Monday 8 September 1997
Workers' Compensation Reform Act, 1996, Bill 99, Mrs Witmer /
Loi de 1996 portant réforme de la Loi sur les accidents du travail,
projet de loi 99, Mme Witmer
STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT
Chair / Présidente
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East / -Est L)
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre / -Centre ND)
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC)
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale ND)
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent L)
Mr W. Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew PC)
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls PC)
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa PC)
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North / -Nord PC)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East / -Est ND)
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre / -Centre L)
Mr. R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough PC)
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South / -Sud ND)
Mr Bart Maves, parliamentary assistant to Minister of Labour
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Russell Yurkow, legislative counsel
The committee met at 1628 in committee room 1.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION REFORM ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 PORTANT RÉFORME DE LA LOI SUR LES ACCIDENTS DU TRAVAIL
Consideration of Bill 99, An Act to secure the financial stability of the compensation system for injured workers, to promote the prevention of injury and disease in Ontario workplaces and to revise the Workers' Compensation Act and make related amendments to other Acts / Projet de loi 99, Loi assurant la stabilité financière du régime d'indemnisation des travailleurs blessés, favorisant la prévention des lésions et des maladies dans les lieux de travail en Ontario et révisant la Loi sur les accidents du travail et apportant des modifications connexes à d'autres lois.
The Chair (Mrs Brenda Elliott): Good afternoon, everyone. I call to order the standing committee on resources development undergoing clause-by-clause review of Bill 99. I welcome Mr Bisson to the committee this afternoon but indicate to members that he's unfortunately not a voting member at this time.
We were on page 10, which is an NDP motion. Before we go further, I would like to indicate to everyone here in our audience that you're most welcome today but there is a great deal of discussion that's ongoing and I must ask your cooperation in accordance with the standing rules. Because it is so difficult to hear, I will tolerate neither interjections nor applause today.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): On a point of order, Madam Chair: I have been advised there was some difficulty at the beginning of the meeting in terms of the room again not being large enough to accommodate all the people who were here. Can you advise me what took place before this meeting started with regard to the public? Are you aware?
The Chair: I'm sorry. I'm not aware there was a problem. Generally we have an overflow room if there's something. It's not a point of order, first of all, but you can certainly bring that to my attention. We generally try very hard to accommodate those who want to attend meetings.
The Chair: Clearly if the doors were not open that was because there was a recognition that we would be unable to be under way at our normal time of 3:30. That would be my assumption.
Mr Christopherson: Madam Chair, with just a little bit of indulgence on your part, the ability of people to participate in these committees, the lack of their ability, quite frankly, has been a key focus of opposition for us in responding to Bill 99. We've had problems in other cases where people were turned away from rooms and put into overflow rooms. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. One of the things we did last time was to move into a larger room, and if this is going to be an ongoing problem, I think there are committee rooms that are larger than this that might accommodate more citizens. Now there is a practical cutoff point --
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, I made it very clear at the beginning I would not allow heckling and I will not allow applause. This committee stands recessed until 5 o'clock.
The committee recessed from 1631 to 1659.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, the standing committee on resources development resumes hearings on clause-by-clause of Bill 99.
Mr Christopherson: On a point of order and personal privilege as a member of the Legislature, Madam Chair: I want to go on record as taking great exception to both what you did and the manner in which you did it.
First, I think you have to recognize that, unlike a lot of other things, this bill affects these people directly. It affects their lives. It's bound to evoke some emotion. Up until now you've shown a fair bit of discretion and tolerance, and I realize that members of the government may not appreciate it, but it has worked better for the public, which is also an important part of this process. I would ask you not to be over-influenced by the government's desire to hide from the impact this is having on people and to allow now and then a little bit of tension release, as you've done in the past. This abrupt change causes me great concern.
Second, I want to point out from a point of order point of view that even when there's grave disorder in the House, the Speaker, as best I can recall, only adjourns the House for 10 or 15 minutes. You adjourned this committee for almost 30 minutes at a time when we're already under time allocation. It's definitely undemocratic and unfair. I would ask you to please refrain from doing that in the future.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Christopherson. I acknowledge your understanding that I have tried to be fair and reasonable. I have tried very hard to be fair and reasonable. This is a standing committee of the Legislature. If we were in the House and that had occurred, you and I both know that Speaker Stockwell would have had the gallery cleared, no questions asked. I am making it very clear to everyone here that I tried valiantly to get through clause-by-clause the other day. It was almost impossible to hear. I was hoarse when I left. I am saying to everyone here that the rules are going to be held. It is going to be orderly. There will be no interjections, so that we may engage in a proper debate of Bill 99.
Mr Christopherson: I want to remind you, Chair, that we're under time allocation --
The Chair: I quite understand that.
Mr Christopherson: -- and that every time you do that it has greater impact than at any other time. What I don't understand is the sudden change. The government may not like the responses they get, but there is a little more informality in committees, as you know. Even in exchange between us in this room, there's a little more discretion, a little more latitude. I'm asking you to extend what has been up until now, in my opinion, a fairly balanced approach by you to recognize this. This sudden change of heart I don't think serves you or the public or this Legislative Assembly at all.
The Chair: You well know that I am trying to be fair and reasonable, but the committee cannot proceed unless we have order.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I would just like to add my voice to that as well. I think half an hour is a little excessive. If you want to make a point -- the Speaker himself often will do that for five or 10 minutes, to have a recess -- if you want to establish your point, I would suggest it doesn't need to be 30 minutes when we're going to have less than an hour to go through all these amendments. Any time you cut the time, as you know, it favours the government side because once we hit the fourth day whatever isn't passed will automatically be passed. I would ask that in your attempt to be balanced, you take that into consideration.
The Chair: I will do so. We are now on page 10. We were in the midst of debate on this NDP motion. Is there further debate?
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I think the motion speaks for itself. Just so that people get a taste of where we're at, the motion is that we strike section 19 of the bill, which deals with commencement. What we're suggesting is that the commencement clause would read as follows: "This act comes into force on a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor after a royal commission has carried out a full public consultation...." Those are the key words.
You would know, Madam Chair, along with members of this committee and members of the public, that our government had undertaken a fairly extensive approach to being able to deal with what are quite complicated and technical and, yes, at times emotionally charged issues about how to make the Workers' Compensation Board work better for people -- those are the injured workers who are here, because that's who it's there for primarily -- and secondly, to be able to try to find a way to run it in as efficient a manner as possible so that we can make sure the board is in a good, sound financial position.
That royal commission never got a chance to finish its work. The royal commission could have looked at a number of issues that I think would have been of far more value to this government than what is being done through this bill. The royal commission would have looked at issues that go far beyond the scope of what this bill can do.
What we're trying to say by way of this motion is, "Listen, this government far too often seems to react rather than act." In this particular case, the government, because of its ideological belief -- and I understand that; I'm a member of an ideological party as well -- wants to be able to change the Workers' Compensation Act to favour employers.
There's a consequence to that. There's not only a consequence to the people in this room who are injured workers, and others across the province of Ontario, but with the changes that you make in this act, you'll further mire the board in a larger bureaucratic bees' nest than this province has ever seen.
It's incumbent on any government, when you do change, to make sure that you figure out, first of all, what you want to do. It's clear in this one here that you guys know what you're up to, but you at least have to figure out how to make it work. You haven't done that part.
What we're saying by way of this particular motion is that we need to make sure that whatever changes happen at the board are done on the basis of knowledge and on the basis of facts and not necessarily on the basis of ideology such as you're trying to do with this bill.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): I just want to say, as I started to say last week, that I think there has been a great deal of public consultation for quite some time now around the workers' compensation system, with each government bringing forth more legislation to deal with it.
I know that during the last government's time in office their labour minister, Mr Mackenzie, said:
"There's a growing feeling that the WCB is becoming a drain on Ontario's economy, on our ability to attract investment, jobs and spark business confidence. Never has there been such unanimous agreement that the board is in such critical need of reform and renewal. Never in its 80-year history, has the board been the subject of such scrutiny and review. The status quo represents an enormous economic and moral waste of human potential and expertise."
A subsequent labour minister, Shirley Coppen, said, "We have to get the unfunded liability under control because it threatens the whole system."
Our government, in opposition, ran on a platform of reforming the WCB.
I would note that I would think the Liberal Party would vote against this motion because in their red book one of their positions on workers' compensation was to scrap the Royal Commission on Workers' Compensation. I would assume they're going to vote against this.
I also talk about the Liberals and a quote from their red book which shows the need for change and for us to get on with change. The red book is quoted as saying: "Ontario's workers' compensation system is a mess. High premiums are chasing away investment and jobs. The unfunded liability is out of control, soaring by $2 million a day. Workers receive a deplorable level of service from a system that doesn't focus enough attention on getting them back to work. The WCB is failing both the employers who pay for it and the injured workers it is supposed to serve."
We agree and that's why we believe we should get on with change. The workers' compensation system is starting to meet with some change with this new board, some effective change. We think that should continue. With Bill 99 that will continue.
Speaking about the current board, in another red book promise the Liberals said that they should "change the makeup of the WCB board of directors to make it less partisan and more accountable to a wider range of stakeholders and the people of Ontario." We've done that. "Improve the administration of the WCB by hiring a new chief executive officer." We did that. "Speed up the time it takes to process claims...and streamlining the appeals process." Done. "Create a WCB return-to-work department." Bill 99 is doing that. "Cut down on fraud." These are all things that were asked for in the Liberal red book.
They also said, "Put the WCB on a sound financial footing by eliminating overpayments to injured workers, cutting administrative costs, and improving the rate of return on the investment portfolio by hiring private sector money managers." Many of those things are already done. They also said, "Disband the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and put it under the WCB." That too is being done.
There's been quite a bit done already. All three governments in the past decade have attempted change, have seen the need for change. It's important that we get on with Bill 99.
Mr Bisson: I come back to the point again. Let me try it this way: What I'm saying, and what our colleagues are trying to say by way of this amendment, is the government cannot rush through and try to make holus-bolus changes to the workers' compensation system without truly understanding what the consequences of those decisions will be. We know, because of the presentations of people who've come to this committee time and time again, that if we pass this bill in its form, not only will injured workers get a worse deal, the board itself is not going to work adequately because the changes you're doing -- in my view and I think in the view of many other people -- are really going to be a lot worse.
The argument I make here is simply this: This government time and time again is showing it shoots first and asks questions later. Just recently, last Friday, the government found, by a decision by one of the courts, that when you passed Bill 26 and you took away the rights of women when it came to pay equity you acted in haste. The judge reprimanded this government and said your move was unconstitutional. You didn't think your actions through. You just moved in an ideological position. What you ended up doing in the end was taking away the individual rights of certain classes of women. You didn't decide to take pay equity away from all women; you took it from those who are most vulnerable. That's exactly what you're doing with this bill.
You're opening a can of worms by passing this bill, because you're attacking the very people who are least able to defend themselves. Who knows? There might be a class action suit or there may be some type of challenge before the courts in regard to the constitutionality of what you're doing here. You can't do this kind of stuff in isolation without understanding what it is you're going to be doing. That's the point of a royal commission.
Why did we act in the way we did in putting in the royal commission? I accept and understand the comments made by the former Minister of Labour. We agree. I don't think there's a New Democrat in this room or anywhere in this province who, for some reason, thinks the Workers' Compensation Board doesn't have problems. But that doesn't mean that to fix it you attack injured workers. Not at all. What it means --
Mr Bisson: What we are saying as the New Democratic --
The Chair: Excuse me. I thought I made it very clear. This is the time for debate. This is not the time for audience participation. That's my last warning. The next one will be a recess. Excuse me, Mr Bisson. Please continue.
The Chair: Order. Ladies and gentlemen, we'll take a five-minute recess. No more.
The committee recessed from 1711 to 1716.
The Chair: We'll continue with debate on the NDP motion on page 10. Mr Bisson, please.
Mr Bisson: Madam Chair, before I do, I must say for the record that I had the privilege of being able to serve on this committee when we were on the road, hearing from the public, in certain communities in Ontario. I've got to say that I came away from that with a large amount of respect for the job you had done.
This is a very emotional issue because these are the people who are going to get hurt. If you were on the other side, you would know how they feel. I'm sure you do. You tried to take what I thought was a balanced approach of, yes, hear what the deputants have to say, but allow them a little bit of opportunity to express their feelings.
I really get the sense that the government members of this committee have got to you and are somehow complaining that these people shouldn't have a right to express how they feel. I've got to say that is not, in my view, helping the procedures at all.
I know you're trying to do a good job and I know you're an honourable member. I would ask, please go back to what you were doing before. You were doing a good job. Don't listen to these -- I can't say the word "thugs" -- members of the government. I withdraw that because I can't say "thugs," so I won't say that. But as to the members across the way, don't pay any attention to them. Do your job. Be independent. Do what you were doing before and this will go a lot more smoothly. Once I get a chance, I want to finish my comments.
The Chair: Do you wish to speak to the amendment?
Mr Bisson: Yes, I do. That was on a point of order.
The Chair: Then would you please proceed.
Mr Bisson: Now I go to what I was getting to. I was saying, and I'm going to repeat only part of it because we were interrupted by your recess, that the reason --
The Chair: Excuse me. For the record, interrupted by audience interjections, and then recess. Please continue.
Mr Bisson: And then subsequently your recess. Last time I had recess I was in grade school, so I take great offence at it.
Now, to get back to the point: I was simply trying to make the point that this is a very complex issue. The issue of workers' compensation has been an issue that all governments have dealt with to a certain extent, and fairly successfully. The previous Conservative government under Bill Davis made a number of changes to modernize the board, the Liberal government made some, we made some, and your government is trying too.
All of us in this Legislature recognize there are problems at the board. I see them in my constituency office. Injured workers come in who can't get access to justice because of the rules of the board, also because of how the board sometimes is administered, and also because of how employers deal with the board.
There are very complex issues we need to deal with, and that's the point of the royal commission. That's why we, as a government, said, "We will make some interim measures to fix some of the injustices of the board, to give the older workers some extra dollars," through the changes we did, by changing the board to a tripartite system where workers and injured workers and the employers had a say, with government on the board, so that we all worked together. We were working at changing that culture so that it was not as polarized as you're making it.
Allow the royal commission to do its job. That's what we're saying. Allow the royal commission to look at the issues, to be able to come back with some recommendations that are based on fact and on justice. The way you're going is quite contrary to that.
The only other point I want to make is this: If these kinds of measures, such as we're seeing in this bill and in other bills such as Bill 136, were taken in a third world country, we in the province of Ontario would classify it as dictatorship and denounce those actions of that dictator. I would almost be willing to bet that we would be making submissions to the United Nations for people to get involved because somebody's human rights were being violated. I find it very ironic that the province of Ontario, supposedly a province that prides itself on democracy, can see these kinds of changes happening and a government trying to ram through this kind of bill in the kind of process we've gone through. I take quite an exception to it. It's a travesty of our democracy.
Mr Patten: Speaking to the motion, I fully agree with the spirit of it. Frankly, at this stage I wouldn't see launching a whole royal commission because I think we know a lot more now than we did before, but I will support it because the intent of it is and the spirit of it is that a full public consultation into the workers' compensation system be submitted in its final report, including injured workers as well. I don't feel that has been done. From that point of view, I would support it.
I remind the parliamentary assistant that one thing we certainly did not propose was to reduce the premiums for the business community. We suggested there be a freeze and look at the whole administration and review that to find some savings there, and not reduce premiums and do it on the backs of injured workers' benefits.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): With respect to some of the comments made by the parliamentary assistant to this motion, it is very true that Bob Mackenzie, former Minister of Labour under our government, did say that there was a critical need for reform and renewal of the system. That's why we established the royal commission. We established the royal commission so that our government would get the benefit of hearing from injured workers, particularly about what they felt needed to be changed in the system, how the system should be reformed so it better served their needs.
We weren't afraid to meet with injured workers, to talk to them directly about those changes, as your government has been with respect to the changes proposed in Bill 99. Your government wouldn't even agree to a meeting where injured workers could come, like they did at Convocation Hall, to talk to this government and to the committee very clearly about their concerns. That's how much you wanted to hear from injured workers about their needs.
There is nothing in Bill 99 which reforms the system positively for injured workers. It's an insult to suggest to the committee members or to the good people who have come here today that as a consequence of listening, you are putting forward something that makes their situation better. That is just not true. We have heard that on the committee hearings, limited as they were by your government; we have heard that again and again. There has not been a single injured worker or their representative, whether it be from a trade union or legal clinic, who has come to say that Bill 99 responds to their concerns or that Bill 99 is going to do something positive for them. That's not the case.
The only people you have listened to during the course of Bill 99 are your employer friends, who aren't interested at all in reforming the system so it will work positively for injured workers. The only thing the employers care about is how they can have their premiums reduced. That's the bottom line.
The reason we're putting this motion forward is because, it is true, the system needs to be reformed, but it can't be reformed on the backs of injured workers and that's what your government wants to do. You should re-establish the royal commission. You should go out and actually hear from injured workers because you didn't with respect to Bill 99. There's nothing in Bill 99 that reflects their needs or their concerns.
You should do the right thing and for the first time truly have a consultation with the people whose lives are affected most by the dramatic changes you want to bring forward. The proclamation of this bill should be put off until this government does the right thing, which is to establish the royal commission again, talk to injured workers directly about the things that have to happen to truly reform the system so it will respond to their needs, and bring back a bill that actually does that, instead of bringing forward the bill we are trying to deal with here today that does nothing but attack people who don't need to be attacked any further by this government.
The Chair: Order. I thought I made myself very clear. This is the time for clause-by-clause debate. That's the last warning. I'll be forced to recess. Further debate, please, from Mr Hastings.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): I'd like to review briefly some of the comments I've been listening to. It's hard to get your head around some of the fanciful thinking that's being projected, by the third party particularly, with respect to this particular clause.
First off, I'd like to point out that I object strenuously to the words the member for Cochrane South used. I think the inference was or the word was put on the record, and then he hastily withdrew it, that somehow or other I'm a thug. I resent that personally and I would ask the member to withdraw it, even though he sort of did it in a very sly way. I think it's despicable that he made that comment about members of this committee, an absolutely incorrigible comment.
The Chair: Mr Hastings, please try to speak to the motion.
The Chair: Order, please.
Mr Bisson: On a point of order, Madam Chair: It's not only I who feels the government is acting like a bunch of thugs, but a whole bunch of other people in this province.
The Chair: Please, Mr Bisson, come to order. Mr Hastings, you have the floor, speaking to the NDP motion on page 10.
Mr Hastings: He insisted on making the comment again, Madam Chair. Are you going to allow that comment to stand?
The Chair: Mr Bisson, do you wish to withdraw?
Mr Bisson: I withdraw because I want to participate.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Bisson.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much. It's an interesting note that he makes that he wants to participate. There seems to be a definition of "democracy" regarding this committee that as long as you allow any kind of demonstration, allow anybody to make any kind of a comment, do anything they want basically, that is defined as "democracy," but as soon as you make a ruling, somehow or other that seems to be anti-democratic. What a bizarre definition of "democracy."
With respect to the royal --
The Chair: Moving to the motion.
Mr Hastings: With respect to the royal commission, this government abolished the royal commission because it was a $3-million escapade in travel, a $3-million exercise in pretending to listen to injured workers and others in the community.
It's particularly interesting that the royal commission probably would have had to make some recommendations regarding the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. I found it remarkable that Mr Christopherson, the member for Hamilton Centre, has consistently defended this magnificent model of an organization, which supposedly was put in place to deal with the interests of the health and safety of injured employees. Yet when you go back and look at the rationale for the continuance of it, one of the things that struck me as absolutely uncalled for, but they had certainly undertaken it -- I'm sure the royal commission would have found it rather difficult to defend if it had continued, if it had had the mandate to look into the Workplace Health and Safety Agency -- was that in the auditor's report of 1995 there were several things he found completely out of whack in terms of accountability.
The thing I found absolutely startling that sort of epitomizes all the other managerial incompetence of that agency was that the senior management received unwarranted perks. Five of them leased cars they were not entitled to at a cost of $76,000. Even if the amount is rounded out, a defence of this agency which had undertaken that five of its managers lease cars without authorization, I don't know how in goodness' name that would have any remote relationship to the advancement of health and safety under this agency.
That's one of the primary reasons for the elimination of this agency. You can add up another 18, but I think that one is the major focus. How that particular item advances any kind of health and safety training is completely unfathomable. That is why we need this particular motion today, to get on with the job of instituting Bill 99.
The Chair: Order. Further debate.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to commit to the record the need for reform. I think it's been widely accepted here by Ms Martel and others that reform is required. There has been much consultation. In fact, there have been two or three royal commissions -- yours wasn't completed but there were two prior to that -- all of which were indicators of a need for reform. So I think we've established there was a clear need for reform. The important thing is to recognize the participants. In our public process I was somewhat disappointed on occasion where there were repetitive, word for word, presentations. That was sad when in the audience were real people with real stories we were trying to hear, away from politics.
Ms Martel: Maybe you should have extended the hearings if you wanted to hear from --
Mr O'Toole: Pardon me, Ms Martel. I just want to read this -- I've had a lot of communication and correspondence on this -- if I may for the record, because I kind of embrace this thought:
"This law reform process has been flawed from the beginning because of the failure to include injured workers. Workers' compensation reform is too far-reaching to be left to bargaining between representatives of big business and big organized labour. The failure to include injured workers on the Premier's Labour-Management Advisory Committee was a mistake and an insult to workers in Ontario."
I might say that this was made during the public hearings of Bill 165 by the then president of the injured workers. I don't think any of us has had a flawless process, but as we go through these amendments and your attempt to keep order here, there has been wide consultation. There is need for reform, and I think if we each pay respect to each other -- I am surprised by Mr Patten, when I read your policy statement. I am going to have to send you a copy of it because clearly the return-to-work language was one of your central platforms. The complete reform was one of your central platforms. The abolishment of the royal commission was one of your central platforms.
How can you completely abandon that principle, or are you without principle? For injured workers we must have a law that's balanced and fair and the process must, at the end of the day, serve injured workers. On the record there's a lot of correspondence.
One last thing I think is very important: I asked for an independent opinion from the Provincial Auditor, Erik Peters, on the status of the unfunded liability. It is very clear the auditor is not a political candidate. In fact, he said clearly in his annual report, "A strategy to deal with the board's unfunded liability must be developed and implemented as quickly and effectively as possible."
There's a non-political accountant, an expert, a professional telling us that we had to take action quickly. That's exactly what the government's doing and I believe that at the end of the day there will be money, there will be a system that will be responsive to the injured workers of Ontario.
The Chair: Order, please. Further debate.
Mr Christopherson: It's just so infuriating to hear members of the government talk about what they're doing and try and defend what quite frankly is indefensible. First of all, and I could start just about anywhere, to listen to Mr O'Toole say that they want fair and balanced, I've heard "fair and balanced" come out of government members --
The Chair: Please, be sure you are speaking to the amendment before us on page 10.
Mr Christopherson: I am.
The Chair: Good.
Mr Christopherson: I moved it. It's my amendment. For that government to continue to say "fair and balanced," but it's coming up in the next two amendments, one from the Liberal caucus and one from ours, speaking to the word "fair" you've got a lot of gall saying the word "fair" in terms of what your government wants to be, and you're taking the word "fair" out the act, the same as you took it out of the OLRA. You took it out of there too. So don't give us this garbage about fair.
When you talk about respect, you'd get a lot more respect if you really did treat people with the respect that you say you want them to treat you with. The fact is that your government, never mind a bunch of thugs, they're sure a bunch of bullies. Bill 26 was nicknamed the bully bill for good reason. You tried to ram that sucker through the House. Mr Hastings talked about a bizarre definition of "democracy." If anybody's got a bizarre definition of "democracy," it's the Mike Harris Tories in this province. You just finished changing the rules so that you could introduce a bill on a Monday morning and ram it through and by Thursday night it would be the law of the land. Where's the time for people to have input?
The Chair: Please speak to this. It is your amendment.
Mr Christopherson: I am speaking to it. I'm talking about the need for a royal commission.
The Chair: I haven't heard "royal commission" yet. Okay, good.
Mr Christopherson: I'm explaining why the royal commission should have continued, why we should be doing that instead of implementing Bill 99, and I'm refuting the arguments the government offered when they were saying this amendment ought not to carry.
I believe I'm perfectly in order and right on the amendment. The fact of the matter is that you are undemocratic. What happened with Bill 7? Who was involved in the development of Bill 7, just like Bill 99? Just your friends in the background, not one minute of public hearings on Bill 7, and when it came to province-wide public hearings on Bill 99, six measly days. That's disgraceful and disgusting. You have no idea what democracy is.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, Mr Christopherson has the floor.
Mr Christopherson: My final point is, in referring to the Provincial Auditor's report -- the government members used it to talk about my amendment, so I feel I'm perfectly in order to respond to it -- one of the things they said in describing what they saw was that the WCB has had managerial incompetency. Let me tell you, that whole issue of incompetency and what makes any kind of common sense is what blows your argument about why you're doing Bill 99 all to hell and back. The fact is that out of the $15 billion you're cutting, at a time when you say you're changing Bill 99 because of the unfunded liability, you're giving back $6 billion in revenue from the people who owe the unfunded liability, which is the employers, not the injured workers.
Mr Bisson: I'm only going to go for another minute. It's obvious the government is not going to listen on this one, but I just want to make a couple of points. The members opposite, Mr O'Toole and Mr Hastings, make the point that we don't need a royal commission because this government has listened. It's obvious this government didn't listen when it comes to this bill. None of the amendments we see this government coming forward with try in any way, shape or form to address the injured workers' concerns in Ontario. You certainly have listened to the employers of this province. It's clear you haven't listened to the people who are going to benefit under this act -- I shouldn't even use the word "benefit" because WCB really isn't a benefit in my view. The point is you haven't listened. There are no amendments in here that are going to help injured workers.
The other point is that you're saying you want to help injured workers. What in this act, pray tell, helps injured workers? You're saying you're doing this reform and you don't need to do the WCB royal commission because this act is somehow going to help injured workers. I don't see anything in this bill that helps injured workers.
You're cutting their benefits, you're eliminating their ability to file compensation claims on a number of issues, and you're making it more difficult for them to access a fair settlement with regard to workers' compensation. Where do you get off saying this is going to help workers?
That's the argument we're trying to put forward for why we need a royal commission. We need somebody that's somewhat independent to stand back from this thing, take a look at it for what it is and try to deal with the issues and the facts that surround the problems of the Workers' Compensation Board so that we can come up with a good settlement about how to fix this.
The last point I'm not going to dwell on for long, but I think my colleague Mr Christopherson, our labour critic, put it well. What government or what business in its right mind would ever stand up and say, "We're trying to deal with the unfunded liability of the board, and that's why we're doing this," and then go and cut the benefits by 5%? These are the people who say they are the bastion of the private sector, that they know how to run companies and are, oh, so smart when it comes to money and they know how to do it so well. What business in its right mind that's going through economic difficulties would say, "We're going to fix our economic difficulties because we have a shortfall when it comes to the amount of cash coming in here," and then turn around and throw out $6 billion worth of revenue? It makes absolutely no common sense.
Mr Bisson: Exactly. This government is really incompetent when it comes to how it's dealing with this, not only from a fairness perspective but also from a fiscal perspective and what it means to the board.
We ask the members of the government to support our motion. Please do so for the good of this province and of injured workers.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Speaking to comments made by the government side to this motion on page 10, that submissions were rather repetitive as we travelled throughout the province: Prior to my election and being at this place, I travelled on some hearings that went out a week at a time, every other week, for three months, and it's true some submissions tend to be quite like something you may have heard the week prior. Those people in those constituencies are agreeing with what has been said elsewhere. That's all it is. They are in agreement. They are representing a certain group of persons who also are in agreement with what has been said across the province. To suggest that the repetitive nature of submissions may not be warranted or welcomed is wrongminded.
I would also say that some of the submissions were repetitive on both sides of the issue, not just those that were in the negative. In the main we heard through the submissions that Bill 99 is flawed, there's no doubt about it. I just wanted to comment that those people who came to the committee were representing groups, organizations, individuals in their communities and were only solidifying the point of view that Bill 99 is wrongheaded.
To the amendment, we agree that there should have been, and to date has been a lack of, full public consultation with regard to Bill 99. That is most important and a part of the motion we do support.
A royal commission? We're at the stage now where all parties agree there need to be some change. The timeliness of that commission reporting back may be questionable. I think we're at a point where we should have had full public consultation in advance of this bill. That's where our concern has been all along through the hearings, and we only wish the government had spoken up and met with people prior to introduction and on a more widespread basis than it did up to and including today.
Mr O'Toole: I appreciate the amount of time that is being given to this third-party amendment. I think all amendments should get a respectful amount of time, but I think we have to move along.
I just want to respond to a couple of things. There has been consultation, as I said before, two previous royal commissions, and Minister Jackson's report on New Directions was also an attempt to gather input from all over the province. Just in response to the importance of public hearings, in Kingston I remember one injured worker who was from a railway company. He had fallen from a train, a very young man, and had become an amputee. That is the importance of hearing the real case stories, the obstacles that were presented to them.
When we take time to listen, I think there is clear evidence that no one has a corner on mismanaging the time for public hearings. Mr Hoy has mentioned his public hearing process. I'm not sure what the topic was, but I think it's important. Each one of us as a member listens to our constituents, and I have met with the people here. I know I have consolidated their thoughts and forwarded them to the minister, and that's important.
I want to say that for the public hearings on Bill 165 they visited four cities, and that's the time they looked at the Friedland formula and really took it apart. You talk about taking money out of the system, right or wrong, there's a very important thing, and Mr Christopherson would know, that "to restrict and limit access to only the few that can afford to participate is a disgrace," and that's directly from the injured workers again. That's a comment on your process. Obviously you don't have the corner on the public hearings process. People are here today, and we're always listening, we're always available to listen.
The last point I want to make though is, to think that you had some kind of agreement with the people in the --
Mr O'Toole: Mr Christopherson, at that time of the hearings on Bill 165, thought they had agreement with the Ontario Federation of Labour. I have a quote here in front of me dealing with the hearings on Bill 165, and clearly Mr Wilson said, "This federation does not willingly endorse the Friedland formula or anything else that would reduce benefits." So there's no agreement. There's no possibility with your mandate as being endorsed by labour, clearly, that you could agree with any part of this bill even if it brought financial stability back to the whole WCB delivery model. Your leadership, your bosses have told you the response, and I suspect you will listen very closely to what they tell you, every single day.
The Chair: Order, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr O'Toole: I have to recognize that Mr Wilson on balance is a very progressive person. I'm just reading a little quote here. He says that cooperation in the return-to-work programs creates a "win-win situation." In fact, he's clearly on record as being in favour of a return-to-work program. If anybody wants response references here, this is by Gord Wilson, very clearly in support --
Mr Bisson: What do you think they want to do, sit at home?
Mr O'Toole: Why didn't you do it?
The Chair: Order. Ladies and gentlemen, we have three speakers who would like to speak. Order. A five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 1747 to 1753.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, resuming debate on page 10, the NDP motion.
Mr O'Toole: I just want to say that the previous government had an opportunity to make the much-needed reforms like return-to-work provisions similar to Bill 99. I would expect if they're supportive of it, as Mr Wilson was, they will be supporting those particular sections of the bill.
Mr Patten: I would like to respond to Mr O'Toole's comments which bordered on unparliamentary language, if ever I heard it, when he said, "How can you be so unprincipled?" I'll match my principles any day with yours, my friend.
Everybody agrees with return-to-work. Everybody agrees with reform. We're talking about administrative reform. While we have trouble supporting this particular amendment because it's tied to a royal commission, because frankly we don't think it's necessary, but we do believe in a full public consultation, and the very first people you always address is, who is supposedly the recipient and most affected by a piece of legislation?
In this bill, as far as we're concerned, it is still a workers' compensation program. You're trying to change it into an insurance program. The very first people you've got to be talking to are the people who are injured and cannot go to work or need help to go back to work, and everybody agrees on that. So I think you should retract your particular comments.
Mr O'Toole: If I may, in respect to Mr Patten, I have the greatest respect for him. I must share with you that I'm reading directly from a document -- I know you didn't write it, but you did run on that particular position -- and I was quoting that, not you personally, Mr Patten, with the greatest respect.
The Chair: Further debate. Mr Maves, then Mr Christopherson.
Mr Maves: I appreciated the well-rounded discussion on this issue. I want to note that Mr Hoy, I believe, was talking about the consultations that were done by Mr Mahoney before him. He travelled the province.
Mr Patten: No, other committees.
Mr Maves: I apologize. But I do want to point out that Mr Mahoney, a previous member of the Liberal Party, did do a document called Back to the Future and that is the basis of all the platform of the Liberal Party and the red book, and that was another bit of consultation that was done.
Charges were made that the government didn't at all listen to injured workers. I think that Mr Jackson in his report talked to over 150 injured workers. He did so in my riding. There were 200 submissions made by Mr Jackson in his report. I think out of that Mr Jackson demonstrated he did listen to workers.
The Chair: Order, please.
Mr Maves: I know some of the injured workers haven't got everything they've asked for, that's obvious. One of the groups asked for a tighter definition of "accident" and that was not brought forward by the government. They asked for a direct-pay model. That too was not brought forward by the government. They asked for a three-day waiting period. That's another thing the government did not bring forward. They asked for those who were 100% disabled to have 100% protection and that is retained in Bill 99. So there are some clear cases of Mr Jackson clearly listening to that community.
I think also during the hearings, in some of the amendments you will see as we move along, there were some amendments that pertain directly to things we've heard; for instance, asking the board to study further the issue of chronic pain. Again, hearing a lot of folks on all sides of the argument who talked about an audit function or some kind of a policy function for the appeals tribunal, that is a large issue and the government has made some moves there in the amendments.
One thing that came directly from injured workers was a situation where widows, unfortunately, who --
The Chair: Order.
Mr Maves: Widows who remarried prior to 1985 were ineligible to receive pensions and the government has acted on that. There are other things. On return to work: As Mr O'Toole has noted, the OFL is very clear. The injured worker community has talked about the need for return to work. We feel this is a major part of the bill, that we can get people back to work sooner and safer and that that's in everybody's best interests.
I think also the injured worker community talked about bad debts and employers not paying and how we collect more money. Bill 99 clearly does something about that. As well, this government increased the fine on employers who offended the act. This government was the one that brought in an increase in fines from $25,000 to $100,000.
To say that we haven't listened and haven't acted on some of the things we heard from that community I don't think is quite right. I just wanted to let that out there.
The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm mindful of the time. That concludes our time for clause-by-clause review today. We'll adjourn and reconvene on Wednesday at 3:30.
The committee adjourned at 1759.