4 SEPTEMBRE 1997 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L_ONTARIO
The House met at 1002.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
In essence, the resolution calls for the preparation and development of a provincial infrastructure strategy that deals with, in particular, bridge and structure replacement in this province. I think it's important over the next 10 minutes to provide a brief context with respect to why I've brought this resolution forward and the potential we have if we're successful in moving it forward in this House.
Without any doubt the highway system in Ontario plays a great role in terms of economic benefit. A well-maintained highway system is crucial to Ontario's economic wellbeing and competitiveness, certainly the busiest parts of the Ontario road system in terms of competition with other major states and jurisdictions. The section of Highway 401 near the 400 essentially competes with parts of the Santa Monica Freeway in California, which represents one of the busiest sections of highway in North America.
It's one of the most rapidly growing areas of interest as highway traffic growth reaches 3% to 4% per year. About 90% of all intercity passenger travel takes place by automobiles on highways. This obviously has a significant economic impact whereby nearly 65% of all Ontario exports by value travel to the US by truck through our transportation system. We've come to expect the transportation system not only to represent and acknowledge the importance of the economy in this province, but the wellbeing in the context that Ontarians have come to know, and want to ensure and see in terms of a safe travelling public and a well-maintained travelling surface.
As well, the context provides a provincial focus as we've gone through the Who Does What exercise, which I think is an extremely important exercise as we look to the exchange of responsibilities and areas of concentration as the province continues to prioritize its services and identify those services which benefit the province as a whole. There's a provincial focus and context that needs to remain very strong as we look to this issue. We've gone through an exercise that essentially sees the movement of some local transportation services to local control.
To provide a little bit more context in terms of ministry investment, total construction in the highway budget for 1997-98 is approximately $562 million, which in fact is higher than any other previous year except for 1996-97 which will see a record year at $628 million. On the issue at hand that I'm speaking of in terms of bridges and structures, capital expenditures on bridges alone and rehabilitation will reach approximately $51 million in 1997-98, which is up from approximately $34 million in 1996-97.
This is certainly a positive indicator of the government and the ministry recognizing the need and the benefit from maintaining a well-structured and well-maintained infrastructure, and at the same time there's a need to remain cognizant of the auditor's report and assessment that there still is opportunity for the ministry to continue its investment options in the highway system and bridge structures in this province to ensure the economic wellbeing I spoke of earlier.
This provides the context from which I'm bringing this discussion. I think the resolution itself, if successful this morning, will seek to secure a longer-term commitment to infrastructure redevelopment and investment. From my general observation, infrastructure reinvestment generally is met very positively in most communities as a much-needed thing.
From a maintenance perspective, it's been very evident throughout the course of the summer and into the spring that road construction is continuing. I know from time to time members in this House express that it's not continuing at the rate they would like, but none the less it's very evident as you travel across this province that there's a great deal of construction and rehabilitation taking place.
As well, we must realize that investment in rehabilitation in surfacing and bridges is an important investment, and timely reinvestments can result in longer-term significant savings by avoiding high returns on costly and premature reconstruction activities. The ministry is undertaking, at least from my research, every effort to examine different life-cycle models of highway construction and maintenance, and through the investment opportunities I've identified, I believe those reinvestment strategies are being realized.
If, for example, you used a life-cycle model to examine the typical lane of highway in this province, we would find that rehabilitating the typical lane kilometre of Ontario highway is about $410,000 per lane kilometre over 50 years. There's an interest that needs to be addressed here, and one that is very important.
Albeit I don't wish to be extremely political, I think there's an opportunity to move ahead into the future with respect to this resolution. There has been concern that over the past 10 years the expenditures weren't sufficient enough, depending on the priorities of the government of the day, for us to maintain the system that we would anticipate through those time models.
I think there's opportunity to move to address the need for investment in bridge and structures, and bridges themselves are a very critical component of this. Bridges built since 1980 typically have a lifespan of some 72 years, and annual costs anticipated to avoid further deterioration, including bridges and lane construction, of some 3,200 provincial highway bridges is about $94 million. There's a need, in my opinion, to look at timely rehabilitation opportunities so we can maximize on some of these investments we've already spent a great deal of money on.
The call of the resolution is to ensure that the ministry remains mindful of the need to develop a strategy that renews our infrastructure and protects the investments we've made to date. It's an opportunity to look ahead. It's a longer-term policy direction that I think is important, a resolution that's complementary to the work that the ministry has done to date and I believe envisions into the future. It's a resolution that essentially serves to recognize the benchmark we're at now in terms of the transition of services, a resolution that will take us beyond that benchmark into a more futuristic field of view.
The focus on reinvestment and the need for funds in safety and rehabilitation goes unquestioned in this House. On a regular basis we hear of the interests that members have in terms of ensuring that our infrastructure is in place, that the constituents they're representing are satisfied that the safety measures and standard of travelling services in this province meet their expectation.
I think the strategy also continues to emphasize greater effectiveness, assessments of how the provincial highway program is run, and obviously I would hope that any savings realized through the reduction of overheads incurred or realized in the highway traffic program are reinvested back into the highway system.
What do we want to achieve at the end of this? This is an opportunity to continue to identify and prioritize provincial interests, no matter which ministry it is, but particularly, with respect to this resolution, the Ministry of Transportation. It provides us an opportunity to continue to work with stakeholder groups such as the Ontario Good Roads Association, which, from my own experience, historically has had a very positive working relationship with the Ministry of Transportation in terms of exchanging ideas and expertise with respect to road construction and rehabilitation in the province.
The Association of Ontario Road Superintendents, who happen to have their headquarters located in my riding, recognize the need for us to maintain and remain focused on and committed to bridge and structure redevelopment in the province.
In conclusion, it's an opportunity through this resolution to build for the future, an opportunity to build on the ministry's efforts to date, an opportunity to strengthen Ontario's infrastructure. It's in that context that I'm asking for the members' support in passing this resolution this morning.
I want to rise to support the resolution. It's rather like supporting the sunrise in the eastern sky. It doesn't really admit to any opposition. Really, we're asking the Ministry of Transportation to prepare studies. Well, now, that certainly would not come as a big surprise to anybody who pays taxes in Ontario.
I think the member rightly observes that the roads and bridge and structure development are important, critical, quite frankly, to a good transportation network. I fantasize, as someone who comes from the hardwood hills and pine valleys of eastern Ontario, what it must be like to represent an area like west Middlesex, Edenic in its agricultural appeal.
Now, if you come from Renfrew and you've got thousands of acres of rugged pre-Cambrian rock, with very low population densities, which would be understandable given that terrain, you'd say to yourself, "Boy, if I were in Caradoc township or Mount Brydges or perhaps even over in St Thomas, I might just feel a little more encouraged by what these studies might reveal."
I want to be clear. I support the resolution. I don't think any thinking person could not support something quite this antiseptic. I want to say as well that the sponsor, as some of these revolutionaries do -- I'm glad to see the former finance minister here, from Nickel Belt -- these current government revolutionaries are wont to tell you that there was just nothing but an excess of spending in the last 10 years. It was just terrible. We spent too much money all the time on everything. But then when they get to individual line-item issues, there was never enough money spent.
In his wonderful southwestern Ontario manner of understatement, the previous speaker allowed as to how, "I don't want to be political, you know, but of course there could be made a good case that this resolution and the important studies that are going to be generated with its passage speaks to an underinvestment in the period from 1985 to 1995."
I will excuse that as a bit of sophomoric enthusiasm, but the reality is, you can't suck and blow all the time.
My point is that in a county like Renfrew, we've just been told that we're going to get 256 kilometres of provincial highway downloaded on to our backs. In the region of eastern Ontario, we've just been told we're going to get fully 50% of the provincial highway grid transferred down to us. The tax base, particularly in rural, small-town, eastern Ontario, is not what it is in Halton and in Lambton and certainly in Middlesex.
Why is that? There are lots of good reasons. One of the reasons is that the single biggest landowner is the provincial government. That's why. When you own 50% of the land base and pay precious few taxes, it does affect your financial situation.
I don't want to continue to beat an old horse here, but we're getting in the region of 50% of the provincial highway system downloaded to us. We're not getting one cent, apparently, of the $2.5 billion worth of provincial fuel and gas taxes. We're not getting any of that, but we're getting half of the provincial highway system.
Can you imagine in a county like Renfrew, with 95,000 people, with 3,000-some-odd square miles, nearly half of which is crown land, getting a mittful of bridges like that and the local taxpayers, whether they be in the hamlet of Combermere, the town of Arnprior, the city of Pembroke, the township of Hagarty and Richards, are supposed to pay for that? The answer is clearly, they can't, and the member for Lambton will know that. We would crush these local governments in my part of the province -- and I see the member from north Simcoe is here. Some of this has got to be equally applicable to places like Oro township and Tiny township. I can't imagine that the financial capacity of some of those rural townships in north Simcoe is going to be sufficient to shoulder some of these burdens. I may be wrong, but I can tell you, in Renfrew it certainly will not be.
If, as and when that bridge over the Madawaska River at Arnprior has to be rebuilt, that is going to be a very substantial capital investment. My guess is, while it hasn't been announced, that one of the aspects of the Who Does What policy is going to be a capital fund provided by whatever government is in place here at Queen's Park to support particularly rural townships, counties and northern districts with those kinds of obligations, because they simply cannot be shouldered by local property taxes, I say, speaking from my part of eastern Ontario, and I would add to that counties like Haliburton, north Lanark, Lennox and Addington and a good bit of Hastings. There is just no way.
I support the resolution. I say that there are some opportunities, no question about it. Previous generations of MLAs have cut their teeth here and come back here after elections promising to build. Harry is not here. Too bad my friend Danford is not here, because I will personally write his political legacy, and it will be that Harry Danford finally built the new bridge over the Moira River at Tweed, and if for no other reason, he should be re-elected. But I want to be there in Tweed when Harry comes back to talk about the cost to the county of Hastings paying now for the full operational requirements of Highway 37. Harry may be sorry that he ever built the bridge over the Moira River, because when Harry was lobbying, he was fully expecting that the Ontario government would be maintaining Highway 37, as it should, in terms of our provincial highway system.
I have said enough, and I am happy to yield the floor.
I do, of course, support the resolution, although when I first read it, I scratched my head, wondering where the member for Middlesex was coming from and what he really wanted to get out of this resolution. At first, I think I read too much into it, because I thought it was some kind of attempt to have a reinvestment strategy in which somebody else would pay for it. I had in my mind a picture of a road and then a bridge, the road being a public road and then suddenly you get to a bridge and there's a light and a toll to cross the bridge on that highway. Then I thought, no, he can't be doing that, because Premier Harris promised no user fees would be imposed by his government.
But I don't disagree with the argument that there needs to be a reinvestment strategy for our bridges, indeed our highways, in the province. I can recall about five years ago being in New York City and seeing bridges closed, simply closed and no access to them, because they were unsafe. They hadn't fixed them up. Can you imagine the cost of that to the economic system in a place like New York City, where traffic is already bad enough? Then you start closing bridges and of course it makes it even worse.
I did find it a bit strange that the member for Middlesex would be critical of the previous two governments for not spending enough money on bridges and roads. I can recall day after day in this Legislature his colleagues, Mr Harris leading the gang, demanding that we not spend so much money, that we were spending way too much.
I can recall keeping track at my desk on that side when members of the Tory party would stand up and demand something for their ridings. I would write it down. I would write down the date, the member and what it was they had asked for, and every now and again when the current Premier was in one of his unseemly rants in this place, I would remind him of what some of his colleagues were demanding from the system. Of course he shrugged that off and went on, as he appropriately did, I guess, to form a massive majority government in this province.
But I simply say I worry about what happens in communities, as the member for Renfrew North said, when this downloading occurs, because I represent a constituency not totally unlike that of the member for Renfrew North, which is very rural, very isolated. My constituency runs almost 400 miles north and south and almost 100 miles east and west, and you can drive 100 miles without seeing any population whatsoever.
Lots of reinvestment needs to go on there. I can recall, in the dying days of our government, making a pledge, along with the Minister of Northern Development and the Minister of Transportation, to build a road between Highway 144, which goes up from Sudbury to Timmins, across to a community called Sultan, about 40 miles south of Chapleau, which is a community of about 3,000 souls. We had set the money aside in the budget. That road was going to be built. It cuts off roughly 100 miles of road between Sudbury and Chapleau, which is the centre for a lot of what goes on in Chapleau.
One of the first things the government did when they came into office was cancel that project. I don't know whether they cancelled it because the previous government had made the announcement or because they didn't have any members up in that area and didn't care or whether they felt that their money would be better spent in southern Ontario. I guess it's the latter. So I don't need any lectures from members of this government, even if they are mild-mannered and polite, as the member for Middlesex is. I don't need a lecture from him or any other Tory about lack of investment in our roads and bridges in this province, because what this government has done for Highway 69, for example, which runs north between Barrie and Sudbury, is disgraceful. The two previous governments had set out a program four-laning so many miles a year because that whole transportation corridor desperately needs a four-lane link. I know, as someone who has driven that highway for many, many years.
When I think of how the Tory government has ground to a halt -- they're going through some public relations activities on the four-laning with announcements and environmental studies and so forth, but basically the four-laning of that highway has ground to a halt, and that's an important link. I don't want to put too fine a spin on it, but would anyone deny that the four-laning of Highway 401 across southern Ontario has been a massive economic stimulus to the province? It has been huge. I believe the day will come when that will be done between southern Ontario and northern Ontario, and that's important.
Just this summer I drove from Sudbury to Saskatoon. I can tell you that the link of the Trans-Canada between Thunder Bay and the Manitoba border is in need of a lot of reinvestment, as the member for Kenora would tell you as well. I must say the Kenora bypass is wonderful, but you don't see Kenora -- and I'm not saying that's why it's wonderful.
I would say to members that I believe there is still a lot to be done with improving the transportation corridors in this province, and reinvestment strategy should be part of that. I've always believed that the federal government should be taking a role in helping us fund the Trans-Canada Highway. I believe we should have a four-lane Trans-Canada Highway right across this province, indeed across this land, because I think it's terribly important. I appreciate the fact that driving and building highways on the Prairies is a lot different than building a highway in northern Ontario. It's just two different worlds. But at the same time, I believe that if we're going to be a country that wants to attract tourism and people driving across this land, then I think we need to put investment into our highway system.
All it would take -- and I can remember floating this with people from other provinces in the last five or seven years -- would be dedicating one or two cents per litre from the gasoline, existing taxes if you like, to a fund which the federal government would control and then four-lane the rest of the Trans-Canada Highway. For those parts that are already four lanes, fine, you don't use the dedicated tax for that province. In Saskatchewan, most of the Trans-Canada is four-lane and there are already plans under way to do more of it there.
I will simply conclude by saying I will support the member for Middlesex in his resolution because I believe there needs to be an investment strategy to protect and reinvest in our bridges and in our entire highway system. I wish him well as he tries to convince the bureaucrats and the minister that this is indeed the correct path.
We became friends shortly after we were both elected to this House and took office in June 1995 and were appointed together as parliamentary assistants to the Minister of Education and Training. During all this time I've gotten to know the member very well, and without a doubt he is certainly a visionary in his thinking and, when dealing with issues, thinks matters through very thoroughly. He is able to look at matters objectively, at both sides of the issue, and come up with creative, fair and logical solutions. This resolution is an example of that type of visionary and fair thinking, thinking that came out of his own experience in his former life, before he got here, as the chief planner for the city of London. In short, when it comes to planning, he certainly knows what he's talking about.
My understanding of his resolution is that it consists of recommendations for the post-Who Does What Ontario. The province would be in a position to develop an implementation strategy for bridge and structure development that could be used as a model for municipalities. This plan or model would be geared to those highways within provincial jurisdiction, such as the Queen E or the 400-series highways.
The Ontario government receives about $3 billion a year from provincial gasoline and fuel taxes and driver and vehicle registration fees. These revenues flow into the consolidated revenue fund from which all government programs are financed. Governments both past and present spend a great deal of revenue on Ontario roads. However, the present government has spent and budgeted an unprecedented amount of money towards our transportation infrastructure programs and services. For example, in 1987, the provincial government at that time spent approximately $283 million on highway capital construction projects. In 1992, the provincial government spent $460 million on the same type of projects. However, when you compare it to when our government took office, we spent $629 million in 1996, and $562 million will be spent by the end of this year.
There are those who suggest, and the member for Nickel Belt had suggested as well, that all or part of revenues received from motorists should be spent on roads. In my opinion, that wouldn't be a very good plan because there are many indirect expenditures that occur related to our highways and bridges. For example, there is policing, emergency response, health care and court system expenses that must be paid. There are also transportation-related operating and capital costs for both the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, such as road safety and seniors' licensing programs. I know about these programs at first hand because I've used an MTO consultant on a number of occasions to speak to seniors at my community seniors' seminars.
There is also a role for the federal government in planning an infrastructure strategy for bridge and structure development and replacement. They too can become leaders in this planning process. For example, the federal government collects about $2 billion a year from Ontario motorists through gasoline and fuel tax and related GST but returns very little to Ontario for reinvestment. The only examples of federal funding reinvestment are the 1987 to 1999 strategic highway improvement programs, which allocate only about $60 million over that period of time, as well as the 1995 agreement for $42.3 million for the Highway 416 construction.
The federal government also contributes to the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program extension for 1997 to 1999. The dollar amount is $24.5 million towards provincial highways. But clearly that's a very small investment considering how much Ontario contributes in taxes.
The bottom line is that the member for Middlesex has put forward a resolution that recognizes the province as a leader in developing and planning for the future of Ontario roads. He suggests a forward-thinking, multi-year plan which, used by the province for the highways left within its jurisdiction following the Who Does What initiative, can be a model for all Ontario municipalities. I commend the member for his vision and insight.
What we have to consider is that the provincial government has given a present to the municipalities. It's not as though they haven't given the municipalities anything. They said: "Guess what? We've got a present for you. We've got all these roads and you can have jurisdiction over them. Oh and by the way, you can have the bill to maintain those roads and to improve those roads as well."
That is going to be a very significant onus on municipalities, particularly when we see that some of the roads are not really what you would classify as municipal roads. Once again we have something in the municipal mix which will be competing for the very limited dollars municipalities will have with all the downloading that is taking place from the provincial government.
Several new areas of responsibility are being forced on to municipalities, much to the embarrassment of many of the Conservatives who sit on municipal councils and who have to defend this downloading, week after week, and apologize for Mike Harris, rather than standing up for their own municipality. Right across Ontario, that's going to be embarrassing. This I hope will engender some new funds which will be able to assist in infrastructure.
One of the differences between many places in the United States and Canada is the infrastructure, one thing we can be proud of. When you travel into the United States, you notice that the general infrastructure isn't always as well-kept in their municipalities as it is here. I think that now we're seeing the opposite. We're seeing here a deterioration of the infrastructure. One of the things that attracts business to a particular municipality is that infrastructure. It's very visual, it's very tangible, it's often concrete. I think it's important to maintain that infrastructure.
Unfortunately, as I say, with all of the downloading, with the responsibility for social housing, there is a tremendous bill, hundreds of millions of dollars; with new health care obligations while hospitals are being closed by this government despite the Premier's solemn promise that, "Certainly, Robert, I can guarantee you it's not my plan to close hospitals" -- that's what he said to Robert Fisher during the leaders' debate -- they're putting further health obligations on municipalities that are experiencing the closing of hospitals in some cases.
What we're seeing now is the very unfortunate circumstance of the local political representatives having to either cut services further, when they've already made deep cuts to the services in their municipalities, or raise taxes or raise user fees, which of course place a greater onus on the people who are least able to pay.
An example I use in that regard, because all the infrastructure money has to compete with the money for social services, is I look at a situation, Canada's national sport of hockey, along with lacrosse; the two are considered to be our national sports. Every time the fees for the rental of the arena are raised by municipalities desperate for funds, then the registration fees are raised for the young people who want to play. That's no problem for the wealthy people. They can afford those fees, but unfortunately, those who come from families with a very modest income are unable to experience this.
The reason I raise that with the member is that I believe we need a strong infrastructure. I believe the provincial government, with the resources it has, should be in a better position to assist municipalities to maintain that infrastructure, because those municipalities are going to be hard-pressed, with all the downloading of new obligations and financial responsibilities from this government so it can meet its commitment on its own tax cut, and they're going to have a tough time dealing with this matter.
I can give you an example in my riding of the bridge going through Mattice. The NDP government had budgeted for this bridge to be rebuilt and repaired in 1995. When the Conservative government was elected in June 1995 they cancelled the money for that. They cancelled it again for 1996. Now, in 1997, they're going to go ahead and repair it because they know this is the only route going from east to west through northern Ontario. That's the only way you can get through there. There are no other bridges. If this bridge was allowed to deteriorate any more -- the NDP government had recognized that and it put a schedule in place to do it.
There are a number of other cancellations that took place over the last couple of years that are really a concern to the municipalities in my riding. When we were in government we had budgeted for passing lanes and we installed them between Kapuskasing and Hearst. They were also budgeted for between Smooth Rock Falls and Fauquier. The paving program that was scheduled for 1995 was cancelled there. It was cancelled in 1996. Now they've repaved the road but they cancelled the passing lanes that were needed between Smooth Rock Falls and Fauquier.
There are all kinds of examples of cancellation and downloading and not spending the proper dollars that are needed to maintain the infrastructure system right across this province, whether it be in southern Ontario or whether it be in northern Ontario.
A few dollars are now being spent but at the same time they're cutting back on education, they're cutting back on health care, they're closing hospitals, they're cutting back on the amount of money that's transferred to municipalities, at the same time dumping the responsibility for what used to be provincial roads and provincial bridges on to the municipalities.
There's a real concern out there as to how property taxpayers in northern Ontario -- because we don't have the huge numbers of people living in northern Ontario that there are in southern Ontario. If you raise property taxes a very small amount you get more dollars than you do if you raise taxes in a community like Smooth Rock Falls, with a small population, or in Kapuskasing or in Hearst or in Mattice or some of these small communities.
They are already being hit hard because now, on January 1, they're going to have to start paying for OPP policing. The Conservative government that was in office for 42 years, up until 1985 when they were removed from office, said that municipalities with less than 5,000 population would not have to pay for policing. As a result, the municipalities did not budget money in their budgets for this. Now, all of a sudden, they're going to have to come up with between $500 and $700 per household just to make sure the communities are kept safe by paying for the OPP services.
It's a real slap in the face for a lot of the municipalities that don't know what to expect. We're getting into an election coming up in November. When we refer to this resolution, it's quite obvious that the Conservative members who are not in the cabinet are quite concerned there could be a deterioration of the infrastructure system, when Mike Harris is only concerned about giving a $5-billion tax break to the wealthiest people in this province and could neglect the infrastructure system, as he is doing with health care, education and some of the other services that are just being palmed off on to the municipalities and no plan in place for how these services are going to be delivered and how the mayors and reeves are going to make up the money to pay for these services. It is a real concern up there in northern Ontario.
I keep hearing that this government is going too fast and too far. When it comes to roads, I don't think this government can go too far and too fast, especially when I hear the complaints on the other side of the House. I think, as my colleague from Middlesex pointed out, a well-maintained highway system is crucial for maintaining Ontario's economic competitiveness and social objectives.
I know it's difficult to follow my polished colleagues from Renfrew North and Nickel Belt, because they are wise and seasoned. However, I agree with the member for Nickel Belt when he mentions that all levels of government have a role to play in maintaining a sound mode of transportation, or as he pointed out, a transportation corridor. I think municipal governments play a role, provincial governments play a role and certainly the federal government has to play a role.
When I talk about a transportation corridor in my area of southwestern Ontario, Highway 402 is very important, especially because we have an initiative in Sarnia-Lambton that we call the NAFTA superhighway whereby we would like to link the economic activities from Mexico, the USA and Canada into one great transportation link. Not only will it benefit the economic activity of southwestern Ontario, but I am sure it would benefit the economic activity of the member for Nickel Belt and the member for Renfrew North.
I'm sure the member for Renfrew North is as concerned about the road conditions in Barry's Bay and Killaloe as I am with the road conditions in southwestern Ontario. However, when it comes to spending money upgrading of the road infrastructure in Ontario, I think this government has done a tremendous job, especially in the past two years. It is becoming a pleasure to leave Toronto and drive to my riding on newly upgraded roads. This year, this government will spend in total $945 million on provincial highway construction. I think that is commendable, and we have to keep encouraging the Minister of Transportation, along with the staff in the ministry, to continue spending money on the upgrading.
While we are talking about the economic activity of the road transportation in Ontario, I know the member for Nickel Belt mentioned a toll road. We have a toll road at the end of Highway 402 in southwestern Ontario, the Blue Water Bridge, which was recently twinned. The economic activity that will be realized from the twinning of this bridge is tremendous, and I think we have to cross political borders when it comes to maintaining a sound highway superstructure in Ontario. Without the sound infrastructure in the highway structure, I am sure all the economic activity in Ontario will be impacted upon.
Yes, I am proud to be from southwestern Ontario. As I pointed out, we are the gateway not only to Ontario but to a large amount of economic activity in Canada. There's a lot of economic activity that crosses the Blue Water Bridge. Some upgrading has to be done on the present Highway 402. However, the Minister of Transpiration was in the area in the past month and he has assured us that the gateway to Ontario and Canada will be upgraded.
In closing, I would like to continue encouraging the member for Middlesex to pressure the ministry to continue to spend money on the infrastructure in Ontario.
We are improving ramps, I know, in my area. We are looking for creative solutions, creative ways to finance. Our caucus transportation committee has pushed for, and now we have in place, highway landscape advertising which will help in beautification. I think the MTO has been very creative, very entrepreneurial. I will support this resolution because it encourages us to continue on those paths.
To be specific, we have increased the amount of expenditure, within a fiscal restraint context, on bridges from $34 million up to $51 million. The member for Cochrane North is dead wrong when he says, "Oh, nothing is happening." In fact, a great deal is happening, because we have started with the principle that an infrastructure of highways that is adequately built and well maintained is key to our economic competitiveness, and we are doing that across the whole province, not only in northern Ontario but in southwestern Ontario, in eastern Ontario. I was just there the other day and saw a major piece of highway from Maynooth down to Madoc being completed.
The key to getting more money into the whole system is the role the federal government needs to take on. This province and its taxpayers pay a tremendous amount of money into the gasoline tax, yet when we look back at all the efforts of Minister Palladini -- and we are going to concentrate more and more in this area, in the area of trying to get the federal government to commit itself to more than $24.5 million under the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program and place it into the strategic national highways plan that we require for this whole country when we are trying to reduce interprovincial trade barriers and make this economy a smooth, seamless economic system for the benefit of all taxpayers.
That's why I'd like to compliment the member for Middlesex for bringing this to our attention. We will direct even more effort to it than we have in the past.
The member for Nickel Belt raised a very important point. I don't want to misdirect what the intent of his comment was, but I believe he himself was recognizing the need for strategy and the opportunities to link that to national investment and strategies in our infrastructure. The member for Lambton and the parliamentary assistant alluded to that same issue and the need to address that particular opportunity.
As I said at the outset, bridge rehabilitation and infrastructure development in this province are critical to our economic wellbeing. They are certainly critical to the safety factors that many Ontarians believe, and rightfully so, they should enjoy as the travelling public, and they serve us very well in terms of the strength of our economy in the longer term.
I think as well we need to recognize -- and it's not just myself; it's the auditor's observation -- that the opportunity does exist to reinvest more money in highways and infrastructure on an ongoing basis to ensure that the longer-term costs of reinvestment are not excessive.
I would say in conclusion, again, my thanks to all the members who spoke to this resolution this morning. I very much appreciate their comments.
Recognizing the concerns of the public for their safety and the ensuing compromise of public confidence in the justice system, the federal government should revoke these provisions allowing convicted offenders to remain in Ontario communities while serving their sentences; and
Where the federal government refuses to revoke these provisions, they should at the very minimum agree to limit the use of conditional sentencing provisions to minor property offences;
Therefore, the government of Ontario should urge the federal government to act on the concerns of the Ontario public in order to ensure our communities are properly protected and to ensure public safety is not compromised.
I'm not against conditional sentencing. I believe it will mitigate the overcrowding of our jails. I believe there are some cases in which it's proper.
I'll quote from a Toronto Sun editorial of March 25, 1997, page 10: "Parliament is sending a clear message that the courts are to be more imaginative in structuring sentences that are less restrictive of liberty of the person sentenced. We are instructed to canvass all available sanctions other than imprisonment where they are reasonable in the circumstances." I think this is germane: "reasonable in the circumstances."
The reason for my resolution is to draw attention to where judges have been flagrant in their disregard of the essence of this bill: minor offences, first offences. I have some examples later that will show there has been a complete disregard.
Essentially, conditional sentencing allows a convicted criminal to serve his sentence in his own home or in the home of another, with prescribed times of being in the home, only to be allowed to go to work and for medical and public service. It's a good solution for first-time minor offences, and this is important to remember. With this provision, the judge has what is called "judge-ordered parole." The Liberals did this while at the same time getting tough on crime, or at least talking about it.
Since the introduction a year ago, some very high-profile cases have become test cases for the new provision. I'm sorry to say that our justice system is failing in these tests, and consequently failing the victims of crime.
A woman was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a common-law husband. I believe she was being abused, but there are times when a woman has to call the police. We do not take another's life. She got a conditional sentence: two years less a day, not one day in jail for the taking of a life and being convicted of manslaughter. Is that minor? It may be a first offence but it certainly is not minor.
Our government introduced a Victims' Bill of Rights in this Legislature because we recognized that the justice system was in need of reform. The balance between the rights of criminals and the victims' need for justice has been tipped heavily in favour of the criminals. A sentence must be a deterrent. An old quote: "Justice not only should be done but must be seen to be done." Our system has forgotten the public, especially those who have been victimized by crime. They demand and indeed deserve retribution.
This is part and parcel of the penalty stage of any crime. We have left the idea that the punishment fit the crime: armed robbery, $250,000 in a faked robbery, rape, loss of trust.
In the case of the $250,000 faked robbery, there was a conditional sentence of 15 months. In most cases of sentencing there is what is called a PDR, or pre-disposition report. The pre-disposition report is a home look-up, a look-up on the person's character. Nobody found out that this gentleman lived in the States, so he was confined to his home for 15 months. He immediately crossed the border and went to his home, where we have absolutely no jurisdiction. There is something lacking. The judge didn't read the PDR, the PDR wasn't put together, or the PDR was put together improperly, because if you do a look-up on a person and can't determine that he has dual citizenship and that he's going to the States to serve his sentence, there is something lacking.
Again, I'm in favour of conditional sentencing, but it has to be done under certain circumstances and they must be minor crimes, first offences.
A violation of a victim's rights should in turn lead to a revoking of at least some of the criminal's rights. Being sentenced to go home for 15 months and watch TV is not going to do anything for the victim's rights. Traditionally it has meant loss of liberty and incarceration, and I believe it should continue for people who have serious crimes and are repeat offenders. I don't believe it should be done in the case of first-time minor offences.
The people in my riding of Brant-Haldimand and indeed citizens across Ontario demand safe communities. They want to know that criminals are off our streets and unable to further endanger our children and the elderly. They want to know that those who are found guilty of serious crimes are put in jail.
A trucker is convicted of drunk driving. His next conviction is for drunk driving causing a fatality. While he's awaiting sentencing, he gets convicted of drunk driving again. He gets a conditional sentence. A continuous offender; a conditional sentence.
I'm asking that the judiciary use some common sense in the sentencing of conditional sentences. They must be for minor offences. They cannot be for repeat offences. We must show that there is a deterrent to crime, continuous crime. We must show that justice is done. I therefore ask the members to look upon this resolution with favour.
One has to ask, why are they spending energy on matters which are outside their jurisdiction? One really has to ask, why not look at the justice system as it exists in Ontario, at the chaos that has been created in Ontario by this government and why not introduce a resolution or, better still, a private member's bill to fix the problems you've created? That really should be the question today, not to deal with arguments that have little to do with this Legislature and which shift away the attention from the very real problems.
Of course it's convenient to use rhetorical camouflage and to point fingers at somebody else, but the record here in Ontario speaks for itself. I would like to have seen something a little more in keeping with what the solutions must be for a province such as Ontario.
We all agree on one thing. All three parties surely want the security of the individual in Ontario. I cannot imagine any one of us who does not believe that is a priority, that our citizens have a right to live freely and safely in their homes, on their streets, in their businesses. On that we are agreed. I guess what we need to look at is precisely how we can further that goal, how we can make that a reality for people here in Ontario.
Many members of the government caucus, as many of us will remember, including the member for Scarborough West, favour the broken-window approach to crime, which suggests that small crime problems should be dealt with quickly before they evolve into larger ones. That's a laudable goal, a very good goal, may I say to the member for Scarborough West. In fact, the members for London South and Durham Centre and Scarborough West were appointed by the Premier to go to New York to investigate the broken-window approach's results at first hand. There had been some dramatic turnaround in New York and it was something that perhaps we might have learned from.
Well, a May 22, 1997, article in the London Free Press quotes Metro Toronto Police Chief David Boothby as saying that the broken-window approach would require 1,000 more police officers. In other words, it would require more resources. Guess what? The broken-window approach does not seem to be the goal any longer. The Conservatives loudly proclaim their zeal in defending law and order and then proceed to slash the very funding which makes this possible. There is a persistent lack of planning and forethought about where the justice system should go and how to get there. Instead, what we have is a government that staggers from crisis to crisis, and the facts are clear.
If you look at the specifics, the first thing is that the Tories have slashed about $116 million from the budget of the Attorney General in this last year alone. In the East Mall court, one of many courts in Ontario, there are 14,000 cases backlogged. The Ministry of the Solicitor General has been cut by $16 million since the Tories took power. We currently have approximately 400 crown attorneys in this province who are responsible for dealing with 250,000 cases. We have come perilously close, time after time, to having dangerous offenders thrown out on the street because we do not have the resources to prosecute them, not the crown attorneys, not the courts. That's a very dangerous situation.
I have stood in this House time after time to talk about alleged rapists, alleged thieves, people accused of assaults of the worst kind, having their cases thrown out of court because we did not have the resources to process them and their cases simply stayed in the system too long. That's a very serious situation. The Attorney General has stood up time after time announcing yet another blitz, but the blitzes don't seem to do very much good. What you really need is a commitment to justice every day of the year, not just once in a while when the situation grows to critical proportions.
Look at the family support plan. Look at the disasters you created there, where husbands and fathers are paying into the plan and that money is not getting out to children, creating chaos in those people's lives. Never have we had governments that have been so quick to act without planning. It's been acknowledged by anyone who has looked at the plan that it was done too hastily, that it was done without planning. For heaven's sake, you set up a system and didn't even tender the computers for it until some four or five months after you closed the regional offices. That's the kind of disaster we see in the justice system every day.
Legal aid is another area where tremendous difficulty has been created for people who legitimately need the assistance of legal aid to go to court. Remember, justice is not just for the rich, justice is for everyone, and not everyone can afford big bucks and big lawyers.
A study of the legal aid by Osgoode Hall law professors Frederick Zemans and Patrick Monaghan points out that the system is totally out of control. I'd just quote from that report, if I may: "Even though the province is spending over $175 million on legal aid in the current fiscal year, there are too many Ontarians who deserve and are entitled to legal assistance who are not receiving it." Those who are not receiving it are the ones who can least afford not to have that assistance. They're the ones who can least afford to look after themselves.
We've also seen, in the current year, unprecedented action by the chief justices of this province who through letters and comments have indicated what a mess the justice system is in. Justices Dubin, McMurtry and Linden wrote to the Attorney General in January 1996 and used the word "chaotic" to describe the potential implication of this government's cuts. They wrote again and they commented again this year to indicate that the situation is not any better; in fact, the situation is much worse.
One has to wonder, given the contradiction between the get-tough approach of this government and the slashing of resources to back up this philosophy, how this government is going to cope with the extra prison population that would inevitably result from the passage of this resolution.
I just want to make one other comment on the member's statements with respect to victims' legislation as one of the wonderful things they've done. Again we can agree in this House, I hope, that it is important to respect the rights of victims, and I think the general thrust of legislation that furthers the rights of victims is all well and good. In fact, you may recall that my very first act in this Legislature was to bring in a private member's bill on just that, on victims' rights. The subsequent bill that was proposed by the government and passed watered down the rights for victims. That legislation is not mandatory; it's at best permissive. There's no real requirement to involve victims at every stage, but there's a suggestion that the system should certainly do that.
You've put in some 1-800 numbers for victims, but that in itself is not enough. People need to be involved in the system and people need to have the confidence that this government every day of the year is committed to a justice system for all Ontarians. No one here wants to give criminals additional rights. No one here, I think, would condone a system that would allow criminals to walk free.
My point is that there are so many things here in Ontario that require fixing -- from victims' rights, from the backlog in the courts, from legal aid, family support -- that require the urgent attention of this government, why are we focusing on conditional sentencing, which is outside the sphere or jurisdiction of this House?
I hear the member for Brant-Haldimand and his frustration about some of the apparent injustices of the conditional sentencing. They're frustrations that I imagine would be felt by many people, because the conditional sentencing provisions of the act are not intended for violent offenders; they're intended for the less serious crimes. They're intended for crimes where, if a sentence were to be imposed, it would be for two years less a day. If you look back at the history of that particular section, it's not new; it goes back to at least the 1960s. It was intended to rehabilitate as quickly as possible people who were not violent offenders and to eliminate some of the high incarceration rates in the federal system.
There are statutory requirements which must be satisfied before a court can apply such a sentence. I'm a little disturbed to hear that there is this prevalent view that somehow this type of sentencing would be applied to the most serious offences. In fact, that is not the case. If that is happening, I suggest there is some other way to deal with it, that perhaps one ought to look at some other avenues to deal with that.
But certainly it is for lesser offences. It is intended to make the system work better. It is intended to eliminate the exposure of people who have committed very light crimes, in comparison to the larger prison population, from being exposed to the hardened life of a criminal in our prisons and therefore perpetuating a system and introducing them to a harder life of crime. Surely that's not what we want. We don't want individuals who may have made their first mistake, young people who may have made an error, to suddenly be exposed to hardened criminals and be introduced to a much more critical life which would be much more injurious to society as a whole than dealing with it in the first instance -- the broken-window approach that the member for Scarborough West is so fond of.
My concern is that your government has created a vicious circle, that we're not dealing with the real problems. When you cut junior kindergarten, you are doing much more than just cutting junior kindergarten. For every dollar you spend in junior kindergarten there are $7 you save in social services and prison costs. For every child who goes hungry because they're not getting money from the family support plan, that again is a cost to society. For every individual who doesn't get the rehabilitation they need, that exacerbates the problem. For every individual who is sent to what is now the dismal failure of boot camps, there are going to be additional costs to society. It's a spiralling scenario you've created. What you should be doing, quite frankly, is looking at the very serious issues that affect real people and dealing with those, and not tilting at windmills, trying to blame someone else.
I know this resolution is grounded in good faith. I hope that in good faith you will also look at the problems you have created and try and deal with them responsibly, remembering always that the function of government is to provide for equality and the freedom and security of the individual.
That makes it difficult to be supportive of this resolution. If the resolution talked about conditional sentencing being an effective deterrent in some crimes that are not violent crimes, that are not against persons, and if this resolution talked about the ways in which the Ontario government within its jurisdiction could support that, it would be much easier for us to be wholeheartedly approving.
Let me say right off that in the time I was Attorney General, when all the attorneys general across the country were discussing the changes to the Criminal Code and were discussing the issue of conditional sentencing, Ontario was making very strong representations that conditional sentencing should not apply when crimes are against persons. All crimes against persons are not necessarily violent crimes in the same way. There are many levels of sexual assault and regular assault. There's simple assault, there's assault with a weapon, aggravated assault. They all are differing levels. Generally speaking, there are three categories for criminal offences. Unfortunately, the first category has included within it some of those more or less -- I'm putting this in quotation marks -- "minor" crimes against persons.
My suggestion always was that conditional sentencing ought not to apply to crimes against persons. We know that 25% of those who are incarcerated in this country are incarcerated because of non-payment of fines, number one. Also, the categories -- shoplifting was mentioned by the member -- of shoplifting, uttering a forged document, theft under $1,000, damage under $1,000, mischief, trespass, and all sorts of other crimes, may indeed be appropriate.
The whole issue of conditional sentencing came out of the desire expressed strongly by judges and by those working in the criminal justice system that our system have more flexibility to try and mete the punishment to the crime, to try and keep those who had committed crimes connected to their community, keep them out of an incarceration situation where they would come in contact with others who are more hardened criminals, and to try and give to judges the flexibility and the range of sentencing that was most appropriate. That was the intention.
I must confess that we have to keep in mind that Canada is second only to the United States in terms of its rate of incarceration. Particularly with this pressure from this government to try and make more and more offences subject to jail time, there needs to be some way to deal with the numbers of people whom we have incarcerated and made unproductive in our system. Conditional sentencing is potentially a very good way to deal with those who have not committed crimes against persons, whose offences are offences that need a clear sanction, whose behaviour needs to be clearly controlled in some way so that further harm won't come of it, but who are also in a situation where they are required to be contributing citizens. That is the purpose behind conditional sentencing.
The member is quite right that there are many instances where we read in the paper that a judge has given a conditional sentence in an inappropriate way. I find it unfortunate that the member chose a situation where the offender happened to be a women, when we know that women are far less likely to be offenders in the system and where the situation was as he described, because there are many examples of sexual assaults, of wife assaults, of murders that have occurred and for some inexplicable reason -- the member is quite right -- a conditional sentence is applied. This appears to me to be a very strange situation.
The member speculated about why that might be so. He talked about a pre-disposition report. I would say to the member, pre-disposition reports are written by probation and parole officers who work for the Ontario government. Do they have the time to do appropriate reports when the kinds of cutbacks that have happened in that area are making it more and more difficult for people to do their work appropriately and to supervise appropriately?
He talked about people breaking conditions in their conditional release and not being prosecuted for that. Why? Talk to any probation officer about what the caseload is because of the budget restrictions of the Ontario government and ask those probation officers how they can give the kind of supervision they need to give.
Has the Attorney General of Ontario issued a directive to crown attorneys around, first of all, plea bargaining and conditional sentencing, that they must not plea-bargain for conditional sentencing when it's a crime against persons? Has the Attorney General made a general directive in the crown policy manual that says it is inappropriate for a crown attorney ever to agree to, on a guilty plea, or to advocate at a sentencing hearing, for a conditional sentence when the crime has been against persons? I'd be delighted to hear it, but I don't believe that's the case. I've been in too many cases where in fact that isn't the case and we see the plea bargain situation, in particular, resulting in conditional sentences where they shouldn't be there.
Let me give you an example of a young and vulnerable constituent of mine who came to me last February in great distress. The person who had sexually assaulted her, raped her, had reached a plea bargain with the crown. The person was released on a conditional sentence, on the condition that he not have any contact with her, that he not frequent the places they had frequented together, that he remain a certain distance from her, that he not contact her, all sorts of conditions.
She came to me, first of all, because she didn't think it was appropriate in that kind of a case that there should be a conditional sentence at all. She felt that was inappropriate and she felt it was inappropriate for the crown to have supported that.
She also came because she was running into this person all the time, in her neighbourhood and in the places she had gone. She had gone to the probation officer and the probation officer, an Ontario employee under the jurisdiction of this government, told her there was nothing they could do, that it costs too much to go after every little breach, and suggested to her that she should avoid going into the stores or the restaurants or the places where this person might bump into her. That's not respect for victims' rights and that's under the control of this government.
I told her what the complaint process was. She carried through with that complaint process, talked to the supervisor of the probation officer and has said very clearly that it's her goal in life to expose this issue of conditional sentencing where there are crimes against persons. I am happy to be able to tell her story today because that will help her to continue to fight against the injustice to her as a victim of this particular kind of sentencing.
But I would say to Mr Preston very directly: It is not appropriate when so much within the enforcement and the prosecution of offences comes under the jurisdiction of your government to try to shift the blame to the federal government. What you will hear back is a whole lot of questioning about what is going on in Ontario. What is going on in Ontario that is giving rise to this phenomenon here? Do we know whether it's more prevalent in Ontario for judges to be opting for conditional sentencing? I don't have those statistics, but I'm sure the Attorney General does.
I think it would be appropriate for this member to be lobbying his Attorney General and his Solicitor General around the enforcement, prosecution and then the supervision of those who have been given conditional sentences.
The argument of the federal government, the argument quite frankly of the judiciary, around restricting the use of conditional sentences to any one category of crime has always been that it is not appropriate to restrict the discretion of a judge on sentencing. It rings a little hollow because we know of course we do that in very serious cases. We know there are minimum sentences that can be given for many offences and we know there are categories of offences for which one can't apply for parole or probation until after a certain time.
It was an argument that always struck me as very bizarre because of course judges are there, first of all, to be fact-finders in the facts that are brought before them in the court of law to make a determination based on those facts of the guilt or innocence of the individual, and then to use discretion concerning the mitigating circumstances or the aggravating circumstances of the crime as to what the appropriate punishment is within the limits that are set for that crime within the Criminal Code.
It seems to me it would be quite reasonable if we were to pass a resolution that would go something like this: Given that we support the availability of conditional sentencing for judges in cases which are of a minor nature, which do not involve crimes against persons and where there has not been a history of repeated offences, given that we support it in that circumstance, we would ask for a limitation on that from the federal government to those kinds of crimes. That would be a reasonable thing.
But it should add a requirement that this House call upon the Attorney General and the Solicitor General in their roles in enforcement and prosecution and supervision in the justice system; that they be active players in this whole issue of conditional sentencing; that crown attorneys have clear policy around which they must use their influence within the court in asking for sentencing or in making decisions about plea bargains; that the probation and parole staff of the Ministry of the Solicitor General be given the resources, the training and the availability of sanctions that make conditional sentences really work, because they won't work without that kind of supervision; and that we clearly start as a community to stop the rhetoric about throwing everyone in jail and throwing away the key and start the discussion, a very clear discussion, of how we stop the revolving door syndrome in our prisons, how we really deal with rehabilitating those who are able to change their behaviour so that when they come back into our communities -- and we must remember that they will come back into our communities in the vast majority of cases -- they have the tools with which to support themselves and their families.
The conditions themselves, since the whole idea is that people be able to work and support themselves and their families, should include things like, if someone owes family support, that they be ordered as a condition of a conditional sentence to pay family support and that that be throughout the system in terms of release from jail and so on. That's one way we could actually make a positive out of keeping people at work and maintaining their families. It would make it a reality, and it isn't now.
Conditional sentencing was introduced by the federal government in September 1996. It allows the judge the option of ordering community service sentencing in cases where the judge is satisfied that the offender would not pose any danger to members of the public. In fact, the federal government believes that in some cases this may be the best way of dealing with certain offences. Some are calling the use of conditional sentencing a form of judge-ordered parole. This government agrees in principle that some offenders can be best dealt with by community sentencing.
However, this government is committed to ensuring the integrity of the justice system and restoring public confidence in the administration of justice. Public confidence in the justice system must not be compromised. The public has responded angrily to conditional sentences imposed on people who have committed serious offences. There is no shortage of media attention to what appear to be unreasonable sentences for serious crimes. People have the right to, and are demanding, safer communities. Governments must provide this through appropriate and responsible government policy.
At present, under the changes made by the federal government, those convicted of serious crimes may be considered for conditional sentences, something this government finds totally unacceptable. We believe, except in minor cases, that convicted criminals should be receiving jail sentences and should not remain in Ontario communities while serving those sentences.
If the federal government refuses to revoke these provisions, they should, at the very minimum, agree to limit the use of conditional sentencing provisions to minor offences. We will be urging the new federal justice minister to review the provisions of the Criminal Code with respect to conditional sentencing. We want her to either revoke or amend these provisions to limit conditional sentences to minor property offences.
We are concerned about reducing crime to make our communities safer. As the member for Downsview noted, we do have the crime control commission, of which I am a member along with the members for London South and Scarborough West, and we have embarked on a consultation process. We want to listen to people to hear from them what they are experiencing in their communities and what needs to be done to make their communities safer.
That consultation process has already involved public meetings in Chatham-Kent during the month of July; in Barrie last week; next week in Etobicoke; subsequently in Scarborough; in Peterborough; in my riding of Durham Centre, in Whitby, on September 30 at 7 pm at St Bernard Catholic School on Dryden Boulevard; and elsewhere in the province. Those are important public consultations, because these are issues which affect people seriously in their daily lives.
I listened with interest to the comments from the member for London Centre, who seeks to place limits on what is minor and what is serious. I would say this, that in the public consultations to date, what we are hearing quite clearly is that if you are living alone and your apartment is broken into, that's serious to you; if you're being stalked, that's serious to you; if you're being threatened, that's serious to you; if your car is broken into, that's serious to you; if your business is broken into; if your privacy in your home is violated by home invasion, that's serious to you -- without violence to the person, but it is a violation of the privacy and sanctity of the home. That's serious, the people in the province are telling us, when one talks about what are serious and what are minor offences.
I listened also with interest to the member for Downsview, who defends the faint hope clause, who says section 745 is not something we should talk about -- forgetting that the provinces in this country constitutionally are responsible for paying for the administration of justice, that when Olson goes in the courts of British Columbia and takes two weeks of the court's time and the crown attorney's time and the time of the judge running that court, that is money paid by the taxpayers of British Columbia.
Similarly, the member for Downsview defends conditional sentencing and I suppose will defend the tragedy that is the current Young Offenders Act. We're hearing a great deal in our public consultations about how that act just doesn't work, not only from the police but from people in the community and from probation officers. There seems to be a clear consensus that that piece of legislation does not function to curb youth crime and make our communities safer in Ontario.
There is more I'd like to say on the subject, of course, but my colleagues also wish to speak to this important resolution brought before this House by the member for Brant-Haldimand, whom I compliment.
Federal Justice Minister Allan Rock introduced conditional sentencing in September 1996. It slipped through as one of a series of amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code and went almost unnoticed -- that is, until the repercussions of this ill-conceived piece of legislation began to be felt.
Conditional sentencing gives judges the option of sending offenders back into the community for house arrest rather than going to prison. It was designed to keep people the judges feel are not a danger to society from going to prison and costing the system.
Criminal offences are serious offences. Offences of a less serious nature are called summary and usually are punishable by a fine. Serious offences should mean real punishment.
Since the introduction of conditional sentencing, there have been some frightening miscarriages of justice.
An Ontario man who threatened to kill his estranged wife was given a conditional sentence. He was allowed to live at home. This was his sentence.
A BC man admitted to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old victim once a week for three years, and he avoided jail. He never saw the inside of a prison, thanks to conditional sentencing.
A Grande Prairie man shot at his wife with a sawed-off rifle and received a conditional sentence. He walked the streets while on house arrest.
In British Columbia, a man who confessed to raping and sodomizing a 38-year-old screaming woman with a racquetball racquet was exempted from a two-year jail term. Yes, a conditional sentence.
Taxpayers are fed up with namby-pamby, limp-wristed sentencing. House arrest or conditional sentencing is a sham.
The federal Liberals have made the streets unsafe. For those who say our jails are too full, I submit that the federal government has filled them by refusing to make video remands mandatory. Some 90% of those being held in the Metro West Detention Centre are there on remands awaiting trial or, in many cases, yet another remand. The tremendous cost of incarcerating and transporting these people, many of whom are innocent, ties up police, costs a fortune, fills the courts and packs the detention centres. I urge the federal Liberals to mandate video remands.
Having a consistent system of sentencing for those who break the law does not fill up our jails; rather, it empties them. If someone does the crime, they should do the time. It has been proven that when so-called minor criminal offences are pursued diligently, both major and minor crime rates drop dramatically. The broken-window theory, well documented, is no-nonsense and it works. Zero tolerance: Crime declines and the prison population drops. It has been working in New York City for the past five years with no extra policing, no extra bodies on the police force. The prison population in New York declined from 22,000 to 17,000 and crime across the board over three years declined almost 50%.
The message of justice in this country must be clear and uniform. That message has to be that if you refuse to live by the laws, you will be punished. But sadly, that's exactly the opposite message than the federal government is giving to those who choose to break the law. Again and again the public has told the federal Liberals that they want the government to get tough on crime, to punish offenders and to protect public safety and victims' rights, and time and time again, the voice of the public has fallen on deaf ears, as our federal lawmakers ignore the public outcry.
It's tragic enough that the federal government refuses to scrap the Young Offenders Act, fails to repeal the faint hope clause for dangerous offenders and fails victims. I ask all my colleagues in the House to support the member for Brant-Haldimand and tell the federal government that conditional sentencing or house arrest does not represent the wishes of our constituents. We need to tell Ottawa that the people of Ontario want to see our lawmakers tackle crime, not back away from it.
We're fed up. We won't take it any more. If they do the crime, they should do the time.
The following cases are prime examples of why this law should and must be changed: A 20-year-old male convicted of molesting an eight-year-old child was sentenced to a 12-month conditional sentence in his own home. A man convicted of sexual assault was sentenced to 16 months in a relative's home. A man sexually assaulted an 11-year-old babysitter and was sentenced to 15 months in the same community. A man and woman who stole $250,000 were handed a conditional sentence of 15 months of house arrest. These are just a few examples of the improper use of conditional sentencing.
I believe conditional sentencing should only be used for first-time, minor property offences, not child molesting, not rape, not sexual offences, certainly not sexual assault, or armed robbery. I would urge the members of this House to support this resolution to help send a very clear message to Ottawa to change the conditional sentencing law.
We represent the people of Ontario. Probably anyone in this room can cite an example of someone in their family, in their neighbourhood, in their community or a constituent who has been a victim. If it was up to the victims to decide, we would not have conditional sentencing.
I find myself in the curious position of agreeing almost 100% with the member for London Centre. There are problems today that we have not addressed that we should be addressing, and I for one will be on the back of my own government to make sure these problems are addressed.
I have heard continually today from the NDP caucus, what about boot camp? I will ask the question, what about the Arrell Youth Centre, known in youthful circles as the Arrell Hilton, built by the NDP government. If he was to question the escape record of the Arrell Hilton, he would find that boot camp is a shining example of keeping people behind doors.
Finally, I would ask that the people in this House get behind this bill so we can draw public attention, so criteria are made in order that judges will have something to go by in putting out conditional sentences only for first offences of minor crimes. I don't consider rape, manslaughter, three-time convictions for drunk driving, break and enter with a lengthy record to be first-time minor offences.
I still have two minutes.
I did expect the Liberal caucus, by the way -- it's not out of the ordinary for them to complain when we get tough on crime. This is an ever-occurring and recurring situation. Being tough on crime is something I want to see done.
The member for London Centre says we don't have enough probation officers. If that's the case, we should have. If it's our government's fault, it should be fixed.
If we're at fault, it should be fixed. There's no question about that. I'm not making apologies for something we should be doing that we're not doing. If we're not doing it, we should be. If crown attorneys are suffering, they should be increased; there's no question. That is an "if." I've said that across the board, "if" the probation offices are overworked. I know some who really grind. I also know some who are very well read, all on their time in business.
My biggest problem with conditional sentencing is when one of my charges comes to me and says: "Look what this guy did. How come he's allowed to stay home and watch television?"
Because the standing orders require that votes on private members' public business not be taken before 12 noon, I will suspend the proceedings until noon, pursuant to standing order 95(e), at which time I'll put the questions on the ballot items debated this morning.
The House recessed from 1158 to 1200.
Mr Smith has moved private member's notice of motion number 66. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Preston has moved private member's notice of motion number 67. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Did I hear a no? I may have to do this over again. I'm not sure if I heard a no or not.
All matters related to private members' public business having been completed, I do now leave the chair and the House will resume at 1:30 pm.
The House recessed from 1200 to 1331.
This is disturbing news at a time when this government is trumpeting that Ontario is once again a place of prosperity, with increased jobs and increased business confidence. This is disturbing news for our youth workers, who represent the main component of workers in the restaurant and foodservice industry, and this is indeed bad news for businesses faced with big hikes in commercial property taxes resulting from the government's downloading plans.
The Premier says that our economy is heading in the right direction. He says his government has a plan to create jobs. He assures young people that they will have a bright future. I urge this government to ponder the Ontario Restaurant Association's warning that we may see many more lost hospitality jobs in 1997.
Increases in commercial property taxes will hurt small businesses. Downloading costs on to municipal taxpayers will hurt small businesses. Businesses will not be able to create more jobs. This is bad news for small businesses. It is bad news for taxpayers. It is bad news for youth employment.
In Sudbury, this downloading puts our genetic counselling services at risk. For the past 20 years, the health unit has run this as a community-based program with 100% provincial dollars. This is different from southern Ontario, where the program has still been funded by the province but is usually based in a hospital or university setting.
Under Bill 152, this government has decided that funding of genetic counselling services is no longer important and won't pay for this. This does not appear as a mandatory program for municipalities to deliver either. This program will have to stack up against all the other new programs and services and costs being dumped on to municipalities.
Given that the download for the regional municipality of Sudbury is $73 million alone, the health unit and its clients are right to be concerned about the future of this service. Northerners who need this service should not have to travel to Toronto to get it. This government needs to reconsider its priorities and continue to fund genetic counselling services.
SESQUICENTENNIAL OF BROOKLIN
The village, located north of Whitby on Highway 12, was founded in 1840 and was previously named Winchester. When residents of the village went to apply for a post office, they discovered there was already a Winchester post office elsewhere in Ontario. On August 11, 1847, the 300 inhabitants of the village met and agreed to change the name to Brooklin. No one is certain why they chose that name, but perhaps it's because of the little brook that trickles through the town.
Throughout the day on September 6, several events have been scheduled to commemorate the heritage of this village, with horse-drawn carriages, entertainment and self-guided tours. Visitors to Brooklin can see some of the historic buildings, such as the old Brooklin Mill, which today houses a hardware store and small engine repair shop, and a former stable currently being used by the W.J. Medland and Son Ltd business.
Like so many Ontario villages, Brooklin is no exception in its contribution to this wonderful province of Ontario. At one time, Brooklin was known as being the smallest town in the world to have a senior A lacrosse team. In 1968 the Redmen senior A lacrosse team won the esteemed Mann Cup, and again in 1969, and the team went on to win the cup again in 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990. The Mann Cup: Morley Kells would like to forget about this.
Recognition should also be given to community leaders such as Dr John McKinney and John Dryden.
I would like to ask the members of the Legislature to join me in congratulating the residents of Brooklin on their 150th celebration.
"Every August around this time, I gear up for a new school year. I get ready to teach children to process information and understand reality clearly and love one another.
"But this year a cloud hangs over my mental and emotional preparation. I don't know whether my job of imparting information, cultivating skills, teaching to share, to be socialized and civil will be interrupted and made more difficult by a strike.
"Given the climate being created by this government, I don't know whether I will ever again do my job as well as I have done it in the past.
"I do know that I will continue to teach children to understand history and that history will judge this government as the most shameful, tyrannical and incompetent this province has had since the Family Compact provoked the rebellion of 1837.
"Everyone in the province has been equipped with the skills to realize that Ontario is not working your way. Eventually, you and your party will pay the price of your arrogance. For you see, Premier Harris, in spite of you and in spite of what you would have the people of Ontario believe, we have done our job well."
Upon taking office, the Premier and his minister were clear that they wanted to create a crisis in education. It's really truly unfortunate that the minister's crisis was one that affects the teachers and, more importantly, the students they teach in this province.
That was submitted by a teacher whom I know well, a former colleague from the Kenora Board of Education.
They've organized a Giovanni Caboto Day to be held next Tuesday, September 9, 1997. With the cooperation of the Italian clubs of our city, a dinner is being sponsored by the Marconi Society and will be held at the Marconi Club on Tuesday, September 29, 1997, to honour this great Italian. The highlight of this event will be a visit from the highest-ranking jurist of Italian descent, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci of the Supreme Court of Canada, who will be the guest speaker at the dinner at the Marconi Club.
For those of you who may not know who John Cabot is, and I doubt there will be many, it says in the Encyclopaedia Britannica that he was a "navigator and explorer who by his voyages in 1497 and 1498 helped lay the groundwork for the later British claim to Canada." I today want to stand in my place at the Legislature of Ontario and offer congratulations to the Italian club in Sault Ste Marie, to the Marconi Club, for taking the lead in this very exciting initiative and to Tony Celli, president of the Marconi Club, for giving his leadership.
DURHAM BOARD OF EDUCATION
In August, the Durham board held staff development and training sessions with regard to the new Ontario curriculum, creative problem-solving and cooperative team learning. The sessions were attended by over 600 educators, 80 of whom were from other Ontario boards. Some were from as far away as the Maritimes, Quebec, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, as well as the United States.
The Durham Board of Education is noted for the innovation and excellence of its staff development programs. In fact, the board was the recipient of the 1996 Carl Bertelsmann Prize for excellence and innovation in educational programming.
Winning that prize has helped Durham's already growing reputation. They will host and train educators from Scotland, Norway, Japan, Germany and Korea later this year. An international network of centres of learning is being established this fall between the Durham board and a number of European school authorities. This kind of sharing is critical if we are to survive and give our children the best education possible in this new information economy. We all have much to learn from one another.
It is good news not only that the Durham board is leading the way in staff development and training, but also that so many educators from Durham and elsewhere used their own time and money to further their professional development this past August. They are to be congratulated.
PRIVATIZATION OF PUBLIC SERVICES
"This provincial government bank -- one of the best-kept secrets in the financial community -- serves about 50,000 contented depositors with simple, hassle-free and above all pleasant banking at 23 branches and five agencies across Ontario....
"You can't get a loan, a mutual fund or an RRSP at a Savings Office. But you'll never be hounded out of a lineup and told to use an ATM (the POSO has no ATMs and few lineups), or charged that abomination, a monthly maintenance fee. The staff doesn't change every month or so...and go out of their way to give good service, such as telephoning a customer if they must debit an account.
"Now the provincial government is threatening to change it all. In April, it told Savings Office customers by letter that it was reviewing the operation. Possibilities for the future were `improved efficiency' under provincial ownership, a partnership with an existing bank or trust company, or outright sale....
"The government has now named CIBC Wood Gundy to conduct a review of POSO operations and report by mid-August. Talk about inviting the fox into the henhouse.
"All this makes little sense. The Savings Office is profitable, works well for the government, customers like it, and there is no obvious outside group lusting to take it over....
"Is the government now going to destroy 75 years of good relations by handing us over to a megabank? If it does, you can say goodbye to the last shred of civilized, gougeless, customer-friendly banking in Ontario."
DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
I had the privilege to meet and spend some time with Diana at an event when she was visiting Toronto. Like all who came to meet her, I was struck by her beauty, her kindness and her warmth. The world watched Diana grow from a young, timid bride to a strong, caring person who took control over her own life. She had to do it in the public eye, and I think one of the reasons the princess was so well regarded and loved is that, like the rest of us, she wasn't perfect and didn't try to pretend to be. She spoke honestly and candidly about her joys and sorrows.
I remember when we had the opportunity to talk for a bit how her eyes lit up when I asked her about her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. She said she missed them and was really looking forward to going home and seeing them again.
Speaker, we are all deeply saddened by the death of Princess Diana. She will be sincerely missed. Diana, may you rest in peace.
UNITED WAY CAMPAIGN
As I'm sure the members of this House are aware, United Way chapters are managed and run largely by volunteers, countless volunteers working selflessly for the betterment of their fellow Canadians. In Ontario, 44 United Way organizations raised $130 million last year. That's a 2.9% increase over the previous year's total.
I'm particularly pleased to be able to report that the Northumberland United Way came third in Ontario and sixth in Canada for campaign growth in 1996. In fact, Northumberland residents contributed almost $500,000 to the campaign for an impressive 14.5% increase in contributions last year. United Way funds are used to support some 4,000 member agencies across the country, ranging from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to Big Sisters and the Boy Scouts of Canada.
I can't think of a more worthy organization to support, and I would urge the Ontario public and the members of this House to dig deep this fall and give generously to the United Way. As the slogan says, "It's the way to help the most."
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE OMBUDSMAN
I move adjournment of the debate.
Reports by committees? Introduction of bills? Motions? Deferred votes?
It's time for oral questions. Official opposition --
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
On July 2 we introduced that action plan, which emphasizes our government's commitment to ensuring that women can live and work in safety, without fear of violence. The plan includes $27 million in new spending over the next four years on top of the more than $100 million this government spends each year on violence prevention.
It's a goal that can only be reached with a coordinated long-term strategy. We have the strategy in place, with a lot of help from members in this place and citizens from across the province of Ontario, and now we are continuing the work through our communities to meet that challenge.
The Agenda for Action includes specific plans for six new domestic assault courts and for increased counselling services for children who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence. The plan enhances funding for educational tools that will teach our young people right from the start that violence is never acceptable. The plan also includes a significant community component in the form of priority project funding.
This year we have a total of $675,000 available to non-profit community groups who offer creative solutions to the issues of violence prevention and women's economic independence. We will be giving priority to projects that are submitted jointly by two or more community organizations or that incorporate support from the private sector.
Our government is encouraging communities to work together to find solutions for their particular needs, and this priority project funding is part, we think, of that answer.
The grants will help support innovative projects that address one or more of the following priorities: community safety and violence prevention, economic self-sufficiency for women, and facilitating the transition from living with violence to becoming economically independent.
One of the ways in which women can break free of a violent situation is by having enough money to live independently. One of our goals as a government is to ensure that women have the tools they need to become economically independent.
To help women make the transition from living with violence to becoming economically self-sufficient, projects could include creating models to provide counselling, financial planning, career planning and job training for women who have been abused. Or they could involve developing and testing models to coordinate existing services that allow women to move from violent situations where their lives and finances are controlled to a position of emotional and financial independence.
We are looking for projects that will promote economic development through the creation of new resource materials, through mentoring programs and through small business development. We are looking for projects that are geared towards the development of flexible service models and improved service coordination and delivery. And we are looking for innovative projects that will raise awareness and change negative behaviour that devalues women and girls.
We expect that the opportunities presented by the priority project funding will inspire communities to develop creative, coordinated responses that will benefit women in particular and, by extension, our province and families as a whole.
Mr Speaker, I'm looking forward to sharing with you in the months ahead some of the exciting, innovative projects that will be originating in communities across Ontario.
This is far too little. It's not just too late but it continues to be too little: $675,000, a small part of the $5 million worth of Band-Aids that the minister actually announced originally in July. But now $675,000, and with that she's going to do community safety and violence prevention, economic self-sufficiency for women and she's going to facilitate the transition from living with violence to becoming economically independent -- with $675,000. That is an unbelievable statement to make.
It is, however, perhaps justified by the fact that she's not really going to provide service to women and children. They're just going to create models. At a time when this government has put women and children in a position where they cannot be economically independent, the minister talks about using $675,000 to create models that might help women and children become economically independent. This is a government that has Bill 136 in front of this House even now, which takes pay equity away from women, which says to employers, "If you haven't got a pay equity plan, don't worry, you won't have to have one unless some woman complains," which makes it very easy for employers but virtually impossible for women. I don't know how the minister for women's issues cannot be on her feet condemning Bill 136 in the way in which it takes pay equity again from women.
This is a minister talking about economic independence for women and children. There was a story in the paper just yesterday about how many families in Metropolitan Toronto are being forced into motels because of the lack of affordable social housing, and yet this government has another bill where they're going to dump social housing on to municipalities. Economic independence? What chance do we have?
Minister, economic independence means women being able to get out of abusive situations and find that independence. You're talking here about creating models to provide counselling. You know full well your government cancelled the counselling that was provided to women who did escape from abusive situations. You cancelled the counselling for second-stage housing. That is absolutely right.
You know, Minister, that if women are going to get out of abusive situations they need help. One thing we will applaud is that you are expanding the domestic violence courts, although you haven't actually announced them here today and it seems you're not going announce one for northwestern Ontario, which we'd very much like to see. But even then, having the courts is not going to be helpful if women can't get the legal support they need, and your Attorney General has made sure that women are not going to get legal aid support for domestic cases. Some 80% of women cannot get legal aid, so you, as part of your $5-million Band-Aid, are going to come up with $300,000 to provide emergency legal counselling for women, a very small Band-Aid to try and deal with the mess your Attorney General has made.
When we're on the topic of messes the Attorney General has made for women, what women are going to find economic independence, if they actually take the step of leaving an abusive situation, when they don't know whether they are ever going to get their family support money because the family support plan continues to be in absolute chaos?
Minister, you talk here about raising awareness and changing negative behaviour that devalues women and girls. Start by educating the Attorney General, who said that violence against women is a sickness. Tell the Attorney General loudly and clearly that domestic violence and sexual assault are a crime, and the minister has to be prepared to acknowledge that.
Maybe you could start your education and awareness campaign by educating the Minister of Health. Women's College Hospital had to take your Minister of Health into court to even get them to acknowledge that there just might be a unique role played by a hospital which is the national leader, as you full well know, in dealing with sexual assault against women.
Economic independence from a government that cut 23% from welfare rates, and 60% of the people affected were women who are sole-support parents to their children? There is a gross hypocrisy in this statement and it is incredibly offensive and demeaning in itself to women.
I want to end by telling you that even the community models you want to develop are causing concern in the field. You know that. Your colleague the Solicitor General has a letter from the Northwestern Ontario Women's Decade Council in which they express their very real concern that any dollars you are putting into violence-against-women programs are going into new community groups that will be run by volunteers. They plead with you to provide --
We are waiting and waiting for you, the minister responsible for women's issues, to actually put your money where your mouth is in terms of helping to prevent violence against women and then making sure that programs are in place and up and running for victims of domestic violence. You have not done that today. I don't know why you made this announcement today. Maybe there is some pressure on you to get up and make some kind of announcement about what you are doing on women's issues. This has all been announced before. There is nothing new in this; a piddly amount of money, $655,000, to create models. Models for what? We have real victims of violence out there now.
Minister, your government has gotten rid of employment equity and pay equity for some of the most vulnerable women in the province at the lowest-paying jobs. You have plans now to get rid of rent control. You cut completely the counselling and the substance of second-stage housing, where women and their kids had an opportunity to go after having to leave the family home and before they were actually on their own again.
Child care: The Minister of Community and Social Services seems to continue to say that they are increasing and improving child care. You are going to start forcing women who have children in school to go out on workfare, but there is no child care. There's a piddly amount attached to that.
There are women's groups across the province who have provided you, Minister, as they have us, with evidence that there have been women who were forced to go back into violent situations because of the cuts across the board of programs that your government has made.
Minister, what I want to say to you today is, take a deep breath, go talk once again to the women who are out there working in the field and listen to what they have to say. Part of the problem here is that once again this government isn't listening to the people. The people who are involved in this issue continue to tell you over and over again that, overall, your cuts have hurt women and children most in our province. They are telling you repeatedly, what good is some kind of model for economic development after you've made all these cuts? Legal aid has been affected by the cuts that you made. The supports that women need --
This announcement that you made today is not going to make one dent. It's a repeat of what you said before.
IPPERWASH PROVINCIAL PARK
You've maintained all along that it was the OPP that made all the decisions at Ipperwash and they were responsible for the situation. You said your office had no files, no records, because you had no involvement. However, we find that on September 6, the day of the shooting, that morning, hours before the shooting, the headline in the local paper the Sarnia Observer said, "Queen's Park to Take Hard Line Against Park Occupiers: Beaubien," the local Conservative member. It goes on to say that he had been in touch with your office and had been communicating about what the government's intentions were. That contradicts what you had said about no involvement.
Are you prepared today, Premier, to agree that we need a public inquiry to clear up these contradictions?
The step that the government did take was to seek a civil injunction. That's what they did and that is what the documents indicate. That's in fact what the government did in this matter.
I follow up with further contradictions. In answer to a question in the House when we asked, "What directions did you give Ms Hutton before she went to those meetings with the OPP superintendent?" you said, "None." We now find from minutes released of those meetings that Ms Hutton at that meeting on September 6, a senior OPP officer there listening to it, relayed the instructions she had from you the night before. She said, "Premier, last night, out of the park only, nothing else." Clearly, you told her, "Communicate to the OPP, `Out of the park -- nothing else.'"
I will go on to say we have evidence now that at the end of that meeting, the OPP superintendent who was at that meeting, listening to Ms Hutton, was then in contact with the commanding officer at the command post at 11:12 am on the morning of September 6, shortly after Ms Hutton made those remarks to the meeting.
I say again, Premier, do you now agree that we need a public inquiry to clear up these clear contradictions in your statements?
I use that language because you used the language in the House. On April 22, 1997, you said there was no direction given to the OPP before, after or during any other situation, no direction given by the government; no direction given by any of our staff, no direction by any of the ministers. However, in the minutes of the blockade committee meetings, it says, "The province will take steps to remove the occupiers ASAP." Second, it goes on to say, "The police have been asked to remove the occupiers from the park." The government asked the police, instructed the police to remove the occupiers from the park.
I use this term carefully. Premier, do you not now think it's time for a public inquiry to air the coverup that in our opinion is going on around the whole Ipperwash affair?
The only other answer that could be available is that the alarm system itself was put on bypass by the staff because they couldn't control the young offenders from activating the alarms continually when they kept kicking the doors. Why? Because the young offenders caught on that you had approved doors that open out, rather than open in, which is today's standard to prevent this kind of situation from happening and to prevent breakouts.
Why did you rush to open this facility when your security analysis noted this deficiency?
Since the breakout, you've indicated that you don't have the means to deal with young offenders who keep acting up, but you opened a facility that didn't have one of the very crucial tools available to you today. As you know, segregation cells are used to handle crisis situations, and when one developed, this staff couldn't cope.
Why did you open a poorly equipped facility, putting the staff and the community at risk?
Why don't you do what you should have done in the first place? Before you expose the community to any further risk, do the right thing: Close this facility and fix it.
I want to say that the young offenders system this government inherited from the previous two governments was the most expensive system in Canada.
We're trying to do something to change that. We're trying to improve the system. We're trying to turn around young people from a life of crime, and the Ontario people agree with us. They think something should be done, and we're trying to do something.
FIRE IN HAMILTON
Then we have the story in today's Hamilton Spectator, "Sterling Says No Probe." This is in spite of the fact that the Hamilton regional council has voted in favour of a public inquiry. The Hamilton regional council wants a public inquiry. You're saying no.
Minister, this would be a good time to start showing some responsibility. It would be a good time to start listening to people. Will you listen to people and call a public inquiry into the Hamilton fire?
I said that I would look at their request and look at the evidence which they would bring forward that there was a cause for an inquiry and I would take that seriously. I have not received formal notification of their motion, nor the supporting evidence which backs their motion, and I will be looking forward to receiving that.
Will you start listening to people? Will your government finally start listening to the people who are threatened by your environmental cutbacks, your health cutbacks? Will you listen to them and call a public inquiry?
Let me list a few of the questions they have. They want to look at the pollutants emitted at Plastimet and their effect on the health of the people who live there. They want to look at the effectiveness and the appropriateness of the evacuation. They want some answers about the cleanup. They want to know how to avoid similar incidents in the future. And yes, Minister, they do want to have a look at whether some of your vicious cutbacks in enforcement and your gutting of environmental laws played a role in the Plastimet disaster.
Minister, I have a feeling that maybe that's why you're tying to avoid a public inquiry, because you know you have something to hide. You do. Otherwise, you would agree to it. Everybody wants it. This was not just an ordinary fire. It's a severe toxic wasteland right now and people were affected.
Will you change your mind and give the people what they want, a public inquiry?
If someone wants to bring some evidence to me in writing about some particular problem, we will look at that. If we cannot answer that question or there's some problem with answering that question, then there would be a call for an inquiry. But no one has presented any evidence at this point in time that anything is untoward, wrong. In fact, I received a letter from the mayor of Hamilton just today congratulating the ministry on its efforts.
Let me ask you this, Premier. This is the report that is on CBC and elsewhere in the media today. The problem we have, besides the problem with your attitude here, that you don't take these things seriously, is the fact that almost a month ago now your government said you were going to take some steps with Hydro. What we've seen since your announcement of a month ago is that the cost estimates have gone from $5.5 billion to $8 billion and now, the other day, to over $10 billion. We haven't seen the so-called terms of reference for the legislative committee to deal with Hydro issues. Can you tell us what your government is doing in terms of exercising your control over Hydro?
We think it is time to hold an independent inquiry into Hydro. We believe that if we're going to get into all of the details here, if we're going to get all the information out, a public inquiry, an independent inquiry, should be held. Your government can't defend the cost estimates, for example, that have gone from $5 billion to $8 billion to $10 billion in three weeks. People cannot believe your story about no rate increases. Similarly, a month ago you were in such haste to do something, and yet nothing has happened. Now we have this illustration today of a heavy water leak and you try to fob it off as if it's not important.
Premier, let's have an independent inquiry and let's get to the bottom of the issues at Ontario Hydro.
I also can tell you that the ministry, yes, is aware of the incident that you are talking about that took place last night, as heard on CBC. I know he'd be happy to share that information with you should you wish to ask him. If you're interested in the information, ask him. If you are interested in trying to play catch-up with the Liberals on getting in on fixing this abominable mess we inherited from you, from Hydro, then that's fine.
In the meantime, we understand that your Minister of Education is preparing legislation which would take away even more rights from teachers. We understand that some of the proposals being considered are giving the new school boards unilateral powers to raise class sizes and take away preparation time, that he is considering removing individual contracts, which would essentially end job security for teachers, and that apparently he is even planning to disband the Education Relations Commission which, as you know, serves to protect the rights of students in a strike situation. It would suggest that he is considering the right to strike on a permanent basis.
I believe your minister is forcing a major confrontation with the province's teachers. You have said this week that that is not what you want. Will you tell your Minister of Education to set aside these legislative proposals and come up with something that would avoid labour strife in classrooms across the province?
We understand there is one other proposal being considered, and I hope it would be of concern to you if it's true that it is in legislation: a proposal to amend the Education Act to allow people without teaching certificates to teach in particular areas. I want you to know what the Minister of Education was told by the Metro parents' council, not the educators but the parents, about this idea. They said: "If differentiated staffing is hidden somewhere in your foundation grant, I assure you that parents will not be pleased."
Parents want fully trained and qualified teachers working with their children, yet your Minister of Education appears prepared to go ahead and save dollars by letting untrained people teach. Will you assure us that this provision will not be in any legislation that is presented by your Minister of Education?
Our goal clearly -- and I think it has been repeated by OTF what the goal is and in a very complimentary way. I think they supported the goal: How can we be more efficient and how can we get excellence into the classroom, into that system? That is our goal, that is our motive, and everything we do will continue to be aboveboard and fair and not based on silly fearmongering and nonsense that you continue to spew out in this House.
Why are you using this baseline average for determining per pupil funding in this province, in the wealthiest province with the largest and most diverse population and the largest number of students in the country? Why are you talking about setting us at the middle of the pack instead of at the head of the pack?
As for money, yes, we'd like to get there at the most effective and least wasteful way that we can. To that end, I would read you this quotation: "In Canada we spend per capita more on education than most other places in the world. I think it's a question of focus and a question of how we can get the system to do its job." Bob Rae, February 6, 1992. That's what we're doing.
Is that the government's position? Is it the government's position that people without teaching contracts, without professional teaching qualifications, will be able to be hired by management to teach students? Is that the government's position? And if it is, how can you guarantee that we will have high-quality education for the students of this province?
I can absolutely guarantee and assure you that the quality of education that our students get will be superior to what it was under your government.
We care very deeply about our parks system, like the vast majority of Ontarians do, and we want to see our parks system get better. We have one of the best systems in the world and improvements under our government's initiatives in the last two years are making it the best in the world.
We've created a new division in the Ministry of Natural Resources called Ontario parks division and we've set up a special-purpose account that all revenues that are raised by our parks, by gate receipts or other means, go directly towards expenditures in our parks system. This is going to improve our parks system for years to come.
Attendance at Algonquin Park is up 47.6% in day use and a little under 10% in overnight camping. At Awenda Park in Georgian Bay there's been a 41% increase in day use and a 23.6% increase in camping. Sandbanks Provincial Park has seen a 25% increase in day use and a 15% increase in overnight camping. At Presqu'ile there has been an 83% increase in day use and a 15.5% increase in camping.
To the member for Middlesex and the people of Ontario, this is great news for Ontario, and I'm pleased you asked the question.
Let me assure the member that he not only raises a good issue, but I think he is prepared to propose a good solution. I'm going to wait to hear that and see what it is, and if it makes sense, I'll present it to the Minister of Finance.
My second question is with regard to the downloading of some provincial roads to municipalities. In that circumstance, Premier, you would know that IMOS has been contracted for maintenance work in this province to deal with provincial roads. This presents a rather interesting circumstance for the people who have become part of amalgamated municipalities that are going to be receiving provincial roads.
I wonder if either yourself or perhaps the Minister of Transportation can give us some assurances or answer some questions with regard to the issue of whether the provincial government expects municipalities to take on these contracts, or whether municipalities are not going to be bound to these contracts. If they're not going to be bound to these contracts, perhaps you or the Minister of Transportation could tell us what it's going to cost us in this province to get out of those contracts.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING
In the context of that, Minister, I'd like to read you a review from the real world where your policies are taking hold and where patients are having to experience the Mike Harris-Jim Wilson version of health care in Ontario.
Dr Dobkin writes to you:
"Dear Mr Wilson:
"A patient of mine has been waiting for an MRI since April 29. Please explain to my patient why he has been waiting for four months. He is in constant pain and has great difficulty walking. Do you recommend that I tell my patient to line up and shut up? This situation is intolerable."
Minister, will you respond to Dr Dobkin?
As you know, the government has announced we'll be tripling the number of MRIs available in the province from 12 units when we came to office to 35. Thirty-five units are more than the rest of Canada combined. We will be world leaders in the provision of MRI services in a publicly funded health care system.
I'm pleased to report that since the government made that initial announcement, we're up to about 12 of the new MRIs, so about 24 now are available in the province, and we're on track to open the rest of the MRIs over the next few months. It's good news for the patients and the reason we're restructuring is because, as I've said consistently in this House, the waiting lists for MRIs, the waiting lists for cardiac surgery, the waiting lists for hips and knees, the waiting lists for a bunch of procedures in our health care system, are far too long and that's why we need to restructure the system.
Minister, talk to Dr Dobkin. He wants to know if you're going to make his patient just line up and shut up, or are you actually going to do something to make sure an MRI is available for that patient and he's not going to continue to wait what his hospital, Sunnybrook, says will be three to six months before he receives an MRI.
I'd ask the honourable member to stop being so negative all the time, read all the positive stuff, because it's a very positive report: over 5,000 new nursing home beds for Metro Toronto, new MRIs across the province paid for by the taxpayers through the provincial treasury. It's good news for patients and the waiting lists are going to be the lowest they've ever been in the history of this province. Frankly, you had the opportunity to do this when you were the government a few years ago and you didn't do anything.
Minister, you are allowing the potential for exactly a similar situation to occur in Ontario, only this time you'll be the enemy of the people. Governments have responsibilities. Why are you trying to avoid your responsibility and allowing public health decisions to become more subject to economics and to local politics?
I am proud to say today that Collingwood has, with the new plant up there, the cleanest water in Ontario. Everybody pulled together on the oars in the same direction and we solved the problem. Bill 152 will ensure that occurs in the future, just as it did in the past.
COMMUNITY CARE ACCESS CENTRES
Minister, can you reassure the seniors of Peel that the CCAC will not just change the way seniors' services are delivered but will actually improve the delivery of services?
This one-window access for seniors is improving the delivery of service and has provided a more accountable framework in which the government can flow additional dollars to support expanding services. Peel is no exception, where we have seen expanded service.
We have received positive feedback from the community. In fact, I received a letter from Mr James Taylor, the administrator of Westminster Court, a non-profit seniors' residence in Peel, which stated: "In the past, home care of any description was of the hit-and-miss variety. The CCACs have integrated the various services into an effective team capable of devising care packages suited to the needs of the resident."
We are very pleased that the success of community care access centres are providing patient-focused, community-based care in their homes, where they want it. The seniors and the disabled are very pleased with the development of this program.
Can you tell us what the government intends to do to cope with the increasing demand for these long-term-care services? How are the services like home care and physiotherapy going to be protected?
On the community care side it's no different. We have recognized that growth. We're the first government in Ontario's history to actually measure and provide the additional funding. In Peel recently our government announced $11.7 million in direct long-term-care funding, of which about $8.2 million went to the community care access centre for direct service. It will help about 4,000 seniors and disabled, and it's on top of the $30 million in base funding.
Peel is a good example of where this government is providing the necessary funds for high-growth, complex-care-needs seniors who want to live in their homes longer and expect that care, to ensure that services are where they need them, when they need them, and are delivered by competent people who can provide the best care. This government is very proud of that record.
FIRE IN HAMILTON
Minister, I just spoke to Dr Marilyn James, the medical officer of health for Hamilton-Wentworth. Dr James advised me that she believes many questions need to be answered that transcend both health and environment, and that she supports the call of the region for a public inquiry.
In view of that new information, in view of what your Minister of Health committed to publicly, in view of what you have committed to publicly, will you now do the right and honourable thing and support the call for a public inquiry? The medical officer of health said she supports it as well.
I'd be interested in hearing from Dr James in writing as to what she might view with regard to this. As I've said in the past, we'll take her comments very seriously.
What are you afraid of? You talk about the cost. Have you looked at the cost to the neighbourhood? Have you looked at the cost to the firefighters? Have you looked at the cost to the city and its image and what has happened as a result of that fire? Have you looked at the cost to people who were exposed to that fire? Does that matter to you?
If you and your minister are worth their word, if you're a minister of any integrity, you will do what is right. The Minister of Health said it in Hamilton. You have said in this House that you will call one if the medical officer of health asks for one. I just spoke to the medical officer of health. She supports the call for a public inquiry.
Minister, either you call one today or you've blatantly misled the people of Hamilton, you and your colleague sitting next to you over there.
I did not say a few minutes ago that I would call an inquiry if the medical officer of health supported it. I said that I would take what she said seriously into consideration on this issue, which I believe is the position of the Minister of Health.
This is a serious problem for the people of Hamilton. We have been dealing with the people on the ground in Hamilton. We have been providing the medical officer of health, we have been providing the fire chief, with environmental information. We are doing everything we can for the people of Hamilton.
This summer you sent the board of directors of the Ontario Lottery Corp to Sault Ste Marie -- you wouldn't come yourself -- to announce another $50 million out of the operating budget of the corporation. Is $50 million enough to satisfy your ever-growing, insatiable appetite for gambling and charitable money? If not, how much is enough? Do you have any idea when all this becomes counterproductive?
As far as the Ontario Lottery Corp is concerned, it is our government's intention, and I think it's our duty to the taxpayers, to maximize the revenues we possibly can get and maximize the efficiency of how all our agencies, boards and commissions are being run. We did a review of the Ontario Lottery Corp within my ministry and we declared our support for a restructuring plan that will allow for greater efficiency and productivity. I see nothing wrong with that. I see something very good about that, because our government is trying to do much better for less for the taxpayers in this province.
Meanwhile, speaking about reports, you also said this summer when you made this announcement that you were going to do a report. You've done a number of reports over the last year and a half on the lottery corporation, none of which you have shared with the community or the employees or anybody else who's interested in participating in some kind of mitigating plan or a plan to deal with the negative effects of your restructuring.
Will you today commit to making public the findings of this latest report to the community, to the employees and to all of us who have an interest in doing all that we can to mitigate the terrible negative results of what you're doing and calling a restructuring plan for the Ontario Lottery Corp?
Our aim is to create accountability and efficiency in the public sector and we know there are efficiencies to be found. We have had studies done and given to us of similar operations, and we know that operation could be run more economically and better. First of all, all I can say to the member is that $50 million is what we are going to save from our review, and we think this is wise and essential so that the taxpayers of Ontario are well served by this government. That's our goal, to do better with less
Tourism is a significant employer in Ontario and a very major employer in the Niagara region. Going around this summer to the Canal Days in Port Colborne, the Marshville Heritage Festival in Wainfleet, the Friendship Festival and the Highland Games in Fort Erie, I think we saw some record crowds this summer. Seeing the Peace Bridge busier this year, and I think the Niagara Falls bridge is doing well too, what's the result? How successful has the summer season been in Ontario?
Second, if I could add the supplementary, what are your plans to make sure that this growth in tourism continues in the fall and into the winter?
I want to say that overall, for the benefit of the House, this summer's tourism season has been a very, very good one and it has made up for a very disappointing slow start due to bad weather.
The Niagara region has had a very exceptional year, as an example. Visits to the Niagara Falls region are up 19% over the previous year and the traffic counts at Queen Victoria Park showed an increase of 670,000 cars over last year. That's a big, big increase.
We have registered over 250,000 visits by Americans so far this year, and overnight stays have increased by 27%. This has brought $195 million into the province and that's a $51 million increase over the previous year. Overseas visitors to Canada have increased by 14% and many of these people have chosen to come to Ontario.
I would just like to add, on the supplementary, at this stage of the game --
The second thing is that, in the border states, Ontario will be advertised weekly this fall and winter in a series of newspaper ads in the Sunday travel sections of daily newspapers and magazines in those areas. Also, there will be television commercials. Ontario Tourism will be coordinating familiarization tours through the fall and winter for US tour operators and a series of print ads in the United States will also promote travel to Ontario this fall and winter.
I'm happy to say that will be presenting --
"Whereas the undersigned residents living in the city of Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario are in need of a new regional acute care hospital situated in the city of Thunder Bay to provide the said residents with quality health care services in a modern and up-to-date acute care hospital; and
"Whereas the partial renovation and restructuring of the existing Port Arthur General Hospital, a 65-year-old outdated and antiquated hospital building, proposed by the health services review commission and the Ministry of Health for the province of Ontario will not be suitable, adequate or proper to provide such quality health care services to the said residents; and
"Whereas the undersigned residents endorse and support the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital and the trustees of the hospital board and their vision of a new centrally located hospital to serve the northwestern Ontario region;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to reverse the decision and direction of the health services review commission and the Minister of Health to have all acute care services for the city of Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario region delivered from the renovated and restructured site of Port Arthur General Hospital and to endorse and approve capital funding to build a new centrally located acute care hospital in the city of Thunder Bay."
This is signed by another 391 constituents in my riding, and I have affixed my signature as well.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the courts have ruled that women have the lawful right to go topless in public; and
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has the power to change the Criminal Code to reinstate such public nudity as an offence;
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the government of Ontario to pass a bill empowering municipalities to enact bylaws governing dress code and to continue to urge the government of Canada to pass legislation to reinstate such partial nudity as an offence."
"Whereas since Mike Harris took office gasoline prices have increased on an average of a dramatic 12 cents a litre, which is over 50 cents a gallon; and
"Whereas this increase in the price of gasoline has outpaced the rate of inflation by a rate that is totally unacceptable to all consumers in this province because it is unfair and directly affects their ability to purchase other consumer goods; and
"Whereas Premier Mike Harris and ministers within the cabinet of his government while in opposition expressed grave concern for gas price gouging and asked the government of the day to take action; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government could take action under Ontario law and pass predatory gas pricing legislation which would protect consumers but instead seems intent on looking after the interests of big oil companies;
"We, the undersigned, petition Premier Harris and the government of Ontario to eliminate gas price fixing and prevent the oil companies from gouging the public on an essential and vital product."
I affix my signature to this petition, as I am in full agreement with its contents.
"We are offended that women are allowed to go topless in public. It is our right to be able to walk the streets without fear of being confronted with this immoral behaviour and demand that this right be protected."
I don't agree with this petition, but it is my obligation as a member to present it to this place, and so I will do so.
"Whereas the Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the lawful right to go topless in public; and
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has the legislative authority to restrict going topless in public places; and
"Whereas sections 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code relating to public nudity be clarified to provide better protection of community standards;
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the province of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to clarify legislation on going topless in public places."
I support this petition and have affixed my signature.
STANDING ORDERS REFORM
"Whereas the people of Ontario want rigorous discussion on legislation dealing with public policy issues like health care, education and care for seniors; and
"Whereas many people in Ontario believe that the Mike Harris government is moving too quickly and recklessly, creating havoc with the provision of quality health care, quality education, and adversely affecting seniors; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government now wishes to change the rules of the Ontario Legislature, which would allow the government to ram legislation through more quickly and have less accountability to the public and the media through exercises such as question period; and
"Whereas Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, when they were in opposition, defended the rights of the opposition and used the rules to their full advantage when they believed it was necessary to slow down the passage of controversial legislation; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government now wishes to reduce the amount of time that MPPs will have to debate the important issues of the day; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government, through its proposed rule changes, is attempting to diminish the role of elected members of the Legislative Assembly who are accountable to the people who elect them, and instead concentrate power in the Premier's office in the hands of people who are not elected officials;
"We, the undersigned, call upon Mike Harris to reject these proposed draconian rule changes and restore rules which promote rigorous debate on contentious issues and hold the government accountable to the people of Ontario."
I am prepared to affix my signature to this petition, as I'm in full agreement with its contents.
"Whereas over half the people in Ontario are women;
"Only 5% of the money spent on medical research goes to research in women's health;
"Women have special medical needs since their bodies are not the same as men's;
"Women's College is the only hospital in Ontario with a primary mandate giving priority to research and treatment dedicated to women's health needs;
"The World Health Organization has named Women's College Hospital as the sole collaborating centre for women's health for both North and South America;
"Without Women's College Hospital, the women of Ontario and of the world will lose a health resource that will not be duplicated elsewhere;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ensure the continuance, independence, women-centred focus and accessible downtown location of the one hospital most crucial to the future of women's health."
I am proud to affix my signature to this petition.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that women have the lawful right to appear topless in public; and
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has the power to change the Criminal Code to reinstate such public nudity as an offence;
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the government of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to pass legislation to ban going topless in public places."
I'm happy as well to affix my signature to this petition.
"Professing that our world belongs to God and believing that governments are called to secure justice for all, with prejudice towards none and with compassion for the weak and powerless;
"We, the undersigned, urge you, our civic leaders, to oppose and resist the spread of gambling into our area. Specifically, we ask you to resist all efforts to install video lottery terminals here and oppose the operation of local or regional charity casinos."
As I say, these are all people from Thunder Bay and the surrounding area who have signed this. I affix my signature because I'm in complete agreement with this petition.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
That the standing committee on social development shall be authorized to meet to consider the bill for two days at its regularly scheduled meeting times during the week of September 29, 1997;
That the standing committee shall be further authorized to meet to consider the bill for the purposes of conducting public hearings for four days during the first week of the next recess;
That all amendments shall be filed with the clerk of the committee by 5 pm on the fifth calendar day following the final day of public hearings on the bill;
That the standing committee shall be further authorized to meet for two days during the next recess for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill and that the committee shall be authorized to meet beyond its normal hour of adjournment on the second day until completion of clause-by-clause consideration. At 5 pm on the second day of clause-by-clause consideration, those amendments which have not yet been moved shall be deemed to have been moved, and the Chair of the committee shall interrupt the proceedings and shall, without further debate or amendment, put every question necessary to dispose of all remaining sections of the bill and any amendments thereto. Any divisions required shall be deferred until all remaining questions have been put and shall be taken in succession with one 20-minute waiting period allowed pursuant to standing order 127(a);
That the committee shall report the bill to the House on the first available day following completion of clause-by-clause consideration that reports from committees may be received. In the event that the committee fails to report the bill on the date provided, the bill shall be deemed to be passed by the committee and shall be deemed to be reported to and received by the House;
That upon receiving the report of the standing committee on social development, the Speaker shall put the question for adoption of the report forthwith, and at such time the bill shall be ordered for third reading;
That one sessional day shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the bill. At 5:45 pm or 9:15 pm as the case may be on such day, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and shall put every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the bill without further debate or amendment;
That in the case of any division relating to any proceeding on the bill, the division bell shall be limited to five minutes.
Mr Speaker, can I indicate first of all that I will be sharing my time with the member for Chatham-Kent, Mr Carroll, the member for High Park-Swansea, Mr Shea, and the member for Mississauga South, Mrs Marland?
With that, I would say that we have had a good debate on Bill 142 covering three days; about eight and a half hours of time. It is critical that we proceed with the bill and entertain it at committee, have hearings, allow people to speak to it and then be able to proceed with the bill.
It is critical because it does assist people to get off welfare and to get on with their lives, and it does create an income-support program to meet the unique needs of people with disabilities. For many years, people with disabilities have been on the welfare system in terms of income support. This government indicated during the last election that this was not an appropriate place for people with disabilities to be, that their needs are separate and distinct and that they should be recognized in that light. So those are two of the key circumstances behind the bill.
The reality the government faces today is that while we've had a very successful and I think thorough debate, as is typical over the last year or so there is no end in sight to the debate. It's difficult to get a reading from the opposition members in terms of when the debate might wrap up. It's impossible, and we know that without bringing in this type of motion we would not be able to get on with the public hearings, not be able to get on with implementing the bill and not be able to get on to the kind of reform this government promised the people of Ontario during the last election.
I might say that the kind of reform we promised is starting to take hold. Of course, this government had introduced other measures before this bill, and as a result I am happy to be here to indicate that the reforms are paying off and that we are seeing fewer and fewer people on welfare today.
There is a tragedy, certainly, associated with the welfare story in the province of Ontario. In 1985, for example, there were fewer than 500,000 people on welfare. That's 500,000 people too many, but nevertheless about 475,000 people, to be precise. Today we have well over one million people on the welfare system. Indeed, in 1995 there were over 1.3 million people, almost three times the number of people on welfare in 1995 as there were in 1985. Over the course of 10 years the number of people on welfare in Ontario had just about tripled.
It's perhaps not too surprising that during the period 1990-95, with the recession and the problems faced in the economy, the number of people on welfare rose. Indeed, during that period of time there was about a 73% increase in the number of people on welfare in the province.
What is amazing to most people I talk to about the whole welfare situation is that during the boom years in the 1980s -- 1987, 1988, 1989, when the economy was growing, when economic growth was 5%, 6% -- even during those years, amazingly enough, the number of people on welfare was going up. Every year there was an increase in the number of people on welfare, even during those enormously successful times worldwide. Of course, the economy not only in Canada but in the United States and the global economy was going along at an excellent pace, and yet right here in Ontario the number of people on welfare was increasing. So the case for reform is quite overwhelming.
I might say that while, for example, during the period 1985-90 the caseload on welfare increased by some 25%, the cost to the taxpayers of delivering welfare in the province of Ontario went up by some 76%. What happened during those years was not only that the number of people on welfare increased, but the average cost of each person on welfare was going up at an even higher rate. The government of that day was increasing the benefits well above and beyond what was happening anywhere else in Canada, or indeed anywhere else in the world. I guess the feeling at that point was that the money is flowing in, so therefore the government should take the taxpayers' money and flow it right back out again. It flowed out in prodigious quantities through to the welfare system, a 76% increase in the cost of welfare to the province in just five short years. The expenditure in 1995 was almost $7 billion. The expenditure in 1985 had been about $1.5 billion; $1.5 billion in 1985 rose to almost $7 billion in 1995.
Since this government has come to power and has brought in reforms to the system, the numbers of people on the welfare system have gone down. The cost has gone down by some 1.3 million people -- sorry, by 1.3 million dollars. Did I say "million"? It's $1.3 billion. It's such a large amount of money that it's hard to get your mind around: a reduction of $1.3 billion in welfare costs since this government has taken action, and well over --
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
More and more people at work, fewer and fewer people unemployed, fewer and fewer people on the welfare system: That's what we said we'd do in 1995, and indeed that's what we're doing.
That speaks to this particular bill, Bill 142, which brings in further amendments to the welfare system, which encourages more and more people to get on with training, more and more people to be involved in the Ontario Works program, which I might say is becoming enormously successful. More and more people -- I'm just looking for the number of people involved -- 43,000 people have participated in one of the activities of the Ontario Works program in 40 communities in the province of Ontario.
We hear from time to time that Ontario Works, which was originally known as workfare, is not working, that it's a sham, that there's nothing you can do about the welfare system, that no reform is ever possible. Previous governments have looked at it and they've thrown up their hands and said there's nothing they can do. But we said, "Yes, there is." During the last election we said: "Yes, there is. We can bring in the reforms. We can improve the economy. We can get people back to work. We can get people off the welfare system." That's exactly what we've done: 43,000 people participating in the Ontario Works program in 40 communities, an increase of about 20% from the previous month. The Ontario Works program is growing. It's becoming more and more successful and will continue to do so.
Given that sort of history, given that sort of background, we need to get on with the reform. We have had the three days of debate on this bill in this House. We will have committee time. We will have further debate at third reading. But I have every confidence that the bill, through the committee process, will again improve the welfare system, again allow more and more people to find opportunities in the workforce, encourage them to find opportunities.
There may be a few people who are discouraged too from using the system in a fraudulent way. That may be a component of this. I think all of us realize that to some degree fraud has crept into the component. Certainly the police have laid charges in various cases. We've all read about them. They continue to happen. I think the kind of reforms we're bringing in discourage people from misusing the system in that regard. So that's another component.
Not only are more people getting back to work, but people are saying: "Hey, this government is serious. This government means business about this welfare system, and if my intention is to abuse the system, I might get caught now. Here's a government that actually might" -- and I can tell them one that will -- "take the welfare system seriously and will catch those who are abusing it and discourage those who are abusing it, so that the taxpayers can get the best value for their money." That's exactly what we need to do.
With those remarks, I will ask that we all support this bill, because it's certainly my impression that all three parties in this House believe the welfare system can be improved. I hope we would all get behind the positive aspects of this bill and have a good debate during the committee process and bring forward amendments. There's never been a bill in the history of this House that's perfect. I'm sure there will be some amendments to this bill. But let's take this welfare situation seriously. Let's all contribute, have a good debate, bring it back to this House, and move on.
Madam Speaker, I've been informed that my time is going to be shared by the member for York-Mackenzie, Mr Klees, rather than the member for High Park-Swansea, if that'll be just noted.
Those are my remarks. I think this is a great bill. It's time to get on with it. I hope we can.
We have debated Bill 142 for eight hours and 23 minutes, and in all probability 108 hours and 23 minutes wouldn't have been considered enough time by the opposition.
It was interesting. On Tuesday there was a great call from the members opposite for immediate passage of a resolution on high gas prices -- immediately, no debate, pass it immediately. We had an opportunity on Wednesday to introduce such a resolution and we debated it for a couple of hours.
The members of the third party, consistent as they are, said, "Okay, we want to vote, we want to pass it right away." The members of the opposition refused to vote on it -- a resolution we all agreed on, and the government and the members of the third party said, "Let's pass it," but the Liberals, for some reason or other, decided, "No, we don't want to vote on this resolution." So it's not so much about time in this place; it has more to do with political opportunism.
As he knows, we are eager to have that resolution he made reference to on gas prices dealt with, and had hoped it was dealt with this afternoon and we could debate it, get all our speakers on and vote on it, but the government refused to call it this afternoon. I'm sorry about that.
Since we've started on this whole process and all the things we've done in this House, the opposition has opposed things as wonderful as tax cuts, so it's not surprising they would also be opposing Bill 142.
Let me refresh people's minds a little bit about what happens when governments don't act. Our government House leader gave some of these numbers. I would like to repeat them because I think they bear repeating. When governments don't act on critical issues, as the last two governments didn't, we see welfare rolls rise from 475,000 people to 1.3 million, a tripling of the welfare rolls in a 10-year period. In that same period of time, the amount of money the taxpayers of Ontario spent on welfare went from $1.4 billion to $6.7 billion.
That's what happens when governments don't act: We end up with 1.3 million people -- that's almost 11% of the population of this great province -- trapped in a welfare system. That's what happens when governments don't act. That's why we as a government believe we must get on with governing the province.
The other comment we hear from the opposition is that we haven't consulted enough, that we need to consult more, and for that reason we need to extend the debate in the House and we need to have long hearings. I'd just like to remind the House about some of the people we did consult with regarding the Ontario disability support plan. We consulted the good people from Goodwill. We consulted the March of Dimes, the Ontario Association for Community Living, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Canadian Hearing Society, AIDS Action Now, People with AIDS Foundation, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, the Income Maintenance Group, the Ontario schizophrenia association, Hemophilia Ontario, Ontario Council on Alternative Business. We did consult extensively. That is where the Ontario disability support plan came from.
In addition to that, the 1992 Mainstream report, which was a federal-provincial report, recognized that people with disabilities require special disability-related supports which accommodate and respect their differences. That is precisely what we are doing with Bill 142.
More recently, the federal Scott task force report, The Will to Act, which had considerable consumer involvement, recommended that vocational rehab programs be refocused to help prepare people to go to work, exactly what we're doing with Bill 142. These reports go back to 1992. There are several other reports that say the same thing. So this is difficult territory that it is time to move ahead on.
At some point in time governments have to go ahead and govern. They cannot forever sit and have reports, have studies and think about things. They are called upon the taxpayers to govern.
A former member of this House who sat I believe in a chair right behind me, Gary Malkowski, from the Canadian Hearing Society -- here are his comments about what Minister Ecker is doing with Bill 142, the Ontario disability support plan part of it:
"I wish to congratulate you, Minister, for showing the most positive kind of announcement that we've had in some time, including previous governments" -- one of which he was part of -- "so I'd like to offer my congratulations on this and I hope that this does provide an opportunity for breaking down barriers to employment." Obviously a ringing endorsement of the need to do what Bill 142 does.
Peter McGrath from the Ottawa-Carleton Independent Living Centre, in a telephone interview: "It's a fundamental shift in the way the government has been thinking about people with disabilities. Instead of saying we're going to be taking care of you, we're saying we recognize you have a role to play."
An editorial in the Sudbury Star: "We say, if implemented, these changes will help disabled people gain a measure of independence."
Obviously all ringing endorsements, not necessarily from friends of our government, of what Bill 142 is going to accomplish for people with disabilities.
Regarding the Ontario Works part of Bill 142, I've already quoted the caseload numbers and the cost of welfare, where we've tripled the caseload from 400,000 to 1.3 million people in the 10 years the Liberals and the NDP were in government, where the cost has gone from $1.4 billion to $6.7 billion. I've already quoted those numbers.
Obviously that system does not serve anybody well. We all are aware of the ravages of being trapped in the welfare system. There is no way out of the cycle of poverty other than through work. The welfare system, no matter how wealthy it might be, how well it might treat people, will never lead to prosperity. We must change the system so that it's geared towards work. That's what we're doing with Bill 142.
I'd like to read some comments. The member for Windsor-Riverside speaks often of the terrible travesty of the Wisconsin experiment.
Participant Peggy DeGraw: This lady is from my area of the province, down in Blenheim. She's a participant in the program. Her comment is, "I don't think there are a lot of programs out there that help people the way this one does," meaning Ontario Works.
The warden of Renfrew county, David Stewart: "It's not just general welfare. Ontario Works is a new breed of cat for this province and, indeed, Renfrew county.... It's the first step in a new vision of social assistance in the province, one that respects people's dignity, enhances their self-esteem, and fosters independence, self-reliance, and two-way community contribution and participation."
Again, ringing endorsements of the need for and the effectiveness of the Ontario Works program and Bill 142.
No doubt we're going to hear some objections to the basis on which we're proposing that this matter be dealt with: that we deal with this in the House today, that as a result of this motion before us we will be moving this bill on to public hearings. The result of this will be that this bill now go to committee for two days, and subsequently to public hearings. That surely is in the best interests of the people of Ontario, who depend on us to move forward with the reforms we've committed to them, who look forward to participating, for example, in the Ontario Works strategy that this legislation will allow us to implement fully.
Particularly for members of the opposition, who rightfully call on us to have consultation, to open up the legislation for further consideration, we think this should be a welcome initiative on the part of the government to move it quickly out of here into the committee so we can get on with the work of further debating some of the details of the legislation. We then would look forward to bringing this bill back to the House for third reading and then on to implementation.
Why is it imperative that we move this bill forward? It's not, as perhaps some would suggest, that we don't want to give time for further debate, but I have to say that unfortunately much of the debate I've heard over the last few days on this bill in this House has been so much rhetoric. Clearly all members of the House should be welcoming an opportunity to finally move forward with reform of our welfare system that all parties of all governments -- I think the honourable member for Beaches-Woodbine, who is looking at me somewhat quizzically, will recall the statement of her former leader, the Honourable Premier Robert Rae.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
Before that quorum call, I was about to quote the former Premier, Bob Rae, who the Speaker will recall made the following statement. He said, "It doesn't make sense to pay people to sit at home."
Although we have many philosophical differences with the former Premier, in this particular case, on this particular point, we certainly think alike. I don't believe for one minute that the former Premier's remarks were made out of a spirit of meanness. I don't believe for one minute that the comments he made himself on a number of occasions about the need to reform the welfare system were out of a sense of not caring for those people who find themselves dependent on the welfare system of this province. To the contrary, I believe very strongly that the former Premier cared very much, and that is what motivated his remarks.
People will remember well that during the last provincial election the Premier, the then leader of the third party, made the comment that it is time we gave people a hand up, not just a handout. The bill that is before us, Bill 142, does that more than any other initiative of any government in any jurisdiction in this country. Once and for all it puts forward not only an opportunity for us in this province to establish the Ontario Works strategy, but it also builds into the program disincentives for people to abuse the welfare system we have, which over time has grown to be the richest in the country. Even with the reduction of 20% in benefits that our government brought forward, this province is still paying at the rate of 10% above the average of all other provinces in this country. Coupled with that, we were prepared to allow people to earn back without any penalty the difference between the old rates and the new rates.
I am told by our front-line workers in the field today that the very option to allow people to earn back some of their benefits is in itself an incentive to people. I had a meeting in my constituency office this morning with a social worker who expressed his welcome of this legislation because he feels in his heart of hearts that it is precisely what he as a social worker needs to help encourage the people he deals with on a daily basis to help themselves and to become self-sufficient. I might also say that this individual is not only a social worker but he is also --
As I was saying earlier about this individual I met with this morning, not only is he a social worker but he also happens to be president of the CUPE local, and as the president of the CUPE local he had no reservations in endorsing the Ontario Works program that we are bringing forward. I have asked him to participate with me in an initiative within our own constituency to share the benefits of what Ontario Works will do for the people he is serving. I think that in itself is a strong endorsement, as people take the time to get below the rhetoric and below the partisan bickering about what we are trying to do for people in this province. When we take a look at the details of this program, I think then we are finally able to come together and say, "Let's get on with it. Let's do what has to be done. Let's bring people together and move Ontario forward in the area of reform of our welfare system."
One of the aspects of the underlying bill that I believe is a clarion call to the people of Ontario that this government once again is following through on the promises that were made during an election campaign two years ago, where we promised we would reform the welfare system of this province and give people an opportunity to once again become active in their community, that we would give them a hand up rather than a handout, is the Ontario Works proposal that was announced almost two years ago now by this government.
There have been critics of that program, and interestingly enough, on the one hand in this House we constantly hear the criticism that this government is moving too quickly; in this particular case, when it benefits the debate, we are accused of moving too slowly. Let me state for the record why we are not moving slowly but methodically. We believe that the Ontario Works program that we are bringing to this province is so critically important to the lives it will touch that we cannot simply take a program from some other jurisdiction and try to implement it here in Ontario. A very specific decision was made that we would develop an Ontario Works program, a work-for-welfare program, here in Ontario, made in Ontario for Ontarians, so we took the time to consult with people across the province.
We have taken the time not only to consult on the broader principles of what that program should consist of, but we have also said to the various jurisdictions across the province that we would allow them and ask them to develop specific business plans that will set out how the Ontario Works program would be implemented in their region. That allows people across the province, where there are regional differences, to incorporate into their business plans the unique aspects of their particular regions. We know there are differences between northern Ontario and southwestern Ontario and eastern Ontario and certainly the greater Toronto area. So we have been consulting, negotiating with and looking for various areas of the province to deliver to us their specific business plans.
As in any business plan, it takes time if it is done right, and once the business plan is approved and we decide to implement it, it takes time for the implementation of that business plan, so we are not frustrated by the numbers. The latest numbers say I believe that 41,000 people across the province are now actively participating in some form of the Ontario Works program. I might say, and I think it is important for us to recognize, that the 41,000 come out of an available employable welfare caseload of approximately 300,000 to 350,000 people. So we have to realize that with the eligibility component we're looking at about a 10% participation factor at this very early stage, realizing that in jurisdictions such as Metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa-Carleton, where the highest concentrations of welfare loads across the province are, those business plans are not even at the point of implementation yet. Given the degree of participation and given the stage we're at in this province, we consider that we have done extremely well in a responsible way, in a way that is truly benefiting the people for whom this program is designed.
While it may sound interesting, while it may be politically expedient for the debate to be carried on in a tone of criticism, let me be very clear that as a government we're very proud of the work that has been done in Ontario Works to this point, and we are even more proud of the degree of support that is being shown across the province from people who are not only behind the creation of the business plans but who are the participants in the program and who are our front-line workers, who see their role substantially changed from what the role of a social worker has been in the past.
They are seeing themselves as employment centres. They're seeing themselves as individuals who not only should be there to help people find a way to claim on the system but, more important, see themselves as a way to help people transition back into the workforce. What's particularly welcoming to them is that they have a program to work with that will help people overcome the many barriers that are now in place and are unfortunately keeping people from moving into the workforce.
I'd like to take a minute and just read a couple of comments that have appeared in the public press over the last number of weeks from people around the province. Because my friend from Brantford is in the Legislature this afternoon --
This wasn't being said in a negative way. This comment was being made in a very positive way by someone who is in the system now and sees this as benefiting him.
In honour of the Speaker who was in the chair just before I glanced up, I thought it might be appropriate to read from the London Free Press. As reported in the London Free Press, participant Barry Meredith was "quite content to do nothing and collect free money. Then his daughter was born and `something clicked inside,' he said. Now he volunteers as a maintenance worker...and he loves it.... Given a choice, he'd like to find a job just like his community placement."
I think the evidence is overwhelming that people from across this province welcome the opportunity to participate in a meaningful program that will help them get back to work. That is what Ontario Works is designed to do, that is what Ontario Works will do, and moving this bill through this House, by moving this bill quickly into committee and having some additional public hearings on this piece of legislation will allow us then to get to the point where we can implement the full Ontario Works program, carry it out across the province and also implement some of the reforms we're proposing for the welfare system in this province.
I think it's important that we all are brought back to first principles as we debate this bill. That is that --
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
I would like to just draw to the attention of this House that another reason why it's so important that we get on with the implementation of this legislation is that there are a number of initiatives that this legislation will allow us to implement in the area of fraud control. I'll just refer to a number of those areas that I think the people of this province have been looking for any government to have the courage to implement and we look forward to doing that without further delay.
Under this legislation, people convicted of welfare fraud would be ineligible for benefits for a three-month period for a first offence and six months for subsequent offences. I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that the taxpayer dollars that are being used to fund our welfare system deserve to be well-administered and deserve to have good stewardship behind them.
It is not good stewardship when we allow people in the province to defraud the taxpayer of funds that should be going to those people who are in need. One of the reasons there are many people -- and we won't deny this there are people in the province who have need and who on some occasions are not being given the kind of support they deserve. That's not because we're not spending enough money on welfare. It's not because we're not spending enough money on any of the social benefits that we're providing this province. It is not a function of how much money we're spending. It's whether we're spending it in the most prudent way and whether we're able to target those dollars to those people who need our support most. Some of the fraud-prevention initiatives that are contained in this legislation will help us to address that.
One further initiative this legislation will allow us to pursue is the utilization of biometrics. Much has been said about that. People have referred to that in debate, trying to discredit what we're trying to do in this area to prevent fraud, by suggesting that people are going to be treated as criminals, that we want to fingerprint them.
I want to make it very clear that is not what we're discussing. There are many ways we can use scientific and new technology that will help us prevent fraud. Biometric finger-scanning is just one way we believe we can use new technology to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are used much more wisely.
There is a health care club in Toronto, I believe it's Mayfair, where in order to gain access you have to put your finger on a screening device and that gets you through the door. That's biometric finger-scanning. These are not criminals. These are not people who are being held in low esteem or being discredited. These are people who belong to a club, who believe it is appropriate to safeguard their premises and who believe the new technology is in their best interests.
We're just simply saying we believe it's incumbent upon this government to use the latest technology available to us in the best interest of taxpayers so that we can ensure again that every dollar that is focused through this ministry is being used to the benefit of the people who need our support.
There are a number of areas of this legislation that deal with the disabled and my colleague from Mississauga South, I believe, is going to address the Legislature on those issues. I am going to close off my remarks by simply reiterating the fact that I believe it not only is prudent for us after the hours of debate that we have had on this proposed legislation already in this House but that it is ultimately important that we comply with the wishes of the member for Beaches-Woodbine that we get additional consultation and input into this bill. The best way we can do that is to move it into committee, have some additional consultations there and get the members' and the public's specific input on some of the proposals they may have to improve this legislation.
As parliamentary assistant, I will certainly be very interested in hearing from the member for Beaches-Woodbine, the member for St Catharines and others who may be interested in contributing their years of wisdom and understanding of social services in the province to improving this legislation. I'm sure the minister will be very open to considering some of those proposed amendments as well, as we seek through this bill to ensure that the people of Ontario are best served with the taxpayers' dollars that we are committing to social services.
To a very serious matter, which is the matter that we are discussing at this time, which is to time allocate, which means to discontinue the debate at this time in this chamber on this bill. It doesn't mean that the government is saying they do not want to hear from anyone else or they don't want to hear any more from the opposition. It's simply that at this stage in the process of proceeding with legislation we're saying we've had, as a matter of fact, almost eight and a half hours in second reading. What we're saying is now is the time to take it to committee. What happens is we take it to committee and we hear from the public. Nothing is more beneficial to any government than to hear from the public, with particular individual interests in all parts of this bill.
As a matter of fact, that also doesn't close out, of course, the opposition, because the opposition, both parties, are members of the committees which will conduct the public hearings. We're simply saying now we want to get a reaction from the public if there are amendments to be made and improvements or changes to be made to this legislation. We're simply saying, "Let's get on with it."
Holding it up in this place forever doesn't move us to that point where we do actually hear from the public.
As the former critic for people with disabilities in this province when I was in both the official opposition and the third party, I am really thrilled about the Ontario Disability Support Program Act which this government is bringing into legislation. I'm very happy about it, I think more so than anything because we know that the changes we are making have been long overdue. Unfortunately, I can't recall what the official opposition party has said about this particular section of the act as it pertains to disabilities, but I'm certainly very much aware that the member for London Centre and the member for Beaches-Woodbine have also supported this part of this bill wholeheartedly and are very happy to see these changes being made and moved along.
For a long time, people with disabilities have been asked not to be labelled. They've been asked not to be treated in the general welfare pool because they simply should not be there, they should never have been there, and this bill changes that. People with disabilities will no longer be labelled permanently unemployable, which has been a very bad thing that all governments have been guilty of doing. That's one of the changes.
With this act, all aspects of disability will be covered: personal care, functioning in the community and functioning in the workplace. People with disabilities need help in all aspects of their daily living, depending on the degree of disability; also to treat individual disabilities individually. That also is important because you can't have a blanket policy that covers everyone and meets everyone's needs. Finally, individuals will have their own care and needs met individually.
We also will have through the Ontario disability support program a new and separate program which will be created for these people with disabilities. The new program will not only meet their unique needs but it will protect their benefits. The protection of those benefits is a very important aspect because that is the security for those people with special needs. Some of the financial rules, for example, will be more generous for people with disabilities than is the case under the current welfare system, because finally people with disabilities are being removed from the general welfare system. They will have higher asset limits.
There will be an increase in the amount of compensation award that could be retained and the ability to retain the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy and to take a loan against it to cover the costs related to the advanced stages of a serious illness and enabling people with disabilities to benefit more from gifts and inheritances so that families can provide a more secure future for their adult children.
That's one of the major areas of concern that I have come across for families with adult children with disabilities. Parents who have cared for their children at home for all of their lives are now elderly and they're concerned about what's going to happen to their children after they've gone. We are now putting in place an avenue of support through gifts and inheritance and establishing individual programs for their children so that they know they will be looked after, after they are no longer here to look after them themselves. It's a very important subject to all of us in this House and we appreciate the support of the opposition parties with this Ontario disability support program.
I want to say first of all that I am extremely disappointed this afternoon to be speaking on a time allocation motion. I would prefer to be addressing the House fairly substantially on the contents of this particular bill and giving some advice on how the bill might be improved.
There are components of this legislation, as is often the case when any government introduces legislation, that are supportable. The goal that is out there I think is a goal that everyone shares, and that is the goal of ensuring that people have an opportunity to find gainful work in our society. I would surmise that the overwhelming number of people who are receiving some kind of assistance, if they could have their own way, would be wanting to find some employment, employment of which they could be proud, employment which would provide for them on a basis that didn't involve others contributing to their wellbeing, but that is not always the circumstance we face.
We are in an interesting phase in our society, a difficult phase in our society. We've come out of a very deep recession. In the period of time from 1990 to about 1994 the province experienced, as did the United States and some other jurisdictions, a very deep recession where a lot of jobs were going to disappear. What is disconcerting about the kind of recovery we see now from a recession is that it is often a jobless recovery. In days gone by when there was a recession it seemed that, as the economy picked up, many of the jobs that had disappeared, those actual jobs, would return. For instance, at various manufacturing operations we would see that when sales dropped, the workforce in those plants that produced the products or the services dropped, and that was understandable although regrettable.
What we see now is that when we return to circumstances of relative prosperity, the jobs do not return. They are replaced by technology, are replaced by computerization which is a form of technology, or are not replaced at all because the company has decided to downsize. There were many jobs that people with not a large number of educational or technical skills used to be able to get in the past. Those jobs have disappeared to a very large extent.
You could say: "This person isn't working, this person is collecting social assistance. Why don't they go and" -- and you'd name what it was. There are significantly fewer jobs today of that nature. That's of great concern because those individuals who do not have those skills, who might not have that educational background, who do not have the connections within society, find themselves unable to find meaningful and gainful work.
The components of this bill which assist people by providing some additional training, by providing some opportunities to gain experience, are commendable and are certainly acceptable, I think, to all in this House. There are some components that worry the opposition and that is why we believe there should be a more extensive debate so individual members can raise those individual circumstances.
Unfortunately, once again, and at a record pace, this government is imposing yet another time allocation motion, a motion that chokes off debate in this House on an important piece of legislation.
One could say, if this was being done so that we could have very extensive hearings on this legislation, then that might be a fairly compelling argument in favour --
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
I mentioned that if the government were saying that they felt there was sufficient debate in this House and that they wanted to hear from a wide cross-section of the people of Ontario about specific provisions in this legislation, so those individuals could offer some constructive suggestions on how the legislation might be improved, then it would be understandable, if not acceptable, that the government would be invoking yet another closure motion, yet another motion to choke off debate in the House and speed up the process.
What I have noticed in this time allocation motion is that provision is made for only two more days of hearings in Toronto and four presumably outside of Toronto, but at least during the recess between the time this part of the session ends and when it continues.
It seems to me that now the government has firmed up its proposals by placing them in legislative form, the government should want to hear from those who have comments to make, and of course the world doesn't stop and start at the borders of the GTA. There are many areas in the province that want to have input. I'm sure that people in the Niagara Peninsula, for instance, both those who are in favour of the legislation and those who are opposed, would like to make representations to the committee, yet we're seeing only four days during the intersession.
My colleague the member for Fort William was chatting with me earlier today about this, saying of course that we in the Liberal Party want to see far more days allocated for the purpose of those public hearings. They could go to places such as Thunder Bay and London, Ontario, and Windsor and perhaps Timmins and perhaps Stratford and other places around Ontario to hear from people who have constructive suggestions. But this will be limited by this time allocation motion to only four days, and I think that is simply not acceptable.
It is clear that the agenda of the government then is to not particularly pay attention to those representations, but to simply speed this legislation through and not make the kind of changes to the legislation that we think would be constructive. I hope I'm not being overly cynical.
I have tried to indicate to various groups and individuals in our society who are concerned about the speed with which this government is moving in terms of implementing its radical and reckless revolution that has severe consequences for many in our society that the changes to the rules, the procedural changes in this House, represent the major legislative initiative of this government; that while there are individual bills with which they may find themselves in significant disagreement, the worst thing the government has done in fact is change the procedural rules to grease the skids for its controversial and often ill-advised legislation, thereby limiting the amount of debate that is permitted for the purpose of this legislation, diminishing the role of the elected members of this assembly.
Essentially they are turning the keys over to the advisers to the Premier, the people in the Premier's office who advise on these matters, and the political advisers to the ministers within the ministry and to a certain extent to senior members of the civil service, loyal and good people that they are.
I see this as a diminishing of the role of this Legislature. I see this as a significant step backwards for democracy, and yet that is what we are confronted with. If only the people of this province knew how significant those rule changes are. If only they knew that at the very time when many non-cabinet members within the government caucus, within the Progressive Conservative caucus, are wondering aloud if the government is moving too quickly and too drastically and not looking at the consequences of its actions, at that very time the government, with its overwhelming majority, has passed a motion in this House forcing new rules, changing the rules in the middle of the game, if you will, to make it more convenient for the government to push through its legislation. That's essentially what we're dealing with this afternoon: not the substance of a bill but the rule changes.
They have, through these rule changes, taken away what I'll refer to as the bargaining chips that members of the opposition have. When the three House leaders, Mr Wildman for the NDP, Mr Johnson and I, meet with the whips of the three parties, the people who are also in an executive position, when we sit down together to try to deal with matters of importance, we recognize that the opposition has very few chips left in the situation where we're bargaining. Norm Sterling, who is the Minister of Environment and Energy today, used to say that the only way you can influence a government is if you have some way of slowing them down. I've quoted on many occasions my friend Ernie Eves, the provincial Treasurer and former government House leader and, by the way, former House leader of an opposition party when he has said it is important that the opposition have some bargaining chips so there is a sawoff.
For instance, if the government had said, "If you will limit debate on second reading in the House, we will provide 16 days of hearings, not four days of hearings," he would have found the opposition would be very accepting of that proposal. But we don't have that choice now. We don't have that bargaining opportunity with the government to help those out there who feel the government is inflicting upon them legislation which is ill-conceived and perhaps damaging.
We see the question period, which is so significant in our society, relegated to seventh place. The government can introduce its bills, it can introduce motions, it can have committee reports, it can have a large number of items that take place before question period, and therefore question period is pushed back potentially and shortened by the fact that government business must begin at 4 pm.
All of this is somewhat bewildering to the public because they don't deal on a daily basis with the rules of this House. Members of the news media who try to sell their editors on this story find that the editors say, "No, there must be something else of more immediate significance." Yet in this Parliament the most important motion or piece of legislation introduced and passed has been the changes to the procedural rules which now allow the government to ram through its legislation in record time.
A time allocation motion of this kind will mean that if we were worried about the number of people out there who need hip replacements and knee replacements and other orthopaedic work done -- as you would know, Mr Speaker, there are so many in our society, as we grow older and as our population grows older because people are living longer now, who are waiting for those kinds of operations, and the problem they are confronted with is significant pain and disability which could be solved in many cases by a knee replacement or hip replacement or replacement of another joint. I think the waiting time these people have at the present time for services of this kind is unacceptable. I know many people personally who have had to wait some long period of time before being able to be put out of their misery by having this operation. I think we should be moving forward with initiatives that will permit that to happen in a more timely fashion.
I know you will have read about the kidney dialysis patients at the Hotel Dieu Hospital. My friend from Beaches-Woodbine, being a former health minister, will recall that her government was part of the team that was trying to improve the services. In fact, when they were in power that opportunity arose and there was some significant funding provided to the Hotel Dieu Hospital to continue its kidney dialysis.
We have an MRI which has now been approved for St Catharines after very significant pressure from the opposition. While the people have to raise the funds for it -- and that was mentioned in the House today -- for the purpose of the capital cost --
The member does raise a legitimate issue, though, and that is, she will recall when she was in the election campaign watching the leaders' debate. She will remember when Robert Fisher of Global TV asked Mike Harris, the leader of the Conservative Party, "Do you think any of these health care reforms that you are about to implement if you get elected will involve the closing of hospitals?" I remember very well because I was watching. I've known Mike Harris for a number of years. I was watching and Mike Harris said, "Certainly, Robert, I can guarantee you it is not my plan to close hospitals," and indeed hospitals are closing across Ontario.
I can tell you that the General Hospital in St Catharines, the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St Catharines and the Shaver Hospital in St Catharines are all needed. None should be closed and all should be appropriately funded.
I'm glad the member for Huron raised that issue of the inadequacy of funding for the health care system. I agree with her that the health care system is underfunded. The reason for that, as she will know, is that the government has to feed this silly income tax cut that benefits the richest people in our society the most. When I talk to people in my community, even those who have some benefit --
One of the things all three parties represented in this House could be justifiably proud of over the years has been the establishment of our health care system, a publicly funded health care system that means the amount of money in your wallet does not determine the quality of health care you get in Ontario, and that's the way it should stay. I have great fears that that is not the way it is heading.
I look at psychiatric services. Interestingly enough, that has a lot to do with this bill. People will say, "On the streets now I see far more people who seem to be wandering aimlessly or perhaps are begging or perhaps look downtrodden." Many of these people are former psychiatric patients or psychiatric patients, people who would have an exceedingly difficult time obtaining employment. As I mentioned the other night in this House, while I listen to people say they should be made to work, I then ask people who might have a business, "Would you hire these individuals?" and they have to concede that most of them would not hire those individuals because they have significant psychiatric problems.
There was a great fad -- or movement, I guess, is a better word -- towards deinstitutionalization of individuals with psychiatric problems. It was felt they would do better in the community, and indeed with the appropriate resources in the community many would be able to cope well.
Unfortunately, the deinstitutionalization took place. Those individuals were allowed and encouraged to go back into the community. But the services required to serve their needs were not there, so many schizophrenics, many people with other psychiatric problems find themselves very vulnerable in the society in which we live. I've often wondered, who is it out in the streets? Not all of the people are in that category. Many of the people are those who are not receiving appropriate psychiatric services that they need.
If we didn't have this time allocation motion to debate this afternoon, we could have continued the debate on gasoline prices. I had several members of the Liberal caucus who wanted to speak on this and get our resolution passed, particularly the amendment --
My good friend the Minister of Economic Development and Trade was no doubt waiting for that debate to continue, and I want to compliment him -- and I'm not trying to be political when I say it. People in this House will think I'm being political, because I am very often political, but I want to say to him, to give him his credit, he was honest about the government position. I don't agree with that position -- I may even quote it into the record again -- but I want to say to you that he was honest. You see, he got up and said that this government believes in the free market system, the free enterprise system, and shouldn't be interfering in that system. That was consistent with what the cabinet stands for. Other ministers said the same thing.
I asked Mr Sterling a question. Of course he blamed taxes, because the Republican friends in the US said, "It's the taxes." Of course what was happening was it was the oil barons, the captains of the oil industry who were raising the prices. It was not, as my friend the Speaker would know, anybody else but those people. But he wanted to blame the taxes.
Then the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations just gave up. He needs a third hand to point somewhere else. He points to Ottawa. He can point to the United States. He can point to the opposition. He needs another hand to do that.
The point I want to make is, we heard this phoney pronouncement from the Premier when he read the polls. Three different polls came in. The government had taken a dive in the polls, so the Premier said, "I'm going to distance myself from Mr Saunderson," even though Bill Saunderson was speaking the philosophy of this government. I didn't happen to agree with his answer, but I wanted to give him credit for honesty. You're not allowed to say somebody else is dishonest, but I'll say he was honest.
Then I heard the pronouncements of Mike Harris. He was going to be not only taxfighter but now gas price fighter. The people in the business, their jaws dropped, because they knew where he really stands. They knew he stands with the corporate captains of the oil industry and he didn't want to do anything about it. I thought, "Hurray." I was delighted because I said, "My friend Mike Harris is now going to bring forward legislation in this House, in his own jurisdiction."
He was going to bring in a predatory pricing law for gas. I thought he'd do that. I thought he would call the oil barons on the carpet and say, "This is unacceptable to the people of this province." I thought he would set up a provincial inquiry on gasoline prices. But what did he do? He got out his finger and pointed somewhere else, to Ottawa, and said, "I'm going to get my big brother after you." So Macho Mike, when it came to doing something in his own backyard, was nowhere to be found.
I want to say that the real position of the government -- I have sent the government whip running, looking for old Hansards. I want to put on the record what the real position of the government is. This is my friend Bill Saunderson. I don't agree with him, but he's being honest. He's being honest. He's being undercut by the Premier, cast adrift by the Premier. He said the following when I asked him the question about gasoline prices.
I said, "Minister, now that virtually all of the stations in Metropolitan Toronto and southern Ontario are charging 60 cents per litre" -- this is back on May 2, 1996. It was only 60 cents then; now way up over that in this latest spate -- "are you satisfied that the people of Ontario are paying the most competitive price for gasoline in the world?" Here's what the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and --
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
For the member for York-Mackenzie's edification, because I think it's a legitimate question that he has, if there were anyone who were to lose benefits who shouldn't lose benefits, they wouldn't be able to afford the gas prices that are charged in Ontario, and that's why I'm into this issue.
Here's the answer of the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, an honest answer from his point of view, but he was cut adrift by the Premier. He said: "If he was, and I'm sure he is, perusing the foreign press these days, he will see that the price of fuel is much higher than it was earlier on this year. There are various reasons for that, and we monitor these things very carefully. But I think, overall, Ontario is well served." That's the opinion he put forward in this House on May 2.
Then on May 16 I came back to it again and I asked Mr Sterling, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations of the day, about gas prices, "Are you going to defend the consumers of this province or are you going to apologize for the oil barons by blaming, as your American Republican friends do, the taxes?" and he did the same thing. Newt Gingrich and certain right-wing members of the US Congress, when the price of gas went up at that time, said, "Oh, well, it's not the oil companies, they didn't do it; it's taxes." Yet of course on that day, just as now in Ontario, it wasn't the taxes that had gone up; it was the take of the oil companies. That's what had gone up.
That's why Premier Harris, when he was asked, "Premier Harris, it's in your own backyard, are you going to cut the taxes on gas on this province?" said, "No, I'm not going to do that." He recognized, I think, that it was not the taxes in this instance driving the prices up, but rather the oil barons and their greed.
I asked a further question. I went back to my friend Bill Saunderson in February 1997, and again he gave me an honest answer from his point of view, an answer which is now of course shoved aside by the Premier. I asked him the question about gasoline prices again, and he gave me this answer:
"If you travel across Canada, I think our prices that I see at the pumps these days are quite fair. When one travels outside Canada, our prices here are comparable" -- I say that again, "comparable" -- to what I see going on in the world. There are certain areas that are closer to gas and oil production facilities and therefore pay a lesser price, but I think under our circumstances our prices are quite fair."
Then I asked him a supplementary question about this. I said the member for Quinte will fall off his chair when he hears this, because the member for Quinte had already been raising the issue in this House earlier that morning, and Mr Saunderson continued, again from his point of view, being very honest, as he is, "I'd like to just respond by talking a little bit about the economic philosophy of this government," and I'm sure he was speaking for the government. He said:
"...let me just tell you over there that we on this side of the House believe in the free enterprise system. We don't intend to dictate to companies what they should and should not do, provided they act within reason. I have no intention of interfering with the free enterprise system, the pricing system. If we were to do that, we would be a laughingstock, sir. It would be a big mistake for this province. We would not attract businesses to this province."
He was simply stating the philosophy of the overwhelming majority of members of the caucus, and of the Premier and the cabinet, and yet the Premier, when he hit the skids in the polls, did an about-turn. The road to Damascus was before him, and he was converted. He suddenly wanted to portray himself as the defender of the consumer -- and nobody was believing it. The people who have observed this government, particularly in the business community, believed Bill Saunderson, that he was stating the government position, as were other ministers and members, and yet the Premier again cut a minister away and left him out to dry, just as he did with the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services when he had the bad day with the opening of what they call the new boot camp -- I forget what our critic was calling it today, but --
When my friend Mr Sterling, the Minister of Environment and Energy, was struggling to put together a program for the testing of vehicle emissions, and of course being confronted with all kinds of opposition in the cabinet, did the Premier say, "Oh, it's my fault; I'm trying to stop this"? No. He said: "I don't know why there's a problem. I don't know what's wrong with the Minister of Environment and Energy."
I know what really happened. It's blocked by other ministers, it's blocked by the Premier, but who takes the heat? The minister, because the strategy is, particularly when the government becomes unpopular, you fob off to the ministers the unpopularity and distance the Premier from these items, and that's what's happening now within the government.
Anyway, I want to go on with a couple of other items particularly related to the legislation we have before us. Because we have this time allocation motion before us, we couldn't deal with legislation that would prevent the imposition of video lottery terminals or slot machines in every bar and every restaurant in every neighbourhood in every community in Ontario -- much to the detriment of the most vulnerable people in our society, because as people become more vulnerable, as they become more desperate, they are more inclined to take a chance at gambling, and it's most unfortunate that happens.
I know all of those who ran on the family values ticket in the government must be imploring the Premier not to proceed with allowing the proliferation of video lottery terminals across this province by allowing them in these so-called 44 charity casinos, permanent casinos in communities that don't even want them in many cases. They will operate 24 hours a day, sucking every last dollar out of those communities.
I'm not a fan of casinos anywhere, but I'll say this for the ones in Windsor and Niagara Falls and Orillia, and particularly the border ones: At least they are there to attract tourists. A considerable amount of the money is coming from outside the community, and it is a tourist attraction. I can assure you that the so-called charity casinos are going to simply suck the money out of those communities, and there won't be money to spend on other commodities. That's my great concern about those, and they're going to influence other opportunities that charitable groups had for raising funds.
I think a lot of governments are moving in exactly the wrong direction in that regard, not just this government. The government is not alone, I assure you. There are governments all over North America that are moving in the wrong direction with regard to gambling.
I know if I were to canvass my friends in the Christian Reform Church, the Anglican Church, the United Church, virtually any of the religious organizations in our province, they would be calling upon the government to put a halt to any further expansion of gambling opportunities in this province. If the government did that, I'll tell you one thing: I'd be the first one to publicly rise in this House and put out a press release and make known to all my approval of that government action, if that were the case. I'm not confident, however, that will happen.
I hope when this bill goes to committee, as short a time as it is, the government will look at some of the potential areas of weakness. The overall thrust of trying to get people back to work is one with which everyone agrees. The effort to eliminate any fraud is something we all agree with, because the more money that is lost to fraud, the less money there is for those who legitimately require assistance.
There is one area I remember I mentioned once before when the previous government was in power. I got some flak for it; I think I was accused of welfare-bashing. Both the member for St Catharines-Brock at that time, Christel Haeck, and I were labelled as something for doing that. She was a New Democrat and I was a Liberal at the time. She was government; I was opposition. It was the problems being encountered with welfare being dispensed to people between the ages of 16 and 18, teenagers, without the kinds of rules and regulations that would be beneficial.
Where there was genuine abuse existing, where there was an intolerable situation at home and where the individual was determined to get an education -- and there were some examples of that -- then I didn't hear anybody disagree.
The government now, through this legislation, is making a change which will probably improve that circumstance, because I believe it goes now to a trustee, as the member for York-Mackenzie was mentioning in his remarks, and is dispensed from there. So we don't simply have people who decide they don't like the circumstances at home, don't like the 2 am curfew or don't like the fact that they have to perform legitimate chores around the house and want to take a hike from the house to go out and get welfare and have a good time. That's not going to be the case for those people in that age group. In the last government I remember Mr Silipo was trying to address that problem, and it's further addressed in this legislation.
So not all of the legislation is bad. I hope, and I've had assurance from the parliamentary assistant, that they will look carefully at the provision for those who are aged 60 to 64 who might find themselves in a circumstance where it's extremely difficult to gain employment. Some in that age category will do well and will be able to get employment. Many will find it very difficult.
Unfortunately, our society worships youth. We all hate seeing that invisible barrier that's up when people go to an employer and the employer finds out how old the person is or sees how old the person is and tends to not look seriously at the application. One area where I hope the government will look, and I hope there will be some discretion built into the regulations in this, will be in the field of those between the ages of 60 and 64.
On the provisions for the disabled, we're waiting for more specifics but we're not so apprehensive as we were at the beginning of the consultation process now that some of the details are out. We still want to hear, of course, from people across the province, but we were very apprehensive when first we heard some of the movements of the government in the direction of discounting some people who are disabled, those on the fringe, because you have to be substantially disabled.
Another tricky area when you talk to people who work with the recipients of social services will be that of people who are, to put it bluntly, hopeless alcoholics or hopelessly hooked on drugs, who will not be able to work easily until their illness is treated and they can come back into society. They don't have much sympathy from the general population, except, I'm told, when people experience it within a family. I have not had that experience so I can't say at first hand, but I've listened to others who have said that. Some welfare workers have said, "You have no idea what this is going to do when it happens."
I hope within the regulations, within the application of the legislation they look carefully at that, as I do with those who have psychiatric problems and are being compelled to find employment, when in fact employers are going to be extremely reluctant in many cases to employ those individuals. At least, that's the experience they've had in years gone by.
When I look at this time allocation motion, I express disappointment, I want to candidly say, not so much that debate in this House on this bill will be limited, but at the number of days that are allocated for public hearings. The government will make a case that it has, previous to the introduction of the bill, conducted some consultation and it has some consultation. But what people like to be able to react to, my friend from Algoma who has been here since 1975, both in opposition and in government, will know, is the final product the government brings forward in terms of its legislation.
That's why two days in Toronto with two-and-a-half-hour hearings and four days in the intersession will not be sufficient to get that input. I ask the parliamentary assistant and the minister to implore the government House leader to consider more time to have that kind of input. So far we have not seen that, but perhaps we will in the future.
I know as well that when we get into a circumstance of this kind -- and I will be allowing my colleague to intervene in this debate appropriately. In fact I am going to be in a position where I allocate equal time for my friend from Algoma and his colleagues to participate in this debate. I would like, for instance, to be able to debate the bill that the Minister of Natural Resources wants brought forward, certain amendments to some acts out there that are important. I want to say to him -- Mr Speaker, you would understand this -- that in the days --
When we spoke on the resolution -- my friend from Muskoka will remember this -- all of us in the opposition suggested that this would poison the atmosphere, that this would reduce the amount of cooperation you would see, as they tighten the noose on the opposition. Unfortunately, it has done that. So when I want to help out the Minister of Natural Resources with this legislation, I'm unable to do so when we're confronted with day after day of time allocation motions.
We also have had submitted to the table a bill which cuts off any further debate on the libraries act. We've had only a little over a couple of hours of debate on the libraries act, which adversely impacts libraries across our province. My own library was very concerned about this. In fact they met with the government members from the Niagara region, the Progressive Conservative members, and expressed those concerns.
I didn't get those concerns directly expressed to me because somehow the board decided it didn't want to meet with Peter Kormos and with Jim Bradley, two other members in the region. I'm the member for St Catharines, and they did not want to meet with us. I can't figure out why that was, that the library board in St Catharines would not want to meet with the three members: my friend Frank Sheehan, the member for Lincoln, who represent the western part of St Catharines; my friend Tom Froese, from the south end of St Catharines; and myself. Somehow the library board or someone on the library board decided that only the Conservative members would be consulted.
What was the "thank you" they got for that? The "thank you" was we're getting a time allocation motion that permits no more debate in this House on that bill. It will simply be rammed through the House. The consequences for libraries across this province will be very significant, because as all of us know, rich people, privileged people, can afford to buy the books. They've got a library of their own. They can afford to have the best tapes, CDs and other equipment. They can afford that, but the average person out there, particularly those of more modest income, find it difficult when you impose significant user fees or have to close libraries or restrict their hours of operation.
I can't believe that those who know of the needs of particularly children but others in our society would want to see them penalized so we can provide a tax cut for the most wealthy people in our society.
I want to provide to my friend from Algoma the time he is looking for to be able to canvass and address the significant issues. So I will conclude my remarks by saying to my good friend the member for Mississauga South, whose remarks I enjoyed very much today --
Here we have a situation where we have both these time allocation motions before the House and now, today, just now, the Clerk has handed to me a notice of motion that has been presented to the table by the government House leader for another time allocation motion on Bill 148, the city of Toronto bill. I guess once you do it, it gets easier to do it, and the more you do it, the more routine it becomes. It's sort of like, "The devil made me do it the first time and it gets easier each time I do it."
The devil in this case is the Premier's office, I suppose, and the Premier's office has made the government House leader do this initially and he's gotten to feel used to it and he's going to do it more and more and more to the point where on Bill 109, the libraries act, there hasn't even been any third reading debate and he is time-allocating it -- no debate at all. I'm hoping and I think the government House leader is considering perhaps we should have some third reading debate on Bill 109 -- I hope that's the case -- before we actually move on a time allocation motion. We'll see.
One of the reasons the government said it needed to have rule changes was because it wasn't able to get its legislation through quickly enough.
Before us we have a time allocation motion which says that on Bill 142 at second reading stage we will move further without any more debate or amendment and that this matter will be referred to the standing committee on social development. Now, the government members have said in this debate that they want to get the matter before committee quickly because they want to hear from the public. Yet I really question their sincerity when you look at the time allocation motion, because it says it will be referred to the committee in two days initially -- that means two and a half hours a day when the House is sitting, so you're looking at five hours during the week of September 29 -- then for only four days during the recess for hearings, and then only two days for clause-by-clause during the recess.
If the government were really serious about wanting to hear from the public, why is it only allocating in essence five days' time for hearings and then only two days for clause-by-clause? I hope that if there are many people interested in making presentations on this bill that the government would be willing to listen and to hear what they have to say and then to actually act on that when it comes to clause-by-clause discussion so there can be amendments that will respond to the concerns that are raised during the hearings.
I find the time allocation motion to indicate that there really isn't a great deal of sincerity, because then, when the matter comes back to the House, the allocation motion sets forward only one sessional day for third reading debate, and then a five-minute bell for a vote.
This is hardly an indication that the government is serious about listening to people, particularly when you're looking at a bill that is as complex as this one. This is a bill that deals with what the government calls its Ontario Works program and which also deals with significant amendments with regard to assistance for the disabled, which actually deals with two pieces of legislation: the Ontario Works Act and the Ontario Disability Support Program Act.
In our view, there are significant changes in the second one of these that can be supported. There will need to be amendments, but we think there are significant changes that are important for people with disabilities.
We think these two pieces of legislation should have been separated so they could be dealt with separately in this House. We have significant concerns about the Ontario Works Act. We suspect that those who appear before the committee, when it has those truncated hearings, will express some considerable concerns about the Ontario Works Act. There will also, I suspect, be people who will appear before the committee, if they have time, and who will say that they welcome a number of the changes proposed in the Ontario Disability Support Program Act.
For those of us who have concerns about the first and think the second is more supportable, it would be much better if they were separate so we could deal with them individually and vote on them separately. We really think it's unfortunate that the government would chose to time allocate and deal with these two pieces of very important legislation at once.
I really don't think the government has removed people with disabilities from the welfare system in doing this. What they have done is that they've removed them from the municipally run one and kept them at the provincial level.
The changes in the Ontario Works Act make regulations in 48 different areas, ranging from eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, conditions of workfare to rules for appeals, contractual relationships between the province and the Ontario Works delivery agents.
There are many people who took the Premier seriously when he said he wanted to get them work. They wanted to work. People want to be able to support themselves and their families. I'm not certain, though, that many of them understood when he said that that what he was talking about was maintaining them in the welfare system and requiring them to do these kinds of work projects for their benefits.
I'm also certain that many of the single parents in this province did not expect that it meant that they were going to have to go out on work projects once their children went to school, so that we are turning all their children into latch-key kids when they come home.
Also, I'm concerned about the lien against property proposed in this legislation.
There have been lots of concerns, and I suspect during the truncated hearings there will be many more, with regard to the so-called encrypted biometric information provided for in this legislation, that is, finger identification to determine who is actually carrying out their responsibilities under the act properly.
My area, Algoma district, is one of a few in the province that has been moving forward on the Ontario Works program. Right now we have somewhere between 60 and 90 people receiving benefits who are working for their cheques. That works out to less than 7% of the recipients in our area, yet it is one of the areas that is touted by the government as a success story. I'm not certain it is.
I think we should be doing everything we can to help people gain the skills they require to get jobs, to assist them into employment, to give them assistance in helping to raise their families and to ensure that the poorest among us have a future in this province. Unfortunately, I don't think this legislation is going to achieve that, and that's why I think we need to have more hearings.
I want to make one other point before I turn to the Ontario Disability Support Program Act. I am very concerned about the changes that say a person who is suffering from acute alcoholism or from other drug addiction will not be eligible for benefits. At least, that's the way I read it; I may be misreading it. But if that is the case, this is a very serious problem. If the person's disability is the result of I guess self-inflicted problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse, they are no longer eligible. What happens to those people if they can't work, if they are disabled because of an illness? That's what alcoholism is. What happens to them and what happens to their families? I'm very concerned about this. That is of significant concern to me.
I'd like to turn to the questions of disability. The stated objective is to move persons with disabilities who are receiving income assistance and benefits from the family benefits program out of the welfare system, where they say they shouldn't have been in the first place, which I agree with, and create a new and separate program for persons with disabilities to meet their unique needs and protect their benefits and to help remove barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. I agree with that purpose. I know the members opposite might find that hard to understand, that a member of the opposition could stand in his place and say he agrees with the government's purpose in a certain piece of legislation, but we do.
I certainly welcome the changes that will not exclude people in the early stages of degenerative conditions such as MS or other situations such as schizophrenia or clinical depression. But as I said, it appears from the legislation that those suffering from alcohol and drug addictions will not be considered disabled, and that I'm worried about.
These are matters that must be dealt with in the committee hearings, that must be responded to in the clause-by-clause analysis and amendment of the bill. It doesn't seem fair to me -- it's more than unfair -- that we protect those poor individuals who are suffering from conditions like schizophrenia and yet say to someone suffering from acute alcoholism that somehow they shouldn't be eligible.
I support this legislation. I think we should be dealing with the two of them separately so the concerns we have about Ontario Works can be dealt with separately from the disabled support program.
I don't think the time allocation motion is giving the required amount of time to properly deal with these questions. I know it isn't. The government is saying: "We've got to get on with it, we've got to move forward. It's time for the government to govern. The government can't continue to consult all the time." Surely these are issues that are so important to the people of Ontario that we will properly deal with them and not rush them through.
I hope this legislation means that people who are currently receiving income support will remain in the new program and that they will remain eligible in the future, that they won't be pushed out of the system and fall between the cracks. I'm concerned about the lien and repayment provisions which essentially will turn income assistance into a loan, and I need to know that someone who is a recovering alcoholic or suffers from aggression, depression or dyslexia will not be pushed out of the system.
With those remarks, I will say that I am very, very concerned about the tendency of the government to move to time allocation without giving proper time for debate in this House, for consultation with the public, for input from the public and for amendments. It seems the more often the government does it, the easier it is for them to do it.
These two pieces of legislation dealt with in Bill 142 should be separate. They should be dealt with separately. We should be having adequate hearings so that we can hear what the concerns are about them both, particularly the Ontario Works program, so that we can have proper amendments to improve the Ontario Disability Support Program Act and then move forward, rather than having a government that is so determined to move forward on its agenda that it isn't prepared to listen and give adequate time to ensure we do these things right.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'll be sharing my time with my colleague from Beaches-Woodbine.
We're debating this afternoon a time allocation motion with respect to Bill 142, which is essentially a bill that contains two brand-new pieces of provincial legislation. I want to direct my comments most particularly in response to the member for Chatham-Kent and the member for York-Mackenzie who spoke on behalf of the government benches in favour of this time allocation.
Both of them said: "We can't just have endless debate. It can't go on and on. It has just taken too long in the House." I was thinking, "What's the definition of too long"? I think they would respond by saying, "Well, we've had three days of debate on this."
I ask you and I ask most people, when you're looking at completely rewriting the laws of social assistance, creating two new pieces of legislation, one to deal with social assistance recipients who are employable and another piece of legislation to deal with creating a whole new plan of income support for members of the disabled community, three days of hearing from legislators who have points of view to represent on behalf of their own constituents and on behalf of constituencies, communities affected by this bill who have come to us, who have made representation, to say that three days is excessive or somehow dragging things out I don't think would be credible with the public.
I'm sure when I inform the public that three days in this Legislature means less than eight hours of debate -- because a sessional day of debate is from the time in the afternoon when orders of the day are called until 6 o'clock when the House adjourns -- on a very controversial bill which is actually two pieces of legislation -- I myself rose to speak to this bill, and with the rule changes and the limitation on length of speeches, I had 20 minutes to address this bill.
I chose in that time to address only the portion of the bill which dealt with income supports for members of the disabled community. I felt quite conflicted about that because in the critic responsibilities I have, as well as representing my own constituents, I have points of view to put forward on both sections of the bill. One of my critic responsibilities is disability issues. Therefore, that piece of legislation contained in this bill was quite important for me to address.
I'm also critic for children's issues and the social assistance piece of this, the Ontario Works Act, as it is called, has a profound impact on families and on children and the whole issue of child care in relation to employment opportunities. There is much I wanted to say about that as well.
But I only had 20 minutes. I did take some umbrage at the comment from the member for York-Mackenzie when he talked about having sat here for so long -- less than eight hours, again I'll point out -- and listened to so much rhetoric. I would challenge him to go back and look at the Hansard record.
For example, when I spoke for 20 minutes, dealing exclusively with the bill that deals with income supports for the disabled community, I made it clear that I largely supported the direction of that bill, where it was attempting to go, setting up a separate income support program that was apart and separate from social assistance for members of the disabled community, the kind of approach that would give a sense of more independence, of some more security, of flexibility in terms of moving in and out of the system.
But I also was very clear about a number of areas of the act that were problematic. I spent time explaining some of those and some of the areas I felt needed to be amended.
In 20 minutes I didn't get through the key areas of amendments to a substantive piece of legislation which is only one half of the bill.
I also pointed out that in the way in which this government proceeds, everything is on how quickly you can get it done. You don't slow down and you don't listen. You're not willing to take the time to get it right. But you also, in combining two major pieces of legislation like this, have put members of the House in a very difficult position -- myself, for example, who generally supports the direction of the disability income support act, which I would vote in favour of on second reading to get it out to public hearings, and then try, after public hearings, to work with the government to amend the bill in significant areas. Then I would have to see whether those amendments were carried forward and how the government responded to my suggestions to determine whether I could support it on third reading.
But in terms of the Ontario Works portion of this, on second reading, in principle I am opposed to this, so what do I do when the vote comes? You have combined two very disparate, separate pieces of legislation together in one. Not only that, you've now time-allocated it with less than eight hours of discussion in the House.
I always remain more concerned about what happens after second reading in the House because then we go out to public hearings. That's where we have the opportunity to have input from members of the public, from affected constituencies. That's where we're supposed to listen and get ideas. We're supposed to have the opportunity, in discussion with members of the public, to look for ways to improve the bill if it is improvable. Followed by that, MPPs in clause-by-clause in committee actually deal with the amendments.
The member for York-Mackenzie said very clearly when he was making his remarks -- I believe the member for Chatham-Kent did as well -- that they wanted to get this debate over in the House, this useless portion where MPPs speak because we've got nothing valuable to offer. I guess that's what was being intimated when the member for York-Mackenzie said he just heard a lot of rhetoric. As I said, I took great offence and I'd like him to check the record in terms of my participation in this debate.
When they said they want to get it to committee because they want to hear from the public, they want to have good public participation on these two pieces of legislation combined into one bill, I point out to you that the time allocation motion sets out two days when there are regularly scheduled meetings. That means two and a half hours on each of those days. That's five hours of hearings here in Toronto. And there are four days during the intersession, four days to hear from the rest of the province of Ontario -- five hours in Toronto, four days for the rest of the province for two substantial pieces of legislation, brand-new, that bear no relationship to the past. These are brand-new pieces of legislation that will affect an extraordinary number of people's lives in this province.
That's all the time you're giving to the public hearings that you say is what's driving this time allocation motion, that you want to get out and you want to hear from people? Quite frankly, that is not believable. What is believable is that you're ramming through your agenda yet again and that you want this all done and passed before the end of this legislative session. By December you want all this out there and being implemented and that's more important than taking the time to hear. In fact, you could have more hearings and hear from the public in a more substantive way and not affect the bottom line of your timetable at all.
During the intersession in terms of committee hearings there are three weeks available and you've provided for four days. That is not acceptable, but it certainly lends no credence to the words of the members for Chatham-Kent and York-Mackenzie that they really are interested in hearing from the public.
I want to suggest to you that it is possible during those three weeks to expand the amount of time available to hear from people. Even though I disagree with you proceeding with a time allocation motion today, you could, during that intersession period, during those three weeks, make more time available to hear from members of the public and from affected communities in a more substantial way.
I remind you again these are two brand-new pieces of legislation. This is not just one act. You've combined it together improperly. The first thing you should have done was split this bill, but you've combined it together and then you've given the public four days. I think that's not satisfactory, so I guess the only thing I can do, in suggesting to the government that more time be made available for hearings but in such a way that it doesn't affect the bottom line of your time agenda of when you want this done, is to provide an opportunity for the government to do that and that's by moving an amendment.
So, Mr Speaker, I would like to move the following amendment: That government notice of motion 32 be amended by adding the following paragraphs:
"That all members of the standing committee on social development be provided with a list of organizations and witnesses who have requested to appear before the committee and how many were denied that opportunity due to lack of time;
"That such report be delivered prior to the commencement of the first public hearing and that the committee be authorized to conduct an additional four days of public hearings during the recess, should the committee be informed that a significant number of Ontario citizens would be otherwise denied the opportunity to appear before their elected representatives and provide their assessment of Bill 142."
"That all members of the standing committee on social development be provided with a list of organizations and witnesses who have requested to appear before the committee and how many were denied that opportunity due to lack of time;
"That such report be delivered prior to the commencement of the first public hearing and that the committee be authorized to conduct an additional four days of public hearings during the recess, should the committee be informed that a significant number of Ontario citizens would be otherwise denied the opportunity to appear before their elected representatives and provide their assessment of Bill 142."
Four days during a three-week intersession is what you have provided for. I have suggested that if in the committee's opinion there are significant numbers of people who want to present to the committee who wouldn't be heard, the committee can decide to hold an additional four days of hearings. I think eight days of hearings on two major bills like this is totally unsatisfactory, but I'm trying to put something forward where there is this much chance that the government might support it.
Let me run through it again. Right now, your time allocation motion says, during the three-week intersession, four days only of hearings on this important bill that contains two brand-new acts, two brand-new pieces of legislation. I'm suggesting that if the committee feels that there are significant numbers of people who have requested to appear who would not be offered an opportunity to appear, they could increase that to four additional days. So it would be eight days in total during a three-week period. There's lots of time to fit that in. It doesn't change one iota when you finish the clause-by-clause and the amendments process or when you report out to the House and you finish third reading. It doesn't change the bottom line of your time limit on this at all. What it does is provide an opportunity that if it's necessary, in the committee's opinion, there could be greater opportunity for public input into this bill.
I point out to you that the committee has a majority of government members, so you are the ones who will be able to decide if a significant number of people -- significant enough, in your opinion -- have applied and/or whether there should be four more days of hearings. You will be able to control that decision. If you don't pass this amendment, the committee has no ability, if it feels it's necessary, to increase the number of days, because the House will have passed a motion which supersedes anything the committee might do, saying you only have four days.
I really believe this is not enough, but I am trying to do something to effect a compromise here about a bill that I feel particularly strongly about. I have offered very constructive criticisms about the half of the bill that deals with the income support plan for members of the disabled community. I have suggested amendments that will be required. I have offered my support in principle for the direction of that bill. I have told you that I do not support the other half of that bill and I have not had the time in this House to address the reasons why for that. I have tried through this to be very constructive in dealing with the government, and the amendment I put forward I believe is a reasonable approach.
I'm sure, when I look at some of the other time allocation motions that have come forward, that I'm asking the government to take a big step here, and I understand that. I was absolutely appalled when I saw the time allocation motion that was tabled yesterday with respect to Bill 109, the Public Libraries Act, because in that time allocation motion -- that bill, by the way, completed second reading in less than the required time. The parties agreed to expedite it out to hearings. Public hearings have been held, amendments have been dealt with, and it's time to come back into the House for third and final reading. The government's time allocation motion says there will be no third reading debate. We're just going to have a vote.
I was appalled by that because I believe in the parliamentary process. When a bill goes through second reading and it is approved in principle by this House, it then goes out to a process of committee to be dealt with in terms of the details, to hear from the public and to deal with amendments subsequent to what legislators have heard from the public.
That bill has been amended. It is not the same bill that the government introduced into this House. To think that you would come back in and simply have a vote on it, carried by the government majority, in which you would not allow any time -- an hour, two hours -- on the record to state the opinion of legislators with respect to that bill after it had gone through public hearings and the amendment process is a complete violation of the parliamentary process.
I am genuinely appalled that you would think that is appropriate. Third reading debate is often expedited, but it is an opportunity to put on the record the response of the Legislative Assembly members to a bill that has been altered from when it was introduced by the government at first reading. That bill went through first and second reading in this House, it went through public hearings and went through amendment. It is no longer the same bill. I don't care what your rules say, you have no right to force a process where there is just a vote and there is no third reading debate, there is no input into the legislative record of this assembly in Ontario of what has occurred to this bill as it went through the public hearing process and the amendment process.
Third reading debate is there for a purpose, my friends, and for you to move time allocation motions that say there will be no third reading, you simply come in here and vote your majority, is a complete affront to parliamentary precedent and to parliamentary process.
Today your time allocation motion attempts to truncate the public hearing process. I say to the member for York-Mackenzie, who said over and over again he wanted to get this out for public hearings, on a bill as substantial as this, which has two brand-new pieces of legislation contained in it -- and you know my opinion that they should be separate, they shouldn't be joined. To only allow, during that three-week intersession, four days of public hearings -- you've got five hours here in Toronto and then four days to deal with the rest of the province -- for two major pieces of legislation doesn't suggest you're interested in hearing from the public at all.
The amendment I'm putting forward would allow the committee, in the committee's wisdom -- you control the committee; you've got the majority vote on it -- to increase that number of days by an additional four if the committee felt that was necessary. In week 3 of the intersession, you can still have your two days of clause-by-clause, it can still be reported when the House comes back, and it can still be passed on the very same time line that is so important to you in your agenda.
I implore the members to consider this. This does not tie you into anything other than giving the committee some flexibility, and I suggest there will be outrage in this province from those affected, although maybe you are counting on those people who don't have a very strong voice out there; maybe you're counting on the fact that other people won't care that they are not being listened to. If that is the case, that is despicable. You have the opportunity to still pass your bill in the same time frame but allow for more public debate. I hope the members would give consideration to that.
I remind you that we have seen a remarkable change in government positioning in the last week or so, since the polls came out that showed the government in a free fall and the Liberals climbing to lofty heights. I'm sure they are all feeling quite heady about those results.
That free fall you are in has been backed up with information to the government that people out there, even if they like the direction you are going in in some areas, think you are moving way too fast, and the big thing is that you don't listen. It has become the hallmark of your government that you do not listen. You move ahead too quickly and you don't pay attention to detail. You are going to create chaos in terms of the implementation of many of these things.
We've seen the Premier all of a sudden, after stonewalling for so long, willing to meet with labour. Amazing photo op. We're seeing other sorts of things happening in terms of how bills being called before the House and what bills are being called. There is clearly an attempt on the part of the government to change the image and to say, "We're listening." Let me tell you, if you want to contribute to that reformation of your image out there, then you will support an amendment that allows a committee to determine whether they want to add four days to the public hearings if in their opinion a significant number of people who want to be heard wouldn't be heard, and it can be done in a way that does not affect at all the time frame.
I don't think there is much more that can be said about that. I have attempted to stress the reasonableness of my approach with this amendment. It is not something that puts you off-kilter or delays anything. It allows for more public input if in the committee's opinion that is required to deal with the volume of interest. Your reasonableness will be judged by your response to that. At that point I will wind up my comments on the motion to amend.
I see no reason why the proposal before the House today would not accomplish the intent the member for Beaches-Woodbine is seeking to accomplish without going to this amendment she has tabled at this time. It would not be my intention to support the amendment the member has made. I am confident that we will achieve the same degree of consultation the member is seeking without that amendment.
The reason it's a reasonable request at this point in time is that we now have the final version of the government's previous consultation, limited as it was, and that is the bill itself. People will need the opportunity to comment on the final version of the government's thinking on this issue. It seems to me if you limit it to four days of full-day hearings -- keep in mind the two other days of hearings in Toronto will be about two and a half hours -- we are not going to have that kind of input.
This bill enjoys in its principle probably some considerable support in the province. I and other members of the opposition see some merit in a significant number of the provisions of this bill, but we believe it can be substantially improved if you give the people of Ontario, through public hearings across the province, that additional opportunity to have input into the process.
You are shortening this process -- the debate in this House -- and as I indicated in my remarks previous to the amendment being placed before the House, I happen to believe that the bill can be improved if you are going to hear from more people in more communities and in more circumstances. If you truly want to consult, if you truly want to get that input, I believe you will acquiesce to this very reasonable amendment that has been placed by the member for Beaches-Woodbine and is supported by the Liberal Party. Or if you wish to take the initiative yourself, I am sure she is not simply looking for the credit of putting this forward. If you want to adopt it yourself as a government amendment, I'm sure the member for Beaches-Woodbine would be delighted to see that happen.
If you do not do so, we can only draw a legitimate conclusion that you want to severely limit the amount of input on this bill and that the minds of the people who really run the government, the advisers to the Premier, are made up and that you're not going to seriously consider the input from those who will take the time, effort and energy to appear before the committee in various communities. That would be indeed unfortunate.
There will be people who will say you are arrogant as a result, that you are not open to new suggestions. The line you have all been given by the Premier's office to use is that anybody who disagrees with you is for the status quo. I know they give out these little lines -- they're called the talking points for government members -- and you talk about status quo, the lost 10 years. Any of the sayings I hear coming from members right across the government I understand are the talking points, which almost make parrots out of government members. It's unfortunate but it does. Some of the members don't use those lines and I admire those who don't automatically use those lines.
I look to a nod of acquiescence from the government House leader to this very reasonable amendment. We will certainly be supporting it and I would say it would be virtuous for the government House leader to do so.
It's with respect to, on Orders and Notices, order number 33, which is the time allocation motion with respect to Bill 109. I raise it now because it was only printed in Orders and Notices today and I was afraid that by Monday it would not be a timely point of order.
I was wondering if you could provide to the House next week some sense of the parliamentary process and history with respect to three readings of the bill. This particular time allocation motion provides that there will be no debate or no input on the part of members of the Legislature at third reading. It goes straight to the vote. I was wondering if you could review parliamentary precedent, because I believe third reading is an opportunity and is an attempt to have on the record of the Legislative Assembly those changes that have been made to the bill since the first presentation of the bill to the House. In fact there should be time, even if it's limited. It should not be allowed under a time allocation motion to proceed straight to a vote. I'm wondering if you would at least look into that.
Ms Lankin has moved that government notice of motion number 32 be amended by adding the following paragraphs:
"That all members of the standing committee on social development be provided with a list of organizations and witnesses who have requested to appear before the committee, and how many were denied that opportunity due to lack of time;
"That such report be delivered prior to the commencement of the first public hearing and that the committee be authorized to conduct an additional four days of public hearings during the recess should the committee be informed that a significant number of Ontario citizens would be otherwise denied the opportunity to appear before their elected representatives and provide their assessment of Bill 142."
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, please say "aye."
All those opposed, please say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
I declare the motion lost.
Mr Johnson has moved government notice of motion number 32. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, please say "aye."
All those opposed, please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
I declare the motion carried.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Monday, September 8, Bill 148, the City of Toronto Act.
Tuesday, September 9, Bill 109, Local Control of Public Libraries Act, and Bill 152, Services Improvement Act.
Wednesday, September 10, Bill 140, Financial Services Commission of Ontario Act, and Bill 128, Uniform Federal and Provincial Child Support Guidelines Act.
Thursday, September 11, private members' public business, ballot items 95 and 96, and Bill 152, Services Improvement Act.
The House adjourned at 1805.
top | new search