The House met at 2 p.m.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY
Hon. Mr. Auld: Mr. Speaker, in today’s forest fire update, I must report the situation remains grave. There are 84 fires burning in the province, half of them in northwestern Ontario. At the present time, our suppression and backup crews number more than 2,000 with over 1,150 fighting fires in the northwestern region. A thunder shower began over Kenora about five o’clock this morning but will have little effect on the situation. In fact, considerable lightning accompanied this shower, and we had our first new fire start within minutes.
As for Kenora itself, the fire is approximately 12 miles east of that city. While evacuation plans are at the ready, there is no immediate move to evacuate the town. However, evacuation of communities in the vicinity of Kenora has taken place, the latest being the Grassy Narrows Indian reserve. A major fire now extends approximately 40 miles from the Dryberry Lake area north to the Grassy Narrows reserve. In addition, some 250 residents of the Redditt and Ena Lake areas are being evacuated to Kenora.
No immediate evacuation of the residents of Longbow, Blindfold and Dogtooth is contemplated at present. The situation there remains stable and is unchanged from yesterday. If there is a glimmer of good news in this report it is that the ministry’s suppression staff expects good progress on lines around Red Lake and Balmertown and the threat there has been considerably reduced.
To sum up, we have 94 unit crews in the northwestern region, 676 emergency firefighters, eight water bombers and 33 helicopters. All efforts are being thrown into the northwestern region with 48 additional unit crews arriving from the eastern part of the province by tomorrow. By Wednesday, 70 crews will be in place. Also for the northwestern region, five additional helicopters will be on hand within two days. Tomorrow, a large fire suppression and support kit will be arriving from Boise, Idaho, and a similar kit will be arriving from Alaska. We are greatly indebted to the US Forest Service for making these much-needed resources available to us.
In the north-central region, the community of Fort Hope is still threatened by Geraldton fire number five. About 39,000 acres are burning lout of control but with minimal spread reported. A 26,000-acre fire is burning 20 to 30 miles northeast of the English River in the Thunder Bay district. Progress has been made on this fire with equipment from the US Forest Service being concentrated on it today.
The other major fire in the north-central region, Atikokan seven, is 12,000 acres in extent. It is burning out of control. In this region we have 28 crews, 29 auxiliary crews and 250 emergency firefighters made up of nonministry staff, such as logging company personnel, five water bombers and 10 helicopters. A restricted travel zone has been put into effect west of Nipigon.
In the northern region, two large fires in the vicinity of Chapleau are fortunately presenting no threat to private property at present. In the northeastern region, seven fires are burning south of Wawa. The largest covers 360 acres and is burning out of control. This region had six fires in the last 24 hours. The other regions remain quiet and continue to supply men and equipment to the north.
As was reported in a news release yesterday, the people evacuated from Red Lake and the surrounding area and other northern Ontario points because of forest fire dangers will be compensated by the government of Ontario. That is to say, the government will be responsible for evacuation expenses and the return of the people to their communities when the existing emergency is over. This also includes expenses incurred by the affected municipalities relating to evacuation.
I regret this report contains so little that is truly optimistic or encouraging. Yesterday, together with the Attorney General and Solicitor General (Mr. McMurtry) and my colleague the Minister of Northern Affairs (Mr. Bernier), I spent most of the day and early evening in the areas affected. We were all most highly encouraged by the efforts being made by all concerned -- local citizens, municipal officials and personnel of many Ontario government ministries and agencies. They are well co-ordinated in their efforts and much good work is being accomplished, despite truly staggering odds against them.
I hope my next report will be more encouraging, but the weatherman, who is such a key player in this complex scenario, is not promising much except more of the same, plus the likelihood of lightning storms and new outbreaks.
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the emergency planning committee of cabinet, I would like to bring the honourable members up to date on some of the initiatives the government has taken since the Mississauga emergency.
First, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Brigadier General C. L. Kirby as emergency planning co-ordinator for the province. General Kirby, who will be working out of the Ministry of the Solicitor General, joins the government service after a distinguished 35-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Most recently, General Kirby was commandant of the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College in Kingston. Previous to that, he was commander of Number Two Combat Group, the Canadian Air/Sea Transportable Combat Group, and Canadian Forces Base, Petawawa. In 1972-73, he was senior military adviser to the Canadian delegation of the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam and Laos.
General Kirby will he advising the government on such matters as co-ordination of emergency peacetime planning and off-site nuclear contingency planning. He will also provide close liaison with municipal governments as they proceed with their own contingency planning.
I would also like to confirm that the Institute for Environmental Studies has been commissioned by the government to conduct a thorough and independent study of the events of Mississauga for the government. I would add that this in no way conflicts or interferes with the federal inquiry into the accident since the institute’s study will be confined to what happened after the derailment and not the cause of the accident.
The institute, which has an international reputation for its studies of emergencies, will be reporting to us on such matters as evacuation behaviour, dissemination of public information and economic and social impact. The institute has undertaken to provide us with periodic reports as researchers complete each phase of their studies, with the final report and recommendations in book form. Needless to say, all the institute’s reports to the government will be made public as they are received.
Third, I would like to advise the members that the province and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario will be sponsoring an international seminar in emergency preparedness to be held in Toronto next November. Primarily, this seminar will be designed for municipal officials from around the province, but in view of the extraordinary international interest that is still manifesting itself six months after the Mississauga event, we are inviting interested agencies from around the world to participate.
I will be reporting to the House from time to time as further information becomes available to us.
Mr. S. Smith: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Attorney General. He will no doubt recall, that he and his colleague the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations (Mr. Drea) suggested that the government would not sign the agreement General Motors offered with regard to those cars that had different engines in them from the ones they were supposed to have.
I will read one quote from the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. One year ago he said: “What that means is General Motors had better come in to see me and see what they’re going to do for those people is acceptable. If they don’t come in, we will do something that will get pretty swift justice for the 1,100 people.”
Now that a year has passed and now that the deadline for prosecuting the company on behalf of the government under the Business Practices Act has also passed, can the minister tell us what his colleague had in mind by this pretty swift justice? What is going to happen to these people?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I don’t intend to comment on a statement given by one of my colleagues. I would just like to enlighten the members further that my advice to the minister was not to sign a waiver, not because of any intention or expressed intention on his part to have any prosecution launched by the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, but that we were not in a position to give General Motors any waiver with respect to any prosecution that might be instituted, for example, by a private citizen and that this request for some form of immunity that was asked for, in my view, was highly improper.
As I recall the discussions at the time, the minister did indicate they were not planning to prosecute under his legislation and that, therefore, should not interfere with any settlement of the individual claims. As to any other initiatives the minister might have in mind or did have in mind, I think that question should be addressed to the minister concerned.
Mr. S. Smith: In the absence of the other minister, and since the minister to whom I’m speaking is responsible for the administration of justice, is the Attorney General saying now that all the huffing and puffing we beard then -- about how Ontario was standing up to General Motors and swift justice would occur and the government was not going to sign -- may well result either in people getting nothing or in the ordinary citizen being required to obtain a lawyer to take the world’s largest corporation to court in each instance?
Why has the government not acted, as we recommended, either to improve the class action legislation or to take some kind of action on behalf of these car owners, rather than leaving every individual citizen thinking the government is doing something when it is doing absolutely nothing?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I certainly don’t intend to attempt to answer questions on behalf of my colleague, but when it comes to protecting the consumer of this province, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations doesn’t take second place to anyone.
Mr. Breaugh: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: Since it is now clear that General Motors is going to tell the province of Ontario how to conduct its business, would the minister at least get out of the way and provide for some kind of effective class action? Would he introduce that kind of legislation so that consumers could at least protect themselves?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, this remedy is to some extent available today. If the honourable member had really been following this issue with any degree of interest, he would know the matter is a highly complex one. It has been the subject of a very careful, very exhaustive study -- I think the most comprehensive study ever directed towards class actions by the Ontario Law Reform Commission.
I think this House might do well to have the benefit of that report before we consider any legislation that might or might not improve the situation.
THE TIN DRUM
Mr. S. Smith: Mr. Speaker, I suppose my next question again would be better asked of the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations (Mr. Drea), but there is an aspect of it with which I could entertain my friend the Attorney General and ask him for his opinion. It has to do with the negotiations over The Tin Drum. It has nothing to do with censorship; it has to do with the administration of the office of the Ontario Board of Censors.
May I ask if the Attorney General is aware that the lawyer for the film distributors wrote a letter to the board which offered to show the film with one cut, and that the chairman took it upon himself not to tell the board he had received such a communication? Is he also aware that it is alleged in the press that the board took a vote at an earlier date in favour of one cut -- not necessarily the same cut they were talking about -- but the chairman did not bother to tell the distributors of the fact that the decision had been taken by the board?
Under these circumstances, I would ask the Attorney General whether it is his view that the chairman of the board is acting within the law in putting himself in the middle in negotiations and preventing each side from learning the view of the other? Does he believe the board is supposed to operate, under law, by the chairman not telling members of the board what the latest offer is on behalf of film distributors?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not prepared to say, on the basis of press reports which I have also seen, that the chairman is not acting within the law. With respect to the administration of the board, that is a matter that should be directed to the minister who has responsibility for the board.
Mr. S. Smith: Mr. Speaker, may I ask the Attorney General whether in the interests of natural justice there are not some general rules with regard to the way in which administration of justice and administration within the various boards and commissions of Ontario takes place? After all, I have here in front of me the letter from the lawyer, dated May 14 -- a very formal letter -- clearly intending the board to understand a new offer on behalf of the distributors, and the board was never told this. Far from a tin drum, it appears we have a little tin god who prevents the board from hearing the views which these clients wish to have expressed.
This is not in the press, this is right here; but according to the press a decision taken by the board, again by decision of the chairman, was not communicated to the film distributor. Is there not a certain aspect of natural justice in this that would interest the Attorney General?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I think we’re all interested h this matter. I have read that the lawyer for the film distributor has indicated his intention to seek some redress or relief in the courts. In my view, I think it would be appropriate for any opinion to wait for that review of the courts, particularly when I do not have what I would consider to be all the relevant information.
KEATING CHANNEL DREDGING
Mr. MacDonald: I have a question with regard to the Keating Channel for the Minister of the Environment. I have a memorandum which was sent by S. E. Salbach, assistant director of the water resources branch to the assistant deputy minister, W. Bidell, on February 19, 1980, in which is noted the necessity for strict adherence to the considerations and conditions stipulated earlier by the Minister of the Environment and Environment Canada.
The memo goes on: “Evidence to date clearly indicates that the Toronto Harbour Commission has not adhered to these conditions. Although ostensibly environmentally concerned, the track record of the THC engineering department over many years leads me recommend the withdrawal of MOE approval for dredging disposal on the south side of the main east headland.”
Accompanying it is a document, the final paragraph of which says: “The Toronto Harbour Commission consistently fails to live up to their promises with the result that the MOE is left in a very embarrassing position with respect to the maintenance of water quality.”
That being the case, on the basis of the internal memorandum within the minister’s own department, why was the authority not withdrawn? To put it the other way; why did he continue to grant authority for that Keating Channel dredging?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: In response to that particular question, Mr. Speaker, the case was made many times to us that there could be a flooding emergency if the channel is not dredged. We are concerned, of course, and have been, about the quality of the material that is in the Keating Channel. That is precisely why we have insisted on an environmental assessment that will determine whether it can be successfully removed to the new location or another location. We have never given any long-term commitment to it. It is a year to year, one year at a time, approval.
We will be insisting that those questions be answered in full in the environmental assessment. We want to be assured that the material that is dredged from Keating Channel is removed to a safe place as soon as possible because of the flooding potential there. We will insist on a full environmental assessment hearing to prove the case one way or the other before we will give any agreements for long-term commitment.
Mr. MacDonald: Once again we have a case of the environmental hearings being after the fact than before the fact. The minister has advanced as the reason for proceeding with this dredging before having an environmental hearing the fact there was danger of flooding in the lower Don River.
Is the minister aware of the fact that a federal memorandum, which was quoted in the Kirk Makin story in the Globe and Mail last Friday, was to the effect that it is their view, based on limited information and field observation, that the flooding in the lower reaches of the Don River is not connected with the silting in the Keating Channel?
Is the minister aware of the fact that as far back as 1975, Ken Higgs, the director of operations in the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, wrote to the Toronto Harbour Commission and said: “Under designed flood conditions the lack of dredging in the Keating Channel would have virtually no effect on the extent of flooding which would be experienced in the lower Don.
Why is the minister dredging up still another excuse of an alleged danger of flooding, in face of that testimony, as an excuse for proceeding with the event before he has an environmental assessment?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth than to suggest we are dredging up a reason for dredging. Indeed, I think both our own Ministry of Natural Resources and federal sources do believe there is a danger there from flooding. I will be glad to get that evidence for the member.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: As there has been no environmental assessment of that area to date, and as we have just shown that the dredging is not necessary for flood control, can the minister tell us where the safe location is for the dumping of the dredge material? Has he decided upon that to date?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: Mr. Speaker, we are having an argument as to whether there is a need to dredge on a short-term basis for some temporary relief of flooding. That is the one issue and we can disagree on that all day.
The other issue of where the site will be, will be fully explored in the environmental assessment hearing. That is what it is all about, to find whether the proposed site is safe, and if not, what the alternative is. That is the whole purpose of an environmental assessment and that is why I insisted on it.
We do not know where that site will be. The honourable member is asking me to prejudge what the environmental assessment hearing is supposed to do. That would be very foolish on my part. I do not know the best site; that is the purpose of the hearing and that is what will be explored.
Mr. MacDonald: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Labour, who is not here, so I am going to put the question to the Attorney General instead.
This morning the Minister of Labour was on Metro Morning and in the course of his comments he observed, with regard to the proposal of my colleague the member for Hamilton East (Mr. Mackenzie) that the suggestion that Johns-Manville Canada Inc. should be compelled to set aside enough assets to cover the possible emergence of asbestos-induced health conditions if the plant should close down was unacceptable, indeed -- I use my phrase, but it is not inaccurate -- an outrageous proposal in a free society.
Is it beyond the legal rights of the ministry or this government to insist that a company like Johns-Manville should set aside funds in order to ensure the company’s social and community obligations?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, it is rather interesting to note the number of questions that have been addressed to the Attorney General in the absence of other ministers.
Mr. MacDonald: On a point of order: If the Attorney General cannot reply the Minister of Labour has now arrived.
Mr. Speaker: Did the Minister of Labour hear the question?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, I did not.
Mr. MacDonald: Mr. Speaker, I hate to see the Attorney General floundering so badly.
My question to the Minister of Labour is this: I listened to him this morning on Metro Morning; during his comments he dismissed the proposal of my colleague the member for Hamilton East, that Johns-Manville should be obligated to set aside adequate funds in order to meet the needs of workers who might have asbestos-induced injuries or health conditions later. He dismissed this as being unacceptable -- indeed, I think it is not inaccurate to say that in his view it was an outrageous proposal in a free society that one should seek to freeze the assets of a corporation in this fashion.
My question to the minister is this: What is outrageous about the proposition of insisting that a company accept its social and community responsibilities and that it set aside the funds for doing that -- when we have growing evidence that it is going to cut and run and get out of there altogether -- so that the public purse won’t have to meet these social and community obligations at a later date?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, it is not quite fair that the member, unless he has knowledge that I do not, should say that the company is cutting and running. The information I have, and I am sure he has, is that the two other divisions, two other lines of Johns-Manville, the fibreglass and the insulation lines, are going to continue. I do not think that is something I should get into defending. They have simply told me they see good business reasons to continue those two, and they think they are viable.
As to cutting and running from other responsibilities, I think the member knows full well that under the Workmen’s Compensation Act certain rates are charged to certain rate groups in industry throughout this province. Should something happen to one industry, that it fails for some reason, then the accident fund picks up the benefits that may be required to be paid to workers presently disabled or workers disabled in the future.
As I made it clear on Friday, I have an understanding with the Workmen’s Compensation Board, following discussions with the vice-chairman, that in the event something should happen and those workers who are at present in the Transite pipe division do not get transferred into the other two divisions, they will be eligible for the special rehabilitation program. Indeed, should workers who do get transferred want to leave that employment for some reason at a later time, they too would be eligible for the special rehab program. I think the system is responding reasonably well.
Mr. MacDonald: Let me focus my question more sharply. Suppose I accept for a moment the minister’s contention that the WCB will pick it up and suppose I accept the minister’s contention that the company isn’t going to cut and run -- and he may find himself six months from now duped as badly on this as he was on the closing down last week -- why can the minister not take the necessary steps to make sure that the company, in the event of its leaving, will pick up this obligation and it won’t have to be picked out of an accident fund carried by everybody else other than the company responsible for the conditions in the first instance?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: The member has asked a question the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. S. Smith) has raised in the past; that is, the right of the Workmen’s Compensation Board to receive compensation from any particular employer who may on some sort of terms have been accused of being and proven to have been grossly negligent and to recover certain funds from that company. That is a matter I have asked Professor Weiler to review, but at the present time the Workmen’s Compensation Act does not allow that type of action, and the member knows that.
Mr. Peterson: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Culture and Recreation. Last week I asked the minister about the Three Schools problem. He told me at that time that he is in a state of negotiations with them. Why would the minister say that when the last communication they received from the minister or his ministry was on May 5, when the minister said in a letter: “We are informing you that no major increases in grant will be available from the ministry to the school in the upcoming year”?
Hon. Mr. Baetz: Mr. Speaker, that was the last official communication. In the meantime -- don’t shake your head because I know better than you do.
Mr. Peterson: No, you don’t.
Hon. Mr. Baetz: Yes, I do. In the meantime we have reopened the case. Even this morning I was looking at comparative figures of grants made to the other alternative art schools in Toronto and in other parts of this province. It is not a closed book.
Mr. Peterson: Supplementary: Why is the minister being so parsimonious and niggardly?
These people are going to have to close up on June 6 and sell off the assets, and they are going to have to start doing that in the next two, three or four days to meet the current payroll problems. Why doesn’t the minister just cough up something and stop being so cheap and save this marvellous school?
Hon. Mr. Baetz: We are not being parsimonious at all about this.
Mr. Peterson: You are being niggardly.
Hon. Mr. Baetz: That is your word. It might interest the member opposite to know that at present the Three Schools gets 29.6 per cent of its total revenue from the Ministry of Culture and Recreation as compared to 15.9 per cent of total revenue coming from my ministry to another art school called Art’s Sake Inc. and 10.3 per cent for the Toronto School of Art.
In other words, even now the percentage of the total revenue from the provincial government to the Three Schools is way out of line. If we were to meet their request they would probably be getting about 40 per cent or 50 per cent of their total revenue from my ministry. I don’t think we have been parsimonious at all.
As I said earlier, in spite of the fact that they are way out of line we have not closed the book entirely on them. There are people on this side of the House as well as the other side, including myself, who are trying to do our very best to save the school. But I can tell the member they cannot depend entirely on the provincial government to prevent them from going belly up.
Mr. Lawlor: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker. I trust the minister has received my letter on the matter and is giving it the profoundest perusal. There are 150 jobs at stake here. The minister seems to be terribly negative about it. Is he saying there is a real possibility that continuity may be given to the life of that school?
Hon. Mr. Baetz: Mr. Speaker, because of our own interests and because of interests expressed from many quarters, we are trying to do our very best to save the school. I am simply throwing out the added caveat here that the Three Schools cannot depend for a disproportionate percentage of revenue from the provincial government as compared to the other alternate schools with which it is competing. But the book has not been closed.
Mr. Peterson: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: That is very decent of the minister, but does he realize that the deadline for closing down is June 6? They are under very serious financial pressure. They are going to have to start making those plans in the next two, three or four days. It is not nearly as much use to come in 10 days from now with a sudden reprieve at the end when a lot of adverse decisions have had to be made. Why does he not do that this afternoon? He does not do very much anyway. Phone them up this afternoon and save them.
Hon. Mr. Baetz: I will ignore that little editorial, Mr. Speaker; it is a piece of nonsense. If the member would like to follow me around for some weeks we will see who is doing something and who is not.
Before I go back and negotiate with them or even begin to discuss with them any possible way of saving the school, I want to get some facts and it is taking me a little time to get the facts. I am not going to rush in there without the facts just because the member is grandstanding on their behalf.
REGISTRY OF ASBESTOS WORKERS
Mr. Laughren: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Minister of Labour which also involves his friends at Johns-Manville Canada Inc. Does the minister recall that about four or five years ago between Chapleau and Timmins there was an asbestos mine known as Reeves mine because it was in Reeves township? There were approximately 100 workers employed at that mine but over a number of years there were hundreds of workers who worked there at different times. Although he was not the minister then, does he recall that both the mine and mill were closed down due to occupational health problems at that time? Could the minister tell us whether his ministry responded to demands from this party that a registry of workers who worked at these mines be established? Has that ever been done?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, first of all, with regard to the use of the word “friends,” one cannot always associate the word with who might be a friend and who might not. For instance, I have a dog that hates the member’s guts even though I happen to like the member. She has been after him several times; she is a Tory dog. He understands this; he has had those attacks before. So I think friendship is always a relative term and one should keep that in mind when one accuses someone in the way the member has.
I am well aware of the fact that Reeves mine was closed by this ministry or by what was then part of this ministry, the mines division of the Ministry of Natural Resources, because of the occupational health hazards. As to whether or not there is a registry of workers, I would have to check into that. But I know that extensive efforts were made to try to locate all those miners. The member knows that. Letters were written to them all and ads placed in the papers. Diligent efforts have been made to try to locate as many as possible and their names are kept on record. If the member wants more details about the record, I will have to inquire into that and get back to him.
Mr. Laughren: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: That is very interesting to know. I did not know that. Would the minister tell me too, if it is a fact, as I am led to believe, whether there is a very high rate of both lung cancer and associated lung diseases among workers who were employed at the Reeves mine? The figure I have, and one the minister probably has too, indicates seven people died of cancer and there were 30 cases of lung disease among workers who worked at the Reeves mine.
Is the minister aware of those figures? Has he established contact with all the workers who have had problems? Has he completed his search? How many of the total number of employees who worked at Reeves have been contacted? Does he know where they are and what their health is? Has Johns-Manville been assessed a higher rate of compensation assessment as a result of the performance at that mine? Would he table all the information he has about the number of workers who were employed at the Reeves mine and their health condition?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, I don’t have that information available to me because obviously I didn’t know this question was going to be asked. But let me just reaffirm a couple of things. Clearly, we must have a list -- and it is my recollection now we do -- of the last payroll and of other payrolls, because it is from that list that we have sent out requests to try to locate the miners.
Incidentally, we are also able to follow any miners who worked at the Reeves mine through the annual chest X-rays which are carried out on all people working in the mines. There is a broader study on the health of miners being done by the ministry. The names of the people involved are, I believe, now at StatsCan and we are waiting for a report from them.
The Workmen’s Compensation Board, in addition, has a list of the people who were at those mines. But if the member would be kind enough to give me, in writing, the specific things he wants I would he glad to discuss them with the board and get back to him.
DISPUTE AT AMR CENTRES
Mr. S. Smith: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. I know the minister must surely feel, as I do, that the workers among the mentally retarded in Hamilton who have been on strike now for some eight weeks -- it is the ninth week of their strike now -- are dreadfully underpaid. They should not have to be out there on strike to get a decent wage, but they still are. Can the minister tell us how it was that a similar strike in Toronto lasted only a matter of days, following which a reasonably acceptable settlement was made?
Was there additional ministry money offered to the Toronto organization in order to help them finish this strike, money that has not been offered to Hamilton? Is the Toronto organization able simply to go into debt and assume the ministry will bail it out? Or does it have some other source of revenue? What is the understanding of the minister as to how the Toronto settlement could have occurred so quickly -- and a more generous one for that matter -- when the poor folk at Hamilton have been out now for nine weeks and still have no sign of a settlement?
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, I would certainly agree with the honourable member that it is unfortunate that the strike in Hamilton has continued for a period of eight weeks, both for the persons who are on strike and also for the mentally retarded persons whom they serve.
The allocations to the associations for the mentally retarded in all cases this year were on the same basis. They received an eight per cent increase in their allocation for existing programs. That is true also of the Metro association.
I do not know specifically how Metro arrived at its settlement. I mean by that it is free to make certain reallocations within its budget. I don’t know precisely what it did in order to arrive at the agreement it did. But I can assure the honourable member that there has been no increased allocation to the Metropolitan Toronto Association for the Mentally Retarded over and above the allocation which was on the same basis as the Hamilton association.
The staff of the ministry is in regular contact with the Hamilton association, attempting to assist it in identifying possible available resources it may not have identified within its budget. In fact, there is a meeting taking place this afternoon with the representatives of the association and senior staff of my ministry. I hope that will be a further fruitful meeting.
Mr. S. Smith: By way of supplementary, could I ask that the minister do two things if he would be kind enough to consider this? Could he, first of all, include members of the union in these discussions? The workers are quite mystified as to how Toronto could have settled so quickly for more money than they have been offered. They can’t seem to get a settlement, and they are out there on a picket line day after day instead of taking care of the retarded. Could he possibly bring them in on the meeting so they will understand how this has happened?
Second, would the minister immediately please take whatever steps are necessary to let them earn a living wage and get back to work? It is simply intolerable that they should be expected, after years and years of experience, college degrees, diplomas and so on, to be earning less than the average civil servant receptionist. I think this has to be brought to an end. If the association is wrong, then for goodness’ sake the minister should show it where it is wrong. But if it is the government’s refusal to put a sufficient amount of money into the pot -- it has enough money for everything from car rebates to pulp and paper projects -- would it please put a few dollars in and get these people back to work?
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, there was a series of questions. I will try to remember each of them. I think that at this point in the negotiations it would be inappropriate for me or the staff of my ministry to meet together with both parties at the same time. I think what we are doing, in terms of our meetings with the association, is attempting to assist them in identifying possible areas within their budget where they may have more flexibility than they have identified. I don’t think it would be appropriate to hold that meeting in conjunction with the presence of the labour union.
On the other hand, I think it’s important to bear in mind that the settlement between the Metropolitan Toronto association and its employees, however quickly it was arrived at, was arrived at through the collective bargaining process with no intervention on the part of my ministry.
I cannot at this point answer for the member where the Metropolitan Toronto association may have identified areas within its budget that gave it the added flexibility. I also think it’s important to bear in mind, and I can’t be certain of this because I don’t have a percentage figure for the Metropolitan Toronto settlement, but I think if the member checks it as a percentage of the prior existing rates, the percentage settlement was probably not in excess of the percentage increase offer that has already been made by the Hamilton association. In fact, it might have been less.
Mr. Charlton: I would like to direct a supplementary on this matter to the Minister of Labour. It is our understanding that the two parties involved in this strike are not meeting at all. Would the Minister of Labour or his staff get involved in finding out why they are not meeting and doing whatever is necessary to get the two parties back to the bargaining table?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, it depends on what the member means by involved. Members of the industrial relations staff have been involved and continue to be in touch with the parties. As I am sure the member knows from the nature of the negotiations, when one has an indication that there’s a good reason to get back to the table, then one calls people back to the table. I will be glad to review the matter again today with staff and see if there are any such indications.
KEATING CHANNEL DREDGING
Mr. R. F. Johnson: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of the Environment. I was surprised to hear the minister talking about an environmental assessment hearing for the Keating Channel and I would like to follow that up if I might.
Is there actually to be a full environmental assessment hearing on the matter of the Keating Channel dredging or will it only be a matter of monitoring the dredging already approved for this year as referred to in the minutes of the meeting of the board of harbour commissioners of February 28, 1980? I quote from page three, item four, under environmental considerations: “The Ministry of the Environment will continue to obtain water samples from the endikement basin and closely monitor the dredge rate being placed within the disposal basin to determine the success or failure of confinement methods. Failure will result in dredging being curtailed pending development of further refinements.” Is that all the minister is going to do, just monitor their testing, or is he going to have full environmental hearing?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: We are having both, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. R. F. Johnston: Supplementary: As Dr. Robert Slater has written to Mayor Sewell of Toronto concerning the sludge to be dredged, saying it is heavily contaminated with organics, oil, greases and lead, could the minister confirm this evaluation and could he table in this House the results of all tests done by his ministry or received by his ministry on the contamination levels of the material? Will he assure the House that this full environmental assessment will take place prior to any dredging taking place?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: I think I have already covered the last part of that question, Mr. Speaker. I spent some time on that this afternoon. The important thing to realize in this instance is that the materials that all of us are concerned about are at present in the channel and therefore have access to the waters of the inner harbour and from there to Lake Ontario. No wishful thinking will make those materials disappear. They are there, so the purpose of what is to be done is to remove those materials to a safe site.
One possibility of a safe site is into the diked area. If that is safe and is proved safe, then it is much preferable than having that material, the sludge, exposed to the water on a 365-day-a-year basis. Far better that it be in a contained area. If it won’t work, if it can’t be satisfactorily contained in the diked area, then another secure landfill site will be found for it. Anything will be an improvement on what exists at present. We want the very best that can be done.
Mr. Gaunt: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: Would the minister consider issuing a stop-work order under the Environmental Protection Act in order that the proponent could undertake an environmental assessment hearing under the act before any approvals are given on this particular project?
Hon. Mr. Parrott: What worries me about that is the material at present is totally exposed to the water of the inner harbour through the channel. Are we not agreed on that? There it is.
Mr. Gaunt: It is at the bottom of the lake.
Hon. Mr. Parrott: But it still can get into the water.
Mr. S. Smith: Stirring it up would make it worse.
Hon. Mr. Parrott: If indeed it is safe there, it is of no significance. It will be a lot safer in a diked area where there isn’t the action of the waves and the passing of water over that material. Nothing could he worse than what at present exists.
Mr. S. Smith: That is not true. It is safer at the bottom rather than dredging it into the infiltration system.
Hon. Mr. Parrott: Eventually, the sediment would totally close the channel. Some day we are going to have to get rid of that material someplace and the sooner the better.
Mr. S. Smith: But where? First you should decide where.
Hon. Mr. Parrott: I am saying if it is in a diked area and is not contained, then we will issue a stop order. What is being proposed is infinitely better than what exists today. I wish some members of the House would get that through -- the member shakes his head no. It is so easy to live in an imaginary world, and that is what those members are doing.
Mrs. Campbell: We would like to see you do a little planning some time.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in regard to the forest fire situation in northern Ontario. In view of the statement of the Minister of Natural Resources (Mr. Auld) indicating that the government would be paying the evacuation costs and return costs for people who have moved, can the minister indicate to the House today what steps his ministry will be taking in providing what I think we can safely call disaster relief funds to the people in northern Ontario, particularly those who may lose their homes if the fires continue?
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Speaker, we would be taking the same steps we have taken in previous disasters, particularly during this past year. If the municipalities or the unorganized areas ask for it and we declare them disaster areas, the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program would apply. That involves a certain amount of money being raised by local areas, which we would match. That would be available, and we are considering that for the various areas when we find out exactly what the situation is.
I should point out to my friend the only difference between that and some of the other disasters that have occurred is that it is not possible to have insurance for floods, for instance, while fire insurance is a very common thing and most people do have fire insurance of some form.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Supplementary, Mr. Speaker: I wonder if the minister could spell out a little more specifically exactly what he intends to do. Does he recall that in 1978 in the Cobalt fire disaster the government put up $4 for each $1 raised locally? Some of these areas in northwestern Ontario are unorganized, and there isn’t going to be a base or source for a lot of funds to be raised locally to assist.
Hon. Mr. Wells: It is too early to be able to tell in any detail exactly what we are going to do, except to say we will do everything possible to assist. I can assure my friend that will be done.
Mr. T. P. Reid: One short supplementary: Will the member provide assistance, if necessary, on the same formula he used in the Cobalt situation -- four to one? Has anyone asked up there that the area be designated a disaster area yet?
Hon. Mr. Wells: I don’t think I want to commit myself exactly to the four to one; certainly that is a possibility. As my friend knows, though, we paid at the rate of three to one in a couple of other disasters recently. I am not going to give him a definite assurance until I see in black and white in front of me exactly what we are facing. I just want to assure him that everything possible will be done, and he can assure the people up there of that.
Mr. Breithaupt: But has anyone asked for that assistance?
Hon. Mr. Wells: I don’t think so. Not yet.
POLICE ROLE IN LABOUR DISPUTES
Mr. Di Santo: Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the Minister of Labour relating to the strike at Dufferin Aggregates and Nelson Crushed Stone that I asked last week. Can the minister justify -- now that he has the information, I suppose -- the use of 30 to 40 police officers at the legal strike in progress, in order to run the five company trucks through the picket line three times a week? There are usually not more than 20 to 25 picketers on the line. Can he also explain what the right to picketing means when many of those are in trucks with the side windows boarded up, and the police escort is travelling at high speed?
Hon. Mr. Elgie: Mr. Speaker, last week the member did raise questions about police activities on the picket line at Nelson Crushed Stone and Dufferin Aggregates, I believe it was, and I did refer those matters to the Solicitor General (Mr. McMurtry). At that time I suggested that matters regarding police should be referred to him.
At the present time, we are still in the midst of acting as mediators in that dispute and I prefer not to comment any further at this time.
Mr. Di Santo: Mr. Speaker, can I redirect the question to the Solicitor General? Do I have to repeat the question?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Yes.
Mr. Di Santo: Can the minister justify the use of 30 to 40 police officers at the legal strike in progress at Nelson Crushed Stone in order to run five company trucks though the picket line three times a week when there are usually no more than approximately 20 picketers on the line?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: I have been assured, Mr. Speaker, that the only police activity in that area with respect to the strike at Nelson Crushed Stone is in relation to preventing anticipated breaches of the peace. I am told the number of police officers in the vicinity has not amounted to that many at any one time, or if there were that many at one time it was for a very short period. We will continue to be concerned that police officers who attend at any of these strike situations do not even give the perception of favouring one side or the other. They are there simply to keep the peace -- to prevent anticipated breaches of the peace. That is my information as to what is occurring at that strike.
Mr. Di Santo: Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the Solicitor General is aware that several charges have been laid -- charges that the union doesn’t think are very serious? Is he aware that the function of the police is to protect only the scabs and the trucks that are “independent brokers,” so the police are seen by the union as one-sided, protecting the employer? Since that is the situation, will the minister tell the House whether the costs of the police will be charged to the American company, Flintkote?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: I have nothing to add to my previous answer.
Mrs. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, a supplementary to the Solicitor General: Would it be for the same reason the Solicitor General had seven police cruisers at the scene of a picket line with four rather small women on the picket line?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: I do not understand the question, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, the minister was suggesting the police were to be there to prevent violence, to keep the peace and to ensure there was an objective attitude both to management and to the strikers. Could the minister, therefore, give me his explanation as to why seven police cruisers should be called to a picket line which had four rather small females walking on the line?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: I am not aware of the situation to which the honourable member refers.
Mr. Bradley: A question for the provincial Treasurer, Mr. Speaker: Members of the Legislature are aware that the Ontario government has consistently carried out a very heavy program of advertising at the very hint of a provincial election. In view of the obvious continued support of the NDP, which will likely last for some time yet, would the minister inform the House whether, in order to practice financial restraint, he is prepared to look at eliminating or reducing those advertising programs that appear to be designed to promote the ministers in the provincial government rather than to provide essential information to the people of Ontario?
Hon. F. S. Miller: Mr. Speaker, I sense that question is loaded somehow. It is interesting to us that while they often complain about advertising campaigns of any type run by government, the members opposite are often very prompt to say we should improve our attempts to disseminate information. When a minister adds his or her prestige to an advertisement, it cannot help but bring attention to the problem.
Mr. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, would the Treasurer agree with me that the commercials that feature the Minister of Industry and Tourism (Mr. Grossman) telling us his efforts have produced an increase in Canadian retail sales, or the Minister of Health (Mr. Timbrell) telling us what a great job he is doing with hospitals, or the Minister of Energy (Mr. Welch) being promoted as the sole champion of conservation of energy in this province, should be paid for by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario? Ultimately he could benefit, because he would come across as the true master of restraint in that government.
Hon. F. S. Miller: It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that when the honourable gentleman wishes to direct a question or lay some blame, he chooses those same ministers.
FOSTER CARE ON RESERVES
Mr. McClellan: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. I am sure the minister is aware of the extraordinary number of native children in the northwestern Ontario area in foster care. I want to ask the minister whether he is aware that at the Whitedog reserve alone there are 45 children in foster care off the reserve? I am sure that is about 50 per cent of the child population.
I want to ask the minister if he is prepared, at this time, in view of the appalling statistics and in view of the Mandamin case we talked about last year, to accept proposals from the reserves themselves to establish residential homes on the reserves to provide a foster care service for children who require it so that native children will not have to be taken out of the community and placed into the inadequate network of foster care facilities that exists outside the reserves?
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, I was not aware of the specific numbers in the Whitedog reserve to which the honourable member made reference. Certainly what he proposes is what we would like to see happen in more and more instances. However, we do still have some problems we have not been able to work out with the federal government in terms of jurisdiction. In one instance on one reservation, we have proceeded without the co-operation of the federal government. We feel we cannot afford to do that without appropriate cost sharing in all cases.
I am not really in a position where I can proceed on a broad basis to provide on-reserve group home accommodation for example, for children, however much I might like to. I do believe that is the way to go. In the interim, what we have attempted to do is encourage children’s aid societies in the north to accelerate their efforts to recruit native workers to work with the children who might come into their care. That is at least a step in the right direction.
The member is certainly not going to get any argument from me with respect to the advisability of what he suggests, if we can simply work out the problems that currently exist.
Mr. McClellan: That is a distressing answer.
Is the Minister of Community and Social Services aware that there are at least three reserve communities in the Treaty Three area -- Rat Portage, Northwest Angle, and Whitedog -- which are in the process of developing proposals for foster care residences on reserves? Is the minister aware of those three projects? Will he send George Thomson or somebody with the equivalent authority up to discuss the three projects and other projects with officials from both the Kenora Children’s Aid Society and the reserves?
Will he sit down with his colleague, the so-called cabinet co-ordinator for native affairs, and try to resolve the jurisdictional buck-passing which has been going on now since the 1960s, and which is simply intolerable, in view of the kind of thing that is happening to children in the north-western Ontario areas? Surely the minister can afford to move ahead --
Mr. Speaker: The question has been asked.
Hon. Mr. Norton: Mr. Speaker, if there are proposals being prepared I am not aware of them. I accept the member’s information on that. I think the appropriate person to follow up directly with the persons involved would be our northern Ontario director, whose office is located in Sault Ste. Marie and serves the total northern area. I will communicate with him to see if they are aware of the proposals that are being prepared.
Furthermore, I would like the member to know that I sit down regularly with my colleague, whom the member identified as being the co-ordinator of Ontario native policy. We have been making substantial efforts to resolve those differences. I don’t think the member has to ask that my colleague put forth more effort. I think perhaps the member himself could assist us by asking his federal colleagues to put some pressure on the federal government to move in ways that will assist us in what we would like to accomplish.
POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COMMENTS
Mrs. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Solicitor General. In view of the fact that Commissioner McKay keeps reiterating the statements which I understood even the Solicitor General found somewhat distasteful, would it not now be advisable for the Solicitor General to take some action to replace this commissioner, since many people believe he is speaking with at least some encouragement from the government?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Mr. Speaker, I don’t understand the suggestion that Mr. McKay is speaking on behalf of the government. He certainly is not. He has made very clear the circumstances which promoted his statement. I have indicated to Mr. McKay that I have some difficulty with some of the statements he has made. He has assured me he is aware of the fact that, for example, he does not really enjoy the luxury of speaking as an individual private citizen.
When someone enjoys a sensitive position such as he is holding, as a member of the Metropolitan Toronto Board of Commissioners of Police, whenever he speaks on any issue it will he perceived to be a statement uttered by the police commissioner. He has indicated to me that he agrees with that position, that he can’t distinguish between Winfield McKay as a police commissioner and Winfield McKay as a private citizen. I would be very surprised if Mr. McKay makes any further utterances that are going to cause what, in my view, is a needless and unhappy controversy.
Mrs. Campbell: Mr. Speaker, a supplementary: Is the Solicitor General not aware that about a week ago Mr. McKay did, in fact, virtually repeat the statement he had made. I am sorry, I have not got the date with me. That being the case, since he seems to be unable to refrain from those remarks, would the Solicitor General not think that he should now take some action?
Hon. Mr. McMurtry: Perhaps the honourable member would enlighten me further in regard to the incidents to which she is apparently referring.
TRAPPING OF ANIMALS
Mr. Philip: I have a question of the Minister of Natural Resources. Now that Bill 15, An Act to amend the Game and Fish Act, has received royal assent and that the setting of leghold and body-gripping traps by unknowledgeable people in urban areas is illegal, has the minister had an opportunity to consider the suggestion I made to him a number of weeks ago that a fund should be set up to provide local municipalities and/or humane societies with the funds necessary to provide box traps to those people who are bothered by nuisance animals?
Hon. Mr. Auld: Mr. Speaker, we are looking into that. I have asked my people to give me some idea of how many are needed, what they cost and whether there might he some way of interchangeability with fewer numbers. I think it is an excellent scheme. I know there are problems in a lot of municipalities in getting that kind of equipment. I cannot give the member a definitive answer at the moment.
NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION
Mr. Speaker: The member for Downsview, (Mr. Di Santo), has indicated his dissatisfaction with an answer given to him by the Solicitor General (Mr. McMurtry) about police activities on picket lines. This matter will be debated at 10:30 tomorrow evening.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
House in committee of supply.
ESTIMATES, MINISTRY OF INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS (CONTINUED)
Mr. Deputy Chairman: Mr. Minister, I believe you were in the course of making certain replies when we terminated the last session.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I am just going to respond very briefly at this time to a couple of the things that have been raised, because they will all be covered in the various votes that we come to in these estimates. To reply at this time in detail to all the points that were brought up, particularly by the municipal affairs critics for both the New Democratic and the Liberal parties, would lead us into a full discussion of the estimates under this particular opening statement section of the vote.
As I recall, one of the things my friend from Wentworth (Mr. Isaacs) raised was communications between this assembly and the municipalities in the province. As far as communications are concerned, I have to think communications between this assembly and the province are probably as good as they ever have been. Each of the members of this assembly represents various municipalities and there are 838 municipalities in this province. If there is one thing I am sure of it is that those members, whichever party they may represent, are in very close touch with the municipalities in their own ridings. In other words, the contact between the municipal politicians and the clerk-treasurers of an area and the members of the Legislature representing that area is as good as it has ever been.
It has always been a traditional method of communication and one that works well and serves the municipalities well. I think the proof of my statement is in the kinds of questions and matters that are brought before this assembly during question period or privately to myself or to my colleagues from the members of this House on behalf of their municipalities. In that particular regard I think communication is very good.
We could carry that to the next logical step, which is the collective communication between municipalities on particular points of interest and this assembly. I have heard the proposition put forward by the mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, and some of the other mayors that perhaps there should be a standing committee of this Legislature dealing with municipal affairs. It was always my impression that over the years we have had some sort of a committee, perhaps not quite as particularly designated, although I can recall, and some of my colleagues who were here back in the 1960s will perhaps recall, we used to have a standing committee on municipal affairs.
I have to say to my friend I do not think communications were any better or any worse then than they are at the present time. The standing committee on municipal affairs considered all the municipal bills; the municipal groups came down and talked to that committee, and they worked well.
One of the things we have been doing recently here that is different from what we did in the 1960s is that we do not refer as many municipal bills to standing committees. If we referred all the municipal bills that were here each year to a standing committee, that standing committee would become a municipal affairs committee, quite obviously, because we always have three, four, five or six bills, usually with a fair number of sections, covering the whole wide scope of municipal-provincial interests. Those bills in that committee would create for us a municipal affairs committee.
I don’t think we need specifically to designate a committee as such now and then have it embark upon all kinds of make-work projects in this particular area just to justify its existence. The present plan of having standing committees of this House handle legislation and matters of urgency can serve just as useful a purpose. As my friend knows, if there is a matter of urgency, there are means and techniques for referring reports to create discussion and so forth.
I might say I would like to refer the regional Ottawa-Carleton bill to committee when it comes for second reading in this House. I had suggested it should go to committee because the municipalities in the Ottawa-Carleton area would like to come down and talk to the Legislature about the sections in that hill.
After listening to two, if not more, points of view about representation on regional council, we finally had to come down on one side. We proposed what we think is a good solution in the bill. It isn’t universally accepted in the region. I think the next logical step is for the members of the region, the Ottawa city council and the other mayors and councils, to come down and talk to members from all parties in this Legislature in the standing committee on general government and discuss that particular issue. That gives them co-ordination, co-operation and so forth.
There is sometimes a great danger in drawing the line between what are the lines of communication between the members of this Legislature and the municipalities -- and I have talked about some of those lines already -- and the day-to-day ongoing communication between the government department and departments that are dealing with municipal matters all the time and the municipalities. There has to be different communications and different modes of communication in these areas to what there is with the members of the Legislature.
There are problems, differences of opinion and controversies that include all of us and for which we have different opinions. The Legislature becomes the forum to discuss those. There are the ongoing day-to-day communications between the municipalities as they carry out their job in co-operation in conjunction with the provincial civil servants, who also have responsibilities that are directly connected with the municipal function in this province. That gets us into the whole MLC-PMLC process.
The process involving the Municipal Liaison Committee and the Provincial-Municipal Liaison Committee was set up so that the municipalities collectively could talk with us as a government charged with administering -- not just developing -- the various laws and municipal functions we have to handle. The MLC was set up so that there would be some kind of joint voice on behalf of the municipalities. The PMLC was the Municipal Liaison Committee with provincial people also sitting on it to give a committee where municipal-provincial concerns could be discussed.
It was a good idea in its time but, as I have said in past estimates, we have to look for new modes of communication, and that is what we are doing. I am not going to get into a long discussion on it now, but I am sure my friends know there has been a joint committee of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and the Association of Counties and Regions. That group has been looking at new arrangements on the municipal side as to how they can improve their interaction and co-ordination effort. Once they get that done, and if that is accepted by the municipal people, we can then adjust what we see as the kind of interface they should have with the province. The chances are that the PMLC process will slowly fade from the picture and we will develop a new type of process that allows for the municipalities to interface with the government departments that are working with them day in and day out.
Under Dick Illingworth, the provincial-municipal affairs secretariat function has been a very useful function. I might tell my friends that actually is the function that has been operating now, as the formal meetings of the Provincial-Municipal Liaison Committee have not been held. Mr. Illingworth and his people are acting with the MLC, which is still functioning with all members participating.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario is still part of the MLC function. But Dick Illingworth is functioning as a co-ordinator, innovator and facilitator who is able to take the municipal concerns and get them to the right ministries and departments and to keep the ball rolling, even though there are no formal PMLC meetings being held. I have not had any complaints directed to me in so far as municipal-provincial co-operation or communication has been concerned over the last few months, even though we haven’t had any PMLC meetings.
In other words, the various groups that have concerns about various pieces of legislation, policies, regulations and functions are getting to those ministers concerned. They are having their meetings and are putting forward their positions, and those positions are playing a very important part in the development of the kind of legislation and policies that are growing out from the government.
I guess one of the fallacies we operated under at one time, and one I think we have to divest ourselves of, is that municipalities can always have a common position on every issue. I think that would be just like expecting this House to have a common position on every issue. There are times when all the municipalities -- the small ones, the large ones, the counties, the townships, the regions, the cities -- can all agree. I can’t really think of one where they all agree, but one where perhaps a larger number of them agree is on the term of office. Even that is a good example where certain of them have a predominant feeling for a three-year term, for instance. Many smaller ones still feel a two-year term is preferable, or some of them even think a one-year term might be all right.
It is probably very unlikely we will get a common opinion. I think it was one of the areas where we expected something that was unattainable for the MLC -- that through that process we would have a common opinion on practically every subject that would represent the municipalities of this province. That just was not to be; it was not so.
I think they will always be communicating with my ministry, or even with the members of this Legislature, positions that say most think this should be done, but there is a very large minority who still do not agree and feel this should be done. As with most issues, we will find there are two sides, or three or four sides. All we can do is communicate with the municipalities and get a pretty good spectrum of opinion. Then we have to go through the majority opinions and the minority opinions to make up our minds. I am just pointing out what we go through as we develop legislation; that is generally the way it is.
The other point raised, I recall, by my friend from Wentworth was concerning property taxes. I think perhaps we can get into that in more detail when we get into the estimates. I read some notes I made the other day and they have eluded me for the minute. They will be back in a few minutes. I am sure they are in my other briefcase. But I remember as the member spoke I wrote down all the points carefully. I remember he said that this certainly was an area of great concern.
I have been around this Legislature for about 16 years. Other members have been here longer, and some for less time.
Mr. Epp: Your grey hair reflects it.
Hon. Mr. Wells: That is right. My grey hair reflects it. But I can’t recall a year when there has been less controversy and less problem about property taxes than this year. I really have heard very little about property taxes from councils, from individuals or anyone. Basically, everyone bitches at some time or other about their property taxes, even remembering that it is part of our system.
I think my friend indicated he would like to see the property tax drastically reformed, if not eliminated. I will still argue with him over the regressivity-nonregressivity feature of property taxes. I still think it would be almost impossible to replace the amount of money that is raised by property taxes by some other form of taxation at the minute and it probably wouldn’t be that helpful to eliminate them.
I saw some figures the other day in a poll, and I can’t remember where it was, but people were asked which tax they disliked the most. Of course, the one they disliked the most was the most nonregressive one, the income tax. In the poll I saw most people said they disliked the income tax the most and they rated property taxes second. I don’t know whether that would hold up in a number of polls, but this was one that I saw. It wasn’t a special one that I had done just to get that piece of information.
If you did away with property taxes you would obviously have to raise that money from some other form of taxation. While it is nice to be able to say you can put some kind of resource taxes on and perhaps that will raise the money, I submit to you that it wouldn’t raise the nearly $2 billion we need and that is raised by property taxes in this province. To think that amount would have to be raised through income tax, sales tax or other forms of taxation, I don’t think would be very acceptable today.
The fact is you have to try to make property tax as nonregressive as possible. Of course, the property tax grants we are introducing do this now, as the property tax credit did before. I agree it doesn’t remove all the sting and it doesn’t remove all the sting for everyone, but for some people it does get at the problem of the regressivity of the property tax and assists people who are in those categories where we feel there should be some assistance.
When we get into arguments or this discussion about property tax and how inequitable property taxes are and how we should pay more attention to making them less inequitable and less regressive, I always think we do nothing in this society to decide or to put any limitations on the kind of property or houses anyone should buy, or whether they should or should not own a piece of property. I don’t think we ever should. We put no restriction on that.
I could not afford to buy one of those homes up on Russell Hill Road or Dunvegan Road, and yet if I can swing it with a friendly banker somehow I can work out arrangements to go up and buy one. If I was to make some kind of arrangement to do that, to then complain that I didn’t make enough money to pay the big property taxes that were going to be assessed on that house I bought wouldn't really be fair. I probably shouldn’t even own that house if that is the case. Believe me, there is no way I ever will.
We do nothing to put any restrictions on the kind of piece of property or home a person buys, and I don’t think we ever should. Therefore, to then have people complain that the property tax on a home that they knowingly bought is regressive and should be more tailored to their income, I am not sure is a fair position. It certainly doesn’t jibe philosophically with what I think. Maybe my friend will think differently, but I don’t think that is so much tied up with the whole argument about property taxes.
We would all like the property tax not to be too high, and I don’t disagree with that, but I think we have to remember that tax covers a wide multitude of services. If we take the services and average out those services and what we get for them, and then remember the kind of increases that are going on, what the inflation rate is today, we are not getting bad value for our property tax.
I was looking at my tax last night and I think it came out this year to about $1,472. That is about $70 up from last year, which is a not quite six per cent increase in Metropolitan Toronto. That is well below the rate of inflation. For that $1,472, which, granted, is just the property tax portion, 50 per cent of it going to schools -- I can argue this because I have three children in the public school system -- so I am getting education for those three children and for the municipal portion I am getting a whole host of services, like garbage collected twice a week, a fire service and an excellent police service and so on. All the people are paid from that property tax that I pay, the salaries of the fire department, the civic employees, the police department et cetera in Scarborough and Metropolitan Toronto. Looking at it that way and thinking of all the investments I make, the $1,472 I pay in property tax is a pretty good investment.
I needed a little work done on the trees that have grown out in my area and got someone in to spend a day and a half cutting down some trees and doing some trimming and so forth. I found the bill for that was around $500, so I realized the kinds of services we are getting for our property tax money are not really all that bad.
Mr. Epp: He must have known you were a cabinet minister.
Hon. Mr. Wells: No, he didn’t know who I was, but it was something I really had to have done and that’s why I felt it was money well spent. When you compare the costs of some of those services to the kinds of services municipalities provide through keeping up our parks and so forth, if anyone has ever priced getting people to cut lawns and do gardening services and cut trees down and so on, all the kinds of things municipalities do to keep the boulevards and the parks and cities looking nice, you find the kind of money you have to spend on those services --
Mr. Young: You sound like a socialist. This is an argument for public enterprise.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I have never argued otherwise than for public enterprise in this particular area. I believe in the free market system; I always have and I think it is a great system that has brought this country to where it is today. But I do not criticize people who work for the public sector. The people who work for our municipalities are people who enable us to have the standard of life we have. It is through the free market system we have the money to buy things and so on.
We are protected from fire, we are protected from crime, we have nice clean streets, we have our garbage picked up, we have beautiful parks, we have great recreational services, all because there are people who decided to work for the public service. Those people deserve a lot of credit and I would be the first to defend them. To stand up and criticize those people and say they would be far better out in the private sector is nonsense, as far as I am concerned, because those services have to be supplied.
I would certainly make a case for private disposal firms; there is nothing wrong with them. If a municipality decides that hiring a private garbage firm would be better than having its own employees, and they compare the costs and decide how they want to operate, that’s up to them. That shouldn’t be justification for criticizing the municipality which maintains its own solid waste disposal service and has its own people or the school board that has its own bus service rather than private hire. I think a good case can be made for having the two of them and letting them compete, one with the other. It keeps the municipality on its toes, but it certainly isn’t grounds to criticize the municipal one.
I will limit my remarks and stop there. This really shouldn’t be a dialogue by myself alone. I don’t want to take two hours replying to the opening statements, since I did make a fairly lengthy opening statement, which was alluded to. As the minister, I have always felt this is kind of an annual report. In fact. I don’t think our ministry has an annual report. Perhaps my friends can take the long opening statement we made at the beginning of these estimates as the annual report of this ministry. Now we can carry on with the detailed discussion and look at the estimates.
Mr. Deputy Chairman: That took 27 minutes without notes.
On vote 601, ministry administration program; item 1, main office:
Mr. Ruston: Mr. Chairman, I would like to say a word or two to the minister with regard to a problem I have had in my own area. I know the minister is well aware of this, but I want to bring something to his attention that I think he should be aware of and which may have caused some of the problems that have been hanging fire ever since with regard to the town of Essex and whether or not the explosion there on February 14 was a disaster and what kind of a disaster it was. Anyone who was in it would know it was a disaster. We do know it was caused apparently by natural gas. A car, hitting one or two parking meters and breaking off gas lines, caused a gas explosion.
The clerk of the town of Essex made an appointment with the minister’s office for the mayor, the clerk and one councillor to come down and see the minister. They advised me they were coming down, so I said I would sit in with them. On that particular day, we went to the minister’s office on the second floor where two people from his department, one from the subsidies branch and the other from the municipal affairs branch with regard to assessment, I think, attended the meeting, plus the parliamentary assistant to the minister, the member for Wilson Heights (Mr. Rotenberg).
The minister did not show up at first, so we thought we would start the meeting. The clerk of the town handed over some presentations they were making, a list of all those who were apparently involved in the explosion. Quite frankly, I haven’t seen that particular presentation. We started our meeting, and there was some discussion as to whether the town would be eligible to be named a disaster area because of the type of disaster. It was not what some people would call a natural disaster or an act of God; it was an act of man apparently. The meeting continued on and some discussion came about that in all likelihood we would not be eligible to be named a disaster area because of the type of explosion it was.
Then there were discussions with regard to what other assistance might be available. We came around to the possibility of lending money to the business people involved through the Ontario Development Corporation. The discussion centred on a six per cent basis of interest for special circumstances. This basis was discussed with the parliamentary assistant.
During the discussion, we were a little concerned that the minister still didn’t come to the meeting after half an hour. I can understand he has other things to do, but when a meeting is set up and three people fly 200 miles to Toronto and back, which costs $350 for the town to pay, I think the minister was wrong in not appearing at the meeting. The discussion centred on the six per cent basis of interest that the business people would be entitled to.
Because what happened in Port Hope, the Ontario Development Corporation was going to allow six per cent there for business people. We know of the flood there and also of the tornado in the county of Oxford last year. We all know what caused that. The discussion centred around the six per cent most of the time. When the town people finally left, we did try and get hold of the minister later. I am not sure where he got to. Anyway, they got a car and went back to the airport, got on a plane and went home. But they had the six per cent interest well set in their mind during the discussion, and did not expect to be named a disaster area for any matching funds.
I think that probably started the concern. I raised it with the minister later on in the question period because I knew it was being discussed with him and his officials. I did not raise it in the House because of that, until there seemed to he no action going on.
Then it was turned over to the Minister of Industry and Tourism (Mr. Grossman) and the Ontario Development Corporation people went down to Essex to interview -- actually, they had a public meeting -- with most of those named in the disaster area. Then I think they met privately with some of the business people. That meeting gave the impression that there would not be any money available at six per cent but there certainly would be at 11.5 per cent, the normal lending rate for the ODC. So all these things have been going on ever since about who is going to get what and what is going to be involved.
The town people came down at a later time to meet with the Minister of Housing (Mr. Bennett) over a business improvement development area they had been planning for some time previously. With the disaster, they thought maybe they could fold it all in together and work something out. That meeting was, to some extent, successful. Although there was some thought from the planner the town of Essex had hired that there may be some grants available through the Minister of Housing, that was not so when they came to meet with the deputy minister.
Then we get reports and the news media bring out, “ODC to loan at 11½ per cent,” -- that is in bold print in the local paper. It has gone on for a month since then and we have had no action. I understand people from the Ministry of Industry and Tourism and Ontario Housing Corporation are coming to Essex this Friday, May 30, to discuss further whatever they are discussing. It amounts to whether the Business Improvement Association and the ODC can involve themselves now with some of the business people.
In the meantime, naturally, some business people are rebuilding. Some are not because they are having a bit of a problem borrowing the money, although with interest rates going down, naturally it is getting a little better. Some of them did not have enough insurance to cover the replacement. They had what they thought was enough insurance for the type of building they had. But they did not have enough, when it came down to it, under costs today, to rebuild.
In all these goings-on for the last two months, the initial mistake was made by the minister in not attending the first meeting that was set up with his office, with the mayor and the clerk and one councillor who came down to discuss the whole situation and make the presentation to him.
The thought they left with, to a great extent through the minister’s parliamentary assistant, was that in all likelihood the business people would be entitled to borrow at six per cent interest the difference between the amount of their insurance and the cost of rebuilding.
That has left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the business people in Essex and the council. If the minister had attended that meeting they would probably have had a better idea. When they come all the way to Toronto and spend $300 or $400 to fly here, take a day off work and so forth, and then not meet with the minister, I think that was too bad.
I didn’t set up the meeting. If I had made the appointment for them and you hadn’t been there I would have asked them not to go ahead with the meeting, but since they made the appointment through the minister’s office I didn’t feel it was my place to cancel the meeting because you weren’t there.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I would like to respond to my friend. First of all, I apologize -- and I think I have, if not, I will now -- for not being at that meeting. I know he sent me a note asking if I would attend.
My recollection is that when the meeting was set up I indicated that I would try to be there, but it wasn’t guaranteed that I would be there. I would like the members of this House to realize that my parliamentary assistant is a person who, because of the diversity of responsibilities I have, as has been the tradition in this ministry, takes a very active role in the municipal side of this ministry.
I’ve tried to get the message across to the people who were coming down that meeting with him is the same as meeting with me. He’s there to represent the Ministry of intergovernmental Affairs and the government on these things, and to hear the concerns of the people we meet with and to come up with some answers. I would probably have left them with the same impression that the six per cent loans were a possibility. That was the general thinking at that particular time.
I think we would all agree that the traditional designation of a disaster area matching grant type of arrangement was not the kind of thing that would suit the disaster in Essex. We were then looking at other things that might be a possibility. One of them was the low interest loans which, as the member rightly points out, had applied in the tornado disaster in the Waterloo area and was also applying in the Port Hope area flood disaster.
Upon consideration, the principle of low interest loans for Essex was not accepted because the disaster was of a different nature. It was of a nature where much more insurance was involved, I am told, than in the other disasters. It wasn’t the same act of God type of thing, although I guess we could argue that. The car going out of control and hitting the natural gas facility, and the fact that it exploded and set most of the main street on fire, I suppose some would argue is an act of God. However, in the sense that a tornado and a flood are called acts of God in insurance terms, this was different.
Therefore, the decision of cabinet was that those low interest loans would not apply, but the Ontario Development Corporation would go down and talk to the businesses. There weren’t that many. Was it 25?
Mr. Ruston: There was a total of 28 involved.
Hon. Mr. Wells: About 28 were involved to some degree. We had a pretty close estimate of the kinds of money they were talking about and what would be involved in getting them going again. The Ontario Development Corporation was to go down and have a talk with those businesses and see if it could be of any help under its regular programs.
The regular loans were of the nature of 11 or 11.5 per cent interest. I really can’t talk about this in depth to the member at this point because much of this involves the Ministry of Industry and Tourism and the Ontario Development Corporation, but the only problem was that although the regular loans they had available were at 11.5 per cent, the criteria for getting those loans were not such that those businesses would be eligible. In other words, to have those buildings eligible for those loans presented a different problem.
As I recall the last time we discussed this, a couple of weeks ago, the general consensus was that we did not want to start breaching the criteria established for the Ontario Development Corporation, which we would have to do to branch out and allow those 11.5 per cent loans for the Essex people, and that maybe it would be better to look at some other mechanism to provide some help to Essex. We started looking at some kind of downtown revitalization. Would it be possible through grants, through the municipality or in some measure?
I am not as familiar with this as perhaps I should be, but I understand most of those grants come through my colleague the Minister of Housing. We said it might be better if our avenue of assistance came through that channel rather than the ODC loans. That was two weeks ago. That is where it stands at the minute. There were to be some discussions going on and we were to get back to Essex. I have to tell the member at this point that I don’t know any more, but I will try and find out for him by the time we get into these estimates on Thursday evening and see if I have some further update for him.
I just want to assure the member the fact I was not at the meeting in no way diminished my interest in the problem, or our total look at the problem, or changed in any way our attitudes towards the problem. If I had been there I probably would have left them with the impression that maybe the six per cent was a good idea, although I am assured by my parliamentary assistant he certainly did not guarantee them that six per cent loans would apply. I don’t know. The member was at the meeting and I was not.
That is the situation at the minute. Perhaps by Thursday night I can tell him what has happened in so far as the talks about downtown revitalization are concerned, or some help coming through that channel rather than through ODC loans.
Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Chairman, under the main office vote I would like to ask the minister -- and I know my colleague from York South (Mr. MacDonald), who will return in a moment, will be raising similar questions -- about the constitutional debate that is going on at the present time and will likely be going on for some months.
While the matter came to a peak very recently, and the situation that is before us is now slightly more clear because the people of Quebec have expressed their collective opinion, we nevertheless face a great uncertainty in the immediate future. It is very clear that only a small part of the future of the constitutional discussion rests in the hands of the government of Ontario, but I hope the minister will see fit to provide us during these estimates with a clearer understanding of the direction the government of Ontario intends to take in the constitutional conference that will be upon us fairly shortly, and in terms of putting forward the viewpoint of the provincial government and of the people of Ontario at that constitutional conference and in other meetings that will be going on in the future.
We know there is to be a select committee of this Legislature, but we still have great uncertainty as to how the government intends to involve the opposition parties in the constitutional discussions. We have great uncertainty as to the role of the select committee in the constitutional debate. Will the select committee be involved in Ottawa in the discussions, or will the minister be making the presentations on behalf of the province of Ontario, or will it rest entirely with the Premier (Mr. Davis)?
Does the government of Ontario intend, either through its own channels or through the select committee, that an Ontario proposal for constitutional reform will be developed? Is it the wish of the government or the expectation of the government that opposition parties will in some sense be seated at or near the table of the constitutional conference?
I wonder if the minister is in a position now to begin to elaborate on some of those things so that the members of the Legislature and the public of Ontario get an understanding of what the Ontario government is going to be doing at the constitutional conference when it heads there in less than two months?
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I think it is a little early to answer all of those questions or to indicate exactly who will be doing what at various meetings, since no meetings have yet been called. When I concluded my remarks in the House on Friday, I indicated that the Premier, the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry) and I had supper with Jean Chrétien last Wednesday. That was his first meeting. He was then going out west.
He went out the next day and met the Premier of Manitoba. He met the Attorney General of Saskatchewan -- I guess Mr. Blakeney was probably away. He did meet the Premier of Alberta and he met the Premier of British Columbia. He then went to the east and met Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Hatfield, Mr. Peckford and the Premier of Prince Edward Island, Angus MacLean. He met these people and has not yet had a meeting with the Quebec people, who declined for the present.
Mr. Chrétien was to then go back and talk to the Prime Minister of Canada about what kinds of positions he had heard from the various Premiers and see when the Prime Minister could then call a first ministers’ conference. I think that meeting is taking place either today or tomorrow. I understand the Prime Minister of Canada has a fairly busy day with the President of Mexico today, and probably tomorrow will be dealing with this matter and making some statement.
Once the statement is made, we will find out when the first meeting will occur and the type of meeting it will be. However, the general feeling I got was towards a rather quick meeting of a more informal nature, rather than the more structured, large federal-provincial conference at this time -- in other words, as a quick follow-up.
Until we find out when the meeting is and the nature of it, we cannot really answer some of the questions the honourable member has raised, such as what would be the role of the opposition, would the opposition parties be on the delegations, would they be there sitting close, where would they be and what contribution would they be making.
Likewise, we hope to bring into this House the motion to set up the select committee and name the personnel this week. The select committee of this House will be organizing itself in the next few weeks and preparing to meet and carry on discussions. I am sure the work of that select committee will mesh in well with the positions that will be put forward by this province.
One of the honourable member’s questions, I think, was whether I saw the select committee actually being at the conference and putting forward positions as part of the delegation. My personal opinion is no, I do not see that as the kind of role the select committee would be playing. I think the select committee’s role will be within the purview of this House and the ministry and the Premier and the government and the Legislature. Then we will have to decide what are the mechanisms and the kinds of delegations that meet at the meetings when we know the kind of meetings that are to be held.
It is really a little hard to lay out exactly how all these things will fall into place until we know a few more details. But I think the aim is to get this thing going fairly quickly.
The other big, unanswered question is what is the federal government going to do? I think that, to a degree, will set the tone of the way the delegations are made up. Is the federal delegation going to be made up of the government and the opposition parties and are they going to play a role in it? I think we will have to wait and see what their position is too.
Mr. Deputy Chairman: Does the member for York South have a follow-up on the same matter?
Mr. MacDonald: Yes, Mr. Chairman, if I may. I got drawn out of the House right at the time when I wanted to get into this. Let me pick up on what my colleague has asked and the minister’s reply.
I take it the scenario which the minister envisaged in his statement a week or two ago -- that there might be a meeting of intergovernmental ministers to sort of lay the groundwork in preparation for a first ministers’ conference -- is perhaps going to be replaced by a so-called informal meeting of first ministers in order to map out the whole program. This would then be pursued in detail by the intergovernmental ministers and such other groups as may be drawn into the picture. The minister nods affirmatively.
Hon. Mr. Wells: At the moment that looks closer to what the scenario will be than the other way around, which is the way I thought it might have been a few weeks ago.
Mr. MacDonald: I noted the minister’s comment that it would be difficult for the government to decide exactly how and to what extent all parties might be involved in delegations until we have a clear picture of exactly what conference scenarios there are. Let me emphasize, however, that I hope that in the most involved and intensive fashion possible -- and I acknowledge that when one gets into negotiations with, periodically, private meetings legitimately being held, perhaps everybody cannot be involved -- to the extent that it is possible, of all issues, I think the working out of a new constitution is one in which all the people of Canada should be involved.
One way of getting the people involved is to have all parties involved. I don’t want to be provocative in reminding the minister that this government, as with most governments across this country, didn’t have the support of the majority of the people in the last election. They likely had 40 to 45 per cent; sometimes even less than that. So an involvement of opposition parties to the greatest extent possible at least provides some opportunity for those people who enjoyed the support of the majority of the electorate in the last election to become part of this critically important creation of a new constitution for the future generations.
However, during the course of the mini-debate, or whatever you want to call it, we had last week replying to the Premier’s statement on the Quebec referendum, I raised with the Premier, and under those circumstances wasn’t able to get a reply, something I find quite fascinating and quite important. There was a news account a week or so ago, hopefully accurate, which in effect credited the Premier with saying that Ontario was now putting the finishing touches on a package of constitutional reforms.
I would like to ask the minister whether Ontario has moved in these new circumstances to a more comprehensive package rather than a collection of ad hoc reforms which might be picked upon one at a time to give proof to the public that we are moving with vigour and making something of a breakthrough in an impasse which has existed now for about a decade? I would like to contend with the minister that the new circumstances we face in the province at the present time would legitimize the idea of a comprehensive package.
Ontario is going into these constitutional reform conventions in a totally different kind of situation than it has traditionally enjoyed. As I stated last week in response to the Premier’s statement, Ontario’s position has been that of the honest broker in Confederation. We were the major beneficiary of Confederation. There are some analysts, some historians who will say that Confederation was created for the benefit of central Canada and it was opening up the hinterland which could be exploited in a colonial fashion to meet the needs of the industrial complex that was developing in central Canada.
I don’t need to spell out in much detail how quickly that pattern is changing. As economic and corporate development is swinging to the west, it is creating problems for Ontario. Calgary is now becoming a financial centre which at some point may well exceed Montreal and be challenging the city of Toronto. All this kind of development, combined with Ontario’s energy situation and combined with the problem Ontario is now going to have to compete with a secondary industrial development in western Canada with its resource development, means we have now got to get into the battle, so to speak, to protect Ontario’s interests in precisely the way that western Canada or the maritime provinces have always had to battle for their interests. We are not sitting up on a pedestal as the automatic beneficiary of the Confederation setup.
Therefore, it seems to me there is need for us to clarify what exactly are Ontario’s needs and how best those needs can be met, all of course within the context of bearing in mind that we are in a set of negotiations which will ultimately be seeking to meet the needs of the nation as a whole and that we are all going to have to make sacrifices in order to establish the necessary unity and strength of the nation as a whole.
Has Ontario got a package? Is the government putting the finishing touches to it? Let me proceed from there at the same time so that the minister can respond to both of these points when he rises. If Ontario has a more detailed package in response to the government’s perception of Ontario’s needs looking down the road to future generations, is it the government’s intention to place that package before the select committee?
It seems to me, as I envisage how the select committee will be operating, there are two alternatives. In one the committee is presented with a package which is the product of the considered thought of all the very competent and experienced civil service backup that the minister and the government as a whole have.
If one presents the product of that thought to the select committee, the select committee then can react to it. There can be a broader input. There may be certain witnesses who will come who can help to create that broader input. It can be modified, added to or subtracted from what the government has already concluded. Out of it will come much more quickly possibly an all-party agreement on an Ontario package.
The only alternative scenario, it would seem to me, for the select committee's operation is that it starts from scratch. It maybe lists the five, six, seven or eight different areas that are important for Ontario’s purposes or the national purposes in terms of building a constitution to meet our national needs. It then begins to accumulate the material to discuss the various views that have been expressed on each of these different areas. That will be a longer process. I do not know that it will be quite as fruitful a process as responding to what the government has come up with in a package on which it is now putting the final touches or changes.
May I ask the minister whether there is such a package and, if so, does he propose to present it to the select committee so that it will have something to sink its teeth into from day one, or is he going to let it move out ab initio in tackling this whole broad topic?
I want to raise a third area with the minister which I grant is a bit of a flyer because I recognize the limitations any one government can have on other governments. One of the ironies of the situation, in which it has been alleged, not without some measure of validity, that Ontario was not particularly enthusiastic about constitutional reform traditionally but now has committed itself to comprehensive and fundamental constitutional reform, is that at least in terms of our work within this Legislature we are a step ahead of every other province.
I am not aware that any other province has set up a constitution committee within the framework of its legislature to provide an opportunity for all-party working-out of that province’s needs and that province’s presentations with reference to constitutional reform. I am wondering if the minister, quietly or openly, at the earlier conferences cannot encourage the establishment of such a committee in each one of the other legislatures.
One of the aspects of constitutional reform that some experts have many times raised is the fact that at some stage along the way, in order to involve as broad a cross-section of the people beyond the politicians and beyond the governments, there should be an estates general or a constitutional convention, a sort of national town meeting in which everybody could have an opportunity to have an input and to discuss these topics.
It has occurred to me that if every province had a legislative committee with representation from all the parties in that legislature, a meeting of all those provincial legislative committees would be a very useful form of constitutional convention or estates general, if you will. I acknowledge that it would not automatically and directly involve native peoples and many of our new ethnic groups who are anxious to have a say in terms of reshaping the constitution, but at least it would become a forum with representation from all parties in all provinces.
Even if one does not look down the road that far, I think every province has its particular needs and, therefore, the desirability of working out that province’s particular approach to constitutional reform. In this context, legitimately all parties within the House have an opportunity, or should be provided with an opportunity. Therefore, the establishment of the kind of committee we are going to establish formally here this week in every one of the legislatures would provide an underpinning to the kind of superstructure that inevitably is going to emerge at the federal level or at the interprovincial level later.
So I raise with the minister three questions. First, what is this package to which the finishing touches have been put? Second, is it his intention to present that package, or some alternative to it, to the committee so that it does not have to start from scratch in terms of formulating an Ontario position as an approach to constitutional reform? Third, what is the minister’s thinking -- perhaps I should go no further than that at the moment -- on the desirability and the possibility of getting a comparable committee in all other legislatures for the kind of interprovincial co-ordination and working out of each province’s position?
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I assume my friend from York South is referring to the statement the Premier made in his remarks on referendum night. Would that be the statement you are referring to: “My government will immediately commence our final detailed preparation for presenting Ontario’s position on the necessary reforms of our national constitution”?
Mr. MacDonald: One of the news accounts attributed to the minister the statement that they were putting finishing touches to a package of constitutional reform. Whether that was the origin of it, or whether it was a comment in a press conference afterwards or in an interview, I have no idea.
Hon. Mr. Wells: This is probably the statement referred to. As I recall, there was an exchange with the Premier and someone in question period about this. If you were under the impression that somehow there were final finishing touches being put on a document such as Claude Ryan’s beige paper or something of that nature, that is not so. There is no advanced detailed document on a complete package.
What this really means is that the co-called packages of items, which were really represented in the principles in the Premier’s statement to the Legislature last Thursday, are the ones being worked on for presentation at a meeting. It is not a large document that is finally done and that a committee could start to work through. It has to do with the various items in the 10 principles the Premier outlined.
I would see no reason why those aren’t the kinds of things the select committee could get to work on right away. By the time the select committee has its first meeting it is more than likely the meeting of the first ministers will have been held, so the idea of what will make up packages and what will be the kinds of items we should be looking at will be much clearer to all of us, not only from ourselves, but from the other governments.
I don’t know if that answers your question sufficiently, but if you mean do we have a book like this ready to go to the printer, no we don’t. The reference here was to the necessary materials on these general points of principle the Premier mentioned in his statement. We are doing the backup work for them so if the meeting is held within the next three, four or five weeks we will be ready to go to that meeting with some background.
I answered your question about the select committee. Certainly, the principles that are there and whatever materials we can supply will be available to the select committee.
The next question was if we would encourage other provinces to have select committees. I would certainly be happy to mention that to my colleagues at the first opportunity we have to exchange views. I think it would be a good idea. However, as you realize, legislatures are very independent bodies. The fact that Ontario has a select committee will probably cut no ice in British Columbia. In fact, it might even encourage them to do something different. You are probably aware that British Columbia has already put out, in 10 beautiful coloured volumes, positions on everything concerning the constitution. It comes in a nice handy little package of booklets.
It is an interesting exercise. Sometimes we are criticized in Ontario because we don’t have a book like this or a statement of our position completely committed to print. Yet, sometimes when a province does that, unfortunately it then does not want to deviate one iota from that position. We found through the exercise we went through a year and a half ago, rather than discussing and negotiating as you might do at a meeting, it was almost like a church where the Bible is open at a certain passage and they say, “There, that is our position.” If you asked about something, British Columbia would open their book and say, “That is our position.” If asked: “Well, wouldn’t you change it?”, they answer “That is our position.” In other words, they became wedded to what they spent a year or so developing and putting down as their position.
We run into the same thing with Alberta. We run into a lot of problems with Alberta from time to time. I don’t believe they have ever had a select committee of the House, but they have passed motions from time to time in their House. One of them was on the amending formula. Once those motions have been passed there has to be unanimity to change the distribution of power section. That was the position of the province of Alberta passed by the House.
I guess for all the Conservative members, plus whatever their opposition is, six other members, that was the position and no matter what came up they had to say, “Well, we are bound by a motion of our Legislature which says that is the way it is to be. The only amending formula we could accept is one that says you have to have unanimity if you are going to change the division of powers.” That is really inhibiting when you are trying to discuss working out an amending formula with a little flexibility around the conference table.
Nova Scotia, I understand, does have a select committee and Quebec has a standing committee of the House that discussed these matters before the referendum. But it’s a good point and I will be glad to take it up with my colleagues in the other provinces when we meet.
Mr. MacDonald: Mr. Chairman, I don’t want to pursue this much further, but just let me make one comment if I might.
I agree with the minister that there is a danger in this that if you set down a statement you become locked into it. The reason I agree with the minister’s concerns in that respect is that when you get into the kind of negotiating that must take place across this country with its variety of 10 provinces and regions ultimately one will have to forsake some of the original positions that were taken.
One of the interesting points made at the Queen’s seminar that your deputy can confirm with you privately, if he hasn’t already, was that you are going to have sawoffs and tradeoffs in the final stages of reaching an agreement. Western Canada will say fine, we will accept this that you want, if you will accept something else that western Canada is wanting. Inevitably that’s part of the process of negotiation.
Therefore, whatever one does by way of stating a position of the province should be in terms of working papers, in tentative positions or positions for discussion purposes, call them what you will. They are not something that a province should be locked into. You may find to your own embarrassment that later you have to forsake that in order to get the necessary overall agreement -- and forsaking it, you will be less embarrassed if you aren’t locked into it so tightly.
So I agree with the minister, at this point it is necessary to keep the position as fluid as possible. However, having said that, there are going to be certain things that Ontario, as undoubtedly western Canada, Quebec and the Maritimes, will dig in their heels pretty fiercely on because they view them as critically important for their future welfare.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Could I just make one other comment on this, because I think it’s relevant here too?
You talked about the different mechanisms that were available for developing a new constitution. One is this conference of representatives of elected governments, whether they involve just governments alone or members of all the parties in the legislatures and the federal Parliament and so forth.
Then there is the other idea of a constitutional conference, unrelated to the legislatures necessarily, called especially to develop a new constitution. This is something that doesn’t have too many champions in the Canadian situation. I haven’t heard too many people saying that’s the way we should go. In fact, I haven’t heard it mentioned at all.
I think the way it will be done is through the representatives of elected people. But I think we should also keep in mind -- and our select committee will perhaps want to look at this; it was mentioned in a speech by a federal minister again this weekend -- the idea of using a referendum for the constitution is certainly in the minds of the federal government.
As my friend knows, there is a referendum bill in the House which was not passed. It was never passed, but they did have a referendum bill in the House which would have allowed the federal government to conduct referendums on the constitution in Canada. I have heard several ministers talk about this over the last couple of weeks, so that has to be seen as another technique that may be used.
I find it a little difficult to see exactly how this would be used. In other words, I don’t see how a detailed constitution with all the intricacies involved in it could be put on a ballot. To ask people to approve that would be a very difficult thing. But it’s probably the ultimate in participation of the total electorate. It’s probably not exactly the kind of thing that we see as followers of the British parliamentary system. Yet we read from different countries in the world that they have submitted their new constitution to the electorate and it has been approved by 99 per cent. One was approved by 99 per cent the other day in Egypt and Anwar Sadat was guaranteed a job for life.
Mr. Conway: The last guy to get that guarantee was the Shah of Iran.
Hon. Mr. Wells: It was just drawn to my attention that was another place this had happened. The use of the referendum somewhere in this constitutional picture is certainly on people’s minds in Ottawa. I do not know how that will be used and the ramifications of it.
Mr. MacDonald: It would provide national power to override the dissidents.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I suppose it could be used as a chance for all the people to talk and give their opinions, even if the political leaders of the country couldn’t agree after a certain length of time. I am sure that is something the select committee will want to look at.
Mr. Epp: Speaking about the constitution, Mr. Chairman, I certainly endorse the thoughts that have been expressed that there should be some kind of representation of the other political parties with the provincial government when it goes to Ottawa to discuss this very important document and its amending procedure.
I would think it would depend very largely on Mr. Levesque whether he will permit Mr. Ryan to be part of that delegation. If Mr. Levesque were to veto any suggestion that Mr. Ryan and some of the other federalists in the National Assembly in Quebec should participate, then I would think Ottawa would not be amenable to that nor would the government of Ontario and the other provincial legislatures. On the other hand, if the Ontario government and the others were to express a strong desire to have such representation it might put some kind of pressure on Mr. Levesque and on Ottawa to have that.
In addition to the representation from other political parties, as the minister knows, I asked a question of the Premier on Friday whether there would be some kind of municipal representation. I realize the PMLC is now somewhat split. As the minister indicated earlier, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is not being represented on the PMLC. The PMLC has not met as an Ontario body since last August or September. It would be helpful if the provincial government were to give some kind of recognition to the municipal governments of this province and have someone on that delegation, such as Mr. Beath or Mr. Clark Mason of Ajax as the president of the largest municipal organization.
I would hope the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs would endorse that proposal and take it to the Premier to get his acceptance of something of that nature. When one considers that Toronto with almost two million people is larger than most of the provinces as far as population is concerned, it would be appropriate to have someone from the municipalities represented on that delegation. I think they would have a lot to offer and some very constructive suggestions to make.
The minister made reference earlier to Mr. Illingworth and his work. The Background paper that is put out on an almost weekly basis is very helpful from the standpoint of keeping municipalities and those of us in the Legislature acquainted with the goings on of the government and the various facets of various ministries. I know there is often information there we are not aware of, which helps us to keep a better handle on the tremendous amount of information that comes out from the government.
I had a question I would like to put to the minister and I think it falls very appropriately under vote 601, item 1. It has to do with public opinion polls. I would like to know whether there have been any public opinion polls taken by the ministry within the last three years, since June 9, 1977. All of us probably remember the significance of that date. If so, what has been the cost of those polls? When and if the ministry decides to commission any further polls, will the minister give assurance to this House that the information will be tabled in the House within a week of his ministry receiving that information? I would appreciate comments on that.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, to the best of my knowledge the only poll that has been taken in the period mentioned by my friend is the poll which has been tabled in this House. I can’t remember the cost of it. It was somewhere around $12,000. That was the one on the Quebec referendum for interprovincial affairs. I think the member has seen that one.
At the present time we’re not conducting any others that I know about. I assume none of the staff of the ministry is conducting any at the present time.
I think the member realizes there are several different categories of polls which this government has used over the past little while. Some of them are used as part of the day-to-day tools of operation. We don’t use any like that, but I think the Ministry of Transportation and Communications uses them to get rider preferences and whether people like the way the highways are being laid out, things like that, which is not an unjust thing to be doing. It’s done all the time in ordinary business.
Mr. Conway: When is that bottleneck in Scarborough on Highway 401 going to be cleared up? That is what I want to know.
Hon. Mr. Wells: It will be cleared up very soon. Just write to the local member.
Since I do not foresee that we will be taking any polls in the near future, an answer to the member’s other question is really unnecessary.
Mr. Epp: If the minister were to take a poll I’m sure he wouldn’t have any reluctance in giving his assurance to the House that he would table the information with the House within a week of his ministry receiving it. I’m sure he wouldn’t have any difficulty in giving us that assurance.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I would give the member my assurance that at some point it would be tabled. Whether it would be tabled within a week of our receiving it, I’m not prepared to say.
Mr. Conway: What is the expression -- in the fullness of time?
Hon. Mr. Wells: It certainly would be tabled. The irony of this whole thing is that everybody was concerned about the polls that weren’t tabled. There have been numerous polls done by this government over the years that have been made public, and they sit in the library and nobody has ever even taken the trouble to look at them.
Mr. Epp: Not even the government.
Hon. Mr. Wells: The government has looked at them. When I was with the Ministry of Education a number of polls were done on attitudes towards education that were made public and a number were done as research studies and they sit up in the library at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and nobody has ever even bothered to take a look at them.
Mr. Epp: As the minister knows, the principle was that the government was using public money to get this information. We felt, and I think rightly so, that this information should be made available to the public since it was public money. If a party chooses to conduct a poll it can keep the information confidential, and it usually does, unless it is convenient to make the information public.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I don’t disagree with the basic premise the member has stated. I think the government has accepted through its decision to table those polls that members are entitled to see the polls. Whether they are entitled to see them at the exact minute they are made, is a question I’m not prepared to give the member an affirmative answer to. Governments at all times get advice and get opinions in a number of ways. We use consultants, we use people who come and talk to us about things and do studies. We have people who do polling and so forth. It is all part of the modern techniques of doing business, be it either the government or the private sector.
I am sure you read the story in the Globe and Mail about Martin Goldfarb who runs Goldfarb Consultants. I thought it was an excellent story. They certainly did not find too much to criticize about Mr. Goldfarb. As Mr. Goldfarb said, this is the modern age. You do not run things like you used to do in the horse and buggy age. You use things like polls and so forth. It is all part of the computer age. Anybody doing business does that. I am sure the federal government does it too. I have not seen any polls they have done tabled recently.
Mr. Conway: One minute you are kneeling at the high altar of the British parliamentary tradition and at the very next you are grovelling before modern technology.
Hon. Mr. Wells: My friend, it can all be melded together.
All I am really saying is that I think polls are necessary. They should be used and at some point they should be available for all to see, but not necessarily right within the minute, hour or week they are received by us.
Just so I do not leave you under any wrong impression, as I said, we are not engaged in any specific polling on behalf of this ministry. We are part of a number of people taking part in an annual poll being conducted by the Goldfarb organization called the Goldfarb Report. It is a massive study being done once a year in Canada on views and opinions across Canada.
This government is one of a number of participants. I think there are 25, including the federal government, other provinces and the private sector. What the techniques of making that public are going to be I do not know at this time. It has just been completed in its first year. It belongs to 25 people. It is not up to us to make it public. We will have to work out some kind of technique so that others can share in it. I am sure there will be no problem with that.
Mr. Isaacs: Mr. chairman, just before we move away from this matter of the upcoming constitutional conference, I must say I found the minister’s remarks about where Jean Chrétien went after he left here to be very interesting, but they did not help us deal with the concern I have, and many of my colleagues have, to get an understanding of the way this government thinks things ought to be happening. I realize the minister will say that his meeting with Jean Chrétien was a private meeting, but surely this government must have suggested to the federal government that things should be done this way.
For example, did the government say, “Do everything you can to keep those opposition people out of it.”? Or did you say, “On behalf of the government of Ontario we would be delighted to have opposition members of the Legislature join us around the conference table.”? Did you say the conference should deal with every issue in the constitution? Or did you say you would like to see the conference focus on specific, important issues that will enable us to repatriate the constitution? That is a term I do not like because we are really building a new one, we are not repatriating anything. We are putting in place something that does not presently exist.
Did you express to Jean Chrétien a view on behalf of the Ontario government as to how the Ontario government would like to see things handled, bearing in mind there have to be negotiations, there have to be discussions, there has to be a consensus across Canada? I wonder if you could respond to that.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I really cannot respond in complete detail. We certainly expressed a variety of opinions about different techniques and ways things could be handled, but no decisions were made. It is very difficult to say, “Did you forcefully say, ‘Do this if you are going to do this’?” and so forth, because we did not get down to that kind of discussion. It was all very preliminary. Those kinds of discussions that would necessitate the kind of opinions you talked about will come in the next phase, so I can assure you that the kind of opinions you want us to put forward on that will come in the next phase.
This was all a very preliminary type of meeting, the results of which will probably be indicated when Mr. Chrétien or Mr. Trudeau has something to say in the next day about what the next phase is. Then we can all put forward our positions very forcefully.
I want the honourable member to know there was one position I did put forward very forcefully, and it has been missed in all the discussions, but it is that no matter what we do with the constitution as we build the constitution, and so forth, Ontario’s position is still very firm that the monarch, the Queen, should stay the head of state of this country. We wanted to be sure no one forgot that point in all our other talks about different things that were happening, because there has not been much discussion recently about that. However, that position was put forward and it was agreed to.
I also want to remind my friend that we have had along, as part of the Ontario delegation, the chairman of the Municipal Liaison Committee at several of our constitutional meetings that were held in late 1978 and early 1979. I think Ed Mitchelson was the chairman at that time. I don’t think we have had any meetings since Walter Beath has been chairman, but Ed Mitchelson was certainly at one, if not two of the meetings, and has attended various of our work-up and briefing sessions and so forth, so that the municipalities, as represented by the chairman of the MLC, were involved.
Items 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.
Vote 601 agreed to.
Vote 602 agreed to.
On vote 603, local government affairs program; item 1, local government:
Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Chairman, the minister indicated previously that we would be getting into some of these areas at some later stage, and I am thinking specifically of property taxes at the moment. One of the problems with these estimates is that the headings on the allocation of funds do not necessarily correspond to the things the ministry is doing. I wonder if the minister could indicate where he would prefer to deal with the matter of property taxes and other local government issues.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, vote 603 is the local government vote and probably the best way for us to do it, if it is agreeable to you, sir, is to start under the first vote and let this be the general item for everything concerning local government.
Mr. Isaacs: I felt, myself, that that might be the appropriate way to deal with it as well.
I was interested in the minister’s comments this afternoon that he has had fewer complaints this year about property taxes than in most previous years. Obviously I cannot express that viewpoint from experience, but I know from talking to my colleagues, members of municipal councils and property taxpayers that there is certainly a very great deal of concern this year about property taxes, and obviously some of that is focused in municipalities that experienced the section 86 reassessment for 1980.
Nevertheless, the concern is much broader than that and is a general concern about the direction in which we are headed. As I indicated in my remarks on Friday, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is urging the minister to proceed with full implementation of market value assessment. The minister may well respond that is something which is being looked after by the Ministry of Revenue. If that is the approach he wants to take, then so be it. But I am getting the impression, one which I hope is the case because I think it is a good move, that municipal councils are funnelling more and more of their comments about the provincial government through the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs. The Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs is now becoming the co-ordinating ministry for all municipal operations it was set up to be.
In the past there have been some problems in that regard; planning has been in the Ministry of Housing, sewers, water and garbage disposal have been in the Ministry of the Environment and money has been in Treasury and Economics and so on. But, with the move of the financial branch to the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs and with some of the ongoing discussions that are happening, it seems to me that the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs is now the lead ministry for all functions that affect municipal government.
I hope, then, the minister will see it as appropriate that we discuss the broad issue of property tax reform, assessment reform and municipal grants at this time because, to put it quite frankly, I think the Minister of Revenue (Mr. Maeck) sees his function as being administrative to deal with the programs that the government has put in place. It is the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs that is the ministry which ultimately will initiate new proposals in this entire area.
I was intrigued by the minister taking what I would consider to be a fairly extreme example in terms of the problems of property taxes and suggesting that the government does not want to tell people what kind of house they should own, or what kind of home they should own or rent. Of course, we would agree that the matter of free choice and, to some degree, of market force has to be permitted.
On the other hand, we can look at a situation where an individual can buy a car that is valued at perhaps $20,000 or $25,000 and when he purchases that car he pays a sales tax. As he uses it, he pays a tax on the gasoline he buys for it, he pays tax on the parts he buys for it and he pays an annual licence plate fee. It’s that annual licence plate fee which is surely the closest we have to property taxes. Yet in the case of a car the annual licence plate fee is a very small figure, whereas in the case of a home the annual property taxes are a very large figure. Indeed, a home is the only part of our consumer society where the owner or the tenant or family who occupy that home are directly or indirectly paying taxes year after year to a very large percentage of their income.
I was interested, as well, to learn that the minister’s taxes in 1980 will be $1,472. I believe property taxes on the home which my wife and I own will be about $500. Surely that is one of the problems of the property tax system we have, in that the services available to me are not that much different from the services available to the minister. We have schools available in the town of Stoney Creek. We have garbage collection once a week, not twice a week, but that is adequate. We have sewers, water, street lights and sidewalks in most parts of the town. You can’t link property taxes to the services you get and say that $1,472 is a reasonable amount to pay for what we get. That is not an issue.
If we wish to move in that direction, if the minister is suggesting that people should pay for the services they get, then let us immediately see a move to substantially reduce the property taxes for home owners and tenants who do not benefit from municipal services because they live in the rural parts of our province.
If we want to make that link then let us immediately say that families or individuals who do not have children or who for one reason or another may never have children, should not be liable for the education portion of property taxes. That is not a direction I support. I support a society where everybody helps each other and where society works together to build a better society for all of us. But if we insist on saying that one gets good value for the property taxes one pays, then let’s make sure that everybody gets good value for the property taxes they pay and that there are not many residents of our province who are paying far more in property taxes than they will ever receive in services.
I believe property taxes should be more related to ability to pay. I recognize there is a difference in philosophy between myself and the minister on this issue and I don’t want to prolong it too much. But if we want to go in the direction of making property taxes more based on the ability to pay, then let’s ensure that the people who own property they acquired in the late 1940s or early 1950s under the Veterans Land Act, when they were told they had to have a minimum lot size of two acres, are not taxed as if they were developers holding the land for speculative purposes.
Let us ensure that people who own homes that for one reason or another are on larger-than-average urban lots are not being taxed unfairly because of artificially inflated values. They have never paid these, they can probably never receive them, but they are reflected in the market value assessment of their property.
Let us also ensure that tenants in high-rise buildings are nut paying property taxes at twice the rate of single-family home owners. Let us face it, if one moves to a market value system, the way things are set up at the moment, and if we allowed a 50 per cent discount for single-family homes as against multiple-residential accommodation, then there would be a subsidy from tenants in high-rise buildings to single-family home owners. But that is not necessarily the right direction for the subsidy and 50 per cent is not necessarily the right figure for that split.
The same goes for industry. Industry is inevitably located in premises that are worth far less in terms of the gross income of the industry than the homes in which we live. It goes without saying that most people live in a home that is worth somewhere between one and three times their annual income. There is a great deal of personal choice. Some people live in homes that are worth well more than three times their annual income whereas others have to make do, or choose to make do, with homes that are worth the same as their annual income or less. That is the general ball park for most individuals and most families.
But if a business were to occupy premises that are worth even one time its annual income, then we would see a dramatic inflation in the price of industrial land and in the price of industrial premises. It just does not work that way and we cannot employ the same standards.
Again, the figure of 50 per cent as a discount has been suggested but it is not necessarily the right figure to use and it is arbitrary. The AMO, as I said on Friday, is talking about section 86 as being a first step towards the implementation of full market value, but it has no commitment that it is a first step. The government has not indicated what the future holds. I don’t believe we can continue with this matter of cleaning up problems by inventing new grants or giving special allowances that relieve the burden that a community or municipality is feeling at any given time because of the operation of the property tax system. We just can’t keep doing it on the basis of one fudge after another.
We need a system that is understood, that is clear, that is fair to everybody -- business and families -- in our communities. We need a system which will work for everybody so that people can see what it is they are paying for and can understand whether the municipal council they elect is spending money to provide gold-plated services or is forced to make do with second-rate services because the tax base isn’t there in the municipality.
One of the problems with the system we have now is that the financial accountability of the local council is being completely lost in a grant system that is understood by no one, and that includes, quite sincerely, most members of the municipal council. They are told what grants they get by their treasurer and they adjust their budget to fit those grants, but most municipal elected people don’t understand how the grants they get arise.
They don’t understand what equalization factors are doing for them. Many of them don’t even seem to understand the backbone of the section 86 program. I think that is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life in a situation where Ministry of Revenue officials are trying to sell that section 86 program and there is no one else on the other side saying, “Don’t do it because it will cause these various problems.”
It comes back to the matter of information. I just don’t think the information is there. I am very serious when I suggest to the minister that while things may look all right to him, I am going to a meeting tonight that is not in my riding to meet with a large group of people who are irate about property taxes. I am going to another one on Wednesday night in my riding to meet with another group of people who are irate about property taxes. People are irate about property taxes, but because of the system, because the Ministry of Revenue has succeeded in making the section 86 program appear to be at the request of the municipality and because we have no overall direction, no one knows who to complain to. Everyone is blaming everybody else, and there is no program in place to say where we are going with our property tax problems. It can’t continue.
I am sure the minister realizes that at some point the government is going to have to do something. The government is going to have to implement full market value everywhere and live with it, or it is going to have to bring in a new program that levies property taxes on a different base. I don’t disagree with the fact that we can’t abolish property taxes overnight; we have to have them.
I am glad too that the minister avoided the use of the word “progressive,” and talked about regressive and nonregressive. I prefer to talk about fair and unfair, because I think when one gets into talking about regressivity of taxes things are getting a little bit confused for the average person’s thinking. What people like to know is that the amount of tax they are having to pay is fair for what they are getting and for their ability to pay that tax. The feeling everywhere at the moment is that property taxes are not a fair way of levying taxes. I would claim they are not progressive.
We have to have change and direction. I have been phoning around the municipalities talking to elected people and to treasurers, saying, “What is going on in this area?” No one seems to know. There do not seem to be committees that involve municipal people studying the problem. Who is looking at it? Surely the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs should be the lead ministry in a study of property taxes and municipal finance. If it is, I would like to hear about it. I would like to hear too as to what committees are sitting, what they are talking about and where we might be headed, because those are very serious problems that will become a crisis somewhere in the future.
I have to say I have the feeling the minister is trying to put these things off until after a provincial election. I really hope that is not the case. I hope the ministry is looking at things now and would not be inhibited about bringing in property tax reform, or at least presenting proposals for property tax reform at this time, so that everybody concerned knows where the government is headed.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I would like to respond. Of course, we are not puffing it off for some future date after an election. Who knows when there will be an election. The problem is here and we are facing it.
I have stated several times what has been and is our position on the matter. The Ministry of Revenue is called upon by legislation to bring in the new equalization factors and gazette them each July, now that they are unfrozen. They will be gazetting another new set of equalization factors this July. Those equalization factors are used for computation in various ways. I am not going to get into the details because, as my friend said, the grant system is a terribly complicated thing. I would love it if it wasn’t nearly as complicated; it would be much easier, I am sure, on all of us. But it is complicated.
In some manner those equalization factors are used first for educational grants and development of the grants that the school boards get across the province. They are also used on our side basically for the resource equalization grant. They are then used for apportionment purposes, which has a direct effect on property tax because that is the way a second-tier municipality apportions its charges to the municipalities at the lower tier. Therefore, the amount that has to be paid by each person in that lower tier comes about because of the way the apportionment is handled.
These factors have played an important role in the development of the kind of money that municipalities get from the province and in the way their costs are apportioned within their own areas.
As part of our ongoing study and, I would use this word, reform of the property tax system, we have been looking at various ways of handling the problem now that the equalization factors have been unfrozen. I would have to say there would have been a disaster last year if we had used the factors in their pure form. Rather than, as some people believed, bring about a greater degree of equity, they would have brought about a kind of equity that would have been unacceptable. They would have brought about the same kind of shifts my friend talked about if we had taken full market value assessment.
I think you used the example of the state of Ohio where the percentage of taxes raised on industrial-commercial went from somewhere in the 60s down to about 52 and residential rose to about 48. In other words, the burden was shifted from industrial-commercial to residential. We would see some of that in full market value assessment in this province and we would see a shift of burden from urban to rural. We would see the urban municipalities getting even larger provincial grants and being relieved of a lot of apportioned costs of upper-level governments, with the rural areas being saddled with greater costs. That would have been the effect of the pure use of the equalization factors.
So we developed a way of handling the grants for this year and also of handling the use of those factors for apportionment. But we said we weren’t phasing in those new equalization factors. We weren’t suggesting this year a system that would be the system that would be used. This was strictly a procedure for our 1980 grants and apportionments.
This government is adhering to a commitment I gave to announce how the grants and apportionments will work for 1981 when the factors are announced in July. There is a committee set up now that is working on this. The committee has on it people from the Ministry of Education, Jim Martin and Keith Fletcher, from the Ministry of Revenue, Jack Lettner and Gus MacKay, Hank Ploeger and Norm Manara from the Ministry of Treasury and Economics, and Eric Fleming and Larry Close from our ministry.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has also requested a meeting to consider the kind of proposals we will develop. I really hope -- in fact, I know -- this will occur. I wanted to have some of the best brains at the municipal level, and there are some excellent municipal financial people working around this province. One of them is working over in your own region and there are others around the province. I want them involved with our people before we announce anything and before we finalize what we want to do, because it is those people out there at the municipal level who sometimes see the problem and see the solutions in a slightly different light than we do. They identify problems and areas we have overlooked. Those people will be involved with this group before we come up with the final announcement in July.
That is not going to be a completely new system. It is not going to be a final approach to property tax reform, but I am hopeful that with this group and with the involvement of the local people we will be starting down the road to some of the things that can be broadly put into the area of property tax reform. Until I get some report from the group, which has been meeting now very diligently over the last couple of months, I do not know what avenues it has been looking at. I am sure they are approaching the problem and will come up with something effective.
Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Chairman, if I might just comment, I am disturbed that the minister is saying we are starting down the road, because surely we started down the road in 1969 when the province took over assessment and when we began this whole shift towards market value. I am no further ahead in my understanding of whether we are throwing away everything that has been done, whether all the experience that has been gained is now deemed to be irrelevant. We are now looking at how the grant system and the equalization factors will be fudged for 1981, but that does not tell us anything about assessment in 1982, in 1983 or anywhere in the future.
We are not going anywhere, and it seems to me about time that someone came to grips with this and said we are going to have a change and this is how it’s going to be. It’s going to be a change that will be more fair. Otherwise, I suggest this government throws in the towel and admits an inability to come to grips with the problems of property taxes, and I don’t know where we go then.
Mr. Epp: Mr. Chairman, I want to say a few words about the assessment. The government has been wrestling with this problem for some years now. As all of us know, there were committees established to study committees to study committees to study more committees.
Finally, on January 4, 1978 we reached a climax and we were going to have one more committee that Mr. McKeough announced at that time. They came up with a report in March 1978 and, as we all know, that was shelved the day after Proposition 13 was passed in California. I am not sure whether it had any connection. I know the Treasurer at that time vehemently denied it had any connection but it certainly was a great coincidence that it happened the day after Proposition 13 was passed in California and subsequently in some of the other states.
I would hope the government would give some kind of direction with respect to assessment and property tax reform in this province. The minister mentions that they haven’t had a lot of complaints this year and I can understand why they wouldn’t have complaints. I think people have become extremely frustrated with bringing complaints to the attention of the government and not having those resolved. I know there are more and more municipalities which are going the route of section 86 to try to equalize assessment within classes.
With respect to section 86, and I don’t disagree with the fact that they’re implementing it, I think it’s one step towards formalization and correcting many of the inequalities that are particularly evident in regionalized municipalities. This was evident in probably the major ease, that of Cambridge in the regional municipality of Waterloo, where you had property taxes of $600 or $700 being paid by one property owner whose property was assessed for about $60,000 and someone else, whose property was assessed for $60,000 in another part of that municipality was paying twice as much, somewhere around $1,400 or $1,600, in that neighbourhood.
By invoking section 86, as the Minister of Revenue did at that time, that problem was partially corrected. I guess they’re both paying $1,200 now. The person who had a lower assessment was upset, and the person who had the higher assessment was upset by the fact that he had been paying too much tax over a good number of years.
That’s one of the problems the government always faces when trying to correct the tax problem, because you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. People who get lower taxes all of a sudden say, “Well, darn it, why have I been paying too much tax?” and the person paying more, all of a sudden, says, “Well, you know, my taxes have risen by 50 per cent,” or whatever the case may be.
I really think there should be some kind of timetable, some kind of schedule. The minister may have it in his mind or may have it on paper in his office or something of this nature. The government may have it, but certainly the public is not aware of the government’s plans, I’m sure it has nothing to do with the election coming up in the next year or two. I’m sure the government is going to go ahead full blast and make all these tough decisions and come forward with the suggestions that have to be put forth.
Certainly, it would have nothing to do with Mr. Ed Goodman’s comments after the 1975 election that this government is going to reform itself out of office. Surely to goodness, all the tremendous reforms that have come forth in the last three years, the legislation we have piled up foot after foot, is indicative of the fact that Premier Davis never heard a word that Mr. Goodman said at that time, that they were going to reform themselves out of office. We have all kinds of proposals that have come to our attention.
Be it as it is, we nevertheless would like to see some definite timetable, some kind of formula proposed whereby the government has some kind of commitment about when it is going to reform property taxation in Ontario. Certainly there are areas that have market value assessment, and I’m not one to oppose market value assessment because I think it’s probably the fairest kind of assessment we could have.
If I understand correctly, and the minister could correct me if I’m wrong, I think the other nine provinces in Canada have market value assessment. We’re the only ones who are lacking that form of assessment on a provincial basis. As I’ve indicated, we have it in some areas.
One other area on which I’d like to get some kind of response from the minister has to do with the Ontario Municipal Management Development Board that was established and to which we are giving $75,000.
I know the executive director of this particular management board is an excellent person and I am sure she is managing very well. But I was a little surprised that instead of setting up a separate board the government would not give the money on condition that this would be part of AMO responsibility or directly under the Provincial-Municipal Liaison Committee, rather than establish another board and fragment that a little more.
I would have hoped some kind of direction would have been given to try to unify these various bodies, rather than try to break them up. At the same time, I want to say I am fully in sympathy with what the municipalities want to do in joining together under the leadership of Michael Smither, who is chairing this committee to try to bring the various organizations together under a single umbrella. I failed to mention that earlier, so I thought I would mention it at this time.
You’re a very tolerant person, Mr. Chairman. Even if that isn’t directly under this particular vote, nevertheless it is related to it.
Hon. Mr. Wells: The member was talking about a board being independent. Which board was that? I missed that.
Mr. Epp: The Ontario Municipal Management Development Board. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Hon. Mr. Wells: The Ontario Municipal Management Development Board was brought forward by the PMLC. It was part of a total package. It is a group that is developing management skills in the municipal area.
It was a proposal we supported and that is completely supported, as I understand, by all municipal organizations. It came forward from them. They decided the way to set it up was with this board. Cy Armstrong and Ed Mitchelson were involved. It was all municipal people. It was on the agenda of the PMLC for about five different meetings, as we worked through the different proposals.
In other words, it isn’t a fragmenting type of thing. It was something we really accepted, and they devised the kind of way it should be set up. We gave them $75,000 to help offset the costs. They wanted a little more, but that was as far as we could go.
Mr. Epp: I would have hoped it would have been under the AMO, since it is the largest municipal organization. Rather than having a separate organization, it might have been one of their committees or directly under their leadership. I will leave it at that.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I don’t disagree with you. All I’m saying is we didn’t insist that it be set up in any particular way. They set this up themselves. This is the way the municipalities wanted it. I think they wanted it as a separate board that was going to conduct educational programs, seminars and a whole variety of things to increase the management skills of municipal employees.
Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Chairman, just before we leave the area of grants and property taxes, I have two other fairly specific questions. The first relates to the prepayment of 1980 unconditional grants to municipalities. The suggestion has been made that at least part of the rationale for that was that it enabled the province to make its final books for 1979-80 look a bit better than they might otherwise have done because of the unexpected surplus in that financial year.
I wonder if the minister has information on the number of municipalities that would have been in debt had those grants not been advanced, what the savings to those municipalities have been and what the cost to the province has been of prepaying that money so that we can give the taxpayers of this province an indication of what it has cost them to prepay municipal grants as well as the attempt that has been made to indicate to them the savings. I am particularly concerned because the savings to an individual property taxpayer are likely a matter of cents, whereas the cost to this province of prepaying that amount of money, in terms of lost interest, could well be quite substantial.
I wonder too whether this is seen as a precedent for future years; whether, indeed, there will be a change in the system of paying unconditional grants so that municipalities can expect their money earlier, or whether this was literally a one-shot deal in order to deal with specific problems that the province faced with its budget for 1979-80.
The second question I have relates to the minister’s news release dated April 22, 1980, in which he announced an additional $8.5 million in grants to municipalities for 1980. Given that on April 22, the estimates for 1980 were in the hands of the opposition and in the hands of the public, and given that there has been no proposal from the minister as yet for an amendment to those, I wonder how the minister can justify saying this is an additional $8.5 million. Where is the money coming from? Is it not an announcement of money that would have found its way into municipal treasuries anyway, and the impact was that the minister wanted to appear to be giving money but, because the money is not coming from anywhere, it would have been given to municipalities in any case? How can you announce money without putting it in the budget in order to give it to the municipalities?
Hon. Mr. Wells: The answer is that it is money they will be getting and not money that they would have been getting anyway. It is additional money that is being put into the grant system. In this case it is going in as additional grants to municipalities in order to fulfil the new criteria that we put in in regard to apportionments.
Of course, it was too late to change the estimates, and the amounts in the estimates for the resource equalization grants and the special grants to compensate for the equalization factors are set in there; that is quite right. We will not know until we get further into the budget year whether there was or was not some money in a couple of the other accounts in here, such as transitional accounts, that might cover it but would not necessarily have gone to the municipalities or to the same municipalities, or whether we will have to have some type of supplementary estimate for those grants further on down in this year.
I think you realize that in budgets of the size of this budget, sometimes a surplus develops as the year goes on, but that surplus does not develop in the grant moneys that are earmarked under specific grants to municipalities. It would be under those areas where there is a degree of flexibility or where allotments have been made that may not be taken up, or something of that nature.
I don’t know whether that is absolutely clear to you, but what it really means in simple terms is that $8.5 million more has been put into actual grant money to municipalities to cover cost burdens that were coming because of apportionments made under the old five per cent leeway arrangement. That has been eliminated. That extra money is now in, they have been informed of that and, in their calculations, that is now taking place and those grants are being paid. Whether we will have to come along with a supplementary estimate for all or part of that $8.5 million is something we will not know at this time, but at the present time we may be able to accommodate it all in the budget.
Mr. Isaacs: I have one further point, Mr. Chairman. Will the prepayment of grants become a regular thing in the future? Where are we heading?
Hon. Mr. Wells: No, I would say not. That is really something you should ask the Treasurer (Mr. F. S. Miller) in his estimates. He is the one who, to a degree, says the money is available here and we want to repay the grants before the end of a fiscal year rather than after the close of another year. I have seen it happen in my previous ministry, in Education, from time to time, but certainly not as a regular occurrence. I can almost guarantee it won’t occur every year.
Mr. Isaacs: Does the ministry have the information on what the actual savings have been and how many municipalities would otherwise have been in debt to a substantial extent, et cetera?
Hon. Mr. Wells: It would be too early for us to have that information for you. I think we can note it would be handy information to have and we will try to get it. As you are aware, it takes quite a while to get completed financial statements and so forth in from municipalities. It may be very difficult to get that for every municipality, but maybe what we could do -- and I think it is a legitimate request -- is take a representative selection of municipalities and try to do a study to see how much it saved them by getting the grant X number of weeks earlier than they normally would have. We could measure that and maybe project it for the whole province.
Mr. T. P. Reid: I would like to bring to the minister’s attention a concern many municipalities have regarding policing costs. I don’t know whether the minister is aware or not, but in the public accounts meeting of Thursday, May 1, the Deputy Solicitor General was before the committee when we were discussing matters relating to policing costs that were raised in last year’s auditor’s report. At that time Mr. Hilton indicated there was a committee under Intergovernmental Affairs, or at least with the participation of Intergovernmental Affairs, that was looking at this problem.
There are now a range of grants and subsidies available to the local municipalities that have a rather large range. In some cases some areas and regions get free policing -- particularly the regional municipalities, as I understand it -- in others the per capita grant to the municipality is $10 per capita and in other cases it is $15 per capita.
I wonder if the minister could indicate four things: First, is he moving towards a rationalization of paying a grant for policing costs to municipalities across the board that would be fair and equitable to everyone so that you don’t have some getting free policing and others having to pay considerable sums at the local level to provide policing? Second, could he bring us up to date on this interministerial committee that I understand was supposed to be, or is, in existence?
Third, can he indicate what happened to the submission that was made by the Solicitor General or Deputy Solicitor General to cabinet in December 1979 on this matter? Fourth, can he indicate who are members of the interministerial committee on policing costs?
Hon. Mr. Wells: We are talking with the Solicitor General about this matter. There is no change in the policing grants for this year. There is probably a misunderstanding about policing and this is a good case in point about conditional/unconditional grants.
The policing grant is dependent upon you having a police force. It is $10 per capita for lower tiers, and it is $15 if you have a regional police force. Beyond that it is identified as a police grant but it is really an unconditional grant to the municipalities. It is not in any way related particularly to the cost to the police department.
It is a good example of the kind of thing that happens when you deconditionalize grants. There are X number of dollars that we pass on to the municipalities each year and they get it through a per capita grant identified as policing and another per capita grant identified as general. We could put all that money together and say you get it as general.
In other words, what we are really talking about is, do you get more money to carry out the services you have to provide as a municipality. We are not, in any way -- although I agree, my friend the Solicitor General and his deputy would probably disagree -- paying a percentage of the cost of policing or anything like that. All we are doing is passing on to the municipalities money to help offset some of their costs. We are not changing those grants this year for next year. They are under consideration. We are looking at the whole question of whether there should be a differential grant, whether it should be $10 for one or $15 for the other and we are looking at the matter of some of them that have free policing from the Ontario Provincial Police. They would not get the grant in that case. There are some inequities. If you get free policing from the provincial police you don’t get the grant.
Mr. T. P. Reid: But you said that is not under the total.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Yes, it is to a degree. Don’t look for total consistency in everything. Some places pay for provincial police; some places contract and buy the provincial police services. They would get the grant.
We want to get the whole business of the apportionment, how we are going to handle things next year, and the unconditional grant business straightened out in July and then we are going to look at the police grant.
The bottom line of the whole thing really boils down to how much money we have to distribute. If there are to be increases in the unconditional grants we can put them in various areas. One of the areas would be to increase the per capita portion that we identify as police. I tell you we don’t base that grant on what the costs are for policing in the municipality.
The general support grant plus the northern Ontario support grant pays 24 per cent of the levy in northern Ontario and includes the police expenditure.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Obviously the minister agrees that there should be some rationalization of it. I appreciate what he is saying although we went through this with the Minister of Community and Social Services (Mr. Norton). He said under the family benefits there is a portion that is for shelter but it is not really consistent with what shelter costs. I suppose somewhere over on those benches that makes a certain amount of sense to somebody.
Can I just reiterate the other questions? One, I gather you are looking for some rationalization of this within your whole grant structure, but second, is there a committee looking at this matter because Mr. Hilton, the Deputy Solicitor General, indicated there was an interministerial committee looking at this? I see a lot of blank faces under the press gallery but that’s not unusual. They are usually on the Treasury benches.
Is there an interministerial committee? Mr. Hilton uses words like “mind-boggling, hotchpotch.” He just can’t believe that his ministry has some input into this committee. I, as chairman of public accounts, indicated I would bring this to the minister’s attention among others. Is there a committee? Who is on the committee? Is anybody from the Solicitor General’s ministry on that committee?
Hon. Mr. Wells: A couple of fellows from our ministry, Ron Farrow and Larry Close, and Mr. Rintoul from the Solicitor General have been working on this general problem.
I just want to say, though, that my philosophy on this -- and it may differ, I don’t know, because the Solicitor General and I have not talked about this too much recently -- is that we are not looking to moving these police grants to be more related to the cost of policing and making them a kind of a conditional thing in the police area.
We hear a lot of talk around here about property tax reform and grants reform and everything. One of the major areas that everyone sees as a reform, including the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, is deconditionalizing grants. Darn it all, we have the grants deconditionalized to a great degree in the police area and I do not see us as moving back to making them more conditional on police, even though the Solicitor General’s department may feel that would be a better way to have it.
The municipalities have a policing function and come after us for the money for increased grants generally, but I would not like to see us move to a conditionalized police grant now that gets all tied up like our grants from the ministries of Community and Social Services, Transportation and Communications and Environment and so forth. Much as we would like to move to deconditionalize grants, I can say that it is just not happening because we were not making any headway. On the grants to highways, it is very difficult to get anybody to agree we should give those grants without very definite strings attached. It is very hard to get at library grants. We have agreed the library grants still go to library boards and so forth.
While we are trying to rationalize the thing to a degree, we are not looking to move perhaps in the kind of direction that the Solicitor General’s people might be looking at -- that is, to try to have special grants for policing, period.
Mr. T. P. Reid: That certainly was a point that Mr. Hilton made. He thought there should be some requirement of level of performance and competence before these grants would be handed over, as apparently there is in Great Britain where, if a local constabulary does not reach certain standards, it does not get the grant.
I do not want to dwell on this, but, while the minister says the police grants per se are only part of a package and not directly related to the cost of the police force, would he not agree with me that there is something inequitable about the fact that I believe, for instance, Sudbury does not receive a grant for policing so that it comes out of the community tax base? Others might have an OPP detachment in the area for which they do not pay any local taxes other than, obviously, the provincial taxes payable; there is no municipal tax required for the upkeep of that, whatever the cost is. There are other communities where they get either $10 or $15.
While the minister may feel that that is not pegged to the actual cost of policing, surely there is something in the cause of equity there that should say everybody gets some kind of equitable distribution. If Fort Frances gets $10 a head then Thunder Bay should get $10 a head or whatever it happens to be.
As a matter of fact, if I recall, in Thunder Bay I don’t think the cities got any grant when they amalgamated because they did not become a region. The two cities amalgamated and did not form a region, like the regional municipality of Sudbury, for instance, or whatever it happens to be, so they did not receive any grant at all. Surely there is a large measure of inequity in that kind of situation? That is my primary point.
Hon. Mr. Wells: I don’t disagree that there are some inequities and anomalies in the thing and that is what we are trying to straighten out. I was just putting forth some other ideas about relating the grants sort of directly to the service that the police force gives. We really don’t see moving there, or at least I don’t see moving in that direction. I think that if that is a requirement, and certainly a very justifiable one, that the Solicitor General wants, I think he has to put in mechanisms for requiring that without tying it to the moneys we give to the municipalities. I am informed Sudbury does get the regional police grant; it gets the $15.
Mr. T. P. Reid: What does Thunder Bay get?
Hon. Mr. Wells: Only Ottawa-Carleton doesn’t get the regional one. Thunder Bay gets $10. Thunder Bay isn’t a region. We don’t count Thunder Bay in our list of regional municipalities in this province. It is just a great city.
Mr. T. P. Reid: I realize that but is there not some inequity there?
Hon. Mr. Wells: There may be an inequity. The reason that the $15 was put in was that it was recognized that there were likely to be some increased costs in developing a region. So regions got grants a little above.
Mr. T. P. Reid: Was it a carrot to get them in?
Mr. Acting Chairman: Order.
Hon. Mr. Wells: You are right. I think it was probably a carrot not only to get them into the region, but to get them to have a regional police force.
Mr. Philip: Mr. Chairman, I would like to discuss with the minister a problem my municipality is facing and ask him whether as the chief policy minister he has monitored this problem and done any thinking about how it may be solved. The problem concerns the matter of the phoney condominiums that have been created by certain individuals. In particular, a lawyer by the name of Von Teichman managed to merchandise a technique of convincing certain people that an end run could be done around the condominium consumers by selling a percentage interest in a building with an allocation of an apartment or a unit.
The problem that has resulted is that the municipalities have not been able to enforce their condominium conversion bylaws and force such things as bringing a building up to standard before the building was sold. With the passing of amendments to the Condominium Act under the section I had requested some time ago, when it was first found they were merchandising a building called 10 Garfella and another one later on Arcot Boulevard and Tandridge Crescent, we made it illegal any longer to sell in this way. That was what was badly needed. It should have been done before these people had an opportunity to merchandise a number of units.
At the time of the passing of the amendments to the Condominium Act, I pointed out to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations (Mr. Drea) we would have a problem with those people who had purchased an interest in the building with an allocation of an apartment. Once the sale then was stopped on those particular buildings, they would find themselves in a minority interest position.
In the case of Arcot in my riding, the municipality has had a number of problems because there is now a building where the individual percentage unit owners do not have any hope of ever having the building completely sold to individuals like themselves. Because the management firm is firmly in the control of the major interest holders, we have had major problems of the building deteriorating, of the gas bill not being paid or the municipality having to be constantly up there to enforce its standards. All of these are problems that result when there is a group of people who are supposedly owners in the same building where a large percentage of renters are.
I had a meeting last night with the solicitor, Mr. Geoff Pacey.
Mr. Acting Chairman: I wonder if I could interrupt the member. I am trying to find out what condominiums have to do with the estimates of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Mr. Philip: In his chief role as the senior policy minister, I am sure the chairman should recognize he is concerned with municipal problems. This is a municipal problem, a problem being faced by our municipality. I would think, since the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations hasn’t been able to solve the problem under the Condominium Act and hasn’t been able to protect the consumers, he might at least address himself to what the municipalities can do and to what he and his ministry can do, or what policy might be developed to handle this problem where you have something which is not under the control of the municipality, and where the aldermen know of no remedy to the problem. I would assume the chairman might recognize that argument or rule it in order.
Mr. Acting Chairman: I am having a little trouble, I must say. However, maybe you can get to the point.
Mr. Philip: I am sure the minister understands the problem now that I have explained it to him, and I will be interested in obtaining his views on it. The municipalities are in a heck of a position. When Mr. Von Teichman was called in and asked whether he wanted to go through with a condominium conversion now that it is illegal to do this end run around what the municipality had wanted because the Condominium Act stops that, and they told him to what standards he had to bring the buildings up to have a legitimate condominium conversion, he suddenly no longer met with them.
We have buildings that are deteriorating and the people are tired of paying maintenance fees for buildings which are simply not being maintained. They have no control over the budget of these buildings and the municipality is faced with the problem of what do they do? They constantly spend time up there having their bylaw enforcement officers lay charges against the landlord, but then who is the landlord? In the case of one building 40 parts of the total interest are held by individuals who are not even shareholders: they are interest holders who happen to live in the building.
There is this conflict that exists in the municipality. There is no way of dealing with this thing that is neither oranges nor apples. I wonder if the minister has thought through what to do with it? We had a meeting with Mr. Drea. I believe that subsequent to that, Scarborough was able to pass a bylaw that grandfathered in one of the buildings in that municipality. I understand Mr. Drea provided the borough of Etobicoke with copies of that bylaw. However, if you have a landlord who does not see fit to bring that building up to condominium standards, then he simply won’t do it and you are left with a project that, of course, is not a condominium, and is not a rental building and the local municipality doesn’t know how to cope with it.
One possibility, of course, is if the building goes into enough disrepair and if the people who have bought percentage interests in the building don’t pay their interest, their maintenance fees, then the principal owners, the nonresident owners, if you want, may in fact default on the mortgage in which case the mortgage companies take over. Then what have they got? We are going to have a real problem in two years’ time when mortgages come due because I don’t think an average mortgage holder would want to issue another mortgage for a building where they really don’t know the status of the building.
We are in for some really hard times in these buildings, particularly in the next two years when the mortgage comes due, if something isn’t done to deal with this problem. One possibility would be some form of takeover of the building, of expropriation, I guess. Then they could sell it back to either a private developer or bring it up to standard and turn it into a co-operative or some such thing.
As long as the original landlord won’t move, the municipality is in a real bind and some action has to be taken either by this ministry or the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations to deal with the problem.
Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Chairman, I have heard nothing from the borough of Etobicoke, certainly nothing I can recall coming across my desk, on this particular problem. I heard my friend say that my colleague the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations hadn’t been able to take care of this matter. I have never seen any matter in this House that’s been raised in his purview that he hasn’t been able to take care of. I can’t believe that, since he is responsible for the Condominium Act, he hasn’t been able to come up with something to assist in this particular area.
The best I can do for you at the minute is tell you I will take a look at what you have raised and see what the municipal implications of it are -- not the implications vis-à-vis the Condominium Act, because that isn’t within the jurisdiction of our ministry -- but I will take a look at what the municipal implications might be. It’s just about six o’clock, and when we resume on Thursday night, maybe I can give you some helpful information that would be in the purview of our ministry.
I do recall we had some problems with conversions in the borough of Scarborough and Scarborough brought in certain restrictions. I can’t recall all the details, but my impression was they got the matter of conversions under control in Scarborough. I certainly haven’t had any complaints in my riding, and there were some there at one point in time. I haven’t had any recently from anyone complaining about this particular problem.
Mr. Philip: As I recall, the original problem started in Scarborough. It wasn’t the present Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations but his colleague before him, or perhaps before him, who had to deal with it. I believe it was Mr. Handelman who had to deal with it. None the less it was a Scarborough problem. They had found an end run around condominium conversion bylaws, and if it had been dealt with then, Von Teichman and his gang wouldn’t have been able to merchandise the technique and go into other areas, such as my riding, and be able to get this off the ground.
Indeed, if the ministry had responded promptly when I first brought it up -- because it started with 10 Garfella -- and said the Condominium Act is not yet ready but we will introduce at least an interim act saying you are not allowed to do this, it would at least have stopped that building at that time. It would have completely obliterated the Arcot project because they hadn’t even contemplated starting that one, but when they got away with 10 Garfella they --
Mr. Acting Chairman: Order, please. The member is talking about the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations and problems in his area. I think we are really straying considerably from the estimates here now.
Mr. Philip: The minister said he would deal with the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. He also said the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations always had matters in hand.
Mr. Acting Chairman: I realize that the minister said those things.
Mr. Philip: I am trying to point out to the minister the error of his ways in assuming that the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations had it in band.
Mr. Acting Chairman: I would suggest the member could contact the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, because I can’t see this really is involved in the subject.
Mr. Philip: I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman. If you had been listening --
Mr. Acting Chairman: I am listening very hard.
Mr. Philip: If you had, then you would have heard I have been dealing with the Minister --
Mr. Acting Chairman: If the member wants to insist, I would ask him to sit down and deal with the estimates we have been dealing with.
Mr. Philip: I have been dealing with the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, as I pointed out, for a couple of years and the thing --
Mr. Acting Chairman: That has nothing to do with me. I order the member to sit down. I am not dealing with the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. We are on vote 603 and we have one minute to go.
Mr. B. Newman: Mr. Chairman, I would rather have the House adjourn at this time and I will bring my points up the next day we sit.
On motion by Mr. Epp, the committee of supply reported certain resolutions.
The House adjourned at 6 p.m.