16 NOVEMBRE 1995 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1002.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR L'AMÉNAGEMENT DES VOIES PUBLIQUES ET DES TRANSPORTS EN COMMUN
Mr Gravelle moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 16, An Act to amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act with respect to the removal of snow and ice from roads / Projet de loi 16, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'aménagement des voies publiques et des transports en commun en ce qui concerne le déneigement et le déglacement des routes.
Why do we need this bill? It's a very clear issue and it's a very simple equation: Quantities of snow plus ice on our highways equal danger to drivers. Unless this snow and ice are removed quickly, the danger persists and can multiply as more snow and ice accumulate. This is clearly a public safety issue.
The depth of the concern and the rumours that the Ministry of Transportation will be introducing cuts to its winter road maintenance budget first came to my attention during a tour of northwestern Ontario communities in late September. The fact is, winter comes to northern Ontario before it arrives in most other parts of the province. My constituents in Port Arthur have been shovelling snow since the first snowfall in mid-October.
As a northerner and as the representative of Port Arthur, I understand the fears that cuts to winter road maintenance engender. Even the most cursory glance at a map illustrates that the distances between northern communities is much greater than that usually experienced in other parts of the province. Northern drivers do not enjoy the luxury of four lanes on their highways.
To put that in perspective, given the issue we're discussing, if highways in the north are maintained only to centre-bare conditions, clearing really only one lane down the centre of the highway, that can mean head-on accidents. In many cases, there are no paved shoulders. This makes travel particularly dangerous, and skids due to ice will not end on a neatly paved surface. Certainly in light of the auditor's report of a day or so ago, where 60% of our highways were deemed substandard, many of those were in the northern parts of our province.
Notwithstanding that, I think it's important to know that this is not an issue for only those of us in northern Ontario. Certainly my colleagues in Prescott and Russell in eastern Ontario and colleagues all across -- Mike Colle for Oakwood -- would urge me to make it clear to most people that this is a province-wide issue. Our storm in Toronto the other day certainly illustrates that, and everybody is concerned, including those people on the other side of the House.
We should take a moment to remember that all these conditions are also heightened when one considers that emergency services and school buses also rely on these highways to transport their precious cargo, and they rely on the fact that the longer distances they need to travel must be safe. Firefighters need to be able to get to a burning home or business so that they can do their job. Someone needing medical attention needs to be able to get to facilities which may take them from Nakina to Nipigon, a distance of well over 200 kilometres.
On October 23, my colleagues and I in the northern Liberal caucus distributed petitions across northern Ontario. We felt, and we still feel, that the people who live and drive on our highways should have some input in the discussion. We believe they should be able to send a clear and direct message to this government regarding the cuts to road maintenance. The document petitioned the House to disallow these cuts, as such downgrading increases already hazardous driving conditions and places the lives of all Ontario residents at undue risk. None of us was surprised with the response. I personally have received from petitions sent to my riding in Port Arthur well in excess of 3,000 signatures, with more pouring in daily.
But, you know, it's not just Michael Gravelle in Port Arthur. It's Mike Brown in Algoma-Manitoulin, Rick Bartolucci in Sudbury, Frank Miclash in Kenora, David Ramsay in Timiskaming and Lyn McLeod in Fort William, Jean-Marc Lalonde in Prescott and Russell, Mike Colle in Oakwood, my colleagues in the NDP. Our constituents have spoken in volumes and we have the petitions to prove it.
It's not just private individuals either. I've received support from OPSEU and the Canadian Automobile Association. The mayors of Walden and Sault Ste Marie have received council resolutions urging the minister to rescind the then proposed reductions. The communities of Terrace Bay and Red Rock passed resolutions supporting our position. Even the town of North Bay, whence our Premier comes, has responded to our concerns.
For months now my colleagues and I have risen to implore the minister to rescind what were then proposed and have now been implemented: cuts to winter road maintenance in this province. Our appeals for common sense have gone unheard. The minister has continually assured this House that the ministry will continue to maintain the roads in a safely adequate fashion. Now what exactly does that mean? In total, there have been more than 10 occasions where members of this House have raised the issue. The minister's reply has remained constant: "We're committed to maintaining our standards."
The problem is that these are empty words and empty promises, with no real assurances. Public safety is not an issue that has a right to be in the arena of this government's "We can do more for less" credo. My bill will go a long way to provide reassurance to the people of this province that the government will maintain our highways to a clearly stated and openly communicated set of standards.
The winter road maintenance budget has been consistently reduced since 1992. I realize that technology and advances in weather predictions make it easier to respond to the weather. But there is one unalienable truth in Canada: Winter is a force to be reckoned with and it will defy our attempts to control, modify and often to predict it.
As a result, the hard-working staff in our MTO offices across the province need the support and the facilities necessary to fulfil their commitment to keep our roads and highways safe. The sad irony here is that while this government proudly flaunts new measures this fall to improve safety on our highways -- restrictions on transport trucks, stiffer penalties for drunk drivers -- it adamantly refuses to acknowledge the very real hazards that will surely come from these irresponsible cuts.
My bill, entitled An Act to amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act with respect to the removal of snow and ice from roads, takes current ministry standards and entrenches them legislatively. It does not make outlandish demands that the government cannot fulfil. We're not asking for an increase in the budget. We will continue to implore the minister that he rescind the latest round of cuts, but we're well aware at this point that he has remained oblivious to such appeals.
The standards that we seek to entrench are the ones currently in use by the Ministry of Transportation. They are in no way to reflect a ceiling on the degree to which the roads should be cleared. What they represent is the minimum, the standard for winter maintenance of roads and highways in this province. This bill would take existing ministry guidelines and move them into the sphere of public legislation. The benefits are clear and I think they're twofold.
First of all, the inclusion of these standards would fill a gap in the existing legislation. At this point there is no provision in the legislation that outlines the standards by which roads and highways in this province must be maintained. Imagine, there is no legislative provision guaranteeing the people of this province that their roads will be maintained to clearly defined and safe standards.
Secondly, entrenchment of these standards would ensure that any amendments or changes would involve public debate in the Legislature -- there's a nice thought -- as any amendment to legislation currently requires. Given the reductions that have occurred over the past three years, such a guarantee is important.
The recurring nature of these cuts and the statement by one senior ministry official that reductions in future years are also anticipated lead to a fear that there will come a point at which the ministry will no longer be able to maintain the roads to the basic standards outlined in this bill. The erosion of these standards represents an increased risk to drivers across the province, a risk we can never in good conscience ask drivers to take.
Surely, seeking all-party support to simply guarantee that ministry standards already in place are legislatively entrenched cannot be denied. That's the essence of this bill. While the minister maintains that these standards will be maintained this year, the fear of drivers in this province is illustrated by the volumes of petitions that have been returned and speak to the sense that the public does not believe the minister's assurances.
The tragic fact is that accidents will happen in winter. This is as much a fact of Ontario life as winter itself, but by reducing the capacity of our dedicated ministry workers to maintain the roads of this province by reducing the number of sanders and plows, by cutting the number of patrols, the minister unnecessarily increases the risk. His own ministry officials recognize this.
We cannot gamble on public safety. The minister has steadfastly refused to rescind the cuts for this year, regardless of entreaties from both opposition parties. I ask that we guarantee that our roads will be the safest possible this year and next year and the year after that by legally entrenching the standards that are included in my bill and by assuring the people of this province that the government of Ontario and all of us here at Queen's Park are truly standing on guard for them.
The government is risking public safety for the sake of $6.5 million. There are some gains in highway safety. They should not be discredited. Supporting this bill means only supporting provincial standards as they are. This is not a matter of ideological debate, nor one of party affiliation.
When I was in Geraldton a couple of months ago, a question was asked of me which I will now in turn ask each and every member of this House: If it is not the role of government to ensure safety on provincial highways, what is their role? What is their role indeed?
I ask all members to support this bill. Let's all send a message of reassurance to the people of this province by supporting a move that will guarantee safer roads and highways for all of us.
Here you have an administration which is ideologically driven. They're on a sort of bender or binge when it comes to ideology. They wish to not only reduce but eliminate the deficit at all costs.
Now we'll take you on the legislative trip. Oh, it won't last too long.
The order comes from treasury board. You see, a group of people meet. That's the cabinet, 16 or 17 of the fortunate ones on whose shoulders the future of the province will rest for the next four years, so they think. The man sitting there, the Premier of the province, with respect, is a close associate with the man sitting next to him, the Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance, House leader; very close in the political context indeed, a very close associate. They've known one another for years. They trust one another implicitly. They govern, they and the Premier's office, make no mistake about it. Not P and P, not the few select ministers, priorities and planning. No, no. They have a stranglehold on caucus.
The directive comes from treasury. Every minister gets the marching order: "You must reduce the deficit. You at Transportation must find so many millions of dollars. We know, Al, that you're a team player. We know that you will work in the collective." So the minister takes the marching orders under his arm and goes back to the ministry. He has a few political associates, political staff, six or seven. Now, you have the deputy minister. You have six ADMs, assistant deputy ministers. Those people have been around since Confederation. They know the ropes. There's a pecking order there. And you have to find so many millions of dollars.
In the food chain at Transportation, Mr Speaker, I have a question for you: Who do you think went -- the district engineer or Harry Smith, the grader operator? There's a lot of anxiety nowadays around the coffee machine and the water fountain because the word's out: Some will be terminated. Will it be you? Will it be me? Will it be the fellow behind the tree? But someone's going to go. So people are looking over their shoulders, pink slip on the one hand, brown envelope as you exit on the other hand, with something in it.
It's the oldest trick in the world. We must cut. Well, I'm going to cut something and it's going to blow right up in your face, Mr Minister. For I don't believe that when it comes to standards, I don't believe that when you have a budget of more than $2 billion, I don't believe that when you have a choice between summer maintenance and winter maintenance, inevitably you will choose summer maintenance. Aesthetically, it's damaging, but in terms of safety it is certainly not as hazardous as winter.
I know the minister would not wish to jeopardize anyone's life. No one does that; no one. No one is deliberate nor systematic when it comes to public safety. But the perception out there, and it's important, is that we will see fewer plows, and we have the documentation: unsolicited minister's briefing notes, reduction in the number of plows and sanders. For it is written; it tells me who to call. I know that I have immunity in this House, but I will not divulge the name. But those people are very high in the pecking order at Transportation. They're the ones who told our friend the Minister of Transportation where to cut.
They've tried it with me, and I'm no different from Mr Palladini, but having lived in Manitouwadge for 30 years, maybe a little more sensitive when it comes to winter maintenance. Maybe our colleague didn't have much of a chance. For a few dollars? For six and a half million dollars? You're spending $1 billion on the 407. I signed the contract, $928 million, plus the gadgetry, the toll fee.
Politically, even if it were only in the political context, these issues come back to haunt you big time. You don't have three question periods without someone getting up and saying: "What gives here? What gives?"
People are scared. People leave Terrace Bay to go to Marathon, 78 kilometres, and if you have an evening like last evening or the one before, snow, precipitation, the two-lane Trans-Canada Highway, winding road, you're in your car with your family, visiting a friend, and there's a transport, and you pull to the left and you begin to pass; hopefully, you'll make it before the next curve. But the snowplow hasn't been out for the last eight hours because of cutbacks. Then you step on it a little more and you see lights in the distance, another transport coming, and you begin to die. Will you or will you not make it? The alternative is to ditch the vehicle.
Why chance it? Safety should not be a game of chance. The minister should keep his fingers crossed, hoping that it won't snow. For as long as the river flows and the sun shines, there will be snowstorms, and in northern Ontario, we are more impacted than anyplace else.
What my friend the member there says is: "Hey, no money; no money attached to this. Just guarantee the standards so we can have peace of mind." He's not asking for something that is irrational, that is unreasonable, that is parochial, that is politically motivated. He's asking for the very same thing that we all care for in terms of value for money. You don't question when there's a forest fire how much money you have in the budget. You go. The situation calls, so you don't question. You go and you find the dollars someplace else. The same thing applies. The validity of the analogy, of the parallel, is flawless when it comes to nature and having the tools to defend ourselves and to deal with the elements.
Six and a half million dollars. A $57-billion budget for the overall in the province. It's a mere bagatelle. It's a pittance. They should see the Minister of Education and Training. We're graced with your presence. I'm sure when he looks at the $14 billion spent on schools and universities, he must be very thankful that he doesn't live in a remote northern municipality. Six and a half million dollars. Look at the damage that is being done.
I will be supporting the bill. There's no other choice, for the bill addresses and tells us what everybody knows really. It's commonsensical. It is not an arm and a leg in terms of the government. It's not a departing from their ideology. It's common sense.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the member for presenting the bill.
The standards he proposes to legislate are already the Ministry of Transportation's current standards. I happen to know that the Ministry of Transportation is where he got the background information for the bill in the first place. But what he may not know is that the ministry is continually exceeding his standards as set out in his bill when it comes to clearing roads in the winter.
A class 1 road is defined in southern Ontario as a road that has greater than 2,000 vehicles a day travelling on it, but in northern Ontario a class 1 road is any road that has greater than 1,500 vehicles travelling on it. So it is the current policy of the Ministry of Transportation that the standard for winter maintenance in northern Ontario is higher than for the highways in southern Ontario. In other words, northern Ontario has to have less traffic to qualify for the same standard of service. I think it shows that the Ministry of Transportation is very well aware of the conditions in northern Ontario. I might add that all this time the member for Port Arthur has been alarming people in the north about winter maintenance standards, he has already known that this is the case.
I mentioned earlier that the member, as anyone can, obtained the background information for his bill from the Ministry of Transportation itself. But there was one aspect, for one reason or another, that did not make it into this bill. The ministry standard for class 1 highways says that a divided highway and other highways with average traffic of over 10,000 vehicles a day should be cleared as soon as reasonably possible, but that's not in this bill. In putting forth this bill, he is proposing to lower standards for our divided highways and more heavily travelled highways. What about the 401, with 450,000 vehicles passing over its centre section every single day? In fact, the Ministry of Transportation usually clears the major highways in the greater Toronto area within four to six hours of a storm or, as in yesterday's case -- without any accidents, I might add -- even sooner.
If the member's bill were to become law, the standard for our major highways would be reduced to bare pavement within 24 hours after a storm. Tell that to the people shipping goods or who, as I do, commute within the Golden Horseshoe. Our strategic highways provide much more than just personal transportation for workers, students and other citizens. They are the coronary arteries of Ontario, moving the lifeblood of our economy to and from its heart. So while the member thinks he is legislating a minimum standard, he is in fact legislating a maximum. I hope that he does not want to do that.
If the technological changes allow us to increase standards or change the categories, we will have to go back to the Legislature and amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act. I know that we in the Legislature come from all walks of life and have a great deal of knowledge and experience in these areas. However, who among us can predict the weather or call themselves an expert on winter maintenance?
These standards were developed by professionals and experts with many years of experience and knowledge of snow and ice removal from highways. That expertise is the basis of our winter maintenance in Ontario. We have the best people in the world working to maintain our highways. We have implemented private sector management strategies to make the most of our dollars. We have excellent equipment and modern weather forecasting. All these add up to the best service at the best price.
I think maybe what the member is really trying to address here is money. He is concerned that because the ministry has done some restructuring in this area, our standards will suffer. That is simply not the case.
I would like to echo some of the minister's comments of yesterday. The ministry will use its knowledge and expertise to put people and equipment on the roads where and when needed. When it snows, our people and equipment will be on the roads. They won't be where it's not.
What that means is that we have the flexibility to react to severe conditions. That is the very reason we have implemented these efficiencies. In winter maintenance, like in any other business, you have your fixed costs and your variable costs. You keep your fixed costs to a minimum so you can stay in business in good and bad times. In winter maintenance, we have minimized the fixed costs of things like patrolling, but we have not capped the costs of extra people and equipment we will be bringing in when they are needed. We have the flexibility to react to severe winter conditions, and at the same time we are reducing fixed costs to help ensure that we will have the money to pay for the extra service if and when it is needed.
Of course everyone asks: "What if we really have a bad winter? How will you save the money?" The answer is, we can't. If it's a severe winter, we may not save any money, and we are prepared for that eventuality. Because the Ministry of Transportation is committed to ensuring the people of Ontario have the safest highways in North America, that's why we are going to refocus our capital dollars on highway repairs and maintenance: to fix the deterioration of the highways that is the result of 10 years of neglect by the former Liberal and NDP governments.
Just prior to closing, it's time that it's told that this year's total winter maintenance budget is in fact substantially higher than the total required budget for last year's winter maintenance.
In closing, the next time the member comes up short for a private member's bill and grabs at snowflakes, it's best he passes, exchanges places or gets to work and puts together some legislation with some meaning and responsibility to the people of Ontario rather than to attempt to legislate that which is already a standard.
In the north we don't have counties; we have districts. Much of what would be in southern Ontario a county responsibility is done directly by the Ministry of Transportation in northern Ontario. Therefore, of our secondary roads, what might be a county road in the southern part of the province is a road that is necessary to commerce, to emergency vehicles. It's necessary for our very way of life. Yes, we won't have the kinds of numbers going over those roads that you will in southern Ontario, but you cannot write an entire section of the province off just because our population in rural areas is slightly smaller. We don't meet those kinds of standards, and that's what this debate's all about and that's why it's got us on this side so exercised to hear the rather stupid statements that we're hearing from the ministry.
What we're saying is that it does make a difference. My constituents are telling me it makes a difference. I drive these roads weekly. My constituents drive them daily and they want to know they can get to work. In western Manitoulin you are cutting service. In Silver Water, Meldrum Bay, Evansville, the plows are going to go down the road less. It is not going to snow less. It doesn't take rocket science. On Highway 542, the school buses going to the Gore Bay public school are likely not going to get there a lot more often than they used to, and that just doesn't make sense to me or any of the members on this side.
To put it in context for those fine people on the government side, in the good old days of Tory regimes in this province and Liberal regimes in this province there used to be a rough correlation between the revenue produced by the Ministry of Transportation and the amount of money it spent on roads. In 1991, Mr Laughren increased the gas taxes by 3.4 cents and reduced spending on transportation, and it's been happening ever since. Now the Ministry of Transportation's fees and gas taxes are just gravy train money for you guys over there.
We want that money. We told the New Democrats and we're telling you we want it spent on the roads. We want them safe and we want people to be able to know they can get to work and get back, get to school and get back, have a fire truck come when it's necessary, have an ambulance get there. That's what this is all about.
It's not just me; I have had hundreds of constituents sign petitions asking this government to reconsider this abhorrent decision. We want that to happen now. I've had letters from Sault Ste Marie, from Dubreuilville, from many municipalities in my riding, and I want to tell you, the minister better reconsider this decision.
All this bill is asking is that we establish and legislate a set of standards to ensure maximum safety for all people using the highways whether they live in northern Ontario, eastern Ontario, western Ontario or southern Ontario. It makes no difference; there's no preference. We just want a legislated set of standards to base our outcomes on, so that the minister can base his outcomes on a set of standards, proving to everyone in Ontario that his new business model, the outcomes-based management model, is a workable one.
Let me give you an idea and an example why we need a set of standards: Yesterday in Sudbury there was a snowfall. It started at 4 o'clock in the morning and it snowed for most of the day, but it was a moderate snowfall; it wasn't a heavy snowfall. This morning, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario issued the following releases with regard to highways. Highway 69 south, snow-covered to snow-packed with icy sections; Highway 144 north, snow-covered with icy sections; Highway 17 east, snow-covered, slushy; Highway 17 west, bare to wet with snow strips; Highway 6, bare and wet with snow strips; Highway 11 north, centre-bare to snow-packed -- all secondary highways, snow-packed, snow-covered, icy sections.
You can see there is no standard being established. That's all this private member's bill is asking for: that the House, the people who are elected to represent the people of Ontario decide that a legislated set of standards is important. Clearly, if everyone has the courage to establish a legislated set of standards, there will be an objective that the minister can shoot for so that his new business model with regard to winter road maintenance is achievable.
I urge every member in this House to take the courage and support this very realistic private member's bill.
I brought this to the attention of the minister, who I wish would have been here this morning to listen to these concerns -- obviously he is not -- a good number of times, and at this time what I would like to do is go to some of the friends of the minister. The minister told us yesterday or the day before that he had friends in the north, and I want to just tell him what some of these people are saying. When I say, "friends," I say it very much off the cuff because I don't feel these people are friends, as they indicated in a petition yesterday. The past president of the Progressive Conservative association in my riding, the riding of Kenora, signed a petition saying the minister was out to lunch in terms of cutbacks.
I'd just like to go to some of the letters. In a letter dated November 4, 1995, Mr Dave Roberts says, "May I emphasize that these accidents would never have happened if you had not tried to save a few bucks at the cost of human suffering and safety." He's referring to an accident that he attended as a volunteer fireman.
"I hold you and the Premier of the province solely responsible for these accidents. At what saving to the taxpayer? This involved police overtime, calling in a second ambulance crew, helicopter to Winnipeg, needless medical expenses, rescue and emergency response costs, and above all else human suffering and pain."
He goes on to say: "I hope you give your head a shake to try to put some common sense into it. No amount of money saved can replace unwanted human suffering or a precious life lost."
I go on to October 29, a letter to me from Alan and Cindy Brailsford from Sioux Lookout. They too were talking about an accident. "As a direct result of no snow removal or salting October 19-22 on Highway 72 to Sioux Lookout three people were killed and several others were seriously injured. Literally dozens of cars slid off the road during the three days that a wet snow built up on the highway causing sheer ice conditions." They go on to say, "We are hoping that you will act to reverse this intolerable decision as soon as possible before more people are killed." That from Sioux Lookout regarding Highway 72.
Another letter from Sioux Lookout regarding the same accident, Highway 72: "It has now been over a week since a tragic accident took place on Highway 72 at approximately 5 pm on Saturday, October 21." The person goes on, the person from Sioux Lookout, Patricia Uren, and she talks about: "I am told by someone at the scene of the accident that it took at least one and one half hours for the ambulances to reach the scene because of the road conditions -- perhaps someone could have been saved if the roads had been plowed. Unfortunately, three people died in that accident, one at the scene waiting for an ambulance....How many lives will be lost because of Ministry of Transportation budget cuts? Is it worth it -- does the Minister of Transportation realize that reductions in winter road maintenance will put many drivers' lives at an incredible risk and already has?" Again, that comes from Sioux Lookout.
The final letter that I'd like to quote is from Red Lake, Mrs Janet Power. She goes on to write: "I am sure you are aware of the basic reality of life in the north -- the road is our lifeline. Since it is threatened, we are threatened! Possibly we should all just move south where there are cell phones and easy access to better services. We could greatly expand the welfare rolls there, rather than the tax rolls here!"
Again, that comes from Mrs Janet Power of Red Lake, and she has a true concern.
As I said, there have been a good number of things that have been said about this, the minister's plan. I must say that it is a plan which is wrong, it's lame, it's stupid and it's dangerous. I urge the minister not to cut these vital services to our roads in the north.
I want to say that what we have here, at the end of the day, is the fact that you've got a Tory government which is so interested in trying to give a big tax break to the rich and famous that it is determined at any stretch and at any cost to put the public at risk. You've got a government that's interested in slashing and burning services and in cutting those essential public services that people need, particularly people in our special part of the province.
The service that's under attack today that we're trying to protect is in fact the highway maintenance budget of MTO. The minister has repeatedly said in this House that it doesn't matter what kind of cuts there are, that maintenance will be maintained, that standards will be maintained and that the public will be protected.
I ask you how that can happen when in fact we know that patrols are going to be cut from 24 hours to 16; that each patrol will now cover 190 kilometres instead of 115; that sand and salt spreaders are going to be reduced by 12.3%; that the number of plows to be reduced is in the order of 10%; and that 125 seasonal staff are going to lose their jobs. There is no way that standards can be maintained and that the public can be kept safe when driving on the roads this winter.
The problem is (a) the minister doesn't understand this situation, and (b) he really doesn't care about putting public safety at risk. It's very clear to us that the minister doesn't understand by his comments in this Legislature. Northerners need roads that are well maintained so they can go to work, so that our kids can go to school, so that people can access health care services. We don't have a public transportation system that you can use as you can use here in Metropolitan Toronto. We've got large geographic distances to cover, and we've got large distances between our communities.
You have a minister who says, "If you get in trouble on northern highways, you can pull out your cell phone and call for help." That shows how out of touch with reality he really is. Most people, common people, can't afford cell phones. Secondly, cell phones don't work in most of the special part of the province that we all represent from northern Ontario. So he's totally out of touch with reality and the driving conditions and the driving experiences that northerners have to face.
Secondly, he doesn't seem to understand that public safety is at risk. It's already been put at risk. We have already had two deaths just this last weekend because of poor road conditions. In my colleague's riding in Cochrane, we had a 65-year-old woman who was killed because of poor road conditions. In the riding of my colleague from Nickel Belt, we had a young woman from Blind River who was killed on Sunday morning, 15 hours after the snow had stopped, after the storm was over.
The OPP had this to say, "The roads were horrendous; it was slush and ice and open pavement," and that's after the salt trucks went over it. You have a situation where driver error was not the cause of this accident. The day was sunny. It was bright. It was clear. The problem was the roads hadn't been maintained some 15 hours after a storm, and that's before the cuts went into effect.
I want to say in conclusion it's a bloody shame that we're here debating this today, because this minister should assume his responsibility and make sure of public safety, that the driving public are protected.
But you can't claim all the bad weather. I can tell you that the people in my area get bad weather. We have had in my riding, particularly in the town of Caledon and the county of Dufferin, some unbelievable tragedies of motor vehicle accidents. Some may have been caused by bad weather. Some may have been caused by road conditions. Some may have been caused by drunk driving. Of course, our Attorney General is addressing that issue with some legislation that's now before the House -- we haven't started to debate it yet -- with respect to the automatic suspension by the motor vehicle registrar for 90 days if you're charged for drunk driving. So there are steps being made to alleviate some of the concerns.
I'm always interested in the member for Lake Nipigon with his comments, particularly on the process of how this place works. The problem is, for the member -- and I appreciate what he's trying to do -- you have to remember the debt in this province is $100 billion. It's $100 billion. Everybody says, "Don't cut us, cut the next guy." I don't know who your constituents are, who you're talking to, but most people are concerned about the tremendous expenditures that have gone on in this province by both the Liberal government and the Conservative government from the last 10 years. They've increased, and that's what we're about. We're about that issue.
I guess if we get to the crunch of your legislation, what you appear to be doing is, to use the word from one of your colleagues, legislating standards. You're codifying regulations. I think your intention is to put it in legislation so things can't change without coming back to this House, and you're trying to set a platform, minimum requirements. I believe that's what you're trying to do.
But if you look at your legislation, what in fact you're doing -- and this place doesn't just represent northern Ontario; it represents the entire province of Ontario, and you should never forget that -- what you're doing, member for Port Arthur, is you're in fact putting a ceiling on standards.
One of the advantages of having this type of legislation in the form of regulations is that it can change from time to time.
The problem is, there's only so much money, and it's all gone. It's all spent. We're spending in this province $10 billion on interest alone -- $10 billion -- and that's the rationale as to why this government is making its cuts in all kinds of areas, and yes, that includes transportation.
The minister has stood up and answered very good questions from the opposition on the whole topic of cuts to certain areas in his budget. But he maintains, and I believe him, and if you look at what he's doing, he is maintaining a certain standard, a certain good standard. For the amount of money that's required, what we have -- that's all we've got. Where are we going to get the money to do what you want us to do?
Again, don't just look at northern Ontario. You do represent a riding in northern Ontario, but you're going to have to look at all the other ridings in this province. All of these ridings have problems.
By putting these standards into legislation rather than regulation, I would submit to the members of this House that it makes it more difficult to have the standard changed in the event of an emergency or some other matter. Quite often the ministry exceeds its standards, depending on what area of the province you're in. During the past few years, the ministry has normally carried out its winter maintenance in some areas above these standards.
I'll be quite honest. I find it unfair when members stand up and ask the Minister of Transportation a question and say, "You caused these deaths." What a horrible approach.
Accidents are caused by all kinds of things, and they're tragedies, they're unbelievable tragedies, in all areas of this province, and don't say the government caused those tragedies. There may have been conditions of the road; there may have been all kinds of reasons.
How do I know? Every member in this House has tragedies in their ridings caused by motor vehicle accidents. In my riding, and I suspect most members in this House could stand up and say the same thing, there are more deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents than anything else.
I congratulate you in that respect in at least bringing this topic forward. It's a topic that needs to be dealt with, but quite frankly, I think it would be more appropriate, member, to bring it forward in the form of a resolution rather than this type of bill. I think it's something that we need to canvass. We need to figure out how to solve some of these problems.
The Attorney General is bringing forward, as is the Minister of Transportation, a road safety plan. There are three ministers bringing forward a plan with respect to road safety, and there may be other things. But the fact of the matter is, you people -- when I say "you," I mean Liberals and NDP -- have spent all the money. It's all gone.
When you're asking the Minister of Transportation to spend more money, just remember what the debt of this province is; it's $100 billion. Don't ever forget that figure. That's why all members of the cabinet are making certain cuts to their budgets. Why? Because they said they were going to do so in the last election. Don't ever forget that. We're honouring what we said we were going to do. Don't ever forget that.
I simply say, member, that although I congratulate you, I'm not going to be supporting this legislation. I believe it's inappropriate to deal with winter maintenance standards through legislation. I think it's more appropriate to deal with that through regulations, because you have to be flexible on these sorts of things, and I believe you're creating a very, very dangerous precedent of rigid standards that are going to cause the province of Ontario severe problems if this House allows this legislation to pass. Codifying standards will not give the government the flexibility to implement reductions in services that may be necessarily due to lack of financial resources.
The member for Dufferin-Peel is saying that these cuts are necessary because of the budget deficit. That's not true. The reason these cuts are being made is so that well-off people, primarily in the southern area of this province are going to be able to receive a tax cut. You're going to borrow for that money, and so what you're doing is jeopardizing the lives of people in rural and northern Ontario to pay for that tax cut.
I'm going to be more blunt, Mr Speaker, because if you look at the cuts of this government, it's the people who didn't support the Progressive Conservative Party, and northern Ontario is being punished because we didn't elect a member north of North Bay. That's what's going on here, and it's time that this government started to look to serve all the people of this province and make sure that the lives and safety of the people of Ontario are not put in jeopardy because of a tax cut to the rich.
Every morning 70% to 75% of the labour force of my riding have to travel to Ottawa to get to their place of work. We have a distance of 120 kilometres from Ottawa down to la belle province, and if this highway is not maintained every morning, you can rest assured that it's going to be tough for our people to get to work in Ottawa. As I said, 70% to 75% of our labour force have to travel to Ottawa.
I'm also concerned about the tourism effect this new maintenance standard would have in the Ottawa area. As we all know, Ottawa has a major activity every year, which is the Winterlude. Winterlude attracts over 250,000 visitors every year. If we are not to continue the standard that we used to have in the past, we are definitely going to be affected economywise.
I have to say, though, yesterday I made a few phone calls in my riding, and I have to congratulate the MTO people for the good maintenance of Highways 17 and 417 yesterday. I just want to make sure we continue maintaining the standard that we have at the present time.
I'm also concerned about the hospital emergencies. Most of our people have to travel to Ottawa whenever it comes to an emergency to visit a hospital. If we are not maintaining the highways like we used to in the past, it could have a major effect in our riding.
I'm sure that this government will take into consideration that in the areas where we don't have public transportation, maintaining of highways is very, very important for those who have to travel a distance to gain their living.
There's no question this is an issue that has certainly galvanized everybody in northern Ontario, but as has been acknowledged over there, this is not an issue that simply affects those in northern Ontario. It's equally important in all parts of the province, as my colleague from Prescott and Russell was trying to say as well.
I think there's been a clear misunderstanding by the members of the government and those who are representing the government today, and I regret that the minister is not here to listen to my remarks. Obviously he doesn't think it's important, but it's clear that he gave some remarks for at least one of the other members to speak from in terms of the position they were taking, and I regret they are not able to speak on their own behalf.
As for the comments by the member for Dufferin-Peel, the most frightening part for me, quite frankly, were the last comments you made, which were that it's better to keep it in regulations than legislation in order to have the flexibility to make reductions, which to me is an acknowledgement that this is going to continue, that the reason you can't support this bill or the government can't support this bill is because you need to have the flexibility to make further reductions.
That's exactly why we put this bill forward, so that we could guarantee -- we aren't asking for more money. We're asking that the job be done to standards the minister has day by day said he was going to maintain. "We'll maintain the standards." So we said: "Fine, Minister. We want you to rescind, but if you say you'll maintain standards, these are the standards. Let's put them in the legislation." I find it astonishing that we cannot get full support from the House. I still urge it from all the private members. It's a private member's bill.
FRANCHISES ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 SUR LES FRANCHISES
Mr Martin moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 13, An Act to regulate Franchise Agreements / Projet de loi 13, Loi visant à réglementer les contrats de franchisage.
It's a story that was told by a colleague of mine in the spring of 1994, Mr Jim Wiseman, who brought forth a bill concerning the relationship between franchisers and franchisees in this province. It's a story that pits small business in many significant ways against large business, and the imbalances that are in that relationship and the agreements that are signed, and in the end, the devastation and destruction that happens to many small, well-intentioned entrepreneurs who live and work and operate and contribute in more ways than simply being a businessman or a businessperson in a community across this province.
It wasn't long after I got elected to this place that I received a letter in the mail from some folks who were representing the franchisee industry or organization or community in the province, sharing with me their very genuine and sincere concern re the conditions within which they have to operate and make a living and try and do business in this province, given that, as they said, there was no legislative context within which agreements were signed, information was disclosed, resolutions were had etc.
They told me some very disturbing stories, particularly in subsequent meetings that I had with them, stories of people like your friends and neighbours, perhaps somebody in your family, who, well-intentioned, got into a business by way of a franchise opportunity, invested all of their money, all the money they had made over a number of years, in some instances mortgaged their homes, in some instances borrowed money from other family members and got into debt situations with banks, and then found three, four, five or 10 years down the road, for reasons unknown to themselves -- or even if the reasons were known to themselves, there was no provision for challenging those reasons -- they lost their business.
They lost their franchise. The rug was pulled from under them. They found themselves flat on their face with no recourse to any resolution mechanism and lost their livelihood, and lost their opportunity to contribute in the ways they very genuinely wanted to, to the community in which they lived, to the community that actually brought them up, gave them their education, gave them their start in life. That was all gone.
In one instance, we had a fellow take over a business that was in his family, that was his father's business. He worked very hard to make a go of it, invested a lot of money, borrowed a lot of money to do the renovations that were required in that store by the franchiser, and then one day -- now, today, in fact -- finds that he has no more business. Not only does he not have the business that was giving him his livelihood, that was actually going to be that place or that thing that would give him some comfort in his retirement years, but he now found himself in debt up to his eyeballs, and speaking to me in a way that certainly shared with me that he wasn't sure how he was going to resolve this.
Another couple in northern Ontario actually moved from another city to take over a franchise, and worked very hard. They took over a franchise that was struggling, worked very hard, mortgaged their home, bought a new home in the new community, put in, as most small businessmen do, we know -- and franchisees particularly, in this instance -- 50, 60, 80 hours a week, just every waking moment, worrying about the business, and just recently now have been given a notice that their agreement is not going to be renewed. So having moved their family, having sold their house, having invested all their money and put in all that time and energy that was required to make a go of this business, they're told, for no reason that's been given to them or presented to them, that their agreement is not going to be renewed. They're in debt and they're in terrible shape.
In going through the material that Mr Wiseman, the previous member for Durham West, shared with me as he put together the bill that he presented to this House, which actually got through second reading and was before the House, still active, when the election was called, some of the information that I read in there as well is quite disconcerting and actually tragic. I'm just going to share a couple of paragraphs for you so that you understand the human suffering that is being caused simply because there is no legislative framework within which this type of business operates so that resolutions can be resolved in a way that's just and fair and equitable.
Here's one. It says:
"In the meantime, I have been unable to find steady employment, have lost our home, savings and pension plans. I will be filing for personal bankruptcy later this month as there really is no point escaping the fact that even if I win my action" -- against the company that they're taking action against -- "there would not be sufficient moneys, funds left over to clear my indebtedness completely."
Here's another one, a letter to Mr Wiseman:
"The result of this takeover was, and still is, devastating. My immediate family, comprised of my wife, two sisters and brother-in-law, are all affected through total loss of income, mortgages recently placed on our homes, capital injected into business, personal guarantees on equipment purchases, as well as personal guarantees on job performance bonding. We have literally watched our futures disappear and we are striving day to day to put our futures back together again."
This is the story I tell this morning, and the legislation I bring forward today will go a long way, in the opinion of both franchisers and franchisees who have worked with this, through a report that was given to the minister on August 30 that they developed on the initiative of the previous Minister and Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, who have recommended that one way of resolving this problem -- in fact, however you resolve this problem, in the end, there will be some legislation required. So the legislation that I present this morning will go a way to resolving at least three of the issues that have been shared with me as problematic in this interesting relationship.
This act provides a comprehensive scheme to regulate the entering into of franchise agreements and the ongoing relationship between the franchiser and the franchisee. It doesn't give anything special to any one side or the other. It doesn't tip the playing field in anybody's direction. All it does is try to set a level playing field to which both parties can come and share information and have some resolution to their disagreements.
This act calls for disclosure of information at the beginning of the agreement. It acts for more control over the workplace and the investment that's made, and calls for dispute resolution, something that I think we all would see as reasonable and not out of sorts.
What is it specifically that the franchisees are having difficulty with? What is the cause of all of this? Let me just share with you a couple of the concerns they have raised with me.
Most disputes with franchisees involve allegations of improper disclosure. This act will answer that.
Problems arise when a contract does not allow sufficient time to recover the initial investment and provide a reasonable return for the franchisee's hard work and money.
Lack of support can be a breach of contract. Some franchisees have sued franchisers for failing to provide the level of pre- and post-opening support they were led to expect.
The list goes on and on of ways the franchisee feels he doesn't have a fair shake or get a fair shake in trying to make a go of this business he has invested all of his money, all of his effort, all of his energy in so that he can contribute in the ways that he wants to, to his own livelihood, to the livelihood of the community in which he belongs, not to speak of the livelihood of his family, and to put something in place that will be there for him ultimately when he retires or decides to move on, or will have something to pass on perhaps to his children.
In the context we have today, there is no legislative framework to ensure this will happen. So I ask all the members of the House to listen carefully to the discussion and the argument this morning and hopefully find it in your wisdom to support it.
First of all, I would like to say that the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations appreciates the intent of Bill 13 to promote fair dealing between franchisers and franchisees in Ontario. Our government is aware of some problems that currently exist between franchisees and franchisers in Ontario. This is important to me because a thriving franchise sector means more jobs in Ontario and contributes to the government's objective of increased economic growth. The franchise sector alone accounts for about $45 billion in sales annually in Ontario.
In 1994, a highly publicized dispute between a Toronto-based franchiser and its franchisees was one of the factors that prompted the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to establish a team called the Franchise Sector Working Team, comprised of representatives from both franchisers and franchisees. Ministry representatives took part as facilitators.
This Franchise Sector Working Team's Report on Franchising, which is what the report was called, was presented to the minister last August; that is, August of this year. The report is a good first step towards a sound relationship between franchisees and franchisers. The report identifies several areas of consensus reached by both franchisers and franchisees, including pre-sale disclosure information by all franchisers and franchisees; secondly, a code of ethics; and thirdly, provision for alternative dispute resolution.
Very importantly, the team has agreed that problems associated with franchising can best be dealt with in an industry self-managed environment, rather than through full-scale government regulation. The fact that agreement could be reached on such important areas is an achievement in itself.
We believe that more time is needed to assess the recommendations contained in the report. Although it is agreed that there is a need to address the problems associated with the franchise sector, we are not convinced this bill is the most effective way of doing so.
The bottom line is that this government will not support the passing of a bill that will increase onerous government regulations and red tape. The bill before the House, while well intended, will first of all inhibit job creation; secondly, it will inflict an onerous regulatory regime not only on the government but also on the private sector; and thirdly, it will produce reams of red tape. It is for these reasons that this bill is opposed.
To add to the comments of the introduction of the bill and to the speaker from the government side, franchising, as we all know, is big business in Ontario. Certainly in Canada, as a matter of fact, half of the franchising is done in the province of Ontario. We too recognize the need for franchise legislation. Carman McClelland, the predecessor of mine as the Consumer and Commercial Relations critic, also had prepared some work in this area.
It was interesting to me that the member for Sault Ste Marie who introduced this bill wanted to emphasize this morning the sad stories that there have been in the franchise industry, and I agree. That's one of the areas where we should be very careful, that we protect the franchisee because more often than not they have less expertise, they have less money, less resources when they're entering into these agreements.
On the other side, I think we have to uphold that long-standing tradition of buyer beware, and that we have to give the opportunity for the franchiser and the franchisee to reach their agreements and to have an understanding of how they're going to conduct business. But like the previous speaker, I don't feel that we can be too intrusive, because we do like to see the free market system operate as best it can.
We do know as well that there is franchise legislation in other jurisdictions in the Dominion of Canada, most recently I guess would be in the province of Alberta, and to some extent I suspect that this piece of legislation was patterned to some degree after that.
As was mentioned, this actually is much the same as a bill that was introduced in, I think it was, the third session of the previous Parliament, and that unfortunately didn't even pass first reading. So at least we're able to discuss this at some length.
Also was mentioned -- and I guess that's the problem when you're the third person to speak on something like this. We all put our notes together separately and some of us come up with the same information, but I too have the franchise sector working team's report that was given to the minister in August 1995. There was a previous report, The Need for Franchise Legislation in Ontario, that was prepared for the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, and that was back in November 1993.
I think there has been good work done in both of these reports. I expect that the government will be coming forward with some legislation because, with all due respect to my friend from Sault Ste Marie, as has been said, they're not going to support it, so I think we've already been told we're out of luck. But in any case, perhaps we can give them some good advice.
In concluding my remarks, I would like to say that I too agree that this bill as it's presented today is a bit onerous. It's heavily weighted on the side of using the regulatory powers of the Ontario Securities Commission and is onerous in the areas of its compliance and enforcement mechanisms. I would suggest, as I think the government speaker has, that what we need is a balance of legislation that protects the interests of the franchisees, who in most cases are small business people, and yet that is not too regulatory and has too much red tape, so that in the end I suppose what we would all like is some sort of legislation that would be in a sense self-regulatory. I hope when we come to vote on this that those who feel that we need some sort of legislation in this area -- if this is the bill that satisfies their need -- support it.
But further to that, as we've already been warned by the government that it's not supporting it and in all likelihood it won't pass second reading, I would hope that the government then will come forward with that balanced legislation that's not too intrusive but still gives protection for the smaller franchisees.
I want to say with respect to this that we have created a Fort York Small Business Working Group for the last three years and we have had ongoing meetings almost biweekly talking about the problems that small business face. One of the biggest things that they face that we have talked about that we're trying to tackle is the fact that they face continually a problem with banks and that banks are the ones who are stifling growth because as they go to them for credit, they often don't get it. And 85% of all the jobs are created by small business people and they get a disproportionate share from the banks in order to be able to create wealth in this society. It's a tragedy, but it's something that we continue to work on in a small way in Fort York. But that is one of the biggest problems.
One of the other matters that was raised while we dealt with some of the problems that they face was the issue of franchisees and all of the multitude of barriers that they face in dealing with the franchisers. So we dealt with that and we talked to member Jim Wilson who introduced this bill prior to the member for Sault Ste Marie. I think what he introduced was good then and it's still good now.
Part of the problem that the franchisee faces is having to deal with a very powerful franchiser. It's a case of small versus big. It's a case of the little guy against the big guy. But these are the people who work hard -- this is a big industry -- and these are the people who are trying to create in their own way wealth not just for themselves but for our society, and they need, in my view, protection that they don't have at the moment. They're seeking a dream. So you can picture these people sitting down with the franchiser saying: "Well, I want to get into this. I want to be able to make a living doing this and it seems good," and the franchiser saying: "Yes, of course it is. We want you to do well and if you don't do well we won't do well. We want you to operate that business. We wouldn't put you in a position where you would fail because if you fail we, the franchiser, will fail."
Now imagine that kind of talk. People submit to that. You listen to that as a franchisee getting into the business and you say: "He doesn't want me to fail. He wants me to succeed because if he fails I fail." Therefore, it all sounds rosy. And it does sound rosy in the beginning, but it gets very complicated as you go along. That's why this bill was introduced before and is being reintroduced now, because we know there are predatory practices that are being practised by the franchiser that need to be dealt with.
The former Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, Marilyn Churley, attempted to deal with this by bringing forward a group of stakeholders to attempt to give answers to this question. Having done that, we would have been ready as a government to have moved on that, because I feel that we need to move on this. So they have the report. They hopefully, in my view, will act on the report. Not to act on it would be a tragedy.
Alberta has it. It's a Reform Party that we've got there, much similar to this one. They've done it. If Alberta can do it, Ontario can do it. If Alberta, of all places, feels that franchisees need protection, surely the same party here with the same reform-minded politics can do the same. Surely this party will support small business in the same way that Alberta has done; and if it doesn't, you need to question why. Who are they supporting? Are they supporting the small business person, or are they supporting the big business person, because that's the way it seems from what I hear from the member for Essex South who has spoken.
We have many, many problems here to deal with. We have uncompetitive pricing, products that are supplied at terms or prices which place the franchisee at a competitive disadvantage to others in the industry. We have breach of territory. If a franchiser reduces or oversells exclusive marketing areas, the franchisees' sales may be affected. We have unnecessary renovations and unreasonable costs which the franchisees are subjected to. We have unreasonable payments that they have to meet. Royalty rates may be set low deliberately, but they're accompanied by a requirement that supplies must be purchased from the franchiser at inflated prices.
This is a small list of complaints that I bring, but I know that my friend from Sault Ste Marie has brought other complaints and problems and barriers they face in order to make a living. These people work night and day, 60, 70, 80 hours trying to make a living, but then they face the difficulties of having to deal with a franchiser that can pull the plug at any moment.
The letter that my colleague the member for Sault Ste Marie was reading earlier on -- and it's not here in front of me -- the plug was pulled away from them. They said, "You no longer have the franchise." How do you deal with that? Nine years of work -- he, his wife and other family members -- and all of a sudden the franchiser said, "We're sorry, we're pulling the plug." How do you deal with that? We need protections.
The Liberal member and the Conservative member say: "Oh, we don't need to inflict a regulatory regime on these people. We don't need reams of red tape; we need self-management. It cannot be too intrusive." "It's too onerous in compliance mechanism," the Liberal member says.
If that is true, what you are doing is, you're abandoning the small franchisee. You're abandoning the little guy, and you're saying this: "Self-compliance; we'll need to find different ways to deal with it. Let them in their own way deal with this. Yes, we know it's painful but eventually they will come up with a system without the onerous regulation to deal with it."
I argue, you can't do it. It hasn't worked, and what you're proposing is not a solution. What we need is regulation to protect the little guy, the small business person who works 70, 80 hours a week. The regulations we're proposing are by no means a complete solution, but they move towards it; they move towards responding to the problems that little guy has.
If you don't do it, you're abandoning thousands and thousands of people in Ontario who operate these small franchisees and are at the mercy of the franchiser. I plead with the members to look at this. I plead with the members who are looking at this not to simply get a response from the minister that says, "This is your response in the House," but to look at this bill carefully, because you will find that what's here is very reasonable.
I hope the members will support the member for Sault Ste Marie, who has introduced this bill today.
I'd like to first of all focus on my concerns with Bill 13 as it relates to the reference to the Ontario Securities Commission, which of course reports to the Minister of Finance, and then I'll go on and address the other pieces of legislation I think are relevant.
Part II of Bill 13 would require companies selling franchises in Ontario not only to file a prospectus but to register the salespersons with the Ontario Securities Commission. Now, this is an added responsibility to be placed on the Ontario Securities Commission, which by the way is principally involved in the regulation of public stock transfers and capital market transactions, not joint ventures between business partners, which is truly what a franchiser-franchisee relationship is; it's a business transaction, a joint venture business transaction that has been agreed to by two parties.
The bill does not speak to the resources or the skill sets that would be required of the commission in order to deal with the paper flow and information flow that is proposed by the bill. Frankly, as an additional concern, it doesn't mention the time and expense -- more importantly, the expense -- required by the commission in order to deal with this activity. Now, in times of serious economic constraint I think that is a fairly serious omission that must be dealt with.
In general terms, Bill 13 appears to be modelled after the Alberta Franchises Act of 1980. After several years of experience in that province, and a number of reviews, it was found that the rules in the legislation, the Alberta Franchises Act of 1980, were in fact too intrusive and curtailed investment, investment that was designed, supposedly, to create jobs in the crucial small business sector of that province. So Alberta put together a working group of franchisers, franchisees and government representatives, and agreed through a series of meetings that some changes needed to be made. On November 1, 1995, I'm led to believe, the filing of prospectuses and the registration of salespeople was no longer required in Alberta, and a large degree of the governance relationship between the franchiser and the franchisee was delegated under the new Alberta legislation to a self-regulating entity, not the Alberta Securities Commission but a self-regulating entity.
So, indeed, Alberta has tried the experiment, as my friend the member for Fork York has suggested. They indeed did try the experiment, and it didn't work, so they had to change it. They had to change it to return the regulation of the industry, the regulation of the business relationship between the franchiser and the franchisee, to the industry.
In the Common Sense Revolution this government committed to removing unnecessary regulation that hindered the growth of business. That's a crucial component of our plan to get this province working again.
As a former employee of a provider of leveraged capital to the small business sector in Ontario, I am concerned that the attempts to regulate the franchiser-franchisee relationship may in fact hinder both parties in getting access to the needed capital to do business. Indeed, much of the information required by the bill is unlikely to be meaningful data to any one of the parties. I know; I've asked for it. What we need to do is let investors decide the information flow that's required to reach an investment decision.
What investors want, frankly, are the factors to be determined on their own accord, not by some government regulation, not by some government legislation. We in this House must be extremely careful not to become party to these investment decisions determined by this Legislature but in fact having application upon two people who are deciding to get into business together.
I should draw the House's attention to the fact that even the business community in Ontario itself is uncertain that regulation as proposed by this particular bill is needed. I understand that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has conducted a survey of its many thousands of members and found, of those who responded, 59% do not support the regulation of the franchiser-franchisee relationship.
For these reasons, the impact upon the Ontario Securities Commission being one that affects the Ministry of Finance, but more specifically, coming from the private sector, coming from the sector that provided and does continue to provide a significant amount of capital to the franchising business in this province, I'm unable to support this bill as it is currently tabled. I would go so far as to say I think certain provisions of it would injure the development of the franchising business in this province.
Having dealt with people in my business over the years that were both franchisers and franchisees, I can tell you that there is a problem in this area. Certainly, I too have to congratulate the member for Sault Ste Marie in bringing this matter forward. All one has to do is walk around the downtowns of the province of Ontario, walk through various malls, and you very quickly get the impression that a significant amount, if not the majority, of the retail business going on in this province is being done on a franchise basis, and there are some significant problems in the area.
It seems to me from the debate that we've heard this morning we're either talking about intrusive government intervention on the one side, which is certainly what this bill recommends, and the much slower self-regulatory approach as has been advocated by the Conservatives.
First of all, let me say that I wish that I could support this particular bill, but I cannot. There are few enough of us on this side of the House to realize that we do have to support one another from time to time. However, this is, once again, a situation where I believe we have to find a balance in between the rights of the franchisers and the rights of the franchisees.
Most of the matters that the member for Sault Ste Marie has referred to this morning are very sad situations where people lose their life's investment after maybe having spent five or 10 years in trying to build up a business etc. But when we get into the details, on most of the items that he refers to one could very easily take the position that in a lot of these situations people just made bad business decisions. I'm not sure whether government should be involved in protecting people from making bad business decisions. That's number one.
They're talking about improper disclosure. I would say that if a proper contract was drawn up at the outset, if there was improper disclosure then that's a cause of action right there. Why doesn't the person take the matter to the courts? After all, that's what they're there for.
Also, the comment was made that in a number of situations there's no time for the franchisee to recover the initial investment that they may have made. I assume that's because the franchise agreements are for too short a duration. That is a decision, quite frankly, that those people who are going into that business have to take into account -- the length of the franchise agreement that's offered to them -- when they make that investment decision. If they have miscalculated that somehow and they haven't calculated in the amount of time that's required in order to pay back the initial investment, I'm not so sure whether the government should necessarily step in and protect them in cases like that.
On the last matter that he mentioned, about there not being support there that quite often is contained in these franchise agreements, in opening up, in promotional matters etc, I will totally agree. These are usually matters that arise almost in the heat of the moment, immediately before a franchise is opened, and all sorts of support has either been promised and may even have been contractually signed for and quite often is not there. Quite often the independent businessperson is left with the position that, having invested as much as they do, they go ahead or they somehow back out of it and in effect walk away from their investment. Certainly there ought to be a mechanism in place to ensure that the small investor -- and most franchisees are, initially -- is protected from usually the much larger multinational franchiser.
I'm a new member to this House, and I maybe approached this bill a little bit differently. When I got a copy of it the other day, I went through it and I thought, "Well, what makes sense, and what doesn't make sense?" I must admit that having the Ontario Securities Commission deal with this matter didn't seem to make sense to me. Having this 14-day filing requirement or disclosure requirement seems to me, in most situations, almost an extraordinary length of time, because usually people want to make a quick decision. They ought to have all the information in front of them, there's no question about it, but on the other hand, to wait 14 days, during that period of time there may have been two or three other people who have come forward and want to get involved in that particular line of business as well. It seems to me that that's kind of an onerous requirement.
I'm not so sure that the mediation process that is described in the bill is necessarily a good one. Mediation does work in certain areas, but in a situation where usually the franchiser has the greater ability to wait the situation out, I'm not sure whether the mediation process in effect doesn't help the wrong party in situations like this. Perhaps the much better way is to have the matter resolved either within a court of competent jurisdiction or through some mandatory arbitration, compulsory arbitration, so that the matter can be dealt with immediately, particularly the smaller items about which usually there may be quite a bit of dispute that arises from time to time in these franchise situations.
The member for Durham Centre mentioned the fact that this bill would inhibit job creation. It reminds me of some of the other comments that have been made in this House that have been freely thrown out etc. I'm not sure whether the bill will do anything, either inhibit job creation or create jobs, for that matter. It has just been a phrase that has been thrown out there to go along with the other rhetoric, I suppose.
It's true that there have been some changes proposed in Alberta, as the member for Mississauga West has mentioned, which obviously indicates that the bill as proposed, which I understand to be the Alberta bill, didn't work there to the satisfaction level that people were looking for and that perhaps those kind of amendments ought to be placed in any Ontario legislation that may come along.
I think where the legislation should ultimately end up is to recognize the fact that in situations like this there ought to be full public disclosure, no question about it. But there also has to be built in a "buyer beware" component. That is, after all, what made this province great, as far as I'm concerned --
My question again is, as I wind up my dissertation, to the members from the government who have spoken this morning: Could they give us some clear indication as to when exactly we can expect to see some government-proposed legislation on this matter?
I'm going to tell you right now that I'm going to be supporting this bill, and I'll tell you as well, notwithstanding the views that have been expressed around this forum, I exhort my colleagues to support this bill. This is second reading. That means you support the concept in principle.
Everybody, notwithstanding their bias for or against a stronger or weaker regulatory regime, seems to be consistent with each other in suggesting that the franchisees in this province deserve some type of protection, some type of process whereby they can be guaranteed a full disclosure, because "caveat emptor" can only take effect when there is full disclosure, when there's a right to full disclosure, when it's a legislated requirement that there be full disclosure. Otherwise "caveat emptor" is a defence for every bunko artist and perpetrator of fraud that wants to walk the continent, never mind the country or the province.
Let's face it, most franchisers are responsible franchisers. When you go down to the University Avenue courthouse and take a look at who's involved in litigation, you don't see names like Tim Horton. You don't see some of the stable, responsible franchisers, but you see Pizza Pizza, Jumbo Video, Petro-Canada Certigard, Coffee Time, Baker's Dozen, Second Cup, Mister C's, Yogen Früz. It's these franchisers that franchisees have to be protected from.
Let's understand who the franchisees are, especially in this economic climate. The franchisees, to a large extent -- and this is a new phenomenon, a post-1980s phenomenon -- have a tendency to be new Canadians, also tend to be people in their more mature years, their late 40s, early 50s, who have been displaced from industry or the business world because of the downsizing that's occurring there, and who take their last paycheque, that golden handshake if they're fortunate enough to have one, to invest in a business endeavour, people who are not entrepreneurs per se, people who never anticipated having to enter the somewhat risky world of free enterprise.
Let's clear up another myth, and Bates addressed that in a study some time ago, and that's the 90% myth. The fact is that all the relevant studies, including that of Bates, indicate that there's a higher failure rate among franchises and franchisees than there is among non-franchised business starts.
Let's also understand that this issue -- although I give Jim Wiseman, a member in the last government, credit, along with Tony Martin, for bringing the bill forward again -- did not commence with Jim Wiseman. Indeed, it's very much a Conservative issue. It was back in 1970 that then-Minister Allan Lawrence, recognizing this new phenomenon, this new relationship -- and you see, the problem is that there's a real vacuum in our legislative regime to deal with franchisers and franchisees. They're neither fish nor fowl. The franchisee is not an employee; the franchisee is not a consumer such that he or she is entitled to protection of however modest our consumer protection legislation is in this province. The franchisee, as well, is not an investor. The franchisee is a unique legal entity that justifies the implementation of appropriate legislation.
Allan Lawrence recognized that back in 1970 when he established the Grange commission, the Grange inquiry, Mr Justice Grange as you'll recall. Mr Justice Grange in his report made some 14 very tough recommendations, recommendations to a large part replicated in this bill. And Arthur Wishart, who replaced Allan Lawrence as the Minister of Financial and Commercial Affairs -- and not inappropriately from the same riding as my friend Tony Martin -- Arthur Wishart, a good member of this Legislature, a real Tory concerned about the little guy, promised that there would be legislation in response to the 14 tough recommendations of the Grange report.
Notwithstanding the Kleining of Alberta under the regulation of franchiser-franchisee relationships and the requirement of full disclosure and registry, the fact is, Pizza Pizza with a scumbag like Lorn Austin, a convicted fraud artist described by a Florida prosecutor as "one of the most prolific white-collar criminals I have prosecuted in my career, Lorn Austin," a senior management person for Pizza Pizza -- why, that bit of slime who has victimized so many young families, young investors, young new Canadians, through the unconscionable actions of Pizza Pizza -- the Alberta Securities Commission indicated that Pizza Pizza could never have registered in Alberta with a character like Lorn Austin, a bunco artist, a thief, in a senior management position.
This government talks about protecting small business people and, by God, promoting them and sustaining them and supporting them and giving them the assistance they need. Well, the victims of the unconscionable franchiser scams are those very people.
So I say this, Speaker, and I know you'll agree because you've been around here for a good chunk of time: Let this bill go to second reading. The Tories have enough numbers to kill the bill on third reading if they wish. Let it go to second reading. Let it be dealt with in committee so we can hear from the public, so we can hear from the victims and, by God -- I doubt if we'll hear from the perpetrators -- so we can hear from the real small business people of this province.
I understand the initiative of the bill, and this is not the first time this has been tried. Bill 45, I believe, was introduced in the province of Alberta and that's been mentioned by some other speakers. As I understand it, Bill 13 appears to follow the format of Bill 45, the Alberta bill. You hear news reports from the province of Alberta and it appeared that a number of franchises did not start in that province because they were concerned about that piece of legislation. It never did pass -- I don't think it ever passed -- but they were nervous about it and business stayed away.
So the province of Alberta introduced a new bill, which did not follow Bill 45 and certainly isn't going to follow Bill 13. It was introduced in 1995 and this is certainly a strong departure from the existing legislation of the province of Alberta. I believe the member should be looking at the Alberta legislation. You look where other provinces have made errors before you create some of our own.
Registration and review of the disclosure of documents by the Alberta Securities Commission were removed. The new act also includes a requirement for fair dealing and the establishment of a body for industry self-regulation. Alberta's 1980 Franchises Act was repealed when the new franchises act came into effect. I could stand corrected; perhaps Bill 45 was never enacted.
In any event, the point that I'm trying to make for the member for Sault Ste Marie is that Bill 45 was proven in Alberta to be ineffective. It wasn't what they wanted. The member from Kingston, I believe, spoke about how he was a little nervous about the principle of self-regulation. I think you've got to look at that.
We've just gone through five years when every time the government passed a piece of legislation, we had a commission; we created a bureaucracy. We can't afford these bureaucracies, and of course this piece of legislation, Bill 13, will require the Ontario Securities Commission to administer the new act. That's going to need more bureaucracy for them, although, interestingly, the Ontario Securities Commission has advised that since the bill doesn't involve the trading of public stock in a capital market, it does not meet the criteria of the Ontario Securities Commission and, as such, would not be considered as falling under the purview of the Ontario Securities Commission. So we have a problem there.
I will say that I agree with some of the comments made by the other speakers and I'm not going to repeat them, other than to say that it is intrusive. It is going to create more of an expense for the people of Ontario. Hopefully the legislation, whether it passes or whether it doesn't pass second reading, will encourage the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations to introduce government legislation, and perhaps some of his principles can be incorporated. But I simply will say to him that it was tried in Alberta. It didn't work, and I'm not going to support a bill that didn't work there when it appears that it's not going to work in the province of Ontario either.
If there are changes that you suggest need to be made, then let's make them, but let's make them now, let's make it happen now, because there are people out there who have been hurt, who are waiting for some resolution, who are being hurt as we speak, who are into major disputes with their franchiser over issues that they have a difficult time understanding. There are people out there who are going to be sucked into this vortex in the next year -- six months to a year -- that we should be concerned about and wanting to put something in place that will provide some protection.
So I would hope, first of all, that in the spirit of private members' hour, and trying to give it some oomph and some meaning in this place that you would see fit to support this and, as my colleague from Welland-Thorold said, in principle at least, allow it to be discussed further, in third reading. If you don't like it at that point, you can defeat it.
The other thing that I wanted to achieve this morning was the raising of this issue again, to let the people in this House and across Ontario who are listening and who may hear of it via the reports the press will print, that this issue has not gone away, that it's still a difficulty out there for small business, for little people who enter into franchise agreements, and they need help. They need some support. They need some protection.
I want to thank the members who participated in the discussion and took time to prepare and to participate and contribute -- the Conservatives, the Liberals and my own colleagues -- this morning. I again exhort you to please help me with this and support it when it comes to a vote.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR L'AMÉNAGEMENT DES VOIES PUBLIQUES ET DES TRANSPORTS EN COMMUN
Seeing none, all those in favour of second reading of Mr Gravelle's bill, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
FRANCHISES ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 SUR LES FRANCHISES
Seeing none, all those in favour will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
Call in the members. A five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1201 to 1206.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR L'AMÉNAGEMENT DES VOIES PUBLIQUES ET DES TRANSPORTS EN COMMUN
FRANCHISES ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 SUR LES FRANCHISES
All those in favour of Mr Martin's bill will please rise and remaining standing.
The House recessed from 1212 to 1330.
I had the opportunity to attend the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association convention in Kenora this past weekend, and their discussions reinforced my thoughts that there is a great deal of work that needs to be done to fully recognize the potential that the tourism sector has as an economic development tool in the north.
While most of the work has to be done by the private sector, it is obvious that several critical actions must first be taken by government. Government must get out of the way of private businesses. It must clear the path by reducing government-mandated costs and paperwork. Our highways and airports must be maintained and improved so that visitors can get to our region. Consumer costs, including costs for gasoline and gasoline taxes in the north, must be reduced to make our region more attractive for tourists. Government must take a more proactive role in promoting the north as a tourist destination as well as promoting the expansion of new tourism initiatives such as snowmobile tourism, eco-tourism, video lottery terminals and casinos.
While this list is not exhaustive, it sets out the right direction government must follow in order to allow the tourism industry in the north to live up to its potential.
People in my part of the province were willing to take up the challenge, but then they found in the three largest communities in northwestern Ontario, principally Dryden, Kenora and Fort Frances, that the funding was also cut for the volunteer centres, those centres that work in terms of providing literacy training, that do the work in terms of working with senior citizens to make sure they have access to services that aren't provided by some sort of organized institution. All three community volunteer centres, in Fort Frances, in Kenora and in Dryden, had all of their funding cut.
People in those communities are wondering: They're willing to go out and work with the private sector, but how do you work with the private sector when you can't afford to pay the rent at your volunteer centre? How do you work with the private sector when you can't afford to have a telephone? How do you work with the private sector to raise community money to organize a volunteer effort when you can't have somebody to answer that telephone?
There is a bit of a cruel hoax going on here. The government says, "Let volunteers do it," and then takes away the money that would allow volunteer centres to operate.
This is the second time in his cleaning career that Henry found and returned a bag of money to his employer. The first time was seven years ago when Henry found and returned $160,000 to the bank. The Toronto Star has dubbed him "Honest Henry."
As a community, Mississauga East is also proud. Acts such as this that demonstrate an honourable character and high moral standard unite the community of Mississauga in the spirit of togetherness. The government recognizes that such expressions of honesty and integrity inspire a feeling of goodwill that brings individuals in our communities across Ontario closer together.
I ask this House to acknowledge Henry and Paul, who are in the members' gallery. To paraphrase the caption which appeared in the Mississauga News relating to this exceptional act, Canada can bank on these guys.
MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION
Highway 69 south -- snow-covered to snow-packed with icy sections; Highway 11 south -- centre bare with snow-packed sections; Highway 144 north -- snow-covered to snow-packed, slushy with icy sections; Highway 17 east -- snow-covered to snow-packed with slushy, icy sections. Minister, these were the conditions at 8:45 this morning.
There is a new jingle being used in the north and in Sudbury for our pal Al:
Sometimes you'll plow and sometimes you won't
Sometimes we make it and sometimes we don't.
We can't see the street for the snow at our feet, but
We'll proudly go forth to help Al's friends in the north.
In all seriousness, Mr Minister, I urge you to reconsider your drastic cuts to winter road maintenance. Your business model of outcomes-based management systems is ill conceived and ill advised --
FAMILY RESOURCE PROGRAMS
The Metro Association of Family Resource Programmes provides cost-effective multiservice programs available to 90% of those caring for young children. They support parents choosing to care for their own children and they seek to improve the quality of private-home child care providers and ensure employment and opportunities.
Caregiver training, parenting and toy libraries, emergency child care and parent relief are some of the additional supports to families they provide. These programs are cost-effective, receiving only 3% of the ministry's child care budget. They have a 20-year history of promoting healthy, sustainable communities while maintaining quality and standards in child care.
These programs are based on common sense in the true meaning of the term. The recent slash-and-burn approach of this government shows it has much to learn from organizations such as the Metro Association of Family Resource Programmes which practise common sense as a matter of commitment and necessity.
I urge this government to continue supporting the family resources programs, as they are doing exactly what this government has asked people to do.
PETERBOROUGH FESTIVAL OF TREES
This event is a four-day community celebration and fund-raising event for three benefiting organizations: the St Joseph's Hospital Foundation, the Peterborough Civic Hospital Foundation and Hospice Peterborough, a non-profit community-based group that provides compassionate care to help those with illnesses that have progressed beyond the traditional medical treatment aimed at curing.
Local businesses purchase floor space and provide the festive decorative wonder of their choice as an exhibit for viewing and sale. All proceeds from sales and purchases go to the three health groups to assist in capital projects and to provide front-line health services. Proceeds have now totalled in excess of $700,000 over the last four years.
The spirit and enthusiasm of this festival demonstrates how committed the people of Peterborough riding are to making a difference in their community, a difference which not only benefits the users of health services but also unites and strengthens the entire community through friendship, hard work and volunteerism. I am proud to stand here and invite all members to the Festival of Trees in Peterborough, November 23. It will make a difference.
FIRE SAFETY AWARDS
When he was only five years old, James awoke to the smell of smoke in his home and crawled on his hands and knees to wake up his three-year-old brother, his cousin and his parents. Firefighters said his bravery and cool thinking probably saved the lives of his family and averted a terrible tragedy. James learned to crawl below the smoke in a Learn Not to Burn program he attended in grade 1.
At the same time, I would like to salute firefighters, both volunteer and professional, in my riding and across the great province in acknowledgement of their dedication in protecting and saving lives in communities across Ontario and for promoting programs like Learn Not to Burn in our schools.
James is sitting in the gallery with his parents, Debra and Joe LaMarsh, and fire chief Jim Anderson from Chatham, who were with him today for this special occasion. I'm very proud to introduce them to the members of this House.
This accident occurred two days after a 25% to 30% reduction by your government to the winter maintenance program. Mrs Mitchell lost control of her vehicle, sliding into the southbound lane, striking an ongoing tractor-trailer, causing the car to roll into the ditch. According to the police, freezing rain, snow and icy road conditions caused the accident.
On October 2, I raised the issue of the cuts to the use of snowplows and sanders in the north with the minister in the House and his response at that time was, "Our roads in the wintertime are going to be up to safety standards." You need to improve your standards, Mr Minister.
On Tuesday of this week, my colleague Floyd Laughren called for a coroner's inquest into an accident which occurred on Highway 17 in his riding of Nickel Belt last Sunday. You refused to reconsider your decision to cut the highway snow removal budget and dodged questions on the issue.
We need coroner's inquests into these accidents in northern Ontario to determine the level of maintenance that was carried out. Essential front-line emergency snow removal of salt and sanding is required for public safety. Essential services are not being maintained and the safety of citizens in the north is being severely threatened. A coroner's inquest is needed into the highway deaths in the north.
FIRE SAFETY AWARDS
Fire prevention and public education are essential to saving lives and protecting property, and the award winners this year have given generously of their time, energy and resources to promote fire safety. In addition, the winners this year include six young people who have used the fire safety information they were taught to save lives or prevent serious injuries.
One of those young people is 12-year-old Amber Ann Maltese of Niagara-on-the-Lake, in my riding of St Catharines-Brock. Amber Ann helped guide her younger brother and sister to safety after a fire started in her house. The fire and safety program organized by the local school board and the local fire department taught her what to do in this emergency.
All of the 1995 award winners have helped to change public attitudes towards fire safety.
On behalf of the government and the people of Ontario, I am pleased to draw the attention of the members to their presence here today and I ask Amber and her parents to stand, please.
Education put forward by conservation authorities with regard to the environment has been recognized across the province as having made a substantial difference to many communities. Conservation authorities partner with many community resources such as municipalities, provincial and federal government ministries, agricultural associations and environmental organizations. These partnerships are invaluable in our communities, with the resulting economic returns and opportunities too numerous to mention.
Another of the economic benefits of conservation authorities is the local employment they create. Most specific is the student employment created at a time when student unemployment in rural Ontario is quite substantial. The experience students receive goes a long way to supporting the educational career paths students choose to follow.
I think it is extremely important that conservation authorities are in place and continue to be supported by this government, as they have been in the past.
I want to extend my congratulations to the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority and the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority in my particular riding of Elgin, which have done tremendous work in areas such as cleaning up rural beaches, local employment, tree planting and special events planning in and around Elgin county.
I also want to encourage all members of the Legislature to support the new two-for-one plan which has been forth by the Association of Conservation Authorities of Ontario.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Getting through the planning approval system takes too long and costs too much. Planners have to wade through hundreds of pages of provincial guidelines, and a simple official plan amendment can easily take 405 days. This afternoon I will introduce legislation to correct that.
We will scrap parts of Bill 163 that don't work and bring in a planning system that's faster and less bureaucratic, that people can understand -- even the Liberal Party -- a planning system that delivers an answer more quickly.
The system will be guided by provincial policies which will be clear and concise and deal with issues that should be under the jurisdiction of the province. The policies will focus on the desired results rather than on the process by which those results are achieved.
Our new system will cut the maximum approval time in half. At the same time, we will ensure that environmental rules will continue to be tough but do not stifle economic development and growth.
Over the winter we will review all of the provincial policies that guide the system. Our plan is to have the policies and the legislation in place by next spring.
We're also going to scrap part of Bill 120 and introduce legislation that will allow municipalities once again to determine where second-unit apartments are appropriate.
We will also review the Development Charges Act, an act which now adds to the high cost of housing. We are looking at going back to the original purpose: to pay for hard services. We will introduce a new act in 1996. In the interim, we will allow municipalities to extend existing bylaws and permit new or increased charges only with ministerial approval.
No review of planning would be complete if we ignored the Ontario Municipal Board. The board's procedures are already being streamlined and modernized. What used to take 18 months for a hearing has been cut in half, and the plan is to cut that to four months. I will be encouraging the board to continue in these efforts.
The changes to Bill 163 will help clear a path for economic development and contribute to a climate that will encourage investment in Ontario.
The first thing I would say is, of course, the major thing that is missing in this announcement is, what are municipalities going to do when a ministry cuts them back 20% of their funding, as we heard about over the last two or three months? Obviously, it's only going to mean one thing and that's increased taxes.
We like the general direction this legislation is taking. However, what we do not like is the obvious downloading that's taking place, and we hope that the scrapping of those parts of Bill 163 aren't purely going to help the development industry.
There's a rather curious statement as well, which is in the third-last paragraph, that says, "At the same time, we will ensure that environmental rules will continue to be tough, but do not stifle economic development and growth."
Do I take it that if they do stifle economic development and growth we somehow will relax the environmental rules? In other words, if it's going to cost the developers money, we're going to somehow ignore the environment and the environmental concerns that people have out there.
The other thing it doesn't answer at all is with respect to Bill 120, allowing municipalities to determine where second-unit apartments are appropriate. I hope the legislation will also provide for what happens, exactly, with those second-unit apartments that have been installed since the law was changed some time ago. That raises a major question.
The other question relates to the Development Charges Act. It's all right to say, "All right, we're going to bring it back to its original purpose," but of course the end result is that the municipalities will still have to provide the services that the consumer and the people in the municipalities demand, which means only one thing: either user fees or higher taxation.
I'm somewhat surprised that the statement didn't include something about the supplementary assessment fees that the Tories in the Common Sense Revolution said they were going to scrap. Eighteen million dollars have been raised that way across the province during the last six months. Why didn't the minister address that particular issue?
The final issue I want to raise deals with the whole issue of public process. I know the minister has had an advisory committee working with him to deal with a lot of these issues, and what I find very curious about the memo that went out with respect to the advisory council that was set up with some AMO representatives some time ago is that one of the duties the advisory group was given was specifically, and I quote from the memo: "That the advisory group will not undertake consultations nor will it prepare a formal report."
I find that very, very interesting, that we set up an advisory group that, by the way, is supposed to give a response on just about every issue under the sun that's of municipal concern within a matter of about three or four months. Let me just read you those issues: They deal with council composition, elections, status, officers and duties, conflict openness, access to records, ethics, commissions of inquiry, general authority, regional municipal authority, property taxation, municipal financing, borrowing, capital financing, special purpose bodies, restructuring, powers of entry, notices and fees, and insurance liability limitations.
This advisory committee, together with the parliamentary assistant for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, is supposed to deal with all of these matters in a matter of three months, without any public consultation whatsoever, without any consultation other than with the seven members that have been on this committee, and somehow make the minister fully knowledgeable about what changes are to be made in that legislation. We just hope there will be full public consultation with respect to whatever amendments the minister is going to propose in the legislation.
The public process has been lost in the Legislature, as we know. We saw it with respect to Bill 7; we saw it with respect to the so-called quota bill; we saw it with respect to just about every piece of legislation that has been introduced. We saw it with the fact that there's no budget in the province of Ontario for the first time in over 100 years. We agree this statement goes partway, but what's really interesting are the questions that aren't answered in this statement.
What the minister is saying, after extensive consultation all across the province by our government, is that this is going to be all thrown out and that wetlands once again will be paved over, agricultural land will disappear. This government is actually promoting going back to urban sprawl again.
What I want to say to him and to the Minister of Environment and Energy today as well is that this kind of process will actually cost taxpayers more money. When you have urban sprawl -- and you approach this from two levels: the environment but also providing services. That announcement, coupled with the announcement that you're changing the Development Charges Act, bodes very badly for taxpayers, because as you increase urban sprawl, you have to provide the services. You have to provide the schools, you have to provide the other services that people need. At a time when you're cutting back municipalities, who is going to pay for those services?
On the issue of the need to cut short the time people spend before environmental assessment boards, as the minister himself said today, our government cut those hearings back, about in half. But I'd also remind the minister -- and I'm sure the Minister of Environment and Energy knows this -- that the vast majority of EAs are approved without ever going to a hearing already. We seem to focus mostly on a few, the very, very long EAs that took up a lot of time and cost a lot of money, but the reality is that most of these projects are approved without the hearings ever taking place.
I'd like to ask the minister, how does he know that Bill 163 doesn't work? He hasn't given it a chance to work. In terms of the policy statement, we've heard some complaints about some of the wording of that policy statement. The policy statement isn't the legislation itself. The minister hasn't given it an opportunity to work out there. The implementation within the legislation is fine; it's just the guidelines, I believe, that people have been talking about having problems with.
I would say to the minister responsible here that he should consult very, very closely with the people of Ontario about all of these issues that he brought forward today. As my Liberal colleague mentioned, there's a problem with this government in general with putting together advisory groups and consulting with people in secret. As my Liberal colleague mentioned, these are substantive changes that are being made today, and all of the people should have a chance to comment on what's happening here. I know that I've talked to some environmentalists who are quite concerned about the changes that are being made. They don't know, and they asked me to try and find out, just who is being consulted. Who is this advisory group? Who are they talking to? They have some very important information and advice to give you.
The issue around transparency: The public access -- and I believe that that's one of the most important things that we have to take from this announcement today -- to these kinds of decisions is really going down the tubes. You consider among yourselves and with your friends where you're going with this without looking at the full implications for all of the people of Ontario.
I would say to the minister -- while they are in the process of cutting back municipalities, we will soon be hearing just what's involved in that and how far they're going to be cut back -- that he take a good look at the added costs to municipalities, the added costs to our environment that will surely be affected by these changes and take good care to consult with everybody who has a stake in this, and that when he comes back with the final bill, he will have a comprehensive bill that will have included everybody in the province.
This morning we spoke to Mr Bruce Attenborough. He informed us that Jamie Watt, the same man you have hired to help sell your economic plan, has failed to pay him more than $36,000 in court-ordered compensation in a civil judgement related to those fraud charges. I want to stress that he had more than 10 years to pay the judgement.
Minister, do you agree with the Premier that someone who continues to this day to violate a court ruling ordering repayment of more than $36,000 to one of his victims is a model citizen, someone who should be working in the Premier's office?
I ask the minister, how can you say Mr Watt has paid his debt and how can the Premier call him a model citizen until Mr Attenborough receives payment? How can you allow this to go on? How can you allow this individual to work for you and for the Premier until this issue is fully resolved?
Minister, on this side of the House we believe that welfare fraud is wrong and should be aggressively pursued and eliminated. By the same token, we believe that tax fraud is wrong and should be aggressively pursued and eliminated. I'm disappointed that the Premier believes in the double standard that tax fraud is human nature but welfare fraud requires snitch lines and surprise home visits. According to the Premier, welfare fraud is bad, tax fraud is good; Main Street fraud is bad, Bay Street fraud is good. Fraud is fraud and it is wrong whether it occurs by the welfare recipients or whether it occurs by individuals trying to rip off the tax system.
Minister, do you believe that your government should allocate the same resources, apply the same standard and the same fairness in pursuing tax fraud in Ontario as you have in pursuing welfare fraud?
Yesterday, Minister, you told this House, "I take very seriously the Provincial Auditor's remarks with respect to the appointment of more auditors...." However, your colleague the Chair of Management Board said outside the House that he's not going to let you hire any more people to pursue this. What are you going to do, Minister? You can't hire more people because he's not going to let you. In view of the contradictions between the Premier, the Chair of the Management Board and the standards you just outlined that you're going to follow, can you tell the House today, rather than simply telling us you're going to take action, what specific steps and plans you have to combat this problem and when you expect these steps will be introduced into this House?
Having received the report, just like you, shortly after 1 pm two days ago, we have indicated that indeed the ministry is in the process of changing its computer system, that we would like to develop a model, as the Provincial Auditor suggests, along the lines of those people who may be so disposed to fit the mould of cheating on retail sales tax, and we will program our computers thusly when the new system is installed and up and running.
Also, as the Provincial Auditor suggests, I take very seriously his recommendation that more auditors are required to crack down on fraud in this area. We will be doing that and doing it by reallocating people within the Ministry of Finance as vacancy positions come open.
Minister, you promised a different type of government when you ran. You promised a government that was going to be straight up forward with the people of Ontario and that you were going to be committed to fixing the problems of this province.
This is not a new problem, Minister. You're aware of this problem. You were aware of this problem when you were in opposition. It is simply an attempt by your government to justify a ripoff being put upon the people of Ontario by your wealthy friends. I cannot believe that the minister says, "We knew about this two days ago." The minister knew this problem occurred before.
Can you again be more specific with this House? Can you tell us what other plans you have, outside of simply reallocating a few people if the Chair of Management Board allows you to do so, or simply fixing the welfare system to address a problem that is 10 times larger than the welfare fraud in Ontario? We know the type of charade you have put on in an attempt to go after that fraud. Why can the same effort, the same standard, be not applied, or is this simply a double standard that your Premier and your cabinet are continuing?
First of all, the Minister of Finance knows full well that prior to the publication of any auditor's report, there are extensive discussions between the ministry in question and the auditor's department. To say he got this two days ago, he never heard about it before, is frankly I think a little incredible. He knows full well that discussions have been under way for some time.
I want to ask the minister, in light of the answers that he has given to my colleague from Hamilton, I wonder if he can explain why, in a memorandum dated October 30 to a member of our caucus staff from your MPP liaison in the Ministry of Finance, we're told that the activity on the unified reporting portion of Clearing the Path has been put on hold; why we were told that between 25 and 30 staff in the tax division received surplus notices at the beginning of October; why we have been told that the reason for these decisions has to do with the general constraint program of the ministry.
This would seem to fly in the face of the answers given by the Minister of Finance in which he indicates that it's his plan in fact to hire more auditors and to persist with Project Fair Share, which he well knows has been in place in his ministry for some considerable length of time and in fact has been held back because of the cutbacks which you introduced in July. I want to ask the minister if he can explain the discrepancies between the answers that he has given and the answers we've been previously given just a couple of weeks ago by his own ministry.
Why would the minister not admit that the panic reaction that took place in July has prevented some very positive and sensible suggestions, which were well in place and well on track, that would have collected more money and more taxes and would have paid more for themselves if they had been continued?
What I would ask the minister is this: Will he not admit that prior to his taking office there was already in place the Clearing the Path project, which provided for simplification as well as for increased revenues? Would he not admit that Project Fair Share was in place, which provided for increased numbers of audits, increased numbers of auditors and increased revenues? Would he not admit that both these projects with respect to tax collection specifically have in fact been put on hold, and they have been put on hold and people have been fired and people have been let go and people have been set aside who have been engaging in some of the very reforms which would lead to an improvement in the system?
In your letter which you sent to Mr Crow from the Ontario Motor Coach Association you told him that the time frame for deregulation was in fact going to be shortened and that it was your intention to move quite quickly with respect to legislation.
We know that the staff of the highway transport board were given their surplus notices at the end of October, which would simply, I would think, indicate that's it for the highway transport board.
I'd like to ask the minister, therefore, can he tell us precisely, today, exactly what is the plan that the government has with respect to the provision of bus services in communities throughout the province?
We made a commitment in the Common Sense Revolution to knock down the barriers that presently exist. Your government was very instrumental in putting up some of these barriers. This government is going to eliminate barriers in order that -- we will work with the private sector -- it establishes prosperous businesses.
But I'd like to ask him, in the event that the minister now says the government of Ontario no longer believes in regulating business, can he tell us how he intends to ensure that smaller communities will continue to receive bus services and that senior citizens will be able to go from one smaller community to larger towns or indeed across the province to visit their friends and relatives and families? How are they expected to get around if companies decide that it simply isn't profitable to serve smaller communities?
As far as the services that the leader of the third party is referring to, there presently exist inadequate services with the regulations that are in place, so I say to the leader of the third party that this government most likely will improve those services and at the same time deregulate this industry.
The reason we have regulation of bus services, Minister -- and this is the reason that I think addressed itself to the logic of John Robarts and Leslie Frost and William Davis and a number of other people who were not members of either the Liberal or New Democratic parties -- is because it's the only way you can ensure that profitable carriers will provide a service to routes which by themselves are not profitable.
So the question I have for the minister is, if you don't intend to regulate and have a highway transport board which will attach conditions for services, how can you ensure, how will you ensure, that those senior citizens and others who are living in smaller communities will continue to receive bus services from companies which are in the business of making money?
No one's criticizing them for that, but always in the province the tradition has been that the price for your getting a licence is that you will carry some routes which by themselves are not profitable. There's a very real risk in the course the minister is setting. Would he not admit that there is a risk involved for those citizens living in those communities in having their services cut down and abandoned?
There are many other communities such as Morrisburg that with regulation intact are not getting the services that the leader of the third party is referring to. But this government has met with the busing industries, and hopefully together we're going to come up with a compromise that possibly will actually increase the services that are presently being offered.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Minister, yesterday I asked the Health minister if he would sign a pledge similar to the pledge that you and he and Premier Harris signed during the election campaign. We all know he refused to sign that pledge, and by not signing the Minister has raised fears that additional cuts to health care are coming.
Today I would ask if you would reaffirm your election promise and affix your signature to this pledge. It reads:
"I hereby pledge that there will be no further cuts to the health care budget in the November 1995 fiscal statement. Further, I guarantee that the Harris government will not make additional cuts to health care as a result of revenue shortfalls."
Minister, will you sign this pledge today and keep your promise to the people of this province?
During the election campaign, you also promised to protect health care spending, and I'm going to quote from page 7, where in bold you say, "We will not cut health care spending." Today I'm asking if you will do what you did during the election campaign, and that is, honour your commitment in writing.
I ask, do you and your party have one standard during the election and another one when you are in government? You made a commitment in writing on the tax pledge. I'm asking you today to make the same commitment in writing on your health care pledge.
The people of Ontario, Minister, thought, when you said, "We will not introduce new user fees," that you would not introduce new user fees and they thought, when you said, "We will not cut health care spending," that you would not. If you do not sign this pledge today, Minister, if you don't sign it, they will be worried that you will not keep your word. If you meant it, will you sign this pledge today?
The minister himself said yesterday, "The whole issue of the underground economy, I think, is in large part...due to taxation levels," and the Premier said the day before that tax cheating is "regrettable" and "unfortunate, but that seems to be human nature all around the world and something we want to correct."
My question then is, why doesn't this government cut retail sales tax by $5 billion-plus instead of cutting income taxes? Cutting the retail sales tax would make the system a lot fairer, as you've argued for. It would provide a much greater boost to the economy. It would create more jobs than cutting personal income tax. Cutting those taxes by $5 billion would create 25,000 more jobs than cutting income taxes by the same amount. Why won't you do that?
Instead, what you're proposing is an increase to the retail sales tax as a result of GST harmonization. That's going to be tougher on poor people. It's going to be tougher on working people. It's going to increase the consumer price index by 1%. That's going to cost 30,000 jobs in this economy. Whereas you could move today by changing your own commitment to a tax cut from one, being the income tax, to another, being the retail sales tax, boost the economy and create more jobs and make it a lot fairer and thereby help solve your problem that you've identified of unfairness in terms of the underground economy. Why won't you do that?
We have never said that we would increase the retail sales tax and we will not. We made a commitment during the course of the provincial election campaign to reduce the level of provincial income tax in the province of Ontario, which as I have already alluded to, her government increased eight times in the space of four short years. We got elected on that basis and we will fulfil our commitment to the people of Ontario.
They believe that the current formula for pricing is not the proper pricing and that they are receiving less dollars than they would if they sold their product in the US. The auction would provide more competition for my pork producers in Huron county and they feel it would have been a better system for them.
Can the minister tell the pork producers of Ontario why a government-appointed body would reverse the decision made by the Ontario Pork Producers' Marketing Board?
In addition to that, he would know that this house and its continued existence provides only horrific memories for the people of St Catharines and others who have passed this house from time to time. The trial is now complete. The accused is now in prison. I have waited to ask this question until all that was completed. Would the minister inform the House whether it would be possible now to have this house demolished? I should indicate to the minister that there has been a group which has volunteered to do this on behalf of the Attorney General's department free of charge.
This is what the minister had to say yesterday in the scrum, right outside the chamber, right here. This is what he said: "Let's take a chance. Maybe we might not have to spend it," meaning the money allocated for snow clearance.
I ask the minister, is he suggesting that in order to save money, he is willing to take a chance with people's lives?
The end result is that what this government has done is we are better utilizing the dollars, and instead of paying people to sit around, we are going to pay them when they are physically actually going to be doing the work. That's what this government is accountable to do for the people of Ontario.
This is a tragic situation. Black humour does not become the minister, indeed. It's quite one thing to stand there and to say, "We have the money and we'll do the job that needs to be done." Well, how are you going to do it? Seventy-three fewer spreaders; 103 fewer plows. Some 125 seasonal staff were pink-slipped; they were told to go home; they don't need them any more. How can you realistically expect during a heavy snowfall when you have to act as quickly as possible and you have fewer plows, fewer spreaders, fewer staff, to be able to do the same job? It cannot be done. What's your answer?
This government, in order to save money, looked at how we could possibly achieve that. We cut the 24-hour patrolling system that was in place back to 16 hours. That's maximizing the dollars. It does not snow for 30 days in the month. His government was paying people who were doing our winter maintenance 30 days of the month. This government will only be paying the people when they actually do the work. This is better management and better utilization of our dollars. We have the flexibility to react when the snow is coming down. His government was paying people all the time when they were actually only good when it was either just before it snowed, during the snowstorm or after the snowstorm.
I would like to say that with regard to waste reduction, Ontario can be quite proud of its 3Rs record. The blue box, for instance, is a program that is quite successful and is approaching the point of self-sustainability. There are many pilot projects now being undertaken and pursued in Ontario to deal with innovative waste management strategies. In my own riding of Guelph, for instance, just this week we began a new project called Wet-Dry which we believe will actually reduce waste by more than 60% going to the landfill.
This sort of initiative will continue and I believe that Ontario and indeed Canada have a lot of strategies to go forward and reduce our waste over time.
In the next week or so, I will be meeting with other ministers of environment and energy from across Canada and we will be very much dealing with the issues of climate change and greenhouse gases. We will be dealing with innovative and creative initiatives that we believe deal with voluntary challenge programs to bring private businesses alongside of governments to help them meet the challenges that not only face Canada but which face us globally.
For months now these chemicals have been evaporating into the air and they're putting the health of the people living near the dumps at risk. I've also learned that permission to use contaminated soil in this way, a way which has been banned in this province for over 20 years now, was specifically and secretly granted by your ministry in August of this year.
Minister, can you tell me why you changed the rules on contaminated soil, why you did so in secret and why you're placing the health of Ontarians at risk?
I want the minister's assurance, here and now, that effective immediately she will no longer permit contaminated soil to be used as cover in Ontario dumps.
Where they meet the clean-up criteria for industrial land use and where their use as daily cover does not conflict with the approved operating requirements at the landfills and where they are a direct replacement for clean soils, they are allowed by this ministry to be used in that regard.
I want to ask a question on behalf of an Ontarian who appeared before our committee, a person with a severe disability. This is a man who desperately wants to work. He's been looking actively for work for 10 years and in that period he's found one day's work. He said because of the way he looks and the way he sounds, he cannot get a job. He cannot get his foot inside the door, even for an interview.
Since you're soon going to repeal employment equity, the bill that we had introduced, Bill 79, what will your government do to prevent people such as the person that I have described from spending the rest of their lives on social assistance?
This government is currently reviewing a number of initiatives to address the needs of people with disabilities. For example, work is under way in my ministry to develop the new equal opportunity plan. A range of disability issues will be explored within the framework of the equal opportunity plan and the human rights reform to address the issues of barriers to disability and disabled individuals.
This plan that they are going to introduce is not a plan at all. It will not help. They introduced a bill to repeal the Advocacy Act and other acts. It will hurt people with disabilities even more. In a market economy where employers are interested in the bottom line, very few, if anyone, will hire a person with a disability over an able-bodied person. Your plan creates and will create permanent unemployment for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities.
Where are the savings, and what is the justice for people with disabilities, Madam Minister?
I am happy to report that the elevating devices identified by the Provincial Auditor as overdue for reinspection have been cleared. With respect to the 8,000 devices that were three years overdue for inspection, I've been assured that they will be cleared by the end of next month, and the remaining ones will be finished in the next 12 months. So while the Provincial Auditor has reported with regard to what the problem was before, the problem is now well in hand.
My ministry is working with industry, labour and other ministries to formulate a comprehensive training, certification and licensing program for all elevator mechanics so that we will have the highest-trained people to look at elevators and ensure their safety.
We are also initiating a risk management system so that we can target our inspections to the devices which require more frequent inspections. In other words, we will identify those elevators which are more likely to have a fault and direct our resources to those. This will of course ensure that the problems will be found.
My question simply is, why no public consultation, Minister?
They've been given six months to report on that long list of matters that I raised with you before, Mr Minister. How can you possibly expect this group to come up with any kind of meaningful report, on just about every issue that municipalities deal with, within a six-month time period? How is that possible, Mr Minister?
I can't understand how the honourable member can sit there -- I think he was at the AMO convention, as a matter of fact -- and not understand exactly what we're trying to do.
I want to outline for you the reasons the previous minister decided to order a full environmental assessment: firstly, that Toronto had not explored alternative solutions to dealing with combined sewer overflow; secondly, that they had not identified or evaluated the environmental impacts of this project, particularly its implications for the EA that's going on on the expansion of the Ashbridges Bay sewage treatment plant; and thirdly, that Toronto had not consulted adequately with all the interested or affected parties across the waterfront.
Madam Minister, I would like your assurance that at that meeting that we attend with you, you will explain to us what has changed since that time, so you could explain the reasons for your decision. I guess, most importantly, what I would like you to do today is assure me that you really intend to listen to the participants of that meeting and that your decision is not a fait accompli and that there is a chance, if we can convince you of our arguments, that the full environmental assessment might still proceed.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
That in the event the committee fails to report the said estimates on March 18, 1996, the estimates and supplementary estimates be deemed to be passed by the committee and be deemed to be reported to, and received by, the House.
There was some concern expressed by members of the third party that this could be interpreted to be a time allocation motion. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that that was not the intent and that all three parties have agreed to delete that line from the motion.
It is my understanding that the subcommittee has agreed to complete the bill by that date, but if it does offend the third party, we have no problem with removing that line from the motion.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Pursuant to standing order 55, I wish to indicate the business of the House for the week of November 20, 1995.
On Monday, November 20, we hope to deal with and pass the motion for interim supply.
Tuesday, November 21, will be an opposition day standing in the name of the leader of the third party.
On Wednesday, November 22, and Thursday, November 23, we would like to do second reading of Bill 19, An Act to repeal the Advocacy Act, 1992, revise the Consent to Treatment Act, 1992, amend the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, and amend other acts in respect of related matters.
For Thursday morning's private members' business, we will consider ballot item number 7, standing in the name of the member for Durham York, and ballot item number 8, standing in the name of the member for Ottawa South.
QUEEN STREET MENTAL HEALTH CENTRE
"Whereas the PC government is going to open a 20-bed forensic unit for the criminally insane at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre; and
"Whereas the nearby community is already home to the highest number of ex-psychiatric patients and social organizations, in hundreds of licensed and unlicensed rooming houses, group homes and crisis care facilities in all of Canada; and
"Whereas there exist facilities that could be expanded to assess and treat the criminally insane; and
"Whereas no one was consulted, not the local residents, not the business community, not leaders of community organizations, not education and even child care providers and" -- it says here -- "not even the local member of the provincial Parliament for that riding was consulted;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned residents and business owners of our community, urge the PC government of Ontario and the Minister of Health to immediately stop all plans to accommodate the criminally insane in an expanded Queen Street Mental Health Centre until a public consultation process is completed."
I have signed my name to this document.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Minister of Labour has introduced legislation, Bill 7, to drastically amend the Labour Relations Act, the Employment Standards Act and other labour legislation which had been brought forward by successive Progressive Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic governments in recognition of the legitimate rights of employees in Ontario; and
"Whereas the implementation of Bill 7 will undermine the fundamental, democratic rights of employees to organize and to have access to collective bargaining; and
"Whereas employers have raised concerns about how Bill 7 will result in an increased number of strikes; and
"Whereas the Minister of Labour is proceeding with Bill 7 without consultation with employee groups and without conducting public hearings;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to urge the Minister of Labour to withdraw Bill 7."
I've affixed my signature to this petition.
RUNNYMEDE CHRONIC CARE HOSPITAL
Both governments promised an $18-million grant for a new facility if the community raised $10 million. The community accepted that challenge and the community achieved that objective several years into the NDP mandate, but the promise was ignored and the community's pleas fell on deaf or indifferent ears.
This petition reflects strong public support for the redevelopment of Runnymede Chronic Care Hospital on its present site, as promised by the Ministry of Health in 1987. It is signed by thousands upon thousands of taxpayers, staff, patients, supporters and neighbours and representatives of major chronic and long-term care associations.
I am privileged to add my name and strong support to this petition.
"Whereas the report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch Hospital;
"Whereas this recommendation will remove emergency and inpatient services currently provided by North York Branson Hospital, which will seriously jeopardize medical care and the quality of health to the growing population which the hospital serves, many being elderly people who in numerous cases require treatment for life-threatening medical conditions;
"We petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to reject restructuring contained within the report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."
I've affixed my signature to this petition.
COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION
"To the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and to the Premier:
"We, the undersigned, seniors, families, supporting groups and people of Ontario are now petitioning you and all members of the Ontario government to stop the Common Sense Revolution which deprives the elderly and favours the greedy, non-caring rich.
"Some of our problems are:
"Health care comes first: hospital closures, cuts plus services. Other services affect seniors very seriously.
"Affordable housing: The co-op and non-profit housing program should have been increased and subsidized to provide for the growing numbers of seniors, instead of cutting these back.
"Thirdly, pensions should be properly indexed to the true cost of living, with no clawbacks.
"Fourthly, welfare payments should be adjusted to the needs of many unfortunate seniors.
"Finally, unemployment ranks very high among the concerns that seniors have with respect to the layoffs of their sons, daughters and grandchildren."
I agree with this petition and I have affixed my signature to it.
COMMUNITY-BASED JUSTICE OPTIONS
"Whereas during the 1970s the government of the day gained positive recognition through measures that involved local communities and the provision of legal services; the criminal justice field began to recognize the benefits of community-based justice options;
"The non-profit agencies across Ontario have developed effective programs and present a strong local face to the justice system while supporting partnerships with an ever-widening community base. Community programs have proven to be effective and reduce the cost of incarceration while promoting public safety; and
"Whereas community-based justice programs, such as diversion alternative measures, bail supervision, community service orders etc have proven value; the screening and supervision of accused and offenders within well-defined programs contribute to public safety; for over 20 years community-based options have made a positive contribution to the welfare of communities in Ontario;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We believe these programs must not be viewed as dispensable. As with many recent cuts, short-term fiscal expediency holds no long-term value. Credible links with the community and quality programs for the citizens of Ontario must be maintained. We ask the Legislative Assembly to maintain these programs in their current state."
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
I have affixed my signature to this petition.
ST STEPHEN'S SECONDARY SCHOOL
"We, the undersigned, petition Parliament requesting that the scheduled opening of St Stephen's Secondary School not be delayed unnecessarily."
They also make reference to the annual lease cost of $600,000 per year, which is not in accord with the government's plan to be fiscally responsible.
"We urge you to review the school's plan and give us the go-ahead to provide excellent basic facilities to our Catholic community and students across the community and economic sense for taxpayers."
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
I'm proud to sign my signature to it.
AMALGAMATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS
"To the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"We, the undersigned ratepayers of Carleton, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"We urge the Legislative Assembly not to support the amalgamation of the Carleton Roman Catholic School Board with the Ottawa Roman Catholic Separate School Board and/or the Renfrew County Roman Catholic Separate School Board for the following reasons:
"The task force rationale for reducing the number of school boards is seriously flawed and the recommendations are based on false assumptions. Amalgamation will result in reduced educational services and decreased access to the educational system by ratepayers and parents.
"Further, major tax increases will inevitably result from an amalgamated board."
I'll ensure that the Sweeney commission gets a copy of this petition as well.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
I have affixed my name to that petition as well.
"Herewith, during this White Ribbon Against Pornography Week, I express concern for the skyrocketing, yet largely unregulated, proliferation of pornography in Canada and its potential harmful impact on men, women and children/youth.
"Please work to enforce systems of protection that will begin to limit the access of pornography into our homes and communities."
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance and services, and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk,
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure safe passage of drivers."
I will affix my signature to this.
EGLINTON WEST SUBWAY
"Whereas all provincial parties, including the Progressive Conservative Party, supported the construction and funding of the Eglinton subway line; and
"Whereas all required contracts and agreements were finalized and the construction of the Eglinton subway line was progressing as scheduled; and
"Whereas on Friday, July 21, 1995, the Harris government stopped the construction of the Eglinton subway line without public debate and consultation" -- it's amazing how often that comes up -- "and
"Whereas by stopping the construction of the Eglinton subway line the Harris government eliminated over 1,200 jobs, 10,000 future jobs, derailed the subway link to the Pearson International Airport and impeded the growth of new development and business within the city of York; and
"Whereas to date $123 million worth of contracts have been committed and $50 million has been spent; and
"Whereas the Harris government will waste millions of taxpayers' dollars on filling the holes and on the legal costs due to the broken contracts;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"That the government of Ontario immediately resume the complete construction of the Eglinton subway line."
This is signed by some 50 members of the public, and I will put my signature.
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk,
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure safe passage of drivers."
I also add my signature on this one.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON ESTIMATES
Mr Curling from the standing committee on estimates presented the committee's report on the estimates selected and not selected by the standing committee for consideration.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
LAND USE PLANNING AND PROTECTION ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 SUR LA PROTECTION ET L'AMÉNAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE
Mr Leach moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 20, An Act to promote economic growth and protect the environment by streamlining the land use planning and development system through amendments related to planning, development, municipal and heritage matters / Projet de loi 20, Loi visant à promouvoir la croissance économique et à protéger l'environnement en rationalisant le système d'aménagement et de mise en valeur du territoire au moyen de modifications touchant des questions relatives à l'aménagement, la mise en valeur, les municipalités et le patrimoine.
PUBLIC HOSPITAL FOUNDATIONS ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 SUR LES FONDATIONS POUR LES HÔPITAUX PUBLICS
Mr Hastings moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 21, An Act to establish public hospital foundations / Projet de loi 21, Loi créant des fondations pour les hôpitaux publics.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
WORKERS' COMPENSATION AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES ACCIDENTS DU TRAVAIL ET LA LOI SUR LA SANTÉ ET LA SÉCURITÉ AU TRAVAIL
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 15, An Act to amend the Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act / Projet de loi 15, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les accidents du travail et la Loi sur la santé et la sécurité au travail.
I am pleased to see that this bill addresses the need for a new system of governance, measures for improved financial accountability, greater attention towards value-for-money audits, as well as a means to tackle fraud.
In the past decade, the workers' compensation system has been undermined by mismanagement and a board structure that hasn't worked. This structure has proven to be divisive and confrontational, which has led to deadlocks and inaction on crucial decisions. The result is a system that has moved to the brink of financial crisis. Clearly, the board of directors has failed to take the necessary actions to deal with the serious problem facing the Workers' Compensation Board.
This inability to take action on key issues has contributed greatly to the growth of the Workers' Compensation Board's unfunded liability, which has grown rapidly over the past decade, from $2.7 billion in 1984 to an unsustainable $11.4 billion in 1994. The unfunded liability threatens the system's ability to meet its financial obligations to all current and future injured workers.
Overdue has been legislation that will replace the current board of directors with a multistakeholder board. This new board should have broader representation not only for employers and workers but also from professional groups, such as those from the medical and insurance professions.
In order to overhaul the Workers' Compensation Board, not only do we need diverse leadership, but we need effective leadership. Such leadership must be demonstrated by providing the minister with a strategic plan to outline the Workers' Compensation Board's priorities and policies.
With this, financial accountability measures must be in place to ensure that the decisions of the Workers' Compensation Board support the goal of a financially sustainable workers' compensation system. Board members must act in a financially responsible manner.
As part of the financial accountability framework, value-for-money audits should not be forgotten. Independent audits must be undertaken to ensure the programs are delivered in an effective and efficient manner.
Another area that requires utmost attention is the matter of fraud. Like private insurance firms, the Workers' Compensation Board has been subject to abuses, such as fraudulent benefit claims and a loss of revenue, which have damaged its financial position. As well, the Workers' Compensation Board must be encouraged to share information with other organizations and other jurisdictions. In order to detect abuses in the system, I am pleased that this legislation includes measures to stem the loss of revenue owed to the Workers' Compensation Board in order to prevent fraud.
Over the past several years, the system has moved away from its original mandate as a workplace accident and insurance plan and has begun to compensate for ailments that are not strictly work-related. As a result, Ontario workers' compensation premiums, the second highest in Canada, are a major obstacle to investment and job creation, putting the province at a competitive disadvantage in relation to other jurisdictions.
The reform initiatives that include financial accountability measures and a multistakeholder board of directors will provide badly needed leadership to overhaul the Workers' Compensation Board. This will provide the groundwork for more effective decision-making.
In addition to the new governance structure and financial accountability measures, annual value-for-money audits and stronger anti-fraud provisions will ensure Workers' Compensation Board programs are efficient and financially sound. These measures set the stage for further reforms which will eliminate the unfunded liability and fulfil our commitments on benefit levels, waiting periods, entitlement and assessment rates.
Once again, I congratulate the minister for bringing forth this bill, because in addition to reinforcing the Workers' Compensation Board, this bill will complement our mandate to restore prosperity in Ontario.
J'aimerais toucher cet après-midi quelques points qui troublent les employeurs et les employés accidentés de ma circonscription.
Premièrement, nous avons des objections avec le processus par lequel ce gouvernement tente d'entreprendre la réforme de la Commission des accidents du travail. Nous avons également des objections avec la façon de laquelle il propose de traiter de la question de santé et de sécurité au travail.
En opposition, les Conservateurs prétendaient avoir un plan concret pour réformer la CAT. Aujourd'hui, avec le projet de loi 15 que nous avons devant nous, il devient évident que ce n'est pas du tout le cas.
Ils ne semblent pas trop savoir comment s'y prendre. Je vous suggère que c'est pourquoi ce projet de loi ne traite pas des questions les plus difficiles, les plus complexes, les plus fondamentales à la réforme de la CAT.
Je vous parle évidemment de la question des niveaux de bénéfices, de la question de la période d'attente, de la question des limites aux droits des accidentés.
In fact, the whole question of benefit level, of waiting period and of limited entitlement has effectively been put on hold until some time next spring. I suggest to the members of this House that this indicates that the Conservatives clearly do not have a plan for genuine, valid reform of the WCB.
I suggest this because after looking at Bill 15, all I see is a little tinkering here and a little tinkering there, nothing more and nothing less. But instead of tinkering with WCB reform bit by bit, my colleagues and I call upon this government to present its entire reform package. Put it before the Legislature; put it before the people of Ontario; put it to a full debate. Only then will we be able to turn the WCB around and get it working again for both employers and injured workers alike.
Par rapport à la question de santé et de sécurité au travail, nous avons des inquiétudes vis-à-vis l'imposition des règlements. Nous croyons que c'est bel et bien l'intention de ce gouvernement de transférer le pouvoir d'imposition du ministère du Travail à la Commission des accidents du travail. Cela réduirait les coûts opérationnels du gouvernement aux dépens de la CAT et, par conséquent, aux dépens des employeurs. Ce n'est pas seulement un transfert de pouvoir que ce gouvernement recherche, mais bel et bien le transfert de la dette.
J'aimerais à ce moment-ci examiner quelques-unes des promesses des Conservateurs par rapport à la réforme de la CAT.
Premièrement, les Conservateurs ont promis de réduire les primes de déboursement des employeurs de 5 %. Il est intéressant de noter qu'il n'y a aucune mention de cette réduction dans le projet de loi 15. Ils parlent plutôt d'un gel des primes, mais notre parti va leur donner la chance de tenir leur promesse.
Nous allons introduire un amendement proposant une réduction des primes de 5 %. S'ils votent contre, nous pourrions ajouter une autre promesse à la liste grandissante des promesses brisées par les Conservateurs.
Another commitment the Conservatives made was to end the practice of making patronage appointments to senior management positions at the WCB. Yet, lo and behold, under this bill all appointments will be made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
Nous invitons nos collègues opposés à exiger un concours ouvert pour remplir les postes des cadres supérieurs à la CAT. Nous pourrions former un comité d'embauche composé de la ministre du Travail, d'un député de chaque parti représenté en Chambre et du président du Secrétariat du Conseil de gestion. Voilà la façon de démocratiser la CAT. Mais la démocratie ne semble pas trop intéresser mes collègues de l'autre côté. Ils préfèrent ne pas faire de consultations. Ils préfèrent rendre la CAT responsable devant la ministre du Travail plutôt que devant l'Assemblée législative.
Le plan stratégique de cinq ans, l'énoncé des priorités et l'énoncé de la stratégie d'investissement de la CAT devraient tous être déposés devant l'Assemblée. Ce serait non seulement dans l'intérêt des employeurs et des travailleurs accidentés, mais aussi dans l'intérêt du grand public de faire ainsi.
We call upon this government to give the Legislature and not the Minister of Labour the power to require program reviews and audits. It's not only in the best interests of employers and injured workers, but it is also in the public's best interests.
The multistakeholder model proposed is one that my colleagues and I support, but we want specifics with respect to who will sit on the board. My colleague from Windsor-Walkerville mentioned Tuesday that we will bring forward amendments addressing this issue.
Nous voulons un nombre égal de représentants des employeurs et de représentants des employés. Nous voulons également spécifier dans le projet de loi en question quels seront les autres secteurs représentés à la table. Les gens de Prescott et Russell ont des besoins particuliers. Les gens de l'Est ontarien ont des besoins particuliers. Les francophones de cette province ont des besoins particuliers. J'ose espérer qu'ils seront tous bien représentés à la Commission. J'ose espérer que nous allons voir un représentant francophone nommé à la CAT.
But what concerns me the most is the eventual outcome for the injured worker. Let there be no illusion, this government is going to cut benefits to injured workers. They are going to do it by redefining the word "accident." They are going to do it by redefining what it means to be injured. We've seen what happens when the Conservatives start redefining things. Disabled people and seniors find themselves hit by social assistance cuts. Let there be no illusion, come springtime injured workers in this province will be seeing longer waiting periods for smaller benefits.
Les travailleurs accidentés de Prescott et Russell, et de la province toute entière, vont souffrir davantage sous les réformes que s'apprête à faire ce gouvernement. Ils vont voir une réduction de leurs bénéfices et ils devront attendre plus longtemps avant de ne les recevoir. C'est inacceptable.
En conclusion, je tiens à féliciter encore une fois mon collègue de Windsor-Walkerville pour son allocution de mardi.
Let me give you an example. When I asked if WCB reform should be a high priority of this government on a scale of one to five, with five being a top priority, the mean score was 4.3. When I asked how the WCB influenced the province's competitive position in terms of creating jobs and keeping the system active, the mean score was 4.1.
Mentholatum, an employee of Mentholatum of Fort Erie, Ontario, wants the WCB to report to someone, some body or some individual, the minister I think, that cares about controlling spending. I know this is another aspect of the bill.
At Marsh Engineering of Port Colborne, also in my riding, a larger employer, near 200 employees, they say to me, "Make the administration accountable and eliminate the operating deficit." Again, another element in this Bill 15.
These are changes that people in Niagara South want and that's the kind of change that's coming through Bill 15.
This bill doesn't contain many of the things you debated in your speech. These are things albeit that are commitments of the government, and we'll follow through in action in some time with the full discussion paper and report of my colleague the member for Burlington South. I encourage him to read the bill and discuss what's in it, because I think the member would agree with most of it.
Also the composition of the board: There's no place in there that I could see that, except that everything will be done by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
Let me tell you, there are generations of people in those communities who have worked in the steel factories, in the pipe mills, in the paper mills. There's a legacy of pain and tragedy that dates back, oh, beyond mere decades, beyond this century. It dates back to the building of the Welland Canal, not the present one, nor the one that preceded that, but the one that preceded that, when working people gave their lives or their limbs or their sight, their ability to walk around, their ability to carry their children, their ability to work, to help generate the great economic and industrial base that is very much part and parcel of the Niagara region.
These people made sacrifices that their corporate bosses weren't prepared to make. These people created the wealth that subsequent generations have enjoyed -- I'll concede sometimes squandered -- but these are the people who built industrial Canada.
As we know and as we heard during the course of commentary about Bill 15, I'm sure everybody now knows the history of workers' comp, effectively a no-fault system of insurance, and the historic tradeoffs in the early part of the century, where tort access to the malfeasance or negligence of an employer was traded off in exchange for a system of compensation for workers who made that sacrifice in the workplace.
You know, Speaker, and I'm confident you've attended the day of mourning each year in our respective communities for injured workers, those who have paid with their lives and others who have paid with their wellbeing and their health to generate the wealth in this province and in this country. Those days of mourning are poignant events, I'm sure, for all of us and I know certainly for you, Speaker; I know for you.
I know that you are reminded on those annual days of mourning for injured workers in your community of the need to ensure that the people who generate our wealth with their bodies and with their minds are cared for in a fairminded and evenhanded way, are ensured of income replacement, and as importantly, are guaranteed access to rehabilitation and to health care.
I was eager to support the right of my friend Mr Hudak from Niagara South, because he obviously has canvassed some of the employers in his riding, and I tell him I agree with him in one very important respect.
Any of us who has been dealing with workers' compensation claimants in our offices over the course of the last five, eight, 11 or 12 years, in some cases for decades, in the case of some of my older colleagues, like Mr Wildman from the north, and witnessed the daily plea from hardworking, honest people, people who never had any intention of being injured in the workplace, people who have no desire to be a part of any compensation system, people who would very much like to have their bodies whole and complete, and people who would very much like to continue to work at their trade or their occupation and continue to support their families and see their children grow up and enjoy some of the wealth that they helped create, any of us who have witnessed that, day in and day out -- and I know my constituency office oftentimes opens on Saturdays, as do others, to accommodate these people. We have one staff person dedicated only to dealing with workers' compensation claimants.
Is there a need for change? You bet your boots there's a need for change. You bet your boots there is. What's sad in the context of this discussion, this debate about Bill 15, is that the avenue to develop meaningful change was in existence prior to June 8.
You know that I haven't hidden my light under a bushel with respect to the last government. There have been times when I've been critical, but the last government struck, and I was proud of it having struck, a royal commission, one that represented a broad cross-section of the productive community, one that represented and had representation on it from working people, had representation on it from the business community. It was a balanced, fair and evenhanded approach and had a broad, broad mandate to make inquiries throughout the province to investigate the status quo, and, more importantly, to examine ways of improvement.
Let me tell you, were they conscious of the so-called unfunded liability? Of course they were. But they were also well aware that during some initial reform of the board, including the appointment of a bipartite board, the unfunded liability had been reduced a considerable extent. There was a board that made real progress over the course of some six months, until it was fired, without cause and certainly with a motive that's, at the very least, suspect, by the present government.
This commission travelled around the province. I appeared in front of this commission when it was in St Catharines, visiting and eager to hear from workers and business people and employers and families of injured workers, when they were in St Catharines, accommodating the people of Niagara. They travelled from the north to the south, the east to the west. They were in Sudbury.
People were eager to speak to them, to tell them about their concerns about the workers' compensation system in this province, again reflecting all points of view, reflecting points of view covering the whole spectrum, from the bosses down to the workers, when they had to say: "Thanks, but no thanks. The new government won't let us carry on with this very important, this crucial inquiry into the status quo and into information that would enable us to make recommendations about its improvement." Again, improvement from everyone's perspective.
I know you would have been there if you could, Speaker, in St Catharines this Tuesday past, November 14, when my colleague Dave Christopherson and I sat and heard from a number of people representing large numbers of people in Niagara region, about what initially was supposed to have been restricted to Bill 7, which as you know -- you were here and I saw the shame on your face when this government rammed Bill 7 through. I saw the disdain in your eyes when you understood that this government wasn't going to allow public hearings.
So you see, although the attendance of my colleague Mr Christopherson with me in Niagara at St Catharines last Tuesday was to have been to hear the concerns and the frustration and the sadness of any number of delegations about Bill 7, we also heard about Bill 15. There's been some criticism about, on occasion, the far-ranging discussion during the course of this debate about Bill 15, some suggestion that, "Oh, you're not restricting yourself to the pure contents of Bill 15." But we know Bill 15 is but the first shoe to hit the floor. It opens the door. It doesn't just open the door, it drives a Mack truck right through the wall that knocks the wall down, because we know what's coming.
We read and listened to the comments of the minister at the time of the introduction of Bill 15, and over a short period of time we've become somewhat sensitized to the code language of this government. We don't need little decoder rings like some of my colleagues on the government benches wear to understand what this means. We understand what this purported attack on abuse of the system means. It's going to mean more injured workers suffering the pain and the frustration -- you've met them, Speaker. You know the frustration and the anger and despair, and indeed the shame, that preoccupies an injured worker for whom vocational rehab is neither adequate nor present and who, at an age far too young, is forced to live with, well, chronic pain.
Chronic pain, Speaker? You talk to your constituents with chronic pain. Are you aware of the struggle of advocates for injured workers in front of WCAT to establish chronic pain as a compensable injury? Do you understand what it means for what was a healthy, fit young woman or man to fall victim to an industrial accident and to be forced to live the rest of their lives knowing that not even the strongest painkillers are going to permit them a full night's sleep? Not even the strongest of narcotics are going to permit them to walk about and do daily things the way you and I can. You know that, Speaker, I know you do.
This isn't a reform of workers' compensation, and the fact that it follows so closely on the heels of Bill 7 is no mistake. This government's beat the hell out of working people in the province. This government said that this province of Ontario, this new revolutionary province, that Mike Harris's revolution will not tolerate working people exercising their right to form a union, to gather and speak as one voice.
And now it's telling those working people with the broken backs and the shattered lives that there's no place for them in Ontario either, that they're not going to be fully compensated, that they're not going to enjoy the evenhandedness that's inherent in a bipartite board, that the fact that they gave their health in the workplace matters not to this government.
Because you know what's happening next, Speaker? When was the last time you were in the office of the worker adviser serving your area? When was the last time you were there, Speaker, because you've seen the backlog that those people have. I know the hardworking people in the Thorold office of the worker adviser are plagued with files piled higher and higher as they advocate for injured workers who enter this Byzantine process wherein rights are irrelevant and wherein the employer's interests are too often overly represented while the injured worker stands hat in hand, if indeed he or she can stand, and if indeed their hands aren't so crippled or sufficient fingers are still there to hold that hat.
We know what's happening next. We know what streamlining is. Come on, please. We know what the streamlining's all about. It's about take away. It's about destroy, not build. It's about destroy. This is the Teperman government. There ought to be big signs saying, "Warning -- Destruction Work in Process." Because let me tell you this: This government hasn't listened to folks down in Welland-Thorold and across the Niagara region. This government hasn't listened to the injured workers. This government isn't trying to build a better system so that injured workers can be treated fairly and compensated adequately.
This government hasn't listened to their advocates, be it the volunteer groups of injured workers who give of their time to help their sisters and brothers who are injured in the workplace, be they union or non-union, be it the staff at offices of the worker adviser. I challenge any member of this Legislature who intends to vote in support of this bill to go talk to the advocates in their regional office of the worker adviser before they do that. I challenge them. I challenge you to sit beside those people as the crippled workers amble in crushed, their bodies crushed in the workplace and their spirits crushed by a board that has become increasingly anti-worker.
It's one thing to suffer a broken arm. I have some prospect, some hope of it being healed, of recovering, and if not a full recovery, perhaps some modest use of the arm. But when you crush the spirit and the soul, you've stolen it. You've stolen far more than imposing a mere physical injury.
So, you see, go talk to the people in the office of the worker adviser, who already have delays of a year, a year and a half, because you know what? I tell you this: If the Tory members support this bill, I tell you what's next on the chopping block. It is the office of the worker adviser. There won't be any advocacy for injured workers in a workers' compensation system that is going to be weighted even heavier on behalf of the interests of bosses.
Let me put this to you: If bosses are so concerned about their assessments, their contribution to a workers' compensation system, why wouldn't they express that concern by way of enhanced safety in the workplace? If this government is so concerned about the cost of fairly compensating injured workers, why have they begun the dismantling of the Workplace Health and Safety Agency, an agency that had become eminently successful at developing skills among working people so that they could have some control over their workplace to guarantee that there weren't going to be broken bones, that there weren't going to be shattered backs and that there weren't going to be toxins inhaled?
Let me tell you, if you'd been down in St Catharines last Tuesday, if some of my colleagues here from the government bench had bothered, had been interested enough to listen to Al Bratton from the CAW, Local 199 -- he does their workers' comp advocacy. He speaks. He's there nine, 10, 11, 12 hours a day. He not only hears, but he feels the despair and the anguish. If they had listened to him they'd know that the working people, the injured workers who avail themselves of the skill and talent and expertise of Al Bratton from CAW Local 199, can tell you that Bill 15 is yet another attack on behalf of the corporate élite, and this time it's against injured workers.
First it was an attack on the poor, and not just the poor but their children. We took food off the tables of children of our unemployed and our working poor, little children. Not adults -- kids. Do you understand that? Kids -- food off their table, clothes off their backs. It wasn't a revolution; it's a counterrevolution. You know it. It's a return to the 19th century.
Then the government said: "No, we're not content with beating up on the poor, the unemployed; let's knock around abused women a little bit more. Let's tell them that long-needed services that are just beginning to really establish a foundation in our communities and being developed for them are no longer going to be provided. Let them go back into the matrimonial home where they get the hell kicked out of them on a daily basis, where their lives are threatened. Let their children grow up in those environments." That's what this government said.
Then it introduced Bill 7. You were here when that was introduced; I know you were, Speaker. They introduced Bill 7, and without a single consultation with the representatives of organized workers in this province prior to the first reading of that bill, that bill was presented and rammed through this House in an unprecedented way, denying the people of this province what I and what I think any fairminded parliamentarian would regard as a right, and that's the right to input by way of a public process, by way of committee hearings.
You should have heard what Gabe MacNally, the president of the St Catharines and District Labour Council, had to say last Tuesday. He represents some 15,000 working people in the north part of Niagara. You know what? They're scared. They've got the bejesus scared out of them by this government, I'm telling you, because they know when they're under attack. Let me tell you this: They haven't folded their tents and fled. They're standing their ground.
Gabe MacNally and the organized working people of Niagara know that an attack on the poor is an attack on working people, an attack on working people is an attack on injured workers, and an attack on injured workers is an attack on any one of us or our children -- I don't have to elaborate on that, do I? -- our children who might be blessed with an increasingly rare opportunity to perform a summer job so they could help finance some of their post-secondary education or even their high school education. But then come Labour Day that life is taken away by a workplace casualty, by a workplace tragedy, by a workplace theft of the life of a youngster.
So you see, working people understand that an attack on working people and an attack on workers' comp and a corporate-spearheaded attack on injured workers is an attack on their children too.
You should have listened to Lina Smith. She's active in her union. She's with CUPE. My God, she's active with her union. Is that a sin? A young woman who is a professional, working, grossly underpaid, for the Association for Community Living, working with some of the adults in our community who suffer from serious disabilities. They got kicked while they were down too, because the repeal of employment equity slammed the door in their faces. We don't have room for people like you in our workplaces. There's no room for you in this Ontario, this new revolutionary Mike Harris Ontario.
Well, they've got no place else to go. This is their home. This was their home before Mike Harris became Premier, and I tell you this, they're scared too, but they're also mad as hell, and they're hanging in there and they're going to fight so that it'll still be their home after Mike Harris and the Tories are gone.
But listen to Gracia Janes or Michael Cushing, who work with the community planning organization and with the children's services committee, and listen to them express their concern about the bent of this government, what its lack of -- it goes far beyond lack of compassion. It goes to outright lack of concern. It goes to the shrug. It's the big shrug. It's the old, "I've got the foreman's job at last; the working class can" -- you know the rest of the line, Speaker. You know the rest of the line, and you know the arrogance that reveals.
You know how much a member of this Legislature has got to be out of touch with his constituents to support legislation like Bill 15. What's it all about, Speaker? What's it all about, huh? You know what it's about. It's about the tax break for the rich. It's about the 30% income tax cut for the BMW and Mercedes-Benz crowd. Trickle down? Give me a break. By the time it trickles down, it'll be dried up.
Two thirds of all that tax break is going to go to the top 10% of income earners. Did you know that? Do you find that in any way, shape or form conscionable when you generate that tax break for the wealthiest 10% in our province, the six-digit income owners, the Mercedes-Benz, private club crowd, when you generate that on the backs of injured workers? Please. Please, Speaker.
This government would be well advised to not only show some common sense instead of nonsense, but to understand who creates the wealth in this country, in this province: the workin' folks. Because Bill 7 in its attack on trade unions is an attack on the rights of workers to organize to protect themselves. It's an attack on those immigrant women in Toronto, right here at this point in time, at 4:10 pm, working in their basements for a mere $2 and $2.50 an hour, sewing some of the designer labels that the blue-suited guys and gals on the Tory benches are so proud to wear.
Bill 7 took away from them the right to organize. With Bill 7 we took away from them the right to protect themselves from abusive, exploitive employers who simply don't give a damn, whose only interest is more profit and not the welfare of the workers who generate their wealth or of the children of those workers or of the unemployed workers.
We began to make some modest recovery from a deep, deep recession over the course of the last few years, but let me tell you this: There's going to be a recession aftershock come 1996, and it's going to be a made-in-Ontario recession. Mike Harris is going to fuel a 1996 recession by taking away the jobs of 20,000 civil servants in this province, and the middle class will all but disappear.
We're going to have a small group of those friends of the Tories: the wealthy, the powerful, the Connie Blacks of the world, the Frank Stronachs, the Preston Manning wannabes. There's going to be this rich élite left, while this government destroys every institution that working people and their advocates have fought for, not just for decades but for generations. There's nothing to be proud of; there's great shame in this province today.
We all know that injured workers depend upon the Workers' Compensation Board to care for them, to make sure that they are rehabilitated and returned to work as quickly as possible, and if that's not possible, then financially compensated or given a pension. We know that there have been enormous management problems with the Workers' Compensation Board, problems with both the management and with the board and with the huge unfunded liability as a result of policies.
Everyone in this House, all three parties, have served in government and we have all recognized that there are enormous issues and challenges facing us. But my question, as I respond to the comments by the member, is that this piece of legislation that's been presented will give us an opportunity to at least begin the discussion. I have a lot of concerns about some of the potential results of the legislation, but I ask him, are you willing to accept the status quo on behalf of injured workers? I'm not.
I think that whatever changes come, we have to make sure that we don't break faith with those who are injured working. We know that the original system of workers' compensation was to make sure that people injured in the workplace did not have to resort to lawsuits and the courts. I think that is all still valid and I would hate to see us return to those days. It was a contract and a bargain that said to employers and employees, "Here is an alternative to the court system."
But I don't believe that the status quo is an option. Our party presented options and alternatives, and we will be looking very carefully at this legislation. I would ask the member, do you believe that the status quo is acceptable?
My critic over there from Welland-Thorold, who drives to Queen's Park in a Corvette but drives a dump truck around his riding, didn't have the courage when he was in government to deal with the tough issues. We are doing that today. It's a lot easier to do nothing. But we're committed to dealing with this issue.
Real names, real people, real stories. They're hurt, they're down, they're vulnerable. They get kicked big time, hard time. Their pockets get picked by 5% when they can least defend themselves. But it's part of the biggest picture. The member for Welland-Thorold tells us, "If you can't run fast enough to distance yourself from the field, get out of my way." The bigger picture.
The reformists who are sitting across are telling us the CSR shall rule the day. "If you aren't strong, if you're weak, if you're elderly, if you're not rich, we're coming to get you through economic cleansing," and that's exactly what they're doing through this nonsense piece of legislation. I thank you, the member for Welland-Thorold.
However, I find it somewhat misplaced when he talks about the CAW advocacy rep working 11 and 12 hours at night dealing with WCB claimants. That's true, but I wonder if he would ever take one of those injured workers with their appeal down to this extravagant place called Simcoe Place and show them, let them see for themselves, the absolute waste of money that went into that operation.
Infrared lights when you walk into offices; leased art that no injured worker could probably ever afford; an air-conditioning system that is incredible; plants that are leased that cost thousands and thousands of dollars -- moneys actually, if the member for Welland-Thorold was listening, that could be used for pensions, could be used for claims that are honoured. But no, no, that's all forgotten in that palace down there that this government allowed and the other party decided, "We've got to build it because they're coming."
They spent $200 million there, actually $176 million of employers' and employees' money to build this extravaganza. They created at most, of what I can find, 400 direct jobs, costing -- imagine, now -- $440,000 a job. Imagine. Absolute waste of moneys. If the member for Welland-Thorold wants to get passionate about this subject, I can get really, really lighted up and passionate about the waste, the misplaced amounts of money that were used that belonged to employers and the taxpayers of this province.
The workers' compensation system is badly in need of repair. The last government knew it, which is why it struck the royal commission. And I tell you, the folks where I come from understand that that is the most democratic -- something these folks don't know a whole lot about or seem to care a whole lot about -- and fairest way of making a set of recommendations that can then become the subject matter of legislative debate.
Mark my words, Speaker. You're going to remember this; I know it. It's the first shoe. Wait till the second shoe drops. Bill 7 and the destruction of successor rights. We're talking about a government that's hell-bent on just not maintaining a workers' compensation system or developing one that in any way, shape or form is fair to workers or in any way, shape or form is designed to enhance workplace safety. We're talking about a government that's hell-bent to privatize workers' compensation and force these working people to become victims of the whim and fancy and profit motive of the private corporate insurance sector.
The writing's on the wall. This government knows it. It's staging these things because it doesn't want to show its hand prematurely. Perhaps it doesn't want to affect the purchase price. But this is shameful legislation from a shameful government.
The members opposite of both parties talk about how this bill doesn't do anything, doesn't deal with the real problems. Well, it is a beginning of starting to deal with the real problems, and the real problem involving this organization as an institutional failure is one of institutional credibility. This particular organization doesn't have hardly any credibility with which to present its case, whether it's dealing with the issue of employer premiums or whether it's dealing with the wellness program that supposedly is there to protect injured workers in the workplace, to preserve an effective and comprehensive system of workplace health and safety.
I can tell you without even referring to the bill that if one went out into the workplace and talked to small business employers and their workers, you would find that we have an institution here, the WCB, that is supposed to be a system of compensating folks when they get injured on the job, going around assessing employers on their failure to preserve an effective system of workplace health and safety, and it would insist on placing penalties.
I have a particular small business employer right now in my constituency who is planning on probably closing because he owes another $15,000 because some wellness bureaucrat came along and said: "You failed your workplace health and safety exam of 65% and therefore you owe the board this amount of money. If you don't pay up by a certain date" -- the usually prescribed bureaucratic way these folks at this institutional failure go about issuing these edicts -- "we'll probably be there to seize the car-washing equipment."
You know what this gentleman's probably going to do? I've had at least two conversations with him and I'm sure he's only one example of numerous examples of a system that was supposed to be protecting people as they do their work and is in fact going to end up creating no jobs. We'll have 15 fewer jobs there. Chalk up another number one job killer for the WCB: 15 jobs there.
I don't know how many of my colleagues probably have their own horror stories about this particular program. It's got the ironic name of wellness -- wellness -- program. It goes around -- yeah, it's well, okay, well in the head. It's a sicko program because it destroys jobs. It destroys jobs.
We have an institution here that can't face the reality of how it should carry out its programs with honour and with some ingenuity without penalizing the employer so he or she will move or close down. It's nothing but outright harassment of not only the employer but the worker, because the worker won't have any job any more. As my honourable members opposite would argue in letters and in their briefs, these particular 15 people would automatically go to the welfare system because they have no jobs, assuming these folks don't have any pride. I know some of them and they will not do that. They have pride. They will work to see if they can stay off welfare.
I'd like to get back to the central point of this bill, Bill 15. The centrepiece is to create a system of financial accountability. Let me tell you, we can go into an exposé of many stories of why this principle needs to be put back into place at the WCB, starting with a board of directors -- or governors, however you want to call it -- that are responsive and responsible for the moneys that come through the door.
Do you realize, fellow members, that the WCB takes in about $3 billion a year? That, in my estimation, probably covers two ministries of this government. So you would think that the people who are appointed to this board, whether it would be by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, or as my honourable friend from Windsor-Walkerville suggested the other day, by a more bipartite, consultative approach to putting these people in place, regardless of whatever methodology you would use, you would want to ensure that people are responsible and understand the financials, not from a business perspective per se but more from an economic preservation point, because they're responsible for those dollars for future pensions.
If you don't have the money coming in and being carefully nourished, you won't have enough money going out the door to preserve a financial income for injured workers and rehabilitated workers who need and count on those moneys. You certainly won't have it.
When you don't have prudent management, who gets blamed? Well, in the NDP lexicon or pink world, they automatically analyse it as a failure. It's a case of employers bashing the poor. It's a case of the big bosses, as the member for Welland-Thorold was saying, pressing down and putting the big boot to the small worker. It's the typical Marxian analysis that's been used in our society for the last 100 years, and in the end it fails. Even if you accept their premise, what does it have to do with the central principle of this bill, one of prudent financial accountability?
My members opposite bring out this cooperative model of workers and employers sitting down at the table and working out matters dealing with WCB issues. It's been tried for the last 10 years. Did it work? Well, if it worked, why do we have a nightmare of -- what is it? -- about $11.5 billion unfunded liability? Why is that? I wouldn't be surprised that when we really find out what the costs are of this organization, don't be surprised, fellow members, if it's not a lot more -- a lot more. That's why these members are spouting off their usual, typical class struggle epithets about the big bosses and the little worker when in fact that thing went out in the early 1920s. They just can't get away from that clichéd thinking.
Now we have a system where we had a board of these folks who sat down together. Supposedly it was a great cooperative effort. Yes, it was a great cooperative effort. It failed. It led to bankruptcy. If this operation called the WCB were a private enterprise or non-profit, where they had to be really accountable for each dollar that came in the door and went out in terms of pensions and payments for temporary benefits, they'd have to file bankruptcy under the creditor arrangers act, whatever that piece of legislation is called, when a private company doesn't have the bucks to continue. That's the sort of state of affairs we've gotten to.
But we have the members opposite dismissing this obsession they think we have with the lack of fiscal prudence as a methodology of stamping down on injured workers, rehabilitated workers. Let me tell you, people out in the public, unionized workers, non-unionized workers, employers of companies that are both unionized and non-unionized, know how serious, how severe this problem is.
I'd like to go back and do a little scenario, a little history, of what led to this mess, of what brought about this classical failure of so-called cooperation which isn't working.
In the mid-1980s, when the Peterson government was running this place --
But where did the boss or the employer get it? Through the sale of products or services by unionized workers, by ununionized workers. They bought these things and they paid premiums and they took all this money, $100 million, and they invested it in the Eurocurrency market, and guess what happened. This marvellous expert who knew everything about how to predict what would happen in the money markets failed. He failed utterly. If you want to check out the validity of this little scenario I'm talking about, all you have to do is read the material from the Toronto Sun -- imagine, now, this paper that's so anti-worker that all the people who work there after I think 20 years get a year's leave of absence --
Well, there was an article about this Eurocurrency caper, and that's what I'd call it, by Garth Turner, who exposed that the gentleman had failed utterly to make any money. Guess what? They lost the $100 million. In fact, it cost them at least $150 million, from the story that I had researched -- $150 million. That's a lot of money that should be going out in pensions. That's why we have this fiscal mess going on. That's why we have to bring in Bill 15 as framework legislation to prevent this sort of financial caper from ever occurring again.
Now, what happened to the gentleman? If this was a CEO of a private company and he did this, what do you think would happen? He'd get a raise? He'd get a promotion? Not likely. There's the odd example where that occurs in the private sector, but it's so rare it's like discovering a South African diamond mine. Oh no, this gentleman stayed. Nothing happened. He still collected his benefits of $150,000 or $100,000.
That particular Eurocurrency caper was one of the bigger items that this gentleman brought about and inflicted on the WCB and on injured workers and on employees at the board and on consumers and taxpayers, and he got away scot-free, as far as I know. Nothing happened. I find it incredible.
The folks across the way were running the board at that time. You would think that would be an indicator that we should be doing something in this area. Oh no, nothing happened. They just moved on, and guess what? The next great caper that came along was this place called Simcoe Place. This is a building you'll love; I love the history and the mythology built up about this place.
When the board of directors of the late 1980s decided that the space they had at 2 Bloor Street was highly inadequate, guess what? They suddenly decided, as an independent crown agency, they had to go out and get a new place built. And you know why they had to do this? As the secretary at the board at that time -- and I believe that particular individual is still in her position. The main justification, if you go back and look at the reports of the WCB when they came to the standing committee on resources development was -- I love this one -- that they needed a new building because the present building at 2 Bloor East was highly inconvenient and useless in terms of trying to help disabled people access 2 Bloor East.
Granted, there were some problems with it: if you look at the angulation of the ramp, the escalators if you use the TTC to get to Bloor. However, I myself at one time got in a wheelchair and I did go and use the system, and let me tell you that's no fun being in a wheelchair trying to navigate your way into this building to deal with your business.
So the folks at the WCB, or one of them, decided that, you know, there weren't any other buildings around Toronto that had millions of square feet of vacant space that could be used, oh, no. They all said: "These buildings are highly inadequate. The loading ramps wouldn't work." Can you imagine?
But getting back to the disabled mythology, the one that I just find incredibly inept in the way it was argued, the justification that was used was that if we moved from 2 Bloor East down to this new, fancy palace at Simcoe Place, it would be more convenient for disabled people. Okay? Sounds good. That's their justification. That's why they had to spend $200 million-plus putting this palace up.
So let's examine that particular business case and see really whether it's true. You get in a wheelchair or you use a walker, you come on the TTC down to Union Station, you get off the car, you go up the escalator or whatever you have to do -- and it's not easy there -- and you go through the tunnel to the Royal York and you get to the main street at Front, the Royal York Hotel, okay? Now, is there a tunnel or any way of getting easy access and conveyance from Front Street to Simcoe? Uh-uh, no.
Here you had a board -- and this is the model the members opposite use, a bipartite board, labour and management, they sat on it; they're the ones who worked on this deal -- and they said it was going to be a great stimulus for the economy, for growth and jobs. Guess what? As I said, it created 400 jobs, construction jobs, direct -- and that is, I believe, an overestimate, but we'll give them the argument of the day on that -- at $440,000 a job. This is the NDP's version -- or the Liberals' version, because they were both together on this thing -- of creating jobs, and they have the audacity to stand in this Legislature day in and day out asking us, "Where are the jobs?" Well, there are the jobs there: $440,000 a pop. I don't think if you asked too many employers they would be too happy if that's the way they were spending the money.
Here we have a bill that's trying to restore some financial accountability, a framework to deal with these problems. To me, the old system, the one that's been in current vogue -- it's cooperative, they sit down -- I'm sure the folks that were there had good intentions in the decisions they made, but the point is, fellow members, they failed to get the deficit down, to get this black financial hole into which we're falling under control. They failed utterly. If they argue that they had a strategy in place, well, let me tell you, then I must be J. Paul Getty and own the art museum in Malibu, which incidentally leads me to a third case of -- how shall I phrase it? -- a little more fiscal imprudence.
Here we had a group of board members, people who were easily persuaded that if you go down to this Simcoe Place -- now, of course, do you think when they designed it that they'd spare money? Oh, God, no. We can't have that.
I have been told by different people who were suppliers on this building that they had options A, B and C, and that's the way they operate on anything, even when they do improvements on the WCB hospital. And of course, if you're a bureaucrat who doesn't really have to take any money out of your pocket -- you know, the money is somebody else's, it's not mine, why should I worry about it? -- what option do you think you'd take on A, B or C in terms of the splashiest, the most luxurious? If I were the bureaucrat, I'll take A, if that's the option, or C, whatever one it is.
Here you have a group of people who live in or you might say work in rather well-appointed circumstances. You've got the infrared light system. What do you need that for? "Because they need it. They're more productive." If they're more productive, they must be. If what they say is true, it's got to be true.
Then they have, I understand, talking to a plant consultant -- I love this one, plant consultants, people who are in the flower business and plant business. They have to do business. I don't blame them for that. This organization puts out tenders for plants that specify they have to have a nice balance of CO2 intake and oxygen. Okay? No plant of course does that except the types tendered by the WCB plant fantasists. Of course, that's done. Of course, they believe they're saving money. When you hear them come here, I'm sure they'll make the case that "We wouldn't want to buy those big ferns we have in our offices." They've got to lease them. Right? Because if you lease them, you save more money. It sounds good, anyway. Whether it's the actual case, I'd be very doubtful.
Coming to the whole what I call art caper, back in the late 1980s this gentleman who was involved as an expert in Euro currencies had to also get involved in art. He's an art expert, and I have some art, but I'm no expert, let me tell you. If he was an expert in selecting art, then any of you folks here would be tremendously more effective. Guess what? And you can find documentation on this. They spent at least $50,000 -- "What's $50,000? It's not much money" -- of employers' hard-earned money, injured workers' hard-earned money, and they went out and, guess what? They leased some art. They wouldn't buy it. You lease it. You make a better business case.
Now, why do you buy the art? Supposedly -- I used to buy this theory -- if you have nice art in workplaces, it's aesthetically pleasing, it makes people happier. I guess you can't fault that. But the question really is, should a board of directors or any of the senior management in this place have been spending one penny, one sou, on art? I don't think so.
That's another minor explanation as to the whole problem of why we've got this fiscal soup mess left by these two parties across the way, by this party as well to some extent. We are responsible for a small portion of that $12 billion. Let's be forthcoming about it and acknowledge it. But I can tell you, when even you look at the charts, the amount of money in proportion to the number of people served by this organization was well in balance compared to what's happened in the last 10 years.
I have to look at some of the other provisions in this bill, on which our friends opposite say: "It's really nothing. There's nothing there because it's not dealing with the real issue," which is we're going to grind the worker down and make sure he or she doesn't get any benefits.
The whole thing is, they've had a few instances of fraud, just a few, at the WCB. Now, these fraud cases are rather minor. I can remember one where we had a taxi driver from one of the preferred suppliers creating more mythical trips for injured workers than the board found out about. This is a very minor example.
Then we look at some of the media of the past few years. We have had cases of one particular set of folks who set up -- I love this one -- 40 bogus companies. They had a number of bogus employees and they created all the mythical circumstances for workplace accidents, and then these corporations would file under the board. They'd pay their initial premiums, but coming along in tandem, about two months later, you had a bogus worker who applied for benefits. So we had a whole set of folks that, I think, worked out to about $1 million that was lost in this area -- not much money according to the WCB, because, you know, they're very prudent folks over there. They spend money very wisely.
Also, in this whole thing -- and now I'm going to be quoting from one of Canada's well-noted writers. I know she's a pariah to the parties across the way, somebody who's really out to lunch, this lady. She writes stories that are dead on, as far as I can tell, and deals with real realities of where the money's gone in terms of fraud. She believes, and she's done a lot of work on this -- and by the way, her name is Diane Francis. Imagine, I'm quoting Diane Francis. So right away my case is totally invalid, if you had the folks across the way listening, because anything she writes about, it's for the corporate élite and for the corporate agenda. To hell with the workers; she is totally indifferent to that. It's only we over here and she who are totally obsessed with saving money, making cuts, grinding injured workers into the sidewalk, really getting right at them. We do it with such joy, if you can believe this nonsense that's spouted, where it's an attack on the most vulnerable.
Anyway, Ms Francis believes, and I'm sure that her facts are fairly accurate, that the Russian mafia, if you can believe it -- I'm sure some of the members opposite say, "That's a fantasy you've really hooked into" -- may be responsible for at least $1 billion of the fraud or the misuse of money in this system. What's a billion? You know, it's not much, really, with this bunch that runs the WCB, running it right into the ground so that it really is, in effect, technically a bankrupt company.
Now, when you deal with fraud you have to have the best people in place. Let me tell you, here's another little story about the first person who set up the WCB fraud strategy or fraud investigation group. Really sounds impressive, doesn't it? This particular individual applied for the job, got the job, and later on, about three years ago, some of the personnel people or somebody cottoned on to the idea that this particular person who was the head of the fraud squad of the WCB, this group that's going to ferret out all this fraud, actually had made some minor changes in his résumé and said that he had an MBA from a university that doesn't offer MBAs in Ontario. But, you know, I can't blame the WCB folks or management for that problem; they just happened across it. Can you imagine? You have a person leading an effort to reduce fraud who himself is less than valid in his résumé credentials. Amazing.
But anyway, all these stories of the Eurobond caper, the Eurocurrency caper, the art caper, the expenditures, you know, just $50,000 on some nice art, that sort of thing, those are all inconsequential items when it comes to explaining the total collapse of the financials in the WCB system.
Now, we have a lot of people from the benches opposite always bemoaning the fact that: "I've got tons and tons and tons of paper, of files in my office. I'm working on WCB injured workers." Their idea, I suppose, of dealing with this is that --
This is not an amendment. It's a total repeal. It's a total repeal as it is now in existence.
And you know what's even sadder, Mr Speaker? Every speaker systematically has not been addressing the real issues that have been proposed by their own government. They have been dancing around the issues of, "It's a big mess left over by the previous government, we've got to bring this unfunded liability under control," and they have failed, miserably, totally, to speak on the merits of the bill as proposed, if there are any merits in the bill itself.
I dare challenge every member of the government side and point out to this House and to the people out there which one has been addressing the merits of the bill as it has been proposed in this House: None of them. None of them has been speaking on behalf of the injured people and supposedly those who may be injured in the future. None of them. Every one has been systematically -- and I have been listening very attentively -- telling stories of how they should be bringing down this unfunded liability.
I hope to carry this on during my presentation.
I can tell you that I have spoken in my riding of Brantford with a number of working people since June 8 and a number of injured working people as well, and they know there's a problem at the WCB. They know about the unfunded liability. They know about the quality of service they're getting with the Workers' Compensation Board and have expressed those concerns to me.
I know that often the colleagues across the floor divert attention. They divert attention from this issue. They talk about the 5% premium cut to benefits for people on workers' compensation, but this bill isn't about that. This bill has nothing to do with the 5% cut in premiums to people on WCB.
I can tell you that when I hear that from the opposite side, I can't help but think about the sort of fearmongering that they're doing across this province with virtually every piece of legislation that we bring forward, and that's because they lose on the issues. We are doing the right thing for the province of Ontario, we're doing the right thing for the people of Ontario, and the previous governments never had the guts to deal with the hard issues. I'm very proud to be a part of a government that's willing to make the difficult decisions on behalf of the people of this province.
I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that what this is about is restoring hope and opportunity and jobs in this province, and this is one small part of that. It's an entire platform, an entire economic plan to restore hope and opportunity. As I said, I'm very proud to be a part of a government that's certainly taking the right actions and moving in the right direction to that goal.
As my honourable friend the member for Brantford has said, this particular document came about because of consultation with many, many people throughout Ontario. Of course, the members opposite maybe didn't go to any of the meetings. The Premier and the other members of the 20-member caucus went to Wawa, lots of places. I've seen the trip schedules.
My good friend from Grey and the new Speaker went to northern Ontario and listened to people about all the issues, including the problems at the WCB. To sit here and accuse us of trying to bash people is to accuse people who came to those meetings of being ideologues, and that's absolutely simple nonsense.
I'd simply like to conclude that one of things this bill will hopefully do, through the framework, is get the folks who are administering and managing the WCB system to start thinking about this bizarre idea we have called customer service. You know what that means? Getting back to people, contacting them, telling them what the problem is, where their claim's at etc instead of the multifaceted piles of paper, high technology in terms of imaging that went nowhere and the non-responsive system at the board by the people who are paid big, big dollars. That's what we've to get at the heart of so that the members opposite won't be always complaining and observing, "You know, we've got these piles and we'll never end them."
Let me first of all congratulate, because I think we have to draw a line somewhere with respect to political sides and partnerships here, the Conservative side for introducing the bill and, as they say, for having the fortitude to try and reform, bring changes to, the Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. What they hopefully were planning to do with the introduction of such a bill was two main things. One was to control the costs, which I do agree and I think everyone else agrees, and the other one was to eliminate, hopefully, the so-called unfunded $11.4-billion liability.
That's as far as I go lauding the government side. What they are not recognizing is that this is not the fault of the working men and women, injured people of the province of Ontario. They did not create the mess that exists now within the Workers' Compensation Board. I'm not lauding the previous government. I think they have left a big mess, but in the hope of cleaning it up the government has forgotten the most important thing, to address the people who will either benefit or will suffer from the proposed bill. As it is proposed it can only make it worse.
From the last speaker we have heard a number of stories, one that is alluding to what I want to say. Let me tell the House a little story which was told to me many, many moons ago. It goes like this.
The trial was over and the lawyer was approaching the bench to address the jury, the lawyer for the injured person, in the quest to find an answer and seek justice. Finding none, he lit a match and he was looking. So the judge says, "What are you doing?" He says, "Well, I'm seeking justice," the justice that I seek in this House but I do not find in this House.
This bill, as proposed, does not bring justice, equity, fairness or improvement to the compensation of injured workers. It does none of that. It repeals whatever benefits the workers had been entitled to as a basic right up to now. It does repeal all of that.
What the bill does is speak of six main points. Let me address some of the major ones.
I wonder how members of this House, when addressing questions of their own memberships in their own ridings, what the answer is going to be when they will be confronted with, "Well, we will be tampering with the lifetime pension." If I were to be an injured worker, enjoying some basic benefits and rights today, I would say, "What do you mean you're going to tamper with my lifetime pension?" This is what you are proposing. They don't seem to be worried at all. It is their proposal. We didn't, the other side didn't, the injured workers didn't; it is their proposal.
We, as the Liberal side, have been urging the minister to review the Workers' Compensation Board, not to attack the benefits of the injured workers but to strengthen the permanent pensions of those injured workers. The minister wants to review, to re-examine, a fundamental part of the system. Does it mean that the injured workers out there in the field tomorrow may wake up and say, "Our low lifetime pension has been disbanded, has been cut off, has been diminished"? Is this how the government proceeds with the health and safety of our workers and injured workers? Are these the benefits they are talking of amending with the proposed legislation? I think not.
They are proposing a three-day waiting period to start with. They are proposing a three-day waiting period. This could be proper if we were talking of amending the car insurance act or whatever, but we are talking of the welfare of injured workers in Ontario. Is this how they measure loss, loss of health, pain and suffering and anguish, let alone for the individual member, for the members of their own families and their own communities? Is this the way the government wants to sympathize with injured workers and say, "We are going to give you now, before we give you the benefits, a waiting period"? This is their proposal. It is not contained in the existing legislation.
They are proposing to review what they will pay and what they will not. They will want more proof to make sure that the injury received is related directly to an injury received in the workplace. Well, my goodness. What other proof can there be? When a worker is picked up off the floor of an industrial complex, a construction site, and is brought to the hospital, and now is trying to recover, and we have a government that is trying to work against the benefits of that particular person and family? I think this is not what the injured people and the families of Ontario wish to have from their own government.
Everything has been addressed so far on the accountability factor. It is very sad that we have forgotten the fundamental rights of the workers, the injured workers. During the last election, the so-called -- I'm sorry, not revolution --
I'll tell you why. On their own front page, after a litany of wonderful things that they were proposing to do, they go directly to the bottom and it says, "The Next Step -- Public Involvement." Bingo. Did we see any? Did we see any, members of the House? We didn't see any on Bill 7. Well, my goodness. This is going to bring you down. And do you know what? Let's go and see what this so-called next step, public involvement, says. It's on page 19 in your blue book, or whatever you wish to call it. Would you like to see what's on page 19? Would you like to see? It is blank. It is absolutely, disgustingly blank.
The only thing that it says, once they go through again reducing 20% and 5% and 85%, with a very brief line is, "But how we get there will be discussed in partnership with all Ontarians." Now, isn't that nice. How are you going to do that? Is this the consultation you have given the minority in this House? Is this the consultation you're proposing to give the people who have elected you? Because there is nothing else in here, in this so proudly Conservative book which got you into power.
I think it would be quite proper for the government to say: "You know, we want to make the changes. We want to reform the act. We want to improve it." Unless we improve it, what is the sense to tamper with this particular bill? They say, "Well, we are going to propose, we are going to bring out a new proposal." Well, for heaven's sake, isn't that nice? If you have such a good proposal, bring it out. What is stopping you? What are you afraid of?
I would think that if they had such a good compromise to the existing law as it now exists, the present act, they would hurriedly bring it out and about and hold public hearings in every corner of the province of Ontario. But they don't have any. They do not have any, because if they had, they would bring it out for discussion and input from the people who will be affected the most.
In the proposed amendments, I would take two major components, as they go well beyond the fact that the WCB is in a mess, the unfunded liability is very, very high. But I think we have to take into consideration the benefits of the injured people. This is what the Conservative campaign commitment says with respect to benefits: They want to follow the lead of Manitoba and New Brunswick in reflecting income realities. "We will reduce the benefits level from 90% to 85% of net salary and review the idea of lifetime awards."
Are they telling the injured people out there how they are accomplishing that? Are they? Did they tell this during the election, how they are willing to accomplish that? Or are we going to have the injured people out there in the field on their hands and knees and saying: "What are they going to do to us now? They are cutting this, they are cutting that. We're feeling the pinch. Now, after 15, 20, 30, 40 years of labour, we have broken our knees, they've cut our arms, they've broken our backs, and now they're going to take away this measly pension?" I think if you were to be an injured worker out there, you would have a very uneasy feeling.
On entitlement they say: "Freeze all new entitlement including stress. The definition of `accident' will be redefined to ensure that the injuries are directly traceable to the workplace." It has been said by their own members that the fraud, if you wish to call it that, is absolutely minimal in comparison to the amount of the unfunded liability.
If that is the case, why are we putting the weight and the blame on the injured workers alone? Why is the government penalizing the injured workers? They shouldn't do that. It is unjust, it is unfair, it is inhuman. It does not create a balance, it does not create fairness and it does not create justice.
I believe -- and I will conclude my remarks -- that it should be a basic right of every injured man and woman in the province of Ontario. This bill, as it is proposed, does not do that, does not give them that protection, does not give them the peace of mind, does not create fairness, does not create balance, does not give protection to the workers of Ontario and does not bring justice in the system.
I do sincerely hope that once the bill comes back, after having gone through a very minimal period of discussions, the government side will feel the necessity to make the necessary changes and bring some equity to the bill that they have proposed.
We all know that the Workers' Compensation Board has had many problems. We're also very aware that the unfunded liability is creating enormous pressures for change. The concern that I have is that unless this government, as the member for Yorkview so rightly pointed out, allows for the kind of discussion, public consultation, open hearings and the kind of process which will include as many of those who have and share my concerns and the member for Yorkview's concerns and our caucus's concerns, we will not end up with the kinds of solutions that will meet the needs of injured workers into the future.
One of the concerns that I had during the election campaign with the policy of the now government in the Common Sense Revolution was to see a cut of 5% in WCB premiums. They are not implementing that promise. They have backed off from that promise. They said that they had not costed that promise out, and we know that any reduction in support and funding of the Workers' Compensation Board will result in two things: a higher unfunded liability or fewer services and benefits for the seriously injured workers in this province.
The member for Yorkview is to be congratulated. He put forward a very thoughtful presentation, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to congratulate him and comment.
We have heard from the government side, time and time again, that they wish to give people a hand up, not a handout, but I am afraid that this bill as proposed is nothing more than a total let-down. And it's sad, because I think the people out there that I have been working on behalf of -- every person in Ontario -- deserves assistance, deserves protection, deserves attention and deserves fairness.
When the people out there hear our own Premier saying, "Don't do what I do but do as I say," that's a different story. I think it was yesterday or the day before that he said, "It's not important what I do, it's important how I do it." That scares the living light out of me and the people in Ontario, because this is exactly the problem. It's not what he's doing, it's how he's doing it. And the way he's doing it is on the backs of the workers, the poor, the injured people and the less fortunate in our community, and I find this most unfortunate.
The biggest question I guess they had was, they were presented during the election and in communications after the election with a package of changes that were going to come re the whole question of WCB that they were expecting to see re this bill and had prepared somewhat to deal with that, had organized in ways, both personally and as an organization. This was the Sault Ste Marie Injured Workers' Association that I met with and was chatting with to deal with this.
But when they saw what was presented, it presented to them somewhat like a bad joke, sort of this is one shoe that's coming down that they saw would have some effect on them personally eventually, that would change the way business was done at the WCB, would bring forward a different tone, but the second shoe was still to come, which was the one that would directly affect them.
Sometimes I wonder if it isn't better to just let people do what you have to do so that people can deal with it and get on with their lives as opposed to having them out there sort of hanging, waiting, wondering what's coming and not able, because of that, to do a whole lot of things. Because you become somewhat paralysed or immobilized when you're not sure just exactly what's coming at you, what to expect and how it's going to impact on your life. So that was one of the questions they had to ask.
But the other question was of a bigger nature, a question that, in changing the nature of the WCB and moving away from the bipartite approach to doing business, which actually is part of a larger agenda that this government seems to have that will see us less and less using the resource that organized labour is in this province, they're asking the question, why? Why are we doing that?
Why in 1995, at a time in our history when anybody who is interested knows the positive impact that organized labour has had in all of the workplaces of this province, in all of the communities of this province, the positive impact that organized labour has had in the lives of people like you and I, Tony. We have a certain standard of living now. We have things that we count on by way of benefits.
But more than any other group in our society today, I think we have to give credit to the labour movement, and it crosses a whole raft of areas. It's not just in our own personal lives. We look at the quality of life that so many of us have in this province now and enjoy, but when you look at the workplace itself and the difference today, say, to the 1970s or 1960s, or if you go back far enough, to the 1930s, in terms of health and safety, even though we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to be done, it certainly is a different workplace today than it was back then.
Again, we have to give credit where it's due. The credit goes to the labour organizations that sat down and in some instances very peacefully negotiated some of these changes but in other circumstances actually sacrificed a lot of their own personal monetary income, at the time actually put their life at stake sometimes on the picket line to achieve some of what we take for granted today.
These people in my community, these people in workplaces across the province, these injured workers that I was meeting with on that particular night back during constituency week, are asking why at this time, recognizing the tremendous contribution that organized labour has made to the life of all of us -- and that's not just those of us who work in workplaces that are organized. In any workplace in the community, when a gain is made by organized labour at a particular workplace, it's not long before that kind of gain begins to become the norm and become present in many other workplaces.
Mind you, there are still workplaces out there that don't have the level of pay or the benefit package that comes with being part of an organized labour structure or whatever, but I think you'd have to agree that today --
I think it's important, though, to note that given that there are shortcomings and some things that haven't happened that we'd still like to make happen, organized labour has made a tremendous contribution to the life of this province, and why at this time, in 1995, we would want to begin to separate management from labour on some of the boards and commissions that govern, that give direction, that actually in some instances operate some of the organizations that deliver services and set policy and advise on new laws, why we would want to tear that apart, why we wouldn't want to build on what's already started.
The WCB, I think, is a perfect example of that and that's probably why these people were asking those questions. The WCB is not, I don't think, anybody's favourite organization. I don't know anybody in this House, either in the previous government or today, who could say with any degree of confidence that the WCB is working effectively.
My experience in the last five years, working through my constituency office, is that actually in fact I couldn't find anybody, any of the stakeholders re the WCB who were real happy with it. The workers weren't happy, because it wasn't working for them. The employers weren't happy, because they felt that it wasn't working for them either. In fact, the people who work for the WCB -- and we had one of them speaking here today, Mr Hastings -- certainly indicated by the way that they responded often or in conversations that we would have that they weren't real happy with it either.
But the changes that were being made in the last six months to a year, that were being brought about by this bipartite board, however difficult that process was, however sometimes cantankerous they got with each other, were still making a difference. They were making a difference in many significant ways, as was the health and safety agency that has now been disbanded, which was another bipartite approach to resolving some of the very difficult challenges that we, as a province, faced as we tried to manage workplaces so that they were safe and healthy so that people came to work and could work and contribute to their maximum and create the kind of productivity that was required for them to be profitable in the end.
So we ask that question, "What is it that we're trying to do?" I'm told when I ask that question sometimes that we're trying to create an environment that's going to be more inviting of new investment, is going to be more friendly to new business coming and setting up in the province.
I guess the question that flows out of that for me is, if you don't want workplaces that are healthy and safe, if you don't want workplaces that are providing a half-decent standard of living for people, with benefit packages and pension plans that in turn get circulated in the community so that a place like Manitouwadge or Sault Ste Marie has a healthy economy that it can count on, not just for today but into the future; if that's not the kind of enterprise that we want to attract to this province, then I ask, what is it that we're trying to attract?
What kind of company do we want to set up here and why are we exposing ourselves? Why would we want to expose ourselves in this way to companies that would not be, in the end, good corporate citizens and want to support and participate in and be part of a process that includes all of the major players in decision-making so that in the end decisions are better and are able to be carried out by those who have to do that?
We're told by way of the Common Sense Revolution that we've just come through five years of very difficult times re labour and management and business. That has not been my experience. My experience, and I think if you look at the facts they will tell us that we've just come through five years of labour peace. In fact we have attracted to Ontario, during that time of labour and management working together in the ways that we have set up for that to happen, major industries and investment, and that in turn has improved the lot of people working and living in the wider community.
It's interesting for me to watch, as this agenda of this very anti-union movement unfolds, to note that the organized labour movement, the union movement, is a creature of the free market system, that it was actually caused by and brought about by and fits in many significant ways nicely with the free market system, and it contributes to a stability that is necessary in a jurisdiction if in fact a free market system is going to work.
It's interesting to note, in terms of this attack that seems to be coming against organized labour and the union movement, that it was the labour movement, for example, in Poland -- under the leadership of Lech Walesa, Solidarity, you'll remember -- that began to change the circumstances of the situation in that country and move it from a very difficult communistic state to one where actually free market principles are now more the order of the day.
So why is there such a natural fit then between a system that is built on the entrepreneurial spirit and free enterprise and a free market system with the labour movement and with workers being empowered and workers being asked to bring, as said by my good friend Leo Gerard, their brain to work as well as their brawn? Why is there such a fit?
I suggest to you there's a fit because that speaks to, in my experience certainly in Sault Ste Marie anyway, a certain stability. When you can get management and labour working together, when you can get management and labour making decisions both on the short term and on the long term, that gives people a sense of confidence that this enterprise is going to be around and that the impact it has on a community is going to be there over a period of time, and there is a greater willingness, I think, for other enterprises then to come and to invest.
What is this stability about? What brings this stability? Well, I guess it's a sense of security. It's knowing, when you go to work, that when you go home again you'll be able to come again the next day, that your job is going to be there, that in the long term you're going to be able to plan and that you're going to have what it takes to keep your family in food and clothing, that you're going to be able to purchase a home --
That stability, I think, then lends itself to consumer confidence. When you have management and labour working together to stabilize a company, which in turn contributes to stability in a community, there comes a confidence in the consumer that then encourages that consumer to go out and spend. It seems to me, in listening to the economists and those people who know more about how an economy works and comes together and what's important, that this issue of stability and consumer confidence is central.
Our experience certainly, over the last five years in this province, is that by doing the things we have, which bring management and labour together on boards such as the WCB, on agencies such as the health and safety agency, and in so many other innovative and interesting ways over the last five years, we have created in the province a greater sense of stability. We were seeing the development of a greater sense of consumer confidence in the province, at least up until the spring of 1995, that was making Ontario a good place to do business, was making Ontario a good place to invest some money, was making Ontario a good place to come and to work.
This works. We know it works. The problem in my mind is we, as a government, were so busy trying to put out fires, saving enterprises that were in trouble because of the recession of the early 1990s, that we didn't take, I suppose, the opportunity to communicate with the broader public out there just what it was we were doing and just how it was working and why it was beginning to show some success.
I guess the thing that tells me that we didn't communicate that message properly or that experience properly is that we still have people out there who would prefer confrontation to resolution, who would prefer conflict and that way of going on and getting things done than actually sitting down and working together on common resolutions so that we might have some labour peace, and, in turn, the stability and consumer confidence that we need to really get this economy of ours going so that we can all benefit from it.
We heard from those people in 1992 when we passed Bill 40. We heard the great predictions they were making. I remember in my own community sitting with the chamber of commerce, and so many members of the business community in my office talking to me about the catastrophe that would ensue if and when we brought Bill 40 in. I used to joke with them, or I joked with them after we'd done it. I said I was sitting at the International Bridge the day after we passed Bill 40, and I didn't see --
It was within the context of Bill 40 and the comfort that the labour movement felt because it had a government which recognized the contribution that it could make and which was willing to look at things from a different perspective that the partners in the Algoma Steel restructuring came together and put together the resolution to the challenge of Algoma Steel for us in Sault Ste Marie.
When I got elected in 1990 in Sault Ste Marie, Algoma Steel was on strike, and it wasn't long after that that Dofasco decided to pull the rug and let it go, let it float, let happen what will; they weren't going to participate any more in any further development. It was at that time that the labour movement then said: "No, that's not the scenario that we want to see unfold here. We want to be aggressively optimistic about this. We want to bring the partners together. We think that we can save this operation and we can make it profitable." But they knew they could only do that if they could get the membership of their union, if they could get the workers on side. They needed to convince the government and they needed to convince management, and together then they had to talk to the financial institutions.
Well, at the end of the day, we did have a deal. We did have a restructured, renewed Algoma Steel that just the other day broke ground on an investment that represents close to $750 million in Sault Ste Marie. A company that was losing money, that was written off by its parent, is now making profits like it's not experienced before in its history and is actually taking those profits and other money that it's been able to generate because of the stability and confidence that it's created out there to actually invest in this company so that it can continue to be not only the highest-quality producer of steel but now one of the most cost-efficient, so that no matter what happens in the economy in the next 10, 15 or 20 years, Algoma Steel will still be able to sell steel.
That is only part of the northern Ontario story, only part of the reason why northern Ontario in the election of June 8 voted solidly in a large part of its jurisdiction for New Democrats and, if not New Democrats, for Liberals, because we did that kind of thing, because we brought together in places like Thunder Bay and Kapuskasing -- and they're only two -- management and labour, supported by a government that believed that management and labour together, given the opportunity, and in partnership with the financial institutions could come up with new ways of doing business that would be good for the communities in which those enterprises were located and would be good for the economy of that area as a whole.
So we have a story in northern Ontario to tell. It hasn't been told very well. It will be told, I believe, as the future unfolds, in ever more glowing terms and in ever more widening circles.
When I consider what this government is looking to do re the dismantling of the labour union movement, taking them out of the system, minimizing the impact that they can have, it also becomes very personal for me, as a young person at one point in my story, given a circumstance where my father, who was a cleaner, went to his employer and said, "I need a raise in pay." My mother worked alongside of him there. The answer that came back was: "Mike, we can give you a raise in pay, but to do that we have to cut back on Rose's hours. We think that she should probably be spending a little bit more time at home with the kids anyway." A very machiavellian approach, a very arrogant approach to labour relations, I would say.
So my dad phoned up Clarence Dungey, whom my good friend Bud Wildman and I know quite well, and it wasn't long before Clarence was up in the community that we lived in and did a little dance on the desk of the administration of that particular institution. My dad got the needed raise in pay that he required. My mother got a little raise in pay for the work that she'd done, so that now they could afford to continue to feed us seven kids, pay the mortgage on the house that we were able to buy then, and have a benefit plan that allowed us kids and my folks to do things that so many of us and you take for granted today: get our teeth fixed, buy glasses if we couldn't see, and those kinds of things.
So to think that an institution, an organization, that played such an important part in my personal life, in my personal story, in the raising, the elevating, of the quality of life of my family, and in turn the whole of Sault Ste Marie, because when one unit of a community --
I think about my own parents, who immigrated here in 1930, and in the case of my father, the only job that he could get was working for the Robert Simpson Co in one of their departments, and my mother at that time couldn't get a job at all. It's interesting to know that when my father decided that he had to have more income, they actually established a service station, and my father had the work ethic to dig the holes for the tanks at that service station and my mother pumped the gas.
The point of this example is that there was a very strong work ethic on the part of two individuals to survive in the 1930s in the Depression. I think when you talk about workplaces and workplace safety, you have to appreciate that that is a goal of this government today in 1995.
But the main point I think of my colleague's remarks was that our government strove, in the north particularly but also at McDonnell Douglas for example in the Toronto area, to develop a partnership between business and labour, management and workers, to be able to benefit the whole of the enterprise and society.
Algoma Steel benefited from that. We believe that the Workers' Compensation Board also benefited from that bipartite approach; a very, very difficult organization to come to grips with, that all governments and all members of the Legislature, and particularly employers and workers, have had difficulty with over the years.
The partnership that was developing was beginning to have some fruit, and it's unfortunate that this government has decided to tear that down and through other developments that they have brought in, such as Bill 7, to poison the relationship between management and labour to the point that we may in fact have serious difficulties in this province in our economy, at a time when we should be working together for the benefit of all in our society.
I guess my fear is that this is not going to happen. My fear is that this is not going to happen under the leadership of this government, particularly if they continue with the agenda that we've seen unfold over the last short number of months in this place.
What you're going to get, in my honest opinion, is a demoralized, dispirited workforce, and particularly an uneasy, paranoid civil service. That doesn't speak to me to the stability and consumer confidence that we need in this province if we're going to progress and do well together and provide a standard of living and a quality of life that will be good for everybody and, in turn, be attractive to that investment that we so desperately want to come and take up root here in this province of ours.
NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION
SERVICES FOR ABUSED WOMEN
This government has launched an all-out fiscal assault on battered women across Ontario. It has launched another attack which is even more disturbing than the cuts to the services. It has deliberately and forcefully worked to silence the critics of those brutal and unjust cuts to battered women's services across this province. "We will cut your funding or audit your books if you dare to speak out" is the message delivered by the ministers of the Harris government to women across this province.
On October 19, Minister Cunningham met with the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses and asked for ideas and information for the future at that meeting. This group represents organizations that provide emergency shelters that abused women rely on across this province. They come together to coordinate and pool ideas to serve women more effectively, abused women in this province, through their help. It is exactly the type of concept this government is encouraging and endorsing in every aspect of social services.
Following this meeting, this group learned on October 31, 1995, that 100% of its funding would be eliminated as of April 1, 1996, for a total of $65,620. This group opposed the government. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses dared to speak out against this government and its cuts. They raised their concerns with the minister at the meeting and two weeks later their funding received a 100% cut. Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe it is intentional. It appears to be a pattern developing.
We turn to London, the minister's home town, where we hear details she gave to Julie Lee, executive director of the London Battered Women's Advocacy Centre.
"Within the context of this government, you need to understand that groups or agencies that are seen not to be working with the government, providing an oppositional voice...will be audited and their funding eliminated."
Democracy Conservative style: "You speak out against us, we're going to cut you off at the knees. We're going to cut off your funding."
Should Harmony House in Ottawa not speak out for the people it serves and protects? Should Bethlehem Place in St Catharines just close its doors without stopping and saying, "Wait, something's wrong here"? We have billions of dollars to give the rich in tax cuts but we don't have the money to continue to protect battered women across this province. Where is the common sense in all of this?
The government is going to tell us that it spends a lot of money on women's services across Ontario. I know that the member will tell us how much they spend and the service they provide. But what it fails to acknowledge is very clearly that this demand is still there, that agencies and shelters across Ontario are having a difficult time meeting that demand and many of the crucial services that abused women across Ontario rely on every day -- and often it's not a question of convenience; it is a question of safety, it is a question of their life being in jeopardy if they could not turn to one of these services. We have this government that, instead of trying to address those issues, threatens the people who oppose it, threatens the people it was elected to serve and protect.
In Sudbury the YWCA operates a shelter and second-stage housing program that I was able to visit in September, an essential service for the people of Sudbury, yet another victim, another target of Tory cuts, with 100% of the counselling services and the second-stage housing being cut -- another example of complete withdrawals, another example of Mike Harris and Dianne Cunningham and their efforts to continue to put women's safety in jeopardy at the expense of the 30% cut for the rich in the province.
I remember the silence of the minister on the first day of Wife Assault Prevention Month. I remember the Conservative members silencing the opposition when we tried to mark this important day. I guess if I were sitting across the floor and I were responsible for these cuts, I too would be silent. Perhaps when you commit these shameless acts you have nothing else to offer but silence to the women in this province. But I know that the minister can offer more. I've seen the minister defend Mike Harris with compassion and conviction.
I have seen Dianne Cunningham speak out to protect the vulnerable in the past when she sat on the other side of the floor. I have seen her speak out about women providing leadership during her run against Mike Harris for the Conservative Party leadership. I have seen that Dianne Cunningham. I would like to see that Dianne Cunningham again, at the cabinet table and on the floor of this House, defend women, defend the shelters, defend the abused women who need your help, with that same passion, with that same compassion, with that same care that she demonstrated when she was in opposition.
I believe she has those values that she has brought to the Legislature for many years and I urge the minister to return to the cabinet table with the same values, the same compassion and to defend women across this province, defend the women who need your help. Stop simply being a lap dog of the decision made by Mike Harris and his cabinet, who obviously do not have any understanding of the needs of women and particulary abused women across this province. Speak out for the people you are elected to protect, not simply --
The member for Hamilton East has described the minister well in terms of her commitment, in terms of her passion, in terms of her interest in this issue. I know and I have seen her exercise that passion and that commitment many times in many discussions. I think it is very important to note that this government remains committed to addressing the issues that affect women and children in Ontario, including supports for victims of violence, who are proportionately usually more women who are victims of violence.
Those services are still in place. We fund 98 emergency shelters in this province and we're providing something like $15 million dollars in community counselling funding. I think that's a demonstration of the commitment that this government has made to this issue.
We have something like $100 million in program support annually for our violence prevention initiatives, where through the efforts of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Citizenship, Health, the AG, the Solicitor General, Education and the women's directorate we develop services and we put dollars into efficient uses to help women in these circumstances.
The minister responsible for women's issues, in cooperation with the Minister of Education and Training, has also launched recently a kit that is called The Joke's Over. It's aimed at ending student-to-student sexual harassment in our schools, an issue that we think is very, very important. It's the attitudes and socialization that lead to violence, and we must work to end the horrifying fact that after the age of 16, half of Canadian women are physically or sexually assaulted.
The minister responsible for women's issues has been active in addressing the issue of sex-role stereotyping through the release of several important resources, through the Ontario women's directorate, such as two kits for teachers and parents designed to end the classroom barriers for girls.
High school girls are underrepresented in numerous fields, such as maths and sciences, and women are underrepresented in numerous professional fields as well. We all recognize this and we're all prepared to work to deal with the barriers that face equal opportunity for women. We cannot end the cycle of gender socialization in our society if we do not address these, and we are working to that end now.
But our mandate for change in this province is to restore jobs and hope and opportunity for all citizens, and a woman herself needs the job, like everyone needs the job, and our economic agenda is designed to do that. If women and men were equal partners in economic growth, we would be able to add $168 billion to our economy annually.
For 10 years, however, under the last two governments, we've seen government spending creeping higher, we've seen our debt load begin to spiral out of control, and our Common Sense Revolution, our agenda for change, is for all Ontarians and they will benefit. This government will reduce that spending problem and end our out-of-control debt spiral. That's the only way we're going to protect the services that women need.
The minister responsible for women's issues has worked actively with the Minister of Community and Social Services, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General on the issue of victims' rights, as our government develops a Victims' Bill of Rights for them.
I think also it's important to note that in this Wife Assault Prevention Month, the Ontario women's directorate has supported 112 community organizations across this province in the development of public education campaigns, and numerous members are actively involved in supporting these initiatives across the ridings. I think you will agree that those are also very, very important initiatives that we have undertaken as this government.
I think it's important to remember, and I must confess that I sometimes feel quite concerned about the fear that is being engendered by our honourable colleagues opposite when they try and say that all these services have been taken away, that all these services, the funding is gone, that this is not true.
We continue to fund second-stage shelters through the Ministry of Housing. We're committed to protecting core services for women. In this time, when this government has to learn to live within its means, as every family out there has had to learn to live within its means, we are prepared to make those difficult decisions to make sure that those core services are there for people who are most in need.
That's what our government is planning to do and that's what we will continue to do. That's what the election was about and that is the mandate that we have been given by this province.
The House adjourned at 1815.
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