Resuming the debate adjourned on October 22, 2020, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 218, An Act to enact the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020 respecting certain proceedings relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19), to amend the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 and to revoke a regulation / Projet de loi 218, Loi édictant la Loi de 2020 visant à soutenir la relance en Ontario concernant certaines instances liées au coronavirus (COVID-19), modifiant la Loi de 1996 sur les municipalités et abrogeant un règlement.
As you know, Speaker, very early in the pandemic, I was raising concerns about long-term-care homes. There were so many outbreaks in Scarborough that took the lives of many loved ones in our long-term-care homes and even, tragically, one of our dear personal support workers. Any bill that has an effect or an impact on long-term care is something that I want to address, so that I can speak to the concerns of the people in my constituency.
However, in this very important bill that deliberates about the respective liabilities in COVID-19, there is also an item that really doesn’t seem to fit as well, and that is the issue of ranked ballots. I’m not sure why it has ended up in this legislation. No one has asked for it. There haven’t been any consultations or engagement in any way. In fact, there are many individuals who fought for many, many, many years to bring ranked ballots at the local level, the municipal level, who are very concerned. They’re gathering, actually, Speaker, to talk about what this means.
I wish that the government would not rush this legislation but would make sure that these individuals have a chance to have their say directly on this bill and let the government hear how it will impact them, how it will impact municipalities, how it will impact communities. Given that this is about local democracy, we should not be rushing this bill through the Legislature. In fact, for both parts of the bill, it should not be rushed, because people need to have their say.
I want to deal with the substantive part of the bill, which is the measure around the liability, because this really does affect people’s lives. As mentioned by many of my caucus colleagues, it is important to non-profits, to sports organizations, to community organizations, to small businesses, to restaurants. They want to be able to understand what the liability is so that they can get insurance coverage, and I understand that. But it’s not clear that this blanket standard of gross negligence is the appropriate balance to keep our province moving in the right direction when it comes to insurability and for protecting Ontarians.
Many groups are advocating on behalf of the elderly and those in the health care system. They’ve raised serious concerns about this bill, and I hope the government is paying attention to it. The bill would prevent families who have lost loved ones in long-term care from seeking justice. It is a deterrent. Many families and individuals don’t have the capacity that large organizations have to fight things through the court system. It’s an important concern that they’ve raised—it’s definitely worth repeating here—so I would urge the government to listen.
I have not heard any response from the government that provides assurances to these families that they would be able to seek justice and hold bad-faith actors to account. Instead, this bill makes it more difficult for them to access justice. It brings to question, who is the government looking out for? Is it for these families or is it for the friends who run these facilities?
To my colleagues across the aisle, I’ll say that of course workers in long-term care and in care settings have done their best under very challenging circumstances. But these institutions that make a profit from providing service—and that service is to ensure that our vulnerable Ontarians are safe, that they’re healthy, that they’re supported and that they’re cared for. The families who have lost loved ones from COVID-19 in our long-term-care facilities deserve answers and they should be able to have their day in court; I believe that everything we do in this Legislature should be giving people the fair opportunity to do so. It is the role of the courts to figure out where the balance lies. It is not this government’s place, really, to legislate that away. This measure would shield long-term-care operators and this government from liability, and that is something that puts those families who have experienced that loss at a disadvantage.
I do want to remember at this time the personal support worker, because that worker had been at the forefront of our pandemic from the very beginning. One of the first individuals who lost her life was Christine Mandegarian from Scarborough. She was beloved. She had many connections and many relationships across Scarborough, including at one facility in my riding, and I just want to remember her today.
This is a very serious piece of legislation. I would urge that the government ensures that there is proper input from these families and those who are affected before making this sweeping change.
Speaking of sweeping change, Madam Speaker, on the other hand, I am completely baffled at schedule 2 and why it is in this bill. Why has the government chosen this moment to cancel ranked-ballot elections? No one asked for this, especially during a pandemic. It feels like it’s a distraction, in fact. This is something that is an affront to our local democracy. Ranked ballots matter. Local democracy matters.
Let me just explain to you why it matters. I’m going to use an example from my friends at Unlock Democracy. Under the first-past-the-post system, which has been in place since 1867—and the Premier talked about that. Whichever candidate or party has the most votes wins. So it sounds pretty simple at first. But does it really work?
Imagine 100 people trying to decide what to eat for a mid-afternoon group snack: 26% of the people want vanilla ice cream, 20% of the people want chocolate ice cream, 24% want caramel ice cream, and 30% want beets.
Now let’s look at a ranked-ballot election. Instead of “whoever has the most votes wins,” which is also called a plurality, candidates have to pass a threshold to win. For a single-winner election like a mayor or council member, the threshold is 50%. Using a ranked ballot is as simple as it sounds. Voters are asked to rank their choices in order of preference, rather than just marking an X beside a single choice. On election day, everyone’s choice is added up. If the candidate has passed the threshold, they’re declared the winner. Otherwise, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from the race, and all their votes are transferred to the second choice listed on each ballot.
With a ranked ballot, if your first choice can’t win, your ballot still counts. This process of elimination continues in an instant runoff, in fact, until a candidate passes the threshold. With first past the post, all 100 people are eating beets, leaving most of them unhappy. With the single-winner ranked ballots, one of the ice cream flavours will win—a compromise that respects the majority.
The Premier has recently commented that allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots would confuse voters. I don’t think that’s a fair statement to our voters. Come on. I have great confidence in the ability of Ontarians to understand the concept of ordering their preferences. We just learned about how the system works in under five minutes, for those of you who like ice cream—other than the one beet-person vote we have here.
That is actually one of the benefits of ranked ballots—it brings voters into the election. It creates a conversation. For municipal elections, where there are often multiple candidates, you have to learn about what each other stands for in a ranked ballot so that you can order your preferences. In other words, it’s local democracy. It engages the populace.
Because the ranked ballot process hinges on preferences, it results in less negative campaigning in elections. In fact, there are women who have said that this is the reason why they prefer this voting system—because it makes the process less negative.
Think about racialized candidates as well. They’re also invited into this electoral process of ranked ballots and stay with the process to the very end.
There certainly is public education—this is part of it. When I introduced the bill for a ranked ballot in 2014, public education was part of it. But the Premier should give Ontarians some credit. They can learn about this new system.
We can do better than what we had in 1867. There are a lot of things that are no longer in place. Do you remember, in 1867, women could not vote? That’s changed. Inuit people gained the right to vote only in 1950, and First Nations men and women were not allowed to vote until 1960. So there are aspects to our system that need changing, and it needs changing for the better. We can improve our democracy.
I want to also address the cost, because that’s part of the criticism that the government side has said. But from London’s experience, these are just one-time costs. In fact, running a ranked ballot is very similar to managing an ongoing election, and so reverting back from the ranked ballot to first past the post is going to actually cost that municipality more in the end. So it’s downright unconscionable that this government has decided, without consultation, without talking to anybody, to take away something that improves our local democracy and makes things better for everyone.
Speaker, I urge the government to reconsider schedule—
You were speaking about the impact on families of what happened in long-term-care homes and their concerns about their ability to get justice for their lost relatives. Could you tell us about your experiences as an MPP, given that I’m sure many of those families were in your riding—your experiences talking to them directly and the communications you got from them?
Indeed, it was the very families in my riding of Scarborough–Guildwood who got my attention about the effects of the pandemic in long-term care. I recall some of the stories. There was a woman who came to my office with her sister. I spoke to them over Zoom, because we had to socially distance. Their mother went into the facility just earlier this year. She was a spry person when she went in, and she quickly deteriorated. They couldn’t see her, and they actually lost her. So what’s motivating them is, did this home do all it could to protect their mother from the effects of the pandemic? Under the changes that the government is proposing under Bill 218, it’s creating a higher threshold, with gross negligence, so that it’s very difficult for families to prove and to even want to pursue litigation.
My question is similar to the member’s last question, which is in terms of the government’s changes to the ability of people to take action for negligence that occurred during this pandemic, especially in Ontario’s long-term-care homes. The government is also looking to make that legislation retroactive. I’m not sure whether that’s going to survive a test. I have concerns about that, and I also have concerns about the fact that we’re moving to a standard of something called gross negligence and there’s no justice for these families. They don’t get an independent public inquiry, and their ability to sue is going to be limited. I’d like to know if the member could comment on that.
One of the things that I’ve cautioned this government on is, just because you have the power doesn’t mean you have to use the power. When it comes to the impact of the pandemic on people in long-term care, we should actually want to know where the issues are. We should want to know how to make it better. We should want to hear from families, and we should be doing everything in our ability to protect them.
As you’ve heard me say many, many times in this House, I want to make sure that people—and I said it in my remarks today: that for those in non-profits, restaurants, sports organizations, we have to make sure that as a government, there is a response put forward that allows those organizations to continue to be able to acquire and to be covered under insurance, because they cannot operate legally in the province without that ability. I’ve been pushing the government for that. I’ve been asking questions of the finance minister, in committee and even in my own discussion today. That being said, I want to see that happen, but I don’t want to see those families impacted in long-term care losing their ability to get justice.
We will be bringing forward our Time to Care Act. It would legislate four hours of hands-on care in our long-term-care homes. Does she think that such a bill, such a requirement, would have helped save some of those lives, would have helped improve the quality of care in our long-term-care homes?
I certainly agree that we do need to have an increase in terms of our investments in long-term care and the hours of care that are available to those who are within the system. I certainly support that. I know that the commission has put out an early report to the government—which is timely, because as we just heard announced today by the finance minister and the Premier, it will be next Thursday, November 5 that the government will be tabling a budget.
I urge the government to not make an austerity budget, but to actually have a budget that makes those necessary investments, like the hours of care. I would support an average of four hours of care for residents in long-term care, and I’d like to see that in the upcoming budget next week.
I also think the retroactive nature of this is quite an overreach of power. How do you legislate back and determine what the situation is and what people were thinking? I do think that that’s also an overreach and may not pass the test.
I absolutely agree with you that the government should be looking at this in a way that helps those families but also protects the ability of organizations to obtain insurance.
I want to go back to something that was said on Thursday. It was said by the member from Brampton East. In his speech, he said that this bill does not create more fairness, because what it does at its root is empower those who are already in positions of privilege. That struck me as very odd, so I asked him a question in the question-and-answer section. I asked him about some special-needs sports groups that I’m involved with—specifically, the Electric City Maroon and White, the Kawartha Komets and Challenger Baseball—because we know that this will help volunteers of those organizations. I asked what they had for privilege that he was talking about. His response was, “Those are the individuals ... that are privileged that are going to use this piece of legislation to ensure that they are protected from the legal recourse against them because of their actions, because of their negligence.” I never got the answer. What privilege do those special-needs athletes have that he was preferring to? What billion-dollar industry was he referring to when he said that?
This legislation will help volunteers. It will help volunteers for the Electric City Maroon and White, for the Kawartha Komets, for Challenger Baseball, for the Down Syndrome Association of Peterborough Biz Group. This legislation will help people in Ontario, and I’m going to name some: Chris Williams, David Fisher, Carol Fisher, Bernie Daynes, Lisa Hopkins Mills, Mackenzie Clark, Lindsay Munoz, Evan Williams, Kevin Smith, Joanne Haacke, Simon Treviranus, Jim Legon, Graham Elliott. These are the names of people that this legislation will help because they are following the guidelines from public health and they are making their best effort and honest effort to make sure that the people that they’re entrusted to help, the people that they’re entrusted to give programming to, get that.
As I said, they’re following public health guidelines. They’re doing the things that they’re told to do, so that these programs can continue to run, because they help people like Casey, Derek, Luke, Josh, Jessica, Rodney, Tony, Andrea, Brandon, Nate, Matthew, Michael, Chantell, Roy and Dwayne. These are people who will be able to do some of the activities that they want to do because they’re being supported by volunteers. Those volunteers will be able to put those programs on because this legislation helps protect them, as long as they are following the guidelines from public health, as long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, as long as they’re making an honest effort and they’re doing the things they should be doing. That’s what this legislation does for us.
Why is this legislation necessary? COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on our communities, our businesses and our public sector organizations, and this legislation is necessary so that they can continue doing those things, provided they’re making an honest effort to follow public health guidelines. I have to say that again: They are following public health guidelines.
There have been some questions about why this is retroactive to March 17. Our public health guidelines have been changing as we have learned more about COVID-19. If these organizations were following the guidelines as the guidelines were coming out and they were making adjustments as the guidelines were being adjusted, they were making an honest effort to do everything that they could do to protect people. So, yes, it should be retroactive back to March 17, back to the emergency declaration, back to when we were saying to people, “Please follow the guidelines of public health. Do the things that we’re asking you to do to protect people.” If you continued to do that, you weren’t acting negligently; you were following the best advice of our public health officials.
We should be following the best advice of our public health officials as we go through this. The NDP, in their speeches on Thursday, said they were shocked that we were immunizing the government. There are a couple of points I’d like to make on that. First of all, the NDP BC government has done exactly the same thing to protect government employees. I’m not sure why the NDP don’t want to protect people who work at ServiceOntario, or social workers or transit workers or people who work—
It has nothing to do with some of the other things that have been said. We had a member from the NDP say that we’re protecting long-term-care homes where they have cockroaches, where people “died in their own filth.” That is negligence. This bill does not protect bad actors. This bill protects someone who has made an honest effort to follow public health guidelines. I don’t believe anywhere that public health has come out and said cockroaches are safe to have in your home. I don’t believe anywhere that public health has said you can lie in your own filth.
I believe public health has put out guidelines on what we should be doing, how we should be trying to help people, how we should be protecting people and on the proper use of PPE. If you follow those guidelines, you’re making an honest effort. If you do something outside of that, that’s not following the guidelines. In fact, we’re serving notice to those bad actors: If you do those things, if you allow those things to happen, you will be prosecuted.
We’ve had a number of organizations that have spoken out about this in a positive light. The Ontario Hockey Federation, after Bill 218 was released, said, “We are pleased to see the government is taking an important step to bring forward legislation. This change will give sport confidence that the government will help protect players, coaches and volunteers who continue to provide a safe return to sport.”
The Ontario Hockey Federation and all seven of the organizations underneath it are working towards having some form of a hockey season. They’re listening to the public health experts, and they’ve made adjustments to how the game would be played. They’ve made adjustments to what the players will do. There is no interaction now between games. There is a time period that must lapse for cleaning, when one team leaves before another team comes in.
There are guidelines about how many players can be on the ice. Most organizations are now playing four-on-four or three-on-three instead of five-on-five. Parents aren’t allowed in the stands.
They’re following the guidelines of public health. They appreciate that we have done this because kids need to be able to be kids. They need to go out and play. They need to see some of their friends. You can do it responsibly if you follow public health guidelines.
The proposed legislation would not provide protection against litigation circumstances where there is intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Two other jurisdictions have passed very similar legislation. There have been accusations that this is about Conservatives and supporting Conservative businesses or supporters of Conservatives. What’s interesting about it is it’s the NDP government in British Columbia and it is the Liberal government in Nova Scotia that have passed very similar legislation. It is non-partisan. It crosses all party lines. We’re trying to do what’s right for the people of this province. We’re trying to make sure that some of the volunteers, those non-profit organizations, can still function. They follow public health guidelines.
It doesn’t change any of the existing rights. Workers covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act are prohibited from suing their employers for work-related COVID-19; that’s part of WSIB. But the proposed legislation doesn’t affect this prohibition. It doesn’t change anything with WSIB. So comments that are being made about, “You’re rewriting things”—that’s not the case.
Good-faith effort is an honest effort. Are people actually listening to what public health is saying, and are they doing the things? Are they making the changes? Are they following those guidelines? If they follow the guidelines, then they’re acting based on science; they’re acting based on the recommendation of medical experts. That is a good-faith, honest effort.
We should be listening to what our medical experts are saying; to say that we shouldn’t would be wrong. If our medical experts are saying, “This can work. This is a safety measure that you can put in place. This is something that will mitigate risk,” and you follow all of those things, are you not doing what you’re supposed to be doing? Should you not be listening to that person? Should you not be listening to our medical officers of health when they make those recommendations? I personally think that we should, and that’s what this bill focuses on.
What it doesn’t do, though, is protect someone who intentionally exposes you to COVID-19. It does not do that, and those are some of the implications that are being made.
What this bill does is, it allows some of the things that we do in Ontario to continue to happen. It allows organizations like the Legion to do some of its things, the Kinsmen association, the Rotary Club, the food shares—all of the different groups that reach out to our community and do things to improve our community. As long as they follow what public health is saying, they can continue to do that, and they should continue to do that. It protects hockey coaches, soccer, dance and theatre. If you follow what the medical officer of health recommends, if you put in place reasonable measures, if you’re trying your best to make sure the people you’re working with and serving and helping are safe, you’re making an honest effort. That’s what this bill does. It protects people who are making an honest effort.
You can try to rewrite history, but what do you say to the homes in Peterborough—Riverview, Fairhaven, St. Joseph’s—and the employees and the families who have been denied a public inquiry, an open and transparent vehicle to have justice? Instead, you brought in a piece of legislation which slams that door in their face. What do you say to those families in Peterborough?
What I say to the support workers at Fairhaven, at St. Joseph’s, at Riverview is thank you. Thank you for going in every day and helping our seniors. Thank you for doing what you’re doing. This legislation will protect you because you’re making an honest effort to do everything you can to help the people you’re working with.
Can the member tell me what the WSIB—will that affect the members’ claims?
As the member knows, on Wednesday afternoon we will be debating the Time to Care Act, to mandate four hours of hands-on care to every one of the 78,000 residents of long-term care. Does the member think that the mandate of four hours of hands-on care would help improve the quality of care to our long-term-care residents?
So my question to you is simply this: Why didn’t you deal with the insurance problem rather than just dealing with the liability problem?
There are instances, I freely admit, where private individuals are having difficulty getting insurance, but that’s not what this bill is about. This bill is about the people who are there on the front lines helping people. It’s making sure that if they follow the guidelines, if they make an honest effort to follow the guidelines, they will be protected. That’s what this bill is about.
I want to bring it back to the beginning of your speech. It really hit me when you started talking about the special-needs sports and you mentioned Challenger Baseball. I remember the day very vividly when you brought the team who went to the Little League World Series last year here to Queen’s Park. My friend Graham Elliott and his son, Ethan Elliott, went down for the game—and just hearing those stories from those kids and from the volunteers who came here with them and how much they appreciated being here, that event, that experience in their life, was amazing.
In my riding we have Track 3 ski school, which helps people with special needs learn how to ski. There are amazing volunteers there, as well—Janet Greener, Shawn Turner, Roger Janke—all helping these kids, and they are so thankful that we’ve put this in place in bringing this forward to try to protect them.
I’m just wondering if you can tell more stories about how that’s going to help these kids move forward.
This bill provides us the opportunity to have those events still happen so that all of those kids get to go out and be part of a team. When they’re marginalized everywhere else, they get to be part of the team. They get to wear their uniform. They get to do the things that they love doing.
So my question becomes, why is it that you want to stand for legislation that doesn’t actually address the impact that’s happening on the ground, and instead prefer to focus on the intention, which won’t create any kind of systemic change?
I’m going to begin by talking about ranked-balloting systems, even though it wouldn’t have done much for the elections I’ve been involved in. Municipally, in my first election, I won by more than 7,000 votes over my nearest competitor. In my second term, I captured more than 52% in a redistributed ward.
Being a white man of privilege, active in my community, and through the connections I had after a 30-year career in journalism and municipal politics, I enjoyed a healthy margin of victory in all three of my provincial elections. Not to blow my horn too loudly, but I earned more than 61% of the vote in a by-election in 2013, winning by more than 10,000 votes. I had more than 62% of the vote with my 23,000 votes in 2014, winning by 17,000 in front of my closest competitor, and in the “blue tide” election two years ago, I increased my vote total to more than 25,000.
I tell you these numbers, and I say to you when I speak in the House that I do so because people in the city of Windsor and the town of Tecumseh have put their faith in me and have faith that I will speak from the heart, and not strictly for partisan purposes.
So I ask two questions: Why does this bill restrict municipalities that choose to adopt a ranked-balloting system? And why now? As we struggle to fight off a medical tsunami with a second wave on our doorstep, threatening to overwhelm our capacity to stay ahead of the curve, why, of all the issues we might be considering, is the government placing this on our doorstep, when our attention would well be better spent concentrating on COVID-19-related, life-saving issues?
I was reading the Sunday Star yesterday morning, Speaker. Page A6, an entire page, was devoted to the issue of the ranked-balloting system. The city of London had a ranked-balloting system in place for the last municipal election, the only community in Ontario to do so—in fact, the only city in Canada to try something that wasn’t first past the post. The city’s administration wrote a council report on how that experiment was received by the voters. The result: London’s experiment proved that the ranked-balloting system could work in any other community in Ontario where the duly elected municipal politicians chose to try it out. As we’ve heard, the city of Kingston was moving in that direction, as was the city of Cambridge.
In London’s case, the ranked-balloting system was mostly responsible for Arielle Kayabaga becoming London’s first woman of colour to be elected as a city councillor. She decided to run after attending an informational seminar on the hows and whys, the ins and outs of ranked balloting.
Speaker, political experts—not the provincial politicians such as ourselves in this House, but experts who spend their days studying elections and how they’re run—agree that a ranked-balloting system leads to a more representative result of the personal choices of the electorate. For example, in the last provincial election, our friends across the aisle formed a majority government—congratulations—but they did so despite not having the support of 60% of Ontario’s electorate; 60% of the voters voted for someone else.
In a ranked-balloting system, people are asked for their first choice, and second, third and so on. In first past the post, a candidate can get elected with far less than 50% of the vote. In a ranked-ballot election, a candidate needs in the neighbourhood of 50% to be truly representational of the wishes and choices of those who cast a ballot. Voters can then hold a firm belief that their vote actually counts, and that’s a purer form of democracy.
Since candidates know they’re being judged by people who have their second and third choice to exercise, they are less likely to run a dirty campaign, slinging mud at everyone else and saying outrageous things about the other competitors in the race, which might cost them the race in a ranked-balloting system. In London’s case, there was still dirty politics at play, but only from anonymous sources; no candidate had their name attached.
Ranked ballots offer marginalized groups and underrepresented communities a much fairer opportunity to not only run but to be elected. That leaves the faces on our elected councils more representative of the community’s entire population. That has been the case in American cities such as San Francisco, where ranked ballots have been used since 2002.
Speaker, a political action group called Unlock Democracy Canada just released a report on the London election after examining municipal results across Ontario. You may be surprised to hear that more than 1,500 municipal councillors in Ontario hold their positions with a mandate from far less than 50% of the voters. And get this: That includes most of the members of Toronto’s city council. According to Unlock Democracy Canada, “Nothing is more sacred in a democratic process than to secure an outcome that reflects the genuine will and desires of the electorate.”
Getting back to Councillor Kayabaga: She had the lead on the first vote, with 29%, and eventually won with 49% by the time they scoured second- and third-choice votes and so on from the other competitors.
I’ve heard government members from across the aisle try to defend the decision not to allow ranked balloting because of the extra costs that London endured in running that election. Democracy does come with a price. In London’s case, there were fixed costs: $12,000 for a software licence, $42,000 for printing a larger ballot. But when you deduct the usual cost of a smaller ballot, in total, the extra cost, according to this article, that London paid to run that election was $24,500, which works out to 10 cents per taxpayer, according to Unlock Democracy Canada.
Sure, there were indirect costs and one-time costs explaining the new system and consulting the public—a good use of taxpayers’ money, I would argue, keeping the public well informed. That cost, as the government has told us, was $515,446, and it’s their main stated reason for attacking the ranked-balloting system—the cost, during a pandemic. But in London’s case, that works out to $2 a taxpayer for a more democratic election, with people elected who carry a truer choice of the entire electorate, as opposed to the first-past-the-post system.
To those who are afraid of the new system and who say that it’s far too confusing for the average voter to understand and doesn’t always end up with a majority vote—such as the case with Councillor Kayabaga winning with 49% instead of 50%—London’s administration says that the first-past-the-post system doesn’t even try to secure a majority. The results in London clearly show that the number of people who exercised their right to rank their ballots clearly understood the system, made their choices, knew how to do it and want to do it again.
I won’t belabour the point, Speaker, but I also read in the Sunday Star yesterday—there was an article featuring a profile on Ted McMeekin. You’ll remember Ted as the former Liberal Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He introduced the ability for municipalities to decide for themselves if they wished to try the ranked-balloting system. He’s disappointed with the Conservative decision to ban the use of ranked ballots, but he’s not surprised. He says that he recalls speaking to a couple of Conservative members at the time, who admitted to him confidentially that they would never want to see ranked ballots embraced provincially because they would never again elect a Conservative government.
The ranked-ballot system was good enough for the Conservatives to elect their leader the last time, the man who now serves as Ontario’s Premier. So why, if it’s good enough for their partisan party purposes, isn’t it good enough for municipalities, who gauge public acceptance by running referendums on the choice? London’s case proved it works well. Why is this Conservative government insisting that it never be used again in municipal elections in Ontario, especially at a time when we’re dealing with a crisis?
Not surprisingly, I have trouble with Bill 218 in other areas. I have trouble understanding why a bill with the title of Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act takes away the legal supports of dozens of Ontario individuals and families impacted most severely by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of them had filed legal action against the owners and operators of long-term-care homes for the treatment they got or didn’t receive. To wit, this act “provides that no cause of action arises against any person as a direct or indirect result of an individual being or potentially being infected with or exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) on or after March 17, 2020, as a direct or indirect result of an act or omission of the person if,
“(a) at the relevant time, the person acted or made a good-faith effort to act in accordance with,
“(i) public health guidance...;
“(ii) any federal, provincial or municipal law relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)....”
The bill’s guidelines go on to say or imply, “You can’t sue anyone that may have been in some way responsible for the death of your loved one or the near-death of your loved one, unless they’re in some legal definition guilty of gross negligence”—not negligence, as has been stated this afternoon, but gross negligence. Negligence is a failure to use the level of care and caution that an ordinary person—you, Speaker, or me or the members opposite; ordinary people. We may be accused of being negligent if we didn’t treat others in a given situation the way we would expect to be treated if we were in that identical situation—as opposed to gross negligence, the deliberate and reckless disregard for the safety and reasonable treatment of others, which has or is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to someone.
When the first COVID-19 tsunami was hitting Ontario, especially the residents of our nursing, retirement or long-term-care homes, the directions given by the experts—the rules of engagement, if you will—were in constant state of flux. We were told not to wear a mask, and then we were told to wear a mask but only if we’re indoors—and then it was wear a mask indoors and outdoors. We were told to stay two metres apart, unless we were students in a classroom in Ontario.
We ran into a situation where personal protective equipment stockpiled from the SARS epidemic back in 2003 had long passed their best-before date. It was a mad scramble to locate and provide gowns, masks, gloves and respirators. We weren’t making much PPE in Canada or the United States, because it was so much cheaper just to order from China or somewhere else far, far away.
Government spokespeople at the provincial and federal levels were striving to remain calm, reassuring everyone that demands for supplies were being met in every hospital and every nursing, retirement or long-term-care home, and that everyone had an adequate supply. However, our constituency offices were being flooded with calls from the front-line staff, saying that there was a huge shortage of supplies, that they were told to keep wearing their one-time-use-only gloves and gowns all shift, instead of changing out of them every time they dealt with another infected resident so they wouldn’t risk spreading an infection. Some personal support workers told us they were forced to go to the dollar store to buy their gloves and masks, because their employer didn’t have enough of them to go around. Some were quoted in the media as wearing plastic garbage bags instead of gowns.
Some official spokespeople were downplaying the crisis in their response. So many front-line workers became ill, it created a staffing shortage. Seeing the illness spread, death all around them, with the lack of protective equipment available to them, other front-line staff stayed home to protect themselves and their families.
The operators of some of these homes—most of them for-profit homes—were unable to provide the proper levels of care a reasonable person would be expected to accept as reasonable. In Quebec and Ontario, provincial leaders asked the federal government to send in the military to bail out the owners and operators whose facilities were hardest hit. The reports from those interventions sent chills down their spines—the conditions they met, the lack of training provided to those front-line workers in some cases. The military felt this lack of care, attention and/or training had possibly, if not more than likely, led to the death of residents.
Ontario was shamed. Some of us were sickened and remain sickened to this day. Ontario, a prosperous province, known for its talent and compassion, had turned its back on some of the most vulnerable citizens. It didn’t happen overnight. It was like putting a lobster in a pot of water and slowly turning up the heat until the water boiled. Dozens of reports, dating back years, had warned successive governments of all stripes that our long-term-care homes were in crisis: too many people in wards; not enough sprinklers; not enough air conditioners; not enough training for front-line workers; not enough pay for front-line workers; no one designated as the seniors’ advocate to lobby on their behalf for essential changes to a broken system; not enough not-for-profit homes so every available dollar was used to support the residents; not enough staff and backup staff so that every resident could be offered more hands-on care each and every day, depending on their individual needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic pulled the curtain back and exposed a crisis that no longer could be hushed up or hidden from public view. There shouldn’t be any more excuses for a complete overhaul of the long-term-care system. There needs to be an exhaustive and compassionate investigation into the way we, as a society, have allowed our seniors to be treated in Ontario.
The government has named a commission to start the process. It’s not a full public inquiry, and it won’t be listening to everyone who has a story to tell and is willing to appear as a witness.
However, Speaker, allow me at this time to quote from a news release I received on Friday last week. It begins with this line: “An interim report from the long-term-care commission reveals the sickening fact that the Ford government completely ignored the people in long-term care as the COVID-19 virus swept in.” This next sentence from the commission is in quotes: “The commission ‘heard that long-term-care homes were forgotten in the initial provincial plans to control the spread of COVID-19 until residents started dying.’”
The news release came from my leader’s office, the member for Hamilton Centre, Ms. Horwath. She is quoted as saying, “My heart aches for the families of the 1,900 people who died in long-term care, and the tens of thousands of others who have gone through hell, who now see in this report that the Ford government just didn’t put a plan together to protect their loved ones.” Speaker, I would hope that hearts are aching on both sides of the aisle.
We heard the Premier’s words when he said that his government would put an iron ring around long-term-care homes. I would suggest that most reasonable people will now see the legal restrictions and gross limitations contained in Bill 218 as putting iron handcuffs on the loved ones with relatives living, suffering and sometimes dying in Ontario’s long-term-care homes. This iron ring has become an iron yoke around the neck of Ontario citizens looking for answers and for someone to answer for their loss, thanks to Bill 218.
The commission’s interim report calls on the government to increase staffing levels and to mandate at least four hours of daily hands-on care per resident. That is something that we on this side of the House have been calling for for years. I’ve been here for seven years, and we’ve been talking about that forever.
The commission wants its report made public because the second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic is upon us and we have to do better this time than we did the first time around. That’s when 55% of all LTC homes had COVID-19 outbreaks and 75% of all COVID-19 deaths were in LTC homes. The report cites insufficient leadership capacity and a lack of strong infection prevention and control measures, including difficulty cohorting and isolating positive residents, often because of limitations on the physical environment. Just pulling a curtain across between an infected and a non-infected resident doesn’t cut it. It calls on the government to create more full-time positions, a comprehensive human resources strategy and more permanent money for nursing and support staff. The commission says, “Given the essential role of families and caregivers in supporting not just physical care needs but the psycho-social well-being of residents, we reinforce the calls from residents, families and caregivers to ensure that families and caregivers have ongoing, safe and managed access to long-term-care residents.” Those suggestions and recommendations will go a long way in recovering Ontario’s economy, as in the bill’s title. I hope we get to that point at some time.
Speaker, in politics, public perception of an issue quickly becomes the reality of an issue. I suggest to you that the public perception of this bill restricting legal action only on the grounds of gross negligence leaves the public with a perception of a cover-up, and that’s when we engage in conspiracy theories. That’s when we as individuals scratch our heads and ask, “Why would the government be doing this at this time?” Ordinary people, we as individuals, wonder why, and our imaginations run wild and say, “Who are we protecting? Why are we protecting them, as opposed to the public right to a fair and open court proceeding, a determination made by a judge, as opposed to a government bill”—
In Ontario, a referendum was held in 2007 on the first-past-the-post system. What happened? The referendum, shockingly, did not pass. Like my colleague the member from Milton said, in London, the same results cost $500,000 more.
My question: Does the member support wasting taxpayers’ money on something many Ontarians and Canadians have already made up their mind on?
People say things during an election and make all these promises, and when they get elected—as Mr. Trudeau did. After saying, “I’m going to change the first-past-the-post system,” he sat on his hands. But Speaker, the point of the matter is, when the Liberals ran the referendum in Ontario, there was not more than a couple of dollars put into explaining what the referendum was about. People concentrated on the election, but the party didn’t really want to change the system. They didn’t put any money in it to explain it, and that’s why the results are reflected in that vote.
To my friend in the back: We have a Premier who says, “It’s always been that way.” Why would this Premier choose to take away that democratic right of municipalities to determine their future?
All parties should be striving, as we do, to go through a nomination process where we go out and try to get more women, more people of colour, more people from the gay spectrum, more people who are disabled to run as candidates, because we know the general population of the constituents that we serve aren’t all old white guys like myself. More than 50% aren’t old white guys like myself. So the people who say that it’s always been that way don’t want to go out and attract other candidates they’re going to bring into their party with their different views. Let’s open it up so we all look like the people we represent.
I was in municipal politics before getting into provincial politics and actually ran against 21 other people in the municipal by-election. As the member has pointed out often—actually, statistically, voter turnout in municipal politics is low. It’s even lower in by-elections. We saw a drop of four percentage points in the last London election when they did change the process from first past the post.
Are you not concerned, genuinely concerned, that you’re going to see even fewer voters at the polls because of putting forward a means of electing someone that people simply don’t understand and haven’t embraced? They rejected it in 2007. Why would you and how could you possibly see higher turnout at the polls under a changed system?
We all—at every level, municipal, provincial, federal—need to encourage more people to get actively involved in politics. That may be changing the education system to get people involved in civics and continue that from grade 6 or grade 8 all the way through to grade 12.
We have to get more young people thinking about voting. Right now, if you look at the voting statistics, most of the people who vote are seniors. That’s not going to last forever. We’ve got to change the system, get more people voting and do everything we can to get more people of colour and more women as candidates as well.
He mentioned in his comments how the report from the Armed Forces shook the entire province. I believe, and I know he feels the same way, that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to take action on that report, not just to ignore it—and certainly not to bring in a piece of legislation that protects those “bad actors,” which this government likes to say.
Given that the lobbyist registry has been flooded with for-profit, corporate long-term-care operators, how does he feel about this shift in the talking points, if you will, from the very people we’re elected to serve and protect to the people who run this corporate model of long-term care in Ontario?
Why, after reading the military reports—which I hope sent chills down your spine, as it did to mine, and sickened you as much as it sickened me. When we see how these people were grossly, negligently treated, why do you bring in a bill that says, “You’ve got to prove it”? As opposed to negligence, it’s gross negligence, and it’s just not what the people of Ontario are looking for.
Also, in his speech, he talked about the perception. When it comes to serving some of our service clubs—I’ve been involved in amateur sports for pretty much all my life, whether it was as a really bad athlete or, later on, as a coach. What do you say to people like that, who are doing everything they can to protect, following all the guidelines, but through no fault of their own are impacted by this? How do we not protect them?
I want the person who I vote for to be elected as well. I know if you were at your party convention, you had a ranked ballot. You may have chosen the person who was elected; you may have chosen one of the other candidates. But you were given the choice. If my person, by some fluke, doesn’t manage to get that magic number, who might I see out of the other candidates might be my second choice? I want that noted. I want that ability. There might be some person I do not want there at all, and I will never vote for that person, but I have that right and that ability, in a ranked-balloting system, to make that choice for myself. You did it at your party’s convention if you were there. The people in London, Cambridge, Kingston and any place else in Ontario should have the same opportunity.
Bill 218 is a slap in the face of families seeking justice for the family members they lost due to negligent care. It’s wrong for the government to use the cover of COVID-19 and the absolute need for charities, non-profits, small businesses and athletic organizations to avoid COVID-19-related liabilities to provide protection for negligent long-term-care homes.
We’ve lost nearly 2,000 of our loved ones in long-term care. That’s 2,000 grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles and friends. Many of these people died in abysmal circumstances. We know this from the military reports. We know this from the people who have reached out to all of our offices. Shame on the government for making it harder for these people to seek justice for the unjust loss of their loved ones.
The bottom line is, negligent long-term-care homes do not deserve to get a get-out-of-jail-free card for the lives that were stolen on their watch. Instead of fixing the crisis in nursing homes and guaranteeing better care, the government is protecting those who were responsible for bad care. This is wrong and I’m opposed to it.
I’m also disgusted that tucked into this bill is an attack on local democracy. It’s simply wrong for the Premier to use the heavy hand of big government to take away the right of citizens to improve local democracy with a better voting system if they so choose. No municipality is asking the Premier to take this democratic right away from them.
These changes not only disrespect local democracy and the decisions local councils and citizens make, but it’s also an attack on encouraging diversity on city councils. The irony is, the Premier was elected as the leader of his own party using ranked ballots, the same system that elected Canada’s first Black federal party leader, Annamie Paul, just a few weeks ago. The evidence points to more inclusive outcomes with ranked ballots and more co-operative and collaborative governments with ranked ballots. London’s experience resulted in one of the most diverse city councils in Canadian history.
It’s wrong for the Premier to take this democratic option off the table for citizens and governments—
Why don’t you want to listen to what the majority, the bulk of the people of Ontario said? They like the current system. They like first past the post. What is wrong with listening to the majority of Ontarians?
In 2007, the vote was for proportional representation. That’s actually not what ranked ballots is, frankly. I would prefer proportional representation, but I will listen to what people want, and if people at the local level want ranked ballots—which is not proportional representation—that’s their democratic right to choose it. I would personally prefer proportional representation, but that’s not what this bill is about. This bill is about ranked ballots.
Do you figure a minimum standard of four hours of hands-on care could have helped prevent some of these deaths and could have better prepared our long-term-care sector for the second wave?
Absolutely: The government’s own staffing report over the summer said that if we had additional staff hired—the commission’s interim report just came out saying that having a minimum standard of care of four hours would have prevented some of the tragedy we’ve seen. Now we have an opportunity—I believe we’re going to be debating this this week, actually—in a private member’s bill, so everyone in this House has an opportunity to act now on what the commission is recommending, which is a minimum standard of care of four hours every week. That’s what we should be focused on—improving care, not giving long-term-care homes a get-out-of-jail-free card for bad care.
I will have to say that London’s first Black woman city councillor said she wouldn’t have run in the election if there wouldn’t have been ranked ballots there; she saw it as an opportunity. So I would say that’s a sign that things like ranked ballots encourage more diverse candidates to run.
I think it’s a false correlation to say that because the ranked ballot was being used in the election, that’s why voter turnout went down a little bit in the London election. Many things affect voter turnout—the weather, the economic situation or whether we’re in a global pandemic. There are many things that affect turnout, so I think it’s a false correlation, with all due respect.
The bottom line for me, Speaker, is that nobody is saying city councils have to use ranked ballots. Nobody is imposing it on them. The current legislation is just giving them the option if they democratically choose to do that. I think we should honour their democratic right to do so.
Madam Speaker, the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act ensures that individuals, businesses and organizations acting in good faith are not hindered from making a difference in their communities over the fear of being sued about the inadvertent transmission of COVID-19 exposure. We are protecting the hard-working men and women who are providing essential services during this pandemic. This will allow these individuals and organizations to continue providing the services that Ontarians need—from the front-line health care workers to people coaching minor sports teams to those who are keeping our supply chain moving, to people volunteering at local food banks.
It would also guarantee the right of Ontarians to take legal action against those who willfully or with gross negligence endanger others by transmitting COVID-19. Individuals who willfully ignore public health guidance and act with gross negligence or intentional misconduct and expose others to COVID-19 will not be protected by this legislation. I repeat: They will not be protected by this legislation. The bad actors will be held accountable.
Madam Speaker, we are convinced that this proposed legislation will help support Ontario’s recovery as we face these unprecedented times. Ontarians are experiencing exceptional challenges as we respond to the second wave of this pandemic. Our government is sending a clear signal that we will be there to support Ontarians when volunteers want to give their time, when businesses want to rehire staff and open their doors and when charities want to help those in need despite these incredible challenges. We will not allow the threat of COVID-19 to discourage entrepreneurs who want to hire staff. We will not allow this virus to prevent volunteers from offering their experience and knowledge to children at the local rink or soccer club as they help to get life back to normal.
Let me give you an example, Madam Speaker: Rene Juraschka is a constituent in my riding of Flamborough–Glanbrook. Rene has been a volunteer at the Flamborough Dundas Soccer Club for over 25 years. When COVID-19 hit, the directors of the soccer club brainstormed to figure out how they could continue to play. Governing soccer bodies worked with health officials to develop a three-phase return to the sport. But they were advised by lawyers that waiver forms signed by parents and players simply wouldn’t be sufficient protection against legal action if there was COVID-19 exposure, despite the fact that they were following all of the protocols within public health guidelines. Understandably, these volunteers were not in a position to take the liability risk. Here is what Rene told us: “Legislators needed to come up with a bill to protect volunteers in their roles in community clubs.”
In Ontario, we are passionate about youth and amateur sport. This past spring and summer, my constituency office was inundated with emails and phone calls from frustrated parents who had to tell their children they couldn’t play soccer this year because the organization directors were concerned that they may be held personally liable for exposure to COVID-19. They were pleading with our government to do something about this. Specifically, the parents wanted our government to change the law to protect sports organization volunteers who were doing the right thing and taking all the recommended health and safety precautions but simply were afraid of being sued.
Athletes, coaches and volunteers add so much to the fabric of our communities. This proposed legislation would allow everyone involved in youth and amateur sport to safely return to play without the fear of legal action. Our province needs an army of volunteers to help keep our soccer clubs, our hockey associations and countless other service organizations, in order to keep their vital work with our young people.
We cannot allow fear of liability to stop local charities from holding fundraisers and reaching out to the people who need their services the most. The Ontario Nonprofit Network indicated that civil liability immunity would help to address significant cost increases in the industry, and it would help alleviate challenges in recruiting and retaining volunteer boards of directors. If the province is to continue on the path to recovery, we need to support Ontarians who act in good faith and make an honest effort to follow public health guidance. This is why we are listening to the concerns of these Ontarians. This is why our government is introducing legislation to support our province’s front-line workers so that they can focus on their work without fear of retribution.
Madam Speaker, I want to acknowledge the tens of thousands of people who make important contributions within my community of Hamilton and right across the province. Health care workers, restaurant staff, grocery store clerks and employees in coffee shops and pharmacies are the everyday heroes who have kept and continue to keep our communities moving and growing. They are the driving force behind our province’s success, and we rely on them as the province continues on the path to recovery. We have always valued and respected the work that they do, but this COVID-19 crisis has underscored their value, and we have an even deeper appreciation for them now. These workers provide a vital service to the community.
Hamilton restaurateur Jason Cassis said that he would welcome legislation that offers liability protection for businesses that sincerely believe they are following all the public guidance. Cassis says that many businesses in the hospitality industry are operating under such significant financial stress right now that a frivolous lawsuit could shut them down for good.
I’ve spoken to dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs since the start of the pandemic. I’ve listened to their concerns. I know how passionate they are about the work that they do. They have taken stringent measures to keep the people around them safe.
Duncan Macintosh owns Soccer World in Hamilton. He trains hundreds of children, youth and adults in his 50,000-square-foot facility. Macintosh went to exceptional lengths to ensure the safety of his staff and of his clients. He installed Plexiglas barriers and a new ventilation system. He invested in foot pulls and antimicrobial copper push plates and handles to reduce the possibility of surfaces being contaminated. He restricted visitors at drop-off and pickup points for camp parents using walkie-talkies. These measures were taken on top of masks and hand-washing and physical distancing. And still, with all of these safety measures, Duncan Macintosh was concerned about being sued if one of his clients were exposed to or infected with COVID-19.
Here is what Duncan Macintosh of Hamilton told us: “I would hope the government and courts are able to insulate businesses and organizations who go to extra lengths and take efforts to keep their customers and staff safe from opportunist COVID lawsuits.”
The focus of this proposed legislation is intended to protect the individual who, in good faith, has done absolutely everything they could to keep people around them safe.
I’ve listened to the concerns of a number of my constituents, who are doing their best to help their communities recover. Let me give you another example of a small business owner who is doing everything he can to ensure that he is following public health guidance.
Zoran Dabic owns CrossFit Battlefield, a CrossFit fitness facility in Hamilton. They only allow registered athletes to train in their gym. The doors are locked to members of the public. They insist on four metres of physical distancing between athletes—that’s double the requirement. They clean and disinfect between each class. CrossFit Battlefield has taken exceptional steps to ensure public safety.
Zoran Dabic encouraged our government to protect small businesses against baseless COVID-19 lawsuits. Here’s what he had to say: “Operating a small business and making ends meet was enough of a challenge before coronavirus. Restrictions and the necessary extra preventive steps add to that challenge, but are worth the effort and cost if they can help stop the spread of the virus. The lack of liability protection, however, and the possibility of losing everything if we were to unknowingly or unintentionally have someone in our facility become ill, is gut-wrenching and an additional stress many of us simply can’t handle.”
I know how passionate these people are about their businesses. They are protecting their staff. They are protecting their customers. They are extremely conscientious about protecting the people around them from COVID-19 exposure. These small business owners should not be worried about frivolous lawsuits at the same time they’re trying to get back on their feet, simply trying to make a living.
This legislation ensures that if a lawsuit was filed because they were permitted to stay open and they made an honest effort to follow the rules and believed they were in compliance, they would be greater protected from civil liability for the transmission of COVID-19 unless a court determined they were grossly negligent.
Again, this legislation will not protect the bad actors. This legislation will protect hard-working people like Duncan Macintosh and Zoran Dabic—people who can clearly demonstrate that they have in good faith followed all of the public health guidance to protect against COVID-19 exposure and infection.
This legislation would also guarantee that Ontarians are able to take legal action in cases of gross negligence and intentional misconduct, and against bad actors who intentionally ignore the rules. I have to repeat this: This legislation would also guarantee Ontarians are able to take legal action in cases of gross negligence and intentional misconduct, and against bad actors who intentionally ignore the rules.
Madam Speaker, to ensure that workers are compensated for work-related injuries, the proposed legislation will not interfere with the existing workers’ compensation system. In addition, workers who are not covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act would continue to be able to sue their employer and/or any third party for work-related COVID-19 exposure and infection. It would not stop workers from accessing their rights under WSIA or change the existing system in any way. Workers who are not covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act would be able to sue their employer and any other person for work-related COVID-19 losses, just as they are able to sue right now.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected residents and staff at long-term-care homes right across Ontario. Again, I want to stress that the proposed legislation would not prevent access to justice for individuals in long-term-care homes. Individuals would be able to file claims and seek redress against long-term-care homes for matters including, but not limited to, failure to provide the necessities of life. Individuals would be able to file claims and seek redress against—gross negligence or willful misconduct, fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation, unlawful confinement, and assault or battery.
Madam Speaker, for any other type of negligence that we heard from my friends across the aisle—for example, if a resident is malnourished or not cleaned properly or not given proper medication or mistreated—the standard or legal tests associated with these claims will not change. The safety and well-being of residents and staff at Ontario’s long-term-care homes is and continues to be our government’s top priority. We are not giving a pass to those who fail to make a good-faith effort to comply with public health advice or who act with gross negligence. Our government, again, will hold bad actors accountable for their actions. This legislation will not protect those individuals against legal action.
This immunity will provide higher, although not absolute, liability protection for all people and organizations who are alleged to have exposed someone to COVID-19 and thereafter are sued.
Why introduce more protection through this legislation? Stakeholders from all sectors have raised concerns about the fear of being sued over exposing someone to COVID-19 and, of course, the legal costs associated with defending those lawsuits. If a person or organization is sued over possible COVID-19 exposure, they will be able to use this new immunity to either have the claim dismissed early or use the immunity to defend their position at trial.
Mr. Speaker, Ontario is not the first province to introduce legislation to protect workers and businesses who make an honest effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As you’ve heard many times, the NDP government in British Columbia passed legislation that protects people and businesses that can prove they followed or reasonably believed they were following all emergency and public health guidelines, and Nova Scotia issued a ministerial directive to protect the long-term sector and people there who act or reasonably believe they acted in accordance with public health guidelines.
If passed, the proposed legislation would be retroactive to March 17, 2020, when the province declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused tremendous stress for workers and businesses right across Ontario. Despite being informed and acting in good faith by taking all prescribed measures, they still have concerns. They fear the financial implications of litigation related to COVID-19 exposure or infection. They are worried that litigation could impact their ability to continue to serve their communities.
That is why our government is taking action now to support those who make essential contributions to our communities and to help Ontarians access the services they need. Their work is critical to helping businesses and organizations to focus on recovery and growth. This proposed legislation would support Ontario’s continued recovery and ensure that public health and workplace safety remain a top priority for individuals and businesses, without adding unnecessary burdens to Ontarians who make an honest effort to follow the rules.
Keeping Ontarians safe, especially our most vulnerable residents, continues to be our government’s top priority. We remain committed to taking every step to protect long-term-care residents, staff and visitors. Personal support workers are the backbone of every retirement and long-term-care home in Ontario. We need these PSWs in our long-term-care homes, our retirement homes and our hospitals. Each day, thousands of front-line workers and volunteers put their own health and safety at risk to contribute to the recovery of our province.
The level of risk doesn’t end there. These workers and volunteers also risk significant civil liability in the event of COVID-19 transmission to a third party. This risk applies even if workers make good-faith efforts to take all the necessary precautions established by public health teams. PSWs should not fear going to work to care for our most vulnerable population, only to get sued by their clients and potentially their employer. Across the board, stakeholders representing PSWs agreed the proposed changes would decrease the likelihood of lawsuits around good-faith conduct and go a long way to protecting workers.
Mr. Speaker, if we are to recover as a province, we need to support Ontarians who act in good faith and make an honest effort to follow the public health guidance.
So I guess the question really is, who is the government trying to protect? Several long-term-care homes have registered under the lobbyist registry. But really, does Bill 218 protect the government from litigation for gross incompetence?
I mentioned to you, in fact, that one of them is from Hamilton Centre and the other is from my riding. These are individuals who run organizations that work with young people. Some of the comments were, “Please, please do something. Bring forward some legislation, because we want to continue to work with young people. We want to provide some sort of relief during these very, very difficult times under these circumstances under the pandemic.” But they were afraid that they would be exposed to civil litigation. These are the people this legislation will protect.
Do you believe that a minimum standard, as recommended by the commission, of four hours of hands-on care would help your government achieve your stated goal of keeping every Ontarian safe and taking every step possible?
Our government has implemented a number of measures to keep Ontarians safe. This is just one step in the many things that we’ve brought forward over the course of the past seven months to protect Ontarians, but this is specific legislation to protect them from frivolous lawsuits. It’s tough enough going to work under these circumstances, to try to stay safe and protect people you work with, but to be exposed to a frivolous lawsuit is simply unconscionable. This legislation will protect those people and provide some sort of a barrier from that.
Can the member explain how this bill will help the people of Mississauga–Lakeshore?
I cut you off in that answer.
We’ll go to another question. The next question goes to the member for Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas.
I’m wondering if the member from Flamborough–Glanbrook could please explain to the House the difference between negligence and gross negligence, and why this government chose the higher barrier to prove in court.
Mr. Speaker, while we are protecting people who are doing everything they can to follow the rules, protecting their staff and their clients, this legislation will not prevent someone who wants to bring a challenge because of what they believe was gross negligence—in the event of COVID-19 only. We’re not talking about any other negligence with malnourishment or neglect or abuse. But if there has been presumed—and arguably if someone is concerned and they believe a loved one has contracted COVID-19 through gross negligence, civil action can be taken.
Can the member please talk a little bit about what this legislation does to protect people like Peter Dippell and Melanie Mathers from the West Ottawa Ringette Association, Jamie Janes from the Metcalfe and District Hockey Association and Cassandra Greer from the Ottawa Fiddle and Step Dance Association as we slowly reopen the province?
This legislation will protect people in Ottawa; it will protect people in Kitchener, in Pembroke, in Hamilton.
Let me share a couple of comments from people from Hamilton. Duncan Macintosh, who owns Soccer World in central Hamilton, reached out to us asking for this type of legislation because he said, “I’m putting in every possible ... I’m taking even more measures to make sure that my clients, the kids that are coming out to Soccer World are safe, that my staff are safe. But I’m worried. Even though I’m trying and we’re struggling, trying to stay open through this pandemic, I’m worried that somebody is going to sue me. Please protect us. Please, please bring forward some legislation so that Soccer World can remain open.”
That’s just one example, Madam Speaker. People across Hamilton reached out to my office asking for this type of legislation. That’s why we brought it forward.
There are two schedules in this bill, Speaker. Both of them are equally reprehensible. I will spend some time on each schedule.
The first schedule is around liability of persons, individuals, corporations or entities, including the crown, from being sued for damage that could have resulted from COVID-19 infection. This schedule of the bill would remove any accountability from, as I said, any individual, corporation, entity or even level of government from being sued for damages.
The schedule is retroactive to March 17, 2020, the day that the state of emergency was declared, which means that anything that has happened since March 17, 2020, is now exempt from any court action that might be pursued. There are, we know, a number of lawsuits currently in process; there will be no compensation or relief for the plaintiffs who have already started legal action against some of the, let’s face it, long-term-care homes that have been exposed throughout this pandemic for their failure to protect residents.
The bill also requires that gross negligence be proven, rather than the current standard of ordinary negligence. This is a much higher bar for plaintiffs to prove and it will, of course, make it much more difficult for a lawsuit to move forward.
Finally, it redefines “good-faith effort.” The bill says that entities, corporations or individuals who act in good faith, who make an honest effort to pursue a particular course of action, cannot be held accountable. Speaker, if you were here during the lead debate from the member for Brampton, who spoke on behalf of our caucus, he made an analogy that I found was very helpful: That is that anybody who says, “I gave it my best shot, I acted in good faith,” is now absolved from responsibility.
The problem is, when the legislation covers any individual, corporation, entity or government, you are putting soccer coaches and hockey coaches and food bank volunteers on the same level as people who should be expected to know how to act. They have a level of professionalism that one would expect they would be able to act in a way that doesn’t cause harm to the people they are entrusted with.
Why would the government want to bring in this legislation? Why would they want to provide this protection from liability for all of these individuals, corporations and entities? When I read the lead speech from the Attorney General, I think that there were some interesting insights in that speech. As I said, he talked about the volunteers, the hockey coaches, the soccer coaches etc. who will be exempt from liability. And yes, we’ve all heard from non-profit organizations in our ridings who are concerned about rising insurance costs and who have requested good Samaritan legislation.
But the Attorney General, in his remarks, talked about the input that was received from the Ontario Retirement Communities Association, which represents 95% of all licensed retirement community suites in Ontario. He shared the fact that they told him that civil immunity would help to prevent job losses, reduce risk for potential investors and help to reduce the pressure on long-term-care homes by preventing interruptions that might impact the development of new suites.
Speaker, we know that the retirement homes in Ontario are entirely operated by the private sector, but many of the big corporations that own retirement homes also own long-term-care homes. And so when the Attorney General talked about the interest of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association and having some kind of liability, he was also talking about the interest of the long-term-care sector, because those two sectors are linked through ownership by for-profit corporations.
The Attorney General also talked about the fact that he had never met with lobbyists from the long-term-care industry. But, interestingly enough, when the lobbyist registry was reviewed, it was revealed that the Attorney General has had a number of meetings with lobbyists who represent the long-term-care sector. On June 1, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Sienna Senior Living. On May 7, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Revera. On July 14, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Southbridge Care Homes. He has also had a long-term relationship with his former chief of staff, who is a lobbyist for Revera.
Speaker, when you look at the lawsuits that are currently under way, the legal actions that have already been registered as a result of the COVID-19 virus, we will see that there is a class action against Revera. We will see that there is a class action against Revera and Sienna. There is a lawsuit that has been launched against Orchard Villa, which is owned by Southbridge Care Homes. There is another lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes, Orchard Villa, and a third lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes, Orchard Villa. There is a lawsuit against Altamont Care Community, which is owned by Sienna Senior Living. And then of course there are lawsuits against Sienna Senior Living as a corporation, another lawsuit against Sienna Senior Living, a lawsuit against Altamont Care Community, which is owned by Sienna Senior Living, and a lawsuit against Woodbridge Vista Care Community, also owned by Sienna Senior Living.
Speaker, one really has to ask, how many lawsuits have been registered against hockey coaches or soccer moms? Not a single lawsuit. All of the legal actions that are currently under way have been taken against for-profit corporations that have been running our long-term-care sector.
We know from the devastating report of the Canadian Armed Forces about some of the conditions in long-term-care homes in Ontario. We know about cockroach infestations; residents who are lying for hours, if not days, in their own feces; rotting food; missed meals; COVID-19 patients sharing rooms with residents who did not have COVID-19.
We also know from various reports that for-profit care homes were much more likely to have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, and that the outbreaks in those homes were much more deadly than outbreaks in non-profit or municipal homes. So, yes, it is quite likely, Speaker, that families whose loved ones have been in the care of these for-profit long-term-care homes may want to take legal action against the operators of those homes and perhaps against the government for the conditions that their loved ones were experiencing.
Someone remarked that the Premier had said that he wanted to put an iron ring around long-term-care homes. What he is doing with this bill is putting an iron ring around the long-term-care for-profit corporations that are running these homes.
The reaction to this bill from families has been very emotional. Cathy Parkes, who lost her mother in long-term care, says, “My family and others like us have been through a living hell in the past six months. We watched our loved ones suffer and die while our hands were tied and the only people who could help didn’t move fast enough.”
There are other words that have been spoken by family members of residents in long-term care who are shocked and disgusted and appalled that they no longer have this recourse to pursue justice, that their stories will no longer be able to be told through our legal system.
Speaker, the legal community, despite what the government wants to say, has been very clear that this legislation will create significant barriers to allowing families to pursue justice. Graham Webb, from Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says, “It is difficult enough for residents and their families to prove the ordinary civil standard of negligence against business operations like a long-term care home without having to discharge the higher and ambiguous standard of ‘gross negligence’. This is all about protecting the rights of negligent long-term-care home operators at the expense of residents” who were “injured through the fault of the operator.”
Another interesting comment, from Toronto lawyer Rocco Achampong, was, “There has to be some concern in the bureaucracy that liability could be attracted by some of the advice being given or some of the action being taken, and in anticipation of that they may be protecting themselves.”
So let’s think about that, Speaker: Why would the government want to protect itself, as an entity of the crown, from liability? Well, we have heard that since as early as January, February, and throughout the summer, there were numerous warnings that were given to this government and to the Minister of Long-Term Care about the actions that the government needed to take in order to protect residents and staff in those long-term-care homes. We heard that the Treasury Board had rejected the request for funding so that long-term-care homes could hire more staff. Not just once but twice those requests for funding were rejected. We heard that senior infectious disease experts were calling in June for significant IPAC, infection prevention and control, measures to be implemented in order to prevent a devastating and deadly second wave. Those recommendations were made in June. As of right now, those recommendations have not been acted on.
Even a coalition of stakeholders in the long-term-care sector wrote a letter in June to the Minister of Long-Term Care in which they said “plainly and directly that the government of Ontario has not yet put the necessary supports and preventive measures into place that we in the sector have long made clear are essential to protecting our residents [and] staff.”
Then, in September, we saw memos from ministry officials to long-term-care home operators saying that they’re on their own; they shouldn’t be looking to this government for help.
So, yes, of course the government wants to pass legislation that’s going to protect itself from acting on all of this advice and all of these recommendations that were made.
Speaker, in the short time that I have left, I want to turn to schedule 2 of this bill, which is the schedule that prevents municipalities from using ranked-ballot voting in municipal elections. I have to say, speaking as a representative of the city of London, the first and only municipality in Canada to have used ranked voting in 2018—certainly, the first and only in Ontario—this legislation came completely out of the blue. There was zero consultation done with my community; zero consultation done with Kingston, Cambridge and other municipalities that have already passed referendums to move to ranked-balloting systems; zero communication done with Burlington and Guelph and Barrie and Meaford and all of the other municipalities in Ontario—
Suddenly, this little provision was slipped into Bill 218, and the government’s rationale is that it’s too costly. They don’t want municipalities spending money. Well, frankly, Speaker, London is now going to incur costs to shift from a very successful ranked-ballot voting process that we used in 2018. We’re now going to have to pay to return to first past the post. On the other hand, what business does this government have in dictating how locally elected representatives anywhere in this province are going to conduct local elections? They have no business whatsoever.
We also heard the Premier saying that ranked ballots are too confusing. Well, Speaker, the Premier may not realize it, but he was elected by a ranked-ballot system, as is every leader of every political party at all levels of government. The Premier says all Ontarians should still be voting the same way we’ve been voting since 1867. Frankly, only men who were 21 years of age or older and owned property were able to vote in 1867. Surely the Premier is not saying that we should return to that system of first past the post.
We also heard that this way of voting is necessary so that there is some consistency across municipal, provincial and federal systems of voting. There are no party affiliations on the ballot in municipal elections, so that’s one big difference between provincial and federal. I don’t think the Premier is saying that we should start having a system of party affiliation at the municipal level. But second, every municipality in Ontario elects their government in a different way. Some vote for deputy mayor, some vote for regional councillor and some vote for county councillor or warden. There is no consistency across municipalities. So for this government to say, “We need absolute consistency on the ballots at all three levels of government,” is just ridiculous.
The people of London have spoken loud and clear. We were talking about this in 2014, when a number of councillors were elected who were in favour of ranked ballots. They voted 10 to 4 to implement a ranked ballot. We ran a ranked-ballot campaign in 2018 that is being looked at by municipalities across Canada as the model that should be adopted because it really was a flawless election process. The deputy mayor of London, Jesse Helmer, put forth a petition last week that has already garnered more than 1,000 signatures from Londoners who want to keep a ranked ballot.
Speaker, this government has no right to be meddling in municipal affairs. The people who are elected locally should be able to determine how they are going to run municipal elections. It is an affront to democracy for this government to throw this into a COVID-19 recovery bill, of all things, and the people of London are going to continue to push back. We’re also going to continue to offer to share what we have learned to the many other municipalities in Ontario that want to use ranked balloting because they recognize that it is good for democracy.
Let’s call it what it is: It’s legislation that is designed to exempt long-term-care-home shareholders from being liable for the abuse and the harm that was experienced by residents of those homes.
My question, I think, is timely because the member opposite highlighted this: Every time the Conservatives speak about this bill, they talk about the coaches, they talk about small business, they talk about the volunteers, and they never talk about how this will shield and immunize the government and the for-profit long-term-care centres. I’m wondering why they shy away from it, in your opinion, and why they feel like this bill wouldn’t survive if they didn’t also protect long-term care and the government from the threshold that maybe a soccer coach would have for liability.
I think I addressed in my remarks some of the meetings that have been held between the Attorney General and lobbyists for the long-term-care sector. It is certainly interesting that the meetings that have been held are with those exact long-term-care corporations that are currently facing legal challenges before the courts because of their failure to protect the residents who were in their care.
Speaker, one has to ask—if the government was only interested in the non-profit sector, in the hockey coaches, in the soccer moms etc., they wouldn’t have built long-term-care homes into this legislation.
sThe NDP constantly claims to fight for the rights of the very same group of people that this bill will affect, including front-line health care workers and the essential workers who work to fight the pandemic and keep our supply chains moving. The NDP also asks to increase the minimum wage of PSWs.
My question to the member opposite is: How could you choose to not protect these same people from becoming defendants in legal cases consistently that they risk—
Back to the member for London West.
Speaker, we know that the government must be worried—actually, we don’t know this. We suspect the government must be very worried about all of the information that has been revealed about the multiple warnings that were received and ignored about what had to happen to protect residents of long-term-care homes. And so they, of course, want to protect themselves and they also want to keep the long-term-care sector for profit, which is why they want to protect those corporations.
This bill is about one thing and one thing only. It’s about protecting your government and protecting for-profit long-term-care facilities.
I want to tell you a quick story. I don’t know how long I’ve got. Let me see—
Lundy Manor: 21 people died. This is what a lawyer is saying: “Why are you forcing these poor people to prove a higher standard?.... It’s going to make it very difficult for people to succeed on their claims.”
My question is clear: Why do you think this Conservative government supports this bill?
When the NDP government there introduced important protection for essential businesses and front-line workers, they said that the purpose of their legislation “is to ensure that, where appropriate, fears of civil liability will not unduly discourage activity that promotes the province’s response to and recovery from the pandemic.”
I also notice that the member was going on and on trying to explain the different types of negligence without actually having a legal degree.
So my question to the member is, why do you think that the NDP government in British Columbia did the wrong thing by imposing similar legislation?
Speaker, if this government had acted as the BC government did in rapidly increasing staff in long-term-care homes, bringing PSWs under the public employment so that they had wages that would sustain them, so that they had working conditions—so that they were able to help deal with the pandemic within their long-term-care homes—then we wouldn’t be in this situation where all of for-profit long-term-care homes are facing lawsuits because of the harm that they inflicted on their residents.
I’ve been listening intently to the debate happening today. I just want to pull up an article from CTV News in Ottawa. This article is from October 15. The reason I want to share this article is because I’m hearing a lot about how this legislation is not going to protect people, is not there to support them, and blah blah blah, on and on. Madam Speaker, I’m just going to read this: “Ottawa Woman Breaks 14-day Quarantine Rule to Work at Long-Term-Care Home: Police.
“A 53-year-old ... woman is facing charges under the federal Quarantine Act after Ottawa police say she failed to self-isolate for 14 days after travelling abroad and returned to work at a long-term-care home.
“Ottawa police say information was received indicating that an Ottawa woman had travelled abroad. She returned to Canada on Sept. 26, so she was required under federal law to quarantine for 14 days, until Oct. 9.
“‘The woman decided not to respect this order and went to work on Sept. 30 at a long-term health facility in Ottawa,’ police said.... ‘When management was apprised of the situation, she was immediately sent home. The facility immediately activated mitigating self-isolation and cleaning protocols and informed all persons that had been in contact with the subject.’”
So, Madam Speaker, I’m very confused as to why the members opposite are claiming that our government is trying to impose legislation that is not for the people or protecting people when it is literally the exact opposite.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on Ontarians and their communities, including employees, volunteers, charities, non-profits, businesses and public sector organizations. After listening to the concerns of Ontarians, we’re introducing legislation that, if passed, would provide liability protection to individuals, organizations and businesses who make an honest effort to follow public health guidance and laws related to COVID-19 so that they can continue providing the services Ontarians need.
Madam Speaker, this is the kind of legislation that’s going to help people like Cassandra Greer and everyone else who is associated with the Ottawa Fiddle and Step Dance Association. This legislation is going to protect Jamie Janes from the Metcalfe and District Hockey Association and Peter Dippel and Melanie Mathers from the West Ottawa Ringette Association. This is going to protect people like Mike and Karen Heney, who have been running the Munster Judo Club for decades, it seems, and teach hundreds of kids across the city. This is going to protect people involved with local hockey teams, like the Richmond Royals and the Leitrim Hawks. When it comes to the people of this province, we are here to take care of them, we are here to protect them, and we are here to make sure that they can operate and that they can do what needs to be done as we move forward together during this pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on Ontarians, and that’s why we are taking action now. This legislation would be retroactive to March 17, 2020, which was the provincial declaration of emergency. We need to stand up for the people who act in good faith, in accordance with public health guidelines and laws, to make essential contributions to our communities. This legislation will help ensure that businesses like Moncion’s in Riverside South and organizations like the Legions, Rural Ottawa South Support Services and other non-profits in my riding of Carleton can continue providing the services Ontarians need.
Over the summer, we listened to health care workers, businesses, grocery and retail store workers, the charitable sector, non-profit organizations, sports associations and sports organizations. Even in my own riding of Carleton, I held several virtual round-table meetings. During these meetings, the feedback I got was clear: People were concerned. The evidence is constantly shifting, and when you’re trying your best to do the right thing, it’s helpful to know that the government is there to support you. We heard that despite being informed, acting in good faith and taking all prescribed measures, businesses still have concerns about the financial risks that litigation related to inadvertent COVID-19 infection or exposure could pose to their organizations, their employees, their volunteers and their board members—risks that could affect their ability to continue to operate or retain employees.
That’s why we’re taking action now to support those who make essential contributions to our communities, to ensure Ontarians can continue to access the services they need. This proposed legislation would support Ontario’s continued recovery and make sure public health and workplace safety remains the top priority of people and businesses, without unnecessarily punishing Ontarians who make an honest effort to follow the rules.
In Canada, British Columbia has enacted legislation that protects individuals and businesses from liability for transmission of COVID-19, provided they can prove they followed, or reasonably believe they followed, emergency and public health guidance. In Nova Scotia, the provincial government issued a ministerial direction that protects the long-term-care-home sector if they were acting in accordance with applicable emergency and public health guidance or reasonably believed they were doing so. More than 30 US states have also introduced some type of civil liability for the health care sector, front-line service providers, PPE manufacturers and/or other businesses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the people in my riding of Carleton—and not just in Carleton, but across Ontario. With this legislation, Ontarians who are serving their communities can rest assured that they will be protected from liability related to infection with or exposure to COVID-19 when they are acting in good faith and following public health guidelines and laws. We are supporting those who make essential contributions to our communities, from coaching minor sports teams to volunteering at local charities or simply by showing up to work each and every day despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.
That’s why we’re making this legislation retroactive. We’re making it retroactive in order to protect individuals, businesses, and other organizations who continued to provide essential services to the people of Ontario during the provincial emergency that was declared on March 17, 2020. That is the date the province declared an emergency. I still remember it like it was yesterday. March 17, 2020, fundamentally shifted the way that we are going to operate as a society. March 17, 2020, fundamentally changed how we operate.
More importantly, March 17, 2020, the day that the Premier declared a state of emergency in the province, is the day that Ontarians united together, supported one another and decided to help each other out. They decided to do what’s in the best interests of the community. They decided to do what’s in the best interests of the people of Ontario. We’re all in this together, Madam Speaker, and we are only as strong as our weakest link. I’m so proud that on March 17, 2020, Ontarians stood together to make sure that we can move forward. They supported us when we needed it, and it’s our turn as a government to support them. It’s our turn to support the hockey coaches, the judo coaches, the dance studios. It’s our turn to support farmers, manufacturers, front-line workers, health care workers, grocery store clerks, and Uber drivers. It’s our turn to make sure that people can operate without being worried about what might happen. It’s our turn to make sure that we are supporting Ontarians as we slowly reopen the economy, and that is why I am proud to be speaking to and supporting Bill 218.
Lauren McDonald, the Premier’s former director of marketing, registered to lobby the Attorney General on behalf of Revera. Revera is the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits.
Michael Wilson registered to lobby the Attorney General. He, in fact, at some point, was the chief of staff for the Attorney General. And at that time, the Attorney General, Doug Downey, called him “really my go-to.”
So you can talk about judo coaches, but we know—
Back to the member for Carleton.
I spoke about the article that was published in CTV Ottawa about the woman who was charged.
Our government will continue to stand up for vulnerable people moving forward, now and in the future.
Can my friend the MPP from Carleton please describe what other jurisdictions have done with respect to civil liability immunity for the transmission of COVID-19 and why Bill 218 is critically needed in Ontario?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on Ontarians, and especially on front-line workers. That’s why we’re taking action now. Like I said, Madam Speaker, more than 30 US states have also introduced some type of civil immunity for the health sector, front-line service providers, PPE manufacturers and other businesses. In Canada, we can look to the NDP government in British Columbia, and in Nova Scotia as well.
I think, ultimately, what’s important here is that COVID-19 is not a partisan issue. Quite frankly, I find it shameful that the members opposite are using this as a partisan issue when ultimately we need to be working on keeping people and Ontarians safe, because that is what they expect from us.
She did say that part of this bill is going to protect the PSWs, is going to protect the soccer coaches—and you could have probably thrown soccer moms in there as well.
My question to her is, if she feels that way, how does she feel about our measures, the NDP measures, to have four hours of hands-on care for the elderly in long-term-care homes—and whether she feels that that would be a benefit for PSWs.
Furthermore, I am proud to support this piece of legislation. I am proud to put front-line health care workers first. If you want to talk about long-term-care owners, I speak with them all the time, especially in my riding. They ask me questions, and we work together. And I am proud to say that the Osgoode Care Centre, which is a non-profit long-term-care home in my riding of Carleton, did not have a single outbreak. That is thanks to Lori Norris and everyone in that area of the riding who supported our vulnerable seniors.
To the member from Carleton: I’ve had many people, as I said and that I will allude to later, write into our office and folks I’ve spoken to when we’ve had an opportunity to be on Zoom calls or meeting with people safely in our community about recreational leagues, hockey leagues—also, when we’re talking about grocery store clerks, the people stocking our shelves to keep food on the table for our families, about what this legislation would mean for them. Could you highlight some of those things, please?
I actually just got off the phone with Earl Stanley, who is a constituent of mine out in Metcalfe. He owns Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm, which is not just a tourism, wedding and hospitality venue, but it also does a lot of local events. With the changing evidence and the changing situation with the pandemic, he was asking me, “Goldie, what can I do? What can I not do?” His concern is whether or not he can operate, whether or not he can operate safely, whether or not he needs to worry about getting sued—because even though he tried his best to make sure that he’s doing it safely and responsibly, someone might sue them.
This legislation protects people like Earl Stanley and small business owners across my riding of Carleton, Ottawa and Ontario.
The government side, the Conservatives, continue to talk about the volunteers, the small businesses, the coaches, the little guy, the little people who volunteered and worked hard for it and how this legislation is going to protect them. I think we’re aligned on that.
The part we have a concern with is long-term care in Ontario. Some 1,907 people have died in long-term care.
If you believe that it’s important to protect the people at the bottom, why not just take the provision for long-term care out of this bill? We’ll be happy to go along with you.
That is why the provision is in the bill. It is here to protect the people who are on the front lines. If you think otherwise, you need to go back and read the legislation.
Since COVID-19 hit, almost 2,000 seniors have died in our province—2,000 mothers, fathers, grandparents. Many of them died alone without their families surrounding them in their last moments. Many of them died years before they should have. That’s a national tragedy. But even worse, this death, this pain, could have been avoided if the horrible treatment they were receiving in a long-term-care home was stopped.
Madam Speaker, it took the intervention from the Canadian military and a leaked report from our Armed Forces to shine a light on what was happening in these homes. Activists have been screaming it for years, but it was our Armed Forces who showed the world exactly what these advocates have been saying and what happened. And what did they find? They found rotten food. They found seniors left in spoiled diapers, crying out for help. They found maggots and infestations. They found human urine and feces left in the room.
I hope all the Conservatives stay and listen.
They showed the world what private, for-profit corporations were doing to our loved ones. They showed the world that private companies, for-profit companies—like the one former Conservative Premier Mike Harris proudly sits on the board of—were warehousing our seniors in horrible conditions just to make a profit—as much profit as possible. Think about that, Madam Speaker. Any company that does this to our seniors should pay. They should be hit with every dollar of every fine and every minute of jail time that is allowed by law.
It’s interesting, if you follow the OFL, if you kill a worker in the province of Ontario—
So why does Bill 218 show the character of this government? Because this bill changes the law that allows families to sue these homes. It changes the law to say that these families must not only prove negligence, but now must prove gross negligence.
Not only that—and this really is something that really—I can’t say the words I want to use, because the Speaker will stand up and tell me to be quiet. This law now is retroactive. Not only will the families not be able to sue when they find out these companies killed their loved ones through neglect, but cases before the court will be thrown out. That right there shows exactly whose side this government is on.
This bill also protects the government itself. Previously, families could sue this government for failing to inspect these homes. In my opinion, if seniors were dying in their beds, crying out for help, this government is at fault—and so is the previous government before this, the Liberal government. Any government that allowed this to happen should face their day in court. Instead of coming clean and saying they underfunded inspectors, they just changed the law so these families will never see justice.
Not only did you make these families live with the thoughts of their loved ones suffering, but in Bill 218 you are purposely taking away their access to justice—unbelievable. And you know you’re doing it. Everybody knows you’re doing it. But you won’t stop. What does that say about your priorities? And in the middle of a pandemic, with 2,000 seniors dead, you are focusing on legally protecting yourselves and these horrible for-profit homes.
Madam Speaker, we need only look at the government’s response to this and see how ashamed they are of what they’re doing. Instead of them talking about long-term-care homes, they start talking about community organizations, hockey coaches. They have the power to amend this so that the long-term-care homes are exempt. Yet they won’t do it. They won’t do it because they’re hiding behind our small community groups to pass this law. They start by screaming about British Columbia. We’re not talking about British Columbia; we’re talking about Niagara and right across the province of Ontario. We’re talking about Lundy Manor that I’ve raised here a number of times, where 21 families had their loved ones taken from them way too soon.
We’re talking about outbreaks that are happening now, today. Are they being neglected? Were their loved ones left in these dangerous situations because their homes refused to pay for proper staffing, supports and PPE for our heroic front-line workers?
If these home operators have nothing to hide, then why are they getting this government to change the law? If they have nothing to hide, why would they be lobbying, even though the government said that they weren’t lobbying? Why would they be doing that? Because they know that in the long-term-care-home facilities, because they didn’t provide proper PPE, they didn’t provide the proper staffing, and they had groups in their lunch rooms with more than two or three people, as many as 50—they died. They died, my friends—our loved ones. All they went to for-profit long-term-care facilities for—what would they go there for in their senior years? They built our country. Why did they go? Because they wanted to be taken care of. They wanted to stay alive as long as they could. It didn’t happen.
Every member on the opposite side will try to deflect this, but none of them will stand up and tell us why long-term-care facilities aren’t exempt from this, why the government is covering it up. None of you will tell us why the bill is retroactive, to make it much harder for the cases to go forward. I don’t think they will tell us—because they can’t possibly come to Niagara Falls, my riding, and look these families in the eye and tell them why their mom or their dad or their grandparents are no longer with us.
That’s why Bill 218 tells you everything you need to know about this government. This is supposed to be a bill about supporting our communities. Well, communities in Niagara need help. They need testing support so we can get tests back to people quicker. They need smaller classroom sizes. They need more cleaners. Instead, this government has chosen to spend its time focusing on getting the worst for-profit long-term-care providers off the hook.
Madam Speaker, if this government was listening, they would have acted on the insurance issue I raised last week. In Niagara Falls, we have commercial insurance companies raising insurance rates on businesses by 100% to 150%. They’re going from $6,000 to $20,000. For some of the hotels in Niagara Falls that provide a lot of employment in Niagara, they’re raising their insurance by $150,000 to $200,000. And in some cases, they’re refusing to insure them.
Let me say this as clearly and loudly as possible: Businesses need help. They want to succeed, but they understand they have a role to play in protecting our society. Businesses need your help to do that. Last week I raised this. Do you know what the government response was? They said it was complicated; that was the answer. Businesses in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie will be gouged out of existence because it’s “complicated.” News flash: You’re the government. You have the staff; you have the lawyers. “It’s complicated” is not an acceptable answer. Quite frankly, it’s your job. If it’s too complicated to figure it out, resign and we’ll do it for you. It’s not too complicated. I raised the issue of car insurance rates. The minister said, “We will speak to the auto insurance,” and that it was hard. Why didn’t you speak to the people who were actually paying the rate instead of the greedy companies that are gouging people in the province of Ontario? Why don’t you listen to them for a change?
You could pass legislation today in this House that would save these businesses by stopping insurance companies from gouging them, especially during a pandemic. You cannot just sit there and say, “Well, the industry tells us it’s complicated.” While you’re at it, you might as well say “How high?” when they ask you to jump.
I think my time is up. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
Earlier in the debate, my honourable colleague talked about how this bill is not there to help the coaches etc. who we’ve been talking about. I’m pretty sure that he believes that it does.
One of my other colleagues talked about, why are we mentioning this? The reason we are and the reason I am talking about it is because you agree with me about how important these individuals are to our communities—the services they provide, not just to the sporting teams, but the service clubs. I’m thinking of our Legion, for example. The volunteers are very hard to find in the Optimist Club that I’m involved in, for example. It’s extremely difficult to get them. This gives them a level of protection, some comfort in knowing that those who do go above and beyond to respect all the measures will be somewhat protected; the bad actors will not.
That’s my question to you. I’m hoping that you would be able to clarify that.
I want to be very clear. We want to protect the hockey coach, the dance coach. We’re in agreement there. Where we’re not in agreement is on our long-term-care facilities that, quite frankly, because of their incompetency, were killing our seniors in long-term-care facilities, particularly in for-profit ones. So what we’re saying to you is, take it out of the bill, so that we’re not saying to the private homes that have killed 2,000 people in this thing, “Don’t worry about it.” This is what happened; you guys changed it—and I know I’ve got to talk through you; sorry. What you guys did is, you changed the threshold on how you can sue, and you’ve made it harder to win in the courts of law. That’s what this is really about. The smokescreen, quite frankly, and buying the land in Arizona or wherever you want to buy it, is what you guys are trying to hide behind.
My question to the member for Niagara Falls is, why do you think this Conservative government supports this lousy bill?
We all know, particularly in for-profit long-term care, the boards are all loaded up with Conservatives. That’s the reality. So what they’re trying to do is to make sure their buddies who own these long-term-care facilities where, over the last 10 years—I don’t know if you know this—$1.5 billion went to CEOs and shareholders. And where should that money have gone? We’re having our parents and our grandparents die in these long-term-care facilities. Should it have gone to a shareholder or to a CEO? That money should have gone to our parents and our grandparents in the form of more staff and PSWs. It should have gone to make sure we had PPE so that they can protect themselves properly. That’s where the $1.5 billion went.
You’re asking me why this bill is here? It’s to protect their friends. That’s all it’s about.
Having said that, I did want to point out that the Ontario Nonprofit Network estimates that one in five of Ontario’s 58,000 non-profits and charities will be forced to shut down if Bill 218 does not proceed.
So my question to you is, what do you say to those charities that may close their doors forever?
I’m not disagreeing with you; the Liberals did nothing for 15 years. We didn’t need anybody to tell us. But I will say to you that the private for-profits started under the Mike Harris government. That’s where it all started. That’s where, unfortunately, all these problems started, because we all know there is a lot of money to be made in long-term care if you’re not spending where you should.
My question to the MPP from Niagara Falls, specifically with regard to a town in your community, Lundy’s Lane: Do you agree?
I want to say, on Lundy Manor—and I’ve raised Lundy Manor here before. It’s a retirement home; it’s not a long-term-care facility. I can tell you that 21 people died there. Think about this: Two families lost their mom and their dad within 24 hours. I ask anybody over there: Take a look at this bill. Why shouldn’t that family that lost a mom and dad within 24 hours—we all know how hard it is to lose a loved one. Imagine losing two in 24 hours that were preventable, because they didn’t have proper PPE, they didn’t have PSWs, and they were sitting in lunchrooms even though COVID was running rampant in their place. Why shouldn’t they have the right to sue?
I’ve given you examples. I’m not making this up. I had a call at 12 o’clock today from one of the big hoteliers in Niagara Falls. He said, “Gatesy, the Conservatives have got to help us. They’re not helping us.” His insurance was going up $150,000. Their hotels are 80%, 90% empty; nobody is there. They need help with their property tax. They need help with making sure that they can get affordable loans instead of paying 6.5% or 7%. Had the government—
Government Bill 218: An Act to enact the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020 respecting certain proceedings relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19), to amend the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 and to revoke a regulation. First of all, I want to start with a question, a serious question: What does meddling in democratic elections have to do with facing a global pandemic? What else can be said other than this government is attacking the electoral democratic process of Ontario’s municipal politics? I said it last week, and I’d like to highlight this again. The Conservative government’s decision to meddle in the municipal electoral system may not be a coup d’état, but it’s certainly a “coup d’épée” to whatever hopes Ontarians may have had about independent municipal elections, and to whatever hopes Ontarians may have had about electoral reform, transparency and accountability in provincial elections.
The critical point here is the first question I posed: What in the world does meddling have to do with supporting Ontario recovery, respecting certain proceedings, from the coronavirus? We’ve seen nearly 2,000 seniors die in long-term-care facilities in Ontario, most of them corporate-owned facilities. We are sending our children to schools where the numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing, with one in 10 schools in the province having at least one positive COVID-19 case.
We are facing a second wave. We are looking at it right in the eye; there’s no doubt about it. We saw almost 2,000 cases of COVID-19 during the weekend. And this government thinks that meddling in municipal electoral politics is the way to support Ontario’s recovery from a global pandemic?
Prenez deux minutes pour penser à ça, là. Le monde meurt. Il y a près de 2 000 aînés qui sont morts dans les soins de longue durée, un sur 10 cas positifs dans les écoles, puis notre cher gouvernement, comme priorité, s’ingère dans les élections municipales—toute une priorité pour un gouvernement. Ça ne va pas nous aider à dormir le soir, ça.
Je vous pose la question : avez-vous pris le temps de regarder les personnes qui ont perdu leurs êtres chers dans les soins de longue durée? Prends le temps de parler à une famille qui a perdu un être cher. Puis d’être assis là puis nous faisant croire que vous ne protégez pas vos amis—il y a une réalité que vous manquez. Le bateau est passé, ça fait longtemps.
Last week, Martin Regg Cohn, the Toronto Star columnist, wrote a piece titled, “Doug Ford Can’t Blame COVID-19 for His Hypocritical Attack on Local Democracy.” Let me read a couple of lines from his article:
“Without warning, under cover of COVID-19, Ford’s Tories are rescinding the right of municipalities to let voters have the final say over who represents them. It is anti-democratic, it is unilateral, it is underhanded, and it is beneath a Premier who purports to be a populist....
“Why allow local politicians to have their say on masks in mid-pandemic but muzzle their voices when it comes to counting votes,” asked Mr. Regg Cohn.
He also writes, “Turns out the” ranked ballots “method was good enough—and democratic enough—for Ford’s Tories in their own party leadership race.”
The PCs used this very same system to choose their leader—good for me, but not for you.
Faites ce que je dis; ne faites pas ce que je fais.
Of course, this is not the first time that the PCs have taken on municipal politics. We will remember the Toronto council saga and his call for the “notwithstanding” clause, and we have all heard the Premier call for the “united colours” to save Ontario lives. Let me ask you something: If this government’s meddling in municipal politics were a barometer, what’s changed? Here’s the answer: nothing.
People on the other side of the aisle need to understand that there’s a big—a huge—difference between leadership and power. I wish they could understand that, but they don’t. They don’t get that helping Ontarians during the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with meddling in municipal electoral politics. Nobody asked for that. As we saw in Bill 213, which quietly introduced schedule 2, which gives Charles McVety’s Canada Christian College university status, in spite of McVety’s infamous comments about Islam, same-sex marriage and sex ed and in spite of the fact that the province’s Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board has not yet approved Canada Christian College’s application.
Last week, the member from Northumberland–Peterborough South, the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, said that his government is “establishing an equal playing field”—maybe he should have said equal paying field—“for our post-secondary institutions to compete and attract world-class talent from around Ontario and abroad.” I really want to know why the member from Northumberland–Peterborough South thinks that including McVety’s college in a bill that is supposed to help Ontarians deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19 favours Ontarians and levels the playing field when it is known that McVety is an avid supporter of the Premier.
The same is the case for Bill 218. COVID-19 has made evident what the NDP has been saying for years: We need to get rid of profit out of long-term care. Recent studies published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated, “There were 190 (30.5%) COVID-19 outbreaks among Ontario’s LTC homes, with 110 (30.6%) occurring in for-profit homes….
“For-profit status was significantly associated with the extent of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the LTC home … compared with non-profit status.”
Mais le projet de loi 218 met des bâtons dans les roues afin d’éviter que les résidences de soins de longue durée à but lucratif—où on a vu le plus grand nombre d’éclosions et le plus grand nombre de morts lors de cette pandémie. Il me semble que si le gouvernement avait été intéressé à aider ceux et celles qui ont été atteints de la COVID ou si ce gouvernement avait été intéressé à s’assurer que les entraîneurs et les coachs d’équipe, qui ont aussi le protocole de santé publique, ne soient pas poursuivis en cour, il aurait bel et bien fait ça clair dans ce projet de loi.
Mais au lieu d’avoir des projets visant à aider et appuyer ceux et celles qui se battent chaque jour contre cette pandémie, on ouvre les portes pour les compagnies privées qui font des profits sur le dos des aînés, sur le dos des préposés aux bénéficiaires—continuer à faire comme si de rien n’était, comme si de rien n’était.
I just want to conclude by saying that if this bill were truly about giving a hand to those gravely affected by the pandemic, there’s simply no reason to meddle with municipal elections, and there’s absolutely no reason—no reason—to shield for-profit long-term-care facilities from liability while hundreds of grieving families are seeking justice for their loved ones.
Quand il y a des centaines de familles qui cherchent la justice pour avoir perdu leurs membres de famille, ils doivent avoir de la misère à dormir de l’autre côté de la Chambre.
This bill specifically deals with indemnity from gross negligence from a PSW or someone who’s working for a non-profit, or a small business owner or a grocery store clerk, for example, who is doing everything within their power to take all the proper precautions, whether that be—I know we’re not supposed to use props, but wearing a mask, making sure that we’re sanitizing our hands and following all the proper procedures. Why is it that everyone keeps focusing on the things that aren’t included in this bill, but are not looking at what is actually in this bill?
Mais la vérité est exactement—c’est que vous protégez vos amis, vous protégez les grosses compagnies qui ont abusé. Il y a l’abus de pouvoir, puis il y a du monde qui sont morts, puis les familles ne pourront pas—en plus de ça, pire que ça, vous le mettrez rétroactif. Vous devez avoir honte, puis vous devez avoir de la misère à dormir, comme j’ai répété à maintes reprises.
Allez voir les familles qui ont perdu les êtres chers. Regardez-les dans les yeux, puis dites que votre projet de loi les protège. Allez les voir, puis dites-leur ça.
To begin with, I would like to say thank you for your passion. It was really important to hear. You did talk about: Why, in a bill to protect people from COVID-19, has this government meddled in elections again? We know that our Premier did say that, really, it was fine in 1867, so we’re just going to keep it the same as 1867. It’s not the first time this Premier has dragged us backwards, and not the last time—le léopard ne change pas ses taches—but what I want to say is to make clear that in 1867, who had the right to vote? Wealthy, white men had the right to vote. That would probably look like progress to the Premier, but for the rest of the people that had to fight for their right to vote—like women, like First Nations people—how do you think that makes them feel?
Pourquoi s’ingérer dans les élections municipales? On est dans une crise de pandémie. Nous, de ce côté-ci, on comprend ça. Le monde meurt. Le monde meurt : regardez vos chiffres. Le monde meurt. On a eu près de 2 000 cas dans une fin de semaine, des cas de COVID, puis on s’ingère dans les élections municipales? Puis on dit qu’on a nos priorités à la bonne place? Je m’excuse, mais écoutez donc le peuple. Écoutez vos commettants quand ils vous disent que, non, c’est de l’aide dont on a besoin.
We’ve worked together before to protect workers. Can we work together again to protect our personal support workers, our charities and our volunteers?
C’est depuis tout à l’heure, depuis le commencement, que mes collègues de notre parti nous ont dit, « On n’a pas de problème avec ça. » Oui, il faut protéger ces agences-là. Oui, il faut protéger les coachs. Oui, il faut protéger les Légions. Oui, il faut protéger ça. On n’a pas de problème. On dit exclure la portion des soins de longue durée. Sortez-les de votre projet de loi.
Take it out of it. Take it out of the bill. Take long-term care out of the bill. We don’t have a problem with what you just said. Yes, we’ll work with you: Take it out. But you’re not listening.
Deux oreilles, une bouche : on écoute deux fois plus qu’on ne parle. C’est une très bonne leçon à prendre.
I can understand and support protecting all the people who, through no fault of their own, are there and might be getting a frivolous lawsuit, but I can’t understand protecting those who were negligent and people died because of it. So I want to ask my colleague—
Ça fait que, imagine-toi—I can relate to what you’re saying. Families are concerned. They would like to take them home, but there is no bed to go back to. Once they’re out, they’re out. We lived this. My mother is in Wawa. She’s living there. We wanted to, but there is no place where she can go.
So, yes, we are very concerned. A lot of people are concerned. That is why we’re saying to take that portion out of the bill. We will support what you’re saying.
Quand je te disais qu’on n’a pas de problème à protéger les « PSWs », quand je te disais, we have no problem protecting coaches—we said that we have no problem protecting organizations. But yet, we’re telling you—and we want to work with you; please work with us—take the long-term care out of the bill. It’s simple: Retirez ça, then we can say we’re working together, because the reality is exactly what we’ve been saying. You’re using these people as shields. You’re using them as shields and you put the threshold higher.
Puis après ça, vous dites que vous êtes « transparents »? La transparence, là, on n’a pas la même définition. Transparent, c’est dire les vraies choses. Puis de mettre ça rétroactif, c’est encore pire. C’est encore pire. Je vous demande, allez voir les—
I’m going to remind all members of the House—it was happening on both sides—that all the conversation goes through the Speaker, not directly back and forth to each other.
Throughout these unprecedented times, the Premier has frequently talked about all—and I mean all—14.5 million Ontarians working together. He has correctly credited individual Ontarians for responding to the challenge of the coronavirus. As the Premier said earlier on, “We need an army of 14.5 million people.... Whether it’s staying home, working in our hospitals or long-term-care homes, or putting food and medicine on our shelves, we’re all part of this and with your help we will win this battle and our province and our economy will come back stronger than ever before.”
Speaker, Ontarians have come together—an army of 14.5 million Ontarians. The overwhelming majority of Ontarians have done the right thing. They’ve made the honest effort to follow the public health laws and the guidelines. Now let us make sure that we provide liability protection to individuals, organizations and businesses who make an honest effort to follow public health guidelines and laws relating to COVID-19 so they can continue providing the services Ontarians so need.
Since March 17, the date of the declaration of emergency, my office and I have received countless phone calls, emails and messages asking for assistance. A large portion of those who reached out were seeking help in how to understand and follow the various regulations, the orders and guidance relating to COVID-19. In March and April, when the situation was very fluid, the rules, for lack of a better word, were changing frequently. We were communicating with lots of constituents. What they wanted was to make an honest effort to follow the public health laws and guidelines. So myself and my office would direct them to various resources, whether it’s the Stop the Spread hotline, the local public health unit, the guidance documents prepared by the Ministry of Labour or to the ontario.ca COVID website.
Overwhelmingly, those who reached out to my office did so to understand how the rules are followed. People wanted to do the right thing, whether it was a provincial emergency order, a town or city bylaw, or the public health guidelines from the Simcoe Muskoka Health District Unit. People wanted to act in good faith and make an honest effort to follow the rules.
In April, I held an interactive tele-town hall with my federal colleague the member of Parliament for Barrie–Innisfil, John Brassard. We had nearly 1,000 constituents join the call and listen, and more than 100 entered the queue to ask questions. As we all recall the situation and what we knew about the virus, it was changing daily. Our government acted quickly. We closed schools; suspended eviction notices and enforcement; launched the Ontario Together procurement portal; provided social service funding and relief; provided electricity rate relief; launched Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, a $17-billion emergency relief package to provide relief to families and certainty to business; and announced a new penalty to combat price gouging. We did all these things in March, Speaker—March—just in the last couple of weeks of March.
Also in March, this House came together. They came together to pass Bill 186, the Employment Standards Amendment Act, also known as the infectious disease emergencies act, 2020. It was passed in one day, Speaker—one day. As the Leader of the Opposition said in debate on Bill 186, “We can stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of this great province, and we can meet this challenge head on. We can support public health and front-line health care workers. We can make sure every Ontarian has the support they need to make it through this crisis. We can protect our communities and safeguard our economy.”
So today, let’s stand shoulder to shoulder. Let us come together to support the front-line health care workers. Let us come together to support the charities and the not-for-profits who deliver valuable services to our communities. Let us come together to support soccer and hockey coaches. And let us come together to protect Ontarians who make an honest effort to follow public laws and guidelines.
I think most Ontarians are doing and have been doing their best to do the right thing throughout the pandemic. Ontarians have listened to Dr. Williams and Dr. Yaffe at the provincial level, and to the various medical officers in their health regions. In Simcoe and Muskoka, Dr. Charles Gardner and the Simcoe Muskoka Health District Unit have provided the best advice they can for the people in their catchment area. This is not to say that Ontarians don’t have a healthy skepticism of government, but they do have a healthy respect for expert advice, and they most certainly want to protect their fellow citizens. The Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act will, if enacted, protect virtually all Ontarians. The people who don’t benefit are the genuine bad actors who ignore public health guidelines and act with gross negligence.
This summer, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs met for 195 hours and heard from more than 500 witnesses. I participated, as many in this Legislature know, in many of those hearings. One of the key themes the committee heard over and over again was the need for confidence. Businesses thrive on confidence. The more certainty they have, the better they can do. This is true for every sector and for every person.
COVID-19 presented a once-in-a-century series of events: a global health crisis and an economic crisis. It has infected Ontarians and it has killed Ontarians. This is the nature of this virus. It has changed virtually every aspect of our lives: how we work, how we shop, how we go out to eat. It has affected our mental health. COVID has robbed us—businesses, not-for-profits, governments and individuals—of everything that we’ve become accustomed to. It has robbed us of confidence and it has increased the uncertainty in our society.
It is that uncertainty where we have to keep united and bring hope again to our residents and our citizens. One of those uncertainties, of course, as we talked about, is the legal uncertainty. COVID-19 is a deadly disease that can be easily spread by accident, despite following all public health laws and guidelines.
One of the measures in the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020, is that it provides a great sense of confidence and certainty. This bill provides assurances to a wide range of not-for-profits and charitable organizations. I would like to speak of one of those in my riding that is affected.
Branch 547 has been serving the community of Lefroy and Belle Ewart for 67 years. Branch 547 is the only Legion located in Innisfil. Another Legion branch is 147, which is located in Barrie–Springwater–Oro-Medonte, the riding of our Attorney General. He and I attend many events together at Branch 147, as it serves residents throughout the city of Barrie.
Speaker, our local Legion branches are special places. They are community centres, they hold many meetings and they bring the community together. For instance, our Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was at the Lefroy Legion for a meeting with farmers and large-animal veterinarians to discuss Bill 156. That was just before COVID-19 had struck. The Legion is a place, you see, Mr. Speaker, for all the community to gather.
Innisfil has a group called the 100 Men Who Give a Damn, and there is also a group called 100 Women Who Give a Damn. They’re both grassroots charities—yes, Mr. Speaker—of people who give a damn, and they meet quarterly to donate their money to various charities in Simcoe county. Often, they are held at the Legion.
You see, Mr. Speaker, most importantly, of course, a Legion is a place that honours veterans, but it is so much more. Branch 547 is home to the Lefroy and Belle Ewart cenotaph. I have laid a wreath there at the cenotaph on behalf of the province of Ontario on two occasions, and while it may be different this year, I will be laying a wreath on their behalf for the year 2020.
Denis Mainville, who actually recently got elected as the president of Branch 547—I wanted to thank him for all his efforts, but also, I’d like to thank Mark Southcott, the past president, and his wife, Beverly, for their service to the community. I appreciate their efforts and dedication to our legion and to the community.
But back to Denis Mainville, who is a veteran of the Gulf War. He was deployed overseas as a mechanic working on Canada’s CF-18 Hornet fighter jet. Prior to assuming the presidency of the branch, he served as sergeant-at-arms. It shows you how much he has done, and he has dedicated his time to the Legion’s poppy campaign. This bill, as I spoke to Denis about, will help Denis and his poppy campaign, because it will protect him and the Legion from liability.
I ask the member: Why does she think that this government has the right to interfere in a municipality’s ability to vote—and why she chose not to speak on that schedule?
There’s a lot of support that we’ve received, and that email sums up the support we’ve had in our county. Frankly, that’s got a lot of support, so I chose to speak on the part of the bill that is most close to my heart. I fully support the entire bill. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you that every day I speak with our local community. Someone I speak to on a regular basis is a president of an Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans club, Lu Anne. She’s always worried about what’s going on with COVID-19. She follows every rule that she can and she’s worried that she will end up closing down. What will this bill do to help a person like Lu Anne at the Army-Navy?
My question to the member opposite: Likewise, as my colleague just mentioned, I’m surprised she has decided not to speak to the other schedule regarding ranked ballots.
We all know that taking away the option of ranked ballots makes our democracy worse. It reduces the political voices of voters. It reduces the likelihood of new people seeking to serve as elected representatives at the municipal level. It does cost a little bit more to collect more information and more data as to who people support. That is the cost of a strong local democracy.
My question to the member opposite is, why does she feel that her government has the right to meddle in municipal affairs?
We’ve heard time and time again that we need to prioritize our communities with what’s happening with COVID-19. So again, I reiterate to the member that the email that the Attorney General referred to the other day, where there’s not just one thank you, but there are actually three thank-yous in a row—proving that municipalities would rather focus on what matters most to people, which is their communities and helping their communities, rather than adding excessive costs and excessive burdens to those municipalities.
To the member for Barrie–Innisfil: Can you try and explain to me why you think our opposition keeps pushing for what the majority of Ontarians have rejected? They want to bring forward something that Ontarians don’t want. They’ve said that they want first past the post. Yet the opposition keeps saying, “We don’t want to listen to you. We want something you don’t want.” Can you try to justify that?
We’ve also tried these models across this province. London gets cited many times, as I hear from the members opposite. But we’ve seen that the results are no different. So why would we be throwing out countless costs—not to mention, as someone who came to Canada and knows many new Canadians, how confusing it can be and the fact that when you’re translating things into multiple languages, it could be a barrier. Instead of putting barriers up and adding costs, we’re reducing barriers, reducing red tape, making things much easier, allowing municipalities to concentrate on what matters most, which is their communities.
If we’re focused on Legions, volunteers, coaches and charities and not protecting for-profit long-term care, to the member opposite, why not just take that out of the bill and be very clear that it has nothing to do with for-profit long-term care and that it has to do with these institutions that you talk about?
In fact, I was here on Friday for debate and the Attorney General spoke for an hour—an hour on an eight-page document—and although he said the word “municipal” 13 times, he spoke about schedule 2, the amendments to the Municipal Elections Act, zero times. And so that makes me curious. That brings up a couple of questions. Why would changes to the Municipal Elections Act be part of a COVID-19 recovery bill? It doesn’t make sense. Why, during the lead debate, would the Conservatives choose not to speak to this part of the bill? I’ve heard very little this afternoon. I apologize if I missed a portion when I was in the back. What does ranked ballots for municipal elections have to do with COVID-19—quite frankly, it has nothing.
There has been some evidence that the government was trying to slip this under the radar. I read in the paper—in a couple of papers, actually—that the day before the legislation was tabled and it was rushed to us, officials with the Attorney General provided multiple media outlets with advance copies of the news release: “Here’s what we’re talking about, here’s what the bill is about, and here are the talking points.” None of those advance copies included schedule 2. They just never mentioned it at all. They didn’t even say, “It might be here,” or one line—it had nothing in it at all.
It’s not the first time the Conservative government has used the cloak of COVID-19 to pay back favours or to slide things through that they’re in favour of. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find many articles that suggest that the Premier is using the response to COVID-19 as a way to advance his own political interests and the political interests of the Conservative Party.
The last bill that we debated, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, was supposed to be about COVID-19, but buried in it was a favour for the Premier’s good friend Pastor Charles McVety. I won’t go too far into this because we’ve talked about it already, but Charles McVety has a proven history of making Islamophobic and homophobic statements.
I’m just going to caution the member from Sudbury to make sure that what he’s speaking to is relevant to the bill. Thank you.
Back to the member for Sudbury.
In that bill, they basically said, “Here’s a COVID-19 recovery bill. Also, here’s a favour to my friend.” And now his Canada Christian College will have the power to grant bachelor of arts and science degrees.
Getting back to Bill 218: Currently, the Municipal Elections Act provides a framework for conducting ranked-ballot elections for municipal council. Every time the Conservative government talks about this, they talk about confusion and the cost, but the reality is, even though they mention the three letters of support, there are 444 municipalities in the province. Three out of 444—my math isn’t very good, but it’s a very small percentage.
In schedule 2 of the bill, they have amendments to remove the framework. I don’t think that has anything to do with COVID-19. I can’t imagine, when we sat here all summer long with the 400 deputations, that somebody said, “And also, change the Municipal Elections Act.”
If you look at the Municipal Elections Act, it outlines that municipal offices are for four-year terms. It’s section 6, subsection (1). I won’t go into the details, but it basically says, “Every four years, starting from this date, November 15.” I went to AMO, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. It says that the last municipal election was held on October 22, 2018, basically the fall after our election. The next municipal election is scheduled for Monday, October 24, 2022. It’s currently October 2020, Speaker. They’re rushing in a bill to stop a municipal election that’s going to happen two years from now, under the guise that it’s going to protect us from COVID-19—that it will help us recover from COVID-19. I can’t imagine anyone ever said, “Municipal elections are where I need you to focus on as a government.”
The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing provided a written statement. He said, “Now is not the time for municipalities to experiment with costly changes to how municipal elections are conducted,” and that 443 out of the 444 municipalities will see no change. I don’t understand that logic.
Currently, there is one riding, London—no, one city; I apologize. They already have this new system. They paid for it. They did the consultations. They listened to their citizens. In 2018 they rolled it out, and they were the first one. So instead of saying, “I’ll save you money,” what they’re telling the citizens of London is, “Now you have to switch back. It’s going to cost you more, plus whatever you’re doing with COVID-19.”
Toronto was also working towards doing this in the next election, but Toronto announced they’re not going to. I would argue that any municipality that was looking into this, in the midst of COVID-19—because city councillors are smart and mayors are smart—would say, “Now is not the time.” They don’t need the provincial government to act as Big Brother and tell them what to do. They can manage it themselves. And they would say, “Let’s not do it now. It’s not the time.” You don’t need the iron fist to pound down on them.
What’s frustrating out of this is that the bill comes in with no compensation and no support, so London is out of pocket. The other municipalities that were looking into this are out of pocket for what they paid for in terms of consultation and feedback. But that doesn’t matter to this government as long as they get their way.
We know it’s not the first time the Conservatives meddled with a municipal government. It’s weird, Speaker. I think maybe the Premier should have run for mayor—I apologize; the Premier did run for mayor. He wasn’t successful. He has to realize he is the Premier of the province and not just the Premier of Toronto. After being elected, the Conservatives announced they were going to override Toronto’s city council plans, originally to make them larger, but ultimately they decided to make them smaller, cut them in half. Then, they scrapped plans to let voters directly elect regional chairs. And now this comes in in the midst of a COVID-19 bill. It’s ridiculous, and it’s weird. It’s really weird. I can’t imagine anybody—sadly, I’m going to run out of time.
This was done with zero public consultation. Time and time and time again the provincial government, the provincial Conservatives, tell cities, “We know what’s best for you as citizens. We’ll tell you how to choose your leaders. We’ll tell you what’s best to do.” Even more bizarre, when they say, “It’s confusing, and we don’t want to confuse people”—it’s not confusing; it’s really, really simple. London did a great job. And your own party, the way the Premier got elected—the way all of our leaders get elected is ranked-ballot systems. It’s not super confusing. Ontarians are smart. Frankly, it feels anti-democratic.
Martin Regg Cohn, who is a reporter—I think he summarized it best with this quote: “Ford’s decision to kill the ranked ballot is an unwelcome reprise of the old, pre-pandemic Premier who defied democratic norms in his first 100 days in power. It ranks right up there with his wrong-headed, muddle-headed meddling in municipal democracy when he slashed the size of Toronto’s city council in half in mid-campaign—and threatened to override any judge who overruled him via the ‘notwithstanding clause’ of the Charter of Rights.”
Do you remember, before COVID-19, when we weren’t allowed to come to work because you had us rise the Legislature till after the federal election because the popularity was so low? Do you remember, during the Raptors’ parade, when the Premier got booed? That’s what we’re going back to. We had to reset the clock. We had shown we could work together and be reasonable. In this bill—we’d love to support schedule 1 if you’d take the long-term care out of it, if you’d take the crown out of it and you would just support the soccer moms and the coaches and the veterans and the Legions like you said you will. But you don’t. It has nothing to do with people; it has to do with protecting your wealthy and well-connected friends every single time. The people of Ontario are not falling for it anymore. They see right through you.
Earlier, they brought up BC versus Ontario. Ontario has 10 times the number of long-term-care deaths that BC does. I’m not familiar with the legislation, aside from the brief overview I saw. I don’t know the ins and outs. But if I was in BC and they said, “Let’s protect the long-term-care providers, the for-profit ones that have high rates of death and have lawsuits going on,” I think I’d argue against it.
Frankly, at the end of the day, I don’t have a voice in BC. I was elected in Ontario to represent the people of Ontario. I was elected to represent the people of Sudbury, and the people of Sudbury don’t want negligent long-term-care providers being protected by this government.
It’s not the first time that we’ve seen the Premier take us backwards. We are trying to move forward to see progress in democracy so that we can include people in our democracy. I think it’s important to note that 1867 seems to be a good year for the Premier, but in that time women did not have the right to vote, First Nations did not have the right to vote, Black people did not have the right to vote. In fact, First Nations did not get the right to vote until 1954.
Can you explain to the House why this statement from the Premier would be insulting to people who see this as democratic progress that they would welcome?
I won’t be able to pull it out of my notes in time to respond—but there was a quote from a councillor who said, “I think that the ranked-ballot system is a bad idea, but I support the right of citizens and municipalities being able to choose it.” That’s what the heart of this gets to: the ability for more people to run; the ability of better democracy and open debate; the ability of citizens in their cities being able to pick who represents them at the city without the province saying, “No, no, we’ll tell you how you pick them.” That’s what’s wrong about this.
Thank you again for the question.
In 2007, Ontarians said they wanted first past the post—64%. Do you not believe, as an elected official, that you should respect what Ontarians have agreed they wanted? Do you want to spend more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money during a pandemic to raise something that nobody wants?
In 2007, Ontario thought they wanted a Liberal government, and they don’t have that any more. In 2022, they’re going to realize they don’t want a Conservative government any more and they’re going to vote in the NDP.
What I support, Speaker, is people having a voice to choose who they want. The government pretends that this bill is about protecting citizens. What this does is muzzle citizens from having a voice. If in 2006, they said they want first past the post and then in 2007, they said they don’t, then that’s the majority’s voice and that’s how democracy works. It isn’t the government telling citizens what they want; it’s the government listening to citizens and doing what they say.
My question for the member for Sudbury is: Having the government meddle in municipalities at this time, when of course we have COVID-19 going on, not just in Ontario but right around the world—why do you think this government decided to sneak it into the bill when what we should be doing, obviously, is worrying about what’s going on in terms of long-term-care homes, protecting our elderly and protecting the people of Ontario?
When I talk to the people of Sudbury, what they tell me they want is rent relief for business, rent relief for residents. They tell me what they want is someone to take care of the skyrocketing insurance rates. They tell me they want better controls in long-term care and more hours of hands-on care. Not one of them said, “We need to look at the Municipal Elections Act for an election that’s coming in two years.” Not one of them said, “We need to protect the crown in case they make mistakes. We need to protect long-term-care facilities in case they cause wrongful deaths.”
They’re missing the point with this bill. Unfortunately, Speaker, the Conservatives seem to believe that the people of Ontario can’t figure this out, that they’re too dumb to see through the charade. That’s embarrassing and unfortunate for the citizens of Ontario.
My question to you beyond that is with respect to the Ontario Nonprofit Network. You’ve probably heard of this organization. They are focused on non-profits throughout Ontario. The belief is that one in five not-for-profits will not be here in a year if we don’t pass Bill 218. In fact, they said, “The Ontario government introduced legislation to provide liability protection for non-profits and charities that make an honest effort to follow ... health guidelines and laws relating to exposure to COVID-19.” My question to you is, why wouldn’t you support this?
Let’s be very frank about this: If I provide first aid to somebody on the side of the road who has broken their leg, and somehow, because I haven’t washed my hands properly, it gets infected and they’re hurt, I’m protected by a good Samaritan clause, because that’s the level of care that I’m expected to have. If a doctor in a hospital causes an infection and you lose your leg, there’s a higher standard, because it’s a hospital. What we’re saying is, you don’t take the hospital—or, in this case, the long-term care—and minimize it down to the average citizen, the Legion, the volunteer or the not-for-profits.
Across the province, grocery store owners, retail workers, not-for-profits and sports organizations have voiced concerns to me about the costs of legal consequences they could face if someone were to get COVID-19 within their establishment or under their watch, even if they made honest efforts to follow public health guidelines and laws. Over the summer, our Attorney General and government listened to health care workers, businesses, the charitable sector and recreational organizations, and what we heard is directly built into this bill.
If passed, Bill 218 would provide reassurances and some level of protection to people and organizations that, again, make honest efforts to follow public health guidelines and laws. It would mean that a grocery store owner who honestly believes she is following the guidelines and is acting in good faith to take precautions as advised by public health would have greater protection from civil liability.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact of all aspects of life in Ontario. Our businesses have had to temporarily close. Our charities have found themselves having to adjust their operations to the new normal. Sports and recreation have been heavily impacted. We have introduced this legislation to protect them as we move forward. The contents of this bill would support the people who are making essential contributions to our communities. It also ensures Ontarians can still take—and I say that again, can still take—legal action in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, or for any other matter that is unrelated to the exposure to or infection from COVID-19.
I want to touch on a few other actions the Attorney General has taken over the past year that have allowed for our court systems to continue to function even in the midst of a pandemic. While COVID-19 has limited in-person court appearances, the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice have still heard matters using video and teleconferencing. Between March 16 and the beginning of the reopening of courtrooms in July, over 21,000 calls were facilitated remotely.
Prior to COVID-19, the Attorney General introduced the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act to simplify and modernize outdated court systems. He made electronic filing for more than 400 civil and Family Court documents available online. Working with his partners, the Attorney General was able to move the justice system forward in a matter of months through game-changing modernizations. His most recent piece of legislation before the House, the Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act, if passed, will make further changes to solve family law matters faster before the courts.
This legislation would prevent our courts from becoming overwhelmed by prioritizing the most serious COVID-19 lawsuits and claims against those that have not acted in good faith.
I want to spend some time discussing what this legislation, if passed, would not do, because we’re hearing a lot of things from the opposition members today, so I want to provide some clarification. First, this bill would not apply in cases where COVID-19 transmission was a result of gross negligence on the part of an individual corporation—again, corporation—or other organization. It would not apply to businesses that were ordered to close and did not do so—sorry, Madam Speaker; it would apply to those businesses. It would also not be applicable to cases that are unrelated to COVID-19, such as product liability, medical negligence, failures to provide the necessities of life, fraud or any other type of negligence that we are hearing from the members opposite here today.
This legislation has nothing to do with those things. What it does is provide safety for PSWs, it provides safety for grocery store clerks, and it provides safety for our sports organizations.
It would also not interfere with the ability of a worker who is not covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, and they would still be able to take action against their employer if they were exposed to COVID-19 or if they were infected with said disease. For those that are covered under the WSIA, their compensation through WSIB would not be impacted.
To be absolutely clear, any bad actors who are negligent or failed to make an honest effort to follow COVID-19 guidelines and rules will still be held to account.
I just had the opportunity, along with the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, to visit several community service organizations in Waterloo region to see how they are continuing to operate during the pandemic. Their leadership and volunteers are working day in and day out, and I am very happy to see our Attorney General including them in this legislation. Because I can say after meeting with their teams that they are taking safety precautions very seriously and balancing that with the need to continue serving our communities.
One of the organizations we visited was Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region. I mention this visit because one of their neighbouring organizations, Family Services Perth-Huron, wrote our Attorney General requesting this legislation, Madam Speaker. In their letter they requested, and I quote, “Immediately pass an emergency order providing good Samaritan COVID-related liability protection to non-profits if they have followed all public health guidelines in order to avoid catastrophic loss and damage to our organization.”
She continues: “Many non-profits have barely survived the opening phases of the pandemic only to find themselves struggling to operate or reopen because of skyrocketing insurance costs, COVID-related exclusions, and an excessive burden of liability falling on volunteer boards of directors.”
Well, I am pleased to share with Debby that what she has asked for is what we are doing here today. This bill is going to help many organizations, such as Trinity Village. It’s going to help all non-profits, all the service organizations out there that are finding themselves struggling, Madam Speaker.
Our sport and recreation organizations have also found themselves in a very difficult spot. I’ve had a chance to speak with Phillip McKee, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation and a proud resident of Waterloo region. The Ontario Hockey Federation is the largest member of Hockey Canada and is one of three governing bodies for amateur hockey in Ontario.
I am a huge supporter of amateur sport, as we’ve talked about here today. As a father of five, I know how important an impact sports have on the lives of our children. Phillip shared a letter with me that he also sent to the Premier and the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, both of whom I know are just as passionate about amateur sports as I am. He writes, “COVID-19 has created an insurance liability concern for many players, staff, parents and volunteers within our game that in many cases is preventing a return to play in Ontario. The hockey community needs the help of the provincial government to eliminate the increased liability issue to ensure that organizations can make the decision to return to the ice and provide a venue for physical activity within the government guidelines without fear of reprisal.”
Imagine, Speaker, if the fear of being sued for transmission of COVID-19 kept hockey teams off the ice. Think about what that would mean to the young players, many of whom learn teamwork, leadership skills, and confidence from that game, Madam Speaker.
With that, I wholeheartedly support this bill, and I ask that the question now be put.
All those in favour of the motion that the question now be put, please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion that the question now be put please say “nay.”
In my opinion the ayes have it.
A recorded vote being required, unless I receive a deferral slip, the bells will ring for 30 minutes during which time members may cast their votes. Prepare the lobbies.
Pursuant to standing order 30(h), I request that the vote on closure for second reading of Bill 218, An Act to enact the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020 respecting certain proceedings relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19), to amend the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 and to revoke a regulation, be deferred until deferred votes on Tuesday, October 27, 2020.
The House adjourned at 1754.
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