This summer we saw in Kirkland Lake, a town in my riding, the Canadian Tire store organized. I'm certainly all in favour of that if that's what the workers would want, but unfortunately 19 of the 30 workers of the store went to a hearing in Toronto at the Ontario Labour Relations Board wanting to have their decision to certify the union rescinded.
I bring this up because it just shows a very basic flaw in Bill 40: Where employees feel that their job security had been threatened or that they had been intimidated to sign cards, they don't have any recourse.
Our solution here in the Liberal caucus would be that anybody contemplating organizing a workplace and organizing a drive, as certainly is their right, should allow the workers to have a secret ballot vote. This was not allowed in this case by the board. I think it's a fundamental flaw in this bill and I ask the newly appointed Minister of Labour to reconsider that part of Bill 40.
Mr Charles Harnick (Willowdale): People in the legal profession had hoped that when this government came to power it would repair some of the mistakes made by the previous Liberal government. Unfortunately, this government has not been up to the task.
This government and the Liberal government before it came up with a plan to get rid of the masters of the Ontario Court of Justice. Masters of the Ontario Court of Justice look after pre-trial motions and civil matters. In Metro Toronto, they do construction lien trials and family law matters. Virtually every day of the week they deal with approximately 100 to 150 matters. The problem is, who is going to look after these motions once the masters have been eliminated? Laypersons cannot perform this function and judges plainly do not have the time.
In Toronto, there are currently six full-time and seven supernumerary masters. This December, the seven supernumerary masters will have reached their maximum allowable annual incomes. The six full-time masters will be responsible for virtually hundreds of motions per day from January to April. The justice system will be so understaffed that massive delays will result.
To quote a study done by the Canadian Bar Association on the situation, "The situation has become desperate." The study continues on to state that the administration of justice in Ontario has been substantially impaired by neglect and negative measures by a succession of attorneys general.
I urge the government to correct its mistakes and the mistakes of its predecessors. It is time that this government listened to those individuals who work in the justice system and heeded their pleas for the reinstatement of masters to Ontario's justice system.
Mr Mike Cooper (Kitchener-Wilmot): I rise today to inform the members of this Legislature about the completion of a Jobs Ontario Community Action project which took place in my riding. It was the official opening of Castle Kilbride and the administration complex in Wilmot township.
The opening gala was held Saturday, September 24, while the official opening was held on Sunday, September 25. This project is one, as you may be aware, that the whole community embraced with enthusiasm, creativeness and ambitiousness. For the community, the weekend's events were a culmination of much hard work, and the supporters were there in full force.
Castle Kilbride stands as a monument to our heritage and traditions and the commitment that the people of Wilmot township have made to preserve their heritage. Special commendation should go to His Worship Mayor Lynn Myers and all of the council.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to present to the legislative library a copy of a book published by Paul Knowles called Castle Kilbride: The Jewel of Wilmot Township, understanding full well that many members won't be able to attend.
Last week the minister was clearly pleased when he was releasing the results of the grade 9 testing. He was quoted as saying: "As a report card at the end of this school year, these results are encouraging. They show that our school system is providing students with the essential literacy skills at the start of their secondary education." But within 24 hours the Premier blasted away at the results, saying, "It's just not good enough to say, 'Well, everybody got a C, and that's great.'"
Make no mistake about it, the minister and the Premier have left teachers holding the bag on this one as they try to explain the results to parents. Parents, on the other hand, are left wondering how well their children really are doing in school.
The last time I looked at the membership of cabinet, Dave Cooke was the Minister of Education and Training, but Bob Rae, the member for York South, was the Premier, the head of this government. Surely as Premier he has had and continues to have the authority to change the system and address the very problems which he identified.
Mr Jim Wilson (Simcoe West): On behalf of my colleagues the member for Grey-Owen Sound, Mr Murdoch, the member for Dufferin-Peel, Mr Tilson, and the member for Wellington, Mr Arnott, I rise on behalf of G&B House, which is a recovery home for men and is located in Owen Sound.
Since 1975, G&B House has been providing long-term residential care for men with substance abuse and alcohol problems in Grey, Bruce, Dufferin, Wellington and Simcoe counties. G&B House has also been treating men who have been referred to them from as far away as Hamilton, London and Toronto.
The facility now finds itself in trouble because the treatment dollars have not followed the patients who have been referred to G&B House from southern Ontario. It is critical that the Ministry of Health reallocate resources to G&B House for the patients who are referred to the facility from outside its normal catchment area.
If G&B House is forced to close its doors, the costs to patients, the health care system and to society as a whole will be tremendous. When men with alcohol and substance abuse problems who are reaching out for help cannot turn to G&B House, they will find themselves back in the correctional facilities or on welfare or in a hospital bed or even dead. At the end of the day, the costs to taxpayers, to family members and to friends of men who are trying to get help for a serious affliction will be much greater if the government turns its back on G&B House.
Ms Jenny Carter (Peterborough): I want to respond to statements made recently by the leader of the third party as reported in the Peterborough Examiner. My experience of the first nations community in my own riding is the opposite of the member for Nipissing's.
The community at Curve Lake makes an enormously valuable contribution to the local community and economy, especially in tourism and culture. The Curve Lake gallery boasts one of the finest collections of first nations art in the country. Curve Lake recently opened a beautiful mall, sure to attract both locals and tourists. First nations people across the province, both on and off reserve, enrich all our lives through their hard work, dedication and openness to sharing their cultural heritage with us all.
I want members of the House to know that the member for Nipissing has deeply insulted the first nations community in my riding and elsewhere and has offended many others with his repugnant remarks. I spoke with Chief Knott of Curve Lake yesterday. He said to me, "It is outright disgraceful that a leader of a political party would make statements like this."
The leader of the third party has referred to the members of a specific community, using provocative and offensive language. He has generalized and suggested that first nations people "stay at home and do nothing." The member for Nipissing has abused his position as a public figure by making irresponsible and intolerant remarks. He has belittled and violated the integrity of first nations communities in this province. The leader of the third party owes Ontario's first nations peoples an apology.
Mr Steven W. Mahoney (Mississauga West): Today marks the third anniversary of a day the Conservative Party would like everyone to forget. Three years ago today, the Conservative leader reached into his hat and unveiled his first attempt at an economic policy.
Mr Mahoney: They may applaud. This document contained a long list of promises: promises to reduce fuel taxes, promises to cut the sales tax, and to dramatically increase spending on day care, agriculture and the environment. The promises turned out to be less than revolutionary, I say to my good friends. The platform was a bust; the Tories didn't even budge in the polls.
But that's okay. Mike Harris is the worst kind of politician. He simply said, "If you don't like these principles here, I have others." So the Conservative leader reached once again into his hat and he pulled out a new book, an American book, which contained a whole new series of promises. It didn't matter to him that his American writers forgot to include many of the promises he had made the first time. After all, they're just promises.
Now the Conservative leader is promising to drastically cut funding to vital services, from day care to agricultural funding, and he's promising to slash municipal transfers which pay for essential local services, from policing to our seniors. It's a hat trick that just won't fly. The people of Ontario deserve better.
Drunk driving caused the death of 568 people in 1992. Some 44% of all motor vehicle fatalities were caused by alcohol; 46.1% of all drivers killed were impaired by alcohol or had been drinking. Despite these grim statistics, the Attorney General has reduced money for drinking-driving programs. It would appear as if this government does not view drinking and driving crimes seriously.
The staff in the drinking-driving countermeasures office was reduced from nine to three during the Liberal term in office. Under this government, programs have been axed. The student summer Arrive Alive program that hired students to undertake important public awareness programs is gone. The grants for student groups that assist local chapters of OSAID have been cut within the last two years.
A list of approximately eight very stiff anti-driving-and-drinking initiatives has been prepared and is sitting on the desk of the Attorney General for approval. These include mandatory treatment for repeat offenders, car impoundment, mandatory pay programs to have licences reinstated. Many community groups like MADD have worked with the government to develop these and want the Attorney General to act now. Ontario needs to know that their Attorney General takes drinking and driving offences seriously and is prepared to take action.
I went to city council a week ago to tell them about Jobs Ontario Training. With me was Bea Clarke from Niagara College, the broker, and 108 local employers have hired through this program, large businesses such as Tony Zappitelli from the Sheraton Fallsview, small businesses such as Jeff Rose at Cascade Printing, all kinds of businesses.
Jobs Ontario Training is affecting all of our community. These are not make-work jobs; these are permanent, full-time jobs with an incredible 89% retention rate. This means a paycheque, not a welfare cheque, for many families in my city of Niagara Falls and 900 jobs across the Niagara region.
I went to Niagara Falls Public Library on Thursday, and as I walked in there were many people coming in with their résumés to register for Jobs Ontario Training. Maria Cadham, our local coordinator and a very, very helpful person, will be holding these registrations every Thursday at the library, from 3:30 to 4:30 from now until December 8.
The local chamber of commerce has published profiles of how this program has helped its small businesses, and now even the businesses are calling my office to see how they can get involved. Let's keep Jobs Ontario Training working for Niagara Falls.
Hon Floyd Laughren (Minister of Finance): Today, I present the Ontario finances for the second quarter of the current fiscal year. I am very pleased to report that our revised forecast shows the deficit for this year will fall by $206 million.
This is the latest drop in a figure which, no matter how we measure it, has been falling consistently and sharply over the past two years. The decline in the 1994-95 deficit reflects the gathering strength of the Ontario economy, which is growing at a rate that outstrips our 1994 budget forecast.
Ontario led the country in economic growth in the second quarter of this year, turning in its best performance since 1988, at 8.4%. The pace of job creation is also the strongest in six years, providing Ontario with close to 160,000 new jobs in the past eight months, more than two thirds of them full-time. New jobs in Ontario account for one half the national total.
I would like to outline how this government has helped to create those jobs. We've encouraged businesses to take on new workers by cutting the health tax for the first year of employment. Our Jobs Ontario Training program has provided 60,000 job opportunities and helped workers in every industry to upgrade their skills. We have made it easier for the very important small and medium-sized firms in Ontario to get the funds they need in order to grow. Our aggressive capital programs are building the modern highways, the water treatment plants and other assets that all businesses need to be more productive.
There is a long-term payoff to our investments as well. The more productive structure of the province's economy will support strong growth over the next several years. In fact, it is the consensus of forecasters in the private sector that Ontario's economy will grow faster than any of the G-7 countries over the medium term.
We are seeing the benefits today. Thanks in part to the steps this government has taken, our factories are running again and our workers are back on the job. They are buying homes and spending their paycheques here in Ontario, spreading the gains into virtually every region and every industry in this province. We are seeing the impact of this growth in higher revenues for the year.
We have set our course on spending and we are sticking to it. We are keeping our public services affordable now and for the future. We have worked long and hard to make sure we could do that without causing hardship to the people of this province.
Now the economy is growing and we have a chance to reap the benefits of the careful way we've managed spending. Using our extra revenues today to pay down the deficit will save us millions of dollars in interest costs in the future. That will help us to make sure we can meet important priorities when we need to. It will make today's economic growth the foundation for a stronger future.
With this revised figure today, we have brought the deficit down even faster than we had committed to in the budget document. Our plan to balance the needs of people in Ontario -- affordable services, economic growth and a more secure future -- is clearly working.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): The fundamental problem, unfortunately, with the Minister of Finance's report is that nobody in the province believes the numbers any more. I say to the Minister of Finance that I'm quoting from the Provincial Auditor, and what the Provincial Auditor says is, "Our general concern is that legislators and the public are not now being provided with the financial information required to help them understand and assess the financial position...."
The Provincial Auditor has been relentless in getting the province to change the way it reports the books. Two weeks ago, the 1993-94 numbers were finally changed to reflect the real numbers at the insistence of the Provincial Auditor. He wouldn't even sign the books until the province changed the numbers. But what we've got here today is, the government continues to report this year's numbers using the old accounting tricks.
The Provincial Auditor will not sign these numbers. The Provincial Auditor does not agree with these numbers. These numbers will never, ever be agreed to by the Provincial Auditor, yet the government continues to put the numbers out. That's the problem.
I said earlier we put out our report on the finances, and we said it is imperative that we have a common set of books. "We are going to go through a period of substantial confusion as we have two sets of books," one by the government and one by the person that we trust, the Provincial Auditor. We said: "1994-95 is the year when the economic recovery should be giving us better results. With two sets of books, it is going to be impossible to measure the success of the recovery."
We've got that problem today. Yes, the economy is ticking along. Nationally it's ticking along. But we don't have the required reporting mechanisms to know how well we're doing, and I say to the Minister of Finance, it is absolutely imperative that you change the way you report so the Provincial Auditor can agree with these numbers.
I will just give you two or three examples of things that are going to happen this year. The government is planning to do the same thing with ferries and major equipment that it did with GO trains last year. What they did with GO trains last year -- and here's what the public accounts say: "At the request of the Ontario Minister of Finance, the authority" -- this is the transit authority -- "entered into a financing transaction." Under the terms, all the locomotives were sold for $431 million and immediately repurchased from the same counterparty at the same price.
In other words, they were flipped immediately. They were sold to a Bermuda company and then immediately bought back, and what did the taxpayers get for that? The taxpayers paid a fee of $4.271 million for that little flip. That's what it cost the taxpayers so the government could artificially show a lower deficit. And exactly the same thing is happening this year. We're going to see exactly the same thing where in one day they will sell it to somebody, buy it back the same day and pay a big fee.
Just across the road and around here, the government has "sold" all the government buildings: the Frost building, the Drew building, the Hepburn building, the Mowat building. Then they immediately leased them back; showed that as revenue and immediately leased them back. They're planning to do exactly the same thing, and the auditor says that's wrong. Time and again, the auditor has pointed it out. Last year it was $1.6 billion that he forced them to change the books.
What we've got today is a financial statement that says things are improving, and heaven knows, all of us are looking for good information, all of us are looking for positive information. I don't doubt that the economy is performing well, but you can't trust the numbers. You simply can't trust the numbers, and that's not me saying it, that's the Provincial Auditor.
Here's what we have. We have a set of numbers that only the government has faith in. The Provincial Auditor, the financial community, the opposition, say, "Listen, these aren't the right numbers." I would urge the Treasurer as strongly as I possibly can: The government is losing credibility with the financial community when the auditor refuses to sign the books unless you change them and then you continue to use a method that the auditor has no confidence in; and believe me, the auditor will not sign these books at the end of the year.
What we are faced with is the government coming forward with financial results today that I hope are indicative of the recovery. I hope revenues are going up, but nobody believes the numbers. We in the opposition will be insisting that the government bring forward the real numbers and that, secondly, as you prepare the budget for next year, it be in a way such that the Provincial Auditor finally can sign the books of this province without holding his nose.
Mr David Johnson (Don Mills): We're hearing today from the Minister of Finance that the Titanic isn't in such bad shape after all. The hole isn't quite as big -- $200 million less on the deficit of the province of Ontario.
But let me point out what really affects the taxpayers of the province of Ontario, and I'm looking at the 1994 budget, a document brought forward by the Minister of Finance himself. Under net financing for the province of Ontario in 1991-92, $10.8 billion had to be borrowed to balance the books of the province of Ontario. In 1992-93, $15.5 billion had to be borrowed. In 1993-94, $11.5 billion had to be borrowed. In 1994-95, the minister tells us, to balance the books of the province of Ontario, it is $8.3 billion.
The problem is, who do we believe? The minister says today $8.3 billion. The Dominion Bond Rating Service says $11.6 billion. The auditor of the province of Ontario says he doesn't agree with the accounting methods of the Minister of Finance. Indeed, the Minister of Finance has recently agreed to bring in a new accounting system, an accrual accounting system, and that system would dictate that the deficit this year is in excess of $10 billion for the province of Ontario.
The debt now of the province of Ontario -- and this is what really worries the people of Ontario -- will be in excess of $90 billion at the end of this fiscal year. The liabilities, as we speak here today, of Ontario exceed $95 billion. By the end of this fiscal year, the liabilities of the province will be in excess of $100 billion. The liabilities of the people of the province of Ontario will be over $100 billion. That's the mortgage we're passing on. That's the victory that's being claimed today by the Minister of Finance. That is a very hollow victory.
Talk about jobs. The Finance minister would talk about jobs in the province of Ontario. When this government took office in 1990, there were almost five million people employed in the province of Ontario, 4,937,000 people employed in the province of Ontario. At the end of this fiscal year, by the Minister of Finance's own accounts, there will be almost 100,000 fewer people employed in Ontario than when this government came into office. Should we boast about that? Should we boast about the Jobs Ontario program when we have fewer people employed today in the province of Ontario than we did when this government took office four years ago?
What is required? Instead of the hollow boasting we've heard today, what is required in the province of Ontario? (1) Call an election. If we want to restore confidence in the economy of Ontario, if we want to create jobs in the province of Ontario, call an election. (2) We need a solid program to address the problems facing us economically in Ontario. We need the Common Sense Revolution.
We know, and the business community tells us and the budget of the Minister of Finance tells us, that to create jobs we need to cut taxes. Cut the personal income tax by 30% in the province of Ontario. That's what the Common Sense Revolution calls for.
We know we have to cut expenditures in the province of Ontario from $55 billion to $49 billion, a reduction of $6 billion. We need to eliminate the employer health tax for small business; we need to reduce the workers' compensation premiums; we need to freeze Ontario Hydro rates; we need to cut the red tape that's strangling business. If we're going to create jobs in the province of Ontario, these are the kinds of programs that are required.
We need to downsize all levels of government. The Common Sense Revolution calls for a downsizing of 15% of the size of the provincial government, some 13,000 staff members. These are the actions that are needed to create jobs and to balance the budget.
Mr Norman W. Sterling (Carleton): It's with great sadness that I inform the Legislature of the passing of Russell Daniel Rowe, who represented Northumberland in this House from 1963 to 1981. He was a veteran pilot of the Second World War who served overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was a former teacher, successful businessman, community activist and politician.
Prior to becoming Speaker of this Legislature, Russell served as Chairman of the very controversial select committee on economic and cultural nationalism. It was at this time that he established himself as a political straight-shooter, showing no bias from the Chair. His reputation served him well later when he became the Speaker of this Legislature in 1974.
His term as Speaker was during a period of great change. The office of Speaker had become much more onerous, as he was given the additional task of administrating this Legislature, which had formerly been done by the Ministry of Government Services.
His term also encompassed a period of one of the weakest minority governments in Ontario's history. There was great concern expressed by members at that time that he was too mild-mannered to handle, as a 1974 Toronto Star article pointed out, the rowdiest Legislature in the country. However, the article also went along to describe him as a mild-mannered but fair politician, and that was the beauty of this man and the style he brought to the Speaker's chair. He was able to control the Legislature by relying on his integrity of being fair to all members of all parties in this House.
As Speaker and MPP, Russell put the business of Parliament ahead of his party loyalty in the conviction that the Legislature existed to serve all people. Consequently he had the respect of his colleagues and the affection of his constituents. This respect did not diminish once he left public life.
After his retirement he continued to remain active in politics and volunteered his time for a wide range of community activities. Perhaps his hallmark, if one travels these halls and looks at his picture that is hung in this Legislature, one will notice, is his wonderful warm, friendly smile.
I spoke with his wife, Marjorie, recently and she pointed out that he enjoyed and loved his time in this Legislature. He never complained about his duties as an MPP or as a politician and the hard work that he fulfilled for his constituents.
On behalf of the Legislature, I want to express our sympathies and condolences to his wife, Marjorie, his six children, his 11 grandchildren and all of his friends in his home town of Cobourg who miss him so very much. We would also like to express our appreciation to Marjorie and his children for sharing him with us, with his community and with the people of Ontario. He served us well.
Hon Brian A. Charlton (Government House Leader): I did actually share Russell's last term here, from 1977 till 1981, and although I didn't get to see Russell as Speaker for very long, because he stepped down as Speaker shortly into that 1977-81 session, I did get to know Russell a little bit and found him to be, as in most of the stories I've seen written about him in the media, a very honest, straightforward, plain-talking and, in many respects, gentle man; not "gentleman" in the sense of the classic use of that word but gentle in his approach, both to people and to issues. He's one of those elected politicians who took the time both to speak his mind and to listen, something that today far too often we find missing in many of the things that go on in public life.
Russell did serve as the Speaker in this House from 1974 to 1977. As you know, sir, that's a particularly difficult and trying task, and for those of my colleagues, and there are a few left, who were here in the 1975-77 period it was a particularly rowdy period, with the first minority government after some 38 years of majority rule in this province. You, sir, having experienced some of the rowdiness in the last four years, have some sympathy, I would think, with the difficulty that Russell faced in trying to control the House and to ensure progress of the government legislative agenda.
Russell also, though, did double duty on a lot of occasions. In the early 1970s he was not only Deputy Speaker and Chair of the committee of the whole House, but he chaired the select committee on economic and cultural nationalism in Canada. Although again it was a little before my time, I recall reading about some of the work of that committee, which was very extensive, including a lot of travel both in Canada and around the world, and consumed a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of the members who served that committee.
I think it is a reflection of the kind of individual that Russell Rowe was, and it's a reflection of his ultimate contribution to the people of this province, a contribution that I think is reflected by many we've spoken about in the past, a contribution of personal self-sacrifice. Certainly it isn't a seeking of wealth as a result of his time here but a seeking of pride and sense of accomplishment for the work that he delivered on behalf of not only his own constituents in Northumberland but also the people of the province of Ontario.
It's with some pride that we stand and address remarks to Russell Rowe and to other members who have preceded us here because of the very substantial benefit that they've created, both for the system in this province and for the province we now have to deal with. It would have been much less a place to live in if it hadn't been for their efforts and their direction.
On behalf of the government, I wish to express my sympathies to Russell's family and to pay tribute to his career as a legislator and to his time as Speaker of the House and to again, as Norm so aptly put it, thank his family for having lent him to us for almost just shy of 20 years.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I want to, on behalf of my colleagues in the Liberal Party, associate ourselves with the words of the government House leader and the member for Carleton, Mr Sterling, in paying tribute to the public life of the late Russell Rowe. I want to do so with particular emphasis on the comments that have been made to me just in the last little while by my colleague Mrs Fawcett, the member for Northumberland who has succeeded to the late Mr Rowe's constituency, and Mr O'Neil, the member from the neighbouring constituency of Quinte.
Russ Rowe was the Speaker of this Legislature 20 years ago when Hugh O'Neil and I came here as newly minted members. We were sharing some of the memories of Mr Speaker Rowe and they are very happy and positive memories indeed.
John A. Macdonald once said that no man could be as honest as Sir John Carling looked. Russell Rowe was a happy, decent, sunny politician, and that's the way he looked. Earlier today I went to look at his official portrait on the lower west wing of this building, and for those of you who don't know the late Mr Speaker Rowe, you might go and take a look at the portrait. I don't think the portrait captures the essence of a truly sunny political personality, and all of us who have borne the pressures and the strains of public life know that it's not always easy to be happy. But Russell Rowe was what he appeared: a happy, decent, sunny politician and personality.
In fact I remember, Mr Speaker, on one of the very earliest days here when in 1975 we reconvened, as has been observed, in the first minority Parliament of over 30 years, Mr Speaker Rowe, sitting in your chair, trying to restrain the enthusiasms of Eddie Sargent. I want to tell you that was not an easy task, and in fact Eddie had on that occasion become somewhat anatomical in his references across the way. Eddie was happy too but unbridled, and Russ just had that gentle touch, and a firmness when required.
I must say, shortly thereafter and through much of that session, 1975 to 1977, he was left to arbitrate quite vigorous debates. I remember a couple between Darcy McKeough and Stephen Lewis where the real issue was varying colours -- red, pink and blue. Mr Lewis and Mr McKeough were very vigorous and very significant debaters, and Mr Rowe kept a very even keel.
I see the Treasurer smiling because he's probably -- he is the only one who would remember that famous select committee on economic and cultural nationalism. I had in fact forgotten that Russ Rowe was the Chair of that committee, and as I think has been mentioned by the government House leader, there has not been in 20 years anything like it, and I suspect not again in our lifetime will there be such a commission. In fact, the late Osie Villeneuve once told me that when that committee was doing important work, I think in Stockholm, they learned things about Swedish culture that they had not dreamt of.
But I simply want to say that Russ Rowe's political legacy is one of decency, commitment, public service. He really was a wonderful fellow. Those of us who knew him will remember him fondly and well, and on behalf of my caucus colleagues, we want to express to his wife, to his family and to his many friends our deep appreciation for an exemplary public life.
The Speaker (Hon David Warner): Speaker Rowe was the first Speaker under whom I served, and as has been described this afternoon, he had a great sense of fairness and a deep understanding of Parliament, and was indeed a kind and gentle person. It was a great privilege to serve in the House, especially as a new member under the leadership of a Speaker such as he.
Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington South): I rise in accordance with section 21(a) of our standing orders with respect to a matter of privilege. Yesterday, there were approximately 250 to almost 300 individuals, members of the community at large, who presented themselves here at Queen's Park to sit in our public gallery.
During the course of the session, they were denied access to the public galleries. I consider this a serious matter and when it was brought to my attention, we responded. These were predominantly senior citizens and women workers who assist seniors, many of whom had been standing in line since 11 o'clock in order to be present for the Legislature sitting yesterday.
Mr Jackson: I want to apprise the Treasurer that I did not organize this meeting. In fact, it was a group of 35 senior citizens from the riding of Dovercourt, Italian senior citizens, to whom I made available the PC caucus office because they were barred access to the galleries. The current minister from Dovercourt presented himself to our caucus in order to have access to speak to those individuals.
My reason for raising this, Mr Speaker, is I'd like you to undertake an investigation as to why there were so many vacant and empty seats in the House yesterday when there were between 100 and 150 individuals standing outside waiting to get in. The Minister of Health made reference yesterday briefly to the fact that there were only 50 people in the House, and that would have not been a clear indication of the number of people who were present here yesterday and also would not be fair, given that people went home to hear that on television when in fact these individuals were barred access to the gallery.
The Speaker: Order. The member for Burlington South first will know that he does not have a point of privilege. However, I appreciate the concern which he has brought to my attention and will endeavour to find a reply to the question which he raises.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My first question is for the Minister of Health. Minister, over the past year I have raised with you on at least two occasions the issue of access to cancer drugs in Ontario. I have specifically raised the issue of physicians obtaining approval for use of a drug known as GCSF for patients who are critically ill with cancer. Doctors and their patients in the past have encountered two significant problems in trying to access the drug.
Hon Ruth Grier (Minister of Health): I'm aware that this is an issue that the Leader of the Opposition has raised before. As I responded to her then, the time that it takes for approval of applications for this drug, which I call Neupogen -- GCSF I think is the word the Leader of the Opposition uses -- has been significantly decreased. In fact, if people are not eligible under the guidelines, they can be told almost immediately. Each case is reviewed by the Drug Quality and Therapeutics Committee, and the guidelines are not vague. I think they're quite clear. We endeavour to inform people as quickly as possible because we certainly understand how important it is for patients to know whether this drug is going to be covered by the ministry.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, as you're aware, I gave notice earlier in the day that I would be today raising a very specific case where a patient apparently met the criteria for receiving the drug but was denied access to the drug. The patient is a young man in his 20s. He has cancer from which his physician believes that he can recover. However, he is critically ill and, his physician believes, in need of GCSF.
We understand that this is the major criterion for approving the drug: It is to be used to save a patient's life. It is to be part of a therapy which is potentially curative. But even though this case appears to meet that major criterion, the patient's physician has applied to your ministry for approval twice and has been turned down. Just recently the physician applied to the ministry again for approval.
I gave notice that I would be raising the case because quite clearly this is a devastating situation for the young man and for his family. His parents wish to travel here today because of their growing alarm about the refusal to approve the drug for their son and what that means for his chance for recovery.
Hon Mrs Grier: I very much appreciate the fact that the Leader of the Opposition's office did inform us that she would be raising questions about this drug today, but I think she also is very aware that as Minister of Health I'm not able to comment on a specific patient, a specific application.
In her first question she talked about the application of guidelines and approvals for payment of this expensive drug, a very necessary one to people who have cancer, and let me say to her that I think all of us, and particularly all of us who are parents, understand what it means to need a drug and not be able to obtain it. But I'm not a physician and neither is the Leader of the Opposition, and that's why there are guidelines, and those are developed by people who are experts in cancer treatment and who very clearly say, "These are the conditions under which a particular drug should be dispensed and should be covered." That is my responsibility as Minister of Health, to follow those guidelines.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, I guess I'm concerned that, having given notice of the question, you have not indicated that you're prepared at least to review the specific case and determine why the approval was not given. There were no reasons given for not approving the use of the drug. The physician applied for the use of the drug believing that his patient met the criteria for receiving approval. His professional opinion was supported by two other physicians who believed that this patient met the criteria for receiving approval for the drug. There is confusion, Minister, about the consistency with which the guidelines are being applied, and in the absence of clarity and the absence of explanation of when the drug is approved and when it's not approved, it clearly raises false expectations of hope, and I think that that's just not something that we can allow to happen.
I would ask you, Minister, if you would be prepared to pursue this case, which I believe is an urgent one and which deserves a response, deserves some clarity. I raise the case because I believe that it does point to very serious inconsistencies in the way in which approval is being granted and the way in which the program is administered, so I would ask whether you would both pursue this particular case to determine why approval was not given and, as well, review the administration of the program so that we can be sure that people who need this lifesaving drug are able to get the approval and get it promptly.
Hon Mrs Grier: I'd be happy to ask my officials to review the specific case, but I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition I have a copy of the guidelines in front of me. They are very clear. There are some indications for use and there are circumstances in which this drug is not recommended. Those guidelines are prepared by the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation. I know that the Leader of the Opposition has, on many occasions, quoted and supported the recommendations of the OCTRF. We consider ourselves very fortunate in this province to have institutions like OCTRF and OCI to give us advice in how to deal with cancer, and this government has put in place a cancer strategy and has devoted resources to cancer based on the recommendations of OCTRF.
Mrs McLeod: Mr Speaker, just to be clear, the minister has said that she will review the case and review it as well in terms of what it says about the administration of the guidelines, and I appreciate that.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): I will make my second question to the Minister of Finance. I have not given him notice of this question, but I know it's an issue with which he is well aware.
In the past three years, we've been calling on this government to keep its books in a way that will give a clear and accurate picture of this province's finances. We happen to believe that this government, and this government in a unique and truly creative way, has used clever accounting procedures in order to show lower expenditures and higher revenues as a way of understating its deficit.
Thanks to the Provincial Auditor, the NDP has now been forced to acknowledge that its 1993-94 deficit is $10.8 billion, up from the budget figure of $9.3 billion which the Minister of Finance reported in his last budget. But we could hardly believe our ears when, the very day that the auditor forced the government to acknowledge the true deficit figure in the past budget, the Finance minister said that he's going to continue to use the old accounting methods in his budget to estimate future deficits.
Hon Floyd Laughren (Minister of Finance): I very much appreciate the question from the leader of the official opposition and the fact that she did not give me notice. I should say to her that it's particularly satisfying to have this question come from the Liberal opposition given some of their past shenanigans with keeping the books when they were the government.
There is one set of books in the province of Ontario. Those are the public accounts of the province of Ontario. There always has been, always will be, one set of books for the province of Ontario. It's never been anything different than that, never, ever, ever.
I should tell you, though, that since the public sector accounting and auditing board decided that all of the provinces across Canada should move on to one system called accrual and consolidation as opposed to the cash method that other governments here had followed forever, all of the provinces are moving in the same way we are.
I should tell the leader of the official opposition that six provinces all have their budgets reported differently from their public financial statements. That includes British Columbia, a New Democratic Party government; Newfoundland, a Liberal government; Nova Scotia, a Liberal government; Alberta, a Conservative government; Saskatchewan, an NDP government; and Manitoba, a Conservative government.
When you move from one system of reporting the way in which the auditor of the day wants things to be reported, of course there's a hiatus between the time you start that and the time you move to the new system.
Hon Mr Laughren: Well, if you'll listen, I'll explain. I have written to the auditor already and told him that in the budget for 1995-96, there will be a comparison of the accrual and consolidation system of reporting and the cash method of reporting. So there is nothing confusing except in the mind of the leader of the official opposition. There's nothing unusual.
Mrs McLeod: There is no confusion in my mind at all. I know that the auditor signed our books. Furthermore, I happen to recall that the auditor signed books that showed a balanced year-end budget that had all the operating and all the capital dollars in that balanced budget.
There's just no doubt in anybody's mind that the government engaged in these kinds of accounting procedures in order to make a desperate deficit situation look a little bit less desperate. The concern we want to raise today, because the auditor has demonstrated the truth of what we've been raising for the past three years, is that these kinds of games are played at a very real cost to the taxpayers of this province.
In this year's public accounts, we learned that the government's sale and leaseback of GO Transit will cost taxpayers $4.3 million. I want to make clear what happened here. On March 31, the Toronto Area Transit Operating Authority sold GO Transit to a Bermuda company and then it leased the same trains back for approximately the same money. In other words, it was a break-even deal except for the fact that it cost taxpayers $4.3 million in bankers' fees: $4.3 million for a break-even deal.
Minister, will you admit that the leasing of GO Transit cost taxpayers $4.3 million and will you at least commit to us today that you will abandon the practice of using taxpayers' dollars to finance break-even deals?
Hon Mr Laughren: Perhaps I should put the issue in a bit of context. When the critic for the official opposition first started to raise this matter, I thought, "Maybe I'd better do a little bit of checking," and I went back and guess what I discovered? When the Liberal government had a program called Homes Now, guess where they showed the borrowing for Homes Now? It wasn't on the budget, oh no: off-budget.
They can stand in partisan antics and say that what we're doing is different from what everybody else has done, but that's simply not the case. When I went back and looked at the last two budgets prepared by the Treasurer of the day, Mr Nixon, guess what I found there? I found that if they had been operating under the same system we're moving to now, there would have been a substantial difference in the numbers that were reported. Of course when you move from one system to another, you have a different set of numbers; that should be a given, so the leader of the official opposition is simply wrong.
When it came to the sale and saleback of the GO Transit rolling stock, I'll go back and check my numbers, but my information was that there was a saving of over $1 million in that sale and saleback. Now, for the leader of the official opposition --
The question was whether or not the GO Transit deal came at a cost of $4.3 million to Ontario taxpayers, as was revealed in the public accounts committee. We will wait for an answer from the Treasurer, but I raise the issue because it's just one more example of the kind of shell game the government has been playing to make the deficit look lower than it actually is. In this case, we believe it cost the taxpayers $4.3 million, and that's why we're amazed that the Treasurer keeps saying he wants to keep playing the game.
Given the fact that the Finance minister appears determined to continue with this approach to reporting the province's finances, let's see where that leaves us with this year's budget. We figure that with the new accounting changes, the 1994-95 deficit is likely at least $1.5 billion higher than the $8.5 billion you projected in this year's budget, or what has now become $8.3 billion. You may want to deny it, Treasurer, but because of your refusal to use the proper accounting practices in figuring out the budget figures, nobody really knows what the deficit will be this year.
In the interest of reassuring financial markets and Ontario's taxpayers, will you release a true estimate of the province's 1994-95 budget deficit based on the accounting practices that the auditor has called for?
Hon Mr Laughren: First of all, the auditor just reported on the 1993-94 set of books and he approved that set of books in an unqualified way; absolutely no qualifying statements whatsoever. I would say to the leader of the official opposition that we are doing absolutely everything the Provincial Auditor wants us to do. We are reporting the books on the new system of accrual and consolidation. The budget is not the set of books. How often does the leader of the official opposition have to be told that a budget is a projection --
Hon Mr Laughren: If you don't want to listen, I guess there's no sense explaining, but I can tell you that there's not an accountant in the world who would say that a budget, which is a projection of what you intend to do that year, is an audited set of books. No auditor audits the budget. The auditor audits the public financial statements of the province, and he signed it off, 100% pure. There is no difference whatsoever between what the auditor wants us to do and what we're doing. Just as in those other provinces that are moving from one system to another, Ontario is as well. There's absolutely nothing unusual about that.
Recently, your ministry couriered 500 of the forms that I have just sent over to you to Dr Ockenden of the Hamilton Civic Hospital. This form is a laboratory requisition that Dr Ockenden, as the emergency room physician, says he has no use for whatsoever. How many of these forms were sent out to doctors who do not need them, and at what cost to taxpayers and to our health care system?
Hon Ruth Grier (Minister of Health): It is a blank form that is called a laboratory requisition and has a doctor's name in the corner, presumably for use by the physician. I don't know how many were sent out; I don't know at what cost. If the leader of the third party doesn't include that in the preamble to his next question, I will endeavour to find out as soon as possible.
Minister, I have been informed so far of at least 56 doctors who were couriered these eight-pound cartons of forms, with their name already printed on them, who tell me they have no use for them. In fact, I have 28 boxes of these forms that they asked me to return to you in person in the interest of saving money.
A courier company we contacted estimated the courier cost alone to send these to all Ontario doctors at the super-duper reduced government volume rate would be $300,000. The real clincher is, though, that when doctors called your ministry to ask, "What do we do with these unnecessary forms that we don't want?" they were told to shred them. How can you justify this cavalier and wasteful attitude from your ministry at a time when health care dollars are so precious?
Hon Mrs Grier: I will certainly endeavour to get the facts. I'm not sure I am getting the facts in the preamble to the second question. Never having seen these before, it appears to me as though, in anticipation of the fact that doctors are likely to request tests from a laboratory, they were sent, in advance, blank forms that would enable them to do that. Their names were on them, including their correct practitioner number, presumably to avoid mistakes. Of course, if a doctor's name is on a blank form, that form cannot be used by any other physician and the only course is to waste them. But if you're telling me there are doctors out there who don't intend to requisition tests from a laboratory, then I would agree with you that they do not need these forms and I will assure you that they will not be sent them in the future.
Mr Harris: Why were they sent them in the first place when nobody asked for them? Minister, these forms come from Data Business Forms Ltd. Last year alone, according to the blue book, your ministry paid $1.7 million for forms from this company. At a time when you're denying out-of-country coverage to seniors against the law of the land, the Canada Health Act, at a time when you are delisting drugs and procedures, at a time when you are bringing in more and more user fees, when you have closed 8,000 hospital beds, what specific assurance can you give us that this fiasco is an isolated incident and that you have any control over wasteful spending in the Ministry of Health?
Hon Mrs Grier: To be asked a question about waste in the Ministry of Health from the member of a previous government that had health card numbers for I think 22 million people in the province is a little hard to take. Let me assure the member that management of the Ministry of Health has greatly improved over the last five years and that our Ministry of Health is very concerned to make sure that there is no fraud, that there is no waste and that any doctor who submits a requisition for a laboratory use is in fact who they purport to be and is doing it in the proper way. That's what good management is about.
Arnold Minors, your government's appointee to the Metropolitan Toronto Police Services Board and your intended successor as chair to the Liberal Party's board appointee Susan Eng, was quoted several weeks ago as saying the Holocaust, in which in estimated six million Jews were murdered, was not a racist act.
On October 7, Premier Rae indicated in the media reports that his office had asked you, the Solicitor General, for a full report. Apparently the Attorney General, through her ministry, is conducting that investigation. That was over three weeks ago.
We know the Attorney General has moved to cancel the anti-racism courses conducted by Mr Minors. Can you tell us, tell the Legislature, tell the people of Metropolitan Toronto, why you, as Solicitor General, haven't taken any action with respect to Mr Minors's responsibilities as a member of the police services board?
Hon David Christopherson (Solicitor General): The comments in question by the honourable member were indeed related to activities that an individual was carrying out in relation to a contractual agreement they had with the Attorney General's ministry and not in a capacity as an appointee through my ministry and from this government. Therefore, the relationship and any questions around that relationship lie with the Attorney General and not the Solicitor General.
Mr Runciman: That's an astonishing response, to say the least. We could go back over the years with respect to his leader and his role on this side of the House in response to these kinds of allegations. I wonder if his leader would have the same perspective with respect to the comments made in the teachings of Mr Keegstra in Alberta and other things that have occurred in this country, let alone this province, in the past decade or more.
Mr Runciman: Over the next two days the Metro police services board will be selecting a new chief of police for the Metropolitan Toronto area. This is indeed a critical decision, with long-term implications for policing in Metropolitan Toronto.
According to a report in the Toronto Star today -- I know we can't rely on that completely, but it's a pretty clear indication that Mr Minors is an individual who has little credibility in terms of the public, has virtually no public support, yet may cast the deciding vote in this crucial decision, the selection of a new police chief. Will you, at the very least, suspend Mr Minors from participation in the selection of a new chief while this Holocaust cloud hangs over his head?
Hon Mr Christopherson: The issue of previous comments that I have indeed referred to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services is where I believe it properly should be for a formal and proper investigation.
The issue of whether or not someone remains in their appointed capacity while such an investigation is being undertaken is dealt with by the legislation, that allows that an individual would remain. That would apply, I would advise the honourable member, whether we're talking about a police services board member, whether we're talking about a chief, whether we're talking about any other entity that may be indeed sent to the commission. For that reason, the individual being mentioned continues to sit on the Metro police services board as a full member unless and until the commission decides or recommends otherwise.
Mr Runciman: This is a very disturbing response we're receiving from the Solicitor General. Clearly, he and his government are playing political games with this matter. We have allegations, and I will classify them as allegations, of anti-Semitic teachings, and this minister suggests that because those teachings fall under the purview of another ministry, he's washing his hands completely of that matter. Unbelievable.
Mr Runciman: Over the years, the current governing party and its leader have consistently talked a good fight about the evils of racism, but in this situation, dealing with one of your own political appointees, with serious allegations hanging over his head, you refuse to act.
Minister, your cabinet colleague the Attorney General had the intestinal fortitude to cancel the anti-racism courses conducted by Mr Minors, yet you continue to waffle. There's a critical decision coming up this week that will affect policing for decades in Metropolitan Toronto. I ask you once again, on behalf of the people of Metropolitan Toronto, will you act and suspend Mr Minors from participation in the choice of a new police chief for Metro Toronto?
Hon Mr Christopherson: If there's anybody in this House who's played political games with the issue of public safety and policing, particularly as it relates to Metropolitan Toronto police, it's the honourable member who was just on his feet.
Hon Mr Christopherson: Let me just conclude my comments by saying that for a party that has a long history and tradition, particularly in this province, of believing in and supporting due process, it has been, during the course of this particular Parliament, the third party that's been the first one that wants to ditch due process time after time after time. This government will not succumb to that kind of pressure.
Hon Mr Christopherson: I have attempted to be helpful in trying to point out the kinds of processes and legislative requirements that are in place, but constantly the third party does not want to hear that, so I would have to say to you that I have done my best to answer the legitimate parts of the questions that I could find.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Minister, four years ago your Premier pledged support for the new agriculture stabilization program called the gross revenue insurance plan, or GRIP as it's known to farmers. At that time, you led the farmers of this province to believe that your government was committed to fully funding this program. It is four years later and you have yet to do so.
I'm sure you're aware that a number of weeks ago the corn producers of Ontario wrote to the Premier to indicate their deep disappointment with the bluntness with which he had rejected their request that you live up to the promise your government made. Minister, can I ask you why you have decided to break your promise to Ontario's farmers.
Hon Elmer Buchanan (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): That's kind of an amazing question in terms of our commitment. We've always been committed to the GRIP program. We've been committed to NISA. The program actually was designed by the farmers of Canada. It was implemented very quickly by the government of Ontario. I think what the member is trying to suggest is that there was a promise of 85% funding. The program was designed and set at 80%. That's what we promised; that's what we delivered. The plan is working, it's successful and the farmers appreciate the support they've got from this government.
Mrs McLeod: I'm glad the minister remembers the promise, but the farmers of this province do not see you as having kept that promise. You know very well that the reforms that have been requested by the corn producers and by a coalition of farm groups across the province to fix the GRIP program are not going to cost you additional dollars. You know that because of declining prices the changes will cost millions of dollars less than you spent under the program this year and last year.
You also are well aware that this is a federal-provincial-producer shared program, where the federal government picks up 45% of the costs of the program, so that for every dollar the province allocates, the federal government contributes almost $2. As a result of the program not being fully funded, the farmers of this province are receiving less support than farmers in other provinces.
Hon Mr Buchanan: I'm not exactly sure what kind of bookkeeping the Leader of the Opposition keeps, but I just heard her say that we could increase from 80% to 85% and it wouldn't cost any money. We heard from the Minister of Finance a few minutes ago about keeping books, but I don't understand this.
We are committed to GRIP and NISA, and if the Leader of the Opposition wants to be critical and do something for farmers, she might talk to her Liberal friends in Ottawa. We are interested in putting in place a whole farm program so that all farmers could be included in a whole farm program. We're prepared to put our money on the table, we're prepared to implement it tomorrow, and we can't get movement and leadership from the Liberal government in Ottawa. In fact, some of the other provinces are not willing to come to the table. We're willing to do that. If we just put money into the GRIP program, we will not have what we need to put a whole farm program in place.
I notice that the leader had a conference this morning and endorsed our agriculture and rural policies. I'm very pleased. I want to thank her for endorsing our policies and our platform that we've been putting in place over the last four years.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): My question is to the Chair of Management Board. I wonder, Minister, if you could tell us, in these days of fiscal restraint, exactly what kind of direction you have given to your ministries and to government agencies about ensuring that tax dollars are not wasted on meetings being held in expensive hotels and other similar junkets.
Hon Brian A. Charlton (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet): I'm not precisely sure, and I'm sure I'll find out in the supplementary, what the member is going to come back with. This is an issue that's been raised a number of times.
I can tell you that in general the directions that have gone out to ministries are directions that suggest that the most efficient and economical way of holding and paying for functions should be sought out, and in every single category where the government runs functions, whether they're training functions or whatever they might be, we've substantially reduced the overall operational costs of this government: on average, across the board, by 24% in four years.
Mrs Marland: Well, if you've done such a good job, then I guess you would probably be interested in answering my second question, which deals with the Advocacy Commission. Just in case you might have forgotten, the Advocacy Commission is chaired by the close personal adviser and friend of the Premier, David Reville, now in his new $125,000-a-year job. The Advocacy Commission itself, of course, is going to operate at somewhere between $30 million and $100 million in cost in this province.
This commission held a meeting a week ago, over the weekend of October 22, at the Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto, which I think the minister would agree is certainly a luxurious hotel located in this city.
I would like to ask you, Minister, is this not a double standard, a holier-than-thou attitude? While you have been in opposition in this House and demanded of every government before you that there are all kinds of rooms available over in the Macdonald Block, and for the size of the Advocacy Commission they may well have been able to use the cabinet room itself, would you approve the chair, David Reville, taking the Advocacy Commission to a meeting in the Harbour Castle hotel?
With respect to the specific question she's raised about the Advocacy Commission, I'm not familiar with the details. I will look into the matter. But as I said at the outset of my first answer, which is something she doesn't want to hear or understand, all ministries have been instructed to seek out the most cost-effective way of delivering the service, event or whatever the question happens to be that's required.
In that context -- and again, I will get the specific details on this case -- many of those establishments which the member across the way thinks of as luxurious may or may not be. We, for example, have gone out and reduced rents in accommodations that were rented by the former government by some 38% or 40% because of the particular times we happen to be in, and those times often have an impact on what accommodations cost. We'll look into the matter.
Mr Ron Hansen (Lincoln): My question is to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Last May the government announced $20 million for the Niagara tender fruit lands program. This unique program is designed to protect at least 2,000 acres of Niagara's fruit lands by giving farmers a per-acre cash settlement over five years. This is in exchange for perpetual deeding of their land for farming.
The last I heard, a committee had been formed to draft some guidelines as to who will qualify for this program. Many farmers have since asked me when the first cheques will be issued. Can the minister give us an update on the Niagara tender fruit lands program?
Hon Elmer Buchanan (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs): That's an excellent question. The member referred to a committee, which is a committee of ministry staff, region of Niagara staff and farmers, which was putting together the implementation around this program. They have done so. The program has now been endorsed by the region of Niagara, and it was going to put some money in as well. I think it's important to recognize the fact that this is a cooperative program between the region, the province and farmers. The committee has done its work. The implementation is ready to go. The region endorsed the plan.
Now, they have still not withdrawn their three official plan amendments that we were objecting to a few years ago, and one of the conditions of sending the cheques out is that they would remove those official plan amendments that we did not want to endorse. I hope to meet with the region. I understand that the municipal politicians are very busy this particular season, but we will have a meeting very quickly, and I hope we can get our differences resolved and get the cheques out as soon as possible. That's the best I can do.
Hon Mr Buchanan: That's a question that's often asked and I think it's important to answer it. The question is that we're not going to consider expanding it until we get the program up and running and see how it works and if there may be some minor adjustments required. We want to make sure it's working and working well before we expand it. I would certainly be in favour of looking at it, but we're not going to concentrate on expanding it until we get it working properly, and then we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): My question is for the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. After-hours clubs have become more and more of a problem in our neighbourhoods. The recent fatal shooting which occurred outside of Tae's Restaurant and Nite Club took place in my constituency. Tae's is located right in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, a neighbourhood with young children, a neighbourhood where people used to feel safe, but not any longer.
This morning, North York city council passed a unanimous motion calling on the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario to revoke the liquor licence of Tae's Restaurant. Minister, what do you intend to do with North York's request?
Hon Marilyn Churley (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): I think I should reiterate what the Premier said yesterday. I'm not sure if you were in the House or not to hear that the Solicitor General will have the lead in this area, but certainly I, as minister responsible for the LLBO, will be involved in looking at the whole area of the problems around after-hours clubs.
In terms of the specific incident you mentioned, I understand that there is a process in place right now, and I can't quite recall what it is in terms of that club, but I believe that there is going to be a hearing.
The LLBO has legal jurisdiction over the status of a liquor sale licence or a special-occasion permit under the Liquor Licence Act and regulation, and this one does fall into that. When there are specific problems around safety or specific problems around contravention of the act, then what the liquor board does is suspend that licence and demand that there be a hearing held as to whether or not that particular club should in fact get its licence renewed.
Mr Cordiano: The day following the shooting, I wrote to you asking for your ministry to review the liquor licence granted to Tae's International. In case you're not aware, Tae's Restaurant and Nite Club is reported by the police to have been the site of 21 offences involving the illegal service of alcohol, weapons, drugs and homicides since 1990. How much longer must the residents in my community wait till some action is taken which will enable municipalities and the police to deal with the problem?
I understand the Solicitor General will take a leadership role, but will you assist the other minister, your colleague at the cabinet table, and encourage the Premier to bring forward legislation? It's high time you did something regarding these matters because, as we said yesterday in the House, it's not just a Toronto problem; it's a problem that affects many places around the province. Will you take some leadership in this? Because after all, you are responsible for the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario. Take a stand on this. You are the minister. Do something about it.
Hon Ms Churley: Yes, I will take some responsibility. Further, let me say that I believe the Premier's statement in the House in answer to a question around the broader issue and the private member's bill that's coming forward is a testament to how seriously we all take this issue.
I will be working with the Solicitor General and the LLBO to look at the kinds of problems that have emerged, and you're right, not just in the Metro area. There have been some tragic occurrences, some in licensed establishments that have been illegally serving alcohol after hours and some that quite frankly have not been licensed by the liquor licence board, and that's another issue we have to look at.
There are some complex problems here, there are perhaps some easier problems, but I am committed to work with the Premier, with the Solicitor General, with all levels of government, to see what we all can do within our own jurisdictions to try to find real, workable solutions to some of these problems.
Mr Jim Wilson (Simcoe West): My question is for the Minister of Labour. For the past eight months, my colleagues Al McLean and Bill Murdoch and I and others have urged your government to amend its Bill 40 labour laws to allow private investors to purchase rail lines that CN has publicly said it wants to abandon.
In Simcoe county, the Midland to Orillia, Bradford to Washago and Collingwood to Barrie rail lines are featured prominently on CN's list of abandonments. If these lines go, industries and thousands of jobs will follow. In the Collingwood area alone, 2,000 jobs will be affected. To date, all the Premier has done is provide hollow reassurances that your government is working on this issue. Last March, I provided you with a solution to this matter in the form of my private member's bill which would amend your job-killing Bill 40 labour legislation.
Minister, since your government voted against my private member's bill and since eight months have passed and we've seen no action, what immediate solution do you have to offer to save these jobs in Simcoe county?
Hon Shirley Coppen (Minister of Labour): Mr Speaker, through you to the member, I hope he can appreciate that I am just being briefed, but that does not stop me from wanting to help the member. I am working with the Minister of Economic Development and Trade on the problem that he has brought to my attention about the short railways.
But you started your question to me about Bill 40. I am very pleased to tell all of the members in the House how well Bill 40 is working in this province. We will not be making amendments to Bill 40 because it has proven that it is stopping the adversary system that we have had in this province. We have to bring working people together with the business community.
Hon Mrs Coppen: Again, addressing your concern about the short railway, I would be very pleased to get back to the member with additional information as soon as possible. I will be discussing this concern with the minister in the next couple of days.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): By way of follow-up, I want to inform the House and the new Minister of Labour how Bill 40 has destroyed jobs in Wellington county and in our neighbouring counties of Bruce and Perth.
A company called Canadian Agra Corp located in Kincardine in 1992 initiated plans to buy the rail corridor from Stratford to Harriston and from Harriston north to the Bruce Energy Centre in Tiverton. This plan would have ensured continued rail service in our area, which is important in attracting new industry generally, would have created 200 construction jobs to re-establish the rail links and would have created six to 10 permanent maintenance jobs at no cost to the taxpayer. This is a tangible example of jobs that have been lost because of Bill 40.
The company's plans to invest $80 million in a new canola-crushing plant creating 40 new jobs are now in jeopardy because of Bill 40. Minister, we need those jobs in our area. We need the rail service to attract new industry and our farmers need the canola-crushing plant.
My question is this: Will the minister agree that unemployment is too high in Ontario and that the government's job is to create a climate to encourage private sector job creation, and will the minister recognize the economic folly of Bill 40, which is killing jobs, and announce its repeal today?
Mr Jim Wilson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I wish to serve notice that the member for Wellington and I are not at all happy with that response from the Minister of Labour and will be filing the necessary papers to ask the minister to appear in the late show.
Ms Christel Haeck (St Catharines-Brock): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Minister, many here in this House will remember and know, some of us from personal experience, that the Niagara region has been particularly hard hit economically. A number of us have been very active in our use of the Jobs Ontario Community Action program, and I know that it's having some very positive impacts in our communities.
As part of that overall program, last June you made an announcement at a conference in Thorold relating to community loan funds, and I understand that there are new developments with regard to community investment share corporations.
Hon Ed Philip (Minister of Municipal Affairs): I thank the member for the question. For the record, I'm proud to say that our government has moved in the direction that the people of Ontario have been demanding for many years, that community investment share corporations, community loan funds are part of our government's new and exciting community economic development initiatives. We've recognized that access to traditional sources of capital is a major obstacle to community development, and these investment funds provide investment for local businesses and local projects.
I was in the Niagara and Fort Erie area yesterday. They are disgusted with the fact that previous governments didn't get hydro rates under control and they're very excited that we are doing something, not only in controlling hydro rates for the first time but also in having community economic development in the area.
Ms Haeck: -- the problem with the base, but they surely come to see me. Very clearly the economic development in our communities is very crucial to us all. I will make that assumption, that the opposition in fact agrees with that.
Ms Haeck: The local initiative rewards our communities with healthier and more stable economic futures. This will be a positive return. This will have a positive return for our society in the long run. Mr Minister, can you give the residents of my community and others across the province examples of how these financing initiatives are beginning to help our communities?
Hon Mr Philip: I'd be pleased to. I know the member for St Catharines would have asked the question if his party had given him an opportunity, because I'm sure that he's very supportive of the work we are doing in the Niagara area and St Catharines area. But I'm pleased to give examples of what our government is doing.
Since we introduced this exciting new investment program in February of this year, 11 communities have received approval in principle for community loan funds ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, for a total provincial allocation of over $3 million. In addition, as of October a total of nine proposals were given approval in principle to the community investment share corporation funds, for a total approval allocation of over $4 million.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: I believe my rights as a member of the Legislature and the rights of the people of Manitoulin have been seriously compromised by a government action last week.
Last week the NDP government presented a promotional film to a group of business people to be used to promote investment in Ontario. During the course of this film an astounding revelation took place. The film showed a map of Ontario on a number of occasions. The film, which was vetted by senior ministry people, showed important areas of the province as being ceded to the United States of America, more particularly to the state of Michigan. All of Manitoulin Island was given to the state of Michigan.
Mr Speaker, I live on Manitoulin Island. I am therefore concerned that I am no longer able to represent the people of Manitoulin in this chamber, as you recognize there is a requirement that a member of this Legislature lives in the province of Ontario.
The Speaker: The member for Algoma-Manitoulin will know he does not have a point of privilege. I appreciate the concerns which he has brought to my attention. It does sound as if he has excellent material for tomorrow's question period.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): Mr Speaker, I believe that my member's privileges were breached on August 16, 1994, when certain members of the Legislative Assembly committee leaked to the media the findings of a draft report by the committee's legal counsel, Eleanore Cronk, with respect to whether the Minister of Housing, Evelyn Gigantes, breached conflict-of-interest guidelines for cabinet ministers when she attended a meeting of the Van Lang Centre's board of directors on June 17, 1994.
The members of the Legislative Assembly committee agreed that counsel's report would remain confidential until we had approved the final version of the report, which would be made public at 12 noon on Friday, August 19, 1994. However, some members of the committee broke their oath of confidentiality. Press reports on counsel's findings appeared on the morning of Wednesday, August 17, 1994, following the committee's meeting on the evening of Tuesday, August 16, 1994.
The Speaker (Hon David Warner): Order. The member for Mississauga South has indeed raised a very serious point of privilege. She quite properly served notice to the Chair, which I appreciate very much. I take the matter that you have raised very seriously. I will endeavour to reply as quickly as possible. It's my intention indeed to be able to report back to the House tomorrow.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): I just want to indicate with respect to a statement I made yesterday regarding the need for improvements to Highway 6, that highway being our access to Highway 401: I had intended to say Highway 401. Hansard has recorded my statement as Highway 1, and I just want to correct the record in that respect. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Anyway, Madam Speaker, I have a petition signed by about 5,200 people, many of whom are constituents in my riding of Durham East, which includes the northern portion of the town of Whitby, including the villages of Brooklin, Ashburn and Myrtle Station. The petition reads:
"Whereas the nearby community is already home to the highest number of ex-psychiatric patients and social service organizations in hundreds of licensed and unlicensed rooming houses, group homes and crisis care facilities in all of Canada; and
"Whereas no one was consulted -- not the local residents and business community; not leaders of community organizations; not education and child care providers; and not even the NDP member of the provincial riding of Fort York;
"We, the undersigned residents and business owners of our community, urge the government of Ontario to immediately stop all plans to accommodate the criminally insane in an expanded Queen Street Mental Health Centre until a public consultation process is completed."
"Whereas this reduction in coverage will affect all Ontarians but will have the greatest impact upon seniors, many of whom travel south of the border for important health reasons and who will be forced to absorb a tremendous hike in their health insurance premiums;
"Whereas the government has justified its decision on the basis of not wanting to pay exorbitant hospital costs, even though currently out-of-country hospital coverage is based solely on the rates charged by Ontario hospitals;
"Therefore, we petition the government of Ontario to act in a fair and just manner by preserving the sacred principles of medicare and immediately restore out-of-country hospitalization coverage to the rates charged by hospitals in Ontario."
"Therefore," the 30,000 people who have signed this petition are making a clear message of their desire to "petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to maintain the Whitby General Hospital as an active treatment, full-service health care facility."
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I have a petition signed by a number of my constituents from the Kenora riding, including Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Cochenour, McKenzie Island, Balmertown and Redditt. The petition reads, as a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, of course:
Mr Robert Frankford (Scarborough East): I'm presenting a petition on behalf of David Warner, the Speaker of the House. It was put together by Mrs Cathleen Hughes, president of the St Richard school association in his riding:
"Whereas the British North America Act of 1867 supports the right of Catholic students to a Catholic education, and the province of Ontario supports two educational systems from kindergarten to grade 12/OAC; and
"Whereas the Metropolitan Separate School Board is expected to provide the same programs and services as its public school counterpart and must do so by receiving $1,822 less for each elementary school student and $2,542 less per secondary school student, based on 1993 estimates;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to ensure that amendments are made to Bill 173 to allow for provision of community care based on the needs of the local communities in Ontario and acknowledge the role of volunteers in the delivery of care."
"We, the undersigned, members and friends of St John's Presbyterian Church, Cornwall, Ontario, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows: We urge the Parliament of Ontario to take an unequivocal stance against violence in every form and that it publicly and clearly state such a stance; and that" it "begin and/or continue to draft legislation that would address violence in the above contexts."
The Acting Speaker (Ms Margaret H. Harrington): The time for petitions has expired. I wish to inform the House that pursuant to standing order 34(a), the member for Simcoe West has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Minister of Labour concerning Bill 40 and its impact on rail line acquisition. This matter will be debated today at 6 pm.
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 175, An Act to amend the Statutes of Ontario with respect to the provision of services to the public, the administration of government programs and the management of government resources / Projet de loi 175, Loi modifiant les Lois de l'Ontario en ce qui a trait à la fourniture de services au public, à l'administration des programmes gouvernementaux et à la gestion des ressources gouvernementales.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): I'm continuing debate on Bill 175, which is entitled An Act to amend the Statutes of Ontario with respect to the provision of services to the public, the administration of government programs and the management of government resources.
This bill has been categorized by the NDP government as a bill which is about the efficiency of government, and on numerous occasions in briefing notes and in discussions with members of the official opposition and our staff, the government has said that this bill is not controversial, that it is making changes which are considered housekeeping, minor changes and many of them it has said are long overdue. We heard that yesterday, when the minister who has responsibility for carriage of the legislation --
Mrs Caplan: I'm pleased that there is now a quorum present. As I was saying, Bill 175 is an omnibus piece of legislation. The Minister of the Attorney General said yesterday that Bill 175 makes non-controversial changes. We know that there's a total of about 110 different proposals and 14 ministries and that well over 100 statutes are amended by this very thick and quite complex document.
I stated yesterday in my remarks that since the minister and the government have said that this piece of legislation is non-controversial, intended to make housekeeping changes, and since it really is a precedent in this House to have such a broad-sweeping piece of legislation that covers so many statutes and so many ministries and so many policies, we wanted assurance from the government that if there was anything controversial in the legislation, it would commit to remove it from the legislation.
My caucus has identified an issue which we believe is highly controversial and we have requested the government House leader, the minister responsible for this bill -- the Attorney General -- and the government to make the commitment that they will withdraw the sections as they relate to the Advocacy Commission from the legislation, as these amendments to the Advocacy Act are clearly highly controversial.
I have not yet heard from the government House leader a response from the government, nor have I heard from the Attorney General. As I await their reply, I'd like to make the case of why these amendments to the Advocacy Act are controversial and why we are requesting the government to remove them from the statute.
The amendment gives the Advocacy Commission powers so that it can conduct matters of administration, hiring people, so on and so forth. It also designates the Advocacy Commission as a schedule 3 agency quite removed from control and accountability of the government.
We do not support the Advocacy Act in its present form. The Liberal caucus and our leader, Lyn McLeod, have been very clear. We did not support the act when it was here in the House. We voted against the act.
We have said that should we have the opportunity at some point in the future, we would make sure that the Advocacy Commission as it has been put into place by the New Democratic government would in fact be scrapped, that those sections of the Advocacy Act would be repealed. Those changes are extremely important because we consider the Advocacy Commission as it has been formulated by the NDP government to be unworkable.
Given that very clear position by our party, we believe that it would be inconsistent and, more than inconsistent, would put in place the kinds of powers to bring a commission that we do not support into being in the province. Therefore, not only is it inconsistent but it is something that we just simply cannot support. Our contention is that this debate and discussion should not be part of Bill 175.
The minister, as I said, assured us that there was broad support for all of the recommendations and amendments contained in Bill 175. In fact, we know that there are many who have concerns about how the Advocacy Commission is being structured, how the appointment process is working, how people are being appointed to that commission, which makes the issue of accountability very important. Commitments were made by the government to many of those who are interested in how the Advocacy Commission would function, and they are feeling betrayed and upset.
I'd like to place in the record what some of the interests have to say about the Advocacy Commission as it has been put forward by the NDP, so that the government will know that the amendments that are in Bill 175 are controversial and that we will not tolerate having those amendments put through in a housekeeping bill that is said to be non-controversial.
"We received your letter dated October 14, 1994, as well as an undated letter from the Minister of Citizenship faxed to me on October 18, 1994, concerning the government's decision to appoint the Ad Hoc Coalition's four nominees to the Advocacy Commission. The letter from the minister that you asked her to write did not address our concerns. We are therefore writing to request that you personally address our concerns. Specifically, we want to know why the Minister of Citizenship succumbed to pressure from a powerful lobby group, namely the Ad Hoc Coalition, while at the same time failing to meet her legal obligations under the Advocacy Act as well as her own and the government's commitments made in 1992 to this coalition and the more than 600,000 vulnerable people in Ontario.
"In 1991 you lived up to your election commitment and introduced the Advocacy Act, the Substitute Decisions Act and the Consent to Treatment Act. At that time it was recognized that there would be opposition to this legislation from service providers who felt threatened by the thought that the system in which they spoke for vulnerable people would disappear. Our coalition worked long and hard between 1990 and 1992 to support your legislative initiatives and to do everything we could to ensure that the legislation truly met the principles it was designed to reflect. We were confident, based on the many statements that were made by you and members of your government that you fully supported an advocacy system that was intended to empower vulnerable people and give them a voice to counter the strong lobbying organizations such as the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ontario Nursing Home Association.
"The Ad Hoc Coalition was pulled together in 1991 by then NDP Treasurer Brian Harling who worked for the Ontario Medical Association at the time. In addition to the OMA, the coalition consisted of the Ontario Nursing Home Association, the Ontario Hospital Association, as well as several other organizations providing services to seniors and persons with disabilities."
Mrs Caplan: Time does not permit me to read the entire letter that was tabled at the press conference; however, the bottom line in this letter, which is signed by Ralph Evans and Mae Harman, who are co-chairs of the Ontario Advocacy Coalition, says: "We look forward to your response" -- and they're referring to the Premier -- "to our request for your direct intervention. Being referred to a minister who has lost our confidence would only confirm you have not heard us. On behalf of the vulnerable people across Ontario, please act."
Similarly, there are grave concerns that the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office, with which I'm extremely familiar, is going to result in less service to those people who presently count on the PPAO for the support they need. As I understand it, it is the intention of the government, upon proclamation, to have all the services presently provided by the PPAO become part of the Advocacy Commission, notwithstanding the fact that the Advocacy Act limits service under that act to people over the age of 16, and that the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office today is presently serving people under the age of 16. Therefore, those vulnerable people under the age of 16 who are presently receiving support and service from the PPAO will be left without anyone to support them and give them the advocacy needs as they require them.
Second, it would seem to me logical to have a kind of transition, to take a look at the establishment of an advocacy office and an Advocacy Commission rather than having the kind of proclamation in January that I believe will lead to chaos. It seems to me that there are enough concerns. I also have a letter that was written as of October 20 by the acting director of the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office that clearly asks the government to slow its proclamation. The letter says:
"The Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office is a quasi-independent program of the Ministry of Health. For the last 11 years we have worked for the rights of inpatients in Ontario's 10 provincial psychiatric hospitals. Most of our clients have serious mental illnesses, and have" a history of being "underserved by the mental health system.
"The chair" -- of the Ontario Advocacy Commission -- "David Reville and members of the Ontario Advocacy Commission have just been appointed. Between now and mid-January (about 60 working days) the commission is scheduled to begin providing advocacy and rights advice services across Ontario to people with disabilities. The government had made a decision to transfer the PPAO to the commission, without taking into account the views of the program, our clients, or the new commission.
"Few benefits to the clients of the PPAO resulting from such a transfer have been identified, and many risks. For example, PPAO advocates are salaried specialists onsite in the 10 hospitals, with a fast response time. Under the commission, our clients could be served by a volunteer generalist advocate who lives in the next town and can't respond to a call from a client for several days.
Mr Harnick: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: We again don't appear to have a quorum. After being away from here for four and a half months, I would think the government members would be delighted to be back and in their seats to proceed with their legislative agenda.
Mrs Caplan: Just to complete this last paragraph, it says, "the commission's first 'accomplishments' could include the immediate reduction of advocacy services to the...provincial psychiatric hospitals (part of the population the commission is intended to benefit); an admission of indifference to the views of that population; and an admission of its unwillingness to disagree with the government on important issues."
What I have presented today and what I have heard is that providers do not support the Advocacy Commission as it has been constituted by the NDP government. Consumers do not support the Advocacy Commission as it has been constituted by the NDP government. Those of us who've had an opportunity to review the legislation and have seen both the appointment process and the rights adviser and advocacy system that the NDP government envisions having in place by January 1 know that it is unworkable and that it is confusing and that it could well result in fewer services to a very vulnerable population in the province.
It seems to me that to include amendments in Bill 175 that will empower an Advocacy Commission that is so badly flawed and that there are so many concerns about should say to the government that this is a highly controversial amendment which is being proposed in Bill 175, and since your stated intention is that Bill 175 be merely housekeeping and non-controversial items, it would be an act of good faith for the government to remove section 65 and any other sections and parts of the bill that deal with empowerment of the Advocacy Commission, to take them out of the bill to allow the bill to proceed.
I'd like to make this commitment on behalf of my caucus. As I said yesterday, we are prepared to cooperate with the government on issues of housekeeping, efficiency, and in those areas where we believe that by cooperating in this House we can expedite legislation that is clearly non-controversial and seen as simply housekeeping.
However, if a piece of legislation which the government claims is non-controversial and merely housekeeping contains, as this one does, a very controversial amendment such as the amendment to the Advocacy Act, we see that as a clear breach of faith of the parliamentary procedures in this House, and I say to the government that we will use every legitimate parliamentary procedure we can to alert the public of Ontario to the duplicity of the government as it attempts to suggest that Bill 175 is non-controversial and merely housekeeping.
We will speak to this legislation. We will require that it go to committee. We will use all the proper procedures that this House allows a legitimate opposition to keep this bill from becoming law if it contains the kind of controversial amendments which the government has assured the House is not the intent of Bill 175.
I am calling upon the Premier, the government House leader, the Attorney General to do what they said they were going to do with Bill 175 and remove from this bill those sections which refer to the Advocacy Act, to allow full and complete debate on an item which we believe we as an opposition are entitled to and which the public is entitled to have full debate on.
The Advocacy Act was recently in this House, and we stated very clearly at the time that we do not support the model the NDP has put forward. Since the time that act completed the third reading procedure in this House, we have heard from providers and consumers, advocates and those with an interest in this bill who say they are disappointed and feel betrayed and upset and concerned that the Advocacy Commission will not be able to do the job it was intended by the government to do.
As I conclude debate on Bill 175, I would like to say that I am very supportive of the kinds of amendments which would lead to greater efficiency in government. I spent a great deal of time yesterday offering the government many ideas where it could save money and in fact be far more efficient. But I am very concerned when we see the government come forward with a bill that it claims is merely housekeeping and is non-controversial and then, when we take a closer look, we see an act that contains sections that are indeed highly controversial.
I have not yet heard from the government House leader or from the Attorney General, and I would hope that before the end of today's session they would agree to remove section 65 and any other sections as they relate to the Advocacy Act, and then it would be the position of our party that we would expedite the remaining parts of Bill 175 to allow the government to have those amendments which are truly non-controversial and housekeeping and will lead to some streamlining which is necessary if we are going to see fiscal responsibility a reality in the province of Ontario.
Mr David Winninger (London South): Two minutes does not afford a great opportunity to respond to a 90-minute speech from the member for Oriole, but I would like to first of all reiterate what the Attorney General said in this House yesterday, that is, that since at least June, when Bill 175 was introduced in this House, the government has made every effort to consult with the opposition members about the contents of the bill; that the government has already tabled motions to deal with matters that have been identified as controversial; and that the government will continue to consider in the course of discussions about the bill those items that the opposition identifies as being controversial.
Perhaps, just to hit the high points with reference to the provisions of the Advocacy Act that the member for Oriole has touched on again and again during her remarks, the provisions of the Advocacy Act have clearly indicated the intent for the independent functioning of the Advocacy Commission. The amendments put forward in Bill 175 are indeed technical in nature. They clarify the role of the commission; they confer on it certain powers. If the member for Oriole has some concerns about that, certainly they can continue to be discussed.
But I think the government has taken quite a clear position that the Advocacy Commission will be a schedule 3 agency -- that was anticipated in the legislation -- and I'm certain most of the stakeholders out there would be tremendously disappointed if the government chose to resile from the position that the commission be a schedule 3 agency.
There are several other issues the member for Oriole raised in regard to the exemption for taxis that are accessible. I need to make it quite clear for the record that the proposal put forward in Bill 175 dealing with this issue is one that's based on fairly wide public input and the design is not to allow an exemption where passengers are not disabled.
Mrs Caplan: I appreciate the comments from the member for London South. In fact, on the issue that I raised yesterday regarding the taxis, I said at that time that I was very supportive of the rights of disabled persons to be able to use taxi services and cross boundaries. As a member of the official opposition, I felt I had an obligation to put forward the concerns of the taxi companies.
Since the government had said that this legislation was not controversial, I felt it was important that we at least point out where there were concerns. However, we support the government in its intent and we support the amendment to the legislation that would give greater access to people with disabilities who need to use taxis and want to cross municipal boundaries. I'm pleased that you gave me an opportunity to clarify that.
Secondly, you've said that the amendments to the Advocacy Act are technical. I argue with you, sir, that they are not technical. It was never anticipated or discussed during the Advocacy Act debates that this Advocacy Commission would be a schedule 3 agency. While I'm sure that there are some advocates and consumer groups that would support a schedule 3 designation, similarly I think that would be highly controversial and you would find that there are many, particularly providers, who would like to be able to argue the need for the Advocacy Commission to be closer to the government and be perhaps a schedule 1, which I understand was the original intent of the government.
Having been a former Minister of Health when the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office was actually a program within the ministry, I want you to know that it was highly effective, worked extremely well to advocate for the rights of patients in the psychiatric hospitals and did not require, although there were often debates and discussions about having it at arm's length, a schedule 3 designation to be effective.
Mr Harnick: I'm pleased to be able to rise to take part in a debate on a bill that is designed specifically to streamline the way that government operates and that is designed to make government more efficient, and that is the purpose of this Bill 175, the Statute Law Amendment Act (Government Management and Services), 1994.
I have some preliminary remarks to make about the way this bill has been constructed. The bill effectively deals with 14 ministries, and if we're talking about the issue of efficiency, this is a highly inefficient way to go about delivering a piece of legislation that is supposed to be comprehensible and recognized as something that is going to make the operation of government more efficient. This is a hodgepodge of material put together hastily and in a way that makes very, very difficult the opportunity for those charged with the responsibility of responding to its contents to do so.
It's what we call an omnibus bill. Yet as an omnibus bill there is not anything that ties the sections of this bill together by way of a commonality of subject matter. It is merely a pile of inefficiencies that exist in different ministries that have no connection to one another put together in the same bill designed to confuse people, to make it harder to understand, to make it more difficult to debate and in fact to extend the amount of time that has to be spent in debate on this bill. If we had 14 simple bills, we might have 14 critics standing up and saying that these are good things for their ministries, but the design of the bill has prevented that from happening.
The other interesting aspect of this bill is that it's a bill that the Attorney General has carriage of, even though it deals with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Attorney General's ministry itself, the Ministry of Citizenship, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services, the Ministry of Transportation. We have all of these really different bills under one roof representing 14 different ministries, all being put together by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
I am really at a loss as to how the Ministry of the Attorney General, with the fact that the justice system in this province is deteriorating as we speak, has time to be dealing with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs etc, and I'm not picking on the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. But the fact is that the Attorney General should not be piloting a bill that is designed to deal with the Ministry of Agriculture any more than the Attorney General should be dealing with the Ministry of Citizenship, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines etc.
"A scathing review of the 'scandalous' state of the province's courts has been levelled at the Attorney General" by no less than the Canadian Bar Association -- Ontario, a group that has a fair bit of knowledge, probably more knowledge than the Attorney General personally, as to what goes on in the courts in the province of Ontario. What they say is that the state of the province's courts is nothing short of scandalous, and what do we have? We have the Minister of the Attorney General, the minister of justice for this province, dealing with -- and I don't want to go through them again, but 13 ministries other than her own to shepherd this bill through the Legislature.
The article that I'm referring to goes on to say that the review that's being undertaken "is intended as a last-ditch effort to save masters from extinction," and those are the masters of the Ontario Court of Justice who deal with all preliminary interlocutory procedural matters on behalf of parties to litigation, "but deals extensively with inconvenience, delays and additional costs to clients caused by an 'inefficient' court administration run by" -- and get this, Mr Speaker. The Canadian Bar Association says that the justice system in this province is run by "rude and surly" staff.
Those are the allegations -- or not allegations, but those are the findings -- of the Canadian Bar Association of Ontario dealing with the state of the justice system, primarily the civil justice system, in the province of Ontario, and there it is in the Law Times, being reported on accurately, I might add. We have a situation here that cries out for something to happen, and the Minister of the Attorney General, the justice minister of this province, is apparently too busy to deal with all of these problems.
Let me digress for just a moment. I have in my career as a lawyer spent a great deal of time in and around the courts in the province of Ontario. Yes, I've run into administrators in the courts who apparently are, seemingly, rude and surly. But they're rude and surly not because that's their attitude generally, because a lot of these people have been working in the justice system for years and years. They didn't used to be rude and surly. They're rude and surly because the administration of justice in this province has so broken down that they can no longer do their jobs.
I can tell you that there are people who have to get to the courthouse at 6 o'clock in the morning to line up so that they can file the papers they have to file with the courts that day, and that is the state to which the administration of justice has sunk in this province. I will come back to this, no doubt, in my remarks.
What I'm trying to illustrate is the very idea of the Attorney General of this province being bogged down with what should be pieces of legislation carried by other ministers which, in the face of the total breakdown of the civil justice system in this province, which is ongoing, is a positively strange, unusual, very odd circumstance.
It's a very odd circumstance, when something as critical as the breakdown of our courts is occurring and the Canadian Bar Association is publishing reports that are being documented on the front page of lawyers' periodicals and newspapers, that nothing is happening, that we don't see a single, solitary thing happening to reverse the course that we're taking in the province of Ontario.
I might add that it's not fair of me to give the impression that all this happened because of what the New Democratic government has done, because this happened as a result of the re-engineering done by the David Peterson government when it merged the court structure into a single court. That was at a time when they told us we were going to get rid of the Supreme Court of Ontario and we were going to have one court bench and it was going to the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) that was going to now be the merged High Court.
"We're not going to have district or county courts any more. We're going to have one merged court." That was the engineering of the Ontario Liberal Party and the David Peterson government. Yes, they put that court together. They put it together in such a way that it now costs more; there aren't enough judges available, there aren't enough courtrooms available. There are soon to be no longer any masters of the Ontario Court of Justice to help the justice system continue to move along.
Mr Harnick: My friend the member for London South interjects, and quite properly, a very good interjection. He says, "What about all the judges we've appointed?" Let me tell him that his government hasn't appointed any judges to the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) because those are federally appointed judges in our High Court, and those judges who now occupy those positions everywhere in the province of Ontario -- because those are the judges who run the High Court in Ontario -- no longer can keep up with the work they already have to do in this merged court, this architecturally designed court by the 1985 and 1987 David Peterson government and the accord that they made with Bob Rae.
They all got together and created a monster: a monster in probably many other -- well, definitely in many other areas in this province, but particularly in the area that I am privileged to speak about today, and that's the court system.
At any rate, we now have masters disappearing from our courts, we have judges who can't maintain the workloads that they have been asked to maintain, and as of December, the masters who are working part-time to keep the system moving will have reached a stage where they have earned all the money they are entitled to earn as supernumerary members of the court, so we will I believe be down to five masters: five masters and judges who can't do their work and 100-plus cases every day on lists in the city of Toronto in this judicial district of York, not enough people to deal with the matters coming before the court and the total breakdown of the civil justice system.
Where's the minister of justice in all of this? I can appreciate that it's not her fault. It's not this government's fault that the Liberals came along and were the architects of a disastrous plan, a plan that the test of time has shown has not worked. But here we are, it's 1994, it's November 1. The socialists have run the government and the province of Ontario for four years, and they have done nothing to arrest the problem that the David Peterson Liberal government created.
I find that astounding; I find it scary; I find it very, very disturbing that all we see from the minister of justice in this province is an act dealing with the efficiencies of government in 13 other ministries as well as her own, and when we talk about the efficiencies of government, I look at the issues dealing with the Attorney General, and I don't see anything that is designed to improve the efficiencies of our civil courts.
What I see is that within the Ministry of the Attorney General, they will now allow complaints and appeals of real property assessments to be filed just once instead of every year until they're decided by the assessment review board -- a very good thing, I might add. I support it and I'm pleased to see that the government has responded to the fact that when it drafted this piece of legislation, it made a mistake and prepared an amendment that wasn't going to work.
Fortunately, they've listened to the members of -- I'll find it here in a moment, Mr Speaker -- the Canadian Property Tax Association, who have said: "Attorney General, you have made a mistake. You want to do something, and the piece of legislation you've designed doesn't do it." They went ahead and in July wrote a letter to the government, and the government then decided that they would change the wording so that it would do what they really wanted it to do. I think it's a credit to the minister that she listened and that she's now going to amend section 40, because I received yesterday, hot off the press, a whole pile of amendments to this efficiency bill that the government had all summer to work on, yet after the bill was called, that's when the amendments were being given out. It shows you how efficient this system really is. But at any rate, let me go on.
The next thing the Ministry of the Attorney General is going to do is clarify wording about the limitation period under the Construction Lien Act. As soon as I read that, I read the words, and they leap out of the page at me, "Limitations Act."
The member for London South looks at me and smiles. He smiles because exactly two years ago almost to the day, I think Mr Hampton, the then Attorney General, the member for -- I'm sorry, I don't know his riding.
Mr Harnick: -- Rainy River came in with great fanfare and he had a bill that was going to revolutionize limitation periods. It was going to be a bill that was going to deal with some very difficult subject matter. The bill was going to deal with limitation periods for all civil actions, as well as some new material, some new subject matter, one of them being sexual assaults and discussions as to whether a limitation period would run from the time that a person knew or ought to have known that a certain act had been committed.
Mr Speaker, I can tell you that that act has been sitting on the Clerk's desk for two years. We have given that act first reading. To great fanfare, when the member for Rainy River was the Attorney General, he came in and we thought we really had a substantive piece of legislation coming from the minister of justice in this province. That particular piece of legislation continues to sit on the shelf, unwanted by this government apparently, not able to be used by those citizens of the province of Ontario whom it was designed for.
Quite frankly, I now wonder whether it was as good a piece of legislation as the ministry of justice led us to believe, but the most extraordinary thing is that that piece of legislation received first reading two years ago -- it might even have been three, but I think it was two -- and the legislation has not been called for second reading.
Do you know what's going to happen, Mr Speaker? One day there's going to be a flurry of activity on the part of the government House leader and the minister of justice and the minions of people who run around behind her, and we're going to have this panic call. "We have to have second reading by 6 o'clock tonight" -- they're going to say -- "or we're going to have time allocation. We're going to start bringing in time allocation rules, because we're not going to be the government for very much longer. There's going to be an election and we've got to get this done because the people of Ontario really need this legislation. We're going to bring in time allocation, muzzle the opposition and not give them the opportunity to debate these issues."
I will bet you, Mr Speaker, that within the next 24 hours, 48 hours, we're going to be having time allocation on some other piece of legislation in this place. I can feel it. You know what we've done around here, Mr Speaker? We adjourned from this place in about the middle of June and we've come back at the end of October, about six weeks later than the calendar says we were supposed to come back. We've been working really hard, Mr Speaker, and I know you've been working hard as Deputy Speaker. We've been here for two days and I can tell we're all tiring out after being back at work for two days. You know what the government's going to do at 6 o'clock on Thursday? They're going to give us the week off. They're going to say: "Take next week off. The calendar says it's constituency week."
When it's time to take a holiday the calendar is what we abide by but when it's time to do some work we don't have time to deal with the Limitations Act, we don't have time to deal with the four major pieces of legislation that we're supposed to be dealing with between now and Christmas, and we're going to see a flurry of time allocation motions from a party that calls themselves New Democrats, a party that revels in the idea of unlimited debate etc. We know what that's all about. We know because the government's record speaks for itself.
Let me go back to the Limitations Act. I appreciate, because I reviewed that act just the other day, that it's a very difficult piece of legislation. It's hard to understand. It demands some time and some effort and I'm sure that with its passage there would be, no doubt, seminars given by the advocates' society, the law society, the bar association, so that lawyers would know exactly what the piece of legislation entailed so they could start to use the piece of legislation to the benefit of their clients, to the users of the system. Unfortunately, the users of the system are all lined up and they can't get a date before the master to deal with their problems or they can't get a trial date because they're all lined up waiting for the minister of justice to start to deal with these issues.
Unfortunately, the Limitations Act sits on the shelf of the minister of justice and I suspect it will never see the light of day, this act that was, to the fanfare of the then minister of justice, Mr Hampton, going to be something that was immediately necessary, an important step for victims of sexual assault. Where is it? Where are your convictions? Well, they've gone the way of the cuckoo bird. We will not see that piece of legislation and I tend to wonder why.
Let me tell you what else the Ministry of the Attorney General is going to do. They're going to allow judges to refer construction lien disputes to a private arbitrator. "Now" -- as this document that they've given me says -- "the court can only refer these disputes to provincially appointed judicial officers," and then they tried to sneak it in on me; they put in round brackets the word "masters," and just like that limitation period in the item before, I saw the word "masters" and it just leaped out at me. You're going to be able to refer your construction lien matters to a private arbitrator. "Now the court can only refer these disputes to provincially appointed judicial officers (masters) whose positions are being phased out."
That's all well and good. When two big construction companies or several big companies or land developers are involved in the construction of a major project and there are disputes arising, they can go ahead and set up what amounts to a private court. They can hire their own arbitrator. They can make that arbitrator effectively the judge of this particular issue. They can set up their own court. They can pay for it. They can proceed on their own time in their own premises, and everybody is very happy.
But what about the poor individual who decides to renovate his house and the contractor who's going to renovate that house for him has $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000 worth of overruns when he renovates that house? What's going to happen to that person when a lien is filed on his property? Is that individual homeowner going to be able to go out and pay to set up a private court? If it's in Metropolitan Toronto, now he has an option: He can go before a master and the master, as the justice system should provide, can then determine his dispute in a court provided by the province of Ontario in the in the traditional way the justice system has always operated in this province.
But now you won't have any more masters. The masters are being phased out. What are we going to do? Are we going to bring in laypeople off the street and say, "You can be the judge of our mechanics lien action?" a construction lien action, in today's common parlance. That's positively bizarre. But here we are getting rid of the masters.
I might tell you that in the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, where I have practiced law, the masters of the now Ontario Court of Justice, what was formerly the Supreme Court of Ontario -- that was in the days when the system worked. Now it's the Ontario Court of Justice, thanks to the former Liberal government and the continuing NDP government. But we have always had one or two masters who have exclusively been available to deal with construction lien matters.
In jurisdictions outside of Metropolitan Toronto, the local judge always did that, and quite well, and the system worked. There was a judge available, a judge of the county or district court. We don't have county or district courts any more. In the name of efficiency, we got rid of them, and now the whole system is a shambles, thanks to David Peterson and that same old gang. The NDP, in its wisdom, to give it credit, probably couldn't turn the clock back that far.
But now we don't have these people any more. We're down to five masters. If she could, the minister of justice would probably fire all five of them and finish the job the former government started. But I suppose they're under contract and they have to wait until retirement age. Gradually, one by one, their numbers are going to dwindle, with no plan on the part of the government as to how it's going to replace the masters of the Supreme Court of Ontario.
In this government's style, the justice system is going to be looked after for the wealthy people who can afford to set up a private court, but for the homeowner who has a lien placed against his property because a contractor may have charged him too much, there's no longer a master there to try his case; he's just left to the whim of the system, the system that's breaking down, that has no direction, that doesn't know where it's going.
The next thing this bill is going to do is save money by allowing the use of regular mail instead of registered mail to send out lists of creditors under the Creditors' Relief Act. A good provision; I'm all for it.
The next thing is that we're going to correct statutes relating to corrupt electoral practices so that they reflect court decisions on their constitutionality. Again that's something that has to be done.
The act is going to ensure direct deposits of welfare payments and make sure they have the same protection from garnishment as funds held by government. I suppose that's a good idea too, but it certainly isn't reforming the welfare system in this province, the welfare system in this province that has been demonstrated to contain elements of waste and fraud, a system that in no way, shape or form is getting people retrained to go back and find gainful, meaningful employment. But the government is so bent on all these corrections to what already exists, it's not fixing up the substantive issues that need fixing up.
The act also is going to increase administrative efficiency by allowing prescribed forms to be produced or approved by ministries instead of by regulation. Now we're going to delegate the function of prescribed forms to other than the cabinet. No longer will the cabinet be burdened with looking at what is a prescribed form, what is not a prescribed form, and that will now be looked after by ministries. Again that's probably a very commonsense approach.
Mr Jim Wilson (Simcoe West): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I apologize to my colleague Mr Harnick for the interruption. However, I wish to inform you that upon agreement with the Minister of Labour, the late show that would have been scheduled for 6 o'clock tonight will be, upon your agreement, moved to Thursday night.
Mr Jim Wilson: On a point of order also, Mr Speaker: It was brought to my attention that in a question I had asked to the Minister of Labour today, perhaps I inadvertently mentioned the wrong name of a town when I was talking about rail lines, and I wish to correct Hansard. In Hansard during that question I said Barrie to Washago and it should have read Bradford to Washago, referring to a line CN wants to abandon.
The next thing the minister of justice is doing is that she is going to remove a loophole in the Juries Act to ensure that it exempts people who provided jury service in the last three years. I think that would be a very worthwhile thing, because it is some inconvenience to a citizen to give up their time and serve on a jury, and I think once every three years is probably very realistic.
They are going to also amend the law to reflect the modern practice of random selection of jury panels by computer. This is a very significant issue because it shows that those people who are running the ministry of justice know of the advent of the computer. Now that they're going to deal with computers to select jury panels, maybe they will get around to using computers to deal with the civil justice system generally, so that when one files a statement of claim in room 110 of the courthouse at 361 University Avenue, they might have some idea as to when the trial date may be; they might have some idea of how long the various proceedings are going to take in the course of the proceeding, of who might be available to deal with the difficulties that arise as the case proceeds.
It does my heart a world of good to know that the ministry of justice knows about the advent of computers. Maybe they will bring the rest of the system into the modern age so that a lawyer doesn't have to be sitting in his office on a Monday morning and get a call that says: "You're on standby for 2:30 this afternoon. Get your witnesses together and get on down here, because maybe we'll have a courtroom and a judge, and maybe you're going to get your trial on. We're sorry we couldn't give you more notice, but that's the way the system works." I think it's a major step forward to have that recognition of the computer age within the ministry of justice.
One of the things I was told about this bill is that this bill deals with totally non-controversial issues. If there were anything controversial in it, my understanding was that the minister of justice was going to remove all controversial issues from the bill.
The next issue deals with the ministry deciding to avoid discrimination by allowing the spouse of a judge, justice of the peace, lawyer, law student or person engaged in law enforcement to be eligible for jury duty. On its face that sounds nice. It sounds very, I suppose, modern, 20th century. But, quite frankly -- and I don't know whether this is a controversial issue or not -- certainly as we think about this particular item it's not hard to think of why a spouse of a person in those positions might have been, and maybe should continue to be, not eligible for jury duty.
The fact is that we want jurors to be totally impartial. We want jurors to be able to reflect on a case without any bias. It strikes me that if we have a juror who might be the spouse of a defence lawyer, that defence lawyer may have told his or her spouse all kinds of things over the years about all kinds of cases that defence lawyer may have been involved with that may very well prejudice a juror.
Mr Harnick: My friend says we can challenge jurors. Yes, there are certain challenges that can be made, but those challenges in our system are limited, and to a very large extent they're random challenges. I only point this out because I think this is an issue that demands some debate. I think this could be a very controversial issue. As my friend says, if we're going to challenge jurors because of that, and if it will habitually be the case that if a police officer's spouse is on a jury, that police officer's spouse will always be challenged as a juror, that says to me that maybe this is not the best idea.
Maybe we should have some debate about this. Maybe we should see what members of the legal profession, perhaps judges, perhaps police officers, can tell us about this particular item. It may be a controversial item some day. It may mean a person's liberty. It may mean a certain decision being rendered in a case or may dictate the kind of decision that's going to be rendered in a particular case. I think that is a provision, and quite apart from whether I agree with it or disagree with it, I think it may have some ramifications. It's not merely a housecleaning issue. It's not merely an issue that deals with efficiency of government. It is a substantive matter that is deserving of some debate.
The next item that the Ministry of the Attorney General is going to allow is unilingual francophones to serve as jurors for French-language trials. I didn't know that was something that wasn't allowed, but apparently, if it's here, it must be something that's being corrected, and it makes sense to me.
The next thing the Attorney General's going to do is stop collecting and publishing information about a juror's age, thus protecting their privacy. I didn't ever realize that those publications were so widely read. I thought you went to the clerk of the peace and you got the jury panel list and basically it told you the name of a person, their age and their occupation. Really, there is very little more that you know about a juror when you're picking a jury, but I suppose that's not a particularly controversial problem. I don't know how it relates to the efficiency of government, but I suppose it's not unreasonable.
The list goes on and on. One of the items, taking it sort of out of order -- well, no, there are a couple of issues that we can talk about, but one of the things that I think is interesting is the issue about how we administer infractions in this province for illegal parking. Not a weighty issue, but since I've been in this Legislature, I have seen so many different amendments to deal with how it becomes illegal to park your car and how you have to be prosecuted that I tell you, if the minister of justice spent as much time on correcting the court system as she does on dealing with prosecutions for parking offences, we would probably have a justice system that might be 10%, 20% or 30% more efficient than the one we have.
Again, there are procedural matters that deal with parking offences in here, and I don't know where it is in here, but I thought it was quite cute that they're going to ensure that the notice of the trial is going to be sent to the person alleged to have committed the parking infraction before the trial takes place. Now, there is efficiency in government. They're going to tell the accused about the trial before the prosecution date. I couldn't think of anything that smacks of greater efficiency in government than to do that. I'm delighted that's going to happen.
As I said earlier, the Attorney General indicated, "If there's anything controversial in this legislation, we're going to take it out." Well, there are controversial items in this legislation and some of those items deal with what's called the Statutory Powers Procedure Act. I notice that the materials and the remarks of the Attorney General really didn't dwell very long on this aspect of the efficiency-in-government amendments that this act really consists of.
It's very interesting that we have an act that is 148 pages long. As the Attorney General walked us through it the other day, she did it in 12 minutes. I timed it and it didn't take much more than 12 minutes to deal with all of this housecleaning, housekeeping, efficiency-in-government material.
For those who are watching, the Statutory Powers Procedure Act deals with the code of procedure by which administrative tribunals operate in the province of Ontario. We have in the province of Ontario a justice system that operates quite apart from the courts and it's the justice system that deals with hearings before government boards and tribunals, and the rules before those boards and tribunals are contained in the Statutory Powers Procedure Act. So what the administrators of justice in this province have decided is that they will make the Statutory Powers Procedure Act more efficient. I quite agree with the intention and in many respects I agree with most all of the proposed amendments, but there are some concerns that I have.
The education law section of the bar association is not happy about a great many of these proposed amendments. They're opposed, for instance, to permitting the minister who administers an act to approve forms, including electronic forms. They state, "Although this amendment might very well ease the administration of a statute from the standpoint of the government bureaucracy, nevertheless it can be expected to create great difficulties for those persons who must use forms in practice, whether lawyers or non-lawyers."
They too make some comments about the Juries Act, but they then go into a fairly detailed critique of the effect of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act on the education system. They support the power of a tribunal to hold a written hearing in accordance with its rules so long as the parties do not object, and that's very reasonable, but they go on to say, "There may be some question, however, as to how various tribunals deal with whether an electronic hearing 'is likely to cause the party significant prejudice,' since some tribunals governed by this statute are really quite unsophisticated in their understanding of the significance of witness demeanour etc and its impact upon their conclusions."
That is a concern that has been expressed dealing with, I believe it's Bill 163 that's now before this Legislature, out at committee, dealing with amendments to the Municipal Act, dealing with electronic hearings before the Ontario Municipal Board. It has been a concern of the administrative law section of the Canadian Bar Association.
But apparently, the minister of justice doesn't think that if anybody has a concern, these matters are anything more than government efficiency. Some of these issues deal with substance and when people have questions about whether the electronic hearings that are being mandated should be mandated in certain situations or whether they should be optional or whether there should be some discretion as to when they will be used, those are issues that are more than just issues dealing with efficiency; those are issues dealing with substance.
You might even be able to go so far, to use the minister's parameters as to what should or should not be contained in this legislation, as to say that one could almost say there was some controversy dealing with a couple of these matters and if I remember what I was told at briefings, "If there's anything controversial, we'll take it out of the bill." Most of this material as I've gone along I've indicated is not controversial. It reflects a desire to make government more efficient, but when there is something controversial, it should be removed.
When there is an argument that can be made about a substantive matter as opposed to a matter of efficiency, it should be removed, and the education law section has some questions about electronic hearings, as do the administrative law section of the Canadian Bar Association and the municipal law section. I think these are matters that should not be in a bill that should deal with just matters deemed to be for the sake of efficiency in government.
The education law section goes on and states that they support the concept of pre-hearing conferences and disclosure prior to the completion of the hearing. Again, that is a matter I fully support. The issue of disclosure before a tribunal hearing is something that one can see deals directly with efficiency. If a matter can be settled, the administration of justice should be such that it is encouraged and that the resources are available to settle as many matters as we possibly can so they don't have to be litigated at expense to the parties and so the time of the administrative tribunals is not at the premium that it is presently. But again, these are not matters of substance; that is not a matter of substance. That is a matter of efficiency. Other matters are matters of substance that should not be in this bill.
"First, under Bill 175, any tribunal governed by the SPPA would be empowered to order exchange of documents, exchange of witness statements and expert reports, provision of particulars, or any other form of disclosure prior to or at any time during a hearing. Even more significantly, any SPPA tribunal would be authorized to order full pre-hearing examination for discovery, as currently occurs in civil litigation. These amendments will result in a significant increase in the cost and duration of administrative proceedings and will also formalize the administrative process."
What do we have here? We have differences of opinion, differences of opinion between a lawyers' group, an education group and probably the Ministry of the Attorney General. These are issues that might be deemed to be controversial, that have to be seen, if there are these complaints, to be issues that are beyond mere efficiency.
"Second, Bill 175 would confer upon SPPA tribunals the power to make interim orders. The Ontario Labour Relations Board has had a statutory power to make interim orders since Bill 40 was passed in January 1993, and our experience with interim applications before the board has not be positive. Interim applications require considerable preparation at a very early stage of the proceeding and therefore result in a significant increase in costs. The parties will be required to map out the merits of their position immediately following the commencement of proceedings and on very short notice in order to provide the factual and legal basis for the interim relief application. Interim orders are also frequently used as a mechanism to require an employer or decision-maker to continue an undesirable 'status quo' pending resolution by the tribunal -- ie, interim reinstatement of an employee who has been dismissed."
Now, dealing with this particular issue, it's of note that what is being said by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association is that it doesn't want to see board proceedings so formalized that you're really into a traditional court-like proceeding. Tribunals, I suppose, have worked because the rules have been somewhat looser than rules before courts.
Again, we see a real conflict in the perception that this particular public school boards' association has as opposed to the position of the education law section. I've made my position known. My position is, I agree with the ministry's proposals. I agree that early disclosure, interim proceedings, all of these types of matters lead to a greater efficiency and a chance that a case will settle at an earlier time in a less expensive way.
However, I point out to the Attorney General, who is here today, that there are those who disagree that this deals merely with government efficiency. There are those who look at these proposals and say: "These are substantive changes. We should have debate. We should have an opportunity to come to a committee and explain our position."
I would say to the Attorney General that even though I agree with her position in these particular areas, save and except for electronic hearings, there are those out there who don't view these proposals in the same way that you do.
I think that to categorize everything in the name of government efficiency, streamlining etc is to disfranchise certain users of the system of justice in this province from the opportunity to make valid submissions about the way the system of justice should look. I think, Attorney General, that even though you and I may agree, it's not unrealistic that some of these proposals should be looked at in a somewhat different way.
I'm glad the Attorney General is here now, because I began my speech by saying that I just find that this whole process of an omnibus bill that the Attorney General has carriage for, where the Attorney General deals with 13 other ministries as well as her own, is really not a very efficient way to deal with a bill that is supposed to be making government more efficient.
I started by reading an article in the Law Times, which starts, as I indicated earlier, "A scathing review of the 'scandalous' state of the province's courts has been levelled at the Attorney General by the Canadian Bar Association -- Ontario." This article, as I said earlier, even makes the comment -- and I think it's because the court system has broken down so badly -- that it's run by an "administration run by 'rude and surly' staff."
I know many of the people who work at 361 University Avenue. They are decent, hardworking people who have been beaten down by the breakdown in the system; they can no longer do their jobs. The morale in that office couldn't be lower, and if the Attorney General's never been there, I urge her to go and speak to some of the people who work behind the counter, who accept the statements of claim, who put the seal on, who take the money and put it in the Treasurer's coffers. I urge her to have a visit to 361 University Avenue and see the dispirited people who work there, because the breakdown of the justice system, as designed by the former Liberal government, that shameful redesign the NDP has become caught up in --
Mr Harnick: Not likely to be summoned to the bench, but in all likelihood to be teaching a PhD program in some institution of higher learning somewhere in the not-too-distant future. I appreciate his support on this issue.
The fact is that it's tragic to see people who have worked and made a career of working in the justice system being described as having become rude and surly. I don't know those people in that manner. What I do know is that they have been demoralized working in a justice system that has been redesigned by the former Liberal government and that just doesn't work. It just doesn't work. The civil justice system in this province has so totally broken down, and all we have to show for it is a minister of justice who's in the course of doing a study that won't be completed, in all likelihood, in the next 16 days -- I guess we're down to about 16 days of sittings -- and that may be the last time we as a Legislature reconvene before the next election.
We're not going to see that study. I suspect that this minister of justice may not see that study and may never have the opportunity to implement the recommendations that I hope it contains to correct the situation.
The fact is that the New Democratic government has allowed this situation to deteriorate for the last four years. My colleague from Renfrew asks me how I've become so mean and partisan as to make these comments, but I make these comments because I know the staff who work in the courts. I know them as decent, hardworking, dedicated people, and to see them described on the front page of a legal newspaper as "rude and surly" disturbs me. It disturbs me because I know that's not the way they are. I know that's the way they've become because of the conditions under which they work.
I would urge the Attorney General to visit 361 University Avenue. I know that seems trite to her because these are just little people doing a little job, but maybe their spirits would be boosted if they thought the Attorney General was on their side, helping improve their job circumstances and helping them be more efficient in doing their job. Isn't that what Bill 175 is all about? It's all about efficiency.
Mr Harnick: I would be honoured to take my friend from Renfrew on a tour of 361 University Avenue to look at inadequate jury rooms, to look at -- as a matter of fact, I'd be happy to take him there at 6 o'clock one morning when the clerks from the various law firms around the city of Toronto are lined up to file their papers, because they begin to line up at, this article says, 5 am. I know the clerk in the law office in which I work is often there at 6 am to line up so that he can ensure that his papers are filed that day. That is the level to which we have sunk, all in the name of government efficiency, and when I see the Attorney General dividing her time between her own ministry and shepherding a bill that deals with 13 other ministries through the Legislature, I really start to wonder about the efficiency of it all.
This article goes on to say, "The administration of justice in Ontario has been substantially impaired by neglect and negative measures by a succession of attorneys general." It goes on to say, "Massive delays, inconvenience, inefficiency and increased cost to the public are being caused by cost-cutting measures that are counterproductive and probably unnecessary."
Nobody wants to spend money we don't have in unproductive ways, but this says we're spending our money in unproductive ways. We're here to debate efficiency in government, and that's what this 148-page epistle is all about. It's about making government more efficient. But sometimes when we go to make government more efficient and we look at all these little things, these little items that need correction, we lose sight of the forest for the trees. We have a minister who's so intent on dealing with the Dead Animal Disposal Act -- which is important to deal with, but we don't recognize the very major problems sitting at the very end of our noses. We tend to get so caught up in talking about this kind of efficiency in government that we forget about the efficiency in government that deals with the people who, for instance, have to use the justice system. I'm dismayed at that.
The article goes on to talk about masters. I'm really glad the Attorney General is here, because tomorrow evening, I believe it is, the Canadian Bar Association is holding a program dealing with masters and with the importance of masters in the justice system in the province of Ontario.
The former Liberal government cast the die, so to speak, to get rid of masters, and now there are only five of them left. In excess of a hundred cases a day, a hundred items a day go before masters, and the masters, by attrition, are leaving the justice system of the province of Ontario. Yet the ministers of justice, the previous minister of justice and the one before him and the one before him and now the present minister of justice, don't have a plan to replace these people. They're leaving and there's nobody there to pick up the work they are no longer doing.
I commend to the minister of justice, who is sitting here today listening to me, a bar association program that's going on tomorrow evening. Perhaps if she goes to that program she might get an insight from people who practise in the courts as to the importance of the function of masters in the Ontario Court of Justice. I think she should go. Don't just send somebody from your ministry. I think the minister of justice should go, because it may be an eye-opener.
Maybe she'll say: "You know, Ian Scott, as good a justice minister as he might have been, was wrong on this one. Just because he decided we were going to have one unified court in the province of Ontario doesn't mean that I have to do everything that he set out to do. There are certain things that I can maybe reverse. There are certain directions that I can go in as an independent-thinking person that might be different than his, that might be different than the opinion of many within the justice system. I can reverse this particular issue."
"The current provincial government has continued to eliminate masters," this article goes on to say, "causing delays and backups for those masters who remain and 'stupendous' amounts of time being spent by family lawyers on cases as masters become extinct." They can't get their cases heard. They can't deal with issues that are near and dear to the heart of the minister of justice, such as interim support. It's pretty hard to get an interim support payment for a family if you can't get a master to hear your case.
I know that it's been a very important aspect of this minister of justice's tenure to ensure that support payments are being received by families, by spouses and by children, but this is where it all starts. It doesn't start when judgements default; you've got to get the judgement first. If you can't find somebody to give you the judgement, the family doesn't do very well when they have to go to the food bank. One of the reasons they go to the food bank is because the minister of justice will not provide that the masters who are available to hear the cases make the interim support orders.
I might tell you, as I indicated in my opening statement during members' statements today, that as of December, seven of those masters who are supernumerary will not be able to work again in this fiscal year. That means they will not be able to sit in their position on the bench to decide these important issues because they will have earned the maximum that they're entitled to earn as supernumerary masters, who are called in because the minister doesn't have any other plan to hear these cases. But she makes them supernumerary, doesn't reappoint new masters, and the system goes wanting while we diddle around and wait for studies.
"Masters, who traditionally have extensive legal backgrounds, specialize in hearing complex motions dealing with such things as construction lien cases...." As I said earlier, we talk about that in here, construction lien cases. We're getting rid of masters and setting up a private court, so those who can afford it go to a private court that they pay for. The poor homeowner who renovates his house and has overruns and has to pay a contractor $50,000 or $60,000 that's in dispute can't afford to set up a private court, and there's no master left to hear his or her claim.
At any rate, this goes on to say, "The government has appointed some lay officers to conduct assessments of costs, which involve 'an understanding of the legal issues and complexities' surrounding arguments over court costs and legal bills charged clients."
You know, it's very interesting, because I asked the minister some time ago, "What is your plan to replace masters of the Ontario Court of Justice?" She said: "Well, we're going to look at getting other people to do their job." We're going to call in people from Lord knows where to deal with these complex issues. I might tell the minister of justice that we often have situations where a lawsuit, a complex and big lawsuit with big dollars, is decided as a result of tactical positions and decisions made at the level of interlocutory procedural hearings done by masters who have expertise in the area.
I have yet to hear where the minister of justice is going to find people with comparable expertise to deal with these issues. It can't be members of the profession. Whatever you do, Minister, have the best people available to decide these issues, experts in their field, people who aren't dividing their time between these kinds of issues and 101 other issues, because these matters are important. Even though you belittle them by your lack of activity in solving the problems, I tell you, these matters are important and you shouldn't avoid them any longer. Even though the former Liberal government did that doesn't mean you have to do that.
The article goes on to say, "The NDP government expects judges to assume most work done by masters, although it usually involves the more technical and complicated finer points of law -- the very kinds of issues 'judges just don't have the time, the temperament, the training or I dare say the interest' to do...." That's what the Canadian Bar Association report says.
It's very interesting, because I asked the minister of justice this as well. I said, "If you're not going to have masters do the work, are you going to have judges do it?" They don't have time to do the work that's now in front of them. We're talking here about efficiency of government. When someone provides 148 pages of efficiency in 14 different ministries but allows these problems to continue ignored by the administration of justice in this province, I really wonder how much of a commitment there is to efficiency in government.
I have a lot of trouble with these issues. I have a lot of trouble with ignoring things that mean so much to users of the justice system. To me, those are efficiencies that we have to look at now. We've watched it dither for four years of inactivity in terms of solving these problems.
I, on behalf of my caucus, indicate we support what's in this bill for the most part. We think those issues that are controversial should be removed from this bill, and there are many of them. The administration of justice has indicated that if there is controversy, yes, they will remove it. I haven't seen any move to confirm that, but I keep hearing those rumours. In terms of the basic issues set out in the bill and in the name of true efficiency, I'm all for most of these amendments if they make government cheaper and rid us of red tape.
I do have an interesting issue. It involves aboriginal peoples. The aboriginal law section of the Canadian Bar Association has indicated there may be a problem in the Game and Fish Act dealing with body-gripping traps, leghold traps etc. This bill is going to go ahead and deal with regulations pertaining to such devices. There is some concern. They talk about issues dealing with these leghold traps and how in fact that will affect aboriginal peoples. I don't know the answer to that question.
By the way, I asked the ministry to point out to me what areas are controversial in this bill, and this is the only document it provided to me, apparently saying it's not controversial, but I believe I've pointed out some areas where this bill will provoke some difficulties and disfranchise people from commenting on some of these difficulties.
The native communities apparently support any legislation and regulatory action that would ensure continuation of their traditional way of life with respect to trapping. However, all trappers, native and non-native, are concerned about the possible rigidity and inconsistency which allegedly appears to be in the regulations.
"The native communities wish to be consulted on the wording of regulations that may need to be made in order to address the European Union's restrictions on the use of traps by January 1, 1996. There is much confusion over the interpretation of the European Union's regulation. At this time, Canada's External Affairs is negotiating with the EU representatives in respect to the interpretation and implementation of the EU regulation. After the EU regulation is clarified, the ministry will consult with native and non-native trappers about the necessary regulation."
It seems to me, in that climate of uncertainty, maybe this should be an area of some concern. Maybe this is an area that is more than dealing with just efficiency, because we don't know what is going to happen in the future. Maybe we shouldn't be dealing with this quite so quickly on the basis of mere efficiency. Maybe there is more to it than we've been led to believe.
Again I say to the minister, there are matters that different people have identified. I appreciate that the minister wants to get this over with as fast as possible and get out of this place, but I think it's important that people who believe they have a legitimate, substantive argument about what is contained in Bill 175 should have the opportunity to at least have a chance to make their concerns known, to let the minister know it is not just efficiency they are concerned about.
This act goes on to say, as it affects the Attorney General, that they will ensure that beneficiaries named in registered retirement investment funds are on the same legal footing as designated beneficiaries in RRSPs, again a matter that I will support.
They're talking about creating a simple way for the public guardian and trustee to prove its legal authority to deal in real estate transactions on behalf of its clients under the Substitute Decisions Act. Clearly establishing the public guardian and trustee's role will help the client's affairs go more smoothly.
Anything that's going to promote efficiency and something running smoothly is something we can support. But we're getting into areas dealing with pieces of legislation that haven't even been proclaimed yet. I don't know how the government has passed legislation, and even before it proclaims it, it's already correcting inefficiencies.
Areas such as this may well provoke some controversy. Any time I see "public guardian and trustee," the first thing I think of is, why are we changing the name from public trustee to public guardian and trustee? It can only mean we're expanding the role of the state running people's assets and being a more pervasive factor in people's day-to-day lives. I see the absolute explosion of the importance of the public trustee under this Attorney General. I see it in the areas of the Substitute Decisions Act. I see it now in a bill called the Unclaimed Intangible Property Amendment Act.
The public trustee has been an abject failure in terms of managing the affairs of people in the province of Ontario for many years now. It's been understaffed, it's been underfunded, it's worked in antiquated surroundings and with antiquated equipment in this electronic age. It hasn't had enough people dealing with running the estates of individuals it already deals with. Now I see their job is being expanded 10-fold. I'm quite frightened about that because I don't know whether this department is up to it.
And not only that: When we get into the Unclaimed Intangible Property Amendment Act, which I understand is now going to be significantly amended -- and I say that with some reservation because I don't know whether I like it yet or I don't like it, because I haven't seen the amendments. But one of the things I do know is that the banks are not part of these amendments. The banks have not bought into the public trustee's and the Attorney General's act, the Unclaimed Intangible Property Amendment Act, because there's a jurisdictional dispute: The province can't regulate banks.
But I do believe that the moneys the Attorney General believes will come in via unclaimed intangible property being held by banks is a major area of funding for the public trustee's office, and I can tell you, the public trustee isn't going to get that money today, tomorrow or the day the Unclaimed Intangible Property Amendment Act is passed, because the courts are ultimately going to decide. If the government's successful, all the more power to it: It'll ultimately get that money. But if they're not successful, they're not going to get that money. I think the Attorney General is banking on that money -- pardon the pun -- to pay for the increased operations in the public trustee's office as a result of all of these new acts, and I think it's going to be very, very difficult to meet those expenditures because I don't think you're getting the money.
At any rate, I have had almost 90 minutes to discuss this, and I still have a number of points within the Attorney General's purview to deal with. And I might tell you that there are 13 other ministries I haven't had a chance to touch upon, another reason that an omnibus bill of this nature should not be allowed in this place. I believe, quite frankly and with respect, that it's an abuse of the right of members to deal with the areas they are charged with dealing with as critics of various ministries.
Mr Winninger: The member for Willowdale began his remarks by indicating his support for the objectives of this bill: efficient delivery of services, efficient use of government resources and saving money. Quite frankly, I think the member for Willowdale, despite the rambling nature of his presentation, which included consideration of many different items that don't even appear in Bill 175, has made the case.
What the legislation will do essentially is streamline a lot of operations of the justice system that the member for Willowdale focuses on, whether it's the manner in which we select jurors, whether it's the rules that govern our tribunals under the Statutory Powers Procedure Act or whether it's improving alternative dispute resolution for such issues as construction lien disputes or the enforcement of fines. There are many constructive measures set out in Bill 175 that address most of the shortcomings that the member for Willowdale identifies in his remarks.
During the course of his presentation, the member for Willowdale mentioned the role of masters at great length. There are many jurisdictions across Ontario that for over a century have functioned quite well without masters. We well know that in the Toronto area the number of masters is diminishing, and it's important for the member to be mindful that the Civil Justice Review, among other issues, is looking at the kind of work the masters do and how that work can be carried on in the future.
Mr D. James Henderson (Etobicoke-Humber): I compliment the member for Willowdale on his comprehensive, albeit somewhat rambling, comments on a very rambling piece of legislation. However, he threw in some gratuitous critique of the previous government's reform efforts, the measures that Ian Scott and the Peterson government brought forward. I'm speaking of the streamlinings and the rationalizations and amalgamations of the court system, the fusing of some of the courts, the recasting of the county courts, the creation of the Ontario Court of Justice.
If there was ever an area that was crying out for reform, and probably still is, it's Ontario's justice and court system. It seems to me, in my own personal view, it's awkward, it's protocol bound, inefficient, and the list of adjectives could go on at some length.
Our reforms weren't perfect. We may have made some mistakes, we may have been imperfect, but they were mistakes born of hard effort, tough thought and courageous action. They were never mistakes of the heart. Electors will forgive mistakes of hard thought and courageous action; they won't necessarily forgive mistakes of the heart.
I'm very proud of Ian Scott's efforts to reform and streamline Ontario courts. I'm very proud to have been a slight part of those efforts. If our efforts contained some imperfections, I would want to assure the member for Willowdale that we will be correcting those imperfections very soon.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): Briefly responding to the member for Willowdale's comments, I must congratulate him because it is a rather awesome task to try to prepare some sort of presentation to amendments to 100 statutes and, of course, he wasn't able to come close to that. However, I made that comment to you yesterday and I certainly abide by your ruling.
Much of his comments concentrated on the judicial system, and I think hopefully the Attorney General will, in the near future, respond to many of those thoughts that were made. Many do not agree with many of the initiatives that Mr Scott took, that he started, but the fact is nothing has happened since then.
I must confess, I had no idea of some of the things the member for Willowdale was talking about, specifically with Toronto. Lineups starting at 6 o'clock -- that just doesn't make sense. I don't know how long that's gone on, but the very fact of that one issue shows that if we're talking about streamlining, which is what you have concentrated on this bill as doing, the dotting of the i's and the crossing of the t's, that's a very serious problem.
I know Mr Scott undertook a very difficult task. It's unfinished and it could be criticized, it could be complimented, but hopefully you will deal with that issue. Either undo what he has done or continue on with that issue, because the reform of the judicial system, the legal system rather, cries out for amendment. You are in a position to do that in the near future and hopefully your government is working with that.
I really have nothing more to add other than to congratulate the member for Willowdale. I don't believe that this bill is accomplishing what it is hopefully trying to do because of the many questions that are being raised as a result of this bill being introduced at this time.
Hon Mr Wildman: I want to congratulate my friend from Willowdale on his remarks. I didn't hear them all but I heard a good portion. I know, considering this member's commitment -- and I mean this sincerely -- to human rights and civil rights and the rights of minorities in our society, I was gratified to hear him raise the concerns of the native bar with regard to issues around trapping for aboriginal people in this province.
I was disappointed, however, that he did not take the opportunity to disavow the statements that have been reported, and apparently repeated, by his leader in a speech he made to a small group of tourist outfitters in Peterborough, where he characterized aboriginal people in this province as do-nothings who stay at home and spend all of their time in the courts.
Hon Mr Wildman: That is what the leader is reported to have said. I understand he did not say that he was misquoted. In requests by the press to clarify, he apparently said he stood by those statements. That leader does not represent, I hope, the views of the members of his caucus when he says this about aboriginal people, and that leader cannot use the excuse of the system for making him have made these unfortunate remarks. I call upon the Conservative Party to disavow any relationship to our native people of the kind that the leader is reported to have made.
Mr Harnick: I appreciate the kind remarks of some of the members in this chamber. I want to deal first with some remarks about the bill itself. My remarks about the bill itself, in a nutshell, are that yes, this bill stands for greater efficiency and streamlining of government in the areas that it's purported to deal in, and I am supportive of those efforts. However, the bill also deals in certain areas that may be controversial. Even though I may not agree with the purported controversies, there are groups that have pointed out areas that demand the opportunity of some debate.
I would urge the Attorney General to look through this bill and to eliminate those areas and to deal with the balance of the bill as she wishes, but to at least afford those that say: "There's more than just efficiency, more than just housekeeping involved here. We want a chance to discuss substantive issues." I believe that this bill does contain some substantive issues that should not go forward at this time. But all in all the bill is worth supporting, and I think there's no one here who wouldn't agree that that's in fact a worthy endeavour.
In terms of what my friend the minister responsible for native affairs has stated, I only say this to him: I caution him to worry that when he repeats things that are hearsay to start with he is treading on very thin ice. When he makes allegations that he takes out of a newspaper, he treads on very thin ice. When he imputes such motives to a member of this House, it is unbecoming and unfit of a minister of the crown.
Mr Hans Daigeler (Nepean): I see that no one on the government side wants to speak to Bill 175 even though, as you can see, Mr Speaker, this is a rather voluminous bill and I'm sure there must be some members on the government side who would also like to speak at least a little bit about this bill. But presumably they feel that if they don't take part in the debate, we might get this bill finished sooner.
Frankly, on principle, I don't find that many problems in what the government is trying to do here. I did review the explanations at the beginning. As is normally done at the beginning of the bill, there is a short summary, an executive summary as to what is contained in this bill. I didn't read all the provisions because there's something like 147 pages, but I did read through the executive summary, and frankly most of the amendments that are being put forward I think I could support inasmuch as I understand them.
However, there are a few points that perhaps I can get some clarification from the government side on. Even though they are not participating in the debate, perhaps later on, when the minister summarizes, or even in the two-minute responses, somebody on the government side could clarify things for me a little bit.
Overall I think that having such an omnibus bill clearly shows that this government has come to the end of its term and an election must be very near, because normally these kinds of housekeeping amendments are brought in with other bills as routine matters and are passed in a routine fashion by the House. But clearly I think this government is afraid that, given the limited time it still has in its mandate, it might not get to it at all and so it's put everything it can find into this bill. I guess they probably went to all their deputy ministers and said: "What is there in your ministry that has been hanging around for years that you would like amended? Let's put this all together and adjust this and bring it before the House and let it be passed."
As I indicated, for the most part I don't see any major problems with the amendments, other than frankly I wonder whether we really need legislation on some of these things. There are so many items in here that you can really ask yourself, why is it that we have to come before the House to discuss this and to debate these things, and if there's a change a few years down the road again, do we have to go to the House again to make another change? In here there are so many items that perhaps ought to be moved out of what really has to come to the House that I would have liked to see the government address itself to that question. Can we not streamline the process? Since we're engaged in this attempt, can't we streamline it in a much more radical manner and ask, what is it that really has to come and be debated in front of the House and what is it that can be left to regulations and to other processes?
Frankly, there are some changes in there -- and specifically I'll be talking a little bit at greater length, probably tomorrow since my time has almost run out, about some changes, for example, with regard to the transportation sector -- that require changes to a bill. It requires discussion in this House just to authorize payments to transit commissions across the province according to a different schedule. Right now, the government is paying in one lump sum the transit subsidies to our municipalities, and according to the amendments that are being made here, it will be possible to do that in instalments. Now, I ask you, Mr Speaker, is it really necessary that we have to pass an amendment in the House in order to do this?
I am obviously a little bit leery to give too much discretion and too much authority to any kind of cabinet, but there are obviously limits to what we can do in the chamber here. If we have to look every time and pass a law that, for example, drivers have to observe and stay back so a transit bus can move out of its bay, that we have to pass this here in the House I find is really a bit exaggerated and I think somewhat demeans the process. Nevertheless, it's in the bill here, and I'm glad it's here because it's necessary for the safety of the people, but I'd rather see that kind of thing totally moved out of the legislation and perhaps into the regulation process.