31st Parliament, 4th Session

L125 - Thu 27 Nov 1980 / Jeu 27 nov 1980

The House resumed at 8 p.m.


Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 185, An Act to amend the Assessment Act.

Mr. Haggerty: Mr. Speaker, I have some further comments to make relating to Bill 185, An Act to amend the Assessment Act. I hope I can continue without repeating what I said late Tuesday evening before the House adjourned.

I had indicated to the minister and members the deficiencies that exist in local assessment practices over a number of years. In fact, I was quoting from the policy statement on market value assessment from the Institute of Municipal Assessors of Ontario which had outlined the deficiencies and inequities that still prevail.

This summer we met with the mayor and some of the council and staff in Windsor. They had problems with the resource equalization grants that applied to that community and ran into further difficulties with the assessment practices there. They found a number of inequities still existing. The mayor indicated they had to hire two additional staff members to check on assessment practices and assessment records within the city. They said they had corrected assessments amounting to a little over $4 million that were not entered on to the up-to-date rolls within that municipality.

I won’t go into the details, but there were two full pages on the areas they covered. The exemption section under the present Assessment Act was brought to my attention. For a new assessment I believe one is exempted $2,500 and that still continues. They thought there was quite a bit of abuse in these areas because people were building garages which were not part of the residential home. If abuses are to be found in the Windsor area, I suppose they are going to be found across Ontario. They mentioned the $2,500 figure that was frozen for a number of years. If one was renovating a home or an attic or putting on a small addition, it had to remain within that $2,500 factor.

Inequities are still being created under the present assessment practices in the province and that creates inequities in provincial-municipal revenue sharing. This has been spelled out by the city of St. Catharines, the city of Windsor and a number of other municipalities.

The Minister of Revenue (Mr. Maeck) has adopted a new resource equalization grant program this year. I don’t know how much success he is going to have with it this year, but the resource grant factors that were applied in 1979 caused an uproar in many of the municipalities throughout the province. This was particularly so in the rural communities where there was quite a shift in property tax onto small rural municipalities. That was after the equalization factors were unfrozen. I don’t know how successful the present formula is going to be in the property tax reform program the government has again looked into for 1981.

I notice the minister responsible in this area, the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs (Mr. Wells), has indicated he has now appointed another committee to study what I guess is another committee’s report. I hope they are going to bring in some definite policy or criteria the government can follow to bring some equity to property tax reform. I don’t know if the report is ready.

The minister indicates that report is not available. I think the minister did indicate there would be an interim report but not a final report. Can the minister say if there is anything in that area? What property tax reform is accepted by the minister responsible? I find it difficult to find out which ministry is responsible because there are three different ministries which may have some say in the matter. There is the Ministry of Treasury and Economics, the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Ministry of Revenue.

From my past municipal experience I do not think any changes have occurred in municipal criteria. The final results of any reassessment program occurring related to municipal financing procedure rests with the municipal mill rate set by each local council, based on every $1,000 of assessed property.

Assessment is a lot like a con game as I think I have said before in past years. We can raise the assessment to any factor we want. We can raise it to market value assessment; we can raise it to 33 per cent of market value; 50 per cent; 75 per cent. But we have to change the mill rate.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: We can’t change it; the municipality does it.

Mr. Haggerty: I said municipalities. That is how they get around it. I said the municipality may, and I am sure they would, have to change the mill rate. One mill would raise $70,000 in my municipality. The mill rate at market value could be changed to one seventh, which would raise $10,000. In the past when councils had reassessment -- and this occurred in my municipality on a number of occasions -- they lowered the mill rate and raised the assessment. Then in three years they would go back up to $70,000 again, but the taxpayer would not feel that impact in the first year. It could be spread out over several years. One could always generate additional revenue by altering the mill rate and raising the assessment. Eventually they would catch up.

Under the old principle in municipal financing, once a municipality got to a factor of $100 as it related to the mill rate and the assessment, it was at a dangerous level. The municipality was almost bankrupt. But that means nothing today because it can be changed about. I think the former Treasurer, Mr. McKeough, was trying to change the property assessment and lower the mill rate so it would not look that bad. Once a municipality reaches a mill rate of over $100 it is almost into receivership. This is a difficult problem but I think the government brought it on itself. There are areas in which it can go.

I would agree to two recommendations in the bill. One is that municipalities are redefined to include localities. At one time, a police village, village, built up area or a hamlet fell under the Ontario Municipal Act. I see now localities have been included in municipalities. I suppose that includes areas with unorganized municipalities. I think that is good. The other key amendment to the proposed bill relates to the assessment on gas lines. I can see there would be some revenue going back to the local municipality and I suggest this is a reasonable approach to take. As the official opposition, we on this side of the House have always taken it as fact that market value assessment or property tax reform can be implemented if an open-door approach is available to the public.

8:10 p.m.

I want to make another reference to the policy statement on market value from the Institute of Municipal Assessors of Ontario. Here is another interesting paragraph which says: “The advantages of market value assessment to ratepayers are (a) the ability to judge equity. With the implementation of market value assessment, all property owners can judge for themselves, based upon tangible available information whether assessments are fair and equal.”

That is something that is not available today to anybody who really wants to get into the area of looking at his assessment, at assessment practices being carried out and at the assessment formula. In other words, each ratepayer need only know the market value of his or her property to know whether the assessment is fair.

Then the statement refers to “(b) the ability to exercise the statutory right of appeal.” That is rather important. It says: “In the absence of an open and understandable criterion, such as market value assessment would provide, the democratic rights of appeal provided by the Assessment Act are impaired.”

I can recall a few years ago as chairman of county assessment that when a reassessment was taking place and completed, the taxpayer had a right to go in and look at the assessment, how it was arrived at and what method was used. We do not see that today. If one hires a high-priced lawyer, one can get that information. But there is not much information available to the public or the property taxpayer today.

If we look at section 78 of the Assessment Act, we find it makes it an offence for assessors or municipal employees to provide any information that does not appear in the assessment roll itself to anyone. The only exception permits disclosure by a witness in an assessment appeal or other judicial proceedings. This section, therefore, prevents the taxpayer from obtaining any information as to the methodology used or the manner in which it has been used in determining the assessment of properties other than his own.

Section 90 of the Assessment Act prevents the comparison of an assessment under an appeal with any assessment other than the assessment of similar real property in the vicinity. The term, “similar real property in the vicinity,” is not defined. In many cases there is no similar property in the vicinity and, accordingly, no basis whatsoever for comparison.

That is really interesting when one looks at that. When one applies section 86(3) of the act, I wonder what comparisons can really be made by the property taxpayer if he wanted to take a look within a vicinity to find out just what his assessment was and what method was used in arriving at a fair assessment on that property when he is not entitled to the information required to make even a reasonable appeal or judgement on what has been carried out by the assessors.

As I have said before, the minister could well use the revaluation of property assessment -- the market value concept may well be too high a criterion -- set now by studies and even by the Blair Commission on the Reform of Property Taxation in Ontario at 50 per cent of market value, which can change from one day to another. He could consider lowering the benchmark to 30 per cent, then phasing in the effects of moving to market value that would parallel the equalization resources grant structures within a five-year period. I think that is one area that should be looked at.

In my opinion, that would reduce the severe impact in its earliest stages and no doubt would be more acceptable to local government and the property taxpayer. Whatever method one chooses, it has to be fair to reach a standard of uniform assessment practice across this province. It is of prime concern for property tax equity within each municipality. I suggest the minister could have moved into that area long ago.

Based upon those comments, we in this party will be supporting the bill and its amendments. I feel if we had more information we would perhaps take a harder approach to the matter of market value assessment to find out just what direction the government is heading in property tax reform in Ontario.

It has been promised for some 15 years. I do not think we are any closer to it. We are no closer to removing the inequities within this system or the deficiencies under the present system as documented here tonight and on Tuesday night, particularly in the policy statement of market value assessment by the Institute of Municipal Assessors of Ontario. I think that pretty well tells the story right there. We support the bill.

Ms. Bryden: Mr. Speaker, in Bill 185 we have once again the government’s annual admission that it has no policy to reform our very unfair property tax; yet this is the main tax source for our municipalities. It is a tax which bears heavily on home owners. It is a tax which bears little relation to ability to pay. It is a tax which is carrying a service load for which it is ill-designed.

Property tax reform has been talked about by this government for many years. When it took over the assessment function in 1970 from the municipalities, it latched on to the market value concept as the way to bring about equal treatment of taxpayers with similar property. But after several false starts on implementing this concept and after the expenditure of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars on these false starts, the government arrived at what it considered to be a set of market value assessments in 1974. These were to go into effect on January 1, 1975.

But the government suddenly discovered that the new values, the reassessment, would result in a huge shift in the tax burden from commercial and industrial taxpayers to residential and farm taxpayers. In adopting this concept, it had failed to recognize there were several markets in the real estate world. It had failed to recognize these markets were appreciating at different rates. Residential premises were going up the fastest and, consequently, received the biggest hike in assessment. The home owner was going to be stuck with a bigger share of the tax burden; in many cases he was already overtaxed.

We had pointed out this possibility to the government when it first started the process. We had suggested it should be studying the effect on different classes of taxpayers as it was going through the process by simulation runs. The government largely ignored our proposal and bulled ahead. But when the implementation date approached, it began to see hordes of angry home owners out there facing huge tax increases and an election looming at the same time. So in 1974 it postponed implementation for what I think were mainly political reasons, but presumably to give it time to find a substitute or a modification of market value assessment that would prevent this shift to the home owner from the commercial and industrial. Its bankruptcy in the field of property tax reform is evidenced by the fact we are going through this process for the sixth time and are facing the seventh year of delay in implementation.

Our party realizes that property tax reform is long overdue. We also recognize that less reliance should be placed on this source of revenue and more on the more progressive forms of taxation such as the corporation tax. But we also recognize that we cannot eliminate property tax entirely or immediately, until we build up alternative sources of revenue through a new industrial strategy and through a reformed overall tax system. We believe an unreformed property tax means an unfair tax system and so we must move in this area.

8:20 p.m.

We have, therefore, addressed ourselves to the development of an alternative to the government’s flawed market value assessment approach. We have come up with a package of proposals which, in our opinion, will produce genuine property tax reform. It is a package that will prevent the shift in tax burden which the nervous Tories realize is unacceptable. It is a package that will protect the home owner and result in property tax reduction for hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Our package includes taking over 60 per cent of the costs of education, instead of the approximately 50 per cent now covered, and a revamped and enriched property tax credit system. Our property tax credit system has not been changed for years and has now been put out of date by inflation. Our package includes assessment based on the economic value of the property, not the speculative value of the property.

My colleague the member for Hamilton Mountain (Mr. Charlton) has described the details of this tax package in this House on several occasions. What is more, he has sent the New Democratic Party proposals to the minister. So far, we do not have any reply back from either the minister or his officials that has indicated they have found any flaws in the proposal. Why then do we have this sixth postponement bill in front of us tonight, instead of a government bill adopting this proposal for a revised market value assessment system that will bring true tax reform and will not shift the burden to the home owners from commercial and industrial?

I think the reason we have not had any move from the government in this field is perhaps they fear it might cost them a little bit of money because they would have to enrich the property tax credit system and would have to take over more of the costs of education. But the property tax is not really geared to carry the cost of services such as education to a very large degree because it is not a progressive tax. It is designed more to provide services to the home owner rather than education to the nation or to the province. The cost of the NDP proposal might be a few hundred million dollars --

Mr. Speaker: I want to remind the member that she should confine her remarks to those principles contained in the bill rather than those that are absent.

Ms. Bryden: That would at least give us time to look at an alternative, Mr. Speaker. But I agree, and I will be coming back to the fact that we are having another postponement.

It looks as if the only way we will get real property tax reform is to change this timid government. It looks as if we have to reject this government, which undertaxes corporations and overtaxes home owners. The government’s procrastination in this field has cost many municipalities millions of dollars. It has caused us to develop complicated equalisation factors on which we have to base grant allocations. It has allowed thousands of well-heeled taxpayers and corporations to appeal successfully assessments based on ancient yardsticks and escape their fair share of the tax burden. Municipal revenues have suffered as a result.

To resort to reassessment under section 86 of the act is not a solution. It does provide additional equity within categories of property taxpayers, but it does not allow for broader tax reform. It is not a substitute for the development of a proper yardstick for measuring all property values on an equitable basis.

I would like to question whether the Liberals are in favour of market value assessment. It was not clear to me from the remarks of the member for Erie (Mr. Haggerty) whether he was or was not in favour of the present unrefined market value assessment, which treats all markets as though they were the same. It was not clear to me whether he was aware there would be this serious shift if we did adopt the kind of market value assessment that is being talked about by the Conservatives. If he is in favour of the Conservatives’ version of market value assessment, he is in favour of that kind of a shift. I did not hear any proposals that he was prepared to put forward as to how that kind of a shift could be avoided.

In the absence of any government alternative to the flawed market value assessment system, we cannot help but support this bill at this time. As I say, we would have liked to have been voting on a bill that had an alternative in it, but I hope this will be the last year we will face such a bill. By this time next year, I expect we will be on the other side of the House and able to bring in our own package on property tax reform.

The other clauses in the bill, besides the postponement clause, are mainly of a housekeeping nature, and I do not object to them. However, I do object to the lateness of this postponement bill. I understand the ministry has the assessment notices based on this postponement ready to mail with an effective date of next Tuesday, December 2. If this bill does not pass this House before December 2, all those notices will have to be redone at a cost of perhaps $1 million or more.

The ministry is risking $1 million of taxpayers’ money by bringing this bill in so late. The minister has had six previous versions to copy, so it shouldn’t have been a difficult bill to draft. It seems to me this is indicative of the inefficiency of this government, which pretends that it is businesslike, is concerned about the taxpayer’s dollar and is on top of things. The government cannot control the length of debates in this House. Therefore, it has no guarantee that this bill will go through before December 2. I think it should not have been left to such a late date.

However, we are prepared to support the bill at this time. I hope we will not see it next year.

Mr. Epp: Mr. Speaker, first I have a pleasant task. I notice in the audience today Mr. Jack Lettner, the assistant deputy minister responsible for assessment I want to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his position and to wish him well as a civil servant of the crown in his new post.

Secondly, I notice that we are again at the crossroads, bailing out the government at the eleventh hour by postponing market value assessment until next year or some other year. We notice a number of other provinces -- l think all nine other provinces -- have had substantial reform as far as assessment is concerned. This particular government, despite the expenditure of millions of dollars, has seen fit to postpone it again.

We are in the Legislature today for something that comes regularly about a month before Christmas. The postponement of market value assessment comes as regularly as Christmas. I would hope that sometime in the near future, if by chance we don’t have an election next spring or next fall, the government will have the courage and the foresight to bring in some substantial reform as far as assessment in this province is concerned.

8:30 p.m.

There are a few points I would specifically like to draw to the minister’s attention. One is the fact that appeals are often being drawn to the attention of the government and being taken to the court, whether they go to the Ontario Municipal Board, before some county judge or someone else. There are appeals that are proceeded with in Ontario. One of the unfortunate aspects of those appeals is that when someone appeals a particular assessment and wins that appeal, that assessment is good only for that year.

In other words, the government of Ontario may be overassessing someone by 100, 200 or 300 per cent one year and the person wins that appeal. The assessment is then decreased significantly for that year and the next year the property owner has to appeal it again, and spend probably hundreds of dollars in legal fees, whereas the assessment may amount to only $1,500 or $2,000 in taxes. Yet the individual has to go right back to the courts the next year to have that assessment appealed.

I think that is a most unfortunate inequity in assessment in this province. I know the minister is trying to do an honest job as far as the assessment of this province is concerned. I hope the minister will look favourably upon some kind of amendment that will postpone going back to that higher assessment until some complete reassessment of the province comes into effect.

Of course, the other problem we have in this province has to do with the fact that because we have an antiquated assessment formula, we have a considerable number of appeals, particularly by large industries and commercial establishments. Because of this antiquated system we have, they are constantly winning those appeals. As a result, the city of Toronto has lost millions of dollars because of these various appeals. Because some of the people who are making these decisions may not be in the same kind of position to have all the facts before them, the municipalities are losing money. I would think if we were to total up the amount of appeals being won across the province, we would probably get somewhere between $20 million and $50 million. I am going to ask the minister to give us the amount lost last year as far as appeals were concerned in the province. Maybe he has that.

Anyway, whether we get it today or not, I am going to place a notice on the Notice Paper tomorrow to ask for the amount of assessment lost by all the municipalities in Ontario over the last number of years, individually and collectively. It is substantial and nothing really can be done until we have a complete overhaul of the assessment system in this province, because of the antiquated shape it is in.

The third point I want to raise has to do with section 86. We know, of course, section 86 of the Assessment Act was brought in a few years ago and that has taken some of the heat off the ministry as far as reform is concerned. Nevertheless, it is kind of a back door form of reform and the provincial cabinet had resisted the implementation of section 86 for a number of years because it felt it was going to come in with a complete reform package.

That was the policy of Mr. McKeough when he was Treasurer and Municipal Affairs minister, but now it appears that with the implementation of section 86, assessment reform in this province has been postponed for many years. I would hope the minister, in his closing comments, would address himself to the question of exactly when in his timetable, as a cabinet minister, he will bring in substantial assessment reform.

The final point has to do with the tax grant for seniors. As you know, Mr. Speaker, this year the government in its wisdom decided to change the formula whereby seniors were going to get money for tax grants. If we read the brochure the minister put out, it says these grants will be paid directly to seniors in the spring and fall of each year. Even today when my office checked with his ministry, we found it is going to be at least six weeks before some of the people get these tax grants. That is beyond the spring or fall of this year. Six weeks takes us into 1981. It is not even this year, let alone the fall of this year. I was wondering if the minister would expedite matters as far as these grants to seniors are concerned --

The Deputy Speaker: I think the honourable member is straying quite a distance from this bill.

Mr. Epp: It is a very valid question.

The Deputy Speaker: It is a question but it does not really pertain to --

Mr. Epp: It has to do with this ministry, Mr. Speaker.

The Deputy Speaker: I would remind the honourable member that the bill to amend the Assessment Act is before the House at the moment.

Mr. Epp: You are right again, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity of drawing that to the attention of the minister. Mr. Speaker, you have been very kind and I do hope the minister is able to address his remarks to the questions I have raised.

Mr. Charlton: This is the fourth year I have had the opportunity of speaking to this postponement bill. It is the first time in those four years that I have not been the critic and not been doing the leadoff. None the less, it is the fourth year in my very short career here that I have had to speak to this postponement bill. It is a task which concerns me quite substantially.

My colleague, the member for Beaches-Woodbine, made the point a number of times about what has happened to property tax reform in this province over the past 10 years, so I will not go over all that. What I would like to do is speak specifically to one of the sections of this bill and to attempt to talk to the minister about some of the things I know he is going to say in his wrapup on second reading, because he said them last year and the year before. I want to talk about section 86.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: Never second guess me.

Mr. Charlton: I am going to anyway. The minister is going to tell us, as he did last year, that it is not true this government is doing nothing about property tax reform and assessment reform. He is going to tell us the section 86 program is, in fact, reform, that section 86 gives us assessments that are better than the antiquated system the member for Waterloo North referred to. And it is a terribly antiquated system in those municipalities that have not yet chosen to go the section 86 route.

Section 86 does not deal in any adequate way with the intent of assessment and property tax reform in this province. I refer the minister in my comments to the Smith reports of the 1960s, the place where all this debate started and the rationales that caused this government, the government this minister now represents, to decide to do property tax reform in this province. The intent was far different from any result we get from section 86.

8:40 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to refer very specifically here to the last part of one of the sections in this bill. We are dealing with section 86 and what section 86 is supposed to mean to individual property owners and to the assessor’s view of individual properties. It reads:

“Subject to subsection 2, the assessment roll of a municipality to be returned in the year 1980 shall be the assessment of all real property as set forth in the assessment roll returned in the year 1979 for taxation in the year 1980 as amended, added to or otherwise altered up to the date when the assessment roll for taxation in the year 1981 is returned, provided that, where the assessor is of the opinion that an assessment to be shown on the assessment roll to be returned for the years 1974 to and including 1980 is inequitable with respect to assessment of similar real property in the vicinity, the assessor may alter the value of the assessment to the extent necessary to make the assessment equitable with the assessment of such similar real property.”

I want to suggest that this section of the Assessment Act, a section which has been around for some time now, places an obligation on the local assessor, on the assessment commissioner in the region, on the assessment division of the Ministry of Revenue and on the Minister of Revenue himself, as the person who is ultimately responsible for property tax assessment in Ontario. I want to suggest that this section of the act is not being fulfilled and has not been fulfilled in any kind of fair, equitable and uniform fashion across this province.

I want to say to the minister that I have discussed this matter with his staff and received extremely good co-operation from his staff. Their understanding of my concerns is good and their willingness to sit down and talk about the problems is good, but the good intent expressed in this legislation is not being lived up to and the ultimate responsibility is that of the minister.

Equitable with other real property in the vicinity means something serious in terms of the whole intent of why this government got involved in property tax reform in the first place. Section 86 of the Assessment Act may never replace full and complete property tax reform, but section 86 has a beneficial role to play in this province. I will grant the minister that much. It is not assessment reform, though, in any real sense and it is not even being applied as it should be.

I have raised with the minister’s staff a number of matters in terms of equity between similar property and the policy is not clear to the people in the assessment offices. It is being done differently by different people in the same regions and in different regions. The intent of section 86 and in those areas where section 86 equalization was done in full was that assessments would be equalized based on market value; that a particular year would be picked as the base year and that the market place in that base year would be used as the benchmark for market value.

The minister will recall that we went through this debate last year in a committee of this House when my colleagues to the right moved this same bill out to committee. They moved a number of amendments to section 86 and we had a fairly lengthy debate around the whole question of what did 1975 mean and how did 1978 and 1979 sales relate to the market value of 1975. It was made very clear in that committee that one could not take the value that was reflected in the 1979 sale and apply it to a property as the market value when everything else was assessed on the 1975 base.

But it was also made very clear in that committee that the intent of section 86 was to use a market base of 1975, but to reflect the current economic situation in the community between similar properties. That is not happening, or at least it is not happening uniformly. It certainly is not happening regularly in the sense -- and I know it is difficult -- that the assessment offices across this province, although they are probably doing a continual analysis, are doing continuous updating from year to year of the changes in the economic relationship of municipalities as a result of new services, or whatever the case happens to be.

We had another problem, which I have also discussed with ministry staff. It is the problem of the factors themselves that have been used in the section 86 program. The way in which the factors are being used, in my view, totally offends this section of the act which is brought before us tonight. The intent should be clear since we are debating it here tonight

In the section 86 program, on an individual property more than one factor is being used to factor back from market value to current assessment level. It is specifically done on properties where there is a rather large complex, partly commercial and partly residential. Two factors automatically are being used in the assessment offices on those properties.

In cases of what is essentially a residential property but part of that property is commercial -- oh, no, there are no split factors. The assessment offices I have talked to, in that instance -- because it is a small property and it does not matter who the owner of that property is anyway because he is just a little individual -- say only one factor can be applied against that property. But if one can establish that the preponderance of use and the preponderance of value in that property is residential, then only the residential factor is used.

For those who have residential-commercial use on a small property like that, thank God at least some of them the residential factor instead of the commercial factor. But there are a number out there who got exactly the opposite -- whose residential-commercial mix property, because of a slightly different split in the evaluation and because of a slightly different location on which that property sits, had the commercial factor totally applied instead of the residential factor.

The people out there do not understand that at all, especially when two of them happen to be three blocks away from each other and one got the residential factor in total and the other got the commercial factor in total. They do not see there is any fairness in that. They do not understand why they got one or the other.

In the bigger sector, where the owners are bigger and more powerful, they got split factors based on the split on the property. The residential portion got the residential factor and the commercial portion got the commercial factor.

The government cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Kerrio: Sure you can. The Tories do it all the time.

Mr. Charlton: When this Legislature decided the province should become involved in total in the property tax system, one of the main goals it set out was fairness, equity and uniformity across the province. Uniformity is the one I am emphasizing now. The government cannot play different games for different people and have a uniform system. The minister certainly will never satisfy the people out there in the public who ultimately are the ones who have to accept the tax system as a fair system. He is never going to satisfy them by playing three different games all in one system.

8:50 p.m.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I am not playing games and you know it.

Mr. Charlton: You are.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: The only guy playing games is you.

Mr. Charlton: No, no. Even most of the minister’s staff agrees with me. Go down sometimes and talk to the guys who work on the street. Most of his staff agrees with me because they see the unfairness of what they are being told to do.

My colleague from Waterloo North mentioned something about appeals that are won only being good for one year. That is true. In some cases, the assessment can come right back up the next year. But in the case of split factors, where the people with the small residential-commercial mixed properties appeal and win their appeals, the assessors are being instructed in every single case to appeal that decision to the county judge. At the same time, in another sector, the assessment office is applying split factors from the outset.

Nobody is playing games here, except perhaps the minister. The minister can suggest that I am playing games. I am going to suggest that probably he is not playing games, probably he does not understand what is going on. From time to time, I think it is relevant for him to take the time to find out what is going on. That does not necessarily mean talking to research staff he has here. It means going out from time to time, going into the regional assessment offices, not to talk to the commissioner but to talk to the guys on the street and get their views of the problems that are being caused out there.

He does not even have to expect them to come up with the problems for him because they have been laid out here for him. All I am suggesting is perhaps, from time to time, he should go out and ask about some of the things that are brought to his attention with the people who are really confronted with it out there on the streets.

The intent of this section of the act is good. It is not being lived up to. That is one of my objections about having to deal again, for a fourth time in my case, with this postponement bill while he hangs his hat on the fact that section 86 deals with a lot of the problems. I am saying section 86 is not being lived up to even as it is printed.

Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is fair for us tonight to blame the minister for the mess that exists in property taxes in Ontario today, because he or his predecessors inherited a great deal of that from the municipalities at the beginning of the last decade. But I do think it is appropriate we blame the minister to some extent, and his cabinet colleagues forming the government to a much greater extent, for not having addressed the problem of assessment in a much more serious way.

As my colleague from Beaches-Woodbine, the revenue critic for this party, indicated earlier this is the sixth time we have had a bill of this kind before the House. It seems to me it must be with a bit of shame that the minister brings this bill forward yet again. Surely there are better things that could have been done. Surely the government is aware that the problem is so serious it needs to be solved, or at least we need to begin on the path to solution in a far better way than bringing in annual deferments, year after year.

I was very disappointed that in the minister’s opening statement we did not get an inkling of where the government is going on the matter of assessment. The minister will be aware that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario has endorsed the section 86 concept as a first step on the road to full market value assessment. Yet there is absolutely no indication from this government that section 86 is, in fact, a first step on the road to full market value assessment. At the moment, there is no indication that section 86 is a road to anywhere. All it does is to deal with a particular crisis that exists in some parts of the province at the moment, namely that without section 86, appeals, particularly from large commercial and multiple residential owners, can cost the municipality dearly in terms of assessment.

There is no doubt that section 86 does help to deal with that one serious problem. It may, indeed, make the system a tiny bit fairer than it was before for the majority of home owners, tenants and commercial and industrial property owners. But if it makes it a tiny bit fairer for those people, it is not making it more fair for them between classes. It is only making it more fair within classes. Even then there are some serious problems.

On this matter of the between-classes comparison, I really do not understand why it is seen that there is equity in a system that means many tenants are paying well over twice in terms of assessment, and hence in terms of property taxes, that which occupants of single family homes are paying. It does not make sense to me that the high-rise apartment dweller, whether he is tenant or condominium owner, who with his small box in the sky makes a lesser demand on municipal services on an average basis than the single family home owner with his 30 or 40 or 50 feet of lot, should be assessed at any higher rate than the single family home owner. Indeed, I think there are very strong arguments in favour of assessing that person at a lower rate if we insist on talking in terms of market value.

There are problems in terms of the comparison of residential groups with commercial and industrial classes of property. I am going to take the commercial class. In many municipalities commercial assessment is a percentage of market value assessment approximately similar to the percentage at which the single family residential assessment is made. The factors are of the same order of magnitude. In many other municipalities there is a 60 per cent difference.

However, in Flamborough, for example, single family residential is at 7.5 per cent of market value and commercial is at 9.9 per cent of market value. That is approximately a 30 per cent difference. In the town of Stoney Creek, commercial is at 19.7 per cent of market value and single family residential is at 13.6 per cent of market value. That is over 40 per cent difference. There is no rationale for that at all; it is a historical accident which arises as part of the program.

There are equalization factors in place which take into account the overall difference in magnitude in terms of the relationship of total assessment in the municipality to total market value of property located in the municipality. Those things are dealt with by the equalization factors. But that basic unfairness of the different relationship between classes is not dealt with anywhere.

9 p.m.

It means, and I will be quite frank about it, that businesses, commercial properties located in the town of Stoney Creek, are paying more than commercial properties located in the township of Flamborough, in the same region, in terms of their contribution to regional costs, even after the apportionment is taken into account. There is nothing fair about that. There is nothing sensible about that. There is nothing that makes that the right way to do things. We have to say where we are going. We have to be prepared. I think it is the responsibility of all members of this House, regardless of party, to tell the people of the province where we are going in the area of property taxes. It may be the three parties are going in different directions.

It worries me very greatly when I hear the Liberal critic of the Ministry of Revenue read the policy statement issued by the Institute of Municipal Assessors of Ontario and by inference associate himself with that policy statement. I hope he is not telling us and the people of the province that that policy statement is the policy of the Liberal Party of Ontario on the matter of property taxes. If he is, he is telling the people of Ontario his party is prepared to support, in the ultimate, a system of property taxes which will mean over the years an increasing shift in the burden from commercial and industrial properties to the residential sector.

We have seen that happen in places in the United States where they have implemented full market value assessment, and I know that even the latest reports are not suggesting a complete full market value in Ontario. They are suggesting a system where the residential sector is factored by 50 per cent, but that factor does not have an impact in the long run. In the long run, the impact of inflation on market value of property, particularly in a time when there is a downturn in the economy, will mean there is a substantial shift in the burden from the industrial and commercial sector to the residential sector. It arises, very simply, because of the differing markets that exist for homes and for the other kinds of business properties.

I do not believe we should be aiming for full market value. I do not believe we should be aiming in any direction that fixes the system somehow associated with the market value of the property. We do not have that system today, if the truth be told, because industrial and commercial properties, as my colleague, the member for Hamilton Mountain, has already suggested, are not really being assessed on the basis of the market value of the building itself.

The Toronto-Dominion Centre is not really assessed on its market value, because the Toronto-Dominion Centre does not have the same kind of relationship to the market as a private home. Hence, the assessment departments, quite rightly, deal with those kinds of properties in a special kind of way, and that is fair; but we are not telling the general public that. We are telling the general public that under a section 86 reassessment that now exists, not in Toronto but in a lot of other municipalities around the province, all properties are assessed on the basis of their market value. We are not explaining to them what a hoax that statement is.

I really hope that, probably not tonight, but some time in the next few months, the government will come to grips with this issue of where we are headed and will indicate to the people of Ontario what its real philosophy about assessment and about the payment of property taxes is going to be in the future, because we have not seen that in the past.

I want to say to the government, too, please do not set up any more studies or commissions or anything else on property taxes and assessments. There are enough studies to fill a moving van. What we need are some policy decisions. They are tough, and they are difficult, but the Minister of Revenue has one that I’m rather fond of right in his possession, and so do assessment offices right across the province. That is the one this party produced last spring, and while it may not be the final answer, in my view it is so superior to any of the answers we have yet seen that it should be given some very real consideration. We are certainly doing that, and we are going to continue to do that.

Since by this bill we are extending the section 88 process for another year and implementing it in another bunch of municipalities on January 1, I want to add one comment to the comments my colleague from Hamilton Mountain has already made about the failings of that process. My comment relates to the difficulty I have encountered in terms of a problem with some of my constituents, but which is a more general problem, and that is the inclusion of economic condition as one of the components when the 1975 market value is assessed.

Economic condition is as much a component of the value of a property as is the area of the home, the size of the lot, the number of rooms, the style of construction -- all those kinds of things. If economic conditions had changed uniformly across a municipality or across the province, that would not really matter, but economic conditions are not always constant across a municipality.

Sometimes something will happen in one corner of a municipality that makes a dramatic change in the economic condition for the properties that are located there. It can be a move in either direction. It could be that sewers came to the property and the development in the area was booming, and all of a sudden the value of the home that was relatively low in 1975 is much higher today.

My information is that that is taken into account by the assessment department -- and that is as it should be -- and it arrives at a 1975 market value using the economic conditions that exist in that neighbourhood today; but there is a problem when we go the other way.

When there were transient economic conditions in 1975, that meant the speculators were moving in and buying properties at a grossly inflated price and yet now that those economic conditions have disappeared today because the development has not proceeded in the way it was expected to in 1975 and the market has fallen flat and people now can hardly give their homes away, we seem to be running into a problem with the assessment department in getting that dramatic change in economic condition taken into account.

I know the minister’s staff are aware of this because I know my colleague has drawn it to their attention. I know it is a matter of some discussion, but I wanted to raise it with the minister today because at least while we are stuck with the section 86 process -- as we will be for one more year -- I think the criteria should be clearly spelled out so that everybody can understand how the 1975 market value is arrived at.

I happen to think that economic condition should be taken into account, and I understand that many of the minister’s staff agree in general with that viewpoint. I think assessment offices across the province should be told that if there has been a markedly different change in market value from 1975 to 1980 in one neighbourhood which has not occurred elsewhere in the municipality, the 1980 economic conditions should be used when arriving at the 1975 market value assessment.

9:10 p.m.

To put it all on the table, I should tell the minister that on behalf of a group of my constituents I have made this argument before the assessment review court in the town of Stoney Creek because I was not able to convince the assessors in private discussions previously that this was the way to go. I was not successful in persuading the judge of the assessment review court that this was a sound argument. The reason I was not successful was that it is not written down anywhere. Nowhere does it say how the assessment department should arrive at the 1975 market value. If it is written down anywhere, it is certainly not known to me and certainly was not made known to the ARC that day.

So I think there is a real flaw there. While we continue with this section 86 process, we should know what the basic guidelines are and they should be applied uniformly in every municipality that opts for a section 86. I hope the minister will work with his staff and try to deal with this problem so that we can save some additional agony in other areas where it arises. I think it can be done quite easily. I do not think it is a major problem. I happen to know it has been done in the multiple residential sector in the city of Hamilton. They managed to work that out and they agreed there had been a major downturn in the market value so-called of all of those buildings across the city of Hamilton. They worked that out and that was no problem.

But for some reason we cannot get it worked out for this group of home owners who happen to be caught with lots of two acres that had a certain market value because of an apparent development in 1975 which is now clearly not going anywhere. That is another story because it then happened to be an Ontario Housing Corporation project and now it is an Ontario land corporation project.

If we were not on 1975, it would not be a problem. By coincidence that happened to be the boom year and every year since has been a bust. These people are trapped in a most unfortunate situation that really does need to be solved. I think it can be solved and I really do not think it is any big deal. I wanted to raise it because it will occur in other places where section 86 is being undertaken for 1981 and perhaps for 1982, if we carry on in this silly way. That is an additional criticism of the section 86 process that I wanted to make.

I want to come back to the matter of the factors established under section 86, because I think those are the seat of the real inequity at the present time. I happen to think market value is not the way to go. Maybe the minister still believes that is the way to go. Those kinds of things, I guess, will be worked out in this House at the appropriate time when the legislation is brought in to do whatever it is the government of the day -- whichever government it is -- decides it wants to do.

Even within regions, we have at the present time serious differences in the section 86 factors, which mean there is no equity among the classes in the different municipalities in the same region, in the same county or in the same school board district. While that continues, I really do not think it is reasonable for the government, for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario or for anyone else to say the section 86 process is fair.

In terms of solution, I really regret that the minister has brought this bill in so much at the last minute. I think assessment is one of those complex areas where it would be valuable, educational and useful for all members of the House to have the ability to go to committee, become informed as to what is going on and get an understanding of the process. I think that kind of committee discussion, debate and recommendations from a committee of this House might indeed assist the government in formulating a solution to the property tax crisis that is looming. It is a crisis. It is a very serious problem today.

The government has brought in this annual bill very much at the last minute, as it did last year. It therefore denied us the opportunity to take the bill to committee, to talk about the options, to look at the things that are being done in other jurisdictions and to formulate recommendations.

The Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott) was making statements today and last Tuesday about how helpful the report of the resources development committee on liquid industrial waste disposal had been to him. I do not want to liken an assessment to liquid industrial waste disposal except to say that both those areas are a disaster at the present time. Perhaps consideration of assessment and the property tax system by a committee of this House, listening to experts, listening to different viewpoints, might come up with a report that is of some assistance to the minister.

I know we have a problem in this House in terms of the number of committees that sit and the amount of work there is to be done because the government is not addressing the issues of the day. I happen to think property taxes are a very serious issue. I happen to think it would be very worthwhile to have a committee of this House find the time to get into the issue, to talk to the experts, to review what might be done, to listen to the minister’s staff and to come up with recommendations. This bill is clearly the vehicle to do that.

Next year if we are still here -- we will be; I do not know about the government -- and if it happens that the minister’s party is still responsible for bringing in legislation, which may or may not be the case -- it seems to me today to be pretty unlikely -- I sincerely hope the minister will make a commitment to bring in the bill in plenty of time so we can take it to committee, look at it and get into some of these things in great depth. If the government is going to continue to abdicate its responsibility, then perhaps a committee of this Legislature working on the problem can come up with solutions the government has so far failed to find anywhere.

Ms. Bryden: Mr. Speaker, when I was describing the New Democratic Party alternative to the postponement, I said the policy of the NDP was for the government to take over 60 per cent of school taxes. I should have said 65 per cent.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I wonder if the member for Beaches-Woodbine would also like to correct the record when she talked about hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on studying the assessment program in this province. I do not think that is a very good figure either.

Ms. Bryden: That is over 10 years.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: It is not hundreds of millions.

Mr. Speaker, I will try to reply in sequence to each speaker who was involved in the debate. I will deal with the member for Erie first.

His first remark was that he did not see any noticeable improvement in assessment in the province. I would like to draw his attention to the fact that since the section 86 program was brought in, with those programs in place and the ones that have been on market value for some years, exactly half the municipalities in the province, more than 400, have had some work done on their assessment. I don’t say particularly market value as the act describes it, but section 86 and market value assessment in other areas.

There are about 400 municipalities at the moment -- no, I guess that is not the right way to say it. When we get the section 86 programs in place for 1981 -- there are 130 more coming onstream -- then we will have 400. I do not want to mislead the member; that means half the municipalities will have been dealt with in one form or another as far as assessment is concerned.

9:20 p.m.

The member quoted the Institute of Municipal Assessors. It has always been its policy that it wants market value assessment in Ontario. I have said in the years I have been the Minister of Revenue that I agree with that policy. I do not oppose market value as such. But I have also said that market value assessment cannot come to this province without some form of property tax reform.

Two or three members have asked whose responsibility it is. It is the Treasurer’s (Mr. F. S. Miller) responsibility, as I am sure everybody in this House knows. They know that all the property tax reform work was done under the former Treasurer, the Honourable Darcy McKeough. The precedent has been set and everybody knows that property tax reform comes under the Treasurer. It is his responsibility.

However, when the Treasurer is working on property tax reform he obviously looks for input from the assessment branch of my ministry as well as the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Ministry of Education, which are also involved. It does become a four-ministry situation.


Hon. Mr. Maeck: Do the members want to talk about assessment or environment?

Hon. Mr. Parrott: Oh, not environment.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. MacBeth): I think they would rather talk about environment. Would you please give your attention to the Minister of Revenue?

Hon. Mr. Parrott: I apologize, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Kerrio: We have to get on to the Vicious Dogs Act.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: The member for Erie also suggested that the section 86 program should be done by region or county, rather than by municipality. We have taken the opposite viewpoint simply because we want it to be a voluntary program. If we were to go by region, three or four municipalities might request it and two or three or four would not want it. We have taken the opposite approach; we do not want to force it on municipalities.

The region of Kitchener-Waterloo is an example. All the municipalities in that region have had a section 86 program with the exception of the city of Waterloo, which was the city’s choice. If the city of Waterloo were to talk to the city of Cambridge, the city of Cambridge would tell them that they are much better off today assessment-wise than they were before we did the section 86.

There is no question we are going to have all kinds of difficulties in any assessment program. We are not perfect and never will be.

Mr. Isaacs: Some of them are better than others.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: There is no question some are better than others, and some assessors are better than others. We are all human, we all make mistakes.

The member for Erie, taking a leaf out of the NDP book, also suggested that the province should support education up to 60 per cent to relieve the tax burden on residential property taxpayers particularly. I cannot say I am particularly against that, but I remind all members that when we increase education grants to the municipalities to relieve the property taxes, the dollars have to come from somewhere. In the NDP proposal about which the member for Beaches-Woodbine spoke, the figure on the cost for education alone would be something like $580 million. That money would have to be found. It is not so simple when one is on this side of the House and has the responsibility of finding the dollars.

Mr. Haggerty: You are paying almost 60 per cent now.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: That is not quite so. We are probably paying 51 per cent if we do not take into consideration the number of dollars that go into the property tax credit program and all the other programs dealing with property tax administered by my ministry.

Mr. Haggerty: Are you forgetting that $30 million you owe the city of Windsor for the resources grant?

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I am not forgetting that, but that is a question the honourable member will have to talk to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (Mr. Wells) about, not the Minister of Revenue. The Ministry of Revenue does not owe the city of Windsor any money. I do not think the city of Windsor is in any worse shape financially than any other city in the province.

Mr. B. Newman: Would you like to have 20,000 unemployed in your community?

Hon. Mr. Maeck: That is another problem.

The Acting Speaker: Mr. Minister, will you please return to answering the questions that arose on Bill 185?

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I thought I might cover the whole situation as I go, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Samis: You are not running for leadership, are you? The silent candidate.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I am going to go back to the member’s riding shortly. The member for Erie also talked a little about the $2,500 assessment where anything below that is not picked up. That is so, except when we do a section 86 program. Those assessments are then picked up as part of the overall package. With any municipality that has gone on section 86, those assessments up to $2,500 are picked up at that time.

He talked a little about equalization factors as well, but that is really not in this bill. I would be happy to talk to the member about that at another time. To touch on equalization factors very lightly, there had been appeals on some of them but I think it was found there was nothing wrong with the factors. That is the work this ministry does. Certainly, it was the effects those factors produced. That goes under another ministry, as we all know.

Several members spoke about the lateness of introducing this piece of legislation. I must apologize for that. Part of it is my fault. I was away the week this bill should have been introduced. I thought I had explained it, particularly to the critics, but apparently they do not accept my explanation. However, I see they did co-operate and allow us to go ahead with the legislation. I appreciate it very much.

The member for Waterloo North (Mr. Epp) asked about appeals. As the member knows, the appeals themselves are under the assessment review court, which is under the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry). However, he was concerned about the fact that an assessment raised would be raised again the following year after the appeal had been granted. I am informed by my staff that is not what should be taking place. If he knows of any particular cases, I would be happy to look into that.

If the assessment is set by the appeal court it is accepted by my ministry. If it is not, of course, we have to appeal it. But instructions have gone out from my office that once the assessment has been set through the review court they are not to raise that assessment the following year unless, of course, something else has been done to the property that requires it to be increased. If that is happening, I would like to know about it because I do not believe that once a court sets a rate of assessment we should be changing it the following year. That would destroy the whole appeal process. We cannot expect taxpayers to go into court every year and appeal the same assessment. I would not want that to happen.

He also wanted to know if we knew what the amount would be in this past year in losses in appeals. My staff advise me that at the moment they cannot tell me that but I will be happy to get it. If the member is going to put the question on the Order Paper anyway, he will get it then. I do not have it with me.

He asked when I would bring in substantial assessment reform. That is a tough question.

As Minister of Revenue, I have been trying to do something about assessment reform for the last three years and I think I have done a considerable amount. I think we are moving into a form of assessment reform, probably, as the member for Waterloo North indicated, a little through the back door. With the political climate in this province today, the only way we are going to get reform is by doing one thing at a time. I do not think we are going to get an agreement, at this moment at least, where we are going to bring in a brand new package and all the problems are going to be solved in one swipe of the pen. It is not going to happen. I have resolved myself to that situation.

9:30 p.m.

I am prepared, therefore, to work the Band-Aid approach, if members want to call it that, or the piecemeal approach. I am going to get some of this work done whether I have to do it one piece at a time or three pieces at a time. It is going to move. My staff at the moment are meeting with Treasury and have been over the past month or so. I understand they have some proposals to make to me and the Treasurer in the near future, probably in January. These will be considered and, of course, if there are things we feel we can do -- we will obviously have to have approval of the cabinet as well before I can make it public -- but I assure the members, we are working on property tax reform. I would not want members to hold their breath and expect it to be a complete reform package, because I do not think that is going to happen. I do not think that would be acceptable to the public out there, even if we did want to do it.

I was pleased to find out this week that the Ontario Federation of Agriculture accepted the recommendation of its tax and assessment committee and on November 26, 1980, passed the following resolution. I want to read this into the record.

“1. That the taxation and assessment committee be continued for another year.

“2. Whereas section 86 would bring more equity to farm taxation and whereas most municipalities would benefit from the feasibility study, therefore be it resolved that the adoption of section 86 is desirable for most agricultural municipalities.”

As I mentioned earlier in my statement, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario has supported the section 86 program. We now have the Ontario Federation of Agriculture supporting it. Even if members opposite feel it is a little bit lacking, at least it is being accepted out there. I think it is doing something to alleviate some of the inequities that existed prior to the section 86 program. I have said many times, and the members all know it, it is not the be-all and end-all. It does not solve all the problems. I never expected it to. Certainly it goes a long way to solving a lot of the problems that were there before.

I also want to commend my staff on the excellent work they have been doing in that program. It has created a lot of additional work for those people. They have worked hard. I think they have done a reasonably good job. I think they did a good job on the open houses.

One of the members, and I cannot remember which member, said no one seemed to be able to get any assistance. Maybe it was the member for Waterloo North.

Mr. Epp: No, I did not say that.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: No? Somebody did anyway. He said they could not get any information on it. We do have the open house whenever there is a section 86 program in any municipality. The assessors are instructed to co-operate. They are instructed to give all the information necessary. They are also instructed to give all the information necessary to assist taxpayers who may want to appeal if they are not satisfied with their assessment. We have tried to be as co-operative as we can. I will be making a statement tomorrow in the Legislature about open houses.

I wanted to speak a little bit about high-rise apartments as opposed to single family homes, a topic brought up by the member for Wentworth (Mr. Isaacs). I know he feels the factors should be the same for commercial apartments as for single family dwellings. I think that was the point he was making to me. I would only point out to him that there has traditionally been a difference between apartments and single family dwellings which I am sure he is aware of. But there are a couple of points I would like to make to perhaps justify some of the difference. I believe the difference in most cases is spread too far; I believe that. But I have to point out to the member that if a person owns an apartment, that person is subject to deductions in other taxes than property tax and is subject to all kinds of other things that go on within an apartment, such as maintenance. It is a different position from that of the single family dweller.

If I own a house I cannot claim any of my expenses on my income tax, but if I own an apartment building, any of those expenses attached to that apartment building are deductions for tax purposes. So while it might look like a large spread, it actually is not as large as it first appears when you take into consideration that they get tax breaks in other ways.

Mr. Isaacs: They sure do not say that when they go to rent review hearings.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: No, I am sure they do not. The other thing is I am not sure whether they pass it on to their tenants, but the fact is they have a better chance of recovering some of their money through other taxes than does the home owner. I think that justifies some difference between the factor in single family units and apartments.

The matter of economic conditions concerns me a great deal. This week I met with some people from the city of Hamilton who are concerned about this very issue. These people happen to be hotel owners but I guess it applies to all areas. It does not matter whether they are hotel owners, apartment owners or residential property owners. I believe this should be taken into account; there is no question.

I am told by staff that if an economic change takes place in a municipality, of course, the assessor has instructions from this office to take that into consideration. Whether they are doing so obviously has to be looked at. We do always have the final solution which is, of course, to appeal. I would prefer to have a proper assessment to start with rather than to have half the people in the province --

Mr. Charlton: That is precisely why we are raising it here, Lorne.

Hon. Mr. Maeck: I appreciate that the member was raising it to be helpful and my staff will look into that. I have given about as much information as I can on this. I again want to thank the members for their cooperation.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered for third reading.


Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 169, An Act to provide for Liability for Injuries caused by Dogs.

Mr. Sterling: Mr. Speaker, prior to my summing up on this second reading, the member for Huron-Middlesex (Mr. Riddell) requested that he have an opportunity to participate in the debate. He was tied up in committee on November 4, when this was first being discussed. I have no objection to his participating in the debate at this time if it is agreeable to the rest of the members of the House. I am at your command.

Mr. Samis: Mr. Speaker, may I also ask that the member for Carleton-Grenville extend the same privilege to me?

Mr. Speaker: I am sorry, there was an agreement entered into without the knowledge of the chair. As I recall the last time we discussed this bill, no one else wished to speak and the member for Carleton-Grenville rose to his feet and adjourned the debate. Is there unanimous consent to allow someone else to speak at this time?

Mr. Warner: There are two other speakers.

Mr. Speaker: Do we have unanimous consent to allow that to take place?

Mr. Roy: There are two other speakers. I just want to say one word.

Mr. Speaker: You just said it. The member for Huron-Middlesex, with the understanding that we will have one other speaker, the member for Cornwall.

Mr. B. Newman: I have a few comments, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Well --

Mr. Sterling: Then I will object. We will be putting this to the committee of the whole House after and they can speak at that particular time. If they want to open the debate up again, we have already had nine speakers on this particular piece of legislation and I have now heard four other members who want to add to it.

9:40 p.m.

Mr. Speaker: You must appreciate the Speaker was not a party to these arrangements and, if we do not have unanimous consent, I will hear the windup from the member for Carleton-Grenville.

Mr. Sterling: Mr. Speaker, I will allow them to speak.

Mr. Riddell: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity given to me to say a few words on this bill. Unfortunately, some of us spend a fair bit of time in committee and, if it happens to be our estimates that are on, it is almost impossible to come to participate in the debate on these bills. I did want to say a few words because --

Mr. Speaker: I just want to say something. I do not want this to be taken as a precedent, because the member for Carleton-Grenville had risen to his feet. Nobody had indicated he wanted to speak at that time. We do not want this to be a precedent where we can revert back and open the whole thing up again just because some member did not happen to be present in the House at the time. With that understanding, I will hear the member for Huron-Middlesex.

Mr. Riddell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You are a very understanding man.

Apart from the concerns some of us have in the rural areas, I would have to say we do welcome the bill. As the minister stated in his opening comments, it is probably long overdue. This fact came home to me as I was tramping the streets of Carleton a week or so ago and calling on homes where there were Great Danes that were just about ripping the chains away from their necks to get at one, or one would knock on a door and there would be a Dalmatian that would come pouncing at the door, showing its teeth and hoping the door would open so it could get hold of one. There were German shepherds and Dobermann pinschers. Why in the world people in urban centres would want to keep such large, vicious dogs, I fail to understand. I would have to say, if that door was ever opened and if the person did not have hold of that dog, then, as sure as I am standing here talking tonight, the dog would have had hold of one. Of course, the owner is then liable, as he should be.

Another fact was brought to my attention by someone far more knowledgeable than I about this business of drugs and dug peddling. If one were to go into the parking lot surrounding a courthouse where they may be trying some of these people who have been peddling or handling drugs in some way, invariably one will find Dobermann pinschers in the vans those people drive. That Dobermann is there for only one purpose, as far as I am concerned. If a child ever happened to wander around there and open the door, I would think that would be the end of that child. It is high time we had some legislation whereby these people are going to be liable for these large, vicious dogs.

I must also speak of something that irritates me. Although I do not spend a great deal of time in urban centres, when I am in Toronto I will occasionally take a stroll through the park and it irritates me to see these people walking their dogs along the street or in the park and the dogs will leave their calling cards or discard their waste products of digestion against some lovely trees that are growing and kill the trees. I say this is wrong. Believe me, I know the owner is not liable for this kind of activity, but I sometimes think maybe it would be a good thing if the dog did take a little nip so the owner would be liable and would have to get rid of that kind of dog.

I want to come back to the rural areas where farmers in many cases have to have dogs for one reason or another. I am talking about working dogs. I don’t know how many members have been on sheep farms or dairy farms and have seen the Border collie dogs working. It is a sheer delight to walk in there and hear a farmer say, “Okay, collie, get the cows.” That dog will go right back to the far end of the farm, round the cows up and bring them up to the walk. If one cow happens to stop, the dog will nip at its heels. That is the way that dog has of moving that animal. It has a natural instinct to nip at heels. If somebody comes on a farm where that Border collie is lying around a building and if he tries to go into a garage or one of the buildings on the farm, the dog, by instinct, feels it has to protect the buildings. If the dog wants to keep the person away, the chances are it will nip at the heels of that person. Under this bill that person can turn around and sue the owner of the dog and there is a very good chance the owner will have to get rid of the dog. In many cases, these dogs are very expensive.

As members know, farmers keep a lot of gas on hand, maybe 1,000 or 2,000 gallons. We know that at this particular time, when we are facing an oil crisis and gas prices are high, people do sometimes wander in. If they do not see anybody around, it is very easy for them to put a hose down into the intake pipe, siphon out the gas and away they go.

I know the bill says that if someone is on the property to commit a crime of some kind, the owner is not liable. But there are all kinds of people who come on to farms. There are feed salesmen, fertilizer salesmen and salesmen selling household items. If they come on the property and the dog happens to be lying around the building when nobody is home, that dog has the natural instinct to guard what he considers to be his property. If he happens to nip at the person who is on the property, the first thing one knows is the owner is liable and may have to do away with his dog.

I can speak from experience. I used to be quite a large sheep farmer at one time and I had to keep a dog because there are a lot of people who enjoy what are called hot-house lambs. These are 50-pound lambs. People would come in with their trucks with the idea of buying the lambs. If there is nobody around -- and many times the farmer is at the back of the farm operating his tractor or he and his wife are away and nobody is at home -- then it is very easy for someone to walk in. It happened to me; they would simply walk in, pick up these 50-pound lambs, load them into a truck and away they would go. I would come back and find I was missing 15 or 20 lambs.

So it was imperative to keep a dog. That dog would stay in the barn with the sheep, and if people wandered into the barn -- and maybe it was just somebody to look at the sheep -- the chances are they were going to be nipped by the dog. Once again, they can turn around and sue the farmer, and the chances are the farmer may have to do away with a perfectly good dog.

Another thing happened to me when I was in the ag rep service down in Essex county. I dropped in on a farmer who happened to have what they called SPF pigs -- specific pathogenic-free pigs. No one is allowed to go into the barn where those kinds of pigs are, because if they do and carry a germ in, it spreads right through the whole herd. They have no resistance against that kind of disease.

Some of those farmers kept a dog -- quite often a German shepherd dog. I can recall going in as I wanted to meet the farmer, but I could not find him around. I opened the door of a barn and just as I opened it a German shepherd came flying out. If I had not been able to close the door immediately, that dog would have had me right by the throat. But when I stopped to think about it, I had no business going in that barn. That farmer had a dog for the very purpose of keeping people out of the barn. I am sure that under this bill if somebody went in and opened the barn door and was met and bitten by the dog, the owner would be liable, and the chances are he would have to lose a perfectly good dog.

9:50 p.m.

These are things those of us who happen to represent rural areas are concerned about. I am concerned that this act could increase farmers’ liability in direct conflict with the decreasing of liability under Bill 203, The Trespass to Property Act, and Bill 202, The Occupiers’ Liability Act. We spent a fair bit of time passing those two acts and, believe me, they are just about as good legislation as we can have. Again, these acts were a long time coming. Now for the first time in many years, the farmer is not liable if trespassers come on to his farm and somehow fall into the farm pond or trip into a groundhog hole and break a leg or injure themselves in some other way.

A farmer can post his farm now and indicate exactly what kind of activities he would allow people to engage in on that farm, or if he does not post the farm, then it is an indication to those who want to trespass that is what they are doing. They are trespassing. This bill is going to supersede those two. In other words, somebody could come on to a farm uninvited and if a dog nips at his heels or bites him the owner is liable. That farmer does not have the kind of protection under the Occupiers’ Liability and Trespass to Property Acts that we hoped he would have when we dealt with those two acts. In the case of farmers who keep dogs specifically to protect their premises against unwanted intruders, Bill 169 would negate the farmers’ liability position under Bills 202 and 203 by placing a trespasser in a position to lay charges against the farmer while trespassing on his property.

When this bill goes to committee, my colleague the member for Kent-Elgin (Mr. McGuigan) is going to move an amendment, which I hope the parliamentary assistant will accept, to amend section 3(1) of the bill, which states: “Where damage is caused by being bitten or attacked by a dog on the premises of the owner, the liability of the owner is determined under this act and not under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, 1980.” The amended part would add: “except where entry to the premises is prohibited under the Trespass to Property Act, 1980, and where a person is deemed to have willingly assumed all risks under the Occupiers’ Liability Act, 1980.”

This is something my colleague will be dealing with when it goes to committee. We believe this clause will remove all conflict between this bill and the Occupiers’ Liability and Trespass to Property Acts as they apply to farmers’ liability.

Mr. Samis: Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to thank you and the member for Carleton-Grenville (Mr. Sterling) for affording me this privilege. I realize this is not the norm and I do thank both of you for your indulgence.

The reason I wanted to speak on the bill is that I am under rather strong pressure on the domestic front. I was not here the day the bill was debated. As the owner of two canines, Satch and Betty, and having a wife who is secretary of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Humane Society and also having two felines within the domicile, all five of them gave me very dire warnings that if I did not take a stand on this bill, they would not let me past the door tomorrow morning. As a result, I did make a strong commitment I would speak on the bill. I must say the two felines did express gratitude today that they are not included in the provisions of the bill. It is the canines that are the most worried of all.

In general, there is no question I support the general philosophy and the principles contained in the bill. I think there is no question but that it represents a considerable improvement and advancement over the outdated Vicious Dogs Act, which I believe goes back as far as 1931. Also, I would say there is little argument with the principle that the owner should be civilly liable for damages resulting from an attack by his or her dog.

I really think there may be a problem with the whole question of identification because it is a fact of life that not all dogs are registered or licensed. There still are many municipalities that do not have any licensing or mandatory provisions for registration or licensing. I have a suspicion that even where there are mandatory regulations on that, many owners still do not bother to buy a licence, a dog tag or anything of that sort. I dare say that upwards of one third to one half of the dogs in municipalities which do have that type of bylaw are unregistered and unlicensed. I think it is fair to say in my own municipality of Cornwall that figure surely applies.

In rural and semi-rural areas they have the added problem of wild dogs and packs of dogs roaming about, as various members mentioned in the debate last month. In reality, when it comes to being able to identify dogs, I suspect we are talking about only a third or a half of the canine population of the province in the sense that these are the ones that are readily identifiable with tags, buttons or that sort of paraphernalia. I have to confess I do not know how to deal with that problem, but I think it is a genuine problem with this type of law because of the unknown population we are dealing with.

As to the provisions dealing with owners when dogs have been identified as the source of an attack on a child or adult, I think there may be some problems in the rural areas about section 32. In terms of urban dwellers and people in suburbia, I think the provision is reasonable and one that can be easily justified. As for the provisions dealing with the possible elimination of an offending canine, I think the seven circumstances outlined in the bill give the courts and the owners of the offending dogs sufficient latitude and grounds to ensure that a responsible and loving owner need not fear any real abuses by the courts or any undue severity. I would presume that a responsible owner whose dog may have been provoked on a particular day by someone, an owner who has had a hitherto unblemished record in terms of that type of thing, really does not have to fear for the destruction of his beloved pet. I would assume the courts would give due consideration -- and I emphasize this -- to the responsible owner’s efforts to keep the dog on a particular property, well-behaved and on a leash.

Overall, I think the bill is a fair one and avoids any heavy-handed approach. I think this bill stands out in contrast to some of the legislation enacted in certain municipalities, including my own, where they have taken the prohibitionist-absolutist approach of totally banning animals from certain public areas, such as parks and recreation areas. In my opinion, that type of approach to dealing with the problem is heavy-handed and unfair to the responsible dog owners.

In dealing with a law of this sort, we should consider another factor. There is a great deal that still has to be done in this province to instill a sense of responsibility in some dog owners, especially those who acquire dogs on a whim or fancy. They see a little pet in the store at Christmastime and think it would be cute. Two or three or six months down the road, they get tired of it and want to dispose of that pet. If the canines of this province could speak on this bill, they would probably want some form of protection from those irresponsible humans who abuse their animals, people of the type I just described. They cause so many of the problems that our financially strapped humane societies have to deal with.

My wife has been the secretary of the local humane society for the past two years. Our telephone is regularly used by people complaining about that type of thing. We get constant calls about strays, dogs being tied to fences or posts and being abandoned, ignored or left out in the cold weather without shelter, food or water. It makes one ask sometimes why do people even acquire pets? Why do they invest the money if they are going to treat animals that way? I think if the canines of the province could speak out on this bill they would first ask if we could have regulations on who could acquire a canine. Then they would attach some responsibility to the ownership of a canine.

Beyond that, I would just like to say I will support this bill wholeheartedly.

Mr. J. Johnson: Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment briefly on this bill. I express a concern for the dog lovers of Ontario. I am concerned for the simple reason I feel there are many people who own dogs and, in their opinion, the dogs do not in any way constitute a danger to society. They are good dogs and they are pets. Through some innocent, unwarranted circumstance they might create a problem, so they fall under this act. It bothers me that there should be a potential to destroy them. I cannot accept the fact that we can pass legislation that would destroy dogs without some recourse to save them.

I had a dog for 13 years and in that time the dog never touched anyone, except one time when the dogcatcher tried to pick it up and it bit the dogcatcher. I give the dog credit because it had sense enough not to attack anyone else and the dogcatcher said it just nipped him lightly.

10 p.m.

I find it extremely insensitive of government to introduce legislation that would take all dogs into a category where they would be classified as potential menaces because possibly they made an unintentional mistake. If someone entered one’s property and the dog bit him or supposedly attacked him in doing what it construed as its job, I find it hard to accept that the dog should be destroyed. In fact, I can’t find it in my mind that they should destroy the dog.

Maybe the legislation in a sense is good for the purpose of giving legal recourse to people who are injured by dogs that should not be maintained because they have a history or nature of being wild and uncontrollable. That is a different possibility. But when a dog has a nature of being kind and is in no way a menace, except in one instance where possibly, it is not its mistake if someone intrudes on the property, I find it extremely objectionable that dog should be destroyed.

I speak on behalf of dogs. That seems silly, but that is the way I feel. There is something lacking in the bill if a dog should be destroyed because of one mistake. Many dogs deserve it, but others do not. I speak for the dogs that should not be destroyed.

Mr. Warner: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: If you recall, the strange procedure we are going through tonight is not normal and is not in keeping with the standing orders but has unanimous consent to allow two individuals to participate. Those two individuals have participated. We now have a third and presumably a fourth. I object most strenuously to us continuing with this bizarre way of conducting our business. I would suggest it would be more in order for the parliamentary assistant to conclude his remarks, which is the normal way of carrying on.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Scarborough-Ellesmere makes a point. However, I recall the discussion and, at first, the request was for one member to speak. The House agreed and others stated they wished to speak. As I recall the discussion at that time, there was no particular limit.

Mr. Warner: Mr. Speaker, what you are now doing is setting a rather unusual and unacceptable procedure of being able to re-open second reading debate at any time one chooses and for it to continue. That is what we have done. The last time we sat we had concluded second reading debate and the parliamentary assistant was winding up the debate, as is normal. Now, because some members were not present at the time or for whatever reason, we have re-opened second reading debate. That is not a proper way to proceed. I would respectfully submit the proper thing is for the parliamentary assistant to conclude his remarks.

The Deputy Speaker: I would again like to advise the honourable member the House agreed to let other members speak.

Mr. Foulds: Mr. Speaker, does that mean the parliamentary assistant will be allowed to speak three times during second reading debate, having already spoken twice? I would like a clarification of that. If that happens it will indeed be a very grave precedent for this House to set.

Mr. Roy: Mr. Speaker, if I may on a point of order, I find it somewhat cynical on the part of the NDP that, having allowed this under the process of unanimous consent, they would now object. We can do anything we want by unanimous consent. One of the things we consented to was to reopen the debate. The parliamentary assistant consented to do that. I find it somewhat cynical the NDP would let their members speak when somebody else wants to speak, then say the rules are being offended against. The rules were not offended against. We can do anything we want here by way of unanimous consent. What we have done is to revert to debate and, as you have said, we did limit the number of speakers.

Mr. Foulds: The point is that it is my understanding of the rules that on second reading each member has the right to speak only once. The minister has the right to speak twice, first, at the opening of the debate and, second, on wrapping it up. The parliamentary assistant has already spoken twice.

Mr. Roy: That is right. We agreed we would give him a chance to wind up.

Mr. Foulds: I heard vaguely what the reopening was. I did not hear us agree to allow him to speak a third time. If the member for Ottawa East is correct that we can do anything we like, then I think we are setting some very dangerous precedents.

Mr. Roy: By way of unanimous consent.

The Deputy Speaker: Order. As I understand it, the member for Carleton-Grenville (Mr. Sterling) interrupted his remarks on one occasion, stating that the member for Huron-Middlesex (Mr. Riddell) requested the opportunity to speak. So to my knowledge, his remarks have been interrupted. I also believe the chair at that time stated it did not want this to be set as a precedent.

Mr. B. Newman: Mr. Speaker, I had indicated to the chair at the time I also wished to make a few comments on the bill. I appreciate very much the member for Carleton-Grenville giving us the opportunity. Normally, I would not partake in a debate like this because I am not knowledgeable on the subject. However, I was contacted by the Essex County Humane Society in my own community who wanted me, on their behalf, to express their concerns about this legislation. Mr. Michael O’Sullivan, general manager of the Essex County Humane Society, has asked me to see that the government was informed of the following resolution passed by that council just recently. The resolution reads:

“Whereas the Windsor Essex County Board of Health investigates an average of about 900 dog bites annually, and whereas many of these bites are of a serious nature and occur while the dog causing the bite is not under the control of any person, and whereas the Vicious Dogs Act, RSO 197O, chapter 482, only addresses itself to the question of the dog and not the responsibilities of the owner, therefore be it resolved that the city of Windsor request the Ministry of the Attorney General of the government of Ontario to introduce legislation to have amended the Vicious Dogs Act, RSO 1970, chapter 482, which now reads as follows, ‘1. Where a dog is alleged to have bitten any person, the owner of the dog may be summoned to appear before a provincial judge to show cause why the dog should not be destroyed and, if from the evidence produced it appears that the dog has bitten any person, the judge may make an order that the dog be destroyed’.

“They would like the act amended to read as follows: ‘1. Where a dog is alleged to have bitten any person, the owner may be summoned to appear before a provincial judge and, if from the evidence produced it appears that the dog has bitten any person, the judge may make an order that:

“(a) the dog be confined henceforth in a way as to be inaccessible to any person other than the owner or his custodian; and/or

“(b) the dog, when off the property of the owner or custodian, be muzzled in a manner that renders the dog incapable of biting anything; and/or

“(c) the owner of the dog pay a fine of not more than $1,000; and/or

“(d) the dog be destroyed; or

“(e) where the owner has previously been convicted under this act, that the owner surrender the dog forthwith to the nearest public pound or animal shelter and that he be prohibited from owning any dog for a period not to exceed 24 months.

10:10 p.m.

“2: Where the owner of the dog refuses or neglects to comply with an order made under this act, he may be summoned before a provincial judge who may order the dog seized and destroyed, and for the purpose of carrying out the order, a constable or other peace officer may enter the premises where the dog is kept and deliver it to the nearest public pound and the provincial judge may, in addition to any other penalty provided by the act, direct the owner of the dog to pay the cost of the proceedings and of the destruction of the dog.”

Then the society goes on to say: “At present the Vicious Dogs Act contains only two sections, that is, section 1 as it appears on the previous page without amendments and section 2 as it appears on this page. The act is likely one of the shortest Ontario statutes in existence, but provides only a temporary solution to the problem of vicious dogs.

“Recently a dog was ordered destroyed under the act in Windsor, and the decision was appealed. The dog was responsible for biting at least 20 persons according to the board of health records, and according to the police department about an additional 33 persons. There is no fine at present under the act, nor is there any means of preventing a person charged from yet obtaining another dog if his or her vicious animal has to be destroyed. The society believes that the preceding amendments to the act would adequately deal with both problems.”

These are the concerns of the Essex County Humane Society and I read them into the record so that the minister piloting this bill can take them into consideration on the clause-by-clause study.

Mr. Roy: Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a few brief comments on this statute. In the course of my practice, I have unfortunately, seen individuals who have been barred from recovering any type of damages after injuries which would come under what was called the Vicious Dogs Act. It dates back to 1931 and has remained unchanged since then.

I suppose the motivating force behind this legislation is that our society is becoming more urbanized and, as my colleague from Huron-Middlesex mentioned, people are getting large animals which sometimes are not suited to the urban environment. The liberty of some individuals is being threatened by some of these animals. It would seem in 1980 urbanized Ontario that the old Vicious Dogs Act is not adequate and that the principle that a dog is entitled to one bite is something that should no longer be applicable to Ontario.

During the course of my relatively brief legal career, I can think of four or five different cases where people have been denied damages on the very basis of that principle and people, especially children, have suffered very serious injury. I applaud the initiative of the government in bringing forward this legislation. I mention in passing that I do not agree with all the comments of my colleague from Huron-Middlesex. I think some of the things he mentioned about some of the concerns the farming community have about their animals are covered in this legislation.

I think they are covered on the basis that, first, one is perpetrating a criminal offence. There is a clause in the statute that deals with that -- section 3(2). There are also provisions under section 4 which protect farmers who have animals that are there for a special purpose -- perhaps protecting pigs or sheep or whatever.

I thank the parliamentary assistant for the opportunity to make these very few brief comments and I do think the legislation was necessary. People in urbanized Ontario today cannot hide behind the principle we call scienter under section 2(3) of this legislation. I think it is time people who have animals accept their responsibility. I say, in closing, I cannot understand that individuals would have in their possession and still under their control animals, a dog, for instance, which has bitten 20 or 30 times. I cannot understand that. I think the legislation is necessary and it has my full support.

Mr. Sterling: Mr. Speaker, the debate goes back to November 4. Many things have been brought up in this debate and I will try to answer some of the questions and concerns that many members had. I thank them for participating and I want to say I listened to their many comments. In fact, an amendment I will propose in committee really results from some of the debate.

The member for Kitchener (Mr. Breithaupt) complained about the old Vicious Dogs Act expanding from one section to two pages. I want to say to the member that this act is a précis of law and does away with many volumes of common law in relation to the common law doctrine mentioned in this debate that a dog heretofore had its first bite. It does away with that and also replaces the Vicious Dogs Act in terms of what is done with the dog after it has bitten an individual, but it also creates new statute law in replacing that much common law.

The member for Scarborough-Ellesmere (Mr. Warner) brought forward a concern that police and security dogs are not covered. I can assure him it is the intention of the ministry that the act cover security and police dogs and that kind of thing. With respect, I would say to the member that the word “owner” bears its ordinary legal meaning as well as the extended meaning included in the definition. I really do believe the member is misreading that section. It is our intention that it cover police and security dogs.

The member also brought up the case of exotic animals which are becoming more common, in some of the urban areas in particular. I want to tell him that common law in relation to wild or exotic animals is different from the law in relation to dogs. When it evolved historically, the dog was given a special place in law. The common law is still one of strict liability with regard to those kinds of animals.

The member for Kent-Elgin (Mr. McGuigan) brought forward the problem that was again echoed tonight by the member for Huron-Middlesex (Mr. Riddell) relating to the farm dog. I can only say to them we do have legislation in place at present which places strict liability on an owner of a dog if that dog attacks livestock. I do not think these members can argue a human is less than another kind of livestock. For instance, if a dog bites a lamb or a sheep, there is strict liability in terms of that bite. What we are doing in this legislation is saying, “Hey, it is the same for humans.”

There was concern about a good cow dog nipping someone who came into the farm yard. The legislation says one’s real liability is civil liability. If it nips somebody the damages cannot be that great anyway. One can get in a civil suit what, in fact, the damages were. Another thing is that the judge, in determining what is going to happen with the dog if an application is brought, can take that kind of matter into consideration.

10:20 p.m.

The member for Wentworth (Mr. Isaacs) brought forward several considerations in the debate. He brought forward the problem of identity of the dog, which was also brought forward by the member for Cornwall (Mr. Samis). This act basically attempts to attack that particular problem. It is a practical problem, as the member for Cornwall outlined tonight. If a dog is free, off a leash, out roaming and without a tag, it is very difficult to lay any identity to that particular dog if the dog bites someone. I don’t think it would matter what kind of licensing laws we had; that problem would still remain there, since for most of these kinds of dogs the owners don’t take the necessary steps to buy a dog tag.

This is an improvement over what now exists. It says to someone, “You can’t duck out, and pretend you are not the owner if you are harbouring that particular animal in your residence.” At least, the police can now say and prove that the dog was being fed and kept in a particular residence. If a person is the owner of that residence or the head tenant, then he is responsible for that animal if the animal is coming out of that door. There is somebody to go after in that particular case. Everybody can’t duck out and say, “It is my brother’s dog,” or “I was keeping it on the weekend for whoever.”

The member for Wentworth stated that the only option for a judge under section 4 was either to destroy or not to destroy. Under the existing Vicious Dogs Act, what happens when an application is brought forward is that the judge asks the owner what he is going to do to take care of the dog in the future, and then he usually adjourns the case and waits for the case to be brought back on to see if the owner has followed those instructions. Be that as it may, in looking at the legislation as it is written, that does not appear to someone who is reading the act and is not knowledgeable of the way the court system operates. That will be taken care of in the amendment I have put forward.

I think a valid criticism that he brought forward was the fact that in effect the owner is not penalized. It seems to be the dog which is being penalized in being destroyed if something happens. The owner is penalized in terms of the civil suit. In other words, the ability of someone to sue for damages will be much greater if this particular bill becomes law. That is one penalty he has to bear.

The amendment I will be proposing in committee also puts more teeth into the act in terms of saying to an owner who is ordered by a judge to take care of a dog in a certain way after it has bitten someone, “Look, if you don’t live up to that particular order, you can be brought back to this court and be fined under an offence,” and there will be a fine up to $2,000 if he does not follow the order. We have done it that way and not just allowed them to go through a contempt proceeding, because contempt proceedings are rather difficult legal matters to undertake and tend to be rather expensive to go through. We hope those amendments will take care of some of the concerns that were raised by the member for Wentworth.

Since the member for Wentworth raised the matter with Mr. Bandow of the Hamilton Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I did telephone Mr. Bandow and had a long talk with him. As a result of that talk and the member’s comments I have included some of these proposals in this amendment.

The member for Erie brought forward some of the issues which the member for Kent-Elgin also raised. I wanted to draw to his attention section 3(2) in relation to someone who comes on to the land who is intending to commit a criminal act. He is not protected by this act.

The member for Sudbury brought forward concerns in relation to the control of dogs and this was also brought forward by one of the other members. Basically, the control issue has been given to the municipalities to take care of. At the present time there is an interministerial liaison committee looking into the possibility of transferring more powers to the municipalities to give them more ability to deal with that issue.

In dealing with the unorganized territories, regulations are in existence that would take care of the situation in those areas.

To the member for Lakeshore, who mentioned that this bill does not deal with a dog biting a dog, I admit we have not tried to address that problem in this act. I suggest to him, or to any other member of the Legislature who feels strongly enough, perhaps that should be contained in another piece of legislation. It might be a good idea for a private member’s bill in the future. They would have to relate to the old common law in terms of the doctrine of having the first bite.

I would like to indicate the gratitude of the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry) to Dr. Brian Cochrane of Ottawa, who wrote a book on this subject and as a result has helped the ministry in formulating some of the policy in this bill. I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Cochrane about a week ago and told him of the legislation and that we had been referring to his book on this subject. It is a very serious problem in many areas, and his book highlights that matter. I had the pleasure of going to high school with Dr. Cochrane. I was very happy to see him take time out to attack this problem when many professionals do not do that kind of extra thing for society.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the members are supporting this bill and I will indicate that it will go to the committee of the whole House.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered for committee of the whole House.

Mr. Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 28, the member for Wentworth (Mr. Isaacs) has expressed dissatisfaction with the answer given by the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Parrott) concerning the Ajax waste disposal plant. The honourable member has up to five minutes.


Mr. Isaacs: Mr. Speaker, I want to say at the outset that I very much appreciate the minister being here this evening. I look forward to his response on this matter.

10:30 p.m.

I know he probably regards it as very tiresome that he is asked to be here yet again for a late show. We on this side of the House sometimes find the late show system a little tiresome as well, but it is the only show in town, and if we wish to get an expansion of an answer in question period, it is the only way we can proceed.

The question I put to the minister earlier today related to the procedures of the Environmental Assessment Board when writing its report as a result of a hearing under the Environmental Protection Act. I have no knowledge of the procedures the board may have followed. However, there is substantial concern in the community about the possibility that members of the EAB, who were not present during the hearing and who have not heard the evidence in person, may have involved themselves in the decision the board has reached.

This is a very serious issue of credibility. My colleagues and I -- and my predecessor as critic especially, the member for Beaches-Woodbine (Ms. Bryden) -- have been very careful not to drag the EAB into our political debates, and I hope it remains that way. I hope the EAB can continue to be seen by everyone in Ontario as an impartial board whose hearings are a very valuable and very necessary part of the environmental assessment and environmental protection process.

The members of that board, when they sit at a hearing, are in a sense acting as judges, and I think it is a very fundamental part of our judicial system that decisions be made by the judge or judges who heard the evidence and not by people who were not present and who may or may not have read some or all of the transcript. That provision is included in the Environmental Assessment Act, but it isn’t included in the Environmental Protection Act.

In the matter of this particular hearing, a complication has arisen in that the chairman of the hearing resigned from the EAB during the board’s consideration of the report. It may be the report we are going to get tomorrow morning is still the report Mr. Laver and his two colleagues wrote. If it is, fine, and if the minister can give us that assurance tonight, I say “great” and that is the way it should be. I hope the minister will give us that assurance because problems have arisen in the past.

This issue has been raised in the past and I have attempted to put it down, and I hope we can get the assurance tonight that will enable us to put it down. I hope too, when the report appears tomorrow, there will be no reference by anybody as to the validity of that decision, being the decision of the judges who heard the evidence. It is very important, even though the board’s decision is only a recommendation because it was held under the Environmental Protection Act, that the credibility of the EAB be retained. It is very important too that the board give reasons for its decision as was suggested to it by Mr. Caplice when he wrote his memorandum concerning the Glanbrook environment report. We need to have trust in the EAB, and I think we can only have that trust if we know the report was written by the judges who heard the evidence.

Just in summing up, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that by coincidence a friend, an acquaintance of mine, phoned the board today and asked whether it would hold a press conference and explain the report when it released the report tomorrow. He was not aware of the procedures, and he was told by whoever he spoke to that the board does not do that because its members are like judges: they just present their report and the report stands by itself. So even the board members recognize they are like judges, and I hope we can get the assurance tonight that they will behave like judges and only the board members who heard the evidence will participate in the rendering of the decision.

Hon. Mr. Parrott: Mr. Speaker, I will try to respond. In fact, perhaps we could use the five minutes at my disposal to have some questions.

It seems to me it is essential that as the minister who has said on many occasions that it is an arm’s length board, I should not call it to ask, “What are you doing?” I never have. I think that is very important. That is what the member is asking. I have never called that board and I have no intention of doing so. I see it as a board once a year. We have Christmas lunch together as a social occasion and that is it.

The member is asking me a question to which I do not know the answer and which I have no intention of answering unless he either writes to the board or writes to me for that information. If the member wants to write to me, I will forward it to the board and the board can respond to him. I will be glad to do that. If he wants to ask the board directly, that’s fine. He is a member of this House and he should have whatever privilege goes with being a member of this House as he relates to that board. I ask the member please not to ask me to tell him that I have called the board and inquired into its internal workings. I think that is wrong and it would be a mistake for me to be trapped into that.

I certainly want to put on the record the innocence of that request of me. I am not making any suggestion that it is a deliberate attempt to implicate me in that decision when I should not be.

If the member wants to write to me, I will be glad to send it to the board to get him the answer. I will only refer the matter. I think the member could write to the board and get a direct answer himself if it is legitimate for either of us to have that information.

I have used all my time. I would he glad to have the member come back with a question if that is protocol. If it is not, I think I have stated the case and I rest.

Ms. Speaker: The idea of this is to allow the member the five minutes.

The House adjourned at 10:37 p.m.