Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the 1995-96 estimates with you, Minister. The one thing I wanted to do was to discuss the issues of the earn-back and, secondly, fraud and eligibility. But before I did that, I just wanted to make a few comments with respect to some of our discussions and events that transpired yesterday.
I guess the first concern I have is why we're in a position when we have to meet to discuss these cutbacks. I might differ from my colleagues and strongly say that it's a disgrace that we're here to have to discuss these cutbacks, because our finances are in such bad order. That governments have successively allowed, over the last 10 and even 15 or 20 years, for us to get in this situation I really think is a disgrace. I think it's a problem of all parties. I may differ from some of my colleagues. I think it's certainly got much worse particularly over the last five and 10 years. Having said that, when our party left government --
Mr Baird: We remember the balanced budget in 1990. Between September and October it went up by $3 billion. I know Liberals promised a balanced budget in 1990. Our colleagues in the New Democratic Party found out it wasn't balanced upon checking the cupboards.
Mr Baird: Going on, I think that for our party to leave a $30-billion deficit in 1985 was nothing to be proud of, so I perhaps would differ from my colleagues. But I guess the motive for my statements, Minister, is to say that if we had managed our finances properly, we wouldn't be in this regrettable situation in the first place. I find it most regrettable.
Having said that, some of the characterizations coming from the committee members over the last day I find quite disturbing. We didn't go out and try to convince the people of Ontario that the welfare system was broken prior to and during the last election campaign. They told us the system was broken, in overwhelming numbers. Consistently, public attitudes on welfare have been rejecting what has become a system that's broken, that's out of control. People have told us that the status quo doesn't work. I simply reject the notion that somehow the people of Ontario, by and large, are mean-spirited and nasty towards social assistance recipients.
I guess the people of Ontario know that one out of 10 members of our community depend on social assistance. These are the people of Ontario. They're their friends, their family, their neighbours, their brothers and sisters, and mothers and grandchildren. They are the people who have told us so clearly and so strongly of the need for real welfare reform, and I think that's the context to put these discussions in. I don't believe the people of Ontario are mean or nasty. I don't believe their motive is suspect. I think they want a system that will provide two things. My colleague the member for Windsor-Riverside yesterday discussed one of the purposes of welfare, and I think they would unquestionably be twofold. One is to provide an adequate level of support to sustain people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on hard economic times. It's a tough economy, there's no doubt about it. I think that's first and foremost the role of our social assistance system.
But secondly, I think we've got to have a system that's supposed to be an interim measure to help people help themselves to break a cycle of dependency, to get people back on their feet who are down on their luck. I think that second feature, Minister, is something that has been sorely lacking in our system for the last five or 10 years particularly. I think that's the context in which we look at this issue and I don't think we should forget that too many Ontarians have been trapped in a cycle of dependency.
To move to discuss the earn-back. This is something that is very important for the people of Ontario, something that has met with a considerable amount of support -- to help provide people with a transition between being full-time on social assistance and getting back into the job market. There is a terrific amount of public support out there, I'll tell you, Minister, for that policy.
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Community and Social Services): If I could put some context to the background in terms of the supports to employment program, STEP -- that's what you're talking about with the earn-back -- first of all, this was a commitment that we had made during the election to allow people to earn back the difference between the old and new rates once the cut was made. Clearly, we said during the election as well that we were going to reduce the benefit rates down to 10% above the average of the other provinces. So this is something that is no surprise to anyone. The fact remains that everyone is able and has the ability to earn back the difference between the old and new rates. We want to give people the incentive to return to the workplace, as you so strongly acknowledge, the fact that that's what our purpose is, to get people back to the workplace. It's taken some time to do this, of course, but we've done it. I mean, there are over 1.3 million people on welfare right now today and on the STEP program currently there are -- well, as of November 1995, there were 99,845 people taking advantage of the STEP program in Ontario.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: There are 99,845 people taking advantage of the STEP program. This is one of the steps that we're taking -- and really continuing what the previous government had started; I give them credit where credit's due again -- to break people's dependency on welfare.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: However, what we have done, though, has certainly encouraged us far more by giving the people the advantage of being able to earn back the difference. That's really what we're doing.
To get to your specific question, Mr Baird, if you put it in the context of a single employable person, in order to earn back the decrease in the benefits, a single employable person would have to work around five, six hours a week -- not a day, a week -- to earn back the difference between the old and new base rates. I think that's a significant figure, and you can see, reflected in the number of people who are taking advantage today, that many people feel that this is a good way to lead, hopefully, to full-time employment.
Mr Baird: If I could say too, having spoken with constituents in my riding, I think many felt the system, albeit it was being changed under the previous government, just simply didn't give them an incentive. It would actually cost them money in many respects, because of the issue of benefits and income taxes and what not, to go out and get that job, even if it was a short-term job -- not the job they would necessarily want, not the job that they would necessarily envisage to provide an income for them and their families. But that would give them something to put down on their next job application. It would give them a reference and give them some benefit of getting back into the workforce where they can get in contact with a network. The support out there for that is very strong, and I'm pleased to see almost 100,000 have taken advantage of it.
Mr Baird: I think virtually everyone in the workforce at some point in their life -- I myself started as a student with part-time work and that's when certainly I learned about a lot of work-related skills in terms of --
Mr Baird: When would a reporting system be in place for the updated figures after September? Are they released twice annually? How could we find out the figures for the rest of the fourth quarter of 1995 in terms of how many other people would have taken advantage of that program?
Mr Baird: Terrific. Maybe we could get those figures because those would be most interesting. That's very encouraging -- 100,000. That's something I would hope we could build on, because I think that is, first and foremost, the first positive step in terms of someone re-entering the workforce full-time and being able to earn a decent wage to support themselves and their family.
The second area I wanted to discuss, Minister, was the issue of fraud and eligibility. I was reading the clips this morning. I have something from the Belleville Intelligencer, "Welfare Fraud Cases More Than Doubled." They pointed to the riding of my colleague the member for Sault Ste Marie, who was here yesterday, that the new initiative with respect to citizens reporting suspected abuses is working well in Sault Ste Marie. "`It has bumped the number of welfare fraud case investigations,' said John Maccarone, commissioner of community and social services for the city. `The line was introduced in late September 1994. In the last three months of that year, 106 cases were investigated, compared with 28 from January to August,' he said. `In 1995 that number remained high, at 216 cases.'"
Obviously, it is being seen as a step that's brought more awareness to the public, to taxpayers and to social services and police forces that any dollar that goes inappropriately to a recipient is simply taking money away from those people who genuinely need it. That's something that obviously, in the context of our current spending crisis, is I think first and foremost the issue that should be addressed. I'm pleased to see that there's some positive news coming from that.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Certainly as part of the solution in the fraud area, our offices are directing more to make sure we do crack down on fraud and abuse of the system. I think that's something that's acknowledged by the communities out there but also by the police. The police are putting their minds to it a little bit more too.
Mr Baird: Is there any system within your ministry or any studies of date that would give some estimate for perhaps how much fraud might exist in the system and what sort of level of tolerance there is among you and your officials for this?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think first of all that, as you know, it takes some time -- I think Mr Costante was saying this yesterday -- for any types of allegations of fraud to go through the system. There are some safeguards built in, obviously. If you're talking specifically about the fraud hotline, we have to first of all make sure we cull through the calls to make sure there's some genuineness to them, that there are some facts that support the allegations of fraud or abuse. At that time, it is then passed off to the field offices for an eligibility review officer to examine the case.
If there are circumstances that do point to criminal fraud, then of course the police would be involved. Now, as you know, it takes some time for police investigations to go through, but certainly we hope to have some sort of information on that. Perhaps Mr Costante could comment on that.
Mr Costante: I believe your other question was regarding the level of fraud; I think I commented about that yesterday as well. The level of fraud is something that's been actively debated. I don't know that we or other provinces have really accurate information on that.
There was a study done in the late 1980s for the Social Assistance Review Committee report which suggested that the level was around 3%. A Fraser Institute report that looked at income security programs across Canada, including some of the federal programs, was suggesting that the level of fraud and client error -- because there sometimes can be a grey area there as to what's fraud and what's client error -- is in the neighbourhood of 8% to 10%.
I can support the minister in that sometimes the length of time it takes to investigate one of these cases can be quite long. First of all, we need to establish as to whether there's grounds to investigate, and then you often have to check with various other parties to make sure that the information is correct. If it's turned over to the police, they conduct their own investigation, which can take some time, and then there's the interaction with the court system, if it goes that long.
Mr Baird: Perhaps I could ask you, sir: Mr Wildman yesterday, I think very correctly, brought up an example in his constituency of a type of fraud hotline, Crime Stoppers, where someone in his community experienced some problems. There is, I think, the potential in any mechanism of detecting fraud for some citizen with malicious intent to get involved.
Are there any mechanisms within your system to deal with that in terms of, as well, privacy considerations? He mentioned an example where an individual maliciously reported someone to the police, and of course the officer showed up on the front doorstep, and in many small communities that is devastating to the reputation of the individual. Are there any mechanisms in place to sort out maliciousness, in addition to privacy concerns?
Mr Costante: I think we go to great lengths to try to preserve the privacy of people who are on social assistance. We try not to let others know that people are on welfare to start with. Our first line of defence, really, when a complaint comes to the hotline, is to go to the worker who is responsible for that client and have him or her do a check.
Sometimes what we find is that a complaint will come in and say that a person is working, and as you know, our fraud rules or our social assistance rules do allow people to work part-time and collect a top-up through the STEP program. In those cases, the complaint would be destroyed immediately and no further action would be taken. So we do a fair amount of checking within the welfare system itself before there's ever a handover to the police. As well, the police want to make sure that our evidence is absolutely solid before they'll take on a case, so they'll only investigate very serious cases.
Mr Baird: I'm glad to hear that. I would also say that the benefit of doing that obviously would be first and foremost so that you could reduce the chances of any malicious intent and any damage to someone's reputation. Very much secondly, there could be a very litigious process, for police officers to begin to take their time away from other crime-related activities to go on wild-goose chases, from what might be malicious and baseless troublemakers in the system. So I appreciate hearing that, sir.
One thing I wanted to say, Minister, is that there were some discussions here yesterday with respect to language, and in dealing with the issue of fraud I think it's very important to put some comments on the record, certainly from my perspective, and I think I could probably speak for my colleagues in our caucus. I think there is fraud out there among taxpayers, businesses, bankers, politicians and lawyers. There's always going to be a small percentage of people in our society who try to take advantage of a situation, and I don't think, in all fairness, that it would be any greater or any less in the area of social assistance recipients than it would be for anyone in this room as taxpayers or business people. I think that's important to put on the table, that there's certainly not an intent of anyone in our caucus to suggest that there's something inherently fraudulent about any particular group in our society. I think that would be very wrong.
In the context, though, of our current spending crisis, when we have to reduce spending, first and foremost it requires us to ensure that there's a strong element of accountability in the system, that you can come, as minister, before this committee and say that your ministry is taking all reasonable precautions to ensure that every dollar is being spent wisely and being spent well. That is particularly important in this process of estimates.
Having said that, are there any statistics that you can give in terms of province-wide fraud investigations, the new measures you've introduced as far as increases and what not, with respect to the number of cases that have been both dealt with and disposed of?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Yes. We just had some figures but they're not dedicated to fraud measures throughout the system. As you can understand, we just didn't do the fraud hotline. We also had the central fraud control that we introduced, where we can certainly provide some expertise and guidance to our investigators out in the field and coordinate things. Also, in terms of organized fraud, we've taken some measures with other provinces to try to get some information-sharing.
Ms Lang: As we indicated yesterday, there have been about 14,000 calls to the hotline since it was initiated in October. Just over 8,000 of those calls are being referred to our staff, both at the provincial and municipal levels, for follow-up, and investigations will be pursued if in fact there are grounds for looking into the allegations or specific matters.
Ms Lang: It was about 63%. The other part of the system that we have operative is an expectation for our front-line workers at all times to be mindful of ensuring that people are eligible and making sure that there's integrity in the system.
We have a process with case review that was introduced by the last government that allows us to ensure on an ongoing basis that people are continuing to be eligible and in compliance with the policies and requirements for social assistance. So we do have a very significant set of strategies and processes in place that our front-line workers use.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think Mr Baird's making a very good point as well that it's not fraud just in the social assistance area; it's certainly fraud in any area. No fraud is good fraud, and I think that's a point well taken and well made.
Mr Baird: I think it's a question of financial accountability. Before I yield my time to one of my colleagues, I would just say I think the day when a Minister of Community and Social Services could come before this committee, next year or the year after, two or three years from now, and would be able to report to this Legislative Assembly's committee, to the people of Ontario, that the ministry and your officials have done everything they can to ensure that every penny has been spent wisely and well, so we could dispel the whole issue among what might be a small element of the public who would think the system is riddled with fraud, and be able to say with all honesty that every action has been taken to ensure that no fraud is acceptable and that an element of accountability exists in the system to ensure that fraud is not there, that might dispel the public image in certain quarters that might exist that every level of government is riddled with fraud or misuse of funds and lack of accountability in the system.
Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): I understand that plans are in the works to focus on single mothers on social assistance. I think its referred to as the first steps program. Unfortunately, the stereotype of single mothers on welfare is all too true. Generally, children who are fatherless and whose mothers are unemployed are the poorest and most disadvantaged in Ontario.
My concern is that government in the past has in many ways been creating, partly through welfare, a single-parent culture in certain segments of our society, a culture based on dependency on government. We have a system that seems to reward this sad state of affairs through cash and other benefits. In my view, welfare creates disincentives to both work and marriage: Do either one and the benefits cease. It's time to change these disincentives.
I'm asking if the first steps program creates incentives. I'm asking, first of all, what is the first steps program, and is it designed to essentially help single mums and their children and is it designed to help them become more independent and get back into the workplace?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Thank you for the question, Mr Barrett. As you and certainly many of the members know, the Common Sense Revolution proposed a four-point program for children in need. The four components are a nutrition program for school-aged children; homework assistance centres; a program for young parents on social assistance; and enforcement of child support responsibilities.
The government will explore the development of the program for young mothers on social assistance and their children. The program is designed to promote independence and to break the cycle of poverty. Certainly, this is the aspect that you're concerned with and it has three points to it: (1) enabling young mothers to proceed with education or vocational training leading to independence; (2) providing a variety of supports to young mothers while teaching them good parenting and practical life skills, and (3) ensuring a good start for the children through appropriate nutrition, care and nurturing.
The program will incorporate some of the features of some models, such as Ohio's model of learning, earning and parenting, Head Start and the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program. Work on this initiative is part of the ministry's restructuring effort, and resources will be redirected to interventions and supports that work.
Ms Lang: I'd be happy to, Minister. This is an initiative that I think is part of a long-standing desire on the part of governments to ensure early intervention and prevention programs that work. One of the first things we're doing to try to put this into the system is a complete survey now and inventory of what is out there so that we do not add on. One of the things that has characterized the Ministry of Community and Social Services over the years is that we keep adding on programs. We have been a ministry of new initiatives for certainly the time that I've been around.
Part of what we're trying to do is to ensure that as we introduce services and programs that are dealing with high-risk children and families, we do it based on what we know works. Part of the task for us is to take advantage of the research which is under way.
We introduced several years ago Better Beginnings, Better Futures, which is a program designed to support communities. I think there are about 12 communities across the province that are working very actively in a self-help, early intervention mode. With the help of researchers, academics and professionals, we have put a significant amount of resource into research that will help guide us with the kinds of factors that work in early intervention. We are actually just now starting to get some preliminary results from that research which are encouraging us to look at means to invest resources that are out there in a more focused way that builds on the capacities of communities and the strengths of individuals in those communities to change their circumstances to ensure that the futures of their children are much more hopeful.
So the new First Step initiative that the government would like us to explore will be done in the context of what we know works out there and our capacity to engage our colleagues in the health, education and social services sector across the province to focus resources in a much more targeted way than we have in the past, using the benefits of research as opposed to just granting initiatives, but making sure that the funds are in fact going to yield the results based on what we know will work in given communities.
Mr Barrett: You indicated that this program is being explored fairly vigorously and you mentioned research and the word "prevention." I think this is very important. Maybe you could give me a bit more information about the overall goals or the philosophy of this program. You've outlined a number of measures that can be taken, but I would hope that with this program, or in the long run at least, we can set our sights fairly high. I think people in my riding are concerned about what they see as non-traditional family structures. I am hoping that through this program it can serve as a springboard -- and perhaps this is asking too much -- to set our sights a little higher and to try and achieve, or turn the clock back a bit, if you will, a change in our culture in some parts of our society -- a single-parent culture which doesn't work very well. Two parents can do a lot more for these people than a whole host of programs.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think one of the things that we would like to see in terms of making the system better is our investment in children and certainly in prevention. I think that's something that we as a government, and certainly the ministry, have a very keen interest in. That's something that you will be seeing some action on in the future in terms of our planning, but we do feel it's very important at this point in time that we look at this particular area of intervention and assisting in the area of children's protection.
Having said that, the government continues to make the assertion that our rates are 10% higher than they are in the average of the 10 provinces, is the word now. It was found to be, I guess, that it wasn't the case if we compared them nationally, including the territories. I wonder if the government would table the justification for that statement, that our rates are 10% higher, on average, than the other nine jurisdictions. The other thing I think the government should table is our cost-of-living index versus the other jurisdictions in Canada, so that we have an idea that we are treating our folks appropriately and what the government is suggesting to us is in fact the case.
One of the things that I think we have to be careful of is that we may be working in some kind of vacuum here. I think that's one of the problems we have with all government services, regardless of what they are. I know there's a WCB report that is now being floated through the province. Anyone who sits in a constituency office and takes calls from constituents knows that we have a lot of people who have a very grave income problem because of disability; it may be because of an accident on the job, it may be because of an accident at home, it may be because of a health reason that has nothing to do with an accident. Nevertheless, the result is the same: The person cannot earn a living.
I wonder if the ministry has costed the effect on social assistance of the proposals being put forth by Mr Jackson, the minister responsible for WCB reform, so that we can have an idea of what the impact will be on social assistance. If the entitlements are lower under WCB, if the entitlements are more narrow, I would suspect that there will be an increasing demand on the disabilities part of social assistance. I want to know if you have had a look at that, if you've commented on Mr Jackson's report and, if you have, if we could have that information tabled so that we can understand what effect that will have on the social assistance. It's not good enough, I don't think, in this day and age, to have somebody be a hero at the expense of the next ministry and overall the public is worse off, not better off, although someone can beat their breast and say, "Well, gee whiz, I reduced the costs in mine, but I shifted them to good old Dave here."
The other impact I think we would like to know about is what's going on at WCB and some of the considerations with Canada pension disability too that continue on and what discussions you may have with the federal government about how Canada pension disability is kicking in. I think that's information the committee should have and would like to have in order to evaluate what your programs are doing.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Mr Brown, just before we get into that, I missed your second point. The first one was dealing with how do we come up with the average of the other provinces. I missed the second part, before you got to the WCB.
Mr Michael Brown: I was wondering about our cost of living versus other provinces also. It's great to say that our welfare rates, for example, are 10% higher; if our cost of living is 12%, it's not much help.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, let me just begin with the business that we had committed in our election document, the Common Sense Revolution, to reducing the rates of welfare to 10% above the average of the other provinces. The rates for the elderly and the disabled were to remain at the same level. We based our calculations on the National Council of Welfare's document. We felt that it was important that we use an objective authority for doing that. We also felt that this is actually a well-known and recognized authority for calculating rates. The author of this document was Sherri Torjman, if I recall, and although I don't recall the page number this was on -- I think it was 11 -- she indicated one of the reasons why the territories weren't used is that she found it difficult to calculate the shelter allowance that was set out in the territories. Therefore, she herself, the author of this document, indicated that it was very difficult for her to take that into account, because it's quite different from the way the provinces' were calculated.
I might add as well that we do have a northern Ontario allowance which recognizes that the costs in northern Ontario are a little bit more expensive than in other parts of the province. Perhaps I could get Kevin Costante to give you further detail on that, but I'd be interested to know if I was right on the page number.
Mr Michael Brown: Just to be clear, I wasn't asking about the famous, or infamous, Common Sense Revolution; I was asking for you as a minister to produce ministry documents suggesting that, not any political spin document.
Mr Costante: What the minister said was correct. We set the rates at 10% above the average of the other provinces. Again, we did exclude the calculations for the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, primarily because of difficulties that the author herself acknowledged. As well, we do have a special northern allowance for communities north of the 50th parallel that need fly-in, where we top up the amounts. I could provide that to you too, if you want to know the increased amounts. So you would have to adjust our rates to reflect that to get an accurate comparison.
Mr Costante: I think there's two aspects to that. First of all, we can get information from the Canada Mortgage and Housing around relative shelter costs across the provinces. That information is available and we can endeavour to gather that for you.
Cost of living, however, is a percentage increase. It doesn't talk about the relative base that underlies it, if I'm making myself clear. So it basically sets 1991 at 100 and then goes as a percentage increase from thereafter. But it sets both Ontario and the other provinces all at 100. So you don't know if everyone is correct at that starting base. We have less information on non-shelter costs, if you will, but we can get cost of living.
The other thing about the cost-of-living index that is done by Stats Canada is that it's done not for provinces but for individual communities. So we have cost of living for Toronto, Hamilton, London, Thunder Bay, but not for Ontario as a whole, or northern Ontario, although I believe Thunder Bay is in their survey. For other provinces, like British Columbia, you would get Vancouver, Victoria, but not the entire thing. So it's a little bit imperfect information.
You mentioned a few things -- workers' compensation and also CPP -- but I think UI is going to have an effect as well. These are some of the matters that we do have before us to discuss with Mr Young when we get to the table with him in terms of how that's going to impact on our social assistance area. You're quite right in terms of bringing these to mind. Perhaps Mr Costante can comment on the WCB aspect of this.
Mr Costante: We have been in touch with the people doing the WCB proposals and we've been studying that very closely. I think when things firm up we will be doing some modelling around what the potential costs, if any, will be to the system. I guess as background information, this information might be a year or so old, but about 3% of our clients do receive some income from workers' compensation and some from us if they're not getting enough. There is an interaction between the two systems, if you will.
Ms Lang: Mr Brown, you asked about the work that was going on with the Canada pension plan and the article in the paper this morning from Mr Martin's perspective. We have been very much, as a ministry, and certainly our colleagues at the Ministry of Finance, in discussions with the federal government about the future of a variety of social programs.
It's fair to say that the Canada pension plan is certainly very much on the front burner at the moment and I understand that the Minister of Finance, with his colleagues across the country, will be meeting this week or early next week, but it's very soon, to discuss with the federal officials and the federal government the issues associated with the Canada pension plan and whatever thoughts the federal government may have at the moment.
I think this is indicative of a series of discussions that are going on now between various levels of government about roles and responsibilities, because we all know that there are a variety of players in the provision of social programs across Canada, and to a large extent I think it's fair to say we also recognize that we are duplicating much of the effort between various levels of government.
So there are significant discussions going on, both between officials at different levels of government and with the ministers across the country to discuss, how do we streamline and ensure that the provision of social programs is clear in terms of who is responsible, who will deliver them and how they will be financed, so that we don't continue to sustain significant sets of bureaucracies, significant different kinds of infrastructures to essentially deliver similar kinds of programs? We're quite encouraged that there will be this kind of opportunity to discuss with the various levels of government how we sort out who provides what services within the context of Canada's social safety net. So the Canada pension plan discussion I think is one of a series of discussions that are going to go on over the next several months as governments sort out how they ensure the provision of services and not have duplicate kinds of administrations dealing with these various programs.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I believe it was a point that Mr Brown brought up yesterday, actually, in terms of delivery of some of these services dealing with the social services area. Certainly, there are some joint projects right now between us and the federal government. We are exploring that to a further extent right now to see whether or not there are cost savings for us in terms of collocations, for example. I think there may be some room there to somehow find some savings both in the Ontario budget but also federally as well. I think this is something we should be looking at very cooperatively to do these things.
Mr Michael Brown: I don't think any Canadian would disagree that it's time we got our act together in terms of governments acting together. What I was really looking for, though, when I was asking is if we had at this point any impact on what the WCB numbers would do, and I guess we don't. That's probably fair, in that the proposals are just that at this point. But I would expect that the ministry would table with the Legislature that information, if the workers' compensation bill comes forward, so that we do know what impact it may be on social services and other income-support programs.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think not just with WCB but -- your question just begs the rest of the formula, which is breaking down the silos that have been built up between ministries. We have to have some not just meaningful discussions, but meaningful cooperation between ministries to try to do things more efficiently and better and to communicate. You're quite right.
Mr Michael Brown: I'd like to move on and ask about the reduction in caseloads, who it is who has been reduced statistically, what categories are the ones that represent the people who are now off the system who were on the system. We have no indication where they went. We don't know why it happened or how it happened; we just know it happened. The suggestion is they went to work; the statistics show there are no more workers than there ever were.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, just to make a quick comment on the aspect of why, I think part of the problem has been of course that the tracking system that's in place currently, in terms of the exit from the system, is a fairly complicated one and has over 90 categories or something like that, and it's difficult to really get a handle on that. I'd like to see an improvement in that so we have a better answer in terms of why. In terms of where, which categories they are from, I've got some figures here for you in terms of --
Mr Costante: I can tell you we have a fairly good handle on which categories are decreasing. The largest areas of decline really are in people who are unemployed, primarily single people, and sole-support parents; those are the two largest categories. I can give you some numbers around that, on the general welfare assistance program, and there's a table here we could provide as well, if you would like that.
Mr Costante: Sure. I can give you a couple of highlights. In October there was 187,788 unemployed people on general welfare assistance. In January that was down to 184,845. In terms of sole-support parents on family benefits, in October it was at 146,205 and was down to 135,947.
So we have month-by-month statistics, and there are a number of categories in each program. So in general welfare assistance the categories are unemployed, sole-support parents, those with ill health, students, aged, a category of "other." And in family benefits, it's aged, disabled, sole-support parents, those in our vocational rehabilitation services program, 60- to 64-year-olds, foster and handicapped cases and another case of "other." So we can provide that.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): On the same train of thought, though, and if we get back to the seniors and the disabled, you promised in your Common Sense Revolution to establish a new and separate income supplement program specifically for those unable to work. That is strictly a provincial program?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's currently what we're looking at in terms of getting them into a guaranteed supplement program. However, there are a number of other issues that are certainly raised in terms of the ministerial council for the different ministers of different provinces which they are looking at to see how we can rationalize this whole system. But currently that's what we're trying to do right now.
First of all, the current benefit levels, which were not reduced in October, are to be protected for the elderly and disabled. So we are doing some consultation work on that with the people who are disabled and certainly the providers as well.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: In terms of specific time lines, no. What I can tell you, though, is this certainly is one of the priorities our ministry has right now. We want to get this established and we want to get the seniors and the disabled off the welfare system, where they should never have been in the first place.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The funding is already there in terms of what their benefits are. What we're doing is just changing them off our system right now into a new stream. We believe our existing resources should be certainly more than adequate to handle this switch-off to the stream of these people.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Our case workers and our administrative workers right now are handling this caseload already. So really what we're saying is, depending on how the delivery of the service is going to be or the system is going to be, existing resources should be more than adequate to handle that.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: If there's a more efficient way of doing it, we'll certainly look at it and it will be part of the consideration. All I can say now is that we believe our existing resources should be more than adequate to deal with this.
Mr Cleary: You tell me you're consulting right now. When will you be using the new definition of "disabled"? You say you're consulting now -- I think that's what you said, anyway. Will there be any more consultation with the public?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: What I actually said was that we're consulting with an advisory group made up of all these umbrella groups that I named yesterday in the disabled community, and we're working with them to establish what kind of structure our delivery of social services should be under and to help us in terms of working with our core services. They actually have most of the input. We're not just asking here to rubber-stamp something. You can speak to any of them. You can see that we are having meaningful discussions in terms of where we're going with all of this, so it's really their call, working with us as a ministry. And yes, we do have further discussions. I'm certainly going to be looking for some sort of community input on what we do as well.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think what you're asking is how many people are moving over to the FBA system from the GWA system in terms of disabled. One of the things I might say, and I'll get Mr Costante to give you the actual figures on that, is that we had set up that as a priority certainly in the fall, to make sure that people who should be qualified, as of the date that we set, which was October 1, would be examined, I guess is the word -- assessed -- on whether or not they qualify to be disabled under the FBA. We also set up a criterion that makes sure that people were -- if somehow the period of time was not as of October 1, but say they're assessed after that but they were on at that time, any payments to them would be retroactive back to October 1. Maybe Mr Costante can give you some figures on that.
Mr Cleary: We get asked a lot of these questions in our constituency office and we don't have a clue what's going on, you know. We understood that these programs were in place, the consultation had been done and now we get asked these questions every day.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think what I might indicate to Mr Cleary is that we're doing some very intensive consultation right now with many of these groups, the umbrella organizations, and I named a number of them. I know locally there's a number of these organizations that will be in your own riding as well, such as Community Living, Christian Horizons --
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Then what I would suggest is maybe your local associations that are associated with these provincial organizations contact them in terms of their concerns, because we're meeting with these people already. We'll also have an opportunity I believe in the future to have some community input as well.
It doesn't matter if you're on the government side or on the opposition side, we're going to have to deal with local organizations somehow, and at that point certainly we'll provide information in terms of what we're doing. But no decisions have been made right now because we're still consulting.
I understand what you're saying about the local organizations sometimes don't necessarily have the communication with the umbrella organizations. I believe that point was being made yesterday by one of the NDP members, that a local organization didn't really know what the provincial organization was doing. We've suggested perhaps they get in contact with each other so they can get a real handle on the issues that we're discussing right now, plus the fact that they are working on the core services and the structure with us.
Mr Cleary: We get in very uncomfortable spots too, because we get invited to their annual meetings, sit in a round table. We have no answers and we write letters here and you people don't have any answers either.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: But the real difference, I believe, Mr Cleary, is that one of the reasons why these groups are excited about working with our government is that we're not just presenting them with a fait accompli. We're saying: "Look, you people know what you need out in the community, front line, you work with them in the organizations. Work with us right now. We're not just giving you something and say, `Here, this is what's going to happen; you just give us your rubber stamp on it.'" They're at the table having meaningful discussions with us, actually having input on the services and how it's going to appear. What they need out there is what we're discussing, and that's why they're excited about that, and I really do strongly suggest that your local organizations come in contact with their umbrella provincial group. We'll provide you with a list before the end of the hearings, Mr Cleary, so you can certainly indicate that that's what they should be doing.
Mr Bisson: Thank you very much, Minister. I would be extremely interested in getting a list of those people you're consulting with, because I can tell you I have been involved in this field for a long time. I have a lot of people that I know, not only in my home community of Timmins but around the province, and nobody is being told anything. I disagree with you wholeheartedly. The complaint I'm hearing out there is people are saying: "We have no clue what's going on. We know the government is about to change the system in a way it has never been changed before, and we have no bloody idea, as service providers and people who are dealing with the effects on people on social assistance, what the hell the changes are going to be," and they fear.
The other thing I just want to bring to you -- and I'm going to say this and it might not make you very happy -- is that the other thing I'm detecting out there is that there is really also above that a fear on the part of a lot of these agencies and a lot of the groups out there that are funded by you to get up and to say anything in opposition to what your government is doing for fear of having their funding cut, or being audited because of the comments made by Mrs Cunningham in London, and I think a general fear about how they view the government when it comes to its willingness to push forward its agenda at any cost, even if that means to say it's maybe sometimes against the will of the people.
I want to come back to something we were talking about earlier. My friend Mr Brown from Manitoulin was talking about the question of finding ways of being able to work with other governments so that we have a system that is not as bureaucratic or not as overlapped as what might exist today.
I want to say just as a general comment, I think really what's lacking here is that there used to a time in this country when we used to work on the principle of vision. Truly, I think in our history we can take a look at the province of Ontario and we can look at the country of Canada in general, and I think we can all agree that we can point back to a time when there were political leaders in this province and political leaders federally and people involved in the process who really had a vision of what they wanted to do with this nation, to make this country a different country, a country that is inclusive, one that cares compassionately about its citizens, and that we build a very different model than the United States.
One thing we're seeing now, today in the 1990s, is that people are starting to lose the confidence in believing that this country is still along that mould. What they're seeing is quite frankly reactionary politics, something I think your government practises quite well. I would hope you're sincere in your approaches that you're making here today about wanting to make change, because I would say let's not tamper with the welfare system, because I really think that's what you're doing. You call it reform by going to workfare, while every example that is out there in North America, where workfare has happened -- the only single thing they can point to that has been successful in getting people off welfare has been the economy. If the economy is good, people go off welfare; if the economy is bad, people stay on welfare.
What we really need to do is what Brian Mulroney said of your party at the federal level, and Mr Chrétien is saying now at the federal level, we need to work on the economy and we need to work on jobs and we need to work on getting people back into employment. That's really what we should be concentrating on.
But at the same time, I would argue that we need to -- both the federal and provincial governments -- look at changing the system as we know it today from a system that has a multitude of programs at the federal, provincial and municipal levels to deal with everything from disability to unemployment and say: "Let's have a universal disability program that deals with people's disabilities." Let it be if they're injured at work, if they get into a car accident, or they happen to fall at home, or they just happen to get sick, that they have income replacement and income protection at the time of the disability with an aim to getting them back to work through proper training. And on the other hand, instead of having a program of unemployment insurance and a system of welfare, having a system that if you lose your job, that's not your fault, that's the effect of the economy. We as a society will put in place the mechanisms that set up the partnerships between the private sector and government through the unions and others who are involved in the economy, to be able to try to find ways, first of all, in large layoffs to figure out how you can minimize that by doing some innovative things, and if there is to be layoff, trying to find ways of having one system of income replacement, not two systems where you're labelled on one as being unemployed, and the minute you can't find a job off unemployment insurance you fall under welfare, you're supposedly a deadbeat. I think we need to get past that and we need to do major reform.
One of the things we're missing in this whole discussion we're having this morning on welfare, is that we're forgetting that when we talk about the stats, we're really talking about people. As you and I and everyone else who was elected in this place see on a daily basis, if not weekly, depending on how busy we are, constituents walk into our office, friends who live down the street from us, people who we either know by relation or by friendship or by just casual relationship, people who are affected by what's happening in the economy of Ontario and what's happening in Canada.
What has happened is that for the government to stand here today and to say the problem with the welfare system and with so many people being on it is that the system somehow has been made too generous so that people leave their jobs and go on welfare in order to get an easy living, I think is a crock of -- I won't say the second word.
The reality is there are far less people doing that -- and I think your stats are going to prove that -- there are far less people defrauding the system than I think your government is willing to admit. The reality is that the vast majority of people on welfare, over 90%, are there because of joblessness. What we have to deal with, I think, is first of all finding ways of getting them back to work.
Jobs Ontario Training was a program that was very successful in getting people back to work, and if the government wanted to build on successes, I would have no problem from the New Democratic Party with working with the government and saying, "Let's build on the success." But the approach this government has taken -- and I resent it, and I think a lot of Ontarians resent it -- is that it's taking an axe to the system and saying, "Let's destroy it, and then we're going to reinvent something out of the ashes that is going to be far superior than anything else anybody else could have done, because everybody else is stupid and we're the only ones with any smarts." For a government to say that and to think that and to act that way is extremely arrogant and counterproductive. I'm not going to mince words.
I want to talk to you about some of the people in my constituency I've dealt with over the years in the system of welfare, just to try to put this in perspective, and then we're going to get to a series of questions.
I remember, one of the first people I ever had to deal with on welfare when I was elected in the fall of 1990 was a fellow I know quite well by the name of Barry. Barry was a miner who was, like me, working in the McIntyre mine back in the late 1970s, early 1980s, working making a pretty damn good living. The guy worked as a driftman, made probably in today's wages $70,000 to $80,000 a year, lived a rugged life, played hard, worked hard and did everything the way it's supposed to be done, according to what that sort of aura of being a miner is all about.
But what happened is that the mining industry took a bit of a turn for the worse in the early 1980s. Because of the dismantling of the flow-through shares by the Conservative government and a whole bunch of other things, market forces etc, we lost a lot of jobs. Barry lost his job as a miner. Barry had gone to school, he had grade 12, but Barry had done nothing else. All that Barry had ever done all his life, what his father had done and what his grandfather had done, was worked underground in some mine somewhere and made a good living at it.
The fact of losing his job and going on unemployment insurance Barry was unable to deal with, trying to find another job in the mining industry, because that's what he wanted to do, that's what he knew and that's what he wanted to get back to. It became a problem that Barry started to drink and as a result of the drinking, Barry and his wife separated, with their two young children.
The first person I had to deal with on welfare was Barry, who I met on Algonquin Street in front of city hall about two months after I was elected, who said, "Gilles, I need a favour." I said, "What's that?" He said: "I can't seem to get any welfare and my unemployment insurance ran out. Can you give me a hand?" I walked down with Barry, thinking: "I'm going to give Barry a hand. I'm a new member. I'm going to do my job and I'm going to go advocate for my community." I was floored by the amount of people I knew that were in that office and, let me tell you, they weren't people trying to fraud the bloody system. They were hardworking men and women who had lost their jobs because of the economy, people I had worked with for years.
The problem was that when I walked in there, all of my friends could have probably melted through the walls, because they didn't want to be identified and stigmatized as being a person on welfare, but they had no choice. What the hell do you do when you have a family and you have a wife and you have bills to pay and you've got no income coming in? Either you pick up a gun and go rob a store or you go on the welfare system if there's no job available. Those are the people that we're talking about.
I think first of all through the election and prior to the election, the Conservative Party was quite effective. You built on the perception that people on welfare by a majority are people who are trying to fraud the system. You didn't actually say that, but that's what was being inferred, and people in my community were buying it as well. It took a hell of a lot of work on the part of many people in our community, not just myself, to get people to understand this is not about people trying to fraud the system. The reality is the majority of people on the system happen to be unemployed and we need to do something about that.
The government has seen fit in coming back and being elected, their way of dealing with the supposed abuse of the system is to cut the benefit by 22%. Somehow that is going to magically make all the problem disappear. All these people who are on welfare are trying to fraud the system, and if we cut their benefit and we make it financially a disincentive for them to be able to stay on, they will magically go out and get jobs, all these people.
Your own bloody facts this morning in regard to the amount of people who have fallen off the welfare system since October demonstrate that as a result of your cut less than 10% of people have gone off the welfare system, and it beckons to ask one question: What about the other 90%? Those are people who are coming into my constituency office, and probably yours, who are having a hell of a problem trying to deal with what you saddled on them, because what you've actually done is you've penalized them for what supposedly is an abuse in the system.
I think people could accept, if the government would have come back and said: "We're cutting the benefit on the basis of what's happening in the economy. We can't afford to pay as much and we're going to reduce the benefits." People wouldn't have liked it any more, but I think people would have at least understood a bit better. But to be told it's that, and on top of that it's because we think people are abusing the system and that'll make them go out and get a job -- let me tell you, they're not getting a bloody job.
I want to give you a couple of examples. I had one woman who came into my office who got caught up in the spouse-in-the-house rule. She has a son who is learning disabled who is 11 years old. She and her husband, who is the father of this child, were having real difficulties trying to deal with this child, to the point that the father was abusive, both physically and mentally, to this child. The mother finally decided she had to remove her child from that situation because the kid as well as being learning disabled didn't need to have a father who was not supportive about his condition and allowing him to be able to try to deal with the condition that he had as a learning disabled child. So she left her husband, not a decision that she wanted to make, but she did it.
What happened after two years of being gone, she met somebody else, you know, because we're all human beings. We want to meet somebody else, we want to be in a couple relationship. We want to be able to share each other's affections and we want to be able to go on in life not living alone. She found somebody else who happens to be working and is making probably -- I wouldn't say a great living. He works at one of our automobile supply stores, making probably $12, $14 an hour, but none the less the guy is working. Because of the rules we had that were first set up by the Liberals and ourselves during the coalition accord, she was able to live with this man and keep her benefits until what, two years? I think it was three years that they were able to keep their benefits.
What happened because of the changes you made to the spouse-in-house relationship was that she had to make a decision: Is she going to get off the system and go live with this guy and commit herself to a relationship with this man for the rest of her days, or is she going to go back on to the system? She had just moved in with this guy and wasn't quite clear in her mind that that's where she needed to be.
What's happened since is that she's now having to return to her husband. That's what's happened. It created a lot of problems in the relationship that she was in at the time last fall, and as a result, anyway, she's back with her husband.
I have another one who came into my office just last Friday. Mary is a 50-some-odd-year-old native woman who barely speaks English. All she knows -- she came into the office and through an interpreter was telling me she couldn't pay her bills -- is that she's got a 15-year-old son, her husband got killed in a motor vehicle accident about a year ago, and through no fault of her own, because of the situation she's in, she didn't get what she should have been entitled to with insurance because she doesn't understand the system. She's in a situation of having to live on about $900 a month and raise a 15-year-old son. Where is she going to get a job?
Mr Bisson: Exactly, with Microsoft, doing programming for Bill Gates. Maybe in Lake Nipigon there are jobs like that, but there are a lot of people out there, quite frankly, who are not equipped to deal in this economy. Quite frankly, on behalf of these people, I want to give you bloody shit for what you're doing, because I think it's more than callous; it's foolhardy. I can't say that in any stronger terms.
There are many examples of that. What I would say to the government and what I would say to you directly is that yes, there need to be some changes to the system. We all agree with that. Yes, we need to find ways of being more efficient in the way that we deliver welfare. Nobody argues that.
Mr Pouliot: Thank you kindly. Minister, it's a renewed pleasure but also a first-time pleasure. The estimates have a quality about them that even Houdini would be revived. They tend to show. It's part of the mandate.
Its preparation for the people is also very time-consuming, with a good deal of zeal often forgotten, and I'm sure you have started your remarks -- I wasn't here; there are so few of us now that we sit on several committees -- to thank the people who diligently tried, to the best of their ability, to not only follow the guidelines, but they have to live with the nuts and bolts on a daily basis. Certainly, their efforts deserve mention, and I would echo your sentiments in terms of the good people who are here, giving their precious time so that Ontarians not only get fair value for their dollar but certainly are well served.
Your adminstration, your regime, your government is not the first one that has mentioned that to pay people from the public dole, from the taxpayers, a salary, pay for really, in many cases, doing nothing, is not the smartest way of conducting affairs of the state. Where other regimes, other administrations, have differed is in the mechanism, in the style.
We're concerned not so much with, namely, the 21.6% cut -- we're concerned with that too -- but with candour. I know it wasn't said with intent, with malice. No one I meet wishes to punish the less fortunate, the marginalized, the people who can't run as fast as the middle class. We all see ourselves on a sort of waiting line and we are vulnerable. I know that doesn't escape anyone. There's always a human dimension present to your ministry, sir. When you go from one stage to the next, the next stage has to be reflected by a well-thought-out transition.
I want to bring your attention to the special part of Ontario where I live, with a focus first on native Canadians. I represent a riding that extends all the way to Hudson Bay. It's the largest geographical riding in the province of Ontario. It's Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia put together and multiplied by two. It's 1,000 miles long. Of course, we're underpopulated and that's the tradeoff. For instance, we're closer to Miami, Florida, than we are to some parts of the riding of Lake Nipigon -- closer to Halifax, therefore.
If I leave our village, our community of Manitouwadge, and I travel 600 miles to Pickle Lake -- that's where the road system ends in the province of Ontario -- then I must go to the bay by way of charter, small aircraft. That's another 400 miles. There you see, Minister, and over the years it leaves a lasting impression, what it is to be marginalized in its extreme.
It's always good for the soul. Not only does it remind you how fortunate some of us are -- life is circumstance; it's something else too but you don't always have the opportunity, you're not always given the tools to be like the others, and your support system, what you find in yourself, is not always opportune in the northern part of our riding. You see in this day and age -- although there's been some effort and progress; that is readily acquiesced and it's welcome -- conditions that you can imagine but you cannot readily accept, if at all. Sewers and water for engineers might be a fascinating world. They like to build things. Well, it's non-existent in many of the communities which I've had the honour of representing for the last 11 years.
There are many things that we take for granted, and those people don't have the tools to defend themselves; they don't have the tools to integrate. My good friend and colleague M. Bisson has mentioned the plight of native Canadians. They either speak Cree or Ojibway. They're not the plebs, the serfs, they're not the perennial residual users of the system; they're the victims. They're only rich by way of the beauty of the soul and they begin to stoop when they go from point A to point B. They're shy by circumstance.
The rate of suicide is alarming. Some have mentioned that it's epidemic. Well, compare: Statswise, it could be epidemic, not because of poverty but because when they look to the future, they cannot see any confidence. They cannot see where things will change. They're chasing three meals a day. They're not downtrodden, they're not low-lifes; they're Ontarians, they're Canadians. We don't have any database of consequence.
I'm sure this will come, a program which will be called workfare, and I know it's a federal matter, but I would wish that the people who need it most, the often forgotten, the plight of native Canadians -- and I use as an example those in Lake Nipigon, but it's not only there -- would be included in a program that would give them a chance to develop. It's not asking for too much, it's most commonsensical and no one can deny and not be deeply impacted by the reality of what happens: James Bay, Hudson Bay, Cree territory, Ojibway territory, a situation that should not be, regardless of political party. In our case we followed progress, we listened well and I am sure you will listen equally well. I'm here to speak on their behalf because we have a forum that other people don't have. We have an opportunity to meet one on one, with the highest of respect.
We know that you're listening intently. I will stop there. It's not a forum for criticism, but it's a plea. When you look at your program, when your well-qualified, diligent and dedicated staff, people sitting here and others, look at that, keep in mind that there is a voice there, that there is a friendly hand that is asking for what is legitimate, for what is commonsensical: a chance to live and a chance to dream for tomorrow.
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): Could I just ask a couple of questions to get some understanding and to get some information on the record? I just want to get a little bit of information from the ministry on the impact of the budget cuts on children's agencies, on children's mental health facilities and on the children's aid societies.
Normally your ministry, when transfer payments are decided, would be doing some kind of impact statement, some kind of impact analysis, so I'd like to get an understanding about what the impact is going to be, has been and will be on waiting lists for children's mental health facilities and response to legislative mandate by children's aid societies.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: As you're aware, we are working with the children's aid societies. Some of them have indicated some financial pressures. We have been working with them. In many cases we have looked and, as you are aware, we have a contingency fund in order to deal with financial pressures on the CASs. In many cases we're working with them not only in terms of their financial pressures but also with respect to some administrative problems they've had. The ministry officials are working with them very diligently.
Mr Cooke: I know that the ministry officials would be working with the agencies. That's the least we could expect. What I'd like to get is some information about the actual impact, not just that you're working with them. This is the estimates, so we should be able to get an understanding from you about what the impact of the budget cuts would be. What are the waiting list impacts going to be for the children's mental health facilities? We know they're going to be increased. What kind of an analysis have you done to determine that, and can you table some information with us about waiting lists for children's mental health and response time for CASs? Can you tell me, for example, are the CASs on a calendar year for fiscal years? The end of fiscal year 1995 had deficits, so what have the layoff numbers been with the children's aid societies?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Before I call on the officials to give you some specifics in terms of the detail, Mr Cooke, what I might indicate as well, and certainly I did yesterday, but just to put it on record, is that we are working with many of the agencies right now, through their umbrella groups, to try to provide some planning and some perspective of what's happening in those areas. They are working with us right now to do their future planning. I know you're not interested in future planning right now -- you're interested in terms of impact -- but certainly I can get them from our officials. I just want to indicate that we are working very diligently with these people in these areas right now to come out with some solutions for the future.
Mr Cooke: I've met with the children's mental health facilities and I've talked to the people at OACAS and their very serious concerns about what the definition of core services is going to be. You're working with them; I'm not sure you're hearing them, because I don't believe they agree with your approach.
But what I really want at this point is some data on waiting lists and layoffs. How many social workers have been laid off at children's aid societies across the province? Are there others other than Halton who are reducing the hours worked in order to cope with the budget cuts, and what impact is that having on response times when there's a concern about a child being abused?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Once again, before I call on the officials, I want to make sure it's on the record as well that we are ensuring that the legally mandated services of the CASs are carried out. That's why we're working with them.
Ms Lang: I'd like to, if I could, call up the ADM for children's services to give you an update on the status of our discussions with children's aid societies and the children's mental health community.
Ms Lucille Roch: We've been working very closely with the OACAS and the children's mental health association. We've had a lot of discussions with them about how we're going about defining core services. I think we've had some very good discussions with them. We've made it very clear that we don't think core services should be defined in a narrow way. We've, I think, come to some agreement in terms of needing to ensure that, as we define our services, there's room there to include early intervention and prevention services.
Mr Cooke: I don't want to be rude, but I only had seven minutes when we started this round. I want some data. How many layoffs have there been in the children's aid societies and what are the waiting lists looking like for the children's mental health facilities? Or have you not collected that data?
I understand what you're doing in terms of redefining core services, but the core services have not been redefined at this point. So at this point we're still operating under the Child and Family Services Act that exists in the province -- there have been no amendments -- and there have been impacts on the ability to live up to that legislation. I don't think OACAS says one thing to me and one thing to you. So I think this committee's entitled to know layoffs and impacts on response times.
Ms Roch: I think we've made it very clear to our children's aid societies, through our area offices, that their first responsibility is to follow -- they have a mandate to protect children. They have very strict standards and guidelines that they need to pursue, that they need to enforce, and we're being very, very clear about that with them. As you know, children's aid societies are also --
I expect that to be the answer. Of course they have to follow the law. There have been some other impacts, and all I'm asking is that that information be tabled with the committee. So can we get the numbers on layoffs, the specific children's aid societies that have had layoffs and the mix of workers who have been laid off, everything from secretaries, other support staff and social workers, and can we get that tabled with the committee? And do you have numbers on waiting lists for children's mental health facilities?
Mrs Ecker: I appreciate the sincerity with which the members of the opposition come to their issue. They come to the committee with stories from the constituency offices which are very tragic and very difficult. We all work in our constituencies and we're all familiar with the stories that are out there, including the stories about the people who've gotten back on their feet, the success stories, the anecdotes of individuals who have been able to put their lives back together again. I think we would share the objective that that's what we're trying to do here. Even, I think, the previous government's own leader admitted that those on welfare have an obligation to society, and when our government talks about initiating programs to pursue that avenue, we're accused of being heartless for some reason. I believe that leaving people trapped in a system with no hope is pretty heartless and pretty cruel.
I guess what I also find quite frustrating is when I hear members of the opposition objecting to the fact that our government might well wish to ensure that welfare moneys that are being paid are being paid to those who really need it and not going to those who don't perhaps need it or who have other options. I think it's worth noting that the previous government felt that there was enough of a need within the system to ensure that that money was going to the right places that they initiated fraud investigations. We all know that the majority of people on welfare are there because they need it, we all know that it's a minority, but we also know that regardless of the size of that minority, whatever we can do eliminate it, I think a government should be pursuing. I think we should be going in that direction.
Mrs Ecker: It's interesting you would say that. You like to accuse our government as pandering or playing to some sort of mythical public concern. I didn't hear about misuse of welfare from any of the political aides who put together the Common Sense Revolution. I heard about misuse and troubles and concern about the system from the people who are out there in the community, from the people who had been on the system themselves, from people who had friends or neighbours or children who were on the system, and they were the ones who told me that the system needed to be changed.
The Vice-Chair: I'm going to cut this off. If you want to direct your comments, please do so through the Chair. You may also wish to ask questions of the minister, but I will not permit debate between parties.
Mrs Ecker: Mr Chair, I can appreciate your concern in terms of trying to have order within the committee, but I believe that many of the comments that have been made by the opposition -- and I respect their right to say it and I respect their sincerity, but at the same time, there is not one side to this story and I think that it behooves us all to recognize that. People who are out there on the system and people who knew people who were on the system said that there was misuse which had to be addressed.
I think one of the concerns that we have as we proceed with welfare reform in this province is that the people who are paying for that system -- the taxpayers out there -- need to have the assurance that their money is being used to help those who really need help. I didn't hear anybody object to that when I was out knocking on doors and continuing to knock on doors.
The people who keep getting lost in this, and Mr Pouliot did make reference to them, are the people who are out there making $14 or $15 an hour who don't have their partner or spouse living on welfare. There are people out there who are making that kind of money who are trying to raise families on it. I think that this government owes consideration for what they have to do to put a roof over their head and food on the table for their family without resorting to welfare to do so.
I have two specific questions that I would like to address to the minister. They concern the restructuring that many communities are doing out there. In my child care travels, I got to talk to many individuals in children's services and I have yet to meet anyone who has pulled any punches or had any difficulty expressing their views to me as a member of the government because they're in some sort of fear. I don't know where Mr Bisson gets that, but that's certainly not something that I had picked up in my travels.
Many communities are sort of ahead of the government, as frequently happens. Local communities are much further ahead in terms of what they believe they need than governments are. I had the opportunity to be in Kent county where I met with representatives of their children's services council where they were talking about the restructuring process that they have started. They're well down the road to removing artificial barriers, to cutting down administration, to taking a look at different agencies and saying: "Where can we share? Where can we eliminate duplication? How can we make one point of access for individuals?" and it was actually, dare I say, a very positive and exciting opportunity to listen to the energy and the commitment and the enthusiasm that that group had. I've also heard from London that they as well -- I think they're a little further down the road than Kent is, and I was very pleased to see that the minister made reference to both communities in his opening statement.
The one concern that I believe both communities are expressing is that since they are down the road on this and they know the ministry is doing a core services review, what assurance can the minister give them that the core services review that the ministry is undertaking will not somehow set back or interfere with the community consensus that is developing in those communities and also will they be receiving some direction as to what they should be doing in the future, their future direction or how the efforts that they are making in the community are going to link up with the direction that the ministry is taking?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Thank you, Mrs Ecker. I think that certainly looking at Kent and certainly looking at London are some good examples of communities that have taken the initiative to do a lot of proactive planning in their communities and also of really showing some leadership in terms of recognizing the problems that there are currently out there in the social services area, that many of these programs have been developed independent and quite unconnected to any type of general plan before in the past, that it really needs a lot of structure to apply to it.
I'm more familiar with the London program that they've come up with in that community because it has the approval and the backing right now, as I understand it, of most of the transfer agents in that area. The local municipalities are quite supportive and all four MPPs, including Ms Boyd, who has attended a meeting with me as well and indicated her support for this type of community planning -- certainly our three MPPs in the area are very supportive as well.
I think one of the real good examples is this shows the communities are willing to do planning and do some decision-making but also indicates as well that these communities are willing to indicate what are the priorities in their communities, what are the services they really need. I think the support locally of the four MPPs indicates that this goes across political parties if this is a good initiative, and it should be a good initiative.
I have seen a presentation from a London group. They've come down to the ministry to make a presentation as well, and I think one of the pieces is how is that going to fit in terms of what we're doing with our general review. Working with the umbrella groups, of course, will provide structured core services. We hope to work very closely with groups such as this to really provide, I guess, some sort of leadership in our local communities to make those decisions. Obviously a lot of hard decisions are going to have to be made, but I think we all agree that communities know best what services they really need, as opposed to us pontificating up here in Queen's Park. I think we can provide some context and direction. That's what a lot of groups have said. They want us to provide them with very strong direction, but a lot of the community planning leaders are very interested in making these very difficult decisions.
So I think they're excellent models and I think that in my opinion I could say that Kent and London are certainly well ahead of many other areas, particularly because of the support they have from not only the community but also from the political parties, regardless of what their stripe may be. We're encouraging this type of initiative, and we'll work with them very closely, but I think you may find when we actually get into our restructuring that some communities will be quicker off the mark than others. I think these are a couple of good examples of communities that are ready to really work with the province and come up with real practical solutions to practical problems that we do face.
Mrs Ecker: I had one final question, and it gets back to the issue of equitable funding. I represent a portion of Durham region which is a region that the sort of big growth, if you will, out there in young families and young children started just when government was finding great difficulty in funding the services that such growth needs, especially in the area of children's services. There was much less system out there when the cutbacks and the reduction in spending over the last several years was started, and, therefore, there's not as much flexibility in their system to cope with those.
I know there are Fair Share groups around the province. Peel has one. Durham's Fair Share group started last year, and I know has been lobbying very strongly to try and convince the government that in equitable funding, per child funding, there needs to be a change, because areas like Durham have had some difficulty in the past.
I wondered if the ministry, in the restructuring that is happening, in taking a look at the funding formulas or the base calculations or however we want to look at it, are we going to be able to provide some relief to groups like Durham Fair Share either in base funding or as part of the reform in the funding formula?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's another excellent question. I think the real problem we've had, and I just discussed it briefly before with respect to your prior question, is that there has really been no rational basis for the overall distribution of funding in many areas. I know, particularly in Durham, the concern about children's funding, not just children's funding, I think, but in a lot of different areas.
Once again, the current funding levels are really the result of a hodgepodge of historical funding decisions unconnected to each other, and you're quite right. There are a lot of pressures coming from areas that have high growth, Peel, Durham, York, for example, and some would argue other areas as well. But I think the other challenge is not just the high-growth areas but also some of the areas from the north that do have, I guess, some concerns about the quality of services they receive compared to some of the areas in the south and about the truly unique problems the rural areas have in terms of distances and practicalities dealing with them.
I have already had the opportunity to meet with several of the groups at first hand, with the Peel group, with the Durham group. I met with the chairmen of York and Peel as well. Particularly in Peel and Durham, they've given us some models of what they believe would be a fair way of approaching things. The model really would recognize population growth and also social indicators of need in the areas.
We recognize as a ministry that the rapid population growth in some of these areas has placed pressure on those particular areas and the agencies in the areas, and I think that equitable distribution resource is an issue for many of the services that we fund. What I can say right now is we have begun our analysis of the options. We have listened to these groups and recognized there is a problem here that somehow we're going to have to address. That's where we are right now, we're just examining the options, but certainly we recognize there is a problem that somehow we have to fix.
Mrs Marland: To the region of Peel it's a very important question, Minister, and I know from your answer you are aware of it. I just want to say that when you answer and then go into the other concerns about rural communities versus high-growth areas like Peel, you still have to come back to the raw figures. The raw figures in round figures are something like Metro children $350 per capita, the provincial average $275 per capita, and in Peel it's $195. There is no way any government can defend having a different value on a child depending on the geographic location, and I feel very strongly that that inequity has to be addressed in terms of children's services before anything else.
The Fair Share for Peel Task Force was formed during the Liberal government administration and we have been on our knees begging, all the way back to John Sweeney, who I must say was the more sympathetic of the two previous government ministers in Community and Social Services. We've only been the government for six months, you've only been the minister six months, with a great deal of very heavy-duty challenges on your plate, but I really would like to be able to take the message back to the region of Peel that this isn't going to take another administration to get it resolved.
I want to ask you again, you said just a few moments ago, I think, that it is still being reviewed, and I'm wondering if there is any more information you need to persuade you about prioritizing in terms of human need.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I might say that, number one, I do recognize the problem. Number two, I have met with Mr Kolb, who is the chairman of Peel, separate and apart from meeting with the Peel Fair Share group as well. I might suggest that when they left the meeting with me, separately, and I guess they came to the same conclusion, they were quite satisfied with the fact that we are reviewing it right now. We were willing to listen to what they had to say and recognized that there is a problem. I think both these groups, if you have a chance to discuss with them an update on it, would indicate they're quite satisfied with where we are right now in government on this.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Sure, but as you understand, we're also looking at how are we going to restructure services in many different areas. It makes no sense for us to do it in isolation of everything else.
Mr Rollins: Thanks, Mr Chair, and to you, Mr Minister, for the opportunity to express some of my concerns and pass on to you some of the feelings that I feel are in the Quinte riding that I represent. I feel very strongly that sometimes the opposition feels that because we're trying to change something it's wrong. I'm sure there are two sides to the welfare people. There are the people that we certainly have to help who find themselves in the dire straits of being without work and under circumstances that there aren't jobs available, particularly in the far outreach areas of our whole province. Sure, our riding doesn't reach a long way into the north, but we have problems there too.
Then there is the other side of it. There are concerns over people who are misusing. It's not always fraud and it's not always complete abuse, but I think there's some misuse that needs to be addressed. I'm sure if we listened to what they say we wouldn't have to have any jails or anything else, because there are none of those kinds of things. I see that there's some misuse in other parts of our society and I think it continues into the ranks of the welfare and everything else.
One of the other things that we could take a look at, Mr Minister, is maybe to allow the earned-back percentages being more equal, that a person who's on social assistance and on welfare is allowed to earn back closer to a 50-50 deal: 50% for them and 50% to be kept by the government. I think that would encourage more people to go out and try to find that four- or five-hour-a-week job or whatever they can supplement their income with.
I know on the clawback that we're allowed, the cutback, that we're using the 100%, but as soon as you come off that you drop down to a 75% or a 25% rate and I feel personally that's too low. That person is prepared to work the four or five hours to get back, and they say, "There are no jobs out there." Well, strangely enough, we hire people in my business in town, and there are people looking for work and there are some jobs there. But I think we need to encourage them more.
If we were on a 50-50 deal, I know it might make the budget a little bit higher as far as the cost is concerned, but I think the payback of it is to encourage that person. With the self-esteem that those people start to obtain in their own lives as soon as they start making some contribution to society and feeling better about going out and doing that work, there's only one winner, and I think it's us because then we've got one less bill to pay and those people do get those jobs.
We've had people come into my constituency office and express that until this cutback came along they'd been on social assistance for four or five years and had no desire or there was no push for them to go off. With that push off, they came back in two or three weeks later and said: "You know, by golly, I went out and I'm working four or five hours a week. I'm helping out."
You wouldn't know it's the same people walking through the door, because they've got that little bit more self-pride back again. I know it's not there for every person. There's no pie in the sky saying, "Hey, there's all those dreams there and all those jobs," but I would wonder whether there's any consideration to getting back to a closer earn-back situation, if you could give me some thoughts on that, Minister.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think the pledge we had made during the election was that they could earn back the difference between the old and new base rates. The clawback after that, which is on a 75-25 formula, is just a continuation of the prior policy. The general basis for all this, Mr Rollins, is that part-time work, regardless of how much it is, could possibly lead to full-time work and that it does encourage this behaviour. We hadn't considered that because in the context of our programs we were coming up with in workfare, which are programs designed to get people fully back into the workforce, we felt the time gap between them was not going to be too great.
One of the other things is that, with the people that are on social assistance and everything, if we use some type of a system of a smart card or a bank card system, we would allow these people not to be identified when they go to the grocery store; they've got this identification no different than anybody else going to the grocery store buying groceries.
I think, in using that smart card or a bank card system of that nature, it also gives your social worker the ability to look at those people who say, "Hey, I run out of money six or seven days before the end of the month," and when they readjust and take a look at where they spent the money, they could well say, "You're spending all your money in a certain area. There's too many clothes being bought, there's too many groceries being bought," it gives a social worker the ability to point the finger at this line and make a constructive criticism to adjust their spending habits.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The Management Board Secretariat is taking the lead to coordinate the multiministry working group that was examining the roles of identification cards and what their uses might be. There are several ministries involved: our ministry, Health, Transportation and I believe Consumer and Commercial Relations. There's indication, from the private sector anyway, that there would be improved customer service, efficiency and fraud-control benefits that could accrue from the use of such a card.
However, there are significant privacy concerns that have to be addressed as well, and I guess your point that the new legislation would be needed as well to make some sort of a photo ID card a basic requirement in our programs. We are still having discussions in this area among all the ministries. We still have to address the concerns of the privacy commission in all this as well.
Ms Lang: I would simply reinforce also the concern that we ensure that if there is a card technology, it is not stigmatizing and that as much as possible we look at the potential for integrating cards so we don't have to spend a lot of money supporting several different cards. There are some clear directions from the government that we explore all options and come back with some suggestions how we might achieve a smart card technology and ability to provide better service more efficiently to clients and not stigmatize them in the process.
Mr Cleary: One thing I wasn't quite clear on by a previous speaker: With the children's aid societies, are we going to get that information on the layoffs and also on the children's aid societies that were having financial problems?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: This particular area has not been developed very far, Mr Cleary, right now. Obviously we're concentrating on a number of other issues, as you are well aware. In the forefront of course is workfare. So you may be happy to know we haven't developed this area very much.
Mr Cleary: Maybe you could give us a list of things that you're advanced on because we're not having much luck here in this committee on any of the projects really. We're not getting any answers. There's not much use in my asking any more questions.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Actually, just to put this back in context, we are dealing with the 1995-96 estimates and not 1996-97. I'm sure you'll have another crack at it next year when we actually get into the programs.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I guess it's really the same answer. We haven't really completed much work in this area. If you want to get a sense of what our priorities are, or are currently, you can certainly make reference to my opening statement, which will give you an idea of the areas in which this government will be concentrating in the near future.
Mr Cleary: I was going to speak at length about that project because I think it could be very important in the community. Being there are not too many answers, I guess my colleague Mr Colle has some questions.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Mr Cleary, before you actually leave that topic, it would certainly be of advantage to us if you wish to indicate what areas you think we should be concentrating on. Certainly we'll listen to that. You may want to come back to that later. Just because we haven't developed a program now, is not to say we won't listen to your input.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): A question I have I guess can be linked to your proposals on workfare, Minister. I have some single parents in my constituency who have disabled children. One in particular -- the child has Down syndrome -- is 14 years of age, and in the last round of social service cuts it was a 22% cut to the single parent. I wrote the ministry and I asked them why this would not be considered a cut to the disabled when the parent is the sole caregiver, a combination of giving up her job because she wanted to stay at home -- she used to take this boy to school every day, feed him lunch. He was basically traumatized by going to and from school.
The cut -- I think it was about $300 to this mother -- for all intents and purposes was a cut to that child because she was the caregiver. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be cost-efficient to have that mother stay at home, be the caregiver, rather than put this child in some kind of institution where the government would have to pay more money in other support services? I'm just wondering whether that area has been cleared up or whether it still continues in terms of a mother or a father, a single parent, who's at home as a caregiver to a child who has some kind of disability.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think you're certainly right in pointing out this area. The only answer I can really give you right now is that we do provide other areas to assist parents who have children who are handicapped. Special services at home is one of these particular programs, which when we underwent the constraints that we put forward, I guess, last year, were not subject to the 2.5% constraint at that time.
I understand what you're saying and I do have some sympathy for people in that situation. One of the reasons we didn't cut the special services at home program is because this funding was provided directly to parents for the services they need to care for their children with disabilities. They can access a number of supports within the community as well, which were also not impacted by the constraints.
The handicapped children's benefits support program is another one, which is funded through social assistance, and that provides benefits to over 11,000 children in the province. Total funding in I guess 1994-95 was over $30 million, with monthly payments that range between $25 and $375 depending on the family income and family size.
Once again, the special services at home wasn't constrained specifically because they provided direct services to parents for services that they needed to care for their children with disabilities, so any future plans we have in terms of developmental services will be consistent with our commitment to support children with disability as well.
Mr Colle: In this case it's pretty black and white. Here's a household income, it's just the mother and the 13-year-old, and it's been cut by 22%, so she's having a heck of a time now paying rent, paying her bills, paying for proper nutrition for herself and the child she takes care of. This has been impacting on her ability, basically, to provide for herself and then subsequently being able to provide for that disabled child.
Does this really make any sense when that person is providing, you might say, an in-home social service when your government is almost saying that's the way you want to go; in other words, take the government out and if you can help your child at home, or family and friends helping? Here's a perfect case where that 22% cut didn't make any economic sense; never mind the morality of it, the social sense. From an economic perspective, we are basically punishing a person who is probably doing the right thing in providing that one-on-one care that can be provided much better than any government could.
I'm saying, has the rationale of that been looked at? I did write a letter to the ministry, and I know you get a lot of letters, but I have not received a response even. I wanted to see what the rationale was from an economic and social perspective.
What worries me now is that in the discussions about workfare, it seems that this mother, the single caregiver, may be forced to go out and take one of these workfare jobs, because the report in the paper says that it will just exempt mothers or parents with children under three. This person has a 13-year-old and it would be insane for me to get her to get out of the house when she's probably got a job in the house to begin with.
As you know, it's not only this case here. There are so many people in homes who have everything from physical problems to schizophrenia etc, and you almost need hands-on care. I'm wondering whether you will take that into consideration when you're looking at these workfare rules.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Yes, we will. We'll take that into consideration. That's one of the areas that we are considering when we're looking at workfare and the impact. You're certainly right to raise it and it's certainly something we are considering.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think it's more in terms of the context of caregivers that we're taking this into consideration. I think it may be more than just children you're looking at in terms of caregivers. So that's the context we're looking at it in right now, and yes, we are looking at this.
Mr Colle: So you will review this three-year-old proposal, that this will not force single parents, or in this case -- I know of an 84-year-old woman right now who's taking care of a son who's 50 who's got disabilities. I'm just wondering what these workfare requirements will mean to these people.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's actually the context in which we are looking at it, in terms of the caregiver: not caregiver just tied to children, but caregiver tied to disabled people as well. This is a context in which we're looking at it and we're considering, because it's just not mothers with disabled children; it's also caregivers. You're right to raise a lot of these points in terms of the context of workfare, in terms of the cost of providing alternate services in the meantime. So yes, this is something we are considering. I appreciate your bringing it to our attention.
Mr Colle: So can I get some kind of report back -- I don't care whether it comes to the committee or whatever -- in terms of the impact of the 22% cut on these caregivers who are at home with young children, mostly? I would like to know what the impact of that has been on these parents who are at home and have been cut 22%. I don't know how widespread this is, but again I've had two people come to me in my own constituency, and it seemed unfair and illogical, for me, to do that. I wonder if there's been any analysis of this and if we could get some kind of indication of perhaps a way out of that to allow these caregivers to stay at home with their disabled children.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Can we look at this from a different perspective? You may have people in your particular riding who are concerned in those situations, as you brought to our attention. Perhaps what we can do instead is work with you to see what services your constituents right now are accessing through the special services at home and the handicapped children's benefit programs, and whether or not they're being treated fairly under these programs. Let's find a solution here.
Mr Colle: She's knocked on every door and tried to access those programs. The problem is the decline in her income. That's where the real hit is, because she still has to pay the same hydro bill, telephone bill, accommodation fees. That's where there's no support in terms of her ability to cope financially, and that 22% cut made that very, very difficult for her; never mind financially, the stress it's placed on her, and I guess that might be transferred to the child. That's where I would like some kind of assurance that you've looked at that in terms of her ability to be a caregiver when you've taken away 22% of her income.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Sometimes there's a bit of, I guess, misunderstanding in terms of what social assistance does provide. It's my understanding we provide actual hydro costs, for example. Maybe that was just the example you're using. But aside from the other costs, we provide the actual hydro costs.
On the other hand, one of the reasons why the special services at home is a program that was not constrained is it did provide funding directly to parents to assist specifically for their children with disabilities. I would be very interested to see whether or not your particular constituent has had access to these programs.
There are other types of constraints or difficulties out there. Yes, I agree it's not easy for everyone out there, but these are some of the ways in which we can specifically work with you to resolve some of the problems that your constituents have. We'd be very interested both at the ministerial level but also from my office as well to work with you.
Mr Colle: This one parent is part of a group of parents who belong to a centre called St Bernadette Centre, and it's a community based program where they basically have rented a room in a school and they bring children there during the day, at lunch, and also an after-school program. Some of these children are multihandicapped, multidisabled, and so what happens is they have a very good network of finding out what services are available. I'm sure they've explored them all. I know the one mother who's in charge of the St Bernadette Centre used to work in municipal government, so she knows the access to service. I just hope that you maybe, or someone in your ministry, would look at that. These are typical of parents who are going through this trauma where they have been cut back and their support financially has been hurt. Other social services are in danger. I can pursue that a little later with the St Bernadette Centre --
Mr Michael Brown: I don't think I'm very concerned about the credit, but I am concerned about the transitions report that Judge Thomson had created on behalf of the government after a lot of consultations. In that report there were a number of other barriers to people moving from welfare, disincentives, if you wish to look at it that way, besides just basically income. In that regard, you would talk about health benefits that may be available to someone on social assistance, which certainly are not available to someone who may be in a minimum wage job or a workplace that doesn't have an extensive benefit package: those kinds of items, dental plans etc, that are available to some extent under social assistance but not available in the workplace. Sometimes those barriers are far greater, often for single mothers whose children need a variety of services. Having four or five hours a week of work is great but it just wouldn't pay for the benefits they may be losing.
Maybe you could outline what particular steps your government is taking to address those impediments to moving from social assistance to the workforce, because I think in many respects they have far more impact on individuals than the fact that you can make $40 or $50 more a week or whatever.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: As we move closer into the workfare program, one of the key issues that we are in the middle of resolving is the role that child care will play with workfare; as you've indicated, single mothers with children, for example. That's part of the puzzle that Janet Ecker, my parliamentary assistant, is working on right now with the child care review. That's part of the discussion they're having as well: How is this going to fit into our workfare scheme? You're certainly right; it's a very important consideration that we have to make.
Mr Michael Brown: The idea of the STEP program is to permit the transition from social assistance into the workforce, and if there are a number of other barriers besides just monetary barriers to doing that, I was wondering what steps the ministry is taking to overcome those other barriers to someone on social assistance moving into the workforce.
Mr Costante: If I can just talk a little bit about STEP to start with, prior to 1989 there were only about I think 14,000 or 16,000 people who were on social assistance who were also working part-time. With the introduction of the STEP program and the recent changes to the earn-back to allow people to retain more, we're now up to almost 100,000 people on social assistance who are working to supplement what they get from the welfare system. So from that perspective it's been a very successful program. It's also a program that is in existence in every other province of Canada in their welfare system, and they all have variations on the Ontario model, really.
In terms of other improvements, one of the most recent ones is that there was a barrier because people were getting free drugs on social assistance and then if you went off social assistance you had to pay for it yourself. I think the Trillium program has started to reduce that barrier. Again, I believe the government with the recent changes to the Ontario drug benefit program has announced the lowering in terms of the deductible that one has to pay before they can get it. For a single person you had to pay around the first $500, and I believe it will be down to $350 when the changes are implemented. So that does help people make that transition, because they know they'll have some support in terms of drug costs.
We have also started talking with the Ministry of Health about how we can better combine the supports under the social assistance system for other costs, such as assistive devices, with the programs they run to again smooth the transition, because I think that's what Judge Thomson was talking about in his report, really smoothing that transition. So there are some efforts going on in that.
Another part of helping the transition, if you will, is to try to provide some assistance to individuals to seek employment, to look for work. I think we've done that with employment programs that we operate in conjunction with municipalities, and as we develop --
Mr Costante: The ministry has a number of programs. For some time now we've been operating a joint-funded program with municipalities and first nations. It's called the municipal-first nations employment program; it's about a $30-million program. Many of our welfare offices provide support to help people with résumé writing, interviewing skills. Many of them now, in conjunction with our federal colleagues, have the job bulletin boards, the kiosk where you can look at jobs that may be available in your area or in your province.
As well, the previous governments have introduced opportunity planning pilots which provide a similar service in a number of communities. The previous government, in 1994, had introduced some JobLink resource centres, which was a joint municipal-provincial-federal initiative, and I believe you mentioned yesterday that there were some in your area. So those are the types of services. Again, there have been some efforts to try to coordinate this effort with federal government services, because they've been in this business for a long time in terms of Canada employment centres.
I think again, as we look at services we provide and as we move into reforming the welfare system, we'll be looking at providing a standard of service across the province in terms of employment support to help people with résumé writing and getting information.
Mr Michael Brown: What is the present status of those programs? Will the government be continuing with the employment opportunities programs -- I guess that's not the right word -- the employment programs that are presently in place or are they to be replaced or eliminated?
Mr Costante: What's happened is really we've layered on program after program over the last several administrations and never fully implemented some of the programs, such as JobLink. I think what we will be looking at is what is required out there and trying to rationalize and streamline the programs into a single point of service and get whatever cooperation we can with the federal government.
I wonder if the government, just so members would know, would table any changes or let us know what changes to the regulations have been made since the new ministry has come into place and an analysis in terms of both cost and policy objective by making those changes. I think there are many of us who aren't aware of perhaps certain initiatives of the government. It would be good to have them in one place so that we could understand, as members of the Legislature, exactly what the direction of the government is. I know, for example, that the famous spouse-in-the-house regulation has been changed; if someone could elaborate on the change and what was the policy reason for the change, and then explain what the economic impact of the change was to be in terms of the finances of the province.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The spouse-in-the-house regulation changed the cohabitation period from three years to basically zero, but you still have to have three essential criteria in order for you to fit into this new definition. The first one is cohabitation or co-residency. Clearly you're able to define that. The second one is some sort of financial interdependence, that you have some sort of shared finances of sorts, whether it's credit cards or bank loans or things like that. The third criterion is some sort of familial interdependence, which means that the couple are holding themselves out to be a couple. So you need all three of these criteria to get it.
Now, there has been some indication in the papers, of course, that there are a number of questions that are asked to determine all this. However, the questions that are being asked are very similar and not many more -- I think it's only a few -- than the old questions that had to be used to determine the same factor at the end of three years. There are currently 39 questions on this document and it contains some of the same questions found in the previous 42-question version. So I was wrong; there are less now than there were before. But basically the same format is being used to determine that type of eligibility, but instead of in three years, it's done as soon as these three factors come together to give you a sense that there is some sort of a relationship there.
Mr Costante: We anticipated the savings from the spouse-in-the-house rule to be approximately $20 million on an annual basis. That was our initial estimate. We need some months to see how the numbers prove up as to whether our estimate was high or low.
Mr Bisson: I've got a series of questions stemming from your remarks that you made to this committee. I got a copy from one of your members of your statement yesterday. Maybe the ministry people will be needed in order to give us some of the stats. One of the things that you say in your statement is, "For many on welfare, this will be the first time they have had any obligation to work -- or even look for work," and you talk about how this is going to get people off the welfare system and into jobs.
I wonder if you can provide us with the total amount of people who are on GWA. That would be the question I would be asking, and I'd like to have that information tabled to the committee: How many people, total, on GWA, and if you can break that down to how many people have been on the system for less than a year, less than two years, less than three and more than three. Obviously the idea of that is to take a look at where that cycle of dependency is.
Mr Costante: I don't have the information about length of time that people have been on right now. I'll have to go back to our statistics unit and see if they can -- I suspect they'll have to do special runs to do that, so it may not be available in the next few days.
Mr Bisson: I know the information is available, because I remember at one time I did get it when we were in government. Specifically, less than a year, less than two, less than three and more than three is what I'm looking for; and I see some nods that we can get that.
Mr Bisson: I think it's a slip of the tongue; I didn't mean to do that, really; I didn't want to be too combative. I guess there are two questions. Who's doing your policy work here? I understand there are a few private sector firms involved in developing the policy on this particular thing. Who's doing the crux of it? Who's doing the most of it? Who's developing it?
Mr Bisson: I know that you have looked at the America Works program. I don't know if that's what you want to model what you're going to do here in Ontario on, but I wonder if the ministry or you can provide us with stats about how that has worked. What has been the result of that particular program?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Just to answer that before I do refer some of this to Kevin, because Kevin's working with us on the workfare, first of all, we have looked at different jurisdictions to see what their failures are, why not to follow on these failures. We've certainly looked at some American models. We've looked at Alberta. We've looked at Quebec. We've looked at New Brunswick.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Yes, we always do. But what we really decided was that we needed a made-in-Ontario solution, and I'm glad to see you corrected yourself. When you started to say, "America Works," you said, "Ontario Works," and that's the whole point of this: We want to have a made-in-Ontario solution for all this, because Ontario is not the United States, Ontario is not Alberta.
Mr Bisson: For the assistance of the committee and I think all members of the Legislature, in this work your committee of MPPs and ministry staff are doing has there been any kind of work done in order to take a look at the effectiveness of what those other systems have come up with, what they found in Quebec, in Alberta and in the States, in the various jurisdictions? Can you provide us with that, some hard stats about how many people were in the welfare system before they did this, what were the main initiatives that they did under their programs and what has been the result in regard to the people who supposedly are off the system? Can you provide us with that?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The discussions and the consultations we've had have been fairly far-reaching, and one of the things we wanted to see was what actually did work in some of these programs and what didn't work. There are a number of aspects to these things. Some of the employment programs -- I'd better say training programs; we looked at that too -- didn't work in some jurisdictions.
Mr Bisson: No, I recognize what you're saying and I realize that, but what I think would be useful to the committee is actual information, like stats on what those other models have resulted in, so that when we're debating this as legislators in this assembly we're able to bring forward points of view based on what other people have done. I think that's something that should be shared with all members of the assembly.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I guess my point in all of this is that we haven't finished completing developing the actual program; we're working on it certainly. The difficulty in terms of what you're asking us to do right now is that it may possibly -- you know as well as I do that somehow different people -- I'm not saying you certainly -- may get into cherry-picking in terms of different aspects of programs we may have looked at when it has actually nothing to do with the actual format or development of our program. We've looked at other areas. What I can say to you is that certainly this information is accessible to anyone outside of our government.
Mr Bisson: I don't think it's beyond the rules of this committee to request that information. If there is information -- and I would look for some direction from the Chair -- that can be provided, that the ministry now has that looks at how well these programs have worked and what the stats are, can we request that? Is that something in order?
The Acting Chair: As the member had asked for information, I think that all members would like to know the direction Ontario is going in. I would hope that you would see fit, Minister, to provide it to the member.
Mr Bisson: All right. I understand what you're getting at, but what I'm saying is that I'm making a formal request that you provide this committee with stats that show what has happened in other jurisdictions when it comes to workfare; specifically, how many people in the system before it was introduced, what is the main crux of what they've done when it comes to the policies that they've followed with their new program and what has been the result of that? That's what I would look for.
Mr Bisson: Whatever ones. I would be interested in the America Works one, but if you've got something out of Alberta or Quebec, I'd be certainly -- anything you have along that line, because I think it's relevant to the debate. I think people accept that change needs to happen, but we need information to be able to look at all of this and make the change.
I've got five minutes and I'll turn it over to my colleague there. Just a couple of quick questions. In your statement you said: "Our policies have proved to be equally encouraging in relation to 16- and 17-year-olds. Since the end of September, we have gone from 6,295...to 5,107...."
I guess what I would like to know is, the ministry funds programs for hostels and stuff. I'm wondering, could the ministry provide us with what are the numbers in the hostels throughout Ontario that we know of, if those numbers are tracked by the ministry. What are the numbers in June of 1995 and if you can show us what's happened each month after within that particular -- both for 16- and 17-year-olds and just generally?
The other thing is that maybe the Solicitor General, our good friend Mr Runciman, can provide us with this, but it would be really interesting to see what's happened with youth crime, because, in my community, I can tell you there has been a couple of incidents where some pretty obvious things have happened that are out of the ordinary. I'm just wondering if we have any kind of information in regard to -- do you track that at all, what happens with youth crime?
Mr Pouliot: I need your help. There are so few of us by virtue of the people's decision last June 8, Mr Chair, that we go from one committee to another committee. Not that we feel that we're under a state of siege, but it's not only a lesson in humility, but a reminder of how these estimates work, for I was complimented with four different ministries with the previous administration, and the more it changes, plus c'est la même chose.
I don't want to deal with generics, and if a person does not have the answer, I'm a simple person with really a simple mind. I have to work hard at things rather than to try to slalom or to shy away from the truth, because then I become a little better than I usually am, for I work with professionals. So the truth, please.
I have some questions regarding the snitchline, the fraud line, where you tell on your neighbour, the style that this administration has put through, when you punch the right pulse point, you make them so sensitive so those people are disorganized and they don't quite have the ammunition to defend themselves. So they're easy. So we focus on them to get the vote and then after that, we follow through with the fraud line.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Before Kevin answers that, perhaps I can indicate, once again, the process that happens. It takes some time for this, obviously, for us to check out whether or not the allegations are worthy of being pursued further. If they are, then they're referred to our field offices to check them out, and at that point, if there's any indication that there's criminal fraud involved, they're referred to the police.
Now, as you're quite aware, it takes some time for this to go through the process, to find out what kind of dollars etc. I don't believe that we'll have figures on this for a while, but perhaps Kevin can indicated that.
Mr Pouliot: So you don't have the answer for this. How many charges? Fourteen thousand people took it upon themselves to excel in citizenship, and they said: "Well, we have a concern here. We are paying for all this. You should be aware of this." That's 14,000 plus. How many charges have been laid?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Before you answer that, Kevin, once again, Mr Pouliot, the concern that your colleague yesterday indicated was, are we moving too fast; they're concerned with the checks and balances in place to make sure that the people who shouldn't be charged are not charged, people who shouldn't be pursued haven't been pursued. I think, frankly, we've got the proper checks and balances. I've already indicated to you that it has to go through this process. Whether someone has been charged or not is not an indication of the success or failure of the program at this point in time. I think we'll be in a better position to assess that once we have an idea after it has gone through the various processes it has to go through.
Mr Pouliot: I understand "fair and equitable" but, with respect, we have established and we have acquiesced that 14,000 people took the opportunity to place the call. Out of that 14,000 people, how many actual charges have been laid, legitimate and relevant?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: -- to indicate whether or not there are specific fraud allegations at this point in time. Bear in mind, of course, that this system has only been in place from October 2, I believe, of last year. You are aware as well as I am how long it takes to go through a proper allegation, to make sure it has some sort of substance.
Mr Pouliot: Do you have a ballpark figure? If you don't know, I can accept that. If you need more time, if you can tell me when you will have that in hand, because of due process and diligence, I can accept that.
Mr Costante: No. I am talking about, we have an existing structure out there to deal with allegations of wrongdoing and there were about 700 charges last year as a result of that. In terms of when we will have something, as the minister has indicated, it takes some time to go through the process, to make sure that first there is a check by our own field workers. If there is some basis for the accusation, we then refer it to specialty workers called eligibility review officers, which we have had in our system for some time. They will then check it in more detail. If there is strong evidence of a deliberate attempt to defraud the system, we then refer it on to the police and then they do their own investigation, and things then go to court. So these things can take months and months.
We expect that next month we will have some preliminary figures from the calls we received in October and perhaps the early November calls. So it takes some time just to go through them. So the government won't be able to give you a full report of what has happened with all 14,000 calls next month, but just some of the calls from October, and that's just the way the system works.
Mr Pouliot: It's quite difficult and sometimes it's a pretty tall order with dwindling resources, with the anxiety in the civil servants -- and God help and bless them -- and that anxiety leads to fear, and fear creates proportions that are sometimes extraordinary. They are about to slash and burn 20,000 of those fine men and women that work for the public service, so it is difficult to get answers when you increase the workload.
Mr Costante: We do have some information in terms of statistics from our computer system. If I can find it in this pile I'll maybe talk about it. We also have an intention to do a follow-up survey to get a better indication.
Mr Pouliot: I have some more supplementary questions vis-à-vis tracking and you've partly answered that. So you don't know if a Jane Jones and Harry Smith -- hypothetical of course -- were on social assistance, were recipients, and now they're no longer, simply because they moved away to British Columbia, be it; it can be any jurisdiction.
Mr Costante: Mr Pouliot, I think that part of the problem we have in actually getting an assessment of these questions that you're asking now is as a result of the exit questions that we inherited from you guys. That's part of the questions that we're asking now. We want to have a better tracking system. We just have in place right now what we inherited from you.
Mr Pouliot: Forget the inheritance. You've been the government for eight months now. You should have better things to do in your time, with respect, Minister, than reel off or peel off old Hansards, and to impute motives and point a finger. You're the person in charge. That's why you're getting the big dollars now, that's why you're in the back of the car, that's why you're trying to escape the city under the cover of darkness. That's why you're quoted when you ask people to bring a hammer to go shopping. That's why you're being quoted when you go beyond belittling people, because you go beyond your -- no more candour. That's why you are quoted in the film industry. Those things are all fair game, Mr Minister. They've done it to me. And I reciprocate, not with passion nor vengeance but suffice it.
Mr Costante: As a result of the new spouse-in-the-house rule, we have estimated that up until December 15, it was approximately 5,700 cases came off the rolls as a result of spouse-in-the-house. Now some of those would have come off anyway because of the three-year rule that was in prior. So that's the total number.
Mr Bisson: If I've got 10 minutes I'm going to use it. It would be nice to have the same gentleman who was here a little while ago because I've got some more specific questions. Maybe you can call him in.
I want to go back to the questions that my colleague asked around the 1-800 anti-fraud line. In your presentation that you made to the committee yesterday, I was reading here that on the 1-800 anti-fraud line, of all the calls that came in, according to your statement here yesterday, 63% resulted in being passed into the ministry in order to have them investigated. How much of the 63% have you actually had a chance to go in and take a look at? I should rephrase that. Out of the 63% of those that you referred for investigation, have you concluded any investigations?
Mr Costante: I don't have any statistics on that as yet. As I indicated earlier, we will have the statistics next month as to how many have been looked at and what's happened as a result of those examinations.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Actually, it's in the processes, obviously, that once we've determined there's some substance to the fraud or abuse allegations, they're passed on down to the EROs at the field offices for further investigation.
Mr Bisson: All right. Can I ask the minister specifically: When that becomes available in about a month, what I'd like to know and I think all members would like to see is, of that 63% of cases that have been referred to the field staff, what are the results of those investigations? How many of them actually led to charges, if that's possible to know? How many people were cut off -- how many were real and how many were not, just to get a sense?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think not only the member would be interested but the general public would be interested. Once again, I think at the end of the month I'm not really sure what we're going to have, because obviously there's a lot of investigation required in these matters. But certainly I know that there's a great deal of interest not only from you, Mr Bisson.
Mr Bisson: I ask a general question on this, just to follow up. They had done a similar thing in the city of Timmins and I think a bunch of municipal welfare offices had done the same thing. We had found that there were a lot of neighbourhood complaints going on that weren't substantiated. I'd be interested to see if that's the same as what you're finding on your provincial line.
Mr Bisson: There is another comment here. You had mentioned to my friend Mr Pouliot -- I forgot the exact number -- that there are ongoing and have been ongoing, even before the time the Conservative government came to power, investigations done by case workers in cases of fraud. In the statement that you made yesterday -- I was just reading here -- one of the bullet points talks about, "Random home visits by case workers are now a condition for receiving welfare and the visits will be used to verify eligibility." Can either one of you tell me, have you started those random visits already?
Mr Costante: Home visits in the old policy were really at the discretion of the individual. They could say no, and a home visit wouldn't take place. The change in policy really is to allow, on a random basis, the ministry to move in.
Mr Costante: No, we don't. It's dependent on their local resources and their practices that they had already. Many were already doing home visits or were having clients come into the office. So it's essentially an enabling provision in the legislation.
Mr Bisson: But the difference now is that the minister has instructed, through I guess policy in the ministry, that you will start doing it, and there have been some changes, I imagine, to the regulations to allow that to happen.
Mr Bisson: I guess the question I would have is simply this: If those random visits have started, is there going to be a reporting process where we're going to be able to see, out of all the visits that you've gone to, what that resulted in? Were there charges laid? If yes, how many? How many people were actually visited at random? Do you track that kind of information?
Mr Costante: No, we don't. One of the difficulties you have here is -- the result of somebody coming off welfare -- it's hard to pin it on a particular instance: Is it a policy change? Is it the result of a home visit? Is it the result of the person himself or herself getting a job?
We're trying to keep statistics in terms of people withdrawing as a result of the fraud hotline. But we have, between the municipal and the provincial systems, 7,000 workers out there and it's hard to keep track, every time they visit, if something is actually the result of that or if it is the result of a series of things. I think that would be a very time-consuming and hard statistic to collect.
Mr Wildman: I wanted to follow up on what my colleague was inquiring about, and also on a question I raised at the end of the session yesterday which I hope you've had some time to prepare a response to.
Mr Costante: What's generally entailed is that they will essentially review the person's eligibility. There is a form 1, we call it, which is the basic eligibility form. They'll go through the information contained in that. The condition on the home visit is that it not be intrusive. They can't go into closets and stuff. It's just whatever is in plain view. This is not a search of the house, if you will.
Mr Costante: The basic requirement for assistance is an income and a needs test, so that starts first. This is not a universal disability program. This is primarily an income maintenance, income support program. That's the first test and then there's the disability test.
Mr Wildman: I won't go into particular details but I would like some clarification on a particular case that was brought to my attention recently, where an individual was on a disability pension, disability benefits, from the province. She had a boarder who paid rent. The monthly rent was deducted from her benefits, which is understandable, but now she's been informed that despite the fact that for a number of months this has gone on, she will now be denied benefits because of the spouse-in-the-house rule.
How the agency determines that the boarder is now a spouse is beyond me. How would that happen? Do you know? Obviously, you don't know the specific situation, but up to now this individual's been paying rent, the rent has been deducted from the benefits and suddenly the benefits are denied.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Mr Wildman, we had discussed this earlier this morning. One of the things we indicated was the criteria to determine whether or not someone falls in that category. Secondly, the question document that's used to determine this now has 39 questions as opposed to 42, but as under the old system, the format has not changed that much. So the same questions are asked at this point in time as were asked basically at the end of three years.
If there's a situation where someone is actually a boarder and doesn't have the third element, which is the familial interdependence, ie, holding themselves out as a couple somehow, being acknowledged as a couple, if that element is not there, then they shouldn't have been assessed as being in that category. So if there's a problem, there is an appeal mechanism certainly that's available to anybody.
The other question I raised last night was if we could get some statistics on the number of recipients who have gone off benefits, who are no longer on the rolls. I'd like to get the results of the studies you've done as follow-up to determine where these people are now, how many are working, how many have left the province, what kinds of jobs they are in, how many are taking classes at school, perhaps, or in other programs, and how many have fallen between the cracks and may be on the street.
Mr Costante: I partially answered the question this morning. We do plan to do a follow-up study about where people are going after they leave assistance. We do have some information from our computer program which I can talk about that I think gives some insight into what's happening, but it's not a complete picture.
When somebody leaves the system our workers are asked to -- essentially there are termination codes that are collected on the computer system, CIMS, which is the provincial system. Unfortunately, there is a large number of those codes, and that particular part of the system needs to be cleaned up and we are going to be addressing that. There's something like 90-some codes in the FBA system, various reasons why people leave, and around 50 or so in the GWA system. So it's a great number. I can show you the list.
Mr Wildman: Oh, fine. I don't want to take up any of their time. I'm sure I can get this information. I'll be back and I'm sure it will all be codified and we'll see. So I'll come back in I guess an hour.
Mr Rollins: Mr Chair, some other answers to some questions that I feel some of the other people have been asking -- I'm not sure whether we as a government should really install turnstiles on our boundaries and our exit borders to find out how many dollars we could waste in finding these people have moved into another area or something else. It is a nice statistic to be able to have, but I don't think we should waste a whole lot of dollars in finding out exactly where all those people go when they go off the system. Those are real dollars that could be going back into helping people. Granted, if it's available at the start -- but I don't think we need to spend X number of dollars in worrying about those things.
One of the other questions was asked about the hotline for phoning in. One of the first hotlines for this type of system was set up in Hastings county, partially in my riding. It was I think one of the first ones in the province. In the first 11 months that it operated it had two and a half people working for it. I don't know how they cut that one person in half, but they managed to cut one person in two, so they had two and a half people working on that for 11 months.
Mr Rollins: Yes, part-time or maybe three people for a little while and maybe two people some other time. That might have been the way they did it. I'm not sure. But anyway, those people managed in 11 months to recoup about $1 million. Two and a half people's efforts to return $1 million -- that was not all turned back in in cash and in payment. There was some misuse, there was some abuse in it, and I think we all probably read the front pages of the paper periodically -- there are people fined for defrauding the system in some nature. It wasn't all fraud; there were some things that people were getting when they shouldn't have been and some of those kinds of things.
I think the other concept is that we as a government and we as people who try to look after the people who are less fortunate than some of the rest have got to also keep in mind always that there's a large number of working poor, and those working poor are the people who make minimum wage, work darned hard, long hours. Why shouldn't they be better off than the person who doesn't contribute to that work ethic? I think that has to be continually looked at and continually cultivated to make those people a better reward. Maybe we will have to go to those small people and say that they're in that lower-income bracket and say we've got to subsidize them to the point of being able to give them some medical care, some benefits for drugs, benefits for dental, to keep them in there. I'm sure those people must get awfully flustered to realize that, working at $8 or $9 an hour for 45 hours a week -- to come home to find out that his next-door neighbour is on social assistance and is living better than they are. I think that must be devastating for them. "Why the heck should I go out and put on an extra coat because it's cold weather to go to work?" I think those are the kinds of things we always want to keep in mind. It's nice to say, well, you shouldn't cut and it's hard on people and things of that nature, and then we've got the budget problem on the bottom.
I wanted to make sure that some of those people from the other side realize that phone-in line was profitable and I know those are the people who in our county and our area worked at. I think it's complimentary to them to start it. I feel really strong for it and I know those people support it very strongly. I'm now going to turn the questions over to Mr Baird.
Mr Baird: I had a few, not huge issues, but four areas that I was hoping to discuss, Minister. The first is with respect to discrepancies. In reviewing the estimates books, the forecast for the 1995-96 year -- and I suppose it was brought in last year by the previous government -- for social assistance expenditures particularly, there's a difference, a discrepancy, that's in some cases double-digit. Is there any explanation you can give for this?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Mr Baird, I think one of the problems we're looking at is of course we're coming out of this estimates year partway through. Obviously the original forecasts were not made by our government, and apparently the previous government's estimated savings were reflected in the social assistance allocation without actual plans for achieving the savings. The 1995-96 estimates for social assistance were reforecasted at $611 million higher due to the revised labour market and economic forecasts from the Treasurer's April 1995 statement. So the forecasts were based, I suppose, on trying to achieve some savings without an actual plan to do it. Unfortunately, now we have to adjust things from the estimates before and I think $611 million is quite significant.
Mr Kevin French: Kevin French, manager of estimates and allocations. As the minister has indicated, the estimates briefing book that was published, the front section of the binder, covers the previous estimates from the previous government. In the background section of the estimates briefing book we have the reforecast calculated there and the number is put in there at $6.4 billion. As the minister indicated, there is a $611-million discrepancy between the previous government and when this current government came in, in June.
Mr Baird: I don't know, Minister, whether you're best to answer this or your official. Is that size of $611 million comparable to a discrepancy on an annualized basis, for example, at any time over the last five years, 10 years, or is that unusually high? I mean, $611 million -- where I come from that's a lot of money.
Mr French: The size of the difference of the number that was in there was reflective of initiatives that the government would have taken to realize its estimates. There were no measures in place at the time the government left office.
Mr Baird: Where I come from, and I come from Ottawa -- fat cat city -- $611 million is still a lot of money. I couldn't help but notice in various categories, particularly on vote 702, item 3, there are sometimes double-digit differentials there which in terms of the estimates process I think causes some concern. But I appreciate that obviously there are different economic models, both at your officials' level and with the political change and I appreciate that.
Mr Baird: No, I appreciate that. As well, I suppose neither can the officials take responsibility fully with respect to that either, to be equally fair, because obviously the current assumptions probably don't rest entirely within your ministry.
The second issue I wanted to raise is with respect to automated assistance. I think most would agree that the existing system used by both municipalities and the ministry is outdated. Is there a difference expected in the new automated system for program delivery that you could talk about?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The new automated social assistance project -- of course, the short form is ASAP -- is really intended to be a comprehensive information system and technology plan to support both the transitional and future social assistance business requirements.
Case worker technology is one of the first steps in this plan and it's intended to reduce the time spent on paperwork and increase the time spent in assisting clients towards independence. It'll also reduce errors and overpayments and fraud, so it is a good initiative.
By the end of 1995, December 1995, the case worker technology had been implemented in seven Metro Toronto sites and two provincial sites: Brantford, which was implemented in the spring of 1995, which I had the opportunity to actually see, and in Whitby, which was implemented December 1995. By the year-end about 1,000 of our staff had received the training necessary in order to deal with this new case worker management tool.
Having talked to the front-line workers with respect to this new particular system, they have a lot of praise for it because they do believe -- and that's the front-line workers -- that it will improve efficiency for them and give them a meaningful tool they can work with.
Ms Lang: Thanks, Minister. I'd like to just elaborate a little bit on further steps in addition to automating the current practices through the existing case worker initiative where we are training our field staff and ensuring that they can utilize the tools that are available through computers and the automation.
We are also in the throes at the moment of a major initiative to look at replacing the entire system, which is called CIMS and MAIN, which is a mainframe computer system; old, very, very slow, very difficult to change to accommodate the changing nature of the program and the magnitude of the policy issues that we're going to be confronting as we look at reform of the social assistance area. So we currently have a major tender on the street for a rethink of the computer system and we hope over the next two years that we can entirely restructure, re-engineer and redo the way in which the social assistance technology is there to support the delivery of social assistance as it is going to be configured in the future to deal with workfare, the guaranteed support plan and other reforms that the government would like to bring into place, as well as assist us with the tools to work with other governments to ensure that we're exchanging information in a timely and useful way.
Mr Baird: I appreciate hearing that. And to your officials, that's a tremendously big project internally, I can imagine, particularly when it's not just within the ministry, but as well with municipalities. I think that's something we'll want to keep an eye on because that's definitely very much in the direction the people of Ontario expect to go forward in terms of attaining administrative efficiencies and really doing more with less, which is often talked about but rarely seen on the ground in this specific instance like that project. So I look forward to hearing more as that unfolds.
The third area I wanted to ask about was with respect to employment programs within the purview of your ministry. A number of my caucus colleagues met with the Minister of Education and Training and MET officials to discuss training and apprenticeship and broader issues like that. Yesterday, I know there was a significant amount of discussion with respect to workfare. I think equally important to that, and to be fair as well, Mr Wildman and Mr Martin expressed yesterday the issue of training, which I think is very key, particularly with respect to during the campaign the proposal of learnfare that was a significant part of the political discussions. With respect to learnfare, though, obviously we're here today dealing with the 1995-96 estimates, so obviously, unless you're going to surprise us, I don't think there's going to be any major announcement in the context of those 1995-96 estimates.
What programs are being offered now by the ministry and what effect could you or your officials say about the sort of success level you're meeting with? I think being able to know the point of departure in the broader context of this fiscal year with where we're headed puts the discussion in the appropriate context.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I can give you some sense of that. First of all, the employment preparation programs which provide training and labour market supports for social assistance recipients have not been affected by the reduction in non-core services. We did have a constraint of 2.5% which was announced in July, as you all know. This was applied against all of our employment programs as part of the constraints in payments to our social service agencies.
Our municipal-first nations employment program is the largest, and that served approximately 79,000 social assistance recipients in 1994-95, of which 17,200 went directly into the labour force from the program. In 1994-95, the program spent $30.8 million, of which approximately one third was for child care costs, and the 2.5% reduction of course applied to that.
If I want to just sort of connect it for a second to workfare, one of the things we're looking for in terms of employment programs in connection with the workfare programs is cost-efficiency, that we will be getting into a fee-for-performance basis. So, unlike here where you have 79,000 people going through, of which 17,200 went into the labour force, our concept will be of course that if you, as an agency which we fund, do not place this person into a job, then you don't get paid. Certainly from the government's perspective, we're not paying for failures, we're paying for successes. We're looking for results-oriented programs and employment programs. That's why we call them employment programs, not training programs, which means employment programs to me is linked to a job. Training programs may not necessarily be so. They're preparation for a job.
Anyway, I'll give you an idea of the employment programs that we do have for non-disabled social assistance recipients: the municipal job incentive projects, $2 million; opportunity planning projects, $4.3 million; work activity projects, $2.8 million; innovation fund, $4.8 million; resource centres, $5.0 million; and initiatives for first nations, $5.5 million.
I'd give you a sense of some of the programs, but I think we should be really looking and seeing what we will be doing in our work for welfare, our Ontario work scheme of things. We're looking for successes. We're looking for made-in-Ontario programs that are successful. We talked about a number of them yesterday. In fact, the one that comes to mind immediately was the incubator program in Hamilton, which was an excellent program to really create a second generation of entrepreneurism, where these people are now hiring people who themselves -- they were on social assistance. They've created businesses now and now they're hiring people to work for them from social assistance. So we've now gone a further step. There are a lot of excellent programs throughout the province right now that I think we can take some note of and make sure we take the best of what's available.
Mr Baird: I would just encourage you then in light of that, in the context of any re-examination of how to deliver, is not to forget the private sector. I was visited in my constituency office recently by some folks who have a company where they do computer training. The key element of that is some work skills outside of their domain, non-computer-specific, for example, and a co-op program where they have this tremendously high success rate on a 26-week program at a tuition cost of I think about $4,000. Some of the classes' success rates six months later have been as high as 65% and 12 months later in one instance reached as high as 87%.
Of course, the great advantage of that is that it's not requiring massive resources within your ministry and can be gauged towards meeting a specific need on a season-by-season basis. You might have one season in two years' time where you'd have more, and then the next season you'd have less. You don't have to have the fixed infrastructure there. I encourage you to keep that in mind in the context of your deliberations with your officials.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: There are a number of programs right now which we've seen and we've got some proposals from that have success rates right now in excess of 80%. That's quite credible, when you see programs like that working, which really means we should be looking for efficiency in programs. The programs that work, we should be looking at; the programs that don't, sorry, they don't work. It's just a very logical perspective on how to approach employment programs.
The fourth issue I want to touch on, very briefly, is the issue of child care with respect to income-debt ratios and subsidies to your clients you serve in the province. There's a concern among some in my constituency that I'd like to raise in terms of reading the estimates book. It's clear we're spending a significant sum of the public's money. I think there has to be a degree of accountability there, particularly with respect to the income-debt ratio.
Maybe putting aside the issue of day care and looking specifically at its administration for a moment, I've had a numerous number of visits and calls and letters from my constituency where people use examples. I don't want to think for a moment that these are all anecdotal, because there are people with genuine concerns. I'm not suggesting this is entirely the case, or even substantially the case, but there are instances. I'm not in a position, to be honest with you, to tell you what the breakdown is. You're best able to judge that in the context of the administration of the day care system.
I have a number of constituents who have said they live and own their own homes, and perhaps chose to have children later in life. They drive a five- or six-year-old car, due to the economy and having to make things last longer. They'll have a neighbour next door who will have bought their home in recent years, who will have a significantly higher mortgage -- obviously in the first five years your mortgage is at an incredibly high percentage in terms of its amortization -- who will have a $28,000 brand-new minivan, and even making less money -- people are losing out. Their neighbours would be eligible for a subsidy or a greater subsidy and sometimes a full subsidy. I think there's got to be some recognition of that, some recognition that behaviour has got to be part of it in terms of the economic choices you make.
Some people, I think the best example is, would choose to spend their money on a $28,000 minivan, while other people, through sound financial management, have had to get by on that five- or six- or seven-year-old car. That shouldn't have the impact it does on their children with respect to a subsidy for day care, because I think there's just an inherent inequity in that. That's a strong concern I've heard on numerous occasions from people in my constituency.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: One of the reasons we're conducting our review of the child care area under the able leadership of my parliamentary assistant, Janet Ecker, is that there's a number of issues that we have to deal with to provide better choice, more affordable, accessible child care and a certain degree of equity in the system as well.
I think that's one of the things you're saying right now: Let's look for a system that's equitable, that's meaningful. That's one of the reasons why we're doing the child care review. Obviously, we're doing consultations in that area, we're working with people in the area and it's very important for us to do a very comprehensive study and work and do the consultation for us to come up with the answers to these questions.
Mr Baird: Just before I yield to my colleague from Hamilton West, is there anything you could table with the committee that would give us a better idea of the $611 million in lost money that's just evaporated? Is there anything you could table with the committee over the next few days -- certainly not today, but in the future, because I think that's a fundamental part of the accountability of this estimates process and I think there's concern that this could happen.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: One of the problems, and I certainly would like to accommodate you, as Kevin was saying, is that they made certain assumptions in terms of where they're going to be able to find those savings without any programs to do it. I suppose, from an accountability point of view, our government really isn't responsible for that.
Mr Baird: It would be helpful, in the context of our long-term businesses, as parliamentarians to see how this happened in this instance so we could recognize it and it wouldn't happen again in the future, so we could learn from the mistake.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): Minister, I want to talk to you about child care as well. There's been a lot of information and I guess discrepancies in information coming from the federal government. I understand that Mr Axworthy made some sort of overtures to the provincial government about some funding for child care. There's a lot of confusion about that, and now there's been a cabinet shuffle and a new minister in place. I'm wondering if you can tell us what exactly is happening on that front.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I wish I could. During this long odyssey to try to get some sort of sense of where the federal government is coming from, we had arranged on at least a couple of occasions to meet with Mr Axworthy, and for whatever reason -- I'm sure he had good reasons -- he had to cancel out on both occasions. We were trying to get some sort of sense from him. Now, we were getting different signals, obviously. We were getting one signal from him and the same sort of signal from his parliamentary assistant, Maurizio Bevilacqua, and yet his officials were telling a different story to us.
Where we are right now is that we've been in contact with Mr Young, who is of course Mr Axworthy's successor and he has indicated that yes, he is interested in meeting with us. We're trying to arrange something right now. Yes, it will certainly have a huge impact.
I think that's part of the overall theme we're talking about as well, that our government really can't operate in isolation from events going on around us. Certainly the federal government is going to have an impact in many areas, and its effect on Metro specifically will have an impact as well. That's why, as a real priority, we are trying to meet with Mr Young and get a real sense from him whether or not he is going to either live up to what Mr Axworthy has already indicated he will do, without any strings, or else determine exactly what he actually means.
Mrs Ross: Interesting when you say "without strings." It's been my experience in Hamilton that any time the federal government comes along with a project it's often tied to matched funding from the province. You say "without strings," so are you telling me that there were no strings attached to this?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Part of our problem was determining what conditions the federal government was willing to attach to any funding, which really has a huge impact on how we would approach things as a government. It's one thing for someone to say, "We're going to give you 50-50 funding." It's another thing for someone to say: "Here's funding. Use it as it would fit into your child care structure and how you intend to go with child care."
That's the difficulty we've had, Ms Ross: trying to find out exactly what the federal government meant or means or is intending. This is such an important issue. It's not something you can really determine on a phone-call basis. I think it requires a face-to-face meeting with Janet Ecker, myself and our officials. We have to meet with our counterparts in the federal government and their officials so we can really determine what exactly they mean.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: You see, the meeting we want to have with Mr Young is really to address a number of issues. Yes, child care is very important, and yes, the Metro proposal is part of what we're looking at, but we also need to discuss with him, to give him some sense of what Ontario wants with that, also the other issues, the UI programs, for example, the training programs. How is that going to fit with us in Ontario? Is he going to work with us? There are a number of issues we need to discuss with this particular minister which will affect how we do things at our ministry.
Mrs Ross: How much time? One minute, okay. The only thing I'll say then, just to wrap up, because I have a lot more questions on this issue, is that I hope you keep the dialogue going and that something is forthcoming from the federal government that will help us with our situation here. I'll get back to this in the next go-round.
Mr Colle: Just to follow up on something I raised earlier about the single parent who's at home with the disabled child, in a memo that she got from the Ontario government, I guess from your ministry, one of the paragraphs reads: "If you are on family benefits, the rate reduction will take effect on the October 31, 1995, cheque. Rates for people who are disabled or aged and their families will not be affected."
I'm just wondering: In this case the family is affected by the about $300 cut in her cheque. Is this perhaps an oversight or is this a case that fell through the cracks or is this the policy, not to affect families with the cut? In this case, as I said, the mother and the individual who has Down syndrome are affected by the cut. They have less food. In fact, I just talked to the person on the phone and she has now gone to city hall to declare that she can't pay her taxes any more, that she can't keep up any more. I asked her about hydro. She said that there's no way, that she's asked; she pays her hydro herself. You referred to something about welfare recipients or people on family benefits can get their hydro paid for and she said it's something that's never been made -- to her knowledge, she is not aware of that.
I'm just wondering here again. In this case my question is, is this the intent here? In other words, it says here very clearly that "their families will not be affected." This cut you made in October obviously affected this family in a very negative way. Is this intentional or unintentional, this cut that was given to this family?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, I'll deal with the little issue, which is the hydro. It may not be a little issue to your constituent. I would hope that she's talked to her case worker about this because there is a program for hydro costs. When you contact her next --
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Just a notice? Okay. What that really was saying, if I could interpret it, is that the client or the adult provider and their families would be the one, as opposed to the child and their families.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: It may be a problem in terms of how that was particularly communicated by that memo more than anything else. The intention, of course, was that the provider was the disabled person, as opposed to someone who is one of their children who was disabled. I think it's a matter of communication with that.
Mr Colle: -- you need to know, circulation, cheque amount. It seems like a form letter. I would like to maybe get some idea of how many single providers who are caregivers in a home who have -- again, I'm more concerned with disabled dependants -- how many people in Ontario have been affected this way and whether some of them have been forced to perhaps put their dependant in an institution because they couldn't afford to stay at home any longer. Do you have any indication of that or some kind of data on that type of incident?
Mr Costante: On the other, I would have to check with our statistics unit if we could break down that number. I have a feeling it will be imperfect if we can do it, but I don't know offhand if we can. But we can check.
Mr Colle: So it is intentional; in other words, it's not a mistake here that this caregiver who has a disabled son, or others who are in the same situation, even though their son or daughter, their dependant may be disabled, when that cut was made to family benefits, the fact that they were giving care to someone who was disabled wasn't taken into account.
Mr Costante: There are categories of eligibility within family benefits and one of those categories is sole-support parents. All sole-support parents' benefits were reduced by 21.6%, so that would include those individuals who have disabled children. On the other hand, the government, as the minister mentioned, made an intentional decision not to reduce the benefits paid to families through the handicapped children's benefit or the special services at home program to help families with specific disabled expenses.
Mr Colle: I'll ask you the same question that I asked the minister. Isn't this really going contrary to the government's policy of making people self-reliant, keeping them at home, if possible, not putting them into institutions? You want to give people the opportunity to take care of their own family members. By cutting this family back, aren't you jeopardizing their ability to be self-reliant?
Mr Costante: Again, that is why the disability-related expenses were not reduced, exactly that, to keep them at home. The basic living expenses for all families in sole-support parent category, yes, were reduced.
Mr Colle: How can that be rationalized in terms of the stated government policy of increasing self-reliance and not having people become a burden on the government? This doesn't make sense. How does it make sense?
I'm just trying to figure out in my own mind that if you want to keep people independent of government handouts -- in other words, you don't want them to be put in institutions, you want them to possibly be taken care of by their own families -- here's a situation where a caregiver may be spending 18 hours a day working with that child and all of a sudden you've cut them. This one individual now is to the point where she cannot make ends meet in her own living accommodation.
How does that come into play with this -- I mean, to me it's an investment in pretty cheap labour. What are you paying that individual to do that which government would do at 10 times the cost? Do you know what I'm saying? Why wouldn't you look at reviewing that? I think it would be a money saver in the long run.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Just to put it in a context, as I understand it that's one of the reasons why, as Kevin said and I said before, the special services at home and handicapped children's benefits were not cut. They provide direct payments to families to assist them with the care of disabled children. Secondly, in the context of the work-for-welfare program, that's one of the things we are taking into consideration, exactly what you're saying.
Mr Colle: But the point I've been trying to make is I think it's a wise investment to have a person -- because you know what the costs are of bringing in, whether it be VON or support services, and what the costs are of putting someone in an institution when you've got a very stable situation at home where a caregiver is willing to stay at home and nurse these dependants in some cases.
I would say that's a worthwhile thing to review, because I think it will save you a lot of money in the long run. I think it's penny wise, pound foolish if you cut that person to the point where she now can no longer pay her property taxes and who knows what the other costs will be if she's forced out of that situation, which has been stabilized.
Mr Cleary: I want to talk a little bit about children's mental health. There have been persistent rumours that government is considering moving children's mental health services from Comsoc to Health. Is that a fact?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: One of the things I think we're being encouraged to look at, if I can just talk generically for a second, is trying to rationalize services between ministries. I think we spoke about this before, earlier on. One of the problems is that if I'm delivering services in one area, and Health is and Education is, are we really effectively giving the best service and the most service to people out there or are we duplicating a lot of the administration and duplicating a lot of the overhead in doing so?
In a number of areas we're discussing with other ministries which should be the best ministry to provide these services and we have to rationalize these things. We've had too long a government with our silos and having duplication of costs over there. It's time to stop, and that's what we're doing. I can ask the deputy to elaborate on it.
Ms Lang: The short answer to your specific question is no, but I think it's important to describe the history of the children's mental health system in Ontario. Back in 1977 when the children's services division was created, children's mental health was in fact in the Ministry of Health. It was transferred to the Ministry of Community and Social Services with a whole bunch of other different kinds of programs, largely because there was a desire on the part of the government and the community that we look at an integrated approach to serving children in this province.
We are not at this point in time considering transferring the program back. As the minister indicated, what we are looking at is how we restructure all of the services out there to deal with children in a way that they focus their energies on those who are most in need and ensure that the resources go to those families and those children that can benefit from those services the most rather than moving the programs back and forth bureaucratically. It doesn't pay and it's not something we want to spend our time on.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: There's no excuse for a long period of time to respond. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. You can understand too in our particular ministry we've had a huge amount of correspondence coming through. But yes, you're right. That's not an acceptable period of time to respond.
Earlier this year we commissioned an internal study to see if we could get some insight into what was causing the increase in our disabled caseload, and out of the 144,000 cases there were 13 in that particular category and I guess the researcher found that several of them were males. We suspect that these were simply coding errors, that this is not a big issue. We're talking a handful of cases out of 144,000, so we suspect it's coding errors.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I have a question. I don't believe that we've covered this area -- it's 244. I don't believe we've covered this. I'm presuming here that no one has delved into this area, so please stop me if this has been passed and I've missed it. Can you tell me how many of your staff in the ministry will be eliminated? How many will be receiving pink slips after the next budget, or before that?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: You might consider that kind of a Japanese answer to you: no. I think right now we're still looking in terms of a lot of major programs, effects they may have. Certainly right now we're looking at the 1995-96 estimates. I think the more appropriate time for that would probably be next year.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: There's a number of major issues that we have to look at and see how we're going to deal with them. At the forefront of all this is the workfare program. With workfare we are going to have to decide on the delivery service of workfare, what the roles will be of our particular staff, because there's going to be a huge change in direction. As opposed to processing cheques, they'll be looking at employment directions, so --
Mr Cordiano: I don't mean to interrupt. So what you're telling me is that the number of staff will be somewhat dependent on the form the workfare program will take, because there might be additional staff required to be hired to oversee workfare in some way.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Actually, what I'm saying is that the number of programs that we have -- and not just workfare. I'm also saying that, looking ahead at the year, we have to see how we deal with our operating expenses in our ministry. Certainly that's not clear at this point.
Ms Lang: If I could, Mr Cordiano, comment on 1995-96, because those are numbers we do have and those are based on the estimates for 1995-96, we will be reducing and have reduced the complement of the ministry somewhere around 280 positions. I can outline for you what those details are based on the elimination of vacant positions, the cancellation of recruitment that we had under way. We have not renewed some classified contracts because of our estimates for 1995-96. We've had a great deal of surplus activity in our ministry already because we've had a long history of reducing employees through the downsizing and closure of facilities for the developmentally handicapped, and we've converted some positions to part-time from full-time.
The other thing we've done this year as part of our estimates is to eliminate a division within the ministry that was designed to deal with strategic directions, and consolidated the function of overall corporate policy into one of our existing divisions which reduced the staff complement by 30 positions.
Mr Cordiano: What about the transfer partners? Have you done any impact studies or do you have any idea in terms of how many jobs have been cut as a result of the cuts in transfer payments to transfer recipients?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: The monitoring we have been doing is we have been working with many of the agencies in order to make sure, if we're looking at the children's protection area, they carry through on their mandated requirements for the agencies, helping them to deal with their constraints. In some cases, with the CASs for example, we've accessed the contingency fund to assist them through the year and have worked with them in terms of trying to provide administrative efficiencies as well.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: As you know, as part of any negotiation, there has to be an agreement between the bargaining agent and the government in terms of what, I suppose, the critical positions are. That's an agreement between both the union and the government.
Mr Cordiano: Could you make that available to us in order to determine what services would be deemed essential and give the public some reassurance that in fact these services will be provided into the future regardless of the strike position?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's actually the reason why the union and the government come together to have an agreement on the essential services that have to be provided. I think, Lynn, you can carry on from this point in time.
Ms Lynn MacDonald: Lynn MacDonald, assistant deputy minister for corporate services. I have a very detailed list here, if you're interested in it. It goes through all of the essential services, mandatory services and other priority services that the ministry can provide during a strike. All of these have been negotiated with the union.
Mr Cordiano: I would just simply say that we would want to know from the minister what the contingency plan is. Tabling that information will certainly help. I'd want to have a look at that and make sure that we have an understanding of what's essential and that there's no differentiation between what I might think is essential and the person out there who really would deem it to be an essential service, and you may come along and say that's not an essential service. So I think there has to be full disclosure with regard to that. That's my concern.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think certainly as far as Ms MacDonald has indicated, there is a list right now of the essential services which have been agreed to between both the union and the government. The only other thing I can give you is an assurance that we want to make sure the essential services that our ministry does provide are carried through during any strike mandate.
Mr Pouliot: Not by way of criticism, but I listened intently to what the distinguished colleague opposite, Mr Baird, mentioned when he was in the process of lobbing the question over to attempt to make his minister look good -- and why not? He focused on estimates and I take it that it was a discrepancy between our administration, and the administration du jour, of the day, a discrepancy in the negative of some $611 million, which is consequential indeed. That is a lot of money.
There is some validity when we talk about estimates in the following parallel -- and I'm not asking you to answer, because it's not apropos here: 725,000 jobs, a balanced budget, a 30% provincial income tax cut, 15% before June 8 -- for it is written in the manifesto, which is the year one -- no cuts in health, which is the largest ministry, and no cuts in the classroom, ie, education, which is the second-largest ministry.
So when we have the chance in the years ahead, while we wish you well, to talk about your juggling, you will be reminded daily not only by us that it's a juggling act extraordinaire and we wish that you will do everything that you promised during the election and at the same time keep the lid on in terms of not dislocating the system -- and we're asking that you take a little longer, as long as you have the determination and the direction, and certainly I will not, as a member, as an Ontarian, chastise you.
The question follows the line of thought of Mr Cordiano. Sometimes, when we go to estimates, although we have more time than question period, Mr Minister -- and you know very well you can attest at first hand how interesting and challenging those exchanges can be, be it we're talking about the intricacies of Bill 26 or testing the knowledge of your high office, sir, or choosing not to answer the question, for there is no such thing as question and answer period, for some. It's like pulling teeth; it's quite difficult to either get at the truth -- it's not that people will go to any limit, even lying, to protect their jobs. I don't feel that it's this way.
But again, sometimes you think that you're given the runaround, that people feel that if you ask questions to serve the common good, you have something up your sleeve, that you're not totally candid and forthcoming, that since you have a ticket to exercise this honourable profession, which is that of a politician, that it should be turned into a vulgar trade, that people have ulterior motives, that in our constitutional monarchy, we're there to oppose, to confront and to embarrass the minister of the day. Nothing, I can assure you -- and I'm about to ask a few very simple questions -- could be further from the truth.
Mr Pouliot: Madame, how would I reconcile this, 9,493? Were there 280 more the year before, because you did mention 280 people had been eliminated; positions, I take it, had been eliminated. So right now it's 9,493?
Mr Pouliot: I'm addressing you, with respect, but the minister may see it as a -- it's not a difficult question but a political question, and he may or may not -- I don't know about those people any more. Surely, Minister, the government has said that it will eliminate 13,000 jobs. It's like this all over the province: "Those people, there were too many of them, and we had to do it à la businesslike, à la Bay Street, and we're going to slash and burn. Anyway, we're getting rid of 13,000 jobs."
Then, rumour has it -- and these things can take on, around the coffee machine and the water fountain, extraordinary proportion. Why not? I feel that I'm in jeopardy if I'm an employee. It went as far as 27,000. We know that there is a timetable. We know that your colleague, the Minister of Finance, the house of benevolence, will table a budget in May. We haven't had a full-fledged budget since you took office -- I know I'm going to pay for this -- but we expect one in May. So now finally the date has been determined.
Mr Pouliot: You've said a minimum of 13,000, and then Management Board said it could be more. It is a very important element of your cost-cutting budget, of streamlining. You won't deny it, nobody can deny it. In fact, some will say it is at the very heart of the argument that you make. It is a catalyst, if not the catalyst, in terms of making all your other promises. They gravitate around that. But the main heart in the convention, will it be you; will it be you? But it's going to be some of us. That's what you have.
Surely at this time, Minister, you must have in your mind -- and you are not an incompetent; we've watched you carefully. You are in intelligent person; you're also an educated person, Minister. Surely at this time you must know if not meticulously, grosso modo, you have to know, if not names, titles, who will be impacted, who's going, who's not going. I'm not trying to numb the patient to pull the tube, but surely in terms of honesty, 9,493 people -- when we meet again next year, how many people are you going to have when I ask the same question?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, going back to your preamble, I would never doubt your sincerity in your questioning. You're indicating sometimes people attribute the wrong motivations to your asking questions --
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: He's got a good sense of humour. Anyway, I think you have to appreciate any type of guessing at this point in time is counter-productive, that certainly we'll be looking to see any type of -- and not just on my ministry, but I think overall government, we will look at this in a very judicious way, in a logical way too.
We have a mandate in our ministry to provide certain core services: the developmentally handicapped children need a protection; deliver the social assistance system. We have to continue to do that. I can only tell you right now, for example, if you look in the FBA area in terms of our social workers -- you're probably aware of this -- that comparatively to the municipal workers who administer the GWA, who have a caseload of around, I guess, 120, 125 per social worker, our FBA deliverers, our people, have caseloads in excess of 400 per person. So the question you have to ask yourself is, can we still deliver what we need to do, and how are we going to do that? I think that will give you the context, but certainly I'm not in a position right now to give you any numbers.
Mr Pouliot: Thank you. One last question. My colleague has some relevant questions as well. Madam, I couldn't help but to be intrigued when you mentioned during this transition that you would be modernizing. You didn't say that verbatim, but you talked about new gizmos, new gadgets, better technology to better serve, to better deliver the mandate. You said it with a certain aplomb, with a certain security, and I could almost read a timetable: You knew where they were going and what they would deliver.
Would you kindly provide us with the definition: what kind of technology, when they are going to be plugged in, when they are going to reach the marketplace, what they will do and how much they will cost, so that we can share in the excitement as you embark into the new technology.
Ms Lang: I think, Mr Pouliot, I'm going to ask Kevin to give you some of the specifics in terms of the timetable, but I can assure you that we do have a very clear timetable. I also can assure you that this is an initiative that was started by your government and is in fact on track, on target, and we do intend to have technology available to front-line workers no later than the end of the fiscal year in 1997, as was the original plan. We are also very actively engaged in discussions with vendors at the moment about replacing the entire mainframe system we have, which runs and supports the social assistance program in the province. So yes, we do have a very clear timetable; yes, we do have a very specific plan; and yes, we do have a team of people who are dedicated to getting that thing --
Ms MacDonald: Perhaps I could start by indicating that the current computer systems that the ministry has are two: the CIMS system, which is the system which operates our family benefits allowance program, and MAIN, which is the system which operates for Metro for GA. It dates from 1970, mid-1974, in there, and it is a mainframe system which is prone to breaking down more often than any of us would care to --
Mr Costante: I think the deputy covered most of the high points. We do intend to have the technology in all our municipal and provincial offices by the end of next fiscal year. We would do the necessary renovations to the offices -- the electrical, the desks, that sort of thing -- as well as provide them with a personal computer and the printers and that sort of thing. So that all will be done by the end of next year.
The other big component is the replacement of the mainframe. As Lynn said, it's old, it's antiquated, and we are in an RFP process right now. Because we're in that, I don't want to say too much about that process, but the successful vendor, we would hope, would essentially write us a new software program that would provide the workers with more instantaneous data, and the policymakers, the government, with better overall information so we can answer any of the questions you ask me today. We would expect that this work would be done over about a two-year time period.
Mr Costante: How many jobs would it replace? Well, there are two processes in terms of replacing the mainframe. First of all, we have to have the design for the new welfare program and what that's going to do. I think we're in the process of piloting it, which will give us a sense as to whether there are any efficiencies that can be done. I really can't say at this point.
Mr Bisson: Back to the minister, but don't leave, please; there are some questions coming your way. One of the comments that you made in your brief here, and I just want to go through it, just read it here, is, "What we're doing, Mr Chairman, is to make sure that we spend the taxpayer dollars on individuals and not necessarily on agencies that support that individual," to make the system better and to ensure the system will be there, etc. You go on to say, in short, we will have to find "the most effective ways to provide support for people truly in need." Is there a definition of who will be truly in need?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Mr Bisson, that's one of the challenges that our advisory group is facing right now in terms of what do they really need and what the kind of structure in core services do they really want. That's where our consultation is taking place right now. These are not decisions that are being made by the minister in isolation. These are decisions that are made in consultation with the caregivers and the organizations that deal with them.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: No, actually, to put it in the context, rather than spending it on organizations but spending it on individuals, really what we're referring to is making sure that organizations aren't spending too much money on administration and overhead, and are actually providing the actual dollars directly to people who really need them.
Mr Bisson: I think we all sort of agree in the general comment you're making, but I would want to say on behalf of some of the agencies that a lot of agencies quite frankly have been running with flat-line budgets, as you well know, for a heck of a long time. They've cut the administration a whole bunch. I'm visiting agencies now in my community; I'm sure your government members are doing the same. We're finding agencies who are running an entire program of $1 million, $1.5 billion with one executive director and a part-time administration person. I think that's pretty damn efficient. I guess what I'm getting at here is that when you're talking about directing the benefits to the people truly in need, I wonder if that's a signal that you plan on tightening up even further the eligibility requirements for a number of programs that are delivered under your ministry even further than they are now.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: What I can say to that once again is that we have advisory committees not just in the area of developmental services but also in the children in need of protection area. Janet Ecker is working with a number of people in the child care area. These are the challenges that we're putting to the caregivers right now: What are their priorities? I think that's the challenge right now, because frankly there are a number of programs that, because we're running them, perhaps Health is running a similar one, Education is running another one, where we have not just duplication but triplication. This is a challenge that you had in your government too. It's been built up, and I'm not pointing my finger at you, because this is a historical buildup of programs that have no real sense to them and yet we've all inherited them.
Mr Bisson: Here's where I'm coming from. When language like that is being used and you're talking about directing it to the people "truly in need," I think of people, for example, of the Timmins Native Friendship Centre in my community who have had their budgets cut in a number of ways, dealing with what their mandate is in regards to being able to deal with their community. If there's anybody in my community I would say needs a whole bunch of support and it means to say yes, we have to spend some bucks at it in order to try to help that community, it's the native community. I see that and I get a little bit perturbed, to be blunt, about saying people "truly in need." Those people have been cut, and if anybody needed any assistance, it was them. Anyway, on to other things.
I want to get on to children's services around the welfare issue here. One of the big to-dos was about cutting off the benefits or tightening the eligibility requirements for 16- and 17-year-olds who are on welfare. What the new requirement now says -- and I don't have the quote in front of me; I'm just going by memory here. Now what you're doing is that the only way you can collect welfare if you're 16 or 17 years old is that you will have to be under the supervision of an adult. I'm wondering who these adults are you're referring to who are actually doing the supervising. Who are these people?
Mr Bisson: As you're sipping on the water, I just want to clarify this here. You've already tightened the eligibility requirement; that has been done. So those 16- and 17-year-olds that are out there now, you're saying they have to be under the supervision of an adult. There's a series of questions I want to go through. First of all, who are these people that are doing the supervising? Are there any set criteria within the ministry or is it anybody who wants to come forward? How does it work?
Mr Costante: The origins of this policy are that this was a best practice that many municipalities had used and it had been brought forward to the ministry on that basis. They found in practice over the last number of years in dealing with the 16- and 17-year-old issue that it was helpful if the youth maintained some contact with a responsible adult. We've placed that responsibility with our municipal welfare administrators. So this would be other family members perhaps or some sort of family friend in the community.
Mr Bisson: I just want to point out a concern here. We know cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse are normally within a family context. The question I have is, if my daughter who is 17 years old or my son decides they want to leave home and they're not able to stay with us any more, and you're going to put them under the charge of an adult, what kind of assurances do I have as a parent that the person who's going to have that charge is somebody the ministry has some comfort level in, has screened, checked, has some sort of a standard set? Is there anything like that in place in order to make sure that these children, because they're only 17 years old, are actually under the supervision of somebody we can trust?
Mr Bisson: Well, here's a specific. My daughter, 17 years old, walks out of the house and says, "I don't want to live with Dad any more." Under the old system, the only way that could happen and she'd get welfare was that I had to say as a parent, "I'm not willing to take you back." That was the only time that you would pay benefits. You're now saying if that happens, that child will have to be under the care of a supervising adult. The question I have is, who picks the supervising adult and what standards are set in order to make sure that adult is somebody who can be entrusted with the care of that child?
Mr Costante: I think the selection is basically done by the child themself. It's often another family member: a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle or that sort of thing. It's done in conjunction with the municipal welfare administrator. I think part of the issue with what's happening is that there's some of contact. It doesn't mean there has to be in-custody type supervision. I don't think that's what's being suggested here. What's being suggested is that there be regular contact with an adult to provide some guidance and some advice to this young person.
Moving on again to the children's aid societies, children's aid societies are undergoing and will be undergoing more cuts when it comes to their budgets. There's a couple of series of questions, and I'm not sure if you're the one who needs to answer them. I'll direct it to the minister. Are you able to track within your ministry how many people have been laid off at the children's aid societies at this point? Do you have a way of tracking that?
One of the other things that you talked about, and quite frankly I support you on this one, you're talking about integrating social services, both social services, and I take it what you're saying is the services that are delivered to the child. The idea is that it's not as confusing for me, the parent, or the child who's trying to access services. Quite frankly, I support you in that direction. I haven't got a problem with that.
I guess the problem I have is I'm trying to figure out what model you're going to do that in. We attempted, and we put in place, as you well know, in government, our long-term care model, which was basically a multiservice agency model. If the Tory government is not in support of a multiservice agency, do you have any idea how you're going to be able to achieve your goal of being able to integrate those services so they're a little bit easier to access for the clients?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: We spoke about this briefly, I believe. One of the members from our caucus, Lillian Ross, was speaking about some of the efforts out there in the community right now which could be possible models which we could learn from in terms of integrating children's services. The two areas she had spoken about were Kent and London. London is a very good model. I've seen that first hand. I've talked to the people first hand. The reason why it's a good model to look at is it has support not only from the agencies in the area, from the municipality, their municipal officials, but also from all four MPPs in the area -- our three from our Conservative caucus and Marion Boyd as well.
Mr Bisson: I think we all agree, but I guess the question I'm asking is, do you see it as a merger of existing public institutions or public agencies, or do you see that the private sector is going to have a role to play in this when it comes to service delivery? I guess that's where I'm going. Do you see it as a merger or do you see it as, "We're going to farm out these services to private sector entities"?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I see this a little bit differently than you probably in terms of the terms you're using. I look at it more in terms of the community making choices. I think that's why the London model is successful. We're working right now with the umbrella groups in this area, whether it's the Ontario CAS, the Ontario children's mental health associations -- there are a number of them -- to help us form whatever the structure is intended to be in our core services. What we're going to be looking for, I hope, is some direction from the communities in terms of how they want to integrate the children's services locally. There are a number of differences between different communities. That's why the London model is so successful, because the community has bought into it, and all aspects of the community.
Mr Bisson: So what you're saying then is you're going to set some direction but you're going to allow the communities to try to determine what's best for them. Will there be a role for the private sector in that?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's a good question. If you look at what they've done with London -- I suggest you talk to Marion about it too, directly, because she's been very involved with that -- they've been able to work within the framework of the existing agencies that they have there to find out what they want to set as their priorities in that area. That's why it's successful. It's community decisions based on the community agencies out there.
That's one of the things we're trying to do right now. In order for us to make a better system, which is what our intention is, to take out the confusion -- and there's a lot of it out there because of the number of programs and how to get access to them etc, etc -- it's necessary for us to really work with the communities to get a better system. That's what we're trying to do.
Mr Bisson: You're not going to get to the other part, so let's go to the next question. One of the things you said in your presentation which I thought was interesting is that you talked about the Common Sense Revolution. Again, I wrote this down. I think it's a direct quote out of your document. You say that you have an obligation to children, whether that support is in the classroom or in nutrition programs. In light of all the cuts that have taken place to agencies that support the needs of children, and welfare as far as the 22% cut, do you think there are children in Ontario who have been put at risk as a result of those cuts?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I'll tell you what I do think, that we're supporting the CASs with their mandated services. We are working with them. I understand some of them have had some trouble, but we've worked with them through the ministry. We've had access to contingency funds to carry them through, and worked with them to make sure their administration's working properly. We believe we're heading in the right direction.
If in fact you're dealing with an area such as children's nutrition, for example, I think one of the things we have to rationalize there -- and under the leadership of Julia Munro, who's working out of the Premier's office, they're looking at a breakfast program. The difficulty we've had, we had a number of ministries getting together, working in these different areas to find out all the programs which they can --
Mr Bisson: Let me bring you back to the question, though. The question is -- it's a yes or no answer, quite frankly -- you've done the 22% cut on GWA and FBA. Those cuts have taken place. That means to say directly that families have less money than they had before, plus the other stuff that you're up to. Do you think there are now children at risk in this province because of those cuts? Yes or no?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I'm going to say to you right now that when we reduced the rates of benefits -- we reduced them to 10% above the average of the other provinces; that's above the other provinces; we didn't reduced them to the average of the other provinces -- we enabled people to earn back the difference between the old and new rates. So there's a mechanism in place right now to give people the ability to earn back the difference between the old and new rates. We also have the children's organizations out there which we fund to a substantial amount.
Mr Bisson: The point is that you know and I know as well, because you're talking to the same people we are -- I go into St James Town and I talk to people who are on welfare, single mothers on welfare or families on welfare, and talk to their kids, and what I'm being told is that quite frankly they're out on the street in bigger numbers now because there's less availability in the home for other things because of the lack of money. In a lot of cases, the parents are not able to find work, for all kinds of reasons, everything from an inability to be able to work because of a physical disability or because of a psychological disability or whatever it might be. Those kids are at risk.
Mr Bisson: What I'm saying is there are a lot of people in the system now, there are a lot of people out there who are unable to find work -- that's just the reality of our economy -- and they happen to be on welfare. In competing for jobs, they're not able to compete at the same levels as other people for all kinds of reasons, and I'm not going to get into that debate here. The point is, their kids are affected. I'm asking you in all sincerity, as the minister responsible for all of those children, do you think your decisions have put those kids at risk?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: And what I'm saying to you is that there are programs in place to deal with children in need of protection. There's a program in place to allow people to earn back the difference between the old and new rates.
Mr Bisson: I'm a single mother. I've got one or two children at home, or one child at home. I go from $1,100 or $1,200 a month, whatever it used to be before, down to $900. That means to say there is $300 less for tuna. That's how much you lose. That cut -- do you feel that is putting children at risk? Do you think there's an adverse effect? That's what I'm asking you. Do you think that has an adverse effect on the ability of the family to provide for itself?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: And what I'm answering to you is that when we effected the cut in social assistance rates, we reduced them to 10% above the average of the other provinces. We didn't go below the average, we didn't go to the average, we are 10% above the average. Plus we gave a mechanism in there --
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: What I'm saying to you is the same thing as I answered before. It's the same answer I'm going to give you again. When we reduced the rates, it was to 10% above the average of the other provinces.
Mrs Ross: Mr Minister, I'd like to focus my attention on child care, where I left off last time. I feel I can speak with some sort of expertise as a consumer of child care. I have two girls who are much older than I'd like to admit they are at this time, but when my children were young, I was put in a position a lot of women are in that I had to go out to work. I had to find day care for my children, one who was in junior kindergarten and one who was at the child care stage.
I searched and searched for a licensed day care centre because I thought that that was the way to go and then I was a little unhappy with what I saw out there, I guess because you're attached to your child and you don't want to leave them in an institution. That was my feeling at the time.
So then I began a process of searching for someone, informal day care in my home. I was very, very fortunate to find a woman, a grandmotherly type who came into my home and was able to take my oldest daughter to JK and stay with my youngest daughter for the day. I was one of the very fortunate people.
I think people choose day cares for a lot of different reasons. I chose home day care because it was comfortable for me, it was convenient for me. I didn't need to worry about dragging my kids in the winter months especially, spending half an hour clothing them to get them out the door and that sort of thing. So for me it was convenient, it was easy. It was cost-effective as well. It was less expensive than institutional care and it suited my needs.
I think people choose home day care also in some instances because of their cultural background. They might want someone who speaks a different language than English to look after their children and also they have different characteristics in how they raise their children. So I think people choose day care for a lot of different reasons. Some people like family to look after day care. I would have preferred that, but my mother at the time was a single parent and was working so that opportunity wasn't available for me. So I used that system of day care for some time.
Then when my day care lady couldn't work for me any more, I had to go to institutionalized day care. I found a nice day care centre, a private day care centre. I don't even know if they had non-profit day care centres back then. This is 18 years ago, so I don't know, but --
Mrs Ross: Yes, I know. But anyway I found a nice institutionalized day care centre and I put my daughter in that day care and was fortunate to find a wonderful teacher who sort of took her under her wing.
Believe it or not, it's a traumatic experience for a parent to leave their child, whether it's informal or formal. I have an understanding of how difficult finding good day care is. So from that point of view I say I speak with a little bit of experience.
I would like to know if you can tell me how much money we spend on child care in Ontario. I'm sorry, I read this, but I'm not good at financial numbers and I prefer to hear it from you because I don't know what I'm looking at here.
Mrs Ross: Yes, if you could tell how much money is spent on institutionalized day care as opposed to informal. Can you do that? When I say "informal" I'm taking about a home where there may be -- and I think's it's five children is allowed, is that correct?
Ms Roch: We have both centre-based care and we also have licensed child care in homes. The homes themselves aren't individually licensed but an agency is licensed and the caregivers in those homes work as independent workers but they're affiliated with an agency, so there is a breakdown there.
Mrs Ross: Okay. I don't know who to address a question to now. I know that institutionalized day care centres have to follow the guidelines through the Day Nurseries Act. Do home day care have to do that as well?
Ms Roch: As you said yourself, they can't provide care for more than five children in addition to their own; that's part of the Day Nurseries Act. They have to meet certain standards in terms of the health and safety standards as well as other centre-based care.
Ms Roch: In a home they can only look after five children and so it's three children under three and it's two children under two, to the one home care giver. In a centre, I believe for three-year-olds --
Mr Bakker: In Ontario we do our ratios -- well, every province does them slightly differently but we combine our ratios with group size so, for example, for those children under 18 months, ratios are from 3 to 10, or 3 to 10 staff-to-child ratio, maximum group size of 10. For one-and-a-half to two-year-olds, staff-to-child ratio is one to five, group size is 15.
Mr Bakker: For age group one and a half to two years, staff-to child ratio one to five, group size of 15 maximum. For children two and a half to five years, staff-to-child ratio one to eight, maximum group size of 16. For children over five, staff-to-child ratio 1 to 12, maximum group size of 24, and for children six years of age and over, staff-child ratio 1 to 15, group size maximum of 30.
Mrs Ross: Okay. In a private home setting, those types of situations, they're licensed through the Day Nurseries Act. I'm talking about someone who's looking after five children. How does the Day Nurseries Act ensure that they follow the guidelines? Can you tell me, are they inspected on a regular basis; what would the basis be?
Mr Bakker: I'll try and talk louder. The licence is provided to the agency and they, in turn, supervise the providers. There are requirements under the legislation that they have to provide inspections of the agencies, I think it's every three months.
Mr Bakker: Actually one of the things that we're trying to look at in the review is to see how we can make that more efficient. That's one of the things we're discussing with the working group that Mrs Ecker has set up to look and see how we might be able to streamline some of that and look at different models, but again we haven't come to any conclusions.
Mrs Ross: The opposition is always talking to us about consultation and the fact that we don't consult with people. I just wanted to say that I have visited numerous day care centres in my riding. I've spoken with a lot of a day care workers in my riding. As a matter of fact, one of the people I just recently met with happened to be the teacher my daughter had when I first put her into day care. She's now or was working for the provincial government as an inspector of day cares. So she came to see me. She's now working in a different field, but she came to see me to talk about child care.
A lot of the discussions I had with respect to non-profit as opposed to private day care, I'm talking to the people who have gone through the ECE course at college and the impression that I was given was that they would not work for a private day care centre because they weren't as good as the non-profit.
Mrs Ross: In some of my discussions with the ECE workers in day care centres -- I'm talking about non-profit day care centres now -- they said to me that they would never want to work in a private day care centre and I asked them: "Why not? What's the difference?" I said: "You're being trained to care for children. Why would it make any difference where you worked if your job was to care for children?" I couldn't get an answer other than, "I just wouldn't do it."
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think likely before because what had happened, even though for, I guess, a number of months prior to the fall statement, I had been indicating that one of the things that we weren't looking at at that time was wage subsidies.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Yet, the greatest area of concern among people working in the day care area was with the wage subsidies, even though I wasn't indicating they weren't on the table at the time. So that could have been a great deal of it, I would suspect.
I think that's one of the reasons why we want to make sure that we do this child care review properly, and it's very important for us to communicate and consult with all sides of the issue to make sure we provide -- and as you know, our whole aim here is to get a child care system that provides more choice and more affordability and more access. So I think that's really what's important to all of us. That could have been what it was, I would suspect.
Mr Bakker: The original program was established in 1987 and it becomes quite complicated because then there became different components to the programs. Remember it was called DOGs or direct operating grants, the wage enhancement grant and the provider enhancement grant. Really, the bottom line for the for-profits is that if a for-profit centre was in existence before 1987, it was able to receive 50% of the direct operating grant, which was only part of what the non-profits were getting.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think part of what Ms Ross is getting at is that in terms of what we're looking at in the child care review is trying to level the playing field as well between both commercial and the non-profit organizations.
Mrs Ross: Okay. Prior to June 8, it seemed that the previous government was changing all the profit centres into non-profits. Your ministry cancelled the conversion process and I'd like to know, I guess, first of all, how much money would have been spent on the conversion process? I guess that's what I want to know.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: First of all, the conversion initiative was announced in December of 1991 by the former government and it was a $75-million project, which was ultimately approved at $72.4 million by the treasury board in 1992. The objective of the initiative was to convert half at the time of the commercial child care sector, approximately around 15,000 spaces, to non-profit corporate status. That's what the plan was originally intended to do.
When we cancelled the initiative because we felt that it had cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in money and did not create one single new child care space, we estimate that will save around $20 million by March of 1997. The other reason of course is we believe that this will enhance the range of quality child care spaces and choices for parents in Ontario.
Mrs Ross: When the grants were given, was there any opportunity, do you know, for private day cares to apply for these grants? Or was it strictly for non-profit day care centres? I'm talking about the wage enhancement.
Mr Bakker: You're talking of getting back to the wage subsidy and how it was broken down. It does become somewhat complex because what's called a wage subsidy really had three components to it, and subsequently they were rolled into one.
The direct operating grants started in 1987, and it was really the first step in the government of the day's plan to address salaries. Who was eligible to apply were municipalities and colleges, non-profit centres and, as I said earlier, those for-profit centres that were in existence before 1987 got 50% of that. Then in 1991 the wage enhancement grant was introduced. Municipalities and colleges and non-profits were eligible for that part of the grant, but for-profits were not eligible.
The provider enhancement grant, which is really applied to the providers and home child care agencies, was also introduced in 1991 and the providers who were under the auspices of municipalities and colleges and non-profit agencies were eligible but those that were under the auspice of for-profit agencies were not.
Mrs Ross: It's interesting, isn't it, how when you start looking at something that you think is really quite simple, it gets to be quite complicated. I'm a little confused about all of these grants. Were capital dollars as well tied into non-profit centres? Is that what some of these grants are?
Mr Bakker: Yes. There was also a program development fund put in place. It was really put in place as a startup fund for non-profit agencies to support expansion of the non-profit sector, and it was used for startup funding and also for some minor capital. But again that was only available to the non-profit sector.
Mr Bakker: A lot of it was. Some of it may have been used for some non-profits that were not necessarily new. If they ran into some financial difficulty, it was also used for those purposes. But primarily it was used mostly for startup funding.
Mrs Ross: In the financial accounting of these day care centres, can you tell me if any of those day care centres, at the end of the year, may have found that they were in a deficit position? What would have happened to bring them back on track? I guess I'm asking, did we supply funds to centres that were losing money?
Mrs Ross: Minister Tsubouchi, I know Janet Ecker is reviewing day care and child care and how we supply child care as we go into the future, knowing how important it is to families, to women and to single mothers as well. I'd like to know what really is the aim of the review, how we are progressing with the review and whether we have any indication as to what direction it's headed in.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: That's quite a good question actually. In our undertaking of this review of the child care program, our primary aim is to ensure that we have a quality child care system that parents and taxpayers can afford. Some of the issues that we're looking at in dealing with child care review are parental choices, quality of services, affordability of course, and restoring the balance between private and non-profit sectors.
As you know, the review is being led by Janet Ecker, my parliamentary assistant. She's meeting with stakeholders and parents and other community groups across the province, seeking input on the directions and priorities that we want to take in the child care area. She has also established a working group, and the working group is providing Ms Ecker with ongoing advice during the review process.
A number of other directions and expenditure reduction decisions were announced, but what we're really doing right now is trying to provide for a better child care system, more affordable and more choice. I think that's what we're trying to do right now, and that's very important in terms of the way we're looking at this, because we're doing a lot of consultation again. I'm sure the opposition are not going to criticize us for doing consultations with the public, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're trying to find the best solutions for Ontario right now.
What we have right now is a fairly unsustainable system. The current system hasn't been flexible enough to really meet the needs of the parents. Your particular preamble to your questions earlier on indicated the various types of child care that you had access to before and the advantages of many. I think these are what we have to look at. We have to say that parents and not governments should choose the kind of child care they want for their children, and that's part of what we have to consider.
Mrs Ross: That's a good point, because I think it's the parents' responsibility to ensure that they get the best child care they know how for their child, whether it be informal or formal. As I've said, I've used both. I was fortunate to find both of them to be suitable to my needs. Excellent, excellent care.
JK for me was a real problem, because boy, it's tough trying to get your kid to JK and bring him home and then put him in a day care in the afternoon or whatever. That was a major problem, but other than that I really was fortunate. But it took a lot of time and a lot of effort on my part to make sure I got the best day care that I had.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Before I get into detail with the officials here, I think approximately 75% of children under the age of 13 whose parents work or study are cared for informally or by other family members, friends, neighbours or nannies, to give you a perspective. Only about 10% of children under the age of 13 are cared for in licensed centres or home-based child care programs. I don't know if you wanted to add anything to that, Ron.
Mr Bakker: The numbers in this whole area, again like a lot of things with child care, can get quite complicated. Quite frankly, people have been trying for a number of years to get a good handle on exactly where people are accessing child care and where they're making their choices. The most comprehensive study that was done was a national child care study back in 1988.
Just using round numbers -- and I can give you more specific ones if you like -- as the minister said, the studies show that about 10% of children whose parents are working and the children are under the age of 13 were in the formal, licensed system and the balance were not. I can give you a bit of a breakdown for that if you'd like. We did some rounding, but these are the more specific kinds of numbers.
Of that 90% -- and by the way, it will add up to a little bit more than that, but we did round -- between 47% and 48% were cared for by another family member. That may have been parents staggering their hours or it could have been a relative or a grandparent or some other relative, aunt, uncle, whatever. Between 26% and 27% were cared for by a non-relative. That would be paid or unpaid and that might have been a neighbour, a friend or whatever. About 17% had no care arrangement. These could have been children looking after themselves, it could have been parents who were working only during school hours. There were a lot of different categories of children in that group.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Actually, what we said was we were having a child care review. Whether or not or not changes in that particular act will be necessitated is one thing, but the range of issues that we're looking at are the ones concerning parental choice, quality of service, affordability and the balance that we're going to look at between the private and non-profit sectors. These are some of the issues Ms Ecker is examining right now.
Ms Roch: There are some very, I guess, well-known people who are involved in the working group. There's Donna Lero, who's a professor at the University of Guelph, who's quite well known in the early childhood education world; Maria De Witt, who's an executive director of a large family day care service here in Metro; Judith Levcoe, who's a vice-president of the YMCA; Sylvia Leal, who's an executive director of the Peel lunch and after-school program, which is a very large program; Ian Gibb, who's executive director of the London Bridge Child Care Services -- he runs a non-profit agency that converted under the conversion program; Sandra Livingston, who's general manager of children's services in Thunder Bay; Elizabeth Matte, who's a supervisor with the social services department in the united counties of Prescott-Russell; Sam Bhargava, who's a director of a private child care centre in Orleans and Pine View; and a municipal commissioner, a woman called Bonnie Ewart from Halton.
Perhaps I should add that Ms Ecker will be visiting a number of child care centres throughout the province as well as arranging to meet focus groups in different parts of the province, in addition to the advice that she's getting from this child care working group.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think a lot of the questions you'll be asking with specifics really depend on what the outcomes are going to be from the child care review. I don't have any preconceived ideas right now, personally, but our aim, of course, is to make a better child care system and how that evolves from the child care review, discussions with the focus groups and the working committee -- there's a lot of work there and there's a lot of direction we are trying to get from the communities out there.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I know there's a number of issues that child care providers want to be discussed, and Ms Ecker is really hands on with this particular committee. I'm sure there are a number of issues, some of the regulatory things they're considering too, but other than that they've made no decisions to this point, Mr Cleary.