22 OCTOBRE 1998 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1000.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
That, in the opinion of this House, the Harris government be urged to acknowledge that:
Mike Harris and the Conservative Party of Ontario promised the citizens of Ontario fair and equitable taxation in the Common Sense Revolution, and property tax is an unfair and regressive form of taxation.
Mike Harris promised - in bold letters - on page 5 of the Common Sense Revolution, "We will work closely with municipalities to ensure that any actions we take will not result in increases to local property taxes."
Mike Harris also promised that the province's exchange of services and expenditures would be revenue-neutral.
The Harris downloading has shortchanged the citizens of Hamilton and Hamilton-Wentworth by $36.3 million per year, forcing dramatic property tax increases.
The Harris government's own figures confirm this $36.3-million shortfall.
The eight-year phase-in of the Harris government's business education tax has discriminated against Hamilton and Hamilton-Wentworth by putting an additional $17-million burden on to local taxpayers.
The province reneged on its original commitment to a three-year small business rebate program, and will now only fund the program for one year.
Many of our citizens may lose their homes, businesses and jobs as a result of the drastic property tax increases foisted on local taxpayers by the Mike Harris government.
Any further downturn in the economy could potentially bankrupt the municipalities who must now bear the brunt of increased social service costs and responsibilities.
City and regional councillors are being unfairly blamed and forced to explain these huge Harris tax hikes; and
That, in the opinion of this House, the Harris government be urged to immediately pay back to Hamilton and Hamilton-Wentworth the $36.3 million they have shortchanged our community; and
That, in the opinion of this House, the Harris government be urged to eliminate the $17-million cost of their business education tax by revoking the eight-year phase-in period and moving immediately to the provincial average, as well as reinstating their original three-year commitment to the small business rebate program.
Let me say at the outset that these regional councillors and the business people who are on their way aren't here because they suddenly woke up this morning, slapped themselves on the forehead and said: "Gee, I'm a social democrat and I better get down the highway and help Dave. That's what I've got to do today: I've got to get down there and help Dave." They are here from all political stripes, people who are non-aligned citizens who have no political agenda other than dealing with the crisis that we're faced with in Hamilton-Wentworth.
My hometown of Hamilton-Wentworth has been severely, tragically and undemocratically wronged. My resolution is here today to ask this House to help my community right this wrong. Lest anyone think that this is not a real issue, I read to you from a letter, September 25 of this year, two sentences:
First, "I write to you today regarding the local Hamilton-Wentworth property tax fiasco." Second, "The entire business and residential community is outraged and my city and region are being ravaged." That was written by the member for Hamilton Mountain, a member of the government's own backbenches.
Let me also quote from an editorial of October 9 in the Hamilton Spectator:
"What will be done about the property tax crisis in Hamilton-Wentworth this year? That's the number one issue for many taxpayers, business people and homeowners alike, who face skyrocketing tax bills.
"There is plenty of blame to assign, starting at Queen's Park. The provincial government created considerable strain for municipalities by implementing two historic changes, property tax reassessment and less-than-fair downloading of services to local government, in only one year. However, finger-pointing won't solve the taxpayers' problems. Municipal politicians and the region's MPPs must put their differences aside and co-operate to find desperately needed ways to cushion the blow."
That is why the resolution is here today; that is why it's worded the way it is. I agree that this is a time for us to set aside our party affiliation and scoring political points and deal with the wrong that's been done to our community and put it right.
I have not included - and deliberately so - the issue of CVA. I have not included the issue of transitional funding for the historic administrative merger that's taken place. That's a separate and complex debate in and of itself. I have deliberately confined my resolution to three key areas that I do not believe are open to political debate because they're facts; they're based on the actions of this government.
I'm going to deal with the issue of downloading and the fact that it's not revenue-neutral in our community. I want to deal with the issue of the small business rebate plan, where the government reneged on its promise, and also the business education tax, where my community is being discriminated against to the tune of $17 million a year. Those are the three issues that I'm putting before this House in asking my colleagues to support my community in climbing out of this crisis that we face.
First, the downloading. I want to state again that the Common Sense Revolution said, "We will work closely with municipalities to ensure that any actions we take will not result in increases to local property taxes." Mike Harris also promised that the exchange of services and expenditures would be revenue-neutral. In both those instances, that's not what happened, not by a long shot. This is straight-up dollars - and lack of common sense - but dollars and cents.
I want to point out to members of the House, particularly members of the government benches, two important factors as we enter into this debate today. First of all, if you're going to question the numbers that I'm about to read in terms of the downloading, I want you to remember something that's very important. The CAO of the region, Michael Fenn, who oversaw the compiling of these numbers, has one of the finest reputations in this province. His reputation, I would remind you, is so good that you just hired him as your Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs. So if you're going to question these numbers, you are questioning the integrity of the man you just hired to be the new Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs for the province.
Secondly, I want to remind members that my community of Hamilton-Wentworth has already cut expenditures by over $50 million over two years. So to anyone who wants to stand here and suggest that our community hasn't done the job, first of all, you think about that $50 million and what that's meant to our community, and then I want you to look these councillors right in the eye and I want you to tell them that they didn't do the job. I want you to have the guts to do that, because that's what you're doing if you say that our community has not done the job that needs to be done in terms of putting our fiscal house in order.
In terms of the downloading, new costs that you've dumped down to our community such as public and social housing, ambulance services, community services, property assessment services, GO Transit - $102.8 million. You've increased costs for child care, public health services, provincial highways and assessment appeals to the tune of $12 million. You've cut revenue to such things as the municipal support grant, public health, transit and other important areas in our community to the tune of $55.6 million. In return, you gave us $134.1 million. When you do the math in terms of what you took away and what you gave us, we are $36.3 million in the hole. That's what this is about.
It is such a clear injustice, and that's why I'm asking my colleagues from all three parties to join with me in supporting this resolution. I'm calling on other members of the government back benches, because you've got the majority control. I'm asking you to support what is clearly in contradiction with the commitment you made in the Common Sense Revolution and the promise you made - remember the pinky swear? - that it would be revenue-neutral, that property tax wouldn't go up as a result of the downloading, and yet there it is, $36.3 million.
In my wrap-up comments, I'll point out to you that property taxes for Sandra Gray, the owner of Weeks Hardware, have gone from $55,000 to $132,000, a 140% increase. She employs 80 people. How many of those 80 people are going to be out of work because of the unfairness of your downloading? Roxy restaurant in Eastgate Mall: Taxes have gone from $5,000 a month to $9,000 a month. He says he has to sell a hamburger for $20 to cover off your property tax increase. Mike Ritovich, who operates Mountain Nissan and is a member of the Hamilton-Burlington car dealers' association: $1.3 million in increased taxes. He has to sell 3,000 more cars to make up for the unfair downloading that you have foisted on to our community.
In the remaining seconds I want to touch briefly on the businesses education tax. This is pretty straightforward. Had you brought in a uniform application of taxes for the business education portion, we would be $17 million ahead in our community, but as it is we're losing that $17 million. You're taking eight years to phase it in. That's making our community uncompetitive with surrounding communities. You're supposed to believe in competitiveness. This hurts competitiveness.
Lastly, the small business rebate program: You promised a three-year program and you cut it back to one. Our business people need the assurance and stability of that three-year program.
I'm urging members to please be non-partisan about this. Support this resolution. My community needs your help.
In the redivision and realignment of those responsibilities, Hamilton-Wentworth has benefited significantly from provincial funding to help the region take on new responsibilities under the realignment of local services. This year the region received $28.4 million through the community reinvestment fund, $3.6 million in special transition assistance, $3 million through the special circumstances fund, more than $8.3 million in transportation capital funding, and $5.3 million on highways funding, a total of more than $48 million. This is part of a $600-million permanent funding support provided through the community reinvestment fund. Municipalities that are facing unique circumstances were able to apply for assistance from a $77-million special circumstances fund.
Changes to the Ontario municipal employees retirement system, the OMERS pension plan, have provided $4.5 million in savings to Hamilton-Wentworth alone. To help municipalities manage their cash flow requirements, the province remitted payments to school boards on their behalf and delayed the municipal repayments to October 30. For programs which the province continues to deliver during the transition period, municipalities were not required to make payments to the province before September 1, 1998, with an additional 30-day interest-free period. The province has also taken over the cost of education, by far the fastest-increasing portion of the property tax bill, and that is after previous governments refused to take on this issue. In total, the commercial-industrial taxes, $512 million will be cut over the next eight years.
The member who just spoke, who I normally have a terrific amount of respect and regard for, didn't mention that he sat in cabinet for four years and they did nothing. They did absolutely nothing to cut -
He complains about an eight-year phase-in. Had we started the eight-year phase-in the day he arrived at the Ministry of Finance, it would be complete and the $21-million tax cut that this government is bringing into Hamilton-Wentworth would be in place.
Now the member opposite and the colleagues in his party are saying that Mike Harris isn't cutting taxes for businesses fast enough. Well, you can't have it both ways. We have finally taken the initiative to cut those taxes, which have been overpaid for far too long. This government is taking it.
I can ask you who was fighting to get those taxes cut. There were four people who were fighting hard to fight taxes in Hamilton-Wentworth. They were the member for Hamilton West, the member for Wentworth North, the member for Wentworth East and the member for Hamilton Mountain, who finally got that decision made. If that had been done eight years ago, taxes would be $21 million closer. Do we think eight years is too long? You better believe we do. Would we like to cut taxes faster? You better believe we would. But at least we're moving forward. At least we brought in a $21-million tax cut to stop Hamilton businesses from overpaying.
Who set these tax rates? The member opposite wants to leave the impression that these tax rates were somehow set by Mike Harris. They were a result of big-spending councils over the years, which the member for Hamilton Centre and the member for Hamilton East participated in. We in this House -
Let me just say that I will take the local budgeting that is done at the municipal level in 99% of the municipalities across the province, if not 100% - they go over each and every item - I will take their approach and their numbers on any of these items before I would ever take numbers from anybody in this government.
This government has said over and over again that all of their downloading is revenue-neutral. Well, why is it that over 90% of the municipalities in this province, including AMO, the clerks and treasurers and every other organization, are saying: "It is not revenue-neutral. There's at least a $500-million shortfall throughout the province"? You can believe this or not, but it is absolute fact.
Initially AMO said there was a $1-billion difference between the downloading that you put on them and the number of services and taxes that you took back. You then met with them and somehow you were able to halve that amount to $500 million. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of Municipal Affairs then said, "We made a deal with AMO." Yes, of course. They would rather be $500 million short province-wide than the $1 billion you originally tried to download on them.
I'm not even going to touch the area of market value assessment, which has been in the news over the last two or three days, we'll talk about that later, but it is absolutely pathetic that the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Premier and the Deputy Premier over the last 24 hours have done nothing but blame local municipalities for the property tax mess they created. They have had six different tax bills in front of this House over the last year or so and every time they've done it wrong. They have created the mess whereby municipalities couldn't even prepare a budget until August or September of this year. Many of them couldn't get their tax bills out until maybe a month or so ago, and I understand some municipalities still don't have their final tax bill out. Most of them would normally like to set their budgets sometime between January and April of any given year. This government has created a mess, and every time it has done so it has blamed the local municipalities.
This isn't the only municipality where we've got these problems. In my own municipality of Kingston they are about $9 million to $10 million short. They made a similar appeal to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and he basically said: "Tough luck. That's it. That's all you're going to get."
This is not the way the province of Ontario ought to be run. This government likes to talk about partnerships with local municipalities. I've heard that at every AMO conference and, every time, the Minister of Municipal Affairs solemnly gets up and talks about a partnership. In a true partnership situation, you do not download services on the other level of government, making it an awful lot tougher for them to raise taxes.
What the people of Ontario should truly understand is that the costs the government has taken back under its wings are much more direct, much more predictable than the unpredictable costs they have downloaded on to the local municipalities. I would urge the people of Ontario to listen to the plight of council and taxpayers not just in the city of Hamilton, because this is going on throughout Ontario in many of our municipalities. People of Ontario, don't be fooled by this government trying to download the cost of extra services on other municipalities or on local taxpayers. It is simply not going to work. You cannot blame the local councils for the kind of situation that this government has created through its own incompetence.
I'm going to sit here during the rest of the debate and I hope the government members who are going to speak to this in addition to the member for Nepean will at least have the decency to speak to the resolution and to respond to the very issues the resolution raises, issues that deal with irrefutable facts about a shortfall, in this case, of $36.3 million to the Hamilton area in just the downloading costs alone, the difference of the $17 million in the way the government has chosen to apply the business education tax.
Yes, it is typical. What we are seeing happening in Hamilton is typical of what is going on throughout the province. But members aren't being asked today to fix the problem across the province, although I would say to my colleague from Nepean that he ought to get his script updated, because even his boss, the Minister of Finance, is now admitting it by promising yet another piece of legislation, which we will hear the details about tomorrow, I gather, to fix the ongoing property tax saga and scheme they have caused and the problems that come from that.
For him to stand up and say, "We've had the courage to make decisions" - you call it courage. We call it stupidity when you put small businesses in danger of having to close their doors, as is the case across the province and is certainly the case in many businesses in the Hamilton area, from what we are being told. Then you put municipalities and municipal councils - the regional councils and the local councils - in a position where the choices they have to make, if they want to try and help small businesses, as they do, are then to shift those costs on to the residential property taxpayers. What kind of a choice is that? What kind of fairness is that, when you ask people to do that?
The reality is that this is a problem the Mike Harris government has caused and it is irresponsible of them to now expect the municipalities to fix the problem for them. It is a problem that has to be fixed by acknowledging, as this resolution does, that in the Hamilton area there is a shortfall, that when the download is done, when the transfer of costs the government wants to take so much pride in between the provincial tax responsibility and the local tax responsibility is all done and settled, the numbers speak for themselves. There is a shortfall across the province of some $500 million, $550 million, depending on the numbers you look at, but there is a number here for Hamilton.
What this resolution is telling us is, acknowledge that which is true, that there is a shortfall of $36.3 million of additional costs that the property taxpayers in the Hamilton area are being asked to bear through no decision of their own but directly through the decision of the provincial government. It's inconceivable that people would stand here today and rail on about overspending and high-spending councils when councils throughout the province, and certainly this council, have been doing their utmost to maintain expenditures very close to last year's levels.
The issue is not the high-spending councils; the issue is that we have to acknowledge in this House - and we have the ability to do it through a private member's resolution that isn't binding on the government but is a way to send the message, as independent members of this House, which is what I remind members this process today is about, that says, "We acknowledge that there is a problem as it relates to Hamilton and we ask the government to take a look at that and to face up to its responsibilities."
The Hamilton Spectator today indicates, "Local Taxpayers Must Have Help." I agree with that and all the Hamilton members here - Mr Pettit, Mr Doyle and Ms Ross - agree with that and that is why we lobbied our own government to get that $4-million subsidy. We have written a joint letter, all four of us, to help with restructuring of the Hamilton region for up to $27 million.
That's not what this resolution is about; that's maybe half of it at most. The other half of it says that yes, there are problems in Hamilton and they're basically all the fault of the Mike Harris government. I don't agree with that. In fact, even the regional chairman, Terry Cooke, doesn't agree with that.
In yesterday's paper, "Cooke Says Politicians Have `Failed' Taxpayers" - all politicians: federal politicians, provincial politicians and you people up there. Your own regional chairman says that.
My business community is facing 100%, 200%, 1000% increases. That's not the download. How did that happen? The best way to visualize how the tax jungle happened is to imagine a gigantic garbage truck. That's not hard for us to do in Hamilton with all the hazardous waste that is flowing into Hamilton right now and has been for the last several years. This garbage truck stopped at Queen's Park and gathered the non-revenue-neutral download. That's 5% of the increase.
Then it went to the school boards. We had an amalgamation in our area. The Wentworth board where I'm at was cheaper, $1,000 per student, than the Hamilton board. The bylaw that the region passed, these gentlemen behind us, made my taxpayers pay the same amount as the Hamilton taxpayers. That resulted in a very substantial increase. My businesses are paying at least 25% more in taxes and Hamilton still has more programs than the students in my area.
Then the garbage truck next went to the Hamilton council itself. They did their own version of a download; it's called an upload. They have a number of programs that are losing money. They put them up on the region so that it could be spread around the whole region. That increased taxes by 0.5% to 1%.
Then the region itself: We asked them to cut costs by 2% to 3%. They instead increased expenses by 1%. They give a variety of reasons for it: "We can't reduce expenses. The province has been so unfair." Nobody has mentioned the fact that with our policies with reference to welfare, the welfare rolls in Hamilton are about 20%. In the last two years alone, the region saved $34 million. What happened to that money? Why did it have to increase taxes another per cent?
Then the truck keeps going. It's pretty full now. Mr Christopherson talks about a municipality going bankrupt. I'll tell you one that may go bankrupt whether there's an economic downturn or not, and that's the town of Flamborough. You want to talk about mismanagement. Go to the town of Flamborough, run by Liberal Mayor Ted McMeekin. Let's talk about that. The region people confirm they made money on the download. We gave them a $1.3-million cheque. They had $640,000 left over. What did McMeekin do with it? He put it in a reserve fund for a lawsuit. He could've reduced taxes.
It's everybody's fault. Our small businesses - in the Dundas Star, "Tax Hike Threatens Survival." What happened in Hamilton was, there has been a massive tax shift. It's come from outside the Hamilton core which has been devastated by too many taxes because of too many programs that have failed in Hamilton. Now their property values have been reduced. They can't pay their taxes. All of sudden, with all these increases, it has to go somewhere. It's gone out to the successful businesses on the Mountain, in Westdale and in my area.
That's why there are 100%, 200% and 1000% increases, even though there are all kinds of headlines like "Tax Hike Threatens Survival." I've had people come into my office crying that they've been wiped out by 200% tax increases and it has been a direct result of this bylaw structure that has done a massive shift outwards, and they're not going to do anything about it. Their only response is, "We want more money from the province." I'm telling them that we have all spoken to Ernie Eves and we want something done about it. We're going to do something about it. We're going to put on a cap so that our small businesses don't get wiped out. We're going to do that.
All responsible politicians should do what we do: Look at your expenses and cut those and don't wipe out taxpayers.
The divide-and-conquer thing will not work. What has happened to Hamilton? Why don't you revisit your situation again and realize that you have to put in another proposal? Maybe you have. Your seventh tax bill may do that, but I don't think it will. You have always created a crisis and then turned around and tried to say, "Maybe now I'm going to become the captain and save it all." Just like you've done with the hospital situation and emergency rooms, now that you have created this crisis you're going to come in and try to resolve this. That way you are blaming everybody else, when the blame lies right smack on your kind of strategy. Your divide-and-conquer and the discriminatory way in which you treat some of the municipalities are not working.
I just want to say to you, let's not look from a partisan point of view. Look at Hamilton as a growing area that needs support from the provincial government. It doesn't need the kind of bullying that you're doing and the kind of biased manner in which the previous member has just spoken. I just want to make those points and give my colleagues a chance.
I want to thank the members who are here today, different politicians from different political stripes, I assume, both male and female, for coming together united on this one issue, because it is so important that communities, no matter what the political stripe, come together and fight this kind of blatant downloading that we're seeing all across the province.
I cannot believe that once again here today we hear the Tory members come out with the same old set speech: "Let's blame it on the last 10 years," the governments before them. "Let's blame it on the municipal politicians; let's blame it on everybody, but it's not our responsibility." That's what they say day after day in this House.
You've got to wake up and smell the coffee. Hamilton people are here today and David Christopherson -
Mike Harris promised on his pinky finger - wasn't it cute, and everybody stood up and applauded - that the downloading, the exchanges of services, would be revenue-neutral. We know that isn't so, and you won't admit it. He also promised Robert Fisher that there would be no hospital closings. Well, look what's happening across the province.
You have got to wake up and accept responsibility for what is happening here today in Hamilton. You can't just sit there and continue to blame it on everybody else but yourselves. This is a reality. You have to bring forward yet again another bill - is it the sixth bill or the seventh? - on your tax changes.
I plead with you today -
Yes, these are the new taxfighters. Let me tell you about the new taxfighters: 65 tax increases. Since we have been in office, taxes have been lowered over 60 times by this government. Every time they talk about the 30% tax cut that we gave, do you know what they call it? They call it "that stupid tax cut." These are the taxfighters: "that stupid taxfighter." This is incredible. I just don't believe what I'm hearing: the new taxfighters, the NDP and the Liberals.
Let's talk about something else here. Not too long ago, the New Democrats said to the Liberals and to us, "We would like the employment insurance money to be given back to workers and employers." Guess what the Liberals did? They said, "No, we're not going to do that." They didn't agree to that; they disagreed with it. When they wanted to do something about $2 billion in downloading to the province on health care issues and social issues, they said no. These are the new taxfighters, the new taxcutters.
I can't support this resolution. We care about our taxpayers in Hamilton-Wentworth more than they've ever demonstrated.
I'm amazed at the arrogance, the cockiness and the insensitivity that the government members have shown to this issue. It's always blame someone else. In health care, it's not the government's fault; it's the hospitals, the doctors and the nurses. In education, it's not the government; it's the teachers and the trustees. In welfare, it's not the government; it's the welfare recipients. In municipal downloading and taxes, it's not the government; it's the municipal councils. That is typical of your arrogance. That is typical of your style of bullying, of your style of government.
Very clearly, the comments by the members for Wentworth East and Wentworth North are an insult to Mayor Morrow and Hamilton city council; an insult to Mayor Etherington, who is here, and regional council; an insult to every civic official.
I can tell this government that you can take some lessons in the spending and the cuts that have occurred and the budgets that have occurred in Hamilton and Hamilton-Wentworth. They don't need to take a back seat to and be lectured by any slash-and-burn members of this government who are totally insensitive to the needs of property taxpayers.
Hamilton-Wentworth sent four Tory members to the Legislature last time, and what did Mike Harris give them in return? The middle finger. They received Mike Harris's middle finger in return for sending four Tory members to Queen's Park.
We're talking about Hamilton-Wentworth being shafted to the tune of almost $37 million. Those numbers are beyond dispute. As my colleague from Hamilton Centre mentioned, these numbers were not pulled out of the air, they weren't pulled out by opposition politicians; they were put together by the man you have hired as your Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, a man whose credibility and competence is beyond question. These numbers are accurate.
I find it amazing that the member from Wentworth spoke about all of this earlier. He was one of the most critical members of this government when the downloading exercise took place, and all of a sudden he's bought in. All of a sudden the whiz kids in the Premier's office have basically pulled his string and said: "Come back in line with us. Do what you're told."
Government members can't have it both ways. You have people like the member for Hamilton Mountain who will stand up and say, "We've been hurt by this." You have the member for Hamilton Mountain writing to the Minister of Finance, pleading for his political career, saying, "I did not leave my career to be a one-term MPP." I suggest to the member for Hamilton Mountain, start sending out your resumé, because you will be a one-term MPP as a result of this downloading exercise.
You can't have it both ways. You can't sit in the House and vote in favour of the downloading bill and then go back home and tell the Hamilton Spectator that maybe what the government did was wrong. You can't have it both ways. Have the courage and the integrity to either vote against the legislation or, if you don't agree and you believe they screwed your community, step out of the caucus and sit as an independent. You can't have it both ways.
The region and the city can't cut any more. There just isn't anything left to cut unless you get into essential services. You simply can't come up with a solution the Premier put together on the back of a matchbox yesterday that suggests that somehow we're going to cap it, without any additional funding. Where's that money going to come from? Is it going to be from residential taxpayers? Is it then going to be put on to the business that had a bit of a decrease? Who is going to pay for that? You can't just come up with these solutions that don't work.
You've brought in seven bills to deal with property tax reform. Now you're going to be on to bill number eight. You talk about sheer incompetence, and who's paying the price? Homeowners, businesses in Hamilton-Wentworth. They are paying one hell of a price.
This resolution today addresses that. All it says is: "Treat us fairly. If you want to challenge our numbers, go ahead. Show us that our numbers are wrong. No one has done that yet. No one from the ministry has shown us that our numbers are wrong" - that the Hamilton-Wentworth numbers are wrong - "because they know that the numbers are right. They know that we've taken a beating of almost $37 million."
Think about that. Think about your communities. You can sit there with your arrogance and your cockiness if your community is not affected, but think if your taxpayers, Tory members, had been shafted to the tune of $37 million and have to pick that up through property taxes. If that happened, think about how you would react. Would you have the guts and the courage to stand up and support your community or would you simply allow the Premier and the Premier's office to pull your strings and tell you what to do?
Very clearly, the Hamilton members, the government members, have an opportunity here at least to undo some of the damage they've done. You can't undo the fact that you voted in favour of the downloading bill. You can't undo that, but you've got an opportunity now to send a message to Mike Harris to say: "You know what, Mike? We made a mistake. I made a mistake as a member who voted in favour of the downloading bill." If Tory members can say that, it is your opportunity to try to undo that damage. For a change, it is your opportunity to say, "I was elected to represent my constituents at Queen's Park, not Queen's Park in my constituency." It is an opportunity and people will be watching.
It is not a coincidence that 12, 13 members of city council and the mayor of Glanbrook have taken the time to come down here today. Can you not understand how important this is to our community? Can you not understand the devastation we're facing? If you're simply going to sit there and point fingers, it isn't good enough. It is not council's fault; it is your fault. I can tell the government members in the Hamilton-Wentworth area, you will pay a heavy political price for the beating you have laid upon our constituents. It isn't good enough to sit there and say, "Well, maybe we made a mistake." It isn't good enough.
You now have an opportunity to stand up. You now have an opportunity to cut the apron strings from the Premier's office. You now have an opportunity to vote with your hand, not the hand that is being pulled by Mike Harris. Say no to the whiz kids, say no to the Premier, say no to your caucus and say yes to the taxpayers of Hamilton-Wentworth.
I want to put on the record that I support very sincerely and strongly the homeowners and the business people in my community. I listen to their concerns all the time about the taxes they are facing and about the 1.97% tax rate they're looking at in the city of Hamilton. I share their concern that that tax rate is far too high.
In the resolution, the member has talked about the property tax system being unfair. He had an opportunity when he was in government, when he sat at the cabinet table, to look at that and to revise that system.
I have fought for my community. I've fought for funding for Red Hill Creek. I've fought for transitional dollars and I'm prepared to continue that fight for transitional dollars, the $27 million. I work with my community to try to get them the support they need.
Unfortunately, I've run out of time.
I drafted this resolution in a way that I sincerely had hopes for today during private members' public business, where there isn't the party discipline, where we don't whip the votes. It's the one time as backbenchers and individual members that we are not only expected but encouraged to come here, speak our minds and vote our conscience.
Had I loaded up this resolution with all kinds of political attacks, I can assure you that my colleagues on Hamilton city council and Hamilton-Wentworth council wouldn't have given it more than the 10 seconds it would take to move a motion to file the thing. But I dealt clearly and strictly with three key areas where, yes, the government is responsible. I'm not suggesting, and no one is, that all of Hamilton's problems and all of Hamilton-Wentworth's problems are solely the responsibility of Mike Harris. That is a ridiculous position to take. But in the three areas that I've outlined in the resolution in terms of the downloading, in terms of the small business rebate program and in terms of the business education tax, those are your responsibilities.
My colleagues on local councils didn't take any initiatives that caused that problem. You initiated all three of those measures. I didn't get us into a whole debate about the other things that have happened in our community, what's happened to our health care system, what's happening to our school system.
By the way, you might be interested to know that tonight at the board of education, there are going to be recommendations about school closures. As many as 30 schools in my community are going to close. That's not in the resolution, and deliberately so.
When I heard the member for Wentworth North -
In terms of our downtown initiatives, we were beginning a program to look at a special taxation policy for downtown Hamilton that, had the election not come, quite frankly, and had the result not been what it was, we indeed would have had special legislation for downtown Hamilton and we wouldn't have half the problems that are facing us right now. You didn't do anything with that. Instead, you brought all these other problems on to us.
I want to put on the record that I think there are members in this House from Hamilton and from Nepean who owe my municipal colleagues an apology for what the members said and the things they said about them. It's fine to sit back there in the backbenches with all the protection of a majority government and the cabinet ministers out there and say, "You didn't do the job." I sat on that council for five years, city and region. That's a tough job, and our councillors and our aldermen have done the best job they possibly can in impossible circumstances. You ought to be standing up and applauding the job they've done rather than standing up and besmirching their reputations.
Let the record show that today in the gallery were Mayor Robert Morrow, Mayor Glen Etherington from Glanbrook, Councillors Dave Wilson, Mary Kiss, Marvin Caplan, Andrea Horwath, Ron Corsini, Bernie Morelli, Dennis Haining, Chad Collins, Bob Charters, Terry Anderson, Bill Kelly and Frank D'amico. They are here.
You know who else is here? Take a look up there. Go on, take a look, guys. Right up there is Mary Pocius, who is the executive director of the International Village BIA. She represents 8,000 businesses. She's here because this matters to her and her members. She's not here, quite frankly, to do harm to this government, and she's not here to do any great political favour for me. She's here because this is an important issue.
Members, members of the government because you have the control, and my colleagues the MPPs from Hamilton-Wentworth, I'm asking you to recognize the crucial negative impact of your downloading, of the business education tax and cutting back the small business rebate program from three years to one. Those are the three issues that I put forward in the motion and in my resolution. I'm asking you to recognize that this is not a political spin. These people are evidence of that.
Our community is hurting. We have work to do locally at the city council and the regional council, and these women and men are dedicated to do everything they can for those things that are in their power. But the three items I've put before you today are not in their power. They can't do anything about these injustices; we can.
We can't make a decision that's binding on the government, but collectively, as individual members from communities like mine in Hamilton-Wentworth, you can stand up and join with us and say, "It's not fair what happened to Hamilton-Wentworth in these three issues, and I'm going to give my support to them because this is legitimate and because I do want to be a fair-minded member of this Legislature." It's on that basis that I'm asking members of the government backbenches and Tory members from the government benches to please join with the rest of us in supporting and correcting the injustice that has happened to Hamilton-Wentworth. It's the only fair thing to do.
RURAL AND NORTHERN HEALTH SERVICES
Whereas the Ontario government has shown the leadership to address access to health care in underserviced communities through the rural and northern health care framework, the $70 per hour sessional fees for emergency room physicians, and enhanced incentives for recruitment and retention of health professionals; and
Whereas the government's Bill 127 has legally recognized the important role and enabled greater participation of highly skilled nurse practitioners as part of a multi-disciplinary health care team;
Be it resolved that the government should act to further improve and expand the underserviced area program including the integration of nurse practitioners into primary care practices to make underserviced areas more attractive to physicians and other health care professionals.
I think the number of members who want to speak on this bill is a testament to their concern about ensuring that the citizens in their ridings have access to health care services. I'm joined today on this side of the House by my colleagues from Bruce, Durham-York and High Park-Swansea, three different areas of the province to address this issue today.
As a preamble, I have to remark that this government has recognized the importance of access to health care in small-town Ontario. There are a number of things we've done already. I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that the underserviced area program has in fact been around for about three decades. I believe it was in 1968 that the program began, because there has always been that challenge for the rural, remote and northern parts of the province to make sure that they had health care professionals available to the citizens to deliver health care services.
In 1995 we came up with a number of new incentives to help recruit physicians to small-town Ontario. I'll give you some examples. For a number of emergency rooms that faced closure, quite frankly - if this government had not acted, about 70 emergency rooms in rural Ontario probably would have closed - we brought in what is often called the Scott sessional fee, a $70-an-hour fee to ensure that there are incentives for physicians to cover the rural emergency rooms. Seventy across the province have been kept open because of the actions of this government for access to health care in small-town Ontario. In fact, in my riding Fort Erie's Douglas Memorial Hospital is one of those hospitals.
Importantly too, coming from the backbench of this party, a number of MPPs, along with the health minister at that time, Jim Wilson, came up with the rural and northern health care framework. In fact, the member for Bruce speaking with me today played an important role in that as well. The rural and northern framework ensures that there is continued access to health care services in rural and northern parts of the province. I think the way it's going to unfold is the hospitals that are classified as rural will be staying open across the province and will be providing 24-hour access to emergency care. It's another important step to make sure that citizens in small-town Ontario have access to health care services.
Just shortly after being appointed as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health by the Premier, one of my first responsibilities was to bring in Bill 127, which legally recognized the important role of nurse practitioners in this province. Many other jurisdictions in North America had recognized these highly skilled and highly trained nurse practitioners, but Ontario had not yet passed legislation to legally recognize that. One of my first tasks, and it was a pleasure, was to carry that bill through debate in this House, which I would say was a very popular bill; in fact it received all-party support. Nurse practitioners now are legally recognized as a profession in the province.
It's my view, and through this resolution I'm trying to point out, that it's important now to take the next step. We've done the $70-an-hour emergency fee to keep those ERs open, we have the rural and northern health care framework to ensure access in rural and northern Ontario to health care services and we have the Bill 127 nurse practitioners. It's important to take the next step to improve the underserviced area program to make sure that we'll try some innovative ideas to attract physicians to small-town Ontario.
I should at this time speak about a good group that has been put together in the Niagara region. Dr Jeff Remington, a highly respected physician raised in Fort Erie and now practising in Port Colborne in my riding, is chairing this committee to come up with new ideas to attract physicians and health care professionals to the Niagara region. I have a quote from Dr Remington at the time I bounced this resolution around in his office. Dr Remington says, "The integration of nurse practitioners into the practices of family physicians in underserviced areas will greatly assist in our ability to provide increased care and necessary services to our patients and communities."
I think the goal through integrating the nurse practitioners is, first of all, to offer that important service to the people in the small communities, the additional services that an NP can provide. Some examples include performing general health assessments, well baby checks, periodic examinations and screenings, immunizations, some diagnoses that are permitted under the legislation and, importantly, health teaching, prevention, preventive medicine. One could argue that currently under the OHIP schedule benefits there's not often that incentive for the doctors to work hand in hand in practice and in integration with the nurse practitioners. If we can find a method to try to integrate these services where they work together as a team, I think that will help enhance health care in the Niagara Peninsula and other parts of Ontario that could take advantage of this service.
Working as a team in that office would also help ease the doctors' workload. They often feel that the number of patients under their practices in small-town Ontario is growing. As more doctors are retiring, it seems in many areas that there are fewer moving from the schools in the big cities to come to small-town Ontario and, as a result, the doctors are picking up larger and larger practices. I think by having them work with the nurse practitioners and other health care professionals, we can look at ways of ensuring that that burden is eased, ultimately making small-town Ontario a more attractive place for family physicians and other health professionals to set up their practices.
We have a number of financial incentives that have been set up under the UAP, including the $15,000 financial incentive, and a disincentive in terms of limits on OHIP billing in the overserviced areas. If somebody is in a underserviced area program, they're part of that. They can get funds to help pay for doctors' visits to the communities so the doctors can see what a great place Port Colborne is, for example, or Fort Erie or Wainfleet or Smithville. I know very well that those are great places to live, but often, in trying to reach the doctors in training in Toronto or Queen's or such, that little extra financial incentive to pull them into the community to see what a great place it is I think is important.
There have also been a series of community-sponsored contracts and other financial incentives; globally funded group practices. We have a number of financial incentives across the province that are having some success. But I would argue for going a step further and looking at ways of integrating - as one idea among many that I've heard from my colleagues here - to offer, in addition to the financial incentives, some lifestyle incentives to make practising in small-town Ontario that much more attractive.
I certainly look forward to the other ideas brought forward today to look at ways to enhance what is offered for underserviced areas. As I said, I believe that the financial incentives we have out there have been successful, but I'd like to see an additional array of services that will add that lifestyle component to make places like the Niagara region attractive for health care professionals.
Interestingly, a student who is a nurse practitioner, who lives in Fort Erie and attends school just across the border, came to me because part of her class project was to see if her congressman knew much about nurse practitioners. She came into my office as her member of the provincial Parliament and was pleased to hear that I was the member who helped bring this legislation through the House. Her name is Charlene Cormack.
Charlene said about this proposed idea, this resolution: "By working collaboratively with physicians, nurse practitioners will increase access to health care within a small community. Integrating nurse practitioners into the practices of family physicians would allow the physicians to concentrate on the more acute cases. It would be a benefit to" any community. That's a nurse practitioner student in my riding.
It's also interesting to hear what Linda Jones, the chair of the Nurse Practitioners Association of Ontario has to say about this resolution, this idea. "On behalf of the Nurse Practitioners Association of Ontario, I would like to express our full support for this resolution. It will allow underserviced areas access to the knowledge and skills of the primary health care nurse practitioner."
Also, working with PAIRO, I've had some very good conversations with some of the members of PAIRO on what some of their ideas are to help enhance the underserviced area approach of this government. They've been working very hard, as we all know, in approaching the government. They've spoken with me and the health minister. They believe as well that there are some opportunities in looking at ways of integrating nurse practitioners and trying some new approaches to this important issue.
I encourage all members of the House to support me in this idea, and I look forward to the comments of my colleagues.
We heard the member opposite talking about nurse practitioners. Where, Mr Hudak, are the nurse practitioners? You haven't paid for them. We supported the bill. We went to your minister and offered to put the bill in, because you hung on to it for so long, and now there is no money yet to pay nurse practitioners. You announced $5 million and there's none of it available. Where are the nurse practitioners?
When you're talking about underserviced communities, you did bring in something called a rural health framework, but you're still closing hospital emergency rooms, still turning them into nurses' stations in most of those communities. Most of your members who represent rural communities know that. They know that in Grimsby, in places like Bruce and Huron, you are effectively going to be closing those hospital rooms because all you've done is put them off on a political basis. And why? Because the Harris government is treating every community like they're the same community. You walk into those towns with a formula made in Toronto and you've cut out the funding. You've taken the funding away. How is Fort Erie going to be able to provide services?
Look what happened yesterday in Milton. Yesterday in Milton, a town of 34,000 people, they fired the obstetric nurses. They fired them because this government will not provide an adequate basis for medical practice and health services in the rural areas. Sadly, this is the real track record of this government. We have lost obstetric nurses in Milton; there is no effort being made to recruit obstetricians.
We see also that this government talks about setting up programs. They announced $36 million in December 1996 for underserviced areas; there should have been about $75 million spent. Only $4 million worth of contracts have been spent, $4 million out of $75 million, about a 7% or 8% batting average. That's about what this government deserves: a 8% mark on what it is doing or not doing for rural and underserviced areas.
We see what they've talked about in terms of doctors. What have they done to help people in rural areas have better access to doctors? What they have done is increased medical fees to $10,000 and $15,000, eliminating the possibility for good, talented doctors to arise from the communities that need them. This is the kind of thing that's happening under this government. This is the kind of thing that we should get excited about, because this is the government that's going to be hoisted by this.
We saw 7,000 people come out in Grimsby and hold a vigil for their hospital. We saw as many people sign letters from small communities in the Bruce and Huron. This is going to come back to haunt this government. They have not been there for the people who need them. They have not recognized the economics, the social value and potential that comes from communities because they have a hospital.
The bottom line is that under Mike Harris, rural health care has deteriorated. The people who live there know that, and hopefully, they'll make this government pay for that.
The member talks about integration of nurse practitioners into the health care system. I say to him, for goodness' sake, then your government had better start to find a way to pay them, because until your government finds a way to pay nurse practitioners to work in this province, all you have done is given them the scope of practice, allowed them legally to work, but not given them the means to finance themselves to do that.
All the members in this Legislature voted in June 1997 to allow nurse practitioners to legally work in the province of Ontario, but before that, during the debate on that bill and ever since that time, this government has consistently refused to find a broad-based scheme to remunerate nurse practitioners who want to use their skills, their expertise in providing health care to the citizens of Ontario, particularly to those citizens who live in underserviced areas. Your government has consistently refused to find a mechanism to pay these people to work in Ontario.
Our party has been trying to convince this government to do something about this serious issue. My first letter was to the first Minister of Health in this province under this government, Dave Johnson, in 1997, when I wrote to him and said, "Number one, you need to pass nurse practitioner legislation to allow them to practise legally, and you need to include in the legislation a scheme to pay NPs so that they can practise." I got a reply back from Dave Johnson thanking me for my concerns. He didn't say a word about how we were going to pay for NPs to work in the province.
I wrote to Minister Jim Wilson at the time the legislation was going through this House in June 1997. I said to him, "You have to come to terms with the fact that a funding mechanism is necessary to allow nurse practitioners to work independently or in partnership with physicians in underserviced areas, or we will never get the benefit of their skills and expertise." Jim Wilson wrote back in July 1997, saying: "It is not the intention of the government to have fee-for-service privileges for NPs. It is not the position of the government to open up the community health centre program so that more nurse practitioners can be employed in community health centres in this province. The government will continue to look at what opportunities may exist as health care restructuring occurs."
We have a crisis now with respect to health care professionals in many, many underserviced areas in northern and rural Ontario. We can't wait until health restructuring continues to unfold. We need this government to show some leadership and to follow on with the second phase of Bill 127, a phase which in fact should have been included in Bill 127, which is, how do we pay nurse practitioners?
Then I wrote to the third health minister in this province under the Tories, to Elizabeth Witmer, and encouraged her to look at this very serious issue. I did it particularly in light of the announcement that was made in the May budget that $5 million was being set aside by this government to expand the role of nurse practitioners in Ontario. I received a letter back from Ms Witmer in September of this year which said that $5 million has been set aside. "We hope to announce the implementation plan for the $5 million in the early fall 1998."
This is the same sad scenario as the sad scenario we've been dealing with with respect to emergency room funding. The government makes an announcement that there's going to be emergency money, it's coming immediately, and six months later, because there's a huge crisis developing in the public again in emergency wards, the Premier finally trots off and presents the first of what we hope will be a number of cheques to come with respect to emergency funding. Six months it took this government to get the first cheques out the door.
We are sitting here five months after the announcement with respect to $5 million for nurse practitioners and this government has done nothing to get that $5 million out the door.
We have all kinds of needs for nurse practitioners in underserviced areas. We have 27 northern communities designated underserviced right now, and we have 45 communities in southern Ontario designated as underserviced right now. We have a proposal before the Minister of Health which calls on the Minister of Health to allow nurse practitioners to work with physicians in underserviced areas and to have a separate fund of money set aside to pay salaries for those nurse practitioners. It's called the nurse practitioner justification fund. This was put before the minister well over three months ago. There is still no reply to that good suggestion about how to get nurse practitioners working.
I say to the member, it's a joke that you bring this resolution here this morning. You talk a good line about integration. Why don't you lean over and talk to the Minister of Health and her cabinet colleagues on Management Board and tell them to get the $5 million out the door so that we in underserviced areas in particular can benefit from the expertise, the skills and the health care specialty that nurse practitioners can provide? Why don't you do that? We might be a whole lot further ahead.
In the riding of Bruce, one area has already been designed as an underserviced area; two are looking at that possibility as well. The day I was elected, there were already two underserviced areas. It is not a new problem. It is something that must be dealt with, and politics need to be put aside. We are doing our best and moving forward to make that happen.
The rural and northern communities are obviously different from large urban centres and therefore must be considered differently. Distances between hospitals are greater. Weather conditions come into play. When patients are being transported to areas away from their homes, we have to think about what that does in terms of loved ones who want to visit those people in other locations. It does have a huge impact and it's obviously negative.
The rural health care policy has taken many of these problems into consideration, and the underserviced area program is one which is welcomed by communities in rural areas, including mine, although a previous speaker this morning implied that Huron and Bruce weren't supportive of this, much to his chagrin. If he'd checked the details, in fact we are very supportive, and that comes from those professional people, the doctors and nurses in the area, who want that support of assistance to them.
At the end of August, the southwestern Ontario rural medicine unit announced the hiring of Mr Jay Orchard as the community development officer. Jay is located in Goderich, in Huron county. He obviously services Bruce, Grey and the rest of southwestern Ontario. This new position, funded by the Ministry of Health, will focus on recruitment and retention of physicians for rural and underserviced communities throughout southwestern Ontario. Mr Orchard will help communities develop strategies and supports to recruit and to retain physicians. This is good news for communities in my riding.
We have progressed very well, by the way, with the restructuring of health services in Bruce, and I'm very proud of that because it was driven by the community, it was led by the community and the solution is being made by the community as to how to help themselves.
There have been many other innovative solutions found. I am particularly pleased that in Bruce and Grey a number of hospital administrations and boards have amalgamated. By the way, the health restructuring commission hasn't been there yet, and this has been done in a voluntary, progressive way. These amalgamations have reduced the size and cost of administration of hospitals, and as a result not one hospital has been closed.
Economic development in a small community is usually dependent upon its being able to provide such services as adequate health care, including hospitals. We in rural communities know that better than other people, in urban settings, might.
The expansion of the underserviced area program to include the integration of nurse practitioners into primary care practices will make underserviced areas more attractive to physicians and other health care professionals. Doctors have said that one of the reasons they hesitate going into practice in underserviced communities is lack of professional support. If doctor numbers are too few in a community, the workload is too heavy, and of course they won't come, nor can they be expected to come.
I have worked and lived in a small community for over 25 years and I can attest to the fact that the physicians are overworked and experience burnout. Nurse practitioners will help alleviate that workload.
The Society of Rural Physicians recently held a symposium in Newfoundland to discuss this very issue. I understand that the society, generally speaking, is supportive of nurse practitioners.
I had the pleasure last night of attending an OMA function and again it was expressed that they are supportive. Certain criteria have to be established and met. It is important that the nurse practitioner work within a defined role.
These health care professionals are not meant to replace physicians, but should be employed wherever possible to improve service in conjunction with physicians, health care boards and the people.
The society passed five resolutions with respect to the role of nurse practitioners. These include: There should be a national process to develop guidelines for the scope of practice of nurse practitioners; there is an enhanced skills set and specific education required by nurse practitioners; the activities within the role of nurse practitioners are location- and site-specific; funding models must be developed to enhance co-operative and collaborative care; innovative education is needed to provide core competency and an enhanced skills set.
However, Ontario has moved ahead. In 1997 amendments were made to the Nursing Act and other related acts. These amendments defined and established the role and responsibilities of the nurse practitioners in Ontario.
The nurse practitioner focuses on giving people the information, care, advice and support they need to be healthier and to prevent illness and injury. Patients can make the best choices with regard to their own health care if given the opportunity. That's why we want to move forward with this.
The nurse practitioner is now allowed to conduct certain and limited functions previously performed by physicians. These services include ordering certain X-rays, ultrasounds, basic lab tests, and the prescription of certain treatments and medications. These fall into the overlap of services between the nurse practitioner and the family physician. This overlap does not mean competitive practice, but can be and we look forward to having it be complementary practice.
The integration of nurse practitioners into the underserviced area program provides for a greater use of other primary health professionals and promotes access to primary health care in rural and northern communities. Nurse practitioners will function as part of a multidisciplinary team, in collaboration with other health care providers, including physicians. The adoption of this resolution will start this process.
I urge my colleagues to support this initiative and further assist northern and rural communities in their efforts to provide equitable and adequate health care to the residents of Ontario.
We have a government here - the member for Niagara South is parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health - that after much delay actually has put through legislation supported by all members of the Legislature that we put the nurse practitioners act in place. We did that. We have a Minister of Health who has announced that there's $5 million to be accessed for nurse practitioners, but no way to access the actual funding. We have a preamble in the resolution which I think is a problem as well, to put it politely, where the member talks about enhanced funding for recruitment and retention of physicians. We have had a three-year program of over $100 million to help recruit and retrain health care professionals in northern and rural Ontario, but almost no money of that has been spent: $3 million or $4 million of the $100 million that was committed. So it's difficult to take him seriously when we have a resolution such as this which suggests that we should be supporting nurse practitioners, having them integrated into the underserviced area program when the funds that have been allocated are not accessible by the nurse practitioners.
The member for Bruce I think explained very well the value and the importance of nurse practitioners. Yet, what we have is a government that is basically doing everything they can to slow the process down. We know the minister in the House on September 29 said that she was ready to make an announcement, that the funding was going to be announced very soon. They announced the funding in the May 1998 budget: $5 million. The minister has confirmed that she's going to make her announcement, yet they've held off releasing that funding. As we know, an announcement of funds doesn't mean very much with this government because it's taken a very long time for that to be accessed.
I absolutely believe that the value of nurse practitioners in my part of the province cannot be overstated. I have worked very closely with the nurse practitioners in the Thunder Bay area to try and help move this process forward. We need to use today's opportunity - if we're grateful for anything, it's for the opportunity - to at least try and pressure this government to really move forward. This resolution will not in any great fashion improve the situation unless the government is absolutely serious about providing the funding which they've said they are going to provide.
The member for Niagara South knows that; the member for Bruce, who just spoke, knows that. What they should be doing is pressuring the minister to release the funding. Nurse practitioners are providing an extraordinarily important service. Right now, we have over 50 nurse practitioners in northern Ontario who are not working. We've got to find a way to access those funds, to use their services, to continue to fight on behalf of all of them and make sure that this government finally listens and releases the funding and lets them get to work.
In Nickel Belt, being such a vast riding where we have rural communities such as Foleyet, Gogama, Shining Tree, it becomes especially important to fund nurse practitioners when we look at those remote rural communities which depend on the nurse care practitioners and nurse practitioners to meet those needs. An example of this is when we start looking geographically at a centre such as Gogama, where it takes the constituents of my riding two hours to receive emergency treatment at the nearest hospital, which is in Timmins, or another two and a half hours to get into Sudbury to receive emergency treatment. Therefore, nurse practitioners become more of a value than ever, especially in northern communities.
I would like to start by saying that nurse practitioners have written; on September 19 in the Sudbury Star, and in the by-election in Nickel Belt, they asked us to continue putting pressure on the government to expand the use of nurse practitioners to alleviate the underserviced problems in northern Ontario. The government announced $5 million for community nursing, nurse practitioners, in provincially funded settings in the budget. None of that money was spent. That has created a real crisis in my community.
The nurse practitioners who wrote the original letter were Marilyn Butcher, Monique Richer, Ann Palomar, Joanne Przystawka, Roger Pilon, Annette Hoop, Brenda Taylor, Karen Hourtovenko and Claire Warren. The important thing to remember, and one of the beefs that the nurse care practitioners have about being underutilized, is that the nurse practitioners association estimates that there are 50 qualified nurse practitioners in underserviced areas in northern Ontario who are either unemployed or underemployed because of the limits on their ability to be paid.
That's quite serious when we're dealing with northern rural areas. We're not talking about building a new arena. We're talking about the basic right of people in Ontario to receive health care. It's health care, and that's what we need to do in those rural northern areas. We have to release the funding. It's great for this government to continue opening and making announcements on funding and spending, but you actually have to start spending the money. The lives of people in Gogama, Foleyet and Sultan depend on it. Their lives depend on it.
Last year, the government committed $36.4 million for global funding of group practices in underserviced areas, which could include nurse practitioners. So far, only $4 million of that $36 million has been spent. In May, the government announced its primary care reform, which consisted of five pilot projects for rostering and capital funding. The reform is extremely limited and does not address the issue of remuneration for health care professionals and other family physicians.
I ask the government to release that funding and help me service our constituents with the basic rights of health care.
Hospitals in my riding of Durham-York continue to face significant growth pressures of at least twice the provincial average.
I've had a number of meetings with constituents in my riding where they have raised their concerns about funding for our hospitals and the very real problem of attracting doctors to the more remote areas. When I say "remote areas," I'm not talking about communities which are hours of driving time from each other. My riding is considered part of the 905 GTA, and while this might not appear to be particularly isolated, it has special problems that are addressed by this member's resolution.
We're talking about areas such as Mount Albert, no more than hour from downtown Toronto, or Sunderland, which is no more than an hour and a half from Toronto. You would question why a physician would hesitate to set up a practice in one of these areas, which naturally I believe to be one of the most beautiful areas in Ontario. With Lake Simcoe close by, I suggest that these areas are perfect places to live, work, raise a family or, for that matter, retire.
The rural and northern framework was developed in recognition of the importance of ensuring access to health care services for residents of rural and northern municipalities. It was the first step in addressing the health care needs of small-town Ontario.
Naturally I question why it is so hard to attract qualified health care professionals to areas within my riding.
I know for a fact that Sunderland in Brock township has worked very hard to create a package that is very attractive. They have been working in this area for years. This is not a new issue. Mount Albert is also in constant contact with my office regarding their difficulties in trying to replace Dr Charles Bill, who has provided medical services to the residents of this area for many years and has finally taken his long-awaited full retirement. I am aware that the municipality and Mrs Peggy Bill have gone to considerable lengths with the district health council, PAIRO and the College of Physicians and Surgeons to find a replacement for Dr Bill.
There is significant concern surrounding this issue. York region is expanding rapidly, and the lack of access to public transit in the area makes it extremely difficult for residents to travel to Newmarket for medical services.
This government recognizes the special and unique workload and responsibilities of physicians practising in northern and rural areas. Health care professionals hesitate to set up a practice in small-town rural areas because it usually means working long hours and working nights, weekends and holidays. But there are solutions to these problems.
More and more, we recognize the need to provide a variety of health care services, integrated in such a way as to allow people to move from one health care provider to another, along with a history of their records. This would allow patients to get involved in their own wellness and their own care.
One solution is to hire a nurse practitioner. As part of a new health care initiative, the Ontario government announced a plan for the education and employment of nurse practitioners in primary care. In February 1998, the Minister of Health welcomed proclamation of the Expanded Nursing Services for Patients Act, legislation that solidifies the role of nurse practitioners. This act will improve access to health services for Ontarians, particularly community-based health services.
Nurse practitioners focus on giving people the information, care, advice and support they need to be healthier, prevent illness and injury and to make the best choices with regard to their own health care.
These qualified individuals have the training and qualifications to take a more active role, alleviating some of the pressures put on the physician. The physician would then be able to focus on treating the patient.
It's really important to recognize the importance of this resolution. It recognizes the growth, it recognizes the long-standing issue of underserviced areas and it recognizes the initiatives that have already been put in place by this government through the framework for rural and northern health services and the legislation for nurse practitioners. It's a testament to the ongoing support of this government to matching needs of the community with health care.
This resolution serves to focus on our continuing commitment to provide health care for all Ontarians.
When I was elected, I sent a letter to Jim Wilson, urging him to take action on the doctor shortage problem and the UAP application of the village of Thamesville. We spent many hours with the UAP office. I asked Minister Witmer repeatedly why it had not been approved. Quite frankly, the government's own bureaucrats were embarrassed by the interference coming out of the minister's office and the blatant, partisan, political influence that was used to block it.
Finally, in 1998, after open letters to the press, the approval was announced, but it was a matter of shame to the government how that announcement was made. I was not notified, and Doris Swain of the Thamesville committee was not notified. The announcement was made by Jack Carroll, the government member from Chatham, who does not represent Thamesville, who had never met Doris Swain and who never worked on the application. This is the kind of blatant political action of the Harris government, and I say shame.
Shame, Minister. Your government has done nothing to introduce meaningful incentives, and that is the key: incentives, not a big stick, not punitive measures.
I held four public meetings in my riding on doctor shortages. I met with local doctors struggling with enormous caseloads. I sent both ministers of health ideas from the local medical community and the public. I have asked for the freeze on CHCs to be lifted. They can and should be part of the solution in underserviced areas.
The town of Tilbury has had a DHC-approved application waiting since the Tories announced the freeze in 1995. I have asked for funding for nurse practitioners to help doctors like Dr Button, Dr Klein and Dr Clendenning in my riding. I have asked for a pilot project that would pay for young doctors and nurse practitioners to rotate through designated UAP communities in my area. The government's emergency care pilot project does nothing to help rural doctors. But we get no response and we certainly get no action from the Harris government.
Dr John Button is one of those valiant county doctors, and a country doctor at that, in my riding who is struggling to provide quality medical care in the village of Ridgetown and beyond. When the government passed Bill 197, Dr Button called me immediately to ask how he could hire a nurse practitioner. He was bitterly disappointed when he discovered that there was no funding mechanism for nurse practitioners. Dr Button has 7,000 patients. That's correct - 7,000 patients. Dr Button has told me that we are 300 doctors short in southwestern Ontario. He says there are 300 underutilized nurse practitioners waiting to help. Why is the Harris government introducing a private member's resolution? Why haven't you already made this law? Why aren't nurse practitioners already working to help solve this emergency? All of us in this House understand where a private member's resolution will go. Even with the full endorsement of the legislature, we in the opposition are limited to private members' bills, but the government can introduce whatever legislation it wants. Yet Mike Harris has refused to address the critical problem of doctor shortages.
I understand and appreciate the stand taken by PAIRO in not supporting this resolution. They cannot stomach its arrogance and misleading language, the part that talks about the government's leadership - leadership that has been totally absent on this problem since the Tories took office, and now with this gutless attempt to address funding for nurse practitioners. I'm going to hold my nose and vote for the resolution, because it is the only pitiful response from the members opposite.
I'm going to read a statement that I made in the Legislature in May 1998. It refers briefly to hepatitis C patients in Ontario who cannot get the drugs or programs they need without the bureaucratic delays this government is famous for, unless they qualify for the Ontario drug benefit program or the Trillium drug benefit plan. That leaves a lot of people out.
"I am delighted by the Premier's dramatic flip-flop on hepatitis C. I have many constituents," who need justice. "The Premier has finally learned that he is vulnerable. Self-interest," and the Dionnes, have "taught him how to do the right thing.
"I'm calling on the Premier to do the right thing for rural and northern communities which are seriously short of physicians.... A year and a half ago, the Premier pledged $36.4 million per year for three years. That money has not been spent." It sounds familiar. "The quality of health care...is being threatened by the lack of doctors.
"Keep your promise, Premier.... Find the money in your budget," to fund nurse practitioners. "Lift the freeze on community health care funding.... Find the money... Premier. We need doctors now."
I represent a riding in the city of Toronto. We have access to 911. In the case of a heart attack, for example, there's a three-tiered response: ambulance within seven minutes, the police and the fire departments. Frankly, in large parts of our province there is not a 911. There isn't a three-tiered response. One would be pleased if there was a one-tiered response.
We have some interprofessional debates going on between medicine and nursing. I think much of that is beginning to be dissipated, particularly with the new members of the profession, both in nursing and in medicine. But we're going to have to deal with those structural differences. We're going to have to come to grips with the issues of who controls whom, and get past all of that to recognize there is collegiality. There has to be co-operation in the provision of services and that has to be effective.
Part of that, I have to say, involves billing rights. We talk about the nurse practitioners being seen in the pay scale of $60,000 to $80,000 per year. I want to tell the parliamentary assistant that to my knowledge there is not yet at this point one nurse practitioner in this province currently at that level. Those particularly being hired by MDs are not at that level, and that's not good enough. We have to begin to break that mould, and we have to begin to ensure that those nurse practitioners are beginning to get out into the field and are beginning to access the people desperately in need.
Frankly, if you don't have an MD - take a look yourself, Mr Speaker, at the scope of operations that nurse practitioners can now perform. We would be able to take tremendous burdens off the health care system, not only in the rural areas but, I put it to you, in the urban areas as well, where hospital emergency rooms are overstretched, where our MD offices are overtaxed. The fact is nurse practitioners, dare I say doing home visits, might very well begin to bring us back to the kind of health care system we truly and desperately want.
In spite of all the financial cuts we've faced from all levels of government, let's get past that and begin to develop a vision of health care that serves the people of this province. I think this resolution begins to move us beyond where we were a year or so ago and I hope the parliamentary assistant is reflecting the new nuances within his ministry that would give us some hope. I am pleased that he has brought it forward and I am pleased to support it.
What surprises me as well is that the member who is advancing this resolution, as part of his job of being interested in this issue, has not applied for the underserviced designation in his own region. I find it interesting that you haven't applied for the designation in the area of Niagara. There will be a report out soon that will show clearly that this area of Niagara South, and the whole region of Niagara, is one of the most short of doctors in all of Ontario. To me, that says that the program itself does not have the value that the government, when it chooses to, wants to put the emphasis on in the underserviced designation.
I remember very well, the first year we were in this House, we could not bring forward the issue of doctor shortages without the minister saying, "You haven't even applied for the program." So we went through the hoops. We went through the bureaucracy and the administration required to fill in an application form; interestingly enough, a northern and rural application form for underservice. We come from Windsor, which is hardly northern and certainly not that rural, so it was quite interesting that there was no program for us as a mid-sized city in Ontario, but we applied nonetheless.
As the member for Essex-Kent also mentioned, the politicizing of this process was incredible. The minister himself waited until we held a town hall in Windsor at an emergency room that was closing, to announce that we got our designation for being underserviced. When we followed up with bureaucrats the Monday following, none of the bureaucrats in the system was aware that a designation had even been given to Windsor. The minister just chose to politicize that, throwing a bit of a bone: "Here it is. Here's your underserviced designation."
Unfortunately that was in 1996. Now here in Windsor in 1998 we have fewer doctors than we had in 1996, and that's after the designation. That speaks, members of the House, to the value of the program. We question, why force us to apply to a program that doesn't seem to have worked in all of the other areas where it has been designated? We still have chronic problems of doctor shortages.
Is the nurse practitioner the answer? I believe that is an integral part of the answer, and every member of the House, regardless of party, is supporting the concept of allowing nurse practitioners to play a greater role in primary care. Isn't that great? All the nurse practitioners may be listening today. Isn't it nice that we're having a love-in at Queen's Park today for nurse practitioners? The irony is not lost on this group, the irony that this is the same government that in the May 1998 budget set aside $5 million and never spent a dime.
One of the reasons I suspect it's more window dressing is the "whereases" that accompany this resolution. The first "whereas" indicating that the "government has shown leadership" in resolving some of these problems is absolutely disgusting. The rural and northern framework for which the member praises the government didn't come about as a prerequisite for looking at hospital restructuring. The rural and northern framework was an afterthought when it became very clear that the restructuring commission's benchmarks were going to close dozens of small hospitals and the political warning sign went up and the government said, "Oh, oh, we didn't expect to do this," and then they scrambled to come up with the rural and northern framework.
That rural and northern framework is not yet in place. The framework was publicized and then handed over to the district health councils to apply, but the district health councils of course have been completely restructured themselves, covering huge areas of the province for each one and with very little capacity to make the judgments that are required to put the rural and northern framework into place in a good health planning way.
Second, this is a government that signed an agreement with the Ontario Medical Association that restricted severely the ability of the government to form alternative payment plans for physicians. For the whole course of that agreement it made it impossible to take dollars out of the OHIP pool that was there for fee-for-service for physicians and move them into alternative payment plans, and it's quite clear that they agreed with the doctors' union to restrict that because the doctors' union is well aware that physicians who are attempting to practise primary care in this province understand that there needs to be a different way of paying physicians, a different way of enabling them to co-operate with partners like nurse practitioners. It isn't there under the fee-for-service system and that whole issue needs to be done.
The member is also well aware that the global group practice which could have provided some of the answers in rural areas, not just in northern areas but in rural areas, as PAIRO has suggested, is not real because the government will not allow sufficient numbers of physicians to look after the patients for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without physicians being on call every weekend, most evenings, not being able to get away on vacation, not being able to do education.
As far as the nurse practitioners go, I would like to think that the parliamentary assistant thinks he can move the ministry and the minister, but the nurse practitioners my colleague from Nickel Belt mentioned met recently with Sheila Rene of the Ministry of Health and they raised this issue about payment for nurse practitioners and the officials in the Ministry of Health made it quite clear that the nurse practitioners would not fit into the underserviced area program - very clear. In addition to the Ministry of Health saying: "No, we don't have any intention to increase the community health centres. We don't have any intention to introduce fee-for-service for nurse practitioners. We don't allow sufficient money to have them in global group practices," now we hear that the Ministry of Health is totally opposed to this resolution. What does it mean? It's window dressing.
I brought this forward to put forward an idea for change for some thoughtful debate in the House. I will from time to time get some thoughtful response from the third party, but I have to tell you that the comments I received from the Liberal Party are so disappointing, just so typical. At some time, there must have been a brain debt in policy in that party. I did not hear one good idea. The member for Windsor-Sandwich says that Niagara hasn't applied and I somehow - I brought the package to the Port Colborne hospital. I pushed for that. The reason they haven't applied is because they're going to do it as a region, or something to that effect, which I've been helping with in my job. Once again, Windsor-Sandwich, long on mouth, long on criticism, very short on research. I think she should try to do her homework.
It's disappointing to see the opposition party simply sit and dissemble, trying to take a Jerry Springer approach to politics. If they want to continue as some sort of new age rat pack, then I think they're going to languish as the opposition party for some time to come. I beg of them, one time, please, from you guys, one good idea. This is the party of change, here to fix government. It's the party that's going to bring about that change for small-town Ontario.
Mr Christopherson has moved private member's notice of motion number 24.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the nays have it.
Thank you. Take your seats.
RURAL AND NORTHERN HEALTH SERVICES
Mr Hudak has moved private member's notice of motion number 22.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a five-minute bell.
The division bells rang from 1202 to 1207.
Conway, Sean G.
Morin, Blain K.
Baird, John R.
Ford, Douglas B.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
Parker, John L.
Rollins, E.J. Douglas
Sterling, Norman W.
Stewart, R. Gary
Young, Terence H.
RURAL AND NORTHERN HEALTH SERVICES
Baird, John R.
Conway, Sean G.
Ford, Douglas B.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
Morin, Blain K.
Parker, John L.
Rollins, E.J. Douglas
Stewart, R. Gary
Young, Terence H.
All matters relating to private members' public business having been completed, I will now leave the chair and the House will resume at 1:30 pm.
The House recessed from 1214 to 1332.
DENTAL HYGIENE WEEK
Dental hygiene is an important contributor to overall health, oral care in particular. There are some facts we would like to relay on behalf of the dental hygiene profession:
Oral bacteria causes about 10% of community-acquired pneumonia and 25% of hospital-acquired pneumonia;
Patients with periodontal disease have 150% to 200% greater risk of incurring fatal heart disease than patients without periodontal disease;
Those with periodontal disease suffer strokes twice as often as those with good oral health; and
While diabetes can lead to periodontal disease, seven out of nine diabetics who are successfully treated for gum disease reduce their need for insulin.
A dental hygienist's job is to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. With each visit to your dental hygienist, you are contributing to your overall health. Dental hygienists are not just teeth cleaners; they also assess, plan and implement treatments and evaluate individual oral care needs.
Currently there are 6,000 dental hygienists practising in Ontario. This makes dental hygiene one of the largest of the regulated health professions. As we begin Dental Hygiene Week, it's important to acknowledge the vital role they play in our health care system. It's extremely important to recognize this underrated profession in the context of the whole health care system that we have to have in our purview. We wish great success to dental hygienists as they work this week to make people aware of the contribution they make.
SERVICES EN FRANÇAIS
On sait que les trois derniers ans, le gouvernement conservateur à beaucoup de reprises a commencé à éroder les droits des francophones quand on transfère des services aux municipalités. Vous savez que, à beaucoup de reprises, on a eu des amendements dans cette Chambre, et même mon projet de loi 17, pour essayer d'éviter ce transfert de services et de protéger les services pour les francophones quand ça vient aux droits linguistiques.
Vous savez aussi, en ce qui concerne la Loi 12, dont on vient juste de faire les débats au comité, qu'on avait demandé un amendement garantissant les droits linguistiques. Le gouvernement n'est pas allé aussi loin qu'on aurait voulu. Ils ne nous ont pas donné une garantie législative, mais il faut dire qu'ils nous ont donné une manière de garantie avec les mots du ministre dans une lettre qu'il m'a donnée, que j'aimerais lire :
«D'une façon semblable, j'ai l'intention de maintenir les services bilingues, lorsque les circonstances l'imposent, au moyen de l'arrêté de l'établissement d'une Régie régionale des services publics... Évidemment, une considération particulière sera de mise dans les milieux où la population recevait déjà des services en français, en vertu de la Loi des services en français.» Et la ligne dont on est contents : «Nous nous assurerions, au moyen de l'arrêté du ministre, que les services fournis à la collectivité francophone avant la formation d'une Régie régionale continuent.»
On est fiers, Blain Morin et d'autres néo-démocrates, d'avoir eu cette garantie, et on continue la lutte pour les communautés francophones.
COMMUNITIES IN BLOOM
Advisory board chairperson Fiona Campbell, co-chairperson Barbara Clarke, and the parks and forestry division of the city of Toronto representative, Murray Cameron, received this honourable distinction on September 26 at the national awards ceremonies in Winnipeg.
This friendly competition involved municipalities which are undergoing beautification and naturalization projects. The communities were judged on their effort in management planning, maintenance, improvement and innovation in tidiness, environment, history, heritage, urban forestry and the like.
What makes this award so significant is that it attests to the spirit of environmental restoration and volunteerism within our community. People from all walks of life joined together to make the community of Etobicoke-York the most desirable community in which to live.
In celebration of Etobicoke-York's and the city of Toronto's latest award, the committee plans to plant 2,000 trees along Highway 427 in the year 1999 for the Millennium Project.
This is the award they won that day.
The facts are straightforward. In April of last year, the hospital restructuring commission closed down Hogarth Westmount Hospital in Thunder Bay and asked the St Joseph's Care Group to take over responsibility for the long-term-care needs of those people who had been resident there. However, within a relatively short period of time, the Ministry of Health recognized that this move was wrong, as there were not enough beds to accommodate those people at Hogarth Westmount.
The solution: As bizarre as it may seem, the ministry authorized the reopening of 127 beds at Westmount under the auspices of St Joseph's Care. The problem is that the ministry only authorized this reopening on a temporary basis, almost as if they felt the need was going to go away.
The minister knows, as does the Premier, that there is an overwhelming need for more long-term-care beds in our community and that people there have nowhere else to go. These beds must be funded on a permanent basis. Not to do so will continue to cause a great deal of anxiety among the patients, as well as the staff who care for them.
Minister, I'm calling on you today to permanently fund these long-term-care beds in my community. By the stroke of a pen, you can improve the health care situation in Thunder Bay and, in doing so, allow St Joseph's Care Group to do the huge job they have agreed to take on in our community.
In fact, we did a number of things, and I'll give you a very good example. The Perley-Rideau home in Ottawa was one of those projects that we undertook. It brought together three different long-term-care facilities under one roof. It was to be a long-term-care facility to be operated as a red-circled long-term-care facility. It included both very complex care and less complex care in a residential setting, with congregate dining and all of the recreational and activation kinds of activities that he talked about yesterday.
And what did this government do? This government reneged on the funding agreement for that facility. It reneged in 1996 on that funding agreement, said there were no longer such things as red-circled long-term-care facilities, so the Perley-Rideau home is going to have its funding reduced by 50% within the seven years. They cannot offer the standard of care that they promised to Veterans Affairs Canada or to the patients they serve.
MEMBER FOR EGLINTON
Throughout a career spanning some 37 years, Bill has served his profession and the broader community with distinction as an institute volunteer, an outstanding business leader, a community volunteer and a philanthropist, and most recently, a member of the Ontario Legislature.
Bill began his career with the Clarkson Gordon firm, now Ernst and Young. He moved to the financial services industry and he became a founding partner and senior executive of the highly regarded Sceptre Investment Counsel Ltd.
Since being elected MPP for Eglinton in 1995, Bill has served as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism and is a member of the policy and priorities board. He currently chairs the Ontario International Trade Corp. Complementing the leadership that Bill has brought to business and politics, his volunteer fund-raising and other leadership contributions to education, health care, the arts, sports organizations and the Anglican Church are truly outstanding.
In 1994, the University of Ottawa presented him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of a lengthy career, as remarkable for its philanthropy as for its accomplishments.
His volunteerism and philanthropy have over the years benefited hospitals, the arts, including the TSO foundation, sports, and youth activities, including the Canadian Amateur Rowing Association and Scouts Canada.
Let me tell you that the following pages - this is the contract, this is the bureaucracy and the paperwork that this government created, just based on short-term, interim, band-aid fixes for the hospital ER crisis in Ontario.
Here's what you said to hospitals: one-time transitional funding to be offset by the increased emergency room patient volumes. Why do we have the patient volumes? Because you cut hospital budgets and you did that without investing in community services that needed to exist before you cut the services from hospitals.
You have the audacity to write to a hospital and say that you have to have a decrease of 30% of redirect from different emergency rooms in an area. Are you going to ensure that 30% of the long-term-care beds are up and running in that same period of time? In fact, you dare them, because if they don't do it, you will subject them to an operational review. That is your bureaucracy and that is new to this government.
On the Trans-Canada Highway, rates increased from $110 last year to $350 this year, an increase of over 300%. I pointed out yesterday that this is nothing but a money grab by the Conservative government. I demanded that the new fee structure be rescinded and the government revert to last year's more reasonable rate.
This morning I was informed by Doug Peeling, senior policy adviser in the ministry, that late yesterday afternoon the minister, the Honourable Tony Clement, rescinded the fee increases and reinstated the former rates. It appears that the minister has listened to the business people who objected and to our request, and I must congratulate him for listening and showing some good sense for once.
Now if only the government would rescind all the other user fee increases they brought in since they came into power; if only they would eliminate the user fee for drugs for seniors; if only the Minister of Health and other ministers in this government would listen to the objections we raise the way the Minister of Transportation did.
INDUSTRY EDUCATION COUNCIL
The Industry Education Council is a unique partnership between industry and education that focuses on the negative perception often given to the trades profession. At that seminar yesterday, one of the keynote speakers said that a good sign she has seen provincially is that youth apprenticeship program money has been quadrupled lately, to allow a doubling of the number of participating students. She sees that there's an urgent need to address the critical shortage of trades professions and that we are working towards that.
Also at that breakfast meeting, the Hamilton Spectator awarded two awards to outstanding teachers who have contributed to their community in various ways. I'm pleased to say that Terri MacDonald of St Jean de Brebeuf Secondary School was recognized for her work with Wilma's Place, and David Dayler of Westdale Secondary School won for his volunteer work with the trauma provincial council. Thank goodness for those people and those hard-working teachers.
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
STANDING COMMITTEE ON GENERAL GOVERNMENT
Bill 12, An Act to provide choice and flexibility to Northern Residents in the establishment of service delivery mechanisms that recognize the unique circumstances of Northern Ontario and to allow increased efficiency and accountability in Area-wide Service Delivery / Projet de loi 12, Loi visant à offrir aux résidents du Nord plus de choix et de souplesse dans la mise en place de mécanismes de prestation des services qui tiennent compte de la situation unique du Nord de l'Ontario et à permettre l'accroissement de l'efficience et de la responsabilité en ce qui concerne la prestation des services à l'échelle régionale.
I gather there's an announcement tomorrow. Have you now decided that you made a mistake in cutting property taxes on large business and shifting it on to small business?
There are only two sources of revenue for the municipalities. You must have known this; you made the decision. They either put it on to small businesses or they put it on the homeowners, the residential people. What was the expectation by the government when you made that decision? Did you expect that the $300 million would be picked up from small business or did you expect it to be picked up from the residential property taxpayers?
You were told that you were going to be putting taxes on to small business. Everyone said that. "You are taking taxes off big business and putting them on small business." But Mike Harris tomorrow will go out and try and put a band-aid on a problem that he created. He will yell and blame somebody else, as he always does. He'll yell at the mayors, say, "It was your problem, your fault." He'll take a bag of money from the taxpayers and try and paper over this thing until the next election. We know all of these things. This is going to be a pattern we see from this guy from now until the election.
But my question is to you. You made the decision. Why did you decide that you would shift taxes from big business on to small business? What rationale did you have at the cabinet table to do that?
But having said that, we were aware of the impact of having an old and outdated, unfair assessment system that everyone agreed to and no government had the courage to take on. We've consulted with groups and by consulting we were told -
The bottom line is that this government wants to make sure that small business owners are protected. In the budget last spring, we reduced our tax load. They are the job creators in this province, and I think it's atrocious that the Liberal Party would want to see this continue where small business owners are unduly impacted by this change.
I think it provides a challenge to all three parties, certainly for the next election, to talk about what we propose to do that will turn the situation, this growing gap, around.
The report, as you may know, urges more government investment in housing, health care and education; a higher minimum wage; making sure that unemployed people actually get unemployment benefits; as well as expanded pay equity and employment equity policies.
We believe as New Democrats that these steps are essential and should be financed by changes to the tax system. What do you and your party believe, Minister?
As he correctly notes, the data behind this report stretch over a period from 1973 to 1996. The solutions he offers were tried by the Liberal Party when they were in power and by the NDP, for those 10 years up until 1996.
We agree with the findings that the middle class took it on the chin under both the Liberals and the NDP. The Peterson and Rae governments hiked personal income taxes on individuals making $25,000 by about $290 annually. Since we've come into government, we've cut their taxes by $510. There are a number of tax cuts for middle-income people. For people earning $40,000, we've cut their taxes by $1,100. Under the previous 10 years, you'd hiked them by $630. Middle-income earners at $50,000 saw their annual income taxes raised $890 between 1985 and 1995; we've cut them by $1,500.
There's much more that needs to be done to address this situation, but the bottom line is -
I draw to your attention just one of the many statistics in this report. From 1995 to 1996, the time that you got into government and were in government, the poorest 10% of families with children under 18 saw their average after-tax income drop from $15,200 to $13,450, a drop of $1,800 during your time in government as a result of actions that you have taken, because of the cuts to social assistance and the beginning of implementation of your 30% income tax cut.
Minister, I'm asking you again, will you acknowledge that your actions are making things worse rather than making things better?
If you take a look at the tax changes that have been made and the money that's been left in working people's pockets and in low-income families in particular, I think it's going in the right direction to try to close this gap.
If you take a look at the tax system now, it's more progressive than it was before, when you were in power. The top earners are paying more of a share of the total taxation than they were before.
Second, there are thousands of people who are off social assistance and have a job. That's the number one program to try to address this inequity between those who aren't so well off and those who are rich in this country: to have a job.
In the first year you were in office the number of single-parent families with incomes greater than 50% below the poverty line grew by 2%, to over 12% of all families in Ontario. Do you know what that means? That means there are more poor children who are going to bed hungry. That means there are more poor children who are going to school hungry and who are having trouble learning. That means there are more children who are having health problems that are going to follow them throughout their entire lives. Those are precious children and they are the responsibility of all of us.
It's not too late for you to do something. Will you say that you will take the recommendations from this report to cabinet and you will fight for them, you will fight for the children of this province?
I just want to point out a few things. One is that there have been 408,000 net new jobs created in this province since we took office. Contrast that to the negative 10,000. You lost 10,000 net jobs. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the welfare system to get jobs.
If you want to talk about the taxation policies in this province, 655,000 people have been dropped off the provincial tax rolls. They no longer have to pay provincial taxes. Those low-income earners, who under your government were forced to pay provincial income tax, no longer have to do that.
If you want to contrast it with what the top 10% of taxpayers pay, in 1995 under your regime they paid 42% of the total tax bill; now they're paying 45%. We have a more -
Yesterday you said you were deeply disappointed with the response from hospitals in the GTA to your call for funding applications for long-term-care beds. One of the applications you received was from Riverdale Hospital, a facility that has been providing care for very ill people for 35 years, ever since chronic care hospitals were designated.
Your own HSRC, the body your government created to make sure that the restructuring process was non-partisan, recommended that you approve Riverdale's application for long-term care. But you didn't even give them an interview. You didn't even tell them that and you didn't put them on the short list. When they tried to meet with you, you refused. The Minister of Health also refused. They hit a roadblock and that roadblock was you.
Minister, will you now reconsider and allow the dedicated staff at Riverdale Hospital the opportunity to go ahead with their plans?
Over the years, I've met with the staff and the residents, 11 of whom are here today. These people call Riverdale their home. They have the building, the land, the facilities, the staff and $41 million to make the transition. On top of that, Riverdale was directed by the HSRC to develop a plan to make the switch from chronic care to long-term care. They did everything they were asked to do, but you won't listen. It's clear you're still not listening today. Minister, what is it about Riverdale's application that made you decide, or the Minister of Health decide, to overrule your own HSRC, your very own commission?
I want to clarify for the member opposite, who doesn't seem to be aware, that this process has been ongoing for a couple of months and we have not finalized the list for the public announcements as of yet.
I was responding to her statement about the fact that we have asked for 1,700 transitional long-term-care beds in this province. It was raised in your caucus's first question to me in this House. I clearly stated that I have not received an application for those transition beds. I still need an additional 1,000 in this province. I'm willing to sit down with any or all hospitals or facilities in order to get those 1,000 beds up and running in this province immediately.
We're being told by the government you'll have a plan in place by September 1999, but this won't help the 435 ill and disabled patients who can't wait that long. You just mentioned you're going to create 1,700 new long-term-care beds, but there are already 4,000 people on the waiting list. These residents need an average of $242 a day in funding. They are now getting this at Riverdale. You're only promising $96 a day.
Minister, please listen. These people can't be shuffled into a nursing home. They require too much care, and they deserve that care. I am asking you again, and please clarify, the staff and the 435 residents of Riverdale ask you again: What does Riverdale have to do?
We know there are residents in that hospital who will require complex continuing care, some who will be able to go to a community placement and some who will go to a long-term-care facility.
First, you told them that their institution, which has 435 people there - some of the sickest and most vulnerable people in this province, who have been there a median time of 10 years - that you're shutting that hospital down. You invited them then to apply for a long-term-care facility, and now they have learned they're not even going to get an interview, so they won't have a long-term-care facility to help take care of some of these people.
This is a public hospital. These patients are your responsibility. They want to know here today what is going to happen with this. Minister, in your answer, don't give us a date; we've seen what that means. Tell us today what the plans will be for each of these people, for Martin Cormack, for Joe Lacey, for Colin Dahl, for Malcolm McNeil, for Margaret Ryan and for 428 others. Where are they going to go?
But I want to remind the member opposite that we are expanding 5,800 new long-term-care beds in the city of Toronto, 2,200 of which will be announced within weeks. That leaves 3,600 more beds for which hospitals like Riverdale are more than able and capable, and we are willing to receive any applications they make in that next round of applications - and this round of applications, for that matter.
Let's see what you guys are trying to get away with. You're trying to warehouse some of these people. Listen to Margaret Ryan. She lives there. She has been there 16 years, and she says she doesn't believe nursing homes will have enough RNs, give oxygen or be equipped to handle electric wheelchairs. Riverdale is her home, and she doesn't want to leave it. She's right. You only give $100 a day to the long-term-care facilities. She's correct about that. There's $240 a day to care for patients at this hospital. They've had assessments done, and their patients need 4.5 to 11 hours of nursing. Your nursing homes are only providing 2.5 hours. Will you stand up today and tell these patients, the people in the hospitals, that you will give them exactly the same quality care they're getting today? Make us that promise today.
We're the government that is, through the Health Services Restructuring Commission, finally making sure that those citizens who require complex continuing care will receive it and those people who are locked in those hospitals but would rather have care in a nursing home closer to their home will receive it. That's the commitment this government has made, and that's the commitment we'll deliver.
Minister, it's not just the patients of Riverdale or Runnymede hospital, which is in exactly the same position here in Toronto, or the Scarborough Grace hospital. It's about 3,506 chronic care patients who this minister's hospital destruction commission is removing from this province. Those beds, that care, is leaving, and you have no plan to replace them. You have people here today anxious to know what's going to happen to them.
You did not make a guarantee, Minister, and I'll challenge you again. There are no chronic care beds. The other minister, the half minister of health, said in a letter that they received last week, "We know that hospitals located near Riverdale Hospital are willing to accommodate patients and that initial discussions are in progress." There are 800 chronic care beds being closed. Where are the patients from Riverdale Hospital going to go? Do you have an answer, or are you going to give us more politics and more examples of bungling between your two half ministries?
I want to advise you that all of these services that this province is providing, an over 40% increase in funding for community-based care, is done completely outside of the Canada Health Act, a commitment that this government has made because it has increased health care in this province by $1.1 billion. You save your rhetoric for your friends in Ottawa and you tell them to pony up, and you face those patients upstairs and tell them why Paul Martin won't listen to them.
Your government prides itself on its management skills and businesslike approach, and yet at the same time you have created a crisis in health care -
We've asked you to bring back Bill 61 and you won't. We've got an expert panel made up of members of AMO, the municipal finance officers, the association of municipal managers, the clerks and treasurers of this province. They have given you the answer to the property tax assessment problems that you've got in this province. Why aren't you listening to these people?
Your point is well taken, and this government is clearly on the record as wanting to support small business. That's why the Premier and the finance minister and other members of our caucus have been speaking out on behalf of small business owners. We've reformed the WCB and we've scrapped the employer health tax that was brought in by the Liberal government, which was nothing more than a tax on working people and small business owners and employers.
The essential point is that we have given municipalities tools so that this didn't have to happen. Having seen that there are unintended consequences, we want to work with municipalities, but the bottom line is that we have to ensure that small business owners aren't forced out of business as we go through this transition over to a fairer system.
I've got a letter here dated October 7, 1998, from one Margaret Marland, a minister in your own cabinet, addressed to Ernie Eves. What does she say about the property tax situation? She says, "A number of my constituents have told me that they will be forced to leave Mississauga because they cannot afford to pay their increase in taxes this year," a situation that you created. You are the only party that created that, as a result of the total mess that you've made, as a result of the downloading, as a result of improper tax bills that you've introduced now on seven different occasions.
When are you going to get together with the people who know what they're talking about and clear up this mess so that the taxpayers of this province can be safe from you?
I would challenge the Liberals. You can choose a hypothetical city such as Kingston, and we'll put our tax increase record against yours any day. If you want to compare the tax rates that went up in Kingston in the 1980s, for example, with what the tax impacts will be from 1995 to the year 2000, I'd put our record up against the Liberal record any day of the week. Second, we had some pretty record increases that hit homeowners, small business, large business. You couldn't find a program they didn't want to raise the taxes on during the 1980s. That's the mess we've been forced to try to clean up.
I just want to assure the House and the people of Ontario this will not have an impact on residential homeowners, and the bottom line is that we want to protect small business owners in this province.
I'd also like to introduce the Honourable Wes MacAleer, Minister of Community Services and Attorney General for Prince Edward Island. Welcome.
But this does not address the full issue, because many women without a lawyer do not know how to raise the issue of prior violence when they appear before a judge in the family court. For instance, this would not have helped the woman in my riding who was deliberately run down by her spouse in his car when she had to deliver her own document. When I raised this, I was told by your staff that you can make this a priority for the integrated justice project so that judges have all the case history in front of them and make sure these women are exempted. Will you do that?
My second question relates to the same issue. Because my leader, Howard Hampton, and I have consistently and, I must say, alone in this House raised the importance of moving quickly on the jury recommendations of the coroner's inquest into the tragic murder of Arlene May, your government has now, finally, taken some initial action on that.
But there are many recommendations from that jury, as you know. The jury heard evidence regarding the impact of your government's cuts to women's shelters and second-stage housing. One of the most important of their recommendations was immediately to review shelter funding.
Minister, I was informed that your government has undertaken those recommendations that were both urgent and easy to implement. I think this recommendation falls under those criteria. Would you please tell us today if your government will increase or put back the funding you took out of shelters and put the services back into second-stage housing?
We've doubled the number of victim/witness assistance programs across Ontario. We've created eight new specialized domestic violence courts. We've expanded the use of domestic assault review teams. We've enhanced training on domestic violence and sexual assault for crown attorneys. We've increased funding for specialized services for abused women which were not previously covered by legal aid.
I might tell you that we've done all this within a very short time of the recommendations being brought down and we're going to continue to implement recommendations that were brought forward by this jury. They are important to the system of justice and we will continue with our commitment to implement the jury's recommendations.
We believe that the federal government should make the following changes: redefine the Young Offenders Act so that youths 16 and older are sentenced as adults under the Criminal Code; if the maximum age is not changed, at the very least, legislate the mandatory adult sentencing for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious, violent offences and those who have a pattern of repeat offences.
We believe that there's a role to play for the justice system in dealing with young people under the age of 12. Now there is no role whatsoever for them. We believe in the publication of names of youths convicted of serious violent crimes.
The important thing is that we -
I want to talk today about the rural and remote granting factor in the new formula. As you will know from our discussions here last week, the Renfrew county public school board gets nothing under the rural and remote grant factor of the new formula. Renfrew county is the largest county in the province of Ontario and certainly one of the most rural. We get nothing in Renfrew under this factor, but public school boards in Kingston, Belleville, North Bay and Lindsay, in four cases, get hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on an annual basis.
Minister, how can you justify a situation where the public school boards in Kingston and Belleville get millions of dollars under the rural and remote grant factor and the Renfrew county public school board gets nothing?
The philosophy behind it is that boards that are geographically located further from a major urban centre experience additional costs in terms of the provision of services. Over $90 million in the formula, which is double what it was in 1997, is available to those boards, so it's simply a fair and even application of this formula across Ontario. About a third of the boards across the province quality for it. They have additional costs because of their geographic location away from major urban centres and they have the money to distribute education programs to the best advantage to their students.
Will you stand in your place today and tell the thousands of students who attend those very rural and remote schools in the upper Ottawa valley served by the Renfrew county public school board that you will adjust the formula to at least provide the Renfrew public school board with the same treatment you're giving the public school boards in North Bay, Kingston, Lindsay and Belleville?
I might say that the Catholic district school board in Renfrew county, in addition to over $1.1 million for small schools, also receives about $700,000 for the remote and rural component of the funding formula, for a total of about $1.8 million. So in grand total there's about $2.4 million going into Renfrew county to both boards, the Renfrew County District School Board and the Catholic district school board, for small schools and remote and rural schools.
This is not a good time to be a small business in Ontario. There is a large sector of small business experiencing tremendous difficulties at the moment. The franchising industry has been stressed for a number of years now by unscrupulous big franchisers taking advantage of unsuspecting, anxious small entrepreneurs, among many others, immigrants enticed to this country with promises of gold in the streets.
Your colleague the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations has been promising for about three years now to table legislation in this House that will regulate that industry. Will you, during this week dedicated to the interests of small business, finally table that legislation?
I have brought before this House over the last three years example after example of families and individuals totally devastated by unscrupulous franchisers. I had Loeb franchisees in here; I had Mary Carlucci and National Grocers in here; I had Les Stewart from Nutrilawn in here; and today I have in the gallery Mr Peter Thomas, who has now lost $170,000 at the hands of Mail Boxes Etc.
How long does this need to go on? How many more families and small businesses and entrepreneurs in this province need to be hammered before your government will table legislation to regulate this industry?
Through the success of our economic reforms, like personal and small business tax cuts that have helped create jobs, and the success of our welfare reforms, our work-for-welfare program and our other reforms, we have seen an unprecedented number of people leave the welfare system for jobs.
Chatham-Kent has seen a decline of almost 40%. That has meant a $10-million saving for the taxpayers in Chatham-Kent. In Essex county there has been a decline of over 50%. That has given a saving of about $5 million for the taxpayers in that community.
But not only is that a win-win for the taxpayers, it's also a win-win for the individuals who have left welfare and gone on to paid jobs, because two independent surveys have indicated that 60% are going into full-time jobs that actually have been paying more than the minimum wage. So it's a win-win all around.
We've also seen that over 400,000 individuals have been able to participate in our Ontario Works program in one or more of the components. We've also seen and I've met many individuals, from Sarnia and Chatham and in my other travels across the province, who have talked about the opportunities they have been provided through our reforms. I've met many who have talked to me about the jobs they've been able to get because of the supports they have had.
I have spoken to school trustees, I've spoken to parents, I've spoken to administrators. There's one very simple reason why this recommendation is going to come tonight, and that is your funding formula. They cannot accommodate growth in other areas of the community and at the same time maintain the schools they have.
Minister, in view of your screw-up in this, will you not commit to review the funding formula and save the closure of up to 30 schools in Hamilton-Wentworth?
"We will proceed with a number of urgent capital needs," as outlined in a report they had. "This is due to the new method by which the government is funding school boards for the construction of new pupil places and the flexibility built into the new funding model.
"We are extremely pleased that this could be achieved without the need to close any active elementary or secondary day school."
So you can see that some boards are able to do this.
I would also say about the public school board, as I said on a radio program this morning, that there will be over 2% additional funds for operation and maintenance for the Hamilton-Wentworth public school board this year over last year.
The letter that you read is no comfort to the thousands of parents and children who are going to be devastated as a result of tonight's announcement. You don't seem to get it. It's nice that the separate board, the Catholic board, can deal with it. The public board, because of your funding formula, may have to close up to 30 schools. You don't understand that. They're inner-city schools. They are not only schools that are there during the day, but they are the community centre; they are the recreation centre; they become the basketball court at night. They become the heart and soul of our communities, and you are going to destroy that.
The school trustees don't want to close these schools. Minister, this has nothing to do with declining enrolment. School boards have closed schools in the past, one or two a year, as an example, as a result of enrolment. This has nothing to do with that. This is strictly your funding formula, and it is no comfort for you to read a letter from the Catholic board when up to 30 schools with the Hamilton district school board are going to go under.
Minister, again, will you do the right thing, review the funding formula and save these 30 schools from closure tonight?
This government has not required the closing of a single school in Ontario. It has provided adequate funding for operations and maintenance based on the enrolment.
Second, this government has insisted that communities and parents get involved. We feel that because schools are so important to communities, the parents and the communities should be involved in the decision-making and should be looking for alternative measures.
I congratulate the people of Hamilton and the communities and the parents for being involved in this decision-making process. I have confidence that those parents and those boards together will come to the right decisions.
APPOINTMENT OF JUSTICES OF THE PEACE
Minister, my question is, when will a second JP be appointed so this northern community can be assured that justice is being dealt with?
To respond to his question, it's important to know that the daily assignment and scheduling of justices of the peace is, by legislation, independent of the government. It is within the jurisdiction of the Associate Chief Judge, who is the coordinator of the justices of the peace. My understanding from that individual is that Chapleau has the number of justices of the peace to meet the demand that exists there. the Associate Chief Judge has not advised me of the need for another justice of the peace.
I can tell you that we have justices of the peace on call in Sudbury, Chapleau, Massey, Wawa. We've just appointed a new justice of the peace in Timmins. My understanding is that the complement is sufficient for the workload that exists.
On September 24, 1998, Sergeant S.P. Easton of the Chapleau detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police wrote the Ontario Court of Justice explaining how poor services are for the community. I'm sending over a copy of this letter, which documents the very poor state of affairs for the courts and the police in Chapleau. This letter says, "All non-urgent matters regarding a justice of the peace will be directed to Timmins," and only urgent matters would be dealt with by the JP in Chapleau.
Chapleau is 200 kilometres southwest of Timmins, making it difficult to travel the distance for a fair hearing. By not appointing a second justice of the peace in Chapleau, your ministry is denying the basic right to a fair trial in a court of law.
From June 29 to August 15, the staff members of the OPP had to go to Wawa, Sudbury, Timmins or Iroquois Falls on nine occasions. My question is, when will a second justice of the peace be appointed so the community can be assured that justice will be dealt with?
LINCOLN ALEXANDER EXPRESSWAY
I think you can say to your constituents that the north-south section is on track. We expect that the interchanges at the QEW and the 403 will be built by the year 2000. Pending the environmental approvals and all the public hearings that are consistent with that, in terms of the provincial commitment to this highway our promise has been kept, yet another promise of the Mike Harris government.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
This afternoon, we are going to do the Courts of Justice Act, and this evening we'll be doing the bill on Highway 407, Bill 70.
On Monday afternoon, we expect to do Bill 68, the Legal Aid Services Act, and in the evening Bill 48, the Courts of Justice Act.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bill 55, which is the Apprenticeship and Certification Act, and Bill 57, the Liquor Licence Amendment Act, dealing with U-brews. In the evening, we'll be dealing with Bill 70, the act on Highway 407.
On Wednesday afternoon we have an opposition day by the opposition party, and in the evening we'll be doing third reading of the Energy Competition Act, Bill 35.
We're dealing on Thursday morning with ballot items 29 and 30. In terms of the afternoon and evening, we'll have to give you indication of that early next week.
"Whereas the Thunder Bay expressway has been the scene of serious accidents in recent years; and
"Whereas as a result of strong lobbying by the community, including the OPP and Thunder Bay city council, an advance warning light has been installed at Balsam Street; and
"Whereas since the installation of this warning light there has been a major improvement to the safety of that intersection; and
"Whereas to further increase safety on the expressway more warning lights are needed farther down the system; and
"Whereas the Balsam Street warning light is in its second year of a three-year pilot project to deem the effectiveness of advance warning lights in the area; and
"Whereas surely two years is enough time to confirm that the advance warning light system has made a positive difference;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to end the three-year pilot project early and assess the results that will show that the Thunder Bay Expressway would greatly benefit and become much safer if a full system of advance warning lights were installed."
I'm pleased to sign that petition.
"Whereas most Ontario residents do not have adequate access to effective palliative care in time of need;
"Whereas meeting the needs of Ontarians of all ages for relief of preventable pain and suffering, as well as the provision of emotional and spiritual support, should be a priority to our health care system;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to resolve that a task force be appointed to develop a palliative care bill of rights that would ensure the best possible treatment, care, protection and support for Ontario citizens and their families in time of need.
"The task force should include palliative care experts in pain management, community palliative care and ethics in order to determine effective standards for the right to life and care of individuals who cannot or who can no longer decide issues of medical care for themselves.
"The appointed task force would provide interim reports to the government and the public and continue in existence to review the implementation of its recommendations."
"Whereas the Ministry of Health has started to charge seniors and social assistance recipients a $2 user fee for each prescription; and
"Whereas seniors on a fixed income do not significantly benefit from the income tax savings created by this user fee or from other non-health user fees; and
"Whereas the perceived savings on health care from the $2 user fee will not compensate for the suffering and misery caused by this user fee or the painstaking task involved to fill out the application forms; and
"Whereas the current Ontario Minister of Health promised, as an opposition MPP, to Ontario pharmacists that his party would not endorse legislation that will punish patients to the detriment of health care workers in Ontario;
"Therefore we, the undersigned Ontario residents, strongly urge the government to repeal this user fee plan because the tax saving user fee concept is not fair, is not sensitive, nor is it accessible to low-income or fixed-income seniors; and
"Lest we forget, our province's seniors have paid their dues by collectively contributing to the social, economic, moral and political fabric of Canada."
Since I agree with this, I'm signing my name to this document.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas nurses in Ontario often experience coercion to participate in practices which directly contravene their deeply held ethical standards; and
"Whereas pharmacists in Ontario are often pressured to dispense and/or sell chemicals and/or devices contrary to their moral or religious beliefs; and
"Whereas public health workers in Ontario are expected to assist in providing controversial services and promoting controversial materials against their consciences; and
"Whereas physicians in Ontario often experience pressure to give referrals for medications, treatments and/or procedures which they believe to be gravely immoral; and
"Whereas competent health care workers and students in various health care disciplines in Ontario have been denied training, employment, continued employment and advancement in their intended fields and suffered other forms of unjust discrimination because of the dictates of their consciences; and
"Whereas the health care workers experiencing such unjust discrimination have at present no practical and accessible legal means to protect themselves;
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
I present that on behalf of Ms Eileen Meunier from Timmins.
"Whereas clowns and Santas in particular need to be controlled through licensing; and
"Whereas we at Balloons N Clowns strive to promote safety, and are therefore requesting mandatory licences for performers since they entertain in homes and require identification; and
"Whereas pictured licences could be issued to qualified applicants who have no criminal record;
"Therefore we, the undersigned citizens of Ontario, petition the province of Ontario as follows:
"To encourage a licensing system for clowns and Santas that would be mandatory throughout Ontario."
I agree with this petition.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas tourism is increasingly important to the economy in northwestern Ontario; and
"Whereas small and medium-sized businesses are important to the development of a strong tourism infrastructure; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation has provided opportunities for businesses to promote tourism through the use of field signs; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation has arbitrarily raised the fee for field signs by over 300% over 1997 fees; and
"Whereas this decision seriously impedes the ability of small and medium-sized businesses to promote tourism in northern Ontario; and
"Whereas this action hurts small businesses;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to rescind this decision and freeze field sign fees at 1997 levels."
It has been successful. The ministry is rescinding the fees. We are very grateful that the pressure put on by these people has been successful. I'm very pleased to sign this petition on behalf of all those constituents in Schreiber, Marathon, Nipigon, Balmertown, Kenora, all the rest of the people.
PROTECTION FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
"We, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers, prohibiting coercion of and unjust discrimination against health care workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for such coercion and unjust discrimination."
"Whereas the Minister of Education intends on taking more than $1 billion out of Ontario's education system at a time when there is an increasing consensus on the importance of supporting our schools and classrooms; and
"Whereas per pupil funding in the province of Ontario now ranks below other jurisdictions, such as Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has now embarked on an advertising campaign which will cost the taxpayers of Ontario over $1 million; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris commercial doesn't constitute an important public announcement and instead is clearly an abuse of public funds, because they are self-serving political messages which are designed to influence public opinion; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government could cancel the advertising campaign and use the $1 million which belongs to the taxpayers of Ontario for the purchase of 40,000 textbooks;
"We, the undersigned, call on the Mike Harris government to cancel their blatantly partisan, self-serving political advertising campaign and redirect the taxpayers' $1 million to classroom funding."
Since I agree, I'm signing this document with my name.
"Whereas Ontario taxpayers funded over 45,000 abortions in 1993 at an estimated cost of $25 million; 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;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to cease from providing any taxpayers' dollars for the performance of abortions."
"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; and
"Whereas the Mike Harris government has not undertaken meaningful consultation with Ontario's heritage community;
"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."
I'm pleased to sign this myself.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas there is an urgent need to amend the Young Offenders Act; and
"Whereas the province of Ontario continues to show inordinate levels of youth crime in the province with unsatisfactory outcomes; and
"Whereas is it clear that the Young Offenders Act does not go far enough in dealing effectively with the most serious and violent young offenders, particularly repeat offenders; and
"Whereas the time has come to take measures to ensure that these offenders are held accountable for their actions;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, respectfully petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"That the government of Ontario pursue the government of Canada to:
"redefine young offenders so that youths 16 and older are prosecuted as adults under the Criminal Code;
"provide for the prosecution of youths under the age of 12 for serious or violent offences;
"if the maximum age is not changed, legislate the mandatory transfer to adult court of 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious, violent offences and those demonstrating a pattern of offending;
"require youths transferred to adult court to have the same parole eligibility requirements as adult offenders;
"restrict access to free legal counsel to ensure parents meet provincial legal aid eligibility requirements;
"permit the publication of the names of youths convicted of serious violent crimes;
"create mechanisms to enhance the capacity of administrators for dealing with young offenders who demonstrate inappropriate behaviour and refuse to participate in programs while in custody;
"permit the admission into evidence of a voluntary statement given to a person in authority at the discretion of the youth court;
"apply the victim surcharge to young offenders; and
"provide for mandatory custody dispositions for youths convicted of an offence involving the use of a weapon."
I present this on behalf of my constituents.
"Whereas the Minister of Health has started to charge seniors and social assistance recipients a $2 user fee for each prescription filled on July 15, 1996, and
"Whereas seniors on a fixed income do not significantly benefit from the income tax savings created by this user copayment or from other non-health user fees; and
"Whereas the perceived savings to health care from the $2 user fee will not compensate for the suffering and misery caused by this user fee or the painstaking task involved to fill out the application forms;
"Therefore we, the undersigned Ontario residents, strongly urge the government of Ontario to repeal this user fee plan because the tax-saving user fee concept is not fair, nor is it sensitive, nor is it accessible to low-income or fixed-income seniors; and lest we forget, our province's seniors have paid their dues by collectively contributing to the social, economic, moral and political fabric of Canada."
I agree with this petition.
"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, accessibility 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 again support my local constituents and add my name to theirs.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
COURTS OF JUSTICE AMENDMENT ACT (IMPROVED FAMILY COURT), 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES TRIBUNAUX JUDICIAIRES (AMÉLIORATION DE LA COUR DE LA FAMILLE)
Mr Harnick moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 48, An Act to Improve Court Services for Families by Facilitating Expansion of the Family Court and to make other amendments to the Courts of Justice Act / Projet de loi 48, Loi visant à améliorer les services fournis aux familles par les tribunaux en facilitant l'expansion de la Cour de la famille et apportant d'autres modifications à la Loi sur les tribunaux judiciaires.
The main purpose of this bill is to assist in expanding the Unified Family Court in Ontario by making minor adjustments to judicial administration. The expansion of the Unified Family Court is an important goal which I am confident has the support of all three parties. We all agree that the Unified Family Court model represents a better way of delivering family law services, finding solutions to family disputes and reducing the emotional toll on children.
In 1977, the Unified Family Court was established as a pilot project in Hamilton. In 1995, with all-party support, the court was expanded from the original site to four new locations: London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee. Unified Family Court has been termed a solid success by judges, lawyers, community agencies, court staff and, most important, the families who use it.
The Unified Family Court has jurisdiction over family law matters under both federal and provincial statutes, including divorce, custody of and access to children, child support, division of family property, adoption and child protection issues. Unified Family Court deals with all aspects of family law, providing convenient and accessible service for families in crisis. In areas of the province without Unified Family Court many families have to use both General Division and/or Provincial Division courts, causing inconvenience and additional expense.
The Unified Family Court model has other significant advantages. It is based on a specialized bench with judges who have demonstrated expertise in family law. It offers access to mediation services to help parents find common ground and resolve their disputes in a way that keeps the interests of the children foremost, and it features more expeditious procedures designed to encourage timely resolution of cases and reduce their complexity and cost. There is a strong consensus among family law experts that the Unified Family Court provides a better way of finding solution, one that puts children first.
The Ministry of the Attorney General has prepared an expansion plan designed not only to bring this innovative model of delivering family law services to more Ontario communities, but to make this model even better. The pace of expansion, however, is not within the province's control. Since the Unified Family Court is a branch of the Ontario Court (General Division), all Unified Family Court judges are appointed by the federal government.
We were encouraged by the news in the spring of 1997 that the federal government was planning a new round of expansion of the Unified Family Court. We submitted a proposal to the federal government outlining our plan for expansion of the Unified Family Court to reach more than 50% of Ontario's population. This coverage was based on receiving 22 new judicial appointments from the federal government. In March of this year, however, we were disappointed to learn that the federal government would be appointing only 17 judges to Ontario's Unified Family Court bench. This is far short of what is required to meet the needs of Ontario families. Since only a few provinces were seeking new appointments, we were counting on a much larger proportion of the 27 available appointments, to bring the benefits of Unified Family Court to more families across Ontario.
With only 17 new judges, we've had to re-examine our plan for expanding the Unified Family Court. Our objective is to obtain the maximum benefit to Ontario families from the limited federal appointments. In making decisions about locations, we will be guided by the principle that communities with the greatest need should receive services first.
This government is firmly committed to the goal of province-wide Unified Family Court. I have called on the federal government to make it a priority to provide more judges at the earliest opportunity so that the Unified Family Court can be extended to all Ontario communities. Unfortunately, I have been advised it is not likely that we will see an expansion of the Unified Family Court again for some period of time.
As I was saying before the member began shouting out, we found out that we were only going to get 17 appointments. As a result of that I started to get letters from the 101 Dalmatians, the lapdogs in the federal Liberal caucus. They were all saying to me: "Bring it to my jurisdiction. We've got to have the Unified Family Court. Help us out."
These 101 Liberal members of the federal caucus started to write me letters after the 17 appointments were announced, telling me that the jurisdictions they represent would be great places for the Unified Family Court. I just want to let you know, I've written them back and basically said, "If we had the 22 I might be able to guarantee it, but where were you when it came to telling the Minister of Justice how important this was to the people of Ontario? You were nowhere; you were absolutely nowhere" - exactly as the Liberal Party of Ontario is: Nowhere.
I really hope, and I don't mean to sound or be frivolous about this, that the member for Kingston can help us out and impress upon and do what the 101 federal Liberals representing Ontario would not do, and that's to tell the Minister of Justice that we need more appointments, we need them now, we want the opportunity to expand the Unified Family Court.
In the meantime, we have to proceed with the current phase of this expansion at the levels we have obviously been given by the federal government. We expect to be making final decisions about expansion locations very soon. I hope that will be comforting to some of those federal Liberals who have been writing to me. I wish they had been on the ball before the decision was made so they could have said, "Give Ontario 30 judges so we can have the Unified Family Court almost across the whole province." I would like to do the whole province. I don't think it's right that the federal government is chopping up family law services in Ontario so that we have some kinds of service in some places and some kinds of service in other places.
In the meantime, our goal is to have the new courts operating by the spring of 1999. In addition to expanding to new locations, our plan includes new services to be offered at both the new and existing sites, so Kingston's going to get more than just the family court they already have, but they're going to get some expanded services.
The family law bench and bar have emphasized the need for information and education services. We will respond by offering family law information sessions in all Unified Family Court sites to assist the parties to make informed decisions about how to resolve their disputes. We will also provide parent education sessions at all sites to help parents focus on the best interests of their children. These services will complement mediation services which are provided at the existing sites and will be offered at the new ones.
To strengthen this innovative model of service delivery, we intend to further streamline the procedures of the Unified Family Court. This will be done by implementing new uniform family court rules at the same time as the new locations begin operation. The new rules were recently passed by the family rules committee and will soon be brought forward for cabinet approval. These rules are designed to make the court process faster and simpler for the parties and to put an even stronger emphasis on the early resolution of cases.
Finally, our plan includes a number of improvements to judicial administration. These changes are designed to ensure that the Unified Family Court operates as efficiently as possible and to ensure that Ontario obtains the maximum benefit from the available judicial resources. It is these administrative changes that are the subject of Bill 48.
These amendments have been drafted at the request of Chief Justice LeSage of the General Division, with the support of Chief Judge Linden of the Provincial Division and Chief Judge Steinberg of the family branch. The amendments confirm the authority of the chief justice over the Unified Family Court and fully integrate the court into the operating structure of the General Division.
As I mentioned, the Unified Family Court is the family branch of the General Division. The bill strengthens the administrative support to the court from the General Division by confirming that the operation of the family branch is under the direction of the regional senior justice in the regions where the court is located. The regional senior justices will direct and supervise sittings and assign judicial duties. At the same time, the position of Associate Chief Justice (Family Court) which was never filled, will be replaced by the position of senior judge of the family court. The senior judge will provide advice directly to the chief justice on issues affecting the family branch from a provincial perspective.
The amendments also recognize the constitutional authority of the Chief Justice to assign other General Division judges to the family branch on a rotational basis. Let me expand on the last point. The Chief Justice plans to augment the new judicial appointments by rotating into the court other General Division justices. These rotational assignments will significantly increase the court's judicial resources. As a result, we will be able to expand the court to more communities than would otherwise be the case.
Most judges hearing cases in the Unified Family Court will be permanent appointees to that court, and those that are rotated into the court are most likely to be judges who have specialized in family law in the General Division and will be rotated into the court for periods of time not likely to be less than six months at any given time. We will have the continuity and expertise of those judges so that they can bolster the 17 new appointments that the federal government will be making to the Unified Family Court.
The support of the judiciary for the expansion of the Unified Family Court has been most heartening. As Chief Justice LeSage remarked at the opening of court ceremony this past January, "We are of the firm belief that the expansion of this court will assist families by providing them with greater accessibility to the courts. Our family branch is and will be a model for early intervention and quick resolution of the traumatic and emotional issues affecting people involved in family crises."
I am very indebted to Chief Justice LeSage for the help he is providing to us so we can make this expansion of the Unified Family Court as meaningful as possible for the people of Ontario.
In addition to these changes in judicial administration, Bill 48 provides that Young Offenders Act matters will be heard exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Division. As some members will recall, in the 1995 expansion of the Unified Family Court it was decided to include young offender matters in some of the new sites but not in others and to reassess both options after one or two years. As a result, three of the existing five Unified Family Court locations have been hearing young offender matters.
Judges who deal with young offender cases on a day-to-day basis are now of the opinion that these matters should be dealt with in the Provincial Division, as is currently the case in almost every county and district in Ontario and in all other provinces.
The offices of the Chief Judge and the ministry support this assessment, given the proven expertise and extensive experience of the Provincial Division in hearing young offender cases.
The elimination of concurrent jurisdiction will also help us expand the Unified Family Court since additional judicial resources would be needed if young offender matters were to remain in the court's mandate.
Finally, the bill contains a housekeeping amendment to restore the regulation-making authority to set salaries and benefits for provincial judges and masters. This authority was inadvertently removed by an amendment that took effect on February 28, 1995. The amendment is retroactive to that date.
The proposed legislative amendments appear more complicated than they are because changes in the names of the courts under part IV of the Courts Improvement Act, 1996 - Bill 79 - have not yet been proclaimed. Part IV cannot be proclaimed until the complementary federal legislation has been put in place. I understand that the federal legislation is now before a Senate committee, so that Bill 48, which we are now debating, has been drafted to accommodate the proclamation of the court name changes either before or after the bill comes into force.
In summary, this bill will facilitate the much-needed expansion of the Unified Family Court in Ontario and enable the court to serve Ontario families more efficiently and effectively. The amendments will create a solid administrative foundation not only for the current round of expansion but also for future expansion. I am confident that we all share the goal of province-wide access to this innovative and responsive family court model.
The bottom line is that this bill is in the best interests of Ontario's families. These minor amendments will support our efforts to give families a better way of finding solutions and lessen the emotional toll of family disputes on children.
This is a bill that deserves the support of every member of this House. I hope this bill will receive that support and that it will receive fast passage so that it can be ready and available to accommodate the expansion of the Unified Family Court. We all hope, given the federal government's intervention, that we can ultimately have this court operating across the whole of the province of Ontario for the benefit of Ontario families.
Some of the amendments the Attorney General spoke about specifically were, for example, to provide the regional senior judges with a clear authority to direct and supervise sittings of the family court and assign those judicial duties thereby.
In addition to that, it establishes the office of the senior judge of the General Division of the family court to provide advice to the Chief Justice on issues affecting that family court on a provincial basis.
It recognizes the Chief Justice's constitutional authority to assign those General Division judges into the court on a rotational basis, and those additional resources can now be made available and the court can be expanded into more communities. At the same time, a substantial core specialized bench will be preserved and most judges, as you know, hearing the cases in the Unified Family Court will be permanent appointees to that court.
As the Attorney General indicated, it removes Young Offenders Act matters from the court and those matters will be dealt with by the Provincial Division. The Chief Justice and the Chief Judge and senior judge of the family court fully support the elimination of the family court jurisdiction for the Young Offenders Act matters. This change will free up judicial resources for a wider expansion of the Unified Family Court.
What other provisions do we have? The housekeeping amendment would restore the regulation making the authority to set salaries and benefits. That would include, of course, pension benefits for the provincial judges and masters and that will be retroactive, as the Attorney General indicated, to February 28, 1995, the date on which it was inadvertently removed. I find that a little surprising, knowing the sticklers for detail people in the legal profession usually are.
The amendments appear more complicated than they are because changes in the names of the courts under part IV of the Courts Improvement Act, 1996 - Bill 79 - have not yet been proclaimed. Part IV cannot be proclaimed until the complementary federal legislation has been put in place, and that is now before a Senate committee, as the Attorney General indicated.
I too join with the Attorney General in encouraging the honourable member from Kingston, who is a lawyer, a politician and seemingly well connected with the federal Liberal caucus, to put him in his spot and say that is a perfect opportunity to become a hero to your peers in the legal profession, a profession which, I might add, I am not a member of. I am not a lawyer. I do not aspire to be a lawyer and do not plan to be a lawyer, with all due respect to the legal profession.
The question, where and when will the court be expanded, could be asked. An announcement about the expansion locations will be made soon. As the Attorney General indicated, we hope we can do that by the spring of 1999, subject to the federal Senate putting into place its share of the responsibility.
Funding for these courts will be through the reinvestment of savings realized by the appointment of the Provincial Division family judges to the court.
To sum up, Ontario is firmly committed to the goal of province-wide unified family courts, and we urge the federal government to make it a priority to provide more judges so that the court can be extended to all of our Ontario communities as best we can. We hope to see a further round of expansion in the future.
In the past, as you know, all parties in the House have supported the establishment of these courts. They're an improvement of service to the public in settling family law disputes along the list the Attorney General indicated - things like family mediation and others, divorce annulments, declarations of parentage, custody, access, support, matrimonial property, property issues between unmarried partners, adoption, and child protection issues - and hope they can deal with all of those aspects of family law in this single forum.
Those amendments would create a solid administrative foundation not only for the current round of expansion but for future expansion of the court. It is clearly a goal of this government to try to make the entire system a better servant of the people by being more efficient and by being better able to serve the population of this province wherever and whenever we can. We hope that all members of the House will support the legislation that we know will benefit the families of our province.
I'm going to speak from a layman's point of view. Like my colleague from Brampton North, I am not a lawyer. I'm going to emphasize and speak with a view towards customer service and, as I said previously, improving the family court. It seems to be something that past governments have not been very conscious of, when I talk of customer service.
One of the greatest problems with the system as it is now is the pressure and the emotional toll that it puts on the children who are involved in family disputes, the stress and the strain of the breakup of the family and certainly the disputes between the parents themselves. Probably more important, or just as important, is the fact that under the present system, as we have heard today, they now in many cases have to go before two court systems, one being the General Division and one being the Provincial Division of the Ontario Court.
This leads to delays; it leads to referrals. Again, no disrespect to the profession of lawyers, but it does become a work project for some because it goes on and on and on. The disputes get worse, the emotions are raised and, unfortunately, the children involved are the ones who are hurt most. I believe, much the same as we are trying to do in our education system, that children must be our first priority. They must come first, and they must always be listened to. Anything that we can do to make it easier and improve the system for these kids has to be done.
The family court system we are proposing provides a single-window approach for family law matters by giving one court jurisdiction under both federal and provincial status to deal with all aspects of family law. Communities with family courts have found them to be more convenient to families, children and other court users. I believe that is the basic theory of what we're trying to do in this government, and that is to have less duplication: make it work better, make it work efficiently, and have less duplication.
We have the track record to prove that what this act is proposing will work. As has been indicated, there are currently five family court locations across the province, in Hamilton, London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee. This was started in 1977 in Hamilton as a pilot project. This government expanded it in 1995. So we have the track record to prove that what this act is trying to do will indeed work. I think that is most important.
The other thing is that these courts have very strong support from families who use them, and this goes back to what I said about customer service. We have to try and make it as easy as possible, less complicated as much as possible, to make sure they have access to the system. The community agencies, the advocacy groups, judges, lawyers and court staff are also supportive of this type of legislation.
Family court is a branch of the Ontario Court, General Division, and all family court judges are federally appointed. This is the one concern that I have. Unfortunately, the track record of the federal government working with the provinces is less than what we want. I would hope the federal government will work with us to make sure there are judges available, to make sure that this system works, and works well. In March of this year the federal government announced 17 more judges. I truly hope that the feds will work with us on this particular -
The Ontario government is committed to province-wide expansion, and is presently evaluating where new family court sites would be best located to serve all Ontarians. Maybe for those us speaking, this will help us attract this type of a system into the area that we want.
Unification of family law jurisdiction in one court has meant better customer service for women and children and families. It's been proven before that it does work. Let's expand it. Family court provides increased support services such as intake, assessment, and referral to family mediation services. Certainly these days, the emphasis has been and will continue to be on mediation. Mediation can be much more desirable in disputes like this than having to go to court, which again, as I say, because of delays and deferrals, can get totally out of hand.
In the family court there is full service in family law at one court. All remedies, such as divorce, exclusive possession of a family home, custody, access, enforcement of a separation agreement, child and spousal support, enforcement of support orders and protection of children, can be dispersed from the same court with a consistent approach to the issues.
I believe further expansion of this court system is long overdue. As mentioned, it has been supported by the bar, by the bench and by the public. Those are the people who are involved with the system. Those are the people who are trying to mediate to the people who use it. We have to make sure that it's as easy and efficient as possible.
I know the expansion pace is under provincial control, but the fact that they are looking at where the locations should be in this province, with consultation, is good. Again, as I said, I hope the feds will make sure the federal judges are appointed in the quantity we need.
The proposed changes have been requested by the judiciary, who are fully supportive of the Unified Family Court expansion.
One of the things I mentioned was a single-window approach. Recently, through my involvement with the Red Tape Commission, my colleague from Lambton and I worked on a one-window approach for the building code, fire code and electrical code, again with the concentration on customer service. Why do you have to run here, there and wherever to do the same thing that could be done in one location? This is what the concentration is of the Unified Family Court system.
The Unified Family Court has jurisdiction to hear all of family law. Again, why would they not? Why would you be running to two courts to do that? Single window: Make sure it's good customer service, good accessibility, and what it will also do is reduce the cost and complexity of resolving family disputes, as well as the financial and emotional burden on families. Certainly many of the people who use that system are not the wealthiest in this province. If the financial portion of this can be reduced, then I suggest it's one more aspect of the customer service we want to do.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
We have to enhance the services. We have to improve the services. Why would we not? If we can save dollars, if we can make it easier for the people involved, why would we not do it?
Every Unified Family Court will provide mediation services to help families resolve disputes without resorting to costly and time-consuming litigation. The longer family disputes go - and we all know it, because many of us have families. If you don't get the problem solved immediately, it gets bigger and bigger and festers. The bottom line is that the youngsters who are part of that family are the ones who are going to be hurt, and in some cases they can be marred for life by what happens during this very, very bad time in their life.
This bill will enhance mediation services by providing new public information services. Two kinds of services will be provided, information sessions on family law and alternate methods of resolving disputes and information sessions on the impact of parental separation on children. Again, the underlying problem here is the children who will be hurt. These services will be widely supported, as I said, by the bench and by the families.
We must get on with the legislation. In all aspects, whether it be the court system or government or business or in our day-to-day lives, we have to streamline the entire process. We have to do things easier, we have to do things faster and we have to do things more efficiently and effectively, because delays cost money and increase aggravation and animosity in disputes. That, I believe, is one of the reasons why we must support the Unified Family Court Act. It will strengthen the court and it will streamline it. New family rules, I understand, were recently approved by the Family Rules Committee and hopefully will be incorporated into this before it goes.
As I said, the hardship on the children, the pressure, the stress, stress on the moms and indeed on the dads, is the problem. Maybe the family unit will not always stay together, but if those disputes and that aggravation become too much and too deep and fester too long, it can have an impact on the kids, and they may never resolve anything within that family unit.
My colleague the member for Brampton North went into the main elements of the amendments. As he said, the amendments are designed to ensure that the Unified Family Court operates in as effective and efficient a way as possible and that Ontario obtains the maximum benefit from the available judicial resources.
There's one area in those amendments that I also want to emphasize, that we will remove the Young Offenders Act matters from the court.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
I want to go back to my final comment, that one of the amendments will remove the Young Offenders Act matters from the court. These matters will be dealt with by the Provincial Division. Both the Chief Justice and the Chief Judge and the senior judge of the family court fully support the elimination of family court jurisdiction for Young Offenders Act matters. That type of support, that they want it eliminated - these are the people who are involved with the system; these are the people who know what the system needs, or indeed what the systems lacks. We have to take counsel from those types of people to make sure we do it right. It's called "consultation," and you will only improve something through consultation with the people who are involved. I believe this change will also free up judicial resources for wider expansion of the Unified Family Court.
I'm going to wrap up by saying that in my mind, as a layperson, I believe we have to improve this act, and I believe the proposals, the amendments, are indeed helping in that improvement. Again, the bottom line is the children, the families that need the support and want to get on with whatever decisions that Unified Family Court makes. Indeed, they will get on with it with the hope that the family may still have some small segment that can either get back together or at least be compatible through the years. But if it goes on and if there are delays and if there is agonizing and more disputes, it will fester and become so ridiculous that the children will never, ever have those homes or the compassion and compatibility of the family.
I hope that all sides in this House support this bill and that we can get on with improving the family court system.
I really am impressed with the productivity of this Attorney General, particularly in this term. I say that not at all because he gave a set of sleepers to our new baby on the occasion of his birth, but it's quite amazing what this Attorney General has been able to bring forward before this House in just the past few weeks.
Just a few weeks ago, this Attorney General brought forward a monumental set of amendments to the Law Society Act, the first major overhaul of the Law Society Act in this province in a generation, in over 30 years, bringing the Law Society of Upper Canada into the 20th century - and about time too, just before we depart the 20th century. It took a long time for a government to get around to bringing about the kinds of changes that this Attorney General, Charles Harnick, has brought about for the Law Society Act here in this province, and he has done that just this term.
But he hasn't just rested on that. He has also brought forward legislation -
But not content to rest just on that, this Attorney General has also brought forward monumental amendments to the field of legal aid. We have debated that already this week, with substantial discussion on the amendments that are being made to the provision of legal aid in this province, changing entirely the way in which legal aid is administered, structured and in all respects handled in this province, with an eye specifically to meeting the needs of the client population, keeping the costs under control and getting the resources to where they're needed, to the clients who are in need, whether it's the clients with certificates taken to individual lawyers or the clients of the clinics in their more generalized areas of assistance. We spoke of that earlier this week and the wide public praise that Attorney General Harnick has received for bringing forward that bill containing those amendments and those reforms.
We're here today dealing with yet another monumental reform by Attorney General Harnick, this time in the field of family law in particular. What the bill before us this afternoon does is take a pilot project that has proven its worth over some time and expand it generally across the province, and to put in place the mechanism and the framework needed to allow that new vision, that new approach to the administration of family law in this province to be carried out and to be conducted universally right across the province in all jurisdictions of the province.
I was taken with the remarks of the Attorney General and the member for Brampton North in their summations of this legislation, but I have to say I was particularly touched by the focus given by the member for Peterborough on the key benefit that is to be achieved through this legislation. He focused specifically on the benefit that will be enjoyed by children, because we know, in cases that come before family courts, cases of family breakdown, cases of family strife, it is the children who are the most serious victims in that process. It is the children who will stand to benefit from improvements made to that process, and that is exactly what this bill is aimed at achieving.
There are many elements to this bill that improve the system in many ways. All of it comes down to doing a better job of achieving justice on a timely basis in a manner which is least disruptive to all the parties involved. It has the additional benefit of being more streamlined, more straightforward and therefore more inexpensive to administer, leaving more resources available to deal with the casualties of family breakdown, and I intend to address some of my remarks to that specific issue before my time is up.
Just a quick word of review as to the specifics of the amendments, and then I'll go back again to some of the benefits that these amendments will bring about. The concept of a Unified Family Court has been in place in Hamilton-Wentworth now for some time where there has been a single court - as the member for Peterborough so aptly put it, a one-window approach to family law matters. That approach has been in place in Hamilton-Wentworth for a number of years now and has met with outstanding success. It has been expanded to other jurisdictions but is not yet in place throughout the province.
Expansion of the Unified Family Court concept is widely supported by the bench, by the practising bar and by the public. Of course, the ultimate completion of expansion right across the province is not entirely within the control of this government or within the control of any provincial government. What this government can do, and what this bill does, is to lay the foundation for the expansion of the Unified Family Court concept, but it is up to the federal court to appoint the judges who are needed to serve in that Unified Family Court.
In our justice system in Ontario, we have some courts that are governed by federally appointed judges and the provincial courts that are administered by provincially appointed judges. What this bill does is take all family law matters and put them in a unified court under the administration of a federally appointed judge. Certain other matters that are currently dealt with by federally appointed judges would be transferred down and would be dealt with exclusively by provincially appointed judges, but before that can happen, the federal government has to appoint the judges that we need.
The Attorney General has already commented on the need of this province for some 22 new judges from the federal government. The federal government has responded by appointing 17 judges to this province. The Attorney General has commented on the number of calls he has received, not from provincial members but from federal Liberal members, asking the provincial Attorney General to see to it that those federally appointed judges are put to work in their particular ridings in their jurisdictions. But maybe what those members could do and maybe what the members of the opposition opposite could do to help all of us would be to put some pressure on their own federal government to get to work appointing the judges we need to make the Unified Family Court system available to everyone across the province.
The proposed changes in this bill have been requested by the judiciary, who are fully supportive of the Unified Family Court expansion, and the advantages that are to be found by having this one-window approach, a Unified Family Court, are many. Let me itemize just a few significant ones.
First of all, as the member for Peterborough has said, the single window: In areas of Ontario without a Unified Family Court family law cases are still heard in both Provincial Division courts and General Division courts with no end to confusion, duplication and legal manipulating to take tactical advantage of the confusion that that two-court system brings about in the family law system. The Unified Family Court system would reduce the cost and complexity of hearing family disputes, and it would reduce the financial and emotional burden on families and particularly on their children by bringing about the one-window approach. The member for Peterborough has spoken most eloquently on that particular aspect.
Through the efficiencies to be gained by bringing about the one-window Unified Family Court approach, I've already noted that resources would then be freed up to deal with ancillary services that are most valuable and important in the matters that family courts must inevitably deal with, where you're dealing with families that are coming apart and the injury and damage that is felt by the parties going through that process, particularly the children involved.
Through the efficiencies and the savings of the one-window approach, the Unified Family Court system will be able to provide mediation services to help families resolve disputes without resort to the costly and time-consuming litigation process, with a focus on resolving the differences outside the strict legal mechanism of the court itself but under the umbrella of the judicial system, using the mediation process to bring about resolution of disputes and resolution of the problems on a basis that is more satisfactory to all persons concerned without going through the agonizing and painful process of trials and appeals and so on.
Also, the system would be able to provide, and will provide, information sessions on family law and alternative methods of resolving disputes, not only mediation processes but other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve the problems in a more painless, productive and constructive way.
There will also be streamlined procedures generally, right across the board, streamlining the highly technical and highly cumbersome court process where family cases are involved, to make the court process faster and simpler and to put, as I've already mentioned, an even stronger emphasis on the early resolution of cases. We all know that it is the long, agonizing process of being in court time and time again that makes the process so painful in matrimonial family cases. By streamlining the process that will be made much less of an issue.
I have a few things to say later on, but I would just like to address this comment to the Attorney General. It is indeed a sad, sad day in the history of the province of Ontario when the Attorney General himself, a man of such renown, highly regarded, literally believes that a lowly opposition backbencher like myself would have more power and control with the federal Attorney General than a man of his position and stature would have. That is indeed sad. I would hope that during the last couple of months he has tried to talk to the federal Attorney General as well. I know her to be an extremely eloquent and very competent individual and I'm sure she would love to hear from him in this regard on the number of judges.
The Attorney General makes this sound as if heaven and earth have come down upon the department of the Attorney General because only 17 new judges were appointed rather than the 22 new judges that he wanted. Let me just say this: That is 17 more judges than had been appointed by either your federal - what was that fellow's name again? Mulroney, was it? - when he was there and when Bill Davis was still in power, when they could have instituted a number of other unified courts.
I must give credit to the former NDP government for at least extending the Unified Family Court by four additional courts to the original that was started in 1977.
I reflect back, however, to an answer the Attorney General gave to the member for Nickel Belt earlier this afternoon when it came to the appointment of a justice of the peace. I remember Blain Morin standing here saying: "I've got a serious problem here in Ontario. We only have one justice of the peace in the town of Chapleau." The member for Nickel Belt, Blain Morin, asked the Attorney General, "Minister, when are you going to appoint another justice of the peace so the people in Chapleau don't have to go to Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury or Timmins to get court services?" and the minister said: "I can do nothing. It's not me who appoints the justices of the peace."
You can't on the one hand, Attorney General, turn around and chastise the federal government for not appointing a federal judge to our provincial system and at the same time not do anything about fixing problems in your own backyard. So in the name of Blain Morin and in the name of the people from Nickel Belt, we ask you to do your job and appoint a justice of the peace in the town of Chapleau so that those people can have those services.
Who can help us in this situation? The member opposite; in fact, all the members opposite in the official opposition, including the member for Kingston and The Islands, who is always on us for incompetence. Here is an example where he can remove that label alluding to himself and approach the 101 marvellous and, it would appear, silent members of the federal Liberal Party. These are the folks who could be helping him and he could be helping them to coordinate the appointment of the five additional judges we need to make our system fully integrated and fully functional. When is he going to do that? Just do it.
What I would like to know, though, is, are you going to reannounce this and reannounce it as usual and the legislation doesn't come forward for a long time? Are you going to do the same thing that your Minister of Health has been doing and then it's six months down the road before it materializes? We would like to know that.
Is there adequate funding over there? At times, governments like yourselves talk about red tape, and then to destroy that red tape impedes people's access. You are creating your own red tape. What they need is more efficiency in the system. "Efficiency" means putting resources like money there. I don't want the Attorney General to bow his head and tell me yes now. He's saying that yes, adequate funds will be there, adequate enough so it can drive the system and people who are being exploited and being denied proper accountability within the system will be looked after.
I don't know how long you will take to do this, but I think you need to respond that this will come forward at a time of efficiency so we have a good court system working for families.
Certainly, Madam Speaker, you're well aware of how these kinds of court openings roll out. But I will tell the member for Scarborough North that this court will be properly resourced.
Part of the way that's done is that the federal government, your cousins who delayed on making this announcement - and we can only go as fast as they permit us - provides the 17 judges. We then take the judges' salaries that are no longer on the provincial bench, because we hope most of them will be elevated by the federal government to the Unified Family Court, and we commit that money to the support services that this court needs, support services that involve education, that involve counselling, that involve mediation.
This is a very important court and I'm very pleased that the member for Scarborough North asked that question about how the court is properly resourced. I'm happy to tell him that because we have had limited expansion in the past, we have learned a lot about how to do this and how to ensure that the court can be up and running within a reasonable amount of time. I can assure the member that what we now have to do is get confirmation from the federal government of our plan to locate these courts in various places across the province. Once that is done, we are hopeful that these courts will be up and running by this spring.
But as I said in my remarks and I think it's very important - and I'm glad the member for Scarborough North, a senior member of the Liberal caucus, is here. We very much need his help to call the Minister of Justice and tell her we need a full expansion of this court around the province as soon as possible, that we can't delay, that we shouldn't have a fragmented system. I ask for his help to call his federal cousin and make sure that we have a proper expansion of the court. So I would ask him to do that.
First of all, let me give him a news flash through my immediate contacts at the House of Commons. I have learned that today, as we speak - and I know that normally you only hear this kind of news on the late-breaking news stations - the Senate has approved and referred back to the full Senate third reading of the Judges Act, so that 27 judges across the country and 17 judges here in Ontario will be appointed. I'm glad to pass that information on to you, first of all.
But you know why you didn't get all the appointments that you wanted.
Let the people of Ontario be very clear about this: Once the federal government makes the appointments, then these federal judges are going to be paid for out of the federal purse. In the totality of things, as far as the general public is concerned, I suppose it doesn't make any difference whether the money comes from the federal government or from the provincial government. But the Attorney General never mentions that. In effect, by the federal appointment process, he has taken 17 people off the provincial payroll, and we know that judges make a fairly good sum of money. That's number one.
He did say, in all fairness to him, that the resources they're saving would be spent in these courts. That's the first point I want to make, that it isn't quite as simple, and he didn't quite give us the complete story in his one-hour speech here today, together with the other members. They talked in generalities, "It's a great idea," but let me say once again it is a great idea that is probably about 20 to 25 years overdue.
At one time, back in the 1970s and early 1980s, I used to practise quite extensively in the family court system and I can tell you from my own experience in dealing with clients that it is an extremely difficult situation for women and their children to deal with the court system.
The Acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.
It was an enlightened Conservative government back in 1977 that took that first step, when they created the Hamilton-Wentworth Unified Family Court system. I suppose the real question can be asked, why did it take almost 20 years for, first of all, the NDP government to act? I suppose they could say, "We were only in power for three or four years," but it took the system 17 or 18 years before another three or four Unified Family Courts were created.
Now this Attorney General gets up and says: "We want to do it for the whole province immediately. If only the federal government would give us five more judges, in addition to the 17 we're already getting, we could have this system everywhere." He's a highly intelligent man. He knows and I know that even if he wanted to get that system up and running immediately throughout the province and had all the judges necessary to fill these courts under this new system, he couldn't do it, because his track record is quite clear. Look what happened to the Family Responsibility Office, look what happened to legal aid in this province. I could go on and on, but I won't do that at this stage, because I want to stick to this bill.
It is really stretching a long way, when right now we have five Unified Family Courts in Ontario and you've got 17 new judges appointed to that court, to still try to pick a fight with the federal government that, "It shouldn't have been 17; it should have been 22." I say to him, make sure that those 17 courts operate as quickly as possible, and all of us, including him, should do whatever we can to make sure the system expands as quickly as possible throughout this entire province.
It isn't about lawyers and it isn't about whether it's federal or provincial jurisdiction and it isn't about judges. What it's really about is the people who need help in circumstances where family breakups occur. They need to go to one system where their situations can be looked at by one impartial arbiter. The mediation process - I totally agree with that. I know that for years and years lawyers in general were totally against it. I fought it for years and years in my own bar, in the Kingston area, this whole notion of family mediation. I'm talking about the 1970s. "That isn't the way we do it. We do it in an adversarial system," because that's the training that most of us in our profession had.
I am glad to see that finally some of these artificial barriers, this turf protection that we have in many professions in this province, are starting to break down. It can't be quick enough. Whether we're talking about the medical profession, with finally the adoption of the nurse practitioners, or whether we're talking about the legal system, where the paralegals are playing a much greater role now - and you can just go on and on in the various professions - this should happen to a much greater extent, because the bottom line is that the people of Ontario are bound to be better served with a system that is freer and more open and more understandable. For too long in this province and in this country, professions of all kinds have shrouded things in secrecy and clouds so the general public wouldn't necessarily understand what's happening.
Before the Attorney General pats himself on the back too much, the challenge is now up to him to make sure that these 17 new judges are appointed and the new systems are up and running as quickly as possible. I know the feds are appointing them, but make sure that where those 17 judges will be positioned, the courts will be up and running as quickly as possible, because certainly the record of this Attorney General - and let me say that I personally like this Attorney General. He seems like a very decent and honest individual. But unfortunately, what has happened in his department over the last three years has not been all that admirable.
We still, in my constituency office and I would dare say in the constituency offices of each and every one of us, get more calls about foul-ups in the Family Responsibility Office than anything else, where money is being paid into a system that is supposed to work a lot better than the old-fashioned system used to and money is being paid in, mainly by husbands, and it's not being paid out on time to wives and children who depend on that money on an ongoing basis.
It's not as bad as it used to be and I don't totally blame him. I know it's the government's fiscal policies that basically drove this thing. I'll be the first to admit that. But he has to take his share of the responsibility of closing all the regional offices and having all the files dumped somewhere in Downsview, where for many months they were totally unattended to while women and children were waiting for the money that was being deducted from mainly the wages of the husbands and was admitted into the office and not being paid out. That is a fact.
It's not only in the Family Responsibility Office. Let's take a look at some of the other areas, at what's happening in his departments. I would like him to get up and explain why, for example, he disbanded the police complaints commission last October. Why did he do that? If he really believes in a more open system of justice for the people of this province, why did he get rid of the civilian police complaints commission? Why did he make more cuts to the special investigations unit that operates out of his ministerial offices? Why did he do that? Why did he cut $1.5 million from the legal services and victim support program just within the last year? These are all programs intended to assist people out there in the system of justice, in the whole judicial system. Why were there cuts made over the last three years of some $9.8 million in the office of the public guardian and trustee's office? Maybe he could explain that.
In the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, the budget that looks after innocent victims of criminal activity - and I can remember on behalf of clients appearing in front of that board many years ago; I think it was set up during the Bill Davis years. I was proud at that time that there was a system in place where victims of criminal activities could go to get compensated for their personal injuries. Do you know what has happened? Some $1.2 million has been cut out of the budget of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
What's happening in this province is we are retracting from the opening of our judicial system, from providing people with more access to the judicial system. All these cuts that I've just talked about have that one same effect. Let us hope that the new Unified Family Court system works better than certainly the way the system seems to operate in some of the overcrowded courts right now. It all boils down to only thing, and that is that the resources aren't there for the officers of the court and the crown attorneys to properly do their case.
We've all heard of the Rodrigues case, not too long ago, where an individual was killed by a driver who was charged with impaired driving back in June 1996. The case was thrown out earlier this year - I know the crown has appealed it since then - basically because of delay. So I would certainly hope that the new Unified Family Court system that he's talking about, and with which I totally agree, will operate better than some of these courts where this is delay after delay.
Let's talk about one other issue. We're talking about greater access to the court system, and we're talking about how this government always says that the former government increased taxes 66 times or 105 times or whatever, but what are you doing yourselves? Look at the user fees you have introduced into the court system. Go down to the Small Claims Court office and see what it costs now for the average citizen to file their own claim in Small Claims Court, where you're supposed to get quick and expedient justice. The fees have dramatically increased. The more user fees we have in this area, the more the rights of certain individuals to our legal system are being denied.
Let's talk about one other case. The Attorney General is still in the House. Let's talk about what exactly happened in September 1995 in Ipperwash, where, for the first time in the history of Ontario in this century, a member of the First Nations died in very unusual circumstances. We have been calling for a public inquiry on that situation, as has the NDP, on numerous occasions. We have basically been stonewalled because there are still some civil court cases ongoing in the Ipperwash situation, which may take years to resolve. You know what it means: Justice delayed is justice denied. Call a public inquiry now, before all the papers get shredded. We've already heard of a case here where some documentation got shredded.
I say to the Attorney General, do the right thing. Walk into that next cabinet meeting and say: "All right, it has been more than three years now since Ipperwash. All matters except the civil cases are still outstanding, and those civil cases may be outstanding for another five or six years. Let's do the right thing, Mr Premier, and let's call an inquiry into what really happened at Ipperwash."
That issue is not going to go away. I can tell you that right now. Not only the members of the First Nation but the people of Ontario want to know what really happened and to what extent the Premier's office or other offices were involved in the operation that happened on that very tragic evening. We live in a civilized society, and people have the right to know what happened on such an important matter as that.
So, Attorney General, don't come in here and basically try to blame the federal Liberals, the federal government, because you didn't get the five more judges that you need. You've got 17 judges now. Get the new Unified Family Court system operating so that for those citizens who unfortunately will have to deal with that court - because they're usually unfortunate situations, in the sense that they're very tragic situations; it's very traumatic when a family breaks up - all their issues can be dealt with at the same time. Get on with it, and for goodness' sake, don't make the same mistakes that you've made with the Family Responsibility Office and many of the other things that I've talked about today.
Today during question period our member for Nickel Belt, Blain Morin, raised a point here in this House through a question, saying that in Chapleau they're down to one justice of the peace for that community. He explained, I thought quite rightfully, how it is a real inconvenience for the people of Chapleau to get court services, because they have to travel to either Timmins, Sault Ste Marie or Sudbury in order to get services, because they can't schedule the court there because they don't have a justice of the peace. When there is only one there and the JP is sick or otherwise not available, they're not able to hold court.
The member for Nickel Belt asked the Attorney General to appoint not five but at least one more justice of the peace so that the people of Chapleau can be served. What did the Attorney General respond to the member for Nickel Belt? "Well, it's not my responsibility. The JP's coordinator is the one who has to make a decision about appointments." Well, I'm sorry, the Attorney General got appointed by Mike Harris to be in cabinet in order to oversee our courts and to make sure our justice system works. When he has an opportunity to do something here in Ontario, to address a problem, he should take his responsibility and do it. I say to the Attorney General, do the right thing. Do what Blain Morin, the member for Nickel Belt, told you to do and appoint a JP in Chapleau.
I have already congratulated the member opposite for carrying the ball on behalf of the Liberal Party here this afternoon, and I indicated that the average IQ of the Liberal caucus has never been higher than it is at present. I'm not sure that the total IQ has been much higher than it is at the present time.
Despite all that, I have to admit that I was seriously disappointed in the remarks from the member for Kingston and The Islands, because I was hoping he would tell us what we need to hear from the Liberal Party, and we didn't hear it this afternoon. Unlike the provincial government, under appointments that are within the provincial realm, where appointments are made on the advice of an independent official who determines whether or not, for example, a justice of the peace is needed in a particular jurisdiction, federally, the federal Liberal government has total control over the appointment of judges at the senior level here in Ontario. The only thing standing between us now and a fully operating across-the-board Unified Family Court system in the province of Ontario is the action of the federal government in failing to appoint the judges we need to staff the courts.
Bill 48 that is before us this afternoon creates the framework, creates the foundation. We need Mr Gerretsen to get his federal cousins -
He emphasized the fact, although with great respect for the Attorney General, that the federal government themselves should all co-operate. Here we are, he makes his announcement today, making sure that the passage of this bill will go on very quickly and on an efficient basis.
We know of course that there's no other court system in this country that is stemmed with so much emotion and so much trauma as the family court system; no other court has it more than that court, because the entire family sometimes is at risk. The fact is, the more it is spread wide across different divisions, how complicated and complex and dragged out and emotional it is.
I want to commend him for taking the approach, "Let us move forward with this." I think the point he was making, and the member who spoke previously did not get - he was saying he hopes he doesn't mix this up and make a confusion, as he had done in the past, of eliminating things like the SIU. He emphasized, "Please don't go in that direction," because the fact is that we will get into the blaming of one or the other and cutting off services that are needed to have a fairer justice system.
The other comment I very much want to make for the member for Kingston and The Islands: Although a lawyer, he had made the language in the layman's aspect of it so understandable that all the people who are listening will understand what this legislation is all about, how it's going to impact upon them. He emphasized that the Attorney General must continue to make sure that we all understand -
There are real issues around the appointment of federal judges, and they have not changed over some period of time. I'll go into some detail about the experience that we had when we expanded the family court to five locations from the one that had existed for a long time, because what the Attorney General was describing in terms of his frustration around the expansion of the family court is very similar to what I experienced when I was in his position. There are some reasons for that, and reasons that people ought to understand.
The reason it's important in respect to the Courts of Justice Amendment Act, 1998, is that the numbers of judges available to do the work that is there is an extremely important issue around the effectiveness and the efficiency of the courts. It is extremely difficult when judges are not appointed in a timely fashion to maintain that efficiency of the court, and I think that some of the issues around cross-jurisdictional appointments are very much a problem in terms of the overall expansion of this court and should be fully aired without defensiveness on the part of a provincial politician. I expect to comment a bit more on that as I -
What the people have to understand is that it is to be hoped that most of these new federal appointments will in effect come from the highly qualified members of the family court bench that we currently have. Of course, those appointments were all provincial appointments. So basically the federal appointments will now happen from among the judges who were originally provincially appointed.
I would just like to return to one issue from the member for East York, who kind of makes it sound as if the appointment system at one level of government is all that much different from another level of government. I hope we don't sort of politicize that too much at this level. Both levels of government, both the provincial and the federal governments, appoint their judges basically through order in council. The final decision, the way I understand it, is made by cabinet on the recommendation of the Attorney General, and the same system applies federally as it does provincially. In both systems there are in effect bodies set up to adjudicate upon applicants who come before this body, and this body makes a recommendation in a number of different ways to the Attorney General. That happens at both levels, which is much better than the system that existed for many years, up until about 15 or 20 years ago.
The people of Ontario should have an understanding of that, to not somehow get the idea that we've got a better appointment system provincially than federally. I believe the system in both cases is much better now than it used to be.
The reason we are so supportive of that is that we believe very strongly that there is absolutely no sense, either from the person who's receiving the services or from the people delivering the services, to have family members go to two different courts when they are experiencing the trauma of family breakdown.
But even more important than that is the overriding belief that there ought to be family law expertise brought to bear on cases of family law. That's very much apropos to the bill and very much one of the things we are concerned about in the bill. One of the reasons we alerted the Attorney General that we wanted to have an extensive discussion of this bill is the implication of the provisions in this bill which would, first of all, enable the Chief Justice to rotate general court judges through the family court and, second, the senior regional judges to assign judges in their region to the court.
We are concerned about that because, although the Attorney General has given me his assurance that the intention of the bill is merely to allow the provincial government to expand the availability of the family court more thoroughly, and although I had assurances from both Chief Justice McMurtry and Chief Justice LeSage that it is the intention of the bench that that be allowed to happen, it remains not what is provided in the bill. Those good intentions notwithstanding, the bill in fact permits a rotation without limitation to qualifications in family law and interest in family law from the bench.
I have no doubt, and I want to make this absolutely clear, that the commitment of the administrative judge of the general court, Chief Justice LeSage, is that the people who would be rotated into those positions would be people who have a thorough experience with the family law and the family bar.
When the Attorney General made his comments, he made a commitment to that extent, but then I heard a slight difference. He said that they would "likely" have those qualifications. Then as the discussion moved around to the member for Brampton North and the member for Peterborough and finally the member for York East, it became very clear that there is no guarantee that people who would be rotated into this court have either an interest or an expertise in family law. That is a very serious problem.
The whole purpose behind the family court is to ensure that the people who are making the decisions, the crucial decisions that so affect people's lives in cases of marital breakdown, in cases of custody and access, in cases of child protection, in cases of adoption, would have a thorough understanding of family law, a commitment to the excellent practice of family law and an understanding of the effects of those laws on the lives of the people they serve.
When former Attorney General, now Chief Justice, McMurtry set up the first family court in this province in 1977, he did so because of that commitment that family law is quite different in terms of its emphasis, in terms of its practice, than criminal law or corporate law. He was saying that there needs to be a body of expertise built up, because family law, as we all know, changed very dramatically while he was Attorney General with the Family Law Reform Act and has subsequently changed again with the Family Law Act of 1986 under the Liberal government, and I am sure will change within the next couple of years again to meet some of the problems that have been seen in the current family law.
It's very complex. Family law in this province is extremely complex, and its effect on people needs to be thoroughly understood by those who are making decisions. That is especially true now that the family law rules have substantially changed, because the judges who are hearing the cases become very much more accountable for the timelines, for the way in which the family law cases pass through their courts. There is quite a burden on those judges to ensure that those timelines are going to be met, to ensure that at each step along the way no one is delaying the cases, a ploy that is well known to happen now, that nobody is using a power differential to try and ratchet the other person in a marital case down in terms of their ability to have the financial support they need, that no one is using the delays as threats around custody and access issues, all very common problems when people are going through a separation.
It's extremely important that those laws be understood and that the purpose of those rules be understood by those who are on the bench, and that they be able to explain to people who are all too frequently unrepresented in the courts how those rules actually operate and what those people seeking justice before the courts need to do to ensure that they are moving their case forward at an appropriate speed.
With the new changes in family support that have been instituted by the federal government in terms of divorce cases, there are very complex issues to ensure that that schedule of benefits is applied equitably to people. Similarly, if, as we expect, there are some changes in the rules around custody and access issues as a result of the current study that's going on, again there will be a change.
What I'm suggesting to you is that family law is evolving quite substantially, as it has evolved over the last 20 years. It is important that the people who are making decisions in these cases be people who have an interest in family law, who have kept up with those changes, who have a clear notion of what it is like to practise law in the family area, who are aware and have participated in the extensive educational sessions that the original trial project in Hamilton-Wentworth insisted were part of the whole process.
When we expanded the family court to London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee, the same provisions were there to ensure that expertise was constantly built, that there was an obligation for education and re-education around changes to the law, that there was an ability for family court judges to meet together to discuss the changes they were seeing in the clientele they were dealing with, to ensure that that expertise of the bench was appropriate to the changes not only in our society but also of our laws. So that was an extremely important part of this.
I spoke this afternoon with Chief Justice LeSage, who assured me that his intention as the administrative justice was that anyone who would rotate into the family court would similarly have come from a background of family law, would similarly have had experience in administering family law, so that that expertise would not be lost. He further said, and echoed the assurances of the Attorney General, that the idea would be to rotate someone in for a considerable length of time. That's important, because the judge becomes the case manager of these family cases under the new rules, and so the time periods become extremely important. You need a period of time over which you are administering a case or else the problem that now exists, of cases being bounced from one justice to another, continues, and that was never the vision of the family court.
There is very little of comfort in the bill itself. The bill itself is a permissive bill. The bill itself simply gives the Chief Justice the authority to rotate anyone from the General Division into the family court. All that stands in the way of people with little or no training in family law being rotated into the family court is the honourable assurance of Mr Justice LeSage and the current Attorney General.
When we pass laws, we ought not to pass laws that depend on the goodwill and good faith of individuals in the system. So it seems to me that it would be very appropriate to add into this legislation that the Chief Justice may rotate into the family court justices from the General Division, and I would suggest a simple amendment saying, "Provided the justice to be rotated in has an experience and an expertise in family law." If that provision were there in legislation, it would be a great comfort to all of us in terms of ensuring that the family court retains its expertise and the purpose to which it has been dedicated.
I would say very clearly that I believe absolutely the assurances of the current Attorney General and the current Chief Justice who administers the General Division that they themselves believe that expertise should be maintained and that their intention is not to rotate people in who do not have an experience in family law. But it's not what the law says. It's not what this bill says. There is absolutely no limit on the ability to rotate in.
The reason I'm so exercised about this is, quite frankly, when we went through the negotiations and the discussions when we did expand the family court, there were certain senior justices, some of them senior regional justices, who took a very strong stand that in fact that rotation in should be at their discretion.
I need to say to you that, having gone through those discussions, I know there was some alarm at the notion that people would have a specialized court, there was some alarm that appointments to that specialized court would have certain very clear qualifications, because that has not been our history.
We have to look at the history of the appointment of federal judges by both Conservative and Liberal governments over the years. The federal level of government has resisted very strongly any appointments process that has any kind of public accountability. It is better, as the member for Kingston and The Islands said, than it used to be. Indeed, the former Minister of Justice, Mr Rock, set in place some regional advisory committees that look at applications for federal judgeships and make recommendations. But when the member for Kingston and The Islands suggests that there is any kind of requirement for the federal government to appoint people from the provincial bench, that's not the case. There is no requirement.
We tried to negotiate that requirement with the federal government. Indeed, I have some reason to believe that we had some sympathy from the then Minister of Justice, who had come directly to his post from being the treasurer of the law society of Ontario. But we could not get those assurances. The Liberal government in Ottawa insisted on retaining the right of appointment without fetter that has existed all along. That right to appoint without fetter means that you are often dealing with other issues than expertise and commitment, certainly to the particular area of family law.
We were extremely fortunate - and this is to cast no aspersions on the people who were appointed at the time we expanded that court. All of them have proven to be excellent at their work. But there were other people who were provincial court judges, who had been doing family work, who had a wonderful expertise in that, who we had put forward as possible appointees but who were not appointed, and there were others whose expertise was certainly less evident to us on a provincial level. So we have to be very clear that these appointments very often are made on grounds which are not immediately apparent to the general public.
I would certainly want to hear a commitment from the Attorney General that the Attorney General of Ontario would be negotiating very strenuously with the Attorney General of Canada to ensure that expertise is the basis for any of those appointments and that that expertise is in the family law area. I know that is likely to have continued to be the stance of this Attorney General, as it certainly was mine when I was in the position.
The member for Kingston and The Islands tried to suggest that when the Attorney General pointed out the difficulties of getting the judges appointed federally, that was somehow a red herring. Well, it's not. The commitment to expand the family court in Ontario has been there for a long time. It cannot happen without the appointment of federal judges. I can well understand why the Attorney General expressed disappointment that the request for 22 judges was reduced to 17.
Now, that is a substantial increase, and we really need to understand that it's a substantial increase. And certainly had the Attorney General taken the same position we did, that we needed a dedicated court, not a court that could be made up of any General Division judge rotated in, it would have meant a very severe restriction of the number of new sites or the expansion in existing sites of the family court. There's no question about that. I understand the Attorney General to be saying that one of the reasons for the rotation in of other General Division judges is largely because of this difficulty of needing to expand the resources of the family court further.
I confess I have a lot of sympathy with that, because I think, as the members all around have expressed, the value of the family court is so great that it ought to be available to each of us in the communities where we live. I'm not sure that adulterating the dedicated nature of the family court is the best way to do that, but I know from having spoken to Chief Justice LeSage that it is the only way he as an administrative judge could recommend as a way of expanding the availability of judges.
He had another reason, of course, for this provision, and that is that being a judge in a family court is an extremely onerous case. I know it's very popular for people to think that judges have it easy, but they don't. We heard the member for Peterborough talking about how gut-wrenching cases of family law can be, how painful they are, how difficult it is to make decisions, determinations between two sides that are diametrically opposed. That's what family court judges do all the time. They are exposed to the most highly emotional cases, the cases that are likely to have the longest consequences, in terms of their outcomes, of many of the cases that ever appear in front of federal judges.
So Chief Justice LeSage makes the plea that there needs to be some way to give relief to those who are family court judges. There needs to be some way, when we have a limited number of available family court judges, to be able to let someone take a sabbatical to go and practise another form of law to relieve some of that tension and pressure. I must say I have a lot of sympathy for the need to do that.
This is, as I say, one of those areas of law where the burnout rate is very high. Members of the bench are not exempt from the pressures of members of the bar, and we certainly have heard the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of Upper Canada talk about the emotional, gut-wrenching nature of working in the family law area. I myself know a number of excellent, very well qualified family lawyers who have had to leave that area of law, because it is just so difficult to maintain your focus, to be able to continue to do this kind of work in a compassionate way year after year.
I understand the argument of the necessity to be able to rotate in, to ensure that cases proceed in a timely fashion but that judges are able to get some relief. I'm very sympathetic with that, but I maintain my position that this law ought to limit that rotation in to judges who have experience, expertise and commitment to the family law area. Otherwise, the whole purpose of the family court becomes diluted. It becomes unclear that there's any purpose in having it at all, and that worries me a great deal.
I must say that it will be interesting to see what the new sites are that the minister talked about having received requests for, because I know when we expanded the family court there were many good proposals that we could not fulfill. In fact, we were in the position, when we were given fewer judges than we had asked for, of actually having to change substantially the anticipated locations because we did not get enough federally appointed family court judges at the time we were making the expansion. We had to make some very difficult decisions between communities that had proved their readiness and their willingness to work with the bench to create the family court, and had to say no, and that was difficult.
I sincerely hope that the Attorney General will be reviewing some of those applications, those proposals that have come forward from specific areas, looking at the resources that are available in the community, because it isn't just the court; it is the kind of resources that are available in the community to support the court that make the family court concept really work. There needs to be the availability of mediation and it needs to be mediation that is clearly ethical, clearly aware of balance of power issues that always exist in family cases. There needs to be support and counselling available for children because, as the members quite rightly pointed out, children who are often the pawns in very contentious issues of separation and divorce are marked forever by that experience if they do not have that kind of support and counselling.
When we were expanding the court, that was one of the requirements for a proposal: to look at the community around. Was there a family court clinic? Was there a mental health facility that would work with families who were having difficulty? Was there a family service association available to do some of the counselling? Was the community aware of the kinds of mediation services that were needed in these kinds of cases? Did the court have available to it the resources that it would need? Was the bar in the community welcoming of the family court? All of those things were extremely important.
Equally important, of course, was whether there were the facilities there for this court. Was it a situation where the very sensitive nature of family cases, the security of women and children in particular, going to court for family matters would be protected, or was the court facility in which the cases were to be dealt with such that they would necessarily be rubbing shoulders with those accused of criminal offences and appearing in adult court? Those were real concerns that were expressed.
Again, I want to be very clear that my worry here is not in any way reflective of my confidence in those who are currently administering the family court system and it is not in any way questioning the sincerity of the Attorney General in terms of his commitment to ensure that the family court retains its expertise and its dedication. I am saying the law does not provide for that. The law provides for expedient administration.
In a time when our courts are extremely stressed with respect to resources, in a time when they are pressed with respect to time limits in terms of getting their work done in a timely fashion, at a time when the Attorney General has lost millions and millions of dollars from the court administration side of his budget, the temptation to take the expedient route, to rotate judges to meet the administrative needs rather than the justice needs of the court, has got to be there and that's why I'm so concerned about it. In fact, I'm much more concerned about another area of this act and that is the decision not to maintain young offenders matters in family courts where they exist.
I am well aware that there was always opposition from the provincial court bench to moving young offenders affairs into the Unified Family Court. I have the scars to show for that resistance. There were many excellent - and there continue to be many excellent - judges sitting on the provincial bench who have taken the time and the trouble, who have the compassionate view of young offenders, who have made it their job to determine the best way to ensure that young offenders who come before their courts in fact are changed in their way of making determinations of what they will do, that they are treated in a way that rehabilitates them rather than sends them even further into the criminal morass that often we see. I'm not questioning that at all. Many of those judges who saw that focus in young offenders work, who were provincially appointed judges, were most distressed when our government insisted that if we were going to have a Unified Family Court, that Unified Family Court ought to be dealing with all the issues that affect children and young people, not just some of them.
We heard an impassioned speech from the member for Peterborough about the extreme difficulties that young people facing the family court have, talking about their pain and the difficulty they have, the loneliness they feel, the pressures that they're under, talking about the need to have a compassionate place where their issues can be heard, and I agree with him, absolutely.
But those children he was talking about are the same children who often appear before the courts in criminal matters under the Young Offenders Act. Overwhelmingly the statistics show that young people who come in conflict with the law are frequently children who are or have been in need of protection of the courts, are frequently children who come from homes that have not been supportive of them, that have been broken, are overwhelmingly children who have been physically or sexually abused. These are the children who come before the family court in family court protection cases, sometimes in adoption cases, sometimes as crown wards, sometimes as the children who are being used as pawns in custody and access cases.
They're the same children. We hear the member for Peterborough treat these children with great compassion when he sees them as victims, but then we hear the members of the government claim these children are not worthy of compassion if they come in conflict with the law. They're the same kids with the same problems.
Overwhelmingly children who get in conflict with the law are troubled children. They are far more likely than the rest of the population to have come before a provincial court or a family court in an area of custody and access, child protection, as a crown ward or in a case of separation and divorce. They're the same children, and yet several times this afternoon, once in answer to a question from the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, once in a petition from the member for Lambton, we heard the long litany about how we should throw the book at young offenders, that they were not worth the kind of compassion and the kind of rehabilitative services that ought to be available to them.
There are levels of hypocrisy that this government has descended to that amaze me daily. But this is among the worst. It is extremely difficult to imagine that a government, on the one hand, can cry crocodile tears about the same young -
The reason we insisted that as the family court expanded, young offenders matters would come before the same judges who had expertise in the problems that these children faced and would make judgment on their actions on that basis - it was a very well-founded decision.
Now, I know what the problems are. The problems were evident from the first. Certainly the provincial court judges realized that a huge proportion of their work would disappear, and since we couldn't get any kind of commitment from the federal government that they would appoint from the pool of experienced, dedicated, committed provincial judges, we couldn't get any assurance to that effect, it meant that there would indeed be some problems in terms of the workload and in terms of the interest of provincial court judges. Certainly that has been expressed on any number of occasions in the areas to which we've expanded the family court.
It was quite clear from the beginning that Mr Justice Steinberg, who had headed up the family court in Hamilton-Wentworth where the court had been set up, had been designed, had its facilities arranged only to deal with family matters and with child protection matters, was very opposed to bringing Young Offenders Act offences into his court, and he had some real reasons for that. It wasn't a particularly secure position. He was worried about the way in which those facilities could actually be used appropriately, and I certainly understood that.
We didn't insist that Young Offenders Act offences be heard in Hamilton-Wentworth, but we did say that as we expand the family court, this is the ideal: to have the expertise around children's needs that we heard described so clearly by all the members of the government available in the youth court as well. They're the same kids, in many cases.
But, you know, it would fly in the face of this government's position on law and order. This government not only sees unions as the enemy, this government clearly, with its crime commission, with its daily exhortations of the federal government to adopt a much more punitive attitude towards young offenders, wants to target youth crime as another political hot button for their next election. We all know that.
We all know that the rhetoric around community safety, the rhetoric about youth violence, has very little basis in the statistical fact. I know how annoyed the Solicitor General gets when people start talking about what the actual statistics for crime show in the province of Ontario, and I must say that the entire government gets furious when anybody brings forward what the actual level of imprisonment, the actual level of conviction, the actual level of charge of youthful criminals is in the province of Ontario. They get very agitated because of course they want the people of Ontario to believe that youth crime is increasing hand over fist, that all of us are in danger in our homes, in our streets, and that the target of this is youths and that the Young Offenders Act, which has been in effect fully since 1986, is to blame for that. Of course, they really get offended when anybody talks about the reality of the situation.
We know that the number of youths charged with criminal activity is relatively the same in 1996 as it was in 1986. The number of youthful criminals charged is the same. We also know that there have been some changes in balance. The government is quite right to express some concern about a statistical increase in the number of youth who have been charged with, and I'm putting this in quotation marks, "crimes of violence," because any time we see violent criminal activity increasing in our communities we should all be concerned. That's a valid concern for us.
But in order to know what the statistic means, we have to look at what the charges were for and what level they were for, because of course we have levels of the crime of assault, we have levels of the crimes of murder and manslaughter, and those are the kinds of crimes that we almost always think about when we think about violent crime. Sexual and physical assault, attempted murder, murder, manslaughter, all the various levels: That's what most of us think of with violent crime.
In reality, the proportion of that increase in youth crime that is attributable to first-level assaults - in other words, assaults that don't cause bodily harm, that are not with a weapon. They are the greatest number of increased charges. Why? I'll tell you why. Because our government put in a policy around safety in the schools. We knew that parents needed to be clear that there was some mechanism to deal with young people in schools who were being violent. That was a very clear need that people were expressing. We made it clear to people running schools, to the education authorities, that it was important for them to look at the criminal law proceeding, the criminal justice system, as one mechanism to stem that increasing tendency for people to use their fists or to threaten or in some cases to actually use a weapon. Nobody thinks that's appropriate; nobody does.
It is always interesting, when you look at crime statistics, to look at what the policies of the government of the day are and how those policies change the charge rates. When the government of the day took strict action on drunk driving, the number of charges in drunk driving rose astronomically. We all know what the result of that was: the Askov case. The backlogs in the courts because the government of the day and the subsequent government took very seriously the matter of drunk driving - the number of charges laid grew enormously, and our courts became clogged. They did not keep up with the number of prosecutors that were needed, the number of judges that were needed. Similarly, when the Peterson government began to get serious about criminalizing wife assault and sexual assault, many, many more charges were laid in those areas, and that further crowded the courts.
Any time a government takes an action that criminalizes an offence or raises public consciousness and police consciousness and court consciousness about the seriousness of an particular crime, you see an increase in the charges. When we look at the relatively modest increase in youth charges, even for what's included in a very amorphous title of "violent crime," we know the policies of government, taking more seriously minor assaults, taking more seriously minor sexual assaults, was very instrumental in increasing that charge rate. It had very little to do with an increase in the willingness to be violent of young people.
We also know there's another reason why crime increases. That, of course, is the general determinance in society of security and health. We know that when people do not have an adequate income, the temptation to engage in criminal activity is much higher, particularly if there are no other alternatives or seem to be no other alternatives to get access to the things that one needs. So in some cases we see that being a basic need that needs to be met.
We know that more and more children live in poverty all the time. Just this afternoon we were trying to get the Minister of Community and Social Services to understand that since she took office, 50,000 more children are having to use food banks because they don't have the basic necessity of food available to them. So poverty is an issue. When this government decided to reduce the family incomes of welfare recipients by 21%, you can bet that put a lot of pressure on those families to try to provide for their children the things that (a) their children may have been accustomed to, or (b) their peer society expected them to have.
We also see young people faced with an inability to get a job. We know that youth unemployment is much higher than the unemployment of adults. Both are horrible and ought not to be tolerable in our society, but official youth unemployment is at 16.2%. But that's the official rate. There are many young people, particularly young people between the ages of 12 and 18, who know how difficult it is to get a job, who aren't even counted in those statistics because the statistics are based on people actively seeking work who come to the attention of Statistics Canada.
Many young people, as we all know, make informal approaches around jobs, make informal efforts to earn money, make informal efforts, like babysitting, like helping out an elderly neighbour by shovelling their walk or cutting their grass. Those don't even appear in the statistics and yet those kinds of jobs are not as available to people because the homeowners, given all the changes in property tax, user fees and so on, don't have the ability to pay someone else to do that work. There is a diminishing capacity in our society to provide young people with job opportunities.
But at the same time, these young people are faced with huge peer pressure, a society that is extremely consumer-oriented, where young people's self-esteem is often tied up with what kinds of shoes they wear, what kind of label is on their T-shirt, what kind of jacket they have, what kind of sports equipment they possess. The temptations for young people, the conflict for young people who live in poverty in their families and yet who try to keep up with their fellow students in school can be quite excruciating. Yes, some of those young people turn to crime and become part of the statistics, particularly in terms of shoplifting, petty burglary and that sort of thing.
We know we have a society that is teaching children to be more violent. The average child today, because they watch the number of hours of television that they watch, observes an incredible number of murders, beatings and fights that certainly my generation didn't see in the same numbers. Violence is lauded in terms of the popular movies that young people see; in fact, the more violent the better. Yet it's an unrealistic kind of violence because there's seldom any message to young people about the effects of their violence, about the consequences of that violence.
We are consciously allowing our children, the whole cohort of children, to have a normalization of violence in their lives that wasn't true a generation, two generations, three generations ago. It's commonplace, and that is and has been identified as a very real problem in terms of the moral decision-making of our young people. The person they saw shot dead yesterday in this show is alive and well the next day in another show and it's very hard for many young people to understand that death is a very final thing, because they very often live in this unreal world that's portrayed in the various forms of the media.
We know there have been some celebrated cases, most particularly in the States but some here, where that kind of lack of understanding about the finality of actions resulted in very serious crimes by very young people. We can change that, of course, by changing some of the rules around how we allow that to happen. Quite frankly, given that young people live in that kind of world, the government's allowing people of age 12 and over to carry guns absolutely amazes me. If indeed, as the crime commissioners keep telling us, we live in such a violent society, wouldn't we be trying to keep guns out of the hands of those violent young people? That's where some of the irony of the contradictory positions of the government comes in. It's very clear that this focus on law and order doesn't extend to issues where any person with, dare I say it, common sense would know you don't encourage children to participate in anything that has to do with violence, and frankly, guns will always have to do with violence for me and I'm sure for a lot of people.
Back to this issue of young offenders being dealt with in the family court. It is an extremely important matter, because if young people have extenuating circumstances, if they have entered into some form of criminal activity because of those extenuating circumstances, who better than experienced family court judges, who have focused their legal attention and their life's work in dealing with those same problems? Who better to make the decisions in the cases of young people? Of course that is counter to the law and order focus this government wants to have. We know that this government, although it pays lip service to things like community policing and so on, really doesn't want very much attention given to the very creative work that many of our police services are doing in terms of prevention of crime, in terms of working with their communities to look at a more restorative justice system, a justice system that's going to result in people changing their ways, changing their minds.
We know that they don't want much publicity about the alternative kinds of sentencing that might happen or the participation of lay people in the sentencing process of young offenders.
We have a fabulous example of an alternative system for sentencing in our community, a sentencing circle made up of citizens which, quite frankly, invariably comes up with a much tougher kind of requirement of a youthful offender to rehabilitate them, to help them understand the consequences of their crime and the hurt and pain they have caused their victim, in fact the effect they have on all of us when they commit criminal activity.
But this province, first under the Conservatives when the Young Offenders Act came in, and subsequently now, with this focus of the crime commission on youthful crime, has refused to look at the rehabilitative possibility of the Young Offenders Act.
They are in direct contrast to their colleagues in Quebec, who welcomed the Young Offenders Act, put into place all the kinds of supports and systems necessary to ensure that the Young Offenders Act resulted in lower recidivism, much lower recidivism, in Quebec than we have in Ontario. The Tories in the early 1980s insisted first of all that they would obey the letter of the law in terms of separating young people from adult prisoners, but of course they separated them, after age 16, within the confines of adult facilities, without special training for correctional officers who were looking after them and without the kind of rehabilitative programs.
I know, because I sat on Management Board, that the Solicitor General's ministry consistently came forward suggesting that they didn't need section 27, school teachers in young offenders facilities. That was a budget saving that they were prepared to make, even though all of us know and all of the experts' information we have is that young people, if they're going to change their behaviour, if they're going to become useful citizens, more than anything else need to have education. We know that the educational success of young people who become engaged in crime is often much lower than the average educational success within the province and that they very often don't have the reasoning tools, the decision-making tools, even the literacy tools they need to be productive citizens. Turning to crime becomes a way of life when you don't have the tools to make you successful in any other way.
The government constantly tells us that youthful criminals need to have tough judges who throw the book at them, but the reality is that we already have that. We already have in Ontario a much higher incarceration rate than the average across the country, a much higher conviction rate and incarceration rate. It's really important that we realize we are not going to succeed in making young people change their ways simply by locking them away and taking away their privileges and, if we look at the boot camp situation, destroying what's left of their low self-esteem in the first place.
Let's look at what happens in young offenders cases in our courts now, the majority of which are provincial courts, the majority of which are the courts that now, this government is saying, will always be looking at youthful offences.
In Canada, 80% of the cases - and that varies from year to year, but it's always around 80%; sometimes as high as 83% and sometimes as low as 79% - in the youth courts are for non-violent offences, where violence is not a part of the picture. In the cases where there was a finding of guilt, Canada-wide 33% of those young people received a sentence of custody. That's higher than it was before the Young Offenders Act came in. When the Juvenile Delinquents Act was in place, the incarceration rate was 30%. So we're looking at already a higher rate of incarceration where there's a finding of guilt, in all of Canada. But what's the situation in Ontario, where the highest number of incarcerations happen per charge? Well, the sentence to custody in Ontario in 1995-96 was 42% of cases where guilt was found, and we find that is already an increase from 1991-92, when 36% of cases were incarcerated.
If anyone tries to say that judges aren't being tough and that nobody's being tough on young offenders, listen, the figures don't bear you out. The figures don't bear it out at all. Ontario is much more likely to incarcerate a young offender than any other province except Prince Edward Island - I wonder if that's why the Attorney General from Prince Edward Island was here conferring with his colleague today - and we are much, much more likely to look at young offenders in a harsh way. We have not set up the kinds of programs that have been set up in other provinces to deal with young offenders. Judges, frankly, don't have the alternative in many parts of our province of assigning someone to community service programs that really are focused on rehabilitating them, are focused on restorative justice.
That is not true, for example, in Quebec, where those kinds of programs have operated ever since the Young Offenders Act came into play and where young offenders are treated as young people who have made mistakes who need to be corrected, not punished - a very big difference.
But this government wants to use this as a hot political button, so it doesn't want people talking about that and it certainly doesn't want any impression that we understand that most of those youths who commit criminal acts in this province, the vast majority of them, are youths who have already had problems which have or ought to have led them to the attention of the family court, either because of child protection issues or because of familial problems they have.
I am disappointed, I am dismayed. I understand entirely about the administrative drive that the bench and the bar have around maintaining sentencing of young offenders in provincial court. I would urge the government to rethink that. I urge the government, as it has support, as it manages to wrest support for an expanded family court out of the federal system, to revisit that issue to ensure that all matters that deal with children and youth appear in an experienced family court and that we make every effort to persuade the federal government (a) to appoint a sufficient number of judges to the family court, (b) to appoint those judges from the excellent, trained, dedicated provincial bench, which already has a lot of the expertise that is needed in the family court, and (c) to not water down the expertise of the family court by simply using expedient means to deal with its backlog by rotating General Division court judges into the family court.
Particularly as the court system is squeezed more and more and more by the financial drivers, which obviously are, as the Attorney General suggested, bottom line in many of these justice issues, we will find that the family court will lose its very special position. So while we all here are supporting the family court, we have to know that the seeds for its destruction lie in this bill, and it is a very serious matter that we are discussing today.
The House adjourned at 1757.
Evening meeting reported in volume B.
top | new search