7 OCTOBRE 1998 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1329.
But sadly, what we've seen over the course of the last three years is a government that has virtually abandoned this vital link to our past. We have seen dramatic cuts in support to Ontario's museums and community heritage organizations, and in fact a denial of any support to new museums in our province.
We have been witness to a withdrawal of all support to our local architectural community advisory committees, thereby removing all incentives for the preservation and restoration of designated heritage sites.
It's clear that we need to update the Ontario Heritage Act so that we can properly protect and maintain our natural and built heritage. Yet this government has made absolutely no moves in that direction.
The Minister of Culture has even refused to honour her public commitment to set up a heritage advisory committee for the province, a commitment that we call on her to make today.
The people of Ontario need a government that will stand up for our heritage, a government that understands that the promotion and protection of our heritage must remain a crucial part of all our communities.
On behalf of Ontario's hard-working heritage community and for all Ontarians concerned about their local heritage, I demand that this government take heed of the destruction their inaction has caused and recognize that such deliberate neglect will not be forgotten.
The leader of the group, Marilyn Dixon, says they understand that this lockout is caused by the government's policies, the policy of this government to provide a market-based model for the provision of home care. It is forcing reputable agencies like the Victorian Order of Nurses who have paid their nurses well and have had a good reputation of care into a position where they must ask for concessions.
These nurses are on strike because they cannot agree to the concessions they are being required to make. They believe it will interfere with the quality of care. We ask this government to change its market-based policy.
MUSKOKA-GEORGIAN BAY ECONOMY
Further evidence of the strength of the local economy was seen this summer when the town of Midland reported that building permits were up from the same time last year, from 129 to 170, with total building activity valued at over $4 million in Midland. Building activity is also on the rise in other parts of my riding.
Investments such as this have played an important role in creating jobs in Muskoka-Georgian Bay. In August, 3,000 new positions were created in Muskoka and the larger economic region including Victoria county, Northumberland, Haliburton and Peterborough. In this economic region, in August, the unemployment rate was 7.8%, down from 8.3% a year earlier. At the same time, in the Midland-Orillia area the unemployment rate was 6.2%, the lowest rate in six years for the region.
Simcoe county's welfare rolls are declining, due largely to the Ontario Works program. Since June 1995, the county's caseload has dropped nearly 35%. In Muskoka, the welfare caseload has declined by 61% since June 1995, from 1,998 cases in June to 775 in August 1998.
Much of the credit for the growth of this economy goes to the business community, which I would like to congratulate today.
Let us remember why this legislation is being introduced: to protect the public interest, to ensure the integrity of the government process, to avoid the culture of preferential treatment on the basis of who you know and how much you're willing to contribute to the governing party. This legislation should have been introduced at the beginning of this government's term, not now, near the end of its term. This legislation should have been in place when Mike Harris's government was privatizing road maintenance contracts, privatizing jails, holding bids for casinos, contracting out office management, closing hospitals etc.
If we'd had this legislation in place, we could have avoided the impropriety that clouded the Niagara casino contract. We would have known that Michael French, who was under contract with the government to advise on how the lucrative casino contracts were going to be awarded, was at the same time on a $100,000 casino contract for one of the bidders that was rated third and ultimately won the Niagara casino contract. Had this legislation been in place, as promised two and a half years ago, this clear, blatant conflict of interest would have been avoided by a responsible government.
This is simply outrageous. The federal government has no business endorsing a conference promoting the privatization of public education. The federal Liberal government should not be promoting its sale to the highest bidder. If Mr Marchi turned up to encourage investors who want to privatize Canada's health care system, Canadians would be demanding his resignation. Public education is just as important as public health care. We know the federal government's response to the crisis in post-secondary education. It has been to cut funding, cut programs, and now to turn over what's left to the private sector.
Privatizers won't be satisfied with freezing tuition fees that are already causing huge student debt. Students will be forced to pay more to return a profit to investors. Privatized education will make investors rich at the expense of our children and youth.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the dedicated members of 22 division of the Toronto police service and members of the Maximum 50 campaign community organization for working hard to combat high speeds on our local Etobicoke roadways.
The inception of the Maximum 50 campaign began with the efforts of Constables Ken Ball and Ted Holtzheuser from 22 division in Etobicoke, who identified dangerous patterns of speeding on our local roadways. With encouragement from Staff Inspector Roy Whittle and Sergeant Bill Turnbull, and with community backing from the chair and founding member of the committee, Mr Robert DiVito, as well as local Islington ratepayers' and residents' association president, Ross Vaughan, the Maximum 50 campaign was successfully launched.
I have been proud to contribute to this effort that saw 3,500 tickets issued in its last operational session and an incredible 200 tickets issued on the first day of the new operation this fall. I congratulate the officers of 22 division and members of the Maximum 50 campaign for their dedication to creating a safer Etobicoke community for ourselves and our children.
If in fact the funding formula is so great, why are so many schools in Ontario forced to raise funds through the sale of chocolate bars, almonds, magazines, pizza and hot dogs? Why is Mike Harris forcing the children of Ontario to go door to door selling goods in order to get a complete education?
If the funding formula is so great, why is St Anthony school forced to sell spaghetti dinners in order to buy math, science and technology supplies? Why is Pius XII forced to sell baked goods in order to buy computers? Why is St David school selling chocolate bars and turkeys to buy school supplies, for transportation, school uniforms, computers and library supplies? Why is Lansdowne Public School forced to sell magazines and chocolate-covered almonds to pay for school excursions and resources? Why is Algonquin Road Public School forced to sell Nevada tickets to pay for student activities? Why is St Raphael school holding regular bingos to pay for schoolyard improvements?
The real question is, if the funding formula is so great, why is Mike Harris forcing the kids of Ontario to go door to door doing the job this government should be doing?
FRANCOPHONE SCHOOL BOARDS
Number one, the government has not taken into account the needs of francophone teachers and boards in their collective bargaining this fall, considering that these boards were not even in existence before the beginning of September. It is unfair to the francophone community and to francophone teachers and the new francophone district boards that they will be unable to reach tentative collective agreements prior to the passage of legislation that controls what they can or cannot negotiate with regard to teacher working conditions, while other boards, separate and public, in the English system are allowed to do so.
Also, the division of assets between existing boards and these new francophone boards, be they public or Catholic, has not gone as it should. In the northeast, it was clear that the francophone community had one desire, and that was to make sure their schools had a critical mass of students which would allow them to get the options they need. Instead, the Education Improvement Commission decided against their desires.
I hope the government will take that into account -
SISTERS OF ST JOSEPH
At the closing of St Joseph's facility as a hospital, we have reached a milestone in health care. We, the community of Peterborough, owe a great deal of debt to these wonderful nuns. For 108 years these sisters worked in our community where they administered care and compassion to the sick, the injured and the heart-weary. Their serenity was very evident whenever we visited St Joe's, as it was affectionately known.
Their dedication and commitment extended through the difficult years of the Depression, the wars, and through the turmoil of changes to the health system during the past many years.
Addressing health care needs in the 1990s and into the new millennium has necessitated some major changes to our present system. Change is a difficult process, but true to form, the Sisters of St Joe's have been a catalyst to this change and have been active participants in restructuring the Peterborough hospitals.
Generations of families such as my own have memories of St Joe's Hospital, sometimes traumatic, of illness and death, and of course the happy memories of birth. One thing remained constant: the help and healing power of these wonderful nuns.
At this time, I want to express the appreciation of the province of Ontario to the Sisters of St Joseph, Peterborough, for their contribution to many years of excellent -
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Almost 20,000 people stopped relying on welfare in September alone. I think this is especially significant this week, during Family Week, to know that so many families and their children are no longer trapped in the welfare system. In fact, since this government was elected, more than 323,000 people have stopped relying on welfare and over 133,000 fewer children are now trapped on welfare than before.
This government is committed to helping children and families in a variety of ways and our reform of the welfare system is just one way we are accomplishing our goal. Under Ontario Works, our mandatory workfare program, single parents with school-aged children are now required to participate in activities designed to help them get back to work because we know, and the experts will tell you and families will tell you, that they are better off if one or both of their parents are in the workforce.
To support their efforts, we have increased funding from $30 million to $40 million for Ontario Works participants who require assistance with child care. This year the government is spending up to $700 million on child care services. We are helping the parents of over 73,000 children with the cost of their child care fees through subsidies. In fact, the Ontario child care system is now serving more children than ever before. Since this government took office, there are over 180 more child care centres and over 14,500 new child care spaces.
This spring, we also announced LEAP, Learning, Earning and Parenting, that will provide $25 million in child care subsidies and other supports to help single parents on welfare to finish school. We want single parents to have the same opportunities as others in Ontario Works. We want them to gain the skills they need to find and keep a job.
As members already know, Ontario Works has been up and running across the province for some time now. Already, more than 427,000 people have participated in one or more of the program's mandatory activities. People on welfare have told us that Ontario Works is making a difference in their lives. It is helping them to develop skills, make contact with potential employers and give something back to their communities.
We know that the majority of people leaving welfare are doing so for jobs. Two successive independent surveys have found that roughly 60% left welfare for job-related reasons. We also know that the majority of them left for full-time jobs at much more than minimum wage.
In short, the people in Ontario want to work and Ontario Works is helping them to do that.
The unfortunate thing is that here in the House we'll never hear the minister repeat what we found proof of out in the field across Ontario, whether we were in Cornwall or Chatham or London or Toronto, that 97% of all welfare recipients are not on workfare. After three years of Mike Harris in Ontario, after he promised to deliver, so called, "making people work for their benefits," 97% of all welfare recipients are in the programs that existed before this government took office. We know that is proven today. We have said it all along, that what people on assistance need are real opportunities to gain training and education opportunities for the workforce. This independent survey quoted today indicates that a minimum of 60% are finding employment out there. That's why they're leaving the system. It has nothing to do with so-called welfare reform by the Mike Harris government.
I will tell you that Bill 22, the Sleeping Beauty bill - because when it came to committee, the one MPP at committee fell asleep at the switch causing an entire new bill and debate in the Legislature, over seven hours' worth at $100,000 an hour of taxpayers' money, so quoted by the member from Scarborough, and that at taxpayers' expense. We ask the question: How many people could have gained through training and education with the $700,000 that was wasted because the government was forced to introduce the Sleeping Beauty bill?
What that bill allowed us to do was to travel Ontario to find out that in fact 97% of all recipients have nothing to do with the workfare program. Where new programs were introduced in Ontario, those programs are voluntary. Let me repeat: Where there are programs that are new in Ontario, those programs are voluntary.
In the minister's own riding of Durham, she went begging to the union officials there, "Please, let's make a deal, I would be prepared to settle for a voluntary program," so that she could politically stand up and say that a program, any program, was up and running in her own riding. This of course is the way it is right across Ontario - voluntary programs, not mandatory, making people work for their benefits.
We ask the question: You chose to write your policy on social reform on the back of a napkin for the last election. When it came time to have to implement real social policy that works for the people of Ontario, many of them were colleagues in the workforce until the downturn, who now were forced on to social assistance, people who could have been on the line at Chrysler or Ford but couldn't work and now found themselves on assistance. Those are the people you chose to identify as those people you're going to make work for their benefits. We expect more from this government in terms of social reform. We expect real opportunities for training and education.
I ask the minister to review why September was such a good month for that ministry, because that's when school starts. This same ministry kicked students off the social reform rolls and put them on a loan program, and that is the largest accounting of the change in numbers that she chooses to advance today.
The statements that come from estimates will prove that the transfers from the Comsoc ministry were the students who were booted off the system. That is the number one issue that student administrators at colleges and universities across Ontario are dealing with today, the fact that students who are trying to help themselves to be re-educated, retrained, get off the rolls, are not finding the kind of support so that they can pay their bills and finish their education.
What that means for people who are trying to help themselves is that they will find at the end of the day an enormous debt load with no ability to pay that debt. When that gets assumed by the government, the government will have paid twice for them. That simply is foolish social policy. We expect the government to do better than that.
There is a very serious problem here. I note that the minister doesn't care to hear about that problem. That's probably very indicative of where this government really stands. The fact of the matter is that poverty in Ontario is on the increase. Poverty isn't going down, poverty is going up, and child poverty is going up rapidly. The use of food banks is going up.
Leader of the third party.
The fact of the matter is that poverty is increasing in Ontario. The fact of the matter is that child poverty is increasing dramatically. The fact of the matter is that the number of people who are forced to use food banks to get something to eat on the table is increasing dramatically. The fact of the matter is that there are more homeless people in Ontario today.
What I hoped we would hear from the minister would be a strategy to deal with child hunger, a strategy to deal with child poverty, a strategy to deal with homelessness. No, this government and this minister want to ignore the reality of what's happening out there and they try to spin some numbers saying that their workfare program is a success.
Let's look at what is really happening. The fact of the matter is that a whole lot of people have been transferred to the new Ontario disability support program. The fact of the matter is that the government is using that transfer to the Ontario disability support program and trying to say that people have come off social assistance. The fact of the matter is that this government has now eliminated social assistance for students who are trying to go back to college or university, trying to get the skills they need to take part in the economy. How is the government trying to spin that? They're trying to say these people have come off social assistance and have found work. No, they haven't. You simply said to them that they don't matter, they don't count.
You have come here today and inflated the numbers and tried to tell people that the number of people living in poverty is down, that the number of children living in poverty is down, that the number of people who are homeless is down, that the number of people who have to rely on food banks is down, that the number of students who need some help if they're going to get back into the workforce is down. No, none of those is down. They are all up. There's a poverty problem, there's a child poverty problem, there's a hunger problem, there's a homelessness problem, and your government doesn't care.
If you want further evidence about how phony this is, simply look at the job numbers. Since April, Ontario has lost 22,000 jobs; 22,000 jobs have been lost in this province. That's Statistics Canada. I know this government doesn't want to listen to Statistics Canada. They would prefer to spin more of their propaganda advertising and prefer to believe that that is somehow more true than Statistics Canada studies. The fact of the matter is that Statistics Canada notes that this province has lost 22,000 jobs since April. That is the reality. So don't try to tell us that workfare is taking people and helping them to find jobs. The jobs are disappearing.
What you're doing is forcing people who are poor out in the street, into homelessness. You're forcing them into food banks. You're forcing them into situations where they and their children more and more live in poverty. Meanwhile, you're taking $5.5 billion, money out of health care, money out of education, money out of communities and you're going to give the wealthiest people in this province an income tax gift.
SECURITY OF LEGISLATIVE PRECINCT
Let me just say quickly that it's all part of the program that was adopted by this Legislature in their report. If you want a copy of the report, phone my office. But with respect to your point of order, I'll be happy to organize a meeting so I can bring the House up to speed.
INSTRUCTION TIME: MINIMUM STANDARDS ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR LES HEURES D'ENSEIGNEMENT : NORMES MINIMALES
Deferred vote on the motion for third reading of Bill 63, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to instructional time / Projet de loi 63, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation en ce qui concerne les heures d'enseignement.
The division bells rang from 1403 to 1408.
Baird, John R.
Eves, Ernie L.
Ford, Douglas B.
Guzzo, Garry J.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
McLean, Allan K.
Ouellette, Jerry J.
Parker, John L.
Rollins, E.J. Douglas
Runciman, Robert W.
Stewart, R. Gary
Tsubouchi, David H.
Young, Terence H.
Bradley, James J.
Brown, Michael A.
Cleary, John C.
Conway, Sean G.
Morin, Gilles E.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
Minister, today I want to talk to you about a specific situation at the Sunnybrook and Women's College Hospital. That's a shotgun marriage that you arranged. I want to talk to you specifically, Minister, about Tom Closson, the former CEO of Sunnybrook hospital.
Over the summertime the board of the former Sunnybrook hospital changed a provision in Mr Closson's contract. That change gave him the same amount of money if he decided to quit as he would have had, had he been fired. This meant that when Mr Closson did decide to resign in July, he was eligible to receive some $450,000 of public money.
Minister, what I want to know from you today is, were you aware of this arrangement and do you approve?
Minister, you're the one who cut $27.5 million from Sunnybrook and Women's budget. You forced the merger of these organizations. Did you not set the rules for what happens when these events take place?
Minister, you're causing 35 hospitals to shut down and that could be at least 35 more executive contracts with big payouts that will be taking place. In this case this person chose to leave, so that could be many more executives collecting these kinds of contracts.
Minister, have you not acted to protect the public interest? Do you not have guidelines for this? Do you have copies of the executive contracts that contain these kinds of provisions? If you do will you table -
Your cuts have caused the firing of thousands of nurses in this province. At Sunnybrook alone, the Ontario Nurses' Association tells us that 227,000 hours of nursing time has gone because of nurses who have been fired.
Minister, $450,000 buys a lot of nursing time, and we're sad to see that you're not interested in it. You talk about rules for disclosure over $100,000, but your government isn't prepared to do anything about the money that's going into these executive contracts. You've tried to blame administrators in the past, but now you've set up a situation where administrators are making more money by leaving hospitals than by staying there and doing a good job.
Will you agree to establish guidelines, and will you also stand up in this House today and apologize for not having taken the steps to limit the waste and to protect patients during the closings and the mergers that you caused in the first place?
As I say, our government has listened, our government is responding to nurses, and our government will ensure that nurses have a quality of life and working conditions that we can all be proud of.
You're not standing it down? Okay. Member for York South.
On the 19th and 20th of this month there is a joint ministers' meeting addressing Canada's response to the environment, and it's imperative that health ministers be there. We assume you're going to be there, Minister, protecting Ontarians. What we want to know is, what is the plan that you'll be bringing to Halifax to ensure that the environment doesn't inflict more damage on the health of Ontarians?
We also appreciate the leadership that has been taken by the Suzuki foundation in bringing forward to the public's attention, because we think that is very important, the health effects of air pollution and climate change.
Certainly Ontario will continue to work with the federal government and we will continue to work with provincial governments in order that we can reach our goals as quickly as possible.
As the Minister of Health, are you going to Halifax? Are you taking notice of this problem and the health of Ontarians? Have you done anything up to now to prepare us for the impact on people's health? Do you acknowledge that you, as the Minister of Health, have a role to play here in protecting Ontarians from the ravages of the sulphur you put in the air, the lack of environmental protection taking place? Will you go to Halifax and will you go there with a plan that you'll tell us about today?
One of the things Ontario did in the last meeting and will be doing in this meeting is ensuring that, when we're talking about Kyoto and the global warming concept, a sector table be set up which will include health care professionals. In the last meeting we encouraged ministers from across Canada to include a whole number of sectors. I believe very strongly after my meeting with Dr Suzuki this morning that a health care sector table is very important. I believe I can put that particular idea forward on behalf of the Minister of Health at that meeting.
Minister, you don't get it. Some 6,000 Ontarians die prematurely every single year due to your incompetence, your lack of action, and you sit there and smugly talk about a plan for what to do in the future. Kids who have asthma end up in hospitals much more in Ontario than anywhere else across Canada. You don't seem to get it. You have cut the budget, you have cut environment, you've abandoned standards, and you sit there and talk about, "Well, we're working together." It's garbage. Nobody believes you. You have no credibility left. That's why we were hoping the Minister of Health would have more guts and courage than you to take on the issue, but she has proven to be simply as irresponsible as you in dealing with environmental problems.
Very simply, this is a crisis. We have an emergency situation. Will you today commit to convene an emergency meeting of health and environmental experts in Ontario to draw up a plan to immediately deal with this crisis that you and your ministry have caused?
The Drive Clean program that I talked about in terms of dealing with vehicle emissions testing is going to be the largest program affecting the most citizens of Ontario that has ever been done. This program will be starting on January 1 of next year, a tremendous program -
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
On Monday you confirmed that where women appear in family court without a lawyer, because they can't afford a lawyer, they have to serve their own court documents on their former abusive partners.
Last Thursday, October 1, on one of the days when we raised this issue and it was ignored by your government, a woman was forced to do this very thing. She was forced to serve court documents on her former abusive husband. In the process of doing that, he ran her down with a car, deliberately. She suffered injuries to her shoulders and a broken wrist.
Minister, when are you going to take this issue seriously? When are you going to change your policy and instruct the courts to serve these documents?
I have certainly advised the court services people to make known those various options, which include private process serving, mail and also, if there is no other way, the use of court process servers for this limited purpose. I have indicated that's a message that should be reinforced. I know that is the directive that has gone out to the different offices around the province, and I will again check and confirm that is the case. We want all of those options to be available.
Minister, how many more women have to be placed in these kinds of very risky situations by your government? How many more women have to be hurt before you'll change your policy and do the right thing?
As I've indicated to the member, I will again ensure that the directive I have been told has been sent to every court office has in fact been sent to every court office; that private process servers can be made available for the purpose of serving these documents; that if that is not viable, the alternative of service by mail be reinforced; and that if there is no other way the documents can be served, the court office will arrange for service of those documents. That will be something I will again reinforce with court offices around the province.
Minister, I hope this situation frightens you as much as it frightens me. Let me remind you that eight more women have died since those jury recommendations came forward. This woman, who was hit by the car deliberately, could have been another victim, and this time directly because of the cuts you made.
On Monday you said you had the implementation committee up and running. We know that no committee has been formed. Yesterday you said you were getting it underway. The experts, who spent every day, 51 days, at those hearings, are here today: Eileen Morrow, from the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, and Fiona Sampson, from the Metro Action Committee on Public Violence Against Women and Children, are here in the gallery. They are the ones who know the issues. Your bureaucrats don't know the issues.
Would you go out there today after question period, sit down with them and invite them to sit with you and form this implementation committee today?
I can tell the member that we have done a significant amount of the initial implementation of recommendations as a result of the May-Iles inquest. One of those is to develop this committee process, and that is in the course of being done. Meetings are taking place and we intend to comply with the recommendations that have been made.
My next question is for the Minister of -
Minister, can you tell us why, then, you have directed the curriculum project managers to change the grade 9 and 10 curriculum policy documents by deleting "education about discrimination and anti-discrimination," deleting "education about native people," and deleting "education about violence prevention"? Why have you instructed that these things should be deleted from the curriculum?
"Part 1: Delete cross-curricular considerations" - education with respect to anti-racism; education with respect to anti-discrimination - "delete violence prevention; delete education about native people."
Why would one of your officials be sending out this kind of directive to the people who are working on the curriculum? Minister, don't you think these things are important in our high school curriculum? Don't you think these things ought to be addressed? The last time I checked, this city is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. The last time I checked, some of these issues are very serious. Why are you deleting them?
These are important issues. You don't sort of add them on to the curriculum. They aren't extras that you put in at the end. These are issues that have to be integrated into the classroom on a daily basis by teachers. They have to be part of the curriculum if that's going to happen. Why have you done this, Minister? Why did you not release the booklet from B'Nai Brith? Why have you deleted education on anti-discrimination? Why have you deleted from the curriculum the issues dealing with anti-violence? Why are you taking all of these important issues out of the curriculum? Don't they matter in Conservative Ontario?
I know that those teachers and those university and college representatives forming the teams to develop the secondary school curriculum are going to come forward with the best possible product for secondary school students in Ontario. I have that confidence, and I know they're going to come forward with it, regardless of the innuendoes of the leader of the third party.
PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
What I'm really concerned about is the last line of this memo. It states as follows: "The important addition here is the day of workshops with ministers and policy staff prior to the annual meeting. This will give everyone an opportunity to participate in decisions."
Will you tell me, Minister, is it the policy of this government that you can buy decisions from the government on the payment of $325?
As I've mentioned before, we've done many things in this province to deal with air quality problems. The most recent one, as I mentioned previously, is our Drive Clean program. We have lowered the gas volatility in gasoline during the summer period of time to improve our air quality here. We have a smog rover. We have a smog patrol. We have a whole plethora of initiatives we've taken in air quality and we are continuing to work on this with groups like David Suzuki's.
You know that every year we've had bad air days. We've had 12 bad air days this year and it will increase again next year. You know that it affects infants and elderly people most. You are holding the children of this province ransom to a future they aren't responsible for. Don't stand there and tell me you're doing something about it.
What I want to ask you, Minister, is this: I want to know if you accept the results of this study completely, and are you prepared to accept any of the recommendations in this document?
On January 1, we will have the first car tested in the province with regard to the vehicle emissions testing program. After that we'll have over 120,000 cars each and every month tested in this province to deal with the air pollution problems they might encounter. I think that's a significant improvement here.
I have only received the report, but I have looked at some of the recommendations. In fact, we are in full support of many of the recommendations in Dr Suzuki's report and are working to embrace even more. They require legislation; they require policy shifts. We will be working with groups like Dr Suzuki's to improve even a better system for our environment, and we believe we've improved it a great deal already.
In my riding of Guelph, a number of citizens are very concerned about preventive programs. There's an old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I'm wondering if you could please tell us, Minister, what programs the Ministry of Health is undertaking along the line of good health and prevention strategies.
One of the programs that we have undertaken, because we are seeing an increase in diabetes, is a diabetes prevention strategy in order that we can identify the health risk to people as early as possible.
We're also moving forward with a tobacco strategy.
We also, as you know, introduced a healthy heart program. It's a $17-million commitment over five years which we believe will certainly have an impact on reducing the number of cardiac procedures that are required, if people simply undertake a few steps.
We have the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children initiative, which again focuses on screening all children at birth, and we have the preschool speech and language program, which deals with preschoolers in order that they can get the best start in life possible.
My supplementary to you is, do you have ways of determining in the ministry how effective these prevention programs are, and are we in fact seeing good results from these programs being implemented?
If we take a look at the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program -
This is a board that went through all the right steps in submitting to your ministry the applications for funding for their special needs students. They received confirmation that 97% of their applicants were approved. The board was told by your ministry that they were to receive $4.6 million in funding. They have now been told that they will get only $2.5 million, less than 50% of that, this year. The chair of the special advisory committee called this a crisis for the special-needs students in their board.
Minister, you promised in your funding formula to provide funding for every student with special needs who met your criteria for funding. Will you today provide the funding that you promised to these special-needs students?
There is another process taking place as well, even with the $1 billion, to ensure that each and every special-needs student gets the kind of services they've had in the past: an independent audit taking place which is nearing completion. Those monies will flow to each and every board across the province of Ontario.
Minister, special-needs kids can't wait while you keep your promises over the course of the next two years. They are not the only -
I also tell the Minister of Education that this is not the only board affected. The London Catholic board of education was denied $500,000 of the money which should have gone to them for their special-needs children under your funding formula. They are also considered to be victims of your failure to keep your promise.
Minister, I ask you today, will you provide the money you promised to these special-needs children, or will you personally go to Peterborough and decide which 50% of those kids go to school this year and which half stay home?
It's clearly on the record that the federal minors' permit policy was intended to be by exception. Prior to your changes, it was administered that way in Ontario. OPP Sergeant Bill Hocking confirmed, in a CP article, that despite the federal policy that you point to, police in Ontario do not in practice issue permits to children younger than 15. The reason for that is that there are no legitimate reasons to issue permits to children younger than 15 because they were not legally allowed to hunt. By making hunting licences available to 12-to-15-year-olds, you, not the feds, are making gun permits available to 12-to-15-year-olds; you, not the feds, are putting guns in the hands of 12-year-olds. Why, Minister?
In this program, we specifically do not allow the apprentice in the hunting activity to use their own weapon; in fact, they have to use a weapon that they would share with a licensed adult hunter. They can do so only with the permission of their parents, and they can do so only after they have completed about 25 hours of training, so as to be able to enter the sport in a safe manner, understanding the ethics and safe practices of hunting.
Ontarians don't agree with this policy. Let me give you the results of an Oracle Research poll in Sudbury. Some 94% were opposed to allowing 12-year-olds to have guns to hunt. Even with all of your padding of training and supervision, 67% opposed your new policy.
Minister, Ontarians don't want their government to let children hunt with guns. Will you please do the right thing and reverse this dangerous and downright stupid policy of the Harris government?
If the member opposite has a problem with a young person holding a firearms licence, then the member opposite should address the federal government, because that's where those standards are set.
Last evening in this House the member for Fort William stood up and stated, "I'll look forward to the day when the parliamentary secretary to education gets up and explains why Ontario is the only province that doesn't have a training agreement with the federal government." I think the member should know that the federal government in fact has been stalling. They're stalling in the effort to come to the table to make an agreement so that the people who require training in Ontario have the same opportunities as people in other provinces and territories to receive the kind of training they deserve and need.
Last night, 700 parents packed a meeting in Stratford, desperately concerned about rural school closures. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is trying to explain it to you. I have been trying. Your government just doesn't get it.
The member for Perth says school closings are not unusual, merely "a continuation of closing the little red schoolhouse." Let me tell you, Minister, Romney school in my riding was not a little red schoolhouse. It was the first central graded school in the county, opened by William Grenville Davis and Darcy McKeough. They applauded the foresight and courage of the residents in forming a township school area, and you have caused it to close. Romney Central is the social, cultural and economic heart of the community.
When are you going to fix your funding formula to recognize the importance of rural and community schools in Ontario?
I can only say that we are funding an unprecedented number of schools, about 200 schools over the next three years, with a flow of about $1.5 billion in extra funding.
"`It leaves us in a bad situation as far as negotiating contracts. We just don't have the bucks. Funds have been provided in individual funding envelopes, with very little flexibility to move from one area to another. It's essentially left board officials with almost no input on any of their spending decisions. There's not a heck of a lot we can do,' said the chair of the board. `We can do our budget in half an hour because the government made all the decisions.'"
The chair of our school board was a Tory candidate in 1995.
What do you say to Mr Kennedy and, more importantly, what do you say to the parents, students and communities of Walkerville and Lowe who face school closures as a result of your incompetence, your underfunding, your cuts? What do you say to your candidate in my community about our schools that are going to be closed because of your cuts? What do you say to them, Minister?
The OSSTF in Durham says, "The Durham District School Board has access to millions of dollars more this year than ever before," and they have enough money "to settle with the teachers and open secondary public schools immediately."
The director of the York Region District School Board says, "The funding formula is wonderful news."
We need to allow the school boards -
My question to you, Minister, is quite simple: What are you going to do to fix the inadequate system that you have changed that makes Urgel pay more taxes than he did last year?
The problem we have over here is not what the municipality has done; it's what you have done by merging the school boards together in our area. We have had a number of school boards that have been merged together, and as a result the directive from your government was that they were to average the tax rate applied for school taxes on commercial property tax assessment. As a result of the decision of your government - not the municipality of the city of Timmins; your government, your Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance - we have seen school taxes on commercial property tax assessment go up by how much? By 159%.
Minister, what are you going to do to fix the problems you have created for the commercial taxpayers in my community and other communities across this province?
Did your municipality adopt a three-tiered commercial rate?
Did they assign a lower commercial rate for the smallest commercial properties in their municipality so they could pay one tenth or one third or one quarter, whatever they choose? They know who the small commercial properties in their municipality are. Did they choose that tool, yes or no?
Did they create any new classes? We created four new classes. Did they create even one, let alone four, in their municipality, yes or no?
They have the option to phrase it in over eight years. Did they do that, yes or no?
They have the option to have a zero tax increase for any senior citizen, any disabled person in their municipality. Did they offer that, yes or no?
When you start to answer some of those questions, those are responsibilities of municipalities. They've asked for increased control, they've asked for increased ability, responsibility; they have it.
TVOntario's television broadcasts have always been a teaching tool. However, today's teachers and students need a wider choice of resources that reflect growing information technology. I wonder if the minister could provide further detail regarding the technology component of his TVOntario announcement.
As members know, on June 26 we announced the outcome of our review of TVOntario. We said we believed at that time, and we still believe, that there's a role for the province to play in supporting lifelong learning, and returning ownership in a restructured and refocused TVOntario will help with that.
To get there, TVOntario will be structured - Mr Speaker, I know you're keen to hear this - into two divisions, one broadcasting and one that will deal with the application of new technologies to learning, lifelong learning in all categories of one's life these days. The centre will serve as a platform for the application of that technology. I'm quite excited that in addition to just the standard medium of TV, when this facility is up and running and operational we'll be able to see the application of today's new technologies to the broad spectrum of lifelong learning here in Ontario.
TRANSPORTATION OF DANGEROUS GOODS
"Whereas a tractor-trailer truck carrying a variety of explosives was involved in a single-vehicle accident on Highway 17 west, near Sudbury, causing an explosion which destroyed a 100-foot section of the highway and created a crater 15 feet deep;
"Whereas a shock wave, resulting from the explosion broke doors, windows, frames and soffits on houses, causing significant personal and property damage;
"Whereas the residents of Ontario have the right to know what emergency plans are in place when dangerous cargo is being transported on our highways;
"Whereas the residents of Ontario have a right to know what protections are in place for residents who live in close proximity to vehicles carrying destructive materials;
"Whereas the residents of Ontario have the right to know what restrictions and precautions the Ministry of Transportation places on companies who haul dangerous cargo;
"Therefore be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Ontario Legislature to demand that the Mike Harris government call a public inquiry into this accident in order to make recommendations that will ensure this type of horrific accident does not happen again and to answer the many questions the people of northern Ontario have," for which this Minister of Transportation, Tony Clement, has provided to date no answers at all and will not, as minister, call a public inquiry into this horrific accident.
This is signed by approximately 2,000 people, and I affix my signature to it.
"Whereas the Harris funding cutbacks are having a devastating impact on hospitals and patient care across Ontario, and have resulted in an anticipated $38-million deficit at the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp hospitals; and
"Whereas the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp hospitals will receive $4 million less in revenue from the Ministry of Health and other sources; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris funding cuts are causing a crisis in hospital care in Hamilton-Wentworth, with hospitals facing huge deficits, cuts to patient care and bed closings; and
"Whereas Scott Rowand, president of the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp hospitals, spoke out recently in the Hamilton Spectator saying, `For the first time in my career, I don't know how to fix this problem other than an awful lot of closures of programs and services needed by the community'; and
"Whereas Mr Rowand went on to say: `We need more cash in the system and we need it now. And that is cash to deal with the issues that we are dealing with today. Don't ask us to do anything more because people in the system are at their limit.'
"Therefore we, the undersigned, demand that the Harris government stop underfunding Ontario's hospitals to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and act immediately to restore funding to the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp hospitals so they can continue providing quality health care services to the people of Hamilton-Wentworth."
I continue to support these petitioners by adding my name.
"Whereas the PC Party promised in the Common Sense Revolution to cut provincial income taxes by 30% in three years; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government lived up to that promise; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government did so six months ahead of schedule" - surprising - "and
"Whereas Ontario now has the lowest provincial income tax rate and 91% of all taxpayers now have seen a tax cut of 30% or greater; and
"Whereas this results in 655,000 lower-income families and individuals paying no income tax at all; and
"Whereas Ontario's strong economic climate has contributed to the private sector creating over 375,000 net new jobs in Ontario since 1995; and
"Whereas Ontario's outdated property tax system has been replaced by the new Ontario fair assessment system; and
"Whereas the new system is fairer, clearer and more consistent; and
"Whereas low-income seniors and the disabled are protected from sudden tax increases; and
"Whereas changes to the Development Charges Act will make new homes more affordable; and
"Whereas high-income earners now pay a new fair share health care levy; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has introduced a rigorous new road safety program that includes some of the toughest measures to cut back drunk and dangerous driving; and
"Whereas we promised in the Common Sense Revolution to maintain health care spending at no less that $17.4 billion annually" - unlike the Liberals - "and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has exceeded this spending every year since it was elected; and
"Whereas total health care spending for 1998-99 will be in excess of $18.5 billion, the highest in Ontario's history; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has achieved this despite cuts in transfer payments from the federal Liberal government of more than $2.4 billion; and
"Whereas this recent survey of the Fraser Institute provides that health care waiting lists in Ontario are the shortest anywhere in Canada; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government is placing a greater emphasis on community-based health services in order to better care for an aging population; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government is eliminating waste and duplication in the health care sector and reinvesting every penny we find into quality services, and this results in an investment of over three billion new dollars;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to proceed forthwith with the commitment made in the Common Sense Revolution and to continue to pursue policies which make Ontario the best place to live, to work and to raise a family."
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
"Whereas nurses in Ontario often experience coercion to participate in practices which directly contravene their deeply held ethical standards; and
"Whereas pharmacists in Ontario are often pressured to dispense and/or sell chemicals and/or devices contrary to their moral or religious beliefs; and
"Whereas public health workers in Ontario are expected to assist in providing controversial services and promoting controversial materials against their consciences...," and that's the essence of the petition. I move to:
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
"Whereas the government of Ontario has not listened to the public on Bill 160; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario has chosen to overtly deceive the people of Ontario as to the true objectives of Bill 160; and
"Whereas we, the people, believe no government has a mandate to act in isolation of the wishes of the electorate of this province and we have lost confidence in the government;
"Therefore we, the undersigned electors of Ontario, petition the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the Legislature and call a general election forthwith."
I support this petition and sign it now.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
"Whereas nurses in Ontario often experience coercion to participate in practices which directly contravene their deeply held ethical standards; and
"Whereas pharmacists in Ontario are often pressured to dispense and/or sell chemicals and/or devices contrary to their moral or religious beliefs; and
"Whereas public health workers in Ontario are expected to assist in providing controversial services and promoting controversial materials against their consciences; and
"Whereas physicians in Ontario often experience pressure to give referrals for medications, treatments and/or procedures which they believe to be gravely immoral; and
"Whereas competent health care workers and students in various health care disciplines in Ontario have been denied training, employment, continued employment and advancement in their intended fields and suffered other forms of unjust discrimination because of the dictates of their consciences; and
"Whereas the health care workers experiencing such unjust discrimination have at present no practical and accessible legal means to protect themselves;
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
"Whereas Mike Harris has imposed skyrocketing taxes on small business owners in Windsor because of his government's downloading debacle;
"Whereas many small business owners in Windsor who pay commercial property taxes face hikes of more than 100%;
"Whereas the Harris government's property tax assessment system is confusing, chaotic and an administrative nightmare for municipalities;
"Whereas the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers called the Harris tax assessment system a `high-risk strategy' that will create `serious problems' for taxpayers and municipalities; and
"Whereas Windsor small businesses facing massive tax increases will be forced to pass on these increases to their customers, causing a decrease in business and causing the Ontario economy to suffer;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to develop a plan to provide relief for small business."
I thank the members of our community who signed that petition.
"Whereas the Harris government's `downloading' to municipal taxpayers is directly responsible for the $36.3-million shortfall to the region of Hamilton-Wentworth; and
"Whereas the Harris government `downloading' is directly responsible for creating a property tax crisis in our region; and
"Whereas the Harris government, while boasting about its 30% tax cut which benefits mainly the wealthy, is making hard-working families, seniors, homeowners and businesses pay the price with outrageous property tax hikes and user fees for services; and
"Whereas city and regional councillors are being unfairly blamed and forced to explain these huge tax hikes, Hamiltonians know that what's really going on is that they are being forced to pay huge property tax increases to fund Harris's 30% tax giveaway to the rich; and
"Whereas homeowners, including seniors and low-income families, are facing huge property tax increases ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars; and
"Whereas the Harris government `downloading' has led to huge property tax increases for business that will force many small and medium-sized businesses in Hamilton-Wentworth to close or leave the community, putting people out of work; and
"Whereas Hamilton-Wentworth region is proposing that the Harris government share in the costs of an expanded rebate program, worth about $3 million region-wide;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, demand that the Harris government immediately eliminate the $38-million downloading shortfall that is devastating and angering homeowners as well as killing businesses in Hamilton-Wentworth."
I support this petition.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has exceeded that spending floor every year since being elected; and
"Whereas total health care spending for 1998-99 will be $18.5 billion, the highest in Ontario's history; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has achieved this despite cuts in transfer payments by the federal Liberal government of more than $2.4 billion; and
"Whereas a recent survey by the Fraser Institute proves that health care waiting lists in Ontario are the shortest anywhere in Canada; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government is placing a greater emphasis on community-based health services in order to better care for an aging population; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government is eliminating waste and duplication in the health care sector and reinvesting every penny" we find "into quality services; and
"Whereas this has resulted in reinvestments of over $3 billion; and
"Whereas seniors will benefit from the government's $1.2-billion investment to increase seniors' beds by 35%, including 2,200 new beds in Toronto alone; and
"Whereas $75 million is being invested over the next two years to open hospital beds during peak demand periods in order to handle emergency patients; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government created Cancer Care Ontario to coordinate and integrate cancer treatment services province-wide; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has pledged $24.3 million to dramatically expand breast cancer screening; and
"Whereas 140,000 additional low-income earners are eligible to receive help with their drug costs through the expansion of the Trillium drug plan; and
"Whereas over 520 prescription drugs have been added to the Ontario drug plan formulary, giving seniors and others who rely on the ODB program a wider range of products to serve their health care needs; and
"Whereas the increase in senior care beds is expected to create 27,500 new jobs in the health care industry;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to proceed with fulfilling the commitments made in the Common Sense Revolution and continuing to pursue policies which will make Ontario the best place to live, work, invest and raise a family."
ORDERS OF THE DAY
LAW SOCIETY AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LE BARREAU
Mr Harnick moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 53, An Act to amend the Law Society Act / Projet de loi 53, Loi modifiant la Loi sur le Barreau.
This bill will strengthen the Law Society of Upper Canada's powers to safeguard consumers of legal services from unethical and incompetent lawyers. These reforms mean tougher, more exacting standards for lawyers, faster resolution of complaints and a stronger voice for the public at the law society. In doing so, this legislation will better protect the millions of Ontarians who at some point in their lives consume legal services, whether to purchase a home, to prepare a will or to resolve family or other civil or criminal matters.
This bill amends the Law Society Act, which makes the law society responsible for governing and regulating Ontario's lawyers. The law society's mandate is to govern lawyers in the public interest. We are modernizing the act because it has not substantially changed in over 25 years and does not reflect current expectations of self-regulated professions. It is a cumbersome statute that impedes the law society's ability to thoroughly investigate complaints, to prevent harm to the public and to deal quickly with unethical and incompetent lawyers.
The law society has requested that this government implement reforms to ensure that the society can more effectively protect the public. Today's public expects the highest quality of legal services. The amendments we are proposing will help to meet those expectations by greatly enhancing consumer protection. Lawyers will be required to meet the highest professional competency standards. The law society will now have real teeth to respond to public complaints more quickly, to ensure that issues are settled as early as possible and to give complainants a stronger voice in the hearing process. In short, these reforms will ensure that the law society evolves to meet changing consumer needs and community standards.
I would like to thank the law society for its help throughout the preparation of these reforms. The reforms have been developed in consultation with the public and reflect substantial public input. The law society held focus group sessions and surveyed the public regarding the complaints process. Participants found the reforms to be balanced, fair and in the public interest. Input was also sought from the major law organizations, other self-regulating professions such as doctors and accountants, and consumers' organizations, including the Consumers' Council of Canada and the Consumers' Association of Canada.
The principles embodied in the reforms we are proposing were strongly endorsed by the public during the consultations. We have worked with the law society to develop and refine this consumer protection package. Throughout our discussions, we strongly advised that the reforms must benefit the public and strengthen protection for Ontarians.
I would like to provide a brief summary of the key elements of this reform package.
First, the amendments will double the number of public representatives on the law society's governing board from four to eight. This will give the public a greater role in the disciplinary process and in the governance of the law society and will increase the law society's accountability to the public.
Second, the amendments will improve the public complaint system by providing for the appointment of a new complaints resolution commissioner. The complaints resolution commissioner will ensure that complainants are dealt with fairly and that complaints receive thorough attention. The complaints resolution commissioner will not only have the power to review complaints, but will also have the power to investigate and resolve minor complaints outside the formal discipline process. This will greatly improve service for the public. To ensure independence, the complaints resolution commissioner will function at arm's length from the law society and will not be a practising lawyer.
Third, the amendments will allow the law society to regulate not only the conduct of lawyers, but the quality of services provided by lawyers. The law society will now be able to set clear standards of professional competence and will have the power to enforce compliance with these standards. The law society will also have the power to impose a variety of orders to ensure that lawyers improve their skills. The result will be tougher, enforceable competence standards for lawyers and enhanced protection for the public.
Fourth, law firms will be able to form limited liability partnerships. This will permit lawyers to better compete in the increasingly competitive global marketplace for legal services. The public will continue to be protected because lawyers must meet more rigorous insurance standards as well as the requirements set out in the Partnerships Act.
Fifth, the amendments clarify the definition of "incapacity" and permit the law society to issue remedial orders for treatment or counselling for lawyers suffering from a mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse. This will strengthen the law society's power to improve standards and, again, protect the public. The amendments will ensure that the law society has the same remedial powers to deal with members who are found to be incompetent as other self-regulating professions.
Sixth, the reforms will give the law society the clear legislative mandate it needs to thoroughly investigate complaints and require the cooperation of lawyers. The law society will be required to investigate once it receives information suggesting the lawyer may have engaged in professional misconduct.
The reforms include safeguards to protect privileged and confidential information obtained by the law society during an investigation. The law society will be prohibited from using privileged documents or information for any purpose except its investigations and any consequential proceedings. These safeguards strike an appropriate balance between protecting the public from incompetent and unethical lawyers and protecting the privacy interests of lawyers' clients.
Seventh, the law society will have a range of new powers to protect the public where lawyers are acting improperly. These include broader powers to suspend lawyers under investigation before disciplinary proceedings have begun where there is a danger to the public; increased authority to freeze client assets under a lawyer's control; and enhanced powers to prevent the unauthorized practice of law by disbarred lawyers and to compensate persons who have suffered as a result of unauthorized practice.
Finally, the amendments will streamline law society hearings and appeals and divert minor administrative infractions from the formal hearing process. This will free up time and resources for more serious matters. The reforms will allow convocation to make rules of practice and procedure applicable to proceedings before hearing and appeals panel.
This will allow the law society to set rules of procedure which will apply to the same types of hearings and to adjust the degree of procedural formality in accordance with the type of proceeding. These improvements will remove procedural inefficiencies, delays and red tape from the complaints and discipline process to permit faster, more efficient resolution of complaints.
The law society expects to reduce the time it takes to complete the complaints and discipline process from the current average of 30 months to 12 months. Again, this is better service and protection for the public.
In conclusion, these much-needed changes will give the law society the important tools and powers it needs to govern Ontario's lawyers in the public interest.
These amendments are part of the Ministry of the Attorney General's ongoing efforts to improve the justice system for the people of this province. They are needed, they are timely and they are in the best interests of all Ontarians. I urge all members of the House to support this legislation so that all Ontarians can benefit from stronger consumer protection and better legal services.
I think there are many what I would call user-friendly changes for the better in this bill. I'd like to comment very briefly on a few of the key changes.
Doubling the number of lay benchers from four to eight: The law society and the profession badly need input from the public. I think this will be one effective way of increasing that input. Left to my own devices, I might even give the public greater representation than eight on the bench.
The complaints resolution commissioner: The two key things that I think are important in this office, aside from the office itself, are the fact that the commissioner is going to be independent from the law society and is not going to be a practising lawyer. So often we hear of legalisms, obfuscation and basically a general lack of understanding by the public when a complaint is put forward. I think this commissioner is a real step forward in avoiding some of the problems we've had in the past.
Greater capacity to regulate the quality of service provided by lawyers: That is an area where we do have to get up to the late 1990s and I think this act is going to move us there.
Limited liability partnerships: We all hear about how we function in a global economy and of course it's true. Having our profession among the forefront of the various professions throughout the world is going to be a step forward for all Ontarians.
Investigative powers being enhanced: This I think affords due process where it's needed but also puts the client first. The enhanced investigative powers are going to be a very positive step forward.
New powers aimed at protecting and compensating the public where lawyers have acted improperly: These powers I think are going to help the small number of people who are victimized by lawyers obtain fair treatment and obtain it quickly.
Proceedings being streamlined to permit faster, more efficient resolution of complaints: We all have heard of the long, dragged-out proceedings that happen from time to time. I think the law society has got the message that change has to happen and this change in legislation is going to assist in satisfying the public.
I'm not going to speak further on this bill, other than to commend it to the House. I truly think it's a step forward and that our profession is going to be able to offer better service and they're going to be able to offer it more competitively, thereby enhancing the service to the people and the economy of our province.
The amendments that are included in the legislation before us today will strengthen the Law Society of Upper Canada in its powers to regulate lawyers and protect consumers of legal services. The amendments are focused primarily on increasing the accountability of the profession and the responsiveness of the profession to the needs of the consuming public.
The Law Society Act is a statute that has not been substantially changed in well over 25 years. The act in its current form hampers and impedes the law society's ability to investigate complaints thoroughly, to resolve complaints quickly and to protect the public from unethical and incompetent lawyers. The reforms that are introduced in this legislation mean tougher, more exacting standards for lawyers, faster resolution of complaints and a much stronger voice for the public in the Law Society of Upper Canada.
The law society will, with these amendments, finally have real teeth to respond to public complaints far more quickly than ever in the past to ensure that issues are settled as early as possible and to give complainants a much stronger voice in the hearing process.
The law society frankly has been developing a comprehensive reform package for many years and we are very pleased, as a government, to help bring these thoughts forward in the form of this bill this afternoon. The ministry, in consultation with the law society, has developed these reforms to ensure that the society could more effectively carry out its mandate to protect the public.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
This reform package has been developed in consultation with the broader public. The amendments have received substantial public input on the elements to be included in the reform package. Many focus group sessions have been held and surveys of the public regarding the complaints process have been carried out in the development of the provisions in this legislation.
Participants in the focus group sessions and in the various other processes that have been invoked to bring the thoughts forward to the public and to receive their views have indicated that the proposed reforms are balanced, fair and very much in the public interest. That is their intention.
Input has been sought on these reforms through other groups as well, including major legal organizations, other professions and of course consumer organizations, and again there was uniform support for the amendments included in this legislation.
What are the key amendments to the Law Society Act that are brought forward in this legislation this afternoon? I might enumerate some of the key ones in the time available to me at the moment.
For one thing, the number of lay benchers in the law society will double from the current number of four to eight lay benchers. This, of course, will strengthen the public's representation on the law society board and throughout the regulatory process.
Another very significant element in the reform package is that a complaints resolution commissioner will be appointed. This special commissioner will have power to investigate and resolve all number of minor complaints that come before the law society. Of course, this will improve the complaints system by ensuring the public that their complaints are dealt with fairly and expeditiously. The commissioner will be independent from the law society and will not be a practising lawyer. They may very well have legal training, may very well be an experienced lawyer or a person with experience in the legal profession, but will not be at the time of serving as a commissioner a practising lawyer.
The law society will have greater capacity to regulate the quality of services that are provided by lawyers under its aegis.
The law society will be able to set professional competence standards, to conduct practice reviews and to issue a wide variety of remedial orders aimed at improving the skills and practice management of members of the legal profession, and as well, where appropriate, to direct members of the legal profession to seek medical treatment or counselling in those cases where that is what is needed to help address a problem in their practice. This will greatly enhance consumer protection. The power to order a member to obtain or continue with medical treatment or counselling is comparable with the regulatory powers of many other professions in this province and in fact in other jurisdictions as well.
Also in this reform package, the law society's investigative powers will be significantly enhanced. This will provide it with specific authority to examine client files and to require explanations from lawyers in appropriate situations.
In addition to that, the law society will have the power to apply to court for an order for search and seizure in the event that a lawyer refuses to comply with an investigation. This, of course, is a very important protection for the public and for other members of the legal profession who come up against such a member of the practising bar.
It's important to note in this context that the privileged and confidential information obtained by the law society in this process, in the course of such an investigation, will be protected and the interests of the clients involved will be safeguarded. The amendments will prohibit the law society from disclosing privileged information for any purpose other than for the investigation in question or any other consequential proceedings. In all other respects, the confidentiality of the information that is retrieved in the course of an investigation will be protected and the interests of the clients involved will be protected throughout.
Several new powers in the legislation are aimed directly at protecting and compensating the public where lawyers have acted improperly. Some of these measures include enhanced powers to prevent the unauthorized practice of law by disbarred lawyers, the power to suspend lawyers under investigation before disciplinary proceedings have begun, the power to order a lawyer to reimburse a client for all or some of the fees and disbursements that have been paid, and clearer authority to freeze client assets under a lawyer's control, again all measures directed at protecting the interests and needs and rights of clients who have found themselves being served by a lawyer who has acted improperly.
Proceedings will be streamlined to permit faster, more efficient resolution of complaints against members of the legal profession. One of the problems that has been encountered by clients, legal service consumers and, frankly, by members of the legal profession is the degree of complexity and the time involved in pursuing a complaint through the resolution process within the current rules that govern the law society. These amendments brought forward in the legislation this afternoon include provisions that will streamline the process to get at resolutions far more readily than has been possible in the past.
Some of the provisions that lead to this result are that hearing panels will have the authority not only to determine questions of fact and law but also to impose a penalty, so that the panel that is dealing with the matter can deal with the matter in its totality and not only with a part of it, leaving other portions to be dealt with at another time by another body. It's a far more speedy and expeditious handling of matters in that respect. Also, minor infractions will be diverted from the formal hearing process by expanding the grounds for summary suspensions so that minor, simple matters can proceed far more expeditiously than in the past and be dealt with in the summary process.
A new appeal panel will be created that will have the authority to hear appeals of disciplinary capacity and readmission appeals. One thing that will do is reduce the number of appeals that get heard by the Divisional Court; far more expeditious resolutions of the matters brought before the law society for disciplinary and remedial attention.
These amendments included in the bill before us this afternoon are all directed at and will achieve the result of modernizing the law society's complaints and discipline process, to the benefit of the practising bar and, most important, the consuming public.
During the consultation process that preceded the drafting and introduction of the bill, the public told us that the current system is far too slow and far too cumbersome. Frankly, lawyers have told us that as well. The system that governs the resolution of these matters at present was developed long ago, in a different time, a different age and under different circumstances than the world we live in today. These amendments bring the Law Society of Upper Canada into line with expectations of the current day. The government is responding directly to the concerns that have been raised in this reform and has addressed these concerns in this reform package.
The amendments are aimed at allowing the law society to respond to public complaints far more quickly and to set much tougher, more exacting standards for lawyers. I want to emphasize that it's not just punitive in its nature. The emphasis of the reforms in this legislation is on prevention and remediation, to prevent misconduct by members of the legal profession by raising standards, by raising the expectations of the practising bar, and also to direct members of the practising bar to help, assistance, remediation and other help that's required from time to time in the course of their practice to get them back on track, to help make them better lawyers, to help them do a better job of serving their clients.
For those lawyers - there are some, not many, but there are some. Every once in a while the newspapers will carry accounts of lawyers who do not comply with the expectations that are held of them, and every once in a while there are clients who are victimized by members of the legal profession who act in an unscrupulous or unprincipled or improper manner. The penalties and remedies that are available to the law society to attack those egregious examples of misconduct have been stiffened and strengthened and, as I said off the top, given more teeth than they've ever had in the past, all with the direction of protecting the consuming public and protecting the lawyers who practise in accordance with the rules. It's in the interests of everyone involved - lawyers, the court system and clients - that we have a competent, conscientious, law-abiding practising bar.
The changes that are in this legislation are part of the government's ongoing commitment to working with the public and with our justice partners to find the best solutions to the problems that are faced by the justice system, to face those problems and to fix them. I encourage all members of the House to support this legislation so that all members of the Ontario public can benefit from the stronger consumer protection and better legal services that are to come about as a result of the provisions in this legislation.
There has been some concern raised by some quarters in the Ontario section of the Canadian Bar Association as to the strength of some of the remedial provisions that are found in this legislation. There are some members of the practising bar who are concerned that maybe there are too many teeth in these provisions and that the provisions give the law society perhaps more authority over the practising legal profession than is warranted. That voice has been brought forward and those concerns have been brought to bear and have been borne in mind with the amendments to the Law Society Act that are found in this legislation.
In this context I want to quote, if I may, from an address delivered by Mr Harvey Strosberg, the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. The treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada is the top dog for the law society, the body that governs the legal profession in Ontario. Mr Strosberg's remarks are most supportive of the provisions in this legislation and I'll just quote from him briefly. In an essay that appears in the summer edition of the Ontario Lawyers Gazette from this past summer Mr Strosberg indicates:
"The Attorney General of Ontario, Charles Harnick, and the government of Ontario should be applauded for their initiative in bringing this important legislation to fruition. One of its primary purposes is to enhance the society's" - that's the law society's - "regulatory powers, ensuring its capacity to govern in the public interest.
"The current provisions of the Law Society Act" - those are the current provisions that are to be amended by the bill that is before us this afternoon - "particularizing the society's powers have been in place, essentially unchanged, for nearly 30 years. They are moribund. Experience has taught us that the provisions we have in place now are ineffectual in addressing and abating the manifold problems associated with lawyers' professional misconduct and the important issues of competency and capacity."
This is the top dog of the Law Society of Upper Canada saying these words:
"Because of a handful of dishonest and dishonourable lawyers" - I emphasize that there are not many who fall into this category, but we know there have been some and it's important we make sure that number is kept to an absolute minimum and that they are dealt with as effectively as possible - "the public's trust and confidence in the profession's honesty have been seriously eroded. Moreover, because of dishonest lawyers, the law society is obliged to maintain the lawyers fund for client compensation, to which each member of the profession must contribute."
What that means in essence is that every member of the practising bar, all of the conscientious, all of the honourable, all of the law-abiding members of the practising bar, are required to pay into a compensation fund to address the problems created by the dishonourable few. What that leads to directly is higher fees to the consuming public. That's the situation at present because the rules in the Law Society Act and the powers available to the law society have proven inadequate to deal with the situation of some of the very few dishonourable lawyers who have come across our path in the recent few years.
I quote further from Mr Strosberg as follows: "Bill 53 is designed to uphold the paramountcy of the public interest, and at long last, to help stop the few dishonest lawyers from undermining and jeopardizing the legitimate interests and good faith efforts of the profession as a whole."
Those are the words of Mr Strosberg, the treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the top dog of the Law Society of Upper Canada, in support of this legislation and in response to concerns that have been raised by some members of the Canadian Bar Association, which is in effect the trade union for the legal profession. That is Mr Strosberg in his response to the concerns raised by some members of the bar association in respect of the strength of the remedies and the investigatory authority that are bestowed on the law society by the act that is before us this afternoon in order to protect the consuming public and the honourable, honest, law-abiding members of the legal profession.
The idea that a regulatory body should be permitted, for the public good, to require its members to produce privileged documents and to provide confidential information and to serve as a repository of privilege and confidentiality for such documents and information is a good idea, but by no means a new one. Of course, that is one of the authorities that is provided for in this legislation, that where a lawyer is under investigation for that lawyer's conduct, where that lawyer has refused to comply with the investigatory process, the law society has the authority to step in and to review the documents and review the records of that lawyer's practice, in the public interest. That is a concept that is in this legislation. As Mr Strosberg says, it is a good idea and, as Mr Strosberg says, it is by no means a new idea. It's just an idea that hasn't been in effect in Ontario until the introduction of this legislation that we are considering this afternoon.
In his remarks, Mr Strosberg quotes Lord Denning, no less, as follows:
"`In my opinion that rule [a rule requiring a solicitor to produce, for inspection by the Law Society, books of account and other financial records] is a valid rule which overrides any privilege or confidence which otherwise might subsist between solicitor and client. It enables the Law Society for the public good to hold an investigation, even if it involves getting information as to clients' affairs. But they and their accountant must, of course, themselves respect the obligation of confidence. They must not use it for any purpose except the investigation, and any consequential proceedings. If there should be subsequent application to the disciplinary committee, the information can be used for that purpose.'"
Those are the words of Lord Denning in support of provisions virtually identical to the provisions that are being brought forward here in this House this afternoon. Lord Denning understood some time ago the importance of legislation of this sort. I'm very pleased that our government is bringing forward legislation today that advances on these ideas.
What protection is there for the public in this situation? As Lord Denning recommended, and as I have indicated earlier, all files and all records and all information that are retrieved in the course of such an investigation, an investigation of a lawyer who has refused to comply with reasonable requests from the Law Society and a lawyer who by all accounts and all appearances is guilty of misconduct in the profession and puts other professionals and indeed the consuming public at risk, where a lawyer refuses to comply with that investigation, the Law Society will have the authority to step in, protect the records, review them but only in the context of the investigation of that lawyer's conduct. In all other respects, the information that is retrieved will be kept confidential and the privilege and confidentiality of the clients will be preserved and protected.
I would suggest that, given the context of such a situation, the records are most likely to be far more secure and far more safe under the authority of the Law Society than they would be in the hands of the member of the profession who has been under investigation. Of course, it would only be under the extreme situation where such an investigation would be necessary.
Given that there's some more time available to me and I see that the member from High Park is hanging on every word of this presentation, I might go into some greater detail as to some of the other elements of the legislation. Maybe it would be useful to review the provisions in the legislation and perhaps compare and contrast them with the provisions that are currently in effect.
Maybe, when I'm done with that, at the request of the member for High Park-Swansea, I could in fact go more deeply into the career of Lord Denning and perhaps review some of the other work that Lord Denning did and some of the other investigations in which Lord Denning participated, that being possibly a timely matter at this point, given world developments underway these days and proceedings underway in another legislative forum in another place not that terribly far away, no more than one day's commute from where we are now. Somehow the name Lord Denning seems very much appropriate and the memory of Lord Denning seems very much appropriate at this particular juncture in the course of history, in the course of developments in the legislative world, particularly in the western world immediately to our south.
But perhaps I could leave further discussions of Lord Denning and his experiences and his career for later in the discussion this afternoon. Other members might like to develop further on those thoughts.
I might just review some of the key elements of the legislation to compare and contrast with the corresponding provisions in the current Law Society Act. For example, under the current legislation the Lieutenant Governor in Council is authorized to appoint four lay benchers to the Law Society of Upper Canada in convocation. The legislation that is before us this afternoon authorizes and empowers the Lieutenant Governor in Council to appoint eight lay benchers. Of course, the whole thrust and purpose of that is to increase the degree of public participation in the governance of the legal profession.
Under the current legislation, in the complaints review process the lay benchers who review complaints at the request of complainants have no power to investigate or to resolve complaints. The act does not provide for informal resolution of minor complaints. Contrast that with the provisions of the legislation before us today, in which a new complaints resolution commissioner is created who will replace lay benchers in reviewing complaints. The commissioner will have the power to investigate and resolve minor complaints informally, expeditiously, quickly. As I've mentioned earlier, the commissioner will not be a practising lawyer and will, of course, function at arm's length from the Law Society of Upper Canada.
In the general area of professional competence of members of the legal profession, the current act contains no competence standards whatsoever. The Law Society of Upper Canada relies on voluntary compliance with standards. Sanctions for incompetence are punitive rather than remedial, and continuing legal education is strictly a voluntary matter under the current regime. Under the provisions in the legislation before us, the Law Society of Upper Canada has the power to set and to publish competence standards, actual standards of practice for the legal profession, and to set out grounds for breach of those standards. The law society will have new powers to conduct practice reviews or competence hearings and to impose a wide range of remedial orders.
I emphasize the remedial nature of the orders. Rather than waiting until an error has occurred and then disciplining the lawyer for having committed the error, the whole thrust of the reforms before us this afternoon is to prevent those errors from arising in the first place and, where a lawyer appears to be heading off track for whatever reason, to take steps to bring that lawyer back on track before it's too late. So it's an emphasis on remedial approaches rather than punitive approaches and it's all aimed at protecting the consuming public.
Some of the remedial orders that could be invoked are participation in practice improvement or mentoring programs and perhaps making continuing legal education a mandatory matter. Those authorities are in the legislation and the law society is empowered to use its judgment in determining just when, where and how those authorities might be brought to bear. The current act provides very little scope for the remedial approach to problems in the legal practice, and some of these problems arise from time to time in areas of mental incompetence, mental or physical illness, other illness or, in some cases, alcohol or drug abuse.
Under the reforms in this legislation this afternoon, there is a clarification given to the definition of "incapacity." It enables the Law Society of Upper Canada to hold a hearing to determine whether a member is incapable of practising by reasons of mental incompetence, mental illness, illness, alcohol or substance abuse. The law society is given a broader power and broader authority to make remedial orders as appropriate, such as treatment or counselling or working under the supervision of another lawyer - again emphasizing the remedial nature of the provision.
At present the Law Society Act sets out penalties for misconduct. There will continue to be penalties for misconduct, but in addition to penalties for misconduct, there will be a host of remedial orders that can be given.
At present the Law Society Act is very lacking in the definition of the law society's investigative powers, the powers that the law society might be able to invoke in order to investigate the conduct of a member of the legal profession. That's corrected in the bill before us this afternoon. This bill gives the law society explicit powers to investigate misconduct, incapacity, incompetence and so on. It will set out powers to gain access to lawyers' offices during office hours; to examine client files, records and systems; to require explanations from lawyers where explanations are in order for the conduct of the lawyer on a particular file or in a particular matter and the lawyer's conduct with respect to particular clients.
The bill also gives the law society powers to obtain search and seizure orders which can be used in the course of such an investigation.
The law society is required to maintain the confidentiality of any information that is obtained in the course of such a process. I have spoken at some length on that matter already.
I might bring my comments to a close by detailing one other element in the bill before us. Under the current legislation, the law society must first obtain a conviction against a disbarred lawyer for unauthorized practice before seeking an injunction. Sometimes that's too late to protect the interest that is most at stake, that being the interest of the consuming public. One of the key provisions in the bill before us is to permit the law society to seek an injunction against a disbarred lawyer without first having obtained a conviction for unauthorized practice. That is directed entirely at safeguarding the conscientious, law-abiding practising member of the bar and at safeguarding the needs and concerns and rights of the consuming public.
With those remarks, I will close my submissions to the debate this afternoon. I encourage all members of the House to support this bill, as the law society itself has urged us to do.
Thank you very much for allowing me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you this afternoon.
The reality is that the case is taking too long because while we are building new courts, we're not staffing them with sufficient judges, we're not staffing them with sufficient prosecutors, and prosecutors find themselves now having to deal with many more complex cases for which they have neither the time nor the patience to deal with.
A most recent study indicated that crown prosecutors sometimes have less than five minutes to prepare for a case. Little wonder that we have such difficulties in the justice system. Little wonder that very serious cases are being plea-bargained down. This House has heard me on repeated occasions on the issue of plea bargaining and we have waited forever for the Attorney General to make good on his various promises to bring some rules and clarification to that area - all for naught.
Has he forgotten that the Family Responsibility Office, which he created, is in fact a sham, that we have women and children in this province who cannot get access to funds they need to get even the necessities of life?
Has he forgotten that the legal aid system is in a mess, that his very own appointed committee came back and said: "Look, 60% of the people who are under legal aid and come into family court should get legal aid but don't. They come unrepresented"?
It's a crime and it's a shame that the court system and the justice system in this province have fared in this way under this administration.
I don't want to belabour that point. I simply wanted to respond to the Ministry of the Attorney General and to the minister himself when he made those comments. The reality is that what we are talking about today is a piece of legislation that hopefully, when amended, will be a very strong piece of legislation.
Let me begin by congratulating the Law Society of Upper Canada for bringing forth amendments which in the main have been long overdue.
As you may know, the Law Society of Upper Canada is a very old institution. It celebrated its 200th anniversary last year and it remains one of the world's oldest professional regulatory agencies.
The creation of this self-governing body by an act of our Legislature was an innovation in the English-speaking world which members may not be aware of, and it has become the model for law societies across our country.
The reason for the creation of the law society as set out in a statute of 1797 was to provide the province with "a learned and honourable body to assist their fellow subjects as occasion may require and to support and maintain the Constitution of said province."
In concrete terms, the mandate of the Law Society of Upper Canada was to see that persons seeking admission to the legal profession were competent and to ensure that lawyers followed proper procedures and behaved ethically. These goals are as important today as when they were enunciated 200 years ago when our predecessors first drafted the act, and these goals should continue to guide the debate today.
Of course the scale of the organization has changed. In 1797 we were talking about 15 lawyer members in Upper Canada. Now, of course, the society has become the largest bar in Canada with some 27,000 lawyers.
Since 1797 the law society has grown and evolved with the province and the country. It has maintained and expanded its responsibility for the training and competence of lawyers and for overseeing their professional conduct and ethics.
The contribution of the law society has not been limited to its actions as the governing body of the legal profession, nor has its influence been restricted solely in Ontario. Its members have been vital and active participants in the life of the country, many becoming national figures, such as our own Treasurer here today, in politics and in business, with others making their mark in such fields as the arts and sports.
One of the other functions of the law society over the years has been to deal with the public and it has accordingly greatly expanded its services to the people of Ontario. I think you will agree that a properly regulated profession means that the public can safely assume that their lawyers are competent and ethical.
With that in mind, certain services are designed specifically to assist and protect the public. For instance, the society maintains and administers funds to reimburse clients in the event of errors or dishonesty on the part of lawyers. Other programs include: dial-a-law, which provides legal information on a variety of topics; lawyer referral, which matches individuals with local lawyers with proper expertise; and the Law Foundation of Ontario, which funds legal education and the legal aid programs and administers the class proceedings fund.
The law society set a precedent in 1951 by providing for the first province-wide legal aid program in Canada.
Finally, the law society exists to govern the legal profession in the public interest by ensuring that the people of Ontario are served by lawyers who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct and upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
I present that as an introduction because I think it's important to have a context. This is an organization that has stood the test of time, that has acted in the public interest since the beginning and that has at its heart the goal of providing a fair justice system.
We now turn to the act which is before us and the amendments which have been put forward by the law society. I think we have to agree that in the main the amendments are very good. Members will know that the last time the Law Society Act was amended was some 25 years ago, which I think many of us will say might have reflected a different time and sometimes even different priorities. Certainly one could not have anticipated the wide array of services that lawyers provide today and the kind of practices that they run today, nor could one have imagined the needs of the public as we now know them heading into the 21st century. What worked a quarter of a century ago has at times become obsolete, cumbersome and inefficient. But while we agree in general with most of the proposals of the bill, I think it's appropriate to say that we must be ever mindful of the goal of the law society and what it was created for.
Let me begin by outlining some of the positive elements we see in this particular legislation. I can agree with the Attorney General and my colleagues who have spoken before - and by the way, Speaker, I should tell you, since you are a new Speaker, that I'm splitting my time with the member for Kingston and The Islands and the member for Scarborough North.
I think the general overview of the bill is a positive one. I think the notion that we would increase the number of lay members to eight out of 48 is admirable, particularly since there is a vital public interest to be promoted.
The notion that we would have limited liability partnerships is a good one. We've done it in this House previously with the chartered accountants. We acknowledged the principle that it's important in order to be able to be competitive and responsible.
The notion that we would have a new complaints resolution commissioner - excellent. I must say it's kind of contradictory to what this government is doing in other areas where they're taking away complaints mechanisms, but I applaud the law society for insisting on this and obviously convincing the Attorney General that there is some merit in a public complaints process. Hopefully we will see that imported into other pieces of legislation.
The notion that the law society can impose some remedial measures to improve the lawyers' quality of service is to be commended. It's something that the profession can take some guidance on from the law society and I think it would be generally well received.
The fact that lawyers might apply centrally to administer and distribute unclaimed trust funds, with income from those funds being paid to the Law Foundation, is a fact of our times. It's a reality that we should recognize and there really is very little to say about that. It will be very efficient and in the public interest.
Codifying the policy requiring members who have not practised for a period of time so that they requalify - again, very important and something that I look forward to seeing in the future.
There are, of course, some issues that do give us pause and I guess it's on those that I want to focus for the remaining time. I will try and be as concise as possible.
The Deputy Speaker ordered the bells rung.
In general, the concerns involve the following issues: There's an issue around privilege and confidentiality which the members opposite have tried to tackle; there's an issue with respect to investigation of members' conduct, how that's triggered and what develops following that; and there certainly is an issue with respect to the removal of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act in the event of conflict with this particular legislation. There is an additional issue which members of the opposition have heard about and that involves the power of the law society to publish legal cases, and the law book association members have in fact raised that. We will try and deal with some of those as quickly as we can, given the scope of our debate today.
Let me talk first about the notion of confidentiality and privilege. I think these are concerns that must be taken very seriously. In particular, I should say at the outset that the ones who have been voicing these concerns are members of the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario. I say they should be taken seriously because the CBAO represents some 15,000 of the 23,000 lawyers in Ontario and they have certainly been very vocal on the issues that we're about to address tonight.
I should also say that, in principle, the CBAO agrees with the thrust of the bill and the majority of its provisions, and what's at issue are the provisions I have just mentioned.
The CBAO first made its position known in letters to the law society. I refer in particular to a letter of September 3, 1998. There may have been others but this is the first that I have here. The CBAO clearly sets out its concerns, and I will read them into the record.
"The law society has the power to obtain information from members even if the information is contained in privileged or confidential documents.
"The law society can override the Statutory Powers Procedure Act through `rules.'
"The law society has the power to order members to undergo medical or psychological examinations or treatment."
The letter goes on a great deal and talks about the public interest and whether those particular sections of the legislation respond to the public interest. The CBAO states quite clearly:
"The public interest is best served by striking the appropriate balance between the interest of the public in being protected from dishonest, incompetent or incapable lawyers and the interest of the public in protecting the right to confidential and privileged consultation with a member of an independent bar."
I think that's a point worth noting. This is not about trying to protect the dishonest lawyer. That lawyer, whoever he or she may be, should be subject to the full extent of the law. The issue is, do the amendments proposed here intrude on honest lawyers and do they intrude on the solicitor-client privilege that may be established between a particular lawyer and his or her clientele?
As you can imagine, the CBAO concludes that the balance has not been struck, that the powers proposed in the legislation are overly broad, that there is no reasonable test that is required under the legislation, and in particular that this is not a fair way to proceed with respect to members of the bar, particularly since minimum rules of procedure would not be able to be enforced in that particular case.
The letter was instructive because the bar association does not attempt to scuttle the entire bill. What they seek are amendments that require, upon investigation of a particular lawyer's conduct, that there be, first of all, reasonable grounds for investigating and, second, that there be procedures in place for the seizing of data from a particular law practice which do not infringe the privilege rule that has been the cornerstone of the legal profession, certainly during our generation.
The members of the Canadian Bar Association have made similar concerns to our Attorney General and I'd like to refer to a letter to the Attorney General from the president of the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario dated August 4, 1998, which states the problem starkly with respect to the solicitor-client privilege rule. They say:
"The seizing of innocent people's files and personal information is not a measure to protect the public. Section 49(3)(i) reads: `...information suggesting that a member may have engaged in professional misconduct...' will automatically trigger a mandatory investigation when the investigator has the power to `enter a member's office' and `require the production of, and examine any documents that relate to matters under investigation, including client files'...and ask `the person under investigation and people who work with the person to provide information that relates to the matter under investigation...even if the information or documents are privileged or confidential.'" And they make reference to the subsections which in their view state what they have put forward.
The bar association then gets very specific in what that might mean in terms of individual practices, and that would be that the bill "would enable the law society to seize a member's computer...and effectively shut down his/her business" in some cases, because so often in smaller practices it is the one hard drive that all the files are on, and, "These actions could be initiated without judicial scrutiny and without the minimum protection of a reasonable threshold."
The concerns of the Canadian Bar Association have therefore been outstanding for some time and it's kind of odd that we are coming to this with some very serious concerns which have not been dealt with. It would surprise no one that the CBAO passed a resolution at its meeting here in Toronto on Friday, June 19. I'd like to read that into the record in its entirety because I think it's important that when 15,000 lawyers speak, we should at least take cognizance of that and debate the merits of their resolution.
"Whereas the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario received in the fall of 1997 from the Law Society of Upper Canada a copy of the proposed amendments to the Law Society Act submitted to the Attorney General on December 3, 1996; and
"Whereas the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario has reviewed the proposed amendments and has identified provisions in part II of the act - discipline, incapacity, and professional - which impact on members' rights to a fair hearing and other natural justice issues;
"Now therefore be it resolved that:
"1. The Law Society of Upper Canada be advised that the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario supports the proposed amendments to the Law Society Act in principle provided that the administrative law safeguards identified in appendix A are incorporated into the bill to be considered by the Legislature." In appendix A are those amendments that I indicated to you were areas of particular concern around confidentiality and around investigation.
"2. The Law Society of Upper Canada be asked to consider adding to the amendment package an amendment to section 61 relating to the incorporation of law firms which would permit family members of lawyers to own shares in the law corporation." That's an additional matter that we will, I'm sure, deal with in the course of our debates.
Appendix A that the law society put forward has a whole series of issues they feel should be dealt with in order to strengthen the legislation, some 32 suggestions. I think those amendments have been sent to the Attorney General, and therefore it's entirely curious that he wouldn't have considered them as a serious matter for action.
One can say, looking at this: "Look, these are lawyers lobbying for lawyers. Aren't they just being a little paranoid? Isn't the real issue to protect the public from dishonest lawyers?" I think that is the real question. That's precisely the question. You're absolutely right.
To get a sense of how realistic the members of the Canadian Bar Association are being, we might look in other areas. One of the things we might look at is what happens in other professions with respect to investigations. Does one have to have some reasonable grounds for beginning an investigation, or is it something that is automatically done?
I have a whole list of Ontario statutes here in which the test of "reasonable and probable grounds" is required in connection with the regulation of professionals. It's very instructive that we would have architects, health protection officials, the Ontario College of Teachers, professional engineers, real estate and business brokers, insurance brokers, health professionals in general, people who are engaged in the security industry, the travel industry - all of those statutes incorporate a "reasonable and probable grounds" test.
A good question to ask is, why doesn't this apply to lawyers? Why would we change the Law Society Act and not enforce or protect that very reasonable test that obviously is the standard in many other professions? That's a question that needs to be answered, and I'm looking forward to the hearings and to hearing what the responses will be with respect to that.
Another question that is raised with respect to solicitor-client privilege is, who has the right to determine an end to that privilege? It has long been argued that the privilege is not the privilege of the lawyer; it is the privilege of the client. That is, if anybody comes in and scoops your hard drive and takes away your clients' files, the lawyer can't consent to releasing that information if it's privileged. Only the client can do that.
I think the case law is pretty clear on that, but in the event that anyone should need any further assistance, we've had a very interesting case just recently on that very point. The case re Lavallee, Rackel and Heintz et al and Attorney of Canada, with the Law Society of Alberta as an intervener, proved very clearly that it is the client who has the privilege, and that cannot be relinquished by a lawyer. In fact the justice in that case had some very harsh things to say about privilege. I think again it's worthy of note.
Madam Justice Joanne Veit said, "A client's legal right to have privileged communications with a lawyer and a client's constitutional right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizures can be stripped from the client without the client ever realizing this has happened." That's what the particular case dealt with.
She goes on to say that transferring the right to enforce a privilege claim from a client to a lawyer simply wasn't good enough.
"It is an expropriation of a right. It is analogous to a situation in which Parliament would take away from a mentally and physically healthy adult Canadian the right to make their own decisions about health care and give that right to doctors or priests or people who own gas stations."
I think that makes the point very forcefully that it's not a principle that's to be abrogated from.
There is ample evidence from the profession itself about some of the problems with this particular piece of legislation. While I won't bring to the attention of the House all the many letters that I and others have received with respect to that, I think there's one that bears noting. It's a very compelling letter and a very eloquent letter written by the law firm of Paroian, Raphael in the Windsor area. There is some commonality to all of the comments that we've heard, that is, everybody agrees that it's time for changes in the Law Society Act and everybody agrees that the law society has a central role to play in governing the profession.
The points made by the writer in this particular case are the following. The first point they make is that there really hasn't been sufficient consultation with the profession. Again, I will simply read what the writer has to say.
"I agree that the law society exists to govern the profession in public interest.... Having said that, in today's society the governed have some expectation of consultations and a hearing by the governors."
I think it's interesting that we're going to hearings because there are certainly some elements of the profession who believe they have not been sufficiently involved in the discussion and the hearings we will have will give that opportunity to those who want to be heard.
The second point the writer makes is:
"The law society appears to propose, in the guise of protecting the public, to set aside solicitor and client privilege, the most revered arrangement in our society. The bill appears to allow some suspension of the rules of natural justice by allowing the law society to set its own rules concerning investigations.
"All of the usual protections afforded by the law to even the most unsavoury of accused in criminal matters would seem to be not applicable to lawyers with respect to the subject of an investigation by their governing body."
I read this because it's not atypical of the many letters that we've had, and the request in each case has been to suspend the particular legislation until such time as matters have been dealt with. I know there have been some meetings between the Canadian Bar Association and the law society and hopefully these issues will have been discussed between them and will be brought up again during the hearings that we will have.
I think the most interesting letter that we have received and the one that we really must pay attention to - it's not just a question of individual lawyers who are concerned about this - but the privacy commissioner of Ontario is sufficiently concerned as to respond in a letter of which I have a copy, a letter dated October 2, 1998. It might interest members to know precisely what it is that the privacy commissioner has said.
The first thing that the privacy commissioner advocates is:
"The bill should contain a provision recognizing that each law society investigation should collect only what personal information is authorized by the statute and which it anticipates is reasonably required in the particular circumstances. The bill should also provide for the secure and confidential retention, use and disposal of such personal information.
"Secondly, the bill should give the law society flexibility regarding whether or not to investigate and to determine the nature of the investigation." In other words, the particular sections of the act that are mandatory should be permissive.
Also, the commissioner recommends that the section dealing with assessing a member or student capacity should have a stronger test. The proposal is that the hearing panel, which is defined in the bill, "be required to have reasonable and probable grounds before ordering a medical or psychological examination to determine a member's capacity." A member or student "should be able to make submissions on the issue before he or she is required to be examined."
Similar standards, according to the commissioner, should be met before a member is required to undergo "testing and treatment for addiction."
The next point they make is that there should be a determination at some stage in an investigation that the clients of an investigated member are informed and involved in the process. "If the audit leads to disciplinary proceedings against a member in which a client's file will be used in evidence, the client should be at least notified," which is currently not required under the statute. "Consideration should also be given to anonymizing client information when it is used in discipline proceedings."
An additional concern of the commission is that because of the society's power to examine client files, it might be a good idea if members routinely informed clients of the society's right of access to members' files:
"The bill should require that information collected...should be used only for the intended purpose" of the investigation "and not for any other secondary purposes." "The Law Society, hearing panel or...investigators shall not...disclose the information...except for the purposes of the authorizing legislation."
With respect to seizing computer files, the privacy commissioner would like to see a provision that ensures that only the information that investigators require is "viewed, collected and used." Thus, "It would require the investigator to have access only to the part of the record which is required."
"Finally," according to the commissioner, "the disclosure of personal information in contravention of the Law Society Act should be made an offence which is subject to a described penalty."
The Attorney General is in possession of this letter of the privacy commissioner. It was shared with him. I think it's intended to be a constructive view of the legislation and is intended to bring some light on these very complicated issues before us today.
There is one additional issue which I'd like to raise, which has been raised by another sector. Not the CBAO and not the privacy commissioner but the law book companies have met and are concerned about subsection 29(1) of the legislation. The gist of their concern is that the Law Society, by virtue of this legislation, would be creating, in their words, "a publishing monopoly controlled by the Law Society of Upper Canada." I think it will be very useful to hear from them during the course of our hearing as to how this problem can be dealt with. From their perspective, the current legislation gives the Law Society a monopoly over the publication of court cases. The president of Canada Law Book writes:
"As an industry, legal publishers employ some 1,500 individuals in Canada and have annual sales of legal publications in all formats which are estimated to be in the range of $150 million. The importance of the access to and the publication and distribution of judicial decisions to the health of this industry cannot be overestimated."
We have questions of some significance with respect to this particular legislation which truly need to be dealt with. I think the hearings themselves will provide an opportunity for us to deal with that.
Because we have agreed that we will have hearings, we'll be able to discuss in detail some of the amendments that should be put forward, but clearly there are a number of issues that have to be dealt with. I will be very interested in the debate that takes place. I want to give the Attorney General some notification that we will be putting forward amendments to deal with some of these substantive issues that we've dealt with today.
Let me conclude by saying this: On the whole, the Law Society Amendment Act is timely and good legislation. It responds to some very real needs in our society as changes have taken place over the last 25 years. It speaks to the role of the law society in ensuring that it is up to date, that it can be efficient in the governance of the profession.
However, it must also be said that the deficiencies of this legislation, however few, are substantive. They cannot be ignored. They must be dealt with. Moreover, there have been allegations that those deficiencies are against the public interest. They're perceived that way for two reasons: firstly, because they may subject honest lawyers to extraordinary processes without reasonable grounds, something that's not required of other professions; and secondly, they can breach the rights of uninvolved clients to have their communication with their lawyer covered by privilege. This is an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion which, if not rectified, will undermine the integrity of our system of justice.
Let's be clear again: We're not talking about dishonest lawyers; we're not talking about looser guidelines with respect to that. There is no question that dishonest lawyers should be dealt with to the full extent of the law. What we are talking about is protecting the public interest, a goal which I know the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association and the individual members of the profession cherish.
Let me conclude by quoting from the Law Society itself. It has published a very interesting publication, which I recommend to all of you, called Governing in the Public Interest, which is its mandate. The very first page says:
"The Law Society of Upper Canada has maintained its leadership status as one of the world's oldest professional regulatory agencies by anticipating changing consumer needs and expectations and evolving to meet them. An amended Law Society Act offers a variety of benefits, but they all really come down to helping the society fulfill its role of protecting the public from bad lawyers and of making sure the Ontario bar provides the public with excellent service."
Let me paraphrase another paragraph in this publication and say that I agree with the Law Society that an amended act will increase public confidence that Ontario's lawyers will be directed to meet and exceed the highest quality of professional standards. There's no question that we all agree with those sentences, and it's a noble mandate that the law society continues to have for itself.
I urge the government not to act hastily. I'm delighted this bill is being sent to committee, where it can be amended. It's important that we bring our full attention to those amendments when we finally meet; to do otherwise would not only make a good bill unpalatable, but would seriously compromise the public interest in Ontario.
I understand too that amendments have not been made to this act for the last 25 years, yet the organization positions itself as being prepared for changes and ready to make these changes. That in itself, that after 25 years there have been no changes to the act, tells us we are not responding at all to the sort of cultural diversity, the types of laws and new things that change along the way for that sort of profession. So I do welcome this change. As a matter of fact, I would support any changes that improve efficiency and accountability. God knows it needs a lot of change within that system.
I have become extremely leery about lawyers in the sense that many times clients will come to me in my constituency office, having been referred, having gone to their lawyers. There are too many complaints about the unprofessional way in which they have done things. I'm not talking about the good lawyers, because I presume the good lawyers are not the ones that get complained about. But I find too often that I'm getting complaints about how lawyers have conducted themselves. Some, to me, conduct themselves like one size fits all. You go to a lawyer and, whatever it is, "I'll defend you." The fact is that somehow the service is not done in a very professional and efficient manner.
I, for one, also believe that the justice system has failed us, has failed many of the people who are not able to afford justice, because it's a very expensive system. The poor are denied proper representation through the justice system. Many cases have come to me where constituents have been asked to plead guilty when they are not guilty so that they hurry the case along. The fact is that it haunts them for years and years to come about things they were not guilty about because the system itself failed.
While I welcome these changes, I hope the law society will also urge this government to put in more money in the sense that we have more prosecutors in the courts, we have more courthouses and justice can be served. Justice that has been delayed for individuals is justice denied. Those who don't have the money are somehow denied all of that. Too often lawyers ask, "Show me your bank account and I'll tell you how I can defend you." The fact is, as soon as they see that the bank account is not extensive, somehow they can't be bothered.
I would say to lawyers that of course they can't provide their service for free, because the government itself, this government, has starved the legal aid system until now they have passed it over to a private system where they'd have to go seeking money in order to fund it. I just hope that justice could be served to those individuals.
I will be making a couple of points and I want my colleague to put many things on the record itself. Let me just talk a little bit about some of the law students, students who have law degrees and who are finding it extremely difficult to get any articling at all to enter the profession. The system itself and the association seem to be so close-knit as to who should come in and where they should practise that this diverse community - and let me be very direct. Many black law students with degrees are not able to get into some law firms to practise to be lawyers. They need that, because the sensitivity of that close-knit society needs those black individuals there. More must be done, and I want the government to look at all that. That is why access to many of these professions is being denied, because of those individuals who have decided, "This is our territory and we will tell you who will come in, how they will look and what they will look like." It is bad.
We in this society can't go bragging around the world that it's the greatest place to live when some of us are in the worst place to work or the worst place to practise our profession. Not all of us are like that. As I said, while I welcome the changes here and I applaud the minister - and the law society as a matter of fact, which more than anyone else encouraged these changes - I think it's just inadequate to make the kinds of changes that are necessary for people in our society to get justice to be levied in a manner that they can feel is fair and protective.
I encourage the government, furthermore, to put some money into the system, where we can have more prosecutors, where we can have courthouses where this justice can be levied properly.
I just wanted to make those few comments and thank you very much for allowing me to do this.
If this Attorney General can be faulted for two areas, it is first of all his failure to call for a public inquiry into what happened in September 1995 at Ipperwash. Surely that's his responsibility. It was the first time in this century that a member of the First Nations lost his life. There have been numerous questions raised in this House, and for the life of me we cannot understand why he has not called for a public inquiry into that matter. That's his first big failing.
His second big failing is the continuing chaos that prevails within the Family Responsibility Office. In my own office and in the offices of many other members the number one issue that is being dealt with by our staffs on a day-to-day basis deals with Family Responsibility Office matters. I had one staff work on nothing but trying to clear up cases and situations where money was paid into the system by husbands or wives for the benefit of their children and for the benefit of their spouses etc where it took literally months to get that money out of the system the other way. I hold the Attorney General and his department fully responsible for that.
You may recall that at one time we had a system where we had regional offices, where the matter was dealt with a heck of a lot quicker. When orders were made against parents for support for their spouses or their children, the idea was that the money be paid into a court office so that it could be paid out to the other spouse entitled to that money for the benefit of herself, in most cases, and her children as quickly as possible. The chaos that this Attorney General has caused by, in effect, getting rid of all the regional offices and having it all centralized here at Downsview in Toronto is absolutely unacceptable.
You may recall that a couple of members of this House even got into some difficulty in trying to rectify that situation. I give them full credit for that, because the women and children who rely on that support are crying out for help in that area. This Attorney General has done precious little to help that situation, so I once again urge him - I'm very pleased to see him here in the House this afternoon - to deal with that matter and deal with it effectively. If you need more resources to ensure that support payments that are being paid into the system are being paid out as quickly as possible to those people who are entitled to them and those people who need those funds in order to live their daily lives, then I for one - and I'm sure I speak on behalf of my caucus - will totally support you in that regard, because the current situation that exists there is totally unacceptable.
The other issue that is also a shameful situation is what has happened to legal aid in this province. I've got a report here from the law society that has been out for some time now that shows you what has happened to the legal aid system. I know that with this new bill that was introduced a couple of days ago we're going into a system now where basically the legal aid system will be run separate and apart from the law society, but the real problem is not so much who runs the system but whether the system is adequately funded. If you look at the report from the law society and you look at the number of certificates issued, for example, in 1992-93, when there were over 230,000 legal aid certificates issued, and last year, when there were 80,000 legal aid certificates issued, a drop of 200% - they've been cut right down to a third - you can see there's been a real problem.
I know my friends on the other side will say, "Maybe there were a lot of people who were getting legal aid certificates who shouldn't have been entitled thereto," and I say to you, you are wrong. Walk into any family court building in this province and find out how many women, basically women but also men at times, are unrepresented when they go into a family court setting where decisions are being made very quickly as to how much support they should have, who should have custody and access to children etc, and you quickly realize that there is something wrong with our system. Where at one time we had a system where these people were properly represented, now a lot of them are doing it on their own, because they are simply not getting the legal aid certificates any more for those kinds of situations. I think that's a shame in our society.
What I'm saying is that here is a particular case where we have fallen short and where he's not doing anything about it. The system is completely underfunded. The number of certificates that have been issued has dropped by two thirds from where they were two or three years ago. At one time we used to pride ourselves on the fact that people who went to court in Ontario could get representation from a lawyer. Yes, it costs some money and, yes, there may have been the odd case where the system was abused. I don't disagree with that for a moment. But we have now slipped into a system where many of the poorest people, the people with the greatest need who are involved in court situations, many times not of their own doing, are totally unrepresented. I think that is totally unacceptable in a modern society that we have here in Canada in the 1990s. We should be progressing in our society, we shouldn't be retracting, and that's what's happening.
If the members of the government don't want to hear that, then I would suggest to them that they walk into any family courtroom or any family court building when the courts are open during the day and find out how the individuals, who maybe for the first time in their lives are involved with the system, feel about it and how totally alone they are. They cannot get adequate representation because they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer and because they cannot get the legal aid certificates. The law society report clearly deals with that, so I hope that the Attorney General will deal with that aspect as well.
As a matter of fact, the number of applications that have been refused, according to the law society's own report, has grown dramatically from 14% in 1992-93 to some 29% thereafter.
The other challenge I throw out is to the law society. I see the treasurer is here today. In 1988-89 a report was done on access to professions and trades. I'm a lawyer myself and I know there's a tendency in all of us to protect our own turf. We've seen that in just about every trade and profession. We all like to protect our own turf and we sure aren't making it easy for people to get into a profession.
I challenge the law society to take a close look at itself. When people come in from other countries who have the proper qualifications, let us make sure they can get access and become fully licensed practising lawyers in this province as soon as possible. Let us not put other obstacles in their way to not make it happen. This is not only a problem with the Law Society, it's a problem with the medical society, it's a problem with many of the trades and professions in this province.
If we truly want to be a compassionate society in which we welcome people from other countries, then I think we should make it so that all these people, if they have the right and proper qualifications, can be admitted into the different trades and professions as soon as possible. I think we all need to take a look at our own situation and deal with it as quickly as possible.
Let me just say it is certainly interesting to see that on a bill which I think everybody thought was going to be passed relatively quickly - of course, I couldn't understand why the member for York East was filibustering his own bill there earlier on, but maybe there's something about this bill he didn't like - but a bill that was relatively innocuous and that we all support in principle, how much reaction there is from the government side when we point out some issues that are closely related to this bill, that are part of this minister's own ministry and that he talked about. He's the one who raised the issue about making the administration of justice more equitable and improving it in this province. So if he somehow finds any difficulty with what I'm saying, I'd like him to correct me in that respect.
I would just ask the Attorney General, as a final matter, to take very seriously the content that's contained in the letter of October 2, 1998, from the Information and Privacy Commissioner. He makes four or five good recommendations in there, certainly amendments that ought to be made to this bill to make it a better bill for everyone; not just for the members of the law society but for everyone in Ontario.
With that, I will yield the rest of my time so that the third party can have an adequate turn as well.
ROYAL ASSENT/ SANCTION ROYALE
Bill 63, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to instructional time / Projet de loi 63, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation en ce qui concerne les heures d'enseignement.
LAW SOCIETY AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LE BARREAU (CONTINUED)
Let me tell you right at the outset that the New Democratic Party caucus is supporting this bill on second reading. We're eager to see it receive second reading. We acknowledge that it came about as a result of some long-time initiative on the part of the law society, that the thrust of the bill is to improve the capacity, the ability of the law society to regulate, hopefully, bad lawyers in the profession.
I want to tell you as well that we're well aware of the concerns that have been raised by the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario, which have been articulated in a number of ways, I believe, to all members of the Legislature, and the concerns raised by the publishing company, Canada Law Book. I have a copy of the letter from Stuart Morrison to the Attorney General dated October 2. I hope the Attorney General enjoyed the brandies and the cigars that the publishers of Canada Law Book make reference to there. It's interesting they refer in the first paragraph of the letter to the Attorney General from Stuart Morrison -
I should tell you that the law society, in its lobby efforts - and no two ways about it, it's engaged in lobby efforts. The treasurer of the law society is here today, somewhat peripatetic. He started up there in the visitors' gallery. He came down to the opposition galleries and was quickly escorted over to the government gallery. There remains the Speaker's gallery and the east visitors' gallery for him to sit in - he'll have covered all of the viewpoints available to him there - or the press gallery, if he's so inclined. As I said, the somehow peripatetic treasurer of the law society.
I come from a part of the province, Niagara region, that has quite frankly some very skilled and competent members of the bar. We're very fortunate down there. At the same time, my constituency office has received on a more than infrequent basis concerns by, let's call them consumers, people in the community, about how they've been dealt with by lawyers, and concerns about how the law society has responded to their complaints.
The complaints procedure has been quite frankly rather intimidating and inaccessible for a lot of people down where I come from. A whole lot of these people, when they submit a complaint - I'll be quite candid, my office has assisted them in the course of doing that, no two ways about it - and they wait what seems like an incredibly lengthy period of time and they receive a rather terse response from the law society, they're quite frustrated. They're in fact disappointed that they haven't been made a part of the process, that they haven't been kept informed during the course of, let's say, an investigation, haven't been advised as thoroughly as they ought to have been of the facts that the law society's investigators relied upon in reaching their conclusions. Obviously you're talking about a former client who's disappointed because the law society has not upheld their complaint or has not acted in what they see to be an appropriate way on that complaint.
The complaints review commissioner, the CRC, proposed by this legislation I anticipate will, in an almost ombudsman-like role, be a more accessible arena for people with complaints.
The lack of appeal process is interesting and causes me some concern because my impression from reading the legislation is that the decision of the CRC is final, that an appeal is precluded. That leaves people unsatisfied with the disposition by the CRC frustrated, and it creates new barriers, new thresholds, when they thought they were entering a process that had a much lower threshold and that was far more consumer-friendly.
Perhaps that will be addressed during the course of brief committee hearings because, yes, we in the New Democratic Party very much expect and call upon the government to have sufficient committee hearings. They don't have to be a lengthy period of hearings, but sufficient to hear the concerns of the Canadian Bar Association, of, yes, even Canada Law Book publishers, their concern effectively about the copyright control that they interpret the act as giving the law society -
There's an increasingly Shakespearean view of lawyers here in the province and I think I understand the reasons for that concern on the part of the public. I've seen, sadly, some of the gouging, some of the work that's been taken on by lawyers who ought not to be doing that kind of work, who then leave clients high and dry when they find themselves without results and with their bank accounts emptied. I have some great concerns about that.
I'm hopeful that the Law Society Act amendments, Bill 53, with it addressing issues of upgrading and retraining on the part of lawyers, are going to go some way towards resolving that, and providing for a broader range or a broader variety of oversight roles will make the profession more responsive to the needs of consumers, not just here in Toronto but in small-town Ontario as well.
I told you Ms Boyd is going to be speaking to this and she has some historical observations she wants to make and will be commenting further. I indicate that we support the legislation, that we are very prepared, notwithstanding the limited time we've had and will have to address this, to have this go to a vote for second reading today, expecting very much, insisting, that it receive committee hearings, perhaps two days of that, and I'd suggest to the government one day of clause-by-clause so that the submissions -
I should mention that I wasn't here yesterday and I apologize to you, Speaker. But what I'd done, I was down in E.L. Crossley Secondary School and I spoke with, among others, one of their law teachers. I explained we had Bill 53 coming up this afternoon and that we'd be debating it. I spent a day with teachers at E.L. Crossley Secondary School. It was an invitation offered by OSSTF in Niagara region, calling upon MPPs to spend the day in the classroom with teachers from the beginning of their work day through to the end of their classroom workday.
I acknowledge I got to leave around 4 or 4:15. Teachers whom I was with all day were still at the school, notwithstanding all the students had left, and were packaging up work to take home, be it preparing for the next day's classes, be it marking essays or tests. I should tell you, if you had had the chance to go to E.L. Crossley Secondary School with me down on Highway 20 in Pelham, you would have been impressed, as I was, by the student body, a bright group of young people, an incredibly impressive group of young people, incredibly frustrated by the cutbacks in education, by the defunding of education by this government and by the impact it's had on their classroom size - enormous classrooms: more students, fewer teachers.
I just want to indicate to you that's why I wasn't able to be here yesterday. I was with John Ruscitti, who's a teacher at E.L. Crossley, and with Dan Peat, another teacher there. I should mention the principal, Randy Daly. His staff and his student body exhibited great hospitality and generosity of spirit towards me. I met with the students, with the staff, the teaching staff as well as non-teaching staff, very much a part of the educational family there, Patricia King and her colleagues, and the custodial staff, who raised great concerns about what's happening to them and their responsibilities, and as well with the office staff.
I think those young people would be very interested in having their concerns expressed here in this Legislature at the earliest opportunity, so I bent the rules a little bit, Speaker. I've been speaking for a few seconds off topic, off Bill 53, but I bent the rules because you understand how urgent it is for those young people, bright, capable young people with promising futures were it not for the incredible attack on public funding of education. You understand how eager they would be to have me indicate that I was with them yesterday and indicate some of their concerns to this Legislature.
The law society, as I indicated earlier, has lobbied hard to try to ensure that this bill becomes law. I understand that. They have responded, for instance, to the concerns raised by the CBAO, and again I'm sure everybody is well aware of the responses the Law Society provided. In understanding that the CBAO comes at this from the point of view of a lobby group, as they would want themselves to be perceived to be on behalf of the lawyers themselves or the profession - and perhaps not all lawyers, but I would hope that the government would give some serious consideration to the concerns raised and would consider recommendations when it comes to amendments.
We welcome the increase in lay benchers. I think that's incredibly important. We note that they're still going to be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, and there's not a protocol indicated in the act that, for instance, requires - but the government ignores that anyway. I'm making reference to bodies which have a responsibility to recommend to the Lieutenant Governor in Council, to the cabinet, appropriate candidates for appointment, but for three years the government has overlooked those in any event. Look what they've done to district health councils, for instance, among others.
I would have preferred that there were some indication in the legislation that would indicate how the government is to receive applicants for those positions as lay members of the law society. That's an incredibly important point. Otherwise, the government can simply pork barrel yet again, and we won't give effect to the intent that's I'm sure inherent in the expansion of lay members.
I also want the law society to be incredibly conscious and aware - and I think they are, but they haven't demonstrated it - of the fact that a whole lot of people who make complaints about their treatment or maltreatment by lawyers, as they understand it - I've seen some of these, and I'm convinced that there have been some very serious and valid complaints made to the law society. They may not involve millions and millions of dollars; they may involve what in relative terms is a relatively small amount of money. But a whole lot of these people are not professionals. I mean, they had to go to a lawyer in the first place. They thought they were going to be taken care of. They don't feel capable of participating in a forum as august as the law society, they don't feel that they're on a level playing field and they've been kept in the dark about the progress of investigations and about the findings that were made which resulted in the conclusions drawn by investigators and the rationale for either referral or non-referral to disciplinary proceedings.
I think that process has to be made far more transparent. In fact, the law society may well entertain the prospect of having among its staff what I might call para-advocates for people who want to make a complaint. Some people find their way to our constituency office. Others find their way to other lawyers' offices. Lawyers are very reluctant to assist in the preparation of a complaint. You know that. So they find their way to perhaps a friend's home or to a constituency office, but more often than not they don't get any assistance whatsoever.
The law society might be well advised to entertain the prospect of making available staff to people who want to make a complaint, to assist them in literally putting it down on paper, putting it down in a concise and appropriate way so that it can be dealt with in the manner the law society deals with things, that legalistic style. People are incredibly intimidated by the process. I appreciate the law society's listing is in the phone book, in the yellow pages, along with lawyers' referrals. We still get calls.
I had a conversation just last night at an event in St Catharines with somebody, "How do I get a hold of the law society?" The law society hasn't done a very good job of advertising its presence to the public out there, to regular folks, to the type of people who live in Welland, Thorold, Pelham, anywhere here in the province. I think the law society should direct some of its energy to advertising its presence, to advertising the means by which persons can make complaints about the legal profession.
I could get some lawyers calling me promptly, mad as all get out because it might interrupt the decor of their oak-panelled reception rooms, but I, quite frankly, am not adverse to a proposition that lawyers in their offices be required to provide information about accessing the law society. The Motor Vehicle Repair Act does that to motor vehicle repair shops. It's compulsory. Mind you, I tried to turn a guy in down in London after I got a complaint about one rip-off artist down in London who was towing cars and then literally stealing them. It's true. I went down there. Honest, I drove to London. I got a complaint from a London resident that his car had been stolen by a towing company. They towed it and then ripped him off. The car is gone. I did a paper chase of it and it's gone through three or four hands by now.
I went down there. I wanted to burn this guy good. He didn't know why I was there. I took a look at his shop, and among other things he didn't have the sign, the posting that was necessary under the Motor Vehicle Repair Act. I thought, "You SOB, I'll burn you on that one." I called the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations and all you get is voice mail. Finally, after a day and a half of tracking down somebody who calls themselves an investigator, I got the head of investigations, who identified herself as the only person who does it and she talked about mediation. We're beyond the point of mediation. I wanted the guy busted. I wanted him prosecuted. I said: "I'm your chief witness. You don't have to investigate. I'll testify. I went there. It wasn't there." So much for the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. But let that be an example, quite frankly, to the law society.
People have to understand that not only is there a right to complain and a right to enter a process, but people have to understand that if they don't feel comfortable doing that unaccompanied or unassisted, there's going to be some assistance offered to them. It's as simple as that. I urge the law society, if they're going to give effect to the intent of this bill, to implement a user-friendly process and design.
I conclude with that and yield the floor to Ms Boyd, who will speak to Bill 53 as well. I thank the law society for their persistence. I should tell Mr Strosberg that I'm not a cigar smoker but I have many friends who are, and they prefer Romeo y Julietas, Cuban, not Dominican Republic, and they'd be more than pleased to be the beneficiary of his generosity and largesse.
I wanted very much to speak to this bill, because as the first layperson, or effectively the first layperson to have been an Attorney General in Ontario, one of the things that was closest to my heart was the efforts that were being made by the law society to revamp its processes to make them more friendly to the consumer, to try and look at the whole process of discipline, the process of working in the public interest around issues that face the practice of law in Ontario, and in fact on streamlining its management and some of its administrative duties.
When I first became Attorney General and the treasurer of the law society was one Allan Rock, the process had already been underway for some time. There had been a good deal of examination around what worked and what didn't work in terms of the public view of the whole process within the law society. There was a recognition that there wasn't a lot of public confidence in the ability of the law society to self-regulate in an open enough way to convince the consuming public that they took very seriously their duty to always act in the public interest.
I know as an Attorney General, and I'm sure every Attorney General receives complaints about lawyers, which of course it's the duty of an Attorney General to refer to the law society, that some of the complaints were clearly complaints that had been hanging on for a long time, where the processes that were followed by the law society were not yielding the kind of quick justice that I think these amendments will help to ensure.
One of the major issues that we find in terms of disagreement with the decisions of the law society has come from the Canadian Bar Association and its Ontario branch. The concern seems to centre primarily around the issue of the powers the law society would have to investigate lawyers, to look at the records in a lawyer's office, to have access to those records. The concern seems to centre around a perception that the powers the law society would have under this act somehow are a violation of client privilege in terms of the law profession.
I would like to read into the record a letter to the editor of the Law Times from one Clayton Ruby, who is certainly known to all of us to be extraordinarily protective of the whole issue of client-solicitor privilege, extremely careful around the issue of search and seizure procedures, who probably has done more work to ensure that the principles enshrined in those two items are maintained, and someone who practices as a criminal lawyer, someone who is very clear about the need to ensure that nothing we do infringes on the privacy of clients or destroys that client privilege. Therefore it's interesting to find Clayton Ruby coming down directly on the side of the law society and these changes, so I'm going to read it into the record. It's entitled "Take a Close Look."
"CBAO president Bill Simpson claims the powers given the law society to investigate crooked, dishonest and incompetent lawyers are `excessive.' In an editorial, Law Times agrees.
"Take a close look at the 20th century. There are hundreds of examples in administrative contexts and regulated fields such as the legal profession where entry during regular business hours to examine documents and require their production without judicial authorization is today a routine part of any effective regulation process.
"There is simply no reason why lawyers should have a special exemption from effective scrutiny by their own regulatory body.
"And 20 years ago the power to require the production of documents was sufficient - because that's what lawyers used. Today the power to copy files in a computer is essential.
"As Bill Simpson must know, no solicitor-client privilege exists if a lawyer is being used in or engages in any kind of criminal activity or fraud. There is never a legal professional privilege for such documents. But privilege continues for all others, even if the law society examines them.
"As the Supreme Court of Canada has made clear, in examining charter applications, judicial authorization based on reasonable and probable grounds is required in the criminal context - not in the regulatory context.
"If we are to fulfil our obligations to the public, who all too often suspect that lawyers are crooked and dishonest, we must act responsibly and stop short-sighted claims to special privilege.
"Nothing is more certain to bring the profession into disrepute."
I may say that I agree absolutely that it is essential to the public's understanding of what these changes are that the public be reassured, as the law society has repeatedly tried to do in the context of these changes, that nothing in this act will disturb that solicitor-client privilege and that the privacy of clients is being guaranteed by the society in terms of its procedures.
There is not a lot of understanding, I think, among the general public, and frankly maybe even among some lawyers, about what the role of the law society is and should be. In fact, there has been a good deal of discussion among the profession itself. I know the discussion has raged and there have been requests of the law society to take more of an advocacy role on behalf of lawyers. That discussion has raged on in the society as to whether the law society in its traditional position of being there to protect the public interest is in any way endangered if the law society is also seen as protecting the interests of lawyers.
I think it is important for the public to understand and for all of us to applaud the fact that the law society, in these changes, has clearly come down on the side of being there to further the public interest, to protect the public interest, because that is its prime directive.
I would say, in relation to what my colleague from Welland-Thorold suggested in terms of better public education, that the document provided by the law society entitled Governing in the Public Interest, which came out in December 1997, last December, is probably a wonderful document for helping the public to clearly understand what is embodied in the regulatory changes in this act. It also helps people to understand what the process is and what their role in the process is, and I would suggest to the law society that the wide distribution, the wide availability, of this particular document would be of great benefit to the public in understanding its relationship with lawyers and with the law society itself.
It's very interesting in this document under the second section where the law society reaffirms its mission, a mission to protect the public interest. I'll read the first two paragraphs of it:
"The Law Society Act grants the society the authority to educate, license, supervise and discipline Ontario's lawyers - a responsibility it discharges squarely in the public interest. The society is specifically guided in its commitment to advance the interests of the public by its mission statement, which reads:
"The Law Society of Upper Canada exists to govern the legal profession in the public interest - by ensuring that the people of Ontario are served by lawyers who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct, and by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession - for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law."
I think it becomes very evident why you will find all parties agreeing today to this bill going forward, going to committee, going to a process of hearings whereby those who have concerns are able to express them to the members of this Legislature and the members of this Legislature are able to discuss very clearly whether or not amendments are in the best public interest. The law society has assured us that the integrity of the act is such that they do not wish to see amendments brought forward, but part of our process is that we need to do that.
I have only a couple of minutes, because if we intend to bring this to a vote to end second reading tonight, we need to do that before 6 of the clock. I assure you I will do that.
I want to add one other thing. I don't believe many people understand the onerous nature of the work of a bencher of the law society. I brought with me the last bunch of papers from the September 25 meeting. This is actually a small pile compared to many of the meetings, many of the piles of information. Benchers are expected to be familiar with the reports that come from the many committees, are expected to speak to those reports, to accept or change those and to engage in a very rigorous monthly exercise of governing the society. That's just the convocation. In the meantime, there are many committees, and I have been amazed at the efforts and the time benchers spend making sure they are doing their job and they are contributing to ensuring that the profession is governing itself properly.
Part of this act is a change in the way those benchers are going to be elected, to allow for regional representation. This is something that those of us who don't come from Toronto are very anxious to see happen, because we want to be sure that the representation at convocation is very clearly such that the views of those who are practising law and, of course, the consumers of those services across the province are being honoured.
The act provides for eight lay benchers, an increase. I should tell you that one of the issues when we were the government was that we would have liked to see a higher proportion than that of lay benchers, as we did do with the RHPA, for example, in other professions. However, we understand that the kind of discussion that has gone on has arrived at eight lay benchers as a compromise. One of the reasons we're prepared to go forward with it is that of course we actually have nine lay benchers, because I continue to be a life bencher as a former Attorney General.
I'm going to make a commitment today to the treasurer of the law society, who has urged me on a number of occasions to actually be present at some of the meetings, which of course are always held on a Friday, and Friday is one of the most important days for all of us in this Legislature to do our constituency work. However, I'm going to make a commitment to him today. I think it's very important for me to assume some of my responsibility and I promise him I will make every effort to attend some of the convocation meetings.
This is a very fine action that is being taken today, and I must congratulate the Attorney General for having won the day and managed to get time on the agenda for this act. I know he was being urged to do that before Christmas last year and wasn't able to do it. I'm glad it has come on to the agenda and I trust it will go through the process in a timely fashion so these rules that protect the public get put into place as soon as possible and the law society is able to carry out its mandate with its new rules.
Mr Harnick has moved second reading of Bill 53. Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? It is carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading?
It being almost 6 o'clock, this House stands adjourned until 6:30.
The House adjourned at 1755.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.
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