25 AVRIL 1996 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1005.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS, 1996 / CHARTE DES DROITS DES PATIENTS DE 1996
Mrs Caplan moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 41, An Act to protect the Rights of Persons receiving Health Services in Ontario / Projet de loi 41, Loi visant à protéger les droits des personnes qui reçoivent des services de santé en Ontario.
The bill sets out the rights of individuals who are receiving health care. It also speaks to their responsibilities, the responsibilities of both those who receive as well as those who provide health care services in the province.
The purposes of the act, primarily, are:
"1. To ensure that persons receiving health services in Ontario are aware of their right to receive appropriate and timely care.
"2. To ensure that persons receiving health services in Ontario are treated with dignity and respect by those who provide the services.
"3. To promote and improve communication between persons who receive health services in Ontario and the health professionals who provide the services...."
My view is that this legislation will promote minimizing the number of violations, as set out in section 3 of this bill, as well as minimize the number of complaints relating to the violations that could potentially be made to the colleges and boards of directors of health professions under the regulated health professions legislation.
How do I think it will achieve that? It will improve and foster communications because for the first time in legislation this bill would promote and foster an alternative dispute mechanism called communication. It would say to the colleges, "As part of your investigations of a complaint, you have to see if the patient and the provider have sat down and talked to each other about the concerns they have." We know that very often that kind of communication can clear up all kinds of misunderstandings. Never before have we seen the proposal in health legislation to foster that kind of communication, to foster alternative dispute resolution, and this bill is important because it sets that in motion.
It leaves investigation and discipline on all matters to the colleges, but it sets out very clearly for the colleges what, in the view of this Legislature, would be considered professional misconduct. I have always believed it is the responsibility of the province and of the Legislature to be clear, and this bill clarifies it.
For anyone who's interested, truly there is nothing new in this bill. Every provision of the bill appears somewhere in legislation applying to someone in the province. In the Nursing Homes Act there is a bill of rights. There are provisions in the Mental Health Act that very clearly give people their right to be informed on issues of incompetency and right to appeal. The new Health Care Consent Act has an information section.
What this bill does for the first time is bring all of those different rights together in one place. I believe this act will provide an important public education opportunity. It will also serve to not only inform individuals but raise the level of awareness among providers.
Is this new? Is this the first jurisdiction in North America to have a health care bill of rights? The answer is no. I wish I could say that it was landmark legislation, but in fact Massachusetts has a health care bill of rights.
What does a bill of rights do? We know from the days of John Diefenbaker and the Conservative government in Ottawa that a bill of rights brought forward is a statement of our values and our principles, and it enshrines those in law. It is something we have always seen as a positive step forward.
I do not believe that enforcement legislation is the way to go to try to solve all the problems of society. That's why the enforcement mechanism I have chosen in this legislation is left entirely with the colleges to determine what their protocols and procedures are. However, the legislation is very clear. It will assist in education and communication, and in my view it will not only benefit the individuals who are receiving health care, it will also benefit the providers -- the doctors, the nurses and those under the Regulated Health Professions Act.
I am proud of the fact that so many individuals and organizations have sent me letters of support for this bill.
The Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Association says: "We also support your efforts surrounding a patients' bill of rights. These are very important efforts considering the present government's view on provincial advocacy legislation."
The Ontario Medical Association would like to see this bill go to committee so that it could be discussed and potentially amended, and I would support that process and support potential amendments. The Ontario Medical Association says, "There is much in this act to be recommended and, in at least one area, this act recognizes a principle long overdue in our system."
From the Alzheimer Association of Ontario: "In its intent to protect the dignity and rights of people receiving health services, it is very much in accord with the policy positions our board has taken."
From the Ontario Physiotherapy Association: "Please be assured of our support of your private member's bill (An Act to protect the Rights of Persons receiving Health Services in Ontario). If there is any specific initiative the Ontario Physiotherapy Association can undertake to support the bill you need only advise us."
It is my hope that as people understand what is in this bill, they will recognize there is nothing to fear. It's my hope that it will be supported by the government. It has been supported by many who have taken the opportunity to read it, to understand it and to know what its intent is. What is surprising to me is that I have yet to find anyone whom I've discussed this bill with who is not in support of both the principle and intent and the mechanism I have chosen.
There is one other new feature to this piece of legislation that I think is important and should be noted: This will be the first time in legislation where the words "appropriate care" become enshrined. The Canada Health Act has five principles that are enshrined in that legislation: universality, comprehensiveness, public administration, portability and reasonable access. The Canada Health Act also speaks to medical necessity.
From the days of the development of the Canada Health Act, we all know that health services are now delivered in ways that were never contemplated when the doctor used to arrive at your door for a house call with his little black bag. Today there are many new technologies and many procedures that were not even dreamt of. Who would have ever imagined transplants? Who would have ever imagined the kind of extensive diagnostic therapies such as MRIs and the kinds of scanners that have become commonplace in our society?
One of the things we know as new technologies and new therapies have developed is the assurance that people actually get the care they really need. The idea has gone beyond simply the notion of medical necessity, which everyone agrees should be the basis for the delivery of services under Canadian medicare, but there is also a growing consensus, and I would go so far as to say there is a consensus, that what people should receive from Canadian medicare is appropriate care, that what the obligation of Ontario health care should be to the people of the province is not only improvement in their health status but the assurance that they are receiving what they need. What they need is appropriate care.
I don't think there is anyone who would think you should have a right to anything which is inappropriate, so that deals with the issues of rights and responsibilities, of making sure we do everything we can to let people know that we want them to have what they really need, when they need it. This bill is companion to and would not in any way interfere with the Canada Health Act. I see it as an enhancement of that legislation because it further clarifies the rights and the responsibilities of patients and providers.
I'm hopeful that all members of this House and this Legislature will see the value and the merits of this bill. Frankly, it is something I have wanted to introduce for quite some time and actually began thinking about and talking about when I was Minister of Health in the province of Ontario. I believe we can do a lot as private members, and one of the things we can do is bring forward our ideas to this House in a non-partisan fashion, ask for the support of members of the Legislature, allow bills to go to committee so we can explore some of these ideas and see whether they have merit and should be enshrined in legislation.
The last thing I would like to say is that this bill will not cost the government anything. This is not a money bill. What it will do, I believe, is help them in their rightful role of increasing awareness of the public of what they can rightfully expect, what their rights are and what is an unreasonable expectation. It should also give comfort to the professions that I believe in self-governance, that I believe in good quality health care for the people of the province.
Despite some of the things I might be provoked to say, I want to assure the member that I come here not to bury the bill but to praise it, that it is something the government should support. When I was reading the bill, I was trying to think if there were any openings here for the government to vote against it, and I couldn't think of any reason they'd vote against it. I see members on the government side all nodding their heads affirmatively that they certainly intend to support this bill. I don't know how they could possibly refuse to support the bill.
What is so terribly important about this bill is that it is necessary particularly because the government, through Bill 19, repealed the Advocacy Act. Now I have to tell you that I expected the government to repeal the Advocacy Act because the Advocacy Act did something for vulnerable people in our society. The Advocacy Act spoke on behalf of vulnerable people, so I expected the Tories to repeal it, just the way they've attacked welfare recipients, just the way they're going after seniors, just the way they're going after the disabled. I expected the Tories to repeal the Advocacy Act.
What I didn't expect was that the Liberals would support them in repealing the Advocacy Act. So of course Mrs Caplan, the member for Oriole, has no choice. She has to now protect her flank, if you will, by bringing forth a bill that says, "We're sorry we voted for the Tories in repealing the Advocacy Act." That's what this little piece of legislation is all about.
I come here to praise the bill, not to bury it, but you have to understand what the Liberals are all about. They voted for repeal of the Advocacy Act, which protected the vulnerable, so now of course they have to bring forth something that says: "We're sorry. It was a moment we regret and therefore we have to do something about protecting ourselves because we'll be criticized by vulnerable people."
During the committee hearings on Bill 19, which repealed the Advocacy Act, there were many witnesses, and our party, the New Democrats, tried to move some amendments. The government voted against those amendments; for example, the right to advisers when people were deemed to be incapable by the medical profession. So now there's no obligation by a health professional to tell a patient that they've been found incapable, what their rights are and that they can appeal that decision. Surely that's just a fundamental right for the most vulnerable people. During those hearings, witness after witness came forward and explained to the committee why the provision of advice for people in this kind of situation was so essential, keeping in mind that they are so vulnerable.
The whole question of the government's position on advocacy, as I said, was understandable, but we proposed another amendment that would have established a non-profit corporation that would have ensured that people were told of the significance of the finding of incapacity and the right to appeal. The government voted that amendment down as well. At every turn, when we tried to move to ameliorate the very tough ramifications of the repeal of the Advocacy Act, the government wouldn't even compromise and say: "Well, all right, maybe we're going too far by a full repeal of the act. Perhaps we should accept some of these amendments." No, no, that was not in the cards.
The same with the right to find an interpreter. What if language is a problem when a doctor is deciding that someone is incompetent? We moved an amendment on that, because that could be a serious problem. I would think most members would understand that. The government voted against that amendment. There's no reference in Mrs Caplan's bill to interpreters, helping find interpreters when someone is deemed incapable. I regret that.
There's also a section in this bill which I support, because I come here to praise this bill, the whole issue of reasonable and timely access to medical care. There is a danger out there, with all the government cuts in health care, despite their sanctimonious declarations before and during the election that there'd be no cuts to health care. Of course, that has proven to be the equivalent of the federal Liberals' promise to eliminate the GST, and you saw somebody thrown out of the House of Commons yesterday because they accused the Prime Minister of lying about the elimination of the GST.
I have no intention of getting thrown out of this assembly by accusing this government of lying when they promised that they wouldn't cut health care. I don't think I have to make that argument; others will make it for me. As a matter of fact, the numbers will make that argument for me and already are doing so, because of the cuts that are there now.
I don't think there's even much of a debate going on in the province now. If you ask people in the province of Ontario about timely and appropriate access to health care, they've expressed real concern, because they know there have been substantial cuts to the health care system, as announced by the minister; not announced by me or by the official opposition but announced by the Minister of Health himself and by the Minister of Finance.
There's no question in people's minds about there being cuts in health care in Ontario, absolutely no question about that at all. It's only that the government members are in what's called "a state of denial" that there's been any kind of debate on that. Ask anybody out there about health care in the province and people express grave concern and will make the point that of course the government's cutting health care. They've already announced it, making massive cuts in the hospital system and not replacing those cuts in the community-based and home care programs.
The fact is that it's appropriate to put into legislation that there be reasonable and timely access to health care because it is under threat. If government members are anxious about committing themselves to something they can't live with later, that's the part of this bill I'd be worried about if I were a government member, because of reasonable and timely access to health care. If the cuts continue, there won't be reasonable and timely access to health care in this province. That's the one aspect, if I were a Tory backbencher, I'd be a little nervous about.
I must reiterate I regret most profoundly that the Liberals saw fit to support the Tories in the repeal of the Advocacy Act, the bill that protected the most vulnerable people in our society, yet the government repealed that act and didn't put anything in its place. This is a faint-hearted attempt by the Liberals to say to people in the province, "We really do regret voting for repeal of the Advocacy Act, but here's something that will be a sop to you, and we hope that you will appreciate what we're doing."
However, I come here to praise this bill, not to bury it, so I must say I am pleased to stand in my place and support it. I can't imagine anyone in the assembly voting against this bill that's been brought forward by the member for Oriole. I congratulate her for bringing it forward and I certainly intend to support it.
As you know, we have guaranteed that the budget in health care will be maintained at $17.4 billion over the course of our mandate. While the status quo is not acceptable, we will find savings and we will reinvest them in areas that Ontario has told us they want us to reinvest them in, not government priorities, but the people of Ontario's health priorities. We also want to ensure that consumers are getting the highest-quality health care at the best possible price.
While the government supports many of the principles expressed in Bill 41, we have some serious concerns with some aspects of this bill. We strongly support the underlying principles of the Canada Health Act and are dedicated to ensuring that each Ontario resident receives access to medically necessary services.
As well, we believe that Ontario citizens fund the health care system through their tax dollars, and because of the essential nature of health care services, consumers of the system deserve to understand fully the choices of services available to them and to take an active role in making decisions regarding their health care.
The Premier is on record as stating that every Ontario citizen has specific rights pertaining to receiving health services in Ontario. Some of these include but are not limited to the right to be informed about treatment options, the right to participate in decision-making and the right to treatment free of discrimination which recognizes one's privacy, dignity and individuality. Our goal is to empower consumers of the health care system with the rights to proper care and to participate in decisions regarding that care.
We strongly believe that the principles of the Canada Health Act are dedicated to ensuring that each Ontarian receives access to medically necessary services. It was to that end that we increased out-of-country OHIP coverage within weeks of taking office.
The Premier, the Minister of Health and all of us in the government recognized the importance of ensuring that people have the right to be informed of treatment options and to participate in the decisions made about the treatment. The Health Care Consent Act recognizes the principles when people are capable, but also goes further to allow other people to make decisions for their loved ones when they are not capable.
It is one of the reasons that we moved quickly as a government to amend the Consent to Treatment Act. We heard Mr Laughren talking about that this morning. Several people came before the committee and told us about the negative impact it had on patient care when they had to read the scripted message informing the patients about their rights when they were incapable. In many cases, it made difficult situations worse.
As the members know, the Legislature recently passed the Health Care Consent Act, which restores the balance between the patient, the family and the practitioner. It requires that health practitioners ensure that a person is provided with information about the consequences of the finding that he or she is incapable to decide about treatment in accordance with the guidelines established by the practitioners' governing body. This amendment was passed in committee and was in fact a compromise position that was supported by the Liberals, so I am not really clear why the member raises this issue again in paragraph 9 of section 3 of her bill.
I am pleased to report to the House that we have already received guidelines from several of the colleges and that the others are required to submit theirs in the very near future. These guidelines will be reviewed in accordance with the intent of the Health Care Consent Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act to protect the public interest.
The member across the floor also makes an attempt in this bill to protect the privacy of health records. However, as she is aware, and as all of us are aware on the floor of the House, we have made a commitment to work with the Information and Privacy Commissioner to develop a comprehensive piece of legislation that will be much stronger in its ability to protect the confidentiality of patient information. I think we all recognize that two sentences in a bill such as this are not sufficient to protect the information and the rights of the people of Ontario.
I would like the members of this House today to know that Mrs Caplan was one of the major architects of the RHPA, an excellent statute, a bill she is very proud of and rightfully so, a bill which called on colleges to protect the public interest and which we as a government strongly support. The members will also know that under the RHPA, the colleges currently have professional misconduct regulations which stipulate that it is an act of professional misconduct for a health professional not to respect the dignity of patients in a variety of ways.
Mrs Caplan's bill has a significant impact on these colleges in the province. My staff have spoken to members of the colleges and they are very concerned about this legislation. They are most concerned about the duplication and, in some cases, the conflict between her proposals and the existing mandate of the RHPA. I would like to quote from the letter I received from the College of Chiropractors of Ontario. This is addressed to me and it says:
"The bill only recently came to the attention of the college and we have not had sufficient opportunity to consider all of its implications, although we would of course support many of the general principles. Our initial review causes us serious concern about possible duplication and redundancy with the professional misconduct regulations under the provisions of specific acts as well as the Health Care Consent Act. There also appears to be some conflict with the current process relating to complaints and discipline established by the RHPA."
I also heard from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and they suggested that the bill creates a new mandatory procedure for processing complaints of professional misconduct under the bill. These new rules are not consistent with procedures set out in the Regulated Health Professions Act. Colleges will not know which complaints procedure is supposed to be used. They have many more comments and I'll make those available to Mrs Caplan after this talk. Perhaps the member, during her final wrapup, will inform the House about which colleges she has met with and discussed these implications with and what implications they will have to the professions that they're regulating.
As I mentioned earlier, we are committed to ensuring that the health care budget is maintained at $17.4 billion over the course of our mandate. We are also ensuring that services are maintained or enhanced in our local communities and we have made a number of announcements to that effect.
Mr Laughren, I think that you need to know and to listen carefully that we have made reinvestments in the community. We have provided $170 million to expand community-based long-term-care services.
We announced $25 million for the expansion of dialysis services. We have reduced the waiting list in cardiac surgery by increasing by 19% the number of surgeries funded in Ontario. We have announced capital dollars so that communities can move forward with their restructuring plans. We have repatriated 76 patients with acquired brain injury who are currently receiving treatment in the United States. We have announced funding to help hospitals in small and rural communities maintain emergency room coverage in the evenings and on the weekends.
The number of announcements goes on and on and on. We are working hard to find savings within the health care envelope and to reallocate them to priority areas to ensure that our system remains sustainable in the future.
I want to make it clear that we support the principles in this bill today. We firmly believe in patient rights but we also firmly believe in self-regulation of colleges. This bill, however, has significant ramifications, particularly for professional colleges, and I am not convinced that they have been sufficiently consulted. I would welcome the opportunity to have a full and open discussion with the colleges and with interested people in Ontario about this bill.
Certainly bills of rights are enshrined in many different ways and in many different places. You can look at the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, which was passed by the United Nations on December 14, 1974. You can also look at the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was passed at the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1959.
As we all know, there are 10 principles with regard to the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and I thought I would read two, but now because I see the Minister of Education is in the audience today, I would allow him to listen carefully to principle 7.
First of all, let me deal with principle 4, because I believe the bill from the member for Oriole ties in very, very closely to this principle:
"The child shall enjoy the benefits of social security. He shall be entitled to grow and develop in health. To this end, special care and protection shall be provided both to him and to his mother, including adequate prenatal and postnatal care. The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services."
Principle 5 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child states:
"The child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition."
I was going to stop there with those two principles -- there are 10 very interesting ones -- but I thought I would read principle 7 because it is so important for our discussion over the course of the last week and in the future.
"The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture, and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.
"The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.
"The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right."
Let me leave that one and go to the Canadian Bill of Rights, which was passed by John Diefenbaker on August 4, 1960, and then enshrined in the Constitution in 1982 by the then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Let me try to tie the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Canadians to the bill of rights introduced by the member for Oriole.
If you look at the first aspect of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it guarantees rights and freedoms, which are very, very important to individuals regardless of age, sex etc, and if you look at the number one item in the bill introduced by the member for Oriole, you'll see "A person has the right to receive appropriate health care." Indeed that's a guarantee of rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution through this charter.
If you look at the second item in the charter, you will see "Fundamental Freedoms," and if you look at the second aspect of the member's bill of rights, it says, "A person has the right, and the responsibility, to participate in decisions made with respect to his or her health care on an equal footing with the health professionals who provide" the health care qualities which are important.
If you look at the third aspect of the Charter of Rights, "Mobility Rights," and compare that to item 4 of the member's bill, it states, "A person has the right to reasonable and timely access to appropriate health services."
We'll go on. If you look at the provision for the rights to have legal rights to life, liberty and security, you look at item 8 and you see it is addressed in this bill. Finally, if you look at the right of equality and look at item 5 of this bill, you will see that they are consistent.
The member for Oriole is not asking for anything new. She's asking for rights which are already enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and, most important, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and I can't see how any member, regardless if they're in opposition or in government, can vote against this.
So it is with some kind of surprise, I have to say, that I listened to the comments made by the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health when she categorizes, I presume, her opposition to this bill, in part because there are significant ramifications that flow from this bill that need to be looked at. That I find a little troubling, because I would hope these are exactly the kinds of rights that we would want to make sure, in one of the basic services we have in this society, our health care system, are actually there, codified in a way that doesn't attack or doesn't seek to attack those providers of the health care system.
I think we would all agree that the vast majority of people who provide health care in this province do so in a very good way, but that has never stopped us as a society from codifying in law and in regulations and in guidelines under the various other relevant pieces of legislation that guide and oversee the different professions, from putting in law these basic premises and these basic rights and responsibilities. That really is how I see this piece of legislation.
My colleague from Nickel Belt has I think correctly pointed out some of the interesting changes in position taken by members of the Liberal caucus, but I come to this particular point in the week reminding people that it is private members' hour, and as such we ought to look very clearly, in as non-partisan a way as we can, at the resolutions and bills that come before this House during this particular time.
So I would say to the members of the government, particularly to the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health, that if there are some concerns about conflicts or overlaps between what's in front of us here in this bill from the member for Oriole and other pieces of legislation, that's exactly what the committee process is in existence for. I would certainly urge people to support this legislation because in principle -- which is what, after all, this second reading is supposed to be about -- I think it does things that we should be supportive of. It enshrines in legislation, in what would be popularly known as a patients' bill of rights, some of the basic rights we've talked about, and it also ensures there are mechanisms in place, again referring to the legislation that exists, the Health Care Consent Act, where that exists, and suggesting some new procedures where that isn't already covered by legislation that would deal with situations when there are conflicts.
One of the pieces I particularly appreciate in this bill is the very last section, which suggests there should be an informal resolution when there is any sense that rights have been violated, which I think follows the basic premise that we see in grievance processes in any kind of basic, commonsense situation where there is someone who feels their rights have been in any way violated, for them to have as the first responsibility a discussion and a resolution with the party they felt has breached those rights before proceeding with any formal complaints under the legislation.
Again, to me, this legislation is something that restates basic rights that we all should be not only in agreement with, but wondering why they aren't already there in the laws of this province. I see nothing but useful things that can come out of a piece of legislation like this. If there are issues around conflict with other pieces of legislation, those should be dealt with, but they should only be dealt with after we adopt this piece of legislation and send it to the appropriate committee, where those discussions can happen and that sorting out can take place. So I'm happy to stand in my place and support this bill.
She led the charge on the Regulated Health Professions Act, in which the various health care colleges and professions were to be the mediators, the resolvers, I suspect, of individual complaints. We've also had from the previous government the Advocacy Act, which was supposed to deal with specific problems for vulnerable people. It's interesting to note that we are here as legislators to deal with the grand principles of systems, but I have some fundamental reservations about how we think through the implementation of these principles.
For example, the member for Oriole has in her bill the enshrinement of timely access and appropriate health care for individuals, but I don't see any specific means of remediation for people who are unhappy campers with the system, unhappy consumers, customers. We don't seem to use those words in what I call a closed-loop system, medicare. For example, we have people waiting up to two years for hip replacement. One could get into a debate as to whether the person waiting is caught under this government's handling of health care or the previous governments'. The point is that those folks aren't getting dealt with.
I have an individual constituent who wrote to me about his wife when she died of Alzheimer disease and the way in which my constituent was in a sense put through the mill. All kinds of letters have gone out. I've written; there have been responses. But when it comes to translating these grand ideas into practical outcomes, we don't seem to really get to grips with how we're going to handle that.
What kind of means is there for the individual health care consumer today to deal with an unhappy outcome? Can they sue? Presumably, but you're caught up in the courts for years. Can you measure the outcome specifically and practically in terms of what level of appropriate health care he or she received as a patient? Is there any way in which the consumer, at the end of a health care exercise, operation, whatever it happens to be, has a kind of empowerment to tell the doctors, the health care providers, "I'm really happy" or "I'm not"? There's no means of accrediting the system, the hospital board, the individual, in a sense.
We talk about all these rights and grand principles, but when it comes down to the practical basis of everyday reality, whether you're dealing with timely access to health care or appropriate health care levels, we get into this debate of, well, these aren't being implemented because this government hasn't put the money back in, and on the other side we're supposed to be dealing with it in terms of the fact that everybody wants to be treated with sensitivity and dignity. I would like to hear from the member in terms of how we translate these things into specific, practical outcomes that realize happy health care consumers.
I wouldn't be totally surprised to hear that the government members do support the principle of the bill but they cannot support it on a vote. We have seen this before, unfortunately. I say "unfortunately" because they are saying again, "We like it, but it does not solve the health problem in Ontario." This bill, as proposed, is not intended to solve all the problems associated with the health care system in Ontario. It serves to crystallize two very important points: the duties, the responsibilities, receiving health care with compassion and dignity; and trying to minimize or eliminate any wrongdoing while a professional -- a physician, a doctor -- is rendering his or her service.
I hear that they cannot support it because of some unforeseen measures that are not contained in this bill. The thing that is really surprising is that, as the member for Oriole said, it's not costing taxpayers any money. How can anyone vote against proposed legislation that is trying to provide good care for those in need at no cost to anyone? It is just beyond anybody's comprehension.
I'd like to compliment the member for Oriole for bringing this to the forefront because, want it or not, there are serious problems out there associated with the cuts we have seen coming from the government of the day, and I'll tell you why. We're receiving at our offices people, visits, calls of inequities and partiality, if you will, no longer vested under the umbrella of the universality system. We're moving far away from that. Unfortunately, there are too many cases coming out, almost on a daily basis, where patients or family members no longer receive the care of a particular hospital or home care because those services are no longer there.
The bill provides two major components: to ensure, with dignity, health care to patients and to provide some safety net for those providing health care. I do hope that the members of this House, especially on the government side, may reconsider and support the bill.
I realize the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, who's barking as usual, doesn't like to hear that, but that's the facts. You have cut almost 20% from the hospital budgets. Everybody understands that. My own local hospital, Scarborough Grace Hospital, one of the finest hospitals you'll find without question, has been cut by 5%.
So why is this bill important, Mr Speaker? I know you'll understand it. It is because as hospitals are looking at almost a 20% cut, people who are looking for this Legislature to ensure a quality health care system need some protection. There's no doubt that what the government's going to do is -- it has said, "We're going to maintain health spending at $17.4 billion," for those of you watching this. It will be a charade. They will find programs in other ministries, move them over to the health budget and say: "Well, public, we're going to fool you. We're still going to spend $17.4 billion, but we'll simply move programs."
Why do we need this bill? Because the public needs some protection as you're moving forward on your agenda. We know what your agenda is. You've got to find $8 billion, you've got to slash budgets in order to fund the tax cut. Two weeks from today, or in two weeks, you're going to announce the tax cut. You'll all be on your feet here -- believe me, guaranteed -- you will be on your feet here in two weeks wildly cheering the tax cut --
There we are. That is why my colleague from Oriole proposes this bill -- that's one of the reasons she proposes it -- to ensure that as this government proceeds, the fundamental thing we're here for, a quality health care system, is maintained and protected for the people of Ontario.
I would encourage those on the government side and those in the House who may have concerns about whether this bill is perfect or not to say that those imperfections, if there are any, can be amended and fixed at committee. I would hope it would go to the social development committee so that could happen, but I hope all members of this House will support this bill in principle.
I would say to them that it is not inconsistent with any piece of legislation. What it does is expand the existing rights that are in other pieces of legislation and clearly in one bill states that they apply to everyone in the province. It is not an unnecessary duplication. In fact, it is a duplication of what is already existing in some pieces of legislation, but it is appropriate duplication because we cannot restate too often the rights that we have, nor is it an unnecessary duplication to put all of those rights in a compendium in one place where it can act as both a public education tool and an opportunity for people to know what their rights and responsibilities are. It is a restatement of those rights, not a duplication.
I know there are some concerns from the colleges about the impact on the regulated health professions legislation. I would say to them and to all members of this House, there is nothing in this bill that would have a negative impact on those colleges. If they believe there is, we could amend the bill at committee. I would be open to do that. The intention here is to ensure that the public interest is protected and that we defend ourselves against the dismantling of health care by enshrining individual rights and let people know what those rights are.
Mr Silipo moved private member's notice of motion number 14:
That in the opinion of this House, since there is a significant and growing sense of cynicism and alienation towards the political process of Ontario and it is to the benefit of all to restore the relevance of government in people's lives; and
Since the present system does little to address the growing cynicism among the electorate towards the political process; and
Since the fairest and most democratic system of election is one which results in the composition of the Legislature reflecting as closely as possible the preferences of the electorate; and
Since the present "first past the post" system of electing members to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario does not mirror the voters' preferences adequately, usually resulting in majority governments being formed by a party receiving a minority of voter support; and
Since the present legislative system grants little constructive role to the opposition parties although they usually represent a majority of voters' preferences; and
Since the Mike Harris government is committed to introducing legislation to change the electoral system by reducing the number of MPPs in the Legislative Assembly and this will provide an opportunity to review the entire electoral system to make it more democratic;
Therefore, as one major part of reforming the electoral system of Ontario,
(a) Members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should be elected by a system of proportional representation which would better reflect the wishes of the voters and promote better representation of women and the diversity of Ontario in the Legislature; and
(b) This system should be applied on a regional basis to maintain the appropriate balances between urban and rural Ontario; and
(c) The Legislative Assembly committee should examine the various possible models of proportional representation which could be applied to Ontario; and
(d) The Legislative Assembly committee should report back to the Legislative Assembly with one or more models of proportional representation for Ontario which could be incorporated by the government into the legislative changes required to reform the electoral system.
I should say at the outset that on the proportional representation, there are a number of models that exist throughout the world, so it's important that people not think of proportional representation as one system. The basic tenet of it, of course, is similar in each of those jurisdictions and it is based on the sense that people vote for a party, very consciously knowing that the vote they cast in the election will translate itself roughly in the same proportion of members, in the Legislative Assembly in this case. That's the essential principle.
I would suggest that is a more democratic way of reflecting, through the electoral process, the wishes of the people of the province. So I bring this forward because I believe it is one of the ways to make our system of government more democratic.
All of us know the growing cynicism that exists out there towards not just individuals or political parties but indeed to the whole electoral process and to all politicians. I think it behooves us, again irrespective of political parties, to look at ways in which we can make the whole system of government more relevant to people and thereby also attack that sense of cynicism that exists out there.
I am not suggesting that simply changing the system of government is going to, in and of itself, resolve all of those problems that exist out there. I believe other changes should be seriously contemplated. I'm one who has long advocated, for example, for a greater role by individual members in the Legislature. As one example, I've continuously supported in a very strong way the private members' hour as being fundamental to the workings of this Legislature, but also to better democracy in this province, and would actually be happy to see that expanded in a number of ways. I'm one who believes that both as it relates to individual members of the opposition and individual backbenchers within the government, there ought to be more flexibility in terms of the role people play; that bills that come from the government, for example, should not been seen as hard and fast.
I argued this when I was in government and I argue this today. So it's not a question of going at one party or another. It's a fundamental principle that I believe in, because I think in that kind of give and take that takes place through the committee process, by listening to the public, by listening to each other, we can make better laws. I think above and beyond the philosophical and partisan views that we bring to any issues, which are also a very legitimate part of the political process, we would also want to acknowledge that there is something we can learn from each other when we actually listen to each other.
Unfortunately, the process we have in place now is one that is so rigidly set that it really doesn't allow for that kind of healthy debate and healthy give and take. So I believe there are a number of changes that should be made to the way in which this place works that would make it more relevant for people and therefore would help to break that sense of cynicism.
I believe that fundamental to any changes we would want to make has to be the way in which we are elected to this place. I think if you look back at the history of elections in this province, and indeed at the national level, you will find that in election after election, until you go back in time to the 1930s -- and we now have the experience of every single party of the three main parties in Ontario having formed the government -- every single party which has formed a majority government has never done so with a majority of the popular vote; it's always been done on the basis of a minority of votes. That is rendered even worse, in my view, when you look at the fact that the proportion of the vote that each party gets is not even equivalent to the proportion of people who could vote, because of course not everyone who can vote does.
For example, if you want to take a look at the last couple of elections, we see a situation in which in the last election the Conservatives formed the majority government after winning 44.8% of those who voted, which represented only about 28% of the eligible electorate. In the previous election to that, because again I want to make sure this is not seen in a partisan way, when the party that I'm a member of in the 1990 election formed a majority government with 37.6% of the vote, that only represented 24% of the eligible electorate. So there are problems, as you see, with the system in terms of it not reflecting a majority and, on the other side of it, in effect putting the opposition, who do collectively receive a majority, in a situation where they collectively only can muster a minority of votes in this House.
That again is something that transcends this current Legislature. It goes back in time, as I say, right through our political history. So I believe it's something we need to change. I believe it's something that would make the system more relevant to people.
One of the arguments I've heard against this notion is, "Wouldn't it mean we would likely have more minority governments in this province?" To that I would have to acknowledge that it may be the case. But I would say two things to that.
First of all, it would be a decision which the people of the province would make more consciously, knowing in effect that under the proportional system of election, they would be making that decision as to whether they wanted to vote wholeheartedly for one party or indeed if they did not.
Secondly, I would also say, look back at the history of this province and indeed you will find that some of the changes in law that were made during the time of minority governments -- and again we've had various combinations of minority governments in this province, so that's what makes it even more relevant -- you will find that some of the more lasting changes in any area of law that you want to look at are those that have come about as a result of minority governments.
Why? Because it is when you have that situation that you have to build a broader consensus and a broader acceptance as to the changes you want to bring about. Isn't that, after all, the basis of democracy, of having in effect not just a party which happens to command for a three-, four- or five-year period a majority of votes being able to come in and do what they wish and then having another government come in a couple of years after that and completely change that around? How is that at the end of the day reflecting the wishes of the people of the province, as opposed to a system that allows perhaps some more gradual change but yet change that reflects a broader consensus within our population and therefore is more lasting and transcends in some ways even the partisan differences that all of us obviously bring to this House, and legitimately so? That is one of the fundamental reasons why I also believe the proportional system of government is one that would make more sense.
Looking at Ontario and recognizing that there are indeed a variety of differences that are reflected in our current system in terms of balancing, for example, northern Ontario, which has large areas geographically that have to be represented with relatively smaller populations than, for example, an area like Metropolitan Toronto, I believe that if we were to look at a system of proportional representation, we would need to look at it on a regional basis that would maintain that sense of balance. Otherwise, we would really be skewing the representation disproportionately, I would argue, in favour of the large urban centres.
I would argue that that's part of the work we would need to do, and that's why I've also suggested a process for us to deal with this, which is that we look at this through the Legislative Assembly committee. We could look, through that examination, at the various models that exist throughout the world, models such as the one in Israel, which uses a complete proportional representation on a national level, to models like in Germany, which has a hybrid model between having half of their members elected on the proportional system and half elected on the single-member constituencies that we use, which I personally would think is probably a more useful model for us to take a look at. But again I'm suggesting that this is something we should look seriously at through the Legislative Assembly committee, and particularly do so now, because clearly the government of the day has indicated its intention to reduce the number of seats. So there are going to be changes.
I, for one, am quite happy to support that reduction of the number of members in this Legislature, but I also say to the government members that therefore now is the time for us to look a little bit more broadly at the whole system we have in this province and to bring back some suggestions to this Legislative Assembly that the government could look at as potential models to weave into the legislation they would need to bring in in order to put into law their intent to reduce the number of seats.
It's with that intent of wanting to promote a discussion and wanting to promote a process that allows for that discussion that I ask members to support this resolution.
It's a topic with which the member is eminently familiar. You will recall that in 1990 his party was elected with the smallest ever percentage popular vote to translate into a majority government: 37%. Clearly, if there was ever a time to go to proportional representation, it was in 1990, because 63% of the people in this province did not want the policies, did not want the personnel, of what is today the third-place party, the NDP. Our support, at 45%, is clearly higher than what the NDP achieved in 1990; in fact it's one of the highest percentages of popular support in recent memory.
What is even more appropriate perhaps is to recognize that while there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and you can play fun with numbers, the bottom line is that the majority of members on this side of the House at least were elected with over 50% popular vote in their own riding. Based on the system we have today, it is what happens within each riding that is relevant to the election of members. In my case it was 55% of the people of Scarborough East who chose the policies of the PC Party. I believe I do have the right to stand in this House -- not 55% of me in this House and 45% of somebody else whose policies were repudiated by the majority of voters in my riding.
It stretches credibility, as Mr Silipo has put in his resolution, to say, and I'm quoting, the opposition "represent a majority of voters' preferences." I guess, depending on how one defines "opposition" on any given question on any given day, perhaps you can make that case. But his party received only 20% of the popular vote in last June's election, clearly not deserving of any kind of disproportionate representation. In fact, the number of seats they have is only a half dozen less than they would have achieved had there been proportional representation last year. It's that kind of math that lets his party say that a $10-billion annual deficit and $100 billion in accumulated debt were good for jobs, growth and opportunity. But they found out last June that those policies were clearly repudiated.
Why not go one step further and scrap Parliament altogether? Why don't we just sign a long-term contract with Angus Reid to poll the populace on issues of the day? That would give you a true representation; that would take away any bias. We would be able to rule every day on what the majority of Ontarians believe on any issue. Of course, it's slanted by the way Angus Reid poses the question, but I guess it would solve the conscience of those who were defeated in the last election that this was somehow a more fair system.
With his motion, this member would throw out the history of hundreds of years of parliamentary democracy, a finely tuned and representative political system. The system is based on the principle that every area of our province has fair and equal representation in government. The system he proposes cannot come anywhere close to matching the level of fair representation from the regions that parliamentary democracy guarantees.
The most obvious weakness is that there would almost always be a minority government, and as long as the voting traditions we've seen in the last 30, 40 years were maintained, we would wind up with a scenario much like Italy's, which has seen four general elections in the last three years and 55 general elections in the last 51 years.
According to Elections Ontario, when you recognize that the cost of holding an election is $42 million, you can do the math and figure out what further debt we would have in this province if we had indulged that sort of flight of fancy that the Italians have. By the way, the Italians are now desperately trying to change and go to a system more akin to a parliamentary democracy, such as the one we enjoy here today.
Another concern would be the arbitrary selection of candidates. In most proportional representations across the world, it is the leader who then selects who will sit in the government or in the opposition benches, depending on their ranking.
I for one would be very concerned, for example, that if the system had worked out, that even if Mr Harris had been the winner last year under a system of proportional representation, he would have been able to pick 82 members at will. I don't know if it would be the same 82 members the voters selected. The same would hold true for Mrs McLeod and the former leader of the third party, Mr Rae. Clearly the system we have today more accurately reflects the wishes of local voters.
Certainly the aim of better representation of women and the diversity of Ontario in this Legislature is a very laudable goal, but imposing mandatory quotas for who should be elected, as the member's first recommendations would seem to suggest by encouraging "better representation of women and...diversity" -- we saw the results of that in the quotas they brought forward on job hiring, since repudiated by the voters and rejected by our government.
Aside from being a great ideal, his resolution does nothing to further democracy, does nothing to promote fairness and is opposed to our accepted notions of democracy, one of the central pillars of equality in this country.
Our government will introduce, as promised, legislation to reduce the number of representatives in this chamber, and I'm immensely proud of that fact. We will be reducing from 130 down to 103 the number of MPPs. If the federal members can represent the relevant number of voters they do, I think it's incumbent upon us to follow that example and, in so doing, save the taxpayers even more money. We will lead by example and show the people of Ontario that even in this Legislature we can do better with less.
With this reduction, our government will continue to do what we said we would do during the June 8 election. The fairest and most democratic political system is one that allows its people to vote for the party that best represents their interests, leaves them free of government interference in their everyday lives and allows them to prosper. That is the system of parliamentary democracy, and our government will continue to uphold those traditions of fairness and equality. Again, with all due respect, I will be voting against Mr Silipo's resolution.
I would first like to offer a brief word in support of the idea of proportional representation. Only in a two-party system does the current "first past the post" system represent the will of the majority. As a result, since the emergence of the NDP in Ontario, we have seen the election of majority governments that were not the choice of the majority of voters. It is not surprising then if electors feel that the reins of government are controlled by arcane forces beyond their control. A review of that system should therefore, I believe, be given serious consideration by this Legislature.
That being said, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak for a few minutes about an issue that my honourable colleague has raised in this resolution and that I and others feel passionately about. In the course of the last election, the Premier dramatically illustrated how he would reduce the number of members of Parliament in Ontario. A lineup of some 30 chairs represented the number of elected members who would be removed from the Legislature under his government. For some people this was a positive message, but it suggested an idea that needs to be examined more closely: Can the number of provincial legislators be significantly reduced without diminishing the electorate's right to democratic representation?
I stand today to urge caution. I stand today to warn against grandstanding for easy votes from a weary public. I stand today to urge sober consideration of the consequences of such action. We hear people complain every day that they have no voice in government. What's being suggested is a further erosion of their chance to have a say. It's really not about protecting the jobs of a number of those among us. I think we would all agree that being a politician is not the easiest job, and our fan club is small. Rather it's about protecting the interests of the people of this province and enhancing the effectiveness of their representatives.
Assuming that legislation would be introduced, I would like to touch upon some of the issues that will need to be considered. I hope therefore that the debate on this resolution would be just the beginning of a discussion that will involve all members of all parties and not be restricted to those around the cabinet table. We must resolve these serious issues using the best information and experience available so that democracy is enhanced, not eroded, by any changes that are brought about.
The Common Sense Revolution promised to cut the number of MPPs from 130 to 99, suggesting that the reduction would save taxpayers money. Beyond appealing to the cynical view that non-existent politicians are the best politicians, the idea in reality makes no sense from either a practical or a financial point of view.
The practice of politics and governing has changed dramatically since the years 1955 to 1960, when Ontario last had the number of legislators being suggested. Apart from representing a much smaller population, MPPs attended very short legislative sessions. They were not involved in committee work as we know it. They had no members' offices and did virtually no constituency work. Politics was the domain of the backroom politician. The public expectation and legislators' commitment to constituent representation were different then. I wonder if this is what the Conservatives envision for the future: a muting of the public's voice and a concentration of power in the hands of a few.
An argument can be made for increasing the number of MPPs, rather than cutting our numbers back. In 1955 each member represented on average some 54,000 constituents. Today each member represents 86,000. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction that has reduced its legislative membership, justified on the basis of a shrinking population.
With respect to concerns about cost, an American study has shown that smaller legislatures spend more per capita, not less, and therefore "A size reduction cannot be expected to lower the state's budget significantly." Logic would suggest that should the number of MPPs be reduced, larger numbers of constituents would raise each member's campaign and operational costs. The costs of maintaining a satisfactory level of constituency work would also rise, and so would travel and the need for staff.
I must admit that I have an aversion to putting a cost on democracy. I've been an election observer in countries where democracy does not exist, where they long for what we have, where what we have cannot be bought but must be struggled for. Democracy may indeed bear a heavy cost, but even so, we must not withdraw its mechanisms for the saving of a few dollars. No modern jurisdiction has ever reduced the numbers of its representatives. England, the democratic system we model ourselves after, has not conceived to do so, even under the most conservative of governments and the greatest of financial pressures.
The government's thought is to harmonize provincial riding boundaries with those of the federal government. Common sense, perhaps, until you consider the scope and complexity of issues dealt with by federal politicians as compared to those of provincial representatives. The concerns we deal with at Queen's Park affect our constituents more directly every day. We need to be responsive to their concerns on a level that federal politicians dealing with national issues do not.
I would like to return to the issue that must concern us most of all. How can we best meet the need of the people of Ontario for a fair and responsive government? How can we safeguard a democratic system that we sometimes find so easy to take for granted and forget to be passionate about? On the other hand, how can we argue against the prevailing cynicism about politicians who work for nothing but their own interests if we draw farther away from them?
This will not be a topic for dinner conversation for most of our constituents, but this subject touches on our responsibility as legislators more than any other. It concerns the very fabric of governing, the preservation of the precious tools of democracy, transcending politics, serving those who elected us.
I would like to appeal, especially to the new members of the government, about how serious an issue this is. Do not sacrifice a democratic system our ancestors fought so hard to achieve for the sake of a few votes. The implications of a move like this are very, very profound. I urge you to do your homework, to learn from the experience of those in other jurisdictions who envy what we have been able to achieve. In closing, I urge the government to reconsider scoring short-term political points at the cost of compromising the democratic process. I urge the members present to support this resolution.
The reality in this place, because we have a "first past the post" system, is that we elect governments by majority even though the majority of people across the province, the total percentage of people, didn't want -- for example, the Mike Harris government, with 44% or 45%, ends up in a majority government. So therefore, 55% of Ontarians don't have a say because you have a majority of seats. In our government, with Bob Rae around 40% of the popular vote, 60% of the people of Ontario didn't have a say. That is not how democracy should work.
The real problem here, quite simply, is that unless you're a member of Mike Harris's inner cabinet, you have no say. You sit in the back benches, you have to support what your government tells you to do; if you don't, you get disciplined. Is that the way you're supposing to represent the people of your riding? Is that what you want to be remembered as your contribution to this place? You guys have no clue; that's the problem. I think you need to start getting the point of this.
The larger issue here is that we need to try to find a way that all members of this assembly coming here have an incentive to be able to work with all three parties, so that we're able to build a consensus on what legislation is needed for Ontarians. Just because I'm a New Democrat doesn't mean I'm always right; neither does it mean that, as a Conservative, every idea you have is right.
What should be happening in this Legislature, which is not happening now, is that there should be a greater cooperation between all three parties, so that when the government of the day says, "We want to balance a budget over a four-year period," there is at least a meeting of the minds and a working together of all the members in this assembly so that we can involve those people in our constituencies in those decisions and we're able to work together to get to the overall aim of what the government wants to do.
The way it sits now is, if you're not a member of the cabinet, you have absolutely no say. I don't see that as proper representation of the people of this riding.
What we are talking about doing in this resolution is simply this: It's to say, "Refer this matter off to a committee," because the government has stated it wants to reduce the number of MPPs in this House. I don't agree with that view. I think that is cheap politics trying to play into a cynicism of people out there by saying: "We're smart, we're best, we know how to do it. We're going to reduce the number of MPPs in this place, and somehow magically that's going to fix the problems of Parliament." It's going to do absolutely nothing to fix the problems of Parliament; all it will do is reduce the number of seats by some 20-odd members, saving you a few bucks. But what does that get you for changes in Parliament? It does absolutely nothing. What does that do for democracy? It does absolutely nothing.
In a constituency like mine, what will happen in my riding under the new boundaries is that the ridings of Cochrane South and Cochrane North will be merged. Either myself or my colleague Len Wood will run in the next election and will be elected back to this Parliament. The point becomes that whoever that person might be, he's going to have to try to service the needs of those communities, which find themselves geographically spread by as much as 700 miles. How you can do that properly is beyond me. They say that the federal members are doing it now. The federal members are not doing it now. That's one of the real issues going on.
I say in all sincerity to the members opposite that we as parliamentarians should be trying to reform our system of Parliament so that it works not only for the public in regard to how our constituents have a say in this House, but how the members themselves work together so that we can work towards a consensus about how certain matters could be done. I see that as a positive force. If you're able to bring all three parties together to find solutions for common problems, I think in the end you have a much stronger product with a much stronger buy-in on the part of people.
The problem with our system of politics today, especially the way you guys are going as Tories, is the polarization of the people in this province. They are either with you or they are against you. I don't see that as a particularly powerful thing. There are lots of examples we can look at. We can look at what was done in New Zealand, which has a new system coming out in 1997.
I think there was all kinds of opportunity and I would ask members to at least support this so that we can move forward with the debate and try to find a way to make Parliament really work for the people we represent.
There are several systems of proportional representation -- the list system, the single transferable vote system, the mixed electoral system, to name a few -- but these systems are all very complicated and very confusing to the electorate. If they're cynical now, just imagine how cynical they would become if we were to introduce a very complicated voting system.
With proportional representation it's extremely difficult to get a majority government. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't have had a majority government since 1937 here in Ontario if we had gone to proportional representation.
Proportional representation tends to encourage minority governments, tends to lead to a coalition style of government. When voters go out to vote, they're really not electing a government; when the government is formed, it's negotiations that go on after the election has occurred. This is when coalitions occur.
Negotiations don't just stop when the coalition government is organized. Those negotiations go on and on throughout the life of the government until finally that government collapses and we're back to another $42-million election. At least, that's what it costs here in the province of Ontario.
Proportional representation encourages the emergence of extreme views. It takes these views, enhances their legitimacy and carries on far longer than the current whim that puts them in place, and that's certainly not advantageous to the parliamentary system. Unfortunately, it adds to the proliferation of parties. I for one believe that we have enough parties here in Ontario and that we don't need the large number of parties they have, say, in Italy.
There is a very high cost in changing the electoral system, and this point in time, when we're having to get our budget under control and trying to balance our budget, is no time to be moving to a more expensive electoral system.
The public are reasonably satisfied with the system we have today. They understand it. They do not believe it's perfect, but they certainly recognize the position we're in and they're not clamouring for a new change.
This is a very foreign concept to move in the British system. Really, when you're changing the electoral system, it should be by small changes so they're followed by the electorate, not great, big, major changes such as leaping to proportional representation.
There are many benefits to our present system. With the present system, we regularly have a majority government through a single party. It creates a more stable government, more capable of enacting legislative programs. I'm sure the NDP appreciated that when it was in government. It's relatively simple in the eyes of the electorate and there are no complicated formulas with our present system.
The Canadian Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing pointed out that the levels of women represented in elected assemblies are often attributable to variables other than the electoral system. For example, political parties' adoption of quotas for women candidates only seems to work when the quota system comes in.
We are looking at a new system of representation here in the province of Ontario. It's already been referred to. We're looking at dropping some 27 members, to 103. I believe that will simplify the process here in the province of Ontario. We can make the ridings the same size, we can make the polls the same size. It will be easier for the public to understand. We can even go a step further to make the polls the same size and the same shape for municipalities. We might even go another step whereby enumeration is the responsibility of the individual resident in that municipality.
In summary, I would like to stress the fact that I cannot support this particular resolution because this resolution would increase the confusion and the frustration of our electorate here in the province of Ontario. It would reduce the power of the voter, and this is a time when voters want to be more empowered rather than less.
To encourage multiple parties and more coalition governments -- I do not believe that's the direction to go, as has been occurring in Italy -- is a totally new system, and really we should be building on the present British system that we've used for so many years and have developed a tradition here in the province of Ontario. Going to proportional representation will not enhance the number of women here in the Legislature, it will not enhance the diversity, and that kind of proportional representation I don't believe is going to really enhance regional representation unless we come in with the quota system.
We have a system. It's been a tradition. It's not perfect, but it's a very good system. It's been working for many years, and I for one can continue to support our present system and not this resolution.
If the level of debate that is going on this morning on this private member's bill is an indication, that is why we do indeed need some reform -- some badly needed reform.
There is absolutely no reason why private members' bills such as this one here should die in the House when they are introduced for the first debate. This is an indication that deals are made, especially when we have a majority government. Deals are made behind the door and they are brought into the House, and those decisions are rubber-stamped against the will of the people. Good private members' bills die on the floor of the House without giving the people an opportunity to hear them, to hear the benefits or not. There is no private member's bill that should die on the floor of the House. Automatically, they should at least have some public input.
I would say, without reservation, that if this were the case, some very good private members' bills, with some very good ideas, wouldn't die on the floor of the House but would go forward and would make life much better for the people of Ontario. Unfortunately, when decisions are made behind doors, the political decisions made in this House, the ones who suffer are the people of Ontario.
As the government says in principle, at least we could say let's support it in principle. The bill as it is presented does nothing more than to seek if there is indeed a better way to represent the people of Ontario, the people we so much wish to represent.
I have to take some serious concern with the member for Scarborough East when he says that every member in this House has been elected by over 50%. I would really like to see that. When a government is elected with 35%, 40% of the popular vote, I would like to see if every man indeed has been elected with 50% or more. But if that is the case, with political decisions, especially when you have a majority government, the only people to suffer are the people themselves.
The member for Dovercourt is saying, "I have an idea," this is the presentation of a private member's bill, let's give it a chance, let's give it an opportunity to go to committee level, to hear what the public has to say, and then, if there is nothing that would make the existing system any better, let's kill it at the time. But until that happens, we should not base our decisions solely on a political basis because many good-intentioned private members' bills die on the floor of this House because of political decisions without allowing the public out there to voice their approval or disapproval. Most of the time many good intentions die because of political interference, political decisions, decisions that are made behind closed doors in somebody's caucus and then brought into this House and rubber-stamped.
There are many cases. We have seen this morning, for example, with the health bill proposal by the member for Oriole, the government say it is good, but it doesn't solve the problem so we can't support it. My goodness. Two weeks ago we saw my own private member's bill on insurance and we have seen the critic himself saying it is wonderful, does nice things, but since it doesn't solve all the problems associated with the insurance system, we can't support it. How do you like that, Mr Speaker? Things that really do good for our people do not receive the necessary support of the House because of political interference. I wish to support the bill as it is presented. Let's give it an opportunity, let it come back and see what proposal we could indeed support.
It certainly precedes our time in government and the present government's tenure and has been talked about actually to some extent even in my own riding association. It was brought up at various times by individuals who would come to particularly annual meetings where resolutions are debated and brought forward to provincial conventions. It's an idea that in Sault Ste Marie has been particularly championed by Ted Hallin, who as late as last Monday at our annual meeting had a resolution passed by our own riding association that will go to our provincial convention in June in support of the notion, the idea, the concept that the member for Dovercourt has presented here this morning.
I think it's appropriate and timely, probably in two respects: one is what this government is proposing to do by way of downsizing the size of this House, and by that, I suggest to you, diminishing democracy in the province, where we should be trying to reach out and be in conversation with more people. What this government is proposing is going to do less of that and make this place more the place of the élite to come and present their ideas and have them become the order of the day.
Certainly in the north we will feel the brunt of what this government is proposing by way of changes to the electoral map, and I think we will find ourselves less and less with a voice and more out of the loop, not to speak of many of the communities of people that the member for Dovercourt in his resolution refers to. They have felt over the years and still continue to feel that they really don't have a voice in this place.
If you look at what has happened in the last five to 10 years in this Legislature and what people in my constituency are saying to me about that, I think it gives us reason for some concern, and also should give us some energy and momentum to actually move forward and have the courage to make the kind of change that is required so that this place truly becomes a democracy and representative of the diversity of people, of geographic areas and all the other things that make us both unique and one and also different, so that we can make decisions that reflect a respect for that.
I know in my own constituency the swings we have seen in this place, by way of majority governments that are actually elected by a minority of citizens, are reason enough for us to pass this resolution so that we can have that conversation and that debate that will hopefully lead us to making some change, and hopefully some change in the spirit and direction that is suggested by the resolution in front of us here today.
In the interests of democracy, knowing that the essence of democracy is that more and more people have a voice and that the debate that happens in this place more effectively reflects that, I suggest that today is a good time to begin the discussion, to carry forward the discussion that is proposed here re the changes that are suggested so that we don't have in the jurisdiction of Ontario continual swings, and I say this without any apologies, from way left to way right, and a population out there that become the victims of some of the decisions that are made.
I know being in government over the last five years and listening to the leader of our party, the then Premier, Bob Rae, on different occasions say that a government has to be careful that it doesn't get too far out in front of the people it governs, I think the kind of government we have now, the electoral process we have now allows for that kind of thing, and I think it does us all, in the long run, more damage than it does good. So I'm standing here today in support of my colleague's motion and I'm urging other people to do the same.
That is not very good. That is not a very good statement. What it says is there's at least 35% to 40% of the electorate who have essentially given up on taking part in democratic politics, who have given up on taking part in democratic activity. That does not bode well for the future. Where you have jurisdictions and the voter turnout is tending to be 60%, 55%, 50% -- I look south of the border now, and it's not unusual to have voter turnouts of less than 50% in the United States -- that does not bode well for democracy. It does not give people the sense that they are involved in any real way in the decisions of their province, their state, their country.
What the member for Dovercourt is actually proposing is he's asking this House to have the courage to look at another system of government which would allow for more democracy. Yes, it would allow for the expression of more minority opinion. It might allow for the expression of more regional opinion. I come from a part of the province that has generally felt alienated from the province as a whole. In fact, about every 10 or 15 years in northern Ontario someone floats the idea that northern Ontario ought to form a separate province, and the reason that idea is floated and is taken seriously is that people feel that democracy in Ontario does not work as well as it should work.
I've heard particularly members of the government talk about this in terms of, "If 50% of the people in your constituency voted for you, then it must be okay." I think not. A real democracy not only looks at the representation of the majority; it looks at the representation of minorities; it looks at the representation of regional interests; it looks at the representation of the general diversity of the jurisdiction and the general diversity of the population. That is not happening now.
Over 70% of Ontario's land mass is inhabited by a majority population that is not represented here at all: first nations. I would say there is something wrong with our working of democracy if over 70% of the land mass of Ontario has as its majority inhabitants first nations and none of them is represented in this Legislature. There's obviously something askew here.
What the member for Dovercourt is actually asking for here I believe is that we have the courage to look at another form of representation which will provide for more democracy, which will provide for a greater representation of the uniqueness that we find in this province, of the diversity that we find in this province, both defined in terms of regional expression and in terms of the diversity of the population.
I would hope that some of the members opposite would put aside whatever their particular partisan interests might be. Since we are now engaged in this discussion about some kind of reform of this place, we ought to look at how we can further the interests of democracy, how we can create more democracy in this place and how we can achieve greater representation. For that reason, I'll be supporting this and I hope others will be supporting it as well.
I can certainly accept people not liking this resolution and being against it. I find it harder to accept the harshness and the kind of arrogance that I think was expressed, at least in some of the comments, because it says to me that there is very little appreciation of the fact that this is private members' hour and this is a time that we all have as members, regardless of being on the government side or on the opposition side, to put forward ideas through bills or resolutions to be looked at, hopefully, in a non-partisan way. I regret very much that at least the government members who decided to speak on this have very clearly chosen to see this as a partisan issue.
Yes, it's true, when I was a member of the NDP government we didn't enact legislation to do this. Fair criticism. I could also turn that around and say, "Why didn't they do it in the 42 years that they were the government?" That doesn't get us any farther ahead. Nor do we go any farther ahead by cutting up systems like the Italian system where people have been trying and I think have been finding progress through a hybrid of the systems that we have in place now which, interestingly enough, the members opposite chose to ignore. Would the new system that I am suggesting be more confusing to the electorate? I don't think so, because I have more faith in the wisdom of the electorate than I think the member for Northumberland has.
In summary, where the PR system has been used, it's been shown that in terms of gender equity and I think equity around all other areas, it is a more equitable system. People should look at it more seriously before saying no to it.
PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS, 1996 / CHARTE DES DROITS DES PATIENTS DE 1996
Mrs Caplan has moved second reading of Bill 41. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
We will vote on this after we have dealt with the other item.
Mr Silipo has moved private member's notice of motion number 14. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
There will be a five-minute bell. Please call in the members.
The division bells rang from 1209 to 1214.
PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS, 1996 / CHARTE DES DROITS DES PATIENTS DE 1996
Those in favour, please rise.
Those opposed, please rise.
The majority of the House not being in agreement, the bill is referred to the committee of the whole House.
All those in favour, please rise and remain standing.
It now being 12:23 o'clock, I declare this House adjourned till 1:30.
The House recessed from 1223 to 1331.
ANNIVERSARY OF CHERNOBYL DISASTER
It remains impossible to gauge the extent of damage done at Chernobyl or its potential effects upon future generations, but some things we know that are for certain. The Ukrainian ministry of health has produced alarming figures: 125,000 Chernobyl-related deaths. In Zhitomir Oblast, for example, the number of deaths of children suffering from oncological diseases -- that's cancer -- has doubled over the past year alone.
So the April 26, 1996, day marks the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. It is not an occasion to celebrate, but it is a solemn reminder of an atrocious event which must not be forgotten. Chernobyl was a tragedy that must not be allowed to happen again. So there will be a candlelight ceremony right in front of this Legislature to mark this 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine.
It's the Children of Chernobyl Canadian Fund. The organizers are pleased to invite all members of this Legislature to attend. It will be tomorrow, April 26, at 7 pm in front of this Legislature. I only hope that many of our members will be able to attend this requiem service.
WALK AGAINST MALE VIOLENCE
I'm especially proud, though, of the students who will be participating on Monday, April 29, in the students' walk against male violence. Young people like Chris Golden of Denistown Street, Kevin Thibault of Ontario Road and Ronald Tanguay of McAlpine Avenue, all of Welland and all from Welland Eastdale Secondary School, will be joining just hundreds and hundreds of other students participating in this walk against male violence, raising money and expressing a commitment to ending the violence by men against women.
Proceeds will be shared with the Niagara Regional Sexual Assault Centre. I am, as I said, proud of these young people. I shall look forward to joining them on Monday morning at 9 am as we leave Centennial school to walk to Merritt Island. I want to congratulate the organizers of this event. I want to express the pleasure that we feel in Niagara at being able to participate this year in a very direct way and I want to speak on behalf of the thousands of people across Ontario who have participated in these walks in solidarity against the unspeakable violence by men against women and with a commitment to ensuring that it ceases forever.
ANNIVERSARY OF CHERNOBYL DISASTER
On April 26, 1986, a computer accident involving Chernobyl nuclear reactor number 4 set in motion a blast that released many times the combined radioactivity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and elsewhere, impacting the lives of countless millions of people. In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, an eyewitness had this to relate: "My friend who worked with me in the same building went out for lunch. As it was a nice day, she returned red-faced and we all thought she was blushing for some undisclosed reason. Today she is dead. We had no idea what was going on at the time."
The curse of Chernobyl has not ended. It has not ended for the thousands of children of the Chernobyl disaster who are condemned to a life of weakened health and thyroid disorders, including cancer. The threat of another thermal blast continues to loom as does the very real danger of radiation contamination in the drinking water of another 20 million people in the wake of this year's flooding.
At this time memorial services and candlelight marches are being conducted worldwide to help us remember what the victims of Chernobyl are not able to forget. I invite all members of the Legislature to join me in remembering and in supporting relief efforts at home and abroad to help the victims. The world has embraced the suffering children of Chernobyl and we can do no less in Ontario.
ONTARIO HOCKEY FEDERATION CHAMPIONSHIP
The South Point Capitals from Wheatley and Leamington went undefeated with four wins and one tie in five games. They defeated Erindale 2-0 to clinch the championship. The game was the culmination of an unbelievable year of 64 wins, 11 losses and four ties, as well as several tournament championships throughout the season.
Congratulations go out to team members Matt Anthony, Adam Bosimier, Mark Epplett, Dan Dawson, Chris Bonham, David Penner, Justin Renner, Kerry Bowman, Adam Whittal, Lance Tofflemire, Kyle Ukrainyc, David Armstrong, James Keller, Andy Anthony and to their coach Kirk Bowman, assistant Paul Child, trainer Mike Epplett and manager Jennie Klym.
DOWNTOWN CHURCH COALITION
Those members involved in the Out of the Cold program and other drop-in programs have seen at first hand how government cuts to social services have increased the hardship of the poorest people in their communities. They have fed three times as many people this year as last year.
In the words of Reverend Jane Watanabe, priest at St James Cathedral: "If we see there's something wrong in society, we must speak out. The greatest burden of our government's deficit reduction is being borne by the poor, and that's unjust."
I would like to add my congratulations and thanks to the Downtown Church Coalition for their hard work, dedication and commitment to a cause that this government must, at some point, listen to.
LIONS CLUB OF BRIGHTON
The Lions were the driving force behind the building of the first community arena in 1947. They have sponsored many teams and individual athletes. Lions have made substantial donations to the Trenton Memorial Hospital in support of the building program and have helped purchase medical equipment.
The Lions have supported those less fortunate than themselves. They have purchased countless pairs of eyeglasses, provided dental care, purchased orthopaedic devices and wheelchairs and have provided a car for the VON for the past 15 years.
They have assisted families in paying their heating bills, organized annual Christmas food drives and have held annual Christmas parties for needy children.
Service clubs such as the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, Kinsmen, Optimists and their partners, to name a few, have contributed significantly to the building of Ontario and making Ontario what it is.
With this week being volunteer week, on behalf of the government of Ontario I extend a big thank you to all of the volunteer work by our service clubs. The Lions motto is "We Serve" and the Lions Club of Brighton has more than lived up to this pledge.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
More than 2,200 people have been killed on the job or died as a result of an occupational disease over the last eight years. Over that same period, more than three million claims have been registered with the Workers' Compensation Board. In 1995 there were 250 job-related deaths registered with the board; more than 375,000 claims were registered that year.
The cost to our economy of this human tragedy amounts to billions of dollars. More important, the cost to our friends and neighbours who are the victims and to their families is immeasurable.
Over the last 10 years, much progress has been made in reducing lost-time accidents, injuries and death. Unfortunately, the current government is pursuing a policy which will contribute to, and not reduce, the incidence of workplace injuries and fatalities. The government once again is being penny wise and pound foolish. Most regrettable, innocent working people, average citizens, middle-class taxpayers, will pay the price for this government's shortsighted, regressive workplace health and safety agenda.
INDEPENDENT ORDER OF FORESTERS
Although the Independent Order of Foresters actually began in Newark, New Jersey, in 1874, its first Canadian court, Court Hope 0001, was instituted on April 26, 1876, in London, Ontario, and London was the site of the first Canadian headquarters from 1881 to 1888.
The Independent Order of Foresters offers many community services and has been an important part of our community for all of those years, and we celebrate with them their 120th anniversary.
The Independent Order of Foresters offers, as a community service, free fingerprinting services to assist the police if a child goes missing. They fingerprinted over one million children in the Niagara region alone last fall.
Court Hope 0001 has also contributed to such things as the Florence Hallum prevention of child abuse fund, which has given over $45,000 to the child abuse movement. They also work with the Children's Hospital, the Reye's syndrome association, the sexual assault centre, the multiple sclerosis centre and virtually every other of our community-based groups.
On behalf of the citizens of London, Ontario, I congratulate the Independent Order of Foresters, Court Hope 0001.
ST JOSEPH SCHOOL
In December, along with 36 other schools, this class entered a contest entitled Why I Love Canada. The students, under the guidance of their teacher, put together a 15-piece bristol board display, produced a video, and wrote poems and essays in both official languages. This class finished second in this contest, and since that time their efforts have been featured on CITY-TV, YTV and CTV, as well as numerous print media outlets.
These students showed how proud they are to be Canadian, how much they love our country and how much they want to keep it united. Now they have the opportunity to share those feelings with other Canadians as the exhibit the students have put together is now travelling and being displayed in Ottawa and Quebec City.
On behalf of the Legislature, I wish to congratulate the students on a job well done. I encourage all members to stop and view the display when it is at the CNE this summer.
When I look up at the public gallery today, I see a bright future for Canada.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
On March 6, I announced that grants to school boards would be adjusted to achieve savings in out-of-classroom expenditures. Since then, my colleagues and I have had ongoing discussions with many trustees and staff from a number of small boards. They expressed concern that they have less flexibility in their operations than larger school boards and therefore less capacity to accommodate the required grant reductions. We have listened carefully to their concerns and have considered a wide range of options to help them.
What I'm announcing today will help mitigate the financial impacts on small school boards in a consistent manner across the province.
We will be modifying the general legislative grant regulations for small boards with fewer than 10,000 students. What we will be doing for these small boards is limiting the grant reduction to either 3% of the school board's operating expenditures or 15% of the board's 1995 grants, whichever is less. Our preliminary estimates indicate this special assistance will total approximately $14.5 million. We'll have more accurate figures in May, after the school boards submit their financial estimates to the ministry. It is estimated that 27 boards will benefit from this special assistance.
Our ministry has focused on creating an education system that is based on excellence in quality education, affordability and accountability to all Ontario taxpayers. It is my belief that spending beyond our means, not underfunding, threatens the future of our students and all of Ontario. That's why we have to work together to achieve significant savings in our education system.
I am confident the change I am announcing today to general legislative grant regulations is a very fair and a very reasonable way to provide smaller school boards with the flexibility and assistance they need to achieve these savings.
Where have you been? We have been alerting you to this particular problem. Your office must have received the barrage of calls asking for the new formula by which they might be able to be reconsidered as well. I'm sure that's happened.
We now have $14.5 million. It seems to me you had no idea of the impact on some of these boards. Some of these boards, as you well know, were reduced by over 50%. The board in Halton that one of your colleagues in cabinet has told you much about was reduced in its provincial funding by over 50%. In attempting to respond, I suppose this flooded over into the possibility of other boards making contact with your office in terms of Muskoka or the west Parry Sound board and a number of other boards.
Is this it? When will the boards be able to finally say: "We now know all of the arrangements. We know what the formulas are. We know that we now are able to submit our budgets to the ministry for approval"?
In my opinion, what we have is a situation that occurred through reviews and contacts and representations by the minister's colleagues. Having gotten involved on the political side, he now finds he has to come back to make an adjustment in figures for other boards and acknowledge the undue hardship that will affect many, many boards in this province.
What do we have? It seems to me we have a Band-Aid to the massive amputation of provincial funding to school boards in this province. Where is this money going to come from, the $14.5 million? Where are we going to take that money? There will have to be some kind of adjustment and some kind of formula.
This is not a good day for the management of education in this province. Frankly, it's somewhat of an embarrassment. For those boards that do recognize and will receive some help, then I applaud that particular effort. But in terms of managing the whole system and understanding the impact on the educational system throughout Ontario, it's an embarrassment.
Minister, you have saved us some trouble because we were in the process of phoning board by board to find out which ones would fit the criteria you made up this week in the Legislature. We were going to make sure that every one of those boards that was getting more than a 15% cut in its grant would get your special consideration.
We would now like to see a list of the boards that are going to benefit from this new fund, but more than that, we want to know, and we deserve to know, exactly what factors were taken into consideration, because I can tell you that the factors that hit these 27 boards and sent them reeling and sent the Minister of Natural Resources begging to you for special consideration have hit every board in this province. We are going to spend our time now looking at the undue burden that your policies have placed --
The major question is, where is the $14.5 million coming from to help pay for the resolution of this little crisis that the minister and his colleagues produced? Surely the minister is going to tell us that the $800 million he's taking out of the boards' budgets in one year, the $400-million cut to the grants, is going to be decreased by this amount, because if it isn't going to be decreased, it means all of the other boards that are above 10,000, which are not going to have their grant losses capped at 15%, are going to be paying for it, particularly the Toronto board and the Ottawa board, but that also applies to every other board in the province that's going to have to make cuts. They're going to have to make even more now to make up for this little attempt to resolve the problem that a number of the boards are experiencing because of a deal that was made by Haliburton, or apparently attempted by Haliburton, and is now having to be matched for 27 other boards.
What are the names of all the boards that are going to benefit from this attempt to resolve the minister's problem? Can the minister explain what the criteria are for determining which of these boards -- is it simply the numbers, the numbers of students, the enrolment, or is it based on any kind of impact study of the effects of the changes in the legislative grants?
It appears that this government is flying by the seat of its pants. It's not doing any of the impact studies that are normally done before the announcements of the legislative grants for boards across the province. Simply because one minister in this government was going to be hit harder, his board was going to be hit harder than the mythical 2% cut the minister has been touting around here, they had to resolve that. In resolving that, when they were caught, they had to match it for all the other boards of similar size.
How is the minister studying and planning for the education system in this province? Does he know what the effects of the cuts he's announced will be? It is impossible to take this amount of money out of education in one year and not adversely affect classroom education. It is simply impossible. You're slowly finding that out. You're finding it out now because you didn't do the studies in advance that you should have done to recognize you couldn't save all of these funds simply from administration. It's impossible to do this. It's impossible to have these kinds of cuts without at the same time hurting kids' education.
You've assisted 27 boards. After you tell us which ones they are and why you've assisted them, tell us how you're paying for this $14.5 million. Are you not just taking it out of all the rest of the boards in the province?
All members are honourable members in this House and should be treated as such. Members may disagree with other members but I'm telling you, as I had indicated yesterday, I was concerned about it.
Imagine this, Minister, because I have in my hand a copy of the memorandum of agreement, a memorandum of settlement dated February 6, and unless it is another flight of fancy on my part, I believe that this memorandum of settlement is signed by John Snobelen, Minister of Education. I will have a copy sent to you just to refresh your memory so that you can assure me this is not another flight of my imagination.
As you will see in this memorandum of agreement signed by your hand, it is exactly what we set out yesterday: the terms by which your government is prepared to rob the local taxpayers in Metro Toronto of $65 million in property taxes, money which was raised through property taxes for local education which you now want to take to pay for your tax cut, and absolutely contrary to what you said in this House and outside this House yesterday, this $65 million, as stated in this signed memorandum, is in addition to making the savings of the social contract permanent.
Minister, will you acknowledge that you were wrong yesterday? Will you acknowledge that you do have a signed agreement that allows you to take $65 million from local ratepayers in Metro Toronto?
I can most definitely help her out with this situation. I have said before in this House that we have had ongoing negotiations with Metro on this subject. We have a challenge in front of us to make sure the savings that were created because of the social contract are made permanent, as they are in other boards around the province, so we have had a negotiation. On February 8 we did have an agreement in principle between the Metro board and the ministry. This agreement is not in force. It was conditional on several factors, and we continue to negotiate now.
As I've said in this House before, we will have permission when we pass Bill 34 to continue the negotiations with Metro to find an agreement that reflects the needs of Metro and the needs of the province, and reflects the commitment of the board and this ministry to having a more affordable education system in the province of Ontario and a higher accountability for the education system in Ontario and greater quality for the education system in Ontario. I believe the boards and the province and the ministry are aligned on these areas.
I will place my first supplementary to the minister because I want to draw his attention to the third paragraph of this agreement. In the third paragraph it states, "The government has indicated its intention" -- and I remind you this is an agreement you have signed, a written agreement -- "to use its funding and other powers to ensure that the school board should assume its proportionate share" of the $400 million in spending cuts set out in the Finance minister's statement last November.
There is only one way to interpret this statement. It is, in deference to the Speaker's concern, political bullying and political intimidation. It says that if the school board does not agree to use local tax dollars, property tax dollars, to help fund Tory government cutbacks that are being used to pay for your income tax cut, you will use whatever powers you possess to get the money in other ways. It says in writing with your signature over it that this is what you are going to do. Will you now acknowledge that you put a gun to the head of the Metro Toronto school board and forced school trustees to use local tax dollars to pay for your tax cut?
"Whereas the government has made the expenditure reductions contained in the Social Contract Act...permanent; and
"Whereas the government on November 29, 1995, announced further expenditure reductions of $400 million for the government's...transfer payments to the school sector; and
"Whereas the government has indicated its intention to use its funding and other powers to ensure that the school board should assume its proportionate share of such reduction...."
This minister cannot stand in this House again today, in light of a signed memorandum of agreement over his signature, and tell me this had anything to do with the social contract cuts. This signed agreement proves conclusively that there is no basis for any of the claims you have made in this place and there is certainly no basis for the claim you have made repeatedly that this request of Metro Toronto and Ottawa school boards to contribute towards your cutbacks and pay for your income tax cut is simply a request and is something they are going to do voluntarily, that your legislation is only permissive. This is not voluntary; you are forcing them to ante up or else.
You have forced this deal on Toronto and it is apparent that you are planning to force the same kind of bullying deal on the Ottawa Board of Education, and I call on you to stop this intimidation. Will you stop forcing school boards in Metro Toronto and Ottawa to use local taxes to pay for your spending cuts and a tax break that benefits the rich in this province?
This particular memorandum, just for the record, seems to have expired some two months ago. I can assure the member opposite that this is not in force in the province and I can also assure the member opposite that this government will work, and will work in cooperation with school boards, to make sure we have a fair and more equitable funding mechanism for our school system in Ontario. That's one of the things that we, as a government, are committed to, because we believe that's what the students and the parents and the taxpayers of this province deserve. We intend to fulfil that. We will work in concert with the school boards, the two school boards she has mentioned and other school boards across the province, to achieve this.
I want to assure the member opposite that while it is difficult to find a mechanism to make permanent the savings found in the social contract in addition to the savings we are asking school boards to make across the province -- all school boards to make -- spending reductions outside of the classroom, we are requesting that of all the school boards across the province of Ontario because we believe, and we know the public of Ontario understands, that savings can be made in our school system and that the quality of education can be enhanced. We will do that in partnership with educators.
I will say this once again. As I said yesterday, I will say again today: We intend to negotiate such an agreement with Metropolitan Toronto, with the school board. There is no such agreement in place now.
I can tell you this: It is difficult to find the mechanisms to make the social contract savings permanent, and also to look and to work with the board at finding other savings outside of the classroom. We intend to do that. I want to make sure that the honourable member opposite understands this. I know it's very difficult to understand this, but this government isn't seeking to use a shell game of taxation. What it's looking to do is to make real savings in our education system, to find those savings outside of the classroom so we can have a better education system in this province.
I'm looking at Hansard, page 2506, of yesterday. In the direct answer to a question where the minister was asked to confirm the existence of an agreement with the Metro Toronto board, the minister said: "We are seeking permission in Bill 34 to enter into an agreement with the negative grant boards in Ottawa and Metro Toronto, and when we have passage of Bill 34 we'll" -- in other words, we will -- "discuss this with representatives of those two boards."
Yet we have a memorandum of settlement dated February 8, 1996, between the Metropolitan Toronto School Board and Her Majesty the Queen in right of Ontario as represented by the Minister of Education and Training, signed by Ms Vanstone and by the minister, which says -- this is even before Bill 34 --
How is that you could sign a memorandum of understanding, a memorandum of settlement, in February and then stand here in April and tell us that you will discuss with representatives of the two boards after the passage of Bill 34?
I also thank him -- I'd like to do this at the start -- for bringing up the fact that much of the requirement here is a requirement to make permanent the social contract savings. I thank him for pointing that out, because this certainly was a difficulty that was presented to both the board and the minister by the previous government.
We will seek to enter an agreement. We will seek to do it by agreement, through negotiation, with the two negative grant boards to recover those permanent social contract savings. Further, we will seek to find an acceptable mechanism for finding the savings outside of the classroom that we have asked all boards to do. We will be doing that.
We have in front of us today an attempt at doing that. That has expired. There are conditions involved in this memorandum in principle, this agreement in principle. It never had force in the province. We will look to this template, the template under the social contract, we'll work with the boards, we'll negotiate and we will try to find an acceptable methodology.
But as I said yesterday, we will do that. We intend to do that. It's fully been our intention. We've made that statement in the House on many occasions. However, we do not at this date have an agreement in force with either of those two boards.
It wasn't just yesterday, though. I've looked at Hansard, page 2165, on April 9, when the minister was answering the member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore's question with regard to whether or not there was an agreement to take moneys from the Metropolitan Toronto board of education and transfer them to the provincial treasury. At that time, the minister said, "What we want to do is allow the province to enter into conversations with all those boards with the purpose -- and I assume this would be the purpose of the members opposite too -- of having a fair and equitable education system...." We want to "enter into conversations."
At no time has this minister acknowledged that they in fact did enter an agreement, a memorandum of settlement with the Metropolitan Toronto board which yes, did deal with social contract moneys, but on top of that, was to take an additional $65 million for your own announced savings in November. It's not just social contract. It's more than that and you know it. Why won't you get up here and admit it and admit that you didn't share the whole truth with the members of this House in answer to questions about this supposed agreement?
I believe that the Minister of Finance said on November 29, "We intend to find those savings in an equitable way," and we will do that. I believe that we have said time and again that we intend to enter into those conversations, those discussions, those negotiations with the negative school boards.
Again I reject the implications that were made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and others that we would do this by some force; we will not. As is evidenced by everything in front of us, we will do this by negotiation, we will do this through conversation, we will do this by agreement.
I think we've been very clear about the principles we are operating under, the principles of equity and fairness. I don't think it will surprise the member opposite to know that there is a template for these discussions and that template existed within the structure of the social contract. So building on that template, we hope to arrive at some agreement with Metropolitan Toronto. We do not now have that agreement. There is no agreement in force. We had a conditional agreement in principle that has expired. It did not become an agreement in law, and so we are now back to having a discussion. We hope to do that post-Bill 34. That's our intention.
The last page of this memorandum of settlement, signed by the minister, says very clearly in summary: "Social contract: amount owing, $75 million; method of extraction" -- a good word -- and it sets out the $46 million, the $4.5 million, the $24.5 million to be extracted for the social contract savings.
Then "Expenditure reduction target" a further $65 million; method of extraction exactly as we set out yesterday when I asked the minister to confirm the agreement. Minister, do you not say today you misinformed this House?
"Both parties further agree that officials shall meet to develop a schedule which will detail the amounts to be used under each of the means specified above. Their work" -- to put this in place, not to negotiate a new agreement -- "shall conclude not later than February 28, 1996, or three weeks following the minister's announcement of the 1996 reduction figures and tools to achieve them."
If the minister says today that this memorandum of agreement, which he did sign and put in place, is no longer in effect, it's because he hasn't delivered on his share of the bargain. Minister, you signed an agreement to take $65 million more on top of $75 million from Metropolitan Toronto. Will you at least acknowledge you signed the deal to take that money from the property taxpayers of Metro Toronto?
I believe every member of our government is committed to those goals and we will work with boards who I believe are also committed to those goals, and we will reach agreements that achieve that. I would be more than pleased to stand up in this House and to say we had reached an agreement with the board in question, but we have not, and so I cannot do that. But the day that we do, you can be assured that I will.
ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION
I will assure the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale that the province of Ontario will not assist or will not condone or will not help in any way, shape or form the collection of this fee or this fine. The understanding I have is that the union will rely primarily on members voluntarily paying the fine, and the information I have is that all of those members who have been contacted, who have been approached with regard to the paying of this fine, have rejected paying the fine. My understanding is that there is no enforcement mechanism that the union would have to insist on the payment of this fine.
The government considers this a time to let the strike be behind us. The healing process should take place now. I think it's most unfortunate that the union is apparently attempting to impose a fine on members for past action. Let's get on, let's get back together and let's work for the people of the province of Ontario.
Before this Minister of Education and Training came up with the idea of dipping into Metro property taxes, did he consult with you whether it was a good idea to grab more property taxes out of Metro when you know that Metro is already paying, for instance, 40% more commercial-industrial taxes than people are paying outside of Metro? Do you think this property tax grab from a system that's in collapse was a good idea? Do you as the minister in charge of the property tax situation that's got to be rectified support this grab of $65 million?
Essentially, this section will allow convicted murderers to have their parole ineligibility periods reduced. Particularly of concern is that these are individuals who have been sentenced by a judge and jury to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. In response to the member, we very strongly endorse the resolution and once again congratulate the member for introducing it.
I thank the Solicitor General for the support of my resolution. Since amendments to the Criminal Code must be made by the federal government, I would ask the Solicitor General what steps he intends to take to bring this resolution to the attention of the federal government.
Minister, I would be curious to know, given the model of the memorandum of settlement that you have signed with the Metropolitan Toronto School Board, whether this is the model that you are using or intend to use in terms of negotiations with the Ottawa Board of Education and if you might explain to us where those negotiations are at the moment.
Given that, I think that we will have those discussions, and we will probably use, as a template for the discussions, the agreements that were entered into under the previous government under the social contract to recover those social contract dollars, those permanent savings now, from the system. I would imagine that in our future negotiations, that beginning point or that template would be used. That would be my expectation.
You are quite adept at skirting around the issue, and you keep referring to the social contract. That's half of the model, half of the deal; the other, of course, is the expenditure reduction targets. It was $65 million for the Metro Toronto board and it's several million for the Ottawa board. I ask you again, is this the same model that you would use in order to get at the taxpayers' money from the Ottawa board as well?
Specifically about these types of agreements, there is certainly nothing going on between my office and the Ottawa board at the moment. Post-Bill 34, we intend to initiate those conversations and we hope to enter into an agreement with Ottawa. We certainly believe that that's possible. When we do, it will be responsible to the circumstances that we currently face. We will be attempting to find mechanisms to recover the permanent savings of the social contract, and we'll be asking the Ottawa board, as we asked the other boards in the province of Ontario, to find savings outside of the classroom.
Those operational savings, of course, have been mitigated by the recent actions of our government that are reflected in Bill 34, which will help to mitigate the effect of those operating costs. So in fact they won't be what might have been anticipated in February, because we have already taken steps to mitigate those operating cost recoveries.
We've just seen earlier this week that he entered into some kind of an arrangement with the Haliburton County Board of Education that was secret, and then that became public. As a result, he had to change the way he was operating on his cuts for a number of other boards in the province.
Now, today, we find that the minister entered into a secret deal with the Metropolitan Toronto board of education on February 8 and now that has become public. At no stage in all this process has the minister ever publicly acknowledged these things. They've had to be made public by members of the opposition or dragged out of him. What is this penchant for secrecy and does the minister really believe this is the proper way to operate the public education system of this province?
Mr Wildman was escorted from the chamber.
SEWAGE AND STORM WATER TUNNEL
The requests from our communities fell on deaf ears under the Peterson government, again on to deaf ears from the Rae government, have finally received approval from this government, and now we'd like to have some accounting of what is the status of that tunnel.
To my colleague, I am informed that Industry Canada is in fact reviewing, in effect finalizing its review of the project as required under the federal environmental assessment and review system. Our understanding is that they will deliver an environmental decision probably some time in late May and hopefully with a finalized funding decision in June.
Is that the case? Can you assure this House that you're trying to bring some sanity to this, advise the federal government -- all of the studies have been done -- there's no need to get into an area of jurisdiction that is none of their business, and not duplicate the cost already experienced by the taxpayers? Can you speak to that, Minister?
This project will receive its funding under the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program. When the provincial government gives its approval, a federal assessment is then triggered, and that is what is undergoing now. He is quite right that it is another process. We hope that having received provincial assurance it meets our environmental concerns, it will be treated expeditiously, and we have every indication that will be the case.
I can tell him that from my perspective as the chair of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, the issue of harmonization is one with which we are concerned in Ontario. We are working to improve this process, and others, to increase the harmonization and to decrease the duplication and overlap that does occur in such processes.
APPOINTMENT OF INFORMATION AND PRIVACY COMMISSIONER
"To the Lieutenant Governor in Council:
"We, Her Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario, now assembled, request the appointment of Thomas Wright, current Information and Privacy Commissioner, to act as interim Information and Privacy Commissioner until April 30, 1997,
"And that the address be engrossed and presented to the Lieutenant Governor in Council by the Speaker."
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
On Monday, April 29, we will continue with second reading of Bill 39, the Ontario Highway Transport Board and Public Vehicles Amendment Act.
On Tuesday, April 30, we will begin second reading of Bill 38, the Toronto Islands Amendment Act.
On Wednesday, May 1, we will continue with any unfinished business from Tuesday, after which we will begin second reading of Bill 36, An Act to amend certain acts administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
For Thursday morning's private members' public business, we will consider ballot item number 25, standing in the name of the member for Brampton South, and ballot item number 26, standing in the name of the member for Oakwood.
On the afternoon of Thursday, May 2, we will continue with any unfinished business from the week.
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital; and
"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 for 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 the recommendation contained within the final 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.
"We are concerned that recent cuts to social services, ie, housing, food and welfare, are causing severe hardship for many people. While we believe that decreasing the deficit is important, we're not in favour of achieving this goal if it adversely affects the poorest people of our society.
"As followers of Jesus, we share his calling to bring good news to the poor and to speak out on behalf of society's most vulnerable people.
"We therefore ask you to forgo the tax cut that you've promised us and instead restore social service support for the poor."
I support this petition.
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut referred to in the Conservative campaign document known as the Common Sense Revolution will necessitate drastic and rapid cuts to important services to the people of Ontario; and
"Whereas the proposed tax cut will shift the tax obligation for the people of Ontario from the progressive income tax, which takes into account a person's ability to pay, to the regressive property taxes and user fees which do not take into account an individual's ability to pay and are most onerous for people with modest incomes; and
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut will benefit the most wealthy and privileged in our society and deny the provincial government revenue to maintain a high-quality health care and education system and other essential services; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario will have to borrow over $20 billion to finance the proposed tax cut and will add over $20 billion to the provincial debt in doing so;
"We, the undersigned, petition the government of Ontario to postpone its 30% income tax cut until such time as the provincial budget is balanced and the deficit no longer exists."
I affix my signature to this petition as I agree with its contents.
"Whereas the Minister of Education and Training has gone on record stating that the government is deeply committed to an educational system that delivers excellence; and
"Whereas the Progressive Conservative government is cutting funding support for elementary and secondary education by $400 million; and
"Whereas by reducing grants to boards such as MSSB, which can be shown to be well under the targeted expenditure level for administration and operational support, the minister has penalized the very boards which have been extremely prudent and frugal in their non-classroom spending; and
"Whereas the so-called equalization payments are indirect taxation without representation because there is no guarantee they will be used to offset reductions in educational transfer,
"We, the undersigned residents of North York, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ensure any reduction to expenditure levels are implemented in a fair and equitable manner to both grant-dependent and negative-grant-position school boards."
I will affix my signature to that.
"We, the undersigned, humbly pray and call upon the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to stop abortion funding, to give expectant mothers pertinent information and to assist women with problem pregnancies through pregnancy to the birth of their baby."
ALZHEIMER RESPITE CARE
"To the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Niagara region has one of the highest per capita populations of seniors in Ontario; and
"Whereas the Niagara region ranks 32nd out of 38 health regions in long-term-care funding and that more individuals wait for support services from the March of Dimes than those who are actually served by it; and
"Whereas Alzheimer's patients who critically depend on support services in order to cope in a more humane way with this devastating illness continue to suffer from unacceptable delays in receiving respite care; and
"Whereas more than half of all Ontario families waiting for Alzheimer-related respite care reside in the Niagara area;
"We, the following undersigned citizens of Ontario, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario to adopt the plan by the Niagara Regional District Health Council which would help improve the way vulnerable people are treated in the Niagara area."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in agreement with its contents.
ST JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL
"Whereas the Hamilton-Wentworth Health Action Task Force, as part of their report, has recommended the closure of St Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton; and
"Whereas it is recognized the health care system should be made as efficient as possible; and
"Whereas the quality of health care in our community should not be sacrificed in the name of efficiency; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government promised to protect the quality of health care in Ontario; and
"Whereas we, the undersigned, believe that maintaining the presence of St Joseph's Hospital in downtown Hamilton is a vital component of our health care system,
"Therefore, be it resolved that the Minister of Health and the Hamilton-Wentworth District Health Council ensure the continuance of St Joseph's Hospital at its present site."
I continue to support these petitions.
"Whereas Mike Harris's Conservative government of Ontario is planning to destroy the present system of rent control; and
"Whereas Mike Harris and the Conservative party made no mention of scrapping rent control during the election campaign of 1995 or in the Common Sense Revolution document; and
"Whereas a number of Conservative candidates in ridings with high tenant populations campaigned during the 1995 election on a platform of protecting the current rent control system; and
"Whereas the government has consulted with special-interest groups representing landlords and developers while cutting funding to organizations representing the 3.5 million tenants of Ontario; and
"Whereas although all renters will suffer, seniors and others on fixed incomes will suffer particular hardship if rent controls are abolished; and
"Whereas eliminating rent control will result in skyrocketing rents in Ontario,
"Therefore we, the undersigned, call upon the Legislature of Ontario to stop the attack on the 3.5 million tenants of this province."
I attach my signature also.
"Whereas this Conservative government's stated plan in the Common Sense Revolution is to improve the long-term economic prospects for Ontario; and
"Whereas research from all over the world shows early childhood education leads to lower dropout rates, improved reading, math and language skills, less chance of future unemployment, teen pregnancy or delinquency, and higher enrolment in post-secondary education, thus resulting in a better-educated, highly skilled workforce; and
"Whereas this Conservative government states it's committed to ensuring that a larger share of the education dollar goes to the classroom; and
"Whereas the Conservative government fully expects boards to meet transfer reductions by cutting costs outside the classroom; and
"Whereas this Conservative government has made junior kindergarten a matter of choice for local school boards and has reduced the funding for junior kindergarten;
"Therefore, to ensure this Conservative government meets its stated commitments in regard to education and to Ontario, we, the undersigned, call on the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Education and Training to restore the funding for junior kindergarten to its previous level and require all school boards to offer junior kindergarten classes."
I affix my signature to this petition.
"We, the undersigned, are opposed to your government's proposed changes to Ontario's workers' compensation system, including elimination of the bipartite board of directors; reduced temporary benefits; introduction of the three-day period from the time of injury with no pay; legislated limits on entitlement, thereby excluding repetitive strain, chronic pain and stress claims from eligibility for compensation; reduced permanent pensions and pension supplements.
"Workers' compensation is not a handout; it is an insurance plan for which premiums are paid; it is a legal obligation that employers have to employees, who 80 years ago traded their right to sue employers in return for this insurance plan.
"We therefore demand no reduction in existing benefits, improved re-employment and vocational rehabilitation, tightened enforcement of health and safety to prevent injuries, no reduction in current Workers' Compensation Board staff levels and that the bipartite board structure be left intact."
I attach my signature also.
COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION
"Whereas we, the people of Windsor, Ontario, feel the Honourable Mike Harris is incompetent and incapable of running a responsible government;
"Whereas we, the people of Windsor, Ontario, feel that the Honourable Mike Harris has gone too far in his mandate of slashing agency funding;
"Whereas he has broken his promise not to hurt the elderly and the disabled;
"Whereas the Honourable Mike Harris has broken his promise to meet with Mayor Mike Hurst, city of Windsor, with regard to obtaining the city of Windsor's 10% share of Casino Windsor's profits in order to offset these cuts;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ask the Premier to resign."
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut referred to in the Conservative campaign document known as the Common Sense Revolution will necessitate drastic and rapid cuts to important services to the people of Ontario; and
"Whereas the proposed tax cut will shift the tax obligation for the people of Ontario from progressive income tax, which takes into account a person's ability to pay, to regressive property taxes and user fees, which do not take into account an individual's ability to pay, and are most onerous for people with modest incomes; and
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut will benefit the most wealthy and privileged in our society and deny the provincial government revenue to maintain a high-quality health care and education system and other essential services; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario will have to borrow over $20 billion to finance the proposed tax cut and will add over $20 billion to the provincial debt in doing so;
"We, the undersigned, petition the government of Ontario to postpone its 30% income tax cut until such time as the provincial budget is balanced and the deficit no longer exists."
I affix my signature to this petition.
LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO
"To the government of Ontario:
"Whereas the government of Ontario appears to be moving towards the privatization of retail liquor and spirit sales in the province; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a safe, secure and controlled way of retailing alcoholic beverages; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides the best method of restricting the sale of liquor to minors in Ontario; and
"Whereas the LCBO has an excellent program of quality control of the products sold in its stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a wide selection of product to its customers in modern, convenient stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO has moved forward with the times, sensitive to the needs of its customers and clients; and
"Whereas the LCBO is an important instrument for the promotion and sale of Ontario wine and thereby contributes immensely to the grape-growing and wine production industry;
"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario abandon its plan to turn the sale of liquor and spirits over to private liquor stores and retain the LCBO for this purpose."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in agreement with its contents.
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut referred to in the Conservative campaign document known as the Common Sense Revolution will necessitate drastic and rapid cuts to important services to the people of Ontario;
"Whereas the proposed tax cut will shift the tax obligation for the people of Ontario from the progressive income tax, which takes into account a person's ability to pay, to regressive property taxes and user fees, which do not take into account an individual's ability to pay and are most onerous for people on modest incomes;
"Whereas the proposed income tax cut will benefit the most wealthy and privileged in our society and deny the provincial government revenue to maintain a high-quality health care and education system and other essential services;
"Whereas the government of Ontario will have to borrow over $20 billion to finance the proposed tax cut and will add over $20 billion to the provincial debt in doing so;
"We, the undersigned, petition the government of Ontario to postpone its 30% income tax cut until such time as the provincial budget is balanced and the deficit no longer exists."
This, of course, makes eminent sense and therefore I will affix my signature.
His Honour the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario entered the chamber of the Legislative Assembly and took his seat upon the throne.
ROYAL ASSENT / SANCTION ROYALE
Bill 42, An Act to reform MPPs' pensions, to eliminate tax-free allowances and to adjust MPPs' compensation levels / Projet de loi 42, Loi portant réforme du régime de retraite des députés, éliminant les allocations non imposables et rajustant les niveaux de rétribution des députés
Bill 44, An Act to amend the Election Act / Projet de loi 44, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale
Bill Pr50, An Act respecting the Town of Milton
Bill Pr53, An Act respecting the Association of Ontario Road Superintendents
Bill Pr56, An Act respecting the Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario.
Au nom de Sa Majesté, Son Honneur le lieutenant-gouverneur sanctionne ces projets de loi.
Son Honneur le lieutenant-gouverneur remercie les bons et loyaux sujets de Sa Majesté, accepte leur bienveillance et sanctionne ce projet de loi au nom de Sa Majesté.
His Honour was then pleased to retire.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ONTARIO HIGHWAY TRANSPORT BOARD AND PUBLIC VEHICLES AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LA COMMISSION DES TRANSPORTS ROUTIERS DE L'ONTARIO ET LA LOI SUR LES VÉHICULES DE TRANSPORT EN COMMUN
Resuming the adjourned debate on motion for second reading of Bill 39, An Act to amend the Ontario Highway Transport Board Act and the Public Vehicles Act and to make consequential changes to certain other Acts / Projet de loi 39, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la Commission des transports routiers de l'Ontario et la Loi sur les véhicules de transport en commun et apportant des modifications corrélatives à certaines autres lois.
Some people have expressed concerns about deregulation. Recently a group called the Freedom to Move Coalition spoke out, and I'd like to take a moment to address some of those specific concerns.
First I'd like to go back to something I mentioned briefly at the outset yesterday, that is, that this government is committed to eliminating red tape and reducing the regulatory burden of private sector companies. If we continue to impose economic regulations on the intercity bus industry, we are creating barriers to job creation, economic growth and investment in this province.
Furthermore, as the Honourable Al Palladini, Minister of Transportation, mentioned yesterday, while the government would allow the bus industry to operate according to market forces, we will continue to impose and enforce safety. That means vehicle, driver and industry safety.
The intercity bus industry is the last transportation mode in Canada with market entry control, yet scheduled services have steadily declined for many years. Clearly, a change is warranted for both the industry and its passengers.
This government believes that the travelling public will be better served by a competitive industry in which entrepreneurs can be innovative and creative in meeting passenger needs. For instance, some companies may choose to use smaller vehicles to service smaller communities rather than using full-sized motor coaches. They may end up providing a more appropriate level of service than what exists right now.
The ministry has received positive feedback from many local entrepreneurs who have expressed interest in taking over routes in areas where companies do not have the flexibility to service.
The members opposite constantly mention what could happen. It's a fact that several hundred communities in Ontario have lost scheduled bus service just over the last 10 years; plus, in other communities scheduled services are so infrequent that they no longer meet the needs of the local residents.
As I mentioned earlier, I am convinced that deregulation will stimulate local businesses to provide these services. In many cases these days, bus companies only offer scheduled services because regulations require them to do so before they can obtain charter rights.
I am also convinced that Ontario's towns and villages will actively encourage friends, neighbours and local entrepreneurs to provide the transportation services needed by their fellow residents. In this respect, deregulation should give smaller companies an opportunity to get started. These smaller companies will provide a direct stimulus to their local economies by employing local residents and buying local goods and services.
This government is working with the intercity bus industry. Together we have developed an effective plan and time frame to ensure an orderly transition to deregulation on January 1, 1998. Under the interim regulatory system, bus companies that want to get out of the business will have to work with the province's smaller communities and rural areas to help develop workable alternatives.
This government firmly believes that the travelling public will be better and more appropriately served by moving from controlled market entry to a competitive environment.
Before I conclude today, I'd like to point out that the federal government is also interested in deregulating the intercity bus industry, and we will work with them to encourage other provinces to do so.
Other countries, like the UK and the United States, removed industry restrictions more than 10 years ago, and here in Ontario the intercity bus industry has accepted the challenge of a competitive market, recognizing that deregulation will happen and it's only a matter of time.
Deregulation will lead to an effective system that provides appropriate levels of service based on market demand and the needs of the travelling public.
Deregulation will encourage innovation among current and potential operators, which will ensure a viable and healthy intercity bus industry.
Finally, deregulation will get government out of the way of the business and let them do what they do best: create jobs, stimulate the economy and invest in Ontario's future.
I am speaking in opposition to this bill, although there are some people who believe that on balance they would support it. I respect the people who have that point of view; I simply do not agree with it in this specific case. This is not to suggest that the circumstances we face as of today, late April 1996, are perfect in terms of the bus industry, but I don't think this legislation, nor do I think complete deregulation, will solve the problem.
This essentially is a piece of legislation that will affect smaller towns. I suspect the service to St Catharines, which I represent, will be virtually unaffected by this. One might say, if one wanted to be totally parochial, "Why would you worry about the rest of the province?" That's not a hard question to answer, because we are elected to represent our own constituencies but to deal with matters which relate to the entire province of Ontario.
Let me go back, if I may, to a circumstance that arose in the early 1980s to the mid-1980s related to Greyhound and Gray Coach Lines and the competition they were going to have in terms of delivering service from Toronto to Niagara Falls, with a stop in St Catharines, or it could go right through to Buffalo in this case, to an American city. That was a rather lucrative route, and for that reason Greyhound was interested in that route and it wanted to compete with Gray Coach. But Gray Coach had an obligation to service other communities -- I believe Owen Sound was one of them -- so there was some considerable onus on Gray Coach to deliver this service. They had a social obligation, if you will. By having the right to have a transportation route between Toronto and Buffalo, they were also obligated to travel elsewhere in the province.
Greyhound did not want to do this initially. Greyhound wanted to have only the most lucrative of services. This is the way the circumstances existed. I'm not being critical of Gray Coach or Greyhound or anyone in this regard; I'm simply pointing out what the circumstances were. There was an agreement reached between Greyhound and Gray Coach for services, and that worked out amicably and communities were served. I think we're going to see a lot more of those situations if you simply allow the private companies to skim the cream off the top of the milk. That's exactly what then is going to happen.
I've seen deregulation in other areas. In some cases it has its benefits, in some cases its detriments. In the airline industry we've seen deregulation and it's had a mixed result. It has in some circumstances brought the prices down; in other circumstances it has limited the amount of service available to others who are in smaller communities.
We've already seen what is referred to as a rationalization -- that means a cut -- of services in terms of our national railways. Both CN and CP, and there are some provincial railways which have also restricted service, all of these have restricted some services to communities that they used to serve.
This is so essential for those communities. Those who represent rural and small-town and village Ontario probably are more cognizant of this than I, though when I have taken the bus from Toronto to St Catharines and vice versa, sometimes it stops in places such as Grimsby, it stops in Hamilton, which is a larger community, and Oakville and others.
So some of those communities will not receive that service, in my view, if we go through with deregulation.
I lament the loss of train service or the restriction of train service, which I've seen happen across this country. I think our GO Transit, which was established by the Davis government, has provided some good service for people. There have been some cutbacks in that regard, but it has provided some good service.
There are a lot of people, however, who don't have that option, and with the price of gas constantly going up -- and I can't think of anyone in this Legislature who is happy with the price of gasoline in this province at this time -- with that rise in gasoline prices, with the increase in the rates for automobile insurance, it really means that more and more people are going to have to be in a position where they take the bus.
The bus has often served people who are in lower-income categories: often students, for instance, who have had to use that and don't have an option. They don't have a car of their own. So when they're travelling from a small community to another place, to university or something, they have been compelled, because they don't have a vehicle, to take the bus. They didn't have the option of an airplane, because they didn't have the kind of funds necessary. They didn't have the option of the railway, because the railway lines are gone in many of the communities. They cannot own a car and operate a car, so the option that's available to those people is going to be the option of the bus.
I think they are as deserving as anybody else, even though under the changes that the Premier has announced there will be fewer rural seats in this province, far fewer rural seats and northern seats, because he wants to reduce to 103 seats. So some of us who are in the urban areas will have to speak for those in the rural areas, because there are going to be fewer members of provincial Parliament from those areas.
I want to go back to the price of gasoline, because I think that affects a lot of people. At one time, people could drive what you would call clunkers, the old cars many of us had at the beginning. They would have a hard time today meeting safety tests, because there are safety requirements, and I'm in full agreement with the Ministry of Transportation in that regard. But that does mean it costs some money. It also means that now that we have compulsory insurance in the province for people driving vehicles, and because of the way the insurance system is set up, that people could easily go into the Facility Association if they have just a couple of tickets, it really means we're in a circumstance where it's getting less affordable to be able to drive a private vehicle. That means that bus service is going to be even more important.
When I look at the price of gasoline, the base price in our area -- the northern members will say, "You'll never catch up to us," because they think it's a bargain, what we used to get, or even what we get today.
While the news media don't appear to be very interested in this in terms of if you ask a question in the Legislature or make a statement in the Legislature -- their eyes seem to glaze over as we ask these questions -- we all know as people who represent people in our communities that one of the things they talk about an awful lot, particularly where they're reliant on vehicles as almost their sole way of getting around from one place to another, is they will certainly tell you about the price of gasoline.
I'm here to speak on behalf of those people who are going to be adversely affected by deregulation of the bus industry. It appears to me -- I could be wrong; I always put that out there, that I could be wrong -- that the government is ideologically committed to deregulating and ideologically committed to getting the government out of virtually everything. I understand that and that's a point of view one has to accept in our society. I don't happen to agree with it and it certainly doesn't fit with the point of view I remember in previous Conservative governments that sat in this chamber and ruled this government for some 42 years previous to 1985.
I ask the gas companies and their executives how they could possibly look in the mirror and accept what is going on in this province in terms of gas pricing. That's why we need bus service in so many communities.
Let me look at what happened when deregulation took place in the United States. I know a lot of people on the other side of the House really think Ronald Reagan was the best thing since sliced bread; however, not everybody does, but some people do. When he deregulated buses in 1982 -- he signed a bill which would deregulate the bus industry in the United States -- there were 11,820 cities and towns which were served by bus service. The number of US cities and towns with bus service after deregulation, and I'm going back to 1991, it's probably even fewer now, ended up being 5,690. Let's say that's about half: Approximately half the number of communities were served after deregulation.
Yes, it meant an ideological commitment. Mr Reagan believed government should get out of most things and he was opposed to regulation. However, the effect on small towns and small cities in the United States was that they lost the service. That's what I worry about if we embark upon this.
You can say that if another government gets elected or if this government thinks that was wrong, whoever it is can change it. Once you lose those services, it's very hard to get them back. Once the national and provincial railways cut their services, you really didn't see them restored. They seemed to go away for some period of time. I think that is detrimental for us. The percentage decrease in the number of stops in the United States between 1982 and 1991 was a 52% drop in the number of stops buses made. The stops abandoned by Greyhound USA in the first year of deregulation, for instance, was 1,300 immediately.
I worry about this because I worry about places such as Actinolite, Atikokan, Alliston, Alton, Angus, Apsley, Armstrong, Arthur, Aylmer, Baldwin, Bailieboro, Ballantrae, Bancroft, Barry's Bay, Beaverton, Beeton, Berkeley, Bewdley, Bismarck, Blackstock, Blind River, Bothwell, Bracebridge, Brentwood, Brown Hill, Brooklin, Brunner, Burk's Falls, Burleigh Falls, Canadian Forces Base Borden, Carleton Place, Canboro, Cameron, Camilla, Cayuga, Chapleau, Chatsworth, Chelsea, Clifford, Coboconk, Cochrane, Collingwood, Columbus, Combermere, Craigleith, Creemore, Delhi, Dorking, Dornoch, Dundalk, Dunnville, Durham, Eganville, Elfrida, Elmwood, Elmvale, Elora, Espanola, Essex, Fenelon Falls, Fergus, Flesherton, Fort Frances, Fowlers Corners, Fraserville, Fulton, Gads Hill, Geraldton, Gorrie, Grand Valley, Gravenhurst, Greenock, Greenbank, Grimsby, Haliburton, Hanover, Harrison, Havelock, Hawkesbury, Hearst, Heidelberg, Holland Centre, Huntsville, Ignace, Ingoldsby, Iron Bridge, Iroquois Falls, Jarvis, Kaladar, Kapuskasing, Killaloe Station, Kincardine, Kingsville, Kirkland Lake, Lakefield, Leamington, Lindsay, Linwood, Listowel, Maberly, Madoc, Manilla, Manchester, Maple Leaf, Marmora, Markdale, Massey, Maynooth, Meaford, Melbourne, Mildmay, Millbank, Myrtle;
Nestleton, Neustadt, Newton, Norland, Norwood, Oakwood, Omemee, Owen Sound, Palgrave, Paudash, Pefferlaw, Perth, Port Colborne, Port Dover, Port Bolster, Port Perry, Powassan, Raglan, Red Lake, Rosedale, St Clements, St Thomas, Saintfield, Sarnia, Sharbot Lake, Shelburne, Simcoe, Smithville, Smooth Rock Falls, South River, Stayner, Strathroy, Sunderland, Sundridge, Sutton, Thamesville, Thornbury, Tilbury, Tillsonburg, Timmins, Tottenham, Trout Creek, Tweed, Upsala, Vermilion Bay, Virginia, Walkerton, Wallaceburg, Wardsville, Wasaga Beach, Wawa, Wheatley, Williamsford, Wilno, Wingham, Woodview and Wroxeter.
Those are some of the communities which have been in danger. This is where it says your bus could be gone. All these are communities that could be affected, and there could be more, but I don't want to bore the members of the Legislature with any more.
Let's look at what we subsidize. Usually it's people who have more money who can afford to fly, particularly at the last minute, because they have to book well ahead to fly at a lower rate in our province and our country. It's interesting that you can fly, I'm told, to Florida for less money than you can fly to Sudbury or Ottawa, as the member for Nepean appropriately says.
We have some kind of subsidization that exists in terms of air travel, we have some, as I've mentioned, with GO Transit, and I'm pleased to see that -- all of us who know of the greater Toronto area -- we have roads which are subsidized, though heaven knows, if you've been driving on them, if they've been paved lately, because there are potholes in the potholes. However, the buses seem to be able to negotiate those better than individual vehicles. I want to look as well at the fact that these buses seem to keep us together. This kind of transportation helps to keep us together as a province. It keeps communication going.
I was reading an excellent article on this and I'll share part of it with members of the assembly, "Deregulation Threatens Rural Bus Routes," that was before us just a short while ago. It was datelined Leamington. It reads as follows:
"The Greyhound bus is called the Scenicruiser 2. And on the four-hour milk run to Windsor from London, it lives up to its name.
"The motor coach meanders through the towns of rural Ontario -- Wardsville, Bothwell, Thamesville -- and past the variety stores and hardware outlets that double as bus stops.
"This bus isn't in a hurry and neither are its passengers; for those travelling off the beaten path, they have no choice.
"Back in seat 16, 68-year-old Bill Kett passes the time talking about bus travel and the need for routes just like this one.
"`We have to keep our buses,' he says, pumping his fist defiantly in the air. `I don't pray much, but I'll pray these buses stay on.'
"Kett, who lives near the small town of Wheatley, boards the bus a couple of times a week for the 80-minute ride to Windsor to visit relatives and see his doctor.
"What has Kett so worried is Ontario's plan to deregulate the bus industry, a move he says could leave him and other rural travellers stranded at the bus stop.
"Under new legislation announced Thursday" -- that's last Thursday -- "by Transportation Minister Al Palladini, economic regulations will come off the bus industry as of Jan. 1, 1998, allowing companies to decide fares and routes without provincial approval.
"The Ontario Highway Transport Board will continue to regulate the industry in the interim, overseeing the licensing of bus companies, hearing disputes between carriers and appeals. But its work has been cut back, staff laid off and its costs will now be recovered from the industry.
"The government insists bus safety will not be compromised. Companies starting service will be inspected and have to undergo a yearly...audit.
"But there are fears that removing the regulations will be the end of the road for many rural routes."
Some of the people who are affected, it goes on to say in the article, "Those affected, they say, will include small-town businesses that use the buses to deliver parcels, seniors, students and rural residents who rely on the routes as their link to the cities.
"`You can look at a map of Ontario and see the big cities and those are the places that will get the service. Who the hell can run a bus through Woodstock for three passengers?' said Bill Noddle of Local 1415 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing Greyhound drivers.
"But some riders could be winners." That's what happens under deregulation: Some can win and some can lose. But I'm very much afraid that we're going to see many people who don't have the voice in this Legislature that they should have or simply because of representation by population, which we all accept, they don't have as many voices in the Legislature as they once had.
So when I look at this deregulation, the people who try to sell it are people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. When you examine what has really happened in those places, you see that the more disadvantaged people are those who are not the winners. That is something that all of us must take into consideration: There are a lot of people in the province who may well be able to afford a vehicle and to operate that vehicle; there are many who cannot. This is a lifeline to so many of those communities. It is important to the business in those communities. It's important to the actual viability, the future viability, and the existence of those communities to have those transportation routes available.
I mentioned potholes in the road. It's much more difficult for people in vehicles, individual cars that is, to deal with the potholes than the buses. The buses have a hard enough time with them but, because of the way they're constructed, are able a little bit better to negotiate through these potholes which so adversely affect the cars.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
This article is by Daniel Girard and it is entitled, "Small-town Bus Service Said Doomed by Tory Cuts." I don't know if the article's necessarily going to reflect that, but we'll see as we get into it. It reads as follows, and I think it certainly fits this debate:
"An estimated 170 small and remote Ontario communities will lose their intercity bus service under a transportation ministry scheme to deregulate the industry, says a group fighting the move.
"`It's almost completely negative for small-town Ontario,' said Tom Parkin of Freedom to Move, a coalition of trade unions, seniors groups and university students.
"Parkin...yesterday unveiled a report claiming thousands of people will be stranded and ticket prices will soar on less-travelled routes when the Progressive Conservatives deregulate the industry. The claim of loss of service to at least 170 communities was based on interviews with bus company operators.
"University students and seniors on tight budgets will be especially hard hit because they have no alternative to bus travel, Heather Bishop, the chairperson of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, told a news conference.
"As part of $772 million in provincial government cuts announced last month, the transportation ministry vowed to scrap the Ontario Highway Transport Board at the end of the fiscal year, next March 31."
That allows me to discuss why we are cutting the transport board. It's just another example of trying to finance the tax cut. Every time we see an unnecessary cut taking place, we know it's to feed the tax cut, a tax cut the Ontario government will have to borrow over $20 billion to finance, with $5 billion of that involving interest to be paid.
What we have in Ontario then -- and my friend the member for St Catharines-Brock is in the House and I know he would want to see bus service in Niagara-on-the-Lake and in Virgil --
Anyway, I hope the government takes a second look at this. This, I am informed by the assistants to some of the ministers, is something that is interim. This is because there is chaos out there, I am told. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I am told that is the case and the real deregulation will take place in a couple of years.
I was one who counselled others who were contemplating deregulation of the truck industry that it could be fraught with some considerable problems, and indeed it was. We have not seen the shakeout or shakedown from that particular addition as yet.
Every time you look at deregulation, all I would suggest is that you take a careful look at it, that you not simply head into this because some of the gurus of the party -- I'm not saying the people elected here -- some of the people who advise the Premier most closely and are so far to the right that they would make some of the people on the other side in this chamber look like Red Tories, some of those people would --
I implore the members of the government caucus to go back to Mr Palladini, the Minister of Transportation, and suggest that he take a little more time to look at the ramifications of this, because no impact studies have been done. My colleague the member for Oakwood pointed that out the other day in the House. He said they're rushing headlong into this legislative initiative and they're doing so without the kind of impact studies previous governments, such as the Davis government, used to undertake before they embarked upon rash decisions. They were genuinely Conservative, they were genuinely cautious, and I implore this present class of 1996 to do the same.
The other concern is that with regulations come incredible amounts of bureaucratic red tape. You can't provide this kind of overseeing, this kind of administration, without building up a big bureaucracy. The bureaucracy to approve, limit, change regulations towards certain buses and bus lines and dropping certain areas and enlarging others, is very regulatory. It's very administratively burdened and it is sinking in red tape much of the time. What does that mean? That means they cannot be timely when it comes to making decisions that are necessary for public consumption with respect to needs and services in this industry.
I'll close simply by saying this is 70 years we've had these kinds of regulations. I think there has to be, at minimum, a review of these regulations, with an idea of dropping them to allow the private sector to move in and operate what I would consider efficient, more effective services for the communities.
Those of you on the other side who stand up and say this is about deregulating, you're voting for regulation, but it's regulation without appeal. You cannot appeal the decision of the board now. You can't go to the Divisional Court, you cannot even go to the cabinet; you could before. It restricts people in the industry. It is an attempt to do something that is supposed to adjust an industry, and they've done it without an impact study. In other words, they don't know what they're getting into, because they haven't consulted.
This bill has no effect but to cause a lot of consternation with all the potential customers who want to use buses, who don't know whether they're going to lose stops or not, and everybody in the industry is totally confused on what the intentions of this government are. Private sector entrepreneurs are against this bill for both reasons. They don't know what the government's intentions are. It's a totally botched-up bill that has caused nothing bus confusion because they've done it without any analysis or without independent impact studies. This bill is nothing but a back-door attempt at deregulation that's causing nothing but confusion.
A further comment: The fact is that we're looking at 1998 for this. This gives opportunities for input, to study and actually see what's taking place, just as the minister stated in August. He stated this in August. I have to correct the one member. It was stated in August that that's what was going to take place, that we would look at it, and we will continue to look at it.
One of the other areas is that it's been almost 10 years now, or a little over 10 years, and over 400 communities have lost bus services. This is an attempt to bring back services to communities, to make sure that the government does not run the bus industry, that the bus industry runs its own industry and produces economic benefit to the province and to local communities.
One of the particular things I think the member for St Catharines did not bring out today, and I think he may want to comment on this, is the restriction in the amount of time each member has when presenting his case. Prior to the change in rules that came upon us some time ago, the member would have had more opportunity to articulate his views on the subject. I know the member for St Catharines, who always brings us a great deal of wisdom, particularly from the peninsula, would want to have more opportunity to speak to this issue and many others.
One of the things I think we all find interesting here is that we talk about regulation, and let's not kid ourselves: Regulation in some ways is a subsidy. We're requiring a carrier to do some uneconomic things for the privilege of making an overall profit. It is a subsidy. It is. It's not a subsidy from the taxpayer, but it is a subsidy from other consumers on more profitable routes. That's true. There's a subsidy.
The government says: "Gee, we're going to get out of this. We're not going to provide the subsidy by way of regulation." The next question is, are you prepared then to guarantee some sort of service to these communities that will lose it, and if they cannot economically provide it, will there be some kind of guarantee of service, ie, a taxpayer subsidy?
It happens in municipalities. In municipalities it's not regulated; it's a monopoly. The taxpayer pays a subsidy in municipalities. I think that's perfectly all right. But in my part of the world, intercity buses is what it's about.
Looking at, first of all, Etobicoke West, the member intervened. I must compliment him on his tie this afternoon. It certainly has enhanced us visually in this House. I thought when he got up he was going to speak about Etobicoke and the fact that money was being taken from Etobicoke by the Minister of Education, but he didn't. He talked about regulation.
While I'm not totally in agreement with his argument, I like the fact that he advanced it, that there may be some out there who will try at least now. I think one of the reasons they didn't try before was because there was another obligation, however, that they simply couldn't skim the cream off the top and not provide the other service. But he makes a point about people who may want a very special service for a special community. I hope that works out; I hope that could be viable.
With the MPP from Oshawa's intervention -- I heard his speech earlier. It was a very interesting one. I simply ask, why rush? I'm encouraged a bit by the fact that 1998 is the final deadline and that there may be some room to make adjustments -- I hope so. I appreciate very much the interventions by the members for Oakwood and Algoma-Manitoulin, both of whom showed the knowledge of the issues and the wisdom that we look for in this House.
But I do thank him for being here. He promised he would to hear me speak and I thank him for coming. I wish the rest of the colleagues who were sitting in the front yesterday were here as well.
However, I want to say I'm very pleased to participate in the debate today because this issue, Bill 39, which in fact is the first step to full deregulation of the bus industry in Ontario, is terribly, terribly important to the people who come from the part of the province that I represent.
It's very important in northern Ontario in many communities, big and small, that the province intervene directly to ensure that those communities have safe, efficient, effective bus service. The fact of the matter is that in many of those communities there is no other service, particularly for people who do not own automobiles, be they students, seniors or other people who may be unemployed or, for whatever reason do not have the ability to finance those kinds of things these days.
I'm very pleased to be able to address the issue today on behalf of people in northern Ontario who I firmly believe will be very, very negatively affected by full bus deregulation in the province of Ontario.
My only wish is that at some point during the course of this debate we are going to hear from a rural Conservative caucus member. I say that because I believe people in rural Ontario are also going to be dramatically and negatively affected by full bus deregulation.
I'm sorry the member for Lambton is not here. He was here yesterday, also making some comments, the value of which I will not comment on. I wish he was here today and I wish he would take the time to encourage some of his rural caucus members to throw off their shackles, to forget whatever the Minister of Transportation is trying to tell them about this bill and to firmly and responsibly represent the interests of people in their communities because I think the impacts and the effects on residents in their communities will be the same as the people I represent in northern Ontario.
I hope that before the debate on Bill 39 is finished we are going to hear from someone from rural Ontario from the Conservative caucus. I say that with all due respect to the interventions that have been made by the minister and from the member for Oshawa who, I think we all recognize, do not represent the kinds of communities that I want to talk to and speak on behalf of today.
I want to focus on three issues with respect to Bill 39, and they are as follows:
First, I want to speak a little bit about what the impact of bus deregulation has been in the States, because we have an example that we can look to. We have a neighbouring jurisdiction that we can have regard to. I think it is terribly important for this government to take a serious look at what happened in the US with full bus deregulation and to wonder why the same could not be applied here.
Secondly, I want to talk a little bit about the very negative impact this Conservative government policy is having on an agency of this very same Conservative government, and that is the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, an agency which is regulated by the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. Not only in terms --
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
I want to focus a little bit on the impacts of this legislation on the ONTC, because I am terribly worried about it. The fact of the matter is I suspect that the minister who is responsible for this very agency has not even looked at the detrimental effects of it on his own agency and certainly has not provided any of his concerns, I suspect, to the Minister of Transportation with respect to the impact of government legislation.
Finally, I want to contrast the direction this Conservative government is taking with respect to bus deregulation and the positions that are currently being taken on the issue of bus deregulation in both of our neighbouring jurisdictions, those being Quebec and Manitoba. When I do that, you will see that clearly we are heading in a direction that is completely opposed by our two neighbouring jurisdictions. I am left to wonder why it is that this Conservative government would head in a direction other provinces in the rest of Canada have no intention of following. I will lay out some of the reasons why they feel that full bus deregulation will not accomplish any of the things the minister yesterday purported it would and that in fact it would be very, very bad for people in their provinces who depend on bus service.
Let me first deal with the consequences in the States. As I said earlier, we've got a jurisdiction which we can point to which has had some experience with this issue. In about 1980, under the Republicans, there was a move to full bus deregulation in the United States. The consequences there have been terribly negative, and why it is that our Minister of Transportation could not look to those experiences and try and avoid those negative experiences at all costs is absolutely beyond me.
Let me refer to an article which was done by Professor Paul Dempsey. He is at the University of Denver law school and he is recognized as an expert in the area of transportation law. He is also editor of the Transport Law Journal at the same university. In 1990, after 10 years of the US experience of bus deregulation, he wrote an article entitled "Canadian Transport Liberalization." The article was based on the US experience, and he said very clearly there was no doubt in his mind that the negative experience could be easily transported here. He was very concerned about that. He pointed out that after the first four years of bus deregulation in the States, some 4,000 communities in America had lost the bus service they had -- 4,000 after the first four years of bus deregulation.
The second interesting point was that those communities could not all be categorized as small, remote or rural. In fact, only about 325 of the communities could be defined as rural, could be defined as very small, could be defined as remote. What happened is that some medium-sized communities or small cities also lost their bus service. I suspect the fact of the matter is there wasn't enough profit in there to interest those bus companies and they had no intention, in a deregulated system, of providing any service at all.
I have to say to the members who are here today, why are we not having any regard to an experience we have had in a neighbouring jurisdiction? I believe that, as firmly as I can as I stand here today, that experience of numerous communities losing their service, not only small and remote but mid-sized communities and small cities, are going to have the same impact here, and people in those communities who depend on bus service are going to lose it and will have no other alternative when it comes to transportation.
I would just encourage the members to take a look at some of the work that's been done with respect to the experience in the States, and to ask themselves why we are not moving as far away as we possibly can from deregulation or from that experience.
Let me talk a little bit about the impact on the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. The authority to manage issues at the ONTC comes directly under the authority of the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. It is a scheduled agency of his ministry. I am very concerned that not only with respect to the massive cuts the Progressive government has made for ONTC, but also the very legislation that we are dealing with here today will, in effect, lead to the dismantling of that very important agency in our special part of the province.
By way of history, the ONTC was established by a former Tory government many years ago. It was established because there was a recognition that in northern Ontario some very special economic, social and transportation development issues had to be met and they had to be treated in a different way. So the ONTC was established as an agency of the government to deal with those very specific social, economic and transportation needs in order to respond to those very special needs.
We have seen, since the advent of this Conservative government in this place after June, that there has been a very specific and a very systematic attack on that agency. The first came in the form of the funding cuts which were announced on November 29. In those cuts, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines made it clear that over the next two years some $10 million would be withdrawn from the provincial subsidy that currently goes to the ONTC. That $10 million over two years represents fully two thirds of all of the provincial subsidy that flows from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to this agency to carry out very specific and very important operations in our part of the province.
The ONTC provides a number of subsidized services; well, they used to until the cut. They used to provide air service. They still continue to try to provide passenger rail service. They provide marine services, ferry services, to a number of communities. They also provide commercial services, those that pay for themselves, or those that the commission hopes will pay for themselves, and that includes freight rail services, telecommunications and the bus operations, which are operated not only in northern Ontario, but charter services from Toronto into northern Ontario and to other parts in the United States.
We have seen that there's been a significant cut in the subsidy which has dramatically affected the ability of the ONTC to carry out its duty to provide transportation services in the north. One aspect of that cut has been the complete elimination of norOntair, which provided scheduled air services into 17 communities in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Ontario. With the elimination of $6 million to ONTC this year, that whole service has been completely gutted as a provincially offered service.
We have the scenario now that we have a number of communities that are being serviced by private aircraft, no one knows for how long, no one knows at what kind of fares, and we also have the situation where the minister right now is paying a subsidy, through the payment of the MNR plane, to be in servicing at least three of those communities because there was no private air carrier that was interested in going into three of those communities. He had to, in a scramble at the end of March, find some alternative in order to ensure that those communities would have air service as he had promised earlier in December. So we have the scenario of a dismantling of important services because of a cut in funding.
We also have, with this bus legislation before us, the prospect of government legislation now actually furthering the dismantling of ONTC because this legislation will make it very difficult for the ONTC to continue to operate its commercial bus operations, those operations that in fact make some money -- not a whole heck of a lot -- for the corporation in order to allow it to provide other services.
Yesterday, in a question to the minister, I commented on the impact of the Conservative bus deregulation on the ONTC, and in the ONTC's business plan for 1996, which was released some eight weeks ago on January 26 the ONTC said the following: "The anticipated deregulation of the bus industry in 1998 is a serious threat to bus operations, which have been a marginal commercial business for ONTC. The entrance of new competitors on Ontario Northland's major routes would put further pressure on this operation."
ONTC serves the communities of Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Timmins, North Bay, Sudbury, and brings people up through from Toronto into our special part of the province. What we are doing by moving to full deregulation, as we will, as is the first step under this bill, is to put those services at risk, and to put those people and those communities that depend on those services at risk as well.
I remain extremely concerned about the ability of people in northern Ontario to access services which people in southern Ontario take for granted. The fact of the matter is that it is the responsibility of this government -- it's the responsibility of any provincial government -- to ensure that people in the province have access to decent, safe and affordable services, regardless of where they live in the province. But with this legislation, this government is moving to dismantle that. This government signals that it doesn't believe in that principle, that it doesn't care about the ability of people who live in northern Ontario to have access to decent and effective transportation systems. I find that really disappointing.
What worries me the most is the kind of response I got from the Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines yesterday when I raised this very serious issue with him. He is the minister responsible for the ONTC. He is the minister responsible for advocating on behalf of the needs of the ONTC, which represent the needs of people who live in northern Ontario. Yesterday, when I asked him what he was going to do to protect people in northern Ontario who rely on bus service provided by the ONTC, he had no answer for me. He said that he was aware of the comment that had been made in the 1996 business plan and that he had asked his staff to talk to ONTC and to investigate upon which kind of information they were making that statement.
The minister's got to get with the program. It's up to him to know what's going on in the agencies he is responsible for. It is up to him to determine if government cuts or government legislation are going to have a dramatic and negative impact on the agencies for which he has responsibility. It was clear by his answer in the House yesterday that he has absolutely no idea what the impact of bus deregulation is going to be on an agency he administers or has responsibility for, and hence he has absolutely no idea about the negative impact that loss will have on the people he's supposed to represent in northern Ontario as Minister of Northern Development.
I can only say to him that I sure hope that sooner or later he will get with it and he will start to raise the very serious concerns he should have been raising with his colleague the Minister of Transportation if he is to seriously assume the responsibility he has as Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
The third point I wanted to raise had to do very much with the position other jurisdictions in Canada are taking with respect to this important issue of deregulation. I want to take some time to contrast the position of this Conservative government in Ontario on bus deregulation with the position which is now being taken on bus deregulation by both the provincial government of Quebec and the provincial government in Manitoba. Their positions are very current. They were adopted and presented by those provincial governments, in the case of Quebec, November 20, 1995, and in the case of Manitoba, November 23. So they are very relevant, they are very current and they express the positions of the governments that are in place in those two jurisdictions right now.
It is worthwhile for me just to back up a bit and give a bit of history on why those two governments are now in the position of very publicly stating their position on this important issue of bus deregulation. About two or three years ago, the federal and the provincial governments across the country entered into an agreement on trying to reduce trade barriers in Canada. One of the recommendations that came from the agreement that was signed was a recommendation to examine the role of the regulatory agencies in Canada, particularly with respect to interprovincial transportation, and so, as a result, at the end, in late 1994, what is called the Canadian Intercity Bus Task Force was established to look at the very issue of the economic and the regulatory framework which is now governing intercity bus systems and the intercity bus industry right across Canada. What the task force was to do was to take the positions of the various provinces which cared to comment and provide those comments to the federal government through Transport Canada with respect to options for changing the system that currently exists.
It's worth mentioning that the task force was directed to consider the following topics: They were asked to look at service to rural and remote communities, they were asked to look at the core network service in their own jurisdiction, they were asked to look at employment in the bus industry in their own province, and finally they were asked to comment or look at the viability of the domestic bus industry, including the impact American competition would have on the domestic bus industry here in Canada.
It's really important to look very clearly at the positions of both Manitoba and Quebec, because there are some really important conclusions they have come to which this minister in this province ought to have a regard for.
First if I talk about the system in Quebec, the system which is in place right now to govern bus transportation is responsible under the transportation act and the bus transport regulations, and there has been a commission established which is called la Commission des Transports du Québec, which is responsible for issuing permits to operators in the province to operate, and very much like Ontario, a carrier or an operator that applies for a permit has to provide evidence of competence, evidence of the financial viability of their company and also evidence that there exists a market that it can serve and that it will be capable of serving.
The commission then takes on the responsibility of weighing all of that evidence that comes in and looks particularly at the existence of other similar services on other routes to be sure that whatever is proposed by the new operator will not result in the disappearance of a bus service that's currently in place and will not result in the disappearance of employment of operators currently servicing those routes. In that way they regulate competition on similar routes and in that way they ensure that there is cross-subsidization, ie, profitable routes pay for less profitable routes, and they do that via the licence and the licence conditions.
The Quebec government, in response to the federal government's determination to move on bus deregulation nationally has this to say with respect to moving to full deregulation. First, they outline why they think regulation in their province is important, and the Quebec government says:
"Quebec legislation targets a stable, economical, effective bus transportation system serving most of the province. It does so by controlling carrier access to the market, setting schedules and rates, and promoting a system of cross-subsidization in order to maintain bus services which are not self-financing....
"In this context" -- says the Quebec government -- "the most likely consequences of total intercity bus transport deregulation would be:"
Number 1, "the bus transport system would be limited to those services which are profitable;"
Number 2, "a portion of the population which currently enjoys services would have to provide those services itself, or the government would have to intervene financially;"
Number 3, "strong competition on the major lines would destabilize services to some extent (fewer departures at off-peak hours, changes in carriers and problems with transfers);"
Number 4, "rates would drop on the main lines but would substantially increase on the less heavily travelled lines, if services were not eliminated altogether."
Finally, "governments would save on transport permit management but would have to pay more for highway safety monitoring."
That is the conclusion that the government of Quebec has come to, a government that operates on a regulated system now that is responding to a federal request for full deregulation on a national scale.
They went on to say, "As things stand, total deregulation threatens to accelerate the process whereby regional bus transport services gradually disappear. Moreover, the resulting greater competition on more profitable routes would force carriers to drop less heavily travelled time periods and concentrate on the hours and periods most in demand.
"While it may be natural and logical, this move toward market concentration runs counter to our priorities, namely, maintaining stable services accessible to the greatest number of Quebecers possible."
That was an analysis done by the Quebec government and was published by the Quebec government in November 1995, so it is very current; it is very relevant; it responds directly to the situation they have in our province, a situation which I say to you is not much different than the situation we face in Ontario now.
There is no doubt that government too has experienced a drop in ridership on buses over a number of years, the same as we have in Ontario, but their response to the problem is not to turn to deregulation because they firmly believe that the negative consequences of deregulation are far more serious and will have far more of an impact on people who now rely on those important services.
Let me look at the situation of Manitoba, and this should be an interesting one because of course it is a Conservative government which is in Manitoba, as we all know. In response to the federal proposal to deregulate bus service, the Conservative government in Manitoba had this to say.
They, in the same way, I should point out, have a system that is monitored under the Highway Traffic Act. They also have a Manitoba Motor Transport Board and again the board regulates competition on the basis of economic entry and by regulating fares and schedules. The board also ensures there is cross-subsidization because of the means and ways it has at its disposal to issue licences. Again, there is not a cost that is imposed on the taxpayer, because the cross-subsidization ensures that those people who travel on the heavy routes do in fact help offset the costs on those routes that are not used frequently by travellers.
The consequences that they point out to deregulation are as follows, and first I should point out what their purpose was in the first place to regulate, and they have said:
"The basic purpose of Manitoba's system of motor carrier economic regulation is to ensure that rural, northern, small and remote communities in Manitoba are provided with adequate for-hire highway transportation services at a reasonable cost. Manitoba's use of economic regulation in the transportation industry is an instrument to achieve a specific policy goal. It does not reflect a general belief that economic regulation is good in itself, or that such regulation is always the preferred means for the public sector to achieve its goals.
But, they went on to say, "the specific rationale for economic regulation is clear. In an unregulated market, many communities in Manitoba would not have access to scheduled bus passenger services, or would receive inadequate or unaffordable service due to insignificant passenger volume and revenues in relation to costs."
In their conclusion to the federal government with respect to their advice on whether or not the feds should look at deregulation, the Manitoba Conservative government said the following in November 1995:
"The purpose of our submission is to set out Manitoba's position on the future deregulation of the intercity bus industry. Our submission is brief as all significant problems experienced by this industry in Manitoba have been resolved within the current regulatory regime.... This positive record is the basis for our position that the existing system of economic regulation in Manitoba largely achieves its objectives, and is capable of managing the adjustments required by the industry to preserve its economic viability. There is simply no major problem that would be addressed by bus deregulation, and no significant constituency advocating it on other than theoretical or ideological grounds."
It would do well for the minister in this province, the Minister of Transportation, to take a very serious look at what our sister provinces are saying, because the fact of the matter is, each of them operates in a regulated environment, each of them uses a transportation board to ensure there is cross-subsidization and uses a permit process to ensure that small, less profitable routes will be serviced by this industry. They do that because they ensure that those operators that have very profitable routes are, by way of licence, put in a position of having to serve those communities where obviously they can't rake off all the cream.
The end result of the move of Bill 39, which is the first step to deregulation, will be exactly those consequences that both Manitoba and Quebec have outlined and it will be exactly the same as the very negative consequences we saw in the United States only four years after full bus deregulation came into effect.
I say to members in this House today that people in rural and northern Ontario deserve the same transportation systems as those in the rest of the province get and this minister has got to back off and back away from bus deregulation because it will only have very negative and very serious effects on people in northern and rural Ontario.
To continue on, in regard to the US, the trends to less service to small communities were already well established and can't be blamed on deregulation. Furthermore, the larger carriers came to recognize that they cut their service networks too deeply when deregulation was implemented. They had to go back to try and recapture feeder traffic for their main routes. This is an example of experience that Ontario bus industries have gained from the US mistake, that it was already in place before deregulation came to be. That is one of the reasons 1998 is one of the dates we are looking at.
Furthermore, there is lots of evidence supporting economic deregulation of this industry by credible authorities, not least of which was recommended to open up the intercity bus industry made by the 1992 federal Royal Commission on National Passenger Transportation. Those are just a couple of the points we would like to address that the member has brought forward.
In the riding of Sudbury East, we used to have a tremendous amount of railway service; there still is some, I believe, that's available but it's not what it once was. In fact, Capreol, which is I think the member's place of birth, home town, a number of years ago was a place noted for being a major railway community. As we see the railway fading from the scene -- I say that with lament -- it means the bus services that we have to various communities are extremely important and I'm glad the member raised those issues, which are foremost in the minds of those who reside in those kinds of communities.
I think there's a sense of fairness that was also involved in her remarks in that there are others who are assisted indirectly through the federal and provincial governments and local governments in terms of transportation, but those who are going to be reliant upon this in the future are going to be those who reside in the villages, the hamlets, the small towns, some of the smaller cities, many of which I mentioned in my remarks, some I was unable --
One of the things that is most disturbing to my constituents in Algoma-Manitoulin is that their choices for public transportation are diminishing rapidly. Frankly, I don't remember precisely when we lost our last train service, but it was some long time ago. We now have had a severe restriction on the amount of air travel that we can do on a commercial basis since the government unilaterally told the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission that they would have to divest themselves of norOntair and that the public transit of northern Ontario by way of air is no longer available.
Coupled with this, we see a deterioration of our roads and we see unbelievably high gas prices that have escalated rapidly in the last few months and show no sign of being reduced. Of course, in my constituency it's far higher than it was anywhere else. On top of that, the automobile insurance issues are still revolving around. The previous government put a tax on automobile insurance premiums, which certainly didn't help the situation. But regardless of that, it is getting almost prohibitive -- not almost; it is getting prohibitive -- for many of my constituents to own automobiles. So the bus is going to be the only alternative for many folks in my part of the world, and I appreciate the member bringing forward a very interesting presentation on this matter.
It struck me as she was speaking that one of the things that happens to us in a modern society is that very often we don't appreciate a service until we begin to lose it. That certainly was true, as the member pointed out, around rail service. I think in many parts of this province people took rail service, particularly passenger rail service, very much for granted, and only understood what it meant to the whole process of community development and community maintenance when the train service was gone.
Our deep concern around the current proposal around bus deregulation is similar, that many people now take for granted the availability of bus service. Most people in the province do not seem to understand that services to relatively small, unprofitable areas of the province have tended to be maintained because the bus companies have been required to provide those services if they are to have the very lucrative routes that they enjoy and for which they compete very vigorously, as those of us know who know the appeals against the highway transportation commission.
So I would say that it is always a pleasure to congratulate my colleague from Sudbury East on the excellence of her preparation and the excellence of her delivery.
With respect to the comments made by the member for Oshawa, let me say a couple of things. He said that there was only one bus carrier operating in northern Ontario, due to regulation. I would say to him that without regulation, sir, most of those communities in northern Ontario would not have bus service at all. The fact of the matter is that under the licence permit that ONTC operates under, in some of the small communities where money is not to be made, our service is a direct consequence of the licence being issued to allow ONTC to go into the bigger communities, and it is because of that cross-subsidization which appears on the licence that we have communities in northern Ontario which receive service when they would not otherwise.
Secondly, he talks about the US and says it was well on its way to a loss of bus service before deregulation. It's your government, sir, that is offering deregulation as the panacea to end all of the bus loss. I have heard your minister say in this House that more communities will get service under bus deregulation. I've heard him say that at least on two occasions. I am saying to you that the experience in the United States is completely different, and if he had read anything about that, he would not have made those kinds of statements in the House.
Finally, the recommendation of the royal commission is part of the proposal which the federal government has put forward, and indeed the position of Manitoba and Quebec responds directly to that federal proposition for bus deregulation. Those two jurisdictions are opposed, and so should we be.
As you know, the government will deregulate Ontario's intercity bus industry, but not until January 1, 1998. In the meantime, we are introducing an interim measure which will ensure a smooth transition to a deregulated environment. The legislation is good news for Ontarians for three main reasons:
First, Ontarians can be assured that the public safety remains the top priority for this government. The board will continue to apply the rules of the current regulatory regime and will have enhanced powers to do so. The legislation moves towards economic deregulation, which will have no impact on public safety or safety regulations.
Second, deregulation and the elimination of red tape creates greater opportunities for entrepreneurs, new business, investment and jobs.
Third, by getting rid of regulations and red tape, we are opening up the industry so that there is greater competition, competition that will lead to more choice and better service options.
As you know, my riding of Simcoe Centre is a diverse riding, one made up of many rural communities, small towns and larger cities. I am certain that the people of small communities such as Bond Head, Lefroy, Bell Ewart and Minesing, as well as the larger centres of Innisfil, Bradford and Barrie, would welcome more choices when it comes to intercity bus service. Accordingly, I can appreciate the concerns of those people who feel that deregulation may mean less service to small towns.
However, if that was indeed the case, I wouldn't be standing here supporting Bill 39. Many people who live in my riding commute great distances every day to get to work, and for most people that means getting in the car and heading down the 400 to Toronto. Many constituents have told me that there currently isn't much in the way of choice for getting from town to town or travelling to Toronto. In fact, with the exception of the larger centres, many of these communities in my riding are not served at all by the major carriers.
I welcome the prospect of these people as consumers having more choice in terms of bus transportation. I also welcome the prospects of new businesses starting up and the potential for these entrepreneurs to break into a market that has been for too many years dominated by a few major players. The reality of a regulated environment such as the one Ontario has operated under for the past 70 years is that regulation doesn't guarantee service. According to statistics from the federal government, during the past 15 years, approximately 400 communities across Ontario have lost their bus service.
By removing regulatory barriers and red tape, this legislation will encourage local entrepreneurs to take over services larger providers aren't interested in. Local service providers will now have the capability of coming forward to meet public travel needs. In turn, this will mean jobs, investment and better service to rural areas.
Contrary to what the opposition would like the public to believe, competition in the transportation industry is healthy so long as it is fair competition. The current regulated environment has prevented new operators from providing services to small and rural communities. This certainly has proved to be unfair to potential operators and unfair to the residents of those communities which have lost their bus service.
The current system of regulation is also outdated. Great Britain and the United States, for example, have already moved to deregulation.
The opposition may object to this legislation and our attempts to move forward. However, it is worth noting that the industry itself supports a strategy for achieving transition to full economic deregulation. In fact, the process was developed on the basis of industry proposals.
Bill 39 is also good for taxpayers. After 10 years of the opposition parties, and 65 tax increases later, the taxpayers of Ontario can use some good news. During the interim period, the industry itself will fully fund a streamlined Ontario Highway Transport Board until the end of 1997, when the final regulations are removed.
Users can also expect greater stability thanks to this legislation. Under Bill 39, scheduled carriers would be required to provide 30 days' notice before making significant service reductions of 25% or more. Under the current regulations, carriers only have to provide 10 days' notice. Bill 39 will also extend the notice for abandonment of services from its current 10-day period to a 90-day period.
In summary, the government has no place in telling bus companies how to do business except of course in the area of public safety. I must stress that I recognize that public safety must maintain a top priority, and this legislation in no way compromises that. But surely bus companies don't need the government to tell them where and which communities to serve.
Business people know enough to serve communities that have a demand for such services and entrepreneurs are best at recognizing new opportunities. Regulations haven't worked in guaranteeing service or low ticket prices. It is time to move to deregulation and let the market demand look after itself.
This Legislature should move to pass Bill 39 so that we can provide greater bus service to Ontarians in small communities and at competitive prices. This legislation will bring fairness to the bus industry and offer Ontarians more choice.
This legislation is what Ontarians and the bus industry have been asking for. It represents a step forward in an industry that has been wrapped in economic red tape and behind the times for too long. I therefore will be voting in favour of Bill 39 and urge my colleagues to use their wisdom and do the same.
You know what? The government of Ontario actually subsidizes those municipal buses. They not only have a monopoly that keeps Mike from running a bus down Bay Street; they actually subsidize the monopoly to provide it. I'm not saying that's a bad idea, but when you're out in the rural part of this province, in the northern part of this province, the intercity bus services are similar to running up and down Bay Street or wherever.
If you're in favour of deregulation, don't stop here. Go the whole ball of wax: no subsidies for anybody, whether they're municipalities, whether they're anybody. Why do it? Why stop with the intercity? Go the whole way. Follow your own logic and you'll find it makes no sense. It would make absolutely no sense to do that. In Toronto or in Hamilton or in Elliot Lake, it makes no sense to do that. Then why does it make sense in the rural and northern parts of the province to do it? I ask that question of the member.
However, having said that, I would like to comment on the member's speech, particularly the area around notice. I know the minister really emphasized this issue around, "Oh, now people are going to have to have 90 days' notice in order to stop a service as opposed to 10 days now." That's scant comfort to the communities we've been talking about. Having 90 days to worry about how you're going to get to where you need to go and how you're going to get goods delivered in terms of Bus Parcel Express and so on is very scant comfort indeed. I don't think anyone should take seriously that that provision within this act is going to in any way ameliorate the concerns.
The minister said yesterday, as you did, that there'll be an effort in that notice period to try and find some way to accommodate the needs of the community, but we're all very well aware -- I mean, let's not be naïve about this. What we're talking about is deregulation in order to improve competitiveness. Competitiveness is based on profit, and if there is no incentive through the lucrative routes for the buses to be maintained on less lucrative routes, that's not what we're going to see. You folks constantly tell the world that what has to happen is market forces, and so the people in those communities that are going to be affected know what that means.
We have heard the member, the previous speaker, saying that we can't tell the industries where they should be providing a service and what kind of service they should be providing. Is this what it's all about? Is this what we have come to really offer the Ontario public, that we don't want to provide any longer a service where we don't feel it's convenient but at the same time we are providing a very efficient service that is not running a deficit, it's not costing any money today to the system at all?
I think it is our responsibility to see that those small communities, especially in northern Ontario or the far-reaching areas of the province, are provided with that much-needed service. Instead I hear from some of the members on the government side: "Do not interfere. Let's go to the private sector. Don't tell them what service they should be providing, where they should be providing that service." My goodness, if we can't tell a bus company, private or whatever, that it has the responsibility to provide service to all the communities in Ontario, then what is our job, then what is the government's job if it wants to deregulate, if it wants to give the authorization to other people but not retain the control as to what kind of service they should be providing?
Knowing the agenda of this government, particularly as it relates to wages and how it relates to unions, clearly, the impression I had from the member's comments was that he was quite excited and supportive of the idea that where there may be half-decent-paying jobs and perhaps a union there, if it's been a long-established route with a long-established company, that would be gone. In the deregulated world of Mike Harris, of course there's no need for the government to regulate or get in the way, because their whole purpose is to stand out of the way.
So I would think this is consistent, as disappointing as it is to see it happening, it's certainly consistent with the approach that this government has taken with regard to workers, with regard to wages, with regard to unions and the ability of working people and their families to derive their fair share of the benefit of the wealth that is created in this province. Indeed, this is, regardless of what the government says, a good place to invest and a good place to make money. It's a shame that more workers are going to pay the ultimate price of job loss and decent wages at the altar of the Common Sense Revolution.
I would like to say that bus service is not taken for granted in areas that are not being serviced. Certainly, economic deregulation is not going to result in what my friend the member for Hamilton Centre is saying, that entrepreneurship and a new business automatically results in an existing operation being put down. It is a fact that the current labour relations laws do provide for successor rights and if a union operation is affected, they'll be covered. There have been no changes to the labour relations law and my friend knows that. So the protections are in place and we would encourage that new operators get in place so we can deal with it in the rural centres, especially in the areas that are not being provided. Certainly, at the federal level they're proposing that we move to deregulation and we're in line with that move. But it's not at the jeopardy of public safety.
Just to respond to the member for London Centre with respect to the abandonment notice, I hardly see that it is not an improvement when we're talking about 10 days' notice currently being provided, to move it up to 90 days. It's certainly in the interests of the public for those measures to be taken.
The other comment that I've heard throughout the debate this afternoon is that communities could be affected, but they don't know, which is purely speculation and it's certainly premature. We're trying to address a problem that currently exists that has been identified. It's supported by the industry and it's also supported by the public at large.
But I believe that there is a role and there has to be a role, should be a role for the government as well. In this particular case, as in many others which we have seen from the government, it seems that the government is giving away everything -- kit and caboodle and everything else.
The question is this: If we are willing to deregulate, to sell off, if you will, to private industry, what controls do we retain so we can assure the public in Ontario, those small communities that practically live on a bus service? We don't have that assurance.
As the concluding member for Simcoe Centre was saying just now, we don't know if they're going to be affected. We have been saying that all along, that before you come up with a proposal or take certain actions, make sure how this is going to affect the people of Ontario. What will be the consequences?
So I am pleased to hear that because this is exactly what they are saying, but they are not doing it. Instead of saying: "We give you notice now, as at April 1, that on January 1, 1998, you guys are gone. You're on your own." We are telling the students that they are on their own. We are telling the workers they're on their own. We're telling the unemployed they're on their own. We're telling the battered women that they are on their own, and now we're telling everybody in Ontario that they are on their own. They have to fend for themselves.
The consequences are very far-reaching. It is not as simple as saying, as the member for Etobicoke West, Mr Stockwell, had said, "It has been so long that nobody has been checking the regulation, but some time we have to look at it." They say, "Unless it's broken, why even look at it to fix it?" So if it ain't broken, why fix it?
We have a system that has been very, very efficiently serving the people of Ontario. It has been doing that, but the member was saying that because the regulation has not been checked for so many years, we should do away with it because it's got too much red tape. I would be surprised if we were to propose this to the people of Ontario, especially those in need and saying, "Well, maybe we should be looking at the regulations, if you will, and find those areas that need some fine-tuning because the service has been excellent." But no, what we hear from the government side is that because of some fine-tuning that may be needed, let's try winding down your system.
That's exactly what the member was saying during his presentation. I'm saying, if we have a system that has been proven over the years to be efficient and at no cost, if you will, why are we saying we want to cut the red tape and give away the service to the private area? We should be saying as a government, "Let's cut the red tape, but let's not cut the service." But it seems that anything that is good for the country, if you will, that is good for Ontario, they want to give away to private industry. That's where I have a problem with it. That is why I wish to speak against the bill and I cannot support this particular bill.
I don't want to enrage the members on the other side. I don't want to continue to read some of the areas that will be affected. But our member for St Catharines was reading some of the areas, which is between 150 and 175 locations which will be affected, cut off. When he read Durham, the member for -- I believe it's not even from the area of Durham, I believe it's from Ottawa, he said, "Well, indeed, Durham as well." Surprise, surprise.
But I just want to mention a couple from this list here, and I'll tell you why I'll do that. I'll tell you the implications for some of these communities here, communities such as -- I don't mean abutting Metro Toronto. I'm speaking of communities like Gravenhurst, Haliburton, Huntsville, Elora, Collingwood, Bracebridge. Those areas, for some of us who know central Ontario, if you will, the tourist region, those communities look at the bus industry with much avidness. I would like to hear, if this particular bill were to be presented to the public at a public forum, how they would respond when they really, really look for survival at the great urban areas, especially the tourist regions.
Did the government hear or ask the tourist offices bureau, people that usually also make a living out of that, how they will be affected? No, they didn't. They said, "We will let you know, in 1998, January 1, how this will be affected, once we give it away." Well, isn't that wonderful? Do we have any statistics on how many people are using bus tours, going on buses and visiting places, stuff like that? In the thousands. There are no statistics. There is no information. This is how the business wishes to operate. They come up with some weird ideas, privatize, without taking into consideration how it affects the general public. It is indeed a grave concern.
There is no thought given to service cuts, to the costs, which is increasing fares, to jobs and benefits, privatization of what else comes with it; no public input whatsoever. To begin, between 150 and 175 locations or municipalities, communities, without service. Really, if the government maintains no controls and no power on those private companies, how do we control and how do we give citizens peace of mind when it comes to safety? We have been told, with respect to some of the comments from the other side, that they can do a better job than us. I haven't heard very much with respect to unsafe conditions within the bus industry, but we have had a lot of problems with the private industries when it comes to large trucks and stuff like that.
Has the government really given any thought, any indication, how this is going to affect the safety of the users in Ontario? What about those filtering into Ontario from other provinces or even from south of the border? It's unbelievable that the government is willing to throw away the baby with the bathwater here without taking into consideration how we are going to protect those people using buses all over Ontario.
It does not stop there. This does not only affect the people relying on buses either for pleasure travelling, students, retirees, whatever; it affects people in other areas as well. You can see gas skyrocketing. Gas at the gas pump is going to skyrocket. You're going to see a lot more cars on the road. You're going to see insurance premiums skyrocketing. Oh, yes, those insurance premiums. You people love this. I know the government side loves this. They will love seeing private enterprises, insurance companies, saying, "Give me, give me, give me."
I'll tell you what. You proceed with this mentality and, yes, you will have your coffers at election time filled by those industries' private companies. But I'll tell you one thing: They won't be able to fill the ballot box for you at the next election. That's guaranteed, because what you're doing when you're moving on so blindly, without any consultation on matters of this importance here, the public will resent it. Give it a year, a year and a half; once you put some of these measures in place and the public feels the repercussions of your actions, that's when you're going to get the people on your neck.
It is not just those who rely solely on the bus to go from one area to another; the rest of the people will be affected as well. I don't have to tell you the impact. We heard the commissioner of Metro transportation say yesterday, "I don't know why the roads are so bad." A harsh winter, yes, but he says there are a lot more cars on the road. I wonder why. We are forcing people to do that, and once we do, we will have more cars and more traffic on the roads.
It is not only one matter of concern with cuts to the service we provide to people who rely on it; it is how they affect everybody else. What about students who rely on that service and it no longer will be provided? How is a family supposed to provide that service?
Even a couple of days ago it seemed that in one breath we heard the Premier, the Minister of Finance and government members themselves saying: "You know what? We are going to streamline, we are going to cut, but we are going to provide the same or better service." I fail to see how cutting is going to provide better service.
The next thing we are going to hear is that we will have to do more with nothing -- not to do better with less, but with nothing. They will do less with nothing.
It was very interesting when a couple of nights ago at a fund-raising the Premier said, "We want to be the first and we want to be the best." This is rhetoric. It's a wonderful thing to say when you're speaking to an audience that has paid $500 a ticket.
The Premier said a couple of nights ago, "We are going to be the best and we are going to be the first." How the heck are you going to do that?
The people of Ontario are watching you. You're cutting their service. You're cutting the service to 170 cities.
I think, as the member said, they should rethink it. That is the best thing I've heard from the government side since last June. They should rethink their position. I agree with that, and as long as they rethink their position, something better may come forth. In its present form, I can't support it and the people of Ontario shouldn't support something like this, they shouldn't be put to something like this which affects those who are in need and those who will have to feel the consequences as well.
People will have very little choice but to use private transportation. We know that because many of those who now use the bus services are people who are of relatively low income in many cases and take the bus because they really find it difficult to afford a car, those are the people who will be using transportation methods to try to get from place to place and may be forced to rely on vehicles that do not have the kind of standards for emissions there ought to be.
It struck me when the member was talking that this is very much part and parcel of our concern about the possible disappearance of some of these routes, because we certainly know that where transportation is not affordable and is not within a reasonable distance, people still need to get from place to place, particularly if they're trying to work, particularly if they're trying to look after their families in an appropriate way.
I would say to the members opposite that the concerns we're expressing are real. We're not simply objecting to something the government is trying to do. We're trying to get the government to understand the importance of this issue.
His tirade against the Conservative government's policies, even separate from the bill we're discussing, is most remarkable from a member of the Liberal Party. When they ran in the last federal election they said, "The GST is gone, scrapped." The Prime Minister said you could judge his credibility based on him doing it, you could judge his credibility on whether he took action. The member for Hamilton East, the Deputy Prime Minister, said she would resign if they didn't do it. She would resign and you could judge their credibility on that issue. If you noticed on the television last night, CBC spent 15 minutes covering the GST issue. That's more than they would cover a big earthquake. Before we take any lectures from a member in the official opposition on a government keeping its word, he should perhaps look in his own backyard.
I want to correct the record on a number of areas. The member said that the member for St Catharines, in listing a good number of communities across Ontario, said that these communities are all the communities that will lose bus service. Nothing could be further from the truth. The member for St Catharines was far more responsible than that. He said these are communities which could, not would. That's engaging in fearmongering for the people of Ontario, and this place deserves better than that.
Another issue the member talked about was bus tours, that thousands of people in Ontario take bus tours and this bill would hurt that. Of course, the bus tour industry, as everyone knows, is deregulated. There isn't any regulation requiring people to take bus tours to Niagara Falls and to Elora. They're deregulated already.
Finally, the member said was that we would love to see auto insurance companies raising insurance rates. If the member opposite would believe that members on this side of the House would actually believe that, it's rather a sad state of affairs.
I've been thinking about this. Why would the government want to do this? This is something that doesn't cost the government a whole lot of money. Compared to the subsidies you pay in transportation across the province, this is a relatively small amount of dollars that's involved in the regulation of bus service. I know you would know that, Mr Speaker. It's a relatively small amount of money, and yet we know -- I don't want to fearmonger, but we do know -- there will be many communities that will lose bus service. They will lose bus service, and all we're asking of them over there is why aren't they concerned about those communities and why won't they admit there will be communities that lose bus service under this regime?
I got thinking to myself, why would they want to do this? It's a rather cost-effective way of providing a bus system across Ontario that's coherent, services a lot of communities -- and I thought, polls; they've had a look at the polls. What do they know from the polls? They know who the typical Conservative voter is and they know the typical Conservative voter doesn't ride on a bus. That's what they know: The typical Conservative voter doesn't ride on a bus. So if we eliminate intercity bus service, we're not going to affect us very much. Sure we're going to affect seniors who have been concerned about the many cuts the government has made, but they don't think they're going to vote for them anyway. They're going to affect students for whom they've upped tuition and made their lives very difficult. "But they're not going to vote for us anyway," the Tories are saying, "so therefore, why not? Let's be bold and strong and allow free enterprise to run the province of Ontario."
I look again at the comments the member made across the floor with respect to the number of cities and towns that we are somehow stripping bus service away from. I would ask the member across the way, where did he get this list of cities and towns? We happen to know that there were no consumers consulted with respect to this list; there were no operators that were consulted to obtain this list. Of course, I quite frankly believe this list is something that really leaves a lot to be desired with respect to its credibility, and as well I really don't believe that what we're doing is going to have a negative effect at all on the busing industry.
What he said really gave a very clear indication with respect to the way the whole Liberal caucus thinks. The whole Liberal caucus is saying quite clearly no to innovation, they're saying no to doing more with less, they're saying no to new ideas and they're saying no to the private sector, Mr Speaker, and I would suggest to you that's exactly why the voters last June said no to the Liberal caucus.
You know what happens to competition when you drive it into the ground? Then the service will be so poor and the price will be so high that they probably will have the worst of both ends. We'll have no service and those few people who will be forced will have to pay through the nose.
Is this really what we are looking at? It should go to a committee, as the member from Mississauga is saying. It should go to a committee. Let the public decide. Don't say, as the former member from Simcoe said before, "We will let you know how this is going to affect the public after January 1, 1998."
Isn't that nice? You want to let the public know what you're doing now, you want to hear from the public what measures you should be taking into consideration, or you want to implement it and then say, "We'll see you back in 1998." I think it's quite wrong and I think they will reconsider, and I'm glad to follow this through the committee process.
As much as this may not be the key piece of legislation that defines your term in government, nor establishes whether or not you're successful in your agenda, certainly you ought to be aware that Alvin Curling is taking a particular interest in this bill, and he may yet have some thoughts to express and some actions to express, because you say "omnibus" and Alvin jumps right to alert.
Moving aside the levity, I want to begin my comments by reflecting on something that was thrown out earlier as a heckle to a previous speaker. I think it was one of my Liberal opposition colleagues here on this side of the House who was in the process and talking about the benefits of regulation, and there was a Tory backbencher who said, "So if it moves, regulate it." I don't see any hands up taking ownership for that quip, but -- there we are, the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, I believe, is taking ownership. Why is it that doesn't surprise me? That does not surprise me in the least.
I would just say to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale that the response to that seems to be, from this government, that if it's a dollar, bow before it, kiss its feet and get out of the way and let it do whatever it likes, because quite frankly that is what deregulation is all about. Of course, that's consistent with this government's approach.
It is true that in terms of deregulating and getting government off the back and all the great little buzz phrases so many of you are so proud of and like to repeat over and over, the fact of the matter is that what you do, when you do that, is that in many cases, not in every case but in many cases, you have the effect of tearing down a lot of the positive public protection and public service regulations that are there, because it has helped us to build what the United Nations has recognized twice is the greatest country in the world to live in.
We know the great appeal this government sees in what happens in the United States, but quite frankly I still believe the vast majority of Ontarians are very respectful of our neighbours to the south and are pleased we have a relationship that by and large works for us in terms of the global economy, but reject that that is how we want to design our economy or that indeed we want to replicate their idea of what government means in a society as it relates to helping and benefiting the average working person and their family.
We know Ronald Reagan was the President who brought in the deregulation of busing in the United States. We heard earlier, and it's worth repeating, that as a result of that, from 1982 to 1991 there were 5,690 communities left being serviced after they'd started with 11,820. That's a drop of over 50%.
We know Ronald Reagan has a particular attraction for Mike Harris Tories because of course the trickle-down theory of economics is one that Ronald Reagan ran on and that is very much what this government is about and very much what this government is into.
We know that to pay for that tax cut you have had to review every single expenditure. You've made this into some great triumph of achievement you have by virtue of talking consistently about getting government out of the way and all the other things that are part of that mantra, but the reality is that the Ontario Highway Transport Board is $450,000 a year this government just couldn't resist.
I sat over there. I was part of reviews, a lot of reviews, and sat at the cabinet table and listened to the arguments for both keeping and --
I'm sure that previous speakers have commented on it, but particularly in a province like Ontario and a nation like Canada, where the country's economy and the unity of our nation were built as a result of the rail system that united Canada and gave us the first opportunity to feel that we were truly a nation, a nation that has gone on to become, and I'll say it again, twice in the last few years the greatest place in the world to live as voted by the United Nations, we ought to be proud of that and we ought to be more prepared to fight for that rather than the cheap politics of a tax cut which plays to a very simple and straightforward hot button that says to anybody, "If you want to keep more money, vote for us." That's what you did and that's what you're going to do next month.
What we are going to continue to do is to point out time after time that while you, with great fanfare, announce that you're giving a 30% tax cut, a tax cut, by the way, where over 60% of that benefit will go to the top 10% income earners in the province of Ontario, while you're being so proud of that achievement, we will continue to point out to Ontarians the price that's being paid and what we're losing in order to gain what will be for most working people a few bucks. The only real dollars to be seen, unfortunately, are by those who have already benefited the most from our economy and have and control the lion's share of the wealth. This, I believe, is no different.
I would also say that one of the other significant motivations is that this is very consistent with your whole idea of privatizing public service. Although we're talking about private interest industry, the issue here in my mind is very much akin to public services wherein you will be prepared to hive off those parts of public service -- and in the Ministry of Transportation we're going to see a lot of that, with contracting out of road maintenance and other things that are part and parcel of this issue.
We are going to see you sell off to your friends, because we expect you'll follow the same pattern as your Tory cousin Brian Mulroney, wherein you will sell off those profit-making parts of the public service to your friends and they will go off and they will make as much money as they can. It will be the people of Ontario who have over the years provided the ability for those private owners to benefit from what rightfully should be the ownership of the public sector.
What you will leave behind will be those parts that you can't peddle out in the marketplace because they don't as easily lend themselves to making a profit. Then, of course, step two will be that in a few years you will stand up and say: "We have to make further cuts in those areas. Why? Well, they aren't cost-effective, they aren't cost-efficient. It costs us too much money to keep them going."
That, of course, will lead to those services being denied to the Ontarians who are benefiting from them, very similar to what's happening here by deregulating and by denying the right of Ontarians to demand from those bus companies that are lucky enough to get a licence that they must also provide service in areas that are not necessarily profit-making but are areas that contain citizens who are entitled to decent public transportation, that they must provide that. You will be eliminating that when you move to full deregulation.
I understand and respect that's not what this bill is, but it is very much the tip of the iceberg and it ties in very much to that. That ultimately is what you're going to do. You in effect will leave probably hundreds of thousands of Ontarians without a service they now have, one, because it fits your philosophy of how you think all public service ought to run -- like a business, case closed, with no other consideration -- and secondly, for $450,000, which of course is the price of the board that you're eliminating.
I believe at the end of the day there will be all the evidence necessary to prove that the arguments we're making around this are accurate. Unfortunately, for an awful lot of Ontarians it will be too late; it will be too late because they've lost their service. The seniors who will be affected, the students who will be affected, people looking for work who will be affected, will have lost something, and whether the genie can be put back in the bottle remains to be seen, but we know how difficult those things are.
This is very much something where there's one opportunity here to preserve an important part of our transportation system in a country and province that's so vast, and yet if we lose the moment, and unfortunately, with the majority government you have, we will, the ability to repair that damage remains somewhat in doubt.
I want to move now to what will happen as a result of deregulation in terms of safety. I've heard the government talk and government members read their prepared texts from the political spin doctors out of the ministers' and Premier's offices about the fact that there will not be any effect on the safety in this industry and that, "Don't worry, we can count on the Tories to not only maintain it but, by gosh, they'll be improving it and making it even stronger."
One of the most important safety issues, in my opinion, is workplace safety. What's the track record been there? Cut, gouge, attack, eliminate everything except actually make the workplace safer for workers. The opposite of what they say is what they do.
Anyone in the labour movement who has experience with what I'm talking about and has been watching what's happening with health and safety issues and WCB and labour legislation, like your anti-worker Bill 7, and what you're going to do to the WCB when the Jackson report hits and guts that, I would say to those people to take that experience of this government and apply it to this industry and ask, do you honestly believe this government is going to make our roads safer at the same time that they're getting out of the way and letting as much money be made in this industry, and any benefit to the public becomes an extremely low consideration, if a consideration at all?
What will happen? We know that first of all there will be quite a number of bankruptcies. This will happen; it has happened in every industry that's been deregulated that we can measure, and you can expect that it's going to happen here. I said earlier, in response to one of the other government member's speeches, what I expected would happen when those companies are replaced by the new companies that this government seems to be so proudly planning to point to, in every likelihood, given the way you've changed the labour laws and the way you've approached the rights of working people to receive decent pay and decent protection, is that we'd see lower wages in this industry.
I suspect that under Bill 7, where you've made it much more difficult for unions to organize, we'll see a lower rate of unionization, which I know brings a smile to every Tory's face. Unfortunately, that means fewer and fewer Ontarians will have a union they can look to and work with and be a part of that will assist them in getting their fair share and making sure their rights, whatever little rights you leave in legislation, are protected. I believe that will happen.
I also believe there will be more and more pressure to skirt the issue of safety, not deliberately by evil people who get up in the morning wanting to make the roads more dangerous but by people like yourselves, I say to the government members, who see virtually everything as a business case -- not that that isn't important, but it's not the only thing when we're talking about government policy, public safety, and in this case the operation of a private enterprise that uses public roadways and becomes part and parcel of the safety of our roads. I predict that the pressure to find every dollar after they've squeezed it out of the workers will move them into that area.
If you have any doubts, look at the questions that are being raised around the airline industry in the United States. Look what's happening there as there are incredible increases in the incidence of airline accidents and the severity of them.
They're all rolling their eyes like this doesn't happen. That's the reality of what's going on when you deregulate, and I suggest the same sort of thing will show itself here. We'll wait and see because we have no choice, because we don't have the experience yet, but I'm quite prepared to stand by the fact that as this unfolds and as you change this industry and make it worse in terms of public service and public benefit, that indeed will be the case.
Let me close my remarks by commenting on the issue of the environment, because public transportation is an important part of environmental protection, of the environmental concern that people have, and of course if indeed the economy ever starts to get a little better, we will begin to see that come back up.
Again, look at the record. You've only been there 10 months and what's your record on the environment? Public service is a key part of the environment. Deregulation, we predict and we suggest, and experts in the field are saying, will result in fewer routes to an awful lot of our communities. That is going to have to mean either citizens are all but stranded in a community or they're going to have to use private vehicles which will increase the number of cars on the road, and that will of course affect the environment.
When we look at the track record of this government in the 10 months that you've been in office, we've seen a virtual attack, through Bill 20, on the environmental protections that have been put in place, ironically enough, in large part started by previous Tory governments. But in your interest to serve the developers and to make the way clear for them no matter what, you have changed the planning process and an awful lot of those environmental protections are gone.
While I suggest to you that the environment is an important part of this issue, I don't expect you to accept that. I don't expect you to believe that. And unfortunately, I don't even expect you to care about that, because I think you showed your true colours under Bill 20, and if you talk to any environmentalist in this province, they will tell you that each of you has been a party to dismantling protection of our environment that has been there for decades, getting stronger with every government. With one stroke of the pen, one vote, one bill passed, Bill 20, you've eliminated all of that, and you really don't seem to care too much about it.
Talk to any of the environmentalists, and I'm not talking the hard-line stuff. I say to those people who are very reasonable, who understand there has to be a balance between development and environment, as surely as we are finished here in four minutes, there will be damage to the environment. As surely as we will be finished here in four minutes, and I will be done in less than that -- as surely as that will happen, I believe that while this deregulation of the bus industry is not the be-all and end-all, it is yet one more piece of negative legislation, regulation and program that this government brings forward that somewhere in Ontario makes life a little less enjoyable and drops the quality of life for yet another group of Ontarians.
Unfortunately, we see every day here in the House one step, one piece of legislation after another, a relentless attack on the quality of life, all in the interest of providing your wealthy friends with a tax cut that will cost the things that make this a great place to live and that unfortunately won't be fully seen until the end of your term. The good thing about that is it will be in time to make sure you are indeed turfed out in the next election, and that's the only silver lining to your entire agenda. Mr Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak.
The House adjourned at 1800.
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