M. Bernard Grandmaître (Ottawa-Est) : Le ministre des Affaires francophones se souvient-il qu'il y a 10 ans, cette Assemblée a adopté la Loi sur les services en français ? Se souvient-il de la joie et de l'espoir que ça a engendré chez les francophones de l'Ontario, comme tous ceux qui pensent que le progrès, c'est donner des droits et non d'en enlever ?
Dix ans se sont écoulés, et l'espoir a laissé la place à la crainte. La minorité francophone sait qu'elle n'a pas toutes les protections nécessaires et qu'elle est à la merci des révolutionnaires de Mike Harris. Mike Harris n'a pas encore touché directement la Loi 8, mais il a écrit à ses amis d'APEC qu'il avait l'intention de le faire.
Par contre, il n'a pas cessé de la bafouer. Il a éliminé complètement les services de santé de première ligne dans certaines régions. Il a détruit des outils de formation essentiels à la population franco-ontarienne. Il est en train d'étouffer des institutions d'enseignement qui viennent à peine de naître. La liste des dégâts est longue.
Pire encore, personne ne doute un seul instant que le gouvernement va continuer à s'acharner sur les droits acquis durement par les Franco-Ontariens. C'est en grande partie grâce à la combativité des Franco-Ontariens que la Loi 8 a vu le jour. J'espère voir se ranimer ce même esprit. J'ai confiance aussi que dans un avenir rapproché nous pourrons éliminer les obstacles à la reprise de la longue marche des Franco-Ontariens dans le plein épanouissement.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Last Tuesday in Timmins we had an opportunity to organize a community forum called Access on Housing. The purpose of that forum was simply to have people in Timmins and across the riding of Cochrane South come forward and bring their views on what the government is doing in regard to housing policies. We spoke primarily of a couple of issues, the first one being public housing.
The government has announced its intention as of last year that it would like to move on the privatization of public housing. I say to the government that through this forum the people who came forward -- landlords, tenants, seniors and others -- were almost unanimous on not privatizing public housing. In fact, they saw that as a threat to seniors and a threat to other people on fixed incomes who would not be able to access apartments in the city of Timmins or other parts of the riding for reasonable dollars. So the people in the city of Timmins are saying, "No, don't privatize public housing."
The other issue we had a lot of discussion on was the question of rent control. Now, what's interesting here is that landlords and tenants alike said, "Why is the government doing away with rent control when rent control works?" They were saying they don't have a problem by and large as landlords, and as tenants they were saying they didn't have a problem. They were really scratching their heads wondering, "What is the government up to?" The government obviously is moving on an ideological bent, and the people of the city of Timmins were really left wondering why the government is moving forward on rent control.
I say to the government on behalf of the people of Cochrane South, deal with the real issues within the Landlord and Tenant Act and stay away from rent control, according to what they had to say at that hearing.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today as the member for Scarborough Centre to announce an important award and ceremony that will take place in Scarborough this year.
In 1995, Scarborough council established the Civic Award of Merit to honour those who have brought honour to Scarborough, recognized beyond the confines of Scarborough, in any of the following categories: cultural achievement, business, politics, commerce and industry, community activity, the humanities, sports, media and labour.
As many of the members may know, 1996 is Scarborough's bicentennial, and as such, the city has chosen to suspend the normal civic award in favour of a Bicentennial Award of Merit. This special award will recognize 200 past and present Scarborough residents who have distinguished themselves both within and outside Scarborough's boundaries. Award recipients will be drawn from throughout Scarborough's 200-year history.
The names of the 200 recipients will be released shortly and a ceremony in their honour will take place in early December. I'm looking forward to the announcement and would ask every member of this House to give their congratulations to these great Scarborough residents.
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South): I take great pride in announcing to this House that today, November 18, 1996, the city of Ottawa becomes the first capital city in the world to declare itself Child and Youth Friendly.
Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa has been developed over the past months by concerned community leaders and students and is founded on the belief that children and youth who contribute to society at a young age will grow to be adults who have a sense of ownership, responsibility and pride in their community.
A number of new programs have been created to ensure we breathe life into our designation as a child and youth friendly city. One program will ensure that the young citizens of Ottawa have direct access to the head of our regional government. Another will give greater opportunity for youth to help meet some of our community needs by way of a youth volunteer corps.
In addition, we will call upon our young people to accredit our local institutions of government and business so that we have a performance rating from a child and youth perspective. This accreditation is based on the understanding that one of the best ways to learn if our community is meeting the needs of our young people is to ask them.
I am certain all members of this House will join me in commending the many people who had the vision to see that by fostering an atmosphere where the voices of our children are not only heard but solicited and where opportunities will be made available for young people to make a contribution to their community, we not only benefit our young, we benefit ourselves.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I had a most interesting and busy week last week back in the city of Sault Ste Marie. I spoke to literally hundreds of people. I knocked on over 300 doors at homes. I plant-gated at four different locations in the community. I attended on Saturday the 100th anniversary of the library system in Sault Ste Marie. On Saturday night I was at the annual banquet of the Elks Club in my community. I met with students at Algoma University, and teachers. All of them, to a person, raised concerns about what this government is doing to our community and to the people they represent and to themselves. They're very, very concerned.
Some of them, a very few of them, actually agreed with the program of this government, but all of them said it's too much and it's too fast. They were particularly concerned about the cuts to health care and the impact that's having on the ability of the hospitals in my community to deliver the quality of service we've all come to expect and are used to.
On Tuesday night, in fact, I participated in a mass demonstration in front of the hospitals prior to their board meeting, with literally hundreds of people -- nurses, doctors, practical nurses, health care workers and patients and families of patients -- who raised the same concern. They are very worried about what this government is doing to our community by way of the cuts to health care.
M. Ed Doyle (Wentworth-Est): Permettez-moi, à l'occasion du 10e anniversaire de la Loi sur les services en français, de faire état des réalisations du gouvernement relatives à la prestation des services en français.
Tout d'abord, je tiens à rappeler que l'adoption de la Loi sur les services en français il y a 10 ans représentait en quelque sorte l'aboutissement naturel des mesures mises en place par les premiers ministres John Robarts, William Davis et Frank Miller. Je voudrais également rendre hommage à la communauté franco-ontarienne pour son dynamisme ainsi que sa détermination.
Par ailleurs, il me fait grand plaisir d'annoncer que le gouvernement a désigné cette année 48 nouvelles agences qui peuvent offrir des services en français. Cela démontre bien l'engagement de ce gouvernement envers le développement des services en français. C'est la première fois que le gouvernement de l'Ontario désigne autant d'agences dans une même année.
Je voudrais aussi signaler que nous avons maintenu, voire augmenté, la proportion des postes désignés bilingues dans la fonction publique depuis 1989. Cela démontre clairement notre volonté d'intégrer les services en français dans l'ensemble du nouveau gouvernement.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Recently I attended a town hall forum which was held for the sole purpose of discussing hospital restructuring in Sudbury. This meeting was attended by doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, municipal leaders, mothers, fathers, children, senior citizens, health care service providers and individuals representing the entire cross-section of our community.
These individuals shared one thing in common: They all agreed that the Health Services Restructuring Commission's recommendations for Sudbury are unacceptable. They will not accept the loss of Sudbury as the regional referral centre for northeastern Ontario. They will not accept the erosion of services to the point where there are too few acute care beds, too few chronic care beds and too few operating rooms. They reject the proposal that hundreds of jobs will be lost and thousands of individuals adversely affected by the destruction of our health care.
The community of Sudbury produced recommendations on how its hospitals ought to be restructured. The Health Services Restructuring Commission rejected these proposals with unbelievable arrogance. I assure you, Mr Wilson, Mr Harris and Dr Sinclair, it is with a cautious but unanimous voice that the citizens of my community reject your recommendations. We say no to your size; we say no to your reinvestment; we say no to your time line; we say no to you.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Tomorrow the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation is making her first concrete announcement with respect to Ontario's new equal opportunity plan. We've been waiting for this. We've been waiting for over a year to find out the elements of this new equal opportunity plan for Ontario. What are we going to get? A spiffy new Web site and a brochure.
Let me tell you, Minister, that people are not impressed. People with disabilities, people facing discrimination in the workplace, people not able to get equal opportunity are not impressed with your Web site and your brochure.
There are members here of the Ontario Coalition of Persons with Disabilities who are part of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. They've been trying to meet with you, Minister. You've refused to meet with them and the Premier has refused to meet with them despite all the promises you made that you wanted to work with them in developing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and your new equal opportunity plan.
They're here today. They think your announcement tomorrow is a sham and they've got a whole series of questions they would like you to answer: For example, with one third of its term in office almost over, will the new Mushinski Web site force the Harris government to take meaningful action to keep its hitherto ignored and trivialized election promise to enact the Ontarians With Disabilities Act part of the Common Sense Revolution?
You say you're keeping your promises. You consistently break your promises to disabled persons. They're here today. Why don't you call them over into the east lobby? Why don't you meet with them, answer some of their questions directly? They know your announcement tomorrow won't answer any questions for people with disabilities.
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): This is a special time of year for Hindus in Ontario and throughout the world as they celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Diwali is a joyous time of renewal. Family, friends and neighbours come together to give thanks for an abundant harvest, for prosperity and, as ancient legend tells us, for the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Diwali is also a time of sharing, when Hindus invite their non-Hindu friends to share in the feasts, festivities and the ritual lighting of the lamps.
We are truly fortunate to live in a province where we can experience the traditions of many cultures. Our rich cultural heritage is one of the reasons that Ontario is such a great place to live, work and raise our families. As someone who has been privileged to take part in the celebration of Diwali, I would like to thank all Hindus in Ontario for sharing the wealth of culture, tradition and values they have brought to this province and extend warm wishes for a joyous celebration of Diwali.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I beg to inform the House I have today laid upon the table the Ombudsman's case report in the matter of the canteen allowance program and the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services, pursuant to subsection 24(1) of the Ombudsman Act. I will note that the Ombudsman, Ms Roberta Jamieson, is in the Speaker's gallery today.
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): Thank you, Mr Speaker. From time to time, some of us in this Legislature are troubled by some of the comments we hear from backbenchers. Just a minute ago, when my colleague from Cochrane South was making a point, the member for Brampton North uttered, "Speak English." I think it's time that members in this assembly learned that French is an official, acceptable language in this Legislature.
The Speaker: Member for Nickel Belt, I did not hear the comment made by the member for Brampton North, but I will certainly give the member for Brampton North an opportunity to withdraw it if in fact he said it.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Mr Speaker, I just wondered if you had noted that the Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee in Niagara against poverty were in the gallery today to observe the proceedings of the Legislature. I didn't know if you had noted that or not.
M. Gilles Bisson (Cochrane-Sud) : Monsieur le Président, tous les députés de l'Assemblée, français ou anglais, ont la possibilité de faire des déclarations ici en Chambre dans deux langages. Je trouve ça pas mal difficile --
The Speaker: The member for Cochrane South, would you come to order, please. With all due respect, I understand that, I appreciate that, and I think it's an accepted form, legislated in fact. The statement was allegedly attributed to the member. I asked the member to withdraw. Apparently, the member doesn't feel that he said that. Let's move on.
The Speaker: All I can tell you is that the member was given the opportunity to withdraw. I can't read his mind. Either he didn't believe he said it or he's not withdrawing. I don't know. The opportunity was given.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): On Thursday, November 7, 1996, several members rose on points of privilege with respect to the comments alleged to have been made by the Attorney General during responses to ministerial statements. The events unfolded as follows, and I'll recap them very quickly:
The member for Oakwood had the floor and there were a number of interjections. The member for Windsor-Riverside rose on a point of order saying that the Attorney General had made accusations about two members of this House. I indicated at the time that I had not heard the interjection and could not, therefore, compel the Attorney General to withdraw it. However, I did allow the Attorney General an opportunity to withdraw. The Attorney General did withdraw.
While this may be a question that will have to be answered by some other authority, it is not a question that can be decided by the Speaker. As I said at the time, on November 7, aside from asking the Attorney General to withdraw such comments if in fact they were made, there is nothing else the Speaker has the authority to do.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I don't mean to debate at all, but I do have a question for clarification. I raised, on that very same point, a reference to Erskine May with regard to a long-standing privilege of members of Parliament -- that is, the privilege of protection from arrest, the privilege of protection from litigation -- about which the Speaker has not, as I understand it, ruled.
The Speaker: To the member for Algoma, I did in fact review your specific request on privilege. An argument on privilege should tend to convince the Speaker that a member is somehow stopped or restricted in his or her parliamentary duties. I gave careful consideration to the arguments of the member for Algoma to the effect that one of the privileges enjoyed by the members is freedom from arrest. However, I want to point out, without going into the merits, that the privilege referred to in several parliamentary authorities is specifically referenced to a civil as opposed to a criminal context. It was in fact reviewed, and that was the ruling that we would stand with today.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I have a question for the Premier. For the past week your government and the doctors of this province have been holding patients as hostages. Doctors are treating patients as pawns in their battle for higher fees. You are treating patients as pawns in your hacksaw approach to governing. Neither of you has put the interests of patients first. We've been asking you for months what you would do if doctors withdrew services, and for months you've been evading and avoiding the issue. It's now clear that you have no plan at all. My question is this, Premier: When will you accept responsibility for making sure Ontarians have access to doctors' services? When will you start putting patients first?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I thank the honourable member for the question and indicate to the member that the government has been doing everything over the last 16 months and particularly over the last few weeks to ensure that the interests of patients come first. I don't know what the honourable member's trying to refer to. The government has been putting the interests of patients first in all of our dealings. The negotiating parties are meeting, actually now, and are continuing to meet, between the government and the OMA, trying to solve problems that are long-standing in this province.
Mr Cordiano: I can't believe that incredible answer. Even your backbenchers have lost confidence in you as a minister. The member for Sarnia made some comments the other day. He says you're not even close to being a minister he would favour.
There's a crisis in this province and you're asleep at the switch. Parents with new babies are being turned away by doctors. The doctors say that the babies are new patients and that they're not taking any. Last Wednesday the North York after-hours clinic closed its doors indefinitely; no more emergency treatments. What do you say to patients who are being turned away from these places? Where do they go? Are you just going to continue with your policy of passing the buck?
Hon Mr Wilson: It's interesting. History will clearly show in this case that it's the federal Liberal Party that cut $2.1 billion from health and social services in this province. This government has been working very hard with our partners, like the Ontario Medical Association and other groups, to try to bring reform to the health care system. I think in the next weeks and months we'll see some very good fruits of that labour.
"`The public is saying, where is the problem here?' said Liberal MPP and finance critic Gerry Phillips. `The public, by and large, don't feel the doctors are dramatically underpaid.'" November 15's Ottawa Sun says "Grits, NDP, Tories Back Tories' Doc Fight." I'd say the only thing wrong with the article is that we're not fighting with the doctors; we're trying to work with their association and with individuals. But certainly the NDP and the Liberal spokespeople, at least when they're talking to the media, indicate they agree with the actions we're taking towards negotiations with physicians.
Mr Cordiano: When will the minister stop his empty rhetoric? Neurosurgeons, if you're not aware, have stopped taking on patients for elective surgery. Every day that goes by elective cases have a bigger chance of becoming real emergencies. Surgeons are no longer booking patients for gall bladder or hernia operations. Meanwhile you're sitting on your hands, and when you do that to Ontarians you're cheating them out of the medical services that are their right.
I ask you: How many more babies have to be turned away by doctors? How many more Ontarians have to have their surgery cancelled before you're willing to take real action, or is it the case that you're prepared to see some patients die before you take the necessary action?
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training. You promised last election not to cut classroom education. You've already cut funding to schools by more than $400 million. Your cuts are hurting kids. Class sizes are bigger. Libraries are closing and you continue to warehouse kids, even in your own riding, in portables; you've turned away from them. Given that your actions are robbing our children of the skills they need to compete in the future, will you assure students today that you will not cut an additional dime from their education in next week's economic statement?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I can assure the honourable member and everyone in Ontario that this government's commitment to the classroom and to the quality of education for students is unwavering. It has not wavered. We will keep our commitment to the people of Ontario and, more important, we'll keep our commitments to the students of Ontario and there will be sufficient funds available to every student in Ontario for a high-quality education at the end of this government's mandate.
Mr Cordiano: Your cuts are already hurting kids in the classroom and you plan to cut even more, hundreds of millions of dollars more. This time you've worked tirelessly to disguise your cuts as school board restructuring. That's a clever plan, but there's one problem. Let me read from last Friday's London Free Press: "Cutting the number of Ontario school boards likely would not save a lot of money, Education Minister John Snobelen said in London last Thursday." The reduction, he said, "probably wouldn't save significant amounts."
Minister, if cutting boards won't save significant amounts, there's only one other place hundreds of millions of dollars will be cut from and that will be the classroom. Why are you robbing children of their future by cutting hundreds of millions more from education?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I know the honourable member will be interested in this quote. He likes quotes, so I'll give him a quote. How about this? "A Joe Cordiano government will work to improve the quality of education and keep it affordable. More money should be spent on teaching and less on administration." Well, I concur with that quote from his own Web page.
Time and again, the minister has worked tirelessly to undermine education in this province. You know, you have a real problem because the Premier and the Treasurer are telling you they don't care where the savings come from, they just need the money. Now you have a big problem, that "They won't come out of the classroom so we'll get it from the school boards." The problem is that it's just not true and you've said so yourself. Your cuts will come from firing teachers, closing schools and closing down libraries. That's where it's going to come from. We all know it, you know it, the people out there are beginning to realize it.
When are you going to admit that the only saving you're going to achieve, if you really want to cut -- and I don't agree with it and neither do the people out there, and you told them in the last election campaign you would not cut funding to schools in the classroom, you would not touch classrooms. Now we find out that the only way you're going to achieve the saving is to do that very thing. Minister, when will you --
Hon Mr Snobelen: I concur with the member's observation that it's important that we have a high-quality system of education in the province and that it be affordable. I have already said today in this chamber, I've said before in this chamber, that I can assure the people of Ontario that this government will provide an affordable system of education but one that is the highest quality in the world, and we will do that. I want to assure the honourable member opposite that that's the case.
But I want to say that my colleagues and I believe that the education system in Ontario, that the future of our students, is worthy of more than the kind of empty rhetoric we've heard once again in this chamber from the member opposite. I want to tell you we recognize the fact that we have a responsibility to prepare the young people for the future, but we also, sir, have a responsibility to prepare the future for our young people, and we take both of those obligations seriously.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Attorney General. While you are setting up the new family support plan office in Downsview and putting away the thousands of files that are strewn in the hallways, while new staff are being trained and they become familiar with family law, debt collection, reciprocal enforcement support and federal support laws, while all this is going on, new support orders are being issued and women and children around the province aren't getting their child support payments.
Your own business plan of January 18 said, "The transitional period will see a service reduction to clients for a period of time." What an understatement when 290 staff have been laid off, the regional offices have been closed, and thousands of women and children around this province aren't getting child support payments. You broke the family support plan. What are you going to do to fix it?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): The transition that is now occurring is on track. In the first two weeks of November, $20 million was paid out to recipients. We are now answering approximately 50% of the calls that come in to the family support plan; that was never the case in the past. And we have successfully doubled the number of front-line staff who are now working in the family support plan. Forty-seven newly trained staff began last --
Hon Mr Harnick: As I indicated, we have 47 newly trained staff who began last week and we now are answering calls at a rate of 50% versus the former plan's 6%. As I have indicated, we have disbursed $20 million in the first two weeks of November. We are disbursing money faster than we have ever disbursed it before.
Mr Hampton: This Attorney General likes to castigate deadbeat dads. Well, what we've got here is a deadbeat minister and a deadbeat government. We've got a minister who lays off 290 staff, we've got a minister who says, "Oh, everything is fine," when women and children across this province are not getting their child support payments, when women and children are having their power disconnected, their natural gas shut off, their telephones disconnected and are being evicted from their apartments and having to go to the food bank to get food because of you, because you want to take money from women and children and give it to a phoney tax cut.
Your answer doesn't cut mustard any more. People across this country saw this so-called family support plan office that you've been telling us since August has been set up. It's not set up. The computers aren't hooked in, the phone banks don't work, files are strewn in the hallway. We asked you a simple question: What are you going to do now to make sure that women and children get the child support orders they're legally entitled to and that you have been holding in a government bank account?
Hon Mr Harnick: As I have indicated, we are now disbursing cheques at a much faster rate than they have ever been disbursed before. The member wants to know what we're now going to do. What we're now going to do is we will allow families who don't want the government to be administering their affairs the opportunity to opt out of the plan. We're going to do what the former government wouldn't do. After three years of the Provincial Auditor saying technology was not adequate, we're putting a $1-million investment into upgrading the technology of the family support plan. What we're also going to do is enact tougher enforcement measures, driver's licence suspensions, credit bureau reporting and a number of other things, things that left the family support plan virtually in limbo when people were asked to try to collect and make collections of outstanding support orders.
Mr Hampton: We have presented these cases since the middle of the summer. The fact of the matter is that the family support plan problems we have been talking about here -- people who got their money for three years or for five years and suddenly, in August and September and October and now in November of this year, aren't getting their money -- those are your problems. Those are problems you created; no one else created them. All we are asking is this: What are you going to do now to fix those problems? The tens of thousands of mothers and children across this province who are being driven into poverty as a result of your decision: What are you going to do to fix that?
Hon Mr Harnick: I have just outlined a number of the things that we are going to do to fix it. But I resent the implication and the accusation that this government is driving women and children into poverty. The fact of the matter is that there is presently $1 billion owing to women and children. When the leader of the third party was the Attorney General and made some amendments to the family support plan, he made a commitment to get more money to women and to children. The fact of the matter is that he has not, by 2%, increased the number of people receiving money from the family support plan.
Hon Mr Harnick: I might tell you that, as a result of the way the old family support plan operated, we have gone from $300 million in debt in the last six years to the present amount of $960 million in debt because this plan is totally ineffective and totally unable to put money in the hands of women and children.
Mr Hampton: I say to the Attorney General, after 40 years of Conservative governments saying to women and children, "Don't bother us that you can't get your child support payment," after 40 years of Conservative governments saying, "This is not a problem that government should be involved in," yes, I was very proud to be part of a family support plan that did start to collect hundreds of millions of dollars and put it in the hands of women and children. For your information, you can spin this however you want, but women and children across the province know that your real agenda is to put them back in the situation they were in under 40 years of previous Conservative governments where they're on their own.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My second question is also to the Attorney General. Minister, on the last day that this House sat, you came into this House, you as Attorney General, you as the person who is supposed to administer the law of this province, you pointed across the way and you said, and Hansard quotes you, "I said there was a break-in."
Mr Hampton: This is what the Attorney General said and this is what was recorded in Hansard. He said, "I said there was a break-in." Then he goes on later in Hansard to say, "We all know who was involved." This is supposed to be the person who is absolutely neutral. This is supposed to be the person in the legal system of the province who casts no aspersions, who prejudges no one and who prejudges no incident.
Minister, how can you continue to be the Attorney General of the province when you come into this Legislature, a public forum, and you say, "I said there was a break-in" and "We all know who was involved," and we all know the aspersions you cast? How can you continue to be the Attorney General of the province when you conduct yourself in that way?
Hon Mr Harnick: As I have indicated, I have never in this Legislature or anywhere else said anything with respect to the guilt or innocence of any person. I do not intend to comment any further on this matter.
Mr Hampton: I wonder what changed between now and when the House last sat, because the Attorney General came into this House and announced a police investigation. Frankly, even that is not the constitutional role of the Attorney General; if there is to be a police investigation, that is the constitutional role of the Solicitor General. If there is to be a police investigation into something which may in fact involve the Attorney General, it is certainly not the place of the Attorney General to go around announcing a police investigation.
You were quite full of aspersions in this House a week ago. Not only did you come in and announce a police investigation, not only did you accuse people of breaking in, and not only did you look across the floor and say, "We all know who did it" -- can you tell us what has changed between now and then? If it is not proper for you now, if saying something now would result in your resignation, why haven't you resigned already?
Hon Mr Harnick: What I did a week ago or 10 days ago was to announce that there had been an incident on Ministry of the Attorney General premises, and my statement spoke for itself. As a result of that incident, the assistant Deputy Attorney General called the police.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): In the absence of the minister responsible for women's issues, I direct my question to the Premier. November is Wife Assault Prevention Month. Today the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses released this scathing report outlining the impact of your government's cuts on abused women and their children. The report, titled Locked in, Left Out, tells us that women are staying in or returning to violent relationships because of your government's cuts to supports and services they need to help them.
Premier, do you think women are making the right decision by staying in abusive relationships so they can continue to feed their children? Or do you think they should leave the relationship, knowing that each and every day they will be looking into the faces of their hungry children? What advice do you give women in violent and abusive relationships?
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): Thank you, to the member, for the question. We take the issue of violence against women quite seriously, and that is one reason we have the supports and the funding and the programs in place so that those women are not put in that position, to have to make that choice.
Mrs Caplan: The minister responsible for women's issues is unable today to stand in her place and defend the actions of this government and the Premier refuses to, and the answer from the Minister of Community and Social Services is an insult to the women in this province who are forced to stay in abusive relationships or face the faces of their hungry children.
Minister, since your government took office, 29 women, almost 30 women, have been murdered by their abusive partners. That's just since your government took office. You have the gall to stand there and give an answer which is an insult. But more than that, you have cut social assistance rates for single moms and their children; you have cut transfer dollars to emergency women's shelters; you've eliminated provincial funding for programs in second-stage housing; you have further cut funding to crisis lines, community counselling, child protection, and the list goes on. I say to you, Minister, what --
Hon Mrs Ecker: I appreciate the honourable member's concern because this is indeed a very, very serious issue. We have protected some funding; we have put forward funding for women who use and need the supports so they don't have to stay in abusive relationships. In my ministry alone we have $60 million that is helping to support 97 emergency shelters and over 100 counselling agencies because we do recognize that women need this support. That's why we are working so hard to make sure it is there for them.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I have a question to the Minister of Community and Social Services. This morning we heard from the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses how her government's cuts are hurting women and kids. Minister, vulnerable women and their children rely upon you and your ministry in very difficult times in their lives. In view of what we learned about the family support plan last week, can you assure us there is adequate security within the Ministry of Community and Social Services so that the very personal and confidential records of women who have been recipients of FBA or GWA benefits can't be inappropriately obtained?
Hon Mrs Ecker: Yes, it is the practice of the Ministry of Community and Social Services to protect the confidentiality of information that comes to us or that is involved in our management of people who may well be on our social assistance system. I'm very pleased the honourable member across the way has seen fit to ask this question so that we can perhaps get some details from him about the accusation he is about to make, because we weren't able to get it before. I would be more than pleased to respond to his comment.
Mr Kormos: I'm about to address an issue which has significance and importance to this House and I certainly hope to the minister. A constituent of mine, Ms Margo MacFarlane, is involved in matrimonial litigation. Specifically, she's seeking support payments for her children in the Ontario Court (General Division) at Welland. She came to my office with an affidavit that had been served upon her, sworn by her estranged spouse as the respondent in this matter, which affidavit had attached to it as exhibit G a complete printout of her history with the Ministry of Community and Social Services, indicating amounts paid and whether it was under GWA or FBA. Most significantly, it also contained her address and her unlisted telephone number.
Ms MacFarlane swore a statutory declaration in Welland indicating that she never authorized Comsoc to release this, that she never authorized anybody to receive it, that she never requested it herself. She's particularly disturbed not only because of this serious breach of privacy, but because it contains her unlisted telephone number and because of the history of harassment. She has been put at risk. She has been violated in the most significant way. Will the minister please assure us that this appalling breach of security is going to be investigated promptly and publicly so that we can be assured it will not recur?
Hon Mrs Ecker: The Ministry of Community and Social Services does not release such documentation. I would be pleased to look into any circumstances where the member thinks this has occurred, but I would also like to remind the honourable member that in court cases, when documents are subpoenaed, frequently those documents must be released. I repeat that the policy of our ministry is not to release such confidential information.
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): My question is directed to the minister responsible for seniors. I have a question that is of great concern to the seniors of the Peterborough area regarding elder abuse. I have with me a copy of a very shocking article from yesterday's Toronto Star which describes the horrible abuse many seniors face, from financial manipulation to neglect and even abandonment. Many seniors are seeing their rights ignored. Can the minister tell us what is being done to combat this very serious problem?
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister without Portfolio [Seniors Issues]): I'd like to thank the member opposite for his question. I know that most members of this House may have seen the article, but all members of this House are deeply concerned about this serious issue affecting our communities.
Our government is very committed to dealing with the issue of protecting vulnerable adults and that's why much progress has been undertaken in the last few years. I'm pleased that my colleague the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation launched an initiative for vulnerable adults as part of a commitment to invest $3 million into a program to assist vulnerable adults. This is a program which is available for information through every member of the Legislature's constituency office, and I encourage groups to make application for it.
As the minister, I've also been meeting with advocacy groups and seniors, such as Senior Link, and even this morning I had an opportunity to meet with the councils on aging network of Ontario, where they have encouraged the government to continue to develop and deliver these programs to address this shocking tragedy in our province.
Mr Stewart: As we're all aware of the financial situation our government is working under these days, I would like to ask the minister to describe the financial and funding arrangements for groups working to assist vulnerable seniors.
Hon Mr Jackson: First of all, I'd like to acknowledge that much of the work that's going on is occurring at the grass-roots community level. Since 1991 we've had the Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and it's now operating in 43 communities and growing. It's important that they are working cooperatively with this government in terms of developing these programs. We've seen positive responses from police services in terms of strengthening protocols so we can catch elder abuse. In the article from the Toronto Star, Lynda Hurst very well described the problem of trying to get at this. This is why my colleague the Attorney General announced in this House two weeks ago further protections for vulnerable people, including the existence of two new courts to deal with domestic violence, and this will include a large cohort of elders who are abused.
We are very encouraged by the investment of money through the Trillium Foundation to encourage community partners to participate. But make no mistake: This government realizes the importance of this issue and is prepared to continue to promote programs to help.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): My question is to the Minister of Health. As you know, last week the board of directors of the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital, while accepting most of the directives of the Health Services Restructuring Commission, courageously decided that it could not accept the decision to refurbish the Port Arthur General site as the sole acute care facility in our community and instead has asked for further negotiations with you related to a new facility located in a central location. As I'm sure you realize, this was not a decision reached easily and it certainly was not done without recognizing the potential implications of such a decision. But I want to assure you that it was done with the support and the best interests of our community in mind.
Minister, under Bill 26 you have given yourself the authority to disband the regional board, if you so choose, and appoint a supervisor to carry out your demands. My question is this: Recognizing that the community is simply asking for some choice as to the long-term health care needs for the region, will you today guarantee that you will not bring the hammer down on our community and that you will meet with the board of the regional hospital and work with them and all those in our community --
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I appreciate the honourable member's question. May I begin by thanking the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital board for taking a very responsible position and concentrating, not on many other things that have happened in the past, but on the actual future services to the people of Thunder Bay. I commend, on behalf of all members in this House, the very courageous decision they've taken in supporting the decisions made by the Health Services Restructuring Commission, with the exception, as the honourable member points out, that they would like a new hospital rather than a refurbished hospital.
On Friday I received the proposal that the community has put forward for a new hospital and I'm looking at that. But I'm inclined at this point to say to the honourable member that we're still doing the costing out. We have to keep in mind --
Hon Mr Wilson: -- what's best for services, concentrate less on the bricks and mortar, and of course we have to do what we can afford, and that includes what the local taxpayers in Thunder Bay can afford.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): Minister, I agree with you that the position the regional hospital board in Thunder Bay has taken is one which is very responsible. They've also made it very clear, and it's taken a great deal of courage to stand up and say so, that the decisions that have been made by the hospital restructuring commission and which they chose to impose on Thunder Bay are simply wrong for our community.
I think it's important that you know it's not just the regional hospital board that is saying no. There is a coalition group of business people, labour and concerned citizens who have made it clear that they support the regional board's decision 100%. The chamber of commerce has made it loud and clear that they believe that the specific recommendations of the commission are wrong for our community. And, as you speak about the interest of the taxpayers in Thunder Bay, a huge majority of our citizens has made it absolutely clear that they will not raise the dollars to support a decision which they believe is absolutely wrong for health care in our community.
Minister, it is now your responsibility. There was a quotation attributed to a member of your staff that said any meeting with the Thunder Bay regional board would be simply a courtesy. I ask you to assure us that that is not the case, that you are prepared to listen to the residents of Thunder Bay and that you will make the right decisions for health care in our community.
Hon Mr Wilson: I again make it clear for the record that the regional board supported the restructuring commission's directives, all their directives, it's my understanding, but one, and that's about the new hospital. So let's give credit where credit is due, as the honourable member has done, but make it clear that very key decisions have been supported by the local community. On behalf of all members, I commend your community for that.
Again, we have to take into account what the taxpayers can afford. My preliminary review of what we received last Friday from Thunder Bay is that there could be upwards of a $100-million difference between what the commission has asked the government to put forward and what the community would want in terms of a new hospital. One hundred million dollars is a tremendous amount of money and I'm not sure the local community could raise that kind of money to make the new hospital possible. I'm looking at all these matters, but we do have to take the taxpayers' pocketbooks into account, certainly.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I'd like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today the legislative interns from Ottawa, representing the government of Canada. Welcome.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Attorney General once again, and it concerns what he said in this House last week. On page 5121 of Hansard, the Attorney General said, not once but twice, "I said, in response to an interjection, there was a break-in...." "I said there was a break-in."
Can the Attorney General tell us what legal authority gives him the capacity to conclude, before the police or a judge have even considered the matter, that there was a break-in? Can you tell us what legal authority gives you the capacity to make that conclusion?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Never have I said anything in this House or elsewhere with respect to the guilt or innocence of any person. I referred to an incident that occurred. I think the proper thing was done. The police were called to investigate and that investigation is now ongoing.
Mr Hampton: The Attorney General didn't answer the question, and I know why he didn't answer the question: because he doesn't have the legal authority. His comment was completely inappropriate. It is something totally outside the capacity of the Attorney General and something he should resign for.
I want to ask the Attorney General this. On page 5115 you say, in reference to this break-in that you're talking about, "Ask Kormos what he did [to] the security guard." And then you say, " -- break into offices."
Can you tell us what gives you the legal authority as Attorney General of this province to accuse someone, say, "Ask what Kormos did to the security guard," and then to say, "break into offices"? What legal authority gives you the capacity to cast those aspersions when neither the police nor a judge has even considered or adjudicated the matter? What gives you the legal authority?
The Speaker: Order. Leader of the third party, I didn't hear him use those words. That would be the only thing that's out of order. You may take exception to how he answered the question, but that's not a point of order.
Mr Hampton: Mr Speaker, I am quoting from Hansard and for the Attorney General to infer, to say that someone else is inferring that he made these statements is to say that we are somehow inferring an untruth. It's part of the legislative record. The Attorney General said these things.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): My question is for the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services. Many of my constituents in Mississauga South have asked me if it's possible to increase the police presence on our provincial highways. Mississauga residents regularly --
Solicitor General, our safety is threatened by the dangerous drivers we frequently encounter on these highways and I would like to know from you if there are any initiatives to put more OPP officers on patrol on our provincial highways.
Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I want to thank the member for her interest in the progress of our expanded traffic enforcement efforts. I know how committed the member for Mississauga South is to enhancing road safety. I was very impressed when OPP Superintendent Bill Currie told me about his All Hands on Deck initiative. In fact, I had the opportunity to see OPP officers in action out on the front line when this initiative was announced.
The OPP superintendent has provided me with the results of the first month of operation on the 400-series highways in the greater Toronto region: Total on-road patrol hours for the OPP have gone from 15,319 to 21,325, an increase of 39% in one month.
Mrs Marland: I'm really pleased to hear about that increase in time. Obviously constituents all over the province will feel the security of knowing that a 39% increase in on-road patrol hours is indeed impressive progress.
Minister, may I also ask you if you can tell us what the results of this increased patrol time mean in terms of preventing collisions and getting those dangerous drivers off the road once and for all?
Since the inception of the road safety plan last year, I have been very impressed by the initiative and imagination shown by OPP commanders across the province. For example, there are now Highway Ranger enforcement teams in the greater Toronto area, the western region based in London and the central region based in Orillia. Soon I hope to be able to announce further progress in our continuing efforts to improve road safety in this province.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is to the Premier. There are a number of people in the gallery today who are here to protest your continuous betrayal of the promises you made to Ontarians with disabilities in the last election campaign. Since you have come to power, you have imposed user fees on drugs for Ontarians with disabilities, you have cut programs, you have slashed funding, and you have taken away many of the programs and initiatives that in the past have helped Ontarians with disabilities access the workforce, access public transportation, access a barrier-free workplace.
Tomorrow your minister is going to unveil the long-awaited equal opportunity plan. This was supposed to replace the programs that were scrapped as a result of your employment equity for the disabled programs that this government eliminated when it came to power. This plan that the minister is going to introduce tomorrow is basically a Web site and a brochure. Can you tell Ontarians with disabilities who have barriers right now in the workplace and in transportation how a Web site and a brochure are going to help them break those barriers?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I don't think the minister is here today, but the minister will be here tomorrow. My sense is that not only you but every member of this House, and members of the public and the community at large, will once again see that we've honoured our commitment to all the people of Ontario.
Mr Agostino: That is not an answer from the Premier. There are a number of people here today and they're here because the minister sent them a letter telling them what he's going to announce tomorrow: It is a Web site. Over 50% of disabled Ontarians who are able to work are unemployed in this province. There are barriers to transportation, there are barriers to employment opportunities and workplace barriers. Those are real barriers that disabled Ontarians face every day in this province.
You took away the employment equity program that was in place to help individuals with disabilities when you came to power. You promised you were going to replace that with some real initiatives, some real training. What you are announcing tomorrow is a Web site. It should be called www.betrayal. You have simply gone ahead, used disabled people in your election promises, used disabled Ontarians when you felt it was appropriate, and now that you're in power and have the opportunity to help, you are simply coming forward with nothing but a smoke-and-mirrors public relations exercise.
Again I ask you: How do you tell the 50% of Ontarians who are disabled and out of work that this Web site and this brochure that you're going to introduce tomorrow are going to help them access the workplace and the workforce?
Hon Mr Harris: I explained to them that there is a whole host of initiatives that this government is taking. The Web site is one of them, but perhaps the most important is, through a series of meetings with a number of our ministers, the changes we've been making to employment supports. We are the first government certainly in recent history that has acknowledged and accepted the challenge of taking disabled people off the welfare rolls, off the inappropriate programs -- something your government wouldn't do, something the New Democratic Party wouldn't do.
Through a series of consultations with a number of groups involved we have been moving forward. First of all, when we made changes to the support programs for those on welfare and the rate adjustments, they were exempted from those changes. We are bringing forward a new program that treats them with dignity, that treats them with respect, that brings employment support, coordinated over a whole number of ministries, including that of the minister who will make an announcement tomorrow.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Attorney General. Minister, Laura Nagy is an FSP recipient. She received her cheques regularly, without problem, until August. She received a partial payment in September, nothing in October, nothing in November. For two months now, she's been trying to find out what the problem was. She called the family support plan on numerous occasions; she called her MPP on numerous occasions. Week after week she got no response from the family support plan or her MPP.
Finally, last Thursday, she spoke to a worker at 55 Yonge Street, where you say all the work is being done. She found out that a stop payment was put on her account because her husband said he was going to court to get custody of the children. No one called her to check out the situation, and in fact for two and a half months no one could tell her what the problem was, why she wasn't getting paid. She has custody of her children; she has had all along; she still does. Minister, why is she not getting her money from your ministry?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I'm not in a position to answer that particular case. What I can tell you is what I said before. In the first two weeks of November, $20 million was paid by the family support plan. We are now processing 25% more cheques a day than we have in the past. We are moving the family support plan to more of an electronic banking system, as opposed to having cheques sorted by hand, which took an inordinately long period of time. We have trained a new workforce, we have more people working on the front lines right now and we are able to answer calls from people at a rate that has never existed at the family support plan before.
Ms Lankin: Minister, I'm surprised that you don't know this case and you can't answer this case, because you're the MPP. She's called your office on numerous occasions and you refuse to respond to her.
When Laura Nagy asked why the order was put on the file, based on what information, the worker there couldn't answer, so she called me. I'm not going to tell you what I went through to try to get to a live body to get an answer, but finally today I spoke to a worker at Bay Street who was very helpful. She gave me the same information that Laura got, plus one crucial fact: The reason the Yonge Street worker and the Bay Street worker couldn't say what information the decision was based on is because that information is in her file and her file is at Downsview in those boxes, in those hallways, in that transition office where no one's working, not where the workers are, where you say the work is being done.
Minister, this crisis -- and it is a crisis -- is entirely of your making. Your improprieties and your incompetence have just gone too far for all of these women. Why won't you just pack it in? Why won't you just resign, get someone in there who cares about women and children and who will fix this plan so that they get --
Hon Mr Harnick: What I'm trying to do is to take a plan that was failing and that was neglected and that had a debt that had accumulated from $300 million to close to $1 billion and to start to collect that money. Yes, we are going through a transition, we are creating a new plan, but the old plan was a totally ineffective plan. The old plan ran up, in a matter of a few years, debt from $300 million to almost $1 billion. I can tell you that when 50,000 people a day were phoning the family support plan, they were not phoning to tell us what a good job we were doing. That's why we're changing the plan.
Recently I was contacted by one of my constituents in Scarborough Centre with concerns about the Liquor Licence Act and the misuse of special occasion permits. My question, on behalf of that constituent, is to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations.
It is my understanding that the minister has tightened regulations under the Liquor Licence Act and that there have been incidents of establishments selling alcoholic beverages under the caterers' endorsement of another licensee's liquor sales licence and attempts to misuse special occasion permits. Will the minister kindly inform the House as to how these changes will help to eliminate the problem?
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): I thank the member for Scarborough Centre for the question. The member is correct: We have tightened regulations under the Liquor Licence Act to prevent establishments from selling alcoholic beverages without a licence or when the licence has been revoked or suspended or refused. Some establishments have been trying to use special occasion permits to sell liquor from establishments that have been refused or suspended or revoked.
These changes will give the police and the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario the additional tools to get tough with people who try to circumvent the liquor laws of the province. It also helps them to respond better to community complaints. We have confirmed our commitment to continue the provincial government's role of setting standards of policies to ensure these are enforced. These changes will prevent occasions, where licences have been revoked and suspended and refused, of trying to circumvent this particular situation and somehow getting special occasion licences when they should not.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: A liquor licence can be denied in the public interest and a licence can be revoked if the regulations are contravened. Special occasion permits are for occasions such as receptions or community festivals, weddings and the like and certainly not for business purposes. We are helping to enforce community safety by responding to communities that are concerned that people are circumventing the law. These new regulations will certainly lead to safer communities.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): My question is to the Premier. This afternoon your government will try to ram through a bill that will allow the most alluring, the most seductive, the most addictive kind of gambling to come to every bar and every restaurant and every neighbourhood in Ontario, as video lottery terminals are electronic slot machines that are designed to attract young people, the most desperate, the most vulnerable and the most addicted.
Premier, you have stated to members of the press, and your spin doctors have tried to get the message out, that somehow you really don't believe these are going to go into bars and restaurants. If it is true, what you are trying to sell to your backbenchers and others, that you do not intend to place these in every bar, restaurant and neighbourhood in Ontario, will you accept an amendment to your legislation this afternoon which would prohibit the placement of video lottery terminals, electronic slot machines, in every bar, restaurant and neighbourhood in Ontario?
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): We certainly have given a commitment to watch this very carefully and implement the policy in a carefully controlled and monitored manner. We have made a commitment to look at video lottery terminals at racetracks and certainly in charity gaming halls. We have also given a commitment to make sure we observe and respect the concerns of the community out there. We have heard through the committee hearings the concerns of the community. We also have heard support for this initiative from the hospitality area, certainly from racetracks and from many charities that will benefit from this initiative.
M. Bisson : Merci. C'est que le membre de Brampton-Nord, aujourd'hui quand j'ai fait ma déclaration, a crié à travers la Chambre, «Parle en anglais.» Premièrement j'ai le droit, comme député et représentant de ma circonscription --
The Speaker: Order. The member for Cochrane South, that has been dealt with. That point of order was dealt with. I have great appreciation that maybe you don't feel it was dealt with, but the fact is, I do. I dealt with the point of order. We dealt with the member for Brampton North. It's been dealt with. There is no point of order, in my opinion.
M. Bisson : Monsieur le Président, le point d'ordre, je vais peut-être le faire comme point de privilège, est pour dire que ce n'est pas la première fois à l'Assemblée qu'un membre du gouvernement a crié à travers la Chambre pour me demander de m'exprimer en anglais quand j'ai essayé de le faire en français. Je vous donne --
The Speaker: There is nothing out of order. The only thing that's becoming out of order is your interjection. It was dealt with. I appreciate the fact that you don't feel it was dealt with properly, but the fact of the matter was, it was dealt with. I must move on. Motions? No motions. Petitions. The member for Sudbury.
M. Bisson : Donnez-moi 10 secondes pour vous expliquer le point que j'essaie de faire. Ce n'est pas la première fois que je me suis fait chanter des bêtises dans cette Assemblée. Je vous demande, comme Président de l'Assemblée, de respecter l'ordre et les droits de la minorité de cette Assemblée. Je trouve que ça ne se fait pas, et ce n'est pas la première fois que ce député m'envoie ces bêtises-là. Je vous demande de faire votre job, Monsieur le Président, et de respecter les droits des francophones de cette Assemblée.
The Speaker: To the member for Cochrane South, if anyone has said anything that you find particularly offensive or you find to be out of order, if you bring that to the attention of the Speaker -- I have done so and dealt with them I think rather rapidly in the past.
I did not hear the member for Brampton North say that. It was alleged he said that. I went to the member for Brampton North. He chose not to become involved. If you're suggesting to me that I'm not doing my job by protecting the rights of minorities, I don't think you're being fair. I did what the Speaker is allowed to do and asked the member to address it. Beyond that, there's no point of order, and I think frankly it is unfair of you to suggest that I can do anything more than I've done.
"We, the undersigned, demand that Mike Harris reopen the regional offices and guarantee adequate staffing numbers to provide quality services to recipients and children. We also request a formal apology from Mike Harris and Charles Harnick for the manner in which the current system has handled our cases."
"Whereas the National Capital Commission's greenbelt severs the community of Barrhaven from Nepean, forcing many students to take potentially dangerous, unsupervised, hour-long trips on public transportation in order to travel to school;
"Whereas both the Carleton Board of Education and the Carleton Roman Catholic Separate School Board have undertaken significant cost-saving measures to reduce the construction costs of these high schools;
"We, the undersigned, call on the Minister of Health to amend the Ontario Mental Health Act to ensure that people suffering from schizophrenia and related disorders no longer face unreasonable barriers in their attempt to receive treatment in a psychiatric facility; and that patients being treated for schizophrenia and related disorders be allowed adequate time in hospital for treatment to be effective; and that a community treatment order be put in place for those with schizophrenia who need medical treatment to live in the community but are non-compliant and hard to treat."
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that the present structure of school boards within the province of Ontario continues to have a major role in governance of schools to deal with board policies as advocates for the students in their community, to provide cost-efficient educational services and to be directly accountable to the parents and local ratepayers."
"Further, we, the undersigned, request that the education and training of Ontario workers continue in its present form through the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and that professional and technical expertise and advice continue to be provided through the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers."
"Whereas the Gordon Street Children's Cottage Child Care Centre on the grounds of the Whitby Mental Health Centre has received formal notice by the Ontario Realty Corp to vacate their premises by December 31, 1996; and
"Whereas the closure of the Gordon Street Children's Cottage Child Care Centre will result in the loss of 58 day care spaces in Durham region (Gordon Street provides 10% of all infant care spaces in the region);
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to direct the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services to launch an inquest into the shooting and death of Theresa Vince by her supervisor at their workplace.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure today to rise to present a petition on behalf of the homeowners of the Wilmot Creek association in Newcastle. The petition is to supplement a petition presented on October 25 with the addition of some 50 signatures. The tenants petition the province of Ontario to issue separate legislation with respect to land-lease communities and they petition the Legislature of Ontario to commence with an amendment to the legislation as soon as possible.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I have a petition sent to me by Ms Veronica Manuel, the mother of a severely disabled child who is desperate to find and maintain the services she needs to keep her child at home. The petition reads:
"Whereas there is no commitment to reinvest the $40 million saved back into our community to compensate families and the people who may have to abandon paying professions for the uncompensated one of caregiving, but rather, in the specific case of Veronica Manuel, because of her overwhelming and demanding task as caregiver to a severely handicapped son, she has been forced on to welfare with imposed irrational eligibility criteria, poverty and hardship; and
"Whereas more and more families may also be forced to struggle under these conditions to adequately care for their loved ones, we will not only see a higher rate of unemployment but also the creation of at least two ill people for every original one;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to not only reject this recommendation but to offer adequate compensation to Veronica Manuel, to recognize and support her and remove the irrational eligibility criteria that hinder her."
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to fund a special committee comprised of grass-roots women's organizations, labour, feminist lawyers, employers, diverse communities reflective of the province of Ontario, and parliamentarians. The mandate of the special committee would be to develop recommendations and guidelines that would assist all employers in creating a safe work environment that prevents workplace harassment and violence and ensures a thorough and objective investigation of harassment complaints when circumstances require.
"Whereas 565 persons died in alcohol-related crashes in Ontario in 1993, the most recent year for which statistics are available, and more than 26,000 drivers were charged with impaired driving in the same year; and
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to enact Margaret Marland's private member's bill, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act (Impaired Driving), 1996, or similar legislation as soon as possible."
«Attendu que le gouvernement ne possède pas de politique en matière de création d'écoles à charte et que le ministère de l'Éducation et de la Formation étudie actuellement le fonctionnement d'écoles à charte existantes ;
«Attendu que le Collège catholique Samuel-Genest est maintenant voué à perdre sa mission, son caractère particulier et sa réputation suite aux récentes décisions du Conseil des écoles catholiques de langue française de la région d'Ottawa-Carleton ;
«Nous, parents et élèves, et élèves du Collège catholique Samuel-Genest d'Ottawa, demandons que le gouvernement de l'Ontario accorde à notre collège le statut d'école à charte à titre de projet pilote pour implantation dès septembre 1997.»
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Huron-Perth District Health Council, the health-related services study task force and the Minister of Health to support the continuation of St Mary's Memorial Hospital with active chronic beds and 24-hour emergency services to effectively serve the St Mary's and area community."
I apologize for the fact that the bill is somewhat late in being tabled because of having moved directly to orders of the day just before the recess, but I hope that every member has received a copy of it and will have an opportunity to consider it in detail before Thursday morning.
Bill 91, An Act to provide for Parental Consultation under the Health Care Consent Act, 1996 / Projet de loi 91, Loi prévoyant la consultation parentale aux termes de la Loi de 1996 sur le consentement aux soins de santé.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): The bill provides for medical practitioners to make a reasonable effort to consult with parents before they administer medical treatment to a child under the age of 16.
Bill 92, An Act to promote road safety by implementing a safety rating system for commercial carriers and other measures to encourage compliance with and improve enforcement of Ontario's road safety laws and to amend various Acts administered by or affecting the Ministry of Transportation / Projet de loi 92, Loi visant à promouvoir la sécurité routière par la mise en oeuvre d'un programme de cotes de sécurité pour les véhicules de transport utilitaires et d'autres mesures conçues pour favoriser l'observation et améliorer l'application des lois de l'Ontario portant sur la sécurité routière et modifiant diverses lois dont l'application relève du ministère des Transports ou qui le concernent.
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for third reading of Bill 75, An Act to regulate alcohol and gaming in the public interest, to fund charities through the responsible management of video lotteries and to amend certain statutes related to alcohol and gaming / Projet de loi 75, Loi réglementant les alcools et les jeux dans l'intérêt public, prévoyant le financement des organismes de bienfaisance grâce à la gestion responsable des loteries vidéo et modifiant des lois en ce qui a trait aux alcools et aux jeux.
Bill 86, An Act to provide for better local government by updating and streamlining the Municipal Elections Act, the Municipal Act and related statutes / Projet de loi 86, Loi prévoyant l'amélioration des administrations locales en modernisant et simplifiant la Loi sur les élections municipales, la Loi sur les municipalités et d'autres lois connexes.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): It's indeed a pleasure today to move the second reading of Bill 86, a bill that I know all members of the Legislature will be anxious to support.
When this government took office we promised to reform the rules that govern municipalities. We knew that municipalities and taxpayers were unhappy with the current system. The laws that control municipalities are far too detailed, details that cost taxpayers money. They get in the way of finding better, more affordable, efficient and more creative ways of doing things. Ontario's municipalities must be strong, democratic and efficient. They must be accountable to the taxpayers who pay the bills.
As the level of government closest to the community, municipalities are well suited to deliver most local services. They need the flexibility to deliver those services as efficiently as they can. Very early on we told the municipal sector that changes would be made.
We said that our priority was to provide Ontarians with more accountable, affordable, efficient government at all levels, realign the provincial-municipal relationship, shift decision-making from Queen's Park to municipalities and give local decision-makers more flexibility to meet local needs and let municipalities chart their own course. We set up an advisory group chaired by my parliamentary assistant, the member for Oxford.
In legislation this past year we gave municipalities more autonomy to make local decisions and better manage their revenues and expenditures. Last spring we appointed the Who Does What panel to provide recommendations on a range of municipal-provincial issues, including what to do about the laws that govern municipalities. This legislation takes into account the recommendations we've received. It's a step towards reducing the red tape that ties municipalities' hands, and we're going to give them more flexibility to run their business as effectively as possible.
We're moving towards a new Municipal Act that will give municipalities broad authority to go about their business. We'll be defining municipal powers in a different way. Rather than spelling them out in the smallest detail, the government will define them broadly, giving municipalities the flexibility they need to meet community needs. The legislation we're debating today is only one step towards this new provincial-municipal relationship. The next step: a broad rewrite of the Municipal Act and other legislation that affects municipalities will be introduced in the spring.
Let me be clear about why we need to move ahead now on this phase. As the members know, the next municipal election takes place in the fall of 1997. The campaign period begins on January 1, when candidates can file their nominations with the clerks and begin raising money. The Who Does What panel recommended that we make changes to the election process quickly so the next election can be conducted with the new rules.
We've also decided to include some other straightforward changes that were ready to go. With elections our goal is to streamline the process and allow municipalities to conduct elections in the most appropriate and efficient ways. Other parts of the legislation give municipalities more certainty with respect to liability and more flexibility when it comes to borrowing and investing.
The current municipal election process is long and complicated. Every step is described in detail in the legislation. More than 40 prescribed forms are required, and the election period covers 18 months. That's half the term of a municipal office.
The bill also lets municipalities make changes to their own electoral setup, changing from an at-large system to a ward system, for example, or changing ward boundaries. We've built in the safeguards of allowing appeals and petitions on ward boundary changes to the Ontario Municipal Board.
On the actual running of the election itself, we're making a number of changes as well. Some of the changes are aimed directly at accessibility. Municipalities can open the polls earlier, for example, or hold several advance polls, or even have continuous polling for a week or more.
Some changes are aimed at efficiency. I'm talking about eliminating the requirement for a separate municipal enumeration, eliminating mandatory recounts when the vote is close, and reducing the number of required forms from 40 to five.
Some of the changes may accomplish both goals. We're opening the doors to voting by mail or by phone or by touch screen, for example. This may make it easier for some people to vote and at the same time allow the clerk to conduct the election more efficiently, without affecting -- and this is very important -- the integrity of the election process.
We were told that the traditional public posting of voters lists was an invasion of privacy. People will still be able to look at the list in the clerk's office but we are eliminating posting it on telephone polls.
We've also added a requirement that candidates put down a refundable deposit. Frankly, we hope this will restore some credibility to the election process by discouraging frivolous and phantom candidates who have no real interest in running or winning.
Finally, I would like to mention another election-related change. This legislation will allow a municipality, school board or the province to put a referendum question on a local ballot. It will also allow for standalone referenda at times other than during a municipal election without asking the Ontario Municipal Board first.
I know concerns have been raised about the cost of a referendum. I would point out that a municipality will be able to charge back the cost to the government that wants to put the question on the ballot. The government that wants to ask the question will have to decide for itself whether it's worth the cost, and of course it will have to answer to its taxpayers for that decision. Democracy has its price, and taxpayers understand that.
I'd like to turn now to another part of the legislation, the part that deals with municipal debt and investment. I'd like to take a moment to address a concern that was raised about debt and investment when the bill was introduced. It was suggested at that time that we were giving the municipalities greater borrowing capacity. That is not the case. Nothing in this legislation increases the amount of money that municipalities can borrow. The current limitations continue to apply. The aim of this legislation is to let municipalities borrow the same amount more efficiently at a lower cost, and it will also give them more flexibility to get better rates when they invest. Municipalities have generally proven themselves to be competent, prudent and sophisticated financial managers.
One of the things municipalities had been very concerned about recently is their exposure to liability. They say large damage awards have effectively set municipal service delivery standards that are very expensive to meet. They have also led to an escalation in insurance premiums. What municipalities have asked for is predictable legal liability. This will allow them to plan and to buy affordable insurance.
This legislation will protect municipalities and public utilities commissions from claims in nuisance when municipal sewer and water systems fail. The municipalities will still be liable for negligence. This has been a big area of concern for municipalities since 1989, when a Supreme Court of Canada decision held a municipality responsible for this type of nuisance claim. This legislation will simply mean a return to the situation that existed before that decision. Several other provinces have already moved in this direction.
In the area of negligence, we're giving municipalities more certainty about the standards of care that will be expected of them as they go about their job of keeping roads and bridges in repair. In the case of roads and bridges, the Ministry of Transportation is being given regulatory powers to set standards for municipalities. Meeting those standards would help protect municipalities from liability claims. A process is now being set up to allow municipalities and others to participate in the setting of those standards. Limits to liability that have been applied by the courts are also being codified. For example, the law will be clear that municipalities have to keep roads and bridges in reasonable repair. What is reasonable will be related to a number of factors such as the character of the road or bridge or where it is located. The law will also be clear: A municipality will not be liable if it did not know of a road or bridge disrepair and could not reasonably have known.
In the same spirit, a municipality's protection from liability when it takes reasonable steps to prevent disrepair or to remedy it will also be codified. Limits on liability that have been applied by the courts with respect to discretionary municipal functions such as providing advice are also being codified.
There are other things municipalities have asked for in the area of municipality. Dealing with some of these would have impacts far beyond the municipal sector. We will therefore be taking a more detailed look at some of the other liability issues related to building inspections, occupiers' liability and joint and several liability. If changes are required, we hope to deal with them in the second phase of municipal reform next spring.
Let me sum up by saying that this piece of legislation has been well received by the municipal sector. The president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario has indicated that the association supports it.
This legislation will give municipalities more authority and greater flexibility to govern and to deliver services effectively. As I said earlier, this bill is just one step towards larger changes in the way Ontario is governed.
First, we gave municipalities greater authority to restructure their operation and save money. This bill, the Better Local Government Act, gives municipalities more flexibility with respect to the municipal process, debt and investment and community transportation, and it gives them more certainty with respect to liability. Next spring we'll introduce a new Municipal Act and make changes to other legislation that affects municipalities. By the beginning of 1998, the public sector will be streamlined and more cost-effective and taxpayers will know who is making the spending decisions.
The laws that guide local government activities will be streamlined, provincial regulations will be cut back and we'll save taxpayers' money by reducing overlap without compromising the quality of the services they receive. This legislation is an important step to achieving that goal, and I'm so encouraged to see the members of the opposition throwing in their support.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Thank you for the opportunity to respond. First of all, of course, this is the government which, having imposed regional government on so many areas of the province, is now about to impose even larger regional government on people, keeping it even further from the people of this province.
I hope you don't show up in the Niagara region with one of your plans, such as you have in Metro, to abolish the local municipalities and we'll have one regional municipality, because you'll have a revolution in the Niagara region if you show up with that.
Second, the proof is out there. I looked at the studies by Dr Joseph Kushner of Brock University and Dr Harry Kitchen of Trent University which clearly show that there are no economies of scale such as you are pretending there are in future with the bills that are being brought forward by your cabinet.
The fact that you're going to allow municipalities to change the size of council without the support of the provincial government or of the OMB is a very dangerous precedent because you're allowing those in elected office at this time to make the decisions for the future. If you're going to have a referendum, that may make some sense at the municipal level, but not leaving it to the local council.
Second, the comment that fewer representatives are automatically better at any level of government -- sometimes they are; sometimes they're not -- is an insult to every elected person in this province. What it really means is you want to turn it over to the corporate sector and to the most privileged people in the province who have power outside of the political process. The fact that you want to do that really speaks volumes because the elected representatives are the only people that people can get at. We are responsible. The corporation presidents are responsible to nobody. The advisers, the civil servants, are not responsible directly to the people. I think that will be a retrograde step.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): As the previous member said, there are some parts of this bill that we actually agree with, if not for any other reason but that they might prove to be interesting in the next elections at the provincial board level. For example, the government says they want to be able to put forward some questions, give the boards the opportunity to put questions on the next referendum.
I wonder if the minister would agree with some of the following questions that I would like to see school boards ask the citizens across this province, such as, "Do you agree with the cuts that the Mike Harris government is giving to education?" or, conversely, "Do you love the cuts?" That would be one possible question. "Is the Minister of Education causing a crisis in education?" would be the structure of another question. You could also ask, "Do you think the Tories lied when they promised no classroom funding?" That would be a possible question they can ask. Or you can say, "Do you know of any classroom that hasn't been cut by the provincial Tory government?" That's another possible question they can ask. The best one would be that last election Premier Harris said he would eat his straw hat if any educational cuts were done and it were to affect classroom education. The question could be, "Will that be salt or will that be pepper on that hat?" as he has to eat it.
I find another part of the legislation interesting, especially coming from the minister himself who says he wants to change the deposit requirements so that he can eliminate frivolous candidates. I would say to the minister, this is hilarious. Look in the mirror. You ran an election, sir, where you won with 32% of the vote, and one of the ways that you do that in our democratic system is by having many, many candidates. Is this because you think some of those candidates --
Mr Bisson: -- and the other ones were straw or fictitious candidates? Do you think there are people who ran against you the last time who were frivolous? I would say to the minister, I think it is dangerous to go that route because what elections are all about is to give every citizen in this province an opportunity to be able to stand as a candidate and have his or her name stand on the ballot so that people can make the choice, and the government shouldn't take that away from them.
I just have to say to you and, through you, to the opposition benches, what are they afraid of when it comes to referendums? Why do they try to belittle the idea that there are legitimate public policy issues that can be discussed at length by the people of Ontario? Do they not trust the people of Ontario to make a proper decision? Maybe they didn't like the decision in the last provincial election, but I, for one, do trust that when they have the appropriate means to get the right kinds of information in front of them, they can make decisions as good as or better than members in this House. Perhaps, as the honourable member says, that's an insult to members of this House. It is not meant to be an insult; it's meant to be a reality check on the fact that people in the constituencies are just as literate, just as numerate, know as much about the issues as perhaps some members in this House.
I, for one, welcome the idea that we can push down some of the power to the people so that they can have their legitimate say. There is nothing illegitimate about that. There is nothing desensitizing or delegitimizing about that. That is simply saying that our political process has changed, that we want to have more of an opportunity for people to have their say on the ongoing issues of the day that affect them in their communities. I, for one, applaud our government for taking the step to do that.
For another point, I would simply say in the time I have available that we are moving ahead on some reforms that have been demanded by the municipalities for a number of years, saying, "Look, give us some more tools so we can run our elections in a way that we think is appropriate, run our municipalities in a way that makes sense for us, and we can do a better job for the taxpayers of Ontario." I, for one, support that.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to say to the Minister of Municipal Affairs that he's been a busy boy. There seems to be much in Bill 86 that will engage the debate of members and citizens generally. I must say, unlike my friend the member for St Catharines, who I thought was being a little tough, I see aspects here that I think a reasonable person would want to support.
I say to the previous speaker, we've had a rich history in Ontario of municipal referenda. You haven't lived until you've been through a fluoridation plebiscite. You haven't lived until you've been through, "Shall we be wet or shall we be dry?" I tell you, it is a character-building, life-expanding experience. I wouldn't want anyone to go to their grave without having had the experience.
I just want to say to the minister that I think this is a dynamic process. From time to time, we do want to change the way in which we organize and govern ourselves municipally. But the people I represent and the people I talk to and listen to expect that all of this is going to be about streamlining services, reducing bureaucracy and, at the very least, moderating the tax burden. While there will be much debate and many bills and more amendments, at the end of the day this minister and his colleagues in government, particularly in this business of municipal restructuring, are going to be judged by just how well they streamline and render more efficient the delivery of services and moderate the tax burden. If they meet that challenge, they will win; if they fail to do it, I suspect they will have a contrary result.
Hon Mr Leach: I think what is recognized by all sides of the House is that the status quo in many instances is not acceptable and that we have to move quickly into the 21st century; and that the changes being proposed with this legislation will allow municipalities to act with more autonomy, with more authority, which will give them the opportunity to determine their own destinies in many, many instances.
I would like to point out to the members opposite that most municipalities know that there is a need for change. Of the 815 municipalities, more than half of them are presently in some form of restructuring through amalgamations and other means. There are over 100 restructuring proposals going on, affecting close to 400 municipalities. So the people at the local level recognize that there's a need to restructure, to be more efficient and to be more effective and to reduce duplication and get rid of waste. We're going to help them do that with this legislation. I know that we'll have the support of all members of the House in doing that.
Mr Gerretsen: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The first thing I would like to say is that the minister talked about bringing in a new Municipal Act next spring, and I think it would have been a lot more helpful at the local level of government and for the people of Ontario if the government had come up with a plan of what all the various changes they want to implement are all about.
I think one of the greatest difficulties people have currently is, who is going to provide what exactly? How do municipalities adequately know how to restructure or to get involved in these restructuring discussions when they really don't know what kind of services they're going to be expected to deliver? For example, are the education costs still going to be left on the property tax roll? Who's going to pay for policing? Who's going to be responsible for the social service costs in this province? Is it going to be left with the municipalities or is it going to be taken over entirely by the provincial government? They don't know what the end result of the whole exercise is going to be.
We all remember what happened with Bill 26. That was a bill in which basically the municipalities were told one day, "Yes, you can have and impose things like sales taxes, gasoline taxes, even income tax," and the next day they were told by the minister that really wasn't included in the act. Yet a lot of municipal leaders were running around, such as Mayor McCallion of Mississauga, as a matter of fact, who were very happy because they thought municipalities were going to be given a lot more powers and a lot more authority than they ever had before. There was a big shemozzle about it -- was it really included? wasn't it included? -- and nobody really knew until, at the end of the day, it was straightened out in the amendments about what kind of taxes could be levied at the local level.
I think the first thing we learned from that is that municipalities want to be told clearly what their responsibilities are going to be, what services they are expected to deliver; and (2) what kind of mechanisms and instruments they can put into place to raise the necessary revenues to operate on.
The whole question of education taxes is of huge interest to municipalities. I would say that in most municipalities right now the education portion of the property tax roll is probably anywhere from 50% to 70% of the total amount of local taxes, property taxes collected locally. If there's going to be a new arrangement as to how education's going to be funded in Ontario, before we get involved in any of these governance discussions I think the municipalities have a right to know what the arrangements are going to be.
The big fear I have is that with all this restructuring -- the minister has said on a number of occasions that it's his intent to do away with two thirds of the municipalities. You're also, of course, doing away with two thirds of the representation. It always seems to me that one of the reasons the structure of local government, indeed of school boards, has worked extremely well in this province over the last 100 to 150 years in the case of school boards is because of the local representation factor you have.
There is nothing better, in my view, than the taxpayer in a small municipality being able to call up the councillor or reeve or deputy reeve who lives down the concession line or one or two concessions over or what have you to talk about a practical problem that person is involved in as far as municipal services are concerned.
No matter how you cut it, if we get rid of two thirds of the municipalities in this province, if we get rid of most of the school boards in this province -- and we really don't know what's going to happen there; one day we get musings or a statement to the effect that all school boards may be gone, another day we hear there may be five or six school boards left at the end of the day, and then the next day it's something else again -- the bottom line is that there's going to be less local representation. Once you have less local representation, obviously there's going to be less democracy involved.
I think this is an issue there has been very little attention paid to, quite frankly, in all the media discussions and all the media reports at all levels that we've seen over the last six or seven months. I know there may be some people out there in Ontario, and indeed the government is certainly of the view that we'd all be better off with less representation at the local level, but I think if people really examine that, I'm not sure we'd all come to the same conclusion. I would certainly not come to that conclusion, particularly when you take into account the fact that most local representatives, whether they're at the school board, at the hydro commission or at the municipal level probably don't earn more than about $3,000 to $4,000 to $5,000 per year.
If you're going to have fewer representatives and if they're going to operate in larger venues, if they're going to operate in larger ridings, the likelihood of those people becoming full-time politicians at a much higher cost than what we're currently paying them is quite high, and that's not even addressing the issue of whether or not you want permanent or full-time politicians at the local level, which is certainly something I think in most municipalities would not be very well received.
It always seemed to me that the moment you become full-time at the local level, you almost become part of the system, you become part of the bureaucracy, and there's even a greater need by that individual to hang on to that position. Even more decisions are made purely on the basis of how it will affect that particular person in the next election or so. It always seemed to me that one of the reasons local government and school board governance have worked well in Ontario is that people aren't really part of the system, that they aren't part of the bureaucracy, that they're outside of it. The constant change we get there will continue with the part-time politicians.
The other thing that's very interesting is that the minister keeps talking about smaller government. What does his press release say? "The goal is smaller, more efficient and affordable government at all levels." If there's one thing we have seen with the whole regional governments that were adopted back in the 1960s and 1970s -- the same goals were promoted at that time -- it's that governments certainly didn't become cheaper. With the larger units you're going to have, you may end up with a government that in effect is much more expensive.
It's also very interesting to note -- my colleague from Oakwood will have much more to say about that a little bit later on -- that whereas for the rest of the province the restructuring model as set out in Bill 26 has been implemented, for the Metro Toronto area this is not the case at all. It was almost like a ministerial statement that came out that the six municipalities in Metro Toronto were going to be merged into one and that was all there was to it. Then when there was quite a to-do about it, the minister said, "We're going to put it on hold for 30 days to see what in effect the six municipalities can come up with." That process is quite a bit different from the process that has taken place elsewhere in Ontario.
The other very interesting thing is, let's go down to the base root of what this is really all about. Why do we want to create these larger units? The minister talked about, "It's in order to shift the decision-making." Well, that's only part of the equation. The other thing is that it will shift the financial responsibility as well. We've already seen that happen. Municipal grants were cut by anywhere from 20% to 40% last year, and rather than the government honestly stepping forward and saying, "Look, it is our intent over the next two or three years to completely eliminate all municipal grants and all municipal subsidies," they come about it in a roundabout way by saying, "What we really want are larger units and when we get these larger units, there in effect will be larger assessment bases that will then be able to get the necessary taxes to pay for a lot of the costs that are currently being paid for by the grants and subsidy system that operates in Ontario."
Basically, the larger units will have to become totally self-sufficient and not rely upon any kind of provincial subsidy or grants. That may be all right for some municipalities, but I think you and I know, Mr Speaker, that there are many smaller municipalities that could simply never make it on their own before to start any kind of a capital project. I think it's fair to say that most capital projects any municipality is involved in have always required not only the approval of the provincial government but usually provincial funding, with anywhere from 50% to 75%, depending upon what the program was. Of course, if those grants and subsidies are gone, the only way any of the major capital projects could ever be done by any of the municipalities is to create the larger units. That is the real reason these larger units are created.
It has nothing to do with the cost of government necessarily, particularly at the representative level, since as I've already indicated most of the municipal councillors out there do it on a part-time basis and certainly are not making excessive salaries. What it has to do with is that the province basically wants to get out of all subsidies, all grants, and the only way municipalities can then do some of the larger capital projects is if they have a larger tax base, and the only way you can do it is by bringing four or five municipalities together under one jurisdiction. What you lose in that is that the number of representatives you used to have in that whole area will be greatly reduced and in effect the democratic aspects of the ability of the local taxpayer being able to get hold of his or her local representative will be gone to a large extent.
This is something that bears a lot of discussion because it's interesting how in the province of Ontario, particularly over the last 40 to 50 years, it's fair to say that governments have usually made changes in an incremental way. They haven't come forward with massive changes like this, with massive funding changes. Before we make any massive change, and I think this is a massive change we're about to embark on in not only this area but also other areas such as health care etc that we've already dealt with in this House, we'd better take a sober second look. We'd better put a bill like this out for discussion and public consultation.
The bill also talks about the greater borrowing powers. It's very interesting how the minister said, "We're not really giving municipalities greater borrowing powers." I guess what he's really saying is, "We're just allowing them a greater number of instruments that they could possibly use as borrowing mechanisms." As far as I can see, that's exactly the same thing. What we're doing is the municipalities in effect will be allowed to borrow from a much greater base of borrowing instruments than they were before. Why? What I would suggest is that it's necessary to fund some of those capital projects I talked about a little bit earlier.
If the province is no longer willing to come up with 50% or 75% of the grants or subsidies that were necessary to fund these, municipalities will need that ability and that power to borrow to a much greater extent. That's the real reason behind it. There's a complete shift, as we can see, in the decision-making process, and it will just get tougher and tougher for municipalities as we go along.
In dealing with the Municipal Elections Act changes, it's very interesting that most of the changes I think we can certainly support. The easier we make it for people to exercise their franchise, the better our system will be. I think we should bear in mind, though, that these kinds of methods have been tried before, yet I don't suppose the turnout percentage at the local level has really increased all that much over the last 20 to 25 years. It's sad to say that at local elections you're lucky if you get anywhere from 30% to 40% of the electorate out.
We certainly concur with the notion that the election list no longer be published on telephone poles. I think it's very interesting that this was a suggestion made by a Liberal colleague of ours, the member for Ottawa South, in I think private member's Bill 2 earlier last year when he suggested that these lists no longer be published, so I am glad to see the government has taken up that challenge and is moving that way.
The recommendation that the act makes it easier for people to vote in municipal elections by phone, mail, computer and the Internet etc of course is very laudatory. I think what's interesting, and the clerks in some municipalities have indicated this to me, is that by allowing this to happen, will there be pressure placed on municipalities to put these kinds of services into effect? And will municipalities be able to afford these new kinds of systems that there undoubtedly will be some requests for when they've already got so many other costs they have to pay for now that they didn't have to pay before?
The other issue about which there is some concern by municipal clerks and treasurers deals with this combined registration and nomination form. It's my understanding that under the old system a candidate could register that he or she wanted to run for a particular post but wasn't nominated until much closer to the election or to nomination day and registration was necessary so that person then could try to collect some of the funds that are required to run in the election.
It is now my understanding that in this new act the form will be combined, so if somebody wants to file one of these forms on January 1 or 2 in an election year, they have to state what office they want to run for. I understand the clerks have some concern because in the end that person may very well want to run for a totally different office.
The other concern I had dealt with section 35 of the new act. I'll get the precise section here for you, Mr Speaker, because I am sure you'd be as interested as the member for Lake Nipigon in getting the full meaning of this.
It's been brought to my attention that the clerks certainly would like to have much more guidance than what's stated in the act. It basically states in the act that clerk can reject the nomination. They don't want to be held personally responsible -- that's issue number one -- in the event that they make the wrong choice and get challenged on it in court. So they would like to see the authority the clerk has to reject a particular nomination form be much more specifically spelled out.
Now, that can be done by regulations, although I think we would prefer to see it in the act itself. Let's have some of the reasons for the basis on which a clerk can reject a nomination paper. They've suggested such things as, for example, if a person fails to provide personal identification, that would be a good enough reason to reject the nomination paper; or a failure to provide the declaration or swearing that they are qualified to be nominated; or if a person were to fail to file a proper form that undoubtedly will come with the act as one of the schedules, a clerk can reject the nomination; or the failure to provide the necessary financial forms would be another reason.
In other words, the clerks don't want to be placed in a position where the reason for a rejection can be so broad that it gives them too much discretion in this matter. They feel their job should be a specific job, that if the particular requirements of the act are not specifically adhered to, that should be the only reason for which they can reject the nomination form. They want those reasons for rejection firmly spelled out in the act.
They also pointed out to me that in the section dealing with referendums, there's absolutely no time limit to it. I think it's only reasonable that for a referendum to take place at, let's say, a municipal election, the referendum questions be submitted and be approved no later than, let's say, nomination day. Obviously, the clerks would need to have some time to put the necessary paperwork into effect.
They also say that if referendums are to be held at times other than municipal election times, there ought to be a time requirement, that a minimum of 60 days, let's say, would be required for a referendum question to be put to the general public. Right now there's no time limit in the act at all, and again that's something that can be ironed out later on.
There's also the question of costs. It's kind of interesting that in subsection 7(1) of the act it specifically states, "Unless an act specifically provides otherwise, the costs incurred by the clerk of a local municipality in conducting an election shall be paid by the local municipality." In other words, all the election costs are to be paid by a local municipality whether we're talking about an election dealing with a school board, with a hydro commission or a local municipal election.
It's my understanding that in the advice a lot of the ministry people have been giving to municipalities over the last year or so, ever since Bill 26 was implemented, they have been telling them that some of the costs with respect to, let's say, the education election for trustees etc can be charged back by a municipality to the school board or to the hydro commission. That's the interpretation the ministry staff have been giving to the local municipalities, so there's been this feeling over the last year or so that some of the election costs can be charged back to the school boards. This section here seems to revert right back to the way it was before Bill 26, that is, that municipalities will have to pay entirely for the elections that take place every three years or so.
That is a situation that the clerks are certainly concerned about and that I think municipalities themselves are concerned about. To run a municipal election every three years or so is a fairly expensive operation for a municipality to be involved with, and they had hoped that one of the positive benefits to come out of Bill 26 would be that at least some of the election costs could be shared with school boards. That seems to have been dashed in subsection 7(1), and that should definitely be revisited once this matter goes to committee.
There are a number of other interesting aspects to this bill, and those deal with the transportation aspects. The only thing I want to say about this, because I'm sure my colleague from Oakwood will have something to say about this as well, deals with this whole underlying notion that the transit system can be privatized to a much greater degree than it currently is. If that happens -- if, for example, we put children who are currently riding school buses on buses that may not have the same kind of safety requirements etc -- what is that going to do to those children from a safety viewpoint?
The overall concern we have deals with the fact that I hope in this privatization mode or notion we are not offering up the safety of individuals, particularly of children who are using the transit system. We're worried about that, because we've seen with this government in the past that sometimes, when matters are presented in a certain way, the way it comes out a week or two later as a result of questions or as a result of presentations etc is quite a bit different from the way it was originally presented to us. So we certainly want to leave that matter open for discussion until a later date.
It's also very interesting to note that there seems to have been a totally different way -- I notice that the member for Renfrew North talked about this earlier. I'm talking about the way ward boundaries can be changed, the fact that regional governments are dealt with in a different way from local governments when it comes to their ability to change the representation within that municipality.
I completely concur with the member for Renfrew North. As he stated earlier, it seems rather odd that the councillors of the municipality should be given the right unto themselves as to whether there should be more or fewer of them. I would have thought this is the one area the provincial government, to which municipalities are basically responsible, would want to keep for itself. Certainly the question that the body itself can decide upon representation has got to be the greatest conflict of interest that any body can have, in determining whether there should be fewer or more of their members.
We'll have to wait and see what the minister and perhaps the parliamentary assistant have to say about that. It seems to me that's got to be a large conflict and it could lead to all sorts of confusion out there and could lead to all sorts of misdirection as well. I certainly wouldn't want my local council to decide overnight that it wanted to, let's say, reduce itself from the 11 people who are currently there to five -- or the other way around, for that matter. I think there's a provincial interest there, but there's also much more than that: There's a local interest in that as well. I think those kinds of issues should almost be mandated as being matters for a referendum.
The issue relating to municipal liability is an interesting one as well. I realize there have been a number of significant court cases over the last number of years, starting with the decision the ministry referred to back in 1989, in which municipalities were, originally at least, held to account for an awful lot of money as far as judgements against them were concerned. But I think there's a tendency to overreact in cases like this. Yes, that may have happened in one particular case. It may even have happened in two or three cases. But I would still like to make sure we adhere to the general principle that if somebody wants to bring a claim forward, whether or not it's against an individual or against a municipality, they ought to be judged by the same standards and they ought to be adjudicated by exactly the same standards. I don't think municipalities should get any more additional powers. In other words, the rules against them shouldn't be any stricter, but I don't think they should be any less strict either.
I think that when we start playing around with it in an act like this, there's always a tendency at the end of the day for us to forget about the people who are really involved in this. Those are the people who live in the municipalities, who may at any one particular time either have an action against that municipality or not. I would hope the position we would take is that we would allow the court system itself to adjudicate as to what the liability is and how much money ought to be paid in that case.
It seems to me that if we start setting out special cases or we start setting out special criteria whereby we make municipal liability different than the personal liability that each one of us has out there as members of the general public, in the long run we end up the losers in that. I think that municipalities ought to be held to exactly the same standards as individuals, and I don't think that is necessarily the case here.
There was another concern that was raised to me in a very interesting letter that I received from an individual in Ottawa. It dealt with the ability of the blind to vote under this act. I'll just read to you a couple of paragraphs that I think set out the concern. I certainly hope this is something the ministry will take into account, because the point that is raised is very well stated.
"Bill 86 as presently written will not assure to blind voters the exercise of the ordinary right to vote in secret, nor will it reduce the likelihood of legal action by blind persons in future seeking to enforce their right, like those following the 1994 municipal election in the city of Ottawa.
"(1) The addition of a clause explicitly requiring that blind voters be accommodated in municipal elections by means which ensure that they can cast a secret vote, and that they can do so without the assistance of another person if they so choose.
"(2) The bill leaves discretion in the hands of the city clerk as to the manner of such accommodation." This letter specifically points to section 41. "The clerk is certainly not left with discretion as to the manner in which he or she is to provide for sighted voters to cast a secret ballot. Imagine the myriad of errors and the endless legal contests that would result from the oversights of well-meaning city clerks if they had to devise for themselves effective means for enabling all voters to cast secret votes. Although blind voters are fewer, the range of mistakes possible for city clerks in accommodating them is bound to lead to further trouble. The form of accommodation must be uniform for all municipalities, whether specified in legislation or in regulation.
"Whatever form of accommodation is prescribed, it must be available to blind voters without requiring them to make a formal application for it, thus creating a paper trail that jeopardizes the secrecy of their vote. For instance, electronic voting by blind persons based on the use of a special PIN number would permit a blind person to vote secretly and independently, but suppose there were only one or two blind voters in the polling unit.
I think it's a very interesting situation that this person brings up. I'm not sure whether the ministry has looked at it. I certainly think it's something that ought to be taken into account because, after all, what's most important is that the secrecy of the ballot be maintained. That's what this letter is all about, and I think that's what the concern is all about. It's certainly something we should take into consideration.
The other area of the bill that I think will save municipalities a lot of money in the future is this notion that municipal enumerations at every election will no longer be required as a matter of course. I think we have to be careful with that, though. As we all know, a lot of people in this province move. There's got to be a procedure, and a very easy procedure, whereby people can in effect be added on to the municipal roll if they happen to move between municipal elections. I know there's a cost to democracy, and this is certainly one cost, the cost of preparing for an election and the cost of doing the necessary enumerations. Although we may say, "This is going to save an awful lot of money," let's make sure the citizens of Ontario, the residents of this province, are aware of the methods by which they can be assured that they are on the enumeration rolls if they happen to move.
Obviously there's going to be an education process involved with that. I think the ministry certainly ought to undertake that to some extent because, as I've already stated, with the low turnout that most municipalities already encounter at election time, it would be a travesty if that would get even worse because people show up to vote and in effect don't have the ability to do so because they've been left off the list.
Mr Gerretsen: Well, Mr Speaker, I'm glad to see all the members returning to this tremendous speech. I'm sure they were all taking this in in their offices and watching it with tremendous interest. I know they're just totally taken in by it.
That point of order may have come at about the right time because I think I've just about said everything I would like to say at this stage. I would like to state, though, that it's certainly our position that we would like this bill to be referred to committee, not for an unduly long period of time but certainly for a week or so, for the particular groups that are out there such as the clerks and treasurers, and there may be many individuals out there as well or particular ratepayer groups that may wish to say something about this bill. After all, I think if there's one thing we hope to accomplish with a bill like this, it is that it will in effect give more people the ability to vote in a municipal election.
All of us who have been involved at the municipal level at some point or another have always been discouraged by the fact that the municipal elections are usually the lowest turnouts of any of the three levels of government. Anything that a government can do in order to make sure that more people turn out to vote, whether it's through electronic voting, through voting by mail or by telephone etc, I think will improve the process.
It's very interesting. We all know there are certain municipalities in this province that have an awful lot of seasonal residents who at one time didn't really actively take part in the local municipal elections. I've already heard of two or three of these townships possibly setting up voting booths right here in the middle of Toronto on election day so that a lot of the cottage owners will have the ability to vote. What that will do to some municipalities in the makeup of their councils etc will be extremely interesting, because so far these people really haven't had an effective voice in the management or the governance of those municipalities, and that may drastically change the end result of who gets elected and what issues those councils will be dealing with, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. The bottom line is this: As long as the people who have the ability to vote in a particular area use their franchise and vote, then that's what we're looking for. With that, I'll turn the rest of my time over to the member for Oakwood.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I think the member for Kingston and The Islands has touched upon a lot of very relevant and concrete areas of concern. As you know, he's had firsthand experience as the mayor of Kingston and also as the president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, AMO, so he speaks of real grass-roots involvement in municipal government.
I know it's very fashionable now to talk about eliminating municipal government and about eliminating municipal representation, of downsizing local government, but I think those of us who have served on local government realize how important it is to maintain local representation. In this bill, hopefully the government will move towards enhancing local government and local participation by citizens from all walks of life.
I find it very disconcerting to see that the minister in his press release talked about, "The goal is smaller, more efficient and affordable government." It's the same minister who's flogging this mega-monster city of 2.5 million people to override local government here in Metro, so I'm not sure whether there's going to be one approach for Metro that's going to be a monster, bigger government, and smaller governments somewhere else. I'm not sure if the minister has clarified that, but he certainly is on record as being in favour of this, maybe the biggest municipal government in Canada. In fact, it'll be a new form of government altogether; it won't be local in nature.
Some of the specific concerns: I know the member for Brampton South referred to his support of referenda. I myself support the concept of referenda on the ballot to engage more local participation. I think that's a good direction. But that whole area of referenda is an area that deserves a bit more scrutiny, because if you look at the history of referenda in California, you can see there are some very serious problems with it. I hope this government will attempt to rectify those problems associated with referenda before we go into the referenda approach.
There are two celebrated cases in California which show the problems that can occur. There was one case two years ago in the state of California where the question on the ballot related to the prohibition of smoking in public places. If you look at the wording of the referendum, it looked as if it was actually against the proliferation of smoking in public places, but upon examination the pro-health lobby in California found out that this proposition was actually engineered and sponsored by the pro-smoking lobby. So the pro-smoking lobby, the tobacco companies funded the proposition to go on the ballot. The average voter who picked up the proposition when he or she went into the ballot box thought they were voting to prohibit the proliferation of smoking, but because there was such a slick advertising campaign, so much money poured into the pro-smoking question, people were confused and actually voted contrary to what their initial reaction would have been.
This is what can happen in referenda and I think the only way you can prohibit this type of deception from taking place is by doing two things: You have to have an independent body, part of the election commission or whatever, look at the wording to make sure it isn't deceptive or confusing. That's critical, especially when you might walk into the ballot box and perhaps, as in California, see 10, 15, up to 100 different questions on that ballot. It can be very confusing to an ordinary voter. We have to have a clear judgement on whether the question is intended to be what it is.
Second, in referenda, is the expenses that are incurred by groups that are against the question or for the question. What happens is that certain lobby groups will spend tens of thousands, if not millions, of dollars pushing a question. It may not be the will of the local populace that wins out, but the will of a very well heeled, very well financed lobby group that will win the question.
Those are the two very dangerous pitfalls when you go down the road to referenda. You have to ensure the question is not ambiguous. You have to ensure the question is clear and objective. I think an impartial person or persons should do that to get away from that discrepancy that may occur. Second, there have to be limits on the financing of people who support the question. In other words, you can't have ordinary citizens who will vote one way or another without any pecuniary interest, yet you might have a huge tobacco lobby.
In Metro, for example, as we know, there's a very serious conflict going on about the right to smoke or not to smoke in bars. You can imagine what would happen if you were to put that question on the ballot in the city of Toronto or the city of North York or in Metro as a whole. I'm sure there would be a lot of groups on both sides that would spend perhaps inordinate amounts of money to try to persuade people that is the way they should vote. There have to be expenditure controls in terms of the amount of money spent during an election period on a referendum and the support it gets through advertising and so forth to try to sway public opinion.
By the way, there was also a very interesting question in California just this last election. The question dealt with employment equity for minority groups in California. The wording looked as if you were actually supporting more hiring of minorities or giving them an equal chance. Instead, the question was actually put forward by groups that were opposed to the hiring of minorities and giving them equal opportunity in California.
It would be wise for the minister, during the debates we have during the committee session, to investigate some of the pitfalls with referenda. But I think in all there is no reason why we can't examine that as part of the electoral process. There are some issues which affect people that people want a say on. Sometimes they are very controversial and it's best to give ordinary people, the voting public, a say.
It might also be a way of getting more people involved in municipal elections. Traditionally one of the problems with municipal elections is that the voter turnouts range anywhere from 20% to maybe a high of 60%. Low voter turnout is not good for democracy, it's not good for government, so we have to encourage more participation.
I know the minister is talking about using Web sites or the Internet or fax and phone lines to allow people to vote by phone or fax. I think that is worth looking at. I'm not sure it's going to solve the problem, but it's at least worth looking at. The only thing I worry about is how you verify that the person voting by fax or phone is the person doing so. When you go to vote in the polling station, you can be challenged. If your name is not on the voters list, they can challenge you. How would you challenge that person who is voting by fax or by phone? I think during the committee session that should be debated and examined, because that could be something that might be open to abuse if there are no controls. That's something that's worth examining. It might encourage participation.
One of the things that has really discouraged participation at the local level in recent years has been the enumeration process. Municipalities have been very short of moneys for elections and therefore the enumeration processes have been constrained, the staffing for enumeration has been constrained and the enumerations have not been thorough enough to include all the people who are in transition, especially people who live in rental apartments and so forth. There seems to be more of a turnover in certain areas. Thousands of people every municipal election are left off the voters list and subsequently they aren't part of the process.
The document here, Bill 86, talks about not having the lists posted on the corner lampposts, but I don't see what is to replace it. How will we let people know they are on the voters list? This is something that is very important because we want to ensure that the right people who are eligible to vote are on the list, but there has to be a mechanism in place that informs people, that they can come in and be on a list and vote. There has to be some time put in terms of how you get on the list. I know in the United States they use a registration process, but their voter turnouts are certainly no better than ours.
I'm still wondering, and I hope we can get to it in committee and find out, how we can improve the enumeration process so we won't miss thousands and thousands of people and so the process will be publicized. That's the other thing that happens: People sometimes feel that federal and provincial elections are important and tend to think they don't have time for the municipal one. There has to be an attempt to have a thorough enumeration that is verifiable and one that is publicized and that people can use as a way of knowing they have an opportunity to vote.
Also, in terms of the role of the clerk, I certainly have been involved in a number of recounts -- about four or five, I guess -- at the municipal level and I know that in most cases the clerk is put in a very contentious position because in most municipalities you have an incumbent mayor or councillor who is being challenged by a candidate who has got into a runoff with the recount. It's very difficult for a clerk, I think, to be totally independent, considering that mayor has been part of his or her council for maybe decades.
That clerk is put in a difficult position sometimes of deciding a very critical question against his or her long-time acquaintance. That's not done intentionally, but I think it puts the clerk in a problematic situation. That's why I think the member for Kingston and The Islands is very correct in saying there have to be very specific criteria and direction given to a clerk. Once you give the clerk those specific criteria, you take away that undue burden on that public official. That's one of the amendments or areas we can clarify.
Another area that in terms of particulars was interesting is in regard to nominations. I'm not sure whether it's going to allow for nominations and registrations to be done by fax. I know a number of years ago there was a person who filed for nomination papers by fax with about five minutes to go in a municipal election. That was permitted although it didn't say so in the act. The clerk made a judgement call at five minutes before the hour. I think that should be specified, whether faxing in a nomination will be allowed and will be acceptable in these situations.
As you know, in municipal elections the most unusual things happen, even though you think they will probably not. In the city of Toronto we had a recount that went on for more than a year and a half, at great expense. I hope this legislation is able to clear that up and address that type of prolonged recount, which is very expensive and very troublesome, because the local officials and the ratepayers didn't know who their alderman or their councillor was for a year and a half. It went through about three levels of the judiciary before it was finally decided, I think, by 12 votes. I hope that is addressed, but it can be very complex.
The other thing I'd like to talk about is the community transportation action program. As you know, part of this Bill 86 is an initiative by the Ministry of Transportation, along with four other ministries, to try to coordinate local transportation.
The one comment I'll make about it is that the process so far seems to be somewhat confusing. You're involving so many ministries that the people I've talked to who are trying to get involved in this program find it very confusing. They're not quite sure who's eligible and who isn't. I think there has to be an outreach program from one of the five ministries, at least, to go out to the providers in the community to ensure that if there are moneys available for upgrading community transportation, the money gets to the right people. There is an enormous shortage of community transportation facilities taking place in small and large communities across Ontario. Essentially, because of the demands and cuts to municipal transfer payments, the municipalities can't carry out their traditional role of giving grants and supporting local transportation; therefore, it's more reliant on the non-profit organizations. I know in our area we have St Clair West Meals on Wheels now starting to provide some transportation because of cutbacks to Wheel-Trans, for instance.
I hope this CTAP, as they call it, the community transportation action program, will go out into the community and talk to the providers about how they can work hands-on to make these dollars available to the non-profit agencies that are trying to meet the real needs of people trying to get to doctors appointments or trying to get to functions within their community.
Overall, our first impression is that some of these initiatives in Bill 86 were obviously initiatives that are housekeeping in nature that had to be done. There's a lot of confusion, a lot of paperwork, and it is very confusing for municipal officials and candidates, as it is for voters. Anything that can be done in terms of removing some of these contradictions through Bill 86 will be supported.
I just hope the bill will go through scrutiny in the committee hearings so there can be a hands-on evaluation of some of the proposals, because sometimes the best legislation written by bureaucrats doesn't quite fit when you put in on the street. Many of these bureaucrats have never had to run for office, have never been involved in recounts, have never been involved in voting processes, so I hope it gets out of the academic bureaucratic community and we allow the municipal officials and ratepayer groups to have input in this process. I think it will be better for it, because they're the people who are the real experts.
There's another thing we should keep in mind. I know it's very fashionable and politically correct to talk about downsizing, eliminating politicians, getting rid of local small government: "Make it all bigger. Make it all into one big monster. It's going to be much more efficient and effective." But if you look at the history of Ontario, one of the things that made this province so much a leader is that local government, no matter how small it was, always gave ordinary people a voice, and sometimes there were contradictions and obstacles. But don't be so ready to eliminate all local government. I think the elimination of two thirds of it is too drastic.
There's no doubt and I think all of us agree that the status quo is not acceptable. There has to be some change. There has to be some reform. That is not at issue. What is at issue is the radical eradication of local government and the notion that all local government stands in the way of efficiency. In many cases, many local governments are much more efficient than big government. For a government that's supposed to be an advocate of smaller government, I say to you, whether it's Bill 86 or whatever you're proposing, keep in mind that in some cases bigger is better, but in some cases smaller is also better.
I find it an astonishing trend. All of a sudden in Hamilton now we have a mega-government of a million people. We have now a proposal in Metro of a mega-government of two and a half million people. This trend towards megalopolises is one that has to be scrutinized by all of us. It is too easy to say, "Eliminate local government." I think we should eliminate some local government, but not in this radical fashion, and we certainly should do it after we've seen the facts, after we've seen the cost-benefit analysis, after we've looked at the impact on services, after we've looked at the impact on the voice of ordinary people. You can imagine, if you're now in the city of Toronto it's hard enough getting your voice heard if you're one of 600,000 people. But can you imagine if you go to one voice in two and a half million people? Is this local government? I don't think so. This is basically a corporate governance model that has no support except from the bureaucrats. It's a bureaucratic dream to have big government.
Before Bill 86 and these other pieces of legislation which deal with changing local government pass, I hope we look at the history of Ontario and look at the contribution of local government and of local politicians. Certainly we know that there have been some interesting and very important initiatives from local politicians. Not all good government comes from the provincial level or federal level. Small-town mayors and reeves and wardens and councillors and aldermen are the ones who are closest to the people, and they can't avoid dealing with reality. In the ivory towers of Queen's Park and of Parliament Hill, dealing with reality is sometimes a part-time thing. At least locally you meet the voters on a daily basis.
That's the idea that I hope is kept in perspective in terms of Bill 86 and other bills that come forward to deal with reforming government at this level. In the last couple of weeks there have been too many people sloughing it off as just another thing we have to downsize. Let's stop and think before we do that.