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Ontario Hansard - 26-October2020

Ms. Peggy Sattler: I’m pleased to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill 218. Speaker, of all the bills that this government has introduced in the guise of COVID-19 recovery, I think Bill 218 has got to be one of the most reprehensible and the most out of touch with the real priorities of the people of Ontario. While it is convenient for this government to refer to all of the legislation it’s bringing in as measures that are going to help Ontario recover from COVID-19, just because you call it a COVID-19 recovery bill doesn’t make it so. In fact, I would suggest that a more appropriate title for Bill 218 would be the “protecting long-term-care shareholders and undermining local democracy act,” because that is exactly what this bill does.

There are two schedules in this bill, Speaker. Both of them are equally reprehensible. I will spend some time on each schedule.

The first schedule is around liability of persons, individuals, corporations or entities, including the crown, from being sued for damage that could have resulted from COVID-19 infection. This schedule of the bill would remove any accountability from, as I said, any individual, corporation, entity or even level of government from being sued for damages.

The schedule is retroactive to March 17, 2020, the day that the state of emergency was declared, which means that anything that has happened since March 17, 2020, is now exempt from any court action that might be pursued. There are, we know, a number of lawsuits currently in process; there will be no compensation or relief for the plaintiffs who have already started legal action against some of the, let’s face it, long-term-care homes that have been exposed throughout this pandemic for their failure to protect residents.

The bill also requires that gross negligence be proven, rather than the current standard of ordinary negligence. This is a much higher bar for plaintiffs to prove and it will, of course, make it much more difficult for a lawsuit to move forward.

Finally, it redefines “good-faith effort.” The bill says that entities, corporations or individuals who act in good faith, who make an honest effort to pursue a particular course of action, cannot be held accountable. Speaker, if you were here during the lead debate from the member for Brampton, who spoke on behalf of our caucus, he made an analogy that I found was very helpful: That is that anybody who says, “I gave it my best shot, I acted in good faith,” is now absolved from responsibility.

The problem is, when the legislation covers any individual, corporation, entity or government, you are putting soccer coaches and hockey coaches and food bank volunteers on the same level as people who should be expected to know how to act. They have a level of professionalism that one would expect they would be able to act in a way that doesn’t cause harm to the people they are entrusted with.

Why would the government want to bring in this legislation? Why would they want to provide this protection from liability for all of these individuals, corporations and entities? When I read the lead speech from the Attorney General, I think that there were some interesting insights in that speech. As I said, he talked about the volunteers, the hockey coaches, the soccer coaches etc. who will be exempt from liability. And yes, we’ve all heard from non-profit organizations in our ridings who are concerned about rising insurance costs and who have requested good Samaritan legislation.

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But the Attorney General, in his remarks, talked about the input that was received from the Ontario Retirement Communities Association, which represents 95% of all licensed retirement community suites in Ontario. He shared the fact that they told him that civil immunity would help to prevent job losses, reduce risk for potential investors and help to reduce the pressure on long-term-care homes by preventing interruptions that might impact the development of new suites.

Speaker, we know that the retirement homes in Ontario are entirely operated by the private sector, but many of the big corporations that own retirement homes also own long-term-care homes. And so when the Attorney General talked about the interest of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association and having some kind of liability, he was also talking about the interest of the long-term-care sector, because those two sectors are linked through ownership by for-profit corporations.

The Attorney General also talked about the fact that he had never met with lobbyists from the long-term-care industry. But, interestingly enough, when the lobbyist registry was reviewed, it was revealed that the Attorney General has had a number of meetings with lobbyists who represent the long-term-care sector. On June 1, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Sienna Senior Living. On May 7, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Revera. On July 14, he met with a lobbyist who was there on behalf of Southbridge Care Homes. He has also had a long-term relationship with his former chief of staff, who is a lobbyist for Revera.

Speaker, when you look at the lawsuits that are currently under way, the legal actions that have already been registered as a result of the COVID-19 virus, we will see that there is a class action against Revera. We will see that there is a class action against Revera and Sienna. There is a lawsuit that has been launched against Orchard Villa, which is owned by Southbridge Care Homes. There is another lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes, Orchard Villa, and a third lawsuit against Southbridge Care Homes, Orchard Villa. There is a lawsuit against Altamont Care Community, which is owned by Sienna Senior Living. And then of course there are lawsuits against Sienna Senior Living as a corporation, another lawsuit against Sienna Senior Living, a lawsuit against Altamont Care Community, which is owned by Sienna Senior Living, and a lawsuit against Woodbridge Vista Care Community, also owned by Sienna Senior Living.

Speaker, one really has to ask, how many lawsuits have been registered against hockey coaches or soccer moms? Not a single lawsuit. All of the legal actions that are currently under way have been taken against for-profit corporations that have been running our long-term-care sector.

We know from the devastating report of the Canadian Armed Forces about some of the conditions in long-term-care homes in Ontario. We know about cockroach infestations; residents who are lying for hours, if not days, in their own feces; rotting food; missed meals; COVID-19 patients sharing rooms with residents who did not have COVID-19.

We also know from various reports that for-profit care homes were much more likely to have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, and that the outbreaks in those homes were much more deadly than outbreaks in non-profit or municipal homes. So, yes, it is quite likely, Speaker, that families whose loved ones have been in the care of these for-profit long-term-care homes may want to take legal action against the operators of those homes and perhaps against the government for the conditions that their loved ones were experiencing.

Someone remarked that the Premier had said that he wanted to put an iron ring around long-term-care homes. What he is doing with this bill is putting an iron ring around the long-term-care for-profit corporations that are running these homes.

The reaction to this bill from families has been very emotional. Cathy Parkes, who lost her mother in long-term care, says, “My family and others like us have been through a living hell in the past six months. We watched our loved ones suffer and die while our hands were tied and the only people who could help didn’t move fast enough.”

There are other words that have been spoken by family members of residents in long-term care who are shocked and disgusted and appalled that they no longer have this recourse to pursue justice, that their stories will no longer be able to be told through our legal system.

Speaker, the legal community, despite what the government wants to say, has been very clear that this legislation will create significant barriers to allowing families to pursue justice. Graham Webb, from Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says, “It is difficult enough for residents and their families to prove the ordinary civil standard of negligence against business operations like a long-term care home without having to discharge the higher and ambiguous standard of ‘gross negligence’. This is all about protecting the rights of negligent long-term-care home operators at the expense of residents” who were “injured through the fault of the operator.”

Another interesting comment, from Toronto lawyer Rocco Achampong, was, “There has to be some concern in the bureaucracy that liability could be attracted by some of the advice being given or some of the action being taken, and in anticipation of that they may be protecting themselves.”

So let’s think about that, Speaker: Why would the government want to protect itself, as an entity of the crown, from liability? Well, we have heard that since as early as January, February, and throughout the summer, there were numerous warnings that were given to this government and to the Minister of Long-Term Care about the actions that the government needed to take in order to protect residents and staff in those long-term-care homes. We heard that the Treasury Board had rejected the request for funding so that long-term-care homes could hire more staff. Not just once but twice those requests for funding were rejected. We heard that senior infectious disease experts were calling in June for significant IPAC, infection prevention and control, measures to be implemented in order to prevent a devastating and deadly second wave. Those recommendations were made in June. As of right now, those recommendations have not been acted on.

Even a coalition of stakeholders in the long-term-care sector wrote a letter in June to the Minister of Long-Term Care in which they said “plainly and directly that the government of Ontario has not yet put the necessary supports and preventive measures into place that we in the sector have long made clear are essential to protecting our residents [and] staff.”

Then, in September, we saw memos from ministry officials to long-term-care home operators saying that they’re on their own; they shouldn’t be looking to this government for help.

So, yes, of course the government wants to pass legislation that’s going to protect itself from acting on all of this advice and all of these recommendations that were made.

Speaker, in the short time that I have left, I want to turn to schedule 2 of this bill, which is the schedule that prevents municipalities from using ranked-ballot voting in municipal elections. I have to say, speaking as a representative of the city of London, the first and only municipality in Canada to have used ranked voting in 2018—certainly, the first and only in Ontario—this legislation came completely out of the blue. There was zero consultation done with my community; zero consultation done with Kingston, Cambridge and other municipalities that have already passed referendums to move to ranked-balloting systems; zero communication done with Burlington and Guelph and Barrie and Meaford and all of the other municipalities in Ontario—


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