21 OCTOBRE 1998 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1330.
SENIORS' HEALTH SERVICES
It is a sad day when the most senior members of our society feel it is necessary to protest and fight for what they're entitled to: respect, fair treatment and a high level of care from the health care system. It is a disgrace to see what the Harris government is not doing for those who need help and depend on programs that either no longer exist or are a shadow of what they used to be.
If organizations such as the Alliance of Seniors to Protect Canada's Social Programs don't speak up and protest, their voices will not be heard by this government.
It's interesting to note that the ministers of health and long-term care did not even send a representative to listen to stories of suffering and hardship due to the decline of our health care system. The descriptions of elderly friends being rushed through treatment so as not to take up valuable bed space and treated without the dignity and compassion that all in our society deserve was shocking.
Our community care access centres are turning to for-profit home care providers that provide care at lower cost. But at what cost?
The Alliance of Seniors to Protect Canada's Social Programs has had enough and is not going to take this abuse and neglect any more from the Harris government. I commend these seniors for having the courage to stand up and pledge to work to achieve the change and respect that the seniors of Ontario deserve.
We now have Ernie Eves threatening to bring in yet another bill, bill number 8 this will be, to fix another part of the problem. He's finally realizing and admitting, although not in so many words but with his threatened action, that the property tax mess they have created is causing problems.
What they are seeing, and what we have seen in the actions of the government, is the realization that a problem they thought was limited to the confines of Toronto is in fact a provincial issue. It's hurting the ministers and it's hurting the government, because now they have such former Tory members as Markham mayor Don Cousens saying they are going to lead a revolution, a rebellion, down to Queen's Park if they don't fix this problem.
While I'm not particularly happy about the reasons that have led this government to finally realize that this is a problem - because the reasons, as I see them, have been more political than real in terms of understanding the problems they have caused for small businesses and for homeowners - I am glad that the minister and the government are finally admitting, as I say, not in words but in their actions, that they want to see the property tax problem addressed.
Maybe we will see bill number 8, but I think the only sensible thing to do would be for the government to admit that they made a mistake once and for all.
As we all know, libraries make a significant contribution to Ontario's quality of life. In fact, this year's theme, "Ontario Public Libraries - For Your Information," focuses on the role of libraries as key providers of information in communities across the province. In fact, in my riding of Niagara South, Port Colborne, Fort Erie and Wainfleet libraries are joining in the celebrations.
On Monday morning, Tim Hudak, MPP, was the celebrity librarian of the day. I put in a two-hour shift at the Wainfleet Public Library, walked in a librarian's shoes for a couple of hours. In addition, they're having writing competitions at the Wainfleet library.
At the Fort Erie library there are trivia contests to help citizens understand the role libraries play and the system they have, quizzing participants on everyday tasks and research that libraries do. Also at the Fort Erie library, food donations: If you don't want to pay your fine in cash, please bring a non-perishable food item, which will be donated to those in need. An excellent idea.
This week, which is being marked in Niagara South and across Ontario, is a special opportunity for all of us to reflect on the significance of libraries and to celebrate their valuable contribution to our communities.
Our region cannot believe the total disregard Mike Harris has for our health care system. He has once again abandoned the residents of my city and our region, along with the Sudbury health care system. He has again reinforced the message that he will not put adequate funding into our health care system.
This is just the latest slap in the face to our health care providers in Sudbury. This government is going to slash $27.5 million from our operating budget, and even though Inco's smelter is Canada's second-largest emitter of known cancer-causing agents, Mike Harris continues to refuse to establish a panel to investigate the effects of industrial factors in the workplace, which I have repeatedly requested, along with Cancer Care Ontario. "Let them die of lung cancer" is Mike Harris's attitude.
The reality is simple: Mike Harris doesn't care about quality health care for Sudburians. Through his actions he has shown his disdain and disregard for Sudburians. If it is a fight Mike Harris wants, he has angered the people and we will fight.
There was no notice of this pending increase. The decision was made by the ministry in January 1998, but invoices were not sent out until the last week of September 1998, after the tourism season was pretty well over in our region. The Ministry of Transportation officials did not consult with anyone in northern Ontario on these increases, not even the northern Ontario officials of their own ministry.
Why is it the government is making these charges? It seems that the government is just charging what the market will bear. This is nothing but a money grab by the Tory government and it's going to harm tourism and small businesses in northern Ontario. It's time for this government to rescind these increases and go back to the more reasonable rates.
LAKE ERIE STEEL CO
The Lake Erie Steel Co is a subsidiary of Stelco. It's located on the north shore of Lake Erie, in my riding of Norfolk, and provides over 1,300 direct jobs to our area.
I'm very proud to tell the House that this major employer in my riding, Lake Erie Steel, has announced a $120-million upgrade to its facilities at Nanticoke. This upgrade includes the addition of a third reheat furnace and two downcoilers in the plant's 200-centimetre hot strip mill. This will increase steel production by 455,000 tonnes, bringing the plant's total output to 2.46 million tonnes a year. The $120-million expansion comes on the heels of a $105-million investment earlier this year that saw a new slab caster installed, as well as a second casting house built into the blast furnace unit.
I would like to congratulate the Lake Erie Steel Co and its parent company, Stelco, on their expansion and their investment in our area. These companies continue to ensure the long-term viability of the steel industry and provide good jobs to Ontarians.
The Health Canada directives on this are very clear: Mould is dangerous, and where it is suspected there must be a process of assessment and remediation.
The Peel region school boards are recognizing this and are taking appropriate action. The Halton board, where this is also a problem, has done the same thing. But the boards have been given no money to fix the problem. The millions of dollars needed to replace or fix the mouldy portables is coming out of the budgets that are supposed to be used to do regular maintenance and major repairs, like fixing roofs before they fall in.
The problem of mould in portables has only recently been recognized as a serious health risk to children. It's an extraordinary situation that demands immediate responsible action by the provincial government, that you put guidelines in place requiring every board to assess the situation in their portables, and then the government should provide financial resources to the boards to deal with the problem.
Once again, this government has refused to take any responsible action. The minister says it's the boards' responsibility. But John Snobelen says that the money will flow. He told parents last night that the government will take action. He said: "There is a time for rhetoric and a time for action. Now is the time for action. Trust us, the money will flow."
I say to the Minister of Education, will you make good on your colleague's promise? When will the money flow?
Collège Boréal is the only francophone college in northern Ontario, with over 4,000 full- and part-time students who attend classes in seven satellite campuses: Elliot Lake, Hearst, Kapuskasing, New Liskeard, Sturgeon Falls, Sudbury and Timmins. This past year alone, enrolment has increased by 3.3%
Collège Boréal is particularly effective in forging links with the private sector to develop and coordinate programs that are useful for employers and students.
In their throne speech, the Conservative government stated that it will address the shortage of highly skilled workers, particularly in the area of high technology, and that it will explore every means of employing Ontario's advanced position in telecommunications hardware and in educating, training and learning software to support lifelong learning that allows all of us to adapt to the ever-changing job market.
These objectives we all agree with. They can only be achieved in concert with the development of strong post-secondary institutions across Ontario. In northern Ontario it is particularly important. Collège Boréal is now seeking, from both the federal and provincial governments, a renewal of the infrastructure grant. I understand that Dave Johnson is aware of this request. We ask him to act on this initiative now to make sure that Collège Boréal survives into the future.
CHATHAM CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS
About 500 people, including students, teachers, parents and board officials, were on hand to celebrate this work in progress and the tremendous success of the fundraising to date. The Chatham Christian Schools Society, over the past year, has raised about $1.75 million of the total $3 million required to build this new building for September 1999.
There was also another reason to celebrate this event. The Chatham Christian Schools Society recently marked its 40th anniversary, having opened in 1957. The society currently operates both an elementary school and a high school. Over the past few years, growing enrolment and aging facilities have necessitated the construction of a new school.
I would like to congratulate the board of the Chatham Christian Schools and the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools for their dedication to Christian education.
The parents also deserve congratulations. Despite paying full taxes for education, they also pay tuition to have their children receive a Christian-centred education. This commitment speaks to the dedication they have for their faith and their belief in educational choice. The values that the schools teach our young people are values that are all too often missing in society today. I wish the parents, students and the dedicated, hard-working teachers of the Chatham Christian Schools all the best.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
Pursuant to standing order 105(g)9, the report is deemed to be adopted by this House.
I have a question for the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I want to review something with the minister that, but for the damage that it's going to cause to small business in Ontario, would be laughable. I want to review the history of property tax reform in this province.
First we started with Bill 106, then it was Bill 149, then it was Bill 160, then it was Bill 164, then it was Bill 16, then it was Bill 61, and now you tell us you're going to introduce one more. This has got to be the most painful comedy of errors ever experienced inside this Legislature.
I'm not sure I could put it any better than the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario did. They said, and keep in mind they said this several months ago: "This government, in its haste, is making legislation by the seat of its pants, without proper thought or planning. Yesterday's bill is amended by today's, which will likely be amended by tomorrow's."
Minister, when are you going to admit that you have screwed up royally when it comes to property tax reform in Ontario?
This government at last had the courage to address an issue that has to be fixed. We have taken action to make sure that equity and fairness come back into the system. Is it a simple issue? No, it's not a simple issue; it's a very complex issue and something that has taken many decades to run into disrepair. It's going to take more than one day to fix.
That's why we gave municipalities in Ontario the opportunity and the tools to phase in increases and decreases over time. We had hoped they would do that, and many of them have. Many of the municipalities have done a fine job - the city of Toronto is a great example of that - and some have not, but we will not allow the municipalities to -
No government has spent more time addressing one issue than you. You've taken a system that was in need of repair and brought it into greater disrepair - a tremendous accomplishment. You've made things worse.
We told you this was going to benefit big business and come at the expense of small business.
Why don't you just stand up, sound the retreat and admit that you have screwed up royally when it comes to repairing property taxes in Ontario?
The Leader of the Opposition asks what this means to the average taxpayer. It means that there's going to be some fairness brought back to a system that is totally out of whack. When your government was in power -
The municipalities have the ability to make sure that the tax phase-in is dealt with in an equitable way. Many of them used those tools very effectively; many of them didn't. We are going to make sure that every business in Ontario is protected against high tax increases.
In typical Mike Harris fashion, rather than assume responsibility for the damage you're causing, you've got the nerve, you've got the temerity, you've got the audacity to point the finger at municipalities and threaten them with another bill. Where do you get off telling municipalities that they've got to assume responsibility for the chaos you've created?
We are saying that the property tax system in Ontario has been broken for decades. The Liberal government knew it, the NDP government knew it and our government knew it. Our government, this present government -
One has already been addressed and that's your failure to deliver money that you promised to deliver immediately to emergency wards. There's another component to your commitment, though, that has not yet come under the light of day. You said that you would build 1,700 long-term-care beds to help create room in our emergency departments because of the backlog that your cuts have created. You said you were going to build 1,700 long-term-care beds. That's a commitment you made 185 days ago.
Can you confirm in this House today, Minister, that you have yet to build a single one of those 1,700 long-term-care beds that you committed to build?
You were shamed into coming up with money yesterday, six months after you made your commitment. Are you now telling me that, as Minister of Health, you are quite satisfied to know that 1,700 long-term-care beds that are needed immediately are going to be built sometime during the next 18 months? Is that good enough for you? Is that what you're saying?
The fact of the matter is that our government is faced with serious cuts from the federal government for services that aren't even covered under the Canada Health Act, and you stand in this House asking where those beds are when there isn't one mention of these beds in your red book that you campaigned on in the last election. Seniors weren't on your agenda a year ago. Now, all of a sudden, they're important to you.
This government has agreements for over 800 of these long-term-care beds to be implemented immediately. I'll tell the member opposite that those 800 beds will have patients transferred to them -
Once again, you failed to deliver the money in a timely way and you have failed to build now, six months later, one single, solitary long-term-care bed so desperately needed in our hospitals to free up space in the emergency departments. You failed on both counts. You failed to deliver the money in a timely way and you have failed to build those beds, both of which were recommended in that report and both of which you committed to doing.
How can Ontarians have confidence in you as our Minister of Health if you keep failing, failing and failing time and time again to deliver quality health care and to honour your own commitments?
We made a $100-million commitment so that we can increase the number of nurses in every single one of the 56,000 nursing home beds in this province, because the last two governments didn't put in place the kind of funding that dealt with the kinds of growing acuity of persons in nursing homes. I've indicated in this House that over 800 of these beds are immediately ready in order to move people out of the hospital setting into the long-term-care setting. But we are deeply disappointed that we've been unable to inspire the hospitals to work with positive solutions, especially in the GTA, where we have our growth factors -
This, Minister, is the emergency services working group report. You know, the report that said there's a real problem in emergency care, especially in hospitals in Toronto. It says in here, first recommendation: 850 long-term-care beds to be funded within 90 days, $18.9 million. That will relieve some of the pressure so that people who are in acute care beds can move on to long-term-care beds. You were supposed to fund this by the summer.
Minister, can you tell us what's happened? You want to take credit for health care. What's happened to these long-term-care beds?
We now have in place 850 of these sites that we have approved and we'll be announcing those tomorrow. The sites are in the process of being notified as we speak, and that is the process we had to follow. But you don't just pick up the telephone in this province and say, "I'd like to open up my doors and allow a bunch of seniors to receive care." These have to follow the most rigid guidelines in North America for safety -
Four hundred and thirty-five very sick people are going to be evicted from their home. Where are those people, many of them on dialysis or with severe brain injuries, going to go? These people require up to 11 hours of care a day and an average of $242 a day in treatment. Under your plan, they will only get $96 a day. Minister, where are those people going to go to get the treatment they need?
When we transfer from a hospital to a long-term-care setting, a major thing happens. There is a shift in the amount of contact that they are having with nursing support and attendant care support. There is congregate dining, so we activate these seniors and persons with disabilities and move them into those kinds of settings. Frankly, they seem to be a lot happier and to appreciate that kind of an environment, in most instances, far more than they do a hospital setting.
The announcement of the additional approximately 800 new placements will allow us to manage the transition from hospital care to community-based care, which is what seniors have asked us for, to receive care closer to home.
The third thing the Health Services Restructuring Commission recommended to the citizens of this province was that we aggressively expand the number of long-term-care beds in this province, given that for almost a decade no growth had occurred with the two previous governments. So this government made a historic commitment of 20,000 new beds in this province, and within two weeks we will be announcing the locations of 2,000 new long-term-care beds in the city of Toronto alone, a record for this province of expansion for seniors' services - unprecedented.
FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE
Gail Ross hasn't been receiving her support payments. She completed all the right forms and submitted them to the Family Responsibility Office in July. She spent months trying to reach someone, anyone, at the Family Responsibility Office. She has been diagnosed with cancer. She's facing the threat of eviction from her apartment. She has been calling the Family Responsibility Office and all she gets is either put on hold for hours at a time or the line is busy.
We called the Family Responsibility Office -
Minister, when you laid off all those family support plan workers, when you closed all the regional offices, you told people: "Wait until we get this spanking new computer system. We're going to have a wonderful operation." First, we showed people that was frankly not true, because the computers weren't working then and they weren't working for six months later. Are your computers still shut down? Is this the spanking new operation you promised women across Ontario?
One of our staff tried calling the FRO today. At 11:30 am it was busy; at 11:45 am, phone line's busy; 12 noon, phone line's busy. She tried every 15 minutes for over an hour and all she got was busy signals.
Minister, women in distress can't even make telephone contact with the FRO. I say to you, it's about time you simply resign and hand this responsibility over to one of your colleagues who can get this system operating effectively in a way you never have and obviously won't.
CHILDREN'S HEALTH SERVICES
The two cancer doctors on staff are working under considerable stress and your underfunding is going to affect the cancer treatment these children are receiving. In fact, Dr Cairney and Dr McKusker are dealing with 250 children each. The standard for Ontario is 80 children under each doctor's care.
Minister, how is triple the workload affecting these children in cancer care?
We also recognize that in London and Hamilton there is need. We are continuing to work with POGO in order that we can make sure that as we move forward, money continues to be provided to respond to the needs. In fact, recently POGO also indicated to us that we need to be setting up some pilot pediatric oncology treatment programs and we made available funding of $350 million.
The president of ChildCan from that area, which is the new charity that has been asked to fund the wages of another doctor - and they don't think they can - said in terms of having to lobby the government, "How far can we go, out on the streets with bald-headed kids and picket signs?" Is this what you're expecting these parents of children with cancer to do in order to make money move from your government? It has been identified as an area of need. You said the same thing in this House weeks ago and we're seeing a very familiar pattern within your ministry.
Your response was supposed to come within two weeks. That was last week. Ed Vermeulen, whose three-year-old daughter has leukemia, said that his daughter's doctor went through 19 days straight, 24 hours a day, on call. Minister, Ed Vermeulen wrote to you. He wrote to the London MPPs. He told you about this a long time ago. Do these children have to come to Queen's Park with picket signs?
I think, as you can appreciate, our government has made tremendous strides forward in responding to the needs of these children.
I have a letter from Heidi Butler, an 11-year-old at A.E. Duffield public school in London, wherein she says there are 33 students in grade 6. She asks: "How can one teacher help all 33 kids? How does this improve learning for students?" What's your answer, Minister?
Because it is an average cap, there will be some classes higher and some classes lower, but at least the classes that are above the average aren't continuing to grow and the classes below the average aren't continuing to grow. We've stopped the growth. Having said that, I look forward to the day when this government will be able to take the next step, which is to address those classes which are beyond the acceptable level.
The government has been advertising maximum average class sizes instituted by this government, but in its advertising the government fails to point out that the government actually legislated maximums that already existed. The maximum average class sizes that you have instituted was an attempt simply to entrench the status quo. But you've noticed there's a problem with that and so you've offered schools the possibility of exemptions from the maximum average.
Minister, how many school boards have requested an exemption this year from your regulations on maximum average class size?
I'm not sure. I know some boards have asked for an exemption but I have not granted one exemption, I'll tell you that. I have not granted one exemption to any school board in Ontario because this government is attempting to improve the quality. This is a provincial standard we have set. Your government wouldn't set it. The Liberal government wouldn't set it. We have set this provincial standard and we believe it's important to improve the quality of education in the province of Ontario.
A number of interesting topics of conversation came up this morning and I was wondering if you would share with this House some ways that this government is encouraging a better climate for the business community.
I noticed during the discussion this morning that the group was very supportive of the climate this government has created for small business. We have reduced the deficit, we have reduced red tape and the barriers to business growth, and we are going to continue to do that by cutting the business corporate tax in half over the next eight years, at 4.75%, which will be the lowest in Canada. We cut the employer health tax and this means that 80% of Ontario's businesses will no longer have to pay that tax.
This government also believes its role is to create a positive climate for business investment. Looking at the number of successes in small businesses, I believe we are on the right track and doing what it needs. As the Minister of Municipal Affairs said earlier, we will not allow municipalities to impede small business growth with irresponsible taxes.
Speaking of young entrepreneurs, I'm happy to recognize one of those young entrepreneurs, a Mr Dameion Royes, who is in the garment industry. He manufactures and produces hats, and he's very much of a success. His picture is on the front page of our bulletin. I would like an opportunity to share with Ontarians. If they want to have one of these things, we are on a Web site. All they have to do is go into our Web site: www.ontario-canada.com. They'd be surprised at what this government has done in such a short period of time to create a positive environment.
You've made commitments in the past. You have spoken about the levels of sulphur in gasoline and the impact it has on people's lives in this province. You just came back from Halifax, from a ministers' conference dealing with the environment. Will you today commit to immediately bring in legislation that will take Ontario from having the dirtiest gasoline of any jurisdiction in North America to having the cleanest?
We don't have time to wait. Every year, 6,000 Ontarians die as a result of air quality. When you sit and wait for the American or Canadian standard to be set, that's not good enough. That doesn't help the kids who are in hospitals because of asthma and bronchitis. It doesn't help the senior who can't go out on a bad air quality day because of a heart problem. We've got a crisis, a serious problem, and you have the power to immediately act to bring in the type of legislation that will reduce the killer sulphur level that we now have in gasoline in Ontario. You have that power, but you're afraid of the petroleum companies. They've lobbied you too hard, they've gone after you too hard and you're now backing down. Again, will you commit today, you as Minister of the Environment in Ontario, to bring in legislation that will put us among the world leaders in gasoline -
During the Liberal administration, the government encouraged refineries in Sarnia to invest in equipment to produce high-sulphur gasoline. That resulted in Ontario having the highest sulphur in all of Canada. We are committed to lowering that, and we will lower it. We will undo the mistakes that you put upon this province.
Your rules say that a board that continues to operate at less than 100% capacity will not get funding. Many will have to close because of your ridiculous, mindless, heartless demand that schools operate at 100% capacity. Are you going to change the funding formula that will reassure most of these parents and these schools that their schools will stay open? Will you do that?
There's an article from the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder, from a trustee indicating the funding was welcomed, it's very good news. They're looking forward to construction of appropriate facilities.
I have a release here from OSSTF in the Durham district board, saying that the Durham District School Board has access to millions of dollars more this year than ever before.
We have attempted to provide fair and equitable funding to all the boards across the province of Ontario. They are taking that funding, making the decisions in conjunction with their parents and -
They say: "Our local community schools are very important. They belong to the community and they are a focus for community activities and not just for students." That is what they're concerned about: their schools staying open. Your rules say the boards must decide by December 31 which schools will close or stay open. The decision and deadline that you have imposed determine whether a board will get any grants for new student spaces. These are your rules, your deadlines and your formulas that are going to in effect close many of the schools I've mentioned. What are you going to say to them that will reassure them their schools will stay open? What will you say?
These are issues that have been dealt with over the course of the years. When the NDP was in power between 1990 and 1995, there were well over 100 schools closed across Ontario. School boards went through the same sort of decision-making process.
We are not requiring boards to make any decisions at any point in time. We are offering them the opportunity at the end of the year. If they wish to dispose of some of their capacity to be more eligible for new pupil places, then they are free to do that. But school boards will make these decisions by themselves, in conjunction with their parents. I think we should allow that the schools boards are more aware of their needs than perhaps some of the members of this Legislature.
ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Dr Paul Garfinkel, the president, indicates, "The merger has benefits. We can provide more accessible services, more research, more knowledge, and that means more service, programs and training to communities across Ontario, indeed the world."
We are also significantly expanding funding for mental health services and, as you know, we did allocate this year $60 million additional dollars to serve communities, families and those individuals who need our support in time of crisis.
During the last election campaign Mike Harris said, "It is not my plan to close hospitals." In fact, he put "certainly" in front of that. Will you assure the people of St Catharines and the Niagara region that none of the hospitals in the Niagara Peninsula will close or be forced to merge and that none of the hospitals in the Niagara region presently existing will have to in any way reduce the services they provide to the communities in which they are found?
The restructuring process is taking place in order that we can meet the needs of our population today, a population that is not only growing but the number of people in it who are older; the proportion of our population is increasing. The Health Services Restructuring Commission has gone to communities, and yes, I understand they're presently reviewing your community. They are an arm's-length commission and we will need to await the response.
As a result of your plan, which has been announced by your ministry, to cut over $40 million in operating funds for hospitals in the Niagara region, the services that can be provided to the hospitals, both the medical service and the ancillary non-medical service, have been significantly reduced. The hospitals in the Niagara region, as in many other areas of the province, are running huge deficits and are going into debt as a result of the cut of funding on your part.
We have in the Niagara Peninsula the oldest population per capita - that is, people 55 years and older - in all of Canada at this time. Dr David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo, when he came to Brock University was asked if he had any advice for Mike Harris. Looking at the demographics of the Niagara Peninsula, what would it be? His answer was, "Don't close hospitals."
Minister, will you assure the House today that you will have all the services that the people of the Niagara Peninsula require in the hospitals of the Niagara Peninsula and that all of them will remain -
Bill 35 doesn't even come close to guaranteeing that rural and northern hydro consumers are going to continue to receive their rate assistance. The NDP moved an amendment at committee to guarantee this and your Conservative colleagues voted against it. Minister, I want to know, where were you when it came to protecting northern and rural consumers? Why did your colleagues vote against this amendment?
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
"Whereas proper mental health care is essential to all Ontarians; and
"Whereas mental health care is severely underfunded in northwestern Ontario; and
"Whereas the Health Services Restructuring Commission has called for the closure of the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital with no replacement services in its place; and
"Whereas appropriate community mental health treatment is so lacking in northwestern Ontario that those who need treatment, support and rehabilitation are incarcerated in district jails; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has not delivered on its commitment to set up the Northwestern Ontario Mental Health Agency over one year after it promised to do so; and
"Whereas there is a dramatic shortage of psychiatrists in northwestern Ontario to the point where the doctors are severely overworked; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Health promised a 12-bed adolescent treatment centre and has failed to deliver on that promise;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to commit those funds necessary to provide full and proper mental health care to those in need in northwestern Ontario and call on the Minister of Health to cancel the closure of the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital."
I'm very pleased to sign my name to that petition.
"Whereas your government insists that Ontarians would prefer tax cuts to quality health care; and
"Whereas the waiting list for urgently needed medical procedures rapidly lengthens; and
"Whereas more and more medical procedures are no longer covered by provincial funding;
"We, the undersigned, do hereby petition the Ontario government to give us back our health care system immediately by increasing funding and restoring coverages which your government has cut."
That's signed by Alan Taylor of St Catharines, Ron Carruthers of St Catharines, Ron Martin of Thorold and many, many others.
"Whereas the regional municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth has imposed property taxes in excess of what is considered reasonable by the electorate;
"Whereas the electorate considers that the out-of-control taxation is a result of fiscal mismanagement and unnecessary duplication of government services by the regional municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth;
"We, the undersigned, do petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to appoint, through the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honourable Al Leach, a commission of inquiry as set out in section 139 of the regional municipal act of 1994."
I affix my signature.
"Whereas due to the Harris funding cuts to education the Toronto Catholic District School Board is being forced to consider the closing of 29 Catholic elementary schools in the city of Toronto before next September; and
"Whereas the parents of the students of St Gaspar School do not want the school closed because it is operating at full capacity, and fear the further chaos and crisis the Harris government is imposing on the education of their children; and
"Whereas there is apprehension and turmoil in the community that due to government rules to determine school capacity, hundreds of students will have to find a new school next September;
"Now, therefore, we, the undersigned citizens of Ontario, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"We call upon the Minister of Education, who has the primary responsibility for providing a quality education for each and every student in Ontario, to:
"1. Listen to the views being expressed by the teachers and parents of St Gaspar School students who are concerned about the implications and disruptive effects the school closure would have on their children;
"2. Recognize the fundamental importance of our local schools to our neighbourhood community;
"3. Live up to its commitment to provide adequate funding for the important and essential components of a good education and not allow the closing of St Gaspar School because it is operating at full capacity."
I concur with the petitioners and affix my signature to it.
"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 continue to support Hamiltonians by signing this petition.
"Whereas bears are hunted in the spring after they have come out of hibernation; and
"Whereas female bears are killed in the spring, some with cubs; and
"Whereas 100% of the cubs orphaned in the spring will die; and
"Whereas most of the bears killed by non-resident hunters are hunted over bait; and
"Whereas bears are the only big-game animals that are hunted in the spring; and
"Whereas there are only six states in the United States which still allow a spring hunt;
"We, the undersigned, petition the provincial Parliament to prohibit the hunting of bears in the spring."
"Whereas prostate cancer is the fourth-leading cause of fatal cancer in Ontario;
"Whereas prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of fatal cancer for males;
"Whereas early detection is one of the best tools for being victorious in our battle against cancer; and
"Whereas the early detection blood test known as PSA, which is prostate-specific antigen, is one of the most effective tests at diagnosing early prostate cancer;
"Therefore be it resolved that we, the undersigned, petition the Ontario Legislature to encourage the Minister of Health to have this test added to the list of services covered by OHIP and that this be done immediately in order for us to save lives and to beat prostate cancer."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in complete agreement with its contents.
"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 support my local constituents by signing this.
"Whereas heritage is vitally important to the social and economic health of Ontario communities and Ontario residents; and
"Whereas community museums, galleries and heritage organizations work hard to protect, promote, manage and develop our provincial heritage resources; and
"Whereas the provincial government has a responsibility to the people of Ontario to promote the value of heritage and heritage conservation; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has abdicated their responsibility for heritage by cutting support to community museums, galleries and heritage organizations; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has not implemented a new heritage act that would give communities the ability to better protect heritage sites;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to provide stronger support to Ontario's heritage institutions and organizations and to work with the people of Ontario to establish a new heritage act."
"Whereas a new schedule of dental services for children and people with disabilities was introduced by the government under the Ontario Works Act and the Ontario Disability Support Program Act; and
"Whereas the new schedule fails to meet the special needs of children and people with disabilities, reduces services, places barriers to accessing care and creates an environment for various different dental programs across Ontario; and
"Whereas the move away from an emphasis on prevention under the new dental schedule brings significant health risks for children and people with disabilities who are often least able to practise good oral hygiene; and
"Whereas the new dental schedule interferes with the patients' rights to consent to treatment by requiring administrators, and not patients, to authorize any dental treatment; and
"Whereas there is no method for the patient to appeal a decision by a plan administrator to deny dental treatment; and
"Whereas pre-authorizations, called predeterminations in the new plan, will require that a higher level of confidential patient health information be disclosed to dental plan administrators; and
"Whereas the Ontario government has caused confusion among patients by introducing the plan without adequate consultation and has not included any affected patient groups in consultations after releasing the new dental plan;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly as follows:
"Delay full implementation of the new dental plan until the requirement for predeterminations is removed, patient confidentiality is protected, the plan emphasizes prevention in oral health care, and the government consults directly with affected patients to ensure the new plan will meet the special needs of children and people with disabilities."
It's been signed by approximately 20 individuals and I attach my signature as well.
"To the Honourable Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"We, the undersigned citizens of Hamilton and the surrounding communities, beg leave to petition the government of Ontario as follows:
"Whereas the Health Services Restructuring Commission has announced the closure of Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario, through the Health Services Restructuring Commission, is divesting its responsibility for mental health care without hearing from the community first; and
"Whereas community-based mental health care providers will bear the brunt of this ill-fated decision by being forced to meet what is sure to be an increased demand for their services; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario is not adequately monitoring community-based mental health services for their effectiveness, efficiency or whether they are even delivering the agreed-upon programs in the first place, according to the 1997 annual report of the Provincial Auditor; and
"Whereas the community pays the price for cuts to mental health care;
"We, the citizens of Hamilton and area, who care about quality, accessible and publicly accountable mental health care for all Ontarians petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to immediately set aside all recommendations to divest and/or close Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital and the programs and services it provides; and
"Further, to call for full hearings to seek community solutions to community issues and to democratically decide the future of mental health care for the citizens of Hamilton and area."
I add my name to that of these petitioners.
"Whereas the Ontario health system is overburdened and unnecessary spending must be cut; and
"Whereas pregnancy is not a disease, injury or illness and abortions are not therapeutic procedures; and
"Whereas the vast majority of abortions are done for reasons of convenience or finance; and
"Whereas the province has the exclusive authority to determine what services will be insured; and
"Whereas the Canada Health Act does not require funding for elective procedures; and
"Whereas there is mounting evidence that abortion is in fact hazardous to women's health; and
"Whereas Ontario taxpayers funded over 45,000 abortions in 1993 at an estimated cost of $25 million;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to cease from providing any taxpayers' dollars for the performance of abortions."
ORDERS OF THE DAY
HIGHWAY 407 ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 SUR L'AUTOROUTE 407
Mr Sampson moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 70, An Act to engage the private sector in improving transportation infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion, creating jobs and stimulating economic activity through the sale of Highway 407 / Loi visant à intéresser le secteur privé à améliorer l'infrastructure des transports, réduire la circulation engorgée, créer des emplois et stimuler l'activité économique par la vente de l'autoroute 407.
Perhaps, before we get too far down the debate here, it might be helpful for those watching today, for some of the individuals who are watching in the Legislature today, and maybe for some of the members as well, to give a little bit of a history of Highway 407 so we understand what exactly it is that we're contemplating doing here and what this particular road infrastructure has been designed to do.
The background of 407 is actually quite interesting. One might have thought it's a highway infrastructure that was designed and implemented in the early 1990s, but in fact the history of 407 goes back to 1973 when it was part of the planning of what's called the parkway belt planning area. The intention at that time was to create a parkway belt that would be the outside perimeter effectively of the GTA. It was the insight of a Conservative government that originated the concept of the parkway belt, but it was interesting enough that subsequent governments continued to develop that idea to the state it is now, a highway that still doesn't surround the GTA, but goes through, one might say, the north, the east and the western part of the GTA; that is to say, development has actually grown past that particular parkway belt.
Interestingly enough, it's that additional development that has created a need for a highway such as 407, not only to provide some stimulus and economic growth for that particular area but to help with the traffic flows that have been created as a result of the tremendous population growth in the GTA, and certainly in the Hamilton and Halton areas. Highway 407 was designed and originally planned to help ease some of that congestion.
The congestion we're talking about - and I would use the drawing that I have here on my desk, Speaker, but I know that you would frown upon my using a prop, so I'm going to try to describe what we have here - that 407 is trying to relieve is the severe traffic problems that highway passengers, whether they be private cars or commercial vehicles, see on Highway 401 as it stretches across the city of Toronto.
Highway 403, which is a relatively new infrastructure, part of the parkway belt plan, by the way, but one of the first roads to be built in accordance with that plan development - 403 congestion is quite severe. The population has grown around it.
Then there is the QEW congestion, and many of the people in this particular area and certainly the members from Hamilton and the Halton area will be able to attest that that particular artery is indeed a very busy highway. There's a tremendous need in this section of the province for a highway to provide congestion relief to the existing 400 series highways: QEW, 401 and 403.
If you think about the way Ontario has developed in this area - and I know the member from the north would agree - there's a tremendous need here to provide some flow-through traffic as commercial vehicles follow the north-south route of trade that has developed between Ontario and some of the northern states, the connection point of course being down in the Niagara area. Traffic, commercial traffic primarily, would have to find a way to feed its way through the Hamilton, the Halton and the GTA areas so that they could feed the consumers to the eastern part of the province.
There's a tremendous need for a commercial congestion relief highway. That's what gave birth to Highway 407. To give credit where credit should be due, and I'm quite prepared to do so, it was actually the NDP government that took the initiative to take the concept of a highway that would relieve congestion in certain parts of other highways and turn that into a reality. I see the member nodding; he was involved very closely on this particular highway. The interesting part about the NDP's involvement in this plan is that they chose to implement only the middle portion of the highway. The western portions that would have connected to 403 and the QEW were not part of the original plan. Likewise, the design they started to work on initially as phase 1, if you will, ended right in the middle of a small city -
I say to the member for Lake Nipigon, interesting first step. The problem was that there was no execution plan, even in their first step initiative, to build the eastern and western extensions. A highway that was originally conceived to relieve congestion didn't have, even as its first phase or its phase 1 development, a plan to develop the highway to its east and west extensions. That is what is driving our plan to find a private sector partner to help us complete the project.
I know some of my colleagues who will be speaking after me will want to speak to this and inform the House on this, but I think it's important to understand that while the highway under the NDP regime was built by the private sector, the majority of the costs and risks associated with building a highway - and there are many risks associated with building a highway, especially one that is intended to be a toll highway - stayed in the hands of the public sector.
While one might have trumpeted this as a true public-private partnership, and indeed the previous government did so in the many brochures they put out, it's quite clear if you look at the design of the relationship with the builder at that time, the fact is that it was not implemented as a true public-private partnership. Why? It's difficult to answer that question. I'm sure the New Democratic Party, when they stand up to speak to this particular bill, will be quite helpful in informing us on that. The fact of the matter is that the public sector, the taxpayers of this province, absorbed, for all intents and purposes, all of the risk associated with the design, the construction and the effectiveness not only of the road itself but of this rather innovative and to date quite acceptable and effective tolling technology that has been put on the road.
Our challenge is to get the east and west components completed and relieve the taxpayers of this tremendous debt burden they've absorbed as a result of an attempt by the previous government to structure this public-private partnership properly, yet failing to do so. We think it rather strange that one would ask motorists, whether they be commercial vehicles or private vehicles, to absorb the cost of travelling on the highway by paying the toll and yet at the same time financing that very same road they're driving on through their tax dollars. That's absolutely ridiculous and it's not an effective use of taxpayers' money.
Our plan would be to engage the private sector, not only to complete the east and west ends, which the previous government had no plan to do, but to do so with no additional taxpayers' money being involved and, on top of that, returning to the taxpayer the dollars they had invested in this highway as it currently is designed.
When one speaks to many of the municipalities and business owners on either end of the highway or through the GTA, they will quite quickly say to you that there is a tremendous need to provide the local businesses and residents in the Toronto area, in the Hamilton area, in the Halton area and in the areas to the east of the city with an alternative route - and they're quite agreeable to having a toll highway - to the existing infrastructure. They need that because it's necessary to support the economic development that is happening in this province.
I know, Speaker, you've listened quite carefully as the government has been explaining, day over day over day, how this province has turned around, and the economy is booming and this province is again the leader in economic activity in this country and, I would say, in North America.
Interestingly enough, as we went through our consultation phase on what to do with Highway 407, many people came to me and said: "Wait a minute, what do you mean you want to sell this highway? We don't own it. Doesn't the private sector already own this highway? Why are you talking about taxpayers' dollars being involved?" Again, as I said earlier, the facts are that while the previous government wanted to create an environment where the private sector was the owner of the highway and wanted to create the environment where the taxpayer was not funding the highway, they couldn't, and didn't, deliver on that structure.
We intend to deliver on that structure. We intend to go to the private sector through an open bidding process and ask them to commit to build the east and west extensions, to take over the operation of the existing highway, to be responsible for the maintenance of the whole stretch of highway, to maintain it as a free and open highway so that anybody can have access to it and to relieve the taxpayer of the burden the taxpayer is currently bearing for the financing of the whole structure.
The bill we're debating here today will establish the mechanics for that particular arrangement, the mechanics for the collection and enforcement of tolls. It will set out provisions that relate to the management of the highway, who is responsible for managing what component of the highway, who is responsible for building the extra lanes that will be needed as the population continues to grow, who is responsible for cleaning the highway, and to what standards the highway will be maintained.
The bill will address these particular issues and will stipulate very clearly that safety is number one. We are quite concerned with the safety of the roads in this province and we will continue to insist that this road, under private ownership, will be maintained and built to the same safety standards as other 400-series highways are built and maintained to in this province.
I want to give some time for my colleagues to speak, but I think it's important for individuals watching today in the House to understand that we have established a process that will allow us to move ahead on this transaction. That process will be a fair and open process. We intend to solicit bids through an initial expression of interest arrangement. Once that has allowed us to identify the original list of interested parties, we will go through a process where they will be asked to submit formal bids and final bids.
We have engaged outside consultants, both legal and financial, to help us with this process. Contacts will be made through the secretariat that reports to me. They will manage the relationship with the potential investors.
I want to assure Ontarians that what we're looking for here is fair value for this highway. We're looking for a repayment of our tax dollars that have been invested in this highway. We're looking for a relationship, an arrangement, a partnering with a private sector individual or corporation that will share the risks in the management and construction of this highway. We do not intend to duplicate what the previous government did in the construction of the central portion. That is not an acceptable model to us. It wasn't an acceptable model to the auditor; it's not an acceptable model to us either. We think the arrangement with the private sector needs to clearly establish who is responsible for what, who will be dealing with what particular issues on the highway, and that's the type of arrangement we intend to seek.
It's also important for the people listening and watching today, and for the members of the assembly, to understand that the concept of partnership we intend to pursue will still involve this government, this province, owning the land and the parkway, owning the land on which the highway is constructed. What we're really looking at, and what this bill allows us to proceed with and establishes the parameters for, is effectively the leasing of the highway that sits upon the land the government will continue to own.
What we're really talking about here is not necessarily the sale of the highway, as individuals watching us today might easily be led to understand, but effectively a leasing of the business of the running of the highway, the construction of the very important remaining sections of the highway, so that the province will still have ownership of the land, will still, as the owner of the land, have control over the future development of that land, whether that development be subsequent interchanges, a service station or some other facility that passengers on the highway might want, additional lanes, or as was contemplated in the original design some 20 years ago, perhaps a railway or a transit way that would be an alternative use to the private passenger vehicle. Because we will still be the owners of the property, we will still have control over how that land is utilized.
Our goal of course is to maximize value for the province, to relieve the taxpayers of the risks they've been forced to bear by the previous government and will not want to bear, and shouldn't bear, I would argue, in future development of the highway, and to complete this highway on its eastern and western extensions as soon as possible. In fact, we will be looking for bidders to establish parameters that will allow them, should they be successful bidders, to begin the construction of the western portion in the spring of next year.
That will be a key requirement for us because it's important that we get these facilities built. It is important that we get the western extension built. It's important because it's essential for the people who live in that area, and I would argue it's also essential for the continued successful operation of the remaining part of the highway.
On the east end, we will also be looking for commitments from the private sector of when extensions can be built right through to Highway 115, inclusive of any necessary connections to the 401 in the east end of the artery. That's important for us too, again for the same reasons, because the people in that area, the growth in that area demand it and need it and because it's necessary for the successful completion of the highway - two very important requirements.
I should say that we are also talking about a tremendous infrastructure project here that not only will create and continue to provide for the economic development of Ontario and perhaps this area of Ontario, but will allow for the creation of 6,000 new jobs in this province. It's important for us to understand that when we talk about those 6,000 jobs, there are other related jobs as a result of those people having jobs.
It goes to show that if you can partner with the private sector and do it properly and effectively and have the right risk-sharing arrangements with the private sector, you can do that and create jobs at the same time without one dollar of taxpayers' money being invested.
To close and pass on to other members who want to speak, I think it's crucial that we understand that partnering with the private sector through associations and transactions like this creates jobs. They help improve the economic performance of this province. They do so without a burden on the taxpayer.
There is a role for government to play. Yes, there's a role for government to play and, as you read this bill, you will see that we've designed a role for government to play. There are responsibilities of government, but there are also responsibilities of the private sector. Properly structured, properly crafted, properly designed and properly monitored, together with the private sector we can create jobs and continue the tremendous development that has happened in this province over the last while.
I also want to congratulate the minister on the work he's put into it. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept that we need to get rid of this piece of property to save the taxpayers of Ontario some taxpayers' dollars, if we can improve it and put it in the private sector making sure that the private sector can go on and still make a very viable operation.
I want to take you back a little bit in history about Highway 401. I was a young lad going off to school when they opened the bypass around Toronto. The 401 in 1958 looked a lot different than it does today. The only place to get off 401 that had lights in 1958 was at Yonge Street. It was the only one that had lights on it. When you drove by the corner of Yonge and the 401 there were farm fields out to the north, horses and cattle pastured in them, and now that whole artery has developed into a horrendous highway that's packed most of the time.
I can tell you, having driven on the 407 on a few occasions, that even though we've just opened it and it hasn't been opened a long time, on October 2 I had the pleasure of being on the 407 and we came to stop-and-go traffic from close to Yonge Street to the west side of the 400. This exemplifies the exact need we have to develop the kind of infrastructure so that we can move trade and make sure our vehicles and transportation can move freely from east to west.
As we listened to the House in Ottawa the other day, the surplus in Canada was the biggest surplus we've had for the last month. I want to remind members that much of that surplus trade travels up and down the 401. It travels across our province from east to west. I think the development of the 407 will relieve some of the pressure on the 401 so we can make that trek in from the far east under a little bit better conditions.
My colleagues from Hamilton and Halton and that area continually tell us about the delay and the length of time it takes them to come into Toronto with the congestion they have. The extension of the 407, connecting with the 403 and on down through to the Hamilton area, will relieve a lot of that pressure. When some of our opposition members get here with less frustration, they'll probably be a lot more congenial - after they buggered up the highway and got it started.
The big thing is the construction of that highway that we as a government are offering to put up for public sale. We're not offering to sell the ground under the highway; we're offering to sell the infrastructure, the ability for that company or consortium to take those dollars, invest in the highway, collect the tolls there and make sure the roads are open for all travellers, whether they be trucks, cars or whatever comes in the future, so we can use that highway to alleviate some of the pressures we have.
As we come into the city from the east, on more than one occasion we've had to come to a grinding halt coming into the Oshawa area because the highway is congested and it becomes stop-and-go traffic. It's very frustrating for the people; it's very hard on the economy to lose those hours of time on the highways.
How many dollars do we have invested in the 407 at the present time? As of March 31, the taxpayers of Ontario have somewhere around $104 billion. If we have that $104 billion invested in capital and if we can take that back from the private sector, sell it and put those dollars back in, we'll make one more promise in the Common Sense Revolution when we sell that asset. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we can pay down that debt we've inherited. That's very important, not only to our generation and the commitment we made in the Common Sense Revolution but to the commitment we as a government have made to the people of Ontario. As long as we have that kind of commitment and keep on our goal, we'll do a better job.
Another thing the minister mentioned was the process put into place to sell this piece of property, the services we can sell. We have to make sure Bill 70 lays out very clearly what we're selling, what the rules of the game are going to be and where we fit into it.
Regarding the acquisition of most of the land to the west, from the extension of where it ends now at the 401, where it goes on down to the Hamilton area, much of that land is already in the process of being developed, with ownership being turned over, so we can go ahead and develop it.
In the east - I'm very interested in the east because we travel from there all the time and so do a lot of our colleagues. I know one of the other speakers, when that east extension goes on to the 401 it goes through nearly his entire riding, right from one end to the other. But we have to go through the process to make sure the 407 gets connected to the 401 so it gives an alternative traffic route for people with tractor-trailers, cars, holiday weekends and also, probably a more important thing, that trade which we have to have travel up and down the 401.
The minister mentioned the 6,000 jobs it has created. We have to be able to continue to develop our province so we can make sure we have those kinds of jobs for our children and our grandchildren, handing those jobs to them without having the tax burden as far as putting on to them the cost of the operation.
Over the next few days of debate and everything that will be put in on Bill 70, the designation of the 407 - it's a nice thing to say you're going to sell a whole highway; all we're going to sell is the ability for that company to take over that highway, to run it, keep it up, with the controls that we want to have on it, and make sure it keeps the safety standards that are required to make sure people are running on a safe and required highway.
There are many parts of the bill in here that we will continue to discuss as the days go by, but one thing is to make sure that the company that collects the toll takes the same position that we as a government do, that we can make sure the person who uses that highway pays the bill; and if at the end of some 90 days somebody feels they have not collected that toll, that company we turn it over to would be given the appropriate procedures so they can make sure of those collections.
It's a delight for me, as a person from the east, to stand up and support the minister, the way he has put together this bill to make sure that Ontario is well represented, that we as taxpayers have guarantees we're not going to lose on this, that we're going to win on it. If we can entice the private sector - and they tell us there are a number of people out there who are interested in bidding on this - then we can pay down the debt we inherited from previous governments and make sure we have a safe, viable operation so trade and consumers can move freely back and forth, safe, without accidents, the way we can move in and out of our area.
The Toronto airport is certainly a fascinating magnet that draws a lot of traffic in and out of it, and for us in the east who have to travel up and down that road with only one way to go, it certainly relieves a lot of pressure to have the opportunity to travel on the 407.
I'll share my time now with the rest of my colleagues. It's my pleasure to pass on to them. Thank you very much for my opportunity to comment.
As you know, our government was elected with a mandate to make government work better for the people it serves. So far in our mandate we have accomplished long-overdue changes never attempted by previous governments. We have learned that we make better decisions when we consider the advice of people outside government and that everyone benefits from an open process, when our plans and proposals are made public and made clear.
As the Premier stated while in Ottawa this past weekend, we are not government; we're the people who came to fix government. This is certainly why I came to Queen's Park and why I support the process put in place to privatize the 407.
The introduction of Minister Sampson's bill, entitled An Act to engage the private sector in improving transportation infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion, creating jobs and stimulating economic activity through the sale of Highway 407, says it all.
I think it's safe to say we've all been stuck in traffic and we wished we belonged to the Star Trek generation of "Beam me up, Scotty." Sitting in traffic is not fun for anyone, which is why we need to build toll highways such as the 407. People need choices.
Just like various other aspects of government, public ownership of various kinds of businesses and services has been built up over the decades. Quite often there were good reasons for government to get involved. However, in many cases those reasons no longer exist, because things change. It becomes very clear that the private sector needs to be involved.
Over and over again it can be demonstrated that the private sector can provide efficient delivery of service. We need only look at other provinces and internationally to see where those experiments are working very successfully for both the businesses and the taxpayer as well. At the same time, the province has a responsibility to set out in this legislation the guidelines to ensure that a prospective purchaser must meet these requirements, must meet the requirements of provincial standards and guarantees of safety and policing, which must remain in place.
But as we look at those changes, we recognize that the needs and priorities of Ontarians change too. We are prepared for these changes. That is why we are constantly looking at where, why and how we are investing taxpayers' dollars. As Minister Sampson stated:
"The taxpayers have financed the construction of the 407. They own it. On top of that, the taxpayers are being asked to pay tolls.
"To me, that's ridiculous. What we need to do is make sure that those who want to pay the tolls don't also have to finance it through their tax dollars. That's why we're proceeding with the sale process."
Everyone counts and everyone has the right to make choices. People choose to travel the 407 because they know it saves time.
As a bit of background, the highway was originally conceived as a public-private partnership project by the NDP government in the early 1990s which originally called for the highway to revert to provincial ownership within 30 years. The Office of Privatization began its review of Highway 407 in June 1997. Using the Ontario privatization review framework, the review assessed a range of options that would involve the private sector in financing, building and operating the Highway 407 westerly and easterly extensions and in financing Highway 407 central. As a result of the review, the government made the decision to sell the highway.
We also recognize the need to protect Ontario taxpayers, and as a condition of sale the purchaser will be required to build, finance and operate the two extensions and finance the central section subject to certain conditions.
As part of the process, a call for expression of interest will be issued shortly in order to identify and communicate with potential bidders for the highway. Potential bidders will undergo a pre-qualification process to evaluate their financial and technical ability to undertake the project. The bidding process will be conducted in a fair, open and competitive manner.
There are those who ask, "Isn't the highway already privately owned?" This is a great misconception. While private consortia had the responsibility to design and build the highway, as well as managing its operation and maintenance, the ownership of the highway and the costs of financing the construction of the central section rest with the province. It is also important to note that the province will continue to own the land on which the highway sits. The highway will remain an open-access tolled highway. That means that the owner of the highway will be required to allow any non-commercial vehicles to have access to the highway regardless of whether or not they have transponders. As I mentioned earlier, the OPP will continue to patrol the highway even under private sector ownership.
We all recognize the importance of job creation, and it is expected that more than 6,000 private sector construction-related jobs will be created in building the extension. I think it's important to see this in the bigger context in terms of the importance this infrastructure has with the province. Since September 1995, 408,000 net new jobs have been created in this province. This alone has enormous impact on our towns, our communities and on individual families.
The role of the provincial government, then, is to provide a framework within which this economic activity can take place and flourish. We have an obligation to ensure the infrastructure is there to support this economic growth. It is in that context that this major transportation artery will stimulate investment and activity in the 407 corridor, and this again can be expected to translate into further new jobs.
Highway 407 represents an important component of our provincial transportation network. Improvement to the network will also improve the provincial economy. The government will fulfill our election commitment contained in the Common Sense Revolution to apply the proceeds of the sale of Highway 407 to pay down the provincial debt. By reducing the debt, we will ultimately have more flexibility to fund our priority areas.
In short, I support privatization of the 407 because it will help to improve service and value to taxpayers and make government work better for those it serves.
I think the best way I've seen it defined or heard the remarks - this is not my own comment. We've all heard of the popular movie Field of Dreams. The famous line in that movie is, "If we build it, they will come." How that line applies to 407 is that without the infrastructure of the 407, the Durham region really has an economic bottleneck on Highway 401. If you look at the anchor of Oshawa and Burlington, Burlington to Oshawa needs good infrastructure, and certainly the 407 is that important infrastructure for the economy and for the jobs and for the people of my riding of Durham East.
It's important to put into more perspective the importance of the 407 and getting on with business. My comments aren't in any way rehearsed, but because I'm familiar with the project and very comfortable, in the time remaining I will try to inform the members here of how important it is to my riding.
My riding sees this as both an opportunity and a challenge, and in that challenge there are issues. I respect the environment, as I think most Canadians and most Ontario citizens and certainly the people in Durham do. My riding of Durham East is sort of from Regional Road 23, Lakeridge Road - you might see that sign on the 401 - all the way east to the border of Northumberland county and north of that. Part of my riding is north of Taunton Road. But that area is a very important environmental area. The Oak Ridges Moraine runs right through that whole area, and that's the issue here. It's very important that the routing of this highway have respect for the environment.
I'm going to be there. I'm on record, both when I was a councillor and here today, that I want the environmental assessment process to take precedence in the technologically preferred route for the highway. There it is; it's on the record. I respect the environment. I want the EA process to apply and the alignment shouldn't just be an economic decision; it's got to respect the environment.
But the other side of this field of dreams is an opportunity and a dilemma for my riding. The opportunity, of course, is the economic reality. Without that link we are not very competitive in this GTA global marketplace.
When I'm looking at the map here - just for the other members, there's the map of the technically preferred route - I'm looking to the west, our famous neighbour to the west, Mississauga, that seems to run everything in southern Ontario. I look at the infrastructure they have. They've got the Queen Elizabeth Way, they've got the 403, they've got the 407, they've got the 427, they've got the 400 and the 404 highways, all this major infrastructure. On top of that they've got a major airport. That is why Hazel McCallion is successful. She has an endless stream of revenue all generated because of the important infrastructure in the area. It is also a well-run and well-represented area. The member for Mississauga South I believe is a very capable person and probably works very closely with Hazel.
If I look to the east, the poor neighbours to the east, we have bottlenecks. I drive to Queen's Park every day and I usually have to leave at about 6 in the morning to get here for an 8 o'clock meeting. If I don't leave by 6, I'm not here till 9. If I leave even later than that, it could be three hours of commuting. All of my constituents have the same concern. We need this link. We also need GO Transit, public transit developed a little more aggressively in the area. But to stay on topic, I'm just trying to illustrate the importance of this particular piece of infrastructure.
I've done a bit of homework on this. As I said, I've been involved in it for a while. It's important to state that this has been a challenge for not only Durham region but the seven or eight municipalities within it. They haven't been able to agree how to get the frigging thing out here. For the record, I'm going to go through a few of the resolutions. With the co-operation of some of the municipalities, I've got their official positions on this alignment issue.
I'm looking at a resolution passed by the town of Whitby in 1997, just to see how controversial this thing is in that area. They want it, absolutely. They want it tomorrow morning, but they can't agree on some of the other, routing issues.
"At a meeting held on December 15...the council of the corporation of the town of Whitby passed the following resolution in connection with the Lakeridge Road/ Highway 401 interchange."
This may seem boring to some of the people here, but that will be the first opportunity for the 407 to link with the 401 in the easterly portion of the highway. Whitby council and Durham region have been arguing to have an official position as to whether they were going to accept some link. Of course, without the link, the 407 became problematic. It ended in the middle of the field of dreams. Here's what they said in December 1997:
"That the Ministry of Transportation be requested to commit to the full construction of the Lakeridge Road/ Highway 401 interchange with the extension of Highway 407 into the region of Durham or as a priority project should the extension of Highway 407 into Durham be deferred.
"That the Ministry of Transportation be advised that the town of Whitby sees this as a priority project in order to,
"(a) provide a continuous link between Highway 401 and the interim terminus of Highway 407 to benefit the function of Highway 407 and the traffic needs for the city of Toronto and the region of York and the region of Durham."
It goes on, but you see some of the controversy there. Technically, there's no sense building the highway until you've the link issue resolved. Yet on the other side, the region of Durham, and chairman Roger Anderson, has been arguing relentlessly to get this highway out there, but it's got to have some method of linking up to the 401. I might add, we have a similar problem at Markham Road where the terminus is right now. The cars have to bunch up somewhere to get down to the 401 or up to Highway 7. This may seem a little tedious for members because some of the technical arguments have been made by the previous members.
There is another resolution here, for the record, February 17, 1998, from the town of Whitby. I'll go through the preamble:
"The council of the corporation of the town of Whitby at a meeting held on February 16, 1998, passed the following resolution in connection with the easterly extension of the 407 expressway."
I won't go through all the "whereases" but it has to deal with where traffic goes. For instance, in my riding there is a little community of Brooklin that would be just overwhelmed with traffic, and Winchester Road was the issue.
"Therefore, be it resolved that the Ministry of Transportation be strongly urged to construct a bypass around the village of Brooklin utilizing the 407 alignment to Winchester Road in advance of any further easterly extension of Highway 407."
They kept putting in these encumbrances on not only the province but their own region, if you will.
There is also, from the town of Whitby, another concern and issue. This is from the current mayor of Whitby. I'm just going to read the last statement of a memo, dated January 1998, that he sent to the Honourable Tony Clement. I hope I'm not plagiarizing here, but I think it's important to put it on the record. The mayor is Marcel Brunelle and this is his position:
"It is Whitby's view that there are basic and fundamental deficiencies in the environmental assessment for the...Ajax/Whitby...freeway-to-freeway route study. As mayor I am of the opinion that the position being taken by the ministry demonstrates a bias to what is an incomplete environmental assessment report, which I am sure is not intended by your office."
I might say right now that the EA process has been approved to Brock Road, so that argument - the Ministry of the Environment has approved that clearance so they can make some connection at some point.
But I go on. I'm looking at an article here by Mike Kowalski, who's a reporter in a local paper in the riding of the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Jim Flaherty, from Durham Centre. All members of council have commented on this, but I know Minister Flaherty has been very concerned about the two issues. Minister Flaherty is obviously very concerned. He's the person who dealt with the Lynde Marsh issue. He's also a minister who knows that a healthy economy and jobs are an important part of having a healthy environment.
So there's Whitby solved, and we're not halfway through the municipality. For the record, there's no possibility of a link of the 407, which is north of Oshawa, down to the 401. It's all developed, unless they want to expropriate a whole city block. I don't think that's going to happen.
I might also add that once you get past Markham Road on the 407, most of the studies indicate that there's no economic justification - not enough volume. Basically, the farther east you go on 407, most of the people are going to their cottages. Maybe they're going to Peterborough, but that's not a commerce link, in my view. There has to be more discussion on that eastern link, I'm convinced. That's my riding. That's why I'm talking on this issue today, to put the issues - not just my own issues; that's not my role - that I hear from my constituents on the record.
I've looked briefly here at the Whitby record. Now I'm going to look briefly, Mr Speaker, with your permission, at the record of the township of Scugog, another important part of the northern part of my riding. They're really saying here in this correspondence, dated January 23, 1998: "A copy of your correspondence to the Hon Tony Clement, Minister of Transportation, regarding the above matter..." was received at our last regular meeting.
"I wish to advise that council endorsed and supported the town of Whitby's position on the matter through resolution 98-046, a copy of which is enclosed for your information."
I was sent a copy of that resolution. That was the "Resolution to the province in support of the construction of the Lakeridge Road/Highway 401 interchange." Scugog, of course, is north of the 407. Once you build this 10-lane highway, this super-infrastructure, that's going to sort of terminate the urban expansion. That's going to be the upper limit of urban growth, hopefully, as it should be. I think underneath that the municipalities have some zoning issues themselves to deal with, the properties that front.
I go back to my riding, Durham College and that area, that strip through the riding, to help people understand and orient them. There will be land value issues to be dealt with in the fullness of time that will affect farming operations. Their investment in their land is very important. They have to know where this route is going to go, because there's the threat of this highway. So it's important that this legislation allow that to happen and that the environmental issues and others are addressed.
The final thing is that Durham region's position is clear. I'll just read: "That the region...continue to support the ultimate completion of Highway 407 to Highway 115/35 and urges that all necessary steps be taken to expedite this project," as soon as possible. That's October 29, 1996. It's even more critical now that we're in October 1998. You can see that the municipality has been wrangling with this thing for about five years and now the minister's making the process open and possible to happen.
If you look through the sections of the bill, the bill itself is fairly technical. I'm more comfortable looking at the preamble of the bill and the compendium that comes with it, which is sort of a short form, the Coles Notes version. In that, the main issues that I've looked at, the first thing is, what commitment, what guarantee do I have that it's coming? I'm assured there are triggers or levels of traffic flow or studies where the new owner, whoever purchases this piece of concrete, will be required to complete certain portions of the highway.
It's important to get that infrastructure out into Durham, and I'm comfortable that there are requirements, whoever tenders this, that it's not going to go into another 10-year delay. We need this highway for the economy of Durham and we certainly need it to the Whitby link that we've just been talking about.
The other one is the EA process. I'm going to slip through to that section here. The member for Durham-York, Ms Munro, covered that to some extent, but I'm very happy that there's a section of the bill here - I think I wrote it down on the bill, actually. The section of Bill 70 that I'm dealing with here is the Environmental Assessment Act, subsection 38(1):
"Highway 407 shall be deemed to be an undertaking as defined in the Environmental Assessment Act and, for the purposes of management of that undertaking, the owner shall be deemed to be a public body to which the Environmental Assessment Act applies."
Very clearly, whoever takes this over will have to comply with the Environmental Assessment Act. I think my constituents' concerns are addressed and I have the assurance of the minister and the staff of the ministry, the technical people who will lead this project or guide it through the process, that this indeed is what will happen.
There may even be those who question other sections in the bill, but those sections are for clarity. Section 43 deals with the Conservation Authorities Act. Clearly, the Environmental Assessment Act overrides those responsibilities, so we have that approval as well.
Just going back to a couple notes I had, the municipality should be aware that no highway corridors are taxed. There's no land tax on municipal highways or provincial roads. In this case, we still own the land. It's provincial land, so there won't be any municipal tax revenue from the roads. There won't be any payments in lieu or any of that kind of thing. It's my understanding as well that there will be no development charges. In other words, if you build something in a municipality, you have to pay a development charge. Whether it's a barn, a community centre or whatever, you have to pay development charges. They will not apply in this case; they'll be exempted.
It's my understanding as well that the minister, through order in council, has a number of authorities over the owner with respect to toll policies and other areas, so it's not as if the ministry is walking away from this project in any way. What it is doing clearly, and I think this is a very important observation - the minister said in his opening remarks, if I may, that: "Ontarians are paying twice. We're carrying all the debt and all the liability, thanks to the previous Ministry of Transportation and the previous government" - I'm sure he'll comment on that - "but we're also paying when we use it." That is a problem which - now the share capital, the infrastructure, is going to be carried by someone else and the liability from that is going to be carried by some share capital organization. It could be a bank who holds it; I don't know who's going to hold the debt, but the revenue is going to be the tolls. Their business plan is going to say: "Look, if we spend this much, the revenue's that. Is there any affordability in this project?"
Logically, the government should be asking the same questions. When we promise the people of Ontario something, we should tell them how we're going to pay for it. But for too long at all levels of government they promised everything and then they just taxed you to death for the next 10 years. In fact, that might in some respects be the Liberal plan: "Promise everything. Don't worry how you're going to pay for it."
I think this business plan clearly - and I've been assured by the minister that of this $104 billion or $107 billion that we have invested in this thing so far, if we don't get the money, he won't accept the deal. We're going to tender this thing out in a fair and transparent way and at the end of the day the minister will make a decision that is to the best benefit and the best advantage of the people of Ontario.
I'm just commenting here on a couple of my background checks. The Provincial Auditor's comments back in the original deal in 1993 - Erik Peters, a very respected public auditor, identified some problems with the 407 deal at the time. He said: "Significant financial ownership and operational risks remain with the province. A private sector partner must involve a sharing of the risks." Clearly, Minister Sampson has addressed that in his comments.
I want to establish two things in my concluding comments. If we build it, they will come, and that means we need it for jobs. If you look at Mississauga, they've got all the infrastructure I've talked about. We need this highway for the economy and the people of Durham, my residents.
We must also have regard for the environment. I'm reassured here that there's an EA process where that will be respected.
We've provided the opportunity for this to take place. I look forward to the 407 coming into Durham and the jobs and the prosperity that will bring, the 6,000 jobs, as the minister said earlier. I'm satisfied that public consultation will take place to address the concerns, whether they're in the agricultural community or in the other sectors of our community.
The first thing I want to say, though, is that there's no question the congestion issue, which the member for Durham East certainly confirmed and the minister mentioned in his leadoff, is a big problem. It's a big problem for a lot of the region, and it's a big problem for the city of Toronto. I must say, coming from Ottawa, Toronto is a very nice place to be once you're here, but it's a hell of a place to get in and out of. So I empathize with the desire and I agree with the desire to try to do something about it.
The minister talked about the east and west extensions on this highway. I'm interested in the parameters of that, the time frames he's talking about, because I know a lot of people are interested in that. There is no doubt that the arrangement he talked about was different from the arrangement the NDP had when they were in power. The important question on that is: What will the deal look like, and will there be a transparency?
You talk about putting forward a RFP. Good. What will be the process? Will that all be done behind closed doors? Will the parameters be shared? After the deal is dealt with and confirmed by cabinet, will the terms of the arrangement be there? What is the protection in the long term for the people of Ontario in terms of the investment and the passing over to the private sector of these particular things?
The other thing, of course, is the implications of the toll rates. If they're so expensive now, with public money it, why would they be less expensive when you have private financing of this?
Mr Speaker, I understand, and I need your help, that they have conducted a privatization review. We know that the privatization review was entirely paid for by the taxpayers. I'm asking the government, where is the review that the people paid for? They talk about transparency. I'm not so sure. The New Democratic Party built the 407 when we were the government under the auspices, with the opportunity - private, public. Our process was fully transparent, but they say, "Commercial confidentiality does not allow us to share the review with the opposition or with the members of the public."
If we don't have the review, how can we decide? What are the terms of reference? What are the conditions of this sale? We know that they need the money big time, among other things to finance the tax scheme. Will they throw in a couple of bridges? Once you buy the highway, do you get another one free? Those are serious questions that we want answers to. What are the terms and conditions? What are the contingency plans? What kind of contractual arrangements? We don't have them.
Philosophically we are opposed to it, of course. We know and they know too. So we're asking more questions. We'll have a chance to debate, and then we'll go back and we'll guide you through a true story: the achievement by the New Democratic Party, the creation of 20,000 jobs. We'll get to it in a few minutes.
It is interesting, of course, to go back in time to a press release of February 10, 1993.
This is like the minister's speech. Then of course they continue in the press release - I'm sure this was written by the former Minister of Transportation:
"Those who will benefit most from the road will contribute to its construction costs. The corporation will create new windows of opportunity for business and government to work in partnership. By renewing our infrastructure in this way, changing the way we do business, we are investing in our future productivity."
This is great stuff. It could have been written by a Tory government. So I join with the minister in congratulating the New Democratic government of the day for initiating this idea.
The only problem was, with all these wonderful ideas to solve this problem, they built a road that had no beginning and had no end.
I know Buzz Hargrove, when he is launching his new book tonight in Yorkville, Labour of Love, will be perhaps speaking about the fact that the New Democrats started on this path. But I forgive them now.
On another subject, I want to know if, when the highway is privatized, we will still have the signs paid for by the taxpayers of Ontario that say, "Your Ontario Tax Dollars at Work, Michael D. Harris, Premier," like some Republican governor in the United States. As you drive through, you see these signs that say, "Governor So-and-so." So we have Governor Harris's name on these signs. I'm wondering if that will be part of the deal. Will we still see these signs, or will they only be found everywhere else in Ontario at the taxpayers' expense, while there are so many significant cuts elsewhere? This government, as part of its advertising campaign, is squandering millions of dollars on television, radio, full-page ads, pamphlets, and now I see road signs. I know the minister will help me out with both of the points I've raised in my two-minute response tonight.
I want to speak, first of all, to the environmental issue that was raised by one of my colleagues. The bill is actually quite clear that the environmental restrictions and conditions on the east and west extensions of this road will be the same as they would have been if government had been the developer and the builder of the extensions of the road - no different, no less. They will be the same. So as it relates to any environmental approvals, the owner of the highway, who is actually leasing the highway, will be required to achieve the appropriate environmental approvals.
The member for Nipigon spoke about the process that will allow us to get to a final sale. I think if he were to read the bill carefully again he would see that this bill just enables us, should the Legislature give us approval, to proceed to the step that would allow us to seriously entertain any offers. There are no terms and conditions of a proposed sale because we haven't gone that far down the process yet. It would be unfair to engage the private sector in serious consideration of leasing this highway, the sale of this highway, if you will, without fairly establishing the parameters under which a sale might proceed. That's why we've come forward with the bill now.
I'm encouraged by the words of support from the member for St Catharines and his comment about signs. Perhaps the signs on the 407, when the sale is concluded, should remind taxpayers that although the NDP government felt it was appropriate for taxpayers' dollars to be invested, we might want to say, "Taxpayers' dollars are not invested in this highway."
I suppose the previous government, the NDP government, thought it actually had a good thing going. They built the highway with public sector funds and then let the private sector run it, so that the public would take all the risks, ensuring that the technology that was rather new, the technology that was having all sorts of problems getting off the ground - at the time the then Minister of Transportation, my friend Mr Palladini, was overseeing that, there were all kinds of technical problems.
Before I go on, Mr Speaker, I'm reminded to let you know that I am sharing my time with several of my colleagues: the member for Ottawa West - Ottawa Centre, pardon me - and the member for St Catharines.
The main point is that while the two parties - the Conservatives and the NDP - quibble over what is an actual privatization, what was the public sector's involvement, what was the private sector's involvement, the fact of the matter is that the previous government used public dollars. They went out and financed the construction of a public highway with public dollars. This was a contortion of the model that I thought was being proposed.
Now the government is telling us that now that the public has taken all the risks, ensuring this highway is going to work, they're going to go out and sell it to the private sector and let them go to town with it. We have major concerns with that, major concerns that flow out of the fact that we have no details of what this means for the public purse, what it means for the ultimate taxpayer in Ontario. Are they going to get good value for their money? That's really what this comes down to.
I have to look at the previous deal that was put together by the NDP government. They went out and secured financing at a much lower cost than any private sector corporation or consortia could put together, because governments have a lower cost of borrowing than the private sector does. In the main, that is true. They went out and secured financing for it. But the negative aspect of that, the thing I thought was a real downside, was obviously that the public took all the risks associated with that.
My friend from Durham East pointed out and quoted the auditor. At the time I was serving as Chairman of the public accounts committee and we were quite concerned that the public was absorbing all the risks and liabilities that came with this deal that had been cemented by the NDP government to build the 407. The fact was that the private sector got to charge the tolls and the government had this long-standing commitment in terms of long-term debt on the books. Well, it was off the books, and that was another controversy that was raised by the auditor at the time.
Where do we go from here? I have all sorts of concerns I'd like to raise with respect to that, questions around the process that's to be followed. The minister raised some points regarding this and how he followed a certain process - I want to comment on that in just a moment - the question of value and how you end up valuing this. In theory, I don't quite understand how you're going to value this. The timelines that are involved and how you end up making a deal with the private sector are matters of public concern. There has to be transparency when you're making this deal. We have to have some public input. What kind of deal is it going to be? What are the conditions? I want to talk about all those things, and I'm sure the minister isn't anxious to hear that.
We can talk about other transportation issues that are parallel to the questions around Highway 407 - public transit, GO Transit - and how that ties in. Is there an overall transportation plan that has been put forward? I understand it's not this minister's responsibility since he's the minister for privatization, but the Minister of Transportation should be responsible for that, and the cabinet in general.
To date we have not seen an overall transportation plan that would include a long-term vision for public transportation. That's simply not talked about by this government, and it is a concern to many people across this province.
Let me start with some concerns around the prospective sale. I think none of us on this side of the House would be against the idea of a public-private sector arrangement. In principle there is nothing wrong with that, in fact it can work quite well, but we have to lay the foundations for that and we have to make it quite clear what the terms and conditions are. The framework for that certainly has not been laid out.
As I said, the previous deal that was put forward by the NDP was not a deal I was quite comfortable with and I don't think was a very good arrangement at all. I understand the government's intent to change that, but with this bill you have not put forward enough details for us to determine whether it makes any sense or not. The general guidelines that are put forward in this bill as enabling legislation simply don't address those concerns. I know the minister is going to say that's coming, but tied into that concern is, what process are you following?
You talk about public consultation, and I want to be fair about this, but when there was the question of the sale of TVO, public hearings were held. We had consultations throughout the province. We have not had a similar type of consultation with this question. If the minister stands up and says, "We will have public hearings," I will applaud him. It's important to have public hearings. I understand you had a 1-800 number and you've advertised and you've had people send in, by way of mail or otherwise, to communicate with the government to tell you about their intentions, but we don't know what they said. The public doesn't know. That information hasn't been shared with the public.
But to the extent that we're trying in this province to create a model for private-public sector partnership, you would want to do that. You would want to make sure that this works properly, that there is in place a framework that everyone agrees with that ultimately will have a greater success. It's important that we understand that. To date we have not heard the minister or anyone in the cabinet make a commitment to public hearings that would serve that purpose. After all, the highway is an important asset. Whether it is in the hands of the private sector or not, it's a major thoroughfare.
I want to just tie into what I'm saying about valuation. The fact is, this is a major thoroughfare. The route that the 407 follows, the public lands, yes, the lands underneath the highway are still in the public domain. The province, the crown, would still hold title to those lands but for a period of time. If this sale is made, is it made in perpetuity? In theory then, this highway would be sold for a sum that would include a period of time in perpetuity. How do you value something like that? Is there something we could look to as an example for this type of sale? Keep in mind that this is a sale that's taking place after a highway is built wherein there is new technology, wherein a great deal of risk has been taken on by the public to build this thing, to make it work. Those are concerns that I have around valuation.
I have concerns with respect to how this highway will be operated. What will be the tolling for the highway? What fees will be charged after this highway is sold to the private sector? Presumably the private sector will go out and get financing. Their financing costs will be higher because they're not able to borrow at more favourable rates, which the government is. Those costs will have to be passed on to the ultimate users of the highway. So, raising questions around tolls: Will they go up? Already the fact is that people are complaining that tolls are too high. We're getting, what, 100,000 vehicles a day using the highway?
Again, is it the case? My concern is that the minister really doesn't have anything in this bill which would allow him to set those tolls, to have a say in how they're set. I'm assuming that might come with the conditions of sale. I'm looking for that in the future because the public would be deeply concerned about increasing tolls.
That begs the question: Is this really in the interests of Ontario's economy? If we're presuming that this highway is to be used at ever-increasing rates of volume and that does not come to pass, then we have a highway that's underutilized. We can't afford in our expanding economic base, particularly in the GTA, with the high demands of the GTA for trucks using highways - it is the engine of our economic growth - a highway that's underutilized, because it's too expensive to use. That also curtails our economic growth over a period of time. You can begin to see how that would affect us economically.
I think part of the reasoning behind building a toll highway was to expand at a much quicker rate the capacity for highways in Ontario. We wouldn't have been able to build this highway without the private sector being involved. That myth was finally uncovered by the fact that this government went out, financed the highway with public funds and then allowed the private sector to run it. The ideal model is to have the private sector finance it, build it, take the risks and then ultimately run it by tolling it. The bill says that, but we're not guaranteed that tolls will be at a reasonable level.
We're also at this point not guaranteed that the public is going to get good value for its money because we have taken the initial risks. Everyone in this Legislature who has ever started a business knows that start-up costs in any business are far higher and the risks associated with a start-up are much greater than after the fact. So I would like to see a valuation in this sale that would include that. If you have an asset sale, is there going to be provision for goodwill in the sale price: If this is going to be strictly a business deal, will there be consideration for goodwill? How do you assess that? How do you value that? That isn't detailed in Bill 70 and it's not even in general terms put forward. That is going to be done behind closed doors. That concerns me and that should concern you.
At some point I think you would want to have public hearings to hear from a variety of experts and for the public to be certain that you are taking into consideration these matters so that you're not going to end up with some fire sale here that would see the private sector operate what amounts to - if volume has increased, as the former Minister of Transportation indicated to me earlier, if volume is now much higher than it was initially, then you know we have a real asset that is producing enough revenue to carry itself, and since the financing was in place, is it a good time to sell this? If it is, then you want to make sure the terms of sale include that realization of the higher volume. These are all things that you should be considering in the terms of sale.
What happens in terms of management of the highway? What happens when and if the prospective owner decides to resell the highway? What will occur at that point? There's nothing in the bill that talks about that. There's no provision in the bill for that. Does the government even care what happens at some point in the future if there is another entity that comes forward and wants to buy the 407? Presumably the government is saying on this, because of its silence, "Well, if there's a resale in the future, that would be a private sector deal" - but it still involves a public sector interest. So there is a question around that because ultimately it goes back to the question of tolls. The minister has no control over tolling and what those fees will be for tolling. I didn't arrive at any conclusion. I didn't see anything in the bill that referred to that.
As well, I noticed that dealing with policing, there's a section that alludes to the cost of policing, section 50 of the bill.
Subsection 50(3) reads: "The Ontario Provincial Police may, with the approval of the Solicitor General, charge the owner for the provision of services under paragraph 3...of the Police Services Act."
The word is "may"; the emphasis is on "may." It doesn't guarantee that in fact this will occur. One of the things I would raise with the government is that they are now forcing municipalities across this province to pay for OPP services. They're forcing those municipalities that don't have policing, that relied on OPP policing, to pay for policing if they want the OPP to do it, and yet in this bill there's great latitude because the word is "may." It does not require the new owners to pay for policing; it simply says "may." So that is an unanswered question and I would like to know if the government intends to require the new owners of the 407 to pay for policing services. After all, if municipalities have to pay for it, why shouldn't the private sector entity pay for it? I think that would only amount to a sense of fairness about what this government is conducting.
I don't think any member across the way would want to be unfair and I know that some of the members who are sitting in this House today have that very situation where municipalities in rural parts of Ontario are being forced to pay for OPP services. I would think that would be important to them.
Again it comes down to the question of what this government is doing with transportation in general. Ultimately, whether we support this move or not will depend on the conditions of the sale and on what's contained in those terms, whether this is a fire sale. I can tell you right now that I would be very opposed to it if there were not certain conditions met, as I've outlined. If you asked most Ontarians, they would probably give you the same answer: What kinds of conditions will this be sold under, what are the terms of the sale and what will happen, ultimately, to tolls? I think those are important considerations.
We want to make sure there is a process that would enable us to have public hearings, and there's no commitment made to that. There's no commitment made that there will be public hearings in terms of the kind of sale that we're going to have. There's no commitment made even for public hearings on Bill 70 to discuss whether this is a good idea. What is the government afraid of? Why don't they want to hear from Ontarians their views on this?
I know the government is fond of advertising 1-800 numbers and it says it has all the information it needs, but this Legislative Assembly does not have the benefit of that information. You're not sharing that with us. We'd like to have public hearings to determine what Ontarians think about this idea.
At the end of the day it will be a question around the conditions of the sale that will occur: what the price will be, how you value that. You haven't given us even a theoretical model of how you're going to make sure there's a proper sale taking place and that there's value for money at the end of the day. Yes, you're taking that long-term debt off the books. The public will be relieved of this liability, but against that liability is a stream of revenue that's coming in. You shouldn't be so quick to suggest -
You want to make certain that you're not giving away the store, as you have been reluctant to do with the LCBO. I think that privatization hasn't occurred for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that you'd be giving away almost a billion dollars worth of revenue that comes into the government coffers. That is something that I am certain you hesitate to do, apart from your other ideological considerations. I'm sure there's a battle that still rages in the caucus over that one, but ultimately it is a question around -
I alluded earlier to some questions around transportation. You know, 407 was built without any consideration - and I say this with a former Minister of Transportation sitting in this assembly - for public transportation along the corridor of the 407. There should have been some consideration.
If we're going to modernize, we have to give consideration to public transit, and I think one of the considerations around what you do with the sale of the 407 has to be what you do with public transportation. There's no discussion around that. Is there a corridor that remains for that? There are some lands there, but there has been no discussion of how - there's nothing in this bill that alludes to that. There's nothing in the bill that would have me believe you're even considering that. We need further consultation, further discussion, further debate.
In fact, you need some policies that would be brought forward. But, after all, you're Tories and that's not within your realm of thinking. God knows, we don't want to make the environment cleaner. It would be a shame. The fact of the matter is we have the third-worst record in North America for air quality in this province, right here in Ontario. It's not in the southern United States; it's not even in the old rust belt of the United States. It's right here in Ontario. We have a problem, so it's high time we started thinking about a public transportation policy. But then again, as I said, it's probably not in your realm of thinking to do that, so it will be left up to us to do that. I think the next election will determine that at some point.
I think the public would be greatly interested in what might happen around discussions with public transportation, making it more viable in the regions of Toronto. After all, we know that we have a real problem with air quality in and around the GTA, and for that matter, all of southern Ontario. There is an air quality problem. Many of the cities in southern Ontario this past summer, on the scale with respect to air quality, on many days were running the risk of poor quality of air.
That is something that I think is uppermost in most Ontarians' minds today and is not being addressed by this government. The last thing they're thinking about is air quality and how we can effect changes to make sure our air is getting better and cleaner. Part of that solution has to be consideration for public transit. I say to the minister, if we're going to build additional highways, they should be built with the view to building public transit alongside those highways.
Now, getting back to the main point with respect to privatizing and the sale of this highway, again I say to the members opposite that we're not against this in principle. We're not against the privatization of the highway, and for that matter, I'm not against going out and working with the private sector on a number of fronts to build additional infrastructure. I think it's absolutely important.
I say to the minister, I don't know who's going to be involved in these discussions, but it had better be transparent and there had better be a process in place that everyone agrees with, and you'd better have some public consultation before you go into these discussions. At the end of the day, you had better ensure that we are getting value for money for the taxpayer or I am certain you're going to hear from them come the next election.
The thousands and thousands of people who watch us in this House know, of course, that the role of the opposition is to thoughtfully critique the legislation that is put forward. I believe we do that well - we try to do that well - and I shall try to do that this afternoon.
The first thing I'd like to do is thank the minister today for providing an opportunity for a briefing on the bill. I must tell you that one of your staff and some of the professionals from the ministry were very professional, very thoughtful and took us through that. That is a contrast, though, to some of your colleagues in cabinet whom I can recall bringing through on a Thursday afternoon, with notice of an hour, a major bill like Bill 99, which had to do with the whole revamping of WCB. I remember that well because I was the critic for labour at the time. So I especially appreciate that, and I hope, Minister, you can set a tone for that kind of sense of appreciation for the role of the opposition and the importance of this place. I appreciate that very much.
I would like to begin by saying that my colleague from Lawrence, Mr Cordiano, has some experience in business, lives not that far from the highway of which we speak and has many years of experience in this House on this issue, particularly the days in which the former NDP government began the privatization, in part, of this particular road. At that time I was not in government. I was happily working in eastern Ontario for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation - and what great days those were, I must tell you. But I did miss the depth of debate on issues at that time, which I gather was substantial and vigorous and enthusiastic.
Some of the points my colleague has made around the valuing of the road I believe to be of import and therefore I imagine most people will want to know more detail. This is a framework, in a sense; it does not provide the detail of what the deal will be when we get down to it, and of course that will be the most important thing. The most important thing will be, what kind of deal did we get at the end of the day? By the nature of negotiations with companies, we know that can't be done in public and I certainly can appreciate that it will be done in private. But there are things that can be shared with the public: the criteria by which the RFPs are put out. That will be an important aspect if that is shared. I believe that as much as can be shared, to that degree will the government of the day gain respect, certainly from the general public.
I also want to say that the initiative sets new precedents in terms of roadways. I think we would all agree, and the minister himself spent some time talking about the historical development of the 407. But there was a day when we thought that all roads should be done by government and that everything should be done by government. Of course there is a general feeling that that is no longer true. We have to think of creative solutions, solutions that will serve the public well. In a sense we have to re-evaluate the role of government. But regardless of what the role is, at the end of the arrangement we have to be convinced that this truly is in the public interest and will truly consider the services to people who use the road and to the general public at large.
I want to begin by going back to first principles in a way, with the establishment of the ministry of privatization. I'd like to quote from the Ontario Privatization Review Framework; this was in 1996.
"The Harris government appointed Ontario's first-ever minister of privatization...to identify where greater involvement by the private sector could help improve services and value to taxpayers, while enabling the provincial government to concentrate on core responsibilities such as health care, education and to encourage a climate for job creation."
I don't take issue with that statement, but I wonder how and when and if in reality that first principle of the creation of the ministry would indeed be followed through. At the end of the day, when a financial arrangement is made and the offsetting costs of putting to bed a mortgage which is the arrangement of the public financing would have to be settled, along with any arrangements on the purchasing - I'm presuming that will not be in one lump sum, that it will be over time. I'd like to see just how the government would manage to fulfill that particular statement of being able to apply any savings that would be made by government towards some of these other areas.
I would challenge the minister. If he can do it, I will applaud him. I would think that would be a very difficult task. However, it is part of the sales pitch and it is part of the marketing of the initiative. Therefore, I would say that the government and the minister have a responsibility to explain how the reinvestment would be identified and be put into the areas of health care, education and job creation; or, as the government likes to say, if this is going to truly save taxpayers' money, another option of course is that the money is given back to taxpayers, but I doubt that will happen. Anyway, there is that area of opportunity for the government, and we would like to see if that can be done. We're talking now about roads, land, machinery, administration and asphalt. If that arrangement can help the other arrangements, then that will be something this government would be challenged to abide by.
Just last week, for example, on that one issue, and I won't dwell on it long, there were a number of people in the same particular area - mainly in the Toronto area, the GTA, which has a major housing problem, probably the worst in all of Ontario - leaders from many sectors and I gather from a wide spectrum of the political arena, who said that we have to pay more attention to serving our people. Maslow's hierarchy of needs would certainly say that food, shelter and security are very important things. I would hope, with respect to those other core responsibilities, the government would show how indeed it was able to do that.
On the congestion issue, I touched on it previously and the minister mentioned it in his speech and the member for Durham East mentioned it in his speech. He talked about this being a solution. Of course, it can possibly be a solution, but there are a whole variety of questions to be asked. At the moment I am told that there are numerous trucks or people who do not take the 407, that they still use the 401, because of the costs. I will touch on that particular area shortly.
But there's one area I'd like to talk about, and that is the protection of individuals and their privacy with the privatization of this particular highway. I'm led to believe that the majority of users of the 407 do not use transponders, which identify the vehicle as a regular user so that those who have transponders pay a lower rate. This means that for all other vehicles using the toll road a licence plate photo is taken so the owner can be billed for the trip. Since the new buyer would get access to the tolls as part of the sale - when I say "the new buyer" I mean the company or consortium, whoever would purchase this - and the minister would give them the authority to collect and use personal information, I would ask how comfortable Ontarians and citizens of other provinces are going to be with a private sector buyer operating such cameras and having access to their Ministry of Transportation information database concerning vehicle ownership. What kinds of information on vehicle permits are we talking about?
I was briefed, and I believed the officials from the Ministry of Transportation when they said they would say to this particular business, and there would be some qualifications, that they should not be permitted to use this for any other purposes. However, I say this: I would agree with that, but as the minister and most of us would know, we're talking now about sharing information, that data, with other jurisdictions. We're talking about sharing it with most of the provinces - I gather it's not most of the provinces, but let's say half or six of the provinces, anyway; there's already some understanding on reciprocal arrangements - and also some of our neighbouring states to the south. While I'm not a cynical person, as a critic in this area I believe it is incumbent upon me to ask how we will honour the usage of information that goes to the United States, that may not have the same kind of allegiance to personal information privacy that we have here in Ontario. I place this forward.
We're talking about information we'd be collecting: the name, the address, the date of birth, the registrant identification numbers, licence plate renewals, replacements, sex - I gather that's not sex, yes or no, but sex meaning gender - the transfer and data licensing change documents, the vehicle plate information etc. We need only be reminded of the privacy concerns around, for example, the red light camera, the debate with the megacity council, to know how concerned the public is about this information. That should be addressed by the minister when we get into further debate. We must ensure that the information disclosed to third parties is not disclosed to third parties for other purposes. I hope the government will address this.
We have further concerns, for example, about the fees associated with the operation of a toll highway. I would like to share this with the minister. I don't know if any of the officials have seen it. I brought this to the attention of the Minister of Transportation, Mr Clement. I hope this illustrates what I think is a challenge for how we deal with that. It has to do with people who don't have a transponder. They may come from other parts of Ontario, they may come from other provinces, they may come from the United States, they may be visitors from still further abroad, from Europe or Japan, and they may only be using this once.
I'd like to read part of what my constituent had to say. He said first of all, "Thank you for returning my call," because he called in concern. "Attached are the two pages that were sent to me by the administrators of the 407 ETR. You will appreciate it is not the cost of the use of the highway, the toll or even the GST that I object to, but the additional charges" - this gentleman lives in Ottawa - "for not having a transponder and the account fee on the bill. Why would anyone who is not living in the greater Toronto area want to install a transponder in their car? What is the cost, and who pays for these? Why should there be a separate account fee levied on drivers?
"Surely the cost of administering the program has been factored into the basic fee for usage. If one uses the highway a second time, does one have to pay these additional costs a second, a third or a fourth time?"
I don't want to read the whole letter, but he asks, "Has anyone up there," meaning at Queen's Park, "considered the bad publicity that the province will get from levying such additional charges? Can you imagine the reactions of persons from other provinces of the country in such a money grab?"
He also sent me a copy of his bill. His basic bill was $5.62; his final charge was $8.76. It just ticked this guy off. He said, "That doesn't seem to me to be fair." I offer that as something where we may be ticking off or making angry or putting our American visitors or tourists or our sisters and brothers from other provinces or even indeed from other parts of Ontario in a similar boat. I offer that to the minister. I would think that has to be a consideration.
I gather those charges are something of a disincentive for people to use the road once or twice, because there's a knowledge gap - and I think the minister will acknowledge that - or awareness of what this means. "If I pay those charges once, will I have to pay those a second time, a third time, or do I have to do it every time? Or can there be an exemption for someone who is not a frequent user of this roadway because those who are get a discount and a benefit?" It seems to me those are important considerations in negotiations with any private concerns that may be taking over this particular operation.
I also want to comment on the creation of the jobs you mentioned. As you can appreciate, my job is to look in a critical manner at what that means, what do those 6,000 jobs mean? When you throw out the figure of 6,000 jobs, some might think this is 6,000 jobs forever. I'd like to ask, particularly in light of having received information from the construction industry that the average job they have in the industry is about 13 months, how many of these are part-time jobs, how many of these are temporary jobs, how many of these are permanent jobs? As we all know, most jobs have spinoffs. What is the estimate of the nature of spinoffs of this particular area? I would ask if that could be addressed.
The minister, and also his colleagues on the government side who spoke to this, talked about there being no cost to the taxpayer. I would like to challenge that. While there wouldn't be perhaps an element and a percentage of taxpayers' costs, there have to be additional costs related to this particular operation. There are many administrative costs that are performed related to this particular venture that will take up time and expertise and negotiations that have to be considered. In other words, it's not just that we're going to make this arrangement and all of a sudden the government has no role. I'm sure you'll agree that the government has an ongoing role. They have a role in set-up, they have a role in negotiations, they have an ongoing role in monitoring what is happening. I was led to believe today that the same standards that apply to any 400 highway throughout the jurisdiction of Ontario would likewise apply to this road as if it were in that category.
For the infrastructure to be maintained, for example, would lead to a proposal for a dispute resolution process. Even though the disputer - and I hope it's not some little guy who doesn't have much money - will pay the cost of any mediation, including the owner's fees to commence or appeal any dispute proceedings, there will be a dispute arbitrator, which may be one person, maybe two, or it may be a commission. Who knows? That will be made by cabinet, as recommended by the Ministry of Transportation or the minister for privatization - probably by the Ministry of Transportation. That would go to Management Board and then to cabinet for decision-making. These things are costs. The inspections and the enforcements that still have to be made are costs that the government would still retain. If we consider that it takes about $100,000 to put a car and a police officer on the road, then we know there are considerable costs for the Solicitor General in the patrol aspect of this piece of real estate called the 407 and its expansions, and some of those costs will grow.
While you may say this might reduce some of the costs, and I'd be prepared to accept that as a prominent thesis, I would certainly say that it would not be accurate to say that there are no additional costs because I believe in the administration of a lot of these things there shall be, and sometimes they're not insignificant.
We talked about the process of the sale, and my colleague from Lawrence mentioned this. The legislation doesn't really address this, but a fair and open competitive transaction, where the act enables the minister to enter into an agreement for the sale, is subject to cabinet approval, which means, as I mentioned earlier, that there is a kind of behind-closed-doors negotiations on this.
I'd like to know whether the information to date is able to be shared or whether you would share that, and is there a reserve bid at this particular stage? Who is lining up the bid on this? Is this another consortium? Certainly the public will be interested in that. Then, of course, what is the value of the particular project? Is it $1.6 billion? Is it $1.8 billion? Is it a dollar?
I was interested to hear from the officials today that on this project, and this is a concept that's of interest, the government is not selling the ground under the highway. They're just selling the highway. OK, I can buy that, but what I can't realistically accept is, how long will it take? Another 50 years, 60 years? Realistically, that land is gone from other uses, from the greenbelt, from the parkway that is being utilized.
I suppose it's a way to suggest that the government at the end of the day really does have overall authority, that if things do not go well, if for some reason the company goes bankrupt, if for some reason the estimated revenues are not there, if for some reason the private arrangement falls apart, it will fall back in the lap of government. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to ask, because I know the public would be interested in this, what are the checks and balances? What are the assurances that if something fails, all of a sudden a major cost wouldn't recur as a result of having to absorb massive borrowing that may have taken place on this project? The government may have answers for that and I hope it does, but that's not in the bill, and I believe that surrounding this discussion is a major concern on this.
If the suggestion from the minister is true, then I hope he would take up the suggestion and refer this bill to committee and, hopefully, have some hearings. Minister, we have hearings on the registration of lobbyists, which is supported by all parties, by the way. It's not a major contentious bill. I understand it's going out to hearings. I wonder why a bill like that would go out to hearings and not a bill like this or a bill that has to do with the restructuring of apprenticeship, which has massive ramifications for the training of not only young people, but the retooling of skills in our labour market and something that is very substantive and the government has many partners in that particular field.
Why that bill or this particular bill wouldn't have merit before the one that is going out to hearings, I can only speculate. I guess some people feel this might be a little more contentious, although I don't think it would be. I think it would be of more interest and has serious ramifications, certainly in this particular area. The implications would affect all Ontarians, because at the end of the day, the minister will know, we will be talking about resources in the billions of dollars. When we look at a project that has the significance and implications of that volume of resources, then it seems to me the people of Ontario would welcome very much the opportunity to react, to ask questions, to place forward their particular views.
On that note, I will cease my comments, except to say that I look forward to the debate as it continues and also at committee and hopefully for hearings.
I say to the government, because you've announced with great fanfare that you are open for business, I never thought that open for business means that you would sell, perhaps to friends - I mean friends of your philosophy - a piece of highway. But there again -
We know that the minister is under a great deal of pressure. He has to privatize something otherwise he will lose his job and his distinguished and talented staff will go the way of the minister. We don't want this to happen. So he decides to unload a piece of concrete, because, you see, the highway doesn't talk back. It doesn't take a position. So the grey eminence, the whiz kids collectively dim the lights and they concoct the selling of a highway, and the minister in tow says, "I shall be the spokesperson. I'll have the pleasure to address the issue, to revisit this ill-fated decision."
The member for Lawrence went into a great dissertation about the whole concept of tolls and concern that the tolls would rise too high and how would the taxpayers be able to pay the tolls. He mentioned some comment too. He also said he's been in business before. I don't know what kind of business he was in, but in business there's a thing such as supply and demand. If the tolls get too high, guess what happens? People don't use the road. If the tolls are lower, more people use the road. It's kind of a basic tenet of business that if you lower the price, usually you will sell more; if you raise the price, you will sell less. It's a pretty simple business proposition that I'm surprised escaped the member for Lawrence, especially having said he was in fact in business.
The member from Ottawa was looking for the bad. He said, "The 6,000 jobs, boy, I don't know when that's going to happen." No cost to the taxpayer, he didn't know when that was going to happen.
I'm going to read a quote from Hansard: "Similarly, on Highway 407, I like the idea of the private sector raising the capital. There's nothing like the discipline of having to raise the funds and figure out how you're going to service that debt...." Who said that? The member for Scarborough-Agincourt, Mr Phillips.
My concern would be that if you turn this over to the private sector, then there would be not much incentive left for the Ontario government to provide, first and foremost, public transportation alternatives to this particular highway or to improve the highway which is available to the common folk, those of us who take the highways that are there for the whole population as opposed to those who take the highways which are very expensive.
I express that concern. I would look for an assurance from the minister. He can't give it, I know, because all of the decisions are made in the Premier's office, just as the decision to flow money to the hospitals for emergency purposes, those decisions, are made in the Premier's office and he can blame the Minister of Health, just as he might blame the minister for privatization if this doesn't work out.
He can blame everybody else, but ultimately we know in this government that it's Guy Giorno and the gang of whiz kids, some of whom sit on the other side in the important chairs along there or monitor this on television, who really call the shots. That's who the Premier listens to. I'm wondering whether they're going to assure us that there's going to be a public alternative to this, that is, public transportation, or as I say, other highway construction which is done for the entire public and not just for those who have the money to use toll roads in Ontario. Good speech.
The buzzword of the day must be that they are not philosophically opposed, because we heard that mentioned by the members, and I see in this article in the Toronto Star dated October 20 that "Liberal MPP Gerry Phillips...said yesterday he has no `philosophical' objections to selling off the highway." I guess this is kind of the buzzword we're going to get from the Liberals as this debate goes on and sooner or later I'm assuming we will get a concrete position when we have to vote on this.
But, look, if they were opposed, they would use and make the same kinds of remarks about concerns about privatization as we're going to. We have a minister who hasn't got a great track record around privatization yet. That must be bothering him a great deal. It is true that he managed to privatize -
In the Tories we now have a government that wants to go out and have a fire sale of a great public asset. Just at a time when the highway is starting to produce greater revenues, you want to give it away to the private sector. Of course, the public took all the risks in building this thing under the previous government. It's financed by the public sector, don't forget, and the private sector was operating it and collecting the tolls, and then they talk about the Liberal Party.
We are good business people on this side. We follow good business practices. We want to see the terms of the sale. We want to see the conditions. All we're asking for is to see those terms and conditions. How is this thing going to be sold? If you're not going to get a good deal, we on this side say no, we're not going to go for that. We want to see the terms of that sale before we're selling anything. But no, this government wants to give it away, is not telling us what those conditions are going to be, is not telling us whether it's a good deal, and isn't even going to let the public in on it, because they're not going to have any public hearings.
At the end of the day, we on this side reserve judgment for that reason. If it's a good deal, we'll go for it. If it's a lousy deal, we'll tell you to go back to the drawing board and forget about selling something at a fire sale.
We know, as we exercise our duties, while we contemplate our options, that it would be much more preferable, if you're sitting with the government, to have this unloading, this fire sale of a highway, prior to the lobbyists bill coming through, because when the lobbyists have to be recognized, have to be accountable through a registry, it means that it's a new dawn, you open the lights again.
But if you have ulterior motives and if you take advantage of acquaintances, business circles, people whom you know at the club and you ask, "Do you want to buy a highway?" then under the proposed legislation it will be more difficult. But I can assure you, they shall find a way. It's like political donations with this party, it goes through the linoleum. No matter how far you legislate, it blends with the furniture. They excel at it. In fact, they wrote the book. Their virtue, their zeal is unsurpassed, and well catalogued, I can assure you.
One could say it was on a day perhaps like today, a sessional day, a day when cabinet met in 1993.
We had to decide, and for us, I must admit, for the New Democratic Party of Ontario, it was uncharted waters. We had never been there before. We took the bold initiative because it meant 20,000 jobs. We were talking about building a highway which represented the largest engineering contribution ever undertaken in Ontario: a billion dollars, a lot of money; 20,000 men and women bringing home a paycheque and building infrastructure, investing.
We couldn't do it ourselves - times were difficult, times were rough - so we took the initiative. We invited a friend, a partner that was to design, build and manage what is now the 407, and it proved to be a success story. At first we had thought that under ideal conditions that friend and partner could assume the financing, but it was not to be, because the government had better access to capital. In fact, it could borrow at half to three quarters of a per cent less, 50 to 75 basis points less than the private sector.
We thought, "If it is so, we will form a corporation," because under the statute you couldn't do it. It's not that simple around here, Speaker, as you well know. So we founded, we created a facilitator, a capital corporation with the broad shoulders, the guarantees of the government, to get the money, to regulate the flow of money. That way, the tolls would be reasonable. They would not be excessive, they would not be a deterrent, a reason for people to use the 401, which parallels the 407, which is the alternative, and it worked quite well.
Under the present arrangement, when the money that was needed for the construction of the 407 is paid back, when the corporation takes the money from the tolls and pays back the bank, then the motorists will not have to pay any more tolls, and the province, within a period of 30 years - 27 years at present and decreasing - will still have the structure in place. Ontarians will still have their highway. We'll still be able to monitor standards, but in a more efficient way because we don't have intermediaries. It is your own thing. Should you wish to expand when the need arises and you recognize that need, you won't have to be concerned about expropriation, because the government expropriates. The Ministry of Transportation of the province of Ontario does the expropriations required to build or to continue an infrastructure project. I'm not aware of the jurisdictional capacity of the private sector to expropriate in order to build. It doesn't quite work that way.
The government goes one step further. It proposes under Bill 70 to privatize Highway 407, in other words, to sell it to the private sector. We cannot, as new Democrats, intellectually, morally move this quickly. We did recognize the need to build infrastructure in partnership. For us it was a bold move to go from a totally state-financed, -operated and -run highway to a partnership. We've gone some ways. We thought in 1993 that our endeavour was imaginative and creative and afforded us an opportunity to put 20,000 Ontarians to work. We have no regret. It worked well. The process was somewhat cumbersome, but the results were great. The whole exercise was supervised by Price Waterhouse. It's like Deloitte and Touche, Ernst and Young KPMG. They set forth very strict criteria - full adherence. You had to jump through every loop, adhere to every line. It was clean. It was honest. Its integrity could never and has never been questioned.
More than $1 billion was at stake. So two consortiums were formed representing 80% of the major companies. You were on the one side, on the other, and you put your best foot forward. Contracts, proposals, were meticulously screened and scrutinized, every line. Contingencies attached to what were to be contractual arrangements were given equal scrutiny. The winner was Canadian Highways International Corp. What they did with our project was promote it. They used the success story of Highway 407, the New Democratic Party 1993, and promoted it all over the world. The rewards have been multiplying ever since for the members of the consortium. We're very proud of having given the opportunity to the private sector and, yes, having saved the taxpayers of Ontario some money in the process to have done this.
Because it is part of their mantra, the government truly believes that the more privatization you have, the better off we all are. If you're talking about schools - words seldom heard in this assembly: charter school. That's very close to privatization, is it not? Vouchers: so much money per head. That's our children.
What will happen to hospitals? You look perhaps wealthy; you're a man of some means, Speaker, and maybe you can go to Rochester because you have the power of the purse to do so. But under this mantra, under privatization, under this ideology, most of the people will find themselves a lot poorer, a lot more anxious, with not as many opportunities to be like the others, and you will have polarization and a winner-take-all style and modus operandi. You will have begun to dislocate the people who pay for most of this, which is the middle class.
We are opposed to the privatization of Highway 407 very simply because they don't give us the terms of reference, the rules of the game. If it's for sale, who is invited to bid? Do you know, sir? Is it some ABC firm from Alabama that knows a friend of a friend and puts in the bid? I don't know. I'm not imputing motives; it's not my style. At what cost? Will they give it away? Is it a fire sale? Do I hear $1, do I hear $2 for a billion-dollar project? I don't know. What are the terms of reference?
As a citizen, as the representative of the largest riding in this province, the great riding of Lake Nipigon, there they don't get the opportunity, under your open for business/for sale sign, to sell highways. No, they just download the rural roads. Whether you like it or not, you are now the proud owner of a piece of road, but we don't have in our small municipalities and villages and unorganized territories the means to fix them. Don't even dream of the soft shoulders. We cannot even address the section between the soft shoulders. It's very difficult. But then the government gives us a gift that we wish we had never received.
In southern Ontario they're about to go to an auction. They have a review. I want to share this, Speaker, because I need your help. You're the person in this House, Mr Speaker, who has the ultimate authority. I've tried to talk with the minister, a fine gentleman, trying to do a good job, but I don't have the appropriate answer. I'm asking you, Monsieur le Président, not only to help me as a member, not only to help our party and/or both parties of the opposition, but to help the citizens of Ontario.
This administration has used the taxpayers' money for a study. They've asked a group of people to have a privatization study, how to privatize, how to sell off assets that Ontario presently owns. They have that study. We paid for it. They will not share the study. Can you comprehend that, Monsieur le Président? I have some difficulty and that's why I'm asking for your help, sir. I've been watching you carefully and I know you to be a person of integrity, a sage, a person of renowned wisdom. I place, as a last resort, I must admit, all confidence in you and your office. Will you please help me get the study, because they refuse. I don't know why it is so secret. Why would we the taxpayers pay for a document, the document will be produced, but we the payees don't get it? I guess with those people we're supposed to say little, but for sure we pay and pay and pay. I think we are entitled to the study.
I'm happy that the minister is here. Maybe when he goes away from Queen's Park today in the comfort and privacy of the back seat of his limousine, because he is a minister of the crown, he will think about the request that the New Democratic Party has made and he will see the logic and the legitimacy and then come back and produce, for the record, the privatization study.
What is being proposed with the sale of Highway 407? I suppose that the terms of reference with the criteria will set out the process. People would be invited to bid, the government would impose a reserve, it would have its own set of criteria. The exercise would be supervised by a third party to ensure its integrity and to facilitate the flow of negotiations. All this I trust will be done and will be done in earnest and will be done above-board. I have no quarrel, I have full confidence that this process will be followed.
Part of the condition would be to encourage the continuation of Highway 407 because it's a good but yet unfinished project. The successful bidder, the people who bought the highway, has it on their books at $1.8 billion. This is an asset that all Ontarians have paid for. It's an investment. One could say, in this context, that it's a work of art, transportation triumph. It's $1.8 billion, so they would sell it, presumably, to the successful bidder at least for what it's worth. Then the bidder would be engaged, would be obligated, to go to the marketplace and to borrow, let's say, another $1 billion to continue the highway. That would be part of the deal. In return, those entrepreneurs would be able to charge tolls. So the government would not have to guarantee, and the government would not have to borrow the money.
The minister and others will tell me that they will promote the highway so there will be more users; and if there are more users, then the tolls would be lower - economy of scale. But it's if this, if that and if that.
Let me tell you what happens in the true world - and the minister knows that; he's a former financier. What happens when the private sector goes to borrow? This is what happened when they did on Tuesday, October 20, 1998. I've asked for information, and people have said, "Gilles, try to get a copy of the Report on Business." So I wrote it down, Report on Business, and I asked people who are in the know, "Give me a copy of the Report on Business." But they didn't tell me it was the Globe and Mail. So I wrote that down again, and finally I got the copy of the Report on Business of the Globe and Mail, Tuesday, October 20, 1998.
I'm under the money markets, Canadian bonds. I have Canadian, provincial and corporate bonds. We'll start with the ultimate, the sovereign here. I have an issue. The coupon is 9%, June 1/25. The premium is 152.05. The exchange rate at this point is immaterial. The yield is 5.32. This is full-fledged Canada: 5.32%.
Approximately the same month - the same year for sure - Union Gas, a major corporation, 8.65 coupon, November 10/25, 127.67 bid, 6.47% yield. So that's 5.32 to 6.47 - 115 basis points.
In other words, for the buyers, ABC firm from Alabama, the friends of the friends who have just bought our highway - but now they want the tolls to be in perpetuity, forever, even when the highway is paid for. So now they go and borrow $1 billion to extend the highway. They're paying 115 basis points higher. It doesn't matter to them as much. The government says: "Well, yes, but there will be more cars. You build it, people will come," etc. Maybe they'll have 12-year-olds driving cars now. I don't know.
So the higher the cost, the more it costs. It's very easy. I know you've been following, with high respect, very carefully, Speaker. They will pass the cost along to the motorist, so they're going to pay more because the cost of borrowing is more. It's very simple.
Why would the government wish to privatize? Why don't they put the brakes on and realize that sometimes it's better to do nothing? What is wrong with the success story of the 407? Nothing is wrong. It doesn't demand, it doesn't beg for a change, unless you create circumstances, you build a world around which you must sell. But now you're salivating, Minister. Your appetite has become insatiable. What are we going to do with you? You must sell at all costs. Tell me. I'm a good listener and I promise not to tell anyone: What is it that's forcing you? Is it your job in cabinet? Are you not in the good graces of M. Harris? Is it your turn this week, Minister? Is it something you said or something that you did not say? Were you consistent in your policies or did you enter into a turf war with another minister who's about to ditch you because he has more power? Is it like that?
You don't have to privatize the 407. This is a bad example, a bad reflection of your ideology, of your mantra. I disagree with it. We are different. You're thankful for it -
Monsieur le Président, one must be a good Samaritan and not talk badly about others who have the opportunity to occupy this House. There are three parties in this House, and I say thank heaven. They call it equilibrium, balance, that we have the Liberals.
The deputy leader, "Liberal MPP" - a friend and a colleague and he won't mind me saying this because he knows that we're talking in confidence here - "Gerry Phillips, Scarborough-Agincourt, said yesterday that he has no `philosophical' objection to selling off the highway." If I were to go home and talk this way, I would be asked to solicit the services of the best possible advocates.
What is it they're saying? First of all they talk about philosophy. It's not becoming to the Liberal Party: "You love me; you love me not. Ask me again. I haven't quite made up my mind. I don't want to see this movie. I don't know if we'll go to the cinema again." Guys, with respect, it's time to take action, to make a decision, to be consistent. As much as I disagree with the Conservatives, I would like to agree or disagree with my friends, but it's a matter of comme ci, comme ça. It's quite difficult to know where they're going.
I've searched long and hard. This has happened sort of suddenly. I appreciate that some of your staff have offered a briefing to the members of the opposition and I would like to take you up, with respect, on this offer because I would need to know more because many questions that we have asked have not been answered. This is uncharted water, but what we know is that you need the fix; you need to sell something quickly. We can see the perspiration. You've asked us to be kind and generous and to do all this together like one big, happy family. It's most unfortunate, but I wasn't born yesterday.
The last time and the time before, and yes, the time where I closed my eyes once again and I've done it so often with you people, I was let down. If it hadn't been for my friends in the New Democratic Party, it would have been a very lonely feeling. Every time I trust my friends opposite, I say, "This time it will be different." I can't win. I've got to listen to this and then I call my broker and I say, "What's happening?" He says, "This time it's different." I need to trust someone. Minister -
We need more than a bill which has been hastily drafted. I don't know if the Premier is stepping down and there will be a leadership convention among them soon and they're promoting every cabinet minister and today they said, "Mr Sampson, it is your turn," but show us your product.
Highway 407: Where did you dream that? You must go through good Scotch. Come on, what is it? Is it your diet, Minister? Can we help? We're not always kind to one another around here but we are here to help. Be careful; but a piece of premium concrete that needs expansion, and you have the system in place. We took all the risks, and now that the success is done, you found someone else. How convenient. So we no longer exist.
You go to your friends in Alabama, Billy Joe ABC Co, and right after watching your favourite sport, that of stock car racing, they tell you, "Mr Minister, you make a deal now and you get a big piece of the pie."
The minister goes for it, falls for it, sells the highway, and what are we left with? Who is going to monitor the standards? Will the province still do it? We want to know that. What about safety? What about speed limits? What about the things we do now? Will it be left to ABC Co from Alabama to do that because we have sold our highway to the United States? Why not throw in a couple of bridges to seal the deal? This is our highway.
It being 6 of the clock, I move adjournment of the debate, Mr Speaker.
The House adjourned at 1754.
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