feelings and engage in that kind of discussion? Why can’t we make sure that people can actually get here to have sufficient time not just to look through—it’s quite a hefty bill of changes. We have to give Ontarians enough time to read through it, to think about the impact, to get over the shock of the changes that are happening so quickly, and then to get here.
I think that this seems to be an ongoing refrain: that we don’t give enough time. It seems, on the surface, that we’re providing some amount of time for the public to come and engage, but in actuality, how are people supposed to get here with such short notice? How are they supposed to navigate the changes that are happening?
I think that the criticism is already all through the media. The media has already picked up on some of the changes that are happening here, and that’s at least one step. But there seems to be resistance to criticism, and that’s worrisome to me. And this is just the start. This is a pretty hefty set of changes, and I’m quite nervous about that.
Kevin, I’m not sure how much time—sorry. I just had to check in with my team.
Government members: There are four different conversations—if you can keep it down. I’m having to wear my earpiece so that I can keep up with what is being said on this side.
This is a very thick piece of legislation that we have before us in Bill 57. There are 45 schedules. There are multiple pieces of existing legislation that are amended by this bill. To date, we have allocated six and a half hours of debate for these 45 schedules of this very thick omnibus bill. If you do the math, that works out to be about eight or nine minutes per schedule, in total. That’s eight or nine minutes for every member who has something to say about each of those 45 schedules to do the due diligence, to bring the concerns of our constituents to the floor of this House so we can make good decisions about the legislation that we are bringing forward for this province.
Today I want to share a couple of those voices that we should be hearing from—people that I represent in London West. First, I want to talk about a young woman named Elsbeth Dodman. Elsbeth is an inspiring advocate. She is a young woman with autism. She has been very outspoken about the challenges that she has faced because of her autism: the underemployment that she continually experiences and the barriers that she has encountered. One of the things that she was able to do to empower her voice, to amplify her voice across the province, was to be involved with the advocate for children and youth office and the We Have Something to Say project.
She sent me an email, and she said that the decision that is in this bill to eliminate the child advocate is heartbreaking. She said, “This is heartbreaking for myself and my colleagues who have worked through the office on various projects. I’ve been in touch with some of them through social media and we are all upset, shocked and confused—especially at the prospect of what comes next.
“The Ombudsman’s office does not have the time to direct its full attention to the work the advocate’s office was doing.
“I’ve been calling whoever I can, reaching out to whoever I can. The office and the people there and the work we were doing means so much to me. I cannot sit and watch Ontario, the very first province to have an independent child advocate, be the first to lose it. And all in the name of a budget.”
In her email to me, she attached a photo of herself and others who were involved with the We Have Something to Say project, which was initiated by the child advocate’s office. She says, “I wish Doug Ford could see this photo and see the faces of the people he’s saying no to.”
Now, Speaker, those of us who have been in this place for some time will be aware that in 2014 the We Have Something to Say project was started by the advocate as an attempt to begin to close the gap between provincial policy and the realities facing children and youth with disabilities in this province, and their families and caregivers. It put the voices of young people with disabilities right at the centre of these policy discussions and the development of recommendations, to ensure that their rights were respected.
We have no way of knowing whether the new Ombudsman that’s going to take over the role of the provincial advocate—whether that office will be able to continue the We Have Something to Say project. The loss of that project, as Elsbeth Dodman says, is going to be devastating for those young people who have been involved.
The other voice from my constituency that I wanted to share is from a constituent named Lee Richardson Symmes. She forwarded me an email that she sent to the Premier about the elimination of the Environmental Commissioner. She says, “Whether it be ignorance or guile on the part of his government, I think this move paves the way for some bad policies and actions by the Ford government, and I hope the NDP will highlight this issue.”
She says, “I was shocked and dismayed to learn that your government is eliminating the Office of the Environmental Commissioner. This action is the environmental equivalent of eliminating the province’s auditor, an essential non-partisan assessment for the public of any government’s stewardship and a valuable source of constructive suggestions. This is a serious mistake and the optics are terrible.
“No one familiar with environmental conditions or issues will believe that the financial analysts in the auditor’s office have the skills or interest to perform this function with credibility.
“The cost of the” Environmental Commissioner of Ontario “is trivial within the Ontario scheme of things so the contribution to deficit reduction or tax cuts will be lost in rounding the numbers.
“Many people will conclude the real reason is that your government is poised to adopt a number of actions and policies that will be backward and detrimental to the quality of air we breathe, the nature we love and the environment which is essential to our quality of life.”
Speaker, I think that my constituent Lee Richardson Symmes has really hit the nail on the head here. We know that the Environmental Commission was highly critical of the very first actions that were taken by this government to cancel cap-and-trade without any kind of alternative plan in place. The Environmental Commissioner has been outspoken about the negative impact of the actions that have been taken by this government on protecting our climate, on preserving our climate for future generations, on ensuring the quality of the air that we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty clear that this government’s decision to eliminate that position was basically a pre-emptive strike, because they know what’s to come and they didn’t want to face that criticism from the Environmental Commissioner about the policy decisions that they were making.
The third thing that I wanted to highlight is the elimination of the French Language Services Commissioner. In my community of London, there are 7,000 students who are enrolled in French immersion schools throughout our community. There are 2,800 students who are enrolled in French-language schools. That’s almost 10,000 students who were looking forward to the French-language university, whose language rights had been protected because of the office of French Language Services Commissioner. These are all young people and families who will be affected by this government’s decision to eliminate that position, which is also a part of this budget bill.
These decisions have an impact. They have a very profound ripple effect throughout many of our communities across this province.
The final point that I wanted to speak to in one of the other 45 schedules of this bill—one of those schedules talks about rent control. It allows dwellings that are built after 2018 to no longer be subject to rent control legislation.
This morning, I met with realtors from my community, realtors from London, who pointed out that in the last three years in London, there has been a 50% increase in the average home sale price. What that does for entry-level buyers, for young people who are looking to get their first home, is it forces people to remain in rental buildings. By allowing these new rules, allowing builders to build new rental units and to be able to raise the rent however much they want—do you think that’s going to incentivize builders to build affordable housing, to build affordable homes? No. It’s going to incentivize the development of more high-end rental dwellings where the rent can be raised wherever the developer decides or the landlord decides. This is not going to do anything to address the housing crisis in my community.
We know that it’s not just our social housing stock that is in crisis; there is a crisis of affordability across the board. In my community in London, we have the London Poverty Research Centre that’s doing amazing work to highlight the reality of the precarious labour market. Some 50% of people who are working in London are employed in unstable jobs that provide no security and no benefits. Half of our workforce who are working are in precarious jobs. They can’t afford to buy a new home when there has been a 50% increase in the price of a new home over three years, and they are unlikely to be able to manage rental units where the landlord is now exempt from rent control if there are new rental units that come onto the market.
There are so many things to address in this bill. I’ve highlighted, certainly, the loss of the independent, non-partisan watchdogs of this Legislature: the Environmental Commissioner, the child and youth advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner. The loss of those positions is going to be very detrimental to our ability to provide the kind of oversight that people expect from government.
There has been an erosion of trust in terms of people’s trust that government has their best interests at heart. It’s no wonder when we watch, particularly with this government, the decisions that have been made. To have these independent, non-partisan officers providing that third-party, neutral level of oversight is absolutely essential. This government has no interest in transparency despite the title of this bill.
If they were interested in transparency, they would keep those officers in place, because those officers shine the light on some of the systemic problems that people in this province are facing. They challenge the government to take action on those issues, they push the government, they push all of us, to acknowledge and recognize and act on these concerns. To have those voices silenced is going to be devastating. It’s irresponsible.
I’m going to conclude now. Thank you very much.
The first one is in response to the member from Timmins’ comments. The mechanism to suspend an independent officer of the House, in my view, requires a more robust and stronger check and balance on that function of a suspension. I would like to draw that attention to the committee.
The second element I’d like to bring attention to is the changes to the Civil Remedies Act; I believe that’s schedule 6. This amendment facilitates and broadens, in my view, the ability for the state to seize people’s private property without due process, so I would like to draw that element to the committee’s attention when it’s examined.
Finally, I believe it’s schedule 16, the Election Finances Act: We spent a lot of time on that bill, creating it, and the mechanism to repeal the need for the public declaration of funds. I know it’s a complicated process, it has caused a lot of inconvenience and it was a lot of difficulty to get it done; however, removing it without another suitable mechanism to ensure that personal funds are the ones being used, I think, needs to be strengthened up.
So I would draw the committee’s and the House’s attention to those three elements when the bill is examined further.
You will know, Speaker, that making responsible decisions around budgeting, living within your means and saving can change your life. It can absolutely change your life. Those same healthy habits around personal spending I believe also apply to public spending. Ontario’s interest payments on the debt are now the fourth-largest line item on the provincial budget. That means taxpayers are spending approximately $1.4 million on interest every hour—every hour, Speaker: a significant cost that’s unfair, and it’s unsustainable.
Since being elected in June, we’ve taken action to modernize government. Small steps and keystone habits lead to impactful change, and we’re already seeing the results. We’ve given families and businesses important tax relief by not proceeding with the previous government’s $308 million in planned tax increases, and cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax in order to strengthen Ontario’s economy. These measures would keep almost $2.7 billion in the pockets of people and businesses in our great province.
Speaker, knowing how to manage money isn’t enough. You’ll know this, and many other MPPs in this chamber know that. Like families, the government cannot indefinitely spend more than it takes in. We must lead by example and make smart financial decisions on behalf of the people we have the privilege of serving.
We were elected to not just fulfill a balance-sheet commitment, but to also ensure that the vital programs that people rely on meet their needs. Ontario residents may not notice the numbers on the province’s statements; however, they feel the impact—they absolutely feel the impact—that mismanaged finances can have on their everyday lives. By making responsible financial decisions around public spending, as we are, we can take care of those who are most vulnerable and need our compassion the most.
Prior to the release of the Independent Financial Commission of Inquiry’s report in mid-September of this year, the Auditor General had reviewed the Liberal’s Pre-Election Report on Ontario’s Finances. In that report, the Auditor General framed the Liberal behaviour with words—and these are her words—like “conceal,” “bogus,” “unreliable” and “deceptive.”
Once again, those are the descriptors of the Auditor General of Ontario. As you know, Speaker, this language is not normally used to describe a government’s accounting—far from it. What it revealed was a reckless spree of deficit-financed spending that, in turn, led to a carefully conceived series of accounting tricks, all intended to obscure the resulting costs from the public.
This is the context for the introduction of Bill 57. It will, if the proposed legislation is passed, restore the trust, accountability and transparency to Ontario’s finances. At the same time, it will make life more affordable for all Ontarians.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce had this to say about Bill 57: “We are pleased to see the government of Ontario taking reasonable steps to build a more prosperous Ontario with a strong focus on fiscal accountability and cutting cumulative red tape. On behalf of our 60,000 members in 135 communities across the province, we have long called on the government to reform Ontario’s tax system, reduce red tape, and restore fiscal sustainability to the Ontario taxpayer.
“We agree with the decision that the government of Ontario will not proceed with the prior government’s initiative that would have taxed the so-called ‘passive’ income for thousands of businesses across” Ontario. “This would have greatly increased taxes for thousands of employers in Ontario.”
Finally, “Our members are also supportive of some of the government’s other key priorities, such as their commitment to: ....
“—expanding broadband to rural and underserved communities across Ontario;
“—reviewing electricity costs for industrial users; and
“—investing in both the Ring of Fire and transportation infrastructure in northern Ontario.
“Combined, these are fundamental steps towards a more competitive and prosperous economy.”
Let’s turn now to some of the other elements in Bill 57 that are important to this discussion that we’re having this morning and earlier debate a few days ago. First, the legislation introduces one of the most generous tax cuts for low-income workers in a generation. It’s called the LIFT, or Low-income Individuals and Families Tax Credit. It would provide low-income and minimum wage workers up to $850 in Ontario personal income tax relief and couples up to $1,700. The vast majority of people earning $30,000 per year or less will pay no personal income taxes whatsoever when they file their 2019 tax returns. Low-income taxpayers earning just over $30,000 will also receive graduated relief.
Ontario’s government for the people is committed to helping taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money. Every single dollar of this credit is targeted to low-income workers. If the bill is passed, Speaker, this measure will provide tax relief to 1.1 million people in our province.
I’d like to turn now to housing. Housing is another long-standing issue addressed by the proposed legislation. The demand for housing in Ontario has risen rapidly in recent years, driven by strong population growth and low interest rates. However, the supply of housing has not kept pace, leading to higher prices and rents—that’s a truism. As part of the new Housing Supply Action Plan, the government is developing a strategy to increase housing supply quickly and responsibly so that more good-quality places to live will be available for the hard-working people of Ontario.
With respect to making rent more affordable and promoting housing development, the government is proposing to encourage developers to build more rental housing by exempting new rental units from rent control, but at the same time keeping its promise to preserve rent control for existing tenants and cancelling the expensive and ineffective Development Charges Rebate Program, which will create savings of approximately $100 million over four years. Critics may expound at length about exposing new tenants to higher rents, but experts in the industry will tell us that a limited housing supply does much more damage. Limits on rent increases have ultimately discouraged developers from constructing rental units, and this bill, Bill 57, if passed, will encourage the construction of new rental units and take away one of the key impairments to growth.
We are a government for the people, not just those who live in the cities or in the southern part of the province. The Minister of Finance has long been a special champion for northern Ontario, and with the support of all of his caucus colleagues, many of whom are here this morning, he does not ignore its residents.
First and foremost, working directly with First Nations partners, the government will end the delays for the development of the Ring of Fire and will promote resource revenue sharing agreements between First Nations and northern communities, as well as mining and forestry companies, so that the benefits of northern development will be shared.
In addition to those northern Ontario initiatives I already highlighted, the government is expanding natural gas delivery to over 70 communities and 30,000 households, it is investing in broadband infrastructure so that all of Ontario may participate in the digital economy, and a special working group is being created to speed up regulatory approvals and attract new investments in the mining industry. Northern Ontario is Ontario, and our purpose is to ensure that any legislation is sensitive to northern issues and deals with residents fairly and equitably.
Finally, another feature of Bill 57 is making Ontario better for the people. In that respect, the government is working to cut hospital wait times and end hallway health care for patients. The government is investing $1.9 billion in mental health and addiction services over the next decade, matching the federal government’s commitment. We will be investing an additional $90 million in 2018-19 to build 1,100 beds and spaces in hospitals and the community, including over 640 new beds and spaces to prepare for the flu season, and investing more than $300 million to support the addition of 6,000 new long-term-care beds, the first wave of more than 15,000 new long-term-care beds over the next five years.
Households struggle and work every day to manage their finances and to live within their means. Surely they should be able to expect their elected officials to do the same with their tax dollars, managing and accounting for every penny. That’s what we’re doing: managing dollars for them as we must do every month with our own family budgets. That expectation is both reasonable and, with critical focus, attainable. It is absolutely attainable.
The overriding direction of Bill 57 is one that creates a process for reasonable and pragmatic change. It carves a path through some very deep undergrowth. The Minister of Finance has told all of us that there are no quick fixes, and there aren’t. A path back to balance is a difficult one, an absolutely difficult one. It will require fiscal discipline, but it will also require innovation and creativity, transparency and accountability. We owe both those things to the taxpayers we are representing, and we’re delivering. Bill 57 does not raise taxes. It makes life more affordable for people and safeguards vital public services and programs they rely on every day.
The bottom line is this: We have a rare chance to transform public finances, and it’s one that we cannot squander. We will continue to put Ontario’s fiscal house in order and focus on serving this province through transforming the culture of government. If done right, we’ll see a more sustainable Ontario for current and future generations: your children and your grandchildren, Speaker; everyone’s children and grandchildren.
The member for Markham–Stouffville.
Principally, the motion was brought forward so we can begin to deal more effectively with the economic crisis that has befallen our province. We have to go back in order to understand where we are today, and I appreciated the fact that the member for Timmins did a little bit of that, Mr. Speaker, but you will appreciate that this government has absolutely no intention of following the path of the previous NDP government. It was a government many, many years ago, but it’s a government that Ontarians are still paying for today. Obviously, we have no intention of doing that. We have no intention of having record-setting deficits; we have no intention of raising taxes; we have no intention of building an economy where few can prosper and where the only people who benefit are our neighbours to the south, because that’s where our jobs go to.
The last 15 years in this province followed much the same path of the previous NDP government, but elevated to a whole different stratosphere. We came off a time where we have a deficit now, this government is faced with a deficit, of some $15 billion. Now, I know that’s a very large number and it’s hard for a lot of people to contemplate, but $15 billion means that we’re paying, as the member for Whitby had mentioned, about $1.4 million an hour more than we take in. One of our largest budget items is interest on the debt, and that’s just obviously unsustainable. It’s unsustainable.
We obviously know we have an aging population. We have to do more with health care; we have to do more with long-term care. It’s hard to do that when your third-largest budget item is interest. It’s hard to pay for transit improvements and infrastructure improvements when you’re paying so much for interest. It can’t be done.
The people of Ontario rightfully, before the last election, were very clear: They had had enough. They wanted the province of Ontario to move in a very different direction. All of us went to the people and we heard what the people said. They said, “Get your house in order. Get our house in order.” Because it’s not the government’s house; it’s not our house; it’s the people’s house. When we go door to door and we hear from them, and they talk about how hard it has been for them to make ends meet, they’re not making stories up. When I’m in my riding of Markham–Stouffville—by and large, Stats Canada will tell you, it’s a very wealthy riding. We’ve done very well in a lot of areas. But when you go door to door, you hear from person after person, from family after family, that they’re having a very difficult time making ends meet. And that’s in an economy with low interest rates. We know things are starting to change. When communities are asking for more and families are taking in less, then obviously we have a problem.
Since I’ve been here in debate, I’ve heard consistently from members from both sides—from our side and from that side—of the need to invest in transit and infrastructure. In my community, that’s had a devastating impact. The inability of the previous government in the city of Toronto to make decisions on transit and infrastructure has left billions of dollars stranded, sitting in a bank account unused, for over 10 years. That’s unacceptable. People in the eastern part of my riding—in Markham, in particular—shouldn’t have to struggle to get on public transportation. It irritates them. It frustrates them and gets them angry when they find out that $5 billion has been sitting there in an account unused—$5 billion. What does that mean for the people in my part of Ontario? It means that the people of Markham could have had access to a subway or a rapid transit along Sheppard Avenue, but because the city of Toronto couldn’t make a decision, the money sits there. That’s unacceptable. We need transit and infrastructure in my riding. The money is there. It needs to be used so that we can grow the economy. So the investments that the people have already made need to be used.
I know that many of us will be meeting with trustees today. We have issues with respect to schools. Some schools in my riding—it’s a fast-growing riding, a fast-growing community—need to have infrastructure improvements. You can’t do that when you’re spending more on interest to pay for a deficit that we’ve all accumulated than you can set aside for reconstruction and repairs of schools. You can’t do that.
Mr. Speaker, this motion is all about bringing together a plan. This is a very first step—it’s a first step. Yes, we’ve reduced the deficit by $500 million, from $15 billion to $14.5 billion. That’s a good first step, but it’s the first step in a plan, the plan that this government is bringing forward to unleash the potential of the Ontario economy, to prepare it for what might lie ahead; for changes in the economy, as our economy moves in a different direction; preparing us to meet head on some of the challenges that we saw yesterday with respect to Oshawa. That’s what this is: It’s a first step.
So I would implore my colleagues opposite to work with us. We’re going to have differences of agreement, obviously, on how we move this economy forward, but work with us. Help us reduce taxes. Help us invest in people. Help us pay down the debt, because balancing the budget isn’t enough. We have to bring forward a plan to also pay down some of this debt. So I would ask my colleagues opposite to join with us, support us and help us move forward on balancing the budget and investing in individuals and families.
Mr. Speaker, it’s also a good time to recognize the fact that what the finance minister has done is really started reinvesting in people. What do I mean by that? Some of our lowest-income individuals—when I went door to door and I talked to people; I know many of us have heard this—a lot of them could not understand why it is that some of the lowest-income earners are sending money to the government. It makes no sense. This budget changes that.
The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care is starting to bring forward a plan to invest in long-term care for our communities. You can’t address hallway health care if you don’t make investments in long-term care, but for far too long that wasn’t done. The Liberal government didn’t do it. The previous NDP government, many years back, closed hospital beds. That wasn’t—
Debate deemed adjourned.
The House recessed from 1015 to 1030.top | new search