LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Monday 4 June 2012 Lundi 4 juin 2012
Mr. Tim Hudak: I want to say how proud I am that my nephew, Andrew Hutton, is one of the legislative pages joining us today. In fact, today he is captain of the legislative pages—got the big C on his chest. We’re joined in the gallery by his proud family: parents Sharon and James Hutton, sister Meredith Hutton, brother Ben Hutton, and proud grandparents Andy and Doris Weishar. It’s good to see you out today.
Miss Monique Taylor: Today I’d like to welcome to the House my family members: my partner’s mother, Mary Louise Bozzo; his aunt and uncle Cathy and Charlie Bozzo; and his cousins Jennifer and Alessandro Bozzo.
Mr. Kim Craitor: I’m really pleased to honour some special friends who have come all the way from Fort Erie to be with us today, the Demizio family. I’m pleased to introduce Dean Demizio, who also is the president of the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce; his wife, Peggy; his son Gabriel; and his daughter Cloey. It’s a pleasure to have them here. I’ve explained to them how professional we are in the House and how quiet we’ll be during question period. They’re really excited to listen to it.
Mrs. Julia Munro: I ask all members to help me welcome the students from Holy Trinity High School in Bradford, who are currently on the grand staircase waiting for me to come there. Please help me welcome them to the chamber.
Mr. Kevin Daniel Flynn: It’s a pleasure to rise today to welcome the McColeman family from Oakville. We have Scott, Linda, their children Meghan and Marie, and they’ve joined us in the east gallery, Speaker.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I’m pleased to welcome the Ontario Greenhouse Alliance to Queen’s Park. In the gallery today is Rejean Picard, chair of TOGA; Don Taylor, chair of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers; Gerard Schouwenaar, chair of Flowers Canada; and Jan VanderHout. I’d like to also invite all the members of the Legislature to attend their lunch reception after question period in room 230.
Hon. John Gerretsen: Speaker, would you please help welcome J’Neene Coghlan and Dan Coghlan, who were Rotary Club auction winners for a good cause to have lunch with their MPP. They’re both from Kingston, Speaker.
Hon. John Milloy: I’d like to welcome Heidi and Jim Julien from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and their daughter. I’ve had the pleasure of their daughter working for me for a number of years here at Queen’s Park.
Mr. Monte Kwinter: I’d like to welcome Jill Birch, vice-president of development and alumni at OCAD University, and Carole Beaulieu, associate vice-president, university relations, of OCAD University.
Mr. Shafiq Qaadri: I take this opportunity to invite all members of the Legislature to help me welcome a very special guest who is en route. That is the Honourable Lord Nazir Ahmed, who is the first Pakistani-British individual to serve in the House of Lords in the British Parliament.
Mr. Kevin Daniel Flynn: I’d like to introduce friends and family of page Mateo who are joining us today at Queen’s Park. We have his mother, Liz, his father, Vince, his brother and sister Tomas and Allessia, grandparents Maria and Camillo, cousins Rachel and Barb, and, finally, his friend Dante.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities has requested unanimous consent for a moment’s silence in this House for the tragic events that happened at the Eaton Centre. Is it agreed? Agreed. Please join me.
Mr. Tim Hudak: First let me say thank you for the moment of silence. The thoughts and prayers of the PC caucus are with all those impacted by the tragedy at the Eaton Centre on Saturday evening, and our thanks to our police and first responders for their quick response in addressing this issue, Speaker.
Premier, my question is to you concerning some other very bad news that transpired a few days ago, and that’s the 2,000 layoffs at the GM line in Oshawa. That GM line was making the Equinox and the Impala. As auto sales are improving in the States, the Impala will continue to be produced; it’s just being produced in Detroit instead of the province of Ontario. And the Equinox will continue to be produced; it’s just going to be put in a reopened plant in Tennessee while they close down the line in Oshawa.
Premier, isn’t this a clarion call for action? Can you tell us why they’re moving production out of Ontario to the States and what you’re going to do to increase the competitive nature of our province to keep jobs in the province of Ontario?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I appreciate the question from my honourable colleague. But if I may, Speaker, on behalf of the government and on behalf of, if I may say as well, 13 million Ontarians, I want to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who were affected by the tragedy that unfolded in the Eaton Centre this weekend. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the police as they pursue their investigation with rigour and persistence, and all those involved as first responders who dealt with this terrible issue.
I say to my honourable colleague with respect to the issue that he has raised that this did not come as a surprise to our government, but it certainly is a major disappointment nonetheless. There are families and jobs at stake here, and I can say at the outset that we will do everything that we possibly can to continue to work with GM and all of our auto sector to ensure that there is a bright future for the sector in the province of Ontario.
Mr. Tim Hudak: Here’s my concern, Premier. I worry about the climate you’ve created in our province that has made us less attractive for business investment. You’ve chosen to increase taxes. You’ve driven energy rates through the roof. You bind up businesses with more and more red tape almost on a daily basis.
Premier, not only are the Impala and Equinox moving across the border to the States, but this is the third GM plant to see this: a truck line in Oshawa similarly gone since 2009; Windsor has closed down a plant since 2009. Post-bailout, while auto sales have improved, my concern is that production is shifting into the United States of America while we want to see it right here in the province of Ontario—the latest 2,000 good, middle-class jobs that helped build Oshawa, Durham and the province of Ontario.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I’m proud to report, notwithstanding the bad news connected with GM just recently, that overall the auto sector has invested over $1 billion since the recession. I think in large part we can take some measure of credit for that, because when GM and others were up against it in the context of that terrible recession, working with the federal government, we offered some financial support; we extended a hand of support. There were 485,000 jobs in total at risk there.
I’ll remind you, Speaker, of something that my honourable colleague said just recently. I quote from the Toronto Sun from Saturday, June 2: “Ontario’s auto bailout was a bad idea and the province should have stood aside and let Chrysler and General Motors go bankrupt, Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees said Friday.” We’re opposed to that approach. We think we need to continue to work hand in hand to strengthen the sector.
The 2,000 workers lost at General Motors are only a small part of the number of lost jobs as a result of Friday’s announcement. Layoff notices have already been given to thousands more people as a result. Ontario may be a major shareholder in General Motors, but it has done nothing or little to aid the dozens of feeder companies supplying that line that has been shut down.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I do not question my honourable colleague’s sincerity with respect to the vigour of GM in his community. But I will say that we will continue to find ways to work with the auto sector and manufacturing in general, and we will not take the approach that has been historically advocated by the official opposition, where they’ve essentially said to businesses when they find themselves in trouble, “You’re on your own. If you can work it out, fine. If you can’t work it out, that’s fine as well.”
We did not take that approach. We came to the table, together with the Obama administration and the Harper administration in Ottawa, and we put billions on the table to provide support, because there were 485,000 jobs at stake. I’m pleased to report that the auto sector is turning around. We are the number one producer of cars in North America, and we intend to keep it that way.
Mr. Tim Hudak: Back to the Premier: The problem, Premier, is the auto sector’s turning around in Tennessee. It’s turning around in Michigan. It’s turning around in the States. We want to see it turn around here in the province of Ontario.
Premier, there was further unfortunate news on Friday. Not only did we lose 2,000 jobs at GM, but we saw further revelations that our air ambulance system, Ornge, is in further crisis. We saw in detail cases where CPR could not be performed on patients. There were cases of outrageous delays. There were cases of Ornge not even picking up the phone for an emergency, and, sadly, cases of people actually dying.
Your minister’s response to this revelation was to argue that this document never actually made it to cabinet. That’s not an excuse; that’s an indictment of the minister’s failed leadership when it comes to the Ornge file. If it didn’t go to cabinet, where did it go to?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Directly to my honourable colleague’s question, my answer is, of course, no. But I do want to take this opportunity, Speaker, to talk a little bit about the great work that is done by those who provide ambulance services around the province.
Through our municipal services, last year, 914,000 patients were transferred; through Ornge, 19,000 patients were transferred. I know that we talk from time to time about some shortcomings on the front lines. But I think we should extend a hand of thanks from time to time to all those men and women who work so hard every single day to transfer nearly one million Ontario patients every single year.
You know, Premier, I thought you’d be as shocked as I was that a document of this magnitude and significance detailing over and over again with incidents at Ornge, including deaths, had not found its way to cabinet. You wonder why it didn’t get to cabinet. Why did the minister not even forward it to your attention?
This is the not the first straw; it’s the last. We’ve seen now a minister who met personally with Chris Mazza, the executive director at Ornge, and gave him the green light for his scheme. The same Minister of Health was warned over and over again in this House, in the public about legitimate patient safety concerns at Ornge, and she looked the other way. Now we see, despite all the questions in the House and the media, the minister not even sharing this document of the detailed wreckage happening at Ornge today.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I think it would be helpful for Ontarians to understand that from time to time, in keeping with legislative provision, the coroner has to take a look at some of the deaths when there is a patient who has expired in the course of transportation, before or after. I think it’s important to take a look at what the coroner has to offer in this regard.
He says, “We have investigated all of the ORNGE cases brought to our attention. Some of those investigations are still ongoing. Of our completed investigations, there have been no cases in which issues with air ambulance transportation materially affected the course of the patient’s illness or injury.”
Mr. Tim Hudak: You know, Premier, you and I have stood in this place and we have debated many issues, from job losses to record deficits, a doubling of our debt, our recent credit downgrades. We’ve debated your further previous scandals at eHealth, the Lottery and Gaming Corp., LHINs, cricket clubs and such. But this has to do with life and death: page after page after page of scandalous revelations about the lack of ability to do CPR, potential deaths, phone calls that were never answered. Your minister has either looked the other way or not done her work in getting to the bottom of this affair and putting it right. She green-lighted Mr. Mazza’s approach. She looked the other way when patient safety concerns were raised over and over again. And now this document of this magnitude isn’t even raised in cabinet.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, again, I think it’s important to distinguish between partisan interest and the public interest. I think, again, we should listen to the statement put out by Dr. Andrew McCallum, chief coroner, province of Ontario. Again, he says in part, “There have been recent concerns expressed by members of the Legislature about the…investigation of deaths where Ornge aircraft and crew have been involved….
“We have investigated all of the Ornge cases brought to our attention” and “there have been no cases in which issues with air ambulance transportation materially affected the course of the patient’s illness or injury.”
I can understand my honourable colleague’s efforts and intentions in this regard, but I think we owe it to Ontarians to be perfectly transparent when it comes to an independent third party expert who has looked at this matter, Speaker. I think Ontarians are entitled very much to rely on his conclusions.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, New Democrats would also like to join with Torontonians and Ontarians in expressing our horror at the events that occurred on Saturday at the Toronto Eaton Centre. Our thanks as well go out to the emergency workers who responded: police, fire, paramedics. They did a fantastic job in the midst of such chaos.
Speaker, my question is to the Premier. The Supreme Court of Canada found a scheme that legislated wages in British Columbia to be unconstitutional. Can the Premier name any Canadian jurisdiction that successfully legislated wages without ending up in a court case?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Obviously, there were a number before that preceded that particular court case. My honourable colleague will know that we have raised the matter of that court case numerous times in response to the initiative put forward by the official opposition. I think there was a case there that was appealed. It went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It involved 9,000 workers and there was a penalty of some $85 million awarded to those workers, so we are cautious of pursuing that approach.
That’s why I say to my honourable colleague that the approach that we’re bringing is decidedly different from the one that they brought originally in BC and the one advocated by the official opposition. We are, in fact, sitting down with all of our partners. We are at the negotiating table. We are bargaining hard; we’re bargaining fairly. That’s what we’re doing. If that fails, if at the end of the day we can’t get a result that’s in keeping with our plan, then we’ll have to explore other measures. But first, we owe it to our workers to sit down and work with them.
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, the Supreme Court of Canada set out an approach. We are taking that approach, and we are going to do so in a way that is thoughtful and responsible, and one that would hopefully enlist the support of my honourable colleague the leader of the third party. We’re going to do it in a way that is respectful.
Now, if my honourable colleague has a different approach that she would advocate that would both be fair to workers in terms of respect for the process and be fair to taxpayers who want us to eliminate a significant deficit, then I would be only too pleased to receive that particular approach from her.
I say again to my honourable colleague, if there is an approach that satisfactorily marries up our responsibility to be respectful of the collective bargaining process with our responsibility to eliminate the deficit and protect the gains we’ve that made in our schools and our health care and put this economy on a stronger foundation for growth going forward, then I would only be too pleased to hear from her in this regard.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, my next question is to the Premier. Most education worker representatives have, in fact, walked away in frustration. What steps has the Premier taken to get people back to the table and to keep talking?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, the table is still open and active. My honourable colleague knows that what we have in place is a new construct, something that I’m proud to say that we created. It’s a provincial discussion table. There is no legal obligation on the part of federations, the people who work in our school system, to participate in this. The fact of the matter is, during the first two rounds back in 2003 and our government in 2008, we were able to find a way to find some accommodation through this new construct of a provincial discussion table. So we would invite those who have left the table to return to the table. We know it’s only voluntary on their part, Speaker, but we are convinced that there is still some common ground on which we can build and find a way forward together.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, I asked the Premier in the last question what he’s actually doing to get people to come back to the discussion table. This is where it gets a little bit confusing, Speaker. The Premier says that legislated wage schemes are simplistic and doomed to fail, and that discussion and bargaining are the only way to reach our goals. But he’s not talking to a huge number of educators and he plans to impose the very simplistic solution that, in his own opinion, is doomed to fail. So can the Premier help us make a little bit more sense of this situation?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, what we are pursuing is not easy. I think my honourable colleague recognizes that; I think we all recognize that. What we’re saying is, on behalf of all Ontarians, we’ve got to hit the pause button on wages for a couple of years, given our fiscal challenge and given the fact that we’re living through a period of slow economic growth.
We did receive some advice from the Drummond commission that said, with respect to education, that we should let about 20,000 people go, that we should allow class sizes to increase, that we should not proceed with the rollout of full-day kindergarten, that we should let go some 10,000 or 11,000 educational support workers. We’re not prepared to do that. That’s 20,000 jobs; that’s 20,000 families that are counting on those jobs. So instead, our preference is to hit the pause button on pay for a couple of years. We think that’s reasonable. We think that’s responsible.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, Speaker, the people who teach our kids and keep our schools safe and clean understand that times are tough and money’s tight. In fact, many have already said they’re ready to take a wage freeze. But when they look to the Premier for a respectful discussion—funny that he uses those words—when they look to him for that respectful discussion, they hear simplistic schemes of the sort that the Premier used to denounce. If the Premier wants to have a respectful conversation, will he start today by dropping the schemes that he knows won’t work and getting people back to the table?
Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I’m not sure what these schemes are that are referenced by my honourable colleague. I can say that there is hard bargaining to be done and that we are more than prepared to continue to engage in that.
I think it is worth our while to consider what we’ve done together through the approach that we’ve taken in the past eight or nine years now. We do have smaller classes, we haven’t lost a single day to a strike, we have higher test scores, we have higher graduation rates and our schools are recognized as being the best in the English-speaking world. I would suggest to my honourable colleague, to our partners in the education sector and to Ontarians as a whole, we have come a long way, we are proud of our success, there’s more to be done and the only way to get that done is by continuing to work together.
Mr. Frank Klees: It lists some 67 cases in which Ornge was not able to respond appropriately to a call. Forty of those incidents occurred since January of this year, in a number of those cases patients died, and the coroner has yet to investigate a number of those cases.
When the Premier stands in his place today and absolves Ornge and wants to calm us here in the House because the coroner has not pointed a direct finger at Ornge for some of the deaths that he has investigated gives us no solace at all. Is the Premier saying to us that it’s going to take a death before he steps in and fixes Ornge?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: I think it’s very important that we take the advice of people who have the skills, people who have the expertise, people who are independent of this Legislature, to do their work and to respect the work that they do. I, Speaker, will take the word of the chief coroner of Ontario over the word of the member from Newmarket–Aurora any day.
Speaker, the member opposite has jumped to conclusions about information. The coroner, when he heard about this information, released a statement. I would like to share that with the member from Newmarket–Aurora. What he has done is entirely irresponsible.
Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, here’s what’s irresponsible: This is a briefing that goes to cabinet every single week. It recounts some 70 cases where Ornge air ambulance has failed to respond appropriately.
Let me ask the minister, how do we appropriately interpret this? And I quote from her document: “Some unknown patient care issue in flight—delay in extricating patient from helicopter due to stretcher jamming issue. Patient declared in ER. Coroner will be notified.” How do you properly interpret that, Minister? I want to know this from this minister: Why does she insist on suggesting that we are somehow on the wrong side of the issue when patients are not being served well, when patients are dying? Who is she protecting?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, let me read from the statement from the chief coroner, Dr. Andrew McCallum: “We have investigated all of the Ornge cases brought to our attention. Some of those investigations are still ongoing. Of our completed investigations, there have been no cases in which issues with air ambulance transportation materially affected the course of the patient’s illness or injury.”
Speaker, these are the words of an extremely competent, highly respected, independent coroner. As I said before, the words of the coroner are far more meaningful to me than the words of the member opposite.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Speaker, to the Minister of Energy: Just days before the last election, this government cancelled a planned gas-fired power plant in Mississauga. Since that time, they’ve refused to share any information about the cost of this bungling with the people of Ontario. Can the minister confirm that the Ontario Power Authority has offered $82 million in compensation to an American hedge fund?
Hon. Christopher Bentley: We did make that commitment as a party shortly before the last election—a commitment, I might add, that was not only supported but endorsed almost immediately by both the opposition and the third party. They have never changed that endorsement. So we’re all on the same page. We made the commitment to make sure that we would relocate the plant from Mississauga. Those discussions are ongoing, and I look forward to reporting when there is something to report about the results of those discussions.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Well, the minister sure didn’t report to this House that he had made an $82-million offer. People had to find out by going to American court records. That’s just to settle one court case, one amongst many. It seems that the government has forgotten that it’s the people of Ontario who own the system, who pay for the system, not the Liberal Party. They deserve to know what this mess is going to cost.
Hon. Christopher Bentley: As I’ve said, we committed to the people of Mississauga, to the western part of the GTA, that we would not build a plant on that site, that we would in fact relocate it. We’re involved on behalf of the people of the province—
Hon. Christopher Bentley: —in some very confidential, sensitive negotiations and defence of lawsuits on both sides of the border. We’re there to defend the interests of the people of the province of Ontario, and as they come to a conclusion, as we have something further to report, I will be speaking further about that.
Mr. Mike Colle: To the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Mr. Speaker, on Saturday a low-life coward opened fire in the Eaton Centre food court, resulting in several wounded and a shaken city of Toronto. One young man is dead, another young man is in critical condition., and an innocent 13-year-old boy visiting from Port Hope with his family, luckily, is in critical but stable condition and responding to treatment. Our prayers are with him and his family.
Four other bystanders were also injured. A pregnant woman was pushed to the ground, knocked down; thankfully she and her unborn child are in stable condition. I’m sure all our prayers and thoughts are with all those who were injured and victimized by this senseless and cowardly act. As Deputy Chief McGuire said, “one idiot with a gun.”
Speaker, through you to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, all the people of Toronto and Ontario want to know, what are we doing and what can we do more to make sure that our public places like the Eaton Centre are safe from these criminals with guns?
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: Merci beaucoup, monsieur le Président. This careless act of violence is very, very disturbing. My condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased, and I hope for a quick recovery for all of those who were injured.
In general, Mr. Speaker, public safety is a top priority for our government. We have invested $100 million in the guns and gangs strategy, including over $35 million in TAVIS. We will continue to invest to make sure that Toronto and all Ontario people are very safe.
Mr. Mike Colle: Thank you, Minister. I know I’ve seen first-hand in my riding of Eglinton–Lawrence where the TAVIS emergency task force and the guns and gangs task force has done an outstanding job 24/7; in fact, I had a gangland slaying in my own riding about a month ago. Our government is working with the Toronto police, with that excellent organization we’ve created, TAVIS. But I guess the question, Minister, is, sure there are these idiots with guns, but what about the victims? In this case here, we’ve got all kinds of victims that are suffering because of this senseless act. What do we have in place to help the victims of these criminal cowardly acts?
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur: An excellent question from the member for Eglinton–Lawrence. The government increased the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services program annual budget by $1.8 million in 2007 to $9.4 million. This program, along with the companion Victim Quick Response program, provides financial assistance in the immediate aftermath of violent crime by helping to cover the costs of emergency expenses, funeral expenses, and counselling for eligible victims of crime and their families. The Ministry of the Attorney General has spent $855 million on vital services for victims of crime since 2003. In 2011-12, we will spend an additional $118 million. We have introduced the Financial Assistance for Families of Homicide Victims program to meet the high level of needs of parents and spouses of homicide victims.
Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, I want to share with members of this House the one sentence that the Minister of Health chose not to read from the coroner’s letter, and it says this: “Some of those investigations are still ongoing.” What is very interesting is that the minister’s attempt to represent the coroner’s statement is to say that all things are fine at Ornge. What I want to point out to the minister is that it’s not just about people who died; it’s about all of those other people who weren’t properly responded to and we don’t know.
“There have been recent concerns expressed by members of the Legislature about the role of the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation of deaths where Ornge aircraft and crew have been involved with the care of the deceased person. I would like to clarify the role of my office in these investigations.
“We have investigated all of the Ornge cases brought to our attention. Some of those investigations are still ongoing. Of our completed investigations, there have been no cases in which issues with air ambulance transportation materially affected the course of the patient’s illness or injury.
Mr. Frank Klees: Now that she has clarified the fact that the coroner continues to investigate cases that were reported, I would like to know from the minister—the report that goes to cabinet or to her, which she may or may not be sharing with cabinet for whatever reason, lists some 70 cases that have been investigated, that continue to be investigated, where either there haven’t been enough pilots, have not been enough paramedics, hasn’t been appropriate accommodation of emergency calls. I would like to know from the minister, what is she doing to ensure that the people of this province can rely on their air ambulance service? Because ever since she has taken the so-called decisive steps, the incidents of not being able to respond continue—
Again, I remind all members that when I say thank you, that is the end of your question. I’ve given you a wrap-up time when I say “question” or “answer.” A reminder to everyone: Please stay within that time frame.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, the member opposite is doing a terrible disservice to the family members of loved ones who have passed away. He is doing an enormous disservice to the front-line paramedics, the pilots, all of the crews, the people who provide Ornge air transport.
He might be interested to know that since 2007, 100,000 patients have been transported. They are grateful to Ornge for getting them to the care they need. Of the 100,000 patients transferred, 26 cases involving deaths were investigated—the coroner is notified—and of these 26 cases, the coroner has ordered an inquest into zero.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: My question is to the Premier. GM has announced that it is shutting down its consolidated line in Oshawa, putting 2,000 workers out of a job. Several years ago, as you stated, the Ontario and Canadian governments provided billions of dollars in loans to prevent GM from folding altogether. In an earlier question, you said, “We will do what we can.” What exactly does that mean?
Hon. Brad Duguid: I thank the member for the question. Again, as the Premier expressed, we’re always concerned when jobs are impacted in any sector, in particular our auto sector. But at the same time, the investments that we’ve made to keep the auto sector going in this province, to keep GM alive, have ensured that 485,000 Ontarians are working today. Those are investments that were extremely important to our economy.
When it comes to GM specifically—the Premier indicated this earlier—since the recession, GM has invested over $1 billion in this province. That is as part of their commitment—they made these investments as part of their commitment for the assistance provided in restructuring, a good investment that saved GM and 485,000 jobs in this province.
Mr. Rosario Marchese: The minister didn’t answer the question. I know you’re concerned, but Ontario, along with the federal government, is a 10% owner of General Motors. It’s a fact that we need to remember.
These layoffs represent a betrayal of the tremendous work and sacrifices that taxpayers and the CAW members made to keep General Motors afloat in 2009. The question I’m asking you is, what specific actions are you and the Premier taking today to save the 2,000 jobs that are going to be lost?
Hon. Brad Duguid: Mr. Speaker, first off, it’s not a foregone conclusion that those jobs are lost. Indeed, some of those workers may well be moving over to work on the flex line—investments that were made in partnership with our government, that your party probably didn’t support, and for sure the PCs didn’t. So it’s a little bit challenging for me to get questions from the member when his party has questioned the very investments we’ve made.
You just look at the investments that GM has made since 2009, many in partnership with this government, many that were quiet partnerships that your party didn’t support: $480 million in St. Catharines, 300 jobs; $96 million at the CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll; a $185-million investment in Oshawa for that flex line, where a number of the workers who may be impacted may end up working after all.
Mr. Vic Dhillon: My question to the Minister of Government Services. Photo ID is something that many Ontarians take for granted. For those who either choose not to drive or are unable to due to medical conditions, getting a government-issued ID is not so simple. Many locations do not recognize health cards as a valid form of ID. Some people don’t have a passport, and for those who do, it’s difficult to carry it around everywhere they go.
In July 2011, our government issued a new photo ID card in about 21 locations. Anyone who is over 16 years of age and does not have a valid driver’s licence is eligible to get a new photo ID card. Some 1.5 million Ontarians actually are eligible to get this card, and since July 2011, 40,000 people have already applied for the new photo ID card. We have strong support from various organizations, like the epilepsy organization, the CNIB and also CARP, for this great initiative, and the people—
Mr. Vic Dhillon: Thank you, Minister, for the answer. I know many seniors and citizens who do not drive are thrilled with this new initiative. Our government made the commitment to introduce this alternative form of ID, and my constituents tell me they’re thrilled about this new offering.
It’s my understanding that this card is currently only available in select locations and not on the entire ServiceOntario network. While I’m happy to hear about this exciting program, could the minister please let the House know when we can expect to see the photo ID card available in more ServiceOntario locations?
Hon. Harinder S. Takhar: Mr. Speaker, we are moving ahead with the new photo ID card in all locations this year. It’s already introduced, since July, in 21 locations. It’s now available in 85 locations, and I’m pleased to tell the member from Brampton West that the photo ID card will be available in all Brampton locations by October this year. We are moving in a very systematic manner to have this ID card available in all locations by the end of this year.
Mr. Toby Barrett: Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. On February 28, 2012, the certification and compliance branch of the Ministry of Health did a spot investigation of the Ornge flight base in London. This is right in the heart of your riding and Minister Bentley’s riding. Minister, there was a spot investigation of that base on that day conducted by your own ministry. Since you have now had the weekend to read the leaked cabinet document, can you inform this House and your colleagues as to what happened on that day?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, what I can tell you is that the document that was released by the member from Newmarket–Aurora demonstrates how seriously we take every incident that is reported to us. It doesn’t matter who reports that incident. It might be a family member, it might be a paramedic, it might be a pilot, it might be a member of this Legislature, it might be a member of the media. No matter who reports an incident to us, we take that very, very seriously.
The document makes it clear that every incident is investigated. Where there are lessons to be learned, those changes are made. Where the coroner needs to be notified, the coroner is notified. It is up to the coroner to determine whether or not an investigation or an inquest indeed be conducted, Speaker.
Mr. Toby Barrett: Back to the Minister of Health and the member for London North Centre. Have you not been briefed, yet again? On February 28, February of this year, after your so-called decisive action, the spot inspection conducted by your own ministry officials found there were no paramedics on duty at all—this despite the fact that Ornge, under your new leadership, told the ministry in writing that there would be at least one critical care paramedic on duty. The London base covers Haldimand–Norfolk, Oxford, Middlesex, Chatham, southwestern Ontario, including London.
You have stood in your place repeatedly and told us of your sorry list of indecisive actions. Does this list now include allowing one of the Ornge regional helicopter bases, particularly the one in the minister’s own backyard, to go unstaffed?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, we have got new leadership at Ornge. We have a new board of directors. We have a new senior management team at Ornge. They are very familiar with the issues that have been raised by the member opposite. In fact, I would say that a spot audit demonstrates that they are determined to monitor and improve upon any issues that might arise in those spot audits.
I can tell you that the 100,000 people who have been successfully transported by Ornge are grateful for the care they received. Their families are grateful for the care they received. Speaker, I think we owe it to those families, I think we owe it to the front-line staff, to have a constructive conversation that is free from the outrageous partisanship that is being demonstrated by the party opposite.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Premier. These are difficult times for families in downtown Hamilton. Soon the doors are going to close for the last time on their schools, and students will be forced to take long bus rides to schools far from their own neighbourhoods. The ripple effect is definitely going to be felt by the community, Speaker.
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: I’m pleased to have a chance to talk about the fact that the communities in Hamilton and the school boards are undertaking important conversations. Local decision-making, which is a process that we very much respect, is ongoing in those communities.
We know very well the challenges that Hamilton has with respect to declining enrolment. We currently sit with more than 3,000 empty high school spaces in Hamilton. But what I’m very proud about is the fact that, if we take a look at what has been invested in Hamilton, I think that the leader of the third party would be very interested to know and to share with her community that funding has increased by 48.6% in Hamilton between 2002 and now, and enrolment at the board has declined by 6.1%. The per pupil funding has increased by 58.4%.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Decisions made by this government have forced the hand of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. There’s no better way to stifle growth in a community than take away its schools, except maybe to take away its jobs. Hamilton’s downtown will suffer for a short-sighted decision to move the board’s education centre out of the downtown core. This government is sitting on the sidelines when it should be encouraging boards of education to be partners in city-building.
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: The leader of the third party knows full well that these are local decisions, and I would encourage her to reflect upon what she is suggesting. We need to respect the elected local voice that makes decisions in communities right across the province. Our part, from the provincial government, is to provide funding. And let me tell you, Speaker, since we have formed office, 11 new schools are open, under construction or planned in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, and 14 new schools are open or under construction or planned in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. The total for two boards in new capital investments since we formed office is $360 million.
The Highway 407 east extension is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure ever to be built in Durham region, and I was pleased to see our contracts have reached the point to begin construction on phase one of the extension from Brock Road in Pickering to Harmony Road in Oshawa. Local suppliers and business people are telling me that the direct and indirect economic benefit to them from getting shovels in the ground on this project has the potential to be huge. However, other constituents I speak to are concerned that this is simply an extension of the 407 ETR, a private highway that many avoid for many number of reasons.
To be very clear, Highway 407 east from Pickering to Clarington will be a publicly owned highway, but we’re not surprised that the member’s constituents have concerns. The last time the PC Party sat in power, they sold off the original Highway 407 for pennies on the dollar in an attempt to plug a multi-billion dollar budget hole leading up to an election. That ironclad deal the Tories signed ensured that, for almost a century, the people of Ontario will have no influence over the tolls on the current 407 ETR and will not benefit from its revenues.
Mr. Jeff Leal: I want to pick up where the outstanding member for Ajax–Pickering left off on the regional economic benefits to be realized from this highway extension, not just to Harmony Road but right through to Highway 35/115 just south of Orono.
Building this important link will directly connect communities in the GTA-Durham region with Peterborough and the beautiful Kawarthas, and will relieve a substantial amount of traffic congestion on the 401 between Toronto and Oshawa.
Mr. Jeff Leal: —just last week who require frequent shipments by highway to and from the GTA. They tell me that in a just-in-time business world, depending solely on the 401 to facilitate that rapid link is an ongoing concern for them.
The answer is straightforward. New highway projects of this magnitude typically stage construction. For example, the original 407, which the Tories sold off, was built in seven phases. Staging ensures more efficient integration with existing infrastructure and helps manage the province’s finances in a way that’s responsible to taxpayers. Our approach allows us to meet our 2020 objective of having Highway 35/115 connected to Pickering via the 407 east.
This is one of the most significant highway construction projects in the province’s history. Leveraging Infrastructure Ontario’s expertise, we’re going to get it done on time and get the best possible deal for Ontario taxpayers.
Mr. Michael Harris: My question is to the Minister of Health. Speaker, families throughout Ontario have been shocked and saddened to learn that the corruption and compromised patient safety at Ornge has extended into their communities and has taken the lives of their friends and neighbours.
Nowhere is this truer than in Waterloo region, where Ornge’s launch policy was responsible for a serious delay in its response to a helicopter crash. The Ministry of Health’s internal investigation is unmistakable in its assessment of Ornge’s fault and failure.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: When it comes to issues that are so vitally important, such as patient safety, I rely on Ontario’s chief coroner to do his job. We had a rather astonishing event on Friday, Speaker, when the member from Newmarket–Aurora first accused the coroner of not doing his job. The member opposite accused the coroner of not doing his job. When he discovered that the coroner was in fact fully engaged, informed and doing investigations, he then decided that, well, he just doesn’t accept what the coroner has to say.
Speaker, we have a big responsibility in this House, a responsibility to tell the truth. The family members of these patients deserve to be treated with respect, not to have information batted around here in this place.
Speaker, the Minister of Health has overseen the continued scandal at Ornge. As a result, residents in the region of Waterloo are left without access to adequate air ambulance service. The minister is just as responsible for the 95 investigations and the 19 deaths that have occurred under her watch as are Dr. Mazza and his band of thieves at Ornge. Minister, your failure to address emergency dispatching problems led to a serious delay in Ornge’s response to a fatal helicopter crash in Waterloo region.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, as the rhetoric on the other side spins to ever higher heights, I remain focused on doing what’s right for patients. I stand by the front-line staff. I stand by those paramedics, those pilots, the others who deliver this service. I stand by the patients.
Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: My question is to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. The McGuinty government says its Ontario tuition grant is improving affordability and access to post-secondary education, but—there’s always a “but” with the McGuinty government—only one in three Ontario students currently qualify for the grant, and there is growing concern that even fewer students are actually getting the grant. When will the government finally make public the data indicating how many Ontario students actually receive the tuition grant?
Hon. Glen R. Murray: We are very, very proud on this side of the investments we’ve made in higher education and the unprecedented contribution to tuition assistance in the 30% tuition drop. When the program is fully fleshed out, which will be over the next 12 months, it will attain probably close to 300,000. The take-up we believe in the first place, because we rushed it forward to help students out right away in January, is in the area of about 60%. But Mr. Speaker, we’re very proud of the fact that of roughly 600,000 undergraduate students—I will say this very slowly—475,000 received student aid from this government, which I think is unprecedented in the history of this province.
Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: Back to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities: Earlier this year, the government said that over 300 students would benefit from the grant. I agree that that’s what you said. But last week, a government official was reported as stating that only 200 students had received it. That’s only one in five university—
Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: Two hundred thousand; excuse me, I’m going to correct myself on that. But last week, a government official was reported as stating that only 200,000 students had received it. That’s only one in five university and college students in Ontario, or 100,000 students left out in the cold. Why won’t the government release data on the uptake of this grant? Ontarians deserve to know whether this grant is working or, as student groups and others believe, the grant is failing to provide relief from Canada’s highest tuition rates for the vast majority of students.
Hon. Glen R. Murray: The numbers of students that got it when we implemented this within two months, quite frankly, of getting elected, was extraordinary. We said very clearly at the time that it would take a year to roll this out. The take-up has been excellent, to hundreds of thousands of students now.
The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is one would expect a little humility from the party opposite, given that we have also, at the same time as improving affordability, added 210,000 seats, or added $6.2 billion to post-secondary education. Funding for universities and colleges declined when both parties opposite were in power and was frozen essentially for 20 years. We have seen most universities with a 60% or more increase in their funding. We’re proud of that.
Hon. Harinder S. Takhar: Point of order, Mr. Speaker: While responding to the member from Brampton West, I said that in Brampton the photo ID card will be available by the end of June. I should have said by the end of October, so I wanted to correct my record.
Bill 19, An Act to amend the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 in respect of the rent increase guideline / Projet de loi 19, Loi modifiant la Loi de 2006 sur la location à usage d’habitation en ce qui concerne le taux légal d’augmentation des loyers.
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I’d like to introduce Shelley Ratelband, who is not yet in the gallery but she will be. She’s a lady who works in my office in Woodstock—just recently started there. She came to see how things work at Queen’s Park, and I’d like to welcome her to Queen’s Park.
Mr. John Yakabuski: Fifty years ago today, history was made when a switch was flipped and the nuclear power demonstration reactor—NPD—near Rolphton, Ontario, in my riding of Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, sent power to the grid.
This was the first nuclear power that flowed into our electricity system. It began what has been a long history of success, not only for our Candu reactors and their technology but also for the prosperity of the province of Ontario. By proving that nuclear power could be produced reliably, safely and economically, it ensured that Ontario would have a sustainable supply of power as its biggest industrial growth period coincided with the nuclear era.
What was Canada’s first delivery of commercial nuclear power has grown into a system that provides over 50% of our power today. In fact, reactors at Pickering, Darlington and Bruce Power produced 57% of Ontario’s electricity in 2011.
The NPD is no longer in service. In 1987, after 25 years of success and far exceeding all of its original goals, it was retired. It had been used extensively as a training reactor for generations of Canadian and international staff on the safe operation of Candu power plants all over the world. Access to safe, reliable, affordable electricity is part of the foundation of a successful economy from which our standard of living evolves.
Mr. Jagmeet Singh: Today marks the 28th anniversary of the invasion of the Darbar Sahib complex, also known as the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India. On this day 28 years ago, the Darbar Sahib and close to 50 other Sikh places of worship were attacked in a systematic and organized manner. Specifically, the Indian state ordered a military attack to be carried out against the Golden Temple during one of the Sikh religion’s most revered days. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were inside the Golden Temple complex when the army began using heavy artillery.
Dr. Joyce J.M. Pettigrew, a leading academic, describes the purpose of the Indian state’s action in a very telling and moving quote in which she states that, “The army went into Darbar Sahib complex not to eliminate a political figure or a political movement but to suppress the culture of a people, to attack their hearts, and to strike a blow at their spirit and self-confidence.”
Ontario is home to one of the largest communities in the Sikh diaspora and, consequently, also home to many survivors and family members of the 1984 attack. I want to express my deepest sympathy to those who lost friends and family members in June 1984.
Beyond sympathy, it is also fitting that we continue to call for justice and accountability. When innocent lives are lost through the actions of the very government that is duty-bound to protect them, with no accountability or explanation, and when journalists and human rights groups are denied the ability to provide independent observations, we must ask for justice. We must ensure that this never happens again—not here, not against any people in the world. Lest we forget: June 1984.
Mrs. Laura Albanese: This past Saturday marked the 66th annual la Festa della Repubblica, commemorating the birth of the Republic of Italy in 1946. Italians in Italy and around the world, including Canadians of Italian origin, celebrated this important occasion. I would like to note, Mr. Speaker, that the significance of this date is important also because Italian women were allowed to vote for the first time on that day.
Here at Queen’s Park, dozens of people gathered on the grounds of our Legislature for the traditional flag-raising, despite the wind and the unseasonably cold temperatures. The ceremony, which saw the presence of numerous members of our Legislature, members of Parliament, the diplomatic corps of other countries, community organizations and ordinary citizens, also kicked off the month-long festivities of Italian Heritage Month, proclaimed by the government of Ontario in 2010 to recognize the significant contributions Italian Canadians have made to the social, economic and cultural life of our province. I joined with pride in these celebrations.
It’s very important to share with younger generations the history, the heritage and the culture of different communities that are part of our mosaic, so that greater mutual respect and understanding can foster and flourish.
Mr. Victor Fedeli: Last month—a couple of weeks ago, actually—the Minister of Energy was given the opportunity before the Standing Committee on Estimates to be forthright with Ontarians about the cost related to the cancellation of the Mississauga power plant. Sadly, the minister refused to do so. The minister was asked to table documents before that committee related to the cancellation. He has yet to do that. He was asked again in the House this morning and avoided a direct answer.
Now, the one thing the minister did disclose at the committee last month was that he learned of the cancellation of the Mississauga power plant by reading it in the newspaper that weekend. This was obviously not a cabinet decision—a cabinet he sat on at the time. We learned, sadly, that Ontario’s energy policy was written on a napkin by campaign workers early one Saturday morning.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: Northerners are truly a resilient lot. Two weekends ago, it was forest fires in Timmins and Kirkland Lake, and last weekend, it was braving the weather elements in order to attend a rally in Cochrane in regard to the privatization of Ontario Northland.
What’s clear is that this government is starting to set up, not by just the privatization but by a number of other things that they’ve done, a real sense in northern Ontario of alienation from Queen’s Park and alienation from this province.
I think it’s rather unfortunate, because where we could be working together in order to build a stronger Ontario, this government is doing initiatives such as the privatization of Ontario Northland, driving a wedge between north and south. I think, in the end, that doesn’t serve either northern or southern Ontario well.
People were clear: The Ontario Northland is part of an infrastructure that is important to northern Ontario. We applaud the government for providing subsidies to GO Transit to the tune of over $500 million a year. But people in northern Ontario wonder why the government can’t find $24 million a year to run a railway, a bus service, a telecommunications network and a marine service in northern Ontario in places like Moosonee down to North Bay.
So I say to the government: You still have a chance to think this through. We saw this morning that the government has agreed with New Democrats to pull back a little bit when it comes to the privatization they want to do across line ministries. Now you’ve got to go the full step and you’ve got to stop the privatization of ONR, because this is now no longer just about privatization; it’s also about the alienation of people in northern Ontario.
Mr. Bill Mauro: The work continues in Thunder Bay. The floodwaters have ended, but they left their mark on the city of Thunder Bay and surrounding region, as well as the result of the backup and failure of the sewage treatment plant in the city of Thunder Bay.
As well, yesterday morning, I spent a significant amount of time out in Kaministiquia with their roads board chair Leila Hobbie and board chairperson April Maki in the Silver Falls Road area. I’m told, and I can convey to them, that apparently those floodwaters on the Upper Kam are not expected to rise any more.
I want to thank Rene Legrose and his wife Debbie from the Kam Community Centre as well for their work. I want to thank Rick Kieri, Ron Nelson and Ziggy Polkowski, three of my rural mayors, as well, who confirmed that everything is good out in their region and they’re not looking for provincial assistance at this point.
Speaker, so many volunteers to thank, but a special nod to the St. Peter’s Church group in the east end, a place that holds a special spot in my heart and my family’s heart; the Thunder Bay fire department; all local fire departments; police; OPP; hydro; OPG; municipal employees; emergency operations; the district health unit; the Thunder Bay safe home program; MNR and MTO employees; the Red Cross, who have travelled from across the province to be in Thunder Bay and across the country; the Salvation Army; Clothing Assistance; Slovak Legion—so many to mention who have come together in typical northwestern Ontario fashion to try to lend support to all the people who have been affected by this flood.
Mr. Michael Harris: Last month, I asked the environment minister a very direct question about his plans to introduce a carbon pricing scheme here in Ontario under the Western Climate Initiative. Although the minister had confirmed to me in April that the Liberal government was in fact pushing ahead with this scheme, he publicly denied it during question period, saying it didn’t exist.
I’d like to remind the minister about the Liberal government’s amendment to the Environmental Protection Act in 2009, which authorizes the making of regulations relating to emissions trading. Guess what the Liberals did with this new authority? They created more red tape for Ontario businesses by establishing a regulation that requires certain industries to annually report their greenhouse gas emissions to the government.
Businesses want to know if they’re going to have to fork over millions of dollars to comply with Ontario’s planned carbon pricing scheme. So it’s time for the minister to be honest with Ontarians and disclose the Liberal government’s plans today.
Mr. de Vries was a gifted speaker and dedicated community volunteer. He delighted in teaching Canadians, especially our youth, about wartime contributions made by our proud military servicemen and women who, like himself, fought shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in the face of tyranny in Europe.
Mr. de Vries was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Highland Creek branch 258’s Living History Speakers Bureau; a guide and lecturer on battlefield tours in Normandy; and was an instrumental figure in establishing the Juno Beach Centre.
The dream was to create a place where everyone is included and valued and all abilities are celebrated. To that end, over 80 user groups were consulted before construction began, and the building was designed with their needs in mind.
The result is spectacular: a 125,000-square-foot barrier-free sports, recreation and arts facility. It features a field house that contains a track that meets the needs of the International Association of Athletics Federations, three wheelchair basketball courts, plus an art room, a music room, a life skills room and a theatre.
The Abilities Centre will be an inclusive and integrated environment that will work with partners like Participation House, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Royal Ontario Museum, Station Gallery and the Geneva Centre for Autism to create programs that will meet the needs of all members of our community.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I beg to inform the House that I have laid upon the table the 2011 annual report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario entitled Access and Privacy: Ever Vigilant.
Bill 34, An Act to repeal the Public Works Protection Act, amend the Police Services Act with respect to court security and enact the Security for Electricity Generating Facilities and Nuclear Facilities Act, 2012 / Projet de loi 34, Loi abrogeant la Loi sur la protection des ouvrages publics, modifiant la Loi sur les services policiers en ce qui concerne la sécurité des tribunaux et édictant la Loi de 2012 sur la sécurité des centrales électriques et des installations nucléaires.
Mr. Jonah Schein: Thank you, Speaker. This bill recognizes that June is already Bicycle Month in many municipalities, but in municipalities from Toronto to Timmins, too many cyclists are afraid for their lives and for the lives and the safety of their friends and family. That’s why this bill proclaims that the month of June in each year is Bicycle Month in Ontario, so that we have a provincial lens on this important issue.
Hon. Michael Chan: On behalf of the Honourable Charles Sousa, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, it’s my pleasure to rise today to make a statement. June is Portuguese History and Heritage Month. This annual observance was proclaimed by this House in 2001. It celebrates the extraordinary contributions of Portuguese Canadians to Ontario’s rich multicultural society.
The story of Portuguese Canadians goes back to the era of brave explorers at the end of the 15th century. The great wave of Portuguese immigration began after World War II. That’s when many people left Portugal for Canada to find freedom, hope and opportunity. They overcame challenges and thrived in Ontario. The Portuguese community, together with many other cultural groups, helped Ontario succeed.
Many Portuguese Canadians have risen to the top of their field, from broadcaster Frank Alvarez to Order of Canada recipient Ana Lopes to hockey star John Tavares and award-winning singer Nelly Furtado.
Ontario is strong, vibrant and prosperous because of the contributions of Portuguese Canadians. On June 10, Portuguese people around the world celebrate Portugal Day. This national day centres not on a battle or a political event but a poet, Luís de Camões. His epic 16th-century poems of exploration, discovery and adventure have kept Portuguese history and culture alive.
I would encourage all members of the House and all Ontarians to join in the festivities around the province. Come and experience the magic of Portuguese culture and celebrate the fabric of our diverse society.
Portuguese History and Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the tremendous contributions that Portuguese Canadians have made to our great province. For over 500 years, people of Portuguese heritage have settled across Canada, bringing with them a diverse slate of skills and contributing to our nation’s progress and economic development. Today, Ontario is home to over 250,000 Portuguese Canadians who have established themselves across the province and in areas like Toronto’s vibrant Portugal village. And I know that Little Portugal will be as vibrant as ever this summer as they support their team in the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.
This year the Portuguese community will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Portugal Week, a remarkable achievement for the Portuguese community and a testament to the hard work of the Alliance of Portuguese Clubs and Associations of Ontario. But Portuguese History and Heritage Month is a time for all Ontarians to reflect on the Portuguese community’s great social and cultural contributions, which have enriched our cultural heritage and strengthened our great province.
Ms. Teresa J. Armstrong: I am pleased to rise today in the House in response to the minister’s statement on Portuguese Heritage Month. As a Portuguese-Canadian woman, it is important for me and my family to see our culture not just be represented but celebrated.
I am proud to be a member of Canada’s Portuguese community, along with the nearly 300,000 individuals who claim a Portuguese ethnic origin. Despite our numbers, Canadians of Portuguese background, also referred to as Luso Canadians, have traditionally been underserved and under-represented in the social and political structures of our society. This is why I am so grateful to be one of the very few MPPs of Portuguese descent elected to the Ontario Legislature.
For many years, it has been clear that there was a need for a national organization which could represent our concerns to the various levels of government in Canada and Portugal. With this objective in mind, in March 1993, a group of 250 Luso-Canadian individuals and associations formed the Portuguese-Canadian National Congress and charged it with a mandate to act upon issues relating to the full participation of community members in Canadian society.
While much work has been done, we do have much more to accomplish. The major issues affecting the community include low numbers of Portuguese students entering post-secondary education and a high dropout rate. My community is working hard to address these challenges and to bring our youth to the forefront of our efforts.
When speaking of youth, we must reflect on the loss of our language and culture among our youth. With no national voice, and many youth losing the language of their heritage, we must ask ourselves: What image are we showing our children of strong and engaged Luso-Canadian role models?
In that regard, I am quite pleased to highlight the important work of the Portuguese Club of London. For the past 45 years, they have continued to offer first-class social, cultural and athletic programming to the community. This dynamic organization is also home to the Lira do Divino Espirito Santo, the Holy Spirit Marching Band.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the Portuguese Club of London’s president, Joe Teodoro. In taking on the role of president, Joe is following in the footsteps of his father, who held the position before him. I personally want to thank Joe most sincerely for his extraordinary passion and dedication to revitalizing the image and programming in the club and his efforts to engage and empower the voice of Portuguese youth in our community. Joe Teodoro and the Portuguese Club of London are truly gems in the city of London, and I am proud to be a Portuguese Canadian.
The Portuguese Club of London will host their annual Portugal Day celebration on June 8, 9 and 10. I urge everyone to come and dance to our marching band and eat some traditional sardines and chicken while you explore the exhibits featuring the paintings of Portugal artists.
“Furthermore we, the undersigned, ask that bed and breakfasts operated within a private home with a drinking water” system that meets “all the requirements of a private home not be subject to regulation 319/08.”
“Whereas investing in cycling infrastructure in Ontario will create jobs and benefit the economy, reduce traffic congestion and pollution, protect those sharing the road, encourage active transportation, and improve public health;
“That the province of Ontario release a comprehensive bicycling strategy for Ontario that facilitates the development of policy and legislation relating to bicycling in Ontario. This policy would include dedicated funding to match municipal investments in cycling infrastructure, education initiatives to raise awareness about the rights and responsibilities of all road users, and a review and update of provincial legislation, including the Highway Traffic Act and Planning Act, to ensure roadways are safe for all users;
“Whereas we, the non-profit organizations (NPOs) of Cumberland village, which include St. Andrew’s United Church, St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Cumberland Lions Club, Cumberland Curling Club [and] Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Centre, request that the small drinking water systems testing requirements for non-profit organizations (NPOs), MOE regulation 413/09, be amended to allow NPOs to have water testing done at existing public laboratories at no cost. Provincially designated private laboratory costs are excessive and prohibitive to Ontario’s NPOs;
Mr. Frank Klees: I have a petition that was gathered by five students from my riding of Newmarket–Aurora in support of a private member’s bill proposed by the member for Nickel Belt for skin cancer. The students are Julia Heos, age 18, of Sacred Heart Catholic High School; Christina Heos, her twin sister; Vanessa Hart, age 18, of Denison high school; Rebecca Hart, age 16, also of Denison; and Catalina Oliveros, age 17, again of Sacred Heart high school in Newmarket. The petition reads as follows:
“Whereas there is a growing body of evidence linking tanning bed use to increased cancer risk, the World Health Organization considers tanning beds a group 1 carcinogen, and use of tanning beds before the age of 30 raises one’s risk of melanoma by 75%; and
“Whereas the provinces of British Columbia and Nova Scotia have passed legislation banning youths from using indoor tanning equipment, and governments around the world are considering similar legislation; and
“Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to enact legislation banning youths under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning equipment except in the case of medical need.”
“That the Ontario Legislative Assembly undertake auto insurance reforms that protect consumers, ensuring that premiums are based on a fair assessment of a driver’s known ability and history, rather than unfairly targeting drivers on the basis of where they live.”
“Whereas the Healing Arts Radiation Protection Act (1990) is not in harmony with all the following acts, regulations, guidelines and codes: the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario, the radiation protection regulations of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the safety codes of Health Canada and the radiation protection guidelines of the International Commission on Radiological Protection;
“Whereas dental hygienists need to be able to prescribe X-rays and to be designated as radiation protection officers in order to provide their clients with safe and convenient access to a medically necessary procedure, as is already the case in many comparable jurisdictions;
“To express support for the motion filed on April 17, 2012, by Reza Moridi, the member from Richmond Hill, that asks the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to establish a committee consisting of experts to review the Healing Arts Radiation Protection Act (1990) and its regulations, make recommendations on how to modernize this act, and bring it to 21st-century standards, so that it becomes responsive to the safety of patients and the public and to include all forms of radiation that are currently used in the health care sector for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.”
“Whereas legislation is not the way to implement equity education (this should rather be addressed by teacher training, after wider parental consultation, in a way which respects the views of people of faith)....”
Mme France Gélinas: I have hundreds and hundreds of petitions from No Tan is Worth Dying For. Ça me fait plaisir de présenter les pétitions “Se faire bronzer ne vaut le risque de mourir.” Hundreds of them come from Newmarket–Aurora, and hundreds more come from Nickel Belt. It reads as follows:
“Whereas there is a growing body of evidence linking tanning bed use to increased cancer risk, the World Health Organization considers tanning beds a group 1 carcinogen, and use of tanning beds before the age of 30 raises one’s risk of melanoma,” which is skin cancer, “by 75%; and
“Whereas the provinces of British Columbia and Nova Scotia have passed legislation banning youths from using indoor tanning equipment, and governments around the world are considering similar legislation”—the government of Quebec actually just passed a law;
“Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to enact legislation banning youths under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning equipment except in the case of medical need.”
“That the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announce as soon as possible its intended construction date for the new Markdale hospital and ensure that the care needs of the patients and families of our community are met in a timely manner.”
“As parents, teachers, concerned citizens, we hereby object to the closing of the Ruthven Public School, and appeal to the Minister of Education to keep open and maintain the long-term viability of the Ruthven Public School.”
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Unfortunately, the time for petitions is up. There are a number of members who didn’t get a chance to present petitions, and that speaks to the opportunity for members to abbreviate the text of their petitions so that everybody has a chance to present their petition when they come in.
Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, I did have a petition that I intended to present in opposition to Bill 13, and I realize that I don’t have the time to do that, but I want you to know that my intention was to do exactly that.
Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters / Projet de loi 13, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’éducation en ce qui a trait à l’intimidation et à d’autres questions.
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: Seven months ago, when we introduced the Accepting Schools Act, we made it our priority to take a stand against bullying. It was time for government to show Ontarians that we would do everything in our power to make sure all students feel safe and welcome at school.
Le monde est devenu plus complexe, mais certaines questions ne changent jamais : la santé, l’éducation et le bien-être de nos enfants et de nos jeunes. Nous avons besoin que les Ontariennes et les Ontariens sachent que nous continuerons à donner la priorité aux élèves parce que nous savons que lorsque nous investissons dans nos jeunes, nous obtiendrons des bienfaits pendant de nombreuses années à venir.
The world has become a more complex place, but some issues never change: the health, education and well-being of our children and youth. We need Ontarians to know that we’ll continue to put students first because we know that when we invest in our young people, we will see the benefits for many, many years to come.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to being the Minister of Education, I’m also a mother. It’s my role, as a mom of two six-year-old boys that inspire me every day, to keep improving our education system. It means a lot to me that my boys put a huge emphasis on the school community. They’re excited to go to school every day to see their friends and their teacher.
But unfortunately, Speaker, it’s not like that for every student; it’s not like that for far too many students. There are too many students in our schools who, as a result of bullying, don’t want to go to school at all. A 2009 study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health revealed that 29% of Ontario’s students reported being bullied at school. That means nearly one in three kids, if not more, have likely experienced some form of bullying. That’s a staggering number of young people who have been persistently physically or emotionally teased, taunted or hurt by others.
We know that there are some groups of students who are particularly at risk. A 2011 national climate survey by Egale found that 64% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer students and 61% of students with LGBTQ parents feel unsafe at school. That’s nearly two thirds of LGBTQ students suffering from bullying.
We used to be told, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt me.” We know that that’s not true. We know that words matter. We know the power of words to create fear and pain and to spread hatred, homophobia, sexism and racism, and we know that if we can’t name it, we can’t address it. Speaker, we must address it.
As adults, as educators, as parents, as members of our communities and as a government, we all have a role to play, and we have a responsibility to work together to make sure that our children are safe, respected and accepted at school. We have a responsibility to do more than tell our young people that it gets better. We have a responsibility to make it better, and make it better now.
That’s why this legislation and comprehensive action plan to combat bullying is so important. We’re saying to students who are bullied, to the bully and to the bystander, “Bullying is something that I take very seriously. Bullying is something that our government takes very seriously. And bullying is something that we all need to take very seriously.” It is our collective responsibility to create a positive school climate and an education system where everyone feels welcome and safe.
Research has shown us that rejection and exclusion are associated with behaviour problems in the classroom, lower interest in school, lower student achievement and higher dropout rates. Findings about the effects of rejection and bullying on young people are clear and consistent. These findings also show that students who feel welcome, accepted and connected to school are more likely to succeed academically.
But, more importantly, it is the students I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know who have taught me about the real impact that bullying can have on our young people’s lives: stories about feeling alone, afraid or hopeless because of the words or actions of others.
I want to make it clear that I have also heard positive, optimistic, encouraging and uplifting stories from students who, working closely with their principals, teachers and school staff, have accomplished great things together to make their schools safe, welcoming and accepting.
When we first introduced this legislation, we had a goal in mind: to make our schools safe, inclusive and accepting places for all students. As the legislation moved forward, we heard from and listened to numerous individuals, groups and organizations, including members of the opposition, to build on that goal. What we now have is a comprehensive and strong piece of legislation, legislation that will further improve the lives of all students across the province.
I am pleased to say that we have included into our Accepting Schools Act significant portions from the proposed Bill 14, former MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s anti-bullying bill. I would like to discuss the elements of Bill 14 that you will now find in the Accepting Schools Act.
We’ve enhanced our definition of bullying, which incorporates some of the concepts proposed in Bill 14, including that actions impacting a student’s property and actions that create a negative environment should also be considered bullying.
We also heard from parents, students and educators that explicit reference of cyberbullying was important, because it is a phenomenon that has the ability to follow students to their homes and continue to attack them wherever they go. The majority of us here never had to deal with cyberbullying when we were growing up, but in today’s world our students cannot hide from bullying by leaving the school or staying at home. Today, we need to address the bullying that is happening online, because it is affecting our schools every day.
We cannot ignore the bullying that takes place in online forums and through different kinds of technology. It has a different nature. It can be posted anonymously. It can spread quickly, and it is not always easy to take down or remove.
In addition, we also incorporated from Bill 14 into Bill 13 a requirement that the ministry develop a model bullying prevention and intervention plan and that it be made available to all school boards. Every board will have a bullying prevention and intervention plan, which will be developed in consultation with their school communities and which will be available to the public.
Schools will now be required to have a bullying prevention and intervention plan and to make it publicly available, including posting it on their school website, and boards will be required to provide supports for the victims of bullying, those who engage in bullying and those who witness bullying.
Lastly, we’ve added an increase in transparency whereby boards will track suspensions and expulsions, including those related to bullying, as per the objective laid out in Bill 14. This is in addition to the requirement in Bill 13 that boards conduct surveys to collect information from students, parents and staff at least once every two years.
When it comes to such an important issue, I was so pleased to be a partner in this kind of collaborative approach. The legislation is stronger now because of the contribution by former MPP Liz Witmer and Bill 14.
In addition to incorporating significant elements of Bill 14 into the Accepting Schools Act, during public committee hearings on the bill we heard from a number of groups, and we listened. We listened to students, teachers, parents, support groups and education and community stakeholders during standing committee hearings. As a result, we made some additional important amendments to the Accepting Schools Act.
Both the government and the third party agreed that it is important to update our description of gender-based discrimination to include transphobia and biphobia. Gender expression and gender identity were also added as factors that should not lead to discrimination, harassment or bullying in our schools. These were important amendments that ensure our legislation is as comprehensive and as inclusive as it should be. I was very pleased that the government supported the members from Toronto–Danforth and Parkdale–High Park in moving these amendments.
We also heard, through the committee process, that there was an opportunity to provide further clarity about the kinds of supports we would provide, so the bill now reflects amendments that add a requirement for boards to support teachers and staff through annual professional development programs. These programs will help educate teachers and other staff about bullying prevention and strategies for promoting positive school climates.
The amended legislation will also require boards to provide programs, interventions and other supports for students who have been bullied, who have witnessed incidents of bullying or who have engaged in bullying.
Boards will have the ability to decide whether social workers, psychologists or other professionals trained in similar fields will provide these programs. We’ve also added an amendment to the act that will require principals to investigate any situation that has been reported where a student is causing fear or distress—whether physical, psychological, social or academic—to another student, their reputation or their property, or creating a negative environment at school for another student.
After investigating these matters, the principal will be responsible for sharing the results of the investigation with a teacher if the teacher reported the incident, or, where appropriate, with another employee of the board if the employee reported the incident. They will not, however, disclose more personal information than is reasonably necessary for the purpose of communicating the results of the investigation.
Since the introduction of our legislation, I have been pleased to work so closely with our partners from across the province who share our goal of making our schools safe, inclusive and accepting places to learn.
We heard that parents want to know what’s happening at their child’s school. Parents have an important role in helping to foster and support a positive school climate, preventing bullying and supporting their child’s achievement and well-being, and they need to know what’s happening in their children’s lives. But sometimes students are embarrassed or too afraid to tell their parents that they’re being bullied or are bullying others. We took that into consideration and will now require principals who believe that a student has been harmed as a result of bullying, or has engaged in bullying, to notify the parents or guardians.
Parents and guardians will not only be informed of what happened to their child, but will also be invited for a discussion about the supports provided to their child. They will be informed about the nature of any disciplinary measures taken in response to the activity, as well as the supports available for their child, whether their child was the victim or the one who engaged in bullying.
We have also amended Bill 13 to require every board to submit annual reports to the minister regarding suspensions and expulsions. We will post the number of reported suspensions and expulsions on the ministry’s website.
We want to strengthen the transparency so that Ontarians can see the progress we are making in helping to address bullying and making our schools safe, inclusive and accepting places to learn. That is why we will also seek the advice of the accepting schools expert panel with respect to how we should monitor progress in our efforts to combat bullying.
We know and we have heard all along that students play a central role in creating safe, inclusive and accepting schools. We brought in the requirement for boards to support students who want to establish and lead groups or activities that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment, the acceptance of and respect for others, and the creation of a positive school climate. All student-led activities that will make schools safer should be supported, and we know many of our schools are already supporting and working with their students on these efforts.
During committee hearings, we also heard it was important to ensure that students who would like to establish a group like a gay-straight alliance in their school be supported to do so, and we agreed. That’s why that provision was already in the Accepting Schools Act. But we also heard that it was important to give students the freedom to call those groups a number of different names, including a gay-straight alliance, and we agree with that, too. That’s why we introduced an important amendment that lays out protections and supports for LGBTQ students and makes it clear that homophobic bullying is not okay.
We heard that the current language in our bill wasn’t as clear as it could be. We want collaboration, not conflict, between students, teachers and school administration, so the bill, as amended, if passed, would state:
We know that some students want to use the name “gay-straight alliance” and others prefer other names like “rainbow club” or “born equal” or the “anti-homophobia alliance.” Key education and community stakeholders, including teachers’ federations like the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, CUPE and Egale, support this direction. Most importantly to me, however, we know students support this.
A student from a Toronto-area school was quoted in a Toronto Star article last week, saying, “I have a lot of LGBT friends in my school and I know that they’ve gotten bullied pretty badly and everything. I wanted to have a safe positive space for all queer students in the school.” It’s for those students that we’re taking the stand we’re taking.
Legislation is important, Speaker, but it’s not the only thing we’re doing to address bullying in Ontario. We all have a role to play, and we need to work together. We need the whole school and community involved in helping to make our schools safe, inclusive and accepting, and we will continue to collaborate with all of our partners. We all have a responsibility to work together with parents, teachers, students, school board staff and community agencies to make sure that our young people are celebrated for their diversity and not bullied because of it. Through our commitment, we are creating a positive school climate and an education system where everyone feels welcome and safe. This is the commitment that our students need and are calling for, and it is one that we are willing to make.
Evidence on strategies for bullying prevention has shown us that the whole-school approach to students’ well-being is the most effective model for reducing bullying and building a positive school climate. The whole-school approach to positive, healthy behaviour requires using multiple strategies and a unifying purpose to reflect a common set of values. It requires that all partners work together to create a caring and safe environment where policies, procedures, interventions and programs are developed and supported at all levels, including boards, schools, classrooms, students, parents, families and the community.
It also involves the development of healthy relationships among students, staff and parents so that they can work together to promote a safe, inclusive and accepting school climate and culture. Adults in the school and in the community need to develop an awareness and understanding of bullying prevention and intervention, and that’s why, in addition to the proposed legislation, we announced a comprehensive action plan for accepting schools.
I’ve directed Ontario’s Curriculum Council to report back on strengthening equity and inclusive education principles and bullying prevention strategies across the curriculum and ways to support this learning in our schools.
We are building toward the creation of a public awareness campaign to remind Ontarians about their role in preventing bullying. We are continuing to support community-based organizations like Kids Help Phone that provide critical and often life-changing and life-saving support to students.
Lastly, we are establishing an Accepting Schools Expert Panel. The expert panel will be made up of individuals who have experience in areas such as healthy child development, mental health, equity and inclusive education, bullying prevention and intervention. The members, whom I look forward to announcing shortly, will provide advice on the development of resources and practices that focus on a whole-school approach, including bullying prevention and early intervention to support the implementation of our action plan. Very importantly, they will be seeking the advice of parents and students to inform their work.
Si la Loi pour des écoles tolérantes est adoptée, nous ferons un pas géant en avant grâce à elle et grâce au plan d’action connexe, mais le travail de notre gouvernement visant à faire de nos écoles des lieux d’apprentissage sécuritaires, inclusifs et tolérants se poursuit depuis près d’une décennie.
If passed, we will be taking a giant leap forward with the Accepting Schools Act and the parallel action plan, but this government’s work to make our schools safe, inclusive and accepting places to learn has been ongoing for almost a decade. When we first came into office, we brought together the Safe Schools Action Team, a team of safety and education experts to look at bullying prevention and review the previous safe schools legislation. In response to their recommendations, we introduced Bill 212, which supported principals in helping them determine the appropriate response to student behaviour. Bill 212 also requires programs for students who have been suspended or expelled. Students who are on long-term suspension or expulsion are now given additional supports to continue their learning and get them back on track.
Following that, we introduced the Keeping Our Kids Safe at School Act, Bill 157, the first legislation of its kind in Canada. Among a number of other important changes, Bill 157 also directed school staff who work directly with students to respond to and address inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour, including bullying, when it is safe to do so. In addition, since 2004, we have focused on putting more resources into the system to support our safe schools strategy.
In 2009, we introduced our equity and inclusive education strategy, following extensive consultations with the education community. The strategy is helping educators across the province better identify and address discriminatory biases and systemic barriers to student achievement and well-being.
La Loi pour des écoles tolérantes s’appuie sur l’important travail réfléchi et significatif qui s’est déjà fait dans nos écoles et nos classes pour faire en sorte que chaque élève soit en sécurité et accepté. En travaillant ensemble, nous avons tant accompli, mais il nous reste encore beaucoup à faire pour mettre fin à l’intimidation dans nos écoles. Ensemble, nous y arriverons. J’espère avoir le soutien de tous les membres de l’Assemblée pour la Loi pour des écoles tolérantes proposée parce que nous réglerons le problème en travaillant ensemble.
The Accepting Schools Act stands on the shoulders of the thoughtful, meaningful and important work that has already been done in our schools and classrooms to make every student safe and accepted. By working together, we have accomplished so much, but we still have much work to do to end bullying in our schools. Together, we will get there.
I ask for the support of all members of this House for the proposed Accepting Schools Act because, by working together, we can and we will make it better for all of our students in every one of our schools across this great province.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Before I call for further debate, I’ll remind the House that, pursuant to the order of the House, there are no questions and comments this afternoon with respect to the third reading debate of Bill 13.
Before I begin, I would like to thank a few people for their dedication. We may not always agree, but there are many people who really believe that we need action on anti-bullying legislation, and they came to Queen’s Park, and many of them sit in this chamber.
In particular, I would like to say thank you to those members on the Standing Committee on Social Policy. Although I’m not a member, I was subbed in to that committee during clause-by-clause delegations, and although we may not agree, as I’ve stated many times, on everything, I must say to my colleagues Peter Tabuns and Cheri DiNovo from the NDP that they were a pleasure to work with. My colleague the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Education, Bob Delaney, as well as Tracy MacCharles and Dipika Damerla and, finally, Donna Cansfield sat through committee hearings with my colleagues Jane McKenna, Ernie Hardeman and John Yakabuski. A day didn’t go by at those hearings that we didn’t hear from the public and we didn’t hear stories that would take your breath away. Some of those stories, Speaker, I’ll recount later today, but I wanted to first start by saying thank you to my colleagues.
Secondly, I’d like to say thank you to the former member for Kitchener–Waterloo, Elizabeth Witmer. I would like to tell a little bit of a story. After the election, I was appointed education critic in the official opposition. Within a few days, I had an email from Elizabeth Witmer letting me know that she had planned on introducing legislation she had been working on for three years. She knew that this was going to be important to me because I had already publicly spoken in my local community newspapers as a result of a high-profile suicide in my community, which I’ve spoken about several times in this chamber. She pointed that out to me, I would suggest, in late October, very early November. I also received an email from my colleague from Burlington, Jane McKenna, who has her own long history of confronting bullying with her son. As a brand new member, she had asked if she could put forward anti-bullying legislation.
As a caucus—Speaker, you’ll know; history speaks for itself—the Ontario PC caucus chose to move forward with Bill 14. After three years of labour and toiling on the best approach to move forward, the Ontario PC caucus settled on Mrs. Witmer’s piece of legislation.
At the time—as we still do believe, Speaker—it was the toughest piece of anti-bullying legislation ever tabled in this Legislature. We believe that it was the cornerstone of protection for all Ontario students.
I mentioned to you about the high-profile suicide in my community. About a week and a half after I was re-elected to this chamber for the third time, one of my long-time friends lost his son. It was a Friday night. I generally wake a little bit early on a Saturday. I’ve got a seven-year-old, I’ve got two very yappy dogs, and I’ve got a cat that all bargain for my attention when I’m home. About 7:30 or 8 o’clock that Saturday morning, I received a very simple email from Allan Hubley, who said that the evening before, he had lost his beautiful boy.
Before that hit the media and became a front-page story across the world, my friend and his wife had to grapple with the reality that not only had their son grappled with mental illness for a very long period of time; he had also been bullied his entire life for a variety of reasons—most recently, of course, because he was openly gay and some kids in his class were homophobic.
I went to Allan and Wendy’s house that day. Allan and I both grew up in Nova Scotia. A little thing you do down there is, you love your neighbour and you treat your neighbour the way you would want to be treated yourself. You often bring food. If there’s any way to provide warmth or comfort to a friend or family member, that’s what you do. I popped by, and my friend and his wife, Wendy, were remarkably strong, very brave—probably in shock—and unlikely to know that not only would Jamie’s passing affect them, but it would affect our province.
A lot has been said about how to proceed with anti-bullying, and that’s why I was pleased at the time that two pieces of legislation came to the floor of this assembly under the titles of the Accepting Schools Act and the Anti-Bullying Act.
I want to talk about this, Speaker, because until people are actually affected, whether it’s your own child or it’s someone you know’s child, you don’t really understand that bullying isn’t what it used to be. One of our colleagues wrote an op-ed that, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt me”—well, we know that’s not true. Life today is way different. I like to say that I might be one of the younger members of this assembly, but times have changed, and that’s why we have to have this very full discussion.
Getting back to Bill 14, Elizabeth Witmer’s bill: I’ve thought a lot about how we could proceed on this, as education critic. That’s why, as a member of the parliamentary liaison working group, my colleagues Christine Elliott, Jim Wilson and Randy Hillier offered up a solution we felt was the best way to approach this. I believe we started in December, and this culminated at the beginning of March. We had tried to negotiate a way to bring these bills together before people took entrenched positions, so that we could have a bill that people could unite behind, so that there could be one piece of legislation that would protect all kids at all times and ensure that the buck stops somewhere, because if there has been one thing that we have heard in this chamber and at committee and in the public, it is that parents want somebody held accountable for when their child is tormented. That’s why we had asked to go to committee immediately before second reading continued on Bill 13.
I needn’t remind members that after the one-hour leadoff that we had back in March, Bill 14 came to this chamber for private members’ time under the member for Kitchener–Waterloo. I remember that day very clearly. I spoke to the bill. I attended a press conference with the member from Kitchener–Waterloo. I almost missed the day myself because it was the day that we found out our little Victoria had a brush with her own bully and the school had called. As a side note, I must say, it must have been very difficult for the teacher to make the call to the person who’s been on the front page of the newspapers back home talking about anti-bullying.
In this case, it was important that the parents were notified, my husband and I. I am confident that our school took the necessary precautions at our elementary school. They used restorative justice in this particular case. I feel, as a parent, that the situation is now not only under control, but we have moved past that, which brings me to an issue that has bothered me since that day. That was something that we should have talked about: restorative practices.
It led me to conclude that the process which we followed with this particular bill has effectively failed us all. As I mentioned, we had thought it would be better to merge the two bills or to have that discussion earlier on in the process. Failing that, I think we could have opted for something unique, something that has not been done in this chamber for perhaps the last 20 years, and that is to ask a policy-directed field, like a committee on social policy, to study an issue; have meaningful public consultation at the beginning, using the two bills as a basis to move forward; find out what we may have missed; and not confine ourselves to the rigid committee process that we have here.
I think many people’s opinions on anti-bullying legislation have evolved over the course of the last nine months. Had meaningful discussions taken place at the very outset, I think we wouldn’t be here today dealing with only one bill put forward by the government and rejection of the opposition bill.
I must say that many members of the public feel that their voices were ignored at committee. I sat through five days of public hearings. There were witnesses on the right, and there were witnesses on the left. But there were nine witnesses—maybe a few more—who I think spoke to us from the middle. But I will say that at standing committee, when we heard from parents, students and anti-bullying coalitions, there was opposition to a great deal of certain sections in Bill 13. Many people felt that legislating the name of one group for anti-bullying over others was divisive and problematic.
As Conservatives, we’ve always been of the opinion that there needs to be less government intrusion, not more, in the lives of families. We feel that this bill runs counter to that. This bill also goes counter to some of the advice we received from the people whom this government says they want to help; namely, parents whose kids have committed suicide. The bill goes directly against the advice of Mike Urry and Allan Hubley, fathers of two sons who took their own lives as a result of bullying. It goes against the advice of Anthony McLean, an anti-bullying advocate who appears on Dalton McGuinty’s website. It also goes against all the advice of the anti-bullying coalitions that appeared before the social policy committee.
I plan on reading a little bit about what they told us very shortly, Speaker, but I think it’s important to note that those with credibility who have been working in anti-bullying legislation for many years are quite concerned that if we do not get this right, we will have failed. I can’t impress upon you enough, or on this government, that the stakes are very high.
To make matters worse, my colleague Ms. McKenna and I were disappointed, on a number of occasions, that all but one of our Progressive Conservative amendments that would have brought Bill 14 into Bill 13 were rejected by the committee. The measures blocked include the popular and comprehensive definition of bullying that Bill 14 had, as well as the reporting, tracking and investigating protocols parents called for in committee. Even the bill title, from Accepting Schools Act to Anti-Bullying Act, was stopped. That, to us, was quite troubling. As I’ve said, we had wanted a bill that could be supported throughout our entire province.
As I said, these parents and anti-bullying activists appeared before committee. Many of them feel that their voice has not been heard. Therefore, Speaker, I am going to ensure that it is. Although, in mere hours from now, this bill will pass, I want to make sure that these people have their views adequately on the record.
I’d like to start with Mike Urry. Mike Urry describes himself as the father of a child who killed himself six years ago after being bullied. He came home from school one day and he hung himself in the bedroom closet. Steven was 13. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t religious. He wasn’t any of the other categories. He was just a kid.
Mike’s son, Steven, appeared in the documentary Bully. He tells us that over 65% of his 5,000 members are mothers or grandmothers between the ages of 30 and 55. He was concerned that bullies won’t join clubs, so why the focus on clubs was made didn’t really ring relevant to him.
He said, “We’re talking about kids killing themselves. For every one you hear about in the paper, I can name you four or five other cases of children who have taken their lives that don’t make the media because they don’t want to talk to the papers.” Mike was one of them.
He said to us, “Consider this when you’re considering how you’re going to write this law. It has to apply to everyone. It has to apply properly. You can’t just wish things away by training them to think one way or another. You have to have responsibility and you have to have a response.”
“We tried everything a parent can do. We talked; we tried getting people’s attention. None of it worked—nothing. The last time, the most severe case of bullying in his case, was in a school bathroom. They took a can of AXE body spray and set him on fire. They put the video on YouTube. It’s still up there because it can’t be taken down once it’s spread. I can’t tell you what that does to my family.”
He does say to us, at the end of his presentation, that his wife will never be the same. She couldn’t appear at committee. Her voice couldn’t be heard at committee. As much as he brought his own, her voice will never be heard at committee. But her voice is heard here right now.
I’ve shared the story of Jamie. Now, I’d like to read a little bit about what his father told us at committee: “One of the items in Bill 13 that I like is support for student-led initiatives. However, I feel the proposed language in the bill needs to be modified. I respectfully request that no groups be given special status by being named. To do so will only suggest certain children are more important than others, and I do not support that notion. I am here today to ask you to protect every child....”
He was speaking, of course, Speaker, of Jamie wanting to start a rainbow club that he wanted all kids to be able to join, “whether they were tall, short, had freckles, an accent, a disability or different-coloured skin....” He found it troublesome that we had to specifically legislate a name. This is from somebody who has walked that long, terrible, terrible walk.
Allan also suggests that—and I’m going to quote him—“Many statistics have been thrown around in this discussion, but the reality is, without the reporting mechanisms outlined in Bill 14, we do not know how many cases of bullying actually occur. Even with the goodwill of all parties, we do not know where to focus scarce resources, because we don’t have the common denominator or trends. We cannot defeat an enemy we can’t clearly identify.”
This was an important motion put forward by my colleague and I at committee, that we ensure that there were appropriate tracking mechanisms and reporting mechanisms to ensure that the appropriate data was being taken and that it was put into the right hands. That motion was defeated and watered down, and it does appear in a very watered-down version. But we feel, and it’s certainly clear in this presentation that Mr. Hubley agrees, that the best way to find out what exactly is going on is to have one source of data.
Many times throughout the committee I heard this report or this statistic or this report. One was Statistics Canada; Toronto District School Board, Egale had something—I’m not sure whose was right, but I can say this: There was an opportunity in this Legislature to ensure that there was data that could have been validated in our schools to ensure that the appropriate level of protection was there for our students. I think that was a missed opportunity, and I think that this is what has made Bill 13 weaker for it.
Another individual who took my breath away—and she relayed this message twice at committee—was Lynne MacIntyre. She was very nervous when she appeared before committee. I want you to remember: The people that stuck out to me weren’t the people who were part of a slick advertising crowd or a big lobby group or some activist organization. The people who stuck out to me were the moms and dads who formed grassroots anti-bullying coalitions, who’ve struggled with this themselves, who’ve found that there was no accountability and are trying to create a voice for themselves, their children and for other kids like them. Lynne MacIntyre was that type of a person. She didn’t come here with speaking points that were going to get in the media. She wasn’t media-savvy. In fact, that’s what I found most endearing about her. She talked about those kids who had committed suicide or had taken their life by suicide for a variety of reasons, and she talked about her concern that the Liberal legislation would have created a perception of a “hierarchy of targets”—her words, not mine. She said, “My fear is that my son will not be protected, and other children will fall through the cracks.”
I’m going to read her story into this record: “After nine years of constant harassment, physical assaults, unbearable torment and even threats on my son’s life, he doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Instead of learning, he spends his time in class listening to snickering and name-calling, and recently they rolled up pieces of paper and smashed them with a badminton racquet off his face for an entire one-hour class. Not once did the teacher lift his head or notice, and therefore they didn’t stop. With multiple paper cuts all over his face, I’m sure it was” the “most humiliating and ... most painful” experience.
“Every day I get in my car to go to work and I’m frustrated with myself because I spent the last hour begging him to go to school. The whole time I was riddled with grief and guilt because I know I’m sending him back to ... more torment. How can any mother ask their child to go to school to be treated like an animal? I have little confidence that the people who are there to be responsible for his safety will do so. Every day” I ask myself at work “and I wonder, ‘What are they going to do to him now?’ Every day I wonder when I get home, ‘Will I ... have [my] son?’”
She certainly wasn’t alone. She did not feel that Bill 13 provided adequate protection to her son’s bullying experience. I found it particularly gripping because I think we should all, when we think about this particular presentation, put our feet in her shoes. We should all consider how the system is failing her right now as well, and we should all consider why we should be doing better.
That’s why the Ontario PC caucus put forward a motion that would have increased supervision time by teachers, so that there would be that accountability, so that there would be someone who was held accountable if this torment were to continue. That’s why I want to say thank you so much to the Guelph Anti-Bullying Coalition, and particularly to Lynne MacIntyre.
“When my youngest was in grade 8, he found himself in a situation where the adults in control were non-reactive or -receptive to a situation that my son found himself at the receiving end of. He was bullied by the same five peers for three … years. The reason this took place is because at that particular time policy wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, policy was interpreted to protect our administrators, and the consequences chosen did not change the negative behaviour of his aggressors.”
She said what time and time again all parents have said at this committee: There were no accountability mechanisms built in place prior to, nor are there any built-in accountability measures now. It seems to me, Speaker, if the parents who appeared before committee, who have been up against the wall with their school boards and their schools for years, are telling us we’ve got a problem, this assembly has got to do some listening, and we didn’t. And if we’re going to put forward a piece of legislation, we have to do exactly what Karen Sebben said is wrong: The policy must be worth the paper it is written on. Unfortunately, Speaker, what we heard time and again at committee: That is not the case. We need timeless legislation. We need legislation that will protect all children, and that is what Karen Sebben had asked for.
Now let me read to you a little bit more about what Karen Sebben told us at committee, and a reminder that she is with the York Region Anti-Bullying Coalition, which she is actually the co-chair of and founded with her son, who endured this type of bullying: “My son was not identified as an LGBT youth, yet he was suicidal. What explicit protections will be built into this legislation to protect a child like him? Would a child like him have the same benefits.… Is anyone suggesting that he was not at risk.… he suffered terribly for three years, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress”—Speaker, kids in our schools are being bullied and they’re being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s unbelievable. PTSD is normally reserved for front-line police officers or fire officers or for our military men and women. Can you imagine sending your child into a combat zone just by going to his local school? This is what this parent felt. In fact, she actually said, and let me quote you this, “I’m going to ask if anyone actually knows what it feels like to exist on a daily basis wondering if your child will take his life while you’re at work—and what’s even worse, as a parent you kept sending him into that battle zone without protection of any kind.”
She goes on: “Families like mine in this province are finding each other. This is taking place because so far the system has failed us miserably.” She moves on and she says, “We are hard-working, taxpaying citizens who have the absolute right to be heard and not brushed off by our government.” And by gosh, Speaker, because she was a supporter of Bill 14 and not Bill 13, she did not have her voice heard at committee. She says, “Without data collection, without record-keeping, without tracking, how can you effectively resolve one particular situation, and, at the same time, how can you track what is working and what is not working?” She thinks Bill 14 was the more superior piece of legislation.
I found her to be quite compelling, and a number of those anti-bullying coalitions I thought wanted to look at this holistically. They wanted to tackle the effects of bullying head on. They weren’t really excited about the punitive measures for the bully or the perpetrator; what they wanted instead was to find a way to make it remedial.
We had a couple of great, dynamic people also appear before committee whom I’d like to talk about briefly. Two of them—one I mentioned earlier was Anthony McLean, who appeared on the Premier’s blog to talk about anti-bullying. I thought he had some salient points to mention. But also I would like to talk about Stu Schwartz. He is a constituent of mine from Nepean–Carleton on Majic 100.3 FM in the morning. He’s also the Ottawa Senators PA announcer. He spoke very eloquently about a number of things, most of which were to support, of course, Bill 14. He makes a great point, Speaker. This is where I think it’s not just legislation that we need to effect. We have to have that mental attitude, all of us, throughout the entire province, where we’re not going to accept or tolerate people bullying anyone.
One of my friends, Colin McSweeney, will often say this, “We need to be in a place in Ontario today where we were 20 years ago with drinking and driving, where we made it so taboo to talk about or do or discuss that it was the wrong thing to do and people shied away from doing it. It’s a perfect deterrent.”
That’s part of the message from Stu: “No matter how bad you think it is, someone is there to help you. But as we keep hearing, the zero-tolerance policy is not being followed in every school. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of resources, but the problem is getting worse. Kids need to understand that their words can kill.”
He further says, toward the end of his statement, “This is where we need to take bullying. We need to educate kids to get them to a place where they don’t even want to type something hateful online. We have a responsibility as parents, educators and lawmakers to make the future safer for our kids.”
I think everyone hear wants to do that, Speaker. I think we’re going to get into a really dangerous game if we start to say, “Do you know what? You don’t support my bill, so you don’t want to protect kids,” or something like that. That’s pretty illegitimate as an example of where we’re at today. There are members on this side of the House, that side of the House and over here in the NDP who all agree that we need to do something. I’m simply saying that because the way the process was created or followed, it did not allow for people with legitimate concerns and experience in the bullying sphere to actually make deputations that will be followed.
In fact, I think of my friend David Milne, who was one of the leading examples of anti-bullying advocates 10, 20 years ago in Ottawa–Gatineau, somebody who started Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa, CAYFO. It’s a very well-known organization. In fact, the first time I ever met Dalton McGuinty, he was leader of the official opposition and I was still working at the city of Ottawa and we were at the CAYFO Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards because David Milne believed so much in youth. He was blocked from attending committee. He would have had a wonderful ability to provide us with his examples of how to protect children and what works and what doesn’t. I simply submit to you, with the parents that I’ve read into the record and those anti-bullying coalitions, that it just doesn’t seem to be penetrating, and I’m not sure we’re going to be any further ahead on September 1 as we were last December 1, and that’s what concerns me.
I further point out that I’m not alone. I talk about Anthony McLean. Let’s talk about restorative practices again. He starts off by saying, “And I think we’re weaker when we’re separated and we’re stronger when we’re together.
“In some of the schools that I go to, they do a practice called restorative justice, restorative practices. You might have heard of it. This is where, when an aggressor has been bothering somebody, the aggressor will sit down with the victim and they’ll sit down with their parents and the extended school community, and they’ll talk.”
That’s why explicitly my colleague and I put forward an amendment to ensure that we would be talking about restorative practices. That motion was defeated, which was very disappointing. But that was where it came from. It was from one of those first presenters in the first two days who came to committee to say that this is an opportunity for us to proceed and this is how we should move ahead.
Anyway, he also talked about “wear pink day.” I know many members here were here when we made our statements on “wear pink day.” He was wearing pink that day, as was I, actually, and he said, “You might have heard about what happened in Nova Scotia when a boy in grade 9 came to school one day, first day of school, wearing a pink shirt, and two grade 11 students started making fun of him and calling him all these homophobic names because he was wearing pink. They threatened him. They said, ‘Tomorrow when you come to school we’re going to beat you up if you dress in pink.’”
“The student goes home; he doesn’t know what to do. He’s really worried; really concerned. What he doesn’t know is that two grade 12 students, David Shepherd and Travis Price, heard this happen and they said, ‘No, not at our school. We’re not going to put up with this.’ They got on Facebook—which is often blamed for cyberbullying but it can be used for good—and they sent a message to all their friends of Facebook telling them what happened, saying, ‘Tomorrow, everybody wear pink. Guys, girls; everyone wear pink.’ They got their cellphones out and sent text messages like these guys are doing over here and said, ‘Hey, everybody: Wear’” pink.
He says, “This is good. If I was in school, man, you guys would get in trouble right now. The students aren’t allowed to do that when I speak.” I imagine someone must have heckled him; I’m reading the heckling here.
But the point is that they showed up the next day at school, a whole bunch of students wearing pink just like this guy. “The ones that were not wearing pink: These two students would come up to them and say, ‘Hey, would you wear this pink shirt?’ And the students were like, ‘Why?’ They told the story about this grade 9 student who had been bullied for wearing pink. One by one, people put the pink shirt on and they said, ‘We want to make a school where you don’t get singled out for being different. It doesn’t matter what colour shirt you have; it doesn’t matter what colour skin you have; we are one school, we’re one family. Would you wear pink?’ One by one, people said, ‘Yeah, I’ll wear pink too,’ and it spread through the school....”
Then he finishes—I was actually really impressed with this presentation—“The Ontario that I see doesn’t put people in boxes. The Ontario that I see is united, and it begins with our kids. When I read Bill 14, I see inclusive language that will cover and protect all Ontario students, and that’s why I support Bill 14.”
By talking about inclusive language, my colleague and I further put forward resolutions that would have ensured that the Human Rights Code would have been followed and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have been followed. We were told, no, they wouldn’t support us. They suggested that in some cases that would be redundant. In other cases, of course, it wasn’t, as long as they were putting forward the resolution.
It really bothered us, to the point that my colleague from Burlington was—not to tell a tale out of school, but you were quite emotional. This was your first experience in a committee, particularly through clause-by-clause. I believe you probably came to this House the way I did: quite idealistic, believing that we’ll all try to get along.
When we say we want to work together, it actually means we want to work together. It doesn’t mean, “We’re going to say we’re going to work together, we’re going to rip the guts out of your bill and we’re not going to take any of your amendments, and when it’s time to actually support language that is inclusive for everybody, we’re not going to follow it.”
So what has happened, Speaker? Well, we know, for example, that 80% of the people who appeared before committee opposed the Liberal bill. We know that many people weren’t able to appear before committee on both sides; we heard that loud and clear. We know that all of our amendments, with the exception of cyberbullying, were defeated. We know that one minister of that government has already said that this fight is going to end up in the Supreme Court of Canada. It was on the front page of my newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen.
So now what has happened—and this is what frustrates me, and I think most of these parents, completely—is that the issue of bullying has now been relegated to some secondary issue as this government and the Catholic education system decide whether or not they’re going to be funded or defunded as a result of one of the sections here.
I remember at a committee—another one of these wonderful deputations that was ignored—listening to Allan Hubley, who said that he would prefer that we fix the language so that we could get anti-bullying legislation in place that would actually affect all children and would withstand the threat of a lawsuit. Now we’ve got these implications. At one point, actually, when we were going through clause-by-clause, there was probably a scrum or two a day to talk about the implications of Bill 13.
Now, that’s one way to go about it. I proposed two others. At the time, I had said very clearly we could have gone early to try and mettle this out like adults. We chose not to do that. My colleague from Whitby–Oshawa was there and spoke eloquently around that table in the government House leader’s office, asking, as we tried to persuade them to do the right thing. The second option, I think came, as a result of—I’ll be quite frank; I’m a member of the Legislative Assembly committee and I spend a lot of time with the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk learning about the standing orders and things that they used to do in terms of best practices around this chamber during minority Parliaments, and one of those effective ways to deal with a social problem or an economic problem is that you actually appoint one of the policy-stream committees to deal with a study of the issue, then recommendations and potentially a piece of legislation. Those are two options we could have pursued, and I don’t think people would have felt so out of the loop, so ignored, so disaffected. I think that we could have done better.
However, we are where we’re at, and I think that there’s now an agreement between two of the parties here. Our party has decided that we’re going to vote against this legislation. We’re going to keep Bill 14, which is now Bill 80, on the order paper, and we’re going to continue to have public consultations on our own to make sure that every voice is heard.
But that does not stop all of us in this chamber from ensuring that we do have a tone in our debate that does inform all young people throughout Ontario that bullying is unacceptable. We all have a role to play in making sure that the positive aspects of this debate continue to get out. That means kids shouldn’t be bullied based on how they look, based on where they live, based on what their parents do, based on whether they’re gay or straight. They shouldn’t be bullied based on their ethnicity. It’s up to us in this chamber, and to other community leaders, to ensure that we continue to have that discussion. It’s up to us to make sure that we make bullying taboo, that it’s recognized early on as behaviour that is unacceptable in our province, and in particular in our schools.
Speaker, this has been a very long and emotional debate for so many Ontarians. I don’t doubt for one moment that this has been a long and emotional debate for members of this assembly. In particular, I would, again, like to thank a few people; they’re probably the same people, but I want to tell you why, not just from social policy. From my chair, I’ve stood here and I’ve heard stories of how bullying has affected members here. I had one member from another party, whom I’m quite fond of, tell me that they thought bullying was a normal way of life. We have to fix that. We’ve had moms talk about their kids. We’ve had grandparents talk about their experiences. We’ve had a lot of strength here and a lot of emotion. Just because we disagree on a few items doesn’t mean that we can’t set the level of debate to be a positive one. I know that it troubles all of us that there have been divisions, and that’s why I think many of us have tried very hard to be calm, representative and progressive.
I’ll point out something. I’ve mentioned it a few times. I grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and you treated your neighbour like they were your family, because God knows, they were at your house enough. Our community went through a lot of hard times, and you were always supposed to look after your buddy, your neighbour. I don’t remember bullying being the way it is, maybe because it was a small town. Maybe some people would say it’s worse there. I learned long ago that you don’t necessarily need to accept another person’s point of view; you need to respect it. And I will tell you, Speaker, that I’m happy to respect my colleagues’ point of view but I don’t agree with it.
I’ll continue to stand up for people I brought into this chamber today. I’ll continue to work on this file with a keen interest, as education critic. I know that there are some members in this assembly who have had agreements on process-related issues that could be tinkered with in the future if this ever comes up again.
All in all, here we are, almost at the end of a school year and certainly almost at the end of this legislative session, and the time has come that this bill be put to a vote. So to all of the Ontarians who have expressed their opinion, on the right or the left or simply in between, I want to say thank you. And to the brave parents who came forward to recount their stories, I’ll forever be grateful that they shared them and I’ll never forget them.
Before I go into the substance of my speech, there are a few acknowledgements I need to make: I want to note that Douglas Elliott is here from the GSA Coalition; Stephen Seaborn from the Ontario Federation of Labour; and Rev. Deana Dudley, people who have followed this debate throughout.
I need to thank a few people. Minister Broten, who brought the bill forward, you and I disagree on a variety of things from time to time. You and I notice that we disagree. But when it was important that we agreed, we were able to find common ground. I want to thank you, and I want to thank your political staff who worked hard.
I want to thank Lisa MacLeod, because Lisa, you never let go of this issue. You spoke strongly. You spoke from principle. You and I disagree, as well, in some areas; others, we agree. You would not let this issue just simply fade away. Strangely enough, I also have to thank some of your political staff who took me aside for some wise counsel in this process.
We’ve said a lot in this chamber, and we’ve said a lot outside this chamber. We’ve talked to parents; we’ve talked to teachers; we’ve talked to students. We have had to wrestle with some very profound questions about our culture, about our education system, about our own personalities and what it is to be a legislator and what it is to be responsible for a society.
I’ve listened to many arguments now. I’ve sat through the committee hearings. I had an opportunity to take in emails and letters from parents—the London Anti-Bullying Coalition; people who had a different perspective from me but who had powerful things to convey about their experience and the experience of their children in the school system.
In the end, you have to work through: What is the principle that guides your actions? I would say that for all of us, whatever we may disagree with on approaches, the central principle is, how do we protect the children for whom we have responsibility? How do we ensure that they are not emotionally scarred? How do we ensure that none lose their lives? How do we ensure that, for them, their experience in school is something that they look back at with fondness rather than with fear?
I had an opportunity in the course of this debate, as I’ve said, to talk to many people. I was on a few call-in shows. I had people call in and talk about their experience of effectively being persecuted in school when they were young for being gay, and how that affected them and how they carried it with them throughout their lives. Last week, I was on Goldhawk Live with Rob Milligan from the Conservative caucus. A woman called in and talked about her experience as a child, being disabled, going to a school for the disabled, then going into the mainstream and—an experience that seared her for life—on a cold winter day, going home, being pushed into a ditch which she could not physically get out of, while two boys piled snow on her. We know, without any iota of doubt, that there are very cruel, very punishing realities that people face. We have to keep that in mind as we try to find our way through the thicket of ideas and emotions and proposals that lead us to an approach that really will achieve those goals that I outlined.
I urge people who follow this issue to take a look at the transcripts from the committee hearings, because they were very raw. People talked about some of the deepest pain that you can imagine: the loss of a child; the loss of a childhood that is forever frozen in their memories. People came, they spoke, and it was impossible for us not to be moved. It was impossible for us not to feel that action had to be taken.
That doesn’t mean that I agree with every solution that was put forward or every fear that was expressed. But certainly, Speaker, it made me, in the course of the debate and the listening, recognize the full weight of what we had in our hands. Bills 13 and 14, the bill brought forward by Minister Broten and the bill brought forward by former MPP Elizabeth Witmer, carried forward by Lisa MacLeod, addressed a number of important aspects of the problem. I said at second reading and I say again today that both bills, having virtues, also have shortcomings, and there are elements that have to be addressed that are entirely outside the framework of the laws that we’re dealing with today. I’ll enlarge upon that as we go forward, but there is a limit to legislation and a requirement for resources that we, in this House, need to recognize.
This bill requires an investigation of reported incidents of bullying. It requires support for the victims of bullying and for those who engage in bullying, so that they can be moved onto a path that does not cause them to harm other people, and that may address those things that cause them to be bullies. It gives principals the power to suspend or expel, but in the context of trying to move behaviour away from that which is damaging.
Now, in listing those elements, I’m not talking about anything that was particularly controversial in the debate. Most people had common ground on those elements, and most presentations to us didn’t differ with them.
Where we came to a difference amongst those who presented and those who listened was the question of allowing students to form their own clubs to advocate for themselves, to build those networks of support and resilience that you need to have when you’re in a difficult environment. There were two arguments that were posed against that provision in the bill. I want to address them.
The first is that there should be no hierarchy of bullying and that every child’s pain is as valid as the pain of any other child. Frankly, Speaker, I agree with that observation. I disagree with the actions that flow from it, because I believe, and I think it’s objectively provable and demonstrable, that some children, based on their gender or their ethnic background or their gender orientation, are subjected to a more profound level of harassment and bullying.
When that is the case, then those children need to have that problem called out, they need validation and they need support. It is not that they deserve more than others. It means they need to be brought up to a level of, I guess I will say, power and recognition so that they are on a common, level playing field with all other children and then can work out their problems.
The second argument that we heard in the course of presentations, that we took from the media and that we’ve had in debates is that provision of such supports for children who are subjected to bullying, provision of supports for clubs and for being named in the act are divisive or have the potential to be divisive. I have to say, Speaker, that every movement toward greater equality in this society—probably for centuries, but I’ll confine it to the last 40 or 50 years—has either been divisive or had risk of causing division.
The fight for women’s rights caused, and from time to time still causes, substantial divisions, because those rights are not fully won, even though great steps forward were taken. No one in this House today who benefits from the eroding of those divisions—and men benefit, as women benefit—would say, “We should never have done that. Hey, we need to rethink it. It was good to have male dominance and female second-class citizenship.”
We don’t think that makes sense. We know what the price of the status quo is. Everyone in this Legislature who has heard these debates and gone to those committee hearings, everyone who is in touch with their community knows the price of the status quo, of prejudice and the bullying that is supported by that prejudice: wasted lives, emotional scarring, actual loss of life.
It’s my belief that people of goodwill can come together and work across those divisions, resolve them, see them as temporary where they do exist and move on. When all is said and done, this society across Ontario will be a richer one for having addressed prejudice, inequality in power and exclusion of some groups from full citizenship in the communities of which they are a part. We will be richer if every child who goes to school feels safe having gone to school.
It was based on that thinking that I approached the bills. It was based on that thinking that I moved the amendment to make it clear that students have the right to use the term GSA or another term that they propose for their clubs. It was on that basis that I supported the government’s further amendments to the bill to make it clear that such names had to support an inclusive school, that such clubs weren’t going to be forced on anyone, were going to arise out of the needs of students, not out of the wishes or desires of ministers, school boards or principals. Are we going to respect students and encourage them to advocate for a better life? I believe we must. If this bill passes, it will facilitate that. That is a positive good.
Speaker, I should also note I was very pleased to support the amendments moved by the member from Parkdale–High Park, Cheri DiNovo, for protection of the transgendered, transsexuals, and bisexuals. That was a big step forward for this society. The member was supported by the government. The member has spoken on these issues consistently. She has been a pioneer, and she did not step back when the opportunity came to continue to move that agenda forward on this bill.
Speaker, the NDP has listened to proponents, listened to experts, listened to parents, teachers and the general public on the issues of Bills 13 and 14. It was clear to us that Bill 13 produced a strong emphasis on addressing power imbalances and equity issues that often underlie bullying. Bill 14 suggested ways to strengthen accountability to parents and the public. We believe that the amendments that were made to Bill 13, taking some very important pieces from Bill 14—and I want to note those. Cyberbullying: It was the Conservative Party, the opposition, that actually brought forward the most comprehensive definition, and we were very pleased to support the opposition when they moved that amendment in committee. The definition of bullying brought forward by the opposition, by Lisa MacLeod, was a sharper definition in Bill 14 than existed in Bill 13. Ultimately, the Bill 13 definition was amended to reflect that sharper, clearer definition, one that I think will serve principals and school boards well in the years to come.
We worked with the government on our amendments, and the government was willing to work and talk with us. We proposed or supported a number of specific amendments to strengthen Bill 13, not restricting the definition of bullying to only repeated behaviour. This came up in discussions with Queer Ontario, which had some very useful insights into what really goes on in schools; this came up from the Ontario Principals’ Council, and this was recognized by the government in the course of amending the act. It’s very important to say that it isn’t just a question of repeated behaviour, but a single serious act of bullying can in fact be seen as bullying itself. That would not have been the case with the original definition.
The inclusion of collection of information from parents and guardians in a school through climate surveys to ensure a whole-school approach to creating an inclusive school climate: Speaker, the Minister of Education, the boards of education, the legislators, can’t know what’s going on unless there are surveys, unless we do collect information, unless we look at the changes in the status of schools over time.
We were very pleased to support amendments making clear the principal’s duty to investigate bullying incidents that could lead to suspension or expulsion. One of the things that came forward in the course of the hearings was teachers saying, “We report incidents about bullying, but when the matter is investigated and wrapped up, all we get back is information saying ‘Action’ or ‘No action.’” We worked to support changes that ensured that teachers would be kept informed of what’s going on in their classes and informed about the incidents that they took action on, so that they would be brought in far more fully to being part of the team that takes on bullying in a school.
We supported changes that ensured that resources were available for the bullied as well as the bullies, making sure that there were the social, psychological and emotional supports to allow people to recover and to allow people to change; ensuring safe and confidential ways for parents in addition to students to report bullying incidents; requiring the establishment of a model bullying plan by the province; collections and submissions of data on school expulsions and suspensions by school boards to ensure accountability.
Those amendments allow us to say that we have a stronger bill before us today than we did at second reading. I would say that all three parties in the House went into those committee hearings knowing that if we were able to take some of the great strengths in Bill 14 and roll them into Bill 13, indeed we would have better legislation, we would better protect our children, we would in fact make the education experience in Ontario a better one for everyone.
As I had said earlier and as we said at second reading, the bill incorporates some advances, but there are many things that have to be done in Ontario if we want to continue down a road of reducing and, hopefully, someday eliminating bullying in our schools. Right now, we don’t believe that there is adequate funding for vulnerable students in our schools. I have raised this question in the House before about a cap on psychological assessments of students who need special-needs education. Speaker, ask yourself: What happens to students who have psychological problems who don’t make it under that cap, who are set aside? How do they cope with an environment where they’re facing profound challenges? Do some of them act out? It may be the case. If we want to have safe schools, it’s more than simply a law; it’s also a question of resources.
We’re concerned that there is an excess focus on testing and assessment of the students through EQAO; that too many teachers say to us—and they said it to us in committee and they say it to us personally—“I’m so busy testing students, I don’t have time to support them. I don’t have time to teach them.” I don’t think testing and evaluation are a bad thing, but when it gets in the way of actually deploying resources to look after students, then I say that we have made a mistake, that we don’t have the balance right. In fact the government, in the course of committee hearings on Bills 13 and 14, was pressed for more and more reporting on incidents of bullying. They made an argument, and one that I found convincing: How much more paperwork do you want people to do? I think the amount of reporting we have is probably, for the moment, the right amount, but we need, again, to move away from putting all our apples into a reporting basket and many more of them into looking after the children themselves.
I’ve spoken about the schools themselves, but there are the larger questions in the society outside the schools, because the schools are not islands. They reflect the broader culture. They reflect the difficulties, the conflicts, the tensions that flow through the whole society. When those children come to school in the morning, if they come to school hungry, if they come from a family that is riven with crisis, then they are not going to be coming to school in a good mood. They may well come to school profoundly angry. They may be looking for an opportunity to discharge that anger. They may come to school profoundly distressed, not able to interact emotionally with others in a way that’s healthy or constructive for them or anyone else. Speaker, if we’re going to address the bullying issue, we have to expand our understanding of what’s going on in the schools, what’s affecting what’s going on in the schools, and how we address it.
We know that bullying is prevalent in Ontario’s schools. It can compromise school success. It contributes to low self-esteem, depression, delinquency and, as I said earlier, even loss of life through suicide. We in this chamber, I’m sure, all agree that every child has the right to a learning environment that’s safe, secure and free from intimidation or bullying. If we want to be effective, we have to reach into the larger community and have adequately resourced student supports and meaningful parent-student-community engagement.
Speaker, in the last few years, the government has brought forward a number of policy initiatives to start addressing some of those issues. It has now taken those policy issues around homophobia and put them forward in law. Requiring school boards to set goals and plans to promote positive school climates and prevent bullying: positive steps. Requiring students who are engaged in hateful bullying to undergo suspension or expulsion: sensible but inadequate, given what happens to those students when they are pushed out of the school.
We need, Speaker, to look at some of the investments that are required in our schools. According to People for Education, despite investments over the past few years, we face problems with a lack of principals. The role of principals has been expanded by numerous government directives, but fewer schools have principals, according to People for Education. If you have a vital part of the management of a school, a vital player in making sure that a school environment is supportive and productive, missing, you aren’t going to have what you need in that school.
Special-needs students at one in three greater Toronto area elementary schools are not getting the recommended level of support. It goes back to my earlier comment, Speaker: If children with difficulty aren’t getting support, you are going to have conflict in the classroom and on the playground.
More and more schools are forced to rely on fundraising for the fundamentals of their schools, and that means, increasingly, a two-tier school system in which some students are in fact provided with the resources that they need, and others, in poorer schools, don’t get what they deserve. Speaker, those issues have to be addressed if we’re going to come to grips with bullying.
One in three schools outside the GTA has 10 or more English-as-a-second-language students but no English-as-a-second-language teacher. Speaker, that means that students are in classrooms where they don’t understand what is being taught, where they may not understand what their schoolmates are saying. It puts them at risk of being bullied or of developing a frustration that brings them into conflict with others.
People for Education say that in most high schools, students don’t have regular access to psychologists or youth workers. If we want to address the issues that we here know have to be addressed, those resources have to be provided.
In 2008, the Safe Schools Action Team stressed that the Ministry of Education must provide adequate resources for intervention strategies, and the Falconer report was clear about the resources that schools need: increased supervision of playgrounds and halls, community outreach workers to build links with the community, and support services such as social workers and child youth workers.
Speaker, I think it is clear that with this bill we’ve taken a step forward on part of the problem that we have to come to grips with in our schools. It is also clear, from looking at the resources our schools have, that there’s also a very large piece that is going to have to be addressed if we want the success that everyone in this chamber knows we need.
The course of debate on this bill was not perfect. I would say that all three parties were finding their way through in a fairly unusual situation—typically, we’re not in a minority situation. But I believe that this process, with all its snags and ups and downs, actually showed that when all three parties are willing to talk to each other, find the areas where they can agree and make progress on those areas—I think this bill showed that we can make minority government work. That is not enough for our children, but it is a step forward for them.
Mr. Bob Delaney: Thank you very much, Speaker. I’m pleased to follow our minister and my colleagues from Nepean–Carleton and Toronto–Danforth, each of whom has brought heartfelt, sincere and enlightened comments to the concluding part of our debate on a bill that, at times, seemed to bring out some of the worst in us but, as it comes together, is going to show that in many ways it has brought out some of the best in us.
I want to start with just a reflection that if a lot of the generation of our parents today talked to their kids and their kids said, “Mom, Dad, if you were to try to do today some of the things you did in your youth, as either adults or as youth yourselves, what would happen?” Some of those things would land them in trouble. Some of those things would land them—us; I speak as one of that generation, I guess—suspended or in trouble with the law.
But that doesn’t even cover the things generations past did that were either, in their time or seen in the context of this time, genuinely dumb or unsafe. That’s why times change. That’s why so do people.
As individuals, we grow up, we mature in the things we do ourselves and how we treat others. We learn to judge people by the content of their character and the quality of their deeds. In my father’s day, people looked at him and thought he was a Mick. His fair skin, his freckles and his Roman Catholic religion stood out in that world of the 1920s. He fought his battles over religion and race. I fought a lot of my battles because I was among the smaller kids in my class, until I caught up to the other kids in my late teens.
As times change and as attitudes evolve, so too do the expectations of our leaders. We, as MPPs, in the course of this debate were handed a challenge. We had a duty to lead. We have to lead the people who elect us away from an attitude that bullying is a way of life or a rite of passage. It is not. Even in our armed forces, the harmful hazing that wrecked so many minds and so many bodies and so many careers has either stopped or been sharply curtailed or circumscribed to what those in authority may consider to be appropriate in the circumstances.
Picking on another human being because you can has never been right and isn’t right today. Now it’s time to look at ourselves as a society in the mirror and to challenge a piece of what is still inside of many of us. Do we have the courage to change? Do we have the wisdom to put in place measures to help victims, to help bullies who can change confront the damage and impact of their behaviour, to help families cope with what’s happened to them or to cope with how to help someone who does the bullying?
The outcome of these deliberations has combined the government and an opposition bill. This bill also incorporates a lot of the comments and the suggestions made by people who spoke emotionally, who spoke in a manner that was raw and from the heart.
This bill is prescriptive, in that it insists on progress and it does not make bullying optional, nor does the bill allow for a cafeteria-type selection in which you can address some types of bullying but not others.
The bill is controversial in this age because the kind of statement it makes about bullying on the basis of sexual orientation is, in our times, similar to the statements on fairness, acceptance and equality made about gender, race, class or religion in other times.
I’m sometimes reminded of a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi as he led India toward independence. Speaking a little bit about his oppressors in his day, he said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I have to acknowledge the contributions of our colleagues. The former member for Kitchener–Waterloo felt deeply and strongly about the issue of bullying. From the Progressive Conservatives, I also acknowledge the commitment and the devotion to duty of the member from Nepean–Carleton. The member served as the spokesperson for some people and groups, including many from my own Roman Catholic faith with whom I disagree and disagree strongly. Some of the comments that we heard at the committee meetings went beyond the bounds of proper decorum. As much as I disagreed with the content, and I often found the tone and the language inappropriate—and it was often coloured by opinions that were not part of any part of this legislation—I also felt it was important that the deputants who came to see the committee had the opportunity to say what they thought or what they believed.
In the end, it’s as much about how we arrive at the consensus, in some important ways, as it is the consensus itself. I think the member from Nepean–Carleton took up a difficult task and carried it through with dignity and with compassion, and for that, I thank her.
I and my party are going to vote for that consensus. I understand that she and her party will vote against it. I also respect that and I accept that. I trust that some of those who spoke against the opposed legislation will draw an example from how Ontario goes forward with this law, should it be enacted by this Legislature.
To say that it’s time to change and time to move on acknowledges the contributions made by our colleagues in the New Democratic Party. The members from Toronto–Danforth and Parkdale–High Park in particular challenged the government and challenged our education ministry. They asked us if we were going far enough; if our new policies, rules and laws had sufficient clout to enable them to work. It required our NDP members to compromise, and they did.
While we often chafe at how difficult it is to advance beyond the status quo in any bureaucracy, it’s the task and duty of the civil service to do our wishes as lawmakers and to do it in a just, equitable, affordable and justifiable manner. We all needed to listen to the people who actually make our education system work from day to day. I think everyone came together in circumstances that were more difficult than we thought at the outset, and I believe that we’re arriving at a solution at an end point in this legislation, so that when it’s done we can look back a few years from now, when people have had an opportunity to see the legislation in action, and say that we came together, we did the right thing, and collectively we can all be proud of it.
It’s our obligation to ensure that every student is supported regardless of their race, their culture, their creed, their gender or their sexual orientation. We know that kids can succeed in our schools in a culture of respect and acceptance. This legislation is just one part of our government’s comprehensive action plan because we know that bullying is a problem that extends far beyond the reaches of our classroom walls.
A big part of Ontario’s comprehensive action plan and the whole-school approach has to do with youth mental health. Our province has invested, so far, in children’s mental health about $257 million over three years so that more than 50,000 Ontario youth and their families are going to have quicker and easier access to the right mental health and addictions support as part of this strategy on bullying. Ontario’s aggressive mental health and addictions strategy is going to place mental health workers and expert nurses in schools to benefit more than 9,000 kids.
But there’s more to do than that. Our students expect a bit more of us. Our students expect us to address the needs of some of the kids who will suffer bullying in silence. We know that each one of us, as legislators from all parties, and also as parents, as teachers and students, has a duty to work to end bullying in our schools. This legislation and all the members who vote for it, and I say even those who vote against it—this Legislature collectively can say that it stood up for bullied kids everywhere by introducing and hopefully passing a law to require all boards and schools across Ontario to create safe, inclusive and accepting places for all of our students.
Ontario has made its expectations clear that all boards are going to be required to have policies in place on bullying prevention and intervention, to introduce progressive discipline, to introduce equity and inclusive education. We’ve made it very clear that we’re not going to stand by and watch students continue to be bullied.
During the past months, our staff, our members and our minister have had an opportunity to meet with many students who have shared their stories about being bullied, told us about what they were afraid of, told us how they felt alone. Their stories were ones that very clearly affected each and every one of us. A point made by every party has been that this is not a normal part of growing up.
This legislation says that we have the courage, as a Legislature, to show this part of ourselves to our society and to ask ourselves, “Is this really who we want to be?” In this legislation, what we’re saying is that our society will say, “No, this is not how we see ourselves,” and we can say, we believe that we can change; we believe that we can do better as Ontarians; we can do better as educators; we can do better as students; we can do better as families. If that’s what we’re able to accomplish in this legislation, that and specific measures to record how we’re doing to be able to measure our progress, to be able to introduce remedial measures, to be able to remove the sources of the problem, then I think that we will have done very well and that we can be proud as a group of legislators, proud as a Legislature, and proud to say that when we pass from this place and have gone on to whatever else follows in life, we can point at our schools and say, “I helped change that.”
Mrs. Jane McKenna: I’m pleased to rise today to speak to Bill 13. The standard story of Bill 13 and Bill 14 has to do with two different responses to the problem of bullying. There’s obviously some truth to that. Bill 14 is the product of two years of legwork and stakeholder consultation, and it offers parents and school officials a much more substantial set of tools.
Bill 13 has drawn inspiration from those legislative measures but it has not transplanted them. In light of the other parties’ decision to vote against 16 of 17 PC amendments, little of Bill 14 has been included in Bill 13. It’s more substantial than when it started, but it is still thin. What we’ve got is, essentially, an ineffective and watered-down version of Bill 14.
But after going through the process, I see another storyline—a story of two different visions of the way government should operate. Looking at Bill 13 and Bill 14, the committee heard from 90 people over five days of deliberation. That’s 90 people who took time out of their lives to be part of the process to make their voice heard. All of them wanted these bills combined into the strongest possible tool to stem the rising tide of bullying. Many were frustrated that the system is broken. They told us how flawed it was. Their experience is that everyone passes the buck—teacher to principal, principal to superintendent, superintendent to board, board to minister, and then all the way back down the line again.
Having experienced this myself when my son was bullied, I felt this too. So their frustration resonated with me. Everyone has a stock answer but no one is accountable. Nobody seems to be capable of taking action around an issue like bullying. Nobody is proactive enough to put an end to behaviour that they know is wrong. They won’t put an end to it, and so we are providing legal incentive for them to do so.
We had an opportunity to serve as a conduit for the will of the people. We were presented with a moment in which we could have proven the ability of a minority government to create something remarkable, to move forward together, but sometimes words like those are just words.
Going into the process, we heard hopeful talk about taking the best of both bills and making something better. In amending Bill 13 and Bill 14 at committee, we had the ability to merge those two bills to create the strongest and most effective legislation possible, and to improve the lives of Ontario’s young people in the process. We ultimately chose to do otherwise.
I’m new to this process—about eight months in. I love my job and I work very hard to represent my constituents. I work even harder to stop myself from becoming jaded by the things I see and hear. I’m on the record expressing my disappointment at the way things played out in this committee. True, it was a fantastic learning experience, but I was embarrassed, quite frankly, at how superficial the process was at times, at how it missed the mark. The impression that most of the 90 people left with was that the committee’s hearings were simply a checklist themselves, that they weren’t really a chance to tap into the ideas of Ontarians; that they served a narrow political agenda rather than serving the public, whose interests we are sworn by an oath to defend. Instead, we got a government agenda. It’s hard not to believe that the story’s conclusion was written before we even began, and that everything in between was just a courtesy gesture.
Unless you have ever been involved in trying to resolve a bullying situation, you have no idea what it is really like. You can’t explain to someone how ineffective the system is until you personally try to find resolution, until you try to seek justice yourself. I can tell you, having had a son go through episodes of intense and cruel bullying, that it is absolutely awful. It is infuriating and demoralizing to come into a situation where your child is being victimized and yet school officials sigh and shrug and point to a maze of red tape, and tell you there’s nothing they can do. The parents of the kids are either in denial and on the defensive or they are enabling and rewarding bad behaviour and just pouring gasoline on the fire. And our kids are caught in the middle.
This bill was a chance for us to come out together. It was a chance to roll up our sleeves and make things right. We could have really addressed what is wrong about the current situation. It is increasingly clear that we must all do our part to create a safe environment for all of Ontario’s children—all of Ontario’s children.
Writing in today’s Toronto Star, University of Ottawa Ph.D. student Cecil Chabot names the unintentional consequences of Bill 13. I quote: “Instead of protecting students from prejudice, Bill 13 risks giving implicit legislative support for prejudice against minority, religious and cultural groups.... In forcing the acceptance of one anti-bullying approach on all schools, it risks ostracizing many who are equally committed to the cause.”
That’s my concern as well. All children, all young people should be able to come and go in a school environment and feel safe to learn and grow. You shouldn’t have to feel that you are placing your child at risk every time you send them off to school.
As a parent, I’ve gone through a couple of intense bullying episodes with my child. I know it is heartbreaking to be in that situation, but even as a parent I don’t have a complete understanding of what it’s like for children and youth who are being savagely bullied every day. I honestly have no idea how kids who are going through these things, who are being tormented daily, find it in themselves to get out of bed, let alone head off to school with the intention of getting the knowledge and grades that can lead to a better life for them.
Our kids are obviously stronger than we know, but they are not invulnerable. We have been wrestling with two anti-bullying bills precisely because our kids have limits. Although they are strong, they do break. Most days, even kids who are bullied can find a reason to keep moving forward. There’s no guarantee that they will always be sustained by that optimism.
We have seen too many young people surrender to despair and take their own lives. These are sorrows beyond measure: Promising young lives cut short by senseless cruelty; tragedies that are all the more tragic because those around them did not see, could not act or chose not to intervene. We know how those decisions are defended: “Everyone gets bullied, so what’s the big deal?” and, “Life is hard and doesn’t get any easier.”
But we can change the world if we choose to. We can, and we must, because if we’re totally honest with ourselves, the issue of bullying is not just something we should expect schools alone to dismantle. It’s obviously convenient to make this a problem for teachers and principals, because then it is nice and tidy. It’s something you can aim legislation at.
But the truth is that bullying is far, far bigger than schools. Our kids spend a good portion of their waking lives in school, but it’s still only a portion. It’s true that teachers and principals do exert a remarkable degree of influence on our young people, but it’s also true that we’ve gone out of our way as parents and government to erode the authority of educators. Students understand the limits of educators’ authority, and they’re bound to test those limits.
Bullying is an issue that is bigger than schools, and it is bigger than government legislation. It is ultimately a question of how we go about changing the attitudes of society, how we go about defusing the resentment and hatred that expresses itself as bullying.
The talk of merging the bills—we heard from Liberal committee members about measures added to Bill 13 that were pretty much lifted from Bill 14, things like the transparency and reporting requirements. Rather than the detailed requirement set out in Bill 14, Bill 13 will generate a thumbnail sketch of bullying behaviour and then pass that along to the relevant school board, which then passes that information along to the Minister of Education once a year.
Under Bill 13, schools are expected to make their anti-bullying plans public, but the results of those plans will essentially go into a vault. Once a year, school boards send reports on bullying-related suspensions and expulsions, and the Minister of Education has them posted on the minister’s website. Bill 14 would require the minister to step up and outline the steps they have taken during the same time to address bullying in schools. Bill 13 plans to measure the effectiveness of its anti-bullying policies by using anonymous surveys to collect information from students, staff, parents and guardians of students. That will happen at least once every two years, so hopefully, in hindsight, we’ll see the patterns of behaviours that the anti-bullying measures failed to prevent. This is what has been described as “an appropriate but not onerous level of data collection ... and reporting.”
You could also describe it as a compromise, or perhaps a compromised solution. This is the kind of transparency the government believes in: carefully curated. At the end of the day, someone has to be accountable for the progress we are making or the lack thereof. That might be a principal, that might be a school, a superintendent, or it might be a government minister. We have heard again and again in no uncertain terms that this system is missing much-needed accountability.
We have an obligation to those people who have come to us and spoken from their heart and their soul, an obligation to do all we can to ensure transparency and accountability. They know all too well how the system works now: It does not. It’s always somebody else’s fault, always somebody else’s problem. Ontarians would like the assurance that we can do better than the status quo. They would like to know that the buck stops somewhere. We owe them that much.
For me, as a new MPP, the work of seeing legislation through committee has been an eye-opener, and not always in a good way. Sometimes it saddens me, to be perfectly honest. As someone whose family has been repeatedly impacted by bullying, the pain and passion of those people who came here for deputations really resonated with me. I understand all too well their heartbreak and frustration about the lack of accountability within the system. We have a responsibility to make things better. Given an opportunity such as this, we can make the system far more effective, better able to serve the interests of young people and far less deserving of the criticism that it has come by quite honestly, in most cases.
From my own perspective as a mother of a child who was relentlessly bullied to the point that I was forced to change schools, I feel comfortable describing the system as broken. I know first-hand that we can do more. I sincerely hope that we do. But my experiences in committee over the last several weeks have grounded those aspirations in the blunt reality of horse-trader politics.
If you go through the committee Hansard, you’ll read that the amendments allegedly adopted from Bill 14 were adopted “largely” or “in spirit” or “lifted pretty much.” Those are all ways of saying that they were adopted in part or watered down to the point where they are basically see-through. That’s not the kind of transparency we were aiming for, Mr. Speaker.
In particular, Bill 14 takes a very clear stand on tracking and reporting instances of harassment and bullying, about transparency and about the kind of behaviour that warrants suspension and expulsion. Bill 14 also makes it clear that key officials—boards and ultimately the Minister of Education—should be held accountable for those kinds of activities in our schools. I’m sorry to report that these were unpopular stands. The buck was passed yet again. Where measures were allegedly adopted, they were adopted at reduced strength.
As someone who had taken it on faith that this was a non-partisan issue and that everyone at the table was working to ensure the most substantial possible legislation for our kids, I have to say that Bill 13 has fallen far short of the mark. For the most part, it simply creates the impression of decisive action. I am encouraged by the fact that Bill 14’s cyberbullying provisions were adopted in Bill 13, but I have to say that, for the most part, Bill 13 never met a strong measure that it couldn’t defang.
So, at the end of the day, regrettably, this is not the anti-bullying bill Ontario parents were hoping for. As a newcomer to this hall, I am struck, even in a time of disruption and unease, by how many unique and fantastic opportunities remain open to us, yet our government excels at turning these opportunities into fresh disappointments. Yes, there is still work to be done. Strong legislation that will leave this place and take on a life of its own can’t be crafted alone. Legislation that will play a meaningful role in the lives of all Ontarians can’t be assembled by a handful of people in a closed room. That’s part of why we have committees.
We heard in committee some concerns related to Bill 13 and the weakening of democracy. This is a bill that critics have suggested shifts power from local school boards and transfers it to government bureaucrats, who can reshape the educational landscape as they see fit, without consultation. We’re already seeing it in school closures and talk of board amalgamations—all of it seemingly sprung on education professionals, not to mention the public, at the last moment.
You can’t blame people for seeing omens everywhere: The government’s green energy strategy was formulated on the back of a napkin in a black box, certainly without consulting the province’s major energy players. Bills and motions in this House can pass with the support of the majority of elected representatives, yet the government chooses to act as if it had never happened.
So yes, I think it’s not just important, but essential to hear the concerns and respect the perspective of Ontarians. Public participation improves the quality of our decisions. That participation is founded on the idea that the voice of the public has value. We are asking for these perspectives not because they validate what we have planned to do all along; we are asking because members of the public might spotlight a gap in our thinking or point to a missed opportunity to make things better.
It’s also about respect, and I believe respect is repaid in kind. The more often Ontarians have the opportunity to relay their concerns to the province, the more often those concerns are not just heard but are actually listened to, the more likely they are to feel that their government works. Restoring Canadians’ faith in government is the defining challenge of 21st-century politics. That’s especially true in Ontario, a province whose government has spent most of the last decade reeling from scandal to scandal. Ontarians want to believe in better, and we owe it to them to aim to actually make things better, not just good enough. They expected their elected representatives to be true to more than just the politics of convenience.
Again, I’m sorely disappointed by what I see as a missed opportunity to move beyond the same old, same old, and deliver a strong and effective piece of legislation that would make a world of difference for our kids right now, the legislation we all know our kids deserve. Instead, in Bill 13 we’ve got a lot of evasive wording, a lot of qualified suggestions and a kind of selective transparency when it comes to measuring the end result. I think that the legislation in Bill 13 is well-intentioned but weak, and that’s a shame.
There will be other bills before this committee and others. We will get more chances to do the right thing, and when we do, let us look back upon this process and vow to do better. Let us promise to receive input from Ontarians and then actually take the input to heart. Let us use it to make the legislation better and to respect the voices of Ontarians, whom we were elected to serve here.
There are three parties in this House and differing points of views within them. Our platforms vary, but one promise we all have in common is the idea that we are committed to a better future for this and future generations. We must take steps to regain and maintain the trust of all our constituents and communities, because it is only through recapturing the respect and admiration of our citizens that we will restore Ontario to true greatness.
Mr. Michael Prue: It is an honour indeed to stand up and say a few words on third reading of this bill. I want to preface my remarks by talking about how at the beginning of the bill, I remember standing up and saying a few words on that very first day when it was being introduced into the House. I remember that there was at that time, I think, some animosity. We had just come back from the election, there was a minority government and there were some bruised feelings all around.
I remember quite vividly when Mrs. Witmer, the former member from Kitchener–Waterloo, stood up. She was trying to introduce her bill, and there was some debate going back and forth about which was the better: Was it Bill 13, which was the government bill, or was it Bill 14, which was Mrs. Witmer’s? I remember speaking on that day that it behooved all of us to take those bills and to build them, to take the best parts of both bills, and that as a minority government we needed to work together.
You know, I heard the last speaker. I heard what the member from Burlington had to say. I think the disappointment she has—and she has admitted she’s a rookie member now of some eight months—in that the process did not work entirely to her liking.
I would like to tell her, though, that the process, as flawed as it was around this bill, and perhaps as truncated as it was in terms of allowing people to speak or come forward and be heard, certainly is better, in my estimation, than any of the times I’ve had over the past 11 years, because up until this point I have always been here in a majority government. When I arrived, it was a majority Conservative government and then two majority Liberal governments. I just want to tell her and other people who may have been watching this that any compromises that were made in this bill and other bills around here today are legendary in comparison to what happened in all of those other years.
I have never forgotten my very, I think, first, second or maybe third month here. Coming from a municipal background, having been a mayor in East York, having known a great deal about the Municipal Act, my first bill that I had to do something in committee on was the Municipal Act. It was about 1,000 pages long. I thought it was a great bill. It was a Conservative-inspired bill. I thought it was legendary in preference to what had existed up to that point.
But I did see 11 or 12 points in 1,000 pages that I thought could be improved. I went to committee as a rookie and I put down my amendments and I sat there full of hope and expectation that I would be listened to. I remember that my first amendment went down in flames. My second amendment went down in flames. My third amendment went down in flames. My fourth amendment went down in flames. And I was starting to wonder, “What is the matter with this place?” Then my fifth amendment came forward. The parliamentary assistant at that time was Morley Kells, member from Etobicoke. He was the parliamentary assistant. I will never forget his words as long as I live. He sat there. He looked at it. He said, “This is a wonderful amendment. This makes a lot of sense. I really like this a lot. Too bad it’s not ours. We’re voting against.” And I never forgot that. I never forgot that, because that’s the way politics was done around here.
So when we have a bill like this one where there are some small compromises, when some of the opposition’s amendments are adopted, when people who sit on the other side of the House are actually listened to, and where there is a bit of give and take, I am hopeful. I wish that this was the case all the time, not just in minority governments but in all governments, because in my view it would work a whole lot better.
You know, I have watched the people who have come forward. I was not a member of the committee, but one need only look at the parliamentary channel if you’re in your office, wander into the committee for a few minutes, see the demonstrations outside, read what is being reported in the newspapers and on television, to see that there was a great deal of division within this society about where this bill should be going. There were those who genuinely supported the bill and then there were those who did not.
But I want to say that my own gut reaction through all of this, that although there were many people who did not support the bill, the overwhelming majority of young people did. There was no one with whom I spoke or who contacted me under the age of 25 who did not support what this bill was trying to do. They are the students who are in high school; they are the students who are in university. I had an email from a young man who was in university and felt that he was being bullied, and he wondered why this was just being placed around high schools and possibly elementary schools. Young people get it, and they don’t like it. It is especially those young people who are asking us to change. They are living the life. They are seeing the bullying each and every day. They see the damage that is done to them, to the people that they know, to their friends, to those that they love, and they want something to be done.
Schools have changed a lot. I listened to some of the other speakers. Schools are legendarily different from when I was a boy. My God, I go into the schools today and I wish that I had gone to a school like that. I wish that there would have been an opportunity to learn the things that these kids are learning in the schools today. I wish that I could have felt as casual. We were all deferential. When the principal walked down the hall, you ran away lest your shirt was untucked. I remember, if your shirt was untucked, that was three days of detention. If you wore jeans, you were suspended. I remember people getting suspended for wearing jeans to school.
Mr. Michael Prue: I’ve just been reminded that a young woman who would show up to school in pants would be sent home. If they didn’t like the length of your hair, they would order you out to get a haircut and say, “Don’t come back till you get one.” This is what I remember. If you went up the staircase and that was the down staircase, that was a week’s detention. I’m seeing some people shaking their heads, because those are the schools we went to.
The schools today are a whole lot better. I walk into the schools today and the students are accepting of people’s differences. They are more casual. I even see the teachers wearing jeans, which I was forbidden to wear, and T-shirts. They’re much, much better. But they still have the problem of bullying and they need to deal with it. The old solutions, the students have told us and the teachers have told us, don’t work. They’re looking for a new solution.
There was a quote I found here that I’d like to read into the record because I think it says it all about why we need to have this brand new approach. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence, “Executive Summary,” Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008, on page 6, made the following statement that I’d like to read because it is absolutely essential to why we have to support this bill:
“Making headway on issues of safety involves abandoning the failed philosophy of addressing safety through discipline/enforcement mechanisms. It does not work. While there will always be a place for discipline in identifying standards of behaviour, the reality that has thus far not been accepted in the system is that marginalized youth cannot be punished/suspended into becoming engaged....
When I go into the schools today, I am amazed by the talent, by what young people are learning, what they’re experiencing. I went to East York Collegiate a couple of weeks ago to see a wonderful production of the play Legally Blonde. It was done brilliantly. It was hard for me to believe that the cast of characters were in grades 9, 10 and 11—unbelievable, what they were able to accomplish. I see the sports that happen in that school, the charities that they raise funds for—all of the things that we never did when I went to school. We learned by rote. We learned dead languages like Latin. We learned by rote and we were afraid all the time. I go to Malvern Collegiate and I look at that wonderful school, which is in the Beach, and I look at the community action that the young people undertake. They’re not afraid to go out and demonstrate. They’re not afraid to come down here to Queen’s Park and tell us we’re wrong when we’re trying to close down their pool—something I don’t think anyone at my school would have ever done—and how they can turn around and do massive fundraisings when some vandals came and destroyed the statue that was put up on the grounds following the First World War. They raised the funds, the students themselves and the alumni, to restore it—absolutely incredible.
But those students are very blunt when I go into the schools and I talk to them about politics and about being a politician. They’re very blunt about bullying. They tell us that it exists; they tell us they don’t like it. They are hoping we can do something to help them. They are much more self-assured. They are self-assured because they have a different identity than the identity that I think some of us of an older generation had when we went to school.
I went go school pretty much in a monoculture, right here in Toronto. I knew one black kid—a great baseball player, his name was Chapman; we all wanted him on the team—but he was the only one. You know, we had some people whose family originally came from China and a couple whose family originally came from Japan, but it was a monoculture. But today when I go into the schools, they’re all multicultural, at least the ones here in Toronto. They have a diversity and a knowledge that they have to be accepting of each other, which we never had before. They have a religious diversity which goes across all religions and of none. They have a diversity and an acceptance when it comes to matters of sex.
Let me tell you, that’s a big bugaboo for people in an older generation. I know from many of the people who came down to make deputation, the hot point and the flashpoint was all around sexual orientation, was all around gay-straight alliances, was all around things that still horrify some of an older generation. Well, I want to tell you that young people are not horrified to talk about that or to accept it or to see that somebody is different from them. They are certainly not of a calibre that some older people are or were.
Back to Bill 13: Bill 13, in my view, is creating a safer, more accepting school. It is making sure, through some of the amendments that we passed, that there are bullying awareness weeks. It makes sure that school boards promote equity. It makes sure that there are suspensions and expulsions for repeat offenders, and that codes of conduct are adhered to.
My belief is that the committee has done absolutely excellent work in very trying and difficult circumstances. It is my belief that the committee structure in a minority government is a far better committee structure than would ever exist in a majority situation, where one party makes all the rules, one party has the majority of votes and one party always prevails. These were difficult circumstances, but the people from all three parties seemed to have melded the two bills, not always as successfully as some may have wanted, but it is my belief that the basic ideas that Elizabeth Witmer pronounced so strongly in this Legislature at the time when she introduced Bill 14 have been carried through. I would implore the Progressive Conservatives to look at that. Elizabeth Witmer was a powerful and a decent force in this Legislature. She believed things very strongly. She was willing to work very hard in order to accomplish her goals. One of the key goals she wanted to accomplish was to end bullying. Those parts of her bill that have been subsumed into Bill 13 may not have been exactly as she worded them, but I believe that the heart and the spirit are contained within the final compromise.
I believe that the deputations and the people who came to make those deputations were heard. I’m not sure that everyone is going to like what has happened here today, because it is difficult for some people to accept that change must come. It’s difficult for some people not to look back to their high school days and think that everything was rosy and wonderful.
I talk to people—I was at a reunion for my university, the University of Toronto; I went there on Sunday. I met with some people, and they were talking about the university which we all love—that’s why I went back to the reunion—and I met a guy who came from the first high school that I attended. I don’t want to name it because I would only be disparaging of that high school. He said, “Have you ever been back to the reunion of the high school?” And I told him, “No. I have no fond memories of the place. I have no fond memories of my first high school.” He was shocked. He said it was a wonderful place, because he played on the basketball team; he was part of some of the student groups.
I didn’t want to tell him that he grew up in a very different place from me, because when I went to school there, I was a kid from Regent Park. I was one of only two. Almost everybody who went to the school came from Rosedale and had lots of money. I never forgot that: their nice clothes, the chauffeur who drove some of them to school, their 16th birthday when they got a brand new Mustang; that was the life, and to be part of that—I was never part of that school. Was I bullied? I don’t think so. But do I have fond memories of it? No. So it’s easy for me to understand why someone who feels bullied has no fond memories. When I hear the horrendous story of the disabled woman kicked into a ditch and two guys tried to throw snow on her, that is not unusual. We have to make sure that—I hope it is unusual; I’d better preface that. It is unusual, but it is not unique and alone. I’m sure there are other horrific stories like this, too.
In the end, we have to make sure the schools are accepting. In the end, we have to make sure that every student, whether they’re rich or poor, whether they were born in Canada or not born in Canada, whether they’re gay or straight, whether they belong to one religion or another—it doesn’t matter; they all have to feel that they belong there. That’s what I’m hoping the bill will accomplish.
The amendments that were made are lengthy. There’s a whole bunch of them here that are lengthy. They were good amendments. First and foremost, the one that’s made all the press, the reference to sexuality, homophobia, transphobia, has been set straight and in the record. The gay-straight alliances are now part of the bill. That is, if any students want to call it what they want to call it, they can do it. I think that this took considerable courage from the members of the committee to come forward with this because there are forces in this society that want to micromanage in the schools. They are people who think that because it’s always been a different way, that that’s the way it should be now. I am saying, “No.” I have enormous respect and trust for young people to do what is right. They live in a different world than the one in which I grew up, and they are developing a better society than the one I grew up in. Certainly, I am hoping to assist them in any way I can to make sure that it’s a better world for them than it was for us all those years ago.
We also know that this bill and the amendments have empowered students and student voices. That’s an important thing that has to take place as well. It’s no longer the authority of the principal or the guidance counsellor or the teacher who is in charge, but I think students have to be given some of that role and some of that responsibility themselves.
For Bill 14, that portion which has been subsumed into this bill and which is necessary, we have the expanding definition of social and academic harm; we have an inclusion of cyberbullying, because, even though I cannot claim to be any great whiz on the computer, I do know its powerful influence and how cyberbullying has affected so many young people because it’s instantaneous. It can spread viral, and all kinds of harm can be done in a way that simply calling someone a name in the schoolyard could never do, because now, hundreds of your friends and colleagues, even people you don’t know, will instantaneously know something about you that is spread in a malicious and often false way.
I’m glad there’s something in the bill that has an inclusion for parents and guardians to be part of the in-school climate surveys. It’s important that they are consulted. I’m glad that, in the bill, there is a clear principal’s authority to investigate bullying that will lead to suspensions or expulsions in the most severe cases.
I’m glad that the bill has now included a provision of notification to parents of victims and of bullies, because this needs to be passed down. Not only do we have to protect the children, but we have to let their parents and the children themselves know that this is not acceptable so that they, too, can have a role in stopping this behaviour.
We have listened, and I have listened, not only in this Parliament but in the one before when the issue of bullying came up again and again. At that point, it was not possible to deal with it. Whether it was time or political will, whether it was that the issue had not matured to the point or whether there was a societal impact trying to prevent it, to slow it down or discuss it further, I don’t know. But I do know that, in the interim, more children have died. More children have taken their own lives, which is one of the saddest things you can possibly consider.
Mr. Speaker, the time has come to go forward. The time to debate is almost up. I know my colleagues have a few more things to say, and we have another hour or two. But at the end of that, it’s time to take action.
In conclusion, I would only ask that if and when this bill passes, everybody takes the time to make sure there are resources put into the schools. That means additional monies, resources in terms of teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists and those people who are necessary to make sure that bullying can stop and help to identify it.
I would ask that everyone ensure that there is social and emotional development. It’s more important that the teachers concentrate on this. As my colleague from Toronto–Danforth said, spending time on EQAO tests—if you’re going to take the $51 million from EQAO that is spent each and every year, please take the $51 million and spend it where it will actually do some good, and that is with our young people.
Last but not least, please look at the other systemic issues that will continue in terms of potential bullying. Whether it’s poverty, if it’s racism, if it’s inequity or inequality, if it’s just gender, take a look at how all of those can be resolved and move to end them. In the end, our schools will be better, our society will be better and we, as Ontarians, will all be richer.
I implore everyone to think about what is contained in the bill, and even if my colleagues in the Conservative Party, the official opposition, are not happy that they were not totally heard throughout this bill, enough has been accomplished here and more has been accomplished in coming to the end of this bill than in almost any bill I can remember in my 11 years in this House. Please, everyone, for the sake of the kids, vote yes.
Mr. Michael Coteau: I stand here before you today not only as the MPP for the beautiful riding of Don Valley East but also as a former school board trustee and the father of two young girls. I’ve had the opportunity to think a lot about Bill 13, and my experience as a parent and as a trustee have only strengthened my position on the bill. I fully support it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. I want my daughters to be able to go to school without having to worry about being bullied so that they can learn well and reap the benefits of this great province. I want all kids to have an opportunity. Right now, unfortunately, there are many young people in our system who don’t have the opportunity because of fear.
We were all young once, and we all have examples of students who are subject to bullying. I have vivid memories of students being bullied. In fact, when I was a young man in elementary school, I was bullied myself. I also remember back then that many bullies got away with physical and psychological tormenting of their victims because there was no legislation there to protect them. In those days—and, I may add, it wasn’t that long ago—if someone were gay, black, Asian, the notion that some day legislation would be there to protect them from bullying and would allow bullies to feel the real repercussions of their actions would simply be fantasy.
We are never going to completely eliminate bullying—I think we all know that—but we’re trying, and we’re certainly here to make a difference and to reduce it. This bill contains elements that will help us track this progress. In fact, the Minister of Education earlier was saying that we’ve added transparency, where boards can track suspension and expulsion rates, including those related to bullying, as laid out in Bill 14.
As we all know, there have been some really high-profile cases of young Canadians who were bullied to the point where they took their lives. This shouldn’t happen in our country; it shouldn’t happen in this great province. All students, regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, deserve to be in a learning environment that’s safe.
As a former school board trustee, I’ve been asked to intervene many, many times—dozens of times—by families who have gone through a bullying process with their children, and I’ll tell you, it’s a hard thing to go through. The families have to put up with mental and physical harassment from other students to their children. I’ll tell you that Bill 13 will help us stop some of this. I’m often saddened when I sit in a room with a parent and a child and the principal—I remember as a school board trustee—and they tell me the story of what’s happened to that child. It not only affects that child but it affects the siblings; it affects the grandparents; it affects the entire family. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing worse than when a young child who is full of life and vibrant comes home and slowly starts to isolate themself; they start to withdraw from the world around them, and eventually it leads into depression. You know, as a parent of two young girls, I’ll tell you that’s something I would never want to have experienced myself.
I know this bill has its critics, and some have raised flags and incorrectly argued that this bill infringes on religious freedoms. On the contrary, I think if people really read all of the sections of the bill, they would find that it actually protects students from being bullied based on religious grounds. I am proud of our government’s steps in regard to this bill. They’re leading by example and working to get a bill passed that will make schools safer for our children and grandchildren and benefit everyone in our province. Bill 13 continues our strong record of making schools safer.
I was a school board trustee for many years, in fact for just over eight years, and I’ve seen this government in action. Since 2004, this government has invested almost $300 million into safe schools in this province. It’s come with a lot of good results, including 25,000 teachers being trained in anti-bullying strategies; 7,500 principals being trained on how to deal with bullying.
I remember a few years ago at the Toronto District School Board we had a big push for the Kids Help line, which we fund, as a government, $1 million per year. Since it started a few years ago, over 50,000 young children have called that line and received some help. Some 3,100 schools were provided with software that provided Internet safety for grades 7 and 8. There have been 2,500 additional psychologists, social and child youth workers, attendance counsellors, lunchroom supervisors and bus supervisors added. So I think that, overall, the safe school strategies that have been implemented at boards right across this province have been very positive, but we all realize there’s a lot more work for us to do.
We are leading by example, and Bill 13 is a huge step forward in working to make sure that our schools are the safest in the world. I’m proud of how we are working together with opposition members to craft a bill that delivers for students and parents, for families in this great province. The committee has done some great work to make this bill even stronger, and some of the features of Mrs. Witmer’s Bill 14 have been incorporated into the bill. I think we should all be proud of that.
The committee should be proud of its work, and we have a bill that is going to be an example not only for this province and the people who live in this province, but I think for the entire country. I think people are going to look at Ontario as being a province that has taken a step in the right direction to help protect young people in our schools.
In my riding of Don Valley East, I have received a lot of phone calls on Bill 13. I’ll tell you that overall there has been overwhelming support to move forward on this bill. Of course, some people have expressed concern, but overall, there has been strong support.
I just want to conclude by saying that at the end of the day, when we look back maybe 10 years, 20 years from now—people in the opposition, people who opposed the bill—we’ll come to the realization that this was the right thing to do at the right time. I’m here to support Bill 13, and I’d like to thank everyone who helped move this forward, especially the Minister of Education.
Number one, let me say something pretty dramatic: What this bill is about is nothing less than life and death. That’s what it’s about. It’s about life and death. It’s not about nice after-school clubs. It’s not about religious freedoms. It’s not about anything else but that at its hub. That’s why we heard passionate deputations on all sides. That’s why you hear passionate discussion in this House.
Let me reiterate some pretty galling statistics: 60% of LGBT students are harassed and bullied. What they are subjected to, if they were not in a school, would often be considered assault, criminal assault, in the outside world. LGBT students are much more likely to commit suicide or attempt suicide than any other group of high school students. The stats vary on that, but we can pretty safely say between two and four times as many. So this isn’t just any other group of students; this is a high-risk group of students whose lives are at risk and are being put at risk.
This bill and all that we did, all parties that came together over this bill, was for them. I want to tell you that it’s from them, too. It’s not just for them, but it is of them. We heard from some incredibly brave students. We heard from students who want to start gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools and have been refused that ability. And that is, by the way, their charter right. Charter rights have not been mentioned this afternoon, so I’m going to mention them. It’s their charter right—freedom of assembly—to start a group and name it what they will—within reason, obviously.
These students wanted to name their groups gay-straight alliances, and they wanted to have them in Catholic schools, because they’re Catholic students and because they love their schools and want to make their schools safer. That’s why. And they want to call them gay-straight alliances because “gay” is the elephant in the room. The very fact that some schools don’t want to say the word or have the word as a name of the group is the problem, Mr. Speaker. That’s the problem. That’s why they get harassed. That’s why they get bullied: because “gay” is not an acceptable word. Well, I believe that we, all of us here, want to make it an acceptable word. There’s nothing negative about that word, but we know that that word could have negative consequences. So there is that. For example, when we introduced amendments from the New Democratic Party to put trans language into the bill, we know that trans students are the most beleaguered, the most at risk—trans adults, even. Fifty per cent of trans folk have attempted suicide—50%; 50% live in poverty. We’re talking about an at-risk group, a series of students whose lives are in danger. That’s the significance of what we’re doing this afternoon. It couldn’t be more significant.
I want to tell you also about the real Ontario, because it’s not what we heard enough of in the deputations. We heard some deputations—and I’m not going to use flowery language. We heard some deputations that, if they had said the same things that they were saying about LGBT people about people of colour or about any racialized group, we would have had to turn the mike off and we would have had to charge them with a hate crime. Those are the kinds of deputations we heard, and that’s also the reason why we need gay-straight alliances and the kids’ freedom be able to call their clubs that: because we know homophobia is real; it’s very real. And it was demonstrated as real at the hearings—there is no question. We heard the move to allow gay-straight alliances compared to residential schools. My goodness. We heard them called “sex clubs.” We heard all manner of smear against LGBT people in those deputations. It’s unacceptable. It puts our children at risk.
We also, to be fair, heard some amazing testimony. I want to give an incredible big, large shout-out to the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, of which we have one here in the House, because I have to say that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association voted overwhelmingly—some say 90%—in favour of Bill 13. That is a brave stand, but I would argue even further: It’s a Christian stand; it’s a Catholic stand. “Catholic” means “universal,” by the way; it means universal. It was a universal, Christian stand. That’s what the teachers did. The teachers know, because they work with the students. They see the bullying happen. And they stood with their students in a very brave move. They also came and testified to us. So they, teachers and students—those two groups are the groups we should be listening to. Those are the groups who have the first-hand experience.
Yes, and parents too. Let me tell you about some parents I know. Let me tell you about the mothers of our children, as I call them, the mothers of my husband’s biological children. One is a United Church minister and one is a tenure-track—actually, she’s tenured now—university professor. Their daughters are six and eight; they are our daughters, too. They will grow up, I hope, in a school system that sees two mothers—or two fathers, for that matter—as just as normal a family grouping as a male and a female. In fact, there’s all sorts of different kinds of family groupings that send their children to school. There’s lots of single mothers, too; I was one of them at one point. We want all of those children to be able to experience an education that is inclusive and that is welcoming.
So there is a family and there are two parents, and those two parents want to ensure the safety of their and our children. They’re parents, too. We heard them. Finally, we heard them in Ottawa. We heard some wonderful women who came with their babies, some of them even nursing their babies; women from all sorts of faith backgrounds who came and deputed before us. It was a welcome change from some of the testimony that we heard.
I want to thank—yes, absolutely—my Conservative colleagues for the work that went into Bill 14 and then became part of Bill 13—the work on the bullying definition, the work on the reporting, the work on cyber-bullying and the work on building a model of bullying prevention. All of that is good and all of that is in Bill 13—all of that.
What is not in Bill 13? This is just to counter, again, some misconceptions. Nobody at no school in Ontario is forced to have a gay-straight alliance, but if the children want an association and they want to call it that, yes, it is their right; it is their charter right as well as their right in Bill 13.
And it’s not just for LBGT students; it’s for all students. No matter why they’re being bullied, this bill is to protect all bullied students—and the bullies too, who also need attention, who also need help. We heard from a youth advocate who’s wonderful on that topic, who said we cannot just expel those students. We have to work with those students to make sure that they can become reintegrated.
Gay-straight alliances, by the way, are, as the name implies, also for straight students. They’re not just for one small group. They’re for those who want to see a homophobia-free environment and a bully-free environment in their schools. So it’s for all of those.
And why is it important that students be allowed to name them that? Well, studies have shown that if they call them anything less, anything that doesn’t say the word or a word, that isn’t specific about what we’re talking about, which is the bullying of LBGT students, it’s not as protective. Studies have shown that if it’s just a general name, those children who are most at risk—remember, most at risk of suicide, most at risk of attempted suicide, most at risk of being bullied—that those students are not as protected unless they see themselves reflected in the name of their support group. That’s why these names are important. To go back to point number one, they save lives.
We have a reverend here, and she will know what I’m about to say next. It’s common knowledge. There is nothing anti-Christian about a gay-straight alliance. I speak as a United Church minister, a clergyperson, as well as a politician. Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality, end of story. In fact, what was quoted in Galatians 3:28, which is a beautiful phrase—I love it—is, in Christ there is no male nor female, Jew nor Gentile; I could go on. Clearly, had he lived today, he would have said gay or straight etc. There are no binaries in Christ. We are all one in Christ, Jesus. That is Christian. That’s what Christianity looks like.
Judaism and Islam are not homophobic either. For one thing, we heard some deputations where people came forward and they assumed to speak for all Christians or all Jews or all Muslims or all people of colour or all people of one ethnicity. Nobody speaks with that voice, Mr. Speaker—nobody.
I happen to be a clergyperson in the United Church, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, and it was my privilege to, over and over and over again, say at those hearings that we have been ordaining openly gay and lesbian people since 1988, we’re in favour of same-sex marriage, and we’re the largest Protestant denomination. So don’t come and say you’re speaking for all Christians. We had a church leader here from the Metropolitan Community Church. Don’t say you’re speaking for all Christians.
Had we had long enough in the hearings—and we specifically didn’t want to go on forever; we want this in place in September—we would have heard from Muslims and Jews and others, every religion coming forward and speaking up on behalf of inclusion, diversity, and that most religious concept, love: love for your neighbour, which we all share. Love for your neighbour means inclusion of your neighbour, very simply. To go back to point number one again, it means doing what you can to keep your neighbour safe, doing what you can to keep your neighbour alive, which is, again, why we’re here and why we’re discussing Bill 13. We’re discussing how to keep our neighbours—in this case our children—alive.
Also, when we look at what was said to us in terms of testimony at the hearings and what we know to be true, I always caution everyone that just because somebody comes forward to depute, rushes the door, as it were, and is first there able to speak, does not mean they speak for all of Ontario either—not only not all of that faith group or all of that ethnic group, but not all of Ontario. We know because the polls have shown us. We know because we hear from students that the vast majority of Ontarians want to see children protected, want tougher anti-bullying legislation—which is what they’ll get—and want children to be allowed to have the freedom to call their groups what they will.
Again, I go back to the charter. This is their charter right—absolutely their charter right. When we’re talking about charter rights, we have to speak about charter rights for everyone—not just some but everyone.
You know, when we’re talking about a bullying bill too, what we heard was sometimes bullying language around the bullying bill. We had some testimony that came forward that almost sounded like a veiled threat—a threat of legal action, for example—if this bill is passed. Well, be that as that may. By all means, it is within the rights of anyone to go after anybody in the courts; there’s no question about that. But really? Really, when all we’re about here is to save the lives of our children? That’s what we’re about here. I think of those brave children. And I know they don’t see themselves as children, some of them, but I’m old—and we’re old in here—and I still see them as children. If you’re a teenager, you’re a child, I’m sorry, in my book.
I think of Leanne, who came before us, and of the GSAs. I think of the other student organizations who came before us. I think of what they’ve already been through trying to start a group, fighting an uphill battle against all the array of power and might of school boards, all the array of power and might of adults. Now to say that they’re going to be up against the power and might of lawyers and the legal system, all to stop Leanne from calling a group a name that is completely acceptable in all of Ontario and that is her charter right? Really, the brunt of that kind of power is going to be used against these children? Is that not bullying? Is that not bullying? These are children at risk, and those forces out there are saying, “Not only will we not allow them to call their group their own name, but if they do, we’re going to come after them.” They’ve already been come after by the bullies in their schools. They’ve already been come after by forces in their lives. Now it’s not going to end here. They’re saying, “We’ll still come after you, but we’ll come after you as adults and lawyers, and we’ll take you to court.” I mean, please—please. Any adult of compassion and love would say, “Enough. Enough.”
Just the other day I heard of another suicide of a queer kid in the States over bullying in the schools. How many will it take? How many deaths will it take before we recognize and realize what we’re about here is a very small and simple step towards making that kind of environment impossible? To take the tools of the bully away from the bullies: That’s what we’re about. That was most disconcerting, to hear adults yet again—adults this time, not fellow children, but adults—threatening at the testifying that we heard at the hearings.
In the end, this bill will pass. It will. I know it will. In the end, it will be put into schools, and that, in a sense, is where our work here begins, not where it ends. Because as it’s put into schools in September, as it works its way through the classrooms and all those teachable moments, as children begin to start to form those groups, many of which of course are formed already, but those who perhaps have had some problems starting those groups will be given some added weight to be able to start those groups: That’s when all of us will be called upon to move that next step.
You heard my bench mate Peter Tabuns, the wonderful lead on this, the member from Toronto–Danforth, our education critic, speak about how money is needed. You heard the member from Beaches–East York speak about it too. There’s no money behind this bill. We need finances and resources to be able to truly live out the spirit of this bill. We would implore the government to look at those resources and to really resource this initiative, because that will give it weight and will give it teeth and will protect more lives. So there’s that.
But then there’s also a call upon all of us as adults wherever we are, whether we’re in the Catholic school system or in the secular school system—wherever we are—to wake up and see what’s truly going on in our midst, what this bill is an expression of. It’s an expression of a changing world, a more accepting, inclusive world, and it’s also an expression of truth about ourselves, of looking at ourselves in the mirror and remembering what it was like to be a child, and whether we were a bully or bullied, to remember that and refuse to participate in doing that or being part of that for a new generation of students.
That’s what we’re being called to do. In a sense, the students are calling us to truly be adults. The students are calling us to truly be adults. The students are calling us to truly be mature, to get beyond whatever we think we know, whatever our theories are, whether religious or secular, about other people and begin to see each other as human beings first, perhaps as human beings at risk as well and to make sure, because our neighbours are our responsibility whether we’re people of faith or not, that our neighbour and our children are safe, to do whatever it takes to make sure they’re safe.
That’s what we’re talking about and, in so doing, by the way, model for them as teachers, parents, school trustees, boards and leaders of faith, what we want them to grow into, which is accepting, loving adults who actually extend themselves for other people, who actually make sure, despite what we may think or what theories we may hold, to extend themselves to others who, whether they’re delusional or not, think they’re at risk. My goodness, that’s so little to ask of adults, really, and that’s so little to model for our children.
I would say that the passage of this bill is really just the first thing we do today. The next step is far more important, and that’s when it gets into schools and the children start coming home and talking about it with us, and when our children want to try to start gay-straight alliances in our schools. That’s when we will be called on to truly be mature, loving, inclusive, welcoming parents, adults, teachers and boards, and to speak to someone and not about them.
I have a good friend who talks about those people in faith circles who talk about the care and feeding of the homosexual person. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about children. We’re talking about individual children. If we can get past what we think we know about them to actually engage with them in conversation and actually, more importantly, listen to them, which is the job of good parents, good teachers, good faith leaders, then we move the next step and truly begin to protect them.
To go back to the beginning, what is this bill about? This bill is about life and death. It’s about saving lives of students at risk, all students at risk, for whatever reason they are being bullied, and the name “gay-straight alliance” has to be there because that’s one of the major reasons why kids are bullied and that’s what children want. They want to call themselves gay-straight alliances—yes, even in Catholic schools. That’s what they feel they need, and they’re right, because studies have shown they’re right. Studies have shown it will protect them. Studies have shown that if they have groups called that or similar names, they will be better protected, that the death rate will go down.
We as adults have to look at the studies, not just the studies we like but at the broadest studies that have been done in North America that may challenge what we think we know, and move forward in faith—yes, in faith—trying to make this work, trying to help it work, trying to help our students, trying to keep our students alive. That’s what we’re called to do as people of faith and as people of no faith. That’s what we’re called to do as parents, that’s what we’re called to do as teachers, that’s what we’re called to do as students, that’s what we’re called to do as trustees, and that’s what we’re called to do as leaders in faith communities.
We are called to not judge but to love. If we do that and not just pass a bill but live out the spirit of a non-bullying, welcoming, inclusive society, more students will survive school alive. It’s that simple, my friends and those listening and watching at home. It’s just that simple. Will we choose life or not? Will we vote for life and all that supports it or not? Will we move forward with our students or not?
Mrs. Amrit Mangat: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, put forward by our government. As a former teacher, I know first-hand how important it to treat every student with respect and dignity. Research shows that a safe, inclusive and accepting school is essential for school achievement and for school well-being. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990, every child has the right to feel safe at school, at home, and in the community.
We know that almost one third of students in Ontario experience bullying at school, and one quarter report that they have bullied someone else. Bullying can have a big impact on students when they are young and later in life, as adults. Bullying hurts big time, in many cases for a long time and sometimes forever. Recognizing this serious problem, our government has put forward Bill 13.
Fear-mongering by those who want to oppose this important piece of legislation is unfortunate. Every day my constituents ask me, “Is the government using Bill 13 to implement its sexual education curriculum?” Speaker, the answer is no. Bill 13 deals with bullying. It doesn’t deal with Ontario’s sexual education curriculum.
Is Bill 13 only focused on homophobic bullying? Mr. Speaker, no. Bill 13 is intended to deal with all forms of bullying, including cyberbullying. It would make it clear that any form of bullying is unacceptable in our schools, whether it is based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, size, strength, or any other factor.
Does Bill 13 promote a homosexual agenda? The answer is, again, Mr. Speaker, no. Bill 13 promotes respect and understanding for all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, size, strength, or any other factor.
Does Bill 13 force all school boards to implement gay-straight alliances in their schools? The answer is, again, Mr. Speaker, no. If it becomes law, Bill 13 will require all boards and schools to support students who want to establish and lead activities intended to build respect and understanding of all students. Students can form groups that promote understanding of anti-racism, people with disabilities, gender equity, sexual orientation and gender identity. Bill 13 is intended to protect and support all students. If it becomes law, Bill 13 will help prevent and address bullying, harassment, and discrimination in our schools.
But schools alone cannot end bullying. Everyone has a role to play in achieving safe, inclusive and accepting schools, including the government, school boards, school staff, teachers, principals, parents and community members. Mr. Speaker, I urge all members of this House to vote in favour of Bill 13.
Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you very much, Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. I will say first that I stand here very proudly to speak in support of Bill 13, as amended through the work that was done by the committee.
I also stand here proudly with all the members of the Legislature who are supporting Bill 13, because finally we are showing leadership. We are showing leadership in terms of protecting our children in our schools, making sure that our children are safe from bullying, from harmful bullying, which in many, many instances is forcing our children to take their own lives, something, Speaker, that none of us can just stand by and watch: to see our future generation take their own lives because they cannot tolerate, they cannot bear, how they are treated at their schools.
Every day, every morning, parents get up, they help prepare the children to go to school. They help them prepare to go to school so that they can have a brighter future, so that they can learn at school and be better people, so they can have a brighter future. They don’t send their kids to school to get bullied. They don’t send their kids to school so they can get harassed for a variety of reasons, be it that they’re fat, they’re skinny, they have red hair or not; be it because of their gender, racial ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or a disability.
Our schools are there to provide education, not to pick apart our children. But that’s what’s going on, and the problem is going to an epidemic level. Therefore, it’s extremely important that we take bold steps and we take those bold steps now, and that’s exactly what Bill 13 does.
I’m very proud, Speaker, that the bill speaks about bullying of all kinds, but it also ensures, based on evidence, a focus on the kind of bullying that our kids face the most, be it based on gender, on race, on disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to make sure that our children are not facing discrimination, harassment or bullying because of these factors. They are there to learn; they are there to be nourished; they are there to grow so they can be the best citizens of this province and this great country of ours. That is what we are doing.
We are making sure that, as a Legislature, we are making a very strong statement against homophobia, against transphobia, against biphobia. We’re saying that all kids are the same; they are equal and they deserve the protection of the state; they deserve the love and nurturing and good education that they so very much deserve.
Speaker, that is why I am extremely proud to stand here today and speak in support of Bill 13. I think the bill that is in front of us is a stronger bill. It’s a bill that is going to save lives. But our work is not done just by passing this bill. This is a very important step that we are taking today because it’s a very strong message we are sending out as leaders of our communities. But what we need to also ensure, beyond the passage of Bill 13, which I hope will take place by this Legislature, is that we implement it in the true spirit of this bill, of this law; that we ensure that we work with our parents, with our children, with our school boards, our teachers so those protections are there. We need to make sure that students have the right, the capacity to create peer support groups because, again, evidence shows that that is the best way to deal with bullying. Things like gay-straight alliances will help students to come together to provide support to each other, to look after each other. We need to make sure that those steps take place after the passage of this law.
Lastly, I think the message that we need to really send out, which is extremely important, is that none of us here in this Legislature or outside in our communities, be it students, teachers, parents, school staff, could be bystanders. If we see bullying of any form take place, we need to intervene; we need to step up; we need to send the message that it is not okay. We need to promote a culture of acceptance, of celebration of diversity. We need to make sure that—just like smoking is wrong, especially indoors; just like we know that we do not drink and drive anymore, and we intervene because that takes lives—if we see bullying taking place, especially against our children, that we step in and we intervene and we ensure that there is no place for bullying.
Speaker, once again, I am extremely proud of what we are accomplishing through Bill 13. I want to congratulate the Minister of Education for her steadfast support for Bill 13 and her work, and all the members who will be voting in support of this bill. Together, we’re making a brighter future for our children.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: I’m very pleased to be able to rise and speak in strong support of Bill 13 this afternoon. I’m going to do it from the perspective of the person who chaired the Safe Schools Action Team. That started a few years ago, back in our first mandate, actually. Some of the new members may not know about the work of the Safe Schools Action Team, but we actually went around the province not once but three times, talking to organizations, to parents, to students, to school boards all across the province and wrote three separate reports that were, in one way or another, connected to the subject of bullying prevention and then what you do when you do have bullying—how do you manage it? I want to talk a little bit about this bill and the whole subject from that perspective.
First off, I think the thing that’s important is to address some of the misconceptions. Some people have spoken today about the fact that the bill does in fact address all forms of bullying. I think it would actually be useful to read the definition we’re ending up with in the amended bill.
“(b) the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability or the receipt of special education.”
Then it goes on to say, “For the purposes of the definition of ‘bullying’ ... behaviour includes the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means,” and goes on to define cyberbullying: “ ... bullying includes bullying by electronic means (commonly known as cyberbullying), including,
The point of reading all of this is the fact that I can’t think of anything that is left out of that definition, Speaker. It’s an extraordinarily comprehensive definition. It looks at the academic definition, it looks at the practical causes that often invoke bullying, and it looks at all the different ways in which kids bully each other. If you want to know about bullying, it’s all there in that definition. It’s absolutely, totally complete.
The current policy goes on to talk about boards needing to have programs in place to prevent bullying, under all that broad, broad definition. In fact, under this current policy, schools and school boards already have lots of clubs that take a broad-based approach to bullying.
I think about a Catholic school that we visited in Toronto that had a very sophisticated bullying prevention program. The students actually took the lead in identifying a theme each month which resonated with the students, in terms of talking about racism one month, ethnic diversity another month or social diversity another month. The kids chose the theme. That school even had a website where the kids could anonymously report bullying incidents in the school—so, very comprehensive, very all-encompassing. Under Bill 13, that will continue. There is absolutely no reason under Bill 13 that you would change that club or that approach. That was the approach that the kids in that school wanted to take.
I think about a school we visited in London, Ontario, a public high school where they had a very specific activity around cyberbullying and Internet safety and were working with the students broadly based all over the school on Internet safety and cyberbullying. Under Bill 13, that activity can absolutely continue. There is nothing in Bill 13 that will interfere with that approach. If that’s where the students and the evidence in that school shows they need to address, that absolutely can and will continue. So this whole sort of thing about, “Under Bill 13, you’re going to interfere with the great programs we have,” is utter nonsense. All the great things that are going on can keep going on.
What we did find with the Safe Schools Action Team was that, in many cases, if the kids wanted to deal with homophobic bullying, it was denied. Permission was denied. It was under that broad definition. The only thing we regularly ran into where the kids were denied permission to deal with the issue was around gay and lesbian, trans and bi students and wanting to deal with homophobic bullying. Then it was, “You can’t do that.” You could do everything else, but you couldn’t do that. We heard that over and over.
In the third report of the Safe Schools Action Team, we said you need to allow something called gay-straight alliances. We actually thought about this: Should we require them? But the kids said, “No, it’s just if we feel comfortable having a gay-straight alliance. Don’t make us, because there are some communities where we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.” So we said it’s the kids’ option.
Then we said, should we make them be called gay-straight alliances? Some of the kids said, “We want to call it a ‘gay-straight alliance,’ because it’s important that we name what we’re talking about, which is gays.” In some cases, when we talked to adults in schools, they wouldn’t even say the word “gay.” They were afraid. When the adults in a school are afraid to say the word “gay,” you know there’s a problem. The kids said, “You know, in some schools, calling it ‘gay-straight’ would be good. In other schools, we don’t think we’re ready to go there. Let us choose the name.”
The point was, the kids know what’s appropriate for their culture, their circumstances, their needs. Let the kids choose. So that’s what we said, and it’s been in provincial policy now for several years that that’s the case.
But do you know what the Ministry of Education has heard? Despite that provincial policy, what we certainly heard at the Bill 13 hearings is that kids are still being denied permission to have GSAs, hence pulling it out and putting it specifically in legislation, not because it’s the only thing we need to do, but because it’s the one thing where kids are consistently denied permission to deal with the issue of homophobic bullying. That’s how we got to where we got.
There’s been talk about, “Oh, did you listen to the delegations?” I have to tell you, Speaker, that the correspondence I have received—some of the delegations I heard on Bill 13 probably had an unintended consequence. They convinced me absolutely that if that was the level of vitriol addressed toward gay, lesbian, trans and bi students, we absolutely need Bill 13 to protect the kids.
I want to just acknowledge the work of the member from Guelph, because she was such a leader on the safe schools file. You can tell by the way she spoke today that she is invested in this issue, she understands it, and she is thorough and so intelligent in her approach to it. I think we all should be grateful for the work that she did—not to mention she was my parliamentary assistant at the time, which was fantastic.
It’s a pleasure to be able to speak about this bill. I want to talk about three things. I want to follow up on the point that the member from Guelph made about the work that’s going on in the schools, I want to talk a little bit about what the expectation of boards will be, and then I want to talk about some myths about Bill 13.
The point that the member for Guelph made about the work that’s already going on in the schools: It’s my belief that much of what we did in putting in place first a policy, the equity and inclusive education policy as well as the safe schools policy, really was taking some of the very best practices from around the province and saying, “We believe that this is what should be happening in all our schools,” because there are equity-seeking educators who have been helping kids to form clubs; who have been training each other; who have been creating camps where kids can go to learn about equity; who have been doing professional development and working with trustees and parents to make sure that their schools were safe, positive places for many years. One of our concerns as a government was that those practices were not uniform across the system, so the development of the equity and inclusive education policy and the safe schools policy really was in reaction to the work that we did to look at what was going on in the system.
For example, before the equity and inclusive education policy was put in place, of 72 boards, there were only 40 that had equity policies. What we determined was, that’s not good enough. It needs to be a system-wide process, and there needs to be permission and an expectation from the ministry that boards will behave in this way and that everyone will be working to create safe schools.
What Bill 13 does is, that it says boards must have policies. Boards must have equity and inclusive education policies. Boards must have and monitor the effectiveness of those policies. They must use surveys; they must find ways to monitor whether the policies that they’ve got in place are working or not. Bill 13 says that boards must provide training for teachers, and services and resources, so that the anti-bullying interventions and the positive-school-climate initiatives actually have some resource behind them. The bill says that boards must develop bullying prevention and intervention plans.
All of those mechanisms that we know create safer schools, that we know create safer classrooms, must be in place. That’s what the bill says. It seems to me that those are initiatives that, really, there shouldn’t be any argument about. There shouldn’t be any partisan divide; there shouldn’t be any divide among the general population that those are things that should be in place. The member for Guelph read the definition of bullying, and member after member from this side of the House and from the third party have stood up and said that anti-bullying is about difference, about kids who marginalize each other for a whole range of reasons, and we can’t accept that behaviour. We need to find a way to deal with it. That’s what Bill 13 is about.
What Bill 13 is not about—and I just want to talk a little bit about some of the myths, because as the member from Guelph identified, when we looked and when we look at what goes on in schools—and before I came to elected office, I worked in schools doing conflict resolution work. I was a mediator. I worked with kids, training them in conflict resolution; I worked with teachers—and I discovered much of what the member for Guelph said: that there were a few subjects that really were taboo which the system and individuals didn’t want to deal with. I can tell you, reflected in my own life, when I came out to my father at the age of 37—my father was a medical practitioner, and he said to me, “You know, Kathleen, you’re going to have to be very patient with people, because this is a deep taboo. It’s a deep fear that people have of homosexuality.” I understand that. I understand that it’s a deeply rooted fear.
The reality is that children in our school system, whether they are struggling with their own sexual orientation, whether they’re questioning, whether they are kids who were born into a gay family—and we need to remember that there are kids going to school today and there will be kids going to school in September for the very first time who come from gay or lesbian or trans families, and they didn’t choose. They are not necessarily gay. Who knows? They’re going to school from a family that we have to make sure is accepted in our schools because it’s in the best interests of that child that they see themselves reflected and that they are included in the life of the school.
—that the bill is only about gay kids, trans kids or bi kids. That’s absolutely not true. The bill is about all kids in our schools. In fact, it’s about all of our teachers, it’s about all of our families, finding a place that’s open and inclusive.
—that the bill is somehow about taking away principals’ authority. It’s not about that. It’s about creating a community in a school that is open to having a conversation that’s a very difficult conversation. If every school and every board in the province had been able to broach these conversations and had been able to create environments where everyone was accepted, then we wouldn’t need the bill. But that isn’t what has happened. We do need the bill. We do need the direction.
—that this bill is only about clubs. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about clubs. It’s about creating a positive school climate. As a number of members have said, the reaction to the notion that kids should be able to choose the name of their club I think pushed the determination that we make it clear that students should have the ability to choose the name of their club.
I want to just talk about the flip side of homophobia for one second, and that is the notion of heterosexism. We haven’t talked a lot about that and the notion of homophobia. “Homophobia” is the word that is used, but heterosexism is the flip side of that, that somehow there is only one way to be. I think that we need to recognize that those assumptions are what create an environment that sometimes is not safe for kids who are questioning.
I want to conclude by saying thank you to all of the people in the province who have been so supportive of inclusive schools, of equity in our education system. I honestly believe that the vast majority of people in Ontario believe that it is important that we put this legislation through; that we support all of the kids in our schools, no matter their size, shape, background, sexual orientation, questioning status; that we support all of those kids and their families. I believe that that’s the majority consensus of people in this province, and so I want to thank them.
I also want to thank the members of this Legislature who have worked so hard to make sure that we were able to integrate the bills that have come forward. We now have an amended bill that I think captures the sentiment of a school system that is positive, that is inclusive and that recognizes that there are differences and allows us to put in place a climate—it won’t be overnight, but that’s the goal—in our schools that is accepting for all of our kids, because that’s the only way they’re going to achieve, and that’s the only way they’re going to be able to live their hopes and dreams in our society.
Mr. Kevin Daniel Flynn: It’s a pleasure to join the debate on Bill 13. I’ve heard some pretty good comments this afternoon from members from all sides of the House that I think we should all be proud of as members of the different parties.
I’m of the opinion that each generation gets things a little bit better. When I think of my own parents, it’s kind of difficult, but I think by today’s standards my parents would have been what we would consider pretty racist. They weren’t any different than anybody else, don’t get me wrong, but at that time there was a certain level of racism that was tolerated in our society. I’d like to think that I got a little bit better at it. I thought that some of the things I was raised with, that influenced me—I also thought, “Well, I’ve got my own way of thinking too. I’m going to make my own decisions on this.”
I also like to think that my son is better than I am. What drove that home to me one day is when I dropped him off at a child care centre. He came back the next day and said, “Dad, I made a friend today. I want you to meet him.” So I went to the child care centre to pick him up the next day. I walked into the centre, and he introduced me to this young man and said, “This is my friend. This is Sidney.” This young man was about four or five. His name was Sidney Wong. I said, “Hi, Sidney,” and we exchanged some pleasantries and we left. As I was driving home, I turned to my son, Nigel, and I said, “Sidney is Chinese.” I didn’t mean anything by that other than just an observation. And Nigel turned to me and said, “No, he’s not. He’s my friend.”
I thought, “There’s a lot in a single sentence.” The first thing I noticed was what was different. The first thing my little four- or five-year-old at the time noticed was what was the same about them, and that’s a lesson. My son is now 32 and gets embarrassed every time I tell that story, but I’m going to continue to tell it because it’s a story that most social change in our society has been led by kids. If you look at environmental protection, smoking, drinking and driving, recycling, anything I can think of where we’ve made some real strides has been done by young people.
I had the privilege of hearing the public delegations on Bill 13 as a member of the standing committee. We heard from church leaders and school leaders, we heard from a variety of faiths, and we heard from students themselves and people who have been bullied. The overriding concern was that we needed to do something about it. The question was how we did it. What methods do we use to do it?
I also chaired the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions: fantastic conduct on that committee by members of all three parties to pull together. All they wanted to do was the right thing. But we also heard the tragic consequences of not doing anything. We heard about anxiety and depression, and unfortunately, we heard about the suicide that often follows that.
I had the very fortunate circumstance to be contacted by a young lady named Twoey Gray. Twoey leads the gay-straight alliance of Blakelock High School in Oakville. She asked me if I’d come out and meet the group. So I did last Friday, and what came from the kids very much was, “We don’t know what the adults are all upset about here. We’ve been doing this for five years, and it’s working. We can’t for the life of us think why anybody would want to stop us from doing this.”
There were kids there who were gay, there were kids there who were lesbian, there were kids there who were straight. We talked about issues and about how tough it is to tell your mom or dad that you think that maybe you’re gay or lesbian; or how tough it was to find out that a friend who you thought was heterosexual ends up being gay or lesbian, and the issues you have to go through; and how some derogatory terms have entered the lexicon of our society and we use these insulting terms in a very offhand way, and how it has to stop.
It’s a very, very small bill; it’s only four or five pages. But as was said by a previous speaker on this, it has the potential to save lives. If implemented properly, it has the potential to change lives and actually save lives. I think it deserves the support of all members of the House. I think it’s a sign that we’re getting it better and that every generation does get it a little better. I think that in the future we’ll probably even move on from this.
But I think the overriding concern we should all have is to remember that these aren’t somebody else’s kids and that these kids don’t exist in an orbit somewhere else. These are our kids. Collectively, these are just as much the kids of the moms and dads in this Legislature as they are in the society that’s outside these walls. They deserve the best from this House. They deserve the protection of this House. They deserve legislation that obviously has some people a little upset. My sense is that they’re going to get over that upset and they’re going to see the positive things I saw when I visited Blakelock High School on Friday. I got this little rainbow bracelet as a gift for visiting, and just saw about 20 ordinary Oakville kids trying to do their best to make the world a little better place. We need legislation that’s more in line with that. Thank you, Speaker.
Pursuant to the order of the House dated May 3, 2012, I am now required to put the question. Ms. Broten has moved third reading of Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ted Arnott): Thank you. I wish to inform the House that I have received a deferral notice from the chief government whip. This vote will therefore be deferred until tomorrow at the time of deferred votes, after question period.
That in section “(b) Committees” of the motion passed by the House on May 31, in the paragraph respecting the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the phrase “agreement of the subcommittee on committee business” is interpreted to mean unanimous agreement of the subcommittee on committee business; and
That in section “(c) Bill 55, An Act to implement Budget measures and to enact and amend various Acts,” the dates and times established for public hearings and for clause-by-clause be adjusted as follows:
That the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills be authorized to meet on Thursday, June 7, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 10:25 a.m. and following routine proceedings until 5 p.m. for the purpose of receiving testimony, on behalf of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, on Bill 77, An Act to amend the Labour Relations Act, 1995 with respect to enhancing fairness for employees; and