LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Thursday 14 June 2012 Jeudi 14 juin 2012
I’d like to draw attention, before we start, to the west visitors’ gallery. Seated there, you will find many proud supporters of Bill 8, the Ontario underground infrastructure notification system. I’d like to pay special recognition to Jim Douglas, president of the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance, and Sue McGovern from the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association. Many other representatives of industry are here with us today, and there are more who are coming later this morning. There are people here representing Hydro One; Toronto Hydro; Enbridge; Union Gas; Landscape Ontario; Ontario One Call; PVS Contractors; the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association; the Toronto sewer and watermain contractors’ association; Con-Drain, an infrastructure health and safety association; and many others, Mr. Speaker. This isn’t actually introductions. I know that sounds like introductions, but we’re past that, I know. This group and many others have shown tremendous leadership by championing the issue of safety for Ontario residents, and I’d like to thank all of them at this time, and everyone else in this House, for their support.
I’d also like to pay tribute to my colleague Paul Miller, from the NDP, who co-sponsored this bill with me. This is my second go-round at this. Paul was kind enough to agree to co-sponsor this with me, and I’d like to thank him and his party for their co-operation.
Mr. Robert Bailey: —and Jim, the Minister of the Environment, of course, and the House leader and the many others who put this deal together, and of course, our House leader, and the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke, Mr. Yakabuski, the whip, the miracle whip, who also was able to help put this together with our House leader—it took many people to put this deal together—and my party, too, who gave me a lot of support, all my colleagues, obviously, as well.
I was thinking last night about my earlier career—and I don’t like to think how many years ago—I know no one will believe this out there, but it was going on 50 years ago. When I was a young fella, working with my father, he had a small contracting business, so I actually ran heavy equipment.
Mr. Robert Bailey: It was child labour, yes. It would be illegal today. I know that Ms. DiNovo would be after my dad today. This would have been child labour today, we would say, but I didn’t feel exploited.
It was a great opportunity for me at that time to learn about industry and learn about hard work. We worked with many municipal leaders, and people in the sewer and water main business, and so it was kind of a natural fit. I got to thinking about this last night, and I should have had it in my remarks but I didn’t. That opportunity there gave me an exposure to industry and to the hazards on the job site. Safety is a lot more prevalent today in industry and in the municipal field than it ever was back in my day, back in those days when I was just a young fella, and a good thing that it is. But that gave me some understanding.
Later on in life, I went into Nova Chemicals. I worked at a number of places. Nova Chemicals: I spent over 30 years there. Near the end of my career, I was responsible for health and safety issues, and contractors. The culmination, the start of this bill, started one night at a sewer and water main reception, actually. Sue McGovern and others—some of them are here today—we got talking about the vagaries of industry and all the rules and regulations. We got talking about it, and I said I understood something about that because I actually did excavation permits and was responsible for them to my boss at Nova Chemicals. Lots of times, when he said, “Is everything ready to go?”, I said, “Yes.” I thought so, you know. I never really felt confident that we had everything located. We in Sarnia–Lambton have been the leaders in One Call and “Call before you dig,” long before the rest of Ontario. So I understood what they were talking about. I think that was one of the first times they had anybody that they felt kind of had their back, understood the issues, understood the vagaries of industry and the cautions and the hazards that people could go through.
Anyway, it was kind of a natural partnership, I say, with my earlier career, then with Nova and then, obviously, coming here. Maybe that’s why I was supposed to come here, I think: for this bill and for the health and safety of others.
But anyway, to get back to the serious part here, development across this province and in our communities has made the business of excavating in Ontario very risky. Sitting idly by and doing nothing to increase safety is no longer an acceptable option for this government. The well-being and livelihood of the residents of Ontario cannot be taken for granted. It’s time for us and this government to act.
I, along with MPP Miller, from Hamilton–Stoney Creek, and many stakeholders here today, believe it is long overdue for our province to have a mandatory One Call system. That is why the member from Hamilton East–Stoney Creek and I have introduced Bill 8, the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 2012, otherwise known as One Call.
Bill 8 will create a single-call system for all underground locates in Ontario used by homeowners and excavators alike. So instead of having to call more than a dozen numbers to receive all of your locates, homeowners and excavators would make one free call.
Mr. Robert Bailey: One free call. Our presence here today marks a very important milestone for our province. Up until this point in time, Ontario homeowners and excavators alike have been reliant on a patchwork system to locate underground infrastructure, much of which is outdated. To be frank, Mr. Speaker, Ontarians are left with a system which is compromising the safety and well-being of homeowners and excavators alike.
But today, members of this Legislature will have the opportunity to fix that, once and for all. Today, each and every member has the opportunity to vote in favour of Bill 8: in favour of increasing safety in Ontario; in favour of modernizing the locate industry; in favour of an industry-led initiative—industry-led, as I say; in favour of cutting through unnecessary and restrictive red tape; and in favour of a simple, free, single point of contact for utility locate information in Ontario.
Before you landscape or fence your lot, excavate for a patio area or pool area, add a porch, or many other excavations, you as a homeowner or an excavator are expected to call for the locates of underground infrastructure on your property before you dig. In other words, you’re expected to call for the locations of those pipes, water mains, wires etc. that could be under your property. Then those utilities, if everything goes right, are supposed to arrive at your property and mark this infrastructure. The problem is, in many communities across Ontario, you may have to call more than a dozen phone numbers to ensure that you have covered everything that might be underground at that particular location. Before you start your project, you need to account for the electrical power line, cables, gas and oil lines, sewers, telecommunications etc. So I don’t think it will be much of a surprise, Mr. Speaker, or to anyone else in this House who is watching this morning, who is up and around this early, when I tell you that some homeowners and excavators simply aren’t bothering to call for locates before they dig, thus causing a great hazard.
During the review of Bill 8, the Standing Committee on General Government had the opportunity to hear from dozens of presenters over a number of days. There were representatives from municipalities, utilities and industry, as well as private citizens. Many testified about the growing complexity of Ontario’s infrastructure network. One expert noted that on a residential street that has over 50 homes, his workers would likely have to cross a minimum of over 250 utilities to complete any underground work on that stretch of road. And it is likely that these sorts of numbers will only increase. Our communities are destined to become denser. That is the intention of this government and its greenbelt policy. As more and more people require utilities and services in our communities, utilities will be layered in. The complexity of that underground network of utilities will only increase. Industry experts in Ontario estimate that there is over $100 billion worth of buried infrastructure in our province at this time, and that number is probably low. Yet there is no one source of complete or detailed information about the location of all of those critical assets. The ownership and responsibility of that vast network of underground infrastructure is spread among hundreds and hundreds of owners in Ontario.
Just for a moment, consider the real-life case of a group called North Rock Group, a GTA sewer, water main and road contractor. Steeles Avenue is a boundary between York and Toronto, and also between York and Durham, so there are four municipalities that intersect there. Within these municipalities, you have many cities, such as North York, Markham, Toronto, Richmond Hill and Vaughan. These municipalities at one time may have had their own independent utility and hydro companies. When the North Rock Group, as they told us in committee, gets called to do a water main repair on Steeles, before it even begins to remove the asphalt for the repair, they need to notify Bell, Enbridge, Power Stream, Toronto Hydro, Hydro One, then the Toronto traffic, because they control the lights and traffic signals on Steeles. Then North Rock would have to call the Vaughan roads department, because they also control lights, and the traffic signal on Steeles. Then North Rock Group would have to call Rogers, to locate their cables. Then they would probably call Atria communications, to see if they have anything in the area. Of course, York region would need to be called to determine whether it’s their water mains or Toronto’s, and then North Rock maybe would have to call Toronto to make sure that it’s not theirs. And there’s still more—but I might not go on too long at that.
Depending on where the break is, North Rock would also have to call the city of Toronto to locate the sanitary sewers and the storm sewers. Then they would need to call the city of Vaughan to finally locate the sanitary sewers.
North Rock reports that these calls—I’m tired already, just reading them out. North Rock reports that these calls would usually take eight hours to complete, and that’s on a good day, if they’re lucky, if all the utilities were able to show up and perform their locates in a timely manner—which they are not mandated to do at this time. If they don’t show up right away, it’s not surprising that this project and repair could take days or weeks, severely affecting traffic and the ability of people and businesses in this area to function. This current system of patchwork information and independent locating responsibility does not reflect the increased complexity of this modern province of Ontario and its infrastructure or the need to kick-start development in this sluggish economy.
Mr. Speaker, at committee, the members repeatedly heard testimony that contractors are often forced to wait weeks for locates. Logistically, the current system is held together by sort of a thick red tape that does nothing but slow down projects in Ontario, cause cost overruns and delays. This unnecessary red tape causes confusion and frustration. It leads homeowners and contractors alike—I don’t like to say this, but sometimes they take risks. They take shortcuts without getting all the required locates, thus jeopardizing everyone in and around the vicinity of the dig. This is what I mean when I say that Ontario has an outdated, complicated and cumbersome system in place, and we need to resolve that today by voting for One Call.
The members of the government often like to defend their decisions to the people of Ontario by saying that they’re modernizing things in Ontario. I ask today that those members who want to modernize things in Ontario and bring Ontario up to that standard vote in favour of Bill 8 and modernize the Ontario locate system. By voting to modernize Ontario’s infrastructure and locate system, they will also be voting to increase safety for Ontario’s workers, residents and municipalities.
Accidental damage to underground infrastructure is not only expensive, but it can be deadly. We all know there was a tragedy in Etobicoke back in 2003. I won’t go into all the details, but we, as legislators, have a chance today. Sometimes we debate a lot of different issues in this Legislature, some of paramount importance, others some people would rate as maybe not as important. I think that this bill here today is very important for health and safety, for the environment, for business, for homeowners, for everyone alike. It’s an opportunity—
Mr. Speaker, the passage of Bill 8 ensures that families can sleep more comfortably knowing that their loved ones are now much safer going to work and that an excavation in their neighbourhood is less likely to put their personal safety or property at risk.
For those members wondering and saying to themselves, “Can this actually work in Ontario?” the answer is yes, and we have a great model south of the border. Currently, each and every United States state has in place a mandatory One Call system. The federal United States government thought it was such a good idea that they mandated one number for the whole United States, all 50 states: 811. When you dial 811 anywhere in the United States, you are automatically connected to a call centre in your area that has access to the underground information.
The organization and capacity to implement this system is currently available in this province. One Call is already operating as an industry initiative out of a central call centre in the city of Guelph, with more than 130 members, representing over 700 infrastructure agencies and utilities, and over 45 municipalities at last count, and those municipalities represent upwards of 70% of the population of Ontario. So the largest part of Ontario is already covered, whether it’s municipalities or population.
Unfortunately, industry analysts estimate there’s still a good 400 organizations in Ontario with assets in the ground that haven’t been logged and located. We want to do that and this bill would do that. Not until every organization with underground infrastructure is participating will this province-wide One Call system really work and be able to reduce risk to our workers, our communities and infrastructure. That’s the result the good people in this province want when they pass this legislation.
I want to take a moment to discuss the good work that was done by the members of this House in committee. Bill 8 was studied by the Standing Committee on General Government by members of all three parties. They heard testimony from over 36 different presenters and received many more submissions from hundreds more.
I believe that the members approached their work on Bill 8 in a fair and reasoned manner. I want to take this opportunity to thank the members from Sault Ste. Marie, Willowdale, Kenora–Rainy River, Don Valley East, Ajax–Pickering, Trinity–Spadina, Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock, Prince Edward–Hastings, Elgin–Middlesex–London, Mississauga–Brampton South and Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry. Their input and deliberations over Bill 8 helped to amend and produce what I believe is a very strong bill and one that is ready to be voted into law in Ontario.
Before I conclude—I think I rambled too long at the start—I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the extraordinary efforts of my staff in getting Bill 8 to this point. My constituency staff back in my Sarnia office—Michelle Roe, June Alexander and Dela Horley—have done an outstanding job of working with my local stakeholders, planning events and garnering support for Bill 8 in and around Sarnia–Lambton.
The member from St. Catharines said the other day in his remarks, and I think everyone in this House would agree, that the people who work in our constituency offices and our offices here in Queen’s Park are what make us better members every day and enable us to do our job.
I also want to thank my Queen’s Park staff that’s represented here today: Anthony Rizzetto; David Donovan, who’s away on vacation and couldn’t be here; and also Margo Miller—or Margo Duncan; sorry. I’ll let the member from Hamilton East–Stoney Creek explain that.
Together, this group has done much of the heavy lifting to get Bill 8 ready for where it is today, from consulting with industry to working with legislative counsel to meeting with and organizing stakeholders and setting up media events to drafting speeches, media releases and committee materials to letting everyone who will listen know that this Bill 8 is a great idea and one that is ready to be passed into law today.
In conclusion, I want to thank my co-sponsor, the member from Hamilton East–Stoney Creek, whom we’ll hear from later. Our joint proposal takes aim at the current complicated and cumbersome system where homeowners and excavators are expected to make these dozens of phone calls. A vote in favour of Bill 8 is a vote to increase safety in Ontario, modernize Ontario’s locate system, support an industry-led initiative, cut through unnecessary red tape, and mandate a simple, free, single point of contact for utility locate information in Ontario.
Mr. Paul Miller: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Bill 8 streamlines the voluntary system currently in place for excavators who want to know what utilities are buried in their dig site. Even though these excavators may be professionals who do this sort of thing every day, they cannot rely on information that may not be current or accurate. If these professionals could have difficulty navigating the system, individuals who are embarking on their first project would be overwhelmed by it. To address this problem, the industry created a voluntary One Call system endeavouring to get all utility and other companies with buried cables, pipes, utility boxes and such to provide the exact location of all their infrastructure to the One Call project. Many jumped at the opportunity to ensure that their infrastructure would not be unnecessarily damaged during a dig. They were also pleased that anyone preparing the dig, whether it be for a new structure or a new garden, could make one call to find out if they were at risk of breaking an electricity, gas or propane line or even an old septic line. The current Ontario One Call system has about 153 members, including the founding members: Union Gas, Bell Canada and Enbridge Gas.
The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance, a not-for-profit, 400-member-driven organization dedicated to ensuring public safety, environmental protection and the integrity of underground infrastructure by promoting damage prevention practices, stated in its press release supporting Bill 8, “Public and worker safety are at serious risk when utility lines such as buried pipelines or hydro lines are struck or damaged because homeowners, building contractors and other excavators do not obtain the precise location of lines before they dig.”
From the outset, the Ontario Sewer and Water Main Construction Association has supported this endeavour. Their president said, “There is an urgent need for a mandatory One Call system that extends across the province to ensure the safety of our workers and the safety of the general public.”
Canada’s largest natural gas utility and a long-time advocate of this kind of mandatory legislation, Union Gas, stated in a press release, “Ontario should move to pass the Ontario One Call Act—a bill that would improve safety, save money and increase productivity.” Union Gas also stated that, “In addition to the risk of public emergency and the inconvenience of utility outages, economic analysts conservatively estimate that damages caused by excavators who don’t call before they dig, cost utility customers, municipalities and taxpayers about $39 million a year. There are significant additional costs related to dispatching emergency services to incidents, liability related to injury and/or fatalities, and interruptions to businesses.”
As this system evolved, the industry began to push for it to become mandatory. A mandatory system would require all those operating underground infrastructure to participate in a province-wide, single, 24-7, not-for-profit call centre to provide the locates for all underground infrastructure in Ontario. Without this system, property damage has totalled nearly $39 million every year. This isn’t just a cost for the utility companies; it has costs for governments and individuals as well—a significant loss of revenue, productivity and business efficiency. When one adds the cost to businesses, it’s easy to see why the costs of construction are so high, and often why projects run over the estimated completion time.
In 2010 alone, there were over 3,200 natural gas line breaks in Ontario, Speaker. In 2008-09, two accidental breaks resulted in fatalities, deaths that could have easily been prevented with accurate, up-to-date information on the infrastructure that exists underground. With statistics like these, we have to wonder why there has been any resistance to the immediate implementation of a mandatory One Call system, and with urban and rural development in Ontario creating an extensive web of oil and gas pipelines, telephone cables, fibre optic networks, sewer and water pipelines and electrical and transit signal wires that provide essential goods and services to our communities, we have an increasing need to get this system in place very quickly.
Additionally, across the province, we have a variety of timelines and methods to prepare for an excavation which an individual or company must know before even thinking of making the changes or improvements they envision.
As energy costs go higher and more municipalities are included in the natural gas system, we need to ensure that greater protection is afforded to all Ontarians. Not only do we have increasing natural gas lines, but we have increasingly complex underground infrastructure for many utilities. How many of us really thought about a landscaper potentially causing a break in some underground infrastructure? We forgot how deeply they must sometimes dig to make the changes a homeowner wants or needs. As I’ve said in the House before, sadly, there are too many examples of accidentally severed propane and natural gas lines. The delayed effect of a severed gas line leaves one with a mistaken assurance that everything is fine when nothing happens at the time it is severed.
I also fully support mandatory carbon monoxide detectors in every dwelling and workplace, but these detectors should not replace the requirement that all underground infrastructure must be easily identified before any work is done. Carbon monoxide detectors can help us escape poisoning, but they can stop an explosion from a severed line also.
One of the advantages of this 24-7 system is that it allows homeowners to deal with these issues when they get home from work, and not have to take their lunch hours for days on end just to get through to the complex numbers of organizations currently required.
As I’ve said before, Speaker, one of the concerns that I do have about the system is that we bring all insurance companies on board also. We want to know that they fully support the system and will consider one call to Ontario’s One Call system as complete due diligence in the case of a claim.
One of the concerns that a businessman from the north raised is the establishment of a call centre in the north, as well as one in southern Ontario. As we can only assume, there will be quite different types of underground infrastructure, likely many more propane lines and the TransCanada pipeline in the north, and we’ll want to ensure that this new organization is staffed with people who know the north and will have a better understanding that all information as provided is accurate.
While going through the process leading to this morning’s debate, I have been saddened by the political game-playing that has occurred sometimes. Bill 8 should never have had to wait until this negotiated day of debate to be passed into law. When the safety of Ontarians is clearly going to be enhanced by a bill, whether a private member’s bill or a government bill, it really should be a no-brainer that it’s passed into law.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m overjoyed that Bill 8 will become law today and receive royal assent forthwith. But without the circumstances of a minority government, we may very well have been in a completely different situation. During the last session, actually just a year ago, my Bill 92, which would have brought automatic sprinklers, another safety feature, to every retirement home in Ontario, was blocked, unfortunately, by the government. The government House leader of the day ensured that no government member would attend the subcommittee to move the bill forward to the public agenda. Because of that government’s determination to stifle that progress of a necessary piece of legislation, automatic sprinklers are still not mandatory in every retirement home in Ontario.
During the last Parliament, when I was trying to have my bill moved forward, we had the deaths of seniors at Muskoka Heights retirement home in Orillia, a facility without automatic sprinklers. And just a month ago, we had a tragic loss of two more seniors’ lives at the Hawkesbury retirement home. I can only imagine that these deaths may not have occurred if we had had the mandatory automatic sprinklers legislated when I first brought the bill to this chamber, but it fell victim to political game-playing and we are here a year behind the desired full five-year implementation timeline.
It’s an extremely sad commentary on how the last Parliament worked, but the forward steps that we have taken with Bill 8 leave me hopeful that my current Bill 54, my latest attempt to bring automatic sprinkler systems to every retirement home in Ontario, will be fully embraced by all sides of this chamber and become law before the end of this year.
I want to express my deep appreciation to the many people who have put endless hours of time, energy and commitment to bringing Bill 8 to this point of third reading and royal assent. The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance, representatives of Union Gas, Bell Canada and Enbridge, who were leading the initiative from the very beginning and who have sent their staff to Queen’s Park on many occasions to further this bill, have done yeoman service to this province. Not only have they done research, lobbied through their industry and here at Queen’s Park, but they have worked with the current One Call organization to bring it on board with a move from a for-profit to a non-profit situation, never wavering even one iota in their commitment to this necessary legislation. We all should take our hats off to these organizations and their staff for their tireless, might I say relentless, dedication to getting this bill in place this morning.
I want to thank the members of my caucus for their support: first, of my co-sponsoring of this bill, then in ensuring that it would be here for debate today. Thank you to my caucus. It is the first bill with my name on it that will have passed third reading and royal assent. It is a privilege and an honour.
To be fair, I also want to thank the government members across the floor. Their support of Bill 8 is much appreciated, not only by me but certainly by every person who has their project made easier and safer because of the passage of Bill 8.
Finally, I want to thank MPP Bob Bailey, the member for Sarnia–Lambton. Bill 8 was Bob’s legislative initiative, and he invited me to co-sponsor it with him. I appreciate Bob’s confidence in me and that he invited me to be part of something that brings greater safety to the workers and people of Ontario.
This is a very exciting day here at Queen’s Park. It also shows, Speaker, that with push and shove and some manoeuvring, things can get done in a minority government. The government saw the light on this, and I’m certainly much appreciative that they put party partisan politics aside and did what’s right for the people of Ontario. We need more of that around here, Speaker. When I first came to Parliament, I was gung-ho and I thought we could do a lot. Of course, I never realized that partisan politics went on so heavily, and it certainly frustrated me. But thanks to Bob and a lot of other people working together and putting these walls aside, we can do things that are good. It certainly gives me hope that we will do more of this in the coming months and years that will be good for people.
I think people out there in the public certainly want to see this Parliament work. They want to see members do the right thing. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with robust debate and exchanges of different ideas. That certainly is healthy. It’s a democratic process. But in the end, I think common sense should prevail—that’s not a Mike Harris thing by the way. Common sense should prevail, and I also believe that it will. I think today is a starting point. Thank you to you all, thank you, Speaker, and thank you to the alliance.
It’s a pleasure to speak on Bill 8, brought forward by the members for Sarnia–Lambton and Hamilton East–Stoney Creek. I applaud the members for their dedication in bringing this legislation forward. It’s very clear that this is an issue they deeply care about. This bill would, if passed, establish a single point of contact for all underground utility location services in Ontario.
An existing corporation, Ontario One Call, which currently operates in Ontario, would be established under this bill. If passed, it would be the only non-profit call centre to handle all underground locates in Ontario. This new non-profit corporation would be mandated to operate a call system to receive excavator requests for the location of underground infrastructure across the province. It would identify for excavators where the underground infrastructure is located in the vicinity of a dig site. It would be mandatory for all owners of underground infrastructure to join the Ontario One Call corporation, including entities such as Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and every municipality across the province. Even small municipalities with minimal underground infrastructure would be forced to become members.
I was a member of the committee that studied Bill 8, and we heard many views and strong concerns. Mandating Ontario One Call as the single one-call service provider creates a monopoly that underground infrastructure owners would have no choice in joining. Unfortunately, it would have significant negative impacts on other one-call service providers that already exist in the province of Ontario. It would effectively put organizations like DigLine and DigNORTH out of business.
Every year, people in Ontario are injured, vital services are disrupted and important public infrastructure is damaged when buried utilities are hit while digging. The expense of a utility hit is borne by the contractor, locating company, utility provider, insurance companies and affected public and business owners.
Our number one priority at the Ministry of Consumer Services is public and consumer safety. Risks to public safety are unacceptable. For this reason, the ministry is absolutely supportive of reducing hits to vital underground infrastructure and increasing worker and public safety, while reducing service disruptions and damage to vital infrastructure.
That is why, in 2009, the Ministry of Consumer Services pursued a voluntary approach to drive a substantial increase in participation in a one-call-to-dig system across all utilities. We believe that a voluntary approach is more efficient and effective than a bureaucratic red tape monopoly approach mandated by government.
Regulations already exist which require excavators to obtain locates prior to digging. Let me repeat: It is already the law to call before you dig. The existing locate regulations are enforced by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the Electrical Safety Authority and the Ministry of Labour, respectively.
We continue to encourage all utility owners, including municipalities, to join this voluntary program—and it is working. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we understand that about 80% of Ontario’s population is covered today by a one-call-to-dig system for gas utilities, the single most dangerous underground utility. About 70% of Ontario’s population is covered by electrical distribution companies who are members. About 50% of municipalities are already members, and it is our understanding that there has been recent momentum for a number of other municipalities to join a one-call system of their own choosing.
The three existing organizations in Ontario that respond to excavators’ locate requests, namely Ontario One Call, DigNORTH and Digline, have made strides to ensure worker and public safety through their effective routing systems. And because the cost of the One Call utility locating and marking service is paid for by utility members. Our current voluntary one-call-to-dig system protects the value of taxpayer investments in underground infrastructure.
Together, we have a common goal in maximizing the reliability of our underground infrastructure and protecting the safety of workers who service that infrastructure as well as the public who depend on it.
We also want to accomplish this as efficiently and inexpensively as possible, saving time and tax dollars. Voluntary participation ensures that the One Call system delivers services at rates that members feel are appropriate. A mandatory system could cost hard-pressed taxpayers their hard-earned dollars and hurt Ontario families in their wallets and purses at a time when our government is trying to help Ontario families cope with rising costs. But that is only one reason that we cannot support Bill 8 in its current form.
We can only endorse an approach that has the support of all impacted stakeholders. Currently this mandatory approach, as in Bill 8, doesn’t have the support of all stakeholders. Municipalities, through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, have told us that they cannot and will not support mandatory participation in this one-call-to-dig system. NOMA, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, also opposes Bill 8. We all have an obligation to listen closely to these representatives of our municipalities across the entire province. AMO and NOMA have determined their position because many small municipalities with minimal underground infrastructure would be forced to be members in a program they don’t need.
A new regime of regulatory obligations would be forced on organizations and municipalities. This could result in impacts on costs and staffing, and higher costs could be passed on to consumers. I have said “could” because there is no way of knowing the impact at this time. But I believe that any resulting service problems and conflicts would affect Ontario families and the public.
We also know that the bill doesn’t require accurate locates, and it defines “excavator” quite broadly. What point is there in providing locates that are not accurate? We know that inaccurate locates are a contributing factor of strikes to infrastructure.
And if Bill 8 includes a homeowner digging with a shovel, is this a burden we want to place on Ontario homeowners and consumers every time they wish to dig in their flower beds or backyards? Bill 8 would make it an offence for homeowners to do so, and they would be subject to offence provisions if they failed to call Ontario One Call for merely having a green thumb.
Mr. Speaker, Bill 8 has many flaws that cannot be fixed through amendments. During the public hearings and submissions, we heard some stakeholders raise concerns about Bill 8, and those are worth examining and addressing. We heard that the bill proposes a one-size-fits-all approach that may have unintended consequences. Additionally, the proposed bill doesn’t include provisions for appointing enforcement personnel to conduct inspections or investigations. We cannot support the unintended consequences that we can see.
We want an approach that has the support of all impacted stakeholders; we want an approach that sets standards and makes improvements to the current status quo; and we want an approach that ensures that data and measurement outcomes are available, so that we know that we are making improvements that help protect the people of Ontario.
Improving safety for the well-being of Ontarians is paramount and will remain this government’s number one priority. We continue to support a one-call-to-dig system in the province of Ontario, and I commend the work of industry, especially the Ontario regional ground alliance, in strengthening Ontario’s One Call system to eliminate the underground hits to infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate that I applaud the members opposite for bringing this legislation forward. Their intentions were good and their concern was to ensure greater safety. But as I have said earlier, I was also a member of the committee, and there were stakeholders who opposed Bill 8, and their concerns need careful scrutiny.
Mr. John Yakabuski: I am—well, I normally say I’m pleased, but that’s an understatement, to be able to speak to a bill like this, Bob Bailey’s. This is a practice that I believe is in place in virtually all, if not all, of the American states. They’re way ahead of us on this.
As Mr. Bailey said, this is a fundamental issue of safety and common sense. If we have the opportunity to make one call as opposed to, as he was talking about earlier, maybe a dozen or more, why would we not exercise that opportunity?
This is a great moment as far as I’m concerned in the Legislature here, where we’re going to pass a bill that will make it more efficient, more effective and safer for all the people of Ontario in all our communities.
Mr. Michael Coteau: I’d like to welcome Dr. Michael Barbour to the Ontario Legislative Assembly, a professor from Wayne State University, and one of my good friends from Carleton University, who actually got me involved in Liberal politics. Welcome.
Hon. John Milloy: Mr. Speaker, this is a tiny bit out of the ordinary. I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Paul Tye, my staff member who, after having served two and a half years in the government House leader’s office and who often is sitting over there, has decided to leave us and move out to Calgary. He’s in the members’ gallery today.
Hon. John Milloy: I think Paul’s personable nature, his hard work ethic and his colourful bow ties will be missed by everyone. I know all members will want to wish him well as he leaves the Legislature after two and a half years of service.
Again, in the members’ gallery, we have from the riding of Don Valley West, to see page Stavroula in action, mother Maria Kanellopoilos, father George Georgiadis, and brother Panayioti Georgiadis. We welcome them to Queen’s Park. Thank you for joining us today.
Mr. Tim Hudak: My question is to the Deputy Premier. Deputy Premier, eight months ago, during the election campaign and its aftermath, families and taxpayers sent us here a very clear message: one, to rein in spending, to pay down the deficit and balance the books; and secondly, to create private sector jobs in the province of Ontario.
Sadly, after eight months, both of these crises went unaddressed by the existing government. In fact, they became worse. Instead of creating more jobs, what did you do? You ignored our advice and you increased taxes on business, you increased personal income taxes, you doubled down on a failed energy subsidy policy for wind and solar that is driving up hydro rates, and you spent money and increased the deficit rather than decreasing it. What was it about the message you didn’t get last time that said, “Our goal is to balance the books and create jobs”? Why did you go in the opposite direction?
Hon. Dwight Duncan: I agree with the Leader of the Opposition: The voters sent a very clear message. They wanted a Dalton McGuinty-led Liberal government in this province, and they rejected returning to the old ways and the old days of the Conservatives.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have cut corporate taxes by almost a third. That leader and his party voted against that budget. We implemented the HST, Mr. Speaker, not an easy choice but the right choice, a choice that was supported by virtually every major business organization.
We cut the small business tax rate, and that leader and his party voted against it. We have taken the deficit from over $19 billion to $15 billion, bringing it down in an orderly fashion while protecting health and education.
Mr. Tim Hudak: You took the budget from zero to a $15-billion deficit. You ran up the debt. You’re heading toward $411 billion. You increased taxes, you increased hydro rates and you brought in new government programs that we simply can’t afford. The result, Speaker: Ontario continues to be a have-not province. We’ve lost jobs, not gained jobs. The deficit is heading forward. For five out of eight months since the election campaign, we’ve shed private sector jobs. It’s the wrong course.
We have a better plan: lower taxes for businesses, lower taxes for individuals, energy rates that are affordable to families and businesses, to rein in spending, to turn our economy around. What didn’t you get about the election eight months ago that said, “Our goal here: balance the books, create jobs”? That’s where we stand. That’s the way forward for the province of Ontario.
The Leader of the Opposition conveniently ignores the fact that the world economy is having a very difficult time, and in fact Ontario is outperforming comparable economies around the world. Mr. Speaker, our private sector is creating jobs. I will refer him to RBC, just yesterday. In fact, the private sector is stepping up to the plate. We’re encouraging more of it through the tax cuts we’ve implemented. We now have a corporate tax system that’s competitive. But most importantly, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who will close hospitals and close schools, in fact close down future growth, this government is committed to getting back to balance in a timely fashion in a way that protects those public services that will build a better future for Ontario, not take us back to the Mike—
Minister, you’ve spent the last eight months raising WSIB rates, raising taxes, driving up energy rates and failing to cut job-killing red tape. Ontario’s economy is at risk with your policies. I have learned also that a major employer in my community, GM, has cut 2,000 jobs.
The Ontario PC caucus believes in a very different approach. We would cut taxes, treat energy policy as an economic policy and cut regulations in Ontario by one third. These are the steps required to restore Ontario to its rightful place as leader in Canada’s economy.
Hon. Dwight Duncan: It appears as though the official opposition is a bit schizophrenic, Mr. Speaker. Just on June 2, let me read to you what Mr. Klees said about General Motors and Chrysler: “Ontario’s auto bailout was a bad idea and the province should have stood aside and let Chrysler and General Motors go bankrupt.” You ought to talk to your colleagues about that. Then he went on to say, “If you have to go bankrupt, go bankrupt.”
Mr. Speaker, we rejected that. We stood up to the plate—the only subnational jurisdiction in the world to do that. We worked with the Obama administration. We worked with the Harper government. GM is still in Oshawa, fulfilling its obligations. It’s in St. Catharines. Chrysler is in Windsor and Brampton. RBC reported yesterday that manufacturing sales and employment are increasing.
Mr. Tim Hudak: Back to the Deputy Premier: Here’s the problem. We were given very clear orders from the public to reduce spending, to balance the books, to make sure we didn’t fall into a debt crisis. What do we get at the end of the day, Speaker? We had a budget that was downgraded—the credit rating of the province of Ontario by Moody’s—put on a negative credit watch by Standard and Poor’s. This finance minister has had three downgrades under his watch.
What should be up is down. What should be down has actually gone up. Spending should be down, but spending has gone up. The deficit should go down, but the deficit has in fact gone up. Taxes should go down, but they’ve gone up, and unemployment job losses in the province have gone up. It’s time to reverse course and take on the PC plan to get a jobs pro-growth agenda in the province of Ontario. You wasted eight months. You kicked the can down the road. Time—
Hon. Dwight Duncan: Let me correct the record. Unemployment, according to RBC, according to Stats Canada, is down, Mr. Speaker. According to RBC and according to Stats Canada, employment is up: 345,000 permanent new jobs since the downturn. Consumer prices are growing, but growing at a slower rate than other places.
In fact, Ontario is up, Mr. Speaker. The people of Ontario, the businesses of Ontario—the leadership of this province are up. This is a great province, a strong province. It is coming back. It will lead Canada, and it will lead Canada under the policies of this government. That member and his party were clearly rejected by the voters—
Mr. Tim Hudak: It is shocking, Speaker, how dramatically out of touch the Deputy Premier and his colleagues are if they think that people in Ontario are leaping with joy at their decisions—in fact quite the opposite.
They took a strong province, a province that was a leader in North America in job creation, that strode across Confederation with pride, that was the best place to find a job and start a business, and they cut it off at the knees.
You raised taxes. You put energy rates through the roof. You plunged us towards a $411-billion debt. You got us downgraded. Their saviour was to be Don Drummond. We were waiting for Drummond for four months. He came in the door with his report and then you shuffled him out the back door before he got a chance to sit down. You rejected your own plan. You have no plan to balance the books. You’re turning the mighty province of Ontario into the Greece of Canada.
Mr. Tim Hudak: No doubt, Speaker: Dalton McGuinty’s government has taken this province backwards. We’re losing private sector jobs—a deeper hole that we’re heading into. Three credit rating downgrades under this finance minister. He should be in the hall of fame for fiscal incompetence for the double-digit deficits that he has put on the backs of our kids and our grandkids.
I believe there is a better way, a better way that says that Ontario can lead again, to be number one in job creation, to attract investment, to balance the books in the province, and yes, to make the tough but necessary decisions to rein in spending, including an across-the-board public sector wage freeze; an end to corporate welfare in our province and a review, top to bottom, of every one of those 630 agencies, boards and commissions that says we’ll free up the private sector to create jobs. I believe that better days are ahead, that Ontario will lead again, but we need change from this tired, out-of-date agenda that has taken our great province backwards.
Hon. Dwight Duncan: This government is fighting to create the future that this province wants. They rejected that leader and his party seven months ago. They will reject his proposals to close hospitals. They will reject his ideas to close schools and take teachers out of front-line teaching. They do not have a plan to get back to balance; we do.
One message I didn’t hear in the last election was: Did the voters give us a mandate to ring bells? Let’s talk about what they’re doing. Just yesterday, they tabled an amendment to the budget which would cut off funding to Ornge. They want to cut off funding for air ambulance immediately. How do they propose we provide that?
They are irresponsible. They have no plan. There would be no future with them. That’s why Ontarians rejected them seven months ago and accept the policies of this government, recognizing the difficult challenges in the global economy.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Deputy Premier. In the last election, the people of this province sent us here with some pretty specific marching orders. They were tired of an arrogant government that took them for granted. They told us to work together to tackle the challenges that we’re facing.
New Democrats are very, very proud of the progress that we’ve been able to make, but it’s clear that there’s much, much more to do. Does the Deputy Premier accept that people are tired of the arrogant politics that they’ve seen from this government over and over again during their 10 years in office?
We have been responding to the very real needs of Ontarians. I am proud, for instance, that we have now passed Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act; Bill 19, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act; and Bill 46, the Supply Act.
I understand that the budget bill is before committee. We welcome the input of the third party, who, unlike the official opposition, actually wanted to make this Legislature work, and we’ve accepted a number of amendments. There are a number of other bills before the House that have been difficult to get through because the lack-of-leadership, absent-without-leadership Tories, have been ringing bells instead of doing the people’s business.
We’ll continue to work with the third party and any member of this House who wants to advance the interests of all Ontarians. We will disagree from time to time, but we look forward to that opportunity.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, people are hoping to see change that’s actually going to make their lives better, but too often they see more of the same old politics from this government. Days after passing the budget motion, the Premier was bragging about schemes to force by-elections and restore them to majority rule. This week, we are seeing Liberal MPPs pull out all the stops to hide the cost of the cancelled power plants in Mississauga and Oakville at committee. Does the Deputy Premier even get it, that this is exactly the sort of thing that turns people off politics?
Hon. Dwight Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I think questions like that turn people off politics. I think members on both sides of this House—I again want to applaud the third party; we’ve worked together on a number of issues. We don’t always agree, but I think they’ve done it in good faith. I think they’ve done it based on their interpretation of the needs of the people of Ontario, and I would not for one moment suggest anything akin to what she’s suggesting about this side.
We look forward to that continuing work. The people of Ontario returned a minority Parliament. It’s been a different experience for most of us. Other than perhaps the member for St. Catharines, most of us haven’t served in minority Legislatures before. I think she’s right: The people of Ontario want us to work together. I would try to resist the kind of rhetoric we just heard in the supplementary question.
They’re worried about the growing cost of living, while the government hikes hydro bills and won’t even tell them what the money is being spent on. They’re frustrated by long waits in emergency rooms, and the government cuts front-line health care while spending millions and millions on lavish perks at Ornge. They’re worried about jobs, while the government puts every CEO—every bank CEO they know—on a jobs panel just to keep getting the same old advice.
Hon. Dwight Duncan: I’m delighted to have the assistance of people like Floyd Laughren, David Cooke and Elmer Buchanan. We’ve involved a number of prominent New Democrats who continue to offer their great services to the people of Ontario. I believe there’s a place for them, and I do believe that people like Gord Nixon have a lot to offer. I will not play that game of pitting one part of society guess another.
But let me tell you what some other voices say. In the Windsor Star lead editorial just today: “It’s not often that a private member’s bill gets the kind of public thrashing that greeted an NDP proposal to significantly lower car insurance rates for Toronto” and raise them in other parts of the province. It goes on. I’ll share more quotes with her, Mr. Speaker.
We’d like to continue to work together. We will involve people like Floyd Laughren, David Cooke and others, we’ll involve the Gord Nixons of the world, and we will try to build a better province for all Ontarians.
I’m proud that throughout this session, in fact, New Democrats have been able to make the minority government work; I would agree with the Deputy Premier in that regard. We’re actually trying to get some real results for everyday Ontarians: results like support for new child care spaces, support for local hospitals, support for the most vulnerable Ontarians and a much-needed dose of fairness for our income tax system.
But there’s clearly a lot more that we have to accomplish. We’ve put forward some achievable proposals to create jobs, improve health care and make life more affordable. What I’d like to know is, will the Deputy Premier work with us to make these achievable solutions a reality?
Hon. Dwight Duncan: Mr. Speaker, we’ve been doing that. We’re happy to do that. We will continue to do that. We will continue to work together to get important pieces of legislation through this House, to provide Ontarians with the framework we need for a better future for our children.
We have worked in good faith on a number of legislative initiatives, including the budget, which is before committee today. As I understand it, some 200 amendments from the opposition have come forward. We are dealing with those in committee.
We will work with all Ontarians. Yes, we will work with Gord Nixon, who is a member of the Order of Canada and one of our most respected business people. We will work with Jim Stanford, a labour economist who has had great input. Frances Lankin is doing terrific work for us on welfare reforms.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Last month, Ontario lost 30,000 full-time jobs. The same day, 2,000 GM workers learned that they’d be losing their jobs. That’s on top of over half a million people already looking for work here in Ontario.
Ontario, I believe, will not be back on its feet until families are back on their feet. Will the government commit to working with New Democrats to use the jobs and prosperity fund to get Ontarians working with a job creation tax credit?
Hon. Dwight Duncan: We have asked the task force on prosperity to look at that very issue. We do already have a number of tax credits available that are designed to assist employers to hire people. Those are important pieces of public policy. We do want to make sure that they work, that they in fact deliver on what they are supposed to, because they represent a large tax expenditure to the province of Ontario.
So yes. That’s why we created this task force. We want to have a close look at all aspects of support to make sure that in fact it’s promoting job creation here in Ontario, building a better climate for job creation in Ontario. That’s why we have appointed a range of people from across the province, to work with us to give us that kind of advice to build that future that we all want for our children.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: When I visit with folks across the province, one thing they tell me is that they want their health care system to be there for them when they need it. They want to know that they will have a family doctor when they need one, care for their aging parents when their parents need that care and access to an ER when a loved one is facing an emergency.
We simply cannot trust this government to tackle the challenges of health care tomorrow if you don’t have the data about what we’re doing today. The government promised to strike an all-party LHIN review. It hasn’t happened yet. They keep promising it. We have a simple question, Speaker, which is: When are we going to see the striking of the panel to review LHINs?
I’m very excited about some of the initiatives. I’m particularly excited about our new seniors’ care strategy that is being developed under the extraordinarily strong leadership of Dr. Samir Sinha, who is both at UHN and at Mount Sinai Hospital.
We know we can do better when it comes to caring for our elderly people and for our seniors. We know more house calls mean more people can stay at home longer. We know that more access to home care means more people can stay home longer. We’re establishing care coordinators so that people who have multiple specialists in their lives have that care coordinated. We’re also helping to support people in renovating their homes so they can stay home longer.
Mr. Jeff Yurek: My question is to the Minister of Finance. Minister, a month ago you made headlines for bringing in the Liberal-NDP tax in an effort to push through your weak budget. We’ve told you that you have a spending problem, and therefore your new tax doesn’t address the real issue underlying Ontario’s fiscal situation.
Now, the respected economists at the C.D. Howe Institute have revealed your tax to be nothing more than a shell game. According to the report, “The new tax on high-income earners will likely create more economic costs than benefits.” C.D. Howe estimates that this tax will not bring in additional money and instead will cost Ontario $50 million by 2015.
Hon. Dwight Duncan: You know, it’s interesting that the member opposite and the party are standing up for about 100 Ontarians who may be affected by this. What’s even more interesting is that the bill is before committee, and there has been no amendment brought forward to take that out of the bill.
I would invite the member opposite, if you feel that strongly, to bring forward an amendment in committee and then support the amended budget bill. You can do that. We have asked you to do that. You’ve refused to participate, and now—
Hon. Dwight Duncan: They do want to defend the rich and famous as opposed to doing what’s right for all Ontarians. I’ll remind the member opposite that we also cut taxes on the lowest-income Ontarians.
Mr. Todd Smith: With this finance minister in charge, we get headlines like this. The finance minister has been reading for the last couple of days the RBC report. The headline in the RBC report says: “Ontario: In the Middle of the Provincial Pack.” Is that good enough for you, in this province that used to be the leader in Confederation? It’s now a have-not province under your leadership.
The people of Ontario deserve a budget that addresses the real issues. What you’ve given them is a Liberal-NDP tax that actually creates a $50-million hole. The economists at C.D. Howe last night said, “The new tax ... will be ineffective and risks creating more damage than benefit: Reduced economic activity will cost more to the provincial” treasury “than the province can expect to collect.”
I would like to make a comment that, basically, I wasn’t prepared to stop the member—he had a few more seconds left—but I was going to stand to bring order because there were people heckling while you were asking your question from your own side and a conversation—
We are dealing with a difficult global economy. We worry about the future. We have put together a plan that has been endorsed by a range of Ontarians and others. We continue to move towards a better future. Instead of hooting and hollering and ringing bells and refusing to participate—that was the message the voters sent us. They said to come here and work together for a better future. The Tories took their ball and went home. We reject that, Mr. Speaker. They didn’t bring forward amendments to the budget bill that they’re talking about here in the House today. They have no plan—
Mr. Peter Tabuns: My question to the Minister of Education: As school is winding down, Minister, families out there are wondering why the government is not negotiating seriously with Ontario’s teachers and education workers, especially when those teachers and education workers are willing to sit down and negotiate in a respectful and productive way. What’s holding things up, Minister?
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: I can tell you that our government is incredibly proud of eight years of stability and investment in education in Ontario, investment in education that has focused on students and put them first.
We have never lost perspective of the goals that we have: to raise student achievement, to close the gap, to ensure that Ontario continues to have a strong, publicly funded education system. We’ve had to make some choices, and in those choices, we have chosen on every single occasion to put students first, to put the classroom experience first, because at its heart, that’s what education is about.
Our conversations with our partners in education are ongoing. I would encourage the members of the third party to encourage those who are not at the table to come back to the table so that we can have those important conversations.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: First of all, if we’re going to have schools that teach our children and look after them, you don’t demoralize the teachers and education workers in them as your starting point. That’s where you are. You go into those negotiations without respect for your negotiating partners. You know that destabilizes the system. You know that demoralizes those people who look after our children every day.
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: The member opposite does not know what he’s talking about. We are at the table, we’re having conversations with our partners, and for those who respect collective bargaining, that’s the appropriate place to have those conversations. We have accomplished so much with our partners in education. We are doing the heavy lifting to make the right choices, choices that put our students first. Again, I would encourage the member opposite to respect the process. Respect the PDT process that has got us to this place where we are.
We’ve been recognized around the world as incredible in terms of the success that we are having for our students. I would encourage all the members opposite to respect that process that has had us recognized around the world for our student success. It’s a process that has got us very far. We are continuing in that conversation, and it is one that each and every day we engage in, and we put Ontario students first.
Mrs. Liz Sandals: My question is also for the Minister of Education. Minister, congratulations on passing Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. A lot of people have been made very happy by the passage of this act.
As you know, I was fortunate to chair the safe schools action team, and this legislation was really part of the next steps in implementing the action team’s recommendations. As a member of the action team, I was so privileged to be able to work with experts from CAMH’s Centre for Prevention Science, from Sick Kids; with academics, our partners in education, the Canadian Safe School Network—such a host of experts who came to the table with us. What we learned helped us to inform the Accepting Schools Act. I’m very proud to have been part of the building blocks that led to this landmark legislation.
Minister, you often speak, when you speak about the Accepting Schools Act, about it being part of a whole-school approach. I wonder, Minister, could you please tell this House more about the details of the next steps in fighting bullying?
Yesterday, the accepting schools expert panel met for the very first time. It is an amazing group of individuals, who have long lists of accomplishments, who are going to work with us to ensure that we use the resources we’ve put in place and that we find a pathway to ensure that every student, regardless of race, culture, creed, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, feels welcome and respected. It’s a group that will help us not only ensure that we are able to respond well to incidents of bullying in our schools, but that we are able to prevent them.
I am so pleased that Mary Gordon has agreed to co-chair this committee. She’s the founder and president of Roots of Empathy and she’s recognized internationally as an award-winning individual who helps us teach our kids about empathy.
The other co-chair is Dr. Bruce Ferguson, and he’s the director of the community health system resource group at the Hospital for Sick Children, well renowned in terms of the work that he’s done. Those are just two examples of the amazing people who are working with us.
When we traveled the province as a safe schools action team, we heard heartbreaking stories of bullying from all over the province. In the most extreme cases, the targets of the bullying committed suicide.
Bullying is something that has touched so many of us here in the Legislature. I know that all parties have had good ideas, and it was great to see Liz Witmer’s legislation and so many of her good ideas being incorporated into Bill 13. I was pleased to be able to sit in on the committee at clause-by-clause and to be able to work with the members from Parkdale–High Park and Toronto–Danforth, and to be able to work so collaboratively with the NDP.
Speaker, this type of collaboration is what we need to fight bullying, and that’s why the whole-school approach is so important—the collaboration. Can you provide more detail on how that collaboration will work?
Hon. Laurel C. Broten: The member has it exactly right. We do need a collaborative, whole-school, whole-community approach to tackle this critical issue. That’s why we will build on the investments we have made over the last number of years with respect to safe school initiatives. We’ve invested almost $300 million since 2003 to make our schools the safest in the world, and we’ll continue to build on that good work.
In addition, we’ll be bringing mental health support workers into schools as part of Ontario’s 10-year mental health and addictions strategy. We will be working with our curriculum council to report back on how we can integrate equity and inclusive education and bullying prevention across the curriculum. We’ll be creating a public awareness campaign.
We have done that by working together, just as we worked together with the members of the third party, the members for Parkdale–High Park and Toronto–Danforth, to get this bill passed. We have an eclectic and wonderful group of experts who will be working with us, and we will do that in a whole school and whole community.
Mr. Frank Klees: To the Minister of Health: Speaker, I want to commend Mr. Malcolm Bates, the director of the emergency health services branch, for his integrity, because yesterday Mr. Bates produced documents that Deputy Minister Saäd Rafi refused to produce despite a formal request by the committee investigating the Ornge scandal.
Those documents confirmed that associate deputy minister Hugh MacLeod and Minister of Health George Smitherman told the director of the emergency health services branch that Dr. Chris Mazza would now be his boss. The very branch of the ministry that was to hold Ornge accountable was now directed by the assistant deputy minister to do whatever was necessary to support Dr. Mazza in implementing a scheme that would ultimately defraud taxpayers and put patients at risk.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, once again, it’s part of the story. I’m happy to read from yesterday’s Hansard from committee. Mr. Bates—and I agree with you; he deserves to be commended for his integrity. He is a very, very fine public servant, and we are all grateful for his contribution.
Mr. Klees was asking Mr. Bates some questions, and he said, “Well, as I said, in 2003, it was relatively clear to me because I met with Mr. Michael Mjanes, who was the chief of staff to associate minister Dan Newman”—that of course is a Conservative—“and at that particular point in time, Mr. Mjanes was very clear with us that the proponents of this particular service change wanted it done and wanted it done quickly, and the minister supported that.”
Mr. Frank Klees: Speaker, the minister forgets that there was an election, and—guess what?—it was a Liberal government, it was Minister George Smitherman, who implemented the program. Mr. Bates had the integrity to recognize that the motion we put forward was in fact the information that we were requesting. That’s why he produced the documents that responded to the committee’s request. That stands in direct contrast, Speaker, to the persistent, obstructive and defensive posturing of this minister’s several deputies who have refused to provide information.
Here’s what is encouraging, Speaker: We know that there are many, many more Malcolm Bates in our civil service who will help us get to the bottom, help us get to the truth about what happened, when it happened and who was responsible.
Hon. Deborah Matthews: If the member wants to talk about what’s going on in committee, Speaker, I think we need to talk about the amendment, the motion that that party has tabled that will choke off funding to Ontario’s air ambulance service. They are playing partisan games with people’s lives. I think it is about as low as anyone could go.
I want to say to the member opposite and to the party opposite: Stop grandstanding. Stop playing political games with people’s lives. Stop playing partisan politics. Withdraw your motion to choke off funding to Ontario’s ambulance. Start being part of the solution: Pass Bill 50.
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: My question is to the Acting Premier. This week, tragically, an Ontario Divisional Court upheld the view that women should earn less than men who are doing jobs of equal value. The reason? Ontario’s Pay Equity Act allows it. What is the province going to do to make sure women and men are paid the same for jobs of equal value?
Hon. Linda Jeffrey: I’m happy to take the question. Certainly Ontario’s Pay Equity Act continues to be recognized across Canada and internationally as one of the most progressive pay equity statutes in the world. Introduced in 1987, the Pay Equity Act addresses systemic discrimination in the compensation of work in traditionally female-dominated occupations. It applies to all public sector employers and all private sector employers with 10 or more employees across Ontario.
In January the Pay Equity Office, in fact, launched a pilot wage-gap program designed to measure the extent of the gender wage gap in private sector Ontario workplaces. To date, the office has had an 80% response to the new program. That will help the office plan for future monitoring activities. For many years, the Pay Equity Office has actually been proactive, and—
Speaker, again to the Acting Premier: The court, in fact, said that Ontario’s Pay Equity Act should be subject and could be subject to a charter challenge because of its under-inclusiveness. Instead of forcing more court battles, will this government do the right thing and close the loophole in its Pay Equity Act so that women in Ontario are finally given equal pay for equal work?
Hon. Linda Jeffrey: As I said, Ontario’s Pay Equity Act is recognized across Canada and internationally as one of the most progressive pay equity statutes across Canada. As I’ve said, the Pay Equity Office has conducted proactive monitoring focused on sectors with vulnerable workers, including retail, hotel and motel, and office workers. To date they have contacted 4,000 organizations, and they provide free training for employers, unions, employees and target groups about their rights and their obligations under the act.
Anyone who experiences or suspects an instance of a gender wage gap should contact the Pay Equity Office. This is about making sure that people are treated fairly and equitably across the province. Certainly, we are interested in working with the member, and any instances they bring forward, we’d be happy to work with them.
Mr. David Zimmer: Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Labour. Up in Willowdale, I’ve got a whole lot of restaurants, and in those restaurants, there are vast numbers of servers—some of the best servers in the province—and they’re working very hard to earn their tips to pay for their school fees and to help their family incomes.
Most of these restaurants do have a fair and balanced relationship between the employer and the server. But there are some owners of these restaurants that are taking a percentage of tips from the employees.
I know that on Monday, the member from Beaches–East York introduced a bill that would seek to ban the collection of tips by employers in the restaurant industry. Minister, when the member from Beaches–East York asked you this question, you said you’d look into the problem and that you’d discuss the problem with him on what we should do as a Legislature on this issue. Minister, have you started those discussions with the member from Beaches–East York?
Hon. Linda Jeffrey: I’m pleased to take the question. As I have said previously, maintaining a fair and balanced relationship between employers and employees in all industries, including the hospitality sector, is very important to our government. I agree with the member: We do have some incredibly hard-working servers in this province, including in his riding, who use tips to pay for school or to make a living. In fact, in my own case I have two sons who worked in the hospitality sector.
Our government is always willing to listen to new ideas on how we can improve the lives of workers in our province. When I was first asked about this bill, I indicated my willingness to look at the bill, and I still feel that way. The member from Beaches–East York has worked very hard; he’s been an advocate on this issue. I thanked him for bringing this issue to light, and in the spirit of co-operation, I have asked the member from Beaches–East York to meet with me. He has agreed. We’re going to be talking later today about his bill and the issue of employers taking a percentage of server tips. I look forward to having that conversation, and I’m happy to respond.
Mr. David Zimmer: Thank you, Minister. Here’s my follow-up question on this, because there’s another sort of sub-issue here: In addition to having these great servers up in Willowdale and throughout the province, we also have some of the best dishwashers and line cooks and busers and hosts, and they’re concerned about this, because the way the system works, those people share in the tips. I know that restaurant staff have told me that they’re concerned that the bill, if it’s passed, will inadvertently take away their share of the tips.
The idea here is that we want to prevent the restaurant owner from grabbing the tips, but make sure that the busers and the dishwashers and others share the tips. What are we going to do about that part of the issue?
Hon. Linda Jeffrey: I want to thank the member from Willowdale for the question. I’ve also heard, over the last couple of days, from a variety of support staff in the restaurant industry who also are worried that the bill may negatively affect them. The tip-outs are a contentious issue within the hospitality industry—
As the member from Willowdale has pointed out, there are establishments out there that collect from servers and share it with the dishwashers, the hosts, the hostesses and the busers, who help the restaurant function. The strategy is implemented by restaurants as a means to ensure that support staff actually take home more than the minimum wage. The current language contained in the bill suggests that owners may be forbidden from collecting tip-outs and distributing that to hard-working support staff.
Mr. Bill Walker: My question is to the health minister. The Liberals can spin this all they want. The real issue, Mr. Speaker, is whether the Liberals actually want to get to the bottom of the mess they created at Ornge air ambulance.
The Liberals are out there spinning themselves dizzy on this amendment, but the truth is that the proposed budget amendment is merely a condition. It makes funding for Ornge conditional on the Liberals choosing to call a select committee into Ornge so that this House can investigate the true depths of this scandal that clearly involves Liberal insiders and is knock, knock, knocking on the Premier’s door.
The real question is this: Since the Liberals threw their own health minister under the bus by making her word in this House worthless, will the McGuinty Liberals choose a proper parliamentary investigation into the Ornge scandal and allow the money to flow, or will they put Ontarians’ lives at risk in order to hide the true depths of this ever-growing scandal at Ornge?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, I don’t care how loud they shout. I don’t care about the tactics they are implementing. What I care about is that people in Ontario have access to the air ambulance services that they need.
I think it is absolutely despicable that they would play politics with the very people who need access to air ambulance. I am asking the member opposite: Stop playing politics with the lives of the people of Ontario. Withdraw your motion.
Mr. Bill Walker: To the health minister again: The Liberals have used every delay tactic in the book in the public accounts committee to prevent us, the PCs, and the NDP from getting to the bottom of this scandal. So we have a PC motion in the budget that makes an Ornge select committee a condition of transferring funding to Ornge.
The Liberals have a choice. They can either call a select committee, as they promised to do when this House expressed its will, so as to allow Ontario’s elected officials to get to the bottom of this—and the minister did say “if it’s the will of the people”—or they can put Ontarians’ lives at risk by not flowing money to Ontario’s air ambulance system and not calling a full parliamentary committee into this.
Either way, this is a Liberal choice. They’ve made the mess. They need to respect the will of this House—or will they continue blocking us from getting to the truth about the Ornge air scandal? Which one is it?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, for me, when I see an Ornge air ambulance in the air, I think about the patient getting care and getting to the care they need. I think about the pilot flying that aircraft. I think about the paramedics in that aircraft. I think about all the people on the ground who are making sure that that person gets to the care they need.
That’s what this is all about. This is about the 51 people who yesterday were helped by Ornge. They want to cut off funding; we want to keep making improvements so that people in Ontario get the care they need.
The experimental lakes area located between Kenora and Vermilion Bay is a world-renowned fresh water research station that has been conducting scientific research on 58 pristine lakes since 1968. Among its credits are groundbreaking research on the impacts of phosphorus, helping reduce the environmental impact of hydroelectricity dams, invaluable research that helps us conserve and preserve aquatic life and fish stocks, in addition to very important discoveries on the impacts of acid rain.
There is no other facility like this in Canada or in the world. Despite this, the federal government has announced that it’s shutting down the facility. Will the Minister of the Environment step up to fight this flawed decision made by the federal government?
Yes. In fact—you may not be aware of it—I’m already leading the charge. In combination with the minister from Manitoba, we had a rather lengthy discussion about this matter. You may be aware that we wrote a joint letter to the federal government asking them to maintain what you know and I know is an outstanding facility that is world renowned.
I’ve also been in conversation with the federal Minister of the Environment in this particular case to indicate our strong support for the federal government continuing to have this operation in effect, so that the experimental work done, which is outstanding and world renowned, will continue. I assure the member I’m on this and moving forward.
Ms. Sarah Campbell: Minister, world-renowned scientists—including those from prestigious institutions such as Harvard—a Nobel Prize winner and even private enterprises have universally condemned this decision, citing that this research is too broad in scope to be taken over by a university. Despite this, the federal government claims that it will find a university or other private interest to take over the work at the research station.
A 1993 memorandum of understanding between the province of Ontario and the federal government states that the federal government has an obligation to return the lakes to the pristine state they were in before the scientific testing began more than 40 years ago.
Advocating for the federal government’s continued investment in this world-class research centre will not cost this government a cent, and it will enable important scientific research to continue, protect the environment and natural resources in Ontario. Minister, what action will you take to force the federal government to honour the agreement and keep the centre open?
May I re-emphasize the fact that some time ago, the minister from Manitoba and I were on a telephone conversation. We then agreed to have a joint letter sent to the federal Minister of Fisheries and the federal Minister of the Environment. We have done that. I’ve been in conversation with the federal Minister of the Environment and have indicated clearly the importance of this particular facility.
I don’t think there’s any quarrel with anybody in any political party on how important this facility is. I want to assure the member that before she had asked the question, I had taken action on this. I will say to all and sundry that I have the support of the member from the area and, I think, of the New Democratic Party—I don’t know about the Conservative Party—in this regard.
Minister, in discussion with the farmers of my riding just yesterday, they’re very aware of the ongoing Growing Forward 2 negotiations that you and other provinces are conducting with the federal government to renew the suite of agricultural support programs to benefit farmers in the province of Ontario. Farmers have been using AgriStability, AgriInvest, AgriRecovery and AgriInsurance under the umbrella of the Going Forward suite for the last five years, and they’re an important part of the process to make sure that the future set of programs is of value for Peterborough and Ontario farmers.
The member is quite right. We have had discussions with the federal government on a new suite of national agricultural programs—not just AgriStability, but the full suite of programs. The member from Perth–Wellington seemed unaware of that yesterday.
Speaker, it’s very important to ensure that the federal government maintain an efficient and effective suite of programs that work in the best interests of Ontario farmers. That’s why, while continuing discussions with the federal government, we are also consulting our agricultural stakeholders on their priorities. Our stakeholders need to continue to talk with us, and they also need to talk to the federal government on how the federal government should be standing up for rural Ontario.
The farmers of my riding will be glad to hear once again that you’re working with the interests of Ontario farmers in these negotiations. But I know that it’s not the only set of negotiations on agricultural programming that are currently under way. This spring, you began consultations with the non-supply managed sectors on transforming the risk management program that our government brought in. I know that many farmers in Peterborough riding are also very interested in this important process and are actively participating through their commodity groups.
Hon. Ted McMeekin: Speaker, first off, let me state once again that the risk management program for 2012 continues to be the same program farmers signed up for. That said, we are currently discussing the program with our non-supply managed stakeholders, as the program must be bankable and predictable for both farmers and our government.
Mr. Jim McDonell: To the Minister of Consumer Services: Under this minister’s watch, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, one of the many unaccountable agencies under her control, continues to drive small business out of business with ridiculous inspection charges. For example, the money-grabbing TSSA charges a whopping $150 per hour, plus HST, for junior inspectors who haven’t even finished their training programs. They even have the gall to charge this obscene rate for their travelling time. These small businesses are clean energy propane retailers who are providing propane for the summer barbecue.
Mr. Speaker, doesn’t this minister know that these exorbitant fees have simply forced most of our rural retailers out of business? Those who are left can only pass it on to consumers. As the summer is upon us, will the minister—
Hon. Margarett R. Best: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me assure all Ontarians that public safety is a priority for the government of the province of Ontario. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority is certainly a delegated administrative authority that has been a leader in the province with respect to the safety concerns in the province. Let me assure you that this is an administrative authority that we continue to work with in the province to ensure there is safety for the people in the province of Ontario.
Mr. Randy Pettapiece: Back to the Minister of Consumer Services: Starting in January 2013, grain farmers in my riding will face higher costs to certify gas burners and dryers with the TSSA rather than the CSA. Farmers in Perth–Wellington have told me that this will cause serious delays and result in higher costs.
When crops are ready to be harvested, farmers don’t have time to wait for your TSSA inspectors to check their equipment. My question is this: When will the minister take action to free farmers from excessive TSSA red tape? Why does she insist on driving prices up and businesses out?
Hon. Margarett R. Best: Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me assure the member opposite that the TSSA is an organization that is working to ensure public safety in the province of Ontario. That is the first priority of this organization.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Excuse me. I am somewhat disturbed by some of the heckling that I’m hearing off the cuff. It’s not appropriate, and the way in which it’s being offered is not in good nature.
Hon. Margarett R. Best: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me just tell this House about some of the things the TSSA has done to enhance public safety in the province of Ontario. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority has conducted 29,000 inspections and prosecuted 34 of those businesses for violations of the Technical Standards and Safety Act.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: Earlier today in question period, in response to a question that my leader placed, the Deputy Premier used—and I reference standing order 23(k), “uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder.” The Deputy Premier used the word “schizophrenia.”
I appreciate the member’s point of order, but I have to rule that it is not a point of order. However, every member has the right to change their record or correct their record, and I’m more than willing to hear that.
I would like to introduce someone who wasn’t here at the very beginning of question period. Ron Trbovich is joining us in the gallery today. I want to say thanks very much for coming here to spend the day with me.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Now, I do suspect that everyone may not be able to see each other on the 20th, so I’m going to make a comment now. I would like to offer each of you a very safe and very happy summer break—
In the event that some of you are not here, and in the event that our pages are not here to hear this: Whether we talk about the thrust and parry of question period, I admire all of you. You are hard-working individuals. I know this is not a holiday break. I want to make it clear that I respect each of you for the amount of work that you do for our communities and our province. I thank you for it. Regardless of whatever happens inside of question period and whatever happens outside of question period, I want all of you to know that I’m here for you. For that purpose, I say thank you.