LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 6 May 2010 Jeudi 6 mai 2010
PLANNING AMENDMENT ACT
TO REQUIRE INCLUSIONARY HOUSING), 2010 /
LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT LA LOI
SUR L’AMÉNAGEMENT DU TERRITOIRE
(INCLUSION DE LOGEMENTS
ABORDABLES PAR LES MUNICIPALITÉS)
Resuming the debate adjourned on May 5, 2010, on the motion for second reading of Bill 43, An Act to amend the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 and the Ontario College of Art & Design Act, 2002 / Projet de loi 43, Loi modifiant la Loi de 2000 favorisant le choix et l’excellence au niveau postsecondaire, la Loi de 2005 sur les collèges privés d’enseignement professionnel et la Loi de 2002 sur l’École d’art et de design de l’Ontario.
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: It’s certainly a pleasure for me today to speak to Bill 43, which is going to amend three other pieces of legislation. There are going to be amendments to the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005, and the Ontario College of Art & Design Act, 2002. This bill does move forward in order to make changes to those three pieces of legislation. Basically, it’s dealing with our post-secondary education system and the colleges and universities in the province of Ontario.
I’m certainly pleased to have in my own community two outstanding universities, the University of Waterloo and, of course, Wilfrid Laurier University. We have an outstanding college as well, Conestoga College, which has demonstrated its leadership in all of Canada, as have our universities time and time again.
I’m also pleased to say that we have many private colleges that do an outstanding job, as well, to ensure that our students get the post-secondary education that is going to be so critical if this province is to succeed and become an economic leader once again. Regrettably, at the current time we seem to be at the bottom, and we need to make sure that we listen to Rick Miner’s report, which indicates to us that our goal must be 70% of our young people moving toward a post-secondary education in the next number of years.
If we just take a look briefly at the first act, the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act, 2000, I see that that particular piece of legislation is intended to protect both our international and Ontario students, because the government has indicated that there’s going to be an increased focus on international students. That should be interesting to see.
I think we would certainly concur in one change that is going to be made now, and that is the change to the Ontario College of Art & Design Act, 2002. We certainly strongly support, and I think our critic, Jim Wilson, has already put on the record, that we very strongly agree with the changes that are being contemplated there and that it will indeed become a university. We have supported that for a long time, and we’re really pleased that that is going to happen. I understand that the NDP supports that as well, so that will be pretty simple to deal with. But there are certainly other concerns around this bill.
I think one of the biggest concerns around the bill is some of the changes that are being proposed. The government has actually had the power for the last number of years, you probably know, to make changes to the colleges. They also announced four years ago that they were going to review these acts, and they didn’t get to it. In the intervening time, the Ombudsman has certainly indicated his unhappiness. In fact, he came out with a report that indicated, in talking about the private career colleges: “The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is responsible for overseeing over 400 private career colleges and protecting student consumers against unscrupulous and incompetent training providers.”
He refers to 2006 and the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005, coming into force. He refers to the fact that it did give the ministry “broader and more enhanced powers of enforcement, and students with greater protections including access to refunds and alternate training when colleges unexpectedly close their doors.” Then he went on to say, and was very critical of the government: “Despite the fact that it is illegal to operate a private career college that is not registered with the ministry, a considerable number of unregistered training facilities do exist in Ontario, presenting a risk to unwary consumers. The ministry is cognizant of this reality. However, it does not vigorously pursue information about or enforcement against rogue operators.”
I guess the government could have taken action, they didn’t, and now they’ve come out with some changes. We know he was talking, at that time, about Bestech Academy, which was falsely marketing itself as a registered vocational college.
Let’s take a look at this piece of legislation. I just referred to the fact that the government already had the power to fine unscrupulous private colleges and unfortunately failed to enforce its own legislation. So we see here the government expanding those powers now to the private universities as well. I’ve referred to the fact that the Ombudsman did, on July 14, 2009, deliver this scathing report of the ministry’s handling of the Bestech Academy, which we all know was an illegal career college that the government allowed to operate for more than two years.
Interestingly enough, despite it being illegal, the government funded many of its programs, and then I understand that they hired its president to work for the ministry. It is that type of situation that the Ombudsman, looking at it, was then forced to say, “The ministry is inept. The situation is a disaster, in light of the way you’ve handled it. You had the legislative means to shut it down, and you didn’t.” Here we are with a bill that goes beyond private colleges today and seeks to expand its power into the private universities as well, even though they haven’t been able to enforce rules that were in place since 2006.
Let’s just take a look at that sector. There are currently, in the province today, 425 career colleges, 500 campuses and more than 27,684 students in Ontario pursuing degrees in 3,425 approved programs in more than 70 communities. When we talk about this bill expanding its jurisdiction beyond the private colleges to the private universities, what are some of the privately funded universities in Ontario? They include such places as Emmanuel Bible College, the Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies and the Maimonides Schools of Jewish Studies, to name but a few. There are 29 other institutions that offer degree programs by ministerial consent. These private institutions include the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Cornell University, Niagara University and Trinity Western University. Public institutions are colleges permitted to grant degrees instead of diplomas, and they include Sheridan, Seneca, Niagara, Loyalist and other Ontario colleges. If you recall, the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act was brought in under the Harris government to allow for the expansion of some of the Ontario-based private universities that I have just referred to. That act also did initiate some very strict regulation of those institutions. That’s how this all connects, one to the other.
Some of the changes that would occur, if passed: It would add to the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act definitions for “educational institution,” “distance education” and “degree.” It would prohibit advertising of distance education programs not located in Ontario unless authorized to grant a degree in the province—that’s a good thing. It would allow the minister to refer applications for consent or renewal of consent for private institutions to either the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board, as is the case now, or another quality assurance body or authority. It would allow the minister to reject applications by private institutions without referral to the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board. It would initiate tougher inspection requirements for the private universities, because they’re being included here now, that parallel those in the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005. It would increase some of the provincial offence penalties for private universities and career colleges.
So some of these changes certainly are going to be to the benefit of the students, but at the end of the day, the ministry has had powers. They could have used those powers; they didn’t. Obviously, they’re now bringing in a bill, Bill 43, to make sure that in the province of Ontario, we do provide a quality education, we can guarantee that we are doing so and we can also protect students from any unscrupulous operators that might be out there. Obviously, there are always those who would take a student’s money and not offer the quality program that we would expect.
Mr. John O’Toole: I’m very happy. The member from Kitchener–Waterloo has been a former minister and educator and I think has offered some very valid comments on a bill that purports to do something but under closer examination fails to actually do very much.
Some of the powers that exist on the investigatory authority are already there. The Ombudsman, in his scathing report on the lack of action by this government on this Ontario-open-for-business theory, really tells the story that they’re not using the tools and rules they have effective today.
I think the member from Kitchener–Waterloo, in her gentle reminders to the government to get on with business—she does that so cordially, if you will. There’s very little respect in Ontario right now for some of the current universities. If you actually look at the clippings this morning, there’s a report that I felt, when I was looking at the media—I just want to put this on the record that the career colleges are quite disappointed with this government’s lack of consultation. They really are. I know they have spoken to you, Mr. Speaker, because you’re obviously the contact for this particular group, and they are very disappointed with this government.
All I can say to you is this: The bill says that it’s going to make it easier for other colleges to start, but also to be enforced. It talks about virtual universities. If you look at the bill, it talks about virtual universities actually being outside of Ontario. I think they should work more closely with the existing colleges and enforce the existing rules, rather than waste the time of this House to do something that it says it’s doing but it’s not. The intent is there, so we’ll likely, at the end of the day, support it, and I think there will be more said this morning on this bill than the minister wants to hear.
Mr. Paul Miller: The Ombudsman, in his July 2009 report, referred to a “systemic failure” on the part of the government “to ensure that the requirements of the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 are adequately enforced in order to protect the public interest in the quality and accountability of vocational training in this province.”
He also said, “I am concerned that unless there are some fundamental changes in how the ministry does its business, individuals seeking to better their lives through vocational training will still be at the mercy of ruthless and incompetent illegal operators.”
We hope that things have changed and we hope that this bill will facilitate the kinds of changes that the Ombudsman called for. However, we take issue with the fact that, while doing a little bit of good here, you decided to present a view of the current state of post-secondary education in the province that requires a real reality check.
The minister claimed in his remarks that “Ontario’s post-secondary education system is recognized for the quality of programs offered by our colleges and universities. We are a leader in quality assurance for our post-secondary education system. This is a reputation we value highly and aim to protect.”
If that’s the case, why are there unaccredited colleges around here that are giving bogus degrees? People are spending a year or two of their lives trying to get these degrees and they go look for a job and the degree isn’t worth the paper it’s written on; it doesn’t hold water, and they end up having wasted two years of their lives—pretty bad.
There are other things: Will more international students result in reductions in tuition for Ontario and Canadian students? After we reach a high enough threshold of international students, will class sizes somehow start to decrease? Will the increased fees and other monies from international students be used to hire more full-time faculty? I’m not sure about this. Will students’ debt loads be lessened by the greater presence of international students? I doubt it. Will international students somehow eliminate the estimated $1.7 billion required to address deferred maintenance across Ontario? I doubt it.
Mr. Ted McMeekin: I’m always delighted to stand in my place and respond to the balanced offerings from the honourable member from Kitchener–Waterloo, who, given her vast experience, understands so many of the complexities. Most importantly, I think the honourable member opposite understands that governments, and policies related to specific options that governments have, aren’t always perfect; that we have an Ombudsman and other mechanisms in place to occasionally draw to the attention of the government areas where some improvements can be made.
We take the Ombudsman’s comments very seriously. We also continue to take very seriously the issues of quality in our education system and the need to protect students. It’s for the very reasons that the member from Hamilton East articulated with respect to the need for fundamental changes and his allegations of systemic failures that, in part, this bill is coming forward. We want to strengthen an already good system and make it even better, and to do that we need to be very clear about definitions. We need to be very sharp about what we measure. This bill takes us some considerable distance, I say respectfully to members of this Legislative Assembly, in that direction. That, I think, has to be good for the people of Ontario, particularly the students who are investing their time, their energy and their talent in trying to acquire the skills to build an even stronger Ontario.
Mr. Steve Clark: I’m pleased to respond to my colleague’s comments. Certainly she’s an extremely experienced member of this Legislature, as a former Minister of Education. I’m pleased to say that when I attended university in Waterloo, I certainly enjoyed it. I said to the member just prior to her speech this morning that I hope to visit her constituency soon to relive and rekindle some old acquaintances.
In regard to her comments about Bill 43, An Act to amend the Post-secondary Choice and Excellence Act, the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 and the Ontario College of Art & Design Act, 2002, it’s interesting that the previous speaker talked about the Ombudsman’s report. I had the opportunity to look at this report and, quite frankly, I was shocked that this government hasn’t brought forward changes prior to this, given some of the history. When I look at some of the issues: that the government already has the power to fine private colleges that they feel deserve it; the fact that they failed to enforce some of their own legislation; the fact that the Ombudsman’s report back in July 2009 was so critical of the government; the fact that they were looking for this government to bring forward some changes—you know, going through the pages of this Too Cool for School report, it’s shocking to me, the changes that should have come forward by this government sooner. The fact that they knew that changes needed to be made and they weren’t is, again, surprising to me.
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: I do appreciate the contributions that have been made by the member for Durham, the member for Hamilton East–Stoney Creek, the member for Leeds–Grenville and of course the member for Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale. I tell you, it takes almost a minute to read through the names of some of the ridings in the province of Ontario here. But I do appreciate the contribution.
I also want to take this opportunity today to congratulate our critic for post-secondary education, Mr. Wilson. I think he’s done an outstanding job in bringing forward information about this bill, Bill 43.
I think you’ve probably heard that the one issue we are most concerned about is the fact that the government did have the power to deal with these private colleges and chose not to act. We now have in place tougher legislation, supposedly. Hopefully, this will enable the government to move forward and ensure that all of the students in the province of Ontario are protected. Of course, as well, we’ve seen the expansion of this power to private universities.
At the end of the day, we’ll continue to review the bill. We’ll continue, obviously, under the leadership of our critic, to hear from those who are going to be impacted by the legislation, because our job truly is to listen to the people in the province of Ontario, bring forward their concerns and make the bill the best it can be.
Mr. Jeff Leal: It’s a delight for me to spend a moment this morning on the proposed Post-secondary Education Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010. I’ve always been very pleased: In my riding of Peterborough, I happen to have two post-secondary institutions. Trent University, which I had the opportunity to graduate from a number of years ago, was founded by a good friend of mine, Tom Symons. He was the founding president of Trent University and certainly did yeoman’s service in a variety of areas for the government of Ontario. When Mr. Davis was Premier, Tom Symons led a royal commission called To Know Ourselves, about the need to teach history in elementary and secondary schools in the province of Ontario. He continues to serve in several capacities in terms of his role as a leading educator not only in Ontario but, indeed, throughout Canada.
The second post-secondary institution I have in my community is Fleming College. Fleming College, of course, was founded by David Sutherland, who himself had a distinguished academic career: Ryerson here in Toronto, and then he came to Peterborough to found Fleming College. His wife, Sylvia, as many people will know, was the longest-serving mayor of the city of Peterborough. I had the opportunity to serve with her. I’m also pleased that in terms of Fleming College, they’re involved now in training people in the green technology area. I must make reference, this morning: “A new study says Canadian governments can expect an economic return from seed money in green technology, just not as much as from traditional investments.
“The think tank says Ontario will gain the most economically from its investments because it has the manufacturing base for in-province development of new technologies.” That’s certainly good news. From time to time, all members of the House quote third party endorsements, so that’s a third party endorsement from the Conference Board of Canada.
Also, we note today that Linamar, which is an outstanding manufacturer in Guelph, Ontario, has just inked a deal with a European firm to manufacture green technology in Guelph, Ontario, thereby helping to revitalize Ontario’s manufacturing sector. I think those are key developments that we need to chat about.
The proposed PSEC amendments will clarify the application of the act by defining certain terms, such as “degree,” “educational institution” and “distance education”; allow the government to impose financial penalties and impose restraining and compliance orders against unauthorized degree-granting institutions; and streamline the application process for consent to offer a degree program by making it more cost-effective and less time-consuming. Those are very important amendments. I’ve had the experience—indeed, Mr. Speaker, you probably have constituents in your riding who have gone to private career colleges and not had the best experience in the world.
This business of providing unauthorized degrees, in terms of credibility and transparency, is a very serious problem. I think we’ve all had the experience of people who talk about mail-order Ph.D.s, where they identify an institution—it could be anywhere throughout the world—mail in $25 and they mail you back a Ph.D., and then after your name you can have Ph.D.—Dr. Jim Wilson, Ph.D.—because you’ve attained one of those mail-order Ph.D.s but haven’t really fulfilled the qualifications for it. I think that can be a very serious problem indeed.
Getting back to the more serious side of the debate, it certainly has been a problem. As I said, I’m sure all of us have had constituents come in who have not had the best experiences with private career colleges. One of the things that is particularly disappointing is that they spend a considerable amount of money, enrol with private career colleges, and the end product is not satisfactory at all. In fact, it leaves them in a very disadvantaged position after going through that. So we think this is a very important bill from that perspective.
I think the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Minister Milloy, and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister Hoskins, are certainly the drivers behind this bill. Minister Milloy has heard from a wide variety of people about unscrupulous and unauthorized education organizations, and we want to make sure that this bill prevents these unscrupulous and unauthorized educational organizations from taking advantage of international and Ontario students.
I think governments of all political stripes in Ontario have always had the view that Ontario is open for new Canadians to come here, but we want to guarantee that that is a very positive experience. Over the years, governments of all political stripes, I believe, have been building to make sure that we welcome new Canadians to our country and that their experience is one that they never regret making the decision to come to Ontario and, indeed, to Canada. But many of them arrive here, and unfortunately, we have predators out there who want to take advantage of new Canadians coming in and, like the old snake oil salesmen, often try to sell them a bill of goods very quickly. That can be a very disheartening experience for newcomers, whether they come to Brockville, Ontario, or one of my favourite communities in Leeds–Grenville, Athens, which I had the opportunity to visit a number of years ago with Mr. Runciman.
Mr. Jeff Leal: The member was there that night. Mr. Runciman invited me down. I was PA to the Minister of the Environment. We did a round table on the Clean Water Act. Mr. Runciman, as always, was very hospitable. The current member was there that evening and we had a great round table; a lot of good questions were discussed, a good exchange. I took back some of the ideas and went out and had a chance to have dinner with some of the people that were there at that evening. I always remember the good folks of Athens and I hope they are doing well, I ask the member from Leeds–Grenville.
These amendments will assure students that post-secondary programs offered here in Ontario are of the highest quality and meet our standards of excellence. There’s no doubt that one of the great draws to come to Ontario and Canada today is the strength of our post-secondary institutions; some of them are second to none. I know that many of my friends and associates had an opportunity to go to Queen’s, the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario. In fact, one of Peterborough’s most distinguished citizens—he wasn’t born in Peterborough but he spent his formative years in Peterborough—is Jim Balsillie, who, with his partner, Mike Lazaridis, of course, is co-CEO of the internationally known company Research in Motion.
As I said, Jim grew up in Peterborough. He spent his formative years in Peterborough and still has family in Peterborough. We’re very pleased that he never forgot his roots. A number of years ago, when we built the new Y, he gave in excess of half a million dollars to build that new Y in Peterborough. We’re very, very proud of that.
His experience, and one that he shares on a continuous basis, is the need to invest and to make sure that we have the highest standards in Ontario universities. He went to the University of Waterloo and spent a lot of time, of course, on the research side through the co-op program, and he came up with this idea, which has made Ontario and indeed, Canada, a leader in that particular field. We’re very proud because he knows that continuous investment in our post-secondary sector is going to pay dividends for us economically down the road.
Again, this legislation is key as part of our Open Ontario concept. These amendments will support our Open Ontario plan to create new opportunities for jobs and growth, which includes raising the number of Ontarians with a post-secondary education to some 70%.
We know that there is a fundamental shift in the economy in Ontario. If you look at the auto industry, for a good example, three or four years ago, 17 million new units were sold in the North American market. Now that is down to the neighbourhood of 10 to 11 million units per year of new car sales in North America. That has led to a fundamental restructuring of the auto industry in Ontario.
Also, we have to look at the opportunities that may present themselves. I know that from my riding of Peterborough we have a lot of employees who work with General Motors, particularly in the car plant on the Impala line, and the investments and the fundamental change in terms of the skill level with those employees is something that need to be done in order to retain that competitive position. That can only be done through our work with community colleges and, indeed, universities as part of our Open Ontario plan.
We can see that there will be an organizational review of private institutions and private colleges in Ontario that will be looking at their administrative capacity, ethical conduct, student protection, academic freedom and integrity. That’s very important, whether it’s a new Canadian or somebody who lives in any of our communities such as Espanola or, indeed, Elliot Lake. If they decide to take advantage of going to a private career college, they want to make sure that they have the confidence that if they enrol in a program, at the end of the day the degree they may receive by going into that program, their credentials or the specifics of the program are there; that they will know that that degree or the credentials they receive have some standing in the broader community when they go out to seek a job. We think that is very important.
Also, we can provide the opportunity for many international students to come to Ontario. This bill will facilitate that. Certainly in my case, Trent University, in Peterborough, has been very successful in attracting international students for a variety of programs. In fact, we need to link with Canadian embassies and Canadian consular offices throughout the world to attract individuals to come to our nation, because they potentially provide the kind of skills that we’re going to require, as we have a declining workforce. It is a very aging workforce that we’re challenged with now in Ontario. Indeed, the first big bulge of the baby boomers will start to retire this year.
When I talk to my friends at GE in Peterborough—by the way, last Thursday, they announced the biggest order in their history, $30 million, to provide 18 large motors for a steel company in China. It’s the first time that GE has gotten into the Chinese market, and they did so because of the engineering and technical people that they have in Peterborough. So it’s going to be engineered, designed, manufactured and shipped from Peterborough into the Chinese market—again, part of our government’s emphasis on skills training to make sure that we can be very competitive in that market.
Indeed, we’ve had a wonderful exchange program. Engineers from China have been working at the Peterborough operation to assist us, to make sure that we can get those deals and provide Canadian technology around the world, ensuring growth particularly in our hard-hit manufacturing sector.
One of our distinguished members, Mr. Kwinter—I’ll just get his riding here—from York Centre, I believe is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design. I believe he may have spent a period of time on the board. Didn’t he, Mr. Brown?
Mr. Jeff Leal: He has been a leader. Of course, the Kwinter family has certainly been amongst Ontario’s great entrepreneurs. They were involved in the food processing industry for many, many years. Mr. Kwinter himself, the member from York Centre, over the years has been involved in a number of financial initiatives here in Ontario and around the world.
He is a classic example of someone who went to the Ontario College of Art & Design, used that formal education and parlayed that into a very successful and innovative career. Indeed, just this past week we honoured him. He now has served 25 years in this very august assembly. He is a man of distinguished integrity who continues to make a contribution each and every day.
I must also say that the previous government did a pretty good job when they brought their amendments into the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act in 2002. I always like to give credit where credit is due. Those changes are also very important as we go forward.
It also is very important, through the Open Ontario brand, that we enhance the quality of Ontario’s post-secondary education brand, something that, once we take this throughout the rest of Canada and indeed throughout the world, is going to be very attractive for people who make their decision to come to Ontario and indeed Canada.
Also, through these changes, the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board, when it’s implemented, will provide rigorous quality control to protect Ontario students from degree mills. I spent a bit of time talking about those mail-order Ph.D.s that have been obtained in the past. We also think that’s a very important thing to do.
The amendments will also clarify the application of the act by defining certain terms, such as “degree,” “educational institution” and “distance education,” something that all members of the House certainly will be very supportive of. It will allow the government to impose financial penalties and restraining and compliance orders against unauthorized degree-granting organizations, again protecting the education experience that one may go through. It will also streamline the application process for consent to offer a degree program by making it more cost-effective and less time-consuming.
I think it’s in all of our interests to make sure that this particular act gets approved. I look forward to further debate. If I had unanimous consent, I could probably go on for a couple more hours, but they may not want that to happen at this particular time. Thank you so much for my opportunity today.
Mr. John O’Toole: I would also like to say that I congratulate the very harmonious remarks made by the member from Peterborough. I know he works hard to represent General Electric and General Motors, which is a good idea.
The things he’s saying—he did give some credit, in fairness, to the changes made in 2002. I think this kind of builds on those changes. But I think the most important remark here is that he referred many times to Open Ontario. What Open Ontario is about—and I’m going to read from the speech, so I’m giving some credit, but I want to be a bit critical here; it’s our job. “We will aggressively”—this is the Premier I’m reading here—“promote Ontario’s post-secondary schools abroad and increase international enrolment by 50%.” There’s actually going to be a lineup for getting spaces in our universities and colleges. There’s a bit of a jam coming up here.
I’d like to point out, as he has done, that one of the good parts is that the other changes to post-secondary announced Monday would lead to it being easier for Ph.D. students to get permanent resident status after they finish a degree. Currently, a Ph.D. student has to have a permanent job offer. This change would, for instance, help one of the candidates here from Azerbaijan, who is at the U of T department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology; this will help her. There’s testimony in the newspaper that I read here. So there are some very good aspects to it, but there are things within the bill that are already allowed to be done. I think the next speakers will probably be talking about the Ombudsman’s report, Too Cool for School, and some of the things they aren’t doing. It was a bit of a scathing criticism of Mr. Milloy and the McGuinty government.
Mme France Gélinas: It was interesting listening to the member from Peterborough. He focused on two areas of the bill, one being the legislation around private colleges, and a little wee bit about the Ontario College of Art & Design. I look at this bill as a bit of a housekeeping bill, where some positions are clarified. We certainly recognize the history and high standards of the Ontario College of Art & Design in allowing that great institution to become a university. The bill also talks about distance education but, here again, more clarity is needed.
It’s mainly the parts that are presently troublesome and that are not in the bill that I’m worried about, things such as: tuition fees for our students are the very highest in the country; when we look at class sizes, the class sizes in our colleges and universities have increased tremendously and, here again, are some of the highest in the country; when we look at the tenured faculty versus the faculty that just teach one class, we are short about 5,000 professors in our universities; things like student debt and the number of students who have to find employment while studying, as well as having difficulty finding employment after their studies. These are things that the government could and should act on, not to mention the funding to our colleges and universities. My colleague Rosario Marchese certainly makes a point when he says we are number 10.
Mr. Michael A. Brown: I’m delighted to comment on the dissertation by my good friend the member from Peterborough. I too share the view that if he’d had a little bit more time to elaborate on this, it would have been a good thing for this House in the enlightenment of the people of Ontario.
I just want to speak a little bit about the quality of our post-secondary institutions. We have universities that are world-renowned, that are providing service and education to our students and that are first-class. I’m the father of a graduate of Queen’s, a graduate of Laurier, a graduate of Laurentian and a graduate of Algoma, with some other diplomas and degrees within that context. But I understand, as most members understand, that they don’t do everything. We have fine community colleges that provide good services. But there is a niche market. There are markets that we do not serve, and those would be in the private career colleges and the vocational side of things.
I was the chair of the cabinet committee on education when we dealt with this issue back in 2005. I was very proud of the bill that we put forward there, which was passed by this House, that regulated those colleges. But as with everything, there’s an evolution, and some people out there who want to take advantage of our students. What this bill does is provide the opportunity to further the enforcement on those in that business who wish to take advantage of the students. While most provide great service to the people of Ontario, there are those bad actors. This provides the mechanism to further police that situation.
Mr. Steve Clark: I’m pleased to provide some comments in response to the member for Peterborough. He mentioned a community in my riding: Athens. I remember quite vividly the meeting that he spoke of earlier, where he was the parliamentary assistant and came. It was a packed house at the Joshua Bates Centre in Athens. At the time, there was a lot of concern with the government on their source water protection legislation. We had a lot of people there, some different groups. I think the landowners were there that night as well to see the parliamentary assistant. He really calmed the waters that night when he personally guaranteed the crowd that conservation authorities wouldn’t go on people’s property without the landowner’s or the property owner’s permission. He handled himself extremely well that night in Athens. I know the folks were glad that he was there and spoke and gave those assurances. I’m glad that he mentioned the good folks of Athens this morning.
When I listened to his comments about this bill—and there are a number of recommendations here—I was a little disappointed that there was one section in the preamble, subsection 2(3), entitled, “Same, diploma, etc.” It reads, “For greater certainty, a diploma, certificate, document or other thing referred to in paragraph 2 of subsection (2) does not include a certificate, licence, registration or other form of official recognition that attests to the person being qualified to practise a trade or occupation,” and it goes on. I guess the question that I had was, what’s the motive of this? Is this going to try to put out of business many trade schools? I just don’t understand who’s benefiting by this subsection, so at some point I’d like the member to address that.
Mr. Jeff Leal: I truly appreciate, this morning—I always find that on Thursday mornings the comments are a little more genial. I thank the members from Leeds–Grenville, Nickel Belt, Durham and my good friend and colleague from Algoma–Manitoulin. I must say to the member from Nickel Belt that a number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Garson, Ontario, just outside of Sudbury, and had a very warm reception in that small community, just as I had the opportunity a number of years ago when I was in beautiful Athens, Ontario, in the riding of Leeds–Grenville.
It’s interesting: I remember a number of years ago—people will recall the Toronto School of Business. The Toronto School of Business, I think, had associate operations in many communities throughout Ontario. They, in fact, went out of business. There was always great concern for people who got degrees or certificates of qualification from the Toronto School of Business. After they ceased operation, how much validity would those degrees or, indeed, those certificates of qualification have when one was going into the workforce with these as part of one’s resumé? This bill that we are proposing will do a lot to improve the status of those quasi-degrees or certificates of qualification that will be issued by some of these private career colleges.
We’re just in the initial stages of this debate. We will want to hear members from all sides of the House and, indeed, go to committee and look at amendments to make this bill the best it can be, bearing in mind that this is not a particularly partisan issue.
I think that one of the things we need to keep in mind as we have this conversation about private career colleges is the question of balance. It’s interesting to note that private career colleges have existed in this province for at least 100 years. It’s important to understand that with that kind of history, clearly, it’s a process that has provided people with a very important option. I think the benefits of the private career college system can be boiled down to two particular elements. One is the scope, and the other is the flexibility.
Why would someone want to be involved in the process of a private career college? Well, I think scope is one of those issues, the fact that the career college can identify a niche market, an area which isn’t served either geographically or more broadly, to a certain segment of the population. I think back on things like helicopter school: again, a very narrow and, I might add, a very expensive process, but nonetheless one for which there were jobs and for which there was a need. So scope is an important part of the career college’s ability to find that niche and be able to provide service.
It can also, then, concentrate on a particular skill or skill set that, in the context of the public system, kind of gets lost in having many other programs and options for students. That then leads into the whole flexibility element, because very often, the private career colleges are able to compress their courses. They’re able to offer them at different times of the day or the evening. That, again, allows for people who are looking for the development and the accreditation of a particular skill set to fit that into their own personal lives.
Very often, those people who are going to these private career colleges are people who have already graduated from the public system to whatever level and now need something that’s very, very concentrated and specific. The point here is that they’re also looking at matching the career colleges in the position of being able to match the training with job opportunities.
In private conversations I’ve had with those who offer private-college training, they tell me that in their particular niche, students are hired before they have finished the course. Another one says that industry representatives come to interview students to get, if you like, first-draft choice on the students who are there and what those students are doing that matches the industry’s needs.
There’s certainly a market for these institutions, but there’s also a need for oversight. In my riding a few years ago, parents expressed great concern over a particular career college that was operating in my riding. They came to me. They had been to the ministry. They didn’t feel that the ministry had provided the kind of oversight that was required. In this particular case, the concern was the failure rate. When a student failed, as their child had, then for an additional fee they could write again. They were concerned when they realized that this seemed to be an element that simply allowed for greater fees to be applied.
Clearly, there’s a very strong case for the need for oversight. People need to be assured of the financial security of the business. They need to feel assured of the standards and the training, the presentation of appropriate curriculum. They need to know that there’s public confidence in the business. They need to know that there’s quality assurance and there are employment opportunities that come as a result of completing a course.
I would be the last person who would not support a recognition of the importance of regulation. Public confidence, a level playing field for people in the field of the private career colleges—and with that kind of oversight comes the confidence that legitimate business needs that kind of support. Finally, of course, people need to know that they are getting what they paid for, that they’re going to get what they desire out of going.
How good is the system? I’ve just explained my view about how important the need for oversight is. But when you actually look at something like the Ombudsman’s report of July 2009, a little less than a year ago, it’s a window into a very troubled ministry.
If you look at his report, he charts the particular action taken by the ministry. There was a business, Bestech, that in November 2006 had not been registered. In fact, the ministry, in the Ombudsman’s report, indicates that there are all kinds of people in that category. Despite the fact that it is illegal to operate a private career college that is not registered with the ministry, a considerable number of unregistered training facilities exist in Ontario, presenting a risk to unwary consumers. The ministry is fully cognizant of this reality. However, it does not vigorously pursue information about or enforcement against rogue operators.
I was quite startled to read that, because, as I’ve already pointed out, the need for oversight is absolutely critical. It is the only thing that gives stability to the legitimate operators in the field.
This particular report of the Ombudsman went on to talk about recognizing Bestech Academy in November 2006. In spite of the ministry’s warning, the owner began promoting Bestech Academy and enrolling students without the ministry’s knowledge.
“In April 2007, the ministry became aware that Bestech Academy was providing illegal fuels industry training at its Stoney Creek campus.” This is the key to the point I made a moment ago about the need for oversight, the need for public confidence. “Instead of trying to shut down Bestech Academy to protect student consumers, as a result of confusion and miscommunication, the ministry proceeded to support the school through the Ontario skills development program. In the end, the province spent upwards of $60,000, a substantial amount of which represented tuition fees, to send seven mature students for retraining at Bestech Academy.” This is a place that’s illegal, that isn’t providing the appropriate kind of service.
“It wasn’t until March 2008”—remember, I said that this began in November 2006—“that, as a broader initiative targeted at illegal providers of gas technician programs, the ministry actually issued Bestech a formal warning that its continuing operation could compromise future registration and lead to penalties under the act.... In June 2008, the ministry finally issued a restraining order against the school....
“Given Bestech Academy’s history of operating illegally despite repeated warnings, its failure to follow through on undertakings, the incompetence apparent in its registration application as well as the fact that it had misled the ministry on multiple occasions, it seems virtually inconceivable that the company could have satisfied the compliance and integrity standards for registration.” However, the ministry decided to give Bestech Academy yet another chance to see the error of its ways. We’re now up to September 2008. At that point, the ministry gave it until October 2008.
This chronology, I think, demonstrates the fact that the ministry has not done a good job. Well, “good” is hardly even relevant here. It took two years before something happened in terms of closing the door.
Is the bill the answer? Significant parts of the bill seem to tighten up parts of the process, and I would take you to areas such as section 17 with regard to the ministry’s ability to make approvals of a specific program. But this also deals with those who are already registered, that they would then have to reapply. The bill gives no indication under what conditions and how much this has to do with the power of the superintendent or his delegated authority. There is no consideration given to the cost of compliance or the frequency with which one might have to reapply; there is nothing in regard to the process of third party approvals.
That leads me to think that what this bill seems to do is create yet another dilemma. Obviously, there are parts of the report that, I would argue, seem to be driven by issues raised by the Ombudsman’s report, but clearly, we have to have public hearings. We need to ensure that the amendments to this act are serving the public good. We’re not here as legislators to drive legitimate business out of the province; we are here to provide proper information to prospective students and to protect the public—both students and taxpayers—from rogue colleges.
Going back to a theme I mentioned a moment ago, there’s the need to provide some kind of balance. This bill appears to be far more punitive of the legitimate providers than of private career colleges. I don’t see as much as I would like to see about the question of the rogue operators and the fact that the ministry was prepared to drag on for two years against one particular offender and is able to say to the Ombudsman that they know there are many more illegitimate rogue providers.
This is an issue of consumer confidence. It’s an issue for the legitimate businesses who want to provide that flexibility and scope that I began with. I think that it behooves the government at this point in the process that we have fulsome public hearings. We have to hear from those providers.
Certainly, there are many issues, and I note the one recognized earlier in the week; the Globe and Mail talked about the issue of repayment. You can’t cast a net that is so broad it damages the reputation of legitimate businesses. One of the providers, for instance—the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto—has loan repayment rates that surpass most public institutions.
My concern about this bill is that it doesn’t demonstrate the government’s commitment to ensuring a vibrant, healthy and appropriate private college system in this province by having those protections for the private providers and being vigorous in its pursuit of the rogue ones. That’s what we need as legislators. That’s what we need to be able to stand up and say we did for Ontario, for Ontario students and for the “oops” plan, the Open Ontario plan, that’s going to have all these people coming from all over the world.
We have to ensure that we have the security and safety and future of this system to provide for the generations of Canadians that need that flexibility and that scope of specialization that career colleges have provided in this province for 100 years.
Mr. Ted McMeekin: I always say it’s the riding with the longest name because our people have the biggest hearts, the biggest hopes and the biggest dreams. One of those hopes and dreams is that our government will continue to pursue excellence in post-secondary education.
Picking up on the speaker opposite, we’ll do all in our power to build the vibrant, healthy and appropriate climate where people can come to both our public institutions and those that meet the smell test in terms of private career colleges and acquire the skills and tools they need to make a contribution to building an even stronger country.
It is about consumer confidence, and I know I’ve had many conversations with my esteemed colleague from Hamilton Mountain, the Minister of Consumer Services, who shares my concern that students ought not to be buying a pig in a poke.
I think it appropriate to point out here one of the ironies of the previous speaker’s comments. You can isolate an example and beat up on one particular situation. We’d be pleased to join you in that—we recognize that things aren’t perfect; that’s why this legislation is here to try to make things better—but then to go on and to say, “We need to have confidence in the sector.” That’s exactly what this bill is about. It’s about building confidence. It’s about assuring quality. It’s about making sure that when people sign up for a program that they think will allow them to acquire the skills and the training that they need to make a contribution, they’re getting real value for that investment. Our government is absolutely committed to that, and that’s all this legislation is about.
Mr. Steve Clark: I’m pleased to provide some comments in response to my colleague from York–Simcoe. I think she hit the nail on the head in many respects with the concerns on this piece of legislation.
I’ve had the opportunity to peruse the Ombudsman’s report of July 2009, expressing many of the concerns that the member for York–Simcoe talked about: that this government was asleep at the switch in terms of bringing amendments forward. The Ombudsman called the ministry a number of things: inept, that the situation was a disaster. The example that the member for York–Simcoe talked about, that one side of the ministry was investigating that college and the other side was giving it money, is a tremendous embarrassment for this government—to be able to see in an Ombudsman’s report that you’re investigating someone and also giving them cash.
It’s just mind-boggling, the fact that this bill seeks to expand the powers of the government to oversee career colleges and private universities yet they haven’t used the tools that are available to them right now. The question becomes: If you’re not dealing with what you’ve got now, how are you able to expand the powers?
Again, the member for York–Simcoe talked about public hearings on this and the fact that we have to hear from providers on the issue of ensuring that we have a vibrant and healthy private college system. I think she has made some extremely good comments, and I hope, during the debate, that the government will address those comments.
Mme France Gélinas: I, too, listened to the member from York–Simcoe and was rather interested. She went through an example that showed clearly that the government was in a position to act, and had the opportunity and all of the levers available to do something, but chose not to. She was very eloquent in the way that she described the important roles that the hundreds of private colleges play in Ontario. There is a role for the private college, and she described it in quite some detail. She showed some of the good that comes from having those colleges available to the people of Ontario and some of the successes that come from it. But then, when it came to areas going really wrong, to the point where it was brought to the attention of the government—the government knew about it, and not only did they decide to do nothing, they continued to invest.
It’s really sending a double message, and I sort of agree with her that if this piece of legislation is not brought to committee and really some amendments are not made to make it clearer, then those kinds of abnormalities could happen again the way that the bill is written now. There are lots of important issues that need to be talked about when we talk about colleges and universities. I’ve mentioned some of them—the student debt. I would say that funding for the college and university system has to be addressed; I would say that some of the challenges faced by aboriginal and francophone students have to be addressed also.
Mrs. Julia Munro: I do appreciate the comments that were made. I think there is agreement here among those who spoke about the importance of what we often refer to as simply getting it right. I think that there are people whose needs have to be recognized. I recognize by the comments made by the member from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale the fact that you do need to look at this as part of a bigger picture. But I think that the most important thing about this is the need for public hearings and the need to hear from providers and have a fuller understanding of some of the issues that have been brought forward by debate.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: On behalf of the member from Sarnia–Lambton, I’d like to welcome Don Pitt from the Family Counselling Centre in Sarnia. He’s here today to participate in family services day at Queen’s Park. We’d like to welcome Don to the Legislature today.
Hon. Michael Gravelle: Indeed, this is family services day in the Legislature. We have three representatives here from Thunder Bay: Nancy Chamberlain, executive director of the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre—welcome, Nancy; Abi Sprakes, manager of programs and services at the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre; and Carol Cline, program manager from the Catholic Family Development Centre. Welcome. If I missed anybody, you’re all welcome.
Mr. Jim Brownell: I’d like to introduce Raymond Houde, executive director of Counselling and Support Services of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry; and Alex MacDougall, the past president of the same organization. He is presently vice-president of the board of directors of Family Service Ontario. I’d like to welcome them.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: I’m pleased to welcome to the chamber Ms. Linda Dayler, executive director, and representatives from Catholic Family Services of Hamilton, which is located in my riding and does outstanding work in our city.
Hon. Monique M. Smith: I’d like to add my welcomes and welcome Alan McQuarrie, who is the executive director of the community care access centre, and his chair, Derek Thompson, who is with him here today. We’re delighted, and we appreciate all the work you’re doing in Nipissing. Thank you.
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: I would like to introduce John Ellis, who is the executive director of Family Service Ontario. He is in the gallery with Bobbye Goldenberg, the president of the board of directors of Family Service Ontario. I would like to invite all MPPs to their luncheon reception in room 228 following question period today.
Hon. John Milloy: We have a big delegation down here at Queen’s Park from Waterloo region today. Many of them are here with us from K-W Counselling Services: Leslie Josling, Cindy Jacobsen and Paula DeLorenzi; and from Mosaic Counselling and Family Services: Megan Conway, Cath Done, Anne Mank, Mary Wells, Shelley Norton, Scott Witmer, Tanya Smith and Patricia Beardsley.
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: Just subsequent to the minister and his introduction, I just would like to draw special attention—we’re really thrilled that the people from Kitchener–Waterloo are here, but one of the people who is here today is my son, Scott Witmer.
Mr. Charles Sousa: I would like to welcome to the members’ gallery Mr. Dave Cook and his wife, Sophie. Mr. Cook is a former Mississauga city councillor, a writer and a historian. I’m pleased to recognize and celebrate his latest book, titled Fading History, Vol. 2, profiling celebrity leaders in Mississauga. His previously published books about Mississauga’s history include Fading History, a collection of 15 stories about Mississauga’s heritage; Apple Blossoms & Satellite Dishes, which captures the wonderful history of the Applewood community; and From Frozen Ponds to Beehive Glory, which records the magic of Dixie Arena and the Beehive hockey club. Congratulations, Dave, and welcome back to Queen’s Park.
I’m delighted to introduce Heather Bebb, who is visiting us today with other members of the Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County. She is the executive director in Simcoe county, and it is a great delight to have her here.
Hon. Peter Fonseca: On behalf of all the Peel members, I’d like to welcome the board members of the Catholic Family Services of Peel-Dufferin: Ehsan Khandaker, Jose Diaz, Peter Prior, Jim Leising, Andrea Broadley and executive director of Catholic family services Mark Creedon, who are all here for family services day at Queen’s Park. Welcome. Great to have you here.
Hon. Sandra Pupatello: I’m delighted to introduce in the House with us today Joyce Zuk—and John Ellis, of course, who’s the president for Ontario. Both of these folks are from Windsor and Essex county family services. We’re delighted they’re joining us today.
Mr. David Zimmer: I would like to introduce Catholic Family Services of Toronto. They’re headquartered in Willowdale, right next to my constituency office. They’re here for family services day. Virginia Koehler and Roz Boateng, welcome to the Legislature.
Mr. Kim Craitor: I’m pleased to introduce a very good friend of mine, Kim Stasiak; she has a great first name. She is nursing in Newfoundland, and she flew in today because she heard that we are a very civil House. She is also a former nurse in Ontario. She was on the executive of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, she was on the Ontario Health Coalition and she was on the Niagara Health Coalition. Most importantly, she is one of my best friends.
Mr. Ted Arnott: I’d like to introduce guests who are here in the chamber at Queen’s Park. Jane Ishibashi, president; Wayne Shantz, executive director; and Doug Myrden: all members of Halton Family Services. Welcome today to the Ontario Legislature.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome, seated in the Speaker’s gallery today from Family Service Thames Valley, executive director Sandra Savage and past president Alex Connoy. Welcome. And for anybody who wasn’t welcomed today, welcome to Queen’s Park.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Order. Members of the Legislature are very understanding of the rules, and they understand that props are not allowed. I’m disturbed at the incident that has just taken place because it’s obvious it was planned by the number of media cameras that are here in both galleries. I don’t think this chamber should be used in any way for any stunts.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): That is not a point of order. All members of this Legislature are very aware of the rules and that we have available for members the media studio and the grounds. But this chamber is to be used to conduct the business of the province.
MPPs from all political parties will have an opportunity to vote for truth in government. They can support my private member’s bill that I’m bringing forward on behalf of Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservative caucus.
My private member’s bill contains a series of taxpayer protection measures which will include expanding freedom of information across all the public sector and ensuring full proactive disclosure of hospitality expenses, job reclassifications and contracts and contributions over $10,000 to public bodies.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I welcome my honourable colleague’s newfound enthusiasm for transparency and accountability. I look forward to the debate of her private member’s bill, and I congratulate her for bringing that forward.
But I would wonder, on behalf of the government and on behalf of Ontarians, why it is that when we moved to expand the sunshine list to include OPG and Hydro One, their party opposed that. Why is it that when we ask the Auditor General to expand his role to value-for-money audits of broader public sector hospitals, universities and schools, they opposed that as well? There are a number of other things which we’ve moved forward on, and in every instance, they’ve opposed that transparency and accountability.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner has repeatedly called to expand freedom of information to hospitals. So has the Ontario Hospital Association itself. But Dalton McGuinty is ignoring them, and he’s ignoring us. Meanwhile, he’s letting Liberal-friendly consultants who get rich off eHealth contracts feed off the trough.
Courtyard’s website shows that they have been doing work for the University Health Network and Kingston General Hospital. News releases and resumés of those who work for Courtyard show that they were cozy with three hospitals. Why would the Premier be opposed to centralizing information about these deals online and making them subject to FOIs?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Again, I want to repeat what I said a moment ago. When we asked the Auditor General to expand his role to value-for-money audits to cover public sector institutions like hospitals, that party opposed that. I also want to say that when we moved with respect to expenses and tightening rules for travel and meals and required that the Integrity Commissioner now review expenses of our 22 largest agencies, again that party opposed that new measure of openness, accountability and transparency.
Again, I congratulate the member on the private member’s bill she’s bringing forward. I’m sure all members look forward to that debate. But I would ask them that the next time we move forward with measures for accountability and transparency, we have their support.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: I expect the Premier and his caucus to support the Truth in Government Act this afternoon. Sudbury hospital admits that it has a contract to pay McKinsey for advice on health care cuts, but the Premier won’t release it. The McGuinty Liberals signed at least 40 contracts with American hospitals and clinics to make them “preferred providers of US health care for Ontario patients,” but the Premier won’t table those reports either. Courtyard, Accenture and Blue Pebble, all implicated in the billion-dollar eHealth boondoggle, supplied consultants to the UHN, and the health budget is a lot more than a billion dollars.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: On the matter of health care, I would have Ontarians understand that the official opposition said, in terms of funding levels, they would have ensured that program funding would increase only at the rate of inflation. Since 2003, that would have been a $10-billion cut from front-line health care in the province of Ontario, just so people are clear as to where that party is coming from.
One more thing: With respect to freedom of information, we’ve expanded FOI requests to cover OPG, Hydro One, universities, and agencies like Cancer Care Ontario. Again, in every instance where we’ve moved forward with accountability and transparency measures, we have been opposed every step along the way by the party opposite.
The auditor is investigating 16 hospitals for use of consultants, procurements and expenses, so I have a question for the Premier. It’s very simple. How many contracts will the auditor find that were handed out to the Premier’s former political staff, election campaign organizers and friends of the McGuinty Liberals?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I think this is, sadly, par for the course when it comes to the official opposition. The Auditor General is conducting his work, as always, with the highest level of integrity, commitment and thoroughness. We welcome that and we encourage that, and anything we might do to support that, obviously, we are prepared to do.
Again, I want to come back to the original argument that I continue to make here. In every instance where we have tried to move ahead with new measures that promote accountability, transparency and further government openness, we have been opposed every step of the way by the party opposite. I would again say that the next time we want to move forward in those directions, I would ask them for their support.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Today is the opportunity to move forward by putting forward this private member’s bill and voting for it to restore truth in government. He can do it. It’s easy and it can be done today. Everyone but the McGuinty Liberals understand that the practices of the past need to change. The auditor discovered some eyebrow-raising consulting contracts and expenses at eHealth. There is every reason to believe he will find more of the same at the hospitals, or his report would have been tabled by now.
If the accountability reforms I am proposing were adopted, contracts over $10,000 would be posted online so Ontario families could track the Dalton McGuinty sweetheart deals to consultants at the Windsor Energy Centre or even at Casino Niagara.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: My honourable colleague, sadly for her—and I feel for her in this regard—missed the good old days. It would have been great to have had her with us in opposition dealing with the Conservative government of the day and all of the challenges they created for Ontario taxpayers.
Again, whether we’re talking about expanding the sunshine list or expanding the role we’ve given the Auditor General to look into different public institutions, whether we’re talking about the rules we’ve put in place regarding expenses or whether we’re talking about publicly posting expenses and making that mandatory, in all of those areas we have found a way, as a government, to make progress in Ontario. We have changed Conservative government rules. We considered them inadequate. We found them wanting. We’ve improved upon those, and in each and every instance we did that, we were opposed by the party opposite.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: This is actually quite laughable. Don’t cry for me. It’s you who is out of touch and out of gas. Your Liberals will not answer direct questions about how they spend taxpayer dollars.
If the Truth in Government Act and its accountability measures were adopted today, Ontario families would have at their fingertips the value of contracts over $10,000. With Tim Hudak and the Ontario PC’s plan, Ontario families will get proactive disclosure, greater accountability and truth in government. The alternative Dalton McGuinty offers is secret sweetheart deals for Casino Niagara, Samsung, consultants at the LHINs and the UHN, the Sudbury hospital, the Kingston General Hospital, 16 hospitals the auditor is reviewing and who knows where else?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: A lot of energy, a lot of heat; not a lot of light, sadly. I always appreciate the enthusiasm, the vigour and the vitality demonstrated by my colleague opposite, but we will continue to do what we believe is in the best interests of the people of Ontario. We will hold ourselves to the highest standards of accountability, transparency and openness. We will continue to find ways to ensure that the public dollar goes as far as possible. We’ll continue to find ways to make sure that Ontario taxpayers get good value for their money, whether we’re investing it in their hospitals, investing in their schools, investing in their roads, bridges, public transit or their environmental protections. I want to assure my colleague opposite that we take this responsibility very seriously.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Premier. The NDP study using Statistics Canada’s number-crunching skills shows that Ontario families will be paying a lot more under the McGuinty government’s unfair tax plan. If the Premier is so confident about his HST scheme, why won’t he release his estimates about how much the HST will really cost Ontario families?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: As my honourable colleague well knows, at the time of our budget and through our presentations, we had put out there for some time now our estimates, our calculations with respect to the HST and its impact on families. I refer my colleague to some of the documentation that has been out for quite some time.
Again, I think the best thing for Ontarians to do is to take a look at those two independent studies. I think that we can have the highest confidence, if we’re looking for non-partisanship here, in those independent studies. One is from the University of Calgary by Professor Jack Mintz; the other is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I would strongly recommend those to my colleague opposite, and I look forward to describing in some detail the contents of those in my supplementary responses.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Because the Premier is still refusing to tell the real story, we released more figures today about just how much Ontario families will pay in new taxes. The average couple with one child will pay $1,239 more in taxes and are a shocking $815 a year worse off even after the government’s so-called help.
Instead, I’m going to make reference to this study put out by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They call their study Not a Tax Grab After All: A Second Look at Ontario’s HST, and I’ll quote one passage from this. It reads: “Families in a wide range of incomes ($30,000-$90,000) should be better off on average by less than $80 or worse off by less than $65 per year.” That is a marked difference from the numbers put forward by my honourable colleague.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Life with the HST won’t be any better for parents with two or more children either. They’ll be paying an extra $1,321 a year in sales taxes and $830 more after the tax cuts and credits. If the Premier has a different set of numbers, if he actually has a different set of numbers, where are they? Why will he not simply release them to the public so that they can see for themselves?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I’m not sure that my colleague is open to an enlightened understanding of the information that is out there. But what I can say is that the people in her community and the people around Ontario are very focused on one number in particular: 600,000. That’s the number of jobs that our package of tax reforms is going to create over the course of the next 10 years.
My honourable colleague says she’s very concerned on behalf of Ontario families. I think the single most important and pressing issue before Ontario families today, in the aftermath of this terrible recession where we lost 250,000 jobs, is: What about more jobs for the future? Our package of tax reforms is designed to create 600,000 more jobs for the people of Ontario over the course of the next 10 years, and we’re very proud of moving ahead with that.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is for the Premier as well. We’ve submitted freedom-of-information requests looking for the government’s own estimates—the government’s own estimates—on the impact of the Liberals’ new tax on families. The government has the numbers, but these requests have been blocked at every single turn. Why is the Premier so afraid to tell Ontario families how much more they’re going to be paying thanks to the HST?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I’ll give a copy of this book to my honourable colleague. It has been out for about six months now. It’s put out by the Ministry of Finance. It’s called Ontario’s Tax Plan for Jobs and Growth: Cutting Personal and Corporate Taxes and Harmonizing Sales Taxes. I’ll make reference to numbers that are found on pages 24 and 25 of this little manual. It says that a single parent on Ontario Works with two kids aged 5 and 7 will, after full implementation of this tax plan, benefit to the tune of $585. That’s how much they’ll be ahead. A single senior, pension income $20,000, will be ahead by $105. A single individual earning $30,000 will be ahead by $255. A couple earning $70,000 with two kids, ages 5 and 10, will be ahead by $365. This takes into account all of our tax measures, and I recommend this to my honourable colleague.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: One day the Premier says that the tax is going to hit families and the next day he says it isn’t. Nobody really knows because they won’t come clean with the numbers. We know very well that this tax is going to hit families and it’s going to hit them hard.
Yesterday in Sudbury, city council announced that they’ll be raising fees to cope with the cost of the McGuinty government’s unfair tax. In Sudbury and everywhere else across Ontario it’s going to cost more to enrol babies in swim class; it’s going to be more to take a fitness class at a rec centre; it’s going to be more to rent ice for a hockey game. When will the Premier release all the details that the government has about the real cost of the harmonized sales tax?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: We’ve done all that; it’s just that she doesn’t agree with the numbers. It’s as simple as that. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that 83% of consumer purchases will remain unaffected by our tax changes. Let me give you an example of some of the things which remain unaffected: groceries, prescription drugs, your water bill, public transit, child care services, books, children’s clothing, children’s footwear, adult clothing, child car seats, cars, car repairs, lawnmowers, refrigerators, freezers, computers, furniture, toys, admission to sporting events, movie tickets, restaurant meals, cellphone charges, home phone services, cable TV services, auto insurance, home insurance, rent, newspapers, radios, accessories, TVs, DVDs. All of these things will remain unchanged.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Premier’s unfair tax will take $800 out of every single average family’s pocket. That is the fact. It will be much more for families with kids. The cost of heating your home, buying a bike, even taking your child to a swim class is going to be going up. If the Premier really believes that his new tax is the right thing to do, why is he refusing to tell families the basic facts like exactly how much it will cost them each and every year with the harmonized sales tax?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: We’ve had our numbers out for a long time. There have been independent numbers out for a long time, and my honourable colleague and her party have come up with an interesting interpretation, if I may say, of reality when it comes to the numbers.
But I do want to remind my honourable colleague that the NDP Fair Tax Commission, established in 1991—I’d been sitting in the Legislature for one year at that time, and I recall very well the work of the NDP Fair Tax Commission—came forward with recommendation 58, which specifically said that Ontario should exempt all business inputs from the retail sales tax. That means the HST; it’s a value-added tax we’re talking about, the HST. This is the same party that, in government, stood for the HST, and it’s interesting that now that they find themselves in opposition, they stand counter to a program which they know will increase jobs for working families.
This morning at the committee reviewing the budget, we learned that it is not the collective agreements that are making you pay severance to the Ministry of Revenue staff who will transfer offices without missing a day of work. Premier, you could have used the HST agreement with Ottawa to clarify what everyone knows—that these employees are not dismissed—and saved $25 million for Ontario families.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Just so we know what we are talking about here, the HST severance pay was in keeping with an obligation that we have. The Conservative government inserted that clause in the collective agreement that guarantees severance. They had a chance to change it in 1999; they did not. They had a chance to change it in 2002; they refused to do it then. We did change it, for new hires. That’s how you change these things: on a go-forward basis. New hires are no longer entitled to this kind of severance. That started January 2009. So, in fact, we were committed to an undertaking given by the previous government. We believe we have a responsibility to honour that kind of an undertaking, and we did that.
Mr. Norm Miller: You signed the CITCA agreement with the federal government. You, sir, signed that agreement. What the Premier says about having to pay severance to people who were not dismissed and will not miss a day of work is as forthright as what he said about the HST being revenue-neutral.
The Ontario PCs proposed to amend the definition of “dismissal” without touching the collective agreements of HST tax collectors, but the McGuinty Liberals blocked us from standing up for Ontario families who cannot understand why the Premier is paying severance packages when no one is being severed from their job.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I want to remind my honourable colleague, because he didn’t have the benefit of being here then, that in 1996, when there were jobs transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to the University of Guelph, again, people still had a job, but they also got severance under the Conservatives. That was in keeping with an agreement that the government had entered into. In 1997, when jobs were transferred from the Ministry of Health to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, again under the Conservatives, people kept their jobs, but severance payments were also made.
We’re doing what is fair in the circumstances. We’ve changed it on a go-forward basis. We’re honouring an agreement that that government entered into. We feel some sense of responsibility when it comes to honouring agreements. My honourable colleagues opposite may feel differently when it comes to collective bargaining, but we see things differently.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Premier. This morning, Toronto commuters were rightly worried that the full Transit City expansion promised by this government will never be built. But on Tuesday, the Premier told his House, “The four Transit City projects”—Sheppard, Eglinton, Finch and Scarborough—“can reasonably be completed in 10 years, while achieving the required savings of $4 billion.”
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I think the member opposite is referring perhaps to a letter that was sent by the mayor to the government expressing a lack of support for the process that’s going on. The problem is that we really need the TTC, and we need the mayor to be working with Metrolinx.
We are determined that these projects are going to go ahead. There are actually five projects—there’s a fifth project that goes up into York region—and the money for those projects is in place. We’re developing the plan. It’s really disappointing, I think, that the mayor doesn’t want to get onboard, work with us and make sure that the projects go ahead. That’s what we need.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Premier keeps saying that his government is committed to completing Transit City and that the funding is only being delayed. But today, a new Metrolinx plan has been made public showing that Metrolinx plans to cut Transit City lines by 22.5 kilometres and remove 25 stops.
Did the Premier already know that Metrolinx was cutting Transit City lines by about one third when he told this House that Transit City would be “completed in 10 years”? And if he did know, why didn’t he say so then?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let’s be clear: We’re talking about—just for the Toronto projects, because the mayor is only talking about those four projects—$8.1 billion. That money remains in place. That is the money that we have committed to.
Yes, there had been a conversation before the budget was announced about exactly how those projects would roll out. The mayor was part of that conversation, and he agreed to the initial conversation on how those projects would be rolled out. We brought the budget in and we said that we had to delay the cash flow, but the reality is that this is completely provincial money that’s going to these projects. These are not municipal dollars. The mayor needs to understand, I believe, that if he can work with us, these projects can go ahead. If not, the projects are at risk, and that would be a great shame for the city of Toronto and for the people who live in Toronto.
Mr. Wayne Arthurs: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Our province, like many jurisdictions around the world, is just now starting to emerge from one of the worst economic downturns of our lifetime. As a result of this downturn, a number of key industries were negatively affected and jobs were lost. Ontario’s auto industry was no exception. As this sector crumbled around the world, the negative effects were felt here at home. Auto companies scrambled to downsize, cut costs and restructure to remain afloat, and production levels fell. This left thousands of Ontario auto jobs in limbo, and many were lost.
The fog of the most recent recession appears to be lifting, though, and a number of sectors in the province are beginning to bounce back. It’s for this reason that I ask the minister: What’s the current status of the auto industry in Ontario following one of the most devastating recessions of our lifetime?
Hon. Sandra Pupatello: I’m delighted to speak about an industry that is dear to the heart of this economy in Ontario and, of course, to members all over this House, but in particular this member from Pickering, whose whole riding is certainly reliant on a thriving automotive sector as well.
We’re very pleased that the Ontario government stepped forward when we did. When that sector needed the help, the Ontario government was there. We knew that it had a future, and today we are seeing signs that that investment, that partnership, with the automotive sector was a very sound decision. Today, we’re seeing companies rehiring people and bringing back people from layoff. In Woodstock, as you know, they’re adding an additional shift with Toyota. If you go down to Chrysler, the van plant, they are firing on three shifts and overtime. At the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, we are looking at rehires as well. These are signs that this sector is starting to fire on all cylinders.
Mr. Wayne Arthurs: I want to thank the minister for her answer. It’s encouraging to see that things in the auto sector are turning around, not just globally but also here at home. These announcements of increased production, sales and new or recalled jobs are particularly encouraging. For this reason, I’d like to congratulate those auto companies on their recent announcements.
At the height of this recession, the government provided a lifeline to a number of key auto companies in the province, and one of those companies was General Motors, which was mentioned by the minister during her initial answer. In light of this government’s support for General Motors, I want to ask the minister: What’s the current status of General Motors in the province of Ontario?
Hon. Sandra Pupatello: I think all of us here in the House, none more so than our Minister of Finance, are delighted to see the repayment of their loan five years ahead of schedule. This was very good news for General Motors and very good news for the people of Ontario. We were delighted to see that they have made yet another investment in the St. Catharines plant with their V8 product. We are delighted because that speaks to the future of GM’s footprint here in Ontario, not just in production but in new products as well.
In the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, they are hiring more people and adding an additional shift. This is all really great news for GM. GM, by itself, accounts for at least a third of all of the products in the automotive supply chain as well, so it’s not just important to GM; it’s important to the whole supply chain and, frankly, to all of us here in Ontario.
Mr. Frank Klees: My question is to the Minister of Energy. I recently asked the minister a question about the contract for the multi-million-dollar redevelopment of 400-series service centres. I asked him to disclose the amount of payment that was made to the losing bidder for that contract. I recently received a letter from him, but we’re still no closer to the truth.
The minister states in his letter that the payment was made pursuant to a design and bid fee for unsuccessful bidders and claims that this is standard business practice. The minister must also know then that it’s also standard business practice to disclose that payment.
Hon. Brad Duguid: I thank the member for the question. What the member is talking about, for those who aren’t sure, is a project that is developing 20 service centres across our highways, modernizing rest areas and creating accessible and improved food services while creating 2,000 to 2,500 service centre jobs. I know the member is aware of this; it is an important project, and we are very pleased to be moving forward with it.
As I’ve said to the member in the past, the design bid fee is not an unusual industry practice. It’s something that promotes good business practices between government and the business community. It’s something that’s important to ensure, in a province that’s open for doing business, that we have a good working relationship.
Mr. Frank Klees: I’m well familiar with the design and bid fee and its purpose. What is surprising, though, is that we have it on good authority that the amount paid to Carillion Canada far exceeds what would typically be paid as a design and bid fee.
Why will the minister not disclose the amount of this fee to this Legislature and to the people of Ontario, who have paid for that bid fee? Will the minister undertake to disclose to us the reason for the fee and the amount? That’s all we’re asking.
Hon. Brad Duguid: One of the reasons why Infrastructure Ontario was set up was to professionalize the procurement process for many of these contracts that go out. That’s the job that they do. In fact, in this particular case, an independent fairness adviser oversaw the entire procurement process and determined indeed that the process was open, fair and transparent. I think that what Ontarians want is that kind of open and transparent process.
We are looking forward—in fact, we’ve invited the member to sit down and have a briefing on this issue. If some of the questions he is asking can’t be answered in that briefing, that’s fine. There is sometimes commercially sensitive information that can’t be—
Mr. Paul Miller: My question is to the Premier. On June 13 and 14, finance ministers from across Canada will be gathering in PEI to decide upon the future of retirement savings in this country. A report suggests that later today, a Liberal member from Peterborough will introduce a private member’s bill that bears a close resemblance to a proposal put forward by the insurance industry. The finance minister is quoted as saying that the government may very well pass it.
We in the NDP have come down firmly on the side of public, defined pension plans with our well-received Ontario retirement plan. It’s a very simple question, Premier. Which side are you on: the side of the banks and insurance companies or the people of Ontario?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I want to again commend my colleague opposite and his party as well for the proposal that they’ve put forward. We think that it will likely form an important aspect of any ultimate solution that deals with the looming challenge of inadequate retirement benefits. We will continue to find ways to work with the federal government and with my counterparts across the country to determine what it is that we can do collectively. I’ve always said that it’s a national challenge that requires a national response. Again, I commend the NDP for the proposal that they have put forward, but I think it’s going to take more than that.
I think the other thing that I would say to my colleague opposite is that it’s going to require that they also attach the cost associated with the proposal so that we can get a better sense of what we’re talking about there.
The respected pension expert Keith Ambachtsheer has said publicly that defined benefit plans can deliver the same level of retirement income at almost half the cost of retirement schemes offered by banks and insurance companies. In the historic pension debate that is now taking place, you either believe in cost-effective public pensions, as we do in the New Democratic Party, or you support the banks and insurance companies and their expensive individual savings plans. Premier, whose side are you on?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I want to say a few things in this regard. First of all, the Minister of Finance is in Ottawa today attending a round table on pensions. Secondly, I want to thank my honourable colleague and his party for supporting the pension bill that was passed just yesterday in this very Legislature. Thirdly, I just don’t think we enjoy the luxury of seeing the world the way my honourable colleagues in the NDP do, which is that either you are with me or against me, or you’re on this side or you’re on that side. I think the world is more complicated, and I think there’s room, ultimately, in the solution when it comes to dealing with our pensions for some greater public initiative. I think it’s also important for us to find ways to create more private opportunities for Ontario families as well, should they wish to avail themselves of that kind of an opportunity.
So again, we’re going to try to bring a comprehensive, holistic, thoughtful approach to a tremendous challenge. We’ll continue to find ways to work with our colleagues opposite, with the federal government and with my counterparts from around the country.
Mrs. Laura Albanese: My question is to the Minister of Transportation. In my riding of York South–Weston, transit is a top priority. My constituents are eagerly awaiting the completion of the big five transit projects, particularly the Eglinton LRT. The delay in funding for the transit projects in the GTA, as announced in the budget, however, has caused mixed reactions. While some of my constituents believe themselves to be well served by the delay, as it permits additional reflection and analysis of the Eglinton LRT in regard to safety, expropriations, revitalization and the development of the Kodak lands, they are all worried that they may not see the construction of these transit lines for a very long time.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Thank you to the member for the question. Let me begin by saying that I understand as the Minister of Transportation, but I also understand as an MPP from Toronto how important these projects are. We’ve made a commitment to build regional transit in Toronto and the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, and we’re moving forward. We’ve made significant investments in public transit already: $9.3 billion since 2003.
I’ve asked the experts at Metrolinx to come forward with a thoughtful, reasonable plan for phasing the big five transit projects, so that’s the four Toronto projects and the York project. I look forward to seeing that plan later this month.
Let me be clear: I want to remind all of our Toronto and GTHA constituents that this money in these projects, apart from a small amount of federal money in the Sheppard project, is all provincial. There is no municipal funding. We are going to move ahead, and I look forward to the co-operation of the mayor with us.
Mrs. Laura Albanese: Minister, notwithstanding the mixed reactions in my community to the Eglinton LRT project as it stands, this morning I was alarmed to hear stories in the media reporting that the mayor of Toronto will not support Metrolinx’s plan to complete the big five projects in 10 years. Many of my constituents will be wondering whether this is the end of the next generation of public transit in the GTA. There are petitions being signed and emails being sent—a lot of fear-mongering. As I mentioned, transit is a priority in my riding.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I hear the heckling under the breath of the people opposite saying that this is ridiculous. What’s ridiculous is that we have, as a government, put on the table $9 billion to build projects in the GTHA—$9 billion.
I was very surprised and disappointed to read the mayor’s letter. I want to assure the House, as I have a number of times, that we are fully, fully intentional in moving ahead on the big five projects. I’ve very concerned that the mayor would release partial and inaccurate information before that plan is fully developed, because Metrolinx wants to work with the city to put that plan in place. There’s no intention, I hope, to undermine this process by going public with the information before it’s finalized. So I want to say to—
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: My question is for the Minister of Health. Minister, why have you knowingly moved forward with a plan to not only make it difficult for family-owned pharmacies to survive but also put patient access to their services at risk?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: The reforms we’re proposing when it comes to getting fair drug prices for the people of Ontario is a proposal I’m very proud of. I am astonished, frankly, that the party opposite has chosen to take the side of big pharmacy over the side of people who need access to generic drugs. We do acknowledge that access to pharmacies is a very important part of what we need to do to actually enhance the role of pharmacists in our health care spectrum. That’s why we’ve allocated $22 million to maintain access to pharmacies in rural areas. I have heard from my colleagues about situations in their ridings where there’s a concern about access. What I can do is assure you and the member opposite that access to pharmacies—
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: Again, to the minister: Minister, we’ve just learned about your own 2009 briefing document at the ministry which outlines how smaller, independent and rural pharmacies, which are about 51%, have “a low capacity” to survive your reforms. There are also analysts, such as the CFIB and Scotia Capital, which have confirmed that it’s going to be the little person, the family pharmacy, that is going to be dealt the hardest blow. Yet despite this information, you are moving forward.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: I have been anxious to meet with the pharmacists ever since we released this proposal. They have cancelled meetings. We have requested meetings. It’s very important to me that we actually have those conversations with pharmacists, and I’m very disappointed that they have, so far, not made that possible.
I’m also very pleased that health ministers across this country are now looking at what we are doing in Ontario. They recognize that their constituents as well are paying far too much for generic drugs.
We want to get this right. We want to actually enhance the role of pharmacists. So many of our independent pharmacists are actually looking forward to the new model, where they will be paid for services that they provide to their patients. Those independent pharmacists have a great relationship with their customers. They will be able to take advantage of the payments, almost $300 million, that we’re putting back into pharmacies—
Mme France Gélinas: Ma question est pour le procureur général. Dans sa décision du 24 mars 2010, le juge Michael Dale Parayeski démontre que les droits des francophones ne sont pas respectés dans certains tribunaux de la famille de la province. Le tribunal de l’agglomération de Simcoe dans le comté de Norfolk est un des tribunaux qui ne permettent pas le classement des documents en français sans le consentement des deux parties. En droit de la famille, obtenir ce consentement revient à ne pas avoir droit à ces services en français.
Hon. Christopher Bentley: I thank the member for the question. We’ve made a lot of progress over the past seven years in providing additional services in French throughout the province of Ontario. We have taken great strides to make sure that wherever they are required in criminal cases, we have the necessary judges and justices of the peace and the crowns and other officials to support that. We’ll continue to do that.
In designated areas throughout the province of Ontario, we’ve made great strides in providing access to other services. If there are issues, if there are challenges—and there may be in certain parts of the province—we’re continuing to work with my colleague the minister responsible for francophone affairs, with the francophone lawyers’ associations, and we’ll work with local officials to address those issues in a positive, proactive, supportive way.
Mme France Gélinas: Laissez-moi vous dire, monsieur le Procureur, qu’il y en a des problèmes. Demander à deux personnes qui sont dans le tribunal de la famille de s’entendre sur les services en français est impossible. C’est vraiment dire que les services en français ne sont pas disponibles à ces personnes-là.
Comment se fait-il qu’en 2010—la Loi sur les services en français, c’est 1987—je suis ici, debout, puis je vous pose encore la question, pourquoi n’a-t-on pas droit à des services en français dans la Cour de la famille partout en Ontario? Est-ce que le ministre va assurer la protection du droit des francophones à des procédures en français dans les tribunaux de la famille partout en Ontario?
Hon. Christopher Bentley: Yes, we have taken a very proactive stance in passing legislation to support and ensure the provision of French-language services throughout the province of Ontario, and yes, we are complying with the appropriate legislative regime. But we are trying to do more than that, and go beyond it.
In those areas of the province where there are challenges, and some may be identified by my colleague and some may be identified by others, we’ll continue to work not only with local officials but with the francophone lawyers’ associations and with my colleague the minister responsible for francophone affairs.
We actually received a very helpful and supportive report not long ago with some very good suggestions that we are implementing from the Ombudsman for francophone language issues to make sure that we are ahead of our legislative requirements and are continuing to build on the strong record that we have already. We’ll continue to do that.
Mr. Jeff Leal: My question today is for the Minister of Community and Social Services. This year marks the second annual Family Service Ontario lobby day at Queen’s Park, and I want to welcome friends from Peterborough, my riding, here today.
Family Service Ontario represents 46 not-for-profit member agencies that provide community-based mental health services and programs for over 250,000 individuals and families annually, from every age group and socioeconomic status. Could the minister discuss how we have worked with Family Service Ontario in order to support those who support our most vulnerable families?
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: I’d like to thank the member from Peterborough for that question. I would also like to thank Family Service Ontario for coming to Queen’s Park today. I want to acknowledge John Ellis, who is the president of Family Service Ontario.
This government is proud of its accomplishments made in partnership with Family Service Ontario. Family Service Ontario partners with agencies that provide a range of support services, everything from employment assistance programs to parent-teen education. Some agencies even offer special programs for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Today is an opportunity to learn about the great work that Family Service Ontario does. I encourage all MPPs to take time out of their day to meet with them after question period in rooms 228 and 230.
Mr. Jeff Leal: Thank you. I appreciate that very detailed and extensive answer. In my riding, I can tell you that the work of Family Service Ontario is integral to many families throughout my community who have come to rely on the exceptional care that Family Service Ontario provides.
I understand that our government has increased its support to Family Service Ontario significantly since 2003, whether that is funding for counselling programs, the transition and housing support program or the program of early intervention for children who witness violence. To the minister: Could you tell the Legislature what support this government has provided and continues to provide to Family Service Ontario?
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Thank you again for the question. Our government is committed to supporting Family Service Ontario. Last year, my ministry provided $7.9 million in funding to Family Service Ontario member agencies for violence-against-women services. We also increased annualized funding for VAW counselling agencies by 3.29%, retroactive to April 1, 2009. We have increased the base budget to Family Service Ontario agencies by 13% since 2003, as well as providing $3.5 million for enhancements to their transitional and housing support programs and counselling programs. Overall, there has been an almost 200% increase in MCSS funding to Family Service Ontario member organizations.
Mr. Norm Miller: My question is for the Acting Premier. AMO, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, raised last-minute alarm bells over schedules 10 and 12 of the budget bill. They pointed out that the government’s budget bill downloads more costs onto municipalities. I raised the issue at committee this morning.
Acting Premier, the budget bill amends some 27 separate pieces of legislation. The bill, as with so many, has been time-allocated and had a meagre five hours of committee meetings to get comments from those most affected.
Past omnibus bills like the HST act and the Green Energy Act hid severance payments for HST tax collectors and took away municipalities’ rights to decide on major projects. Can you tell me what other surprises are hidden in the budget bill before it is too late?
Hon. Sandra Pupatello: It was a little bit difficult following the scent of his question, but I will tell you that the budget bill, as you know, is an extensive document that is doing some tremendous things for Ontarians. We know that as we go through this in committee, it gives you an opportunity to see that.
Mr. Norm Miller: The Acting Premier makes my point: It is a very extensive bill. It has 31 schedules and it got five hours of public hearings. We know that the CITCA agreement in the fall budget bill gives these HST tax collectors severance when they aren’t being severed.
How can we have confidence in the government’s legislation? What has evolved is a legacy of bad legislation and bad public policy. When are you going to start being open, transparent and upfront with the public?
It’s clear, because all of us at some point as ministers in this cabinet have gone before AMO on a regular and consistent basis: We have a law that says that we will consult with our municipalities. We’re called before this group, this steering committee, on a regular basis. They know, in advance of legislation being tabled, the direction that we’re going in.
These are the kinds of relationships that we’ve built. The result of that has been a significant amount of work to upload the massive downloading done by your party. I find it very ironic that you in particular would ask questions about relationships—
Mr. Howard Hampton: My question is for the Minister of Children and Youth Services. The McGuinty government is forcing young children in northwestern Ontario with delays and handicaps in their speech and language development to wait up to 18 months—a year and a half—before getting access to speech and language pathologists.
We know that children with delays in their speech and language development who don’t receive appropriate professional help will then face subsequent serious behavioural, social and educational challenges.
My question is this: Does the minister think it is fair when the McGuinty Liberals force these young children to wait up to a year and a half before they get access to the speech-language pathologists they need?
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: I’m pleased to have a chance to talk about the importance of ensuring that speech and language therapy is provided to children promptly and at an early age. That is precisely why I will be embarking on a large-scale review of all of our services that we offer children zero to four with Dr. Charles Pascal. We’ll be taking a look to ensure that we find a pathway forward for those children who are in our preschool time, and speech pathology and speech therapy which is offered to preschool children through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services is one of those types of programs.
We also work in partnership to deliver that program with children’s treatment centres. A significant investment has recently been made in children’s treatment centres to ensure the delivery of that program.
Mr. Howard Hampton: The minister talks about a review. The fact is, the McGuinty Liberals have quietly cut the funding for these services. Even the Toronto Star confirms that the reason young children from communities like Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Eagle Lake First Nation can’t get access to the speech-language pathologists they need is because the McGuinty Liberals, through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and the Ministry of Health, “have drastically slashed funding for services by speech-language pathologists.”
I don’t want to hear about a review. What I want to know is, when will the McGuinty Liberals restore the funding you have cut so that young children who are already struggling get the professional speech and language services they need to succeed in school and, indeed, succeed in life?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: I can assure the member opposite that we are very, very committed to giving kids what they need to be the very best they can be. The CCAC budget has gone up by $680 million—that’s 56%—since we were elected.
I do understand that there are challenges around school health supports and speech pathology. What I can tell you is, this is an issue of concern, and that is why we are taking a very good, hard look at this. I have asked the officials to get in touch with the LHINs to find out what’s going on to make sure that the LHINs and the CCACs are working together to make sure kids are getting what they need to be the very best they can be.
Yesterday, the third International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health had their opening ceremony right here in the city of Toronto. Participants from all around the world are attending. This is an enormous conference, and it’s a mark of prestige that it’s being held here in Toronto. It’s a forum for the scientific exchange of information between delegates from around the world to discuss and debate health issues and physical activity.
I want to welcome the congress and its 1,100 participants from approximately 55 countries to Toronto. It’s taking place from May 5 to 8 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. In fact, I was privileged to welcome delegates at the opening ceremonies yesterday evening, and I also had the opportunity to meet some of the participants.
Our government is cognizant of the importance of physical activity to public health. As such, we support the congress in its work. By the close of the congress, it is anticipated that a new Toronto charter for physical activity will be ratified. This charter will help to guide policy-makers around the world in promoting physical activity, and we certainly welcome it.
Mr. David Zimmer: Thank you very much, Minister. I’m aware of various studies such as the Active Healthy Kids Canada report, and there are a lot more studies available. What these studies show is that promoting physical activity, especially among our children and youth, is hugely important if we’re going to ensure that we have a healthy youthful population and they can make all their achievements in school and then get on to university.
Hon. Margarett R. Best: Ontario has been a leading jurisdiction in health promotion, and we are committed to promoting physical activity. In that respect, we have committed $17 million toward our healthy communities fund to help local partners promote physical activity. We have also invested $10 million in our after-school initiative to provide children and youth with access to safe, active and healthy after-school activities. We are investing and leveraging significant funding in youth sport and recreation infrastructure through our Ontario recreation infrastructure program and the upcoming Pan American and Parapan American Games.
Mrs. Julia Munro: I’d ask all members to join me in welcoming Mr. Elisha Laker, executive director of Family Services York Region; Ms. Mariana Benitez, the program director; and Ms. Susan Warren, the manager. Please help me welcome them to Queen’s Park.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): From my riding of Elgin–Middlesex–London, I would like to welcome a group of students from Corinth Christian School who are visiting and touring Queen’s Park today. Welcome to Queen’s Park.
Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer: I’m pleased today to be able to rise on behalf of my leader, Tim Hudak, and also the members of the Ontario PC caucus to show our very strong support for Education Week and for all of those in this province who have been affiliated with making our system the success that it is.
This is the annual week where we celebrate with our students, teachers, parents and volunteers, and we see some of the outstanding work that’s done within our community schools and also the accomplishments of our publicly funded schools—and they are certainly numerous. I’m sure that all of us have a had a chance this week to visit schools and to see some of the students’ academic, athletic and creative skills. Certainly we know that Ontario students are achieving success.
I had the opportunity this week to go to Mary Johnston Public School, a school that I had opened as chair of the school board in 1987. The woman this school was named after, Mary Johnston, the very first female principal in Waterloo region, was there that day, and together, Mary Johnston, those who were invited and the students who had known Mary celebrated her 80th birthday. I can tell you, it was a very special occasion, and we wish her well.
Many of these living books share their experiences of struggle, hardship, and, in many cases, how they live on the margins. This program allows all the people to share a rare opportunity for insight and understanding into the complex and dynamic lives of members of our communities. It also provides opportunities for friendship to grow and flourish and to develop sustaining relationships.
This program originated in Denmark, and I’m excited and happy to see it come to my hometown of London. I truly commend the efforts of the London Public Library, and I hope to see this program grow and expand across the province of Ontario. I hope also to see it again next year in London.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I want to thank all my constituents who responded to my recent newsletter and shared their opinion on a number of important issues, including the HST. Their message was clear: Listen to the people and stop the HST.
In case the Liberals didn’t understand how people are feeling about this tax grab, I want to share a few quotes. “I am a small businessman. It will hurt me.” “As a senior, I can’t afford it.” From another senior: “My pension does not allow for more taxes.” Another person said, “HST: too big a burden for the working class.” One family called it fiscally irresponsible, especially after a recession.
Let me give you an idea of how many people are against this tax grab. Out of 827 respondents, 733 oppose it strongly; that means 89% understand that the cost is being imposed on the people by the Liberal government. They want government to be responsible and accountable, to spend more wisely instead of burdening Ontarians with more taxes.
When will the McGuinty government realize that the people of Ontario are smart? They recognize a tax hike when they see it. They know they can’t afford it. And they remember broken promises. As one of my constituents pointed out, “Dalton McGuinty promised not to increase taxes”: another instance where people are not being listened to.
The PC caucus has repeatedly asked the McGuinty government to listen to Ontarians about the impact of the HST. I’m listening to the people of Oxford, and their message is clear: No Dalton McGuinty HST tax grab.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Twelve-year-old Dakota Turner is a grade 7 student at Empire Public School down in Welland. Dakota was a member of the LEGO team, and it appears that at one point there were some LEGO pieces missing. Well, people got all excited and upset. There was an argument between the teacher and the student, and then between the teacher and the parent of the student, Shirley Turner, and before you know it, the police were called. These are LEGO pieces. I’m not talking real bricks and mortar; I’m talking LEGO. Well, at some point, all hell broke loose.
In any event, Mom calls the local school board trustee, Larry Lemelin. Why not? She voted for him; she elected him; she sent him to the school board so that he could intervene and advocate on behalf of her and her kid in situations like this and perhaps help resolve them. But oh, no, the superintendent of the Niagara district school board has a different idea. You see, this Legislature passed Bill 177, section 248.1, which school boards like Niagara’s are using to bully, intimidate and eunuch school board trustees. Elected school board trustees are being told to mind their own business, keep hands off. “We’ll deal with this. Go away. Go home.”
I say that’s wrong. People in Welland elected Larry Lemelin to advocate and fight for them, just like they elected me to advocate and fight for them here at Queen’s Park. The Minister of Education should be straightening out these boards of education who just want silent little puppets as trustees and who think that high-paid staff are going to run the show without the interference, direction and direct involvement of elected personnel.
Ms. Leeanna Pendergast: It is a genuine honour to rise in the House today to speak of one of Kitchener–Conestoga’s pillars of the community who has recently announced his retirement, and I understand that Walter is watching today. Welcome, Walter.
In June 1938, at age 17, Walter Hachborn took a job as an apprentice at Hollinger Hardware in Saint Jacobs, Ontario, where he was sweeping floors and sorting nails. In 1950, Walter purchased Hollinger Hardware.
Walter was named Citizen of the Year of Woolwich township in 1976. He received an honorary degree of doctor of laws from Wilfrid Laurier University in 1985. He was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003. And not in the least, of course, Walter was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.
Walter will remain as president emeritus of Home Hardware and will always remain the patriarch for this Canadian institution, which he started with his strong commitment to helping the community and helping entrepreneurs in the hardware business.
I wish to congratulate Walter on his retirement and thank him for his tireless contributions in making our economy stronger and helping Kitchener–Conestoga and all of Waterloo region become a better place to live. Thank you, Walter.
Mr. John O’Toole: Today I’d like to pay tribute to the volunteers and sponsors of the recent Huck Finn Youth Fishing Day in Uxbridge, which was celebrated on April 24 at Elgin Park in Uxbridge. With close to 3,000 participants, this is one of Ontario’s largest outdoor events for children and families. In fact, the surprising thing is that it was free.
I’d like to thank the sponsors, which include the township of Uxbridge; the staff from the regional office in Aurora of the Ministry of Natural Resources—they did a great job; Uxbridge Times-Journal; the Optimist Club; the Uxbridge Royal Canadian Legion; the Durham regional police; the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters; the Pickering Rod and Gun Club; Zehrs Food Plus; and the Fishing Forever foundation.
There were two people who made a special effort to entertain the kids and have a great time. I’d like to thank Amanda Ferraro from Uxbridge recreational management staff, and Dan Pollard, a local sports announcer on a network television station, who was the emcee for the day on a volunteer basis. They made this a great day for families and children to enjoy the outdoors and the great environment we have in Ontario.
Mr. Jim Brownell: Some of our colleagues here in this Legislature might know that May is speech and hearing month. This is a month dedicated to the early detection and prevention of communication disorders, and an opportunity to increase the public’s sensitivity to the challenges faced by individuals experiencing them.
One organization that works with children and youth suffering from communication disorders is Voice for Hearing Impaired Children. You may remember their successful Kids HEAR lobby day held here at the Legislature last fall. Voice is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and is launching an event called Dress Loud Day tomorrow, May 7, to draw awareness to their cause. Children in schools across Ontario will be dressing loud and donating a toonie to help support the good work at Voice. Voice is providing a kit and resources to schools to help educate students about hearing loss and to help develop empathy and understanding of students with hearing disabilities.
Voice is also encouraging workplaces to join in and share information about how to communicate with colleagues about hearing loss. You may find out more about this at their website, voicefordeafkids.com.
Tomorrow I plan to dress loud for this cause. I may not have the loudest costume on, but I certainly will pull out a tie that will support and say, “Yes, I am dressing loud for Voice.” This will celebrate the accomplishments of this organization over these 45 years, and I challenge my fellow members here in the Legislature to do that as well.
Mr. Reza Moridi: Six years ago, only 68% of Ontario students were graduating with a high school diploma, but our government has been determined to help more of our young people succeed. That’s why we’ve created new student success programs such as the specialist high skills major. This program allows students to tailor their high school experience to their individual strengths, goals and interests. As a result of programs like this, the graduation rate rose to almost 80% in 2008-09.
We are also introducing two new majors centring on sports and not-for-profit community organizations. This brings the total number of majors to 18, which includes subjects such as construction, energy, agriculture and aerospace. In the 2010-11 school year, we project that over 28,000 students in 530 high schools across the province will benefit from this program.
Expanding this program is an important part of our government’s new Open Ontario plan to build a well-educated workforce and create more jobs and opportunities for our young people. We will keep working hard to help our students succeed in their education and future careers.
Mr. Charles Sousa: Our government’s comprehensive tax reform package includes a new harmonized sales tax that will reduce business costs, increase our competitiveness and create almost 600,000 new jobs. On top of that, our tax reforms include personal income tax cuts and a variety of tax credits to help Ontarians.
We have also heard from First Nations in Ontario who have told us that they want the point-of-sale exemption they currently have under the PST to be continued with the HST as well. Our government agrees with this position. We want First Nations in Ontario to continue to have this point-of-sale exemption.
But to make that happen, we need the agreement of the federal government. That’s why we are taking action to move this discussion forward. Our government has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Chiefs of Ontario, represented by the political confederacy, to work together and press the federal government to extend this point-of-sale exemption of the HST. What’s more, we will also work together on interim measures until that exemption is restored.
Bill 16, An Act to implement 2010 Budget measures and to enact or amend various Acts / Projet de loi 16, Loi mettant en oeuvre certaines mesures énoncées dans le Budget de 2010 et édictant ou modifiant diverses lois.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: The bill provides that a public sector employee’s salary shall not exceed the amount that is twice the Premier’s annual salary. Exceptions, of course, are provided for, including one for salaries that are established under a collective agreement.
Bill 58, An Act to amend the Planning Act with respect to inclusionary housing / Projet de loi 58, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’aménagement du territoire à l’égard de l’inclusion de logements abordables.
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: The Planning Act is amended to include the adequate provision of a full range of housing, including housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households as a matter of provincial interest.
Section 34 of the act is amended to allow the councils of local municipalities to pass zoning bylaws requiring inclusionary housing in the municipality and regulating the required percentage of affordable housing units in new housing developments in the municipality.
The new section 37.1 of the act allows municipalities to pass bylaws requiring that a specified percentage of housing units in all new housing developments in the municipality be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
Section 51 of the act is amended to allow the approval authority to impose, as a condition to the approval of a plan of subdivision, a requirement that a specified percentage of housing units in all new housing developments in the subdivision be affordable to low- and moderate-income households.
Hon. Gerry Phillips: I move that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts be authorized to attend the 31st annual conference of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees and that the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly be authorized to attend the 2010 annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Today marks a special day here in Ontario. Today is family services day at the Legislature, and I would like to welcome all our partners from Family Service Ontario who are here in the gallery today.
This is a time to celebrate and recognize Family Service Ontario organizations and what they do for our province, not only today but each and every day. There are nearly 50 family service agencies across Ontario, which serve more than 250,000 individuals and families each year. These agencies provide a variety of supports to maximize the potential and happiness of our citizens and families, supports such as relationship and financial counselling, substance abuse programs, services for people with disabilities, programs for victims of domestic violence and many more.
Il existe près de 50 organismes de services à la famille en Ontario qui desservent plus de 250 000 particuliers et familles chaque année. Ces organismes fournissent un large éventail de soutiens pour maximiser le potentiel et le bonheur de nos citoyens et de nos familles : des services de counselling pour les familles et des conseils financiers, des programmes de désintoxication, des services aux personnes handicapées, des programmes d’aide aux victimes de violence familiale et bien d’autres encore.
Family service agencies address a wide range of emotional, psychological, physical and financial problems, and have a large impact on the overall well-being of Ontario’s families. That means that family service agencies have an impact on the well-being of our communities. By helping to strengthen Ontario’s individuals and families, they are helping to strengthen our local communities as a whole. That is certainly something worth recognizing.
Our government is proud to support Family Service Ontario by funding several of their programs, including those for people with disabilities and victims of domestic abuse. Since this government took office, we have invested over $500 million in developmental services and increased funding for programs that help reduce domestic violence by 46%.
Notre gouvernement est fier de soutenir Services à la famille-Ontario en finançant plusieurs de ses programmes, notamment ceux qui s’adressent aux personnes handicapées et aux victimes de violence familiale.
Depuis l’arrivée au pouvoir de notre gouvernement, nous avons investi plus de 500 millions de dollars dans les services aux personnes ayant une déficience intellectuelle et augmenté de 46 % le financement de programmes qui visent à réduire la violence familiale.
Just like Family Service Ontario, we know how important it is to provide the right supports to those who need them in their own communities close to home. Often, it is these types of services that allow people in need to become healthier individuals and lead more successful lives.
In our economic climate, more Ontarians than ever have turned to family service agencies to cope with issues of stress, unemployment and financial difficulties. These agencies are helping to get Ontarians back on their feet.
À notre époque de ralentissement économique, de plus en plus d’Ontariens et d’Ontariennes se tournent vers les organismes de services à la famille pour les aider à surmonter des problèmes de stress, de chômage et de difficultés financières. Ces organismes les aident à se stabiliser. Nos collectivités s’en portent mieux et notre province aussi.
Across the province today, people are celebrating family services day and the importance of the Family Service Ontario organization. I want to encourage the members of this Legislature to do the same.
Hon. Eric Hoskins: As Ontarians, we are privileged to live in a province that is open to new people and new cultures. Ontario is one of the most diverse societies in the world, and I believe that Ontario draws its strength from its rich cultural tapestry. It therefore gives me great pleasure to rise today to recognize the contributions of peoples from the South Asian and Asian communities as we celebrate May as both Asian Heritage Month and South Asian Heritage Month.
The origins of these communities are diverse, comprised not of one peoples but many, and consisting of a range of linguistic, ethnic and religious groups. Coming from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Africa, the Caribbean, South America and other parts of the world, their journey and their experiences are as varied as their ancestries.
The journey of Ontario’s Asian and South Asian communities to Canada is a story of struggle and survival. In the 1800s, the Chinese and Taiwanese migrants arrived in Canada both to work in the gold rush and to build our nation’s railroad. After the railroad was built, a Chinese head tax, followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act, were introduced to further limit immigration of Chinese people.
In April 1914, 376 Punjabis arrived in Vancouver on the Komagata Maru. These men, sadly, were refused entry, and after two months they were returned to India. Canada’s refusal to grant these people safe haven ultimately resulted in the death of 19 of the passengers and the imprisonment of many.
Those were times of profound injustice and represent a dark chapter in our nation’s history. But in spite of these struggles, the Asian and South Asian communities endured and persevered. Today, Ontario’s Asian and South Asian communities have both grown and prospered. Currently, there are almost two million Asians and South Asians making their home in Ontario. Ontarians of Asian and South Asian heritage have contributed immensely in shaping Ontario’s cultural identity.
The entrepreneurial spirit of these communities has created thriving businesses in neighbourhoods right across Ontario. Internationally renowned authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Wayson Choy and Rohinton Mistry have contributed a distinctly Canadian voice to our literature. Filmmaker Deepa Mehta and her movies have received Oscar acclaim. Environmentalist and activist David Suzuki has raised awareness of global warming and environmental issues. And Adrienne Clarkson served with distinction as Canada’s first Asian-Canadian Governor General.
It is because of Ontario’s Asian and South Asian communities that our government has actively sought to strengthen its relationship with India, Pakistan, Japan and China. Asian and South Asian Ontarians have influenced every facet of our businesses, industries, culture, science and technology, and communities. During May, we recognize their important contributions to Ontario’s settlement, development and future.
In that spirit, I encourage my colleagues and all Ontarians to celebrate Asian Heritage Month and South Asian Heritage Month, and I ask all of us to recognize the contributions of these dynamic communities.
Family Service Ontario represents 46 not-for-profit agencies across the province that provide many services, from marriage counselling to substance abuse programs, therapy for abuse survivors and programs for the developmentally disabled. Not surprisingly, intake numbers are up at family services branches across Ontario. This is, no doubt, in part due to the loss of 260,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario. More and more families are tapping into the resources that Family Service Ontario agencies have to offer.
It is important to acknowledge the important work Family Service Ontario does as there are over 30,000 new cases and 50,000 more beneficiaries receiving Ontario Works payments than a year ago, and Family Service Ontario locations do not turn anyone away.
Family Service Ontario provides a great network to families who are not sure where to go for help. Their open-door network helps them to work with local partners to ensure that families are receiving individualized care tailored to their particular issue.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the over 3,000 volunteers who take time out of their lives to help families and individuals get the services that Family Service Ontario provides. It is your dedication to our community that makes a huge difference in the lives of others. I also want to thank the volunteers and board members. I know what kind of time commitment serving on a board can be, and your time is appreciated.
I want to thank you for allowing me to be part of your education and awareness day today, along with a number of my colleagues. Your luncheon and meetings with MPPs today are valuable in educating all of us on the wide range of services you provide. It’s important that all MPPs are made aware of the family service organizations that are meeting the needs of individuals in our communities.
Mr. Ted Arnott: On behalf of the Ontario PC caucus, I’m pleased to rise today to mark Asian and South Asian Heritage Month. Our party’s leader, the Leader of the Opposition, Tim Hudak, serves as our caucus critic to the Minister of Citizenship, and I’m pleased to have this chance to speak today on his behalf.
Canadians of South Asian and Asian backgrounds have made and continue to make very significant contributions to our province and to our country. In 2001, our government supported the bill to proclaim May as South Asian Heritage Month and May 5 as South Asian Arrival Day.
My colleague at the time Raminder Gill, who served as the member for Bramalea–Gore–Malton–Springdale, introduced this legislation as a private member’s bill, and it passed third reading on December 13, 2001. We’re very proud of that legislation, which enshrined legal recognition of our South Asian community in Ontario.
“South Asian immigrants began arriving in Ontario at the start of the 20th century. Working primarily in the sawmill industry, South Asian immigrants settled in various parts of the province. For South Asians, the month of May has been a time of celebration and commemoration of their arrival from the Indian subcontinent to the Americas beginning on May 5, 1838.
While most South Asians came to our country from India, many others came to Ontario from such places as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Today, South Asians make up a significant proportion of Ontario’s populations and are proud to draw upon their heritage and traditions, contributing to many aspects of culture, commerce and public service across this province.”
A few years ago, my colleague in the Legislature the member for Newmarket–Aurora, no doubt with the assistance of my friend Dr. Alex Roman, noted that many of those stories were struggles of pain, discrimination and anguish. He also pointed out, however, that settlement in Canada contributed to strong families and strong communities that continue to offer cultural richness in which all Canadians can share and take pride.
Certainly, we know that Asian countries comprise the greatest group of immigrants. However, they also comprise the greatest group of immigrants who suffer from poverty and suffer from the lack of entry into some professions. Just this last year, Ontario has lost training programs for international medical graduates because there was not sufficient capacity in the system.
I noticed with some anguish that the minister omitted Tibetans from his list of South Asians. Perhaps the reason for this is that the minister refused to raise the flag for the Tibetans, recognizing them as a community. The answer we got is that the United Nations doesn’t recognize them as a nation when in fact he has raised the flag for Métis and other groups that are not recognized as nations either by the United Nations.
Also, the federal government donated $3.3 million to the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre. Again, the federal Minister of Immigration asked this minister if this government would contribute as well and was given a flat refusal, no, ignoring the rights of the Tibetan community.
The largest single group of Tibetans in the world live in Toronto, outside of Nepal and India. So I have to ask, on behalf of my constituents, why are the Liberals ignoring Tibetans again? It’s outrageous. Certainly, this is a group of refugees who have needs. They’re the symbol of non-violence and peace throughout the world, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Certainly, I hope that by the time of His Holiness’s visit next October, the government will have rectified the above and will have contributed to the cultural centre, and will have raised the flag for Tibet just like it does for everybody else.
Thousands of staff and volunteers work with Family Service Ontario to help families deal with a range of difficulties. Families face many stresses today: unemployment or precarious employment, trouble in the workplace, marital difficulties, financial hardship, parenting problems, crime, violence, and the list goes on. Supporting families now is as important as ever, and this is what Family Service does. Family Service Ontario provides support through counselling. They help families deal with their individual situations.
There is a new report by York University professor Dennis Raphael called Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. It talks about how stress affects our minds and our bodies. It points to the sources of stress: low income, poor-quality housing, food insecurity, inadequate working conditions, insecure employment and discrimination. These are conditions the government can and must address, and Family Service Ontario helps point us in the right direction.
For example, Family Service Ontario is a partner in Campaign 2000, which has a long and distinguished history in advocating for the reduction of child poverty in Canada. They have pushed the Ontario government to commit to a poverty reduction strategy, and they continue to push for the government to strengthen its strategy by increasing minimum wage above the poverty line, by raising social assistance rates to a livable level, and by introducing new food and housing benefits.
Il me fait extrêmement plaisir de pouvoir dire quelques mots en faveur de services familiaux de l’Ontario. Pour ma communauté, c’est le Service familial de Sudbury Family Service, qui est une des agences membre de leur association. Comme vous le savez, à Sudbury, les temps sont durs. Nous avons une grève qui perdure depuis près de 10 mois. Non seulement la crise économique nous a touché dans le Nord-Est, mais elle touche également de plus près mes constituants et les résidents de Sudbury à cause de la grève.
“We ... petition the Legislative Assembly ... to make PET scans available through the Sudbury Regional Hospital, thereby serving and providing equitable access to the citizens of northeastern Ontario.”
“Whereas Ontario has developed many new clean water technologies and practices since the Walkerton water contamination, which resulted from ... poor water regulation practices of the former Conservative government; and
“That all parties of the provincial Legislature support the government’s plan to introduce a new Water Opportunities Act to take advantage of the province’s expertise in clean water technology, create jobs and new economic opportunities for our province and help communities around the world access clean water.”
“Whereas it is the responsibility of the Central Community Care Access Centre to assign speech-language pathologists to provide therapy to children on the wait-list, but the McGuinty government has substantially cut funding to the CCAC for speech-language pathology, with the result that children are not being released from the wait-list for treatment; and
“Whereas parents are being told to pay for private therapy if they want timely treatment for their children, but many parents cannot afford the cost of private therapy, with the result that these children are at risk of increased severity of their difficulties, impacting their social and academic skills;
“Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to call on Premier Dalton McGuinty, the minister responsible for children and youth services, and the Minister of Education to intervene immediately to ensure that the Central CCAC develop a plan that will ensure that the more than 1,000 children in need of speech-language therapy in York region receive the necessary treatment.”
“Whereas the Ontario Ministry of Education’s accommodation review process, used by school boards to accommodate students, and which includes closing schools, is flawed, lacks transparency and accountability;
“Immediately stop the closure of Crowland Central Public School and any disputed closures. Develop policies where school boards are more accountable and the ministry, school boards, municipalities and community members work together openly and transparently to deal with funding, schools and declining enrolment.”
“Whereas there has been a new treatment discovery called the liberation treatment, which addresses chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency ... and that has been seen to provide relief for many MS sufferers;
“Whereas, by 2010, Dalton McGuinty’s new tax will increase the cost of goods and services that families and businesses buy” and use every single day. “A few examples include: coffee, newspapers and magazines; gas for the car, home heating oil and electricity” for the home; “haircuts, dry cleaning and personal grooming”; personal care; “home renovations and home services; veterinary care and pet care”; home care; “legal services, the sale of resale homes,” stocks, “and funeral arrangements”—the list goes on;
“Whereas Dalton McGuinty promised he wouldn’t raise taxes in the 2003 election.” Remember? “However, in 2004, he brought in the health tax, which costs” up to “$900 per individual. And now he is raising our taxes again;
“Whereas the resumption of production with replacement workers has demonstrated an unwillingness to negotiate a fair collective agreement with the workers and has produced undue tension in the community; and
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Mr. Speaker, I have a petition here. I received it from the great town of Tillsonburg. You will know that it’s right in the centre of three ridings, so a lot of these would also be from Elgin–Middlesex–London and a lot from Haldimand–Norfolk. Of course, they are predominantly from the county of Oxford. It’s to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
“Whereas there has been a new treatment discovery called the liberation treatment, which addresses chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCVI) and that has been seen to provide relief for many MS sufferers;
“Whereas multiple industrial wind farm projects are being considered by the government of Ontario in the absence of independent, scientific studies on the long-term effects on the health of residents living near industrial wind farms;
“Therefore, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition the government of Ontario to put a moratorium on any renewable energy approvals for the construction of industrial wind farms in the province of Ontario until such time as it can be demonstrated that all reasonable concerns regarding the long-term effects on the health of residents living near industrial wind farms have been fully studied and addressed.”
Mr. John Yakabuski: I’m delivering this on behalf of my colleague from Newmarket–Aurora because I do believe that the government seems to—and this is not a pun—pay only lip service to the problem that I will address here in a second.
“Whereas it is the responsibility of the Central Community Care Access Centre to assign speech-language pathologists to provide therapy to children on the wait-list, but the McGuinty government has substantially cut funding to the CCAC for speech-language pathology, with the result that children are not being released from the wait-list for treatment; and
“Whereas parents are being told to pay for private therapy if they want timely treatment for their children, but many parents cannot afford the cost of private therapy, with the result that these children are at risk of increased severity of their difficulties, impacting their social and academic skills;
“Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to call on Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Minister Responsible for Children and Youth Services, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and the Minister of Education to intervene immediately to ensure that the Central CCAC develop a plan that will ensure that the more than 1,000 children in need of speech-language therapy in York region receive the necessary treatment.”
“That the Ministry of Transportation accelerate reconstruction of the Mallorytown service centres based on the local council’s wishes and commit to enhanced tourist service improvements at these sites.”
Bill 40, An Act to amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act with respect to matching rebates of gasoline tax that the Minister provides to municipalities / Projet de loi 40, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’aménagement des voies publiques et des transports en commun à l’égard des remboursements de la taxe sur l’essence similaires consentis aux municipalités par le ministre.
Mr. John Yakabuski: Before I begin, I want to make a comment on the statement earlier by the member for Kitchener–Conestoga about Walter Hachborn. I came in just near the last part of it, but I have to give some personal recollection.
Walter Hachborn, the president emeritus of Home Hardware Stores Ltd., is one of the finest human beings I have ever had the honour of knowing. I was pleased to hear her statement today that Walter has announced his retirement—I didn’t hear it all. I’m not sure what Walter’s age is, but it is significant. It would be somewhere up around 90, I would think.
I’ve got to tell you that we were Home Hardware dealers in our family from 1978 to 2001, when my wife and I sold the business. But our relationship with Walter goes back before that. In fact, it goes back to the year I was born, when Walter came up to Barry’s Bay and merchandised our hardware store, which was built late in 1957 and opened in January 1958. My father and he had a relationship from then, and I had the opportunity to get to know him as a Home Hardware dealer.
I’m going to tell you that that man is the face of hardware in this country. There are few people with the knowledge and the background. She talked about the many honours and awards he has had bestowed upon him, and I can tell you that every one of them is more than deserved.
I’ve got to tell you that I still get a Christmas card from Walter and Jean every year—it’s the kind of human beings they are—and I have not been a dealer since 2001. I know it’s my own time that I’m using, but it’s more than valuable for a human being of that stature, one of the great humanitarians I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Now to the business at hand: my gas tax bill, Bill 40. This is not the first time I have addressed this Legislature on the fundamental fairness of a piece of gas tax rebate legislation that would ensure that all municipalities share in a portion of the gas tax they pay, and having it rebated to them from the provincial government. I’ve made this argument in this House before, and I know that I get arguments back.
I’m shocked at the arguments back from government members, particularly rural members, who try to justify the government’s position of not giving a nickel back to communities other than those that have a public transportation system. I’m absolutely shocked at the logic with which they try to defend it, saying, “Are you suggesting, Mr. Yakabuski, that we take funding away from the communities that have a public transportation system?”
I say to the members over there: You’re budgeting to spend $126 billion this fiscal year. You need to figure out how you’re going to spend that money. We’re not suggesting that you make any cuts to communities that have a public transportation system. We’re suggesting that you learn how to manage your budget: $126 billion, and you haven’t got a nickel for those communities that don’t have a public transportation system? I say, shame on you.
What has given me reason to believe that sooner or later this may happen is that the federal government has seen the wisdom. This began under the federal Liberal government, and the federal Conservative government has extended it, enhanced it and made it permanent. They’ve made it permanent that all communities in this province will get a share of the gas tax that they pay every time they fill their tanks at the pump.
In rural Ontario and everywhere else, you know that everybody is going to be hit with a further 8% come July 1, because Dalton McGuinty thinks there’s a little bit left in your pocket and he wants it for himself. Well, it’s about time some of that money started to come back to the rural communities.
I was pleased, when I brought in my gas tax bill the first time, that the warden of Renfrew county at the time, Bob Sweet, came down to support me on that gas tax bill, and he continues to support me in my efforts to bring this bill forward. In fact, I have a quote from him here, and I’m going to read it. I have a whole bunch of these quotes here:
“Congratulations on moving forward on this extremely important issue. I attempted to have this issue as part of the fiscal review”—he was on the fiscal review committee—“but was not successful. It was on the table right up to the very last moment and then was withdrawn. I fully agree it is about fairness and sustainable funding. It is all about the rural versus the urban, as I witnessed the last time I was your guest when you had the second reading. I know Renfrew county will be fully behind you on this effort. John, it took me 12 years to get a driving licence office. Go for it.”
In North Algona Wilberforce, reeve Harold Weckworth and his council, in a motion moved by councillors Lorenz Kelo and Ruth Schoenfeldt, support my motion. North Algona Wilberforce township in my riding receives $87,000 from the federal government.
Mayor Ann Aikens from the town of Deep River: “Small and rural areas of the province rely on the roads to get to work, hospitals and other health care, schools, etc. We do not have access to mass transit, and although mass transit is important to large urban areas, our roads/public highways are just as important to us.” The town of Deep River gets $129,000 from the federal government.
The mayor of North Grenville township, Bill Gooch: “We will be passing a resolution of support at our next council meeting.” That’s a friend of the member from Leeds–Grenville. North Grenville township gets $435,000 from the federal government.
Mayor Rick Bonnette of Halton Hills: “For the 2008-09 year, we would have been eligible for a maximum payment of $537,482 based on the population/ridership formula.... For 2009 we received $158,328 from the province.”
Allen Taylor, the mayor of the township of East Garafraxa, the warden of Dufferin county and the immediate past chair of ROMA, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association: “The municipal roads under our jurisdiction are our transit system. A rebate of the provincial gas tax, or at least a significant portion thereof, is the only fair way of treating rural Ontario with respect to our urban counterparts.”
The township of East Garafraxa gets from the federal government $73,000; Dufferin county, $1,670,000. I could go on and on, and I might come back to them. But I’ve got quotes from other areas as well.
I just try to make members understand how fundamentally right it is that people get a share of their gas tax back. If you live in a rural community—I know many members on the other side, and I’ll be interested to see who supports this and who doesn’t support it. If you live in a rural community, you can’t go anywhere without getting into a vehicle and driving somewhere, yet you pay that tax every time you fill up that tank. You spend a disproportionately greater amount of your discretionary income on gasoline and diesel fuel over someone who lives in an urban area, because you don’t have any choice. But you’re getting nothing back from this provincial government. It is time they understood fairness.
I know the Minister of Transportation is here. She commented, “Do you want us to cut?” If she’d heard the first part of the speech, I said that we’re not talking about cutting anybody. You’re spending $126 billion in this province. It’s about time you figured out how to budget it. It’s not a question of allocation. It’s a question of fairness. It’s a question of treating the people who pay the taxes with the fairness of giving them something back for it. It is a fundamental belief of people that if you give something, you get something back for it—other than charity. Well, we don’t consider the government a charitable organization. They pay money on their taxes, they fill up their gas tanks and they get charged a tax; and they’re going to get whacked with the HST on July 1. It’s about time they got something back for that. That’s all they’re asking for: some fairness from this government. We get it from the federal government. We even got it from the Liberal federal government—can you believe that? But this government—maybe another glass of water—
I want to make one thing very clear: It is the policy of this party on this side of the House, articulated by our leader Tim Hudak at the OGRA/ROMA conference, this year that if we are elected, rural municipalities will share in the gas tax. Everybody who pays gas tax in this province has a right to expect some benefits from it, and in those rural communities their bridges, their roads, their streets are their public transportation system, and they need to get something back for it.
I have many colleagues today who are going to speak in support of this—I hope. I’m passionate about this issue. I have brought this bill before this House four times. If I didn’t believe in it, I would not keep bringing it. It is time that people on all sides of this House recognize the fundamental fairness of a gas tax rebate for all communities in this province. I’m asking members of the government side and I’m asking members of the third party to finally stand up for rural people who pay that tax and give them a fair share of it back so we can make sustainable decisions about how we plan for fixing roads, repairing bridges etc. If it is a formula that’s in place, these communities will know each and every year what they’re getting back. Every year they’ll know that this is something they can budget for and they can plan for. Sustainability by fairness—I think it’s a wonderful concept.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I want to say that I will be supporting the motion by the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke because I think it deserves a proper debate in committee. It would be helpful to have hearings and have a lot of people from everywhere in Ontario come and speak to this kind of issue.
I have to admit I get nervous when we sometimes pit cities against rural communities or rural communities against cities, and while it appears that there is no attack on cities, because this is a friendly discussion about how we all get a fair share, I often worry about how we pit cities against rural communities. It is not a very healthy argument when we hint at it, directly or indirectly. It makes me awfully nervous, I have to tell you.
For me, it’s a matter of: How do we address the needs of all of our citizens? Are we doing it well? As opposed to, the north and rural communities need to secede from the city of Toronto or the city of Toronto needs to secede from the rest of Ontario because we just don’t understand each other and that is the way to solve our problems—geographic, economic, social, cultural etc. It’s just a wrong kind of debate, and it’s a very hurtful debate. It happens here often, where you have a lot of members in this Legislature making all sorts of preposterous comments about how we are different each from the other. Yes, we are different; that is the fact of our Canadian geography. I often say that Ontario, I believe, is three times bigger than Italy, although I’ve heard the number two times bigger than Italy. It’s one huge—
Think about it: It’s a huge province. Italy has 60 million—a bit less now—and in this province we have 12 million and something. Imagine how huge this province is; of course, we are geographically different, socially, culturally—and, yes, economic differences exist.
So I am often very cautious and wary about how we approach an issue that makes it appear that we are fighting someone else, as opposed to the question that the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke did not ask, and that question is, is the money adequate to take care of our infrastructure needs across all of Ontario?
The question, the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke says, is the following: If 110 communities have gas dollars, should the other 300 communities that don’t have transit get equal access to those dollars for their communities? My view is, is that the right question? What I’m proposing to the member, or at least to the other members who are listening to this discussion, is, are we getting adequate support for our infrastructure in those communities where we don’t have transit versus those where we do?
Mr. Rosario Marchese: The member from London–Fanshawe, the chief cheerleader of the Liberal Party, says we do. You are a chief cheerleader, I’ve got to admit, and my sense is that you’ll be speaking to the bill, because you’re a trooper and they need you on the other side; I can tell.
My view is that we need to address the needs of all of our communities. I’ve got to tell you, we’ve been attacking this government over the whole matter of Transit City because they have taken away $4 billion, and then to nuance it, they say, “Oh, we really haven’t cut $4 billion. We merely delayed it.” The Premier simply argues that he’s able to get $4 billion in savings by delaying and accomplishing the same thing. I think how magical that is, that a Premier can get $4 billion worth of savings by extending the timeline by two years and achieve the same thing. To me, it’s alchemy. It cannot be done. Yet the minister, the Premier and other Liberals continue to argue that they haven’t cut Transit City funding, that it’s merely a delay and nothing more, and not only that, but that we can accomplish the same thing with $4 billion less by extending it by two years. I don’t understand that. I just don’t get it, and I believe that most reasonable people in Ontario, both in the north, the east, the west, the south and the centre of this province, understand that you can’t take $4 billion away from Transit City and accomplish the same thing.
So I argue, if you can accomplish the same thing by delaying for two years and save $4 billion, why don’t you delay it by four years and save $8 billion and accomplish the same thing? Because if you can do it in two, you can do it by delaying it by four years and save $8 billion. You understand? It’s illogical. It doesn’t make any sense.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I know. My friend Lou, I know you get it, and you’re probably going to speak to this. Lou, where are you? Northumberland–Quinte West? Yes. I know you get it, Lou. Most of the chief Liberal cheerleaders get it, because you’re cheerleading over there. The problem is that the citizens and the taxpayers of this province see it a little better than some of you, because you’re chief boosters. Whether you get it or not, understand it or not, is irrelevant: You’ve got your lines. You’ve got your lines and you’re going to say what you’re going to say. Of course, the opposition parties just don’t know what they are saying. Of course.
So, member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, I say to you that transit dollars are not sufficient to be able to do what we want to do. The dollars that were promised, we’re not going to get, and we’re not going to be able to do the things that we had hoped. It’s not going to be enough for Toronto and it won’t be enough for Ottawa. It won’t be enough for the major cities in this province, and it will certainly not be enough to deal with rural communities and northern communities that have infrastructure problems, whether they be bridges, whether they be roads, or whatever infrastructure is required across this land.
So my question is about adequacy of dollars. Would we get our fair share, whether you are in a rural community or a northern community, by simply redistributing the gas tax a little more evenly across Ontario? I don’t think so. That’s the argument I’m making. I don’t think you’re going to get that fairness by distributing—and, in my mind, diluting—the dollars that are available, that are inadequate, and spreading them beyond the 100 communities and giving them to the other 300 communities that don’t have enough. I don’t see it. In my mind, as much as I accept the argument of fairness, if you take the limited dollars that are there and spread them, it’s not going to be fair to you any more than it’s going to be fair to those who are going to get less.
That’s why, I argue with my friendly Liberals, those few on the left—and there aren’t too many; I think my left hand would more than suffice to count them—and some of the progressive Tories—and I use my right hand; there aren’t too many there. That’s why I say that when you argue in support of $5 billion going to the corporate sector and $1.2 billion in income tax reductions—remember, income taxes are progressive taxes, and you are proud to say you’re cutting income taxes. Progressive taxes are being cut, and $5 billion is going to the corporate sector, with no guarantees of any job protection or job increases, with a deficit of over $20 billion? Then you say we have to cut money for the speech-language pathologists and other special education in our boards of education, and people with disabilities, because we just don’t have enough money to help people with disabilities. Yet you have money to give away to corporations that don’t create jobs and $1.2 billion of reductions in income tax, our most progressive tax? Instead of increasing, you’re decreasing, and you’ve got no money.
The Liberals will argue that there is plenty of gas money to go around and it’s more than adequate. The Liberals might argue—I’m not sure, but we’ll hear from the chief cheerleader on the other side, to see what arguments he will make on behalf of the member for Etobicoke Centre, to see whether they jibe. I don’t know what arguments they will make to oppose it, but my argument, and I’m speaking to it, is that there isn’t an adequacy of dollars to not only deal with those 100 communities getting transit money, but to deal with those who get nothing.
The Minister of Transportation has eliminated the replacement program upgrading aging bus service. This government has eliminated the Ontario bus replacement program, something that many municipalities rely on. The government says, “No, we really haven’t eliminated that because we’ve got the gas tax, so we’re going to spread that out, and they’ll be able to use that money.” My friend from Etobicoke Centre will say, “But that’s enough. They’re getting money.”
To my friend from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, I’m going to support the motion because, as a matter of principle, on the issue of fairness, it will be good to have a debate about how we provide support to rural and northern communities that often do not get the justice and the financial support they deserve. Remember, it’s a huge province, and we have to help out the rural and northern communities in order to achieve the fairness that this member and others are looking for.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: I’m pleased to be able to speak on the private member’s bill, Bill 40, from the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, which proposes extending the gas tax to road and bridge projects. I will be speaking against the bill.
The member contends in his remarks that rural municipalities are badly done by. He would have you believe that rural municipalities don’t get any money for roads and bridges. In fact, he said a few minutes ago, and I quote, “They”—the government—“haven’t got a nickel for communities that haven’t got a transit system.” That’s just not accurate.
Let’s talk about the real information. Our government, in fact, has made a priority of investing in transportation of all types: roads, bridges, highways, transit, whether it be buses, trains, GO Transit. We understand that everybody in this province needs transportation, and we recognize that not all municipalities have a public transit system. We recognize that in many municipalities, roads and bridges are the way you get from A to B. That’s why, since we were elected in 2003, we have been providing money for road and bridge projects across this province.
For example, one of the many bills we brought forward that the Conservatives voted against was the Investing in Ontario Act, which gave $1.1 billion to municipalities across this province. And if their priority was roads and bridges, they were free to spend it on roads and bridges.
If you look at the surface explanation of how the money was distributed, you would be told that it was based on population. That is largely true, but that’s not the whole story. Because I live in an area that has some urban municipalities with transit and some rural municipalities without transit, when that money came out in August 2008, I thought, “I’m going to figure this out.”
It actually turned out that my municipality of Guelph, which is a single-tier municipality, got less per capita than the rural areas of Wellington county, because in the rural areas in Wellington county, people got counted twice. They got counted once as residents of the county of Wellington, and the county of Wellington got money, and they got counted a second time as residents of the lower-tier municipality, and the lower-tier municipality got funding too. So, on that $1.1 billion, the rural municipalities in this province in fact got more money per capita than the urban single-tier municipalities. I’ll bet most of you who are complaining over there didn’t bother to do the calculation, did you?
The municipal infrastructure investment initiative, MIII: again, it was up to the municipality to decide what their priority was. Roads and bridges were a possibility; $450 million was available to municipalities for roads and bridges if they wished.
There was another fund announced in the 2008 budget that was explicitly for roads and bridges: $400 million. COMRIF, the Canada-Ontario municipal rural infrastructure fund, is not available to municipalities like my municipality, because Guelph has too many people, and that’s okay. It’s supposed to be rural infrastructure.
But one of the intakes, or several of the intakes—I actually used to have some of rural Wellington and one of the rural municipalities, the township of Guelph-Eramosa, and I paid a great deal of attention to how they did on that. This was a municipality that was very, very smart. It went out and hired an engineer to look at the condition of all the bridges in that municipality, and had the engineering studies done. So, as opportunities for COMRIF came forward, they applied. Out of COMRIF, the Canada-Ontario municipal rural infrastructure fund, they were able to totally replace six or seven different bridges—many millions of dollars. They were ecstatic because they were able to replace bridges that they would never have been able to replace simply based on the local rural tax infrastructure.
We’ve also had the Ontario Infrastructure Projects Corp., because one of the problems that small municipalities face is that they can’t borrow at a favourable interest rate. That allows rural municipalities to borrow at the provincial interest rate, which means that they can get money much more cheaply if they wish to debenture projects.
Of course, recently we’ve had the federal-provincial infrastructure fund. I’m not sure which roads in this province the members opposite have been driving up and down, but in my part of the province you can’t get here from there because there is so much federal-provincial infrastructure money that has gone into reconstructing the roads and the sewers and the bridges of this province. I know I have trouble getting to my constituency office in the morning because of all the money that has gone into roads and bridges through the federal-provincial infrastructure fund. So I totally reject—and that’s just some of them. There’s the connecting links program, there’s the Ontario municipal infrastructure program—it goes on and on and on. There are lots of programs that make money available to roads and bridges in this province.
I make no apologies whatsoever for the fact that after the Conservatives cancelled transit money, we’re back in the business of funding transit. I make no apologies for that, because no matter where you live in this province, it does matter that we have cleaner air to breathe and that people who can reasonably get off the highways get onto transit. That means that other people will still be out there on the roads—we understand that—but for goodness’ sake, let’s get the people who can get on transit onto transit. In fact, since 2003 we have invested $9.3 billion in public transit.
Let me give you a little bit of information about the gas tax funding. Ninety-three transit systems have got $316 million this year in gas tax money and, since 2004, $1.6 billion in gas tax funding. My own municipality has gotten $2.6 million this year. It’s allowed us to extend the transit service. I make no apologies for this.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: It is a great privilege to be able to address the assembly today to support my colleague from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke in his bill, which he’s brought forward, I believe, four or five times to this chamber, due to the equality issue, the one that he wants to fight for on behalf of the municipalities within his communities. I want to applaud, first and foremost, John Yakabuski for being that dedicated to his constituents to continually use private members’ business to advocate for those interests.
I would like to just make a brief remark about my colleague from Guelph. I think it’s very simplistic to say that if you’re in a rural community, you ought to be using transit. I happen to be privileged to work in this chamber for a suburban rural riding. I can flatly let her understand one thing, flatly let her know: It is impossible to have transit systems in rural communities to get them downtown, and it would be cost-ineffective.
The reality is that this Liberal government has chosen time and again to put all their eggs in one basket. All my colleague is requesting with this piece of legislation is that we provide fairness for our rural communities and that we ensure that all municipalities have the ability to see sustainable funding for their infrastructure projects, whether you’re talking about COMRIF or MIII. All these programs—they have never been that fair to all municipalities. It allows the government of the day to pick winners and losers. We oppose that.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: The government is laughing, saying that there’s nothing wrong with that. I can tell you one thing: We think there needs to be sustainable funding, we think there needs to be fair and equitable funding, and the best way to do that is through the gas tax. I want to applaud him for doing that.
I’m actually shocked that some of these members opposite who pretend to represent their constituents in this chamber consistently defeat Conservative private members’ business, even if it’s the right thing to do. This bill is the right thing to do, and I can assure you that the entire Progressive Conservative caucus stands with our member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke. We’re going to support him today, and we hope the other members of this chamber do the same.
Mr. Khalil Ramal: I wish I had a lot of time to respond to my friend from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, because I listened to him carefully about his proposal to this House today. I listened a lot, and I don’t agree with him. When we come to this place, we have to create a balance. We don’t pick and choose. We don’t create a division between rural Ontario and the cities.
What I think the member from Spadina mentioned a little bit about this stuff was, we don’t pick and choose. We treat everyone in the province of Ontario on an equal basis. Our obligation and duty in this province and this government is to support every location in the province of Ontario. That’s why we created the gas tax: to support municipalities across the province of Ontario who have a transit system.
Also, we have a different program and different ministries to support all the rural areas, and also to create some kind of funding to support their bridges, their roads, their highways and all this in place.
We have the numbers. The member from Renfrew-Nipissing didn’t mention how much he received in his riding alone. Madawaska River got almost $2 million. Also, Chalk River estuary got $9 million, and $8 million for Barry’s Bay harbour. Also, $18 million for Highway 17 around Renfrew. All these numbers here which he mentioned in his speech came from this government, from $1.1 billion of investment in infrastructure for rural Ontario for the citizens of Ontario, for everyone in the province of Ontario.
If you are fair, if you believe in fairness, you have to stand up in this place and talk about this investment which came from our government. We don’t pick and choose like your government, like your leaders, like yourself, like the member from Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound who wants to divide Ontario—create a different province and separate Toronto from Ontario. We don’t play this game. We believe in equality in the province of Ontario. We believe in a fair system. That’s why when we invest in the province of Ontario, we invest in every location because we believe strongly that all the people of Ontario have to live together. They have to work together in order to create a great and sustainable province.
Rural areas play a pivotal role in our communities and in this province. That’s why we’ve given the respect and support we have. We have so many different ministries. The Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Infrastructure to the Ministry of Natural Resources—they spent a lot of money in northern Ontario to make a sustainable life for the people of these parts of the province.
Therefore, as a person who serves on this side of the House and who sees a lot of investment go out on a regular basis to support our infrastructure, I see that it’s very hard to support the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke in his proposal, because you know what? We don’t want to divide the province. We believe in one province—rural and cities. That’s what we believe and that’s why I’m going to go against this proposal.
Mr. John O’Toole: The member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke has really demonstrated the divide that’s occurring here. Clearly, on the Liberal side, they’ve been whipped to not support this. That’s my impression, because they really haven’t taken time to allow the rural members like Lou Rinaldi and Jeff Leal to speak. Yet, if I look at the bill or the information I’ve been provided, both the Peterborough county area as well as places like Cobourg and Port Hope, with Lou Rinaldi and Jeff Leal, do receive the federal money. But in that part of their rural ridings they don’t get any of the provincial money. That’s what this is about. It’s about fairness.
The real issue here is about fairness for all the people. I have a large rural component in my riding of Durham, and we know that their public transit system is simply roads and bridges. They don’t have the luxury of going to the end of their laneway, in the case of rural areas, and catching the bus. It simply isn’t a service that’s available. How do they get to their appointments? How do they get to shops and other conveniences? This mentality from this government is so urban. They think everyone should live in a condominium, basically, and that they should go out the front door and catch the bus and live in piles. That’s called intensification, and it eliminates rural Ontario. They don’t support agriculture to any great extent as well, so it overflows. If you look deeper into what they’re saying here, it’s, “We’re going to fund big cities and we’re just going to completely ignore small-town Ontario.”
They’re doing it with pharmacies. All the pharmacies in my riding today—in Orono and small communities, they aren’t going to have a pharmacy. They’re going to have to go to the big city, and there’s no transit to get them there. They’re going to have to use their car, and now they’re going to put tax on the gas. They’re going to tax, with the new HST, gasoline. Rural Ontario is being completely ignored and hammered in this House daily, so I commend the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke for giving a voice when this government is trying to silence rural Ontario.
I’m so disappointed, because the agricultural leadership has been here many times asking for a risk management plan to eliminate some of the red tape. We’ve supported it. Our leader, Tim Hudak, has made it very clear.
In my view, if I look at my riding, almost every community in Durham region receives the federal gas money. But then I look deeper down into the rural areas like Brock, Uxbridge, Scugog and parts of Clarington with no transit: not a single cent of provincial money.
Furthermore, they talk about equalizing the uploading and downloading in the municipal finances, and here’s what they’ve done. They actually are going to be taking up some of the services to the provincial level to fund. I get that and I support that. But they’re taking back the OMPF money, the Ontario municipal finance money, which used to go to the municipalities and offset some of their assessment weaknesses. Even in Toronto, if you look around, I think that whole Transit City plan—the questions have been asked to the ministers here every single day. They are yanking money out of Toronto transit; no question about it.
So I support the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke for giving voice to rural Ontario, while on the government side they’re obviously silencing the voice, because neither Lou nor Jeff have spoken on this bill, and it’s disappointing.
Mr. Ted Arnott: I’m very pleased to have this opportunity this afternoon to speak in absolute support of my colleague the member for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke’s private member’s bill. I believe it’s Bill 40, An Act to amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act with respect to matching rebates of gasoline tax that the Minister provides to municipalities.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve spoken in favour of this measure. I was trying to remember how many times the member has brought it back; I understand that this is the fourth incarnation of the bill. I think it’s the same bill each time, is it not?
Mr. Ted Arnott: Yes. But it’s most important that he continues to show persistence on this issue, because he’s absolutely right: Rural Ontario communities are being short-changed by this provincial government.
I remember the 2003 election campaign commitment, where the government promised to share some of the gas tax that people pay with the cities that have transit systems, and I remember being struck at the beginning: How would that leave rural Ontario? Of course, it leaves rural Ontario out in the cold with respect to this particular program.
I’ve listened to some of the government members in response to Mr. Yakabuski’s bill, and it would seem that they’re probably going to vote it down again. I suspect they’ve been whipped to vote it down. We haven’t heard from all the rural members who—many of them unfortunately aren’t here this afternoon, but even the ones who are here haven’t had, perhaps, the opportunity to get on the speakers’ list.
The fact remains that the funding that the government has offered rural municipalities, in many cases joint federal-provincial funding, has been sporadic at best. Most municipalities in my riding see it as kind of like a lottery: You might win; you might not. Some communities put in multiple applications over a period of years, in some cases being denied two or three times in a row with no explanation as to why the funding was not forthcoming. So to suggest that some of the joint federal-provincial funding programs have been sufficient is completely bizarre, quite frankly.
What municipalities tell me they need, and I believe this is true, is predictable funding so that they can plan for the future. I think of my municipalities in Wellington–Halton Hills. Obviously, all of them have infrastructure needs, and none of them have municipal transit systems because we’re not a big city. The fact is, they need support from the provincial government or some of those projects cannot go ahead.
For example, in Centre Wellington township we have some 100 bridges, a huge number of which need repairs or need to be replaced, and there is absolutely no revenue stream coming from the provincial government that is predictable and sustainable to allow them to plan. However, the federal government, of course, has seen fit to share its gas tax with municipalities large and small, and I would suggest that that is the fair way to go.
The member for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke made reference to a number of supportive comments that he has received from municipalities and municipal leaders. I would like to draw attention to the fact that the mayor of Halton Hills—I know you made reference to it too—Mayor Rick Bonnette responded to this and gave us some factual information about the issue as it affects Halton Hills. He suggests that if the policy that Mr. Yakabuski is advocating were adopted, it would be possible that the town of Halton Hills would perhaps receive almost $380,000 in new money, which could add approximately one kilometre of urban road to the pavement management program in that town, or perhaps 13 kilometres of surface treatment application to the rural system. So again, they understand what this money could go for and they believe that there is a need for fairness in this program. I want to thank Mayor Bonnette for expressing support for this particular bill.
When the member for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke started his remarks, he talked about his friend Walter Hachborn, and even though it’s somewhat unrelated to this bill, there is a relationship. I know Walter Hachborn too. He lives in St. Jacobs. I have a feeling Walter Hachborn would support this bill too, because as a long-time resident with an understanding of rural Ontario—all across Canada, as well as Woolwich township, certainly, where he is—
Mr. Ted Arnott: I haven’t had the chance to speak to him about this, but I have a feeling that he would understand the benefits of this bill for rural Ontario better than a lot of people, apparently, across the other side of the House. I want to add my voice of congratulations to him upon his retirement.
Again, I think this bill is one that is worthy of support. I must commend the member for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke for continuing to advocate for this. He has shown incredible persistence in bringing this forward time and again. I admire that, certainly, and I’ve tried to do that with private members’ bills in the past. I would encourage the government members who come from rural Ontario to give their vote some consideration and to think about how they are going to go home and talk to their constituents if they vote this down one more time. At some point, and it’s going to be in about 18 months, those members are going to be called to account for some of their votes in this Legislature, and their constituents are not going to be very happy. They are going to find out on election night that their constituents have rendered their verdict.
Mr. John Yakabuski: I want to thank my colleagues from Nepean–Carleton, Durham and Wellington–Halton Hills for speaking, and also the member for Trinity–Spadina for expressing his support; also to the member for Guelph and the member for London–Fanshawe, even though they won’t be supporting it.
They tried to frame this in some way that we’re pitting rural against urban. In fact, it’s your government that has done that. Your government has insisted that they will have a separate set of rules. When the member for Guelph talks about our implying that there are programs for rural Ontario, those programs also support urban Ontario, but it is this program that is specifically only for communities that have a public transportation system. And for the member for London–Fanshawe to start talking about highway projects that have happened in my riding, for goodness’ sake, every one he talked about was a provincial highway. It’s the responsibility of the provincial government to fix provincial highways. Good Lord, are you going to expect now those poor municipalities in my county and the rest of rural Ontario to start fixing the King’s highways as well? How ridiculous was that?
That’s what happens when you get your speaking notes from the Premier’s office and you’re told to go out there and just do as you’re told. I wish there would be some independence and freedom on the part of members on that side of the House, that they could actually stand up for the people they represent. Where are the rural members from the Liberal caucus? Where are they speaking today? They will have to answer, during the month of September leading up to the election in 2011, why they continued to stand against their rural communities.
All they’ve asked for is a fair formula that the federal government has instituted for their purposes, and it should be shared with rural communities from the provincial perspective as well. That’s all they’re asking for, and you continue to say no.
We have some very, very important people with us in the members’ gallery today, and I’d like to take a couple of moments to properly introduce them. I’d like them to just rise and wave as I get to them.
From the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we have Marco Di Buono, director of research; Nadia Yee, government relations; and Joanne Cote, resuscitation manager—someone you want to know when you’re in trouble.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has been a valuable asset, as I will discuss later, in developing this legislation as well as many, many other AED—automated external defibrillator—programs around the province.
We also have great partners of the Heart and Stroke Foundation here today: Dr. Laurie Morrison, director of rescue and emergency physician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital; and two EMS workers from York region, Steve Darling and Mike Jessop.
I’m very honoured to welcome people who know far too well how important heart health is, and specifically how important AEDs are. First, we have April Kawaguchi, who is the mother of a school-age child with a congenital heart defect. Welcome.
We’re also pleased to have Dorothy, John and Cole McEachern, the mother, father and brother of the remarkable Chase McEachern, who is one of my heroes and, as you will soon hear, one who is an inspiration to us all. Welcome.
Let me start by giving you some facts that make this bill so darned important. Every year, approximately 7,000 Ontarians experience cardiac arrest. Of these 7,000, 85% occur in the home or in public places. That’s almost 6,000 cardiac arrests in places where a hospital or ambulance may not be available for several precious minutes. For every minute that goes by for a victim of cardiac arrest where they do not receive defibrillation, their chances of survival drop between 7% and 10%. After 10 minutes, the chance of survival is less than 2%.
My colleagues with a medical background can likely speak more to this in a few moments, but let me help you to understand why AEDs are so key in conjunction with CPR. CPR keeps the blood circulating to body tissues to keep vital organs alive, but it takes defibrillation with an AED to resuscitate someone out of a cardiac arrest. A new study just released on April 16 by the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium shows that when a person does receive CPR and defibrillation within a few moments, that person’s survival rate increases by 75%. The same study shows that if patients who experienced cardiac arrest outside of a hospital did not receive a shock from an AED, 91% did not survive. That’s a very scary number.
Today, Ontario has approximately 2,800 AEDs across the province, largely due to the wonderful work of the foundation—thank you—but we need more. This bill will require that AEDs be installed in designated premises where there is high traffic and where cardiac arrest most commonly occurs. It also compels owners of these premises to ensure that the defibrillator is being maintained and that properly trained individuals are available to use the AED. The terms are used interchangeably, by the way, Mr. Speaker, if you haven’t gathered that already.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario has been absolutely instrumental in getting the AEDs we now have around the province. They have teamed up with municipalities and their EMS teams to start programs to have AEDs installed. I know my good friend Brent Browett from Hamilton EMS is eager to see this bill in place. He sent me some fascinating statistical information as to just how important the provision of these technical machines is.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation also advocates the “chain of survival,” a protocol that outlines the key links that have to be connected in order for a victim of cardiac arrest to have the best chance of survival. The links in that chain include early access to emergency medical services by calling 911, early CPR, early defibrillation, and early advanced life support by medically trained paramedics or hospital staff. Too many places in Ontario are lacking a link in that chain: access to early defibrillation. This legislation, with your support, can change that.
In 2006, my colleague from Essex, Bruce Crozier, who wishes he could be here today but couldn’t, introduced the Heart Defibrillator Use Civil Liability Act to protect people who use an AED in trying to save a life from civil liability. Our government took notice, and in 2007, the Chase McEachern Act was passed, doing that very thing.
The act was named after the extraordinary Chase McEachern, an 11-year-old boy who had a vision for Canada to have AEDs installed in all hockey arenas and schools. Tragically, Chase did not live to see his plan realized, but we can honour his legacy by doing everything we can today and in the future to ensure that Ontarians have access to this life-saving device. And we do know that AEDs are life-saving. Since 2006, over 20 lives have been saved because of quick access to an AED. That is more than 20 sons and daughters who are still with us today because of easy access to that device. Imagine how many more lives we can save.
The United States has legislation mandating AEDs in 17 states or roughly one third of the United States. In Nevada, that includes schools, sports centres, airports, county buildings and specific named buildings and universities. In New York, it is mandated that AEDs must be in schools, health clubs, public buildings and all institutions of that state and public places as defined in the New York City Administrative Code.
Ontario, I want to suggest respectfully, doesn’t want to be left behind in this progressive movement in saving lives. In fact, today everybody in Canada—provincial health ministers and others right across the country—are watching, because we could be the first jurisdiction in Canada to act. Wouldn’t that be a legacy?
In my home region, we learned via Santa Claus just how important AEDs are. Around Christmas 2008, a woman in Hamilton Place suffered cardiac arrest. Santa Claus was there, better known as Ken Mandeno, who was working as Santa Claus that day and used the available AED to save that woman’s life. Ken had just been trained on how to use an AED two months prior. With more AEDs in public places around Ontario, we can all be Santa Claus, every single one of us. We can bring Christmas to Ontario early this year and save more lives with public access to AEDs.
On a personal note, I want to close by referencing just how fortunate I’ve been over my 20-some-odd years in public service. I managed to meet all kinds of incredible people and work with many, many incredible people, a number of whom are in this House. One individual I became friends with as a high school student was the late, great Reverend Dr. Tommy Douglas, who wrote in my high school yearbook these words. I just want to quote them for the members of the Assembly. I always wondered if I’d ever get to use this in the Legislative Assembly, but it fits here remarkably well. He said this: “If instead of flowers we could plant one beautiful thought in the heart of a friend, that would be to give as the angels give.” Members of the assembly, this is that beautiful thought. Today, we have an opportunity to give as the angels give.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I want to thank the member from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale for introducing Bill 41, an act to provide defibrillators in public places. I commend him for bringing forward such a worthwhile bill.
I can’t speak to this bill about saving lives without thinking about a piece of legislation that I introduced about a year and a half ago. I’m referring to the Hawkins Gignac Act, which, if it hadn’t been killed during prorogation, would have made a carbon monoxide detector mandatory in every home in Ontario.
But it’s common knowledge today that heart disease is a leading cause of death in North America, and I commend the member for his efforts in reducing those statistics. When we debated a similar bill in 2006 brought forward by a member from Essex, our former colleague Laurie Scott, who was a nurse by training, pointed out that the odds of survival of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest was just under 5%. Thousands of Canadian baby boomers are now turning 60. Today, we have an aging population and also an increasing level of obesity. Of course, Mr. Speaker, you wouldn’t know about that, but I can vouch for that. So the more we can prepare ourselves, the better. Automated defibrillators are an important step in that preparation.
I’m proud to point out that while we are standing here debating—and sometimes even agreeing—people out there in my community are being active and working together to save lives. I want to recognize the many businesses, community groups and individuals who have helped expand defibrillators’ availability in Oxford.
Just two months ago, the staff at East Side Mario’s donated a defibrillator to the Woodstock Soccer Club, using the money raised from dress-down days. I commend the Frank Cowan foundation, based in Oxford county, for making a massive donation to the Heart and Stroke Foundation a few months ago to help support the Restart a Heart, Restart a Life program. A $1-million cheque will be used to purchase and install 200 automated defibrillators in public places across the country over the next five years. Frank Cowan insurance is an Oxford success story, and I want to commend them for giving back to the community and for their dedication to saving lives in the entire community.
The Oxford county public access defibrillators program is another example of how committed the people of Oxford are to helping each other. In only three years, the program made it possible to place over 40 automated external defibrillators in public locations across Oxford county, and they’re not stopping there. In just a few months, Oxford county paramedics are participating in the Becel Heart and Stroke Ride for Heart 2010 to help save lives. Their goal is to raise $3,000 for the Oxford county public access defibrillators program.
However, placing defibrillators is not enough. An effective program requires continuous upgrades in training to ensure that staff members and volunteers are taught how to use the automated external defibrillators safely and effectively. This will be one of the challenges with implementing the bill. It is not only defibrillators that we need; we also have to ensure that they are properly used.
Another challenge that we will run into, of course, is the cost. The bill will require defibrillators in public places, which could include a number of places run by community organizations and non-profit organizations. While the goal of the legislation is good, we need to know who’s going to pay and what impact that’s going to have on the people who are paying.
In conclusion, that being said, I want to commend the member again for promoting the use of a lifesaving device. I’ve been touched by this issue in my own riding of Oxford. About a year ago, a six-year-old girl from Tillsonburg was honoured for saving her grandfather’s life by performing CPR on him when he collapsed in his home. At the time, she was just five years old. This story highlights the importance of acting quickly when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. This is living proof that even young kids can save lives, and it is in our power to make it easier for people to act quickly by having automated defibrillators accessible in public places.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I’ll be supporting this bill, quite obviously. I’m not sure how anybody could oppose it. I want to congratulate the member from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale for bringing it here today. I want to also congratulate and thank the Heart and Stroke Foundation for their leadership on this issue. They’re all here today.
Anything we can do by way of providing tools to people that are made available in public places to help when someone suffers cardiac arrest is a good thing. We think that the timely availability of a defibrillator used by someone who is also trained in CPR can mean the difference between life and death for that person suffering a heart attack. Anything that we can do, and should be doing, is good.
We can make this bill pass in no time. In my mind, there are no objectors here. There is not going to be anyone, individually or collectively as parties, who is going to be opposed to this. My sense is that if the government wants to make this happen, we can make it so and we can expedite that very quickly.
I know that some people have concerns around this bill. Right now, the powers to designate places that must have defibrillators are not spelled out in the bill. For some, this is an issue; for others it may not be. It is left to regulations to deal with this matter. Those of you who might be listening or watching or sitting here may not realize that regulations never see the light of day here in this Legislature. They’re never debated in this House. The opposition MPPs are not allowed to debate regulations. We cannot even raise concerns, and have no role in crafting or raising objections with these regulations. They’re voted on only by a couple of cabinet members who sit around the table, and then they’re published in the gazette and they become law. That’s the way it works.
It would be nice if we could address this particular issue in committee, and it would be good to hear from people who have the expertise, like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, to see whether or not they have suggestions about how we can concretize it in law.
The member from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale pointed out that in New York, defibrillators are mandated in schools, airports, government buildings and colleges and universities. If they are mandated there—“mandated” means it’s in law—why could we not do the same, rather than simply saying we’re going to leave it in regulation? And it wasn’t just New York that you mentioned, Minister. You mentioned Nevada, where they also list the places where they would be and, as in New York, mandated places.
The point is that we can spell it out in the bill as opposed to leaving it in regulation. That doesn’t mean that, for me, if we don’t spell it out, we would object to it. But it’s a point that I raise and that other people have raised, so we might want to look at that. And if we bring it to committee, that clearly would solve it.
I want to say that we spend a great deal of money on treating disease. Every time there is this kind of bill that we debate, I often make reference to the fact that we could do a lot by way of prevention. We never really talk about prevention. We say, yes, the defibrillator is good, it can save lives, and if we train people it’ll save a whole lot of folks who have strokes and so on. And yes, it’s true. But not once do we as a House debate how prevention could save lives.
That’s why I want to mention a couple of things that the member from Nickel Belt, my colleague, often speaks about, and that is that we could and we should have a more active health promotion ministry; that spending $42 billion to treat rather than prevent is the wrong approach; and that we can keep people healthy by doing the right things.
So when the government cuts $17 million out of the Smoke-Free Ontario campaign, including youth smoking prevention programs, we think that’s a mistake. You might have a rationale for it, but it’s a mistake. It’s estimated that treating tobacco-related illnesses, cancers, heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses costs the health care system $1.7 billion a year. We know this. And then you cut $17 million. Why do you do that when you know the cost of not spending that little amount of money is going to make things worse? It makes no financial sense.
Seventeen months ago, the Legislature passed a bill to ban individually sold candy-flavoured cigarillos. I supported my colleague from Nickel Belt. We think it’s a good idea. It was a good bill, and it passed. It even received royal assent. But it hasn’t been enacted yet, 17 months later. I don’t understand. We passed it; we all agreed; royal assent has been given, but it has not been enacted. Why, when we all agreed it’s a good thing?
There’s another one that my friend from Nickel Belt introduced, and that was a private member’s bill, Healthy Decisions for Healthy Eating, that would force fast-food chains to post the amount of calories on their menu boards, and ban trans fats. We think the good doctors, many of whom are Liberals, agree with this. I’m sure those who are not doctors, who are Liberals here today, agree with that too. Yet it was sent to a committee for committee hearings, and of course, it never saw the light of day. They just get strangulated there. They simply are in limbo. They never see life. They just get sent there after second reading because we all feel good about it, and they die. It doesn’t make any sense.
I talk about the pillars of health promotion. As I read them, you’ll all agree, yet we don’t do it. They include healthy weight, including healthy eating. It’s a big issue, yet we have a population that eats poorly and is overweight. We don’t have enough gym teachers to be able to train young men and women to stay fit, to stay healthy.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: Except for the Minister of Transportation, I know, because we talked—and the Minister of Health Promotion, God bless her. It’s important. Others, I can’t swear to; I don’t know. We’ve got to exercise.
Another pillar is to quit smoking. I’ve got to admit I never liked cigarettes, ever in my life. I detest them. I have from time to time smoked cigars, I have to admit, but I do not inhale. I expel it as far as I can, as soon as it comes into my mouth. I know it’s not a good thing.
The other one, of course, is managing stress. Yikes. Who knows how to manage stress in this place? But we’ve got to deal with it. Many criticize the Premier: “Did you read that document?” “Did you go there?” That man has many responsibilities. With the stress levels, I’m surprised he doesn’t have white hair yet, but he will. There is so much stress on that man, and he only earns 220,000 bucks; that’s all he earns managing a $118-billion budget, and we criticize and slap him around. I’m telling you, I don’t know how he deals with that stress. But I like him. I try not to give him too much grief; I do my best.
These are the pillars, the prevention pillars of health promotion, and unless we deal with that, in everything else we do we’re just going to keep spending more. People are going to say, “Oh, my God, health care is costing us $45 billion and it’s climbing. We’ve got to do something,” and instead of doing this, we cut. We cut other programs, essential programs, such as the speech-language pathologists that we were dealing with, just one minor little thing. We don’t have enough money for special education programs, with so many of our kids who come to our schools and need help. We don’t have the specialists and we don’t have the time to be able to do the IPRCs, the identification, placement and review committees, because we don’t have the expertise, the time or the money.
Member from Ancaster, thank you for this bill; I’m going to be supporting it. You won’t get any objections here. I think we can pass this today, even. You might want to be able to take it to committee for one day of hearings so that people can have their say, but once we’ve done that, I think it should become law quickly.
Ms. Helena Jaczek: I’m really pleased to enter into the debate on this bill brought forward by our colleague from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale. Of course, as a physician, someone who has promoted not only AEDs but bystander CPR in the community, I’m going to be supporting this bill.
Actually, I’d like to spend a little bit of time talking about what happened in the region of York. I’m delighted to see that some of our guests are here from York region EMS. We actually started a program in the regional municipality of York back in 2002-03. We had a unique opportunity in the health department in York region because we were bringing the public health department together with York region EMS. It formed the health department, along with long-term care.
To pick up on one of the points made by our colleague from Trinity–Spadina, we had the unique opportunity to bring the whole spectrum of health promotion, disease prevention and even amelioration of cardiac arrest under one umbrella, a program called Heart Alive, and the region of York, in fact, was very enthusiastically in favour of this program. We had tremendous assistance from the Heart and Stroke Foundation at that time.
Since 2003, we have installed 56 AEDs in 32 regional municipality of York workplaces, so that all health services offices, long-term-care facilities, transportation and works offices, yards, water treatment facilities, courts, social service offices and other administrative facilities had an AED in close proximity. Of course the regional council chamber also, just as we have in this House, alluding to the stress issue, was very happy to have, in the York region admin building, an AED very closely situated to that chamber, which was sometimes the location of very stressful debates.
The member for Oxford alluded to the issue of training, and there is also the issue of maintaining AEDs. These are very, very crucial. The region of York approached this issue by asking for volunteers in each of these work sites, and we were delighted, because we in fact had employees who stepped forward to be trained in the use of the AEDs. So, in York region, we have a list of approximately 500 trained regional employees at all these 32 locations.
More recently, through a partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and with funding from the Chase McEachern Tribute Fund, Heart Alive has been spreading the number of AEDs to the nine municipalities that compose the region of York. So, there has now been an addition of some 96 AEDs.
The message to all employees or to all people coming into our facilities in York region, though, continues to be: Let’s prevent heart disease in the first place through good nutrition and, of course, through exercise. The AEDs are there as a potential last resort in that chain of survival that our colleague has referred to.
I did obtain one statistic that I thought was very useful: Of some 2,200 installed AEDs, we know that at least 22 have been used successfully. Some people may object on the issue of cost and that perhaps this is a rare event. No, these AEDs are being used; they’re being used successfully. Of course, at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves, “What price a life?” Life is too precious to ignore when we have mechanisms like AEDs that can prevent death and serious sequelae.
Mr. Ted Arnott: I’m pleased to rise this afternoon as well to express support for Bill 41, An Act to provide for defibrillators in premises accessed by members of the public. I want to commend the member from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale for bringing this forward this afternoon. I know he has worked hard with members of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and we welcome you as well for your support and presence here today. Thank you very much.
I’m proud to say that my wife, Lisa, who is a teacher at James McQueen Public School, is organizing a Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke Foundation this afternoon at that school. She has done that for a number of years. Last year, they raised about $3,100, she told me, and they’re hoping to do as well this year. I’m very proud of her, obviously.
I want to speak very briefly to this bill, because I know that my colleague has a lot to say about this too. The fact is, this is a bill that should be supported in principle. I think the member would be amenable to sending it to committee. I know there is an opportunity at the standing committee for further discussion, and we would all welcome that opportunity.
Last Friday, I had a chance to attend an important event in Guelph, where we announced that there would be 11 automated external defibrillators installed at all Wellington county high schools and at the Guelph campus of Conestoga College.
I had a chance to speak at that and to commend the various sponsors, Transamerica Life Canada, Reliance Home Comfort, the Gala Royale and the other sponsors in Guelph and Wellington county who have assisted in establishing this program for our area.
It was an exciting thing to be part of, and I’m very pleased to express support for the member’s bill. I think that, in principle, this is something that we need to pursue as a province. Certainly the member has pointed out that approximately 7,000 Ontarians will experience cardiac arrest, with up to 85% of those occurring at home or in public places. I think every family in Ontario has been affected and touched by a sudden cardiac arrest incident with a family member, my family being one of them. If we can save a life, obviously we would want to do everything we can towards that objective.
Mr. Shafiq Qaadri: Of course, I would also like to commend my colleague, MPP McMeekin from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale, for bringing forth this particular piece of legislation for diffusing defibrillators across the province of Ontario in public spaces.
I’d also like to lend a voice, not only as a physician but as a legislator here, to the Heart and Stroke Foundation for their remarkable work, not only in publicizing and disseminating best practices on a whole range of issues—what I would call global cardiovascular risk management—but in particular for having enlightened souls such as Laura Syron, who is one of my liaisons, as I’ve had in various guises the opportunity to present on behalf of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and in particular their attention to ethnicity as a new cardiovascular risk factor, the fact that certain races, certain cultural groups may be more predisposed to having heart attacks and strokes and so on. So I’d like to commend them.
As well, I’d like to thank MPP McMeekin, not only for today’s bill but also for his support last week of my own private member’s bill. It seems to be medical week, supporting the idea that the government of Ontario should initiate programs to publicize the Ontario vital stats resolution; basically, that Ontarians should know their numbers, whether it’s cholesterol, sugar, waist measurement and so on, and a whole range of other indices or measures so that physicians, the broader public and the Heart and Stroke Foundation can track the onset of illness over time.
As MPP McMeekin has very rightly brought to our attention, cardiovascular disease remains a very prevalent, important and widespread condition. We, as doctors, know that you do not have to wait until you reach that mythical middle age, whatever that number happens to be these days, whether it’s 40, 45, 50 or beyond. Unfortunately, we’re seeing these conditions, as the Heart and Stroke Foundation folks will know, in much younger patients. We’re now even sending 27-year-olds and 33-year-olds for bypass operations. If we can, at point source in various public facilities such as schools, universities, colleges and so on, actually allow people to have the opportunity to benefit not only from on-site CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or the actual automated external defibrillator machines, that’s very important.
I think it’s just a point to be made that the brain, once it starts to lack blood supply, blood oxygen, essentially dies within about four minutes’ time. Of course, if individuals are already predisposed, if their arteries are already a little bit on the rusted side, kind of obstructed or blocked, then the damage can be terrifying, can be wholesale. It can lead to sudden cardiac death and so on. This idea of having patients who develop, essentially, sudden cardiac arrest, or as we would say, defibrillation, when the heart doesn’t actually contract as it should, sending, as it should, as a pump, blood to the whole body—this is basically a kick-start, a reboot, a reset, a re-electrification of the heart. To be able to now, as a legislator, deal not only with the body politic but also the body human—I would certainly support this particular resolution.
Brampton’s defibrillation program was established back in 1995 as a co-operative effort between Brampton Fire and Emergency Services and Peel Regional Paramedic Services. The program provides ventricular defibrillation to patients suffering from cardiac arrest during pre-hospital emergency care. The defibrillator program is overseen by Dr. Sheldon Cheskes, the medical director of the Sunnybrook-Osler Centre for Prehospital Care.
In Brampton, our firefighters receive two days of CPR and defibrillation training during their recruitment. They conduct CPR and defibrillator training as part of their monthly training, and they must be recertified annually. Currently, Brampton Fire and Emergency Services and Peel Regional Paramedic Services are involved in the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium study. This is a North-America-wide study involving the collection of data from incidents involving the use of AEDs to determine which treatments best help people with cardiac arrest or severe injury, including new drugs, tools and techniques. The odds are four times greater if someone performs CPR immediately, when combined with early defibrillation. AEDs can increase the survival rates to 50% or more if they are delivered in the first few minutes.
Back in 2004, members of my Royal Canadian Legion branch 15, the poppy committee, the chairman, Bill Burrell, and vice-chair George “Potsy” Burrows presented a cheque to help pay for two new defibrillators to be used by the Peel regional marine unit. Then in August 2004, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, in partnership with the Ministry of Health Promotion and Scotiabank, made it possible to purchase and install 10 automatic external defibrillators to be placed in the city of Brampton. The AEDs were installed in high-traffic public sites, collected in conjunction with the city of Brampton’s emergency medical services.
Since I have been in this Legislature, the Ministry of Health Promotion has provided $3 million to bring 1,000 AEDs to public facilities in communities throughout Ontario to help save lives. Placing these devices in high-traffic public facilities make sense, because we know that roughly 17% to 20% of cardiac arrests happen outside the home. In addition to intervening with cardiopulmonary resuscitation—CPR—the defibrillators are the only definitive treatment for sudden cardiac arrest.
I am pleased to support the work of my colleague from Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale, and I’m very happy to support this bill. He has worked very hard to bring everybody together on something that we believe will promote health and safety for Ontarians.
Mr. Frank Klees: I’m pleased to join in the debate, and I want to thank our colleague Mr. McMeekin for bringing this bill forward. I want to, at the outset, say that I certainly will be supporting this bill, amongst other reasons because I received a communication from a friend and regional councillor, John Taylor, in Newmarket. I just want to read into the record his note to me.
“I am writing to you today to urge you to support Bill 41, the Defibrillator Access Act, 2010, by voting in its favour on May 6, 2010. As volunteer president of Heart and Stroke York North, I was extremely impressed and gratified to learn that MPP Ted McMeekin had introduced this bill, which would make Ontario a leader in Canada with respect to public access defibrillators. The legislation has the potential to save countless lives across Ontario. With your help, the legislation will be passed and AEDs (automated external defibrillators) will become as commonplace as fire extinguishers in Ontario—and they will save lives!”
I want to take this opportunity as well to welcome to Queen’s Park, from York region, EMS representatives Steve Darling and Mike Jessop. Thank you for joining us, and thank you for the good work that you do.
I want as well to extend our appreciation to the Heart and Stroke Foundation—not just as an organization but as individual volunteers, those of you who are working full-time in this great calling. Thank you for your dedication to this calling.
I want to thank the many thousands of volunteers across this province who work through the Heart and Stroke Foundation to do what they do. I’m sure that this was a great encouragement to our colleague for bringing this forward.
I want to also pay tribute today to Chase McEachern for his leadership and for the support that he gave this initiative through his own life—we honour that life and his family; as well, Brandon Koskitalo, a 14-year-old student who made his way here in March to encourage MPPs to take this initiative on.
I want to make this appeal. We all know of private members’ bills that we have supported here in principle on second reading. As the previous speaker indicated, sometimes we get approval in principle, we can go from this place and we have approval from the members here for second reading, and then it either goes into committee—and if it goes there—
Mr. Frank Klees: It dies, and we never have it back—or it comes back. I had one of those bills where it came back for third reading, was approved for a third reading, but was never proclaimed. So I want to make this recommendation, and I appeal to all members of the House from all parties: Let’s not let that happen here. I’d like to ask for unanimous consent, Speaker, that not only would we approve here in principle for second reading, but that we would then come back and have third reading immediately so that this bill doesn’t have to go through that additional step. And let me just say this, before the Clerk gives you advice that that can’t be done: Let’s do the right thing here. Let’s do it because we’re members of the Legislature and we’ll take on that responsibility and pass this bill today without any further complications.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Just a reminder that you can’t ask for unanimous consent of that nature during private members’ public business, but once the item is dealt with and voted on, you can then ask for it to be ordered for further reading.
Mr. Frank Klees: On a point of order, Speaker: I just want to say that that is my intention; that following the vote for second reading, I will in fact be asking for unanimous consent to have third reading on this bill immediately.
At the outset, I want to just give thanks to the member from Oxford—and I think I actually have about three minutes—for his complimentary references, particularly to the Heart and Stroke Foundation; to the member from Trinity–Spadina for some of his cogent points about some more work that may need to be done on the bill; to the member from Oak Ridges–Markham for sharing her experiences, along with, of course, the member from Wellington–Halton Hills; to the member from Etobicoke North, the good doctor, who always adds a clever voice to important items; to my good friend the Minister of Natural Resources; and my good buddy the member from Newmarket–Aurora. I want to thank everybody for their time and for what I sense is their enthusiastic support of this bill. You almost wonder why it took so long.
I want to say a personal word of thanks again to Heart and Stroke Foundation and to our special guests today. The simple truth of the matter is that they did a lot of work preparing this legislation. I think they would acknowledge that there is probably some more discussion that we need to have around indicating what places AEDs would go into.
I want to just say in passing that to make this happen is going to be all about partnership. Partnership is what we can achieve together that we can’t achieve apart. I think the Heart and Stroke Foundation has been absolutely instrumental in not only placing AEDs in appropriate facilities but also in the ongoing training and upgrading that is needed to ensure that people know how to operate those machines.
My hope, frankly, is that, consistent with the spirit of my good friend from Newmarket–Aurora, the government might choose to embrace this as government policy. I’m not in quite the same position to talk to those terms as perhaps in the past, but this makes eminent sense. I think everybody around this chamber understands that.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: I’d like to thank my honourable colleagues who are here to debate this today. The Truth in Government Act, which we are debating, contains a series of taxpayer protection measures that will expand freedom of information across government and ensure disclosure of hospitality expenses, job reclassifications, and contracts and contributions over $10,000 at public sector bodies. I’m seeking all-party support, because this is a sensible plan that would cost nothing to adopt today and can easily be done with information that the government already possesses.
Ontarians work hard for their families, and work hard so that they can enjoy their life in this great province. Yet for too long Ontarians have experienced a lack of respect for their hard-earned tax dollars that they send government at Queen’s Park, here in Toronto. In particular, over the last few years we’ve seen major spending scandals. Under the McGuinty Liberals, for example, we have seen scandals at eHealth Ontario, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, Cancer Care Ontario, the WSIB and various LHINs, to name but a few.
Had the Truth in Government Act been in place during those scandals, many of the spending abuses that actually occurred would never have happened. That is why I expect all-party support to endorse these accountability measures today.
This kind of legislation is long overdue. Ontarians have now been subjected to seven years of a Liberal government that has lacked accountability and transparency; a Liberal government that cannot control its spending, as evidenced by a $21-billion deficit this year alone; and a Liberal government that remains unconcerned with scandal after scandal that continue to plague the Premier’s office and cabinet officials.
The first is to expand the scope of freedom of information. This would ensure that all public sector bodies would allow access to details on how public money is spent. Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has repeatedly called for this in every single annual report since 2004. The Ontario Hospital Association also agrees, and they said that expanding FOI powers to cover hospitals “can only help bolster public trust and confidence in hospitals and the broader public service.”
Second, we’d like to require full proactive disclosure of all contracts over $10,000 at all public sector bodies on a website quarterly. This measure would deter excesses in government and give taxpayers access to whether contracts were delivered on time and on budget. This is being done right now at our national level.
Third, the act would require full proactive disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses in all public sector bodies. This measure would expose organizations like the LHINs and also allow public opinion and public scrutiny to serve as a deterrent to waste across government. Let me give you an example. In this Legislature, we have raised time and again some of the abuses that we’ve seen. We’ve seen Cancer Care Ontario spend lots of money on cupcakes for a going away party. We’ve seen Steve Mahoney, at the WSIB, purchase a GPS in Florida and charge that back to the taxpayers. We have seen this time and again. This particular measure would eliminate that from happening.
Fourth, the act would require full proactive disclosure of grants and contributions over $10,000 at all public sector bodies. Had this measure been in place in 2006 at the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s office, we would not have needed the Auditor General’s investigation to uncover $1 million in public money going to a cricket club that had only requested $150,000.
Finally, it would require full proactive disclosure of all public sector reclassifications. We have seen the sunshine list continually grow—by 10,000 people in the last year alone. It has tripled since the McGuinty Liberals have taken office. We have seen an excessive, bloated and—I dare say—inflated, grossly inflated, growth of the public sector. We must ensure that the public sector meets the realities of the private sector.
These are practical solutions that can be implemented, as I said, today, with no cost. As I noted previously, this is about Ontarians feeling like their tax dollars are being spent responsibly and towards services that they use, that they expect and that they need from their own government rather than going to government-friendly consultants.
Had these crucial measures been implemented, they would have prevented these recent scandals as I’ve mentioned, because under the McGuinty Liberals alone, there has been a total of $3.6 billion in wasted spending, including the recent eHealth scandal, the Windsor Energy Centre, WSIB, MPAC, OLG, Mike Colle’s cricket club fiasco, Cancer Care Ontario, the Samsung deal, Ontario Works, the ODSP and the HST tax collector scandals, and the list continues.
But it’s not just us in the Progressive Conservative Party who are advocating for this bill, the Truth in Government Act. Numerous Ontarians also believe that the province of Ontario needs legislation to protect our tax dollars.
Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says, “This bill will help shed light on government spending. It mirrors some mechanisms already in place at the federal level and only brings Ontario spending up to their level. Taxpayers should be able to know easily how their tax dollars are being spent by government. This bill helps to accomplish that goal.”
Peter Coleman, the president of the National Citizens Coalition, states, “The NCC has always stood for transparency and value for hardworking taxpayers. We fully support this bill and hope that it becomes law and brings back honesty and stops the rampant waste and scandal that seems to be the norm under the McGuinty government.”
As I mentioned earlier, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has repeatedly called to expand freedom-of-information access to all agencies, boards and commissions in the province of Ontario in every annual report since 2004.
The Ontario Hospital Association, representing their sector, has also called on the McGuinty Liberals to extend FOI legislation to hospitals. They say, and I have used the quote earlier but I’m going to use it again because it’s so important, “Ontario’s hospitals value their communities’ confidence and trust, and our proposal to have [the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act] apply to our sector can only help bolster public trust and confidence in hospitals and the broader public sector.”
Finally, from one of the most notable guardians of the public trust, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, who has been a watchdog in holding the government to account: He has also called for further transparency in government. He has called on the government for a comprehensive governance framework for ABCs, which are our agencies, boards and commissions. They need to be “open ... as part of a principled approach to accountability,” and he called on the government for “a comprehensive ... governance framework for ABCs that accommodates their differences while ensuring value for taxpayers.”
The conclusion in the Ombudsman’s report is one of importance, and I believe it speaks to the legislation before us. He concludes his report by saying, “The failure of an ABC is perceived as a failure of government ... and that ultimately every ABC understands one thing: They exist to serve the citizens of Ontario, not as autonomous creatures, free to roam as they would. They must be kept on an appropriate tether to ensure that they serve, rather than destroy, the interests of their real master—the people of Ontario.”
The PC caucus agrees, and that is exactly what we are trying to accomplish here today. We want to ensure that the people of Ontario trust their government and to ensure that the people of Ontario get value for their tax dollars. The Truth in Government Act, if passed, will hold anyone spending public money to a higher standard of behaviour. These accountability measures would ensure that spending scandals would end at the 600-plus agencies, boards and commissions in our province. Our constituents, in my opinion, deserve to have confidence that their government and their government officials are doing what is in their best interests and not what is in the best interests of their particular political masters or stakeholders.
The Truth in Government Act can be legislated today. It started as a concept of some very intelligent people in the Progressive Conservative Party. I want to take this opportunity to thank those who helped draft and shape this legislation. I’d like to thank, in PC leader Tim Hudak’s office, Ian Robertson, Clark Savoline, David Tarrant and Nick Koolsbergen. They each gave their time and talent to ensure that this bill made it to the floor of the Ontario Legislature. In addition, I would like to thank Michael Wood from legislative counsel, who provided me with efficient and professional support. I’d like to thank my own staff, Jad Haffar, who is in the gallery, for his work on communications. Most of all, I would like to say a special thank you to Megan Boyle, my legislative assistant, who ushered this private member’s bill through the various stages of the legislative and administrative processes. I want to thank you very much.
They did this because they believe in the work that they do. They believe that Ontario can lead again, because in Ontario, as in every other part of this great nation, the principle of responsible government means that the Premier and his cabinet are directly accountable to the elected members of this Ontario Legislature and ultimately to the people of this province. It is a noble principle, one that is over 160 years old on Canadian soil—older than our country itself. It was first defended by Joseph Howe in Halifax in 1848, who once said, “My public life is before you; and I know you will believe me when I say that when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are: What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?”
To those questions, I answer: Truth in government—it is right. Truth in government—it is just. Truth in government—it is for the public good. It can be done. “Truth in government” has a nice right to it.
I look forward to an engaging debate and to all members of this assembly supporting truth in government so that we can ensure that Ontario does lead again for the taxpayers of this province, who work hard to make a living and feed their children and produce great results for our society.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: I’m going to support this bill. I am really not quite sure whether this is the right way to get to transparency issues, controls on spending, but it certainly deserves to have a hearing. It would be great to have people come to speak to this particular bill and talk about how indeed we control waste in government, because there is always some waste that we can and must control.
One of the saddest things for me is that there are a whole lot of people who don’t trust our government or any government, who don’t trust politicians of any political stripe. In fact, I’ve canvassed many people who think we are all the same. My sense is that this experience is no different when Liberal members canvass their constituents or when Tory members canvass theirs. Many of them not only mistrust politicians; they hate politicians—and I use that word because I feel it many a time as I knock on doors. Many constituents believe that we have a pension, in spite of the fact that I might tell them we don’t. Many of them believe that we line our pockets, whether it’s true or not, whether it’s unbelievably false—and even if you tell them so, they still believe that somehow people take money and politicians know how to steal money, how to line their own pockets. Maybe people believe a whole lot of things that may not be true. But if they believe it, it means in their mind it’s absolutely true. If they feel it viscerally, it must be true intellectually.
I’m often very, very cautious about some things as I do them in politics because I don’t want to fuel those negative attitudes that people have about politics and politicians. There are some things we do in this Legislature that don’t make it any better for us as politicians. I find it regrettable that many politicians of all political stripes don’t realize, as they’re doing it, that they are making the lives of politicians even worse. But that’s the way it goes. That’s what we have to deal with.
Today we’re dealing with a bill called the Truth in Government Act. What this bill does is expand the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to allow public sector bodies to provide more access and to allow citizens—indeed, as the Tories would like to say, the taxpayers—to get access to all sorts of information.
This is a bill that can be helpful, because governments are very secretive. It’s not just Liberal governments that are secretive; NDP and Conservative governments were secretive. We all tend to do it, and it’s possible that some are worse than others. It is true that governments and government bodies can be very, very secretive, and you, Minister, would know that. I have been in cabinet to understand it, and the Tories have been in cabinet to understand it. Anything we can do to provide more information to the public is good for democracy, and in that regard I support this.
There is a long and sorry history of various public offices stonewalling requests for information; running every request to the maximum time limits as we go after access for information from the Freedom of Information Act; providing partial information, as opposed to the adequate information that one looks for; and yes indeed, obstructing access for as long as possible. Some public offices are notorious for denying every access request.
Providing more access may not do anything to get better or quicker access to information. So while I say I support the bill, will it give us the information that we ask for and that citizens are entitled to when they make that request? I’m not sure it will. As useful as it is to try to get information, to make us more transparent and accountable, whether in the end we’re going to get it, I don’t know. That’s why I am a big supporter of the Ombudsman. Like the member from Nepean–Carleton said, this Ombudsman has made this particular government—it could be a different government in place; Marin would make that government accountable too. Whatever government is in power, Marin would, by his style, make governments accountable, and I think it’s good. While political parties are wary of accountability and transparency, I am not. I think it’s good for citizens. It’s good for democracy to have people like that.
I’m a big supporter of Jim McCarter, our auditor in this province. He does an amazing job. He gets to the heart of the problem. Why we don’t give him the extra power to get into all boards, agencies and commissions, I don’t know. At the moment, we only have access to 20% to 25% of boards, agencies and commissions. Wouldn’t it be nice to open it up a little bit? Wouldn’t it be nice to bring all our boards, agencies and commissions under the careful watch of the Auditor General? It would be good.
Why do we fear it so much? Why do we resist it so much? I know why. If you’re in government, you’re afraid, because everything you open up that beats you up is another kick in the teeth: “Man, oh man, can we survive that one?” I know that. It would be good for citizens. It would be good for democracy. It would be good as a way of controlling some of the waste that indeed goes on in government. But we’re afraid to deal with it, and all governments have been afraid to do it. I say this with all due respect and experience.
The disclosure of hospitality expenses, okay; job reclassifications, yes; contracts, okay; grants and contributions over $10,000 on all public sector bodies, that’s good. But all of that could be included in the powers of the Auditor General, and we could get to it in the same way. In fact, I argue that we might be able to do a better job of it; not to undermine the bill presented by the member from Nepean–Carleton, but as a way of saying that the Auditor General might be able to get to the heart of the matter more clearly and more decisively than expanding the scope of the freedom of information act. It’s just two ways of getting at it. That’s good. We’re proposing that we could expand the powers of the Auditor General.
I propose that we expand the powers of the Ombudsman to the MUSH sector: to hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, and universities. It would be good for all you fine Liberals. You all want the same thing we do. And by the way, if you lose the election and some other government gets there, you will have done a good thing for citizens if you’re out of power. It’s good for you. You never know, you may not last another term. Okay, you might last four more years, but eventually they’re going to kick you out and someone else is going to be there. If that is true, do yourselves a favour for the next time, for your constituents, for all Ontarians. You just have to have a little bit of—
You don’t have to take my advice or my opinion; most of you reject them anyway. But I’m just telling you, you will lose an election. It may not be this one—we might have a minority government, who knows?—but soon enough you’ll be out, and then you’ll say, “Man, I wish we had passed that, because now we’ve got another government, and we’re going to have to fight them in the same way that they were fighting us.” As soon as another party goes there, the opposition party is going to come and say the same thing. You’ll be introducing the same bills, and you’ll regret it. You’ll say, “I wish we had done it.” It’s very comical, really. It really is comical. As the seats change, the questions are no different.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: You don’t know, do you? He doesn’t even know. You’re quite right. Think about the fact that you may not be here at all, not just as a government, but you individually as members. So I don’t know. I’m just trying to be helpful, as best as I can.
Member from Nepean–Carleton, I’m going to support your motion. I think it gets to how we spend and how we control spending in general. I was proposing the Auditor General might get to it a little more effectively, but I’m going to support it.
Hon. Harinder S. Takhar: I appreciate the opportunity to address this bill. Transparency of government and the protection of public funds are crucial issues that all members should be concerned with. But I want to ask the other side, how come they didn’t support the bill that we introduced? Some of the members didn’t even show up to vote for it. If they were so concerned about it, they should have at least taken the liberty to come here, talk about it and also support the bill that we proposed. While Bill 39 seeks to accomplish broad goals, the Ontario government has already made the legislation and policy changes to increase transparency in the areas of expense disclosure and procurement and to expand freedom of information across the government.
Let me just about talk about a few areas. For the expenses, Bill 39 seeks the disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses from public bodies, but as you know, Speaker, this government has just recently passed legislation which addresses that very issue in a comprehensive and an effective manner. The Public Sector Expenses Review Act, 2009, along with the revised travel, meal and hospitality expenses directive that followed it, implemented significant accountability measures to ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively.
Senior officials of the 22 largest public agencies in the province must now face the same level of accountability as cabinet ministers and political staff under the Cabinet Ministers’ and Opposition Leaders’ Expenses Review and Accountability Act. Since April 1, 2010, the expenses of cabinet ministers, political staff, senior management in the Ontario public service, senior executives and the top five expense claimants at Ontario’s 22 largest agencies have been subject to posting on a publicly accessible website. This will allow Ontarians to draw their own conclusions about the expenses of their public servants and officials. That has already been done.
This government has also made wide-ranging improvements in employee education about expenses and accountability. All public employees, whether they are elected, hired or appointed, have always been required to act responsibly with the public money that is entrusted to them. The new requirements we brought in have clarified the rules and allow for better adherence to them. Based on these legislative and policy changes, it is clear that this government has already taken the appropriate steps to improve transparency and internal controls on expenses.
On the procurement side, Bill 39 proposes to implement disclosure requirements on goods and services contracts involving a public body. Once again, I have to say to the member for Nepean–Carleton that you are a little bit too late. Our government has moved decisively to introduce greater accountability and transparency in the area of procurement. Our procurement policies ensure value for money by implementing open, fair and transparent competitive processes.
Ontario’s procurement policy framework is set out in the July 2009 procurement directives. It provides direction on mandatory procurement requirements such as planning, supply source, procurement methods, approvals processes and related policies. It also mandates, for the first time ever, that vendors who participate in the competitive procurement process must be offered a debriefing to ensure openness.
This directive applies to all ministries, agencies and non-classified entities, including the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation, Infrastructure Ontario and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. All ministries and agencies are now required to publicly post contract award notifications for all acquisitions of goods over $25,000 and all services over $100,000. When the party of the member opposite was in government, only the procurement of goods valued at or above $100,000 had to be posted.
The procurement-related proposals in Bill 39 would be of little benefit. The policy changes brought about by our government have made reporting requirements under the current procurement framework far more fulsome and transparent.
Bill 39 also proposes to expand the reach of freedom of information requests. This is something that we on this side of the House have been working diligently to accomplish. Access to information is of crucial importance to the transparent operations of the government. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has stated that an 80% compliance for requests is a good benchmark, and in 2009 our government had an 87.6% compliance rate within 30 days and 99.4% overall compliance.
Unlike the previous Tory government, we have brought a number of entities under the freedom of information act, such as publicly funded universities, Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and local public utilities. Ontario hospitals are accessible under their own freedom of information and privacy legislation. Furthermore, we are in continuous consultation to identify additional opportunities to expand the coverage of freedom of information policy. We have also worked to ensure that there is an efficient and effective process in place to address FOI requests, and I’m proud to inform this House that the public is receiving the information it asks for in a timely manner. In the past two reporting years, 2007 and 2008, this government has achieved its best-ever performance in replying to FOI requests within legislated time periods.
The wide range of legislative and policy frameworks we have undertaken, a few of which I have mentioned today, have done a great deal to protect taxpayers’ money and make the Ontario government more transparent. By virtue of all the measures we put in place last fall, Bill 39 is simply not necessary at this time. I cannot support this bill.
Just in the last few minutes I was listening to the Minister of Government Services, who really oversees pretty well all of the contract obligations of the province of Ontario. I think our party has been spending an inordinate amount of money on the freedom-of-information requests from that government to find out some of the contracts that have indeed been signed. In fact, there was a question asked by our transportation critic, Mr. Klees, today with respect to the issues of the service centres on Highway 401, specifically at Mallorytown.
I just want to put on the record that the bill itself—there’s a bit of background. I want to commend Lisa MacLeod’s staff for providing these facts. A total of $3.6 billion has been wasted during McGuinty’s reign so far: the eHealth scandal, which we all know the auditor uncovered, an expense of $1 billion; the Windsor Energy Centre, which has been brought up here in the House; the WSIB scandals, for the chair and others; the MPAC scandal; Ontario Lottery and Gaming; Cancer Care Ontario; the $7-billion Samsung deal; Ontario Works; the local health integration networks; and the HST that we’re now finding out is a tax grab of something in excess of $5 billion.
But we should always remember it all started with the health scandal. The Premier, in 2003, promised he wouldn’t raise taxes and then the first thing he did was raise the health tax. He tried to call it a premium so that it wasn’t a tax. That’s the history we’re dealing with, and it’s this lack of accountability and transparency.
A little bit more history: On June 17, 2009, he promised to end the sole-source contracting and expose untendered contracts with Casino Niagara, the Windsor Energy Centre and the LHINs again. Then, in September of the same year—2009—he broke promises to force Ontario agencies, boards and commissions to post their expenses and was undermined by the fact that there were 580 different agencies that still remain exempt today.
Dalton McGuinty, on October 19, 2009, promised to stop hiding on the sunshine list the six-figure salaries of health officials. In fact, he did break his own rule again by hiding the salaries of the local health integration networks. In fact, in that context, the Deputy Minister of Health had to resign because his salary was posted in two different areas. So it breaches the culture of entitlement, and the bill, thanks to the member’s thoroughness, has five principles to expose and search out some of this lack of openness and accountability.
I think some of the other members in our caucus want to speak on it, but I’m going to mention a couple. They aren’t mentioned here. I think it’s in the context of what some of the government members are saying. We want the Ontario Ombudsman, Mr. Marin, to have oversight of a lot of the agencies—very thorough, highly regarded—and what’s happening? I think the government is actually firing Mr. Marin. I think he’s being dismissed. There’s a person that I think they shake when he walks by.
But more importantly—and I’m going to conclude on this remark—my critic file is the Minister of Government Services, which is difficult to put an absolute definition on. It’s not like the Minister of Health or the Minister of Energy or the Minister of Transportation, which are quite specific responsibilities. All the contracts go through there. Stay tuned, because the estimates committee has picked this ministry as the number one ministry to review expenditures.
They have a very large budget. They sign all the contracts that give all this money away to these Liberal-friendly consulting firms. But more importantly, starting on Tuesday, May 11, the minister is now on notice that he’ll be before the committee and will be grilled relentlessly on some of this.
They wanted us as the opposition to spend $10,000 to get some of this information. I put you on notice now, Minister, that we’re going to be after the truth. This bill is going to be the very foundation of what we want this government to be responsible and more accountable for. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Mr. Bob Delaney: I’m pleased to join the debate on this bill, although I think it is perhaps inaccurately named. Let’s propose what the bill actually proposes to enact as a name. Let’s suggest that it might be called an act to promote red tape creation, reckless spending and bureaucratic bloat.
This bill is a bait-and-switch measure that uses the rhetoric of outrage to, in effect, create a monstrous, paper-shuffling, red-tape-creating, money-gobbling bureaucracy that will not create a single private sector job. It won’t provide a single public service, it won’t build a school, it won’t teach a child, it won’t cure a patient, it won’t pave a road, it won’t generate a kilowatt hour of electricity and it won’t assist the vulnerable Ontarian. In short, it’s a typical piece of Conservative rhetorical propaganda aimed at their core right-wing neo-con constituency that really doesn’t believe—
Mr. Bob Delaney: Let’s hold this bill up to the light and see what a counterproductive, expensive and contradictory proposal it is. Those tiny bits of rhetorical merit, as we’ll see, have already been done by Ontario, but the rest is just self-serving gruel to feed to the fervent ideological faithful.
This red-tape, spending and bloat bill, it has been estimated, would cost Ontario taxpayers $50 million over three years to implement and about $10 million each and every year to keep going. That includes the hiring of Ontario public service staff to just process paper, not to contribute to our province in any constructive way at all.
To contrast with the Nepean–Carleton PC red-tape-bloat-and-spend bill, Ontario’s most recent budget, read only six short weeks ago, will actually reduce the Ontario public service by 3,400 full-time employees over a three-year period. Conservatives want to hire people to shuffle paper at public expense. Liberals have kept Ontario public service the leanest in Canada on a per capita basis.
The Tories would rather spend money on red tape, and our government is bringing down the recession deficit. The Conservatives will never balance the budget, and our government has shown that we can balance budgets and we also pay down Ontario’s debt.
What people in the Conservative Party will find surprising is that the Nepean–Carleton PC red-tape-bloat-and-spend bill actually contradicts their own party policy. Let’s look at it in light of the Conservative Party’s already flawed, poorly researched and unworkable 10 for 2010.
They suggest capping spending, yet this bill would cost $50 million to implement and $10 million annually, including new staff. They suggest cutting regulations, but this bill would increase the rules, systems and requirements on OPS staff as well as the broader public sector and agencies, boards, and commissions. Their policy talks about cutting government, but on the other hand, this Conservative policy would expand the OPS and require significant resources to manage. So, very clearly, neither the member nor her party are actually serious about this measure, which does seem to be a reject from a low-level policy workshop.
Progress means going forward. This measure doesn’t even try to back into the future; it runs full speed into the past. That’s one good reason that this very flawed proposal doesn’t deserve to be passed by this Legislature.
I heard the minister speak earlier, the minister responsible for accountability and integrity, and he talked about changes that this government has made. Granted, they have made some changes with respect to accountability and reporting, but it was in response to the fact that this government was rife with scandal, with no accountability and with taxpayers’ money being parsed off to Liberal-friendly consultants for work that was really never done.
That’s why the Premier was forced, last July, to come out with some new standards. Unfortunately, he brought in those standards and doesn’t believe that he has to follow them himself. So our critic for accountability, Lisa MacLeod, has brought in measures that will make a difference.
In response to the member from Mississauga–Streetsville: He’s talking about added costs. This legislation will save far more than it will cost, because it will put pressure on people to be accountable. He talks about the red tape of reporting expenses. Well, interestingly enough, when someone has to report and tabulate expenses, and somebody on the other line has to pay those expenses, has to verify them, recheck the math and then write a cheque—all we’re talking about is posting those expenses online. How much more would it cost to actually put those expenses online so the people can have a look at them?
Don’t give me that—oh, I can’t say it in here; I’ll be shut down. Don’t give me that line about how this is going to create all kinds of red tape. This is going to get to the bottom so that people who work in government are accountable. This is what it’s all about: ensuring that when someone puts in a claim, it’s legitimate. If the taxpayer of this province is paying for it, then the taxpayer of this province has a right to know what they’re paying for.
It’s not complicated, Minister. You had the opportunity to extend those rules to hospitals and all agencies, boards and commissions throughout this province. You chose not to because you don’t want to get to the bottom of it; you don’t want the facts. Dalton McGuinty wants to be able to purport to be concerned about accountability, but he really doesn’t want to pay the price. The price is that there could be some other casualties.
We already had a casualty in the Ministry of Health over the eHealth scandal. The member for Don Valley East, who was the Minister of Health, is no longer in cabinet, even though most of the problems associated with eHealth and the scandal belong to the former minister, George Smitherman. But you can’t fire somebody who has already quit. He flew the coop to be the mayor of Toronto because he saw the writing on the wall.
When the member for Nepean–Carleton brought in this bill, she considered all of the factors surrounding costs and benefits. There is no question whatsoever. The member for Mississauga–Streetsville talks about $50 million or something. He says, “They say....” Who are “they”? That word gets used so often: “Well, they say,” or, “We need.” Who are “they” and who are “we”? He invents this kind of stuff. He sits over his computer late at night and dreams up these ridiculous, preposterous schemes, when in reality what he should be doing is serving his constituents and not taking his marching orders from the Premier’s office all the time. He’s hoping that someday he’s going to move up a couple of rows, but they are running out of time over there, quite frankly.
Another thing that this is going to do is the reclassification. This is something that we’ve seen in the sunshine list, where sort of by stealth, people who were policy advisers in one of the ministries—and my friend from Nepean–Carleton will confirm this—all of a sudden become assistant deputy minister, at a much higher pay grade. It’s not just a fact that they’re getting promotions to keep them happy, but also, just as they are reaching that age when they might be getting ready to retire, this government is sliding them up to another classification so that when they calculate their pension credits, they are starting at a different level. And who’s paying that? That’s the taxpayer of the province of Ontario. So we want full, proactive disclosure of all reclassifications. What’s wrong with that? Let’s find out if people are earning new classifications based on merit or the fact that the Premier’s office wants to make sure everybody in the senior bureaucracy is happy, because they need them when they are spreading their message prior to the next election.
That’s a very important part of this legislation. You guys know it’s true. You don’t want to deal with it because, as I say, who could be against? There’s nothing novel about the idea of wanting to have truth in government. I know that my friend from Trinity–Spadina, and correctly so, alludes to the fact that the public don’t see those two words connected too much; they don’t see the words “truth” and “government” connected. But this is an opportunity for this government. Because it failed on its own, this would be an opportunity to stand and support a private member’s bill that would do just that: make truth in government the law and restore the public’s confidence in what we’re doing here—not that window dressing, not that sham of a bill that you brought in, Minister, that really did nothing to restore the people’s confidence. We’re finding out even since then that untendered contracts are still the order of the day in McGuinty’s Ontario. We’d put a stop to that. We would bring truth in government and confidence back to the people.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker; I do appreciate it. I want to thank the member from Trinity–Spadina for offering the New Democrats’ support, as well as my colleagues from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke and Durham for speaking to this bill. I know that my colleague from Newmarket–Aurora would like to have spoken as well, but time did not permit.
Let me speak to the Liberals. I was aghast that the so-called integrity czar of this province, the Minister of Government Services, would speak to the bill the way he did. He knows full well that he was misleading this House when he suggested that he—
Ms. Lisa MacLeod: I’ll withdraw. But he knows full well that he didn’t tell the whole story, and that is a shame. This bill is not redundant; this bill would actually open up government to the people.
The member from Mississauga–Streetsville—I’m actually appalled at his behaviour—does not support political accountability, just like his federal cousins didn’t, and he’s apparently entitled to his own entitlements. I’d like to ask him how many schools, roads, hospitals and other public infrastructure we could have built under this bill had that $1-billion eHealth boondoggle not occurred. This bill would have caught it.
I’m going to tell you something: You should be ashamed of yourselves for not supporting this. This bill is truth in government. They support lies in government. They support covering things up. They need to learn a lesson or two over there, because they continue to misspend money on the taxpayers’ watch: $3.6 billion that went to eHealth, OLG, WSIB, Cancer Care Ontario and the Windsor Energy Centre. They have no shame. I’m not sure how they look at themselves, with the waste, mismanagement and taxpayer abuses they have done to the people we represent in this chamber. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Mr. Yakabuski has moved second reading of Bill 40, An Act to amend the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act with respect to matching rebates of gasoline tax that the Minister provides to municipalities.
Mr. Frank Klees: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: Given the importance of this issue and the unanimous support of all members, notwithstanding the referral to committee, I would like to ask for unanimous consent that the bill be immediately referred for third reading.
Hon. Gerry Phillips: I move that, pursuant to standing order 47 and notwithstanding any other standing order or special order of the House relating to Bill 44, An Act to implement the Northern Ontario energy credit, when the bill is next called as a government order the Speaker shall put every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill without further debate or amendment and at such time the bill shall be ordered referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs; and
That the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs be authorized to meet on Thursday, May 13, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. for the purpose of public hearings on the bill and during its regular afternoon meeting time on Thursday, May 13, 2010, for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill; and
That the deadline for filing amendments to the bill with the clerk of the committee shall be 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, 2010. At 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, 2010, those amendments which have not yet been moved shall be deemed to have been moved, and the Chair of the committee shall interrupt the proceedings and shall, without further debate or amendment, put every question necessary to dispose of all remaining sections of the bill and any amendments thereto. The committee shall be authorized to meet beyond the normal hour of adjournment until completion of clause-by-clause consideration. Any division required shall be deferred until all remaining questions have been put and taken in succession, with one 20-minute waiting period allowed pursuant to standing order 129(a); and
That the committee shall report the bill to the House no later than Monday, May 17, 2010. In the event that the committee fails to report the bill on that day, the bill shall be deemed to be passed by the committee and shall be deemed to be reported to and received by the House; and
That, upon receiving the report of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the Speaker shall put the question for adoption of the report forthwith, and at such time the bill shall be ordered for third reading; and
That, when the order for third reading of the bill is called, 60 minutes shall be allotted to the third reading stage of the bill, apportioned equally among the recognized parties. At the end of this time, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and shall put every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the bill without further debate or amendment; and
Hon. Gerry Phillips: I’ll be relatively brief. The purpose of this motion is to allow us to move on with an important part of the budget, particularly to northern Ontario. I think that during the debate, most members appreciated that for the north, this is an important provision in our budget. They are anxious that we get moving on this, and, of course, the government therefore is as well. So I’m pleased to move this motion, to begin the debate on it, but I would just say to all of us that, from everything I have heard, particularly for our residents in northern Ontario, the northern Ontario energy credit portion of the budget bill is extremely important, and this will allow us to move forward.
Mr. John O’Toole: This is very unusual, because, really, what we’re debating here is a time allocation motion. Time allocation is a very liberating sort of experience because you can basically talk about anything. You can go back to the truth-in-government bill. You can talk about a bill that Lisa MacLeod, the member from Nepean–Carleton, talked about, or the unanimous consent motion today, Mr. McMeekin’s bill, on the defibrillator, where Mr. Klees suggested that we have unanimous consent.
There has been a fair amount of harmony here this afternoon, and this time allocation motion is very strange for us, because on Bill 44 specifically, we fully understand the politics of the bill. Bill 44 basically should have been in Bill 16. The reason that the government, under Premier McGuinty, took it out—because he’s sort trying to wedge, and I’m talking to the people of Ontario more than the people here that are reading. What it does is it sort of tries to divide. They’re trying to say to us that we would not support a bill that tried to augment or supplement the cost of electricity in northern Ontario. Our argument, of course, is that we’d like to supplement this inordinately high cost of electricity for all Ontarians, and we’ve asked questions today and yesterday about people on medical devices that require electricity, whether it’s people with COPD or people with MS. These are real situations where people of Ontario need to run these devices under medical orders during time of high prices of electricity, whether they live in Timiskaming or in Toronto.
I don’t really understand why they’re time-allocating it. The time allocation motion is forcing the end of debate—forcing it into committee, probably. It must be drafted incorrectly or something. Why would it go to committee? Because it’s a pretty straightforward bill. In fact, it’s actually in the budget.
If you look at the budget itself—I don’t have that directly with me—oh, certainly I do; I always have that stuff with me because I tend to read it. The whole part is in here. It’s the undercut of the Open Ontario plan, which is the close Ontario plan, really. We call it the “oops” plan.
They have admitted, finally, that the energy policy strategy is so failed that George Smitherman left. It’s so screwed up under Bill 150 that they’ve got the high energy crisis that has pretty well shut down northern Ontario. Mining: The member from Timmins–James Bay, Mr. Gilles Bisson, mentioned in his remarks the other day that about 40% of the cost of production in mining and forestry is energy. He had a private members’ bill last Thursday dealing with processing of resources from Ontario in other provinces, where he wanted to protect that.
Because energy prices in Ontario are so uncompetitive with Quebec and Manitoba—they’re actually in the budget here. They’ve got $150 million in the industrial electricity program. That’s to bring the price of electricity down in the Open Ontario plan. That’s an admission by the Premier and his newly-minted Minister of Energy, who really is—they should have put Mr. Phillips back there, seriously. I mean this in terms of having good, sound policy and someone with experience at the helm of large corporations. This would be Mr. Phillips. Brad is a fairly decent hockey player; there’s no question about that, but the only thing I see is that he’s reading quite well and responding out of the briefing book from the Premier’s office pretty thoroughly, but let’s be clear: This is an admission of a failed policy.
If you look at the FIT program—feed-in tariff—for the people of Ontario, here’s what’s happening today in Toronto. I should look at all of my notes here and make sure I get this on the record. There was a good article in the Toronto Star that says that Toronto Hydro is going to increase the price of energy by 20%. Did everybody see that plan this morning? Here it is. It says, “Power Rates to Jump by 20%.
“Toronto Hydro Blames Decaying Infrastructure.” It’s written by Megan O’Toole. No relation, but that’s who it’s written by. Here’s the deal: The price of energy for Ontario—guaranteed more than 20%. With their FIT program under Bill 150, “renewable energy” is code language for more expensive energy.
Here’s the real story. Energy today is around five to six cents. The contracts they’re signing with these new renewable companies, these private companies like Samsung from Korea, for solar energy is 80 cents a kilowatt hour. Wind is about 15 cents a kilowatt hour. Ask yourself at home—you’re watching television, I hope, or through cable—it’s not on cable anymore, actually.
Here’s the issue: If you really look at it, how can they pay somebody who’s generating electricity from solar panels 80 cents and charge you at home six cents? Let’s just do a bit of math. It’s eight times more expensive. They always use, “You’re for coal.” No, we’re not for coal. In fact, we’re the only ones who have ever closed a coal plant down in Ontario. Premier McGuinty promised it in 2002. Has there ever been one closed? No. Actually, Elizabeth Witmer announced the closure of the Lakeview plant. I was there. Premier McGuinty has promised it twice: 2007, 2011 and now 2014. What did we say in 2002? In 2015. They cannot possibly deal—their plan so failed, it’s absurd.
If you were to take the Nanticoke coal plant down, that’s 5,000 megawatts. How would you possibly replace that if your economy, with the 600,000 jobs, actually did occur? It takes 10 years to build an energy plant of 5,000 megawatts. Figure out the math. It’s another obfuscation or distortion of what they’re doing. They say one thing and do another.
When I go back to the FIT plan—Bill 150—energy is going up. Toronto Hydro is just the first to tell the truth. The NDP did a study: The minimum increase in energy alone, when the HST comes in, with the conservation tax and your smart meter, is $350 or more for each home. It’s more apt to be $800. So if your bill today is $2,000 per year for energy, it’s probably going to be $3,000.
These contracts they’ve signed are the big issue. Often, they quote on the energy file that countries like Sweden and Denmark—let’s look at the facts. Denmark’s average price of energy is 34 cents a kilowatt hour; ours is about six cents.
Your energy is an essential commodity. It’s not discretionary consumption. Cable television is discretionary consumption. You can cancel the movie channel; electricity, you can’t. In a home, you usually use, I would say, about 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, roughly. How much of that is discretionary? The experts say that discretionary consumption in energy is about 5% in a home.
They say to you that the smart meter will allow you to save. No, no, no; that is absolutely false. A smart meter allows you to shift energy. It doesn’t help you to stop drying your clothes. It tells you to dry them at 3 in the morning instead of 3 in the afternoon. All it does is shift the load. It doesn’t conserve one kilowatt. They’re getting away scot-free with this sort of misinformation campaign.
Conservation would be allowing people to have a clothesline so they don’t use energy; they use the natural resources of the environment. Conservation would be encouraging people not to heat their homes, or to turn the thermostat down, or providing options for consumers.
They’ve cancelled the energy credit for buying EnerStar products: dryers, stoves, fridges. They’ve cancelled that credit. You know why? Because it’s a cost. What they are doing is taxing every single consumption the average family makes.
The families in Hamilton or Durham that may be laid off from the steel industry, or from industry generally, are going to—on July 1, every single thing they buy—some of which is taxed today—all of them, with the exception of food, basically—baby food and hygiene products and the odd book—for everything else, you’re going to pay tax.
Imagine, on Canada Day, taking the children to Canada’s Wonderland. You’ll be paying more at Canada’s Wonderland. There’s a destination tax for tourism. Tourism is going up. You’ll be paying more for the gas: 8 cents more a litre. Can you imagine an 8-cent-a-litre jump on 30 or 40 litres? Eight cents, to me—that one tax on gas, I’ve sort of thought about it. I’ve talked to some of my constituents, to try to help them. Mr. Wilkinson does a great job of explaining it, but most of it is on the side of business.
If you spend—let’s just keep it simple—$100 a week on gas; you might spend more or less than that—transit, whatever—$100 a week. Now it’s $108 a week. That’s $400 a year, just that one commodity. It’s $400 more per year for gas. That’s not cable television. That’s not your electricity. That’s not your other consumables—going to the movies; kids’ registration for hockey, rugby, soccer or whatever it is. The NDP, to their credit, and respectfully, I think have it right. It’s probably about $1,200 more per family.
People say to me, “Well, what’s the advantage?” The advantage is for business, and it is. The chamber of commerce, Len Crispino and those—long-time Liberals, by the way—were right out in front of this. It’s a big-time—that’s great. It is good. It’s a poison pill on the other side. The consumer is going to pay. All of the tax that business spends on input will be called an input tax credit, so they’ll be able to reduce their profit from sales or business by the tax that they pay. That’s a good thing, because if you’re selling cars, for instance, and you have to buy solder and glue and paint and all that stuff in Ontario that you pay tax on, you’ll be able to reduce that tax. Today you can reduce the federal tax, the GST portion. As of July 1 you’ll be able to reduce the PST, the provincial portion—they call it an input tax credit—and get it fully back. Your product would be cheaper in the United States by 8%, so that’s a good thing. Here’s the deal, though: If you look at the fine print, corporations with income over $10 million won’t qualify. GE, General Electric, all those companies won’t get it until 2018. They won’t qualify for the input tax credit.
But why is the government doing this profound change? They have a deficit of almost $22 billion and they need to increase revenue. Employment is falling, so income tax revenue is down. The economy is down, so corporate profit is down. Last year they lost—Mr. Phillips would know this—$5 billion in revenue from corporate tax. That happened to Bob Rae too. I remember that I was chair of the budget municipally at that time of Bob Rae, Floyd Laughren and Ed Philip, the minister. Businesses were all laying people off, and income tax was down; the corporate profit was down. The same thing is happening to Mr. McGuinty.
I always recall, though—memories are a good thing to have in this business. When Brian Mulroney introduced this GST years ago—you’d recall this, because you were, I think, warden of the county at that time—I think they had the largest majority in federal government. After the election, there were two people left in the Mulroney government. Kim Campbell became the interim leader, and there were two people left. Even the leader got defeated. I hope that Premier McGuinty—he might resign anyway. I think Kathleen Wynne would be a good leader. The point is, though, that I think there were two left. There was Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne. They were the two people left. You’d recall this. John Charest, who is now the Liberal Premier of Quebec, and Elsie Wayne, a long-time respected person from Nova Scotia—I think mayor of Halifax at one time—were the only two left at that time.
So there is a price to be paid for these significant tax changes. The irony, if you look at that—this question will come up probably during the election. Here’s the real issue: During the election, Jean Chrétien, the leader of the Liberals, and Sheila Copps were asked, and they campaigned on promising—Mr. Phillips would remember this—to cancel the GST. Do you recall that? Of course you would. He’s shaking his head. That’s very good. The fact is that Sheila Copps actually ended up resigning and running in a by-election. She won again—a very astute political person—but she ran again because she admitted she had sort of misled the people or whatever during the election. They never cancelled it. In fact, when they got their hands on the books, they realized how much revenue was coming in from the GST: $27 billion a year from the GST alone.
The interesting thing is, in this one here, the numbers are starting to come out. The increase in revenue on the HST, the harmonized tax, and the efficiencies, which there are, although they’ve just switched the cost to the federal government—the federal government is looking at the efficiency of harmonization across Canada. I’ll get to that part too. There will be a lack of expenditure, so they’re going to save the 1,200 people who got transferred with the severance pay—$25 million in severance, unnecessarily, just for going to work for the federal government in the same office, doing the same job. And the increase in revenue I would put—well, the transition funding from the federal government was $4.3 billion. Now, if we change the rules, they would have to pay back the contract that Premier McGuinty and Dwight Duncan signed.
He did not have to do some of the things. He didn’t have to harmonize to the current 8%. Like Gordon Campbell, the Premier of BC, he could have said, “No, we’re not going to tax gas.” BC actually looked after the people of British Columbia. Premier McGuinty is taking the full amount of money he can get on this new tax. Why? Because he has a deficit of $22 billion. It’s almost staggering debt.
What’s debt? It’s future taxes for you. That’s what it is. Do you know how much interest we pay on our mortgage in Ontario?—I’m talking to the pages here. Ten billion dollars a year. If the interest rate goes up, I predict it will be $14 billion in interest alone annually to pay for our mortgage.
When I get to this northern Ontario tax thing, it’s fairness for Ontarians, and the general theme of this is trying to augment support in the north, because the NDP have a couple of very important seats, so they’re catering to the northern vote here. But I think they should be catering to all Ontarians.
I have a constituent who finds the smart meter, where you have the high rate of 9.9 cents a kilowatt hour at noon or during the day, and at 3 in the morning that’s going to be probably 3 cents a kilowatt hour—off-peak electricity is going to be quite reasonably priced. This person has MS. They need climate control 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so their electricity bill will probably double. If it’s $400, it’s going to be $800. This would apply to anybody with COPD or any prescribed health care technical solution. It could be breathing; it could be oxygen; there are doctors here who could probably fill in the blanks on this.
So, if you’re going to do it for northern Ontario, which I can’t not support, because it’s an admission of a failed policy—they’ve said Toronto Hydro, and everybody knows even in the budget, that it’s going to cost more for electricity big time, and the HST is another whole different other big time out of your pocket.
They’re saying to northern Ontario—because the economy is right on its tail in pulp and paper, mining, forestry and the rest of it—that they’re going to reduce both the industrial part, which I think is about a $150-million program called industrial electrification program averaging. On the residential side—this is almost shameful. It’s almost shameful. When you look at the bill—I have the bill here. I looked at the bill in some detail, and it’s pathetic. It’s a hundred and some dollars for a person with an income under $45,000, and it’s actually $200 for a family, but it’s going to be disbursed in quarterly payments. Can you imagine how much it will cost to issue four $25 cheques, one in each quarter? I can’t believe it. It’s just absolutely—having that cheque coming in, the people of Ontario cannot be fooled. They can’t be bought with their own money.
It says the cheques will be paid quarterly, and the formula is on page 5, if anybody wants to read it—probably nobody has. The formula is 130 minus an average divided by four—four cheques. But to issue a cheque for $25 in the province of Ontario probably costs $25. You have to program the system. You’ve got the paper, the documents, the printers, the stamps and all the rest of that kind of stuff, and some clerical person and some mail person. It’s going to cost more to process it and deliver it. I can’t imagine—$125. It’s absolutely—how can people be so easily fooled by this? Imagine. This is going to help you pay for an electricity bill that’s going to double, and the most hideous thing of all this is that in the north, a lot of the power, the dams, the waterfalls, the natural environment and that which could be saved—there are electrons going right by houses that cost four cents to produce. They’re going to send it back to you and charge you 12 cents. It’s absolutely unbelievable; I can’t believe it.
Now, the bill itself, the sentiment of it—first of all, I’ve made this clear: It should have been in Bill 16. Why they took it out is all politics, so we would be tending to vote against a government bill that treats one part of Ontario differently than another. The city of Kawartha Lakes and that community, as the member from that area should know, is the lowest-income in the province of Ontario. It’s lower than northern Ontario communities. Why aren’t they getting the break? Why don’t they give a break to people based on income? People who are poor or have a shelter problem or a diet problem—why don’t they do the fair thing? This isn’t about fairness. No, no, this is wedge politics, courtesy of Premier McGuinty.
We agree that the price of electricity is too high. But what they are doing is they’re going to give a break to only some of the people. What about my constituents who have chronic disease, where they need to use electricity that’s going to be more expensive by a poorly designed and implemented policy? I can’t believe it.
I look at the broader issue here. Jan Carr, a Ph.D. person, was the head of the Ontario Power Authority: fantastic, capable, intelligent. I read the supply-mix report for the new design of energy. You would know him as well, Mr. Speaker: ethical, principled, intelligent. Even he was in the paper questioning this new strategy under Bill 150 on the feed-in tariff—and other professors. Last week, we had the wind energy people out here from all over parts of Ontario, absolutely frustrated about how the government has single-handedly overridden municipal planning, overridden health care, overridden health experts. Dr. McMurtry was there and spoke to the group. All have said that this should be slowed down and addressed. Let’s get it right. Other countries are now seeing the problem, the legacy issues with wind and some of these hastily implemented plans. What is Premier McGuinty doing? They’re going to shove it down your throat. You’re going to pay more for something that you don’t want because it sounds green and it sounds good.
Even on this late Thursday afternoon, when most people want to be home, they’ve time-allocated a bill. That’s a wedge. We support it. There’s a requirement of a certain amount of time. We think it’s unfair and unreasonable, but at least it’s an admission of a failed policy in energy pricing and energy generally. The smart meters are a frigging disguise. It’s nothing more than shifting load. Let’s be honest with people. A smart meter is this—
But anyway, my point is this: A real smart meter—and I know of people who have them. The smart meter would be that you could actually phone—let’s say you had a smart meter, a genuinely smart meter, in your home, or it could be at your cottage. You could be driving home to your condo in North York, phone a number and turn on your microwave oven. That technology exists today. You could actually, on the weekend, phone and turn your hot water heater off at your cottage or at your home, or check up on something. That’s a smart meter. It’s an accessible panel. Those exist today; I’m not making this up.
When I look at this whole thing, it’s about a simple part of giving a couple of credits. There are income credits or tax credits for people of modest means under Bill 44. Here it is: $130 for an individual and $200 for a family per year, paid out in quarterly instalments with a government of Ontario cheque, with Premier McGuinty’s picture on the cheque, probably. I think it’s absolutely shameful.
As I said, our leader, Tim Hudak, our critic, John Yakabuski, and the finance critic, Norm Miller, have basically said to us that we agree, that it’s an admission of a failed energy policy and we would like to support it. It may be that by co-operatively working with the Premier, he’ll admit and find other solutions to deal with this nondiscretionary consumption product. Energy is nondiscretionary. You need it. You have to consume it. I think it’s quite interesting. The whole energy file is in complete and utter disarray.
I’m looking at Ms. Best, the Minister of Health Promotion. In your riding, it’s a huge issue. These people don’t want these big turbines flashing in their view of Lake Ontario. I’m sorry; they don’t. They don’t, really. It’s not going to add anything anyway, because here is the issue with wind: In high pressure, there is very little wind. It’s sort of stagnant wind conditions. High pressure is when you need energy. When it’s really hot, that’s high pressure. There’s no wind. It’s quite stagnant; still days, no wind. They won’t be turning. They’ll be sitting there taking up space. And here’s the other part: When it’s really cold—
In the winter, when it’s high pressure, it’s really cold, and when it’s really cold, there is no wind. That’s when you need the heat. When it’s really hot, when you need the energy—this would never replace dispatchable load. That is energy that you can dispatch on demand, like natural gas or some other peaking kind of performance. Nuclear plants, the way the system is designed, are for baseload. They’re on all the time or they’re off, period. You need a dispatchable load that you can turn on when it’s high pressure and turn off when it’s normal, or turn on in winter or summer, to create all that extra demand with air conditioning etc.
I can’t believe how badly they’ve screwed this file up. It’s no wonder George Smitherman left. I can tell you now, as mayor of Toronto, if he gets away with what he got away with here, people will be quite disappointed, I think.
I honestly think that the Open Ontario plan and some of the things they’ve done—driving down deeper into Bill 44 is this: Under Bill 44—I’m going to leave the driving down part to my counterparts who may wish to speak on this bill.
With that, I’m leaving a reasonable amount of time for others who may want to contribute. I know that this is a bill that—it’s really time allocation; I understand that. Our member from Nepean–Carleton is an expert in that area. I would say that the member from Oxford is too, but he may prefer to be silent on the issue.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Yet another time allocation motion. The lengths to which this government—the Liberal government, the McGuinty government, the government of openness, Kormos says sarcastically, and transparency, I say once again sarcastically, has taken the time allocation motion, the guillotine motion, and made it the norm. They’re trivial. They happen so regularly.
People say, “Why is one concerned?” Because look at what this time allocation motion does: It restricts public access to the committee considering this bill to but two hours and 15 minutes, beginning at 8 a.m. It’s not about the rights of members; it’s about the rights of the public, the rights of people out there, the taxpayers, amongst them, northerners, who at the end of the day will not be impacted by this bill as much as the government would want them to believe. Their maximum $200 credit for a family doesn’t even begin to address the $800-a-year new cost that this government is imposing upon families as a result of its HST, does it?
I find it extremely sad that this government would slam the door on the people of this province, people who have every good reason to want to make comment on this bill. It’s not about the MPPs; it’s about the people of Ontario. Because you see, that committee process is the one opportunity that folks, just plain folks—whether they’re rich or poor; whether they’re university-educated; whether they got themselves a high school or a grade 10 junior matriculation before they had to go out and work in the factory or in the mine; whether they’re urban or rural; whether they’re northern or southern—don’t have to sit the way they sit up there in the visitors’ gallery, silent and with their hands clasped. They daren’t even applaud, because of course the rules don’t permit it. The Parliament is just for parliamentarians, but the committee is for the public.
This time allocation—look, if the government and Mr. McGuinty want to beat up on opposition members, go ahead. Most of us are reasonably seasoned. We’ve got thick skins, and if we don’t have thick skins, we’ve got enough scar tissue. We can withstand the occasional beating. But don’t beat up on the public.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why Mr. McGuinty and his Liberal caucus would want to thumb their noses and show such disdain, such disregard, for the people of this province, people who have already taken a beating of their own—250,000, 275,000, maybe 300,000 jobs lost in the last four, four and a half, maybe five years, jobs that aren’t coming back.
Down where I come from, you drive down the canal there towards Dain City, and John Deere had been there 100 years. John Deere: the famous green-and-yellow John Deere. The railway line there used to ship their product out. The last thing they were making, and they were busy making it—good tradespeople, qualified tradespeople, a whole lot of welders, amongst others—they were putting together those four-wheel-drive vehicles that hunters and bush workers use. They’re also used as recreational vehicles. They’re owned and operated by city parks and by people who work in places like provincial parks, like Algonquin and so on. Eight hundred workers—this was skilled labour, a whole lot of tradespeople. A hundred years, gone in a mere snap of a finger.
The government says, “What could we have done?” Mr. Marchese, the government says, “Oh, it was a recession; it was worldwide. What could we have done?” John Deere abandoned Welland and took those—it’s not that they stopped producing little four-wheel-drive vehicles. Darn right they didn’t stop producing them. They’re making them down in Mexico now. Mr. McGuinty said, “Well, what could we do?”
Do you know what you could have done? You could have had a buy-Ontario policy, and then John Deere would have had a reason to keep its plant in Welland here in the province of Ontario, knowing full well that every vehicle purchased by the province of Ontario for use by provincial parks workers, by conservation officers, by MNR officers was going to be an Ontario-made vehicle, and that—hmm, interesting—at the end of the day would have meant it would be a John Deere, because I don’t know of any other manufacturer that was making those four-wheel-drive bush vehicles, utility vehicles, here in the province of Ontario, or for that matter in most places in Canada. Maybe Bombardier, the Ski-Doo manufacturer, makes them in Quebec; I’m not sure.
Mr. Peter Kormos: When he’s in his seat, I will. As it is, he’s just another person wandering the passageway between the two sides of the Parliament. When he’s in his seat, he’s the member for Trinity–Spadina. Right now he’s Mr. Marchese. His wife calls him Rosario.
So here we are: 8 a.m. to 10:15. Perhaps the prospect of amendments—maybe, just maybe a member of that committee might listen, instead of playing with their BlackBerry, to a person making a submission and say, “The light just turned on. What that particular member of the Ontario public said was a remarkable contribution to the process and warrants an amendment to the bill.” What did the government do? The government said that you’ve got to have an amendment in by 12:30 the same day.
Come on! What that’s saying is, “To heck with you and your amendments. Forget about it. Don’t even bother. Don’t even think about it. Amendments? Not in your wildest dreams—never, ever, ever amendments.” That’s what the government is saying when it says you’ve got committee hearings from 8 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Mr. Marchese knows—8 a.m. to 10:15, and then have the amendments filed with the clerk of that committee by 12:15. Oh, but the real kicker, the real kick in the head—what was that song, Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?
Mr. Peter Kormos: The real kick in the head is that you’ve got clause-by-clause on the same day—yes, I’ve got that right; it’s May 13—and on the same day during its regular afternoon meeting time, which means that you can’t meet during routine proceedings, so you have to wait until orders of the day—somebody help me: What day of the week is that?
Mr. Peter Kormos: Except Mr. Marchese is here on a Thursday afternoon at 5:32 p.m. The committee meets in the afternoon around 2, once orders of the day come—that’s what time they come on a Thursday—and then considers the amendments at the same time as they’re going through the bill clause-by-clause.
Let’s understand something that’s very important: When a bill is debated in second reading, the debate is in principle only. No one expects the debate to be a debate on the minutia of the legislation. Do you understand what I’m saying? Because, in fact, the bill isn’t finished yet. The bill is debated in principle on second reading. It’s in the committee where the observations, where the scrutiny, where the analysis of the clause-by-clause occurs. That’s where it’s supposed to occur; it’s where it has to occur. It’s in the committee where a member of opposition or a member of the government, should they have the wherewithal to do it, can ask the parliamentary assistant, “What does this section mean? What impact does it have on resident A, resident B or resident C?” It’s in committee that a member of the committee, whether they be government or opposition, can say, “Hmm, North Bay, Sudbury, but if you live a kilometre south of that boundary”—
So you see, perhaps it would be a valid question to ask the parliamentary assistant: “How did you arrive at this particular determination? How can you be so arbitrary?” Then you can expect a response from the parliamentary assistant. Now, you may not get one, but I’ve found that most parliamentary assistants want to appear to be reasonable and knowledgeable about the legislation. You may just get some idea, and not just getting an idea for oneself but putting on record some idea, so that the public has a reference point and so that the government doesn’t keep moving the goal posts.
I know you can’t do that here in the Legislative Assembly, in the chamber, not during second reading debate. You can’t do it in third reading debate. There was a time that the government—and I’ve actually heard government members say, “What do you need third reading for? What’s your problem?” You might be interested in knowing that at one time Parliaments had four, five and six readings of a bill. Of course, when one refers to reading a bill, it’s about the fact that in early Parliaments, they didn’t publish printed bills. They didn’t have offset presses; Gutenberg hadn’t performed his magic yet. So the reading of a bill meant that the Clerk literally read the only copy of the bill that existed. She or he literally read the bill, and that’s how parliamentarians knew what the bill consisted of. It would be very expensive for them to hire a transcriber, if they were available, to sit down and copy out that bill, so the bill was read in its entirety. Parliamentarians listened carefully, and, indeed, there was debate on first reading of a bill. As I say, there were four, five and six readings of bills. In other words, the bill was read.
Committee existed at that very early point in our parliamentary history as well. Committee didn’t have the same sort of public access to it. Thank goodness it does now. In our adoption of democratic ideals in a representative democracy, we’ve also incorporated some level of participatory democracy in that citizens come here and speak to legislation, as they should, and as I encourage them to.
I’ve got to tell you, Speaker, there’s nothing more discouraging than being in a committee and having folks sitting there watching the committee process and folks lined up anxiously waiting—some are a little damp on the forehead because they’re nervous and their palms are a little sweaty because they’ve never done it before, and they think, “Oh, my goodness, here I am in the provincial Legislature.” We’ve got all these parliamentarians sitting there and they’ve got the clerk and the Chair and they’ve worked really hard on a submission. Well, they have. They’ve been thoughtful. They’ve sweated over a submission. They’ve written it, and they’ve edited it and edited it again, and they’ve edited it so they can time it and don’t go over time, because of the clerk when they called to make their appointment to appear in front of the committee. And then they drive here from Lord knows where. They drive here from Smiths Falls or Timiskaming, and they leave early in the morning because they don’t want to be late, so they leave home at 3:30 or 4 in the morning. They’re in Toronto—and some folks have been to Toronto a lot; other folks don’t go to Toronto as often as some people do. They have no reason to. Toronto isn’t the end of the world, and it’s not the beginning either. There’s a whole lot to Ontario besides the intersection of Yonge and Bloor, let me tell you.
So they come to the committee. They’re apprehensive and they’re nervous, but they have worked hard; they’ve worked incredibly hard. I sit there and I watch them and I listen to them, and I’m so proud of them. I’m not talking about the lobbyists who come time after time after time. I’m talking about the plain folks—so proud of them. They come and they sit themselves down, and the Chair inevitably says, “Please identify yourself for the record,” and that starts to sound oh, so Law and Order-ish, like television, like it’s pretty important stuff. I don’t know why Chairs simply can’t say, “Would you please tell us your name.” This “for the record”—it’s Chair-itis, I suppose, that little bit of pomposity that comes with it.
But they begin their submissions. Oftentimes, they are written, and they’ve prepared them, and I read along, as some others do. Then I look up and I see a government member, head bowed, eyes glazed, as their fingers are thumping away at a BlackBerry buried deep in their lap. And I think, “How rude. How insulting.” What an arrogant piece of work that is when a well-meaning resident of this province comes forward and works so hard, and MPPs, who almost inevitably make more money than they do, are sitting there playing with their godawful BlackBerrys instead of listening to them. Or they’re whispering in each other’s ears, and you can’t hear exactly what they’re saying, but sure as God made little apples, you know they ain’t talking about the presenter and his or her submissions or about the bill. Or they’re just sitting there with that stuporific drool, the spittle look, the glazed-eyed spittle look, because they’re bored and disinterested, and they aren’t afraid to let anybody know it.
Those are affronts to democracy, aren’t they? It’s as much an affront as to simply tell people, “Don’t even bother coming,” because if you do manage to get here by 8, and if you do manage to fit into that very narrow time slot of two hours and 15 minutes—correct me if I’m wrong, but 8 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. is two hours and 15 minutes—you’re probably not going to be heard or listened to anyways because you’re going to have government members wiping the sleep out of their eyes and scratching parts of their body that they had missed earlier that morning.
The proof is in the pudding, because if the government was really interested in hearing what folks had to say, surely they would have provided more time than the 12:30 deadline for filing amendments, wouldn’t they have? If people were going to be listened to, and if a government member or an opposition member of that committee were going to say, “Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s interpret, let’s translate that idea into an amendment. Let’s put it into legalese so that maybe the committee can consider that”—well, the government clearly isn’t interested in that happening, is it? Because when you’ve got a 12:30 deadline, and then you’ve got the committee starting up again at 2—ah, but catch this: This will rot your socks. This will knock you flat on your behind. You’ve got a committee that at 5 o’clock, after about three hours maximum, regardless of what stage in the bill you’re at on clause-by-clause and regardless of how many amendments remain to be moved and discussed, the guillotine drops again. There’s another decapitation.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Mr. Zimmer says. And I don’t know. Mr. Zimmer’s here; he’s sitting in the Premier’s seat. Perhaps revenge is best served cold. I don’t know what he’s serving, but if it’s revenge, I’m suspecting it is cold.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): I would respectfully ask the honourable member to respect a couple of rules. One is to refer to honourable members here in the chamber by their riding name. I’ll just leave it at that.
Mr. Peter Kormos: No, hold it. I’m going to get to that. Don’t get impatient. I believe it was James Michener who first utilized it; this was back in 1950s. He was writing novels—South Pacific. He wrote a series of novels and, as a kid, this was easy history, right? If it wasn’t him, it was Norman Mailer. It was either Norman Mailer or Michener, but it might well have been Mailer—Mailer would be more likely—who was skirting the obviously strong censorship in the 1950s. There’s only a few of us who remember it. Zimmer remembers it. I do. He was an adult at the time. I was a child, but I was relatively precocious. I was reading stuff. But I remember reading that as a kid and I thought, “Hm? Frigging?” Is it Michener?
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Thank you. I’m not going to rule that the word is unparliamentary because I’ve heard it in here before at least under three different speakers and have used it myself. But I would ask the member—
Mr. David Zimmer: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I respect and understand your ruling on the use of the word that my friend opposite from Welland is using, but perhaps it would be appropriate, if he wants to continue using that nomenclature and so on, that we adjourn for a night sitting.
Mr. Peter Kormos: As I say, my grandmother—it would have curled her hair. She’s dead now, God bless her. But there were concepts in that, even at the advanced levels, that she just never imagined—right?—that she just never thought of. So here, you find “frigging” offensive? Please.
So, not only do we have the member for Durham vanguarding the use of new language; he, as you’ll recall, was at the vanguard, at the forefront, of the movement of using politically active hand gestures.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): All right. Let’s try this again. At least refer to members by their riding names. Try not to offend anyone, because we have about 13 minutes left. While we’re enjoying your debate, there are a few rules that we need to respect. Thank you.
Mr. Peter Kormos: I’ve just been so distracted lately. I’m talking about the last 27 minutes. I’ve been so distracted by the interjections that I’ve been subjected to, the heckling, the embarrassing attacks on me by other members of the Legislature. I’m trying to take it in my stride.
We’re talking about a time allocation motion, which is embarrassing. Once again, I say to the Minister for Health Promotion, if you want to be embarrassed about something, don’t be embarrassed about the member for Durham or me using the word “frigging”; be embarrassed that your government has imposed another time allocation motion, not just on the people of this Legislature but on the people of Ontario. That should embarrass you, not the utilization of some sanitization of a classic Anglo-Saxonism without which the English language would be far poorer. Ask Nancy Ruth.
I’m not going to be supporting the time allocation motion. New Democrats won’t be supporting the time allocation motion. Let me take you to the final offence here, that is, the third reading or, rather, lack of it. Again—
It’s the third reading or rather lack of it: 60 minutes divided equally, 20 minutes per caucus. The opposition made it clear that they didn’t oppose this bill, in principle. The opposition made it equally clear that they had some strong concerns about the bill and whether it did what it purported to do, or at least what the Premier or his minister would claim that it did.
I suppose when one analyzes what this bill really does, the word “frigging” and the finger are entirely appropriate because the bill, at the end of the day, does so little for the folks who need assistance so badly.
One of the concerns that we had was the one-kilometre phenomenon, those folks who just happen to live one kilometre south of the arbitrary boundary, who are going to say, “Hey, the temperature didn’t increase by 10 degrees this past winter because I live one kilometre south of the artificial boundary of North Bay or Sudbury.” I can’t imagine what those folks are going to say.
I can’t imagine—well, I do know what my folks are going say down in Welland, a whole lot of senior citizens, a whole lot of elderly people struggling to keep their homes; putting off roofing jobs; hoping that the shingles will last one more year; fearful of having the gas guy come in at the beginning of heating season for fear that finally the red tag may be applied to the furnace—
Mr. Peter Kormos: —which means that it’s shut down and they have to finally replace it; hoping and praying that the water tank will last for one more year because the prospect of paying—what?—$1,000 for a water tank is not so cheap. You don’t get water tanks for $1,000 anymore. It’s just not part of their budget.
Then they’re hammered, whacked, as the Marcheseism would have it, by ever-increasing fuel costs, heating costs and property taxes, and ever-declining pensions or pensions that simply collapse. You have people who are going to be hammered yet again. I remember Judge Marc Girard, a provincial judge, a dear friend, a beautiful man whom I love dearly, who is down in Welland. He always took great offence when he was judging an assault charge or basically a barroom-style fight. At the end of the day, he didn’t mind fisticuffs, but he really made it clear in terms of sentencing as well that you don’t put the boots to somebody when they’re down; that was the act of a coward. You had already won the fight. There was no reason at that point to kick somebody in the head or in the kidney or in the belly. Yet, people in this province, hard hit—250,000, 275,000, maybe 300,000 good jobs lost, not replaced, not restored, and an economic recovery that is very much a Bay Street recovery but not a Main Street recovery. That’s the reality of it. The papers tell us that. Folks are down; they’ve already been knocked down and they are struggling to get back on their feet. They’re literally struggling. As a matter of fact, it’s like a scene from that Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke. Remember that scene? If not, it was Straw Dogs, with Dustin Hoffman. I remember the scene: him struggling after getting a beating, struggling to get up, blood dripping, his strength sapped, struggling to get up. People in Ontario, working families and their retired parents, are struggling to get back on their feet. Then, July 1, they get hammered again, they get booted while they’re down, with the HST. Stats Canada tells us that is going to cost the average family $800 a year in new taxes.
It’s not fair. People have already cut to the bone. They’ve already trimmed the fat. They’ve already used up modest savings. They’ve already cut back as far as anybody can cut back. Go ask any retailer. Today I had to go to the bank and give them some money before the sheriff came knocking on my door. When I was at the bank, I ran into one of the owners of This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, the bookstore that used to be over on Church Street; they’re over in Kensington Market now. I’ve known that store for years, a great store, one of the last, along with The Cookbook Store, my dear friends at The Cookbook Store at Yonge and Yorkville, wonderful women who run a great store. People should drop into The Cookbook Store. All they sell is cookbooks and books about food.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Right across from the Toronto Reference Library. They’re wonderful people, delightful people, very knowledgeable, and they know everybody. They know James Chatto and they know—they won’t name-drop unless you ask them to, but they know all these people. They know all the cooks and the writers of these books and the heirs to the Julia Child throne. But that’s an independent bookstore. I love that bookstore. People should go there and buy their books, The Cookbook Store, corner of Yorkville and Yonge, across from the Metro Reference Library. They’re open seven days a week.
As a matter of fact, when I was laid up really bad, before I had the surgery over Christmastime, I was immobile. I literally wasn’t eating, because I just couldn’t. I was that sick that I wasn’t eating at the time. So I’d phone them up and say, “Purolate half a dozen titles to me, because if I can’t eat, at least I can read about it.” I did. They were—
Mr. Peter Kormos: Trust me, I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t feel like eating, but I missed the taste. So the ladies at The Cookbook Store at Yorkville and Yonge—it faces Yonge Street, the southwest corner.
I was embarrassed, because I hadn’t been in their store over in Kensington Market; it’s been there a couple of years now. This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, again, is one of the last of its kind. They carry an eclectic collection and some very small publishing companies, some very limited-run and some leading-edge, very edgy kind of stuff. But they also know their books. Just like the ladies at The Cookbook Store, they read their books. They know, because they read them all. The folks at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library read their books. If they know you as a customer, they know you’ll like this one and you’ll like that one. They have a great mystery section, amongst others—Elmore Leonard-style stuff, the noir-type novels, if you like that kind of stuff.
We chatted, and he said that he had heard something that the NDP had been saying and he was happy to hear that. I said, “How’s it going?” He said, “We’re fine.” I said, “No, how’s the store going?” “Not so good.” “Not so good? Why?” “The economy’s recovering, but people don’t have money in their pockets.”
For me, a book is like food. It’s as important. But the fact is, I have a reasonably good income, like the rest of us here. I didn’t lose my job last year or the year before. I’m not struggling to work for minimum wage. The retail end of it, I was told, was slow. They were apprehensive; they were nervous. And you see, when Mr. McGuinty’s HST takes another $800 a year out of a family’s budget, there’s going to be even less money to spend in a bookstore or, for that matter, a furniture store or an appliance store. The second-hand stores will start doing a brisker trade. The St. Vincent de Paul will become the retail shop of destination—and I have great respect for St. Vincent de Paul and Sally Ann and those types of thrift shops.
This government’s proposal in this legislation is hardly a solution. People in Ontario want a chance to explain why. This government’s denying them that chance. Dalton McGuinty is saying to those people who want to explain to Mr. McGuinty and his Liberal caucus why this legislation isn’t a solution—what would Nancy Ruth say? He’s Nancy Ruth-ing them in a very specific way.
I’m just sad. I’m saddened by this. This isn’t the style that I know Liberal caucus members in their hearts believe in. I know there are Liberal caucus members who—I’ve seen them in committee. Many of them are mediocre; many of them are very, very good. I know that they share with me that excitement about the public participating. David Zimmer—when he’s in committee, he listens very carefully. I watch him and I observe him working with participants. David Zimmer does a good job in committee. He has to follow his marching orders; I understand that. He’s the parliamentary assistant. And there are others who do a good job in committee. Why are you helping to slam the door in the faces of those people who want to talk to you in that very important parliamentary and legislative process?