The Chair (Mr Cameron Jackson): We have assembled this morning to commence seven and one-half hours of estimates for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. We are here to welcome the minister officially back from her honeymoon.
The Chair: We're delighted to have you with us, Minister, the Honourable Shelley Martel. In accordance with the standing rules, you have the first allocation of time to present your opening statements with respect to your estimates. Then I will recognize the official opposition and the third party, and then there will be sufficient time for you to complete your responses. That should complete our agenda to 12 o'clock today. Please proceed.
Hon Ms Martel: Thank you very much, Mr Chair, and welcome to the committee members. I am joined today by my deputy, Don Obonsawin, and a number of staff who are here to deal with both administrative and policy issues throughout the different divisions of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
I want to say that I'm very pleased to be here this morning to have the opportunity to address the 1994-95 estimates of the ministry. It has been nearly four years since I became minister of the Northern Development side, and in July 1991, had the additional responsibility of the Mines side of the portfolio. It was good to have the ministry joined again for staff purposes and for policy purposes.
The years since 1990 have seen some really dramatic changes in northern Ontario and in the mines sector of the economy. I think the ministry has acted very positively and decisively during those years to try and foster growth, to try and enhance the infrastructure in our communities and to try and support the people and the businesses in northern Ontario.
Specifically, I want to talk to you a bit about some of the direct support we've provided to communities that have been restructuring, like Sturgeon Falls, like Sault Ste Marie, among others. I also wanted to talk about some of the programs we've introduced or we've improved upon that were in place before we got here which we think are contributing to diversifying the economy in our special part of the province.
I think that even though the province itself has faced some very difficult economic times and the government has made some very difficult decisions, we continue to provide vital services to the people in the part of the province that we specifically represent.
As a consequence of the downsizing, the ministry has restructured its own organization and a number of its programs, but we do believe as a ministry that we are better off than ever before to capitalize on some of that in order to improve the quality of life in the north. I will talk about some of the initiatives with respect to small business, to capital and to mining exploration that we are using and we are implementing in order to continue to help our constituents.
Before I look at those specific issues, I want to talk to you a little bit about the mandate of the ministry so that you understand our divisions and what their roles and responsibilities are. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is unique because it's the only ministry that has very specific roles and responsibilities for a geographic part of the province.
On the Mines side, as you can understand, our responsibility extends to all of the province and all of the mineral exploration industry in the province. The ministry is made up of two program divisions: the northern development division and the mines and minerals division. The third division, which is called corporate services, provides both the administrative support and the policy coordination that allows the other two branches to carry out their functions.
The northern development division of the ministry is responsible for promoting local and regional economic development to try and improve access to social services and to health care for northerners and to try and coordinate what is a very integrated system of transportation services that comes under the rubric of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.
Our economic development programs include the following: MEDA, the municipal economic development assistance program, which is a program for municipal economic development; UCCAP, the unincorporated communities capital assistance program, which is a program for unincorporated communities in northern Ontario. We have a program entitled SCIP, which is the small communities improvement program for communities under 2,000. As well, we have programs for waterfront development, water and sewer assistance, and we also provide native economic assistance.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines also administers the Jobs Ontario Community Action program in northern Ontario on behalf of the government. To date, in the last two fiscal years, we have been allocated over 28% of all the funds through that program.
The economic development programs and the initiatives that we have are aimed at trying to diversify northern Ontario's economic base, particularly in single-industry towns. Our programs, we believe, also help small and medium-sized business, and we believe that, because of them, we are maintaining northern Ontario's competitive edge. The underlying theme of all the programs we have is really to try and increase employment opportunities for people in northern Ontario.
We have some other smaller programs which are important on the health and social services side. SNAP, the supplementary northern assistance program, deals with non-profit groups, cultural groups in particular. We provide a large amount of funding for wife and sexual assault prevention. We provide social programming in native communities. All of these again are aimed at trying to improve the quality of life of the residents in our part of the province.
An important part of the northern development division is the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. The major role of that corporation is to promote and to stimulate economic development by supporting small and medium-sized businesses in northern Ontario. I'm really pleased that at a time when a number of cuts have occurred across government, we have been able to protect that funding allocation of $30 million to the NOHFC.
Last but not least, on the northern development side the northern industry branch has five offices located in major centres in northern Ontario and they are staffed by business consultants. The business consultants provide advice and guidance on investment, on trade and technology matters. The branch also has some partnerships developed with local economic development offices to provide business startup information and counselling. There are six centres, called self-help centres, which are located across northern Ontario that we fund.
We also maintain 28 storefront offices across northern Ontario. The staff in these offices provide information on all government services to people in our part of the province. In many cases, because we are located in small communities, we are the only face of government, whether it be federal or provincial, in these communities. Next year the northern development offices are in fact going to be celebrating 25 years of service in northern Ontario and we are quite excited about that.
On the other side, the mines and minerals division has the responsibility to develop all of the policies, the standards, regulations and guidelines in order to provide services to the mining and exploration community in Ontario. The division administers a network of what we call resident geologist offices and mining recorder offices located throughout the province. The Ontario geological survey is quite fundamental to this division. It provides information on Ontario's geology and mineral resources and it attempts to encourage exploration and development. It also is involved very much in land use planning in the province of Ontario and in the development of non-renewable resources.
Having outlined what I think is best described as the mandate of both divisions and the mandate of the ministry, I'd like to turn to some of the initiatives we have created or we have maintained since I last presented our estimates to you in November 1991.
Because I am Minister of Northern Development and Mines, I also automatically chair the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. It has been a real privilege to be allowed to do that. Our board of directors guides the allocation of the $30 million that we receive annually from treasury. The board itself has an equal representation of men and women from across northern Ontario, and it has a very good balance between labour, business and the aboriginal community. I believe the board membership really does reflect the diversity of northern Ontario.
In spite of the expenditure control plan and some of the downsizing and the reductions that we have faced across all ministries, we have been successful in maintaining that $30- million allocation. We also, in spite of the difficult times, have been in a position to expand some of the guidelines of the board to allow funding to sectors that we have not previously funded. In that respect, we are providing funding to a number of agricultural organizations and do recognize the importance of the agricultural sector in northern Ontario and our need to sustain it.
We also have complemented some of the mining exploration programming and assistance programs that we have on the mines and minerals side to ensure that we can support the junior mining sector in the province of Ontario.
Some of the projects we've funded, just so I can give you an example of what they are and who they affect, are as follows: We provided about $435,000 to Dickenson Mines Ltd, which is in the Balmertown area, and that was to help them identify and hopefully develop further resources at their Arthur White mine. That mine contributes about $20 million to the economy, and we want to make sure that we can sustain it.
Secondly, we provided about $50,000 to Heli-North Aviation in Sudbury. This is an existing helicopter company which is the only company in Canada that does engine repairs on helicopters, and this project is going to increase its employment to 16 over the next year.
Thirdly, we provided $5 million to Bombardier of Thunder Bay to help support its modernization project. That project is helping to create in excess of 100 jobs, and we will be opening that facility on Monday.
So we have worked very hard to support northern entrepreneurs and northern businesses, and since April of this year we have helped create or retain over 400 jobs by supporting about 250 projects. In total, since the inception of the fund in 1989 under the previous government, we have helped create or retain approximately 10,500 jobs by committing $200 million to about 1,500 projects. Our $200 million has resulted in a $700-million value of total investments.
The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission is the second agency over which we have jurisdiction. We have a memorandum of understanding with the board in terms of its operations. The ONTC undertakes commercial activities, including rail freight transportation, trucking, bus operations and telecommunications, and also undertakes non-commercial or subsidized activities that include rail passenger transportation, air services and marine services in both Owen Sound and the Moosonee area.
Since I last appeared before this committee, we now have a new chair, Matt Rukavina, who is here today. We also have a new president, John Wallace, and he became president last year. We have also made a number of changes in terms of the composition of the board to make it more reflective of northern Ontario society as well. The board itself is now undertaking a whole review of its role and mandate in northern Ontario to ensure that it remains a very vital and important part of our special part of the province. It also has looked at the restructuring of its own organization and has made changes, and will continue to do so.
Finally, the board right now is undertaking a major tourism initiative in the Moose Factory-Moosonee area. It is a consultative and community-based approach that we hope will help a number of the first nations in that area to develop their tourism potential. We are quite excited about that initiative and we hope to receive some information back from the board on how to proceed in the next number of months.
I said earlier that our ministry administers Jobs Ontario Community Action in northern Ontario, and we are pleased to do this because we are really committed to the program. We believe it allows northerners to determine their own local economic development strategies, determine their own priorities in their own communities.
The moneys we have allocated through the program vote fund leadership and organizational development, strategic planning and the operation of that, marketing and research studies, and we also provide funds for capital projects which the communities have identified to government as priorities as a consequence of all their strategic planning.
Along with changes that were made in the Legislature, our communities are also now entering into joint ventures with the private sector or they're establishing their own share corporations. We believe that this again will help them diversify their own economies.
Since the budget in May of last year when the program was introduced, we have had five rounds of JOCA funding. In northern Ontario to date, we've created approximately 1,300 short-term jobs and more than 600 long-term jobs in committing about $27 million to 300 projects across the north. Again, I'd like to just give you some examples of what those projects have been.
In Iroquois Falls we committed about $290,000 to the Iroquois Falls Association for Community Living to allow it to construct a bowling facility, including a lunch centre and an arcade. This project will create 12 permanent jobs, and the majority of people who will hold those positions are developmentally handicapped.
Secondly, we have provided about $290,000 to the township of Red Rock for work at the marina, which will allow it to put in more docks, power, water, boat launch and improvement to the breakwall. They are only this summer starting to see the benefits of a major summer tourism industry on that lake system.
Thirdly, we provided about $50,000 in Atikokan to the conservation club, which allowed it to establish a walleye hatchery both for tourism development purposes and educational purposes. They are dealing with a number of school children who are interested in looking at the fish resource and how to protect it, and we've provided some funds to help them do that.
I certainly believe, as the minister responsible for administering the program, that in fact we are funding community development initiatives that are very important and which otherwise might not be funded because of all the funding constraints that have occurred across the government. Under the initiative, communities continue to receive assistance in planning, continue to receive assistance for capital construction, which gets people back to work and allows for the purchase of goods and services locally during the construction period and which also I think, at the end of the day, and most importantly, improves the quality of lives of people in our communities.
At the Ministry of Northern Development we are also pleased to administer the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program on behalf of both the federal and provincial governments. The aim of the program again is to try and get people back to work and improve the quality of life in our communities. I certainly believe that this program supplements all of the work our ministry has tried to do on the capital side through the anti-recession program, through Jobs Ontario Capital, through Jobs Ontario Community Action and finally through the base budgets of each of the ministries.
Under the agreement, about $130 million will be allocated in northern Ontario, and when you add the local contributions of the municipalities to it, we will be in a position to spend about $183 million over the next two years. The agreement and the model for federal, provincial and municipal participation is an important one and I think we could use it to apply to other issues in Ontario to deal with some of the situations we are facing. It has certainly created thousands of jobs in our part of the province and I think it ensures that in communities the infrastructure is in place to help them to attract investment in the future.
In northern Ontario, not only municipalities are participating. We have unincorporated communities and local roads boards which are also in a position to participate and they are doing that. We have received to date in northern Ontario about 400 applications and we have funded about 300 of those. Again, I'd like to give you some idea of the magnitude and the kinds of projects we are funding and the kinds of numbers of people who in fact are receiving employment.
-- First, about $6 million in Timmins for the construction of a four-lane roadway, and that is a broad range of work including excavation, sidewalks, street lighting, storm sewers etc. Under this project about 1,700 person-weeks of short-term employment are going to be created.
We have really enjoyed the opportunity of administering this program and we certainly have been pleased with the cooperation we received from the federal government and from the municipal governments, the unincorporated communities and the local roads boards. It has been a very good model to follow and it has made our job very easy to have that kind of cooperation in delivering a program that I think we are all interested in delivering.
I want to talk to you a bit about some of our activities in those communities that were in crisis when we came to power, and there were a number of them, across northern Ontario in particular. I think that given the work we did, we were instrumental as a government and as a ministry in helping those communities restructure to ensure that in the long term they would have both a future for the people who were working and living there and an economic base to sustain the people who were working and living there.
From November 1991, when I was here last, to date, we have been a key player in Sault Ste Marie, in Sturgeon Falls, in Atikokan and at Provincial Papers in Thunder Bay. In all of those cases we have worked with community leaders, with business leaders, with the educational sector to try and restructure the local economy.
In June, for example, of last year, I was pleased to participate in the opening in Sturgeon Falls of a new repulping project, and that was a joint venture between MacMillan Bloedel in Sturgeon Falls and the West Nipissing Economic Development Corp which was established solely for the purpose of allowing this project to proceed. That project saved about 300 jobs in the community.
The community was assisted by $9 million worth of provincial government funding, $4 million of which flowed through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. The most important contribution, however, came from the residents of west Nipissing themselves. They raised over a million dollars all on their own in an area that has fewer than 10,000 people in order to participate in the project and receive government funds, and today we have a facility that is quite environmentally sound, quite unique and an economic development commission that will use the proceeds from that mill to support other economic development initiatives that they are undertaking.
We were very much involved at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste Marie, and many of you know the history there, and how a number of experts told us we shouldn't be involved as a government and we should let the whole plant go down. Because of our commitment, and frankly very much because of the commitment of the workers at the plant, we've got some 5,000 people who continue to be employed at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste Marie today, and we have a company that is making a profit against all odds.
We've also been very directly involved in a private company and in a job-saving restructuring at Algoma Central Railway. From 1987 to this year, the provincial governments, both the former and ours, have provided about $35 million to this privately owned company in the form of operating subsidies, and because of the constraints that we are all operating under, it became very clear about a year and a half ago that we could not continue with that kind of funding.
So negotiations were facilitated by our ministry, and they began between an interested buyer named Wisconsin Central and the ACR to incorporate a Canadian subsidiary called Algoma Central Inc in order to acquire the assets and to continue to assume the operation of the railway, and we were really pleased that finally in July of this year, after many months of negotiation, an agreement was signed between ACR and Algoma Central Inc, and this agreement is supported by some financial assistance from the provincial government.
We have been involved in this issue because we believe we need to preserve rail service for both the lumber and mining companies that use the rail. We are now in a position to maintain over 200 jobs on that railway and to maintain several hundreds of other jobs in the tourism sector because the railway will also continue to operate the Agawa Canyon tour train.
There have been a number of agreements not only between the two companies but between the companies and the government, both individually and combined, and that has made for a long-term package which I think will ensure the survival of the railroad. We know that this railroad generates a tremendous amount of income for the city of Sault Ste Marie, and we know that it will continue to do so to the benefit of people who live there.
We also most recently were involved in facilitating a move of the Georgia Pacific Flakeboard plant to the city of Sault Ste Marie, and they are going to be producing a wood panel that's primarily used in the manufacture of furniture and cabinets. It's a value added product and it's not produced anywhere else in Ontario, so we're really excited about that potential.
This is a $96-million investment, and it's a huge boost to the local economy. It will employ about 90 people and its market share will be right across North America and to some international markets as well. In that respect the province also received support from the federal government through the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program and $5 million was allocated to provide the hard services at the site where the company will be located.
I think these examples and a number of others, including Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake, which were dealt with before November 1991, really do demonstrate that if the provincial government sits down, it can work with local business leaders, local trade union leaders and other interested members in communities to try and restructure and to try and get people through difficult economic times to make sure they have a long-term future.
We, through the northern development division, provide a large amount of funding to native communities, both on the economic development side and on the social and health side, and I want to talk a little bit about that. We have a winter roads program which provides a transportation link for first nations to non-native communities during the winter months so that goods and services can be moved along winter roads instead of via airplanes, which is terribly expensive.
We have also been working with those first nations that are interested in undertaking joint ventures or mining exploration with interested companies in the province of Ontario. In this respect we have worked very hard with the Shibogama and Windigo tribal councils and provided funds to the same tribal councils to allow them to work with Placer Dome Inc to develop a resource development agreement which outlines the economic benefits, the training etc that the first nations communities will receive if the Musselwhite project goes into full production. We want to continue to do that because we think it's a good model for aboriginal and private sector cooperation in mineral development.
We also have established an aboriginal internship program, and we are trying to help aboriginal people gain some valuable career experience which they can then use in their own communities. We offer wage subsidies to private sector employers in northern Ontario who provide a year-long internship for native students, and we have 13 who are participating this year.
The jobs that they are participating in include areas such as business management, forestry operations and personnel, and we have a three-member aboriginal committee that advises us and recommends to us the projects which should be funded.
Finally, we administer the aboriginal communities capital improvement program on behalf of the Ontario native affairs secretariat. That is a $48-million program which was created in 1992, and it provides servicing to homes in native communities. It allows us to build water mains and sewer mains and waste treatment systems for remote communities in northern Ontario, and we have made some major commitments and major investments under that fund: last year in two communities alone a total of $2.5 million to two communities along the James Bay coast to try and get water services for the first time in those communities.
We also have a particular mandate to deal with health and social services in northern Ontario which is separate and apart from the programs that are delivered by the Ministry of Health. Since November 1991, we've committed about $4 million to recruit health and social professionals to underserviced areas of the north through our bursary program. We've also contributed about $4 million to create both dental and health care centres in smaller communities across northern Ontario.
We worked with the Ministry of Health as well to establish the northern Ontario diabetes network. That includes two regional offices -- one in Sudbury; one in Thunder Bay -- and outpatient programs in 40 other communities across northern Ontario, and in that respect, we provided about $500,00 for startup, both in terms of purchasing medical equipment and other educational materials for the communities that were participating.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp also has a program and has a mandate to deliver some health care services, particularly in the area of research and development. In that respect, in 1993 we provided about $990,000 to the cancer treatment centre in Thunder Bay which helped it increase its dedicated research space to about 5,000 square feet. We provided funds to the cancer treatment centre in Sudbury to help the businesses there develop a new device which they are using in cancer treatment. Finally, we provided $660,000 to support the purchase and the installation of an MRI machine in Sudbury that will be delivered by the local hospital complex in those communities.
We also last year provided some funding to Laurentian University, and this was to get the baccalaureate program in midwifery started. The funds that we provided helped the university recruit midwives and help them also establish a community-based clinic in Sudbury to carry on their practice.
We've also had a particular mandate to deal with funds to try and get young people to work in northern Ontario. We have a wage subsidy program which we call NORTOP which allows northern employers to hire people and we pay for half of the cost of doing that. From 1991 to 1993 we have funded about 8,300 positions, and this year alone provided about 2,300 spaces to young people.
We believe those placements really do help young people gain some valuable work experience, and we hope will encourage them to stay in northern Ontario, to use their skills in northern Ontario. We believe that in the longer term more and more of the funding will be directed at internships which are year-long placements by employers in the hope that people will have permanent employment at the end of those internships.
We have another small capital program which we call SCIP. It's targeted directly to communities of 2,000 or under, native and non-native, and the purpose of that particular program is to provide for infrastructure in our smaller communities that have great difficulty in raising funds for needed projects.
Some of the things that we have funded, if I might: $35,000 in the last round of SCIP to the township of Tehkummah to renovate and build an addition to their firehall; $35,000 to Evanturel township to build an addition to the municipal public works building; and finally, $35,000 to the Thessalon First Nation to build a multipurpose works garage. Again, we focused on very small communities that have difficulty raising revenue in order to be sure that they, too, have access to public funds for needed services in their communities.
Finally, we have been working extremely hard with the Ministry of Natural Resources on the hardwood project in northern Ontario. We have been dealing with them in the evaluation of a number of business proposals that have been put to the government to establish new mills or expand current mills using birch and poplar in northern Ontario. To date, some five hardwood projects have been announced and in total some $400 million of private sector investment will go into communities as a consequence of these announcements. Together, the five announcements represent about 1,200 new jobs directly in the new mills, in woodlands and in transportation. There are a number of other spinoff jobs and we expect hundreds of those will be created as a consequence.
Today, in fact, an announcement is being made by a number of my colleagues up in Timmins at the Malette Inc mill and, again, Malette will spend about $60 million to expand their current operation. They will provide 160 new jobs at the mill and in the woodlands and they're going to maintain the 330 people they have at their existing mill because of the continued wood supply.
We think that the investments by the private sector represent confidence in the Ontario economy and certainly in the northern Ontario economy, and we know that the mills that will be announced and that have been announced will create several thousand new forestry, transportation and construction jobs. We do intend, as a ministry, to continue to work with the MNR to look at the other business proposals. Over the next number of months we'll be making more announcements on more jobs and new mills in northern Ontario.
I'd like to turn now to the mines and minerals side of the ministry and talk to you about some of the activities that we have been undertaking there to support exploration and development and to try and help an industry that has been in decline in the province for the last number of years, particularly since the end of the flow-through share funding.
In 1992, all of the staff who were left at the Ontario geological survey in Toronto were relocated to Sudbury to our Willet Green Miller Centre, located on the campus of Laurentian University. That new centre houses all of the mines and minerals divisions now: the OGS, the Ontario Geoservices Centre, the mining and land management branch and the mineral sector analysis branch.
We were quite pleased to move onto the campus at Laurentian University because it allows us to cooperate better with this partner in the educational sector, and in that respect we have been working on a number of agreements with them. In March of this year, I announced that both our geological survey and Laurentian University, particularly their geology department, would establish a cooperative graduate mapping school program. The purpose of the program is to train geologists and to provide the faculty at Laurentian with an opportunity to do research at our facility, using our labs, which they normally could not do. The program is going to provide all of those students who participate with a master's of science degree in geology.
In June, I also signed an agreement with the president of the university which provides the faculty and the graduate students at Laurentian with access to our geoscience laboratory at the centre. The centre will help the university community because they don't have the kind of access to the kinds of research and facilities that we have, and we will be sure that all of the building and all of the equipment in our building will be used. We think that it works two ways and we're very pleased with that kind of partnership.
Despite the economic times, we continue to deliver financial assistance to the prospector and developer community through both our Ontario mineral incentive program and our Ontario prospector and development program. In May of this year, we allocated $3 million to 56 exploration projects under the OMIP program. Under the OPAP program, also in May of this year, we allocated funds: $2 million to about 215 projects. Both of those programs are very successful and we continue to receive applications far beyond our capacity to fund. But nevertheless, having said that, we have protected the funding we have in place for this program and we do know that we are helping a large number of junior companies and prospectors and developers do important mineral exploration work in the province.
In July of this year, I participated in what was the first meeting of the sector advisory council dealing with the mineral sector in the province of Ontario. The council has a number of representatives from across the mineral industry in the province, and they will be meeting regularly to review proposals which will then go forward to the sector partnership fund for funding.
The council members, as well, will be involved in undertaking not only this work for us, but they will also be involved in determining what the provincial response is going to be to the Whitehorse mining initiative, which was unveiled earlier this week in Victoria by the mines ministers. We have put on the board not only the industry representatives but a number of stakeholders from the aboriginal, trade union and environment community to work with our ministry to determine how we can implement the recommendations, more than 150 that came out of Whitehorse, here in Ontario.
As a provincial jurisdiction and as a ministry, we've been involved in this initiative for the last two years. It was established in the Yukon in 1992 at the mines ministers' conference there, and to date myself and my staff have been involved in the leadership council and the four working groups that have dealt with some very serious and important issues that our mining clients have brought to our attention.
We feel very confident that we are going to be in a position to implement a number of the recommendations that have been made by that group. In fact, in going through the recommendations, to date we have implemented about a quarter of those that people had concerns with. We feel quite confident that in continuing to work with the advisory group we will be able to make some significant changes which will help our partners in the mines and minerals industry in the province of Ontario.
We also, for the last number of years, have made a major investment and have participated quite heavily in developing the databases that we have at the ministry, and we're doing that because our clients have clearly told us that they want access to the most up-to-date and best available information with respect to geology in order to undertake the work that they do.
In December, the Premier was on hand at our mines and minerals symposium here in Toronto to unveil a prototype of the $22-million system called ERLIS which we have been putting together to help our clients. ERLIS is an electronic library and it contains about 1.5 million pages of documents and about 120,000 maps of different sizes. It uses state-of-the-art technology, which is the first of its kind anywhere in this country, and it provides our clients with data, hard copy and digital copies of information that's very important to the work that they do.
We have offices that have ERLIS in place already in Toronto and in Sudbury, and we will be working with our clients in Timmins and in a number of other mining communities to implement a scaled-down version there too so that they will have the capacity to access this information, which is important to them, as soon as possible.
We have, however, been in a position to take some of the information stored on ERLIS and put it into most of the mining recorders' offices across the province at this point. In fact, we've done this in Timmins, Toronto, Sudbury, Kenora, Sault Ste Marie and, most recently, in Thunder Bay on September 1. We are now in a position to provide automated access to all of our clients of reports listing claims, owners, all the claims held in a mining division in a ministry, and all of that is accessible to them now in their own communities versus just in Toronto.
It's a major capital investment on our part, some $22 million, and a major investment on the operating side to maintain the databases, but we have been working with our clients all the way through to develop the information and they are very pleased with it and want us to continue with that initiative, and so we will.
We've also been very much trying to ensure that our clients have a one-window approach when it comes to permitting and when it comes to them getting permission to do exploration work in the province. In that regard, about a year ago our ministry signed memorandums of understanding with the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Ministry of Natural Resources which recognize us as the lead in coordinating all of the approvals processes for permitting. We have been through that in a much better position to coordinate the activities of a number of government ministries, coordinate the activities of the ministry proponents and the industry proponents, and provide advice and assistance to help get people through the process a little quicker.
We are also very much involved in promoting the mineral industry not only in this province but internationally, and we have spent money in order to appear at a number of exhibitions internationally to try to promote particularly Ontario dimensional stone. We have been in Verona, Italy, in Nuremberg in Germany, and most recently in Washington, to try to develop business opportunities for the people who have stone quarries in the province.
We also, in September 1992, launched a major ad campaign in the order of $250,000 in southern Ontario. The purpose of that campaign was to make people in southern Ontario aware of the value of all of the products that are produced in the mineral industry. We produced three ads which were played for six weeks in southern Ontario to drive that message home. We found out after the six weeks, in doing some polling with Decima, that in fact the TV ads were effective in raising the consciousness of people who live in southern Ontario, in particular, of the importance of Ontario mines and minerals and of the importance of the products. We certainly hope this will then lead to support of the population in southern Ontario for this industry.
We are also working now on a project with the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, and this again is to try and promote the industry. In conjunction with them, we are developing school kits for science teachers in high schools across the province. The kits are aimed at developing science and technology and making people understand the importance of the industry. They will be distributed to teachers across southern Ontario in the next number of months.
We also are involved with our clients, through the northern Ontario development agreement and the federal government as well, in a number of programs that support research and development. Last year, more than 60 projects were undertaken to support research and development in the mining sector and in almost all cases the industry proponents themselves also provided funds for these projects. We have been able under the program to make a number of changes in a number of mine sites as a consequence to improve efficiency, to improve worker health and safety, to improve on the environment and deal with environmental concerns. We will continue this year, which is the last year of funding, to try and do the same and to work in partnership with the industry to identify those concerns at their own sites that are most important that we need to deal with.
I mentioned to you the Ontario geological survey and our work there is very important to the mineral exploration industry as well. This summer and last summer about 30 field projects were undertaken and all of the information that we received on mapping and staking etc was presented to our clients in December at our symposium. We will continue to have our staff undertake those kinds of projects, even though they're expensive, because we do know that the work we provide to them is very important in terms of their own exploration and development.
I know I've gone on at great length. My apologies for that, but I did want to go through some of the things that we have been involved in as a ministry since I was last here in 1991. We do think that on the capital side, on the side of providing funds to business and certainly on the side of helping our clients in the mineral industry, we have made a difference in northern Ontario and across the province on the mine side despite the difficult economic times. We certainly look forward to continuing work on the projects that we have before us and continuing our partnerships with the people who are working with us to develop other projects and to ensure that other benefits that can be realized by our clients are. I thank you very much for your attention to this and I look forward to hearing both the speeches and comments that will be made by the parties.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Minister. At this point, with the indulgence of the committee, the Chair wishes to make a brief comment and that is that for whatever reason there seems to be extraordinary interest in today's proceedings. It is extremely important that this committee complete its assigned responsibilities because we cannot proceed to the next ministry until we've completed these estimates.
I wish to remind the members that the Chair will be cognizant of standing order 23 and standing order 120 and, although I apologize for bringing this to the attention of all members, since I know they are all quite familiar with these standing orders, I wish there to be absolutely no uncertainty on the part of the committee as to how the Chair will be adhering to the standing orders today.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): First of all, I would like to welcome the minister, the deputy and the staff of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Minister, I must say that I have looked forward to this opportunity and I have listened with great interest to both your economic description and the social description of the state of northern Ontario. I must say that estimates gives us an excellent opportunity to review some of the issues that are happening throughout northern Ontario.
Minister, you've highlighted some good things that are happening but unfortunately there are a number of other issues that I'm looking forward to taking a look at. I often think of northern Ontario and the difference between northern Ontario and southern Ontario when we take a look at our youth unemployment, when we take a look at the outmigration of youth and the actual high levels of unemployment across northern Ontario. I often think of mine layoffs and the low levels of mineral exploration. As you know, a very important issue near and dear to me is, of course, health care, and then actually looking at the most recent estimates, of course, the cutbacks to your ministry and the impact these cutbacks have had on the services offered in northern Ontario.
I must say it's truly unfortunate that all these issues I've mentioned hang under a cloud. Minister, you must know that today that cloud is over us and it's a dark cloud. You have violated the law and we have had recently a ruling from the Information and Privacy Commissioner which has said that you have violated the law. This comes, of course, under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Again, you have gone on to release personal information about a private citizen.
Again, I find it hard to come here to discuss these very important issues when I've recently -- well, not recently, but a good number of months ago -- received a letter from you that leaves no doubt in my mind that it was written to smear an individual and discredit this particular individual in his efforts to express his opposition to some of your policies which you have just gone over. Minister, you must agree with me that part of your responsibility is fundamental to the principle of our system of government and there's no question at all in my mind that you must take responsibility for what has happened. You have broken the law and I feel that you must at this time consider resigning as you have again violated not only the Premier's conflict of interest guidelines, you've broken the law and as well you have transgressed again the rights of a private citizen.
I must look back on what has happened in the past and take a look at other resignations for less grievous actions. These resignations have come from all three parties and I must say that if the circumstances I have just outlined have not led to your resignation, I really can't see what circumstances would do that.
Minister, one of the most important responsibilities you face -- and you indicated it yourself in your opening remarks -- is to be an advocate for people in the north, for northern Ontario, for northern businesses and for the mining industry. You must be our advocate, as northern members, not only at the cabinet table but throughout this province and throughout this country. Your most recent actions have indicated that instead of acting as an advocate on behalf of this person, who again was raising a policy issue, you chose to attack this particular individual, a private citizen, and you attempt to discredit his position and distract the attention from the issue that he was raising and attack him on an individual basis.
Minister, this has raised a great amount of serious doubt about the conduct of yourself as the minister and of course the operations of your office and the operations of the branches within your ministry. We have faced many issues and we will take a look at these, but this is a very serious event, being that this letter was circulated, being that it did smear a private citizen and that you, as minister, signed this particular letter.
With that, Minister, I will be moving on to your administration and to the operation of the correspondence unit within your ministry, and of course we know that's vote item number 2401/1. Minister, I would really insist on your presence during these estimates as some of these things that I'll be referring to are your personal actions and of course they will refer as well to the operation of your ministry.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): It has fallen to me to speak on behalf of the Conservative caucus at this point in time. I'm not the critic of the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. However, I am the critic for Tourism and my colleague Mr Turnbull is the critic for Transportation. We intend to ask you quite a number of detailed questions on the spending of the ministry, which of course is the process of this committee that we're engaged in today, an important process too in terms of accountability of the government to the Legislature.
We have detailed questions on accessibility and availability of health care in the north and we have detailed questions on the economy and jobs generally in the north, as well, as I indicated earlier, as tourism, transportation, roads, rail and airports and what the government's policy is in that respect.
We have questions on waste management, the Kirkland Lake rail option that we feel should be given a full hearing by the ministry and the government. We have questions on forestry and we have questions on education, post-secondary education as well.
We have questions about the spending, the way you're spending money. We have questions about the duplication and overlap that we feel is inherent within the ministry's spending and the cost-effectiveness of all the spending that you do as minister.
But by sheer coincidence we are meeting today with you on the day after you as minister were informed by the privacy commissioner that you broke the privacy law. You have indicated, I guess last night, that you accept the fact that a mistake was made but you refuse to resign.
There are two big questions here, Minister, in my mind, and the first one is the question of public confidence and public trust. We have seen, through the Premier's administration of his conflict-of-interest guidelines, his guidelines for ministerial responsibility, a great deal of inconsistency in his application of those rules. The rules have become a joke, in effect, because of the inconsistency with which he administers those rules, in my opinion.
The second big question to me is your continued effectiveness and your ability to continue to serve the north as minister, given what's happened. This is not the first transgression of the Premier's conflict-of-interest guidelines that you have made, Minister. The first one I believe -- just my recollection -- was in 1991, where you wrote a letter to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in effect interfering in the administration of a quasi-judicial body. You tendered your resignation that day. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Premier, I recall, to reconsider that he accepted your resignation and you remained in the cabinet. A short time later in a private conversation at a public event you apparently lied and then took a lie-detector test to prove that you had lied. This is what we are told. Recently, you broke the privacy law.
These are three transgressions, three times you've been outside the conflict-of-interest guidelines. It's up to the Premier to administer his guidelines, it's not up to you. I'm not sure if you've offered your resignation -- we aren't aware of that -- but clearly the Premier has to act in this case, in my opinion, number one, to restore public confidence and trust and, number two, to ensure that the people of the north have a strong, effective cabinet minister which, if you continue to discharge your duties, attempt to discharge your duties, in my opinion the north will not have.
Hon Ms Martel: Thank you very much, Mr Chair. Two things, if I might: First of all, I want to make a brief comment with respect to issues that have been raised by the two opposition parties and I want to deal as well with some of the issues that were raised by Mr Miclash, because he was a little more specific in terms of some of his concerns. I'll wait for the questions that will come from the members of the Tory Party.
What I intend to do at this time is the following: You have been provided with a recommendation by the Information and Privacy Commission which very clearly tells us to make sure that we direct all of the ministry staff and officials to understand and to review what their responsibilities are with respect to the freedom of information and privacy act, and to undertake whatever training etc may be required to make sure that personal information is disclosed in a manner which is consistent with that act.
Certainly, three weeks ago, when the draft report was released and it was clear that may well be the recommendation, I instructed the deputy at that time to begin to undertake that recommendation. He has, along with the freedom of information coordinator for our ministry, been dealing with that and with a number of other ministries on what kind of training we might need, who might need it and how we can best implement that within the ministry. I also intend to return to the privacy commissioner's office within a six-month period, as outlined by the commission, to tell him all of the steps that we have undertaken in that regard.
Two other things I intend: secondly, to deal with the estimates of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines here today, to talk about the challenges that face us and some of the things we have done and, as best as possible, to respond to the issues and the concerns that are raised by the members of all three parties who are here today, in that regard.
Thirdly, there are a number of staff who are here with me today, and a number obviously who are not, both across the mining branch of the ministry and those located in northern Ontario who deal with northern development and mines. As a group, we intend to continue to deal with those projects and those initiatives and those efforts that we have undertaken to try and deal with the concerns that have been raised by our constituents in the mining community and by our constituents in northern Ontario, so that over the next number of months, hopefully, some of these initiatives can be brought to completion with some positive results. That is what I intend to do from here.
In direct response to some of the issues that were raised by Mr Miclash, let me outline the following: With respect to health care, I tried as best I could during the presentation to outline to you some of the initiatives that we have undertaken. I understand that some of the issues you're directly concerned with really do fall under the mandate and the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, and although that is the case, certainly staff in our social services and policy branch within the ministry have tried to work with the regional health office to deal with those. I speak particularly with respect to the situation in Red Lake and with respect to providing the direct contracts to deal with underserviced communities.
I do think, however, that we have tried very hard to maintain the programs that we have in place as a ministry to fund dental and health clinics, to fund the bursaries for health care professionals who are coming to northern Ontario to support research and development -- in particular, through the northern Ontario heritage fund with respect to northern health care -- and to deal with sexual assault prevention initiatives, which we think are very important.
Secondly, with respect to levels of exploration, certainly, in the time that I have been here, particularly during 1991-92, the levels of exploration in the province of Ontario were very low. They were the lowest they had been in 10 years. We think there are two reasons: first, very low base metal prices across the international scene which have made it very difficult for companies to continue to operate, much less continue to invest in research and development in the province and do exploration work; secondly, with the cessation of the flow-through share funding option at the federal level, certainly a lot of the incentives and the initiatives that were undertaken during that time were lost.
However, we are pleased that this year we have seen a fairly significant turnaround in mineral exploration and development and certainly in the sense of optimism across the industry, which our staff have all noticed.
At this point, total exploration expenditures are up about 28% from last year's levels, and they are up about 28% from 1992. The number of claims in good standing is up by over 6,000, and that's an indication to us of the tremendous work that's going on by particularly the small prospectors. The assessment work is also up: $15.2 million last year and $17.9 million this year. So we really do feel that we have turned a corner in working with the industry to deliver the kinds of databases that we are, to deliver the kinds of assistance programs that we are to respond to their concerns that they are feeling much better about the possibility of investing in the province and in fact are moving to do that.
Thirdly, with respect to the impact of the expenditure control plan on the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, certainly we are but one of 20 ministries in total that has had to deal with a very difficult economic time and has had to make a number of cuts, as per the direction of the centre, in order to try to get our fiscal house in order and to keep the deficit down. In that respect, last year the ministry was assigned a three-year, $20.1-million operating reduction through the expenditure control plan. That was a difficult cut, and we tried to find a balance between stopping program delivery and letting staff go.
In that regard, we took a number of measures, which resulted in the required savings. We streamlined the organization and took $7 million out that way. We took a cut of $6 million on our direct program grants to a number of our clients. We also, because ONTC receives a large operating surplus from us, had it participate, and cuts had to be made there as well. We also dealt with our direct operating expenditures as a ministry in the ODOE side and took $3 million from there.
We have met all of the targets to date, and we are on schedule with that. We also had to take a number of staff out, and we tried to balance that against dropping all of our programs. We were able to do that and accommodate all of our staff except for one person who chose to leave government employ and went on to work in the private sector. We have accomplished all of the balance of our reductions and will deal with the $3.3 million that we have to in this year as a savings measure without any additional staff implications whatsoever and we hope without any program implications.
So we certainly, during the difficult times, have tried to find a balance, and I think we continue to be in a position of delivering the services that our clients demand and request of us with the correct amount of people who are in a position to do so.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister. At this point, it's routine for the Chair to seek guidance from the committee as to how you wish to proceed for the balance of our estimates. Do you wish to stack the votes or deal with them by line items? Secondly, how you wish to manage your time allocations?
The Chair: Okay. Are there any special requests from members for the attendance of any individuals? The Chair has not officially received any; the northern transportation commission, any of those individuals. We certainly need to have sufficient notice if there are any additional requests for attendees. Failing that, then we're prepared to proceed.
Mr Miclash: I would like to begin my questioning around the correspondence unit, and of course you know that's vote item number 2401-1. Minister, I would like to go to some correspondence that was sent to me on May 25, 1993. It was regarding the private member's bill of Mr Chiarelli. I want to know who initiated the request for that particular letter to me regarding this person's personal situation.
Hon Ms Martel: I believe that this issue was referred by the complainant to a third party. That third party spent a number of months investigating the complaint that was lodged against the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. The third party, in the form of the information and privacy commission, made and presented to us yesterday an official report of its findings with respect to this issue. I have made it very clear, in a statement yesterday -- because I was not here; I was in Vancouver at the mines ministers' conference -- and again this morning that it is our intention to follow up on the single recommendation that was made by the commission, and I do not intend to either go through, retry or deal with that specific case.
We have made it very clear to the commission and to the public, I think, that we will deal with the recommendation. I have instructed the deputy to do so as early as three weeks ago. He is working with our coordinator for freedom of information to deal with that, and we will make available to the commissioner the work that we have undertaken in the next six months in order to comply with his request.
Mr Miclash: I refer back to the fact that I am concentrating around vote item 2401-1, and I think we have to find out some particulars about this particular issue, again, a letter written to me regarding a private member's bill. Madam Minister, I go back to when the decision was made to write this particular letter and who else received this letter. Did other MPPs receive it? Was the list of people who received this particular letter restricted to other MPPs?
Hon Ms Martel: I think that I have made it clear, and if not I will reinforce, that I am here today to deal with the estimates of this ministry. However, I do not intend to deal with the specifics of a case which I believe, and we as a ministry believe, have been dealt with by a third party, and that third party has also made a recommendation, which we will comply with. So it is not our intention today to deal with the specifics of this case in any way, shape or form. I have outlined that I accept the recommendation. We will abide by it. We will undertake all of the work that is necessary to comply, and we will let the commissioner know of all of our work within a six-month period.
Mr Miclash: Madam Minister, again, I'm dealing with a vote item regarding your correspondence unit, and I must request some information that came from that particular unit. This is specific information that came through that unit. I feel it's very important that these questions are answered. We are here to take a look at these vote items. This is a particular vote item that I wish to concentrate on. Again, I must ask you as to when the decision was made to write this letter and who else received this particular letter, a letter through your correspondence unit, vote item number 2401-1.
Mr Miclash: Okay. Well, then, let's get into some general information, and maybe we can come back to this particular issue once we've received some of the general information from your ministry. My first question, then, would be, how much would your ministry spend on the correspondence process on an annual basis?
Hon Ms Martel: The staff who are here with me are not sure of the exact allocation in terms of funding that goes into this particular branch. We would certainly be pleased to provide that information to the Chair when we return this afternoon.
Hon Ms Martel: The assistant deputy minister for corporate services, who would have responsibility for this area, is here today. If you want to list the questions for us, we can certainly get that. We don't have that specific information here with us today in terms of that detail.
Hon Ms Martel: We try to turn our letters around within 10 days. You need to bear in mind that if people are on holidays for any particular length of time and they have not seen it, it will wait until their return in order for them to have a good review of it.
Hon Ms Martel: The staff in the correspondence unit are there for the purpose of ensuring that the mail goes to the divisions that would have responsibility for it. Their function is very much an administrative one to ensure both that the letters go where they're supposed to and come back within a time frame that's generated on our computer system. So it is their responsibility only to forward the information out to the branch they think is relevant in handling it, and then within the branch different members would then be responsible for dealing with the correspondence and responding to it and the issues before them.
Hon Ms Martel: Not all of the letters come through, because they deal with different issues. I sign all of the funding applications that are sent out to communities, either under JOCA, SCIP, UCCAP etc. So in the final analysis, I sign all of the grants that go out to groups. What else comes through to me really depends on the nature of the correspondence.
Mr Miclash: Minister, one of the letters that I received from you was a letter initiated by your office without a request from me. How often would that happen in terms of your ministry throughout the year?
Hon Ms Martel: Correspondence is generated in a number of ways: either incoming mail, which is dealt with; requests that we receive from other MPPs, and I receive a number of those for information; requests that we receive over the telephone for information from a variety of sources. To the best of our ability, we try to deal with all of those issues and requests for information that come in from various sources to us.
Mr Miclash: Minister, what I'm talking about here is a letter which was initiated without any request, without any incoming mail that it would be a response to. How often would that happen, that it would be initiated from your office without any request?
Hon Ms Martel: We receive a large number of inquiries, both verbal from MPPs in the House, which I receive on a regular basis, and also calls to the bureaucratic staff or calls to the political staff. The numbers that we take in and the numbers that we generate on an annual basis, I couldn't give to you.
Mr Miclash: Minister, I go back to the particular letter -- and you know the letter that I'm referring to, the letter of May 25, 1993 -- and I go back to that person, and I would like to know who would have initiated the request for that proactive letter, a letter that was initiated from your office. Who would have initiated that letter coming to me on that particular date?
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Miclash, I think that in terms of the general response to the question, which I am trying to give, I have said clearly we, as a ministry, receive requests for information from a number of sources. We receive written requests that come in. We receive verbal requests over the telephone to both the ministry and the political staff. We also receive requests for information from a number of MPPs during the course of either the sitting or when we are in Toronto. To the best of our ability, we see it as our responsibility as a ministry to respond to those, and to the best of our ability we do.
Mr Miclash: I understand that, Minister, but what I'm asking is, how often do you send out letters without receiving requests for them? Proactive mail, I guess, is what I would call it. How often would letters such as that go out of your ministry?
Hon Ms Martel: I think I explained, Mr Miclash, that we receive requests from a number of sources, not only written but verbal, and when we receive those requests, to the best of our ability we respond. I can say that when the House is in session, for example, there is not a week that goes by when I am not approached by a northern colleague from either side of the House for information on a specific issue, which I attempt to then deal with. We do that on a regular and a routine basis, because I do believe that's part of the function that I should be serving and that's part of the function that the ministry should be responding to.
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Miclash, in general terms, we receive and I receive requests for information of all kinds from a number of sources. We receive that in a very formal way through written correspondence. We receive that as well by verbal requests either in communication with me in the House or on other committees that I sit on, and the ministry staff and the political staff also receive requests for information over the telephone. We do respond to each of those requests in the best way that we can to be sure that we're fulfilling our role, which I think is one of trying to deal with both our colleagues and with the general public in the best way that we can.
Mr Miclash: Minister, being that I did not request the letter that we are talking about, the letter that is in question here, how would that have been activated? Who would have written the original draft of that letter, and how would that have come about, being that I did not request that particular information of that letter about this private individual?
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Miclash, I think that when I began this line of questioning I said I was prepared very much to deal with general questions of a general nature in terms of how the ministry administers its programs and its responsibilities, and I do believe that I have responded to that in the best way that I can. However, I do not intend to deal with the specifics of a case which I believe have been dealt with by a third party, whose recommendation this ministry will comply to.
Mr Miclash: Minister, you have talked about how you respond to requests from members in the House, other northern members; you've talked about incoming mail. I'm talking about your correspondence unit sending out a letter that had no reason for a response. That's the general question I'm asking. I'm asking how that letter would have been drafted, who would have drafted that and why it would have been sent out. So we have three areas; you have described two perfectly. I'm worried about the third area, where the information was not requested but yet was sent to me.
Hon Ms Martel: Information is requested in a large number of ways, and we attempt as best we can to respond to that. I certainly think that when my colleagues in this House approach me with requests for information on specific issues that part of my role and part of my responsibility, frankly, as minister is to deal with that in the best way that we know how, and that is what we attempt to do. Correspondence will go out to people based on written communication to us, based upon verbal requests that we receive and based upon a number of phone contacts that may be received both by the political staff and by the bureaucratic staff. In each of those cases, in response to the request that we receive we attempt to provide the information in the best way we know how in compliance with all of the acts.
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Turnbull, in response to questions raised by Mr Miclash with respect to staffing in the correspondence unit, how much we spend on an annual basis to pay for staff salaries and the operation of the same and the amount of correspondence, I will also provide the same information to you.
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Turnbull, the role of the correspondence unit and the role of the ministry staff, as we all see it, is to deliver services in the best way we know how to the clients, both on the northern development side and across the mining industry. We believe we do that in a manner that is fair, reasonable and that deals in compliance with all of the various acts that this ministry and every other deal with.
Hon Ms Martel: The policy of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and I would assume all other ministries, is to deal with information, services and dealings with the public in compliance with any and with all of the acts that are present in the Legislature that all of us are expected to abide by.
Mr Turnbull: Minister, you're avoiding the questions that I'm asking. I asked specifically whether it was the ministry's policy to disclose confidential information about people who were critical of the government's direction, and I also asked how much money was used to dig up confidential information which was used to discredit taxpayers.
Hon Ms Martel: Any of the information that the ministry provides with respect to issues and to cases that it deals with is handled by our staff with every adherence possible to the spirit and to the guidelines of all of the acts that we deal with, including privacy, and we attempt to do that.
Staff across the divisions are trained with respect to freedom of information and privacy, and we attempt to do that in all of our dealings, correspondence or otherwise, with both the clients we serve and the people we deal with, both in northern Ontario and on the mine side.
Our policy is, throughout the ministry, to deal with people on a fair and a reasonable basis and to ensure that all of our dealings adhere to both the spirit and the intent of all of the acts that are there before us, both as a ministry and as MPPs.
Hon Ms Martel: I deal with and I read all of the correspondence that comes through to me. If I have any questions or concerns about them and about issues, I send it back for review. Clearly, by the time that information is given to me to sign, I am confident that all of the people within the ministry who have had any hand in dealing with it are confident themselves that the letter represents and very much adheres to all of the acts that we need to deal with.
Hon Ms Martel: I change a number of letters that come through to me on a number of issues, and I ask for further information and I ask for issues to be clarified. The reason I do that is because I also want to be certain that everything the ministry sends out, that goes under my signature, clearly respects and conforms with the spirit and the intent of all acts.
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Turnbull, as I said earlier to Mr Miclash and to members of the committee, I do believe that the specific case you are referencing has been dealt with adequately by a third party. We have been able to make our representation during that process and we received a formal response yesterday by the commission with respect to a single recommendation that we have every intention of undertaking.
Mr Turnbull: Quite obviously, from the questions from the opposition today, both parties, you will see that we don't believe you have adequately dealt with this and this is why we have these questions about the process which led to the disclosure of confidential information obviously meant to smear a taxpayer who disagreed with the government, and this is not the first time --
The Chair: Mr Turnbull, order. I really am not ruling that you're not able to discuss the matter, clearly, but I would bring to your attention standing rule 23, which does discuss the matter of impugning motive. The facts of that are not before this committee, nor do they fall under the purview of the standing rules.
Mr Turnbull: Quite so, Mr Chair. What I'm attempting to establish is what this minister and this ministry does in terms of trying to dig up systematically confidential information, disclose it to the public in a case where somebody has criticized the government, and doing it on a very proactive basis. Many, many people received this letter under your signature which disclosed confidential information they hadn't asked for. You've heard Mr Miclash speaking about the fact that he received this information which he hadn't requested, and I'm trying to establish how much money -- and this is very germane to this question of estimates -- how much money and effort is undertaken by your ministry to dig up systematically confidential information about people who oppose the government, and then disseminating it?
Hon Ms Martel: The ministry deals with all of its relationships to our clients across the mining industry and in northern Ontario in what I believe is a fair and reasonable way and in compliance with the act. All of the ministry staff understand that any information that goes out, regardless of form, is to be in compliance with any and all of the acts that we operate under and we, to the best of our ability, do that in all cases, regardless of whether or not the contact is made verbally or by correspondence, and that is how we approach all issues that are brought to our attention.
Mr Arnott: Continuing with these questions surrounding the way your correspondence unit operates, I believe you said in answer to a question from Mr Miclash that every letter you send out is a response for information from some individual, some person. Is that correct?
Mr Arnott: How very surprising. I get a lot of letters from ministers of the crown sent to me as the member for Wellington, informing me of various wonderful things the ministry is doing and things the ministry wants to promote, whether it be mining week and so on, that sort of thing. I think a lot of letters go out without specific requests for information from most ministry offices and I suspect your's would be similar in that respect. If you're saying that every letter you send out is a request for information, I assume that Mr Miclash must have written you a letter inquiring about the case of Mr Ficner. Is that correct?
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Arnott, I think I've made it clear to the committee that neither myself nor the staff will be answering questions today specifically with respect to the issue that's been dealt with by the commissioner yesterday, and I do believe the question you are asking me falls directly in that purview.
Hon Ms Martel: I think the report itself is probably a public one. If you want to deal with that on your own time and in your own way, that certainly is your business. From my perspective, the matter was referred to a third party. That third party, after several months of investigation, has produced a report which became public yesterday.
That public report made a specific recommendation to this ministry with respect to how to deal with information and disclosure of personal information in a manner that is in compliance with the freedom of information and privacy act. We have been specifically requested to make sure that all of the ministry staff and officials understand that in disclosure we must be in compliance and that we should report back to the commissioner within a six-month period as to all of the work we have undertaken to ensure that happens. We intend to do that.
For my purposes today, I believe we have responded to the matter that has been dealt with by a third party. Neither myself nor the staff who are here with me today would be responding to issues of that particular nature, because we feel the matter has been dealt with by the third party. We are not here to reopen the matter that a third party has dealt with.
Hon Ms Martel: I think I've really tried to make it clear to the committee members who are here that, with respect to the case that has been dealt with in a very public manner and by a third party, I will not be here today answering specific questions about it. I do believe the question you have asked -- and some of the others that have been raised by the opposition parties, to be fair -- really does deal very directly with that.
We are certainly prepared today to deal with any of the issues or matters that are affecting the Ministry of Northern Development in terms of its policy and programming, but I do not intend to use this committee as a forum to respond to questions about the matter that I think was dealt with by the privacy commissioner.
Mr Turnbull: I believe this goes to the credibility of your ministry and your administration of it. The difference was that with Ms Gigantes it was an inadvertent slip. It seems to me that in this particular case this was a deliberate attempt to silence a critic of the NDP. This is vitally important to the credibility of you and your ministry. That is why I'm compelled to ask that question today.
Hon Ms Martel: I believe that in responding in a general way I have said what I will reinforce, that the ministry and the staff in all of its dealings with the public, whether they be our clients in northern Ontario or our clients in the mining industry, attempt to undertake all of those dealings in a way that is in compliance with the spirit and the intent of every act we have to deal with. That is certainly the approach we take in all of our dealings, regardless of what they may be, with every individual we have a contact with as a ministry.
Mr Turnbull: I question whether you're prepared to answer any specific questions today. It certainly seems from your opening comments that you are prepared to take credit for anything that you thought your ministry had done. Yet every time we talk about specifics, you want to steer away from it. We are here today to discuss your ministry, to examine its conduct and how it assists the people of northern Ontario. That is the duty you have to discharge.
When we ask questions about how your ministry is conducting those affairs, specific questions in terms of how much money is being spent by your ministry in chasing down confidential information -- that is a very specific question -- I believe it requires a very specific answer. So far you haven't given us any specifics. You've given us some generalities about your correspondence unit. I didn't ask for generalities about your correspondence unit, I asked for specifics about how much money was being spent on chasing down confidential information by people in the ministry to discredit those who are critical of your government's direction.
Hon Ms Martel: I believe I have made it clear, Mr Turnbull, that the ministry, in all its dealings with all of its clients, both on the Northern Development side and on the Mines side, deals with the public in a manner that is fair and that is reasonable and that to the best of our ability and our knowledge is in compliance with any and all of the acts that all of us are expected to deal with. We do that throughout the ministry, all of the staff are aware of that and all of the staff act in accordance with that belief and that mandate.
I believe that when I began the questioning I made it clear that we certainly were here, myself and my staff, to answer questions with respect to the role, the mandate, the policies and the programs that we deliver both on the Northern Development side and on the Mines side, and within that there will be a number of issues on which we will disagree, both in terms of philosophical approaches and money spent.
Mr Elston: My point of order is this, Mr Chair: Is it now the intention of this committee to preclude any specific questions dealing with items specifically dealt with, that we can never talk about anything other than generalities? Is it the position of the Chair of the committee that we have no right to ask about specific items, under this administration, of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines?
Mr Elston: Will you rule in order, Mr Chair, issues addressed to specific items that have been dealt with by the ministry as examples of its administration and of its capability of dealing honestly and with equity with individuals?
The Chair: Mr Elston, although I have made a ruling that it was not in order, and given that you've requested additional information, you did sit through estimates with me yesterday and routinely bore witness to a minister who was unable or unwilling to answer questions from time to time. The Chair doesn't rule on the efficacy of any given response and it's not an appropriate question to raise with the Chair because it's not a question of procedure.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Thank you, Mr Chair, and it's good, actually, to be back in front of the estimates committee again. I don't sit on this committee on a regular basis but certainly take the opportunity, when it's afforded, to listen to the minister and the ministry re its operation in a part of the province that I feel very much attached to, have some personal commitment to, have some vested interest in, and that's northern Ontario.
There are a lot of issues we need to cover, a lot of questions that need to be asked, and certainly northern Ontario, as much as the rest of the province, although experiencing some better times these days, still faces some major challenges. We need to be focusing on them and working out solutions to them together as a government, all of us.
Three years ago when I sat through estimates we were experiencing a very different environment than we have today, certainly a very dark cloud over the potential future fortunes of northern Ontario as the recession we've just come through really took root and took hold. It particularly affects us in the north because of the type of industry that we're in and the dependency up there on some very few basic stabilizers.
I only have to reflect on some of the tremendous work and difficulty in doing that work that you and others went through in trying to save the sawmills that many communities depended on solely for their livelihood, some of the paper mills that were in jeopardy, in direct attack, some of the major mining operations and some of the major industrial manufacturers in the north, all of them struggling to keep their heads above water, all of them wondering if there was to be a future, and of course along with that the communities that they supported, wondering what their future would be, what would be in store for them.
We talked very clearly, I think, and pointedly at that time about that challenge and you laid in front of us some of what your ministry was proposing to do and we talked about what you'd done and about your plan. It's nice that we're here three years later to review some of that, to talk about some of the successes that some of us are being buoyed by at the moment and to ask you some questions about what you have in store for some of the challenges that are still there.
I simply need to focus and I personally don't have to look very far, actually, to see the result of the tremendous effort that this government has made. Sault Ste Marie is a perfect example of the consistent, effective and timely response that you and your ministry have made to the challenges we face.
I think of Lajambe Lumber and the difficulties it has gone through and continues to face as we restructure a whole lot of things they have to deal with in terms of how they make a future for themselves. I think very excitedly about Algoma Steel and the very creative and courageous response of you and the Premier and the United Steelworkers of America and the people of Sault Ste Marie in front of that tremendously troubling challenge that was put in front of us. I think of the work and the effort and the commitment re the whole question of restructuring the Algoma Central Railway. We inherited a facility there that had been chugging along, barely making it from one day to the next, and other governments in other years had simply chosen to put more money into it as opposed to the very active and proactive position of your government in partnership with myself and some others, the unions and of course the major stakeholders and now Wisconsin Central, to find a future that's still unfolding for that piece of infrastructure.
Of course, St Marys Paper is one that we still struggle with, one that still holds a bit of a quandary for us, that is creating a fair amount of anxiety at the moment re its future in our community and the very important impact anything that happens there will have on us. I don't know if you've been reading the papers lately, although I'm sure your staff have, and informed you that this is 400 jobs in our community and a spinoff impact of between 1,200 and 1,500 jobs, not only in our community but in all of northern Ontario.
I know that we as a government are monitoring that particular piece of activity very closely and I'm hoping that in the end, as has been the case over the last three years in your personal situation and certainly in the response of other ministers and the government, the response will be courageous and yet sensitive to the forces that are at play and to the ability of all of the players to contribute, given that this isn't the only piece of action that some of them are involved in.
It's always satisfying for me to be able to say to the people of my community that compared to other provinces particularly, we can say very proudly that there isn't one major industrial piece that our community has lost. They're still all there. They've struggled, they've been restructured and they're there contributing to the economy of our region, and that's thanks to you personally, it's thanks to your ministry and it's thanks to our government.
And some new things: Just recently I participated on your behalf at the ground-breaking for a Georgia Pacific Flakeboard plant that we in the Sault are very, very committed to. All of us who live in the Sault and visitors to the Sault walk up and down the new waterfront we've developed in Sault Ste Marie that will lend itself to the development of further tourism opportunities, all of these a reflection, in my mind, of the very consistent, effective and timely response of yourself and your ministry and our government to those issues.
When I think about it personally and I think of you, Minister, I can't help but feel that it sort of is part of the tremendous tradition of fighter that the Martel family represents when it comes to issues that affect us in northern Ontario, and you continue to exert that and to show and model that very important fighter, I think, position in front of these things.
Mr Martin: I just wanted to actually wind up my comments by saying as well that I recognize and appreciate the effort by you and your ministry to more coordinated and cooperative efforts with other ministries in the north. I want to recognize your personal commitment to that in a very important and significant way. I think the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines are probably --
Mr Martin: Could I just put a question on the order paper quickly before we go, and that's to the minister, and we'll probably get back to it this afternoon. You've placed in front of us today some of what's happened, some of the information and details and figures. I'd like you to talk to us a little bit about your hopes and aspirations and dreams and some of the things you have in place now that you see will be important to us all as we move into the next year and our next term as government and indeed into the next century.
The Chair: I'd like to reconvene the standing committee on estimates. We've completed a little under two hours of our seven and a half hours. Mr Martin had consumed all of the time allocated. There was a very interesting question in there, and in the next rotation maybe the minister will have some time to get to the answer, but I would like to move to Mr Miclash if I could at this time.
Mr Miclash: Chair, as I indicated this morning, I was happy that we were allowed to come to these estimates and to put forth some of the concerns that we have about the ministry, about the minister and some of her actions. We also see these estimates as an accountability session, a session where the minister should be held accountable for what she has done in the past.
I'm going to go back to a letter that I received as an MPP, a letter that was not solicited by myself -- it was of course a letter sent to me dated May 25 -- and ask the minister as to who initiated the letter and how it came by that it came to me without a request from my office.
Hon Ms Martel: As I mentioned earlier in the questions that you raised dealing with this particular issue, I do believe that the specific issue that you referred to is one that has been dealt with extensively by the Information and Privacy Commissioner. In fact, there was well over a four-month investigation into a complaint which had been raised against the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Yesterday that third party released a report with respect to its findings on this matter and made a recommendation to us that we will follow up on.
I do not think it is appropriate in this forum, which is the estimates forum, to be discussing or retrying or re-examining or dealing with the merits or the issues involving that case. I do believe that the commissioner has made a response, and we as a ministry and the deputy and myself will undertake to respond to that recommendation as soon as possible and provide him with a plan with respect to the steps that we have undertaken in the ministry to comply.
Hon Ms Martel: What I am saying and what I have said earlier today is that it doesn't seem to me that I should use this forum to retry a case and an investigation that has already been carried out by a third party. That third party had the responsibility to deal with the complainant and with the ministry and make a report and make recommendations, or a recommendation, and that third party has done that, and we will comply with the recommendation of that third party.
Hon Ms Martel: If I might, Mr Miclash, I think I made it clear to all members at the beginning of the questions today that certainly we wanted to deal with issues that affected Northern Development and Mines and affected mining clients across the province, but that clearly the position I was going to be taking here today and tomorrow was that with respect to the specific issue that you are trying to raise with me, I would not be using this forum today to make any references to it. We have declared publicly and to the commissioner that we will respond to the recommendation, and we intend to follow up and do that.
Mr Miclash: Minister, I think what we have to establish before we go on to any of the issues, which I indicated earlier were quite important, as to whether you're accountable, whether the people of northern Ontario can count on you as their advocate in northern Ontario -- and we haven't established that yet. That is what I am trying to establish at this moment. Would you please answer the question.
Hon Ms Martel: I think with respect to people in northern Ontario counting on me and our ministry to be their advocate, I would like to say the following. On behalf of the government of Ontario, this ministry and I as minister carry out the following corporate responsibilities for the people of northern Ontario: We administer the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program.
The Chair: I'm sorry, Mr Miclash. I'm giving some latitude here. You have a 20-minute time frame and you've asked a question. The minister is responding. If the minister takes too long responding, I will cut her off. But you have the right not to be interrupted when you're asking your questions, and she has a right to respond when asked a question.
The Chair: No. I'm afraid I wish I had that privilege to convey to you, and I can tell you that I have sat in this chair with three different governments and have not always gotten answers. I can't impel anybody to give an answer; neither can this committee. I thought I made that very clear to Mr Elston earlier this morning and perhaps, if you wish further clarification, I will. But I am using your time for clarifying a matter of how this committee operates and I think I can't impel the minister to respond beyond the manner in which she has been responding.
Hon Ms Martel: If I might continue, in terms of advocacy for northern Ontario, I've mentioned the two programs that we administer. We also administer the Jobs Ontario Capital fund on behalf of the government. We administer the economic relocation fund in Elliot Lake and in the Tri-town on behalf of the government. We administer the $48-million aboriginal infrastructure program in northern Ontario on behalf of the government. We administer the entire Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp board and its $30 million of funding which is annually allocated on behalf of the government. We are deeply involved with MNR in the hardwoods project, which will bring a great number of jobs and private sector investment to northern Ontario.
So I do believe, in terms of advocating for what we think is needed in northern Ontario in the way of capital infrastructure, in the way of support for business, small and medium, in the way of supporting our traditional resource industries of forestry and mining, clearly I believe that I and the ministry do advocate, and we do that well, on behalf of our clients in northern Ontario, and that we run and administer a number of programs on behalf of the corporate body of government, which proves that.
Mr Miclash: Minister, let me get back to my initial point. The people of northern Ontario want to know that they have an accountable minister at the helm. You can go on and on about the various things, but what they want to know up front is, is the minister who is representing their interests, as I indicated this morning, at cabinet, throughout the province, throughout this country, accountable?
What I'm asking you is that you signed the letter sent to me, a letter that was not at all requested; the information in the letter was not requested by myself. Do you find that the letter was signed by you and that you are accountable for what was in that letter sent to me?
Hon Ms Martel: I think, Mr Miclash, as I stated earlier, I'm trying to deal with issues and programming which deal with both sides of our ministry. I did, however, I think, make it clear to all of the committee members earlier on when we started the questioning this morning that in terms of the specifics around the case which was dealt with by the commissioner, I would not be using time in this forum to respond to those specifics because I believe that the third party which was asked to investigate it and which has produced a report did just that.
Our intention now, and what I think is most important for us now with respect to that issue, is to follow up on the recommendation which was made by the privacy commissioner's office, respond to it, and ensure that all of our staff are very clear about procedures and policy when dealing with the disclosure of personal information.
Mr Miclash: Minister, you were able to give out private information which was not even solicited by myself, and I've indicated that. That was in your interest, to ensure that I got that information. But yet today you are telling us that you cannot discuss this. I think you're being very selective, and my frustration is growing. This is the matter at hand, this is the matter that I want to get on to. This is what I indicated was an accountability session. These are estimates. This is the matter that interests me. This is the matter that interests the folks across Ontario.
Hon Ms Martel: I think the matter at hand has been very carefully and thoroughly dealt with by a third party. This complaint was raised with them, with respect to the conduct of the ministry and a particular issue. Much time, much investigation and much work was done by the third party to determine the issue at hand and to make a recommendation. We have said very publicly we will comply with that.
I do believe that what is of interest to the people of northern Ontario and our mining clients is very much what we intend to do to deal with a number of issues and deal with a number of concerns in their communities which they continue to have. I am certainly prepared to deal with all of the programming and the initiatives and the matters that we continue to try and deal with in conjunction with our stakeholders, but I am not prepared to redo or retry or reintroduce in any way, shape or form the case which I do believe was effectively and adequately dealt with by a third party.
Mr Miclash: Minister, let me make it very clear. The people of northern Ontario at this present time are questioning your accountability. We've had the Sudbury incident with the Martel inquiry. We've had this incident over the past few weeks. They are questioning your accountability. You indicated earlier that you were to act as an advocate on their behalf. They want to know whether you are the accountable advocate they are looking for.
Hon Ms Martel: I believe that the people who are across Ontario, in northern Ontario in particular, are concerned about jobs and the economy, what their future is, and are their kids going to have jobs? What we have been trying to do very much in the ministry over the last four years, despite the very difficult economic times, has been to respond to that concern and that priority, which I think is at the top of their minds.
Earlier, when I went through the program and the delivery of the same across the ministry, I did try very hard to indicate the kinds of capital programs we have in place in the ministry to respond, to try and get short-term and long-term job creation. I talked about the very specific initiatives we have at the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp to deal with small and medium business to try and create new jobs in northern Ontario. I talked very clearly about the role that we are playing with MNR to deal with the hardwoods project, which will again create several thousand new jobs in the forestry industry in northern Ontario.
I think those are the kinds of things that this ministry represents, is concerned about, is worried about and is interested in, and I am trying to underline those to the committee members this afternoon and also indicate that those projects that deal with those specific issues are ones that our ministry and myself will try to continue to deal with and bring to fruition over the next number of months.
Mr Miclash: But again, Minister, I bring a very specific issue to the committee, an issue again that came through a letter to me. Being that you are unwilling to answer any of the questions I have about this letter, would it be appropriate that we ask for your legal counsel, Mr Stepinac, to come forward? I understand he is in the audience and that he may want to share some information on this issue and this issue that is close to me at this present time.
Hon Ms Martel: I think I made it clear when we began the line of questioning this morning on this issue that neither myself nor my staff were here to retry the issues involved in a case that a third party has dealt with. Neither my staff nor myself who are here today will get involved in discussing the issues surrounding that case. We think the third party has made its recommendation and its point of view very clear and we intend to follow up on it.
The Chair: I must intercede here because you've put the Chair in a difficult position. It is the right of every member of this committee to raise questions with the minister and/or staff. If I am listening carefully enough to the minister, I think she's suggested that she's directed her staff not to respond to this. That would be a first in my nine years here that I have ever had that statement made by a minister. Perhaps the minister may wish to clarify that, but I cannot in any way leave the assumption that Mr Miclash has lost the right to call forward a staff member, and I mean ministry staff as presented in the docket which has been tabled by the minister. If they choose to answer a question, that's another matter, but I have difficulty, as the Chair, hearing that any staff member has been directed not to respond to something
This matter is not before the courts nor a tribunal of this Legislature in any form. Therefore, if called for a ruling, I'd have to discuss this matter even further. So could I turn the microphone back to either the minister or Mr Miclash, and hopefully that Chairman's interruption is helpful.
The Chair: I'm sorry, it's not a ruling. If you have a specific staff member you'd like to call forward, do so. Place your question. But I'm not suggesting I'd like to get into a debate about what can be answered and not be answered. I merely wished to advise the committee, before I heard a question of order as to whether or not -- your ability to call forward a specific staff member to ask them a question. That is your right in accordance with the standing orders and the procedures of the estimates committee.
The Chair: Mr Miclash, you're a member of this committee. You're familiar -- you can ask any member of the ministry staff to come forward to respond to a question. That's all I wish to say at this time.
Mr Stephen Stepinac: My name is Stephen Stepinac. I am a lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General, as all government lawyers are, seconded to the legal services branches, and at all the times that we're talking about, I was legal director for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
Mr Stepinac: Mr Miclash, with the greatest of respect to you and to this committee, I'm not prepared to discuss that letter or this case. I also very strongly believe that the matter that you're alluding to has been fully investigated and has been determined by the privacy commissioner, and I also feel that it is inappropriate to try to retry, re-examine or rediscuss the issues in that investigation at this committee.
Mr Elston: Are you refusing this because you perceive that you have no obligation to advise elected members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario about the operations, your internal operations and your legal operations, in the Ministry of Northern Development?
Mr Stepinac: I've not been instructed to not answer the question, and I did try to answer the question the way that I feel is proper. I do believe that this is an inappropriate forum and would be showing some disrespect for the process that the commissioner's office has just --
Mr Arnott: I'll follow up to Mr Stepinac. You must understand the frustration of members of this committee. The estimates process, I'm sure you're somewhat familiar with. This may be the first time you've been at an estimates committee meeting, but it's a matter of accountability of various ministers to the Legislature. The convention has been that we can ask questions of the minister on just about any issue with respect to the ministry.
This issue that we're concentrating on right now is of public concern today. The minister has consistently refused to answer any of these questions and she has a statement that she makes each time. It's very frustrating for us. Why won't you answer the question that Mr Elston has put to you?
Mr Arnott: Have you had any direct involvement with this issue previous to the last couple of weeks? I think the question Mr Elston raised was, did you provide advice to the minister with respect to whether or not what she had planned to do in this letter to Mr Miclash was a breach of the privacy act?
Mr Stepinac: Yes. As I mentioned, I was legal director to the ministry at all the relevant times and I've previously, in speaking with others, indicated that I had provided legal advice in this matter. I hope you appreciate that that is another reason why certain areas of questioning create a professional difficulty for me in terms of solicitor-client privilege.
Mr Arnott: The minister has said, subject to the advice that she received, what she intended to do in this letter did not breach the privacy act. Can you explain to the committee why it would not breach the privacy act?
Mr Stepinac: The privacy commissioner has considered all of the submissions that I was able to make and which I had thought through earlier in terms of the interpretation of the act. The commissioner has now interpreted the act in a way that we've all become familiar with and --
Mr Arnott: I'm not a lawyer, and it appears to me we've got maybe a subjective matter where differing opinions can be brought to bear. Can you explain why, in your opinion, it did not breach the privacy act, what she had intended to do?
Mr Stepinac: I guess the best way to answer that is, the opinion I had initially given was not concurred in by the privacy commissioner, and that is obviously the result of the recommendation and decision that we now have.
Mr Turnbull: Mr Stepinac, at what point were you requested to give a legal opinion on the appropriateness of releasing confidential information? When did the minister ask you for an opinion on that letter?
Mr Stepinac: Again, I've indicated that I don't want to be getting into the details of the case that the commissioner's office has just investigated, but I can give you my assurance that I was consulted, that legal advice was sought prior to the letter being prepared and I gave legal advice.
Mr Turnbull: Let me ask you, since the commissioner has given his ruling -- this is not a provisional ruling, this is the final ruling -- why would it be that you would not give an accounting to a committee which is responsible for overseeing the affairs, the activities of the ministry when that matter is concluded?
Mr Stepinac: I'm not anticipating any specific action. I know that in law there are various possible legal actions that might occur. I think what I'm trying to avoid is re-examining the case that the commissioner's office has just investigated and reported on.
Mr Turnbull: We're not asking you to re-examine it. We're asking for answers as to the circumstances under which you gave this opinion that it didn't violate anybody's rights, releasing this confidential information.
Mr Stepinac: Well, again, I'm conscious and I hope you are at least sensitive to the normal sort of solicitor-client privilege that does apply to these types of situations, and I'm reluctant to get into the specifics of advice that was sought and given by me and relied upon. All I can do is say that it was asked for and I did give it. The commissioner's office has considered the matter very carefully now and I'm trying to avoid rearguing the case that I put forward initially.
Mr Turnbull: It seems to me that there's a vast difference between what a lawyer might normally call a "client" when your client was the government of Ontario, and you will appreciate that we are responsible to the people; the whole government, not just the party that won power. We are the responsible people who report back to the electorate. I don't believe you were retained as a personal lawyer to the minister. I believe that you were on staff as a lawyer advising the ministry. There's a vast difference there.
You surely are not wanting to hold back information after the conclusion of that investigation which would further enhance the understanding of this committee about the workings of the ministry, which is specifically what this committee is empowered to look into.
Mr Stepinac: No, I always have and I continue to consider it a personal and professional privilege to provide advice to cabinet ministers. I am quite aware of the fact that there is a governmental background and an institutional context. I've enjoyed working within it for some years and I have a very, very high regard for it. I have no intention at all and I'm not trying to belittle the considerations of this committee and suggesting that advice given to a cabinet minister is in a realm that doesn't deserve scrutiny.
I think all I'm saying is that there has been scrutiny given, very careful scrutiny, by the freedom of information and privacy commissioner recently to the advice that was given, to the considerations that were provided and relied upon, and the recommendation has been given as to what the perhaps proper, shall we say, interpretation of the law should be. I'm very deferential to the proper role of that tribunal and I respect its mandate to provide its experienced and considered advice as to the proper interpretation of the act. I accept that and I'm not seeking and I don't believe that it would be appropriate for me to be seeking an opportunity to try out arguments that obviously didn't prevail in the course of that investigation.
Mr Turnbull: With all due respect, there's a difference between that process, which has clearly found the minister in violation of the law, and the Premier's guidelines. I mean, that's not in dispute. We're not talking about that. What we're talking about in this committee is the operation of the ministry, which is specifically what we're here today to do, to understand how the ministry works.
If we've got this organization which is spending its time slandering the citizens of Ontario, I think we'd better get to solving the problems of the ministry and understand whether the minister can possibly continue in her role as minister, because the people of northern Ontario expect to be represented, and when you have a minister who absolutely has been found to be in violation of the act and the guidelines, we're trying to find out the circumstances of what goes on in the ministry.
Mr Stepinac: I will. I will do my best to answer them as best I can, Mr Turnbull. All I can tell you is that I hope you appreciate that there are some professional constraints on the amount of information that I'm prepared to disclose today. When my legal advice was sought I gave it as best I could, and I'm not prepared to get into an area of what I consider to be solicitor-client privilege in a historical and simple sense that I think we're all familiar with.
Secondly, I have no wish whatsoever to try to get another opportunity to put forward whatever submissions I may have put forward in the past about the interpretation of the act. Aside from that, I'm more than happy to try to help.
Mr Turnbull: When you were asked for legal advice with respect to this letter, did not lights go off in your head as to the fact that the ministry was conscientiously going around collecting confidential information about a citizen of Ontario for dissemination to discredit that man?
Mr Stepanic: Mr Turnbull, all I can say is, this is precisely what the freedom of information commissioner has investigated and has considered all of my thoughts on and has provided an interpretation of the act.
The Chair: Mr Turnbull, I interjected on a point of order earlier and I think we have to be very careful. To my knowledge, there's no evidence to support what's implicit in the statement impugning motive here. I just think in fairness to the parliamentary procedure and our standing rules, it would be helpful today if you'd rephrase that. I have ruled that impugning motive would be inappropriate in the setting and the circumstances, as this committee understands the circumstances.
Mr Turnbull: Mr Chairman, I have asked in a general sense, is it appropriate that a government ministry should set out to actively collect information of a confidential nature about a citizen and then disseminate that?
Mr Stepinac: No. The way the Ministry of the Attorney General operates, we're assigned to a specific ministry and minister. I have in the course of my career provided advice to other ministers, but I'm not sure that's what you're asking.
Mr Arnott: Okay. The minister has said that the privacy commissioner conducted a complete investigation of all the relevant facts. You've said that you provided advice to the minister, and the advice was that what she had intended to do did not breach the privacy act. Did you make some sort of submission to the privacy commissioner in the context of the investigation that the privacy commissioner undertook?
We accept the fact that the minister breached the privacy act. I think the minister accepts that fact. She said that in the future she's asked her ministry officials to be conscious of this decision and implicitly not to do it again.
Mr Stepinac: Mr Arnott, I think what I'd like to do is this: I would like to check with the privacy commissioner's office, first, to see if it has any concerns about what it is that I'm releasing. I honestly, off the top of my head, don't know whether there are some other provisions of the privacy legislation that we'd have to be conscious of in the course of divulging correspondence.
Mr Turnbull: -- but you gave advice to the minister that it was fine to let out confidential information about a taxpayer who opposed the government. Doesn't there seem to be a contradiction in that statement to you?
Mr Stepinac: No, that's not my concern at all. I do sense a certain irony in the situation, and that's what I thought you were getting at. My concern is simply that there is an issue of personal information and disclosure of personal information that may arise, ironically. I'm still bound by the same law and I don't want to --
I was going to say that there are two things I'd like to do, and the other is to satisfy myself just simply professionally that there is not an issue of solicitor-client privilege that shouldn't be considered here. I can tell you this also: If you've had an opportunity of seeing the privacy commissioner's report, there is reference made to the legal positions that were taken there. In any event, I think I've answered that question.
Mr Arnott: I'd just like to go back to the minister very briefly since we only have one minute to go. How many members of the Legislature did you provide this information to, Minister? Mr Miclash, Mr Chiarelli. How many other members? Who received this letter?
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Arnott, if I might, I've been quite consistent in saying very clearly to the members of the committee that I do not think we would use this forum, and I would use this forum, to retry or re-examine or rediscuss or go through again this particular case. I do believe that after four months, the third party in this case, the information and privacy commission, examined everything that there was to examine and has made a ruling. It is a ruling which this ministry will both abide by and take into account and make sure we respond back to within a six-month period concerning all the steps we've taken to make sure that all of the staff are cognizant of dealing with personal information in a manner and form that is in compliance with not only this act but all others.
Mr Turnbull: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: I recognize that the minister is probably feeling quite humble today, but could we please ask her to speak up into the microphone so that we might hear properly what she is saying.
Mr Martin: That's what I would prefer to have happen, if the minister would be so kind as to talk to us a bit about those issues that are most, I think, of interest to at least the constituents I represent in Sault Ste Marie re her ministry and if we could hear a bit about her future plans for economic development, for the creation of jobs, the preservation of jobs, and as such the enhancing of the quality of life of all of us who choose to live in northern Ontario.
Hon Ms Martel: I'm sorry, I'm just making some notes to myself, Mr Martin. Let me begin in the following way. There are, I think, a number of initiatives that we as a ministry have undertaken to deal with economic development and with diversification in northern Ontario and we will continue to deal with those. There are also some other possibilities which we as a ministry continue to work on now which I think are of interest to the committee.
Specifically, clearly our role as a ministry is to support the traditional industries which in turn have supported our economy in northern Ontario, and the two of those would be forestry and mining. On the forestry side, if I might, we spent a substantial amount of money, frankly, during 1991-92, through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp to sustain a number of communities whose employment was derived almost primarily or singularly from sawmills, and at that time, with the high value of the Canadian dollar, with the trade war that was going on with the United States, a number of those were in a very difficult position. We provided some financial assistance to a number of communities which, as it has turned out, have survived through the recession and which at this point in time are making more money than ever before in the province of Ontario. So we took some very specific steps, and the industry and those communities as a consequence continue to survive and should be in a good and healthy position in the long term.
Secondly, we are working with the Ministry of Natural Resources on the hardwood initiative, which is the use of birch and poplar in the forestry industry, because we believe that is a way for a number in our forest products industry to go because there is a huge demand for these products across the United States. We're very pleased, so far, by the work we have done in participation with the ministry to review the business proposals that have come in between northeastern and northwestern Ontario to establish new mills or expand current mills. We have made five announcements to date, the most recent this morning in Timmins, and we have a number of others where we will be developing new mills, and across all of those proposals we'll employ several thousands of people in new jobs, which I think will be important for workers and their families in our part of the province.
On the mines side, we have certainly gone through some very difficult economic times and as a consequence we spent a lot of time, when I came to this ministry originally, dealing with our client groups to find out what it was that we could implement or be helpful with which would in turn have them invest more money in exploration and development, claim-staking etc in the province. Earlier this morning I outlined some of the initiatives -- I'll try and quickly reinforce them -- which we think will be helpful to them and will sustain the industry in a healthy way in the long term.
We spent an enormous amount of money on the capital side to develop our databases. We will have the best databases in North America over the next two years, which will provide to our clients the most up-to-date and relevant geological and geographical information they can possibly access with respect to mineral potential in the province.
Secondly, we continue to maintain a number of financial assistance programs for prospectors and developers and for junior mining companies to try and encourage them to do their work in northern Ontario, and we do that through the Ontario incentive mining program and Ontario prospectors assistance program. We also do that through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp and we do that through another program called NORT, northern Ontario resources transportation, which provides assistance on a cost-sharing basis for developing access roads into mining sites.
We've also very much tried to streamline our regulatory process in the province, both in terms of permits and environmental regulation, because we know people make investment decisions based on how long it will take them to get permits. We're very cognizant of the fact that it takes a lot of money to do that kind of thing and you want some certainty in getting through the process.
We will be undertaking in Ontario the provincial response to the Whitehorse mining initiative, which also emphasized a number of other areas that our mining clients felt government could be helpful in dealing with in order to ensure that mining continues in this province and across Canada. Our next meeting will be on October 25. I look forward to working with our clients not only in the industry but in the environmental, native and union community, to work through those recommendations not only through my ministry but through the other ministries of this government that are implicated.
We do recognize, however, that in sustaining our traditional resource space we also ought very much to try and promote other diversification efforts which will supplement the funds that come into a community through mining and forestry, so we spent a great deal of money in two areas, one on the development of snowmobile trails throughout northern Ontario and in fact throughout the province, some $14 million through Jobs Ontario Capital that was announced two years ago. In that respect, we have trails that are being developed right across in particular our special part of the province, which have resulted in an enormous benefit to a number of communities.
In all my travels in the north last year, in every community that I was in, the mayors and the reeves and the chambers of commerce who talked to me about Sno-TRAC were very clear that huge numbers of people, particularly from the States, were coming and supplementing the economy in buying gas, staying in their hotels and purchasing food and were really helping to diversify the economic base.
We've also tried to promote summer tourism opportunities. We've really made a very significant investment in waterfront developments in about 50 communities across northern Ontario. We've made several millions of dollars' investments in a number of communities so that they can have the facilities in place in terms of slips, marinas, service crafts, machine operations etc to service all of that kind of boat trade, again, which predominantly comes from the United States. We've made a major investment on the capital side to make sure that the tourism sector in northern Ontario has a good base for both winter and summer tourism.
Two other things, if I might. We continue to be very conscious of the need to support northern businesses and northern entrepreneurs. We annually allocate all of the funds we receive at the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp to support northern businesses and northern entrepreneurs to allow them both to retain their current level of employment and to expand the level of employment as well.
We have done some very good work in a number of sectors, some new sectors in the last year, as a matter of fact, to ensure that we are recognizing all of the players that make an economic contribution in northern Ontario -- agriculture and food, for an example -- and can find ways and means to support them either through grants or loans and loan guarantees to ensure that this employment and those employment levels will continue.
Finally, given our example in Kapuskasing, at Algoma Steel, at Provincial Papers in Thunder Bay, we very much do believe in a philosophy that allows communities and workers in communities to participate in their place of employment and in their industry.
I guess I've been particularly pleased that in the time we've been here we've been ale to put forward legislation which allows for labour-sponsored venture capital funds which allow for employee ownership of companies, because I think, in the cases that I've just described, they have been what has saved those communities and those places of employment. We will continue to work with both workers and community members to try and develop share corporations, for example, to try and develop strategic plans so that communities themselves have the funds and the legislative tools to secure their own economic development opportunities, as they've had in those major cases.
Mr Daniel Waters (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I come from the riding just south of you, the wannabe riding. I guess it's because I'm jealous that I don't have a minister who is so dedicated as you and your ministry are to your communities. I find it amazing, when I travel through the north, working with Tourism and Culture and Recreation, the work that you do in your ministry.
I'd like to focus a little bit, indeed, partially on Sno-TRAC, one of my favourite topics, as well as waterfront. I know you've been doing a lot of work on waterfront in northern Ontario as well as with Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association. Especially in recent months I believe that your ministry has been taking the lead in doing something. When we became the government I remember sitting in on a couple of meetings with Mr Wildman trying, very early on, to ensure the very survival of NOTOA, which is a vital part of northern Ontario. I know that you've been very active in doing that.
The Sno-TRAC, even Mr Miclash has sent a note across the floor to me saying that this is probably the best thing that has been done by any government in winter tourism, ever. In my travels, I can tell you, from everywhere in northern Ontario, indeed through to New Brunswick, I get nothing but: "How did you do it in Ontario? It's a good job. Well done. How do we indeed learn from your experience?"
If you could go and talk a little bit more, maybe, about how tourism is changing in the north, how that leads to viable communities that were marginal before because of the loss of mining or timber in the area, and maybe if you could also touch on, at the same time, if your ministry has some sort of vision with the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and future linkages between this major industry and the tourism community that you're building in the north.
Hon Ms Martel: Let me go back and maybe talk a little bit more about both the Sno-TRAC program and waterfront development. I want to make it clear to everyone that the ministry continues very strongly to support the traditional resource industries in northern Ontario. Those industries support and provide a livelihood for thousands of people in northern Ontario and the value they return to the economy in terms of economic wealth generated is terribly important to us as well. So we do spend a significant amount of time supporting those traditional industries.
I would not here, in any way, shape or form, suggest that we are looking to tourism opportunities to overtake that. What we are looking for, however, is for tourism opportunities which will supplement the income that people derive from those tourism opportunities and which will help those communities that have traditionally been dependent on a single industry to have some economic diversification and a separate and different source of funding to generate both employment and economic wealth in their communities.
Having said that, two years ago, when the cabinet made the decision to move forward on Sno-TRAC, obviously there were concerns around a number of tables that a $12-million investment in a transprovincial snowmobile system was a large amount of money to be dedicating on the capital side when we were also concerned with the funding of hospitals, schools, social services etc. However, the argument that was made very strongly by me and a number of others was that this was a very important economic generator in northern Ontario in particular, although I recognize that Sno-TRAC extends to some southern communities as well, and that the people involved in snowmobiles, through the federation in particular, could deliver on both the jobs and the local share of funding that was required to make this program work.
What we have seen, in fact, is that in all ways, shapes and forms our investment of money in this has by far and wide paid for itself. We've seen that on a number of fronts. First of all, with respect to the local clubs, the amount of money they have raised to carry out their portion of the work under this program has been far larger than even they anticipated, and their financial contribution in terms of volunteer hours has been quite tremendous and has allowed this program to succeed in the way it has.
Secondly, in terms of all kinds of other economic indicators, we've seen a huge increase in the tourism sector and jobs and wealth generated. This came through a survey that the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs did itself. They looked at a number of establishments at the end of last year's season and reported back to us that snowmobile sales were up by an average of 44% over the previous year in those industries that were either selling snowmobile goods or gas etc; 60% of those establishments reported an increase of about 42%; and the people they were hiring, some of the hospitality establishments, including those dealing with accommodation, food and beverages, reported a 52% increase in sales and about a 47% increase in staff in many of those establishments. We found the same thing in both gas bars and service stations: anywhere from a 55% increase in sales and about a 17% increase in terms of personnel.
So we have clearly seen a spinoff benefit across northern Ontario in the hospitality and sales and tourism sector that we didn't think was going to be possible, certainly not in the numbers we have seen. That's been very important and I think demonstrates clearly that the program is working and is going to continue to be successful.
On the summer tourism side, again our commitment is in a couple of areas. By far the greatest investment is on the capital side, but we also have spent money dealing with the work that has to be done up front to even get to a request for capital programs. We also, having put the capital in place in terms of waterfronts, want to make sure that communities and regions can then market what they have to offer both in the States and internationally.
What we have done, particularly on the capital and the promotional support side, in the time that I have been, is to provide about $21 million to 124 communities for waterfront development projects. Again, there is a local share which has increased and added to the investment that has been made in the public sector, and we've spent about half a million dollars through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp to provide for promotional material and to allow regions and communities to go to the shows they need to go to to support their waterfront activity and promote it.
I think there is a lot more potential in this area in particular, because some of the capital projects are only now coming on stream, and some of the communities, for example those along the north shore, have just begun to coordinate themselves in terms of forming an organization that will go out and actively market what they have to offer. I'm feeling quite happy about the investment we've made because again I think that like Sno-TRAC, it will come back to this government in leaps and bounds and certainly come back to those communities in terms of people who will be hired and the wealth generated.
ONTC has a particular mandate, which has been to deliver very much economic and transportation and telecommunications services throughout northern Ontario. There have been difficult times at ONTC because they have a fixed-price contract with this ministry and that fixed-price contract has also been part and parcel of some of the expenditure cuts that we have had to deal with. So we have had to work with ONTC to identify those areas of service that we felt were not vitally important to the organization that perhaps we could consider reducing in funding in order to meet some of our targets.
However, having said that, I'm pleased with the work that the commission is doing now because, as a consequence of having to do that, the commission and the chair are very actively trying to look at what is the role and mandate of this organization in northern Ontario. At every board meeting where they are travelling outside of North Bay, they meet with community representatives, representatives from the chamber of commerce, labour, ONTC employees etc the night before so that they can go through the role and the mandate of the organization and what northerners think ONTC should be providing as a service as well.
We have been working with them to look at what should be the new vision for the organization in light of the fiscal constraints and in light of the fact that the fiscal constraints will probably be upon us for the next number of years, so we won't have large amounts of dollars to add or have expanding services. We have to be really clear about the services we are providing, what they should be and how we can deliver them in an effective way.
The commission has undertaken on its own what I think is an important initiative along the James Bay coast. This is to deal particularly with the native communities along the James Bay coast and with Moosonee. Traditionally, the commission, Ontario heritage and the former Hudson's Bay Co did provide some funds for tourism activities and tourist projects -- "attractions" is a better word -- in Moosonee and Moose Factory. However, over the course of time that funding has not kept to the levels it should, so we are looking now, in conjunction with those communities -- and a committee has been established with community representation -- at how we can much better deliver tourism and tourism initiatives in that particular part of northern Ontario.
We really want to ensure that there are economic opportunities for aboriginal people in those communities, and Matt and other board members, along with representatives from the communities, are working through that vision now and hope they will come back to the ministry in the next number of months to see how we can be helpful and what we can do.
Finally, with respect to NOTOA, we do provide funding for NOTOA to support the ongoing operation. We did that because we thought it was an important voice that should be heard in northern Ontario with respect to outlining and describing concerns, programs that we could deliver etc with respect to tourism. We will continue to look for the ways and means, again within a reduced budget, to support that operation in the way we have in the past.
Mr Stepinac: Mr Miclash, I wonder if I could answer you this way and then you can decide how to proceed: In general, persons in the ministry from various divisions or various branches in the ministry will contact me to ask me to review correspondence. That could be for strictly a dry legal reason relating to a statutory provision, for example. It could be for a freedom of information and protection of privacy issue, for example. It could be for factual accuracy or corporate memory -- the legal branch has been involved with something over time. It's within our normal job description, if you like, to be reviewing correspondence or participating as correspondence is drafted.
That is what happened in this case. Depending on where you want to go with that, I guess, I'm not comfortable getting into the specifics of any legal advice that I provided at the time for the reasons I alluded to earlier.
Mr Miclash: How often would correspondence such as this come for your review? How many of these would you go through in, say, a year? They've indicated in answer to my earlier question that there are approximately 3,000 pieces of correspondence that go out from the unit on an annual basis. How many of those 3,000 would you see, or that counsel would review, roughly?
Mr Stepinac: I have difficulty even estimating the number. There are a couple of things you should know. The legal branch in Northern Development and Mines has three lawyers and the lawyers may well work on files with their own client groups and review matters that I, as the legal director, wouldn't have knowledge of because there was no need for me to know how they were dealing with their particular client groups. The other reason is, I don't know how I could give you an accurate answer. I can tell you it's frequent, it's normal. Having said that, I can't quantify it in terms of numbers, I'm sorry.
Mr Miclash: Going back to the letter in question, it was referred to you. Was it that they wanted your legal advice as to the privacy concerns, whether it contained slanderous information, or libel concerns -- the letter that I am referring to.
Mr Stepinac: I'm afraid, Mr Miclash, I'm not really comfortable discussing that with you for the reasons that I said. I'm just not prepared to get into issues of specific advice that I provided to the people within the ministry.
Mr Stepinac: It would be a matter of history. It would be a matter of who's been working with a particular client group, if someone, for example, has been working with a particular project in the Northern Development division or a particular issue in it.
Mr Stepinac: Well, because it's such a small ministry and such a small branch -- my colleague may have knowledge of this. In any event, the work isn't broken down discretely. I think it's fair to say that --
Mr Stepinac: Yes. I did work in connection with mining tax issues in the sense of the historical development of the legislation in the late, I guess, 1980s, and there's another lawyer in the division who does a lot of work with the mines and minerals division who also would have done work in connection with mining tax matters.
Mr Elston: If you had not seen a letter that was going out on mining tax issues, ie, you weren't working with that particular issue, how would it be earmarked in your ministry so that it would come to your attention?
Mr Stepinac: It's not unusual but it's -- I'm not sure how to answer you. It's one of the areas that I think a lawyer would normally be expected to consider. I think when a client comes in and says, "This is what the issue is that we're talking about, we'd like your input -- "
Mr Stepinac: Because it was such a small branch, the director of legal was also required to do a lot of legal work, as any normal lawyer would do. But in any event, no, I did not formulate specific guidelines to be followed by lawyers in the branch. However, all the lawyers in the branch regularly receive updates from the freedom of information branch at Management Board and minutes of meetings from the Ministry of the Attorney General information and privacy group, as well as being frequently asked, just in the course of a normal working day, by client groups about FOI issues.
Mr Stepinac: No, that wasn't why, Mr Elston. I think I was very comfortable that the lawyers in the legal branch operated in a sound manner and in a thorough manner so as to result in a good canvass of any legal issues that may arise in correspondence they were dealing with. I didn't see any need to flag this area, as opposed to correct reference to statutes, for example, or any other particular area.
Mr Elston: What are the general circumstances that alert or bring to your attention letters concerning privacy? Can you tell us how many of those letters you may have viewed for a legal opinion over the course of the past, let's say, eight months?
Mr Stepinac: As I said earlier, whenever anyone asks me to either participate in the formulation of some work, including reviewing correspondence, that would be a normal area I certainly would consider as part of the input that person wanted.
Mr Stepinac: Sure, but I think, to answer your question, I would always have to be attuned to the issue of FOI and it would be common for me to either identify areas that might involve personal information or confidential commercial information, for example, or other areas that under the FOI act should be noted.
Mr Elston: Although you have not written the guidelines, you must have in your own mind a test that you would work your way through, at least a mental template if not a written template, for judgement or benchmarking your decision. What does your template look like with respect to the decisions that you would make in terms of releasing information about persons of a private nature?
Mr Stepinac: That template, I think, would be a reflection of the statute and I'm not going to suggest to you that I know the act by heart. I can tell you that was one of the relatively few statutes I kept a consolidated copy of literally by my desk because the FOI legislation itself, first of all, is fairly complex and deserves very careful thought to work through the legislation and, secondly, although it's been around for several years, it's relatively new legislation in Ontario and there are many sections of it that have not been interpreted by the courts or, for that matter, by the privacy commissioner. My own practice, anyway, is to be careful and methodical and not rely on a mental template. As I said, the red, consolidated copy beside my desk is well-thumbed.
Mr Elston: So you as the director have felt that although you wouldn't rely on a mental template, you as the director of legal services never thought to provide the people under your charge with any kind of a written template or guideline with respect to the application of this act because you have more sort of faith in their judgement than you do in your own?
Mr Stepinac: No, I wouldn't say that at all. There is a written template. It's the statute itself. I've delivered seminars to ministry staff on the freedom of information act and I've always cautioned them that it's impossible to do a discreet, neat, short written summary of that legislation. You just can't do it. There are sections and pages of sections that have to be read carefully. They can't be summarized and they can't be simply put on a page or two and put forward as guidelines.
I think most lawyers, certainly government lawyers, are sensitive to the fact that while the federal government has two different acts, and we have the one that combines both the elements of protection of privacy and disclosure of public records, this act is designed in such a way that it covers a lot of ground and you just have to go at the consideration of FOI issues slowly.
Mr Elston: In respect to mining business, property holdings and issues of future plans for property holdings are in fact highly confidential and very important financial aspects of anybody's holding; is that not true? In most cases, I don't want you to broadcast publicly that I hold lot 7, concession 3 of -- I don't know -- Iron Ore township.
Mr Stepinac: No, I'm talking about specific mining information that's available in mining recorders' offices. There would be thousands of claims on record in each of the recorders' offices which are available to the public, and they disclose the ownership, the extent of the size, the work that's been done.
Mr Elston: So the location of the property is okay, perhaps the fact that they have done core samples, because there's a public record of core samples taken from places, that type of information that's already registered in one of the public registries or recorders' offices is available for general distribution. That's the way you look at it?
Mr Elston: But if I were, to your knowledge, interested in marketing or not marketing or developing or not developing, wouldn't you think that was some kind of confidential information as to my intention as to what I would be doing with my property?
Mr Elston: The people would choose or consent to the distribution of that information, in fact. They wouldn't ask the ministry to distribute information about personal intentions with regard to their land holdings.
Mr Stepinac: They might well share their personal intentions with many of the mines and minerals staff, for example. Mining recorders and resident geologists I'm sure have a great deal of that type of information with respect to the intentions of holders of claims.
Mr Stepinac: Without consent, as a matter of fact, if there's personal information or confidential commercial information, the act specifically says that it is not to be disclosed. There must be consent. That's right.
Mr Elston: So if you had a template that people could use that was written down to judge whether or not that type of information with respect to intentions of dealing with the property was to be released, you would probably write an instruction that said, "Don't tell anybody what an intended use was going to be," wouldn't you?
Mr Stepinac: Again, I anticipated where you're going on this. I'm reluctant, Mr Elston, to get into the specifics of the legal advice I gave. All I can tell you is that I gave the advice for reasons that I felt professionally comfortable with.
Mr Elston: What changes are you making? Are you going to write guidelines for your people? Are you going to instruct them differently in the future, or how are you going to prevent this type of problem from surfacing again?
Mr Stepinac: As we have heard, the deputy minister will be putting a plan in place to implement the recommendation of the commissioner. I know the legal branch will cooperate fully with that and I would expect that we would get advice from the freedom of information branch, for example, as to what would be most effective.
Mr Stepinac: First of all, I'm not aware of any practice that the commission has or offers for advance rulings or advice of that sort. Having said that, I haven't sought such advice in the past because the circumstances haven't suggested I should. I'm certainly willing to seek that type of advice now. All I can say is that I'm not sure it's available. I know that the freedom of information branch at Management Board is very helpful. We've used them over the years as part of the programs that we have run to try to keep staff current with freedom of information issues. If the commission and the commissioner's office will provide a similar sort of a service, I know we'd be more than happy to get any advice they could offer.
Mr Stepinac: I have not, but having said that, there are regular meetings of freedom of information coordinators and regular meetings of Ministry of the Attorney General lawyers who deal with freedom of information issues, and we have regularly attended those meetings over the years.
I guess I could respond in this way: I'm satisfied that the practice and the concern that would be afforded to freedom of information issues in our ministry would be consistent with that in other ministries.
Mr Stepinac: Subject to what I've said. We've got regular meetings of Ministry of the Attorney General lawyers, and others in the branch attended those meetings regularly. But I would expect any government lawyer to be --
Mr Elston: Could you provide for us copies of your seminar material that you would've presented in your ministry so that we could take a peek at some of the things you had instructed your people to consider when they were going through?
Mr Arnott: I have a question for the minister, and it's one last question on this issue of the breach of the privacy law. A couple of years ago, the Minister of Health of the day, Evelyn Gigantes, in response to a question in the Legislature revealed the name of a patient who, as I recall, had been treated for drug rehabilitation in the United States. She said at the time that it was inadvertent, really. She was under the impression, and she had been briefed apparently, that this person's name was already in the public domain. She certainly wasn't deliberately breaching the privacy laws. But when it was brought to her attention that in fact his name had not been in the public domain, she resigned, and the Premier accepted her resignation.
There are a lot of parallels between that situation and what's happened to you, Minister, in my opinion. You say that you sought legal advice prior to sending out that letter to Mr Miclash. In that sense, it would appear, if we accept that, that your breach of the privacy law was unintentional, that you didn't mean to do it. To the best of your information, you were not breaching the privacy law, so you went ahead and did it.
But parliamentary tradition, personal honour and accountability of the minister, all of those concepts came to play on Evelyn Gigantes's mind. She resigned. The Premier accepted it. Why is your case different than Evelyn Gigantes's?
Hon Ms Martel: Mr Arnott, I believe that you're asking me to respond to the issue which I think has been very fully and very carefully dealt with by the Privacy Commissioner. I think what's important for myself and for the ministry at this point is that there is a recommendation that has been placed before us by that commission, and we will undertake to the best of our ability to make sure that we comply with that, and we will let the commissioner know, within a six-month time period, what actions we have undertaken in order to do so. So I really think that what you are asking me has to do very much with a case and an issue that I think has been dealt with by a third party.
Mr Turnbull: Minister, you can only hide for so long. The serious questions that are being raised today are questions which relate to your credibility and your ability to carry out your duty as minister of the crown responsible for northern affairs. I'm aware of the fact that probably of all of the ministers in the cabinet, you get just about the least questions, and that came around about since you took a lie detector test to prove that you were lying. I understand the arguments that you have made in all of these cases. We followed very carefully your defence of your position as a minister. But I'm always reminded of Harry Truman with his sign on his desk, "The Buck Stops Here."
The people of northern Ontario have legitimate concerns, and they have had under all governments, but they have required that a minister be responsible to look after their affairs. Given the seriousness of the question that those people who oppose you or your government have punitive treatment measured out to them, you must surely be aware that this committee is concerned with how your ministry can effectively operate under these circumstances. Do you not think that it would be in the best interests of the people that you are charged with representing, namely the people of northern Ontario, that you step aside and let somebody who has credibility take over this important ministry?
Hon Ms Martel: I think what is in the best interests right now of everyone concerned is to be assured, which I have tried to do here today and publicly, that both the deputy and I will undertake to be very clear that we deal with the recommendation that has been put to us by the Privacy Commissioner.
We specifically said three weeks ago, and I have repeated today, that we will undertake all of the efforts that are necessary, whatever they are, to be sure that all of the staff are sensitized to the disclosure of personal information in a way that conforms with the act, as the commission's office has requested. I think that's what's most important, and we will do that, and we will advise the commission, before the six-month period is up, as to how we have done that.
I also think that, in terms of dealing with and being responsible for the affairs of people of northern Ontario, I did spend some time this morning and have tried in questions that have been raised to outline very specifically to the members those programs and those policy areas and those issues that we have undertaken as a ministry and as ministry staff to deal with some of the very difficult economic issues that have faced people in the special part of the province in which I live.
I think our work on the capital side, our work in dealing with small and medium-size business, our work in dealing with communities in crisis and our work in trying to deal with the exploration community over the last number of months has demonstrated that we are trying to deal responsibly with those issues and that over the next number of months some of the projects that continue with those areas of concern and others will come to further fruition and, we hope, further benefits for the people whom we are trying to represent.
Mr Turnbull: With all due respect, Minister, you have been found guilty of having broken the letter of the law and also the Premier's guidelines. We know that the concerns of people in northern Ontario are very serious matters. I fail to see how you can believe that you can discharge your duties credibly when those people who have opinions which are at variance with you are attacked. There's a very serious erosion of the democratic process when a minister of the crown is prepared to disseminate private information about individuals in order to get the upper hand. That is an absolute crisis within your government and specifically your ministry, and you are at the centre of it.
Minister, we're talking about estimates today. We are trying to find out about actions within the ministry. You have made this statement over and over again as to your position, that you don't want to talk about it. I hardly see how a ministry which is charged with a task, which is obviously terrifying those people who disagree with you, how that ministry can effectively discharge its duty as long as you take this position. We have had absolute stonewalling today on all of these questions, questions which do not relate to your guilt; that has been established.
What we are talking about now is the operation of the ministry, and that is at the heart of what the estimates process is all about. Surely, we should be getting some straight answers, not some bafflegab about the fact that you've got some bureaucratic committee to send out some new guidelines.
Hon Ms Martel: As I said earlier, Mr Turnbull, all of the ministry, myself and my staff included, deal with those of our clients on the mines side and in northern Ontario in as fair and as reasonable a manner as possible, bearing in mind all of the time that we must administer all of the work we do in compliance with all of the acts that each ministry and we as MPPs are to live by. All of the staff, myself and my personal staff included, are very cognizant of that and operate in the same way.
I think what the people of northern Ontario are concerned with, as I mentioned earlier in response to Mr Miclash, is whether or not they'll have a job in the future and what their economic security is. We have certainly tried over the past four years, and I have tried here today, to highlight those actions, those programs, those initiatives that we have undertaken to respond to that concern, which we believe has been very prevalent, especially during these difficult economic times.
There are a number of other projects, activities and initiatives which we continue to work on now with our clients in both of those divisions, and the people who are here today with me, and others on the northern development side and mines who are not, will continue to try and do that over the next number of months so that we can ensure that some more benefits do come to the people we try to represent as a ministry.
Mr Turnbull: Well, Minister, that famous document that you won the last election with alludes to -- page 9 of An Agenda for People -- the title is "Building a Stronger Northern Ontario." It talks about improvements to highways. In fact, let me read:
"The north continues to be a source of huge profits and tax revenues for resource companies and provincial coffers. Economic diversification for single-industry towns, highways, health care, infrastructure have all been sacrificed by the Liberals' approach of bleeding the north dry.
"We propose a northern fund of $400 million over two years -- returning money that's made in the north to the north -- to promote economic development, job protection and job creation, and improved services throughout the north. The fund would be supported at the rate of $200 million a year." To the best of my knowledge, you haven't delivered on these things.
"Ontario must undertake negotiations now with Ottawa to proceed with the four-laning of the Trans-Canada across the north to improve this vital transportation corridor. The cost to the taxpayer would depend on the federal government's willingness to share its responsibility for this major east-west road link.
Now, to the best of my knowledge, you haven't delivered on these promises. Anybody who's had the temerity to disagree with your government, you have slandered them or you have disseminated private information.
The Chair: Mr Turnbull, that will be the third time that I've ruled on your commentary. I have asked you to rephrase that out of respect for this parliamentary institution. Please be careful with your phrasing. That's my third cautionary note to you. Mr Bisson, you're not helpful to this process one bit. Please proceed, Mr Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull: The question that I have posed to you is: In light of your conduct, is it not reasonable that we have at least some questions answered today as to the conduct of your ministry with respect to these issues? I mean, whether you resign or not ultimately is going to be between you and the Premier. You know quite clearly that it is the opinion of the opposition parties and in fact, I believe, John Rodriguez, your former federal colleague, that you should resign.
But the questions I am raising today are specifically with respect to the activities of the organization of your ministry, and we're not getting any answers. You just repeat over and over again, like some mantra, that you're not going to talk about it. Why bother having estimates if you're not prepared to talk about these important aspects about your administration of this ministry?
Hon Ms Martel: I'd be more than pleased to outline the activities of our ministry and what we've been doing to deal with building a stronger northern Ontario. Indeed, I thought in the opening remarks that I gave to members of this committee I fairly clearly outlined the amount of work that we were doing in respect to both of our client groups: those who live in northern Ontario and those who work in mining communities across the province.
I spent some time dealing with Mr Martin and Mr Waters, talking about the initiatives that we have put in place in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resources on the forestry side, initiatives that we have put in place very specifically on the mines side through our own ministry and initiatives and the work that we have done through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp to sustain and create new employment in the province of Ontario. I talked in very specific terms about the capital projects that we have funded during the course of this government through the anti-recession fund, through Jobs Ontario Capital, through Jobs Ontario Community Action, through the base budget of this ministry.
I also very clearly pointed out our role in ensuring that labour-sponsored venture capital funds could be established and that legislation was passed in order to allow that to happen. Finally, I think I talked very clearly about our support for the employee ownership legislation, which in the case of some of the communities in crises that we have dealt with has been particularly important to ensure the long-term economic survival and viability of those communities.
So I do believe that both in the opening remarks that I made here today and in response to questions from some of my colleagues I have tried very clearly to outline to people here all of those various initiatives that we have been involved with since I have become minister to ensure that the people that live in our special part of the province in particular are in a more viable, stronger and a better economic position than they were before, despite the serious economic times that we have been involved in as a province.
Hon Ms Martel: I think that what's most important at this point with respect to the issues before us is that this ministry and the minister give a clear signal to the public and to this committee, as I have tried to do, that we will deal with the single recommendation that the third party, in terms of the commission, has made to us. After that, what I also intend to do is to try to work with the people who are here, and those who are not, in the ministry and all of our various client groups to deal with those initiatives and those projects which they have identified as being very important to them, both in terms of job creation and economic development.
Hon Ms Martel: As I said earlier, Mr Turnbull, I think that where we are now and what's most important is for us to be very clear of the action we are going to take from here on in with respect to privacy matters. I have tried at many points during the discussion in this committee and publicly over the last number of weeks to be very clear about what we will do in terms of responding to that issue.
Ms Murdock: Given that this is the estimates committee and we are talking about initiatives and programs that the ministry institutes or works upon to help the north, I want to continue with the earlier question from my colleague Dan Waters about the snowmobile trail concept. Although I think you explained that part very clearly, I don't see anywhere in here where SSTOP is. I know that the ministry had something to do with that. I'd like you, if you would, to explain how much money is put into it and where I would find it in the book.
Hon Ms Martel: I'm not sure where it would appear in the estimates or under which vote, so I'll have to ask some other people who are here about that. I believe, though, that the investment by us was not large on the capital side. I believe it was an investment of about $150,000 to allow for the purchase of equipment, beepers, emergency equipment etc for those people who would be acting as trail wardens under SSTOP.
The program itself, in terms of the guidelines and the activity that those people who have become full-fledged trail wardens must undertake, was developed between the regional police force in Sudbury, the OPP and the Ministry of the Solicitor General. So the course the participants actually have to go through is a course that has been established by people outside of our ministry.
Our involvement was very much on the capital side, to make sure that the equipment they needed to do their jobs properly when monitoring on the trails would be in place. We have found, though, that the program has been extremely successful. There were no deaths caused by snowmobile accidents in the Sudbury area last year, where, in the year before, I believe there were between 12 and 14 fatalities. We think the program is working because we are allowing resources to be freed up so that the OPP continues to be on the highways etc, but trail wardens who have an active interest in snowmobiling and an active knowledge of it can deal with their counterparts to ensure that the sport is a safe one and a recreational one.
It is my understanding that this issue was raised as well in Sudbury a couple of weeks ago because there was a conference of police associations that was held, and I believe the minister was in attendance and was asked about expansion of the program to other parts of the province. I hope that the ministry is considering expansion of the program because we have found that it has been singularly important in dealing with fatalities on trails and on open water and on highways in our community and has resulted in no deaths from those kinds of things last year.
Ms Murdock: Just a continuation, on pages 32 and 34, this is in regard to health. People don't normally think Northern Development and Mines has anything to do with health, but I see under the functions section it says that there are bursaries for students, then under another bullet it says "Health/social organizations for initiatives which improve access and enhance the quality of life in northern Ontario," and then "Providing financial assistance to non-profit groups" -- that's on 32. Then on 34, "Social/medical bursaries -- provides funds to the ministries of Health and Community and Social Services for students in social and health care disciplines."
Hon Ms Martel: The residency program that exists, both with institutions in Sudbury and in Thunder Bay at Lakehead University, the capital costs associated with building the facilities in both Sudbury and in Thunder Bay were assumed by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. So there was an investment of between $4.5 million and $5 million in the infrastructure in both of those communities. However, the delivery of the program in terms of programming, monitoring etc is really carried on by the Ministry of Health, so our role in that has been to develop the capital and the facility itself.
Hon Ms Martel: It's an allocation that is complete, so it would appear in one of the allocations of $200 million that has been spent to date by the heritage fund to deliver the program. It does not appear as a line item even in our own work this fiscal year because the project has been completed and the books have been closed on those two projects.
Ms Murdock: I know there are 24 students in each area -- 24 in Thunder Bay, 24 in Sudbury -- I mean last year's results. I'm thinking of last year's. I don't know what this year's is, but last year's that 60% of those who finished that residency program stayed in the north?
Hon Ms Martel: The number of people who are staying after their two-year program is quite high. Certainly the initiative and the initial recommendation for funding, if I understand it, was done by the former government and the former government deserves credit for that because unless we are training students in northern Ontario, they will not understand how to deliver, I think, medical care in an area that has a large geography and a very harsh climate from time to time and do a practice that is much more general in terms of ministering to health care needs than people might do in a very specialized field somewhere in southern Ontario. There has been a very high retention rate of the students who have come through the program, and I certainly hope that in both communities that will remain.
I should make two points, though. Because of the success of that program and because of the belief that this government also had that it would be better to train people in the north if you could in order that they would stay in the north, the ministry has participated in funding for two other programs which I think are important.
The first is a program at Canadore College which deals with respiratory therapy and is the only program available in northern Ontario at this time. It's a three-year program, and after the three-year programming, and in fact during the technical phases of that program, students deal with hospitals in North Bay and in Sudbury so that they receive their practical training in northern Ontario.
We funded, by and large, all of the capital costs that were associated with establishing the lab at Canadore in order to allow that program to occur. It, again, has been very successful in having people retained and stay here.
Secondly, we also provided funds to Laurentian University, because they are the proponent, for the baccalaureate program in midwifery, and again I was particularly pleased that the Sudbury-Ryerson-McMaster proposal was chosen as the model to use for training for midwives because I believe that it will allow midwives to stay in the north and practise in the north.
You would know that Laurentian has been very instrumental in its distance education and this year will be providing the English component of that program by distance education from Thunder Bay. The French component remains at Laurentian. Again, I think that will allow people to stay in their communities to receive both the educational and the practical training they need and hopefully then to continue on in those communities to service the population.
One other small item: At the Sudbury cancer treatment centre we also train radiation therapists. This ministry provided capital funds, I believe, in the order of about $50,000 in the last number of months to the cancer treatment centre to build a proper classroom with the proper equipment and facilities in it so that their students could continue to receive the best possible training in Sudbury. They do have to come to Toronto for an initial part of their training when they first begin the program, but by and large the 18 months of the two-year program are done in Sudbury on site. Our first set of graduates come through this year and it is my hope that of the six who are there, all six will remain in the community.
Hon Ms Martel: It is funded through the Ministry of Education and Training. It is a memorandum of understanding, as I understand it, between Laurentian University and the Ottawa university. Our share again would have been on the capital side because that operation is located in a facility that Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp has funded. So the capital costs for the facility in which that program is located were indeed dealt with by NOHFC.
Mr Bisson: I apologize for being late this morning. Fortunately for my community, I was home announcing a $60-million addition to a waferboard plant under Malette Waferboard in the city of Timmins. I couldn't be here this morning although I would have liked to, but being the project that it is, it's obviously something we had to be back for.
That particular project, as you know, Madam Minister, is a project that is a result of the sustainable forestry initiative that this government put forward under the Honourable Howard Hampton. To date now we've had some $550 million in private sector investment, five brand-new plants in northern Ontario, 1,250 jobs created in the north -- the first mills in northern Ontario to be built in 15 years.
One of the things I would say to the members of the committee is that I tried, I guess about a week ago, to contact the major media centres here in Toronto to go to Timmins in order to be able to report on that news, because it's a story of two things. One thing is that it's not only new jobs for Ontario, it's not only new opportunities for Ontario, it's not only new growth for Ontario in jobs, but it is also the story of an individual by the name of Gaston Malette who started a company in 1951, basically out of nothing, and built it into a multimillion-dollar industry, and M. Malette was quite proud of that particular expansion that he did today, but also that M. Malette will be leaving Malette Corp shortly in order to retire after many, many years of service for that company, and I thought it would have been interesting if the media would have picked up that story from a human interest side and also an economic side.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get any of the Toronto media to cover that. They were somewhat preoccupied with other issues. I wish we could have got that out. I think that was quite an interesting story today and one that needs to be talked about.
On sustainable forestry development, Madam Minister, which is predominantly an issue of MNR but also your ministry has had some work with, I'm wondering if you could bring up to date some of the members of this committee and myself. I know that we've announced five mills in northern Ontario to date. You mentioned some of the figures, some $550 million worth of investment, but the ministry is also partnering and being able to work along with them and I'm wondering if you can explain what the role of the ministry has been in regard to that particular initiative, and what we can expect in regard to some more good-news announcements in the north, more hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, more new jobs; quite the contrary of what Mr Turnbull had talked about a little while ago.
Hon Ms Martel: Thank you, Mr Bisson. Our role has been very much to assist MNR in an evaluation of the companies that have put in private sector proposals for the hardwood project, both in northeastern and northwestern Ontario.
Members would understand very clearly that in terms of access to wood and in terms of permitting for wood, that is certainly outside of the jurisdiction of our ministry, and MNR has continued to be the lead in determining what kind of allocation of birch or poplar would be required; where are the reserves; are they in a particular forest management area now; are they on crown land; are they on private land? They have been very much responsible in determining if the wood allocation has been available for the particular interests that have come forward and which management units, which private land and which crown land, it will come from.
For our purposes, though, our involvement has really been on the side of assisting in the financial analysis of the companies and the proponents who have come forward. You will understand that our staff, given the work they do in communities across northern Ontario, particularly in those communities where some of the proponents live, we have a very good working relationship with a majority of them in an understanding of what their future needs might be and, in many cases, what their future plans would be because they have shared that with us. So our work has been one of providing advice and input with respect to the commitment of that company to the community; on the one hand what their past practices have been, how their operation is proceeding and whether or not, given their track record, they would be in a good position to establish a mill or expand a mill, and be in a position to get the financial resources to do that, so it has been on that side of the equation that we have assisted in the hardwoods project.
Mr Bisson: I'd be remiss if I didn't get an opportunity to say that I bring greetings from a number of people from the city of Timmins, Mayor Power and Mr Malette and others, who thank you for the work that you've done since about 1990 in regard to a number of these projects.
I'm wondering though, more specifically to our ministry, in regard to this sustainable forestry initiative that we have put in place, we had done, as you know, within the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, an initiative called the northern marketplace survey, I guess dating back about three years ago -- I might be corrected on the actual dates.
I'm wondering, in light of all of these announcements -- some five brand-new mills in northern Ontario, some $550 million worth of private sector investment, some 1,200 new jobs -- how we're able to tie that particular initiative into that so that businesses in northern Ontario that could supply technical information as far as engineering consultants, draftspeople etc, as well as equipment and manufacturing of equipment needed for these mills -- if there's some way that the ministry might be thinking about trying to capitalize on that to a certain extent.
It was a comment that was brought to me today from one particular investor who had invested in that particular project that I was at this morning, saying, "Is there a way that we'd be able to tie that together in order to be able to promote that a little bit more?"
Hon Ms Martel: If I might, our difficulty will be in finding the funds to continue with the project. When we announced the northern marketplace program three years ago, and I did that at the Cambrian Foundation in conjunction with Cambrian College, we specifically stated that it would be a three-year pilot project, that our funding would go into the initial startup to buy not only the databases and the computer equipment needed but also --
Mr Bisson: Can I rephrase my question just so you understand? They were well aware of what happened with the project, that it was a pilot. The question was that there were some lessons learned through that in regard to being able to match up suppliers with people who need to purchase services or goods. I guess what was being asked of me this morning on the part of one individual was, is there a way that we can capitalize in getting some of these organizations -- the Jaeger mill, the one in Wawa, the Timmins mill, the one in Fort Frances -- to not necessarily centralize their purchasing -- you can never do that -- but to try to find a way to be able to get them to list what their needs are so that businesses in northern Ontario who could supply services and goods are able to tap into that and even more so maximize the opportunities for northern businesses?
Hon Ms Martel: We certainly had hoped, even with the termination of marketplace, that both Confederation College in Thunder Bay and Cambrian College in Sudbury's own operations would continue to sustain the program, because they were in place already and because they had all the listing of services and potential import replacement possibilities already. I am not clear, I must admit, as to whether or not those two institutions have made a firm decision as to whether or not they can continue to carry that program on for the private sector in their own communities.
We had hoped during the course of the pilot project that chambers of commerce and businesses right across northern Ontario would understand the value of the program and would perhaps on a fee-for-service basis contribute to its ongoing maintenance, recognizing the opportunities that would accrue both to them and to fellow business colleagues across northern Ontario.
Where we are right now in terms of government is that we are in the process of establishing an on-line service for the tendering process that will be applicable for government contracts and government supplies and services. That's being done in conjunction with the Management Board secretariat. I couldn't tell you at this point whether or not we're going to be in a position to use that technology to deal with large private-sector contracts as well. I guess it's something that I have to follow up with Management Board to see where they are with that project.
Mr Bisson: I'd encourage you to be able to do so because that was really expressed. There is only about a minute left. I had another series of questions I wanted to get in regard to mining, but just on that particular thing, all I can say is that, of the investors that I met this morning in Timmins, there must have been about 300 people there, about 150, 160 investors, who invested within that company from all over, I would say, North America. There were people in from the United States, from Montreal, from Toronto, different places.
Really, it was very rewarding to hear the comments on the part of all of those investors talking about how they feel quite good about investing in this project in northern Ontario, about how Ontario, northern Ontario in particular, was a good place to do business, and about how this government has really helped to be able to make these opportunities for them, and I wanted to pass back some of the comments to you because I think there was a strong recognition within that group of people that that particular initiative, on top of everything else our ministry has been working on, is starting to be really understood and appreciated for the opportunities that they are, and I bring back those greetings to you on the behalf of some 150 investors that were there this morning.
Mr Miclash: Before I move on, I just must at this point put on the record my extreme disappointment with the minister for not responding to, as I indicated earlier, correspondence that came to me regarding a constituent. I must assure the minister that this issue is not going to go away, and I must also let her know that a good number of people throughout the north have expressed concern to me that not only this issue but issues of the past have, as the member indicated earlier, had an impeding effect on your ability to represent the folks of the north. Again, that's been passed on to me by a number of residents.
Minister, I want to go back to an issue here which I'm sure you're well aware was going to come up during estimates, that being the difference in gas prices.It's an issue that appears in the press across the north on a weekly basis. It's an issue that has been addressed by your Minister of Transportation, suggesting that he too should get the best bang for his dollar when it comes to gasoline.
Your Minister of Environment and Energy has said, "Yes, we must do something about it." Even your Premier has indicated, "Yes, something must be done about the difference in gas prices between northern and southern Ontario." When I go back to my riding and prices in Dryden are 61.9 cents per litre for gasoline, and finding them fairly cheaper here in southern Ontario, you can imagine the questions that brings about.
Minister, we know that the registration fees for northern Ontario have been dropped, but going back to your commitment in 1990 when you indicated that an NDP government would see the equalization of gas prices across Ontario, I'm just wondering where you are in terms of, I guess, that commitment you made in 1990, where you are on that today.
Hon Ms Martel: Indeed, it was one of the first issues that we tried to deal with in the ministry when I arrived, because we have been and continue to be concerned about gas prices in northern Ontario and we were very much interested in looking for the ways and means to equalize gas prices.
When we came to the ministry, our ministry and the Ministry of Environment did some work, funded a study to look at the Nova Scotia model, to look at other models in other jurisdictions where gas prices had been equalized, and spent about eight months in some pretty intense discussions between ourselves and the Ministry of Energy and treasury, looking at the ways and means that we might be in a position to equalize gas prices as per what had certainly been my hope and something that I had campaigned on very actively in 1990.
After all of that work between all of those players, it became clear to us, and this was very regrettable, that there were not the ways and means for us to do that and to do what we had wanted to do, which was make sure that everyone across the province, regardless of where they lived, paid the same rate. As a consequence, treasury's response then was to deal with the vehicle registration and the dropping of that in order to minimize some of the differential and the disparity between north and south.
In our ministry, we also agreed and stated very publicly that we were prepared to work with any community or numbers of communities that might be interested in establishing a cooperative venture in order to market very clearly to members of the co-op in their own communities or regions, and in effect also act as a competitor and hopefully drive the prices down.
The member for Cochrane North worked a great deal with members of his community to try and get enough public interest, and ministry staff were in the community on a number of occasions meeting with people, starting to strategize on how we would develop perhaps a model such as they have in Thompson, Manitoba. In the end, the 100 or so people who were involved made a decision that they would not continue with the project for a number of reasons, financial included, and so it was dropped.
We also approached the Steelworkers in a number of communities to see if they would pattern a co-op model based on the model that was put in place by the Steelworkers in Thompson, Manitoba. Again, in spite of our efforts to get some interest from a number of those groups and our commitment to work with them and perhaps provide some financial assistance to get it going, we couldn't get the interest we had hoped in any of those communities.
The position we find ourselves in today is that we were not able, despite the efforts between my ministry and, at that time, the Minister of Environment, to put in place the system that I hoped we could put in place, which was one which would have equalized prices.
Mr Miclash: When you made the commitment in 1990, under what information did you make that commitment that an NDP government -- and you used those words very strongly -- would "equalize gas prices"? What information did you base that on?
Hon Ms Martel: I had in opposition taken a look at the model in Nova Scotia and was interested in it and interested in the regime they had established which allowed for equalization of gas prices across the province. When we came to government, I asked, and in fact we did engage the services of a consultant, to take a much fuller look at the model, because the resources I had in opposition with respect to dealing with it -- financial aspects of it and the workings of it, having someone actually go and talk to the proponents of it in Nova Scotia -- were fairly limited.
So we spent some time and some sums of money in order to have that done. Frankly, it was based on a much more detailed and in-depth look at the system than I had been able to do when I was in opposition that led both myself and the Minister of Energy, and a number of our cabinet colleagues who had an interest in this, to come to the conclusion, regrettably, that we were not in a position to do this.
Mr Miclash: We talk about unemployment in northern Ontario. I indicated in my opening comments that there's a great amount of concern about the difference between northern and southern Ontario in the unemployment figures. Can you provide us with the current unemployment figures in general for northern Ontario, and also the unemployment figures for those folks between the ages of 18 and 24?
Hon Ms Martel: I think we probably have only the employment levels in the mining industry with us, so we would have to undertake to get the levels across all sectors back. I don't think I have it at this point.
Carrying on from that, I guess what I'm looking for are some of the programs that your ministry, Northern Development, has implemented to address the problems related to youth unemployment throughout the north, and related to that youth outmigration as well.
Hon Ms Martel: We've been dealing with youth unemployment through a couple of initiatives. First of all, our ministry established the northern training opportunities program, NORTOP, which is a wage subsidy program dealing specifically with youth and youth employment in the province of Ontario. Through that program we have a couple of components which I should bring to the attention of members.
We have a straight wage subsidy program for, really, high school students who will be returning to their studies in the fall. We have a program that deals with students at the college level who are involved in a co-op program who use NORTOP for the practical part of their work, and we provide funds to the employers they're doing their practical work with. We also have the internship component, which is a one-year placement with an employer. In most of those cases the employer then would hire that student on a permanent basis.
Finally, we have an aboriginal component where we use funds both for recreation purposes for first nations students specifically in aboriginal communities -- we had about 36 of those positions this year -- and the aboriginal internship program, which comes under that rubric which allows for one-year internships of aboriginal students with private sector participants. We have 13 students who are going through that program.
So we have funded in the last year about 2,300 positions. The total number of positions over the last three years is in the order of about 8,000, with a budget in and around $6 million in the first two years. It was probably a bit less this year.
The ministry itself also hires people through the OGS, the Ontario geological survey, to do mapping and survey work. I'm just looking for the number of positions. The actual that we funded for last year was 62, at about half a million dollars. The proposed figure for this year was 55, at $410,000, but I'm not sure of the actual numbers that we did hire, because the season for mapping and geological work is not quite over.
We also, through the summer Experience program, hire a number of students to do other work across ministries and through the government. That program was in place this summer; it's an eight-week program. Again, in many of the cases the jobs aren't terribly great in terms of pay, but they are good in terms of work experience.
Each of the ministries as well has an internship program on the employment equity side. We have three students employed through the ministry who participate with us and they are candidates from the target groups we have established under the act.
Over and above that, I would have to say that we can't put a number on those students in particular who would have been employed in communities throughout the province over the last number of years because of the capital works programs that we had initiated. Specifically, I referred to the anti-recession program, Jobs Ontario Capital, the JOCA program, the Canada-Ontario infrastructure program that's in place now and the construction that goes on because of the base capital budget of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
I can say that for the first two programs, anti-recession and Jobs Ontario Capital, we did receive over 30% of all the funds that were allocated to the program. Under Jobs Ontario Community Action, we've received about 28% of all of the funding that's been allocated to date.
Again, I suspect that through the initiatives that are being undertaken on the hardwood side there will be a lot of promise for a great number of young people across northern Ontario who have an interest in forestry initiatives, because under that particular program, to date there have been over 1,300 new positions announced just in mill and transportation alone, not to count for the service sector that will be attached to that project. By the time the rest of the announcements are made on the new mills and the expansions in northeastern and northwestern Ontario, I suspect we will have several thousands of jobs that will be available for residents in northern Ontario as the construction phases continue and as those mills get up and operating.
Mr Miclash: Minister, I'd like to read into the record some comments made in terms of health care. You indicated earlier that you are not directly responsible for health care in the north, but you being the advocate for northerners, as I indicated in my opening remarks, I think you would be interested in some of the comments I'm going to read into the record. The first one indicates:
"The lack of services and the lack of accessibility to existing health care in the north make Toronto, with all its problems, look like the Taj Mahal of health care or a paradise of health care. This is not to diminish the crisis proportions of the problems with the health care system in the south. It is to highlight the chronic seriousness of the difficulties faced by northerners."
Another comment: "Health care is a basic right," which I think we all agree upon. "Northerners need medical attention and treatment just as those people living in the more prosperous southern region of this province do. They are tired of being treated as second-class citizens. That is the message we are receiving as we embark on yet another tour of the north to talk with people about their needs and how best to meet them."
Minister, I submit to you that those are the lofty words of your present colleague the Minister of Transportation. This was to the committee in 1989, and I guess they are even more fitting today, in 1994.
You will know of some of the problems I am going through in terms of communities in my riding, the access to emergency health care, in particular -- and you mentioned it earlier on -- Red Lake. I would ask you, as the advocate on behalf of northerners, what you're doing in this area, in particular in the area that I'm sure you're familiar with, that being the lack of emergency services to the folks in the smaller communities throughout the north.
Hon Ms Martel: If I deal directly with the emergency services, we have certainly made the following point to a number of municipalities that we have met with, and that is, in our view, the continuing provision of emergency services in northern Ontario must be dealt with within the global budget that has been allocated to physicians by the Ministry of Health, which is in the order of about $2.85 billion.
We have had across all of the public sector a social contract which has been imposed and all of the people who work for the public, ourselves included, have had our wages and salaries affected as a consequence. Therefore, any provision of emergency services, to my mind, must be maintained and retained within the existing global envelope that was negotiated with the physicians in this province as part and parcel of the social contract.
With respect to Red Lake in particular, the member should know that the regional office of the Ministry of Health has moved into the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in Sudbury, to the fourth floor. We are certainly pleased that Mrs Mahood and her staff, who are dealing with northern health care issues and the direct contracts, will be working very directly with our policy people on the health and social service side right in the ministry. We think that level of coordination and cooperation can only be benefitting because they'll be right in our building.
We have been dealing with Mrs Mahood with respect to the situation in Red Lake in particular. I met with the town councils of both Golden Lake and Red Lake at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference which was held in Toronto several weeks ago. As I understand it, the negotiations continue even until this point.
I certainly made the communities aware of that when we had obtained the information from Mrs Mahood. I have no idea what the position is that has been put by the province with respect to those negotiations. I only know that they are still continuing to negotiate, and I certainly hope there can be a positive resolution to what is a very difficult problem.
Minister, moving on to some of the 1990 election promises referred to earlier, I'd just like to find out exactly where we are in terms of these after four years, these promises that were made in 1990. I've already touched on the equalization of gas prices across Ontario, and we know where that one got to. I would now like to touch on the push for a northern medical school so that health care providers stay in the north. Again, that was a commitment made in your campaign literature in the election of 1990. Can you update us on where you are in terms of that commitment?
Hon Ms Martel: The approach that the government has taken, particularly in light of the economic times which we have been struggling under, is to try and look at those health care professionals across the province whom we can encourage training and development of in our special part of the province. In that regard, both our ministry and the Ministry of Health have done a couple of things.
I mentioned earlier in response to a question to Ms Murdock that our ministry funds the respiratory therapy program, the capital side, in conjunction with Ministry of Education and Training at Canadore College. That is the only program in northern Ontario of its kind. It is certainly our hope that, as people graduate through that three-year program, because they have done their technical and practical work both in North Bay and in Sudbury, they will remain in those communities to provide service.
Secondly, I have been very supportive of the midwifery program that has developed at Laurentian University. That is in its second year. We certainly have a shortage of obstetricians across the province, in northern Ontario in particular, and that has led to some really serious problems in terms of child delivery in a number of our communities.
In Sudbury, as a consequence of having the program there, there are five midwives now operating in the community, three full-time, two part-time. I had the opportunity to meet with the director who will lead the Thunder Bay program and operate the Thunder Bay clinic three weeks ago, so I see that program as instrumental in training and educating midwives in northern Ontario so that they will stay in northern Ontario. I am pleased with our participation as a ministry because we did participate financially, and also with the participation of the Ministry of Health.
With respect to the radiation therapists who are being trained at the regional cancer treatment centre in Sudbury, that is a program that is administered by the Ministry of Health. It was begun under our government. It's an excellent program, because we have a shortage of radiation therapists in the province of Ontario. The recruitment was specifically done in northern Ontario, and in meeting with the students in that course about three months ago, I was assured by all of them that it was their intention to stay in the community. Now, there were only five of them. There are two being trained in Thunder Bay, but it was the intention, as I understand, of all seven to remain in the community.
So the effort we have tried to make has been very much to look at those health care professionals whom we think can be trained in northern Ontario and can reach their practical experience in northern Ontario, and we have moved on a number of programs to ensure that training of those people is occurring in northern Ontario.
Hon Ms Martel: As far as I'm aware, when we talked about the northern medical school, we made it clear that our intention was to attract and retain health care professionals by providing them with the ability to do their ongoing training in northern Ontario. While we might not have a specific site with a sign in front of it that says, "The Northern Medical School," I do believe that what we have done is, in at least three areas which I have just named, provided for the training and --
Hon Ms Martel: What I'm very clearly saying to you is regardless of whether or not there are bricks and mortar, we now have at least three sets of health care professionals -- actually four, because I'm going to include the speech pathology program that exists at Laurentian University, which is in its second year. We now have four sets of health care professionals who are receiving specific training on the ground with peers in northern Ontario.
We have seen, as a consequence of the medical residency program, that the people who have just started to come through that program, the first set of graduates last year, are in fact remaining in the community. I would think that very clearly demonstrates that, regardless of bricks and mortar, we have health care professionals who are being trained in our special part of the province and are staying to provide service to our residents.
Mr Turnbull: Minister, I spoke to you before about the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway and, as you're well aware, your Agenda for People said that you were going to spend $100 million per year on four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway. Can you tell me what progress you've made?
Hon Ms Martel: Yes, I can. We've got four major projects which I can outline to you in terms of where four-laning is going on in northern Ontario. Obviously, given the financial constraints this government has operated under in the last four years, we have not been able to devote the entire highway capital budget to four-laning. We have used the money that we have received through the highway capital budget in northern Ontario for four-laning, for renovation of four-laning that was already in existence, for the addition of passing lanes, for the creation of expressways, one in Sudbury in particular and another in Thunder Bay which we will be moving on.
-- One between Huntsville and Powassan. We recently completed 10 kilometres of a four-laning section there between Callander and Powassan and the contract for the next seven kilometres of four-laning will be awarded next spring of 1995.
-- You will know that the minister responsible for native affairs signed an agreement which was ratified with the Garden River First Nation which will allow for four-laning easterly of Sault Ste Marie. That is a $50-million project and that four-laning is scheduled to begin in early 1996.
-- In Sudbury, as well, the four-laning continues at Waubaushene at this point. The construction that is going on will be complete to Port Severn in 1995 and to MacTier by 1999. Right now, the Ministry of Transportation has just begun the planning studies heading from Sudbury south versus MacTier north, because it is our intention to start a four-laning project from Sudbury south and continue the work that's coming from the north so it will join at some point north of Parry Sound.
Mr Turnbull: You've just outlined a shopping list of things that are mainly going to occur probably after your government is no longer in power. We're not talking about what some future government may spend money on, what we're talking about is in the four years since you've been in power. You had committed to spend $400 million. One of my staff contacted the ministry this afternoon and asked specifically how much had been spent on four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway in the period 1990 through 1994. The number we were given by your ministry was $11.4 million. Now that, Minister, for your benefit, is 2.775% of what you committed to, and all you do is give me a recitation of projects that are going to occur in the future. I'm not sure -- I might be wrong about this -- but I believe Highway 11 is not part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Is that not correct?
Mr Turnbull: I was talking about four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway. Perhaps you would like to resubmit your answer, what you have done since you have been the government in four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway. You will recall, this is one of your major northern Ontario initiatives that you committed to in Agenda for People.
Hon Ms Martel: Yes, I do remember that and I also am very cognizant of the fact that we have had some particularly severe economic times in the province which all of us, regardless of party, have been trying to deal with. I don't think anyone in this room can choose to ignore that fact, because the impact in the province of Ontario has been very real and very severe. At the same time as we have had that impact, a number of people, your party included, have encouraged us to deal with the deficit and reduce our spending. So we have been trying to cope with all of those issues and, at the same time, deliver capital construction on highways in northern Ontario.
What I'd like to do is -- one of the members of our staff who deals specifically with our transportation budgets, in conjunction with the Ministry of Transportation, is here and I wonder if I can just ask him if he can come to give to me the figures on the four-laning.
Mr Turnbull: While that gentleman is coming forward, you will understand we're not talking about what my party or, for that matter, the Liberals are asking you to do or telling you you should do. What we're talking about are your commitments and what you, as a government, have done. We're talking about credibility here. Could I ask you then, is the number we got from your ministry this afternoon correct: $11.4 million spent in the 1990-94 period on four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway?
Mr Tom Marcolini: My name is Tom Marcolini. I'm a senior transportation economist with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in the Sault. One of the areas I deal with is the highways and roads program. The question again was?
Mr Turnbull: Is it correct, the number my staff got from your ministry this afternoon, that expenditures by this government in the period 1990 through 1994, specifically on four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway, was $11.4 million?
Minister, the other major commitment you made in Agenda for People was on the northern fund. The NDP's Agenda for People promised $200 million per year would be reserved for this. What happened to that?
Hon Ms Martel: Very early on when we came to government, I certainly approached the Treasurer, who is a northerner as well, to ask him very clearly what kind of increase in capital funding could be allocated to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp as that was the vehicle through which we were going to promote economic diversification and job creation. He, at that point, was in the process of discovering that we did not have a balanced budget but in fact were about $2.5 billion in and it looked like it was getting worse, and advised me very clearly that we were not going to be in a financial position to allocate from the consolidated revenue fund to my ministry $100 million for the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.
What we have done is continued to receive the $30-million annual allocation despite the expenditure control plan and despite a number of other cuts in programs which have occurred across our ministry and indeed every other. We've been in a position to protect that amount of money, because it is very important to northerners and to northern businesses, and every year we have allocated the full amount of funding that we have received.
But again, given the economic times and given the deficit numbers which we certainly weren't clear on or had access to when we were in opposition, it became clear that when we got here and started to go through the numbers, we would not be in a position to fund to the levels we had wanted those programs that are particularly important in our part of the province.
Mr Turnbull: Minister, I certainly recognize the difficulty of a government that comes in and finds that in fact the numbers that have been published are not correct. The fact is, after you found out what the state of affairs of Ontario was, your Treasurer and the Premier stated they were going to buy their way out of this recession, with obviously fiscally disastrous results. But the fact is, they were going to spend money and yet, even during the time that they were going to spend money to get out of the recession, wasn't there any thought of giving money to northern Ontario to these absolutely key pillars of your election platform for northern Ontario?
Hon Ms Martel: Indeed, a number of funds did come to northern Ontario under the anti-recession program that was established by my colleague the Treasurer. The anti-recession program, as you will recall, is a $700-million fund which was designed to create employment, even on a short term, provide for the purchase of goods and services locally during construction, and improve the quality of life in our communities.
Northern Ontario benefited a tremendous amount from that program. We received $210 million of the $700-million fund, or 30% of all the funds that were allocated during that program in that single fiscal year in which we had the program.
You will recall I alluded to the question of your credibility before. I've pointed to the two main planks of your northern Ontario election platform and on both of them we found that -- well, on one you've come up with $30 million out of $200 million; and we've got another one, you've come up with $11.4 million out of $400 million.
In addition to that, I would submit that when we talk about your credibility -- and I spoke to you about this before -- there have only been three questions submitted to you since April of last year. I couldn't get the numbers going back today from the library, but I could just get back to April 1993. There have been three oral questions put to you, as compared with an average for ministers of 30 to 40. I see there's only been three written questions put to you in the same period. Would this not indicate, and in connection with your ability to execute your party's platform, that there is credibility lacking in your ministry?
Mr Turnbull: We've had committees up in northern Ontario talking to people and I can tell you that people are most concerned. We have no trust in getting anything done. That's alarming. It is absolutely appalling that you've had three questions from the opposition --
Hon Ms Martel: In my opinion, it is alarming and it suggests to me that the members of the opposition are not interested in affairs that affect northern Ontario. There is not much I can do if members of the opposition do not choose to raise questions with respect to important issues in our special part of the province.
Hon Ms Martel: They operate in conjunction with us through a memorandum of understanding. They also receive funding from us through a fixed-price contract to help subsidize those non-commercial services provided by the ONTC in northern Ontario.
Hon Ms Martel: Any of the capital projects that are undertaken by the agency, by and large, with respect to enhancing its infrastructure are undertaken by the agency in conjunction with commercial lenders. The one area I recall that we were helpful in assisting the commission was with respect to its train sets and two years ago we provided some funding under Jobs Ontario Capital, I think in the order of about $4.3 million, to allow the commission to undertake a major project on our railways, which was done in the North Bay shops and greatly increased the employment there.
Mr Turnbull: Under item 2402-6, Jobs Ontario Capital infrastructure estimates, there are $133.4 million, down from $145.1 million in the 1992-93 period. What happened to your commitment to improve the north's transportation system?
Hon Ms Martel: With respect to the estimates last year to the amount of funding that we have received for highway transportation, we received an allocation from treasury and based a number of projects on that estimation. At the same time that a number of projects were then announced, we were advised that there would be an in-year capital constraint that would be applied to all of the capital ministries, ours included, by treasury, and we had to respond to that commitment, as did all other capital ministries of this government.
A number of projects were also nearing completion, including the Sudbury southeast bypass, which was the biggest one, and that one as well, because of its completion, required less capital funding than it had in the past and so that capital funding was not provided.
Hon Ms Martel: If there was any indication or decision that would be made with respect to toll roads in northern Ontario, it would be a decision of the cabinet, not mine solely. Clearly, there is a toll road that is being established, which we are all aware of, and I would expect we would want to see what our experience is with that before we might proceed with another. But, again, it would be a decision not made totally by me.
Hon Ms Martel: My understanding at this point is that we are interested in ensuring that Highway 407 gets up and going, and the Ministry of Transportation is dealing with that and is preoccupied by that toll road at this time.
Hon Ms Martel: No, I think what I said every clearly was, the Ministry of Transportation is dealing with one toll road at this time. It is the major capital construction project across North America at this point and I believe officials in that ministry would want some experience with how that project works before they would be looking for any others.
Mr Arnott: Minister, I want to change gears slightly and ask you about northern health care and a similar issue in rural Ontario, the area I represent, Wellington county. The most acute issue is the coverage of our emergency rooms. Some of the hospitals in the north, I would say, have a health care crisis. I think it's fair to call it that when the emergency department closes. The root problem, I think, is we haven't got enough doctors who are prepared to practise in rural and northern Ontario. As the advocate for the north, are you satisfied with the Ministry of Health's actions to date to solve this problem?
Hon Ms Martel: Certainly in discussions that I had most recently with Mrs Mahood, I talked to her at some length about the ministry's movement on its direct contracts and where that is at. She was certainly working at that point in time and was going to start to have discussions with some of our staff in the ministry to keep them aware of what she was doing in the hope of having those available and in place by October. I think it is one of the substantial ways that the Ministry of Health will be in a position to ensure we have physicians who are prepared to practise both in underserviced communities in northern and in rural Ontario.
Again, though, and over and above that, you will know that there is a committee that has been struck by the ministry which includes a number of representatives from northern Ontario. The representative from Sudbury who I'm familiar with is the director of nursing at the Sudbury Memorial Hospital. That group is looking at some very specific initiatives around training and retraining and other issues that affect decisions made by physicians to practise which are outside of the funding envelope.
It was my understanding, in discussions with her about two months ago, that that committee, which had formerly been called the Evans committee and now is operating under another name which I cannot remember -- my apologies -- was going to be in a position by the end of the year to make some recommendations to the Minister of Health. It is my hope that the recommendations they will make with respect to training and other issues that are outside the global envelope can then also be incorporated by the ministry and help in the area of physician recruitment, where we do need some help.
Mr Miclash: Minister, I'd like to change over to the mining side of your ministry. As we've heard on a good number of occasions, this is certainly a pillar of the economy in terms of Ontario, and especially in terms of northern Ontario. However, in my travels across northern Ontario, a good number of people have seen this industry as a sunsetting industry, believe it or not, and they don't understand the importance that mining does play and the player that it is in terms of the Ontario economy.
Hon Ms Martel: Thank you, Mr Miclash. It is certainly not a sunset industry, and in any of the speeches I make to whatever group I'm talking to about this, I remind people that in the province of Ontario now, some 75,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the mining industry, and secondly, that last year alone some $4 billion worth of economic wealth was generated by this industry in this province alone.
In terms of trying to raise the profile of mining in the sense of making the public aware that this is not a sunset industry but a very important industry whose health must be maintained, we have done a couple of things.
First, we participate, and we made a conscious decision to spend money to participate, at a number of international exhibitions where we can make people aware, investors in particular, of the role that mining plays in the province and of the value of not only our base metal production but of our dimensional stone industry. We have spent some funds to allow both the staff and myself from time to time to go and make those representations both to the financial community abroad and to a number of potential business contracts who would be interested in doing work in the province.
Secondly, we undertook the television ad campaign two years ago, in the fall of 1992, a $250,000 campaign, because we were concerned that while there are large levels of support for the mining industry in northern Ontario, people seem to be unaware of the importance of the industry or the products it produces here in southern Ontario. The campaign, which included three ads, was targeted specifically at a southern Ontario audience. It ran for a six-week period, and at the end we also did some work with Decima to determine whether or not people's perception of the value of this industry changed as a consequence of understanding what kinds of products were produced. We found that indeed people polled before and after did change their view and were much more receptive to mining in the province.
We provided all that information to MAC, to the national organization of mining communities, and we encouraged MAC, who were also at the time looking at what publicity they could undertake, to use the model that we had because we felt it had changed perception. We also offered, for a fee, to have them use our ads as well because we thought they were that important. They are still dealing with that issue, and so we will see what the offer is there.
We also, both in northern and southern Ontario -- in northern Ontario through our own ministry -- have produced educational kits for school children in the hopes that science teachers across the elementary panel in northern Ontario could teach their students about the value of mining as well as their concern for the environment.
Last year in March we announced a joint project with the PDA to do the same thing in southern Ontario, and we are working with the PDA now to develop the school kits. In this case they will be targeted to science teachers in the high school panel and will be distributed throughout southern Ontario.
This year through NODA as well we also did an educational program with McDonald's Restaurants in northern Ontario, a couple of locations in the north and at the McDonald's on Highway 400. People may find that to be a bit strange, but given the large volume of families that go through McDonald's, we were particularly interested in having kids become more aware of the value of mining, so tray liners were produced in conjunction with McDonald's that talked about the value of mining and had games and other things that we thought kids at all levels and all ages could relate to in order to increase their awareness. About 380,000 of those went out.
So we have tried on a number of fronts, through direct advertising, through school kits, through the work with McDonald's, to make people aware of the importance of this industry, and we hope the message is getting through.
Mr Miclash: No, not important. I guess what I'm looking for is, what did we have operating in Ontario, say, over the last four years? Let's go back to 1991 and look at those figures and see if we can see a pattern between 1991 and 1994.
In 1990, three mine openings. In the same year, nine mine closures. In 1991, three mine openings, nine mine closures; 1992, three mine openings, five mine closures; 1993, four mine openings, one mine closure; and currently in 1994, one mine opening and one mine closure. So from 1990 through to now, the trend in terms of closures is coming down. Last year was the most successful year in terms of openings, but 1994 is not over yet and there are a couple of projects that are in advanced exploration stages which may still result in an opening this calendar year.
Mr Miclash: Speaking of projects that are sort of in the throes of going forward, could you maybe offer some comment in terms of the Shoal Lake project, where it's at and where we can expect it to go over, say, the next month or so?
Hon Ms Martel: At this point, as you would know, new proponents have taken over the operation because of the untimely death of the former proponent. When this project was designated under the Environmental Assessment Act -- and you will know when that was -- basically, as I understand it, the decision made by the government of the day was to do so because there were concerns about a milling operation occurring on an island in the Shoal Lake watershed. Concerns were raised particularly by people living in Winnipeg, because it is a source of water for everyone in Winnipeg, that there may be some contamination and a problem as a result of that.
When we came to government and when the new proponents came to see us, they came very clearly to tell me in particular that they recognized those concerns and they were prepared to revise their plans and have milling operations moved from the island on which they wanted to do the extraction to the shore itself, and they would move the deposits of rock by barge. At this point, it is my understanding that they have requested a formal meeting with a number of ministers to discuss their revised plan, and that the EA technical staff, the EA branch at the Ministry of Environment and Energy technical staff, are in the process of trying to coordinate a meeting so that those ministries that would be affected or have a role, like myself, MNR and MOEE and native affairs, can have a chance to meet with the proponents directly and hear what the changes are and why they think the operation then would be safe.
We've also, frankly, encouraged them to have some discussions with the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Mines and with the city of Winnipeg, because I think it's awfully important that they have those folks on board too if this project is to go forward.
Hon Ms Martel: I certainly would like to see us deal with it in one way, shape or form, because I'm really cognizant of the fact that there are two first nations, Shoal Lake number 39 and number 40, that by and large have been supportive of this particular project and that the company has made some arrangements, which I am not clear on all the details of, with those two first nations for jobs and perhaps royalties. So we do have a number of people who have traditionally been left out of the employment field who could benefit by this project.
Mr Arnott: Minister, I want to ask you about duplication and overlap within the ministry. Certainly I think in ministries that involve an advocacy role, as yours does, responsible for a whole area, potential exists for considerable overlap with some other ministries; for example, Natural Resources would come to mind, overlap with the federal government.
Do you agree that there is considerable overlap and duplication within your ministry, first of all, and if there is, have you seen it as a priority for your action as minister to endeavour to root that out, the inefficiencies that might be there? Have you done anything about that in the last number of years since you've been Minister of Northern Development?
Hon Ms Martel: A couple of areas I think where we have identified overlap were our clients who come to talk to us about overlap, which is probably more important in terms of identification. I can give you some examples between the aggregate sector and a number of our proponents on the mines side. Producers can come under one of two acts: if they're dealing with quarries, the aggregates act under MNR, and the Mining Act under our particular ministry. That has been a real source of contention for a number of them for a couple of years.
In the omnibus bill that was moved forward by I believe it was the Attorney General in the spring session, some of the changes that are occurring on the mines side deal directly with aggregates and with our Mining Act and will resolve the issue of the duplication that has gone on so producers are aware of which act they will operate under, who they will have to give their design plans to etc. That should resolve a lot of the problems they have gone through.
Secondly, in the ministry itself, when the new Mining Act was developed, there is a section under that that was quite new. We were the first jurisdiction to put it into place, and again that came through under the former government, to its credit. It, however, caused some concerns for a number of our clients, because when they were trying to get permits, they were dealing with both our ministry, the MNR, the MOEE and sometimes the Ministry of Labour on health and safety concerns.
We worked through with those three ministries and two years ago announced at the PDA that in fact our ministry was recognized as the lead for permitting for advanced exploration projects, and we have signed memorandums of understanding with those three ministries which guarantee that we are the lead and we will take responsibility for advocating on behalf of our clients to get through that process.
There is a third area of duplication which we have been very concerned about, again brought to our attention by our mine clients in particular. This has to do with environmental assessment and mining companies in particular. At present we only have one potential mine operation that has been designated under the Environmental Assessment Act. Under that act there also is a provision for the federal government to apply its own EA designation and requirements. Our clients have been very concerned about that possibility.
The minister, in his most recent correspondence, actually, to the federal Minister of Health, which was about August 24 -- response that was coming back to the Ontario Mining Association -- made it clear that he was very much trying to involve the federal government in looking for an agreement that exists in two other provinces on how we can avoid that duplication and have a single process, which again would ensure people understand timing, what controls they have to go through and how much it will cost. He is hoping to start some negotiations with the federal minister. I certainly hope that Ms Copps will be in a position to respond, because it is an important issue that we need their involvement on to resolve.
Mr Arnott: It's 28? There are six northern Ontario small business network self-help offices and there are 38 municipal economic development agencies. I believe those numbers come out of the estimates. Do you think a potential exists that some of these offices do work that overlaps?
Hon Ms Martel: No. Let me explain why, and the Chair is telling me to be quick. The 28 offices of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines deliver all of the programming of the ministry on the Northern Development side throughout communities in northern Ontario. In many of those communities we are the only government office. We are the only face of government, both on a federal and a provincial level. Our staff in those offices -- and there are normally two -- deliver all of the applications we would have for Jobs Ontario Capital, NORTOP, the SNAP program, our programs that deal with sexual assault prevention, wife assault prevention. They deal very specifically with all of the applications for our ministry. They try and provide general information about other ministries and their permits etc. But in most of those communities we are the only people delivering government programs. We're certainly the only people delivering our programs.
The six self-help offices, while they are funded by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, are actually delivered by economic development organizations in those communities. For example, in Sudbury it's the Sudbury Regional Development Corp that delivers all of the peer counselling and the business self-help advice to people who come through the door.
Our staff are not there. We do not do that. We fund the operation. I do believe there is an agreement. Whether it's a memorandum of understanding or what exactly I'm not sure, but we do provide the funds for that.
Under the Municipal Economic Development Agency program, we provide funds to individual municipalities to deal with economic development initiatives on their own. The funds that we provide allow communities or regions to establish an economic development office which is responsible back to the municipality.
The economic development office has to establish a board which is representative, but they deal with the municipality. For our purposes, the contract which is signed is a contract of how the money will flow to the municipality for the work of the corporation. But again, the economic development initiatives, the strategies and the development of the same are not directed by our staff in any of those cases. They are directed by the local board and by those people who have been employed by the board to undertake those initiatives.
The Chair: There's been an agreement that we'll bring to a close at this time today's estimates. We will reconvene tomorrow at 10 am in room 151. We have approximately two hours to finish the estimates of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. This meeting stands adjourned until tomorrow.