Thursday 21 January 1993

Annual report, Provincial Auditor, 1992

Ministry of Community and Social Services

Dr Charles E. Pascal, deputy minister

Alison Fraser, acting director, policy development and program design branch

Andre Iannuzziello, project manager, cost containment implementation

John Stapleton, acting director, special projects secretariat


*Chair / Président: Mancini, Remo (Essex South/-Sud L)

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Cordiano, Joseph (Lawrence L)

*Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South/-Sud L)

Cousens, W. Donald (Markham PC)

*Duignan, Noel (Halton North/-Nord ND)

Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East/-Est ND)

Haeck, Christel (St Catharines-Brock ND)

*Hayes, Pat (Essex-Kent ND)

Johnson, Paul R. (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings/Prince Edward-Lennox-Hastings-Sud ND)

O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York ND)

*Sorbara, Gregory S. (York Centre L)

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC)

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present / Membres remplaçants présents:

Farnan, Mike (Cambridge ND) for Mr Frankford

Fletcher, Derek (Guelph ND) for Mr Johnson

Hope, Randy R. (Chatham-Kent ND) for Ms Haeck

Jackson, Cameron (Burlington South/-Sud PC) for Mr Tilson

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South/-Sud PC) for Mr Cousens

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes: Peters, Erik, Provincial Auditor

Clerk / Greffière par intérim: Deller, Deborah

Staff / Personnel: McLellan, Ray, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1010 in room 151.


The Chair (Mr Remo Mancini): The standing committee on public accounts is called to order. We're continuing with our review of the auditor's report as regards the family benefits assistance allowance. I believe this is the last morning for open session.

Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington South): We're having fun.

The Chair: We're having a lot of fun, I agree, and we're making a lot of progress, with the assistance of the officials from the ministry. My own colleagues have called and said they're going to be a little late. We are unable to wait. I know that other members, by the time they make the first round, may have arrived. Could we start off with Mr Jackson.

Mr Jackson: I believe the ministry staff have been working through the night to be prepared today for all the questions on this side of the room, so I'd like to give them an opportunity to pass those out.

The Chair: Mr Pascal, how be if I leave the floor to you for a while?

Dr Charles Pascal: I'd be delighted. I think Mr Jackson is referring to some written information. This is instalment 2, and we're pleased to table that for members.

The only other request that was made, as I recall, that we can respond to verbally was a request Mr Jackson made in terms of getting an update with respect to the $300 million. Mr Jackson's reference to "working through the night" is almost accurate in the sense that one of the reasons we don't have a written summary -- which would be quite useful, I think, to the committee, and we will be forthcoming with that in due course -- is that there was a power shutdown in many of the major buildings that took place early last evening and made completing that difficult.

For the record, as I said in my opening remarks, we have identified $163 million in the areas of our initiatives, and there are other areas that we hope and are quite comfortable will yield the full $300 million. We'll provide a kind of aggregate summary of other contributions to the committee or to Mr Jackson, whatever you decide. Sorry we don't have the update, but again, it's a moving target with respect to some of the areas for which we hope to achieve savings, including the front-door screening and the referral to jobs, which is picking up excellent momentum, as are the other initiatives.

We'll provide that, hopefully, later today or some time tomorrow. We'd be pleased to do so.

The Chair: Anything else before we get started? Okay, Mr Jackson, 20 minutes.

Mr Jackson: Perhaps building on Dr Pascal's opening comment, I left you with a question amidst the confusion regarding what you project to be a 4% increase in the expenditures for welfare, both forms of social assistance, for the next fiscal year, beginning April 1. You seemed uncertain or wished to clarify for us whether the $300 million in savings was included or would form part of, subsequent to that projection -- I haven't been through this package. If it's not in there, maybe you could begin by enlightening us on those numbers.

Dr Pascal: Just to reinforce what I said yesterday, the $6.2-billion year-end projection that we took into this year took into account the projected $300-million savings. Another way of looking at this is that we originally had a $6.5-billion projection. We took into account the $300 million, reducing it to $6.2 billion, and we're now projecting that at year-end, as we look into the new fiscal year -- the second year, we're talking about -- the 4% would be on the basis of the 6.2.

Mr Jackson: So 6.2 is your base.

Dr Pascal: That's right.

Mr Jackson: For 1993-94.

Dr Pascal: At this point --

Mr Jackson: And you're projecting a 4% growth only to that.

Dr Pascal: That's right.

Mr Jackson: So if your base is fixed, how many further savings do you anticipate in 1993-94, which is the fiscal year we're about to enter? If you're projecting a 4% increase, how much of a saving are you forecasting for 1993-94?

Dr Pascal: If you're asking me to give you a precise figure of how much of the 4% --

Mr Jackson: What's 4% of $6.2 billion? Help us here, quickly, even if research can help us. Let's get some real figures on the table. If you can project what your increase is going to be, surely, as managers of the system, having responded to the auditor and to this committee, you have a plan in place for savings and you're not about to tell me that you don't have a handle on what your estimated savings will be in 1993-94. You can't have one figure without having the other, Dr Pascal. That's all I'm saying.

Dr Pascal: Of course you can. We have a $6.2-billion base right now. The 4% addition will take into account some of the savings that will come from these interventions we've been discussing for the last two days. If you're asking how much of the $300-million kinds of savings, the kinds of things that go into that, will carry into the next year and will have contributed to the 4%, I don't have that part of the figure.

Mr Jackson: Let me try it another way, because we're not making much progress here. You were able to tell this committee with some assurance that based on the auditor's report and your reaction to it, you can estimate in 1992-93, which is the budget year we're just completing, that you will achieve about $300 million in savings. That's your best estimate.

What I'm asking you is, now what is your best estimate? Of all the activities that you've now begun to assist you to be more effective in managing the system, what are your anticipated savings? You're hiring all this additional staff. You've been quoting savings in the new year. I want to know from you what you think your total savings will be as a result of these initiatives.

Dr Pascal: We hope that it will be at least $300 million in the next fiscal year.

Mr Jackson: If that's the case, let's go back to your staffing. Your initial $18-million investment netted you how many employees that you've hired currently?

Dr Pascal: We've hired 200.

Mr Jackson: By the end of this fiscal year, which is March 31, you will hire the balance, which is how many?

Dr Pascal: Two hundred and fifty.

Mr Jackson: So you have been able to achieve a $300-million saving in this fiscal year with 200 additional employees who are now in the system. As of April 1, you're going to pick up another 250 employees, and you're telling me that you're still only going to net out the same savings with double -- well, even more -- a 120% increase over the staff complement that you were given by Management Board for this year?

Dr Pascal: First of all, I said we hoped to save at least $300 million in the next year. Second, I think it's important to note that the $300 million we project for this fiscal year is not made up just of issues around staffing. It involves the $60-million cost avoidance as a result of staffing. It involves $45 million of cost avoidance in terms of rate increase deferral. The assumptions change depending on the types of initiatives. You're looking for something precise.


Mr Jackson: I'm not looking for something precise. It's because the two examples you just shared with me have less of a staff impact that this now elevates my concern that as you pick up 250 more staff employees, you're going to have a bigger impact -- you have to have a bigger impact -- than the $300 million you've achieved this year with 200 new employees. You're now going to get an additional 250. It's not as though we fired the 200 from 1992-93. You now are up to 450 new employees and yet you're flat-lining your projections for savings. This is confusing to anybody who has done any substantive staffing.

Dr Pascal: Let me repeat and add a few comments. First of all, of the $300 million, not all of that $300 million in this year is due to staffing intervention. There are other policy decisions which will yield a cost savings of well over $100 million.

Secondly, the reason I can't be specific with respect to cost savings in the next fiscal year is -- I said that we hoped they will be at least $300 million, a lot of it due to the staff in place right now, and we're obviously catching up in terms of some of the initiatives, as well as the staff to be added, other initiatives that are being discussed as part of the estimates process.

At this particular point in time, I don't think we want to overemphasize the meaning of a target. At this particular time, based on assumptions that are in place right now, prior to estimates being completed, we're projecting a 4% increase in expenditure. As the member knows, until estimates have been completed, I can't assure that the 4% will still be in place. It might be higher, it might be lower, and other initiatives may be in place to add to cost avoidance, to add to cost savings in the next fiscal year.

If we're looking for a science in the context of a political process which is incomplete at this point in time, all we can say is that based on current assumptions about the initiatives in place and the initiatives to be added, we hope the target will be reasonable and have some validity.

Mr Jackson: I would hope that too. I think 4% growth in GWA and FBA for 1993-94 is incredibly low. That's my view. I'm shocked that your anticipated savings are flat-lined from year to year, according to your own best guesstimates. You were kind enough to give me a figure, and it is the same figure carrying from year to year, is that not correct? That's what I heard, the $300 million. You said you anticipated an additional $300 million.

Dr Pascal: As Hansard will indicate, I said at least $300 million. Again, because your question, Mr Jackson, focused on the cost avoidance as a result of staffing changes, there are additional changes that have contributed --

Mr Jackson: You don't need to repeat yourself, because as you said, there is Hansard.

Dr Pascal, I wanted to pursue your varied conversations with eligibility review officers and how pumped up and excited they were about their commitment. I wanted to ask you about what they shared with you as to what they perceived as their impediments. These are civil servants who are charged with the responsibility of checking fraud, among other things, validating a claim. Let's not put a value on it, just simply validating a claim, making sure what's on the applicant's request is valid.

As my colleague Mrs Marland yesterday indicated, we have talked to workers and they have expressed their frustration to us. What kind of feedback have you gotten where they're saying, "Jeez, you know, if you'd let us do this, we'd be that much more effective," or, "If you'd let us do that, we could do it so quickly; if we could just pick up the phone and make that one call instead of having to go out in the parking lot and wait for them to drive away and then take down their licence plate number," which is, as you know, essentially how that organized ring in Mississauga was caught, because there are far too many impediments in the conventional investigations.

Could you share with the committee briefly if that's been shared with you? In fairness, you may not know these problems unless they've been brought to your attention.

Dr Pascal: I really appreciate the question and I appreciate the positing of that question yesterday by Mr Jackson, or perhaps the day before. If members look at the answer to question 9 in the material submitted today, I'll just highlight very briefly and then members can read. This again reinforces the conversations I've had with eligibility review officers in our Toronto area office.

The first impediment is obtaining information. There's a reference in the written material with respect to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and some of the difficulties in terms of obtaining necessary information from sources such as employers, schools and Revenue Canada without written consent from the person who is under investigation. Obviously, that has some really tricky business attached to it.

Point 2, outdated information: EROs obtain records through sources of information such as driver's licence, car registration, etc. In many circumstances, the information is out of date and this hampers the efforts.

The final point for the moment is one I mentioned in response to a discussion we had with Mrs Marland and that's law enforcement delays and the priorities and pressures on the local law enforcement agents. I've been told, Mr Jackson, that in the past and in the present, where there is a dedicated detective working directly with us in a constant and consistent fashion, it really helps. We're working around the province to try to have that kind of liaison.

Mr Jackson: In fact, some of the cuts in the Solicitor General's office, in concert with some very celebrated cases -- for example, in my community, the Leslie Mahaffy murder, the Nina de Villiers murder -- have had a devastating effect on our police budgets. We don't get the additional support. The acquisition of forensic experts from the US is extremely costly, and we still haven't apprehended the two murderers. As a result, the activities around welfare fraud and others fall to the second level of activity.

We're now up to child sexual assault cases, which we can't keep a handle on in our jurisdiction. I know you share with me quite a concern over the fact that our police, under the current budgeting restraints from the province, are unable to do an effective job in that area. That's because you're in the Comsoc field and you appreciate its impact on children's aid societies and others.

You do say here that negotiations are under way with the federal government and Quebec on an information-sharing agreement. The Quebec government initiated this as part of an overall initiative. Ms Fraser mentioned it as well yesterday. I've had an opportunity to examine that legislation and make some contacts. I'm led to believe this is in direct response to the cap on the Canada assistance plan. It's a pressure to have a system that can react and respond quickly.

The statistics the Quebec government gives us are that as a result of its changing some of the laws in order that it can conduct investigations more effectively -- some of the impediments you mention -- a 75% recovery rate has resulted. That's set out in two articles that legislative research has shared with committee members.

With the fact that we were aware earlier that the amount of receivables or inappropriate overexpenditures for all reasons could be as high as 10%, we're looking at some $600 million that is potentially recoverable in any given year in our system. Is your government considering any of these recommendations to improve the ability of a civil servant to go out and do his job more effectively and stop the welfare fraud? I don't want to get into the argument of whether you've made policy decisions to make it more permissive. Maybe we'll get to that in the next round. I'm simply talking about provinces that have said: "We have to change the rules. The state has to have the tools necessary to do a job to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are protected as it comes to welfare payouts."

Dr Pascal: I think the short answer is that the last two days have afforded us the opportunity to say that we are doing everything we can to explore not just policy -- Mr Jackson has distinguished policy from practice -- but we're doing everything we can administratively and otherwise to seek recovery in all the subareas for which the Provincial Auditor and his staff expressed concern.


The Quebec example in terms of the bilateral agreement to which we referred yesterday and you've just referred to again, Mr Jackson, I think, is a very good example. They're motivated by the same kind of concerns we have. They're not motivated -- just a minor correction -- by a cap on CAP, because they're not one of the provinces capped. If we weren't capped as one of the three provinces, I certainly hope and would have expected that we too would be pursuing these types of things because we're talking about integrity, cost avoidance and the kind of reinvestment that can be made in other social services --

Mr Jackson: In fairness, Dr Pascal, I give you a very simple, concrete example: In Quebec, an eligibility review officer can call the local PUC and find out where someone who's moving around -- clearly, they're pursuing a case of welfare fraud -- went and put their $40 or $50 deposit so they could have hydro within a given community. In this province, our eligibility review officers cannot do that.

It's a very simple little thing, but that would save hours and hours and hours. Hiring a detective, at not an inexpensive salary, to sit out in front of a person's house to see where they go and where they are -- all we have to do is pick up a telephone. In Quebec they've given the tools to your staff to do that. We're not asking much here.


Mr Jackson: I'm sure Mr Fletcher's comments -- he didn't mean to be as flip. We're not talking about communism here, since my learned colleague opposite is quite an expert on the subject matter.

The fact of the matter is, we're simply saying that provinces like Quebec are bringing in these kinds of modifications to give you the tools. You have very rightly identified them for me and I appreciate that; this is what I'd heard in the field from the workers. But when we were able to stop that organized ring of welfare fraud that hit the city of Mississauga, it was because the workers went out into the parking lot and took down the licence plates and they were seeing BMWs from Quebec coming in here. Now, that kind of stuff -- we need to give our civil servants the tools to do that job and not simply say that because our police departments are overtaxed in these times we're unable to do it, or that the freedom of information -- the Supreme Court has already indicated this is not a problem in terms of being diligent in the process of collecting moneys that are defrauded from other citizens in our society.

Dr Pascal: If I can just respond very briefly, again, it's very important for Ontario to catch other jurisdictions doing things right and to put them in our context. How far we would go with respect to, for example, what Quebec does becomes ultimately a political question with respect to the issue of surveillance and what we wish to do, but it shouldn't be a cause to not explore in a rigorous way what might be useful and might bear any other government's political imperative.

With respect to the police issue, I want to be very clear that I don't mean to use this point as a way of suggesting it's an impediment we can't do anything to overcome. It's not just the priorities of the police and their pressures. We have to recognize that, and in the work we do in preparing cases for a detective in a local constabulary, we have to --

Mr Jackson: You can't lay charges, Dr Pascal. That's very clear.

Dr Pascal: We can't, but we can do a better job in our own backyard preparing the case to meet police standards, so we can meet the detective and his or her load sometimes more than halfway. We have to do a better job with that.

Mr Jackson: How's our time, Mr Chairman?

The Chair: Sixty seconds.

Mr Jackson: Mrs Marland wanted to get something in on the record.

The Chair: I was going to let Mrs Marland start first next time, next round.

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): That's fine, thank you.

The Chair: You'll use your 60 seconds?

Mr Jackson: Oh, of course. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Well, Dr Pascal, I would agree with you but the police are also suffering under some frustrations with their own ability to perform in these areas. But we're not talking about surveillance. The police are having to resort to surveillance now and civil servants are having to resort to the forms of surveillance which are unnecessary. That was really my point. That is very time-consuming; it's very offensive.

What is simpler is, the fact that you've moved your residence within a community, the fact that you are paying for your PUC bill -- the state should be able to know that. Once we know that, we've established residence. But to have to fight the freedom of information act to establish the residence of somebody who, on the face of it, is living there, is a problem that we've created for ourselves. This is one of the areas where it's created difficulty for you in doing your job.

The Chair: Okay, we have Mr Duignan, Mr Hope, Mr Hayes and Mr White.

Mr Noel Duignan (Halton North): I've got a couple of questions. One of the questions: Mr Jackson said yesterday that the ministry is widening access to social assistance to 16- and 17-year-olds. I wonder, could you tell me what the real eligibility criteria are? Is it really that easy for them to receive welfare?

Ms Alison Fraser: Perhaps, Mr Chair, I could respond to the member's question. The policy with respect to 16- and 17-year-olds I should clarify. With respect to those individuals, we're talking here about employable young people. We're talking about people who could be in the workforce. With respect to those individuals, if they are living at home and their family is in need, then they may well be a beneficiary of one of their parents' allowance. So they may be on the program that way.

I think, however, we're focusing here on the individual who is no longer at home. With those individuals, if one of those persons applies for general welfare assistance at this point, the individual has to satisfy the welfare administrator -- we're talking GWA, so we're talking about the municipality -- that there are special circumstances justifying the payment of assistance to that person. The kinds of things we would look at and we would have the administrators look at are circumstances such as abuse in the home. If the individual is not able to go home because of abuse in the home, then that would certainly constitute special circumstances. There are other circumstances where the home environment will no longer provide the basic necessities of life for that young person, for whatever reason, and where the parents are indicating, "We will not have that person home." That would certainly constitute special circumstances.

I think the onus is clearly on the young person -- with some corroboration, I might add, from other individuals involved -- to ensure that there are special circumstances. What we're trying to strike here -- and the welfare administrator, I believe, does a very good job -- is a balance between not breaking up families -- clearly, where young people are able to stay at home or have a minor dispute over things like curfews and that sort of thing, we don't want welfare paid in those circumstances. On the other hand, we certainly would not want a young person sent home to a violent, abusive situation where that young person could be at risk.

The policy is administered locally so that the local administrator has the opportunity to verify the circumstances and pay that young person where it is appropriate.

I might just take this opportunity to indicate that we had been asked for some statistics with respect to those young people. I apologize to the committee. Unfortunately, the computer run must have been caught up in the power shortage, and I don't have those statistics today. We will have to file them with you at a later date.

Mr Duignan: So it's not true that a 16- or 17-year-old could simply walk into a social service office and get welfare. They would have to meet a certain criterion to do it?

Ms Fraser: They would clearly have to meet certain criteria. They would also have to be either looking for work or attending school, one or the other. I should have mentioned that earlier.

Mr Jackson: So it is true, then, that you can attend school and collect welfare.

The Chair: Order, please.

Mr Jackson: I was trying to clarify the point, Mr Chair. He has indicated it was on my question.

The Chair: If Mr Duignan wants further clarification on his question, then he is the person who has the privilege of asking. If there is something out of order, other members can ask for a point of order. If other members want a point of clarification, then members should ask the member who has the floor if they can ask for a point of clarification.

Mr Jackson: I have a point of clarification.

The Chair: You have to ask Mr Duignan.

Mr Duignan: Out of fairness, a very quick point of clarification.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Duignan.

Mr Jackson: Concern about the circumstance of abuse is not the sole determinant in terms of whether an individual is eligible while he or she is attending school, which was, I think, how the question was put.

Ms Fraser: I'm sorry, Mr Chair. I understood the question to be, what are the eligibility requirements for 16- and 17-year-old individuals?

Mr Jackson: And abuse is not the sole eligibility criteria.

Ms Fraser: That's quite right.

Mr Jackson: That's what I thought I heard.


Mr Duignan: On another point brought up by Mr Callahan yesterday, Mr Callahan described the use of bounty hunters. I find that term despicable. However, in the United States, they go after social assistance recipients to get back the overpayments. Could you make a comment on that. Do you have any comment to make on that comment?

Dr Pascal: I have at least two colleagues who are quite anxious to make a comment on that.

Mr John Stapleton: I had the good fortune to be able to visit a few American jurisdictions last year. They talked about that particular sort of situation as well as the various ideas of welfare hotlines and that sort of thing. In speaking to officials -- at least the ones I spoke to -- they came unanimously to the point of view that they found these sorts of interventions to be counterproductive. In over half the instances, in my recollection, they found that the person who would be reported as someone on social assistance wasn't on social assistance in the first instance, whether that be through a hotline or through a bounty hunter sort of thing. In other words, with someone supposedly turning someone in, their immediate finding was that over half the people weren't collecting social assistance in the first instance.

They did quote me a figure that was corroborated on a number of occasions. In each of the calls they would get of somebody being turned in, either through a hotline or through some sort of bounty situation, only one in 11 was a case worth investigating. They found that rate of return to be one that they felt wasn't worth the effort.

Mr Andre Iannuzziello: In fact, that's consistent with the findings we had within Metropolitan Toronto last winter and spring when it set up its hotline.

Mr Duignan: It's one of these American, Reaganite-type mentalities, one of these you're guilty until you're proven innocent, setup-type numbers. You can phone in anything about anybody. Somebody goes out and grabs that person and there are in fact no facts, no nothing to back it up. It's certainly something we don't need in this province, because you could have neighbourhood grudges; you could have anything against that individual.

Just one final question before I turn it over to my colleagues: Yesterday, we were talking about front-door screening. I understand this particular project has been piloted. Can you tell this committee if it will address any of the concerns raised by the auditor in the report?

Dr Pascal: Front-door screening has had some major impact on eligibility, on some of the issues related to alternative sources of income and of course, importantly, referral to job opportunities and training. It's in all of those areas that we think the progress is significant. Andre, do you want to elaborate?

Mr Iannuzziello: Sure. In the pilot projects and again in the area offices that were given additional staff last summer, we've initiated front-door-screening pilot projects. Over 2,000 clients have participated in those discussions, going through the process of filling out a document which talks about their previous work history and the kinds of things they might want to do in the future in order to be job ready, to move into the job market. Over 2,000 clients have participated in that process in the pilot projects. We're looking at implementing that province-wide probably early in the spring.

Dr Pascal: Also, if I may add, it's really an important part of the Jobs Ontario activity as well, because that project, which we hope will have great return coming on stream at about the same time as we've done this enhanced front-door screening, allows us to work with the brokers in the Jobs Ontario process to ensure that we get as many social assistance recipients in that program as possible.

Mr Duignan: Is the program working fairly effectively and well?

Dr Pascal: The Jobs Ontario or the front-door screening or the combination?

Mr Duignan: The combination.

Dr Pascal: The combination is picking up success stories by the day. Just yesterday, for example, there was an announcement in Peterborough of the creation of 200 jobs with one firm, and 200 jobs filled up with hopefully many of our social assistance recipients through processes such as front-door screening can yield a cost avoidance per annum of $2.5 million. It depends on what assumptions you make about the recipients and the cheques they are receiving right now. We think it holds great promise. We just have to keep at it and hopefully we'll have success stories by the day, week and month.

Mr Duignan: I think you've a more successful way of getting people off welfare and out into the job markets rather than having bounty hunters going out and looking for people who may or may not exist. Thank you, sir.

Dr Pascal: We certainly want to distinguish between proactivity around labour market participation, reattachment to the mainstream opportunities for work and recovery problems with overpayments. The area of differences of opinions is around what you do in terms of overpayment recovery. How intrusive and how effective are different techniques? I don't want to get into characterizing what others may have adopted as good for that jurisdiction, but there are wide opinions about different interventions.

Mr Randy R. Hope (Chatham-Kent): I'm glad my colleague had the opportunity to ask questions about the 16- and 17-year-olds, because when that comment was made yesterday I was quite outraged. I remember calls from guidance counsellors, from teachers, from parents talking about the increase in students leaving home. I'm glad you had the opportunity to explain in clear detail.

It's not as easy as it sounds. When I checked the database, and I have a good communication base with both my city administration and the county administration, it makes it very clear that it's not as easy as it sounds. Yes, there is talk that goes on in the hallways of schools of how students talk about potentially getting somebody pregnant just for the simple fact of having income and how they do things. This is just hallway talk in high schools. I took it very seriously when I was getting raised by parents that people were just leaving home for the simple fact of going on welfare and moving in with their girlfriends so they didn't have to follow any rules.

When I checked with the county administration, which is the first avenue, GWA, it made it very clear it's not as easy. Yes, it happens every September. It's not just this year it's happened; it happens every September, the end of September and October, this fluctuation of calls and people trying to get social services. But once they enter the front-door screening which you've mentioned, it puts it right to a dead halt. Parents are accepting their children back and it's not that we have a bunch of bad parents out there or that we have a bunch of bad 16- and 17-year-olds.

I just was very outraged when the comment was made. Yes, there are rumours, as there are rumours about everybody cheating on social services. I even know some programs which are talking about having people on welfare go dig ditches, which I'm totally opposed to, even about the job search aspect. But I'm glad you had the opportunity. This is going be more of a statement because I'm following the Chair's direction. He says, "Wait till your own time to make comments," and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

I'm glad you had the opportunity to review the issue my colleague brought forward about the bounty hunters, because when I hear the words of Mr Callahan yesterday, the first sign I come up with is Renegade, this new television program out there where a guy drives around on a motorcycle going around as a bounty hunter and collecting all these bad people. We're labelling people as bad. I'm glad you had the opportunity. I would only say that if you ever consider the aspect of privatizing the collection process, I think you better take a look at the confrontations between employers and employees with workers' compensation where video cameras are being used.

There is some correction in the system. Again, you made reference to front-door screening. If we can improve the access and the qualification requirements at the beginning, we will eliminate having to dump a whole lot of money on private investigators and people to do the overpayments, if we improve ourselves at the beginning of the street. I guess most of the mentality by other governments was, "Fix the problem at the end of the street, not at the beginning." I'm glad your ministry, under your direction, Dr Pascal, is looking at fixing the problems at the beginning of the street, which is more cost-effective to the people in this province.

Those are the areas I wanted to make sure I got on record, following the direction of the Chair, because I was very outraged when we're labelling all 16- and 17-year-olds as welfare recipients. I was very hurt by that comment. Yes, the rumour was out there. I did the proper thing by making inquiries and asking about statistics -- if there was a great fluctuation, and what the control mechanism was inside -- and the county and city administrations in my riding made it very clear that it's something that happens every September and every October. It's called school hall talk, and that's basically all it is. I just wanted to get those comments on to the record. I know there was no question of that, but I do thank the ministry for its positive approach in making sure we correct the problems at the beginning of the street and not at the end like previous governments did.


The Chair: Comments? Mr Hayes and then Mr White.

Mr Pat Hayes (Essex-Kent): Regarding the basic eligibility for benefits for the family benefits allowance, the auditor found the determination of the basic eligibility was satisfactory. But I'd like you to tell the committee about the treatment of assets and property, and what it is in determining if a person is eligible for assistance.

Ms Fraser: An applicant for family benefits will be asked about the person's income and assets, income being regular cash flow -- or irregular for that matter -- and assets obviously being any valuable items or sums of money the individual may have.

With respect to the treatment of income, there are some kinds of income that simply don't affect eligibility. An example of that, actually up until last month, would have been the family allowance, and now the federal child benefit. That would not affect eligibility at all. There are some kinds of income that are charged at 100%, and support payments would be an example of that. Some are charged at a percentage: earnings and certain other kinds of payment. So it depends on the nature of the income and the amount that the individual shows.

With respect to assets, the provisions of the Family Benefits Act and regulations do permit an individual to have a small amount of assets. The limit will vary by the size of the family and the reason under which the individual is applying. Just off the top of my head, a single person with a disability who applies for social assistance could have up to $3,000 of liquid assets, liquid assets being either cash or something that's easily convertible into cash. A sole-support parent, depending on family size, could have slightly more than that.

Mr Hayes: So a simple example would be someone who had four or five children, for example. They would be allowed higher assets.

Ms Fraser: Yes. I could calculate the amount. It would be in the vicinity of $5,000 to $6,000 worth of assets for that family size.

Mr Hayes: Okay. Thank you very much. I'll leave time for my colleague --

Mrs Marland: Me?

Mr Hayes: -- Mr White, right over here.

Mr Drummond White (Durham Centre): I'd like to return, if I could, to the issue of the youngsters who are receiving assistance. In the past, I made determinations about family viability for the welfare department in my area, in my town, and yesterday, actually, I had a young woman call me whom I've worked with in the past -- quite a long ways in the past.

She's now graduating from university with an honours baccalaureate, and she invited me both to her graduation and to her wedding this summer. It was a young woman who had come from some of the kind of situations that you've described, whose situation was not viable, where there was abuse in a number of different ways, and where our system and our support were able to help her become a fully functioning member of our community as opposed to, as many people are in those situations, a burden on our community for the better part of their lives.

The issue here I'm wondering about is, have the regulations changed markedly in the last two years in regard to the 16- and 17-year-olds? I'm not familiar, not having worked in that field for some time, of course -- a bit of a job change.

Ms Fraser: With respect to any changes in the last few years, there's been a lot of discussion in this area. However, the actual regulation which puts the onus of proving those special circumstances on the young person as applicant has not changed. We have been looking at the possibility of changing that policy; we've had extensive discussions within the ministry, with municipal delivery sites and also with some advocacy groups on behalf of children to determine if there's some way we can provide better guidance to those who have to make these decisions, but in fact there have been no changes to the regulation in the recent past.

Mr White: Essentially, the same regulations now apply as did a few years ago when I was making that determination -- I was doing that as a family counsellor, a family therapist, not as a welfare worker -- about the viability of the family and the person's situation, what they needed in order to manage, the supports he or she needed. At that time, it was people who were away from home for reasons beyond their control; in other words, they could not return home, they were not allowed to, or the situation was such that if they did, it would be emotionally, psychologically, whatever, far too damaging for them -- not a sustainable environment.

My experience with kids who are runaways or whatever is that the experience they're going to have on the streets in the community will be one of abuse as well. So in my judgement it had to be a pretty severe situation for that kid not to return home, because the alternative wasn't all that great.

Ms Fraser: The kinds of guidance we provide to the welfare administrators would essentially mirror your comments, I think. We are talking about circumstances where either there is no suitable home -- that is, the family perhaps left the jurisdiction or has died, which can happen -- or, on the other hand, it's not in the best interests of that young person to go home, for the kinds of reasons you've mentioned.

Mr White: I would think making that kind of investment in a young person is probably one of the most important investments we can make with our system. We're talking about young people at a critical juncture, a very, very difficult time. What concerned me when I was working in that field -- granted, I was simply making decisions or recommendations -- was that here were these young people who had to go through hoops and barrels that no one else did. Here they were, as youngsters, 16, 17, didn't have a lot of skills, often came from families that were very deprived and depriving and didn't present themselves that well for those reasons, and they had to go through all these extra hoops.

First of all, given their age, they didn't have a whole bunch of friends with lots of money and homes and circumstances who could help them out. They usually left with nothing, with a few bucks, tops, literally pocket money, change. Yet somehow they were expected to manage on their own while they proved to the welfare office that they had no home to return to. So they were often left for a week, 10 days, two weeks before receiving any kind of support. Sure, there were informal community supports. What I'm wondering is, is there any way to deal with that? Here these youngsters are: Yes, it's an important decision to make, but they need support, and they're literally on the streets.

Ms Fraser: Perhaps I could respond to that question as well. The welfare administrator certainly has the authority to issue something called emergency assistance for up to a two-week period in any circumstance where he or she feels it's appropriate. So for a case where the administrator was not yet satisfied about the circumstances of the young person and the possibility of returning home, or the appropriateness of returning home, there is the opportunity to issue that emergency assistance.

Mr White: Is that regularly done?

Ms Fraser: I believe it is.

Mr Jackson: Mr Chairman, just on that point, is it appropriate, as yesterday we asked for statistics -- the request was whether the ministry maintained stats on age and if it could break out its stats on how many people under the age of 20 were assuming either of the benefits three years ago, two years ago and one year ago. That would be helpful.

The Chair: That's another request?

Mr Jackson: It was requested yesterday, but I wasn't sure if it was in this package.

Dr Pascal: No, it got caught in the power shortage. Mr Stapleton has just told me it is on its way over some time this morning. Hopefully, it'll be here before --

Mr Jackson: Thank you.


The Chair: You have 20 minutes, Mr Callahan.

Mr Robert V. Callahan (Brampton South): One of the real concerns I have about the issue Mr White has just been talking about is how easy it is for young people to get social assistance. I've heard stories informally in my riding where it's as simple as moving out of the house and going and living in a friend's house and they make application for social assistance and they get it. I've even heard stories of people who come here from other provinces and the first place they hit is the welfare office, and they get it quite easily.

I say this not in any mean-spirited way; I think it should be there for those kids who have to move out of their house because there's a dangerous situation there or what have you. I'm going to be interested in these stats Mr Jackson has asked for, because if we make it that easy for kids to get social assistance, we're doing three things. We're undermining the family unit, because it means that the young kid says to his parents: "You don't like me coming in after hours" or whatever, "I don't like the rules. I'm moving. I'm leaving." If that's available to them, if that is in fact the situation -- it might be worthwhile having some detailed study done of that, if it hasn't already been done by the ministry -- then I find that to be a horrendous thing. I can't support that one iota, and I would think the taxpayers couldn't either.

As I said yesterday and have said every day this week, and I think the ministry has quite rightly agreed with it, the important aspect of this entire system is to maintain its integrity. Once it loses its integrity or once the public gets to the point where it says, "Enough's enough," then we haven't got anything for these people. I think you're seeing that now with the overreaction to the unemployment insurance legislation in Ottawa. They're responding to the anger that's out there in the public, that they figure the system's being ripped off, and they're responding in such a way that it's going to create some of the problems I suggested about people not being able to properly leave their jobs, perhaps, if an employer wants to be overly nasty, lest they have no access to any type of social assistance.

For that reason, I think it's important that every step be taken, even including reporting -- one of my colleagues in the government took umbrage with the fact that in the United States they have now reached that staggering stage of deficit and debt that they've had to implement these things, such as neighbours reporting access to public funds in a fraudulent way. We've all heard the stories about people who are out mowing the lawn and telling the neighbour, "I'm getting WCB." That does not do anything for supporting a social safety net system in this province or this country. That's why I think it's so important that every step be taken to ensure that that doesn't take place. You now have the manpower, hopefully, to do that, and one would hope that the impact on the moneys that are available will be far less the next time around, when we have the auditor deal with it.

Just going to some of the material you have given us, I find it very interesting that under GWA and FBA in the areas of Durham and Peel there is an extraordinarily high rate in comparison to other areas. When you talk about your employees, your staff, do you include within that framework just the staff who operate out of the central office, or do you include as staff the people who are working in Peel region, let's say? Are they part of that complement of staff?

Ms Fraser: With respect to the staffing numbers, the numbers we've been discussing here, the 200 and the 450 and so forth, relate to provincial staff, so they would not include people who work for Peel region.

Mr Callahan: Who pays for the people who work in Peel region? They're paid for by the regional taxpayer?

Ms Fraser: With respect to the GWA workers, their salaries are actually cost-shared 50-50 between the province and the municipality.

Dr Pascal: We cost-share on administration.

Mr Callahan: As I view it -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that's the front-line worker, would it not be?

Dr Pascal: It depends on which program. At FBA, our income maintenance officers work out of decentralized offices and are at the front line in 72 different locations around the province.

Mr Callahan: Would there be any FBA employees in Peel who would be paid by the province, or are they the same people?

Ms Fraser: Peel being one of the eight integrated sites, there are individuals in Peel who do deal with the family benefits case load of sole-support parents. That is the nature of the integration agreement with the region of Peel and those other seven sites.

Mr Callahan: But are those people who deal with the FBA cases in Peel part of this complement of employees who were reported by the auditor and who are being increased?

Ms Fraser: No, they are not.

Mr Callahan: They're not? That is absolutely mind-boggling. If Peel has the figures it has -- just FBA, almost 10,000 cases -- and it is handling not just GWA but the FBA -- do you have any idea of the numbers in Peel?

Dr Pascal: As I said a few days ago, our strategy with respect to the new staff is to ensure that it goes to areas where the ratio of worker to client is in the worst situation, and the GWA ratio averages 1-150. What we've done on our FBA side of the fence provincially is to deal with situations where the case loads are 1-450, in some cases over 500. Strategically, we've decided to ensure that we put the money where we think the yield will be the greatest.

Ms Fraser: I wonder if I could just assist and clarify the comment made by the deputy. With respect to the GWA case load for GA cases, the ministry considers the appropriate ratio for cost-sharing to be in the vicinity of 90-1 or 100-1, in that area. With respect to the FBA cases managed by municipalities which have integration agreements, such as Peel, the ratio is 150-1, it's guaranteed under that contract, and it is paid for 100% by provincial dollars.

Mr Callahan: I'm not sure I understand. You're saying that in Peel, with the integrated relationship, the region can hire and they're paid for 100% by the province?

Ms Fraser: Up to the ratio in the contract, which I believe in Peel is 150-1; that's correct.

Mr Callahan: So once a case worker has more than 150 cases, then it's paid for by the province. Is that what you're saying?

Ms Fraser: The math would actually be to take that case load shown there, the 9,700 for FBA, divide by 150, and one would arrive at the appropriate number of workers which could be funded by the province.

Mr Callahan: Who could be hired and would be funded 100% by the province.

Ms Fraser: That's correct.

Mr Callahan: And they're not included anywhere in these numbers we've been talking about in the auditor's report?

Ms Fraser: No. As the deputy was indicating a few minutes ago, much of the point of the auditor's review was saying that given the case loads at the time of that review, which were high, around the 400-1 ratio, if memory serves, there were many deficiencies in administration. But the auditor did not in fact review the integrated sites. The audit was confined to certain delivery sites which were managed by this ministry.


Mr Callahan: So the people the region is allowed is acquire with 100% funding over the ratio of 150-1 are not part of the -- let me call it the Queen's Park complement, for want of a better word. I know they're not all at Queen's Park.

Mr Iannuzziello: That's right. They're not provincially classified employees.

Mr Callahan: Is the region able to spend that money in any other way, or is it a conditional grant?

Ms Fraser: It is paid subject to an integration agreement which has fairly specific requirements around the spending of the money in relation to the administration of the family benefits case load, so I think the answer's no.

Mr Callahan: Okay. These people would be the same people who deal with the GWA case load?

Ms Fraser: That would actually vary from municipal site to municipal site. In certain sites they actually have different individuals who deal with the two different case loads. In others, they have the same individuals who will carry a case straight through. It's a matter of managerial decision-making at the local level.

Mr Callahan: But I presume there is no magic figure at which they get extra help for the GWA, or do they get 80% of that if they lose a certain --

Ms Fraser: In most, if not all eight, of those integrated site agreements, it's my recollection that there is also a formula with respect to the GWA case load.

Mr Callahan: To the tune of what, 80%?

Ms Fraser: No, excuse me. The case load formula would be in the area of 90-1 and the ministry would be agreeing to cost-share 50% of those salaries.

Mr Callahan: After it gets over the 90-1 ratio?

Ms Fraser: That's correct.

Dr Pascal: Even though the current actual ratio is 1-150, so the cost of administration is relatively favourable in terms of the formula.

The Chair: The auditor has a point he'd like to make that could possibly help you.

Mr Erik Peters: It's just to ask the witnesses a question that may help clarify the point, if I may. In the documentation we have been given today, you indicate that the agreement sets out client-worker ratios of 150-1 for the FBA, and then on the next page you refer to the fact that there's an optimum ratio for FBA of 250-1. With regard to the answers we have just heard, it might be helpful to the questions that were just raised as to how you relate the optimum ratio to these agreement ratios you're setting out and how that affects the payments that are made by the municipalities compared to the payments for which the province is responsible. Does it enter the equation?

You just indicated that you take the case loads divided by the 150, which is the agreement rate, which would result in a much higher number of case workers than if you divided it by the 250. I'm wondering if this might help the line of questioning Mr Callahan has just pursued in explaining how the optimum ratio relates to the negotiated ratio of 150. Is that an unclear question?

Ms Fraser: My apologies, but I don't understand the nature of the question. I understand the different ratios clearly, but then --

Mr Peters: They are set out in your document. Under question 2, you indicate, "The agreements also set out client-to-worker ratios, most of which are 150-1 for FBA." In the fourth bullet on the next page, you indicate, "The optimum ratio for FBA is 250-1." My question is how you relate the two in negotiating a new agreement for a ratio of 150-1 when you have, on the other hand, the optimum ratio of 250-1, which is very close to our audit report, which talked about a target ratio of 275-1?

Ms Fraser: My apologies. I now understand the line of questioning. I think it's important to understand that the integration agreements, with the exception of Durham, were all negotiated in the early 1980s, and at that time, I think we might have had a somewhat different view on what the optimum ratio was for the FBA case load in its entirety. Had we been here 10 years ago, we might have suggested to you that the optimum ratio was considerably lower than that 250-1 or the 275 number we're using now. The 150-1 ratio was negotiated first with municipalities approximately 10 years ago, the first agreement.

The second issue around it is that the question was asked earlier whether the same worker would be dealing with a GA case as that case perhaps comes on to FBA. That was the original intention. In those circumstances, the GA case load tends to be much more highly fluctuating in terms of income needs, also in terms of emergency needs. That is, these cases we're talking about are sole-support parents, and when they first hit GWA they tend to be just following the family breakdown, and there are a number of needs that are greater than financial, as well as a high variability in circumstances: The family may move and so forth and so on. So there is a higher need of involvement, and that's why the GWA ratio -- the concept is 90-1 to 100-1 -- is about right in the GWA case load. The 150 was an attempt to balance between the very high needs of GA case load at 90-1 or 100-1 and the somewhat lesser needs of an FBA case load at -- I'm sorry, I don't have the historical ratio, but I believe it's less than 250-1.

Mr Stapleton: Just to add to Ms Fraser's remarks, there's also the issue that the integration projects only took into account delivery to single parents; in fact, what we call the integration project did not include the entire range of the family benefits case load, which also includes disabled persons and near-aged persons. As I recall the negotiations at the time, the 150 had to do with the actual higher activity that would occur in single-parent case loads due to pursuit of support issues and due to the higher incidence of single parents who have earnings and therefore could have monthly fluctuations.

It was also understood at the time that persons with disabilities, especially chronic disabilities, and other persons who were near-aged persons would have a lower level of case load activity, therefore not requiring the more intensive case work that was believed at that time. That also is a key explanation point for the 150. So the 275 figure would still hold, looking at the case load overall, but there's a more intense activity for the single parent.

Mr Iannuzziello: To add to what John is saying, to be specific, for example, on the requirement for home visits, I believe that in the contractual arrangements we have with the regional municipalities, a home visit must be done for sole-support parents within a six-month time frame. There are a number of items listed in there that quite clearly set expectations for municipalities that are in integrated sites in comparison to the provincial FBA officers who are administering the program, so that's why the difference in ratios.

Could I add one other comment to Mr Callahan's questions about the integrated site in Peel? References were made to the current staffing that has been provided. I believe some assistance in staffing was provided for the parental support program area in the region of Peel out of this staffing.

Mr Callahan: Mr Cordiano would like to ask --

The Chair: There are five minutes of Mr Callahan's time remaining.

Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I just want to look at the records with respect to case loads. This was provided yesterday, I believe. When I look at that, I'm trying to understand what happened in terms of trends.

When you look at case loads for the period 1982-83, roughly in that time frame, total case loads for the province for both FBA and GWA were in approximately the 250,000 range. If you look at the period from January 1992 on, for all of 1992, we start to get a case load of approximately 600,000. That's almost two and a half times the number of cases, approaching three times as many.

The reason I'm look at those two time frames is that 1982-83 was the last recession; I know there are factors that go into explaining some of those numbers. But what I was trying to get at the other day was that the total case load obviously has gone up threefold, and I was asking about the number of case workers. We were told that you were at around 600, prior to the addition of 200 that were set to go this year; I think you still don't have a full complement. But I wanted to get a ratio.

I'm seeing here that you have figures for ratios with respect to what the optimum levels are, but I do not see ratios with respect to what it was in 1982-83 with that case load, the number of case workers you had, and what you're at today. Are you with the same kind of case loads, or have they increased per worker?


Mr Iannuzziello: I'll go back and doublecheck this, but I believe that back in the early 1980s the average was in the neighbourhood of 250 or 260, and then over the decade there were regular increases over the years. One of the comments we made over the past couple of days was how we have to do business differently so we can come to grips with managing the programs and dealing with all the issues we've talked about over the past couple of days. For example, in answer to your question about the current case load average, we are now at 323 cases per worker, even with the additional staffing that's been provided. That means we have to continue to do business differently, more efficiently, in order to meet with the demands that are in the program.

Mr Cordiano: Compared to what your staffing levels were at in 1982-83, can we compare those numbers to see if you're at similar levels or you require more workers?

Dr Pascal: We can. As Andre has just pointed out, we think the early 1980s ratio was better than what it is right now, but we can't hold constant the ways of doing business. We can't say that because in the early 1980s the ratio was 1-260 that means -- as a deputy minister, of course I can always envision ways of using new staff, on the one hand; on the other hand, we have a corporate commitment to being fiscally more responsible.

Mr Cordiano: I understand that. The point of my question, which I've come to in a roundabout way --

The Chair: You've got another two minutes.

Mr Cordiano: Just one last part of this question. The point of my question is that it is my view, and I've certainly heard this from a number of people, that what's taking place here is that each case worker has a greater difficulty dealing with each case than he did 10 years ago or even more recently than that.

Obviously, we're looking at a situation with respect to each case worker that requires that case worker to do different things, which is what I think you're saying. I'm trying to get at the bottom of what those different things are that necessitate a greater length of time for each case. That's really the crux of the whole thing.

Is it because we're being less efficient? I don't believe that. I think people do their work diligently, given the right direction, and try to do as thorough a job as they can. What other factors are impinging on the productivity rates?

Dr Pascal: I very much appreciate the opportunity to readdress the question. First of all, our income maintenance officers in our system have been working in heroic ways in the last several years. The case load increases have been almost exponential, as you've pointed out, and other workers, such as eligibility review officers, parental support workers, all of them, have had to go to the front door to assist large numbers of people in need to get them on to a program to which they are legally entitled. The inefficiencies and problems of system integrity that the Provincial Auditor have noticed are as a result of that extraordinary load, and I've talked personally of the number of IMOs who have had case loads of over 500. All of our efforts here are to try to ensure that the case load ratios improve, and we've shown the consequences of that. But what Mr Iannuzziello and I are trying to say is that in addition to improving the ratios, we have to use technology, systems and better approaches to accountability and interventions to --

Mr Cordiano: I understand that, but --

The Chair: Time has expired. Thank you, Mr Cordiano; we've got to keep an eye on the clock. We're into our second round: 10 minutes for the second round. Mrs Marland.

Mrs Marland: Dr Pascal, do you have a response to my question from yesterday about the possibility that our welfare assistance program is supporting a wife and family of a Somalian warlord? I understand, as I asked the question, that a television program actually highlighted this information.

Dr Pascal: Yes, it was a CBC program, I believe, in December just before Christmas. I have looked into the situation in terms of where it is at right now, and I can't comment on the details. It's under review by the federal government, Immigration, and we are aggressively reviewing the case from the point of view of eligibility and issues around the migration of the client in and out of the country. It certainly raises, symbolically and practically, a whole bunch of issues around the system, but I can't get into the details of the investigation; it's simply under investigation.

Mrs Marland: But do you acknowledge that the client exists?

Dr Pascal: The client does exist. The CBC got it right. The allegations are around a person who is real. I won't say the allegations were necessarily all real, but there is an individual who bears resemblance to what you've described.

Mrs Marland: I can understand that if it's under investigation, you can't comment further. But I'm encouraged to know it's being investigated, needless to say.

The Chair: Mrs Marland, if you don't mind, I'd like a short supplementary. As you recall, I had some concerns about this.

Mrs Marland: If it isn't off my time, that's fine.

The Chair: I'm going to add to your time. I mentioned yesterday at the close of the hearings that I had seen the program and was quite concerned about some of the comments made by Mrs Marland, quite concerned about the allegations. It's particularly gory when we all know and are aware of the situation of thousands of innocent children starving in Somalia due to the internal strife over who's going to be in charge of the political system. It's particularly annoying to have the family of one of these leaders in this strife safely tucked away in Ontario, living off the hardworking taxpayers of this province.

I'd like to know from you, sir, when might we be able to get a clear public statement from the ministry, and how wide-ranging can that public statement be? I think people want as much information about this as possible, not so much to know all the details but to know that our system has the integrity to prevent these things from happening.

Dr Pascal: I don't think it will be that much further in the future. I want to distinguish between our role and what the federal government investigation is about. Their investigation will be about who receives landed immigrancy under what conditions and what kind of information presented. Our job is to determine eligibility, and as we do that, we often have challenges with respect to adjudicating assets with a client who may have support from other jurisdictions that we can't validate or verify. This is part of the challenge of our job. We've explored some of those challenges of eligibility identification review and overpayment recovery.

I would hope that not too far in the distant future, Mr Chair, we will be able to provide a public response. I'm sure that members would probably be interested in that and probably the government would as well, prior to the Legislature resuming its activities.


Mrs Marland: There is a comment I wanted to make through the Chair to the government members. I have noticed this week a number of references every day to the fact that there was irresponsible spending in the 1980s by governments, and in fairness, I feel I can't let the week be completed without reminding, particularly my friend Mr Hope, that during a large portion of the 1980s, at least half, his party, the NDP, was in a wonderful in-bed coalition or accord with the then Liberal government. So if there was irresponsible spending, you certainly were a contributor to it.

The other thing I wanted to say is that I'm really impressed, Dr Pascal, with the way your staff has returned with these answers to questions. They're very well laid out, and the answers we received yesterday and again today are very helpful to the whole process.

Based on one of those answers, we heard this morning another question from one of the government members about the eligibility of young people, being able to seek and obtain assistance for a number of circumstances. I think some of the circumstances were abuse and lack of provision of their needs in the home.

While none of us would disagree with those as being valid reasons for their assistance to be elsewhere outside of the home, it comes back to the question of how this is established, and I want to take you to the answer to question 8. In the background it talks about the removal of the requirement for home visits to family benefits applicants and recipients. In March 1991, apparently "the advisory group recommended that the requirement for home visits be removed and that home visits should only be made at the request of the recipient."

In the next paragraph it talks about when this became effective: "The regulation was amended to replace the requirement for home visits by personal contact with clients, unless designated by the director as part of a random sample for monitoring purposes, to ensure that social assistance is not abused or for the assessment of home repairs." I thought, "This answer gets more and more interesting."

"The client's preference determines the location for completing regular reports, such as the annual client update information report, which require personal contact."

Then, under your answer on "Impact," the final paragraph says, "This re-emphasizes the positive impact on the system of work that is being done by additional staff to ensure that clients are receiving their correct entitlements."

Well, I'm sorry. It's very difficult for me and people who have talked to me about this since this change in policy. How can you establish a correct entitlement, under any circumstances, how can you understand whether or not a 17- or 18-year-old is experiencing lack of provision of his needs in his home unless there is a home visit? To me, it sounds ludicrous. I'm sure there's a tremendous saving in time for our workers if they don't have to go out and visit homes, but I'm sorry, I just don't accept that at least an initial home visit to establish -- maybe not ongoing, and maybe only random after an initial visit.

My goodness, if you're a senior and you're trying to get into a non-profit home in terms of affordable housing, I can assure you that the organizations I'm familiar with have to do a home visit. Where is the difference between welfare assistance and housing, as an example?

Dr Pascal: Let me begin by saying that in the business of trying to provide answers to good questions for very busy members of the provincial Legislature, we always ask staff to produce a one-pager on that question so that you're not inundated. As I look at this particular answer, we could have added three or four paragraphs. I'll try to do that very quickly.

If we were to hold constant yesterday's way of doing business, with the load we have, even with the reductions, I agree entirely that we can't do that way of business. How can we not only maintain but improve, because the system needs improvement of integrity, by doing business somewhat differently? When we say that the home visit, as a regular way of doing business, needs to change, we're talking about ensuring that we spend less of the traditional technique with people whose conditions are not likely to change and use different techniques where there is likely to be more variability. There's mutual responsibility here. You've inferred, I think appropriately, that this looks like all the responsibility is on the part of the recipient.

Mrs Marland: It says, "The recipient chooses the location."

Dr Pascal: That's right, but we also talk about auditing, about random assurance to ensure the integrity of the program, and we're also going to implement what we're calling monthly reporting to ensure that we have far more timely information with respect to our answers. There are different methodologies we feel we can use to achieve the changes to the system and improvements in integrity that you so correctly expect.

The Chair: Thank you, Mrs Marland. Your colleague Mr Jackson has informed me that --

Mrs Marland: I just want to say that the monthly reporting still isn't requiring a home visit. I could come into your office and just con you completely, should I choose, about what my conditions are in my life, in my home. When we get to second and third generations, sometimes, still on social assistance in one form or another, it's very serious that we're not getting into the homes and establishing what the real needs and the real eligibility are. Frankly, I'm one of those who believes in a hand up rather than a handout. Unless you can truly evaluate what the situation is in their lives and in their homes, we don't know if just throwing more money is really the best form of help to those people in need.

The Chair: Three minutes, Mr Jackson.

Mr Jackson: I wanted to revisit much of the earlier dialogue on the 16- and 17-year-old youths, not the children. Recommendation 33 in the SARC recommendations clearly sets out -- I recall my comments from yesterday -- that eligible persons aged 16 and 17 who are in need and living outside the family home should be eligible for assistance unless there are special circumstances that indicate they should not be eligible. Previously, you had to establish that there were these special circumstances, which Mr White clearly put on the record.

I have a response to the income maintenance department's memo to Halton region. My region has expressed concern that this change in putting the onus on the field worker to prove there is a breakdown is a substantive change, not in the policy but in the procedure. Its net effect has caused an increase, and that was all I stated. I didn't wish to state that it was absolutely more permissive.

I have, for the benefit of the members, memos from the ministry which first indicated that this was a targeted implementation change. That was communicated to the regions through income maintenance. I have a document from the income maintenance branch, where I asked the ministry for all the Back on Track action items. On page 9 of the memo from Ms Fraser's department, which I read earlier, it says that the program on an annualized basis would cause about a $1.2-million increase and in that implementation year it would be just $0.3 million. That was the kind of information that was shared with regions and with members of the Legislature.


All I'm getting at here is that we're understaffed as it is. So these kinds of policy changes, whether they're in practice, whether they're guidelines, whether there's confusion out there as to whether that's what it is, that's what the field offices think is occurring and that's what's been confirmed.

We now get to the point. When you have a case where it's sufficient to simply say, "I'm afraid my dad's going to hit me, that's why I left home." that individual now becomes completely eligible by verbalizing that statement. I remind you, we're talking about 16- and 17-year-old adults in society. These are deemed by the law, and therefore you can't ask the children's aid society to look as to whether there's been an assault. This is a civil matter, so they phone the school maybe. The guidance counsellor says: "How would I know if the person's having difficulty? All I know is he has left home."

I'm putting a fine point on it, but there's sufficient evidence in the documentation that's been shared with me as the critic for Comsoc, which would indicate that we've seen a shift in the statistics. I just want to put that on the record. I've shared it with my colleague Mr Duignan, because it's in his region of Halton as well where these concerns were expressed to us about the increased procedural perception and therefore you're seeing increases in those numbers. That's all I wanted to put on the record, Mr Chairman, and I appreciate having had the opportunity.

Ms Fraser: I wonder if we might have an opportunity to clarify the facts on this matter, Mr Chair.

Mr White: I was just going to ask a question on the same point. Perhaps after I have done so --

Mrs Marland: I think we should let Ms Fraser speak.

The Chair: We're in a difficult position because the allocated time per caucus has expired.

Mr Hope: Let him go ahead.

The Chair: Okay, thank you. Please carry on.

Mr White: My question was very simply following Mr Jackson's point.

Mrs Marland: Excuse me. On a point of order, Mr Chairman: The point of order that I'm making is one which the government members make constantly, and that is to allow the deputation to speak and answer questions. That's simply what I was requesting for Ms Fraser.

Mr Hope: Which she will exactly do once I get a preamble in and then give Ms Fraser the opportunity. I will do so --

Mr White: I'm attempting to go further on Mr Jackson's point. Mr Jackson brought up a regional or local interpretation of the legislation. I understand, however, from our earlier discussion that the legislation and the interpretation at the provincial level have not changed and the onus is still upon the individual. At least this is how we as a province are determining it. The onus is still upon the individual as far as we're concerned to prove that he cannot remain at home or that he is away from home for reasons beyond his control.

Ms Fraser: Yes, in fact that is the case. This is one of those situations where it's tempting to say you are both right. The reality is that, as Mr Jackson has pointed out, there was an announcement that this policy would be changed, and that was communicated to municipal delivery agents. I agree with him wholeheartedly.

However, Mr White is also correct in that the policy has not been changed. The communication that went to delivery sites would have said, "Directives or further details on how it will change will follow in due course." That communication has not yet been sent because we have not yet resolved the matter. So there is no change.

Mr White: Further on that, certainly I know that in my area in Durham region those decisions are made with a great deal of care. I know that in other areas of the province there are additional supports offered to the welfare department in making those determinations for those families at very crucial, very difficult junctures in their lives. I'm wondering if the use of professional determinations, such as in Durham or Waterloo, has been researched at all by the ministry.

Ms Fraser: We are actually in process of discussing with our municipal partners how best to deal with this policy issue, and in the course of those discussions we have learned how different municipalities tackle this. I am aware that different municipalities have different ways and in fact seek assistance from various other agencies in making the determination.

Mr White: Thank you.

Ms Fraser: We are actually in the process of discussing with our municipal partners how best to deal with this policy issue, and in the course of those discussions we've learned how different municipalities tackle this. I am aware that different municipalities have different ways and in fact seek assistance from various other agencies in making the determination.

Mr White: Thank you. I just want to add a little bit in terms of this issue, because we had just reviewed how difficult it is for these youngsters. They have to have two criteria: Not only do they have to be in need but they also have to prove a family breakdown. Yet immediately after that exploration I heard from a member opposite saying somehow that it's extremely easy for these youngsters.

Certainly that's the image we have in the media, and I'm sure that's no doubt because these are difficult times for families. When parents and youngsters are in conflict -- some people hear about it in the press or from the town councillors etc -- they hear of course only one side of the story. But I think it's safe to say that this is probably a very small portion of our welfare expenditure. Do we have any stats on that issue?

Ms Fraser: I had hoped to have precise numbers for the committee this morning and, as I indicated earlier, unfortunately the power outage made that impossible to provide. I'm sorry, I don't have them in my head but I can assure this committee that the percentage of expenditures on individuals, 16- and 17-year olds, is very low.

Mr White: One other small item is in following up on the issue of the home visits. To determine whether someone is out of work, I don't think that really requires a home visit to be made. That certainly isn't on the basis of the UI officers. But I'm wondering about the cost. I would think that the cost of an eligibility officer going to someone's home, driving back and forth, his or her mileage expenses and the time it takes to get there as opposed to an office interview would probably be extremely high.

As was mentioned, home visits will still be used as a checkup or on a random basis. I'm wondering if we have any estimates about the cost of using this particular methodology, that is, a home visit relative to its effectiveness. Do we have any kind of exploration of that or any research? I would imagine it's very expensive.

Ms Fraser: I'm not aware of specific data regarding the cost of those visits. But I think it is important to clarify one matter, and that is that there has never been any direction to stop client contact. For an individual to apply for social assistance, there must be face-to-face contact with a worker, there must be a face-to-face review of that individual's circumstances, income, assets and matters of employability and so forth. That face-to-face contact must occur on a regular basis, the regularity of which is determined by the individual's circumstances.

There will be ongoing face-to-face contact. It's clearly both more efficient and probably more beneficial to have a conversation with a client in a location that is convenient and appropriate in that client's mind. Interestingly, I might add that we are finding that a number of clients prefer to do business at home. In those circumstances, the workers would go and see the client. What this does is to permit that contact to take place at the appropriate location depending on the circumstances.

The Chair: We'll go on to Mr Hope.

Mr White: I'm certainly finished.

The Chair: Unless you want to use up Mr Hope's time.

Mr Hope: I know you could probably elaborate on it further but, as the purpose of this week is to do a review of the public auditor's report, I would just like to go through some of the notes I have before me to give me a synopsis as we look this afternoon at making recommendations to the auditor and how to really pursue possibilities that are there to do a follow-up or a checkup to show public accountability.

You brought up the issue of staffing. You currently have in place -- correct me if I'm wrong -- 200 staff who are being well trained in the area of dealing with a certain number of elements or job descriptions in there. They're being monitored in the aspect of dealing with the auditor's report. They're being focused in certain areas to assist clients and to prevent concerns, and I'll address those.


First of all, the staffing: You will be allocating some dealing with the avenues of other rightful benefits that are theirs. With CPP, for instance, you're designating people in there to help clients to get what is rightfully theirs, their CPP and other benefits that might be out in the spectrum. You're training staff in that area. You're also working, I understand, with the federal government on making sure that there's a control mechanism in place to stop overpayments.

The other area I believe you're working in, and I'm just doing a synopsis dealing with the auditor's report, is dealing with the prevention of fraud and the detection of fraud, so you're training staff to do better front-door screening of clients coming in, making sure that there's appropriate information to stop the potential abuse that is out there and making sure that we are meeting the needs, because the development of this program was to help people.

What we're doing is to help those who need help and to eliminate potential overexpenditures for the province in controlling the system more appropriately, and also to help clients better understand, because I guess the main issue with social service is to help people through a period of time to re-employ back in the labour market. I guess that's the issue you try to do, turn people around.

When you're dealing with overpayment, I understood through the days that you've been here, you have now put in place and are trying to get throughout the province direct deposit, which will help in the saving of I believe you mentioned $1.5 million on duplication of cheques that you have to write.

You're looking at the maintenance and child support issue of making sure those single parents, whether they be male or female, are accessing the proper benefits that are allocated to them by other provincial or federal programs. You're looking at making sure that your staff are well trained in making sure the eligibility of requiring social services or family benefits, because we're dealing with a provincial program, is intact and that the staff are well trained to deal with the human element aspect of it, not just how to crunch dollars and cents but to deal with people and to deal with the real picture that is before people.

I believe I have a couple of minutes left. Out of the general synopsis of what I've collected over these few days of questioning and the information you've provided for us, is there anything else that I might have missed that is very important for the general public to know and also for myself as a committee member to know so I can make important recommendations to the Provincial Auditor?

Dr Pascal: Your synopsis is very thorough and I appreciate your reinforcing our efforts. I think the one area we probably haven't spent much time dealing with is in the area of a whole bunch of other things I would just simply cluster together as improving our administrative efficiencies, both at the local level and, quite frankly, organizationally within the ministry.

There was a request from this committee to describe the manner in which administratively and structurally we deal with this area. Mr Jackson was posing questions either yesterday or the day before that dealt with accountability at the senior level, and there are initiatives in that area in terms of the relationship between program policy and program development and delivery, which in my ministry require tightening up and better accountability. I won't go into all the details of those initiatives, but they're important as well.

Mr Hope: If I may, in conclusion, I would just like to say thank you for taking the time to be here before us to inform the public and myself about the process.

The Chair: Mr Cordiano, 10 minutes.

Mr Cordiano: Very briefly, the problem is that there are a lot of questions I wanted to ask about this Back on Track initiative. When did that come into being?

Mr Stapleton: The Back on Track report came out in March 1991.

Mr Cordiano: And what have you implemented with respect to that?

Dr Pascal: We have tabled today with the clerk what I thought was a fairly complete scorecard with respect to both SARC and Back on Track.

Mr Cordiano: Perhaps I should just clarify. The reason I asked that is because I can't discern from the document that was provided what was -- I think it noted that what was in bold or darkened letters was what was implemented, and I can't tell the difference on this document. Perhaps you can help me out in that regard. I find it difficult.

Mr Stapleton: I'm not looking from the document right now, but it's my recall that we have either implemented or are in the process of implementing, either in part or in whole, about three quarters of the recommendations that are in Back on Track. I think that would be a rough, busman's tally of it.

Mr Cordiano: Can I ask this, then. In general terms, would you be able to do a cost accounting for us of what projections are for increased costs or, if that isn't the case, what efficiencies are gained? I think, though, that some of these initiatives require additional expenditures, so was there an effort made to cost out what these additional initiatives would in fact cost, a projection over time? I know that when SARC came out, we made an estimate of what it would cost to implement SARC in full, and it was done in stages.

Mr Stapleton: The original estimation of the Social Assistance Review Committee at the time that it came out was $450 million. That was, I believe, both in the SARC report and in the government figures. In the case of the Back on Track report, the figure was the approximately $200 million that was announced for the cost of the Back On Track items.

Mr Cordiano: That's $200 million in each fiscal year, or to get the entire program --

Mr Stapleton: Yes, and in fact, the other comment I was going to make was that with case load increases and the subsequent workload to that, you saw also a cost escalation that roughly approximated the case load increases since that happened. So you're probably looking at the high $200-million mark -- closer to $300 million, but under $300 million.

Mr Cordiano: So close to $300 million for Back on Track in this fiscal year, 1992-93. Is that what you're projecting?

Mr Stapleton: Let me see, now. First 1991-92, when it was announced, so 1992-93 -- yes, it would be in that range.

Mr Cordiano: You're on target for $300 million for 1992-93.

Mr Stapleton: Somewhat less than that, but in that range.

Dr Pascal: It's a very difficult challenge to provide a precision to that question because of the interactive effect of the benefit increases and other increases of Back on Track, as well as the case load increases.

Mr Cordiano: I understand that, but we do have to have an idea of what additional measures are costing.

Dr Pascal: That's right, and the $200-million range, when the government went into implementing the Back on Track recommendations, was the projection.

Mr Cordiano: So that's your best estimate.

Dr Pascal: Yes.

Mr Cordiano: Okay, thank you.

The Chair: Any further questions, Mr Cordiano?

Mr Cordiano: Do I have additional time?

The Chair: Yes, you do.

Mr Cordiano: I thought there was 10 minutes left for the entire delegation. I will continue to ask questions with respect to SARC and the stages. We have gone through the Transitions phase, with most of the recommendations having been implemented. Correct?

Mr Stapleton: There were five stages at the last chapter of the report of the Social Assistance Review Committee. Stage one was the immediate changes that were announced in May 1989. The second stage was the move to new social assistance legislation, which we're in the process of putting together, and the third was the actual implementation of new social assistance legislation, the committee taking into account the realization that it takes some years to actually implement the full scale of legislation.

Mr Cordiano: I understand that, but you have, with respect to the first phase or the initial phases -- we've just about implemented most of the recommendations contained in that Transitions report, that Transitions stage.

Mr Stapleton: That's true, and with necessary modifications in some cases. For example, the Social Assistance Review Committee did recommend certain changes in treatment of earnings, and that was subsequently implemented in the form of the STEP program, for example.


Mr Cordiano: Because then you have a listing under appendix 1 of what changes were in fact implemented. Again, I have to say that I'm having difficulty trying to discern which of these have been implemented. It starts in my copy on chapter 4, the benefit structure. Again, it indicates that what is darkened has been in fact implemented, but I can't discern that from this document. That's why I'm asking --

Mr Stapleton: I see. The actually photocopying of the document, where it's supposed to be darkened out, is not clear enough. It certainly isn't on mine.

Mr Cordiano: It's not, no. That's why I'm having difficulty and I'm sort of --

Mr Stapleton: We can certainly provide a better photocopy of the document.

Mr Cordiano: If you would, and it would lead to this question, again: What additional costs have been incurred as a result of these changes, and do we have an accounting of those additional costs? Have you got an idea as to what this implementation --

Mr Stapleton: Yes, an extremely imprecise guess, given that the amount of the original implementation was at $415 million, and Mr Pascal has already indicated to you the difficulty in measuring the effects in terms of the interactive effects of rate increases, changes in other policies --

The Chair: Order. I can't hear the witnesses.

Mr Stapleton: And the interaction of other policies. I think it would be safe to say, though, in the case of the principal parts of the SARC recommendations, in the benefit area, with necessary modifications due to rate increases, they would go up with the actual cost of the case load. In other words, if you've seen 100% increase in the overall case load of both family benefits and general welfare assistance, it would be reasonable to say that the costs had roughly gone up in accord with that. That's imprecise and it's a --

Mr Cordiano: That's a pretty staggering figure, though. Am I following this correctly what you're saying? Case loads, going back to your sheet, before the recession, were approximately -- in 1990, we were looking at case loads of around 300,000.

Mr Stapleton: Yes.

Mr Cordiano: We've now doubled the case load.

Mr Stapleton: That's correct.

Mr Cordiano: We're up around 600,000, so what you're telling me is that in fact the net effect or impact of SARC was to double the equivalent 100% increase in benefits. So we have a doubling of benefits, a doubling of costs?

Dr Pascal: It's not a doubling of benefits, but again there's an interaction between case load increase and benefits, and the exponential increase in case loads at a time where benefit enhancement was also taking place is the major contribution to the cost explosion.

Mr Cordiano: That's what I'm trying to get to the bottom of. You have a doubling of case loads and you equate that net increase with a doubling of impacts, if you will, and changes that have been made to the program.

Mr Stapleton: A very imprecise guess, yes.

Mr Cordiano: Yes, we're talking generalities, but that's a staggering figure.

Dr Pascal: It's a lot of money. It's a lot of money, but there was a commitment on reform and enhancements were made with the two successive governments at a time where the case loads increased beyond anyone's expectations. That's the net result, yes.

Mr Cordiano: It's safe to say then that the real impact of SARC was certainly a great deal more than what was estimated; at least year over year it's beginning to have that kind of an impact. And with respect to additional programs that the government has included, with Back on Track having been implemented about a year ago, and you're still continuing to implement that, you're looking at an additional $300 million. That's a low-ball figure, if what you're telling me is correct, because you're starting to have impacts that go well beyond that and multiply.

Mr Stapleton: Yes, and looking at that, I think also you would see the impact of the cap on CAP, which you would have to put in there and would cause even greater growth. On the other side too, I don't think anyone could have ever predicted the changes in the UI program and the labour market restructuring that we've gone through too that have resulted --

Mr Cordiano: So what I see here is exponential --

The Chair: I'm sorry to inform the committee that we have no further time for questions this morning.

Mr Jackson: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: Is it possible to have the deputants back for a brief time this afternoon, or does that bring this round to a conclusion? I don't want to challenge your ruling; I just want to know if it's possible. I reiterate, I did not participate in the lengthy debates on the WCB, and neither did my colleague Ms Marland --

The Chair: I appreciate that.

Mr Jackson: We did that because we felt the committee could deal with that portion quickly and we could continue. I have just received documentation this morning; I am told I'll receive more information this afternoon. I also have a matter of privilege which I wish to clear up if it is in fact your ruling that the deputants aren't coming back this afternoon. I have a matter of privilege to raise about the performance of one of the individuals.

The Chair: I anticipated that this matter might come up because of the intense interest members have shown over the past week. Our schedule for the afternoon, which will be in closed session, is basically to instruct our research officer as to the tone of the report we would like to receive and some specific things we would like to see in the report. I do not believe that will take up the entire afternoon.

What I would recommend to the committee as a compromise is to have the witnesses come back at 2 pm for 60 minutes -- one hour -- and then we would move from that portion of the hearings into a closed-session meeting with our research officer and also the Provincial Auditor. I'm quite confident that we can conclude the rest of the work deemed to be done for this afternoon in about an hour's time, maximum.

I need the concurrence of the committee because our schedule would have to be changed, as requested, and I would like to work by consensus if it's possible. I see some heads shaking no. Does that mean you don't want the witnesses back this afternoon?

Mr Duignan: That's correct, Mr Chair.

Mrs Marland: May I speak? I hope the government members are not declining this suggestion of the Chair, which I fully support, because they're concerned about answers and information that may be obtained for the public in the public's open session of this committee. I think it's very significant.

We actually agreed -- and I say this to the whip for the government members. We had a 20-minute break -- not for you to call your members; your members were all present -- for you to go and find out how you were going to vote on a motion. I think, in fairness, if we're asking to have one hour this afternoon just to finish our questions, that is a fair request and it certainly will not take us all afternoon to give our direction to Mr McLellan for the recommendations of this committee based on this particular report.

If we spent an hour giving our recommendations to our legislative researcher, then is the intent of the committee that we just adjourn early and go off home? I think it's more important that we stay here and do the business of this committee. I support and request at least that we have one more hour with the deputation here present.


Mr Duignan: It wasn't this side of the committee that wasted the committee's time over the course of this week dealing with motions such as on the WCB, which had nothing to do with the subject at hand in this committee. For example, on Tuesday morning we wasted two hours dealing with motions, Mr Chair. It wasn't our side that wasted this particular time. As for the requested 20-minute recess, I have that right under standing order 126. We did not have all the members here present at the time and we will not --

Mrs Marland: Oh, oh --

The Chair: Order, please. I'd like to make a comment on what's been said. As the Chair of this committee, we have wasted no time. I want to make sure that the general public watching these committee proceedings knows that we didn't waste any time when you asked for your 20-minute recess, because under the rules of the committee, you have that right.

Mr Duignan: With all due respect, Mr Chair, we didn't say you wasted the time. In fact, the Liberal Party wasted the time of this committee.

The Chair: I don't try to talk over you, Mr Duignan.

Mr Duignan: Sometimes.

The Chair: Yes, when you're out of order.

Mr Jackson: Are you challenging the Chair?

Mr Duignan: No.

Mr Jackson: Then shut up.

The Chair: Order, please.

Mr Duignan: That's out of line, Mr Jackson. I recognize it's 12 of the clock, Mr Chair.

Mr Jackson: Mr Chair, I have the floor.

The Chair: The Chair cannot see the clock at the present time.

Mr Duignan: That's very --

The Chair: Yes, it's one of the prerogatives of the Chair. If you have any other precedents or experience you want to bring to my attention so I can do my job in a better way, please do so, Mr Duignan. If not, I think I have the floor.

Mr Derek Fletcher (Guelph): The standing orders --

The Chair: Thank you, Mr Fletcher, but I have the floor. I want to make sure that the general public watching these committee proceedings is aware that no time was wasted this week. The members of the government, under the rules by which we govern ourselves, had the option to use 20 minutes to do whatever they wished to prepare themselves for a vote. All members of this committee have the right to interject on points of order and points of privilege, and all members of this committee have the right to make a petition to the Chair to ask for motions to be placed through the Chair to this committee. That's exactly what was done: There was absolutely no time wasted by any of the members, other than when interjections were made, which were out of order, and most of the time we ignored those interjections and just carried on.

I still do not see the clock, I want to tell the members. I see a couple of hands that have been raised. We're going to deal with this matter expeditiously. I allowed Mr Duignan to make his point. I promised Mr Jackson he would be next, then Mr Farnan and then Mr Callahan.

Mr Jackson: Very briefly, Mr Chairman, at this point it may be helpful to ask of the deputants if even some of them are able to be before us. The question here is not whether the committee has the right to ask them; it's whether some of them, one or two of them, can be here. That would be my first request, because I'd like to know that.

Second, if the government side does not have any remaining questions, I'm sure by agreement we could be done in 40 minutes. I would be pleased, instead of taking the full hour, to do 20 minutes for the official opposition and 20 minutes for our caucus, and then we'd only be asking them to come back for 40 minutes.

Those are the only two pieces of new information I'd add to this debate, but I'd remind you that I have served notice of a potential cause for privilege.

The Chair: Yes, you have.

Mr Jackson: If they're not coming back, I feel that in fairness to the deputy he should hear these concerns expressed for the record while he's here.

Mr Mike Farnan (Cambridge): Mr Chair, we have a game plan. And I should mention that I think your handling of the chair has kept us on track rather rigorously throughout the week. I would like to continue that, and I support dealing with the agenda that's laid out before us this afternoon.

The Chair: We'll do that.

Mr Farnan: I would contend that Mrs Marland's point that perhaps there is a very short session in store for us this afternoon in private session may be totally out in left field, because in actual fact I have heard and seen a considerable dichotomy of viewpoint presented here over these deliberations, and I think there's going to be a rather healthy debate in private session that could be quite lengthy. So I suggest that we take the afternoon to do the work we set aside for it. There are other means available to committee members to pursue issues, but I think we've also had a very healthy examination of the issues before us. I move that we continue with the agenda before us this afternoon and thank the delegation for their presentation to us.

Mr Callahan: A comment was made about motions. One of the motions that was placed before the Chair was, I think, not a waste of time. It was very significant and one that we have yet to really bring to its fruition. If that's what Jackson is talking about, that's the one on the collection agencies.

The government supported that motion, and I can't see how Mr Duignan is complaining that that was wasting the committee's time. It's very important. We found that collections of something in the neighbourhood of $120 million were being referred to this special division of MGS and that it was collecting about 10% of it, which I find outrageous. The question was whether we should be putting that out to a private collection agency. I think that's a most important item.

If that's what we're going to discuss or deal with when we come back, I think it's an integral part of the entire requirements and the obligations of the public accounts committee to in fact do that: to determine whether there is some way we can save this government some money, particularly when the deficit continues to become a burden; and also, equally important, to maintain the integrity of the entire safety net system of social assistance.

I find the comments by the members of the government that we were wasting time to be sheer balderdash, and I take exception to Mr Farnan once again attempting to bring down the veil of closure on these hearings, the same as he did with the Workers' Compensation Board. You've got the majority; you can do it you want. But I would hasten to add that it would be unwise, because the public is watching this and the public is terribly concerned about costs that are out of control, collections that are not being made and the questions of buildings being built at a time when there's $52 billion worth of leasable space in this city.

That's what I have to say.

The Chair: I see no consensus for making a change to the schedule as written and presented to the members. I have no alternative other than to --

Mrs Marland: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: I don't think we have on the record of this committee a motion which approved that schedule that showed a closed session at 2 o'clock, do we?

The Chair: The clerk tells me, and I think she's correct, that there was a motion to adopt the subcommittee report, and part of that report was the schedule. We'll try to find it, if possible.

Mrs Marland: And in the report, it identified Thursday afternoon at 2 o'clock as a closed session?

The Chair: I don't know if it was that specific, Mrs Marland, but it was left up to staff --

Mrs Marland: That's the point I'm making.

The Chair: It was left up to staff to make an appropriate schedule, and at the time, that appeared to be appropriate. We have known since early in the week what the schedule has been.

Mrs Marland: But as the week has evolved, obviously things have changed. I don't think that our approval is as formal as "2 o'clock, closed session." That's simply the point I'm making. I don't think we are hidebound.

The Chair: I think it is, because we adopted the subcommittee's report and staff prepared an agenda in accordance with what they heard members say at the subcommittee. They presented the schedule early in the week. We've had it before us all week, and there's been no objection on the record that the agenda that's been prepared by the staff was in any way different from what the subcommittee had intended.

I see no consensus here to require our guests to come back this afternoon. At this time, I would like to thank Dr Charles Pascal, deputy minister, and all of his staff, who have been with us all this week, for answering our questions and for providing information and for agreeing to provide further information that has been requested.

The Chair now sees the clock. It's well past 12.

Mr Jackson: Mr Chairman, I served notice of a point of privilege, which takes precedence. It's a point of order.

The Chair: Point of order, Mr Jackson.

Mr Jackson: It's a point of privilege but it'll have absolute precedence as a point of order, if you want the technical point, Mr White. I indicated to you twice, Mr Chair, that if your ruling, which you've just now made, was that the deputants not return, that I be given an opportunity to put on the record a concern about information that the deputants have given to this committee. May I proceed? Out of fairness, I should present it in front of Mr Pascal. I'm making accusations about his staff.

The Chair: I'm going to rule that I will listen to your point of privilege, and if, at any point during your point of privilege, I conclude that it is not a point of privilege, I'll be adjourning the committee hearing.

Mr Farnan: Is there a time limit on this, Mr Chair?

The Chair: On a point of privilege? The Chair has some scope in deciding, but I think I've made it pretty clear that if, during Mr Jackson's presentation, I conclude it's not a point of privilege, I will rule as such and the committee will adjourn for the morning.

Mr Jackson: Thank you, Mr Chairman. The point centres around information that has been presented to this committee in tabled form, which is documented evidence, in verbal form or in hearsay evidence which has been transferred. I expressed some concern about Dr Pascal referencing an employee who shared with him that the collection rates were in the order of 3%, similar to the success that he's enjoying currently within his ministry. I requested at that time that he share with us the name of the collection agency. He said he couldn't, as a point of privilege. He went on to say that he had actually indicated to the staff member that it would be nice if they did check on these rates, as the issue had been raised.

Acting upon that, I asked Ray McLellan to investigate the matter, and I have a matter which I'd like to circulate to all committee members. I'd like, without going into the details of the memo -- I'll circulate it to all members, but it would appear to me that there may have been a prima facie case of a civil servant misleading Dr Pascal. I want it to be on the record in his presence that if he is to rely on the veracity of that employee's abilities to assist him, he should be made aware that he or she is so far off from the facts, even from a peripheral examination of how collection agencies work with government agencies.

I would very much appreciate the opportunity, if Dr Pascal wishes, to put it on the record, because of the concerns I've expressed. But I do not wish this committee, nor do I wish, to rely on information which, at best, is unfounded.

The Chair: I'm sorry, I hear no point of privilege. I once again thank Dr Pascal and the senior delegation from the Ministry of Community and Social Services who have worked with us all this week. We thank you for the information you have given us and the information you're going to be providing.

The committee adjourned at 1222.