The House met at 2 p.m.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY
TILE DRAINAGE PROGRAM
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Mr. Speaker, on December 14, 1979, I made a statement to the Legislature in which I proposed guidelines for municipalities to use in considering applications for loans under the Tile Drainage Act. The guidelines were designed to help municipalities distribute funds to a larger number of applicants in a more uniform manner. Following that announcement, my colleagues and I have received many comments, delegations and constructive suggestions. As a result of our discussions we have made a number of decisions.
First, we decided to provide extra funds for the March 1, 1980, debenture issue to clear up the backlog of applications on file in municipalities. More than $10 million was required to cover loans for the tile systems which were already installed but for which funds had not previously been available.
Second, it was decided that the interest rate should be reviewed and adjusted as necessary. Consequently, for the 1980-81 fiscal year, commencing with debentures dated April 1, 1980, the interest rate will be set at eight per cent per annum. It is important that municipalities ensure that the funds allocated to them each year are distributed among all eligible applicants in a fair and equitable manner. In this regard, we have decided that municipalities should retain the authority and the responsibility to ensure that funds are fairly distributed among all eligible applicants.
Therefore, for the 1980-81 fiscal year, we are applying only the following two new criteria which are effective from April 1, 1980: First, the sum of all loans issued in any fiscal year to an individual, as an individual or in his role in a partnership or corporation, shall not exceed $20,000.
Mr. Riddell: That’s better than the $10,000 before.
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Second, the outstanding balance of all loans received on or after April 1, 1980, by any individual, as an individual or in his role in a partnership or corporation, shall not exceed $60,000.
As in the past, the ministry will allocate funds to the municipalities on the basis of past involvement in the program and will reallocate based on the current-year applications.
VICTIMS OF CRIME
Hon. Mr. Walker: Mr. Speaker, the speech from the throne indicated that justice for the victims of crime would be a priority in the administration of justice field. As members are aware, increasing emphasis has been placed in recent years en programs to assist or repay the victims of crime.
A significant step was the establishment in 1968 by the government of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to consider applications and to make awards in instances where people were physically injured or killed as a result of a crime of violence. More recent initiatives in the criminal justice field include the community service order program, which this year will expand from 30 to 50 projects, as well as restitution, victim-offender reconciliation and victim assistance programs which are also being expanded.
Today, criminal offenders are being required to accept responsibility for their offences by making restitution directly to their victims or by performing community service which benefits individuals, such as senior citizens or handicapped person, or benefits the community as a whole.
As we develop programs which assist victims in general, we cannot ignore one victim in particular and that is the victim of sexual assault. It is evident and unfortunate that there is an increase in the number of offences of this nature. Members of all parties in this House have not only expressed abhorrence at the offence of rape, but also recognized that for the victim it raises some unique and complex concerns. Assaults of this nature not only cause physical damage and pain, but also often result in very real psychological shock and distress.
We are fortunate that in Ontario significant assistance is being provided to such victims by the 15 rape crisis centres. These centres, which rely mainly on volunteers, have played a key role in providing encouragement and help to the victims and their families in dealing with the often long-term traumatic effects of such assaults.
The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres approached the Provincial Secretariat of Justice for funding in order to assist the organization to recruit more volunteers and to establish the centres on a footing which will ensure the continuation of their work in an area which is of growing concern to the public. The services offered by the rape crisis centres complement the government’s current initiatives to provide help and to ensure justice for victims of crime.
I am, therefore, pleased to announce that the Provincial Secretariat for Justice has reached an agreement with the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres to provide funding in the amount of $485,000 over the next three years. The sum of $35,000 will be provided to cover startup costs to establish the organization on a sound footing. In addition to this one-time payment, $150,000 will be provided this year and in each of the next two years. Honourable members will be interested to know that the agreement contains a sunset clause which will require a mandatory review of the funding arrangement at the end of the third year.
In order to maximize the use of volunteers and resources in services which assist the victims of crime, the coalition has agreed to explore with the secretariat the extent to which the centres can join forces with other crisis-related centres.
The funds which the government is providing will enable the rape crisis centres to continue to provide a needed service to victims while giving the centres the opportunity to broaden their base of support with the aim of attaining self-sufficiency in funding.
Mr. Speaker, I will just mention that representatives of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres are in the Speaker’s gallery:
Mrs. Joy Kennedy from the Committee Against Rape and Sexual Assault from Niagara Falls and Miss Donna Slater from the Hamilton Rape Crisis Centre, representing the entire coalition.
INCREASE IN SOCIAL ASSISTANCE
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise the members of the House and the members of the public of changes to the income maintenance programs of my ministry which will come into effect in April and May of this year.
I am pleased to say that the cabinet has approved an additional annual expenditure of approximately $54 million to increase by 10 per cent the allowances being paid to family benefits clients and to those who receive general welfare assistance.
The increases in allowances to recipients under the family benefits program will come into effect in the cheques issued at the end of April. Increases to general welfare recipients will be reflected in cheques issued at the beginning of May. The increased allowances will benefit approximately 115,000 recipients of family benefits and 56,000 general welfare assistance recipients.
In addition to the general rate increase, back-to-school allowances will increase from $30 to $35 for children aged four to 12 and from $60 to $65 for children aged 13 years and over. Furthermore, the maximum level of the allowance to maintain a severely handicapped child at home will increase to $175 per month from $150. This means that recipients with special needs in excess of $150 will be eligible for an increase of up to $25.
As the members know, each year is a constant struggle to allocate limited resources to greater demands. For this reason, I have decided that we must first protect those most in need and those who are vulnerable. Families with dependent children, handicapped persons and the elderly have great needs and little room to manoeuvre. On the other hand, single employable persons, while in need, are more available for part-time work; in addition, the relatively short time they must rely on the program means that they do not incur all of the expenses of the longer-term recipients.
Consequently, this 10 per cent increase will not apply to single employable persons on general welfare assistance whose allowances will remain at the current level. This will affect about 22,000 persons.
I am sure the members will agree that we are taking a significant step in restoring the purchasing power of social assistance recipients. My ministry is constantly monitoring the levels of our income maintenance programs, and we will continue to adjust them on a periodic basis.
Hon. Mr. Bennett: Mr. Speaker, I wish to report to the Legislature on the meeting which took place Friday afternoon in the riding of Ottawa South with the federal Minister of Public Works, Mr. Paul Cosgrove. As I outlined to the House last Thursday when I tabled my letter to Mr. Cosgrove, I had several reasons for requesting a meeting with the minister responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The first topic, of course, was the continual rise in mortgage rates. Mr. Cosgrove outlined the plan he announced last week to assist those Assisted Home Ownership Program owners whose 1980 renewals would cost more than 30 per cent of their income. There are various subsidies being offered, depending on the particular type of federal AHOP assistance under which the house was purchased. Subsidies from $600 to $1,200 per year are offered for a five-year period, but again only to those in AHOP units where more than 30 per cent of income would be required for mortgage interest and principal payments. He indicated to me that the program is budgeted for about $53 million for the next five years.
Not yet clear in the minds of CMHC staff is the actual number of families who will be in serious trouble because of the rising mortgage rates. I have offered the services of my ministry to CMHC to try to get a better picture of what these numbers are in this province, and my senior staff will be going to Ottawa again this week to meet with Mr. Hession, the president of CMHC, and his staff to work out the details.
I also suggested that the private sector be brought in and requested to devise, with CMHC, a system where renewals of all types of mortgages could be monitored. In that way, a family in financial difficulty could be reported immediately to CMHC.
I am convinced that the immediate problem of those in trouble with the federal AHOP renewals can be assisted by the CMHC subsidy schemes. The federal minister will receive every assistance from my ministry to provide the technical and statistical data he needs to monitor the overall situation and consider further action in the conventional market.
We did agree that, as ministers responsible for housing in Ontario and Canada, we could not tackle the real problem of ending the escalation of interest rates. That problem will have to be handled by the federal Minister of Finance, Mr. MacEachen.
Two other very important topics were discussed which I feel that we, as housing ministers, can address: the need to stimulate the construction of rental accommodation in this province and the need to establish long-term agreements for the community services contribution program.
I have told the House previously that the former Liberal government cancelled the
Assisted Rental Program, which effectively slowed the construction of new rental units to almost a standstill in Ontario. We have a potentially serious shortfall in this area of housing, and Mr. Cosgrove and I agree that the senior staffs should meet this week to put together an outline for some sort of replacement program. I am delighted with this, as not only would it help to get new units under way but also it would provide a stimulus to the idle construction industry of Ontario.
The long-term agreement for the community services contribution program is necessary. This program provides federal grant funds for sewer and water facilities as well as the federal portion of the Neighbourhood Improvement Program and capital grants for municipal nonprofit housing program, The extension of this agreement will allow us an opportunity to consolidate several existing programs such as the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, better known as RRAP; the Ontario Home Renewal Program, OHRP; the Mainstreet Program; and possibly even the Canadian Home Insulation Program, CHIP, which at the present time is under the federal government.
Finally, the federal minister agreed with my request for a meeting of federal-provincial housing ministers as soon as possible to discuss all of these items in depth. He is meeting today with the Saskatchewan minister of housing and eventually hopes to communicate with other provincial ministers.
USE OF ASBESTOS IN SCHOOLS
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, in the light of the interest and concern shown by the members of the Legislature last week on the subject of the use of asbestos in schools and in the light of the temporary closing today of Harbord Collegiate in Toronto, I would like to make a further statement on the subject.
Concern about the health effects of asbestos became general in the late 1960s, and by 1972 the construction industry had virtually phased out the use of asbestos in buildings, particularly the dangerous sprayed materials. This was true of school buildings, as it was of public and private buildings generally. In 1968-69, the Department of Education issued an official memorandum, supplemented again in 1974-75, advising against the use of asbestos powder as an art material.
We did not issue, as I mistakenly stated in the House, a memorandum advising against the use of asbestos in construction, and for this I apologize. However, in September 1968, at a workshop for community colleges, and in March 1969, in a school design workshop for all those involved in school construction, we did discuss the asbestos hazards in school construction and advised against its use. This advice was reiterated repeatedly by members of our architectural staff in their discussions with school board, college and university officials involved in building projects.
As I said, as a result of these discussions and by general consensus within the architectural profession and the construction industry, the use of sprayed asbestos in school construction stopped. There did not seem to be cause for further action until last year, when it became evident that if sprayed or other friable asbestos surfaces were not properly sealed, they could, through deterioration, create a potential health hazard.
We then took further action, and on June 25, 1979, all of the regional offices of the ministry were asked to request all school boards to undertake a general survey of their schools to determine the presence of asbestos products. This was followed up by the issue on January 25, 1980, of a manual, entitled Inspecting Buildings for Asbestos, prepared by the Ministry of Labour, occupational health and safety division. This manual was sent to every school board, every college and every university.
I would like to quote from the document:
“Asbestos is used in a variety of construction materials, principally applications where properties of heat resistance, fireproofing and insulation are required. Products containing asbestos include reinforced asbestos cement, patching compounds, pipe insulation, fireproofing and decorative coatings.
“Asbestos contained in building materials can become a health hazard when asbestos fibres are released into the air and inhaled. Many materials, such as vinyl floor tiles, will not release asbestos since the fibres are firmly encapsulated within the body of the material. However, friable (that is, crumbly) materials containing asbestos will release fibres when damaged.
“The asbestos materials of concern in buildings are the friable materials used for fireproofing, insulation or decoration. Friable materials are usually found on overhead surfaces, steel beams, ceilings and occasionally on walls and pipes. Many of these coatings are applied by spraying or trowelling.”
Aside from verbal discussions with school boards on this problem that go on from day to day, I would submit that the Ministry of Education has done everything possible at this time to alert every school board in the province to the danger of the use of asbestos, how to confirm the presence of the material and what action to take to render it safe. The ministry’s position is clear. If an asbestos-based material has been installed in a manner that may constitute a hazard, we are asking the school boards to take corrective action regardless of the level of fibre that may or may not be present in the air.
Mr. S. Smith: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the Minister of Natural Resources concerning the report in the Globe and Mail on Saturday.
Given that the natural response of any minister of the crown, upon learning of a serious tragedy within his own ministry, would be to want to know all the details of what has happened in order that he might conduct himself in an expeditious and efficient manner, how can the minister explain that his response is alleged to have been -- provided this article is accurate -- not to ask to be told all the details but to instruct his staff not to tell him any of this information? According to the article he took it even to the point of locking in his safe a report from his ministry regarding details of this tragic fire. Given that the normal human response is to say, “How did this happen?” could the minister please explain to the House why his response was to say, “For heaven’s sake, don’t tell me anything”?
Hon. Mr. Auld: Mr. Speaker, perhaps I was not completely clear in the telephone interview that I had on Friday afternoon with the Globe and Mail. What I was attempting to put across was that, first of all, on the day of the tragedy I had asked the chief coroner, through the Solicitor General (Mr. McMurtry), to make an investigation. We had in the following week or 10 days set up the internal board of review.
The inquest had been announced, and I did not want to be in the position of hearing complete weekly reports of the goings-on in the inquest. To me, the purpose of the inquest was to find out in a public way exactly what had happened and, I assume, to make recommendations which would prevent such a tragedy happening again.
There was no doubt a good deal of confusion at the time, and a number of things transpired which in hindsight probably would have been done differently, in terms of public information, until such time as the inquest was set up. But it seemed to me, particularly as far as the board of review’s report was concerned, that if I had not read it I would not be in the position of knowing anything which I might inadvertently make public, which would be contrary to and might affect the course of the coroner’s investigation and the inquest. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. S. Smith) knows, it is at present only adjourned from February 12.
When it became apparent that the inquest was taking a lot longer than I think anyone had anticipated, and since our own board of review had completed its work -- three of the members of that board had testified in the inquest -- any of the information they had gathered in the course of their studies I assume was available to the inquest.
A number of the families -- I think five of them -- are represented by counsel at that inquest, who, as far as I know, have standing and are able to pose questions to the witnesses. So the original erroneous impression given, that the cause of the tragedy was a wind shift, had certainly been found to be incorrect shortly after the inquest got under way, and I think that everybody was aware of it. But, as I said in the House the other day and previously, it seemed improper to me, and the advice of our counsel was that we should not release that report. It was supplied to the crown counsel and to the coroner originally, and its findings were available to the inquest in that way.
I think it’s important to realize too that counsel -- and I was checking this morning -- for some of the families, if not all, have indicated that they were not anxious that the report be made public. In fact, Mr. Brown, the ministry’s counsel, indicated to me this morning that he has a letter from Mr. Aubrey Golden, who I believe is the Toronto agent for one of the solicitors, Mr. Dubinsky, who said that he did not want those recommendations made public.
I was generally informed, of course, as anybody was, and I read the reports in the press. It seems to me I’ve taken the proper course of action to keep myself informed as to the general tenor of events but not to be informed of every happening, inasmuch as there may well have been information or opinions which I would gather which was not factual and which I might be tempted to pass on if I had it.
Mr. Speaker: The first question has taken seven minutes. I’m going to add three minutes to the question period.
Mr. S. Smith: Since the minister is one of the most experienced ministers of the crown in Ontario, can he honestly expect the House to find credible an explanation in which he says he deliberately made sure not to know the contents of the investigation and deliberately told his staff not to brief him on matters pertaining to it because he did not find himself able to rely on his own judgement not to blurt some of this out from time to time?
Is the minister saying that he lacks confidence in his judgement in this regard? Does he expect us to believe, after all these years, that he would rather be ignorant of what’s happening in his ministry, even though that may hamper his function as a minister, for fear that if he knows what’s happening in his ministry he might blurt it out inadvertently?
Hon. Mr. Auld: Perhaps I can see why I had trouble with the Globe and Mail. What I’m trying to put across is that the proper steps were in place to get to the cause of the tragedy. As long as I was aware, as I was, that the procedure was taking its course, then it seems to me I’m carrying out my responsibility. In fact, starting with the day that I heard of it, that Thursday afternoon, and I believe the following week when we set up a board of inquiry, I think I had carried out my responsibility as the Minister of Natural Resources to get to the bottom of it.
But at the present time the proceedings are at a stop as far as the coroner’s inquest is concerned because of the alleged statements or opinions of somebody. It seems to me that I should take every precaution not to be one who would say anything in this House or outside it which might be interpreted by anybody to prejudice the proper legal proceedings that are going on in the inquest.
Mr. Wildman: A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker: Would the minister not agree, as the minister responsible for the ministry that is a party to the inquest, that it is part of his responsibility to be informed of the full investigation of his own staff and to make the decision himself, in consultation with others, as to whether the information should be made public? Surely it is his responsibility to know what the internal investigation determines and then to make the decision as to whether it should be made public?
Hon. Mr. Auld: Mr. Speaker, I think I mentioned the other day that I had read the report about five or six weeks ago when it became apparent that we were going to have to take some action as far as our policy of prescribed burns is concerned this summer, because the inquest was not going to be completed. I was consulted. I consulted my staff. The new manual was presented. It’s a public document. I’m not sure that all copies have been printed. I know that the media have at least one, because I gave it to them.
I have not authorized the further release of the report of the board of review on the advice of our counsel and, as I say, backed up I suppose by the request or comments of other counsel.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Mr. Speaker, a supplementary question: Did the minister’s non-knowledge or ignorance of exactly what did happen extend to his staff? Did he tell them not to inform the parents of the people who were involved, who died as a result of the accident? Did he inform his staff that they were not to speak to those parents who subsequently had to hire lawyers at their own cost, so far, to find out and ascertain exactly what had happened? Why were they not at least told about the wind shift and all the rest of it?
Has the minister made a decision in cabinet to assist those people with their legal costs in regard to the inquest?
Hon. Mr. Auld: Mr. Speaker, in regard to the first part of the question, I gave no instructions. I am not sure anybody did, other than when it became apparent that an inquest was to be held, it may well be, as I understand happens, that it was indicated the coroner did not want those who would be testifying taking part in discussions. No instruction was given by me not to inform the parents. As for instructing my staff not to brief is concerned, what I said was I do not need a weekly briefing.
Mr. McCormack, who is the chairman of the board of review, attended the inquest and was there every day, as far as I know, and was available for questioning if the coroner or the crown counsel so desired.
I was aware in general of the way the inquest was proceeding. What I said was that I did not want an exhaustive briefing once a week as to what had transpired at the inquest.
I think the matter of the solicitors’ fees is a question that should be addressed to the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry), as was the case on Friday.
USE OF ASBESTOS IN SCHOOLS
Mr. S. Smith: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct a question to the Minister of Education regarding the closing of Harbord Collegiate Institute and the statement she made in the House today.
Given that things have now moved to the point where the school has been closed and the students sent home today, on the basis, I gather, of a high asbestos level either having been found or suspected -- and I think it was found, if I am not mistaken; she can correct me if I am -- would the minister not agree this is a matter that requires more than the occasional conversation between people in her ministry and unnamed individuals at the school board, and a directive should be ordered that asbestos materials not be used in these school applications?
Could the minister be more specific, rather than leaving a pall of some kind over the entire school board? Could she be specific as to who it was at the board of education who communicated with an official in the ministry and what that person was told, so the public will have some way of assessing responsibility for the insulation practice which was going on?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, on February 27, Mr. Orlowski of the architectural branch of our ministry met with Mr. G. Frittenburg of the board of education of the city of Toronto and three other officials whose names I do not have, to examine the dampers which the school board was planning to use in the project. The architect commented at that time that the asbestos edges of the damper were not properly finished and that they might constitute a health hazard. He suggested that they not be used and that the manufacturer be contacted to see if an improvement could be made to reduce that hazard.
Mr. S. Smith: I am sorry to say to the House I don’t know who Mr. Frittenburg is, or whether he is a senior official or not. Perhaps the minister could clarify that. It may be that Mr. Frittenburg is well known to the members in the back row, but I don’t know who Mr. Frittenburg is.
Given the seriousness of the matter, and given the fact that the school has been closed, does the minister not think it has come to the point where an official directive should and must now be issued by the ministry, rather than being left to these informal consultations with middle-level people who may or may not have responsibility? Shouldn’t the minister now issue the clear directive that these materials must not be used?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: I think that has been made abundantly clear to the board, but I shall take the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition into very serious consideration.
Mr. Ziemba: A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker: Now that the Minister of Education has admitted she erred last week and has apologized, is the ministry prepared to pay for the province-wide asbestos cleanup in our schools?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, I think I have already informed the House that the funding which is available through the Ministry of Education this year should cover the ministry portion of that problem within the schools in the province.
There are 4,500 schools in Ontario, and it is estimated at this point, under fairly careful conditions, that approximately 150 schools are involved in this problem.
Mr. Sweeney: Mr. Speaker, a supplementary question: Under what conditions will Harbord Collegiate Institute be reopened?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, I am sure that will be done under conditions adjudged appropriate by the Minister of Labour (Mr. Elgie) as a result of consultations which are taking place this afternoon between representatives of the Toronto board, representatives of the occupational health and safety division of that ministry and representatives of the Ministry of Education.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker: Can the honourable minister explain to the House why, if it was appropriate for teachers and students to be evacuated from the school, no instruction was given to ask the maintenance workers to leave the school? It is my understanding the union had to do that itself around noon today, and as recently as half an hour ago they were still waiting in the parking lot for instructions from the principal to go home.
Hon. Miss Stephenson: No, Mr. Speaker, I cannot explain that, because the decision was taken by the Toronto Board of Education. The Toronto board obviously had some rationale for that decision, of which I am not aware at this point.
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Minister of Education arising out of the confused handling of this whole asbestos situation when it has been known for a long time just how hazardous asbestos can be, whether it is in the work place, in the atmosphere generally or in schools.
Given the statement the minister made today that the ministry has done everything possible at this time to alert every school board of the dangers of the use of asbestos, would she explain how it is, when the carcinogenic problems from asbestos were identified last summer, it was not until November that procedures for identifying the samples that would be taken had been devised? Would she say why it was then a further two and a half months before the manual given to school boards was actually received by them late in January or early February?
If this was a matter of such urgency, how is it it took from July until January? And how was it that procedures developed in November took two and a half months to get into the hands of the school boards so that they could take samples and get them identified as to whether they contained dangerous amounts of asbestos?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, from July 1979 until mid- or late fall 1979, a number of procedures were examined in consultation with representatives from my ministry by various school boards to determine the best way to ensure that the examination would reveal the information required in terms of identifying asbestos fibres.
A number of procedures were carried out by certain school boards which were found to be useless in determining the presence of fibres in the material. The decision was taken that, in conjunction with the occupational health and safety division, a manual which would be available to all school boards would be developed so that the school boards generally would know the best method for collection of materials in order that the best information could be developed related to the presence or absence of asbestos.
Mr. Cassidy: The minister hasn’t even responded to part of my question: which is when the manual was developed? The minister told this House on November 8, 1979 that the procedures had been established, why was it then a further two and a half months before that material was put into the hands of the school boards?
In addition, why is it when we talked to school boards today we established that there was total confusion over many aspects of that program and continued problems in communication between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour?
Why is it, for example, that school boards like Carleton Public and Lanark-Leeds and Grenville apparently never received a manual on inspecting the buildings? Why is it, when a number of boards attempted to follow the instructions to sample asbestos, they were unable to get the bags they were told to use? The Ottawa separate, the Carleton public, the Leeds and Grenville public, the Lanark-Leeds and Grenville separate and the Newcastle and Durham public boards were all unable to get the bags. Why is it, when some boards asked about bags, they were told, on the one hand, “Don’t submit samples unless you get the approved bags from the Ministry of Labour,” and in another case, “Send the material in Glad bags tied with a little plastic sealer”?
Mr. Speaker: Order. The question has been asked. Surely, if the honourable member wants that much detail, it should be made an inquiry of the ministry.
Hon. Miss Stephenson: The information regarding the appropriate methods of testing was developed in conjunction with the occupational health and safety division of the Ministry of Labour, The occupational health and safety division then proceeded to the printing or appropriate setting out of the information for school boards. It was conjointly approved and, when approved, it was delivered by mail to all the school boards in the province. If they didn’t get it, I am sorry they didn’t. I can’t account for the mail service, but it was submitted to every board in Ontario. If the bags were not available at the time the request was made, I am sure they were made available as soon as possible by the occupational health laboratory.
Mr. Kerrio: A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker: While we are all anxious to get this particular problem clarified, would the minister take it a step further with the minister in charge of the Ontario Building Code and the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott) to make certain that all the buildings in Ontario are going to be protected from this kind of involvement as it relates to asbestos and asbestos fibres?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Thank you.
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, given the assurance the minister has just given the House, would she explain why it is that the Carleton Board of Education identified friable asbestos material in the schools -- material which was capable of causing contamination with asbestos fibre affecting school children in its schools -- in the fall of last year but, because of the foul-up in communication and in getting the bags between her ministry and the Ministry of Labour, the Carleton school board was not able actually to submit those samples for evaluation in ministry laboratories until the spring of this year?
Since the inspection manual indicates clearly that exposure to asbestos at any level presents a health risk, which increases with the duration and intensity of exposure, why is it that a simple request to have testing carried out got fouled up in bureaucratic red tape and left kids at risk for a further six months?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Mr. Speaker, I would submit that, had the Carleton board in actual fact identified asbestos fibres in friable material last fall, it had only to contact the Ministry of Education to find a way in which to seal those friable fibres to protect the children.
FIRESTONE PLANT CLOSURE
Mr. Cassidy: Mr. Speaker, I have a new question for the Minister of Industry and Tourism.
An hon. member: He is on tour.
Mr. Cassidy: He has been conducting an active campaign for some higher job, Mr. Speaker, which takes him around every backbencher almost every question period.
Mr. Speaker: That is not a question.
Mr. Cassidy: I have a question for the Minister of Industry and Tourism. What discussions did the minister hold with Firestone before it announced Friday that it was closing its Whitby plant, which produces radial tires? What action does the government intend to take to maintain that plant and to protect the 650 jobs Firestone intends to eliminate?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: Mr. Speaker, we had discussions with the three senior executive officers on Wednesday morning of last week. My colleague the Minister of Labour (Mr. Elgie) was with me at the time. We reviewed all the aspects of the plant closure and tried to review most of the prospects for that particular plant and operation. The company has agreed with us that it will co-operate in our efforts to see if there is anything that can possibly be done to turn that into a viable operation or, in the alternative, to find other people to go in and buy up the plant and continue to employ the people there.
Mr. Cassidy: Given that this shutdown is part of the overall problems we are experiencing in the automobile industry, and given that the shutdown is connected with a program of global product mandating in Firestone -- the kind of program that the minister keeps on saying will be good for us here in Ontario rather than losing us jobs -- would the minister undertake to require that Firestone submit its proposed closure to a public inquiry and that Firestone be compelled to justify the closure before the plant shuts down? Will he do that so the industry in general knows that we here in Ontario won’t put up with these kinds of closures, which now are occurring almost every month?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: May I point out to the leader of the third party that what has happened here is something that most people in the tire industry saw coming. There is much too much capacity in the tire industry. Firestone is not the only firm in that industry that has much too much capacity. That particular company has been operating at substantially less than full capacity for many months.
In 1978, Firestone lost something like $150 million. The leader of the third party should be aware that the shutdowns in the United States of the Firestone company’s plants amount to about 35 per cent of its capacity and 35 per cent of its employment, whereas, including this shutdown in Ontario, the Canadian shutdown amounts to 25 per cent of capacity and 25 per cent of its employees now have been terminated. So the layoffs in Canada are substantially less than the layoffs in the United States.
It has, as the member knows very well, nothing whatever to do with global product mandating. It has everything to do with the market conditions in the industry and in the tire industry specifically. There are no secrets about that. There are few secrets about the challenges in the tire industry right now, and any sort of public undressing that may make the leader of the New Democratic Party feel better about this situation with regard to this closure is, with respect, so much posturing, because the people at the union know very well what the critical situation is in the tire industry.
They know very well that it has been operating at substantially less than capacity for quite some time. They knew there would have to be some adjustment going on. They know that the Canadian layoffs have been less than the American layoffs, and they know this situation is not unique to Firestone but all the firms in the tire industry are going through a very difficult time.
With respect, I think it’s a little unfair and silly of the leader of the third party to pretend in any way that it is the fault of this government or any Canadian government that this situation has occurred with Firestone. There are lots of things government can do, but even NDP governments can’t sell tires and can’t turn around an international market situation. It’s hard to believe, but they can’t do it.
Mr. Breaugh: A supplementary question, Mr. Speaker: I would like to ask the minister if, in his kind and thoughtful deliberations, he has thought about the workers and their pensions, and did he or will he make any plea to the company to provide for the 650 workers who are there the kind of early pension provisions that are in the American contract?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: Mr. Speaker, my colleague and I did discuss that situation with the firm. The Minister of Labour could report to the member on further discussions that he had had with the company. At the time, we did indicate to them that we were expecting them to do everything possible to accommodate those workers. I am told there are about 100 skilled tradesmen there. These are rough figures which I recall from the discussions we had, and of course for the 100 skilled tradesmen there they should have little, if any, problem getting relocated.
There are some 75 or 80, I think, who are eligible for early retirement, which will alleviate the problem somewhat, but the Minister of Labour is obviously in charge of the follow-up with regard to what happens to the workers, and he might be able to fill the member in further.
FORD CASTING PLANT
Mr. B. Newman: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Industry and Tourism, and I would appreciate it if the Minister of Labour listened in; he might be able to add information to my questions.
Is the minister aware of the production feasibility studies now in progress at the Ford Motor Company’s Windsor casting plant and the great concern of the union and employees of the plant that 840 hourly rated and 128 salaried employees may lose their employment, and that is in addition to some 600 Ford workers who now are on indefinite layoff?
Has the honourable minister looked into this situation and can he assure the House that these jobs are not in jeopardy and that they will not be transferred to the United States, as is the fear of the employees?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: Mr. Speaker, we are aware of that particular study that is going on. There are a number of studies going on within both GM and Ford with regard to just how they are going to rationalize their future operations.
As the member knows, all the major car companies are looking to what is loosely referred to as the world car concept, which will mean a total reorganization of where they are making and assembling automobiles, with a view to getting a complete picture of what the plans are in terms of GM, Ford and even Chrysler at this stage, with regard to where they are going to be putting these installations and to make sure we are going to get our fair share in Ontario.
I am having discussions with the presidents of each of those companies over the next little while to ascertain firmly from them what their investment intentions are and what other studies are going on so that we may be in a position to alert the federal government and know ourselves specifically what their investment plans are. We are aware of that study and we are monitoring it, and it will be part of our overall discussions with the firms.
Mr. B. Newman: I would assume the honourable minister is aware that as of April 20, when Ford will reduce production at one of its two engine plants in the Windsor area, there will be 2,700 Ford employees off on indefinite layoff. He is also aware, I would assume, that the Cleveland casting plant is working at only 75 per cent capacity, the Flat Rock plant in Michigan is working at approximately 50 per cent capacity, and there is a real fear among the employees at Ford Motor Company that, because of this additional capacity in the United States, those jobs in Windsor will be transferred to the United States.
Is the honourable minister going to assure us that we will get our fair share of the jobs and that as many as possible of the jobs -- we would prefer all of them -- will be kept in the Ford Motor Company Windsor plants?
Hon. Mr. Grossman: May I say to the member that one of the reasons I am particularly concerned about the next few months is, as I have indicated earlier, that up to date Canada has done relatively better than has the United States in terms of the layoffs resulting from the downturn in the market. Obviously, as time goes on, pressure is going to build in the United States to even those losses; in other words, to consider shifting some of that excess capacity to where the job losses to date have been more serious than they have been in Canada. So that is a concern. In view of the size of the deficit and the critical nature of the situation in Windsor particularly, we have asked for meetings with the heads of each of the companies, and those will be occurring very shortly.
DEATH OF LILLIAN HESS
Mr. Philip: Mr. Speaker, a question of the Solicitor General: Can the minister inform the House whether an inquest will be held into the death of Lillian Hess, who reportedly died under very unusual circumstances of malnutrition, dehydration and neglect? Can the minister assure the House that such an inquest or other investigation by his ministry will be broad enough to examine the financial relationship between Lillian Hess and Alderman Thomas Wardle, Junior, and the activities of Vince Walsh, who allegedly moved in with Lillian Hess and who, with the help of large dogs, managed to keep access away from this woman?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: So far as an inquest is concerned, Mr. Speaker, I don’t know whether one has been ordered. I am aware of some of the news media reports about this unfortunate lady, and I will certainly be happy to discuss the matter with the chief coroner.
In relation to her association with a Toronto alderman, so far as I think the member said this was a financial relationship, I don’t know that this would properly be considered to be an item that should come within the jurisdiction of an inquest.
Mr. Philip: By way of a supplementary question to the same minister, but in his capacity as Attorney General: Since Mr. Wardle had undertaken certain financial responsibilities over Miss Hess’s affairs, in Mr. Wardle’s own words, to “protect her own interests,” is it the minister’s opinion that Mr. Wardle had any obligation to seek police investigation or other assistance when in November he was prevented from seeing her by Mr. Walsh and his dogs?
Would the minister comment if there might be any obligations or duties under the Criminal Code of Canada, section 54.197, which says, “Everyone is under a legal duty to provide the necessities of life to a person under his charge” if that person is unable to provide himself with those necessities of life -- and it lists a number of reasons, some of which are age, illness and insanity? Could he give us an opinion on that, please?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I don’t think I’m in possession of a sufficient number of the facts and circumstances surrounding this matter to offer any such opinion.
FAMILY LAW ORDERS
Mrs. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, my question is, again, to the Solicitor General. In this somewhat serialized version of question period, I would like to refer him back to his letter of January 9, to Miss Click. In that letter he says:
“As with other civil processes, such orders are enforceable by the sheriff. It is only in cases where a breach of the peace beyond the capability of the sheriff is anticipated that the police should be expected to respond and only by way of assistance to the sheriff.”
Is the minister not aware that, first, the sheriff’s office is usually not available during those hours when assaults are performed on wives; second, that the sheriff is not available on short notice; and, third, that the sheriff is neither equipped nor trained to deal with this type of violence? Would he like perhaps to redefine it as an indoor sport so that he could regulate the hours and so that we could have police present on these occasions?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure that I understand the question, but matters that involve custody and access obviously involve a high degree of human emotion. Judges do anticipate from time to time that there may be some difficulty, and specific directions are given in the order of --
Mrs. Campbell: Which the Solicitor General has now nullified.
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: That is nonsense, absolute nonsense. If a judge seeks to direct the police to assist in relation to a custody matter, the police will obviously follow those directions. There has been no such direction to the contrary.
As a matter of fact, the Children’s Law Reform Act, which was introduced and will be reintroduced, provides a specific section to clarify the picture in so far as making it clear that the courts at all levels will have jurisdiction to make orders directing the police to assist where it appears appropriate, because there seems to be some confusion as to just what the jurisdiction of the court is.
As the honourable members knows, there is a section in the Judicature Act that some judges refer to, although it’s the view of many judges -- and, as a matter of fact, I had a letter from one of our senior county court judges within the last month indicating that in his view this did not confer jurisdiction on the court to enlist the assistance of police.
Again, it depends on the circumstances of the particular situation, but what we are trying to do through the Children’s Law Reform Act is to clarify the situation so that in the appropriate case a court can make such an order.
However, I don’t think it should necessarily follow in every case, just by reason of the fact that someone has a civil order in relation to custody or access, that she should march down to the nearest police station and say, for example: “Look, my children were supposed to have been returned to me from the weekend three hours ago; they’re not yet here. Would you come to my husband’s place and help me?”
I don’t know if the member for St. George was suggesting the police should be used in those circumstances; but, obviously, when there is any question in relation to a breach of the peace or where there is any apprehension in the court with respect to a possible battered wife, as the member for St. George states, then we think the court should make such an order. This is what is contemplated by the particular section that deals with this in the Family Law Reform Act.
Mrs. Campbell: In view of the response of the Attorney General, why is it that in the statements to the Ontario Police College as part of their family crisis intervention documentation it is stated: “Frequent attention is drawn to the difference in police work between law enforcement and order maintenance. The former is a function which focuses on specific law violations with clearly defined guidelines. The latter is a more ambiguous and problematic police function involving the management of interpersonal behaviour with specific guidelines.”
Would he explain what he is trying to get across to the police at the college with that statement?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: I haven’t seen that statement, and I am not the author of the statement. I’ll be happy to review the manual and to determine what better instruction might be given in an area that I’m sure the member for St. George will agree is very complex. There is no set of guidelines, short of a specific court order, that will provide the guidance or the precise degree of guidance in every case. When to intervene and when not to intervene in a family dispute is obviously a very difficult question of judgement, and police officers have lost their lives for not making the right judgement.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health.
Last fall the minister advised retired people who are caught in the chronic care co-payment squeeze to sit down with concerned friendly bureaucrats and he was confident the matter could be resolved. I want to know what advice he now has for my constituent, whose case I brought to his attention on October 16, who took his advice and sat down with the Riverdale Hospital review board and who, along with myself, sat down with the Social Assistance Review Board. My constituent found that both of the boards were unable to bend regulations the ministry had imposed, and there would be no help for that woman. She now faces a combined bill of $3,324 and the prospect of losing her home. What is the minister’s advice for my constituent now?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: I will have to bring myself up to date on that particular individual. I might say we have found, and we have discussed it recently with the Ontario Hospital Association, that in using what is known as the form 7, and taking full advantage of the exemptions that are available, even covering transportation costs to and from hospitals, we are able to help most individuals out of this kind of a bind.
I am sorry I am not familiar with the up-to-date facts about that particular case. I will have to brief myself on it again, and I will get back to the honourable member about that particular individual. It would seem, if the individual has that kind of a bill, no portion of the co-payment can have been paid. I don’t know who gave her advice to do that, but whoever did had some responsibility too.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: Nobody gave her that advice. She took it upon herself and was warned about the consequences.
[Inasmuch as the hospital review board and the Social Assistance Review Board, using the ministry’s form 7 and working out exemptions, realized this constituent would only have $85 a month left to feed and clothe herself and to maintain her home in sound order, how can the minister now retain this process? Why will he not at least give these people the same exemptions as he gives people who are under the age of 65 who can earn up to $15,000?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: As the member knows, when we introduced the co-payment a year ago on the advice of a variety of groups appearing before the legislative committee, we chose not to go the route of a number of other provinces where they have co-payment which involves a flat charge, where everybody pays. If one has to go on social assistance in Quebec, Alberta, or wherever, one goes on social assistance. We chose not to go that route,
In the case of those who are in receipt of guaranteed incomes, the policy has been to address the co-payment to those individuals on the basis of those guaranteed incomes and not to delve into the resources of anybody else in the family. There are, as compared to any other jurisdiction where this has been introduced, very significant exemptions.
I’ll take a look at that case again. I’m sorry; I wish the honourable member had called me. I could have dug the material out of the file and brought myself up to date. I will do so and get back to him about that individual to see what can be done to avoid any further difficulties.
Mr. Speaker: The honourable Minister of Agriculture and Food has a further answer to a question asked last week.
Hon. Mr. Henderson: Mr. Speaker, on Friday of last week the honourable member for Sudbury (Mr. Germa) inquired of me as to whether I was aware that there were not sufficient eggs produced in zone 13 across northern Ontario to supply that area. I responded at that time that the Ontario Egg Producers’ Marketing Board was looking at it.
I want to update that answer to the effect that it has been appealed to the tribunal. The tribunal has had some hearings on it, but no decision has been rendered.
The appeal was by the member for zone 13. He was appealing against individuals purchasing those quotas and moving them to southern Ontario. That’s the basis of the appeal.
HARNESS RACING TAX
Mr. McGuigan: Mr. Speaker, my question is of the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. As the harness racing season is soon to be upon us, and these people are making plans, would the minister indicate whether he is going to carry through with his proposal to reduce the Ontario tax from seven per cent to five per cent? I believe the minister broached this subject in an interview with Mr. Harry Eisen, a noted racing journalist.
Hon. Mr. Drea: The harness racing season has been upon us for some time, Mr. Speaker. In fact, because of the climate, it has been a most successful first quarter.
To clarify the question asked by the honourable member, the proposal to reduce the government’s share of the seven per cent provincial takeout of the parimutuel dollar did not originate with me. It was a proposal by a group which embraced the thoroughbred breeders and the thoroughbred owners, the harness breeders and the harness owners. I emphasize that because it excluded race- tracks. That proposal was made in sessions before me. There was a session with the Treasurer (Mr. F. S. Miller), because it is a budgetary matter. I would therefore presume that some time next month the answer will be given. If the honourable member wants to know if I support it, yes, I do.
INCREASE IN SOCIAL ASSISTANCE
Mr. McClellan: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services on his miserably inadequate increase in social assistance rates. I would like to ask the minister whether he would agree that from June 1977, which was the time of the last major increase in social assistance rates, the consumer price index has increased 24.6 per cent, and that his two increases, the one last year of six per cent and the one today of 10 per cent, leaves social assistance recipients with a net loss of purchasing power over the last three years of something in the order of 10 per cent. Would the minister agree that is an accurate calculation of the deterioration in the purchasing power of social assistance recipients in this province?
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, from my own original sources of information, I can’t confirm those figures. I would concur that if one looks at the consumer price index the increases over that period of time have not kept completely abreast of the rate of inflation as indicated by the consumer price index. I think the honourable member is aware that the consumer price index is arrived at by using a formula that takes into consideration some matters that may not be relevant in the calculation of these types of income support programs.
Mr. McClellan: Food, housing, clothing.
Hon. Mr. Norton: No, I am not referring to that, but to things like the cost of new automobiles. I think we are doing very well compared with the general population in this province in keeping abreast of inflation. If one looks at other indicators, things like the rate at which wages or salaries in various industrial sectors and other sectors in our economy have increased vis-à-vis inflation over the same period of time or a longer period of time, one could demonstrate we are doing not too badly.
Mr. McClellan: I would ask the minister whether he has any plans at all to move to some kind of an objective standard of measuring the determination of social assistance allowances so that they will, firstly, be raised above the poverty level and, secondly, be adjusted automatically in accordance with some kind of indexing mechanism so that social assistance families and their children, some 100,000 children in this province, are not condemned to an existence below the poverty line.
Hon. Mr. Norton: If I knew of any clearly objective standard, such as the honourable member recommends, I would be quite happy to take a serious look at it. I would point out to him that he must not make the mistake of assuming that the objective standard to which he refers is in existence at the present time. I know of a number of subjective standards that are used from time to time.
Mr. Conway: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. It concerns the impact of the large increases in the price of silver upon X-ray film. The minister is no doubt aware that in the first quarter of 1980 the cost of silver has been on a rollercoaster ride. For February and March, I think the per unit cost has increased in the order of 215 per cent. This has had a very significant and negative impact on the radiological departments of our hospitals and our X-ray clinics.
Can the minister indicate what, if any, action he intends to take to provide whatever assistance is required for those departments to meet those kinds of costs, notwithstanding the fact that though the price is down now, it is expected to continue to be very unstable over the course of this budget year?
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: Mr. Speaker, perhaps I can break my answer into two parts: the hospitals and the private radiologists. We have had several discussions with the Ontario Hospital Association on the question, and recognizing, as the honourable member has pointed out in framing his question, that the price of silver is varying considerably in recent days and weeks, it is agreed this will be a matter for year-end settlement. A year from now, or even looking at the 1979-80 budgets, we will take into account any reasonable amount they are out of pocket because of these variations.
We would also expect, of course, that every effort would be made in every case to recover the silver content as much as possible. I am going by memory now, but I believe the anticipated recovery of silver from X-ray film should be as high as about 78 per cent. It can then, of course, be resold and the proceeds fed back into the department.
Regarding physicians, we have been discussing this particular matter with the radiological section of the Ontario Medical Association and we have a proposal before the Management Board of Cabinet at this time to address the concerns of the private radio- logists so that they will not be put at an economic disadvantage because of these conditions which are obviously beyond any of our controls.
Mr. Conway: A supplementary question:
Do I understand the minister is clearly stating that it will be the policy of his government to provide assistance at year-end for any large increases that institutions will have faced over the course of this year? Do I understand that is the assurance he has given?
Second, do I understand correctly that he has responded in writing to the letter from the radiological section of the OMA of some four, five or six weeks ago? As of last week it had not been answered, according to the information with which I have been provided.
Hon. Mr. Timbrell: I had instructed that the section be notified that we were making a proposal. Frankly, at one point about a month ago we were all set to go and then all of a sudden the price of silver did a real flip-flop again over a couple of days. We decided to wait a few more days to make sure of our calculations and our proposal.
With regard to hospitals, it is our policy at year-end in looking at the settlements to take account of unanticipated and uncontrollable increases. Whether it is fuel costs or whether in one part of the province there might be a problem with food costs, or whatever, we do take account of that and we have assured the hospital association that we will take account of this at year-end settlement with the hospitals.
Mr. Dukszta: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Minister of Housing. I waited patiently for his answer to my question 11 on the Notice Paper and I would have come back on April 11 as he told me, but he said last week that my figures about the people who were suffering from the --
Mr. Speaker: I am waiting for your question.
Mr. Dukszta: My question is very simple, Mr. Speaker. I want to know whether the minister can tell me the correct figures of the people who have been troubled with the Assisted Home Ownership Plan and the correct figures for the maturing mortgages in Ontario, since he said last week that I was out to lunch on it. Can he give me the answer to that?
Second, can he tell me what in hell he is prepared to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Bennett: Mr. Speaker, if the member was in the House at the opening of the session today when I read my statement, he would be aware of the fact that this ministry is no more absolutely positive than anyone else in this province of the number of AHOPs or conventional mortgages in trouble. It is a matter of going through reviews.
I said very clearly that the people in the Ministry of Housing, the Treasury and indeed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the federal people in Ottawa, are now working to try to put a handle on the situation.
I said last week, if the member will recall, that he was throwing out a great number of figures to society without himself having any statistical proof in being able to say that all 200,000 renewable mortgages had to be assisted in some way.
Mr. Dukszta: A supplementary question:
Most of the figures now suggest there are about 3,000 people who are on AHOP and about 137,000 people in Ontario whose mortgages will mature this year. Those are the accepted figures from the federal government.
Why does the minister not accept them? Does he understand that if we proceed with these mortgage rate increases there will be about 30 per cent of those 137,000 people who will lose their homes? That is what I am asking him and I want to know what he is going to do about it.
Hon. Mr. Bennett: I am still not sure where the member gets his statistics. There is a possibility that in this province in 1980 there will be 1,737 AHOP renewals. We are aware of the fact a percentage of those will be in some need. What we are suggesting very strongly, as I suggested in the House on Thursday and again today, is, in reviewing the problem of mortgage renewals and assistance, it will be for selective cases where the need factor or cost of principal, interest and taxes will exceed 30 percent of the gross income of households. That is the area government is very carefully looking at as to how to assist them.
As I said earlier, rather than having it put exclusively on the shoulders of the government to try to come to that determination, in our opinion there has to be a monitoring by the private sector and we are seeking their support and help to get the program in place.
Frankly, I said earlier today the escalation in mortgage interest rates, indeed in interest rates per se, is obviously not the responsibility of the Minister of Housing in Ontario, nor can the minister reporting for housing in Canada deal with it. It is exclusively the Minister of Finance, Mr. MacEachen, who should come down with a program of policies that will put this in place to offer some assistance.
We recognize very specifically that there is a selective requirement for some mortgage help in this province and indeed the rest of Canada.
HIGHWAY 11 AT ATIKOKAN
Mr. T. P. Reid: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Transportation and Communications in regard to the donkey trail, otherwise known as highway 11, outside Atikokan.
Can the minister confirm to me that it is actually his ministry’s responsibility for the upkeep of that part of the highway that before December was under construction by George Armstrong Contracting. Is it the responsibility of the ministry to keep that road in some kind of reasonable condition? If it is the ministry’s responsibility, can he tell us why that road has deteriorated so badly that it is a threat to health and safety? In fact, many vehicles have been damaged, and commerce and commuters have been put to a great disadvantage because of the condition of that road. Will the ministry pay for the damage done to vehicles travelling over that stretch of the highway?
Hon. Mr. Snow: Mr. Speaker, I am aware there have been problems with maintaining that particular section of highway, which is under construction. I will check and let the honourable member know definitely, but it is my opinion it is the responsibility of the contractor to maintain the road while he is working on it, while it is under construction.
Unfortunately, with the weather the way it was last fall, the contractor did not get the first layer of asphalt on the highway before the weather closed in on him, which created quite a bit of the problem the honourable member and his donkey have encountered.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE PAPER
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Speaker, I wish to table the answers to questions 21, 22, 23 and 44 standing on the Notice Paper. (See appendix, page 400.)
ORDERS OF THE DAY
THRONE SPEECH DEBATE (CONTINUED)
Resumption of the adjourned debate on the amendment to the motion for an address in reply to the speech of the Honourable the Lieutenant Governor at the opening of the session.
Hon. Mr. Drea: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to participate in this debate. Knowing full well the very fulsome if more than well-deserved tributes that have been extended to you on the performance of your duties, therefore I would like to put some commendations forward to those who assist you, particularly the Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Perth (Mr. Edighoffer), and the chairman of the committees of the whole House, the honourable member for Humber (Mr. MacBeth).
In the work of this Legislature, without discounting the importance of the role of the Speaker, the House simply could not function in terms of its very strict time limits, its scheduling, its allocations of debates, were it not for the very tireless and very dedicated performance of those two members. While it is an unglamorous task to be in the Chair at a time when the House is in committee of supply, none the less that is where the important pieces of legislation are handled, because it is far more difficult and far more intricate to deal with the specific and the implementation than it is to deal with the principle and the concept.
I am pleased that in this assembly and for this session we have such outstanding people in the chair: yourself, carrying on a tradition whereby in each session you excel your performance of the past, and the two honourable members who serve and who, when this chamber is often virtually deserted because there is important work in committees as well, keep a very steady, a very firm, a very fair and quite frankly an outstanding hand upon the helm. I would hope that as this session evolves it will become apparent to other honourable members the enormous contribution that those two members are making.
Second, in terms of my own riding and my own area, I would like to thank the Minister of Health (Mr. Timbrell) for his expansive and very excellent program of meeting healthcare needs in the borough of Scarborough -- from the completion of the Scarborough Centenary Hospital, which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, has had shelled-in floors since its inception, to the decision that a new hospital will be built in the borough under the auspices of the Salvation Army, a hospital that will replace and continue the very excellent work that has been done at Grace Hospital in downtown Toronto for so many years -- and also for his concern for chronic- care beds and nursing-home facilities and a reinforcement of his ministry’s commitment that health care throughout the province will be second to none anywhere.
Mr. Conway: Frank, you need the Grossman compromise.
Hon. Mr. Drea: I must admit I am probably dense today but that one escapes me. I am quite sure those who are in on the in jokes will know what it means, but I don’t.
Mr. Conway: Doctors Hospital closing.
Hon. Mr. Drea: I don’t know what goes on in other areas of the province. I am not from Toronto, as you know, Mr. Speaker, but I will tell you I have a pretty firm hand on the pulse when it comes to that magnificent borough just to the east of Toronto’s city boundary, one that before the end of the century will be the third largest municipality in the province.
Mr. Conway: The question is, do you still want to elect the Supreme Court of Canada?
Hon. Mr. Drea: Yes.
In terms of the borough of Scarborough, I think it is particularly significant that it has been this government that has enabled Scarborough finally to have a transportation system that is beginning to meet its needs.
First of all, this year the subway will be completed about another mile and a quarter -- or, as in the old days, a concession road to the east -- terminating at Kennedy Road and Eglinton Avenue, a development that indeed will relieve a great amount of traffic congestion in the south end of Scarborough, particularly in my riding. This will also provide the launching pad for the light rail transit system, which will make Scarborough the only borough with a rapid transit line from the town centre, or the borough centre really, right into downtown Metropolitan Toronto.
This particular LRT line, quite frankly, has been opposed by a number of municipal politicians, particularly the mayor of the city of Toronto, who seems to feel that the sun rises and sets not only upon himself but upon his own ideas.
Mr. Nixon: Who is your candidate for mayor?
Hon. Mr. Drea: It won’t be the incumbent, I’ll tell you that.
To return to the rather pressing problems of transportation in Scarborough, the interesting thing is that the Minister of Transportation and Communications (Mr. Snow), my colleague, has arranged not only that the construction of the LRT line will commence forthwith, after the termination of the subway line and the construction of a single station to handle the patrons, but indeed that there will be an operating subsidy once the line goes into effect.
It seems to me that once again the Ministry of Transportation and Communications is pioneering for North America at a time when most of the larger cities -- by “cities” I mean within the narrow context of their municipal boundaries -- in the United States are beginning either to open subways or to look at them. Indeed, here there has been an extension of the traditional subway, which requires a high density of patrons, and a high density of zoning and occupation along its route in order to be practical.
With the inclusion of the LRT line, which really doesn’t need that heavy patronage because it is much more flexible, modes can be arranged so that during the nonrush hours it can operate quite well with a much smaller number of cars -- and this particular mode is quite needed outside of the very concentrated urban core areas. The work that will be done in the borough of Scarborough will have ramifications in urban areas not only across this country but particularly in the United States.
I would like to elaborate just for a few moments on the government’s ongoing commitment to share regulatory authority in appropriate circumstances, as has been outlined in the speech from the throne. As the House knows, a year ago in the 1979 speech from the throne that concept was first put into reality with the commitment by the government that the insurance brokers and insurance agents of this province would go from total governmental regulation into self-regulation with an umbrella of government impartiality at the top.
I think it was noteworthy that this was the first time in North America, in any jurisdiction, where this happened to a profession or occupation once totally regulated by government. The general insurance industry is totally regulated by government. From the design of the examination by which one qualifies for entry into the field, to the audit of one’s trust account by which his business efficacy is maintained and enhanced, it has traditionally been totally in the hands of the government. The decision is to share regulatory authority, and I think the operative word in there is “share” because 95 per cent of such programs of deregulation -- actual physical deregulation -- are indeed, self-regulations with the occupation or field picking up many of the day-to-day regulatory obligations and responsibilities.
None the less, government has to remain at the pinnacle. There has to be an impartial appeal when there are decisions that might affect the livelihood of an agent or broker because of the basic fact that it is a question of livelihood; and secondly, where a customer feels that, notwithstanding the review that has been given to his or her complaint, justice has not been served. There still has to be something impartial where a final determination can be made in both cases. Of course, that has to operate under the public auspices and therefore is the responsibility of government.
It is really no different from the situation in a regulated industry, in that there has to be an impartial appeal against the government decision, particularly when it comes to a disciplinary hearing. That has been carried on very well by the Commercial Registration Appeal Tribunal. Of course, the Commercial Registration Appeal Tribunal will continue to carry on even when an industry is self- regulated.
I think it very interesting that the concept of self-regulation is not really in the concept of deregulation, because deregulation indeed conveys, if it is properly carried out, a lessening of regulation. The concept of “shared regulatory authority” increases regulation, except that you are being regulated and judged more and more in your day-to-day activities by your peers and the people who are intimate with the particular profession, occupation or business field that you are in, rather than by a centralized government body.
Two things are apparent in this type of new approach -- two things that I think should be welcomed, not only by legislators, but by the public. First, one of the difficulties there has always been with the total government regulation is that that regulation meets the need for protection; it does not meet the need for quality. If you look at the regulated industries of this province, or the regulated industries of any jurisdiction in this country or those that are regulated by boards or commissions in the United States either as a federal entity or by each of the 50 states, the one thing that becomes apparent is that the regulation at the protective level never really begins to deal with the quality of the operation.
If we are to have professions, occupations and particularly small businesses in the financial or service area grow and prosper, it is incumbent that the quality of those operations increases to meet increased public expectations. On the one hand, there is no question that we have a revolution in rising expectations -- to use a cliché -- by the public.
On the other hand, there is a frustration that the quality of service, particularly in the regulated industries, does not appear -- and I emphasize the word “appear” -- to be moving in line with those increased expectations.
Certainly the service is more than adequate, more than basic, but by the same token I think the public wants to know that there is considerable work being done on increasing the quality or the standard of operations. Quite frankly, that comes only when there is a sharing of that authority, because when one is a government regulator, constantly in the back of his mind is the fact that he is very big and that many of the people he is regulating are very small. Therefore, either consciously or subconsciously, there is the tendency to regulate quality at the minimum rather than the optimum level.
It’s very interesting that where there has been a move to the shared authority, one of the insistences upon the other partner in the occupation, the profession or the field of business has been the demand that standards be increased. I think it is a very beneficial thing, both in the short term and predominantly in the long term, that such will be occurring. Secondly, I think there has to be in our society an encouragement of people to accept more and more of their own responsibilities and that in the decision-making process government should not be the be-all, the end-all and the only resort.
In the shared authority or self-regulation concept, if one wants to put it into the vernacular, the people in the field have to assume responsibility. There can no longer be the concept of saying: “We will operate exactly as government tells us to; no more, no less. Before we attempt to do anything in our field, we should check with government to see how it feels, not about the quality nor about the goal, but whether it wants to consider any type of change at this time.”
To me, this is an eroding of human and business ingenuity, of innovation and imagination. Yet were we to continue that system we as legislators would on the one hand be saying, “No, we will retain the decision-making process because we don’t think you are mature or responsible enough,” but on the other hand, “For the sake of meeting the social and economic challenges of your community, of this province or of this country, we want you to be bold, imaginative, innovative” and so forth.
That just doesn’t work. One of the first things will be seen from the legislation I will be tabling later this session for the registered insurance agents and brokers of Ontario, the RIBO legislation. It will be very interesting to notice the increased standards the insurance agents and brokers are insisting upon and putting into their own bylaws. It should also be extremely interesting to see how far beyond they have gone on behalf of the consumer in terms of protection.
Again, in this throne speech we have pointed out that we have made a commitment with the real estate industry of this province. We have made a commitment in principle to move towards the shared authority or the self-regulatory program for that industry. We hope to have it completed over the next two years. One thing is common to both. In neither case, did government impose its will.
In the case of the insurance agents and brokers of Ontario, they came forward with a proposal which was accepted by government in principle. The real estate industry came forward with a proposal which was then accepted in principle after consultation with government. It then went back to the general assembly of that organization, where it was passed at the annual convention.
To attempt to legislate this type of shared responsibility without the stimulus coming from the field or the occupation really defeats its purpose, because if government is going to impose shared authority then there is obviously precious little sharing. It is just government operating a totally regulated industry but merely changing the name.
I would hope that in the ensuing years my ministry will be able to respond to proposals from other regulated industries in this province. The degree of responsibility, maturity and the willingness to begin making decisions very close to the market place rather than relying upon government to sift through to develop a consensus and then to regulate, I think bodes extremely well, not just for the businesses of this province -- and it’s very important there -- but for the people those businesses serve, because the more decision-making there is in the market place, the more individual responsibility there is in the market place, the faker the market place will be.
I have never been one who accepted the concept that it was only massive government intervention that could ever produce a fair market place. I think there is an inherent difficulty in that approach, because government is constantly shifting its weight from one side to the other in attempting to keep a balance. I think the consumer has had just about enough of that.
When we talk to consumers and consumer groups about what they look forward to or what they want to see, the interesting thing is that they want to see less formal government intervention in the market place. They want alternatives. They want much more out there in the way of remedy rather than punishment or admonition. They are talking about remedy.
It does a person little good in his or her wallet or purse for us to apprehend somebody after they have done something and the victim has to wait until the criminal and then the civil sanctions are imposed and if there is anything left, and by that time there seldom is, then one may have the prospect of entering into litigation on his or her own for remedy. They don’t want that any more. I’m quite convinced they never did, but that is the way the system evolved and, as such, they are looking for new types of remedy in the market place.
I think some interesting examples are the arbitrations where the industry or the merchants will accent the result but it doesn’t preclude the individual from going into the courts at the end if he is dissatisfied. It’s much the same as in the Registered Insurance Brokers of Ontario legislation that we are bringing in. If the customers aren’t satisfied with what the insurance agents and brokers’ council has decided is fair or is lawful then they certainly do have the right to appeal. We look forward to some of those other alternatives in the years ahead and once again I think they go hand in hand.
If government is going to completely regulate -- and there are some great theorists out there, legal thinkers who somehow inevitably link government regulation with fairness -- I would think government regulation, at least in theory, really should be only a last resort. There should be an impetus and a stimulus put forward for other resorts prior to total regulation. I think this decade will bear that out.
It is quite interesting that in the speech from the throne the government has emphasized that as a nation Canada must have the courage to follow more independent economic policies.
It seems to me at this particular time, whether the statistics that can be used are comforting to some and frightening to others, or vice versa, that we are at the crux of probably the most substantial test of confidence in the Canadian economy since the end of World War II.
I know we have had recessions, in fact very substantial recessions, since 1945. We have had equally on the turns of the economy greater and greater affluence. We have had cyclical and recessional unemployment; indeed, we now are faced with structural unemployment. The world has changed around us in those 35 years. We are predominantly now a trading partner in North America, and I think it is realistic to say that any great boon of a dominant position in the trade patterns of western Europe is gone. Our future, obviously, is no longer in western Europe but indeed probably in the Orient or Latin America.
We have changed the education system to meet the economy and the demands of the economy. We are doing that today. Yet in all that, tight money, easy money, the revolutionary change in the availability of credit to individual Canadians, I noticed in a newspaper yesterday Mr. Dennis Braithwaite, the columnist, pointing out that at one time if a person wanted to borrow from a bank he brought in collateral that equalled the amount of the loan.
Remember it isn’t too long ago that if one wanted to borrow $1,000 to buy a car -- that may date me or give away my age -- you were asked by the bank to produce a $1,000 Canada Savings Bond as collateral. Those were the pre-chattel days, but nonetheless there has been a revolution, and credit has changed enormously people’s attitudes towards the economy, towards the financial community, and indeed towards personal attitudes regarding the use of money.
This is the first time in all of that when the very core of our society, the middle class, has been threatened with the loss of its most basic possession. Regardless of the economic theories on how Canada evolved in the twentieth century to the place of affluence, to the standard and the quality of life and of living that we have, fundamental to it was individual home ownership. Fundamental in the future will be individual home ownership. Maybe there will be some changes, not necessarily involving a separated lot or a separated deed, but nonetheless, very, very fundamental that it will be home ownership.
Not too many years ago in this Legislature one of the prime concerns was that there weren’t enough houses being built so that everybody would have the right to exercise the opportunity to be a home owner. Some of the remarks made in previous throne speeches -- mind you, we have to go back five, six, seven, eight years, which is very transitory in human life, to find them, but they are there -- indicated that people in this country did have the right to exercise their opportunity to purchase and to own a home.
I was looking back at some of those the other day and I never saw the word “mortgage” mentioned. Obviously, the availability of mortgage and of mortgage money at that time was not a consideration, although it was a consideration for the people who were buying because they had to be frugal and practical and look at the amount they were going to be paying back.
Notwithstanding the innovations sometimes of those who practise the dismal science of economics, these people did the right things. They worked and they saved their money. In the process of saving their money, they made sacrifices. They assumed mortgages. They watched while successive governments of Canada changed the rules about mortgages.
The old 25-year National Housing Act mortgages went to five-year renewables because of the need always to attract new types of mortgage money. At one time, one couldn’t have a government-insured or a National Housing Act mortgage unless it was for a brand new home. We watched that go into resales. Over some 25 years, a great many roles were changed. But to the persons who invested in homes, that investment was so basic to them they very seldom, if ever, challenged the rules under which the mortgages were offered.
What happened by 1980? The financial system has now produced a situation where people are not only genuinely concerned about the investment in their homes, but are frightened.
On the one hand, thrift and saving seem to have made absolutely no dent in the situation. On the other hand, every Thursday seems to bring about more and more calamity. The people who do not have to renew mortgages in 1980 are beginning to wonder if perhaps they should, because 1981 might be worse.
Day after day, if one reads, listens to or views the media, it is a question of hopeless, more hopeless and most hopeless.
Mr. Nixon: You watch the wrong channel.
Hon. Mr. Drea: If the member can bring me a gleeful channel, I would very much appreciate watching it.
I think it is time we began to look at mortgages and home ownership as not merely a social right and a social opportunity, as we have looked at this field since the end of the war, beginning with the federal government’s bringing in the National Housing Act, but in the economic sphere.
Today, because of a change in the world balance of payments, primarily dictated by the fact that a cartel has been very successful in rigging and escalating oil prices, there has been an inability during that period of time by the government of the United States and the federal government in Canada to deal with the question, As a result, the individual mortgage holder is today confronted with what he regards, and I must say I regard, as a very real question.
If we are going to allow home ownership in this province and in this country to be at the vagaries of a floating interest rate on the financial markets, where that floating interest rate is really determined in another country and where governments are having to choose between a vastly devalued dollar in terms of international currency and extremely high interest rates, it seems to me we should begin to start disassociating mortgage money from the general market.
On any given day in North America and Western Europe there is a billion dollars available for speculation. On some days it goes into gold, on some days it goes into treasury bills, on other days it goes into commodities. We have seen what has happened to silver. We have seen, in not so dismal a performance, what has happened to gold. Now we begin to see the manipulation there can be of 90-day treasury notes with that amount of money looking for a temporary placement, a fast profit, nothing permanent or indeed very long, because this is the money that is not convinced that rates will go up or that rates will go down, but as usual in the midst of adversity and turbulence there will be money made.
On the one hand we have the wealthiest nation in the world desperately trying to cope with the difficulties of a change in the price of energy, the fact it is pouring out a great deal of funds in order to keep its domestic economy functioning and trying to cool down double-digit inflation, and has introduced, has encouraged, in fact has demanded, rather Draconian interest rates.
The price of our proximity as a neighbour is that, notwithstanding our inflation rate being half of theirs and other conditions being entirely dissimilar, in order to protect the value of our dollar and to prevent the outpouring of capital, while not being Draconian but essentially the same thing, we have arranged a floating system. This really pushes up the rates so they are comparable to those in the United States and therefore there will not be this outpouring of capital. As I have said, it seems to me the time has come to dissociate mortgage money from that.
It was very interesting on Friday, the member for Essex North (Mr. Ruston) was discussing the very same thing. It seems to me that in order to dissociate mortgage money from the general market, different terms and conditions for the investor have to be arranged.
I think it might be very interesting for us to look into a system whereby mortgage units could be purchased within limitations, just as there are limitations on the purchase of Canada Savings Bonds. Those mortgage units would pay a much lower rate of return to the investor because I would suggest they should be made tax free. In the United States, the wealthiest single country in the world, municipal and school board bonds are kept at a much lower interest rate than our industrial or federal government debentures by the fact they are income tax free.
Since it is generally acknowledged we can provide mortgage money at somewhere in the area of 2.5 per cent or on the outside 3.25 cent higher, and live with it, as an institutional provider, then as the cost of borrowing money, if we could have mortgage units that could be purchased in various denominations and with limitations on the amounts that could be held by an individual or a maximum amount fluctuating as used to be the case with Canada Savings Bonds, with various cutoff dates for their sale and so forth depending upon their market acceptability, we could begin taking a first step at differentiating the very fibre of social capital -- which is mortgage money -- from that of the general market, because I don’t think in the short term that the general interest rates are going to change very much, except for the worse -- and that may be necessary.
It may indeed, in terms of general investment money, in terms of general credit, in terms of consumer credit, in terms of that aspect of the economy, be necessary as the price we pay to bring inflation into line. Were we to allow inflation to get up in the area of 18, 19 and 20 per cent we would really be living in a fool’s paradise. We would never again be able to get long-term, solid, tangible investment, not when you have erosion of the dollar at that rate.
As I say, on the one hand, in the United States, no matter what happens in the interest market, no matter what the prime rates are, when it comes to essentials of its social capital -- the ability to raise funds to build schools, which are the board of education bonds or the regional school board bonds and the municipal bonds -- they have deliberately encouraged them to be lower-interest-bearing because of the fact that you do not have to pay income tax on them.
It would seem to me that in co-operation with the federal government -- because the responsibility really lies there because it does set the exemptions and so forth for income tax purposes; though certainly the province would have to play a role, because 44 points on a person’s income tax is that of the province -- it would seem to me that this would allow very prudent investment -- you don’t get rich buying tax-free municipal bonds in the US but you make a decent return on your investment -- and would provide, separately and distinctly from the other capital- generating portions of the economy, an adequate supply of mortgage money.
If the amount of mortgage money was considered too high, as it has been in the past with the federal government, they could discontinue the sale of those units as they have cutoff dates for Canada Savings Bonds. Indeed, they have cutoff dates for a number of the offerings that they normally put out. On the other hand, if it turned out that too many institutional investors were purchasing and it had become a loophole for taxes, there are formulas by which it could be turned backwards.
I must say that I agree with the member for Essex North that there are a great many people who would prefer to invest in this way. Make no mistake about it, that investment would have to be guaranteed dollar for dollar by the province of Ontario, because if we are going to ask people to accept some role in social capital I don’t think we can ask them to bear the entire risk, but that one has a guaranteed investment in terms of principal and interest. Also, one has a benefit and a hedge by virtue of the fact that one is not paying taxes on it, so he can accept that lower rate, and that lower rate of interest that would be applicable to mortgages would be a stimulus for people not just to renew their mortgage but indeed to take a mortgage, because people out there in the street are absolutely terrified.
There are compliments extended to one of the trust companies -- I believe it is Crown Trust Company -- for saying: “Okay, we will accept just the interest. You don’t have to make a principal repayment.” That is fine, and that would be a cushion for me, but I suggest it would not be a cushion for a first-time home buyer in the first five years, because one pays precious little principal at all today with an amortization over 35 years.
It’s very interesting that in order to sell a house people are getting into the position of what they call rolling back or rolling over, raising the price of their house $2,000 or $3,000 and prepaying two or three years of interest so that the next person has paid more for the property in the first place but the payments are easier over the first three or four years.
That may be the only way one can sell a house today. It may be very practical and certainly very legal, but by the same token I can think of nothing that will fan inflation more than to artificially raise the prices of existing housing, and then where are we? The name of the game is not to soak the individual and to squeeze every drop of every penny from him. There is supposed to be an altruistic goal to these extremely high interest rates, ones that this Thursday will go even higher, and that is we are in a war against inflation.
If we are in a war against inflation the burden can’t be handled by just one part of society. If we are going to have a war, then all of us -- and that includes financial institutions -- are going to have to make some sacrifices. Since the chartered banks in this country traditionally wanted precious little to do with mortgages, although in the last decade because of changes in the Mortgages Act they have come to dominate the field, I think these investment units that I am suggesting might be made available only through the secondary financial institutions or the near banks, particularly the credit unions, or indeed if the trust companies chose to move in that direction.
I think it is a suggestion that is well worth looking at, because I don’t think we can deal with the public on this fundamental issue by telling them to have faith in the future -- and of course I want them to have faith in the future -- to have confidence in the firmness and soundness of the economy -- of course we want them to have confidence, everybody should have confidence -- but by the same token saying, “In the short term you may be wiped out as part of the better picture that will emerge much later on.”
If we are going to bear the costs of remedying the mistakes of the past, of cooling out an economy that was either by design or by lack of attention allowed to roar out of control with all of the implications that now require those horrendous interest and mortgage rates, then the sharing of the costs of the struggle to return to normalcy has to be borne by all of us, not just the person who is renewing a home mortgage in 1980 and not just the person who is thinking for the first time of purchasing a home with the mortgage that comes with it.
Builders are not going to sell many homes in the future with a six-month mortgage. It may be amortized over 35 years or over 50 years, which means the buyer will never physically own it, but we are not going to instil very much of a sense of longevity with a mortgage that can be open and negotiable within six months. One can do better purchasing a nonessential in our society, a car. At least we can get a fixed term now for an automobile loan for 24, 30 or 36 months. To suggest that we can only get a fixed tern of six months for a home really is hardly a thing upon which a sound economy is built.
You will notice, Mr. Speaker, that I haven’t touched the pressing issue of farm mortgages. It would seem to me that special attention has to be paid in that area, but already farm credit and farm mortgages have been separated, and for many years, from the scope of the general investment community. I think it is essential today that even more attention be paid to them than has been in the past.
Again, if we can begin differentiating and separating these items of very necessary social capital, if we can encourage more investment in them, investment that will be fair even though it does have a lower rate of return, and the reverse of that, people paying less than the conventional market would have them paying for the cost of their occupation, then it would seem to me there would be more funds available in the rest of the economy for the people who need it, both small businesses on a day-to-day basis, or for the expansion of large business.
I don’t claim to have the answer to the question of the tremendous impact interest rates, particularly mortgage interest rates, are having upon our society, but it may very well be there is no single answer. Perhaps there is a necessity for a package of 50 or 100. I don’t think that should deter us.
When the basic social fabric of our society
-- the ability of people to buy and own their own home -- is so substantially threatened that people who ordinarily do not weigh many financial matters such as the interest rate now follow them extremely avidly because they are trying to determine where they will be a few weeks or months from now, I think there is an onus upon governments in all levels to focus on this problem.
Some of the things that are being put forward today are not orthodox, but in the Depression a great many things weren’t orthodox either. If we hadn’t gone through a little less orthodoxy we wouldn’t have yet recovered from the Depression. In the post-war years a great many things had to be brought in as innovations. They certainly weren’t in the textbooks of the time. If we hadn’t done that the post-war depression that was supposed to be so inevitable would still be upon us.
Here we are today, at a time when we should be able to harness the affluence and we should be able to not only generate enough capital and funds within our own economy to meet our own social and economic needs but be able to export capital for the betterment of the rest of the world, we are tied down in an exceedingly tight money supply where we are threatening the very fabric of our society.
I look forward to other speakers in the throne speech debate, where suggestions are brought forward. The economists got us here. Governments, financial institutions, experts and individuals alike faithfully followed the new economists for some 35 years; and here we are. I suggest it is time we really started looking at some new economics and some that meet our own situation. Because unless and until we solve the problem of the high mortgage interest rate the rest of the economy is not going to recover and the social consequences of our failure -- of our collective failure -- are going to be very great indeed.
It seems to me there is an area where the federal government can act immediately as a temporary cushion or shot in the arm; that is, to provide mortgage deductibility. It won’t cost them a dime. It’s already budgeted for. The yellow forms are in everybody’s house. Of course, it’s not an answer to the problem; it’s not the sole answer. But if we are going to ask home owners to bear a great deal of the cost of this war against inflation then I think it’s incumbent upon government to give them a little shot in the arm or a little bit of confidence that government knows what they are going through, that government knows what they are going to go through and that here is a program that would have been in effect -- a very simple one to put forward -- to provide a little cushion because people are going to pay more for their mortgage this year, no question about it, they’re going to face uncertainties as to how long they should renew for and what the terms should be, and as a government we understand and here is a tangible expression of our support.
The federal government -- and I certainly think it has to embrace this government because part of that deduction would be the 44 points that we would receive -- would be saying here is tangible recognition of the struggle that people are going through.
Here is tangible evidence that we are willing to put up some short-term improvements, because we know the final answer is going to take time and there will be difficulties there.
We can say to them, as governments collectively, “We are just as involved with you in your fight to be able to survive these awesome, and quite frankly, never imagined mortgage interest rates, and you don’t have to do it alone.” By that there will not be the unfortunate impression that is beginning out there among the middle class that, having done everything right and never having asked for anything, they now find themselves in a position where they are paying a rather dreadful price for doing so.
Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, I want to join the other members who have spoken in extending my congratulations to you, the member for Humber (Mr. MacBeth), in your own specific case in having been elected by the House as Deputy Chairman of the committees. I know from my own experience how well you have done in the past and I look forward to serving under your direction in the future. I mention this specifically with reference to your colleague Mr. Sneaker, the member for Lake Nipigon (Mr. Stokes) and the Deputy Speaker, my good friend and colleague the member for Perth (Mr. Edighoffer).
I, as you know, have returned from three weeks at the Palace of Westminster in London, England, where I was your delegate to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seminar on parliamentary practice, so I have had my interest in these matters somewhat whetted by my observations there.
The comparisons are certainly extremely interesting. The one I should refer to in dealing specifically with your high office is the tradition at Westminster in having Mr. Speaker move or ascend above partisan polities and not contest a seat with competition from his partisan rivals, and in that way guarantee the fairness and judgement which is supposed to come with the removal of partisan interests.
I believe that does work very well at the Parliament at Westminster, but I am certainly in no way compelled or even interested in examining the possibility of following that example here. I don’t believe the fact that you, sir, are elected as a supporter of a political party interferes with your judgement in matters pertaining to this House.
I am prepared to argue on another occasion, and maybe even in a hall that I hire myself, as to whether or not your support of the Progressive Conservative Party is valid but, as somebody said when you were elected by the House as Deputy Chairman, it’s always nice to see a Liberal get ahead. Not everybody knows all the meanings involved there, but you and I do. Actually, for a person who once was a Liberal you have done very well as a Conservative and still command my respect and, in this instance, my support.
I personally believe our own procedures, particularly as they have evolved since 1975, are as good as, if not better in this regard than those practised for these many years at Westminster. In the election of Speakers since 1975 the government has not had a control or the support of the majority of the members of this House. We have exercised our own individual judgements as to the individual who could assume the responsibility of the chair as Speaker and would command the respect and support of all sides. I believe we have been very fortunate in that regard and frankly, I hope that tradition continues.
I would hope that when my party is returned to this House with a majority in the next few months, if not weeks, it would be to the leader of the government or the leader of the Liberal Party to consult with his colleagues, the leaders of the other parties -- or maybe only one other party under those circumstances, who can tell -- and come up with a person who would have the personal support of members of the House on all sides and not just the support of the majority, and who would have been elected in support of the government.
We don’t want to dwell on it, other than to say that my own observations over these years, and more recently in London, England, indicate our procedures are as good as any and, in my view, better for our needs. There is no sense in trying to equate the business that goes on in the Legislature of Ontario with that which transpires in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. For one thing, we have three viable political parties here, each one of which can realistically look to the future and hope to assume the responsibility of office. While the percentage of electoral support is not exactly equal, still the three parties are viable and are seen to be viable.
For that reason, when it comes to close contests in votes in this House, the system that has evolved over many years at Westminster of pairing members is almost unworkable here. At Westminster, where they have more votes than we customarily have here, it is certainly the custom for the Prime Minister to be paired with a member of the opposition so that she may attend special functions without the concern of having to rush back to her seat to maintain a parliamentary majority.
The same is true of a good many of the members. As a matter of fact, all of the members, as far as I know, except those who were elected at the most recent general election in the United Kingdom, have what they refer to as personal pairs. If they have a dinner party or their annual meeting of the constituency association, something which for them is important enough to remove them from attendance at the House, they can phone up on a personal basis to someone on the other side and say, “This is my arrangement. Can you accommodate me?” The other person will, if possible, because he or she knows that in the next week or the next month he or she will want to be accommodated in turn.
A large number of whips are involved in the co-ordination and organization of the votes, and these pairings are reported to those whips. There most be 10 or 15 for each party. I’m sure that the bookwork, as well as the involved aspects of the organization of the votes, must be far more than we’re used to here.
The other aspect in which we cannot be compared to Westminster is that they have 638 elected members. That means there is tremendous pressure from the individual members to be recognized by Mr. Speaker at question time or when a debate comes forward. As a matter of fact, under certain circumstances there is even real pressure to find a seat in the House. During the Prime Minister’s questions, when Mrs. Thatcher is holding the floor for 15 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, the House is full.
As a politician is often wont to do, I counted the House. There were about 300 members present and there was no other place to sit. A number of members were gathered behind Mr. Speaker’s throne and a number of members were standing in the gangway so there wasn’t room for anybody else, and yet 300 members did not have a place to sit except in the galleries where there are benches reserved for them.
The fact is, however, that individual members are pressing their whips and the leaders of their parties for responsibilities and appointments to the many committees that are characteristic of the still emerging British parliamentary practice. One of the whips indicated to us that as a disciplinary matter if one of his members did not attend a vote or act as the whip thought was proper, the discipline he would use would be to call him in, ask him which was his favourite committee and then remove him from it as a disciplinary practice. I suppose in our House the discipline would be to put somebody on a committee; so it doesn’t really work quite as effectively here as it does there.
I should say, just in passing, that the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was our host. There were representatives from 23 Commonwealth countries. They were from all parts of the world, speaking all languages and adhering to all creeds. They formed a very interesting group indeed. I should further mention that the budget of the government of the United Kingdom was poor by 1,200 pounds per delegate since it picked up the costs that were incurred by the delegates during their stay in the UK. Frankly, I was very impressed with their generosity, although we, in turn, entertain delegates from other countries in Canada at least twice a year in our formal functions with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The executive director of the United Kingdom branch, Mr. Peter Cobb, was responsible for the organization and did an excellent job indeed. We were busy with matters that, I would say to you, Mr. Speaker, I felt were interesting and significant and mind broadening in more ways than one.
The time required for the whole seminar was three weeks, which I thought was a bit lengthy for people from this part of the world. But when I talked to my new friends from Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, India, the Cook Islands -- I am just trying to think of the various parts in that area of the Pacific -- they felt that anything less than three weeks would have been a needless, unnecessarily expensive trip for a period which could have been more efficient for them. The three weeks, over a long period of experimentation, has turned out to be an effective period of time, and I found that none of the time was wasted.
I wanted to deal specifically with two or three matters that I observed there that affect us here. You may recall that last Friday my colleague the member for Essex North (Mr. Ruston), was speaking in the House and he observed that not a single representative of the government party was in the House, he very properly brought this to Mr. Speaker’s attention, indicating that a quorum was not present, and you know what our procedures are under those circumstances.
I was interested to note that at Westminster, even though they have 638 members, there is not a quorum requirement in that sense. We were told that if a member is speaking and only Mr. Speaker is in his chair they can quite legally proceed. The only time there is any interruption to the flow of their business is if they have a division: if, in the total vote, fewer than 40 members are registered then that vote is null and void, because in that instance a quorum of members did not take part in the decision.
Another matter that I found quite interesting was that Mr. Speaker no longer receives points of privilege from the chair without notice. He indicated that at a time with political pressures that would be easily as great at Westminster as they are here, they would spend maybe 15 minutes a day with honourable members rising and complaining about some editorial or comment that had been made about them and seeking redress.
There was very little Mr. Speaker could do, as you, Mr. Speaker, have already found here, and they developed a procedure whereby if a member thought his privileges had been infringed he would write Mr. Speaker or speak to him personally in his chambers. Mr. Speaker would then decide whether or not the matter was of sufficient import to be raised in the House.
I didn’t feel that the individual members felt their rights had been significantly reduced, and actually, while we were there, a matter of privilege was raised. We were told in our seminar of an instance where a newspaper writer had indicated that while the government was planning gas rationing it was evident that the members of Parliament were seeing to their own supplies of petrol in spite of the rationing that might be forthcoming. Some of the members were so outraged they raised the matter with Mr. Speaker and he brought the reporter to the Bar of the House and there the reporter was reprimanded for having incorrect facts and misrepresenting the role of the members of Parliament.
As a matter of fact, most of the people felt it was a severe penalty indeed, although I was told by other members of Parliament that the member of the press did not appear to be so chastised that he could not continue with his articles, substantially critical of Parliament and its members. But that seemed to be an instance where, privileges having been infringed according to the members of the House, Mr. Speaker did take that action.
Actually, we even asked them about incarceration in the Tower, and they supposed that, probably in extreme circumstances, that was possible, but then they pointed out that if you put somebody in there these days you have to let them out eventually, since capital punishment has been abolished.
The committee system has changed dramatically at Westminster. I have a feeling that, just like the committee system here, it is somewhat cyclical. Every Legislature and Parliament, in my view, always tends to think that its committee system could be improved. In our instance we have gone to fairly large committees, having abandoned the multiplicity of specific interest committees that were a part of the procedure when I was first elected and, Mr. Speaker, I believe when you were first elected as well. I am not sure about that.
The Parliament of Westminster is either partly behind in the cycle or partly ahead, because they have just moved to a very large number of committees of the House. I believe the number is approximately 23. There is one for each department of government. Members may be interested to know that over there they still call them departments. The word “ministry” floats in from time to time because, in fact, there are three ministers in each department. There is the Secretary of State for each of the departmental areas, who is more or less the top dog. Then there is the minister and a junior minister. All three of those in each area of government form the ministry, but the cabinet itself is a much smaller and more select group made up of the Secretaries of State who can, in their view, carry on business because of the reduced numbers and the concentration of responsibility.
I was interested to see an article in a well-known British publication, The Economist, which indicated that if a cabinet had more than 20 members in it it couldn’t do business efficiently because it would be just like a meeting of any other type. I see there are two very busy cabinet ministers here, but they, probably better than I, would know whether or not that is true or even partly true. When I used to think about these things I used to feel a cabinet much bigger than 16 would be cumbersome and that it might be difficult for any but the most aggressive leader of a government to feel the business was being conducted without the wasting of time.
In the United Kingdom they have a very large ministry, I believe up to 60 or 70 members of the ministry, which includes the parliamentary private secretaries and others.
They call all these people the people on the pay list; in other words, they get extra money, like I do, as House leader of the Liberal Party and perhaps, Mr. Speaker, like you do, as Speaker. They talk about the pay list as those groups which have a special interest, if not a small conflict of interest, in certain matters pertaining to things like pension and changes in the pay scale. I know you and I would agree that is not so, but you can imagine that others might believe it were so.
The committees, then, are established with one designated to more or less ride herd or be involved with each department of government. These committees are set up at the beginning of a parliament after an election and they are intended to maintain the same membership throughout. Substitution is, as a matter of principle, prohibited. The only time substitution can take place is if there is a case of bona fide illness or if a person is promoted to the cabinet and therefore can no longer participate as a back-bench member.
Oddly enough, and I don’t know why this is so other than the traditions of the British House of Commons, these committees that are set up to act throughout the parliament are called select committees. So they have this large spectrum of select committees, each one designed to inform itself and review an individual department of government. As I understand it, they review the expenditure of the ministry with the ministers and with the officials and over the period of a parliament would become very well informed indeed, and personally acquainted with the upper echelons of the public service associated with it.
Naturally, when the budget is brought down and the spending estimates are made available ministry by ministry the select committees get hold of those projections and it is their job during the period of parliament to see that the spending estimates are reviewed and their report can be made to the House. In this way the review of estimates is done, I suppose occupying in the whole almost as much time as we occupy with this project, but in smaller units and units which could very well overlap in their meetings or, in fact, decide among themselves to review this business even when the House is not in session.
In-camera sessions are not only possible but they happen more frequently than here. Certainly when I suggested to them that select committees here sometimes even debated the preparation of the report in public they were very surprised indeed, because it is customary in the United Kingdom to go into camera when they want to collect the facts that have been gathered together in open hearings and then have the political arguments that must always be associated with the presentation of a report to the House. The House can then debate the report, but this is a way to review the estimates which is a bit different from the way we proceed.
Frankly, I feel one of the most inefficient procedures in our Legislature is the review of spending estimates. When one thinks of the countless hours that are spent by this House in committee of supply and in our various standing committees outside this House, I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you would agree, if you think back to your days as a private member when you took part in those reviews, that it does seem to be to some extent a waste of time, if not a procedure that is almost irrelevant.
It does give an opportunity for private members to question the minister and, in instances where the committee meets outside this House, to get answers directly from senior civil servants. In that, it is healthy. But I feel this is one matter where the House and the procedural affairs committee should very well give us their recommendations for a procedure that would maybe be more efficient, more effective and more interesting for all concerned.
When we talk about nomenclature in the United Kingdom we talk about these committees, which are set up at the beginning of parliament and last to the next election, as being select committees. On the other hand, when a bill is passed by the House and given second reading it then goes to a special committee that is named from the House to deal with that bill only. They call it a standing committee, although that standing committee deals with that bill only outside the House and reviews any amendments the members may want to bring forward, or the government may want to bring forward as it has, more or less, a second look at the bill after the community has expressed its reservations or opposing views.
It is interesting that the House receives the bill back on the report of the standing committee. The motion is for the report of the standing committee, but the full debate, following the review by the committee outside the House, takes place in what they call the report stage. I was quite surprised that when the bill came back to the House, if it required further amendment it was not sent to the committee of the whole. I thought it rather strange that the government, which may have made commitments outside the House for changes, would make the amendments in this report stage.
We really don’t have that here. We have debates on reports of committees, as members know, particularly the procedural affairs committee. I understand there was a debate in my absence wherein certain changes were recommended which the Conservative Party was not persuaded it should support, even though it was obvious a majority of the members of the House wanted them. However, that is a matter I will not raise at this time since it is slightly embarrassing for some of us who were not able, because of other duties, to attend that debate or that vote.
There are a couple of matters you might find interesting, Mr. Speaker. I have had a chance to speak to you privately about some of them. The question period itself may very well be efficient as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, particularly as there are 638 members, but from my point of view in comparing it with what we do here it seemed to be a very complex procedure indeed, with perhaps limited advantages because of that complexity.
Written notice has to be given of every question. Then when the questions come forward to be asked at least 100 members jump up in their places to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye. There must be a very elaborate procedure taking place in his grey matter as he scans the House and decides which honourable member shall have preference in a specific time. Like yourself, Mr. Speaker, he allows three or four supplementaries and uses his own judgement when enough have been asked.
I felt his procedure on supplementaries was very similar to your own, Mr. Speaker, although he too was expressing some personal concern that over the years fewer and fewer main questions are asked as more and more supplementaries are tagged on.
One procedure that I found really strange was that the questions addressed to the Prime Minister were designed to be as open as possible and give the questioner every chance to ask a supplementary. It was found that a specific question could easily be deflected to another minister or, if it were a specific question that the Prime Minister decided to answer herself, that the supplementaries would be fairly restricted.
So the notice of questions to the Prime Minister -- and each Tuesday and Thursday there are as many as 40 of them -- dare all almost exactly the same and the question is:
“Will the Prime Minister list her engagements for today?” This means that she can’t deflect them to another minister because only she is supposedly responsible for her own engagements. Once she says what her engagements are, any supplementary is in order, and the questioner may then say: ‘Can the Prime Minister find time today to report on the situation in Zimbabwe?” or, “Can the honourable Prime Minister,” -- “the Right Honourable Lady,” as she is referred to frequently -- “tell us her views on the financing of the Common Market?”
As a result, the first question having to do with her engagements is followed up by about five supplementaries, all completely unrelated. So although the Right Honourable Lady is extremely adept at answering questions, as was her predecessor, Mr. Callaghan, still the questions form no sort of reasonable response where one question elicits a further supplementary to draw out more information.
As a matter of fact it was so incoherent that it was decided on all sides that the radio report of the Prime Minister’s questions should be cut out and only broadcast after editing. I assure you this is not because the Prime Minister is in any way ineffectual. Quite the contrary.
In that parliament, they don’t have desks like this; they simply have benches, and the chamber itself is narrower, if anything, than this. When the Prime Minister is answering questions it is jammed. It is right full. There’s no way for anybody else to get in. The lady herself is well dressed, like the female cabinet ministers here, well coiffured, and to look down from the gallery and see her in the middle of this gang of wolves, all firing questions at her, is very impressive indeed.
One interesting thing is that some of the sharpest and most critical questions come from behind her, and I have a very clear impression that she doesn’t answer the question until she is darn sure who is asking it. I have a feeling that she has a mental black book and that she doesn’t forget names. They call her the Iron Maiden or Attila the Hen, for all those things. I didn’t have a natural philosophic sympathy with her politics but I certainly admired the way she defended herself and her government and attacked her opponents. It was something to behold.
Mr. Ruston: There’s hope for you yet, Bette.
Mr. Nixon: In the matter of the benches versus the desks, I must say that a few years ago I was converted to believe that we no longer need these desks. They are nice. My feet fit in that underside rack almost perfectly, but aside from that there is very little function to having the desks. When I was first elected this was where we did our business and there’s many a longhand letter I have written to constituents right here. When the Premier of the day was criticized for not providing office space, he said, “You have got a desk.” As a matter of fact, there used to be an ink bottle and a pen with a quill -- a nib not a quill; that would be a little extreme -- but that was it. We don’t need that any more.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, we have quite satisfactory offices. Ours aren’t as good as the NDP but they are not bad. We have secretarial staff, which of course is overworked, as everybody in this building is. But it would be an advantage to us in the long run, it seems to me, If we could clear these desks out of here, perhaps even move the rows a little closer together. The people who are interested in debates could simply come and sit and they could talk across the table and through Mr. Speaker as the debate proceeds.
As a matter of fact, Dalton Camp’s commission recommended increasing the membership of the Legislature considerably and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. I hate the thought of spending more money, but as I get older I can contemplate these things more easily than I used to. I think our constituencies are extraordinarily large, not only in area for some of us, but in population.
So many respects many of the constituencies are not very different in size from the federal constituencies, and if we are going to have a parliament that is closer to the people then I really think the constituencies might well be smaller. There would be more members here and we could revamp this chamber so that it would once again become a forum for the kind of debate which might be even more effective than what we do now. This is just a personal view.
I was impressed with what they do in this regard at Westminster. While we do not allow outbursts from the gallery, the rule or the tradition at Westminster is that the members are not supposed to applaud either. Without desks, you are not permitted any kind of notes other than those you might hold in your hand and, of course, each member has an elaborate Order Paper with hundreds of questions asked every day. You think there are Order Paper questions here. There are absolutely hundreds of them over there and very strict rules as to when they should be answered and so on, and they have platoons of staff providing the information for the honourable members.
They hold this Order Paper there. I happened to be there on a day following a by-election and the Conservatives had maintained their hold by a much reduced majority in one of the constituencies, and unlike our tradition, where it takes many days before the writs are returned and the new member takes his or her place, the new member was in either the next day or the morning afterwards. There is no fooling around there.
The member came in and, of course, the Conservatives were quite enthusiastic. They started off with sort of a low rumble of “Hear hear,” and then they started waving their Order Papers in the air and you could see nothing but members waving white pieces of paper -- it reminded me very much of the last time I attended a Sunday school picnic at the St. George United Church -- there was this enthusiastic waving for their champion as he was brought forward, having won the by-election.
So the one advantage I suppose we have with desks is that there is something to hit, other than one of our colleagues, but I really think in the long run we will be thinking of making those sorts of changes in this chamber.
I was also very impressed at the hours the House of Commons sits there. They have a very wide range of responsibilities when they are dealing with many Commonwealth problems. Certainly they were deeply involved with Zimbabwe and very proud of the fact that Lord Carrington and Lord Soames had involved themselves to the extent that it appears that a solution has come out of a situation where most people thought there would he nothing but bloodshed and horror, so that accomplishment was extremely valuable.
I was impressed at how many members we met -- and we met many of them on all sides of the House -- who were very familiar with the circumstances in many of the Commonwealth countries. For example, they were quite concerned about the situation in St. Lucia. I have never been there, but there are governmental problems that look almost insoluble. Mr. Speaker from St. Lucia was attending our conference and certainly expressed his concern over the future .of parliamentary democracy there. He was sure that it would be maintained, but they have reached an impasse which is different from anything else we have experienced in the British tradition, and we will watch how they solve it with a great deal of interest.
The hours they sit are very much like those we used to sit in this House. There is no automatic adjournment, and four nights a week they would sit until 2 a.m. and twice while I was there the House sat till 9 o’clock in the morning. I personally think that is absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary, and when I expressed my views in those terms there were those who felt I just didn’t understand the grand traditions of Westminster and that that’s what one did there. I said that’s what one did in Ontario at one time, but we now seem to be able to conduct our affairs so that perhaps we should spend more time on them but in fact we can live a more civilized life and still, we believe, give sufficient review to public business, so that we feel at least our responsibilities are in the main fulfilled.
In closing, there are a couple of other things I wanted to mention. During the seminar we had an opportunity to visit a local government. The leaders took us to the town of Chichester, the county capital of Sussex. We met the chairman of the board of the county and had an opportunity to find out how they dealt with the government at the centre.
It was interesting to note that many of the problems we have here are similar to theirs. They were complaining about the imposition of larger units of government, for example. I was interested to note that they no longer have boards of education, and that the municipal council, through its committee, is able to deal with the education responsibility.
The government at the centre was taking Draconian steps to cut the cost of education and Mrs. Thatcher had forced through Parliament a bill which would enable the local boards to charge for the use of school buses. This had gone to the House of Lords and, in a precedent-setting act, it had reversed it. This was much admired by the people in the countryside and gave the impetus to the House of Lords to allow it to exist for probably another century or two.
The observations of local government were extremely interesting. As a matter of fact, they don’t have a department of municipal affairs. It’s the Department of the Environment, oddly enough, that deals with the municipalities. The Environment department, in the broad sense, has to do with housing, the provision of services and the provision of block grants to the municipalities. The concept of block grants is one that we as Liberals have been fostering for a long time, trying to overcome the implacable opposition of the glassy-eyed Conservatives who want to keep control of the municipal decisions. You are familiar with those matters.
Just in closing, I would say that one of the most valuable aspects of the trip was the fact that we had an opportunity to meet, on a personal basis, a large number of political figures in the United Kingdom. As you know, I have a special interest in certain arrangements associated with catering. Every day they provided a very fine lunch in the Parliament Buildings. We were specially assigned two members of the House of Commons for every two members of the visiting seminar, at a table of four, so that there was usually another Conservative and another Labour representative; and we would have a chance to talk politics every noon.
We were entertained at 10 Downing Street by the Right Honourable Lady herself. She is still at that stage in politics where nothing is too much trouble, unlike many of us, who soon get to the stage where everything is too much trouble. But she is very much interested and concerned about the Commonwealth and put herself out to entertain us.
I had an opportunity to meet the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Callaghan. He scratched his head and said: “I think I’m coming to Canada soon.” I opened the Globe and Mail the other day and found I’m going to have to pay $70 to hear him speak at a luncheon downtown, so he is carrying on the traditions of democratic socialism that we are used to here. Anyway, I was very impressed with him.
Harold Wilson was very much in evidence. He has a book coming out on the role of British politics, having to do with the development of the state of Israel, which I’m sure will be interesting reading for those people who follow that aspect of politics. I asked him why so many of his staff had seen fit to write exposés of his own prime ministership. One that I had read had been written by his press officer, giving in detail the background of his famous honours list where he appointed his secretary to the House of Lords and a few things like that. His only answer was: “I suppose for 350,000 pounds they would write anything.” He may be right.
We met many people. Our new High Commissioner, Jean Casselman Wadds -- whom many people know personally -- went out of her way to be sure that the Canadian delegates were entertained at her home, which is quite a nice place. Ross DeGeer, the Agent General for Ontario, was extremely hospitable, appearing at Heathrow Airport at seven o’clock Sunday morning to see that I was conducted to my hotel in comfort. This was much appreciated, particularly since he must have read comments that I have made about Ontario House in this House in the past. I will not repeat those at this time. While I have a high regard for Mr. DeGeer as a person and appreciate his hospitality, there are certain differences in our backgrounds that remain.
We had an opportunity to attend the banquet at which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was the principal speaker. It was extremely interesting indeed. It was under the auspices of the Canada Club. Mrs. Wadds was chairman, and there were 1,000 businessmen and others who were associated with Canada there.
The Prince of Wales has just arrived in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail. I see Ms. Trueman has interviewed him with her usual consummate skill. He is now going to Victoria to -- what’s the name of the college?
Hon. Miss Stephenson: Lester Pearson.
Mr. Nixon: Lester Pearson, yes, right. Mr. Speaker, you will permit me if I amend Hansard in this connection.
While I am not the most rabid royalist in this chamber, still I was very pleased to attend a special service at Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day. I understand this was even recognized here in this chamber in my absence. Her Majesty the Queen was there, and the place was jammed with representatives of the various countries. The music was provided by a Trinidadian steel band. The various religions of the Commonwealth were represented formally by prayers and readings. This included, of course, the Anglican religion, but also in attendance were the Cardinal of Westminster, the principal rabbi in London, representatives of the Hindu religion, the Muslim religion and others I should be prepared to name, but I’m not, because I can’t think of them right now.
It was an extremely impressive service. As an interesting sideline, just as it started, a very well-dressed lady in a flowery hat rushed before the front altar and called out to the assembly that this was a terrible thing to have before Her Majesty because there were non-Christians present. She was escorted out the side door, but she provided the only aspect of the ceremony which had not been very carefully planned indeed. We were received at Marlborough House afterwards in the presence of Her Majesty.
I say this simply to emphasize that the program was an extremely good one. I expected it would be interesting, but it was many times more valuable and interesting than I had expected, I feel I made many friends from various Commonwealth countries whom I hope I will see again here and perhaps even in their own lands. It was interesting to hear their views on modern issues and to realize that while the same differences occur among us as would occur even in this House, our general goals for the good of our communities and to provide a community in which we could raise our families in some comfort and with some community responsibility are shared by us all.
I am very delighted indeed to have had the opportunity to attend and I would be glad to discuss these and related matters in detail with you, Mr. Speaker, or any of my colleagues in the House.
Mr. Speaker: If I might just have the indulgence of the House for one moment, I think the information the member for Brant--Oxford--Norfolk has brought to the House is a clear indication that these exchanges of opinions provide an opportunity for somebody from this House to get together with others and share the experiences he has given to us this afternoon. I think it is also a clear indication that these excursions to other parliaments within the Commonwealth are a very worthwhile experience and we should be doing more of them. If we just take for granted parliamentary democracy as we know it here I think we do so at our own peril.
If I may be so presumptuous, I would like to thank the honourable member for sharing his experiences with us and for bringing, in detail, a comparison of the way we do things here as opposed to the way it’s done in the Mother of Parliaments. On behalf of all of us I want to thank him very much for sharing those comments with us.
Mr. Swart: Mr. Speaker, I would immediately like to concur in the remarks that you have just made relative to the comments of the member for Brant-Oxford-Norfolk and commend him, as you have done, for bringing that information back.
I would also like to commend you, Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Chairman of the committees for the job that you are doing under sometimes rather difficult circumstances. I would like to say to you, from this caucus, that we are proud of you. The benefits you bestow on that office are to some extent lost in other places, but you can’t serve in two capacities. We feel you are doing an excellent job for this legislative assembly and for the people of this province in the position you are filling.
In commending the member for Brant-Oxford-Norfolk, I must also say that I whispered to one of his colleagues before he started speaking and asked how long he’d be. He said, “About 20 minutes.” If my doctor tells me that I’ve only got 20 minutes to live I hope that Bob Nixon isn’t the timekeeper. I’m not going to go any further than that because, of course, all of us are sometimes a little guilty of taking up more time than we should have.
Mr. Nixon: That’s the only way I can get you to stay in the House.
Mr. Swart: That’s not true.
Mr. Ruston: What about the member for Riverdale last week?
Mr. T. P. Reid: Did you hear Jim Renwick? He took two hours.
Mr. Swart: I was going to say something nice about the member for Brant-Oxford-Norfolk, and I will say it in spite of his colleagues. In the five years I have been in this House I have come to admire the respect that member has for the traditions of this House and the very real contribution that he always makes to not only the issues which I’ve discussed but the functioning of this House. Although we may disagree rather substantially sometimes on policies, I think I share with most members of this House respect for him as an individual.
I guess two weeks from this evening or from late this afternoon we will be voting on the acceptance --
Mr. T. P. Reid: How will you be voting, Mel?
Mr. Swart: -- of the no-confidence motion put forward by the Liberals. They know very well at this time that we are not going to be supporting them on that no-confidence motion. They know the very solid reasons that were put forth by the leader of this party for not supporting them. We don’t think the public generally is anxious for an election at this time.
Mr. T. P. Reid: What about last December, Mel; the Swan-Welch alliance?
Mr. Swart: We know very well the Liberals are not proposing that no-confidence motion for any altruistic reason or because they really want to make any fundamental changes in the functioning of the government or the functioning of the economy of this province. There will be no more changes made if they, by some stroke of luck, were to win the election, There would be no more changes than there were when the Conservatives took over in Ottawa or when the Liberals took power back. Things will go on just as they were before.
I guess we can all bare our chest a little bit and say we’re not voting for the no-confidence motion fundamentally for the same reason that the Liberal members are voting for it. They think that’s good politics at this time.
Mr. T. P. Reid: What did you think last December, Mel?
Mr. Swart: They know very well that six months from now or a year from now the word “Liberal” is going to be a dirty word nationally. They know that.
Mr. T. P. Reid: A year from now they will forget about the NDP.
Mr. Swart: The Liberals could have voted for an election last fall. They only want it now because they think they could win on the coat-tails. With what the Liberals are doing in Ottawa, I think Liberals here are having some second thoughts about that. There will be probably quite a few of them away two weeks from tonight.
We know very well that in six months from now or a year from now not only will the Liberals be further discredited, but so will the Conservatives, and the people will increasingly be looking for an alternative.
Mr. Swart: Mr. Speaker, perhaps you could speak to your colleagues in order to have a little more order in the House.
We are not doing it for selfish reasons.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Principle is the word.
Mr. Swart: We are doing it because we believe there must be fundamental changes in our society. We are only going to get them when we get an NDP government. By next fall or by next spring the people will be opting for that kind of government.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Not in your lifetime.
Mr. Swart: I do want to say that if ever there were problems in our society and problems which are not being met, it is at the present time. We know the serious situation with regard to the economy of this province. All of us have read that the Conference Board in Canada has said there is going to be no real growth in the year ahead. If we apply that statement to this province, it is going to mean a real drop in productivity in this province and, for that matter, in the standard of living.
There is going to be some growth in certain parts of this nation, but with the population in this province moving to the west, with the government indifferent about the tremendous unemployment and making no real move to doing anything about solving it, this province a year from now is going to be in a substantially worse situation than it is at the present time.
Mr. Swart: I have in my office some clippings from the Niagara Falls Review which I am going to bring into the House and read, where the Liberal member from there said in effect that the government was starting to move and he thought he could get along with it, so an election really wasn’t necessary.
Mr. Kerrio: What’s wrong with that? They were starting to move and then they seized up.
Mr. Swart: It was the day before the speech from the throne when be made that comment. His leader had already said he had to bring down the government. I understand how the member for Niagara Falls feels. Perhaps he has gained a bit of reasoning from this side of the House and, therefore, feels at this time perhaps the election is not necessary.
There is another area where we in this province and the economy as a whole are suffering. It is in the domination of our economy by the United States by having major economic decisions in many respects made outside of this country. Whether it is investment in the automotive industry or in a great variety of areas, we don’t have a handle on our own economy and we are suffering from that.
Another major problem we are having here is a drop in the standard of living. I am sure all members of this House would have seen the recent Statistics Canada statement that while average income in the last year has gone up six per cent the average cost of living has gone up slightly over nine per cent; therefore, there was a three per cent reduction in the average standard of living. Then they went on to say that followed a two per cent reduction in the average standard 0f living.
We in this party don’t think that is necessary in a country like this and in a province like this where we still have the highest percentage of natural resources per capita of any nation in the world. I suggest that it is not necessary for us to have that reduction in the standard of living.
Perhaps even more serious, at least to some, is the widening gap between those on lower incomes and those on higher incomes. The Science Council of Canada pointed out a couple of years ago that during the previous 10 years while Trudeau was in office in Ottawa, and, of course, with the Conservatives in Ontario much longer, the gap in fact had widened very substantially.
In 1967 those in the top 20 per cent of income in Canada received 41.4 per cent of the income and by 1977 they were receiving 42.5 per cent. Those in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners who received 4.4 per cent of the income in Canada had dropped down to just four per cent.
Mr. Kerrio: Tell us what the Socialists did in Britain, Mel.
Mr. Swart: I might tell you what they are doing in Saskatchewan where they have a guaranteed annual income and where the minimum income is 50 per cent higher than it is here in Ontario.
Since 1978 when this report was made, that pattern has continued and Statistics Canada reports that the situation is worse now than it was even two years ago. Although that is serious enough, it is also serious that in the last three years when the cost of living has gone up something like 26 per cent, the minimum wage has gone up only 13 per cent. The amount paid out for family benefits has gone up something like 15 per cent in the last three years, while the cost of living has gone up 26 per cent.
That is all bad enough, but it must be recognized that to those on lower incomes, the cost of living has gone up substantially more than the 26 per cent. A larger share of their expenditures is made up of the purchase of food and heat, and those things have gone tip more rapidly than the average increase in the cost of living. These kinds of things badly need rectifying and need rectifying quickly.
As you might expect, I want to talk for a few minutes about the whole issue of consumer prices. I am sorry the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations (Mr. Drea) is not here. A minor part of his speech talked philosophically about the issue of consumer prices. He put forward reasons why the government should do nothing to intervene directly in the prices of commodities in this province. He talked about it in a reasonable manner, but we in this party have a fundamental disagreement with him on the philosophy and the policies he expressed. So have the people of this nation and the people of this province.
The Gallup poll published July 26, 1979, shows at that time that 66 per cent of the people of this nation wanted government to intervene with some form of price control. I sent out a questionnaire to constituents in my riding. I am not sure whether it was because it had that question on it, but I had about 50 per cent more replies than I ever had before. I asked the question: Do you support a price review board with power to investigate and roll back unjustified price increases? The yes votes were 96.1 per cent, the no votes were 3.2 per cent, the undecided votes were 0.7 per cent.
None of us would state flatly that the questionnaires we send out are as accurate as the Gallup polls or many other polling institutes, but in fact, they accurately reflect to a very substantial degree -- and I am sure most people in this House who ask questions on their constituents’ leaflets would agree -- the opinions of the people to whom the questionnaires are sent. Undoubtedly I would be apt to get more replying to me who would be sympathetic to the NDP than perhaps those over there who send out questionnaires to the Liberals, and the same applies to the Conservatives; but by and large, they reflect those opinions to a fairly substantial degree, at least mine have.
Mr. Conway: Did you ask them whether they wanted a raise in pay?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr. Conway: Were they for taxes and against death?
Mr. Swart: The member for Renfrew North attempts to indicate that these are motherhood issues. I want to say to him that the Gallup poll asks the same question. They are not motherhood issues. They are statements of the public on their choices on many very important policies in this province. I suggest there is a growing desire on the part of the public and on the part of many institutions for some kind of ad hoc price intervention in this province and in this nation.
The government of this province, and for that matter the federal government, has totally opted out on this matter. There is no intervention, there is no reprimand. If prices go up, even if they are unreasonable, there is no slap on the wrist, nothing is done about it by the provincial or the federal government.
Late last fall, because I got no action from the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations here, I wrote to the federal Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. This related to the increase in the price of coffee. I would just like to read the reply he sent to me.
He says: “While I and my department are interested in hearing about concerns related to retail prices, the matter you raised in your letter does not seem to be related to any of the responsibilities assigned to Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Canada, by statute. Nor is there any longer a program of price surveillance in place at the federal level unless, of course, some statute has been violated, which does not seem to have happened in this case.
“Consumers have a number of avenues open to them for dealing with their concerns about prices of commodities such as coffee. For example, consumers can police the market themselves through careful purchasing practices such as comparative shopping to seek out the most economical buy.” Here is the significant sentence: “Any complaints they have about individual prices can be more effective if directed to the manager of the store from which the product was purchased.”
That indicates, as clearly as anything could indicate, total abdication of the government from intervening to see that anything is done about prices in this province and, for that matter, in this nation.
The Minister of Consumer and Corporate Relations and the Premier (Mr. Davis) of this province apparently share that view with the federal government. Even if there is ample evidence of a ripoff of the consumer, they will do nothing whatsoever about it.
I have a copy of the Toronto Star dated June 26, 1979. This was after I released a document that showed General Foods had a 13-week supply of coffee beans in stock and the price went up at the beginning of those 13 weeks. They immediately started to raise their prices even though they were using the old stock. When the price of oil goes up, the companies wait until they use up their present stock. Oil companies have to do that now before they increase the price. Somehow or other I think food is about as important.
Mr. Swart: It’s fine for these people who come home from the clear air of the country, but some of us who live under the smog of successive Conservative governments find we have to have some coffee now and then to keep us alive and active. When a reporter questioned the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations on what he was going to do about General Foods increasing the wholesale price of coffee dramatically, even though using old beans they had bought at the old, cheap price --
Mr. Bradley: He said, “Don’t worry, the
NDP will keep us in power.”
Mr. Swart: -- and when I sent the confidential internal document to him, he said:
“If Swart has got hold of an internal document, I don’t want to get involved in that argument. You had better ask General Foods about it.” That is the responsibility shown by the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations when one proves that a ripoff is taking place of the consumers of this province.
The Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations has continuously defended the corporations and every price increase, and has provided -- I am not suggesting deliberately -- so much wrong information that his credibility has slipped very badly. I raised the issue with him in this House on the price of Miracle Whip salad dressing. He reported that he had investigated this and that there really wasn’t much difference in the price in Buffalo, where I bought it, from the price here.
His answer given in the House was really preposterous. He said the difference in the American-sized ounce makes it necessary to compare in litres. Then he said this: “We have to convert the US 32-ounce jar into one litre. In doing so, we multiply 32 by 1.040843 times 28.41225 ... . This brings the price in the particular supermarket in Buffalo of a comparable one-litre product to $1.31 as compared to $1.56 in Canada.”
Those mathematical gymnastics are unbelievable and they are incorrect. The labels on the Miracle Whip jars explain it very clearly. On the United States product it says, “32 ounces, 0.95 litres.” Thus, one litre would cost 100 over 95 times 107, or $1.13, not $1.31 at all. That’s 18 cents cheaper than the $1.31 he quoted. All of his arguments are based on that mathematical mistake which he, or his staff, made.
I will prove to you right now that the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations made the same kind of misstatement when I took up the matter of the conversion of milk from quarts to litres, and asked him to ensure that when the conversion was made, the imperial quart and the litres would be printed clearly on the containers so that the average consumer would know exactly how much milk he was getting. When I asked that, he stated this in the House: “The only time in metric conversion that a container or package is allowed to use both the imperial and the metric numbers is while the imperial-sized package remains. Once the liquid or solid is on the market, only the metric measurement may remain on it. That is the law of Canada.”
Following that, I checked the law of Canada, not only in the act, having research people do it, but I also checked with Mr. Peter Haidle, the district food specialist of the federal Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and Mr. Ron McVey, regional packaging and labelling specialist. They confirm that there is no prohibition whatsoever against the imperial measurement being printed on the container after it has been changed to metric -- a mistake again by the minister.
After several months of badgering, the minister was arm-twisted into producing a comparison of prices between Buffalo and Toronto on coffee and a great variety of things. He sent one of his staff over there and then tabled a report at some length when we were dealing with the estimates of his ministry.
In comparing the price of coffee, which incidentally was shown to be 54 per cent higher here than in the United States and substantiated everything I said, he listed the prices of a one-pound bag of Maxwell House coffee in Buffalo at $2.59, $2.98 and $2.69. Then he came over to Canada and listed $3.59, $4.09 and $4.09 for a one-pound bag of Maxwell House coffee. They don’t sell any in Buffalo; they don’t sell any in Niagara Falls, New York. Coffee over there is sold only in cans, so what he must have been doing was comparing one can here of Maxwell House coffee, which is much more expensive than a bag, with one bag in the United States, yet in his report he says that it was a one-pound bag.
When we had a discussion on the high price of detergents, he brought in a report and again there was a very serious mistake in his wholesale price in the United States. It quoted $1.63 for the 50-ounce package of All; the price, in fact, was $1.38.
So it has been just a pattern of defence of the high prices, and in that defence there have been so many errors that it was meaningless in any event.
But one thing that my colleague from Riverdale and I did force the minister into doing was to insist that he get a ruling from the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry) on whether the province had control over retail prices. Surprisingly enough, I guess to him, the minister ruled that they did have such control. I won’t read the whole letter, but the Attorney General, in a letter dated December 18, 1979, wrote a four-page letter outlining the constitutional authority. This is the conclusion:
“So long as it did not purport to regulate interprovincial or international trade or conflict with valid federal legislation in relation to the same matter, it would be within the competence of the Legislative Assembly to authorize the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations to regulate, control or roll back prices in the province of Ontario.”
Never again will the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations be able to say that he does not have the authority to do it, because constitutionally there is the authority.
So not only has there been a total indifference, not only have there been misstatements given, but the commitments that were given by the minister have not been lived up.
Mr. Conway: Shame.
Mr. Swart: Right, shame, very much.
We asked and pressured the minister to do a survey of prices in the United States -- a shopping basket in Michigan or some place -- and compared it to Ontario, particularly when most of the goods in it are made by multinationals. Eventually, he did agree to do it.
He said: “I will go to this extent. I don’t know what the comparable shopping basket is with items but we will price them and I will share with your caucus what the components of that comparable shopping basket are. I just want to say to you though that we will devise a comparable shopping basket of 25 or 30 very significant basic essential products. We will take one side for rather obvious reasons. When I talk about household products, I mean such essentials as cleaners, and some of the more basic personal products, such as towels, tissues and so forth. We will do it monthly, alongside the monitoring report we do on the food prices in Ontario.”
They are going to do this along with the monitoring report which they do on the food prices. That was back on October 31, 1979, and there hasn’t yet been a word in that monitoring report about the food prices in the United States compared to here, or about the shopping basket.
That isn’t all, Mr. Speaker, because he gave a further commitment.
Mr. Kerrio: You’ve convinced us; we will vote no confidence.
Mr. Swart: I’m sure it took quite a while to convince the member for Niagara Falls.
We consider, and all the statistics prove it, that the prices we pay in this country for such things as paper towels and toilet tissue are excessive. The minister made some errors when he was doing some comparable pricing, but after we had shown him the errors he had made, he agreed to do an in-depth study. He said this: “In order to clear the air on toilet tissue, which seems to vary from day to day, I will have our chief economist complete an in-depth investigation. It will take some time, but I will send you the results of that before the next session commences, Mr. Swart.”
I said to him: “Would you do one thing further? Would you have your economist contact me occasionally during that investigation?” He said, “Yes, Mr. Swart.” He promised to have that investigation done before this session started. We have heard nothing and I have not been contacted once since he made that commitment to do the in-depth investigation.
It is the view of this party, with the situation that we have in this province today, that there should be some intervention by the government at least on an ad hoc basis to assure that the public of this province and this nation -- because it should be a co-operative effort between the federal and provincial governments -- are not paying too high a price for the goods they are buying. If there ever was evidence that they are, it is now.
I’m sure everyone read in the Globe and Mail about two days ago that the net income of corporations in Canada -- of course, most of them are foreign-owned -- went up 45 per cent. That followed a 26 per cent increase in net income last year and an 18 per cent increase the previous year. There is only one place that those profits can come from and that’s out of the selling price of goods. Since the standard of living dropped three per cent last year and two per cent the year before, it is time there was some intervention to see that those prices are kept at a reasonable level. They’re not, when the corporations can make an increase of 45 per cent in profits in one year over the previous year.
It is for those reasons that I introduced a package of bills in this House exactly a week ago, which would have provided, first of all, for a fair pricing act that would implement the constitutional authority the government now has to intervene in pricing; it would provide that the director would be able to order prices held with a 15-day appeal period while a decision is made on whether those prices should be held or rolled back.
In the cases of emergency where there was enough prima facie evidence and the prices increased too dramatically, the minister would have the power through his director to put a freeze or a rollback on those prices that would be effective for 30 days. During that period of time, those affected could apply for relief from it, and it would expire at the end of 30 days if no decision had been made by the appeal board.
The second bill I introduced, the bill for a public advocacy agency, is as necessary in this province as is a fair prices board. Decisions are frequently made in the environmental field, with regard to Bell Canada or with regard to energy, which are not fair because one side had not had adequate funding. One side has not been able to have the experts and the battery of warriors there that the other side has had and, therefore, has lost out.
In the ruling made by the board, whichever board that might be, and with a public advocacy agency adequately funded by those who make application for increases, as is done in the state of New Jersey, we would be assured of a fair hearing where the sides at least would be equal. This certainly applies to the upcoming hearing of Bell Canada which has applied for an increase of 23 to 35 per cent. The people of this province will have to pay something like $200 million extra, while Bell Canada will spend somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million on that hearing. Bell Canada has a lot at stake and the public of this province will not be adequately represented by the battery of lawyers and experts that Bell Canada will have. They even go to the United States and pick up their experts for the hearings on each section of it. They’ll have five or six of those people there. They have a lot at stake; they have a lot to win and a lot to lose.
I say the people of this province also have a lot at stake when $200 million is involved, They have a lot to win and a lot to lose, and they should be assured by this government’s having a public advocate that their side is fully and forcefully put at those hearings. My second bill would do just that.
The third would provide for an automobile insurance rating board, and this is neither new nor radical. The Conservative province of Alberta has such a board. When the insurance companies apply for a rate increase, or state they want to make a rate increase, they have to apply to that board and it has to be approved by it. The board has in some instances rolled back those rates. Because there is always concern, and rightly so, about the costs of operation of these kinds of boards, that board operates on about $85,000 a year in Alberta.
Finally, the fourth bill I introduced and which makes up the package, which is the minimum we think necessary for consumers’ price protection, is to amend the Consumer Protection Act and provide for better competition between the consumer and the corporate corporation.
Mr. Speaker: If I might have the honourable member’s attention for a moment, I’ll allow you to state briefly, or reiterate, I suppose, what you said when you introduced the bill, but if you are going to go on at any length, I have a responsibility -- would you take your seat, please -- to bring your attention to page four of our standing orders. Standing order 19(d)5 says, “Anticipates any matter already on the Order Paper or Notice Paper for consideration.” If you just want to state briefly the intent, that’s fine, but if you are going to go on at any length, I’d have to rule that you are out of order.
Mr. Swart: Mr. Speaker, I am on the fourth and the final bill. Just let me give the summary that I am trying to put forward. Although I didn’t perhaps need to refer to the bill, I’m trying to put forward the consumer measures that are necessary in this province and are not being dealt with by the government.
That final bill would provide that each item on the supermarket shelf would have to have an individual price tag. Once the tag had been placed on the item and once it had been priced, the supermarket would not be able to raise that price. In other words, it would be prevented from raising the price of old stock.
Another matter of great concern, the greatest concern of all, I suppose, to consumers at the present time, is the matter of high interest rates. One way or another, they are going to find their way in to every or almost every item the consumer purchases. Although this government has little authority over interest rates, nevertheless, it is true it can bring pressure to bear on the federal government to take some action to bring them down.
I think Mr. Broadbent, our federal leader, put it very aptly when he said that when the Bank of Canada changed its policy from a fixed interest rate to a floating one it was a get-the-government-off-the-hook policy and not a made-in-Canada policy. The government must have a handle on those interest rates. It must take some strong action to reduce those interest rates, or we’re going to suffer tremendously in this province and in this nation.
There is no need, I suggest, for us to follow slavishly what is happening in other countries. The economists say if we were to reduce the Bank of Canada interest rate it would mean the value of our dollar would fall. I suggest that could have some very real advantages for us. If the dollar did fall further, it would mean we’d have to pay more for imports and perhaps there would be more desire for self-sufficiency within this nation, which would be good. If the value of our dollar fell further, it would mean there would be more incentive for the investment of dollars within this nation. I suggest that would also be good. Although the goods we must buy offshore would increase in price, there would be benefits in lower mortgage rates and lower interest rates for farmers. Ultimately, the high rents which are going to have to be paid in this province because of high interest rates are going to hurt severely practically everyone in our society. Action is going to have to be taken to bring those down.
We in this party, and certainly I personally, realize that the competitive system still is, and will continue to be, the most dominant factor in controlling prices in our economy, and it should be. But we must recognize that this competition doesn’t exist now in all sectors of the economy. If there is one fault I find with the groan over there and the group here, it is that they are such doctrinaire private enterprisers they won’t recognize that in some areas it simply doesn’t work. We have to find an alternative. We’ve reached the stage in some areas in pricing where sophisticated advertising has reached the point where it means more in selling than a lower price and, therefore, competition is no longer there.
There is, and has been for many years, a movement towards more concentration. In many of the areas, even in consumer goods, there are only two or three companies that are producing a particular item. Often there is one company, or perhaps two, that so dominates the market that the others don’t really dare compete with it or they will be put out of business.
We see that now in the automotive field where Ford, or Chrysler, even if they wanted to, wouldn’t dare compete with General Motors, because if General Motors ever started a price war, they would be out of business.
Another factor that requires intervention at this time is a tendency, particularly of the multinationals, to set prices at the United States dollar level here. I can understand, although I disapprove of it, that the multinationals want their profits in United States dollars, not Canadian dollars, and therefore, they raise the price on that. To raise the price arbitrarily to the United States dollar level, the price on goods which we produce here, from cur own natural resources, is something we should not tolerate in this country.
Finally, there are shortages in energy. There are other areas where shortages periodically appear, and this is going to become more common as time goes on. For those four reasons I say we need a package of legislation with the power to intervene in pricing in this province and in this nation on an ad hoc basis. When the ministers speak, and in letters from the Premier to myself, they always say this party wants to have price controls, and they use the term “comprehensive price controls.” That is nonsense, Mr. Speaker, as you well know. We believe there has to be the power to intervene and do it on an ad hoc basis as required, to protect the people of this province.
I simply say in conclusion that the refusal of this government and the federal government to intervene under any circumstances in the price setting in this province is hurting, and quite dramatically hurting, the people of this province and of this nation. We must move as we must move in many other fields, to some new way of doing things. The new way of doing things here is to have government that will intervene on prices to protect the public.
Mr. Ramsay: Mr. Speaker, possibly I could make a point of clarification first: My remarks are between 20 and 25 minutes long and I was wondering if you would wish me to begin now and finish them tomorrow, or should I wait until tomorrow and begin after question period?
Mr. Speaker: If the honourable member would like to have them all in one nice, neat package, I would entertain a motion to adjourn the debate.
On motion by Mr. Ramsay, the debate was adjourned.
The House adjourned at 5:54 p.m.