L023 - Wed 15 Nov 1995 / Mer 15 Nov 1995
The House met at 1332.
MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): As he insists on continuing to insult the people of northern Ontario, I wish to direct this statement to the attention of the Minister of Transportation.
Minister, yesterday, in response to a question by the member for Sudbury, you proudly stated, "I actually have friends in the north." Well, I would suggest to you that if you go ahead with this lame and dangerous plan of yours to cut winter highway maintenance, then those friendships will be short-lived.
In fact, I would suggest to you that this may already be the case, as a recent petition against your cutbacks was even signed by a past president of the Kenora Riding Provincial Progressive Conservative Association -- one of your own.
But seriously, your statement, along with your previous comment suggesting we should all carry cellular phones to use in emergencies, truly underscores the fact that you have a complete and utter lack of understanding about northern Ontario and northern transportation issues.
Highways are our lifeline in the north. To make our highways less safe in the winter puts everyone at risk. Your cuts to winter road maintenance are, I predict, going to be responsible for a great many accidents in the north this winter and, I fear, many more deaths.
When this becomes the case, sir, history will no doubt judge that you and this government will be at fault because of this irresponsible plan.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Tomorrow I bring before this House a private member's bill to regulate the franchise industry.
Franchising has become a very popular and significant way to do business in Ontario, and every community, small and large, has become more and more dependent on the economic activity generated in this way as time has gone on.
I bring this legislation before the House, recognizing that most of the work done on it was carried out by my colleague from the last government, Mr Jim Wiseman, MPP for Durham West. His bill, Bill 182, was still in the order paper at the time of the June 8 election.
Since that time, I have been approached by franchisees sharing their situation with me, indicating that nothing much has changed for them. In fact, in some instances, things have gotten worse. I have a real concern for this small business element of my community and for the community as a whole if this issue is not resolved and clear rules are not laid out and enshrined in law. I am not introducing anything new to Canadian law by way of this bill, as similar legislation was introduced and indeed passed some five years ago in Alberta.
I urge the members of the House to be here tomorrow morning at 11 am to listen to the arguments and to support this bill. Do it in the interest of small business and in the interest of the positive impact these enterprises have in your own communities.
Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I rise today to recognize Mr Richard Cavanagh, an outstanding citizen of Scarborough who dedicated 28 years of service to the Scarborough Public Utilities Commission.
I'd like to bring to the attention of this House that Mr Cavanagh has recently been honoured by the Scarborough Public Utilities Commission by having a state-of-the-art transformer station in Scarborough named after him. This Scarborough transformer station is the first of its kind in North America and it will be called the Richard E. Cavanagh Transformer Station.
Beyond his committed service to the city of Scarborough, Mr Cavanagh has been a dedicated Ontarian and Canadian. From 1941 to 1946, Mr Cavanagh served in the Royal Canadian Navy. Upon his return from service, he worked for several electrical contracting firms until 1956, when he founded his own company, R.E. Cavanagh Electrical Ltd. In 1966, Mr Cavanagh was first elected to the Scarborough Public Utilities Commission and served in this capacity until his retirement in 1994. An active member of the community, he has also participated in numerous associations and was appointed to serve on the Ontario Hydro board in 1985 by the then Premier, Bill Davis, and reappointed in 1988 by the then Premier, Mr Peterson.
Mr Cavanagh represents commitment, dedication and service to his family, the city of Scarborough and Ontario. Please join me in recognizing Mr Richard Cavanagh for his outstanding work for the city of Scarborough and to congratulate him on his honour.
CITIZENS OF DISTINCTION AWARDS
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I would like to bring to the attention of the House five individuals who are receiving a very distinguished award in Hamilton this evening. Jackie Washington, Enrico Mancinelli, Dennis Whitaker, the late Father Sean O'Sullivan and Irving Zucker will be honoured with the 1995 Citizen of Distinction Award.
Jackie Washington was born in Hamilton in 1919 and went on to become a very successful musician across the country.
Enrico Mancinelli came to Canada from Italy in 1952 and was instrumental in forming the Labourers' International Union of North America and is now serving as international vice-president of LIUNA.
Dennis Whitaker came to Hamilton in 1937. After graduating from Royal Military College in Kingston, he was an accomplished soldier, a star football player with the Hamilton Tigers, and went on to be general manager of a large brewery, a radio station and chairman of the Canadian equestrian team.
Father Sean O'Sullivan in 1971 was executive assistant to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. The following year, at the age of 20, Father Sean O'Sullivan became the youngest Canadian to ever be elected to Parliament, representing Hamilton-Wentworth. In 1981, he was ordained to the priesthood. Father Sean O'Sullivan died of leukaemia at the age of 37.
Irving Zucker, a great Hamiltonian, has contributed in the business community and the arts community. He has played a key role in the successful radio stations in Hamilton and surrounding areas.
The dedication and contribution each of these individuals has made to Ontario are highly commendable. Their involvement in the community and the public service they have undertaken are exemplary. Each of these individuals is to be congratulated on their invaluable contribution to Ontario.
I'd like to add my warmest congratulations and those of the House to each of these gentlemen in achieving such a high honour. You've made all of Ontario very proud.
TRANSFER PAYMENTS TO MUNICIPALITIES
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): One month ago, Sudbury regional council adopted a strategy to deal with an estimated 20% cut in transfers from this Conservative government. The decision was made not only because of Minister Leach's comments at the AMO convention, but because regional council has already been hit by cuts, courtesy of this government.
Consider the welfare changes. Due to the high caseload, Sudbury had 90% of welfare payments to recipients covered by our government. Grants also helped with the administrative costs. The Conservative changes mean regional taxpayers will actually pay some $152,000 more to administer the system.
Or consider the child care changes. Some 166 Jobs Ontario child care spaces were funded 100% by our government. The cut to 80% by the Conservatives means regional taxpayers will pay $243,000 more next year to keep the spaces open.
The 20% cut in transfer payments represents the single largest revenue loss the corporation has ever experienced. This downloading reflects an amount 10 times the social contract target. The best-case scenario has a loss of $5.6 million next year, resulting in a 12% local tax increase, and the worst-case scenario, one where the Tory government decides not to continue the northern support grants, results in a revenue loss in the order of $15.6 million and a local tax increase next year of 34%.
In the Common Sense Revolution, the Conservatives promised, "We will work...with municipalities to ensure that any actions we take will not result in increases to local property taxes." What happened to that promise and what do Sudbury taxpayers do now?
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): I am pleased to tell you today about the steps our government is taking to meet the needs of people in Ontario suffering from TMJ disorders.
TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorders, causes pain and dysfunction of the joints and muscles involved in chewing and other related structures of the mouth and face. Those with TMJ disorders suffer from facial pain, headaches, joint noises and jaw function difficulties. These symptoms recur periodically and vary in intensity.
Mount Sinai Hospital has agreed to have its craniofacial pain unit offer specialized treatment to all TMJ patients in the province. The Ministry of Health and the hospital will continue to meet to discuss how the hospital's TMJ program can be set up as a provincial centre.
In the past, many patients have been forced to seek treatment outside of Ontario. However, covering the costs for treatment becomes complicated by the various conditions attached to how the services must be provided.
Fortunately, the disorder does not affect many people. Mount Sinai already treats some of these patients each year, while the ministry has paid for 14 patients to receive services outside of Ontario since June 1992.
Our government is moving to fill a gap that has existed in the health care system for far too long. I would like to thank the honourable Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, for recognizing that it makes more sense to treat people in Ontario. Establishing a provincial centre for the treatment of TMJ is clearly the most effective approach and will make it easier for TMJ patients to get the services they need.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I would like the House today to recognize in the members' west gallery a constituent of mine from the town of Essex and from the riding of Essex South, Rose Kulimouski. Rose is at Queen's Park today to present me with a petition signed by over 4,000 Ontarians. Their common concern is the future of health care in the province. Briefly, she and the petitioners are concerned that user fees are being introduced and funding is being reduced. The petition indicates concern with the government by breaking its solemn election vow.
I commend Rose and her friend Mae for their outstanding effort. She is a retired widow and has travelled to Queen's Park by herself. She is committed to rallying Ontarians behind her concerns. Rose vows that these 4,000 signatures are only the beginning and she says there will be thousands more that she will deliver in the future. Colleagues, Rose is concerned about the future of health care in Ontario. I hope you share her concern and I commend her effort for bringing it to our attention.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Last week I and the constituents of Beaches-Woodbine received very bad news from the Minister of Environment and Energy. She has decided to recommend a regulation to cabinet to exempt the western tank tunnel from a full environmental assessment. This is a seriously wrong decision from an environmental perspective. When I spoke to the minister about her decision, she said the reason for it was that she believed municipalities had to take more responsibility for these types of decisions.
I was amazed by that answer. It was like the minister had no understanding of why the full environmental assessment was ordered in the first place. It's precisely because the municipal governments involved -- in this case Metro and the city of Toronto -- wouldn't take responsibility for coordinating the planning of a sewer system master plan or for the coordination of an environmental impact assessment of the inter-related issues in two proposals: the Metro proposal to expand incineration at Ashbridges Bay sewage treatment plant and the city of Toronto proposal to build the western beach tank tunnel to transport combined sewage overflow to Ashbridges Bay for incineration.
The minister has made a commitment to me and a number of community environmentalists to meet with us. I hope the minister will listen to common sense at that meeting -- common environmental sense. We know there are much more effective and cheaper ways to clean up the western beaches and to avoid a massive increase in incineration at Ashbridges Bay. The only way to get those alternatives on the table is to proceed with the intended environmental assessment.
POLICE BRAVERY AWARD
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): As the member of provincial Parliament for Mississauga South, I'm very proud that one of my constituents, Constable Phillip Saigeon, has been awarded the Ontario Medal for Police Bravery.
Constable Saigeon, a member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police, is among six police officers and six firefighters who were recently honoured at Queen's Park for exceptional bravery in the line of duty.
Constable Saigeon and his partner, Constable Ernest Jost, responded on November 21, 1994, to a car fire in the parking lot of an apartment building. When the two officers went to talk to the vehicle's owner, he flung open his apartment door and aimed a rifle directly at Constable Jost.
The officers could see that the man did not have his finger on the trigger and so held their fire, concerned for the safety of a female resident who was also in the hallway. They repeatedly issued the police challenge and the man yelled for them to shoot him.
After some time, the man dropped his gun and lunged at Constable Jost. Constable Saigeon holstered his own weapon and assisted his partner. During the struggle he was bitten on the hand, but together the officers managed to subdue and handcuff their assailant.
Constable Saigeon's neighbours in Mississauga and the residents of Metro Toronto join me as I congratulate and thank him and Constable Jost for their act of bravery, undertaken without concern for their own safety. It is a fitting reminder that police officers often risk their lives in order to serve and protect us.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I have some special guests I would like to introduce. I would like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today the Honourable Gilbert Parent, Speaker of the House of Commons in Ottawa. Please join us to welcome our guest.
I'd also like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today Mr Chris Carter, member of Parliament for Te Atatu in Wellington, New Zealand. Please join me in welcoming our guest.
I'd like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we also have in the Speaker's gallery six senior staff officers from the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly. Please join me in welcoming our guests.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): Mr Speaker, I believe we have agreement, unanimous consent, on the passing of a former member.
The Speaker: Do we have unanimous consent? Agreed.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): Last week the people of Windsor, indeed the people of Ontario, lost a good friend and someone who served with distinction in this Legislature for 28 years. Bernard Newman, or Bernie, as we call him at home, was first elected to the Legislature in 1959. He served consecutively until 1987, when he retired from the Legislature.
Bernie made a remarkable contribution not only in this House but in his constituency, the constituency which I now represent. Bernie was a tireless worker. As a member of this assembly, he served on a variety of committees. He served with distinction on special and select committees, served in a variety of critics' positions, and indeed he served as deputy whip of our party for a period of time as well.
Prior to joining the assembly, Bernie served on Windsor city council from 1954 to 1959. Indeed, his contribution not only to our community and province went beyond that. In 1956 he coached gymnastics at the 1956 Olympic Games.
Bernie was a tireless worker in our community, as a school teacher and educator, a man who was born and raised in Windsor-Walkerville, who lived his entire life in that riding and whom we buried there last week. Bernie passed away at the age of 81. His constituents will always remember his kindness, his thoughtfulness and his hard work on their behalf. He was famous for birthday cards and other memorabilia from this House.
As his son Bernie Jr said at the funeral last week, "Though we are saddened by his loss, we celebrate a full and complete life, a life of public service, a life that went beyond simply being a member of provincial Parliament, but being a man of great compassion and a man who served with diligence and understanding."
I'm honoured to pay tribute to him today and I'm honoured to represent the riding he represented so well.
Mr Speaker, I hope you'll pass these comments on to Mr Newman's family and I hope other members join me as we pay tribute to a wonderful human being who served in this House with truly great distinction.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I join with my colleagues on behalf of our party to pay tribute to Bernie Newman. I agree that we are indeed celebrating a life of achievement.
Bernie, if you look at his résumé, had a wonderfully fulfilling life. He was the youngest university graduate in Canada from the University of Western Ontario in 1939. He achieved, as my colleague has said, distinction in gymnastics coaching at the international level. He served the people of Windsor-Walkerville with distinction as an alderman and then here in this place for 28 years. I think all of us will recognize that in itself is an enormous achievement.
It is said when he was serving the people of Windsor-Walkerville that it would be very difficult to ever conceive of the possibility of Bernie Newman losing an election. He seemed to know everybody in the constituency, not only them but their fathers and mothers and perhaps their grandparents. He either taught them or knew them from the constituency work he did out of his kitchen, on his kitchen table, every weekend when he returned home.
Bernie was known as having a common touch, a tremendous compassion and particularly an interest in youth. Frankly, I think that he really was the epitome of a constituency politician. I think he understood what Tip O'Neill said, that all politics are local. He certainly could be an example to all of us as members of the Legislature in serving our constituents.
My colleague has mentioned Bernie's penchant for sending out Christmas cards and birthday cards, which I suppose might not sound that unusual except that he also sent out graduation cards, not just from university or college, not just from high school, but also from elementary school, and he probably attended every possible local event and every family event in his riding while he served in this place.
Bernie Newman was a very dedicated and sincere man who loved his community and enjoyed serving it to the best of his ability for many, many years. It was a privilege to know him.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): It's my pleasure to speak a little bit about Bernie Newman, because from 1977 to 1987 I had the pleasure of serving in this Legislature with Mr Newman.
The previous speakers have portrayed Bernie as a very caring individual for his constituents. I think we should not lose sight of the fact that during the very early periods of his experience here as a legislator, when MPPs didn't have the significant resources which we do have now, Bernie Newman was the research centre for the Liberal Party of Ontario.
If you walked into Bernie Newman's office, which I would from time to time because I considered him a friend of mine, even though he was in a different political party than I, you would see a whole host of boxes and slots across the back of his particular office. If a Liberal member wanted to know something about a particular topic, they would go into Bernie's office and ask him, "Do you have such-and-such a report?" and Bernie would be able to find it for that Liberal member.
So Bernie was not only a skilled politician in terms of his ability to deal with his constituents but also a very significant resource for his Liberal Party. He was a true politician and contributed greatly to the Legislature in terms of his contribution in doing that.
I don't know if I've ever met an MPP who loved his job more than Bernie Newman did. As I got to know him over the years, he would tell the stories about how he loaded up his trunk and would drive to Windsor every Friday to deliver I don't know how many plaques. I'm sure the government is much poorer for the number of plaques which Bernie delivered over the period of time, but I really, truly believe that it was not a case of trying to seek electoral support in terms of doing that, but it was truly because he did want to extend greetings, he did want to visit those people.
I'll never forget one evening at my home in Manotick, in 1985 or 1986, when I invited members of a committee which was travelling to Ottawa to enjoy dinner with me that evening in my backyard. A neighbour's child, who was studying gymnastics and was practising gymnastics, came over. Bernie spent probably 20 or 25 minutes with that young person, talking to this particular young gymnast and trying to encourage her to continue on into her career over a period of time. I'll never forget his dedication of time, his interest in that young person, whom he knew he would never see again in his life. I always respected him for the time and effort that he would put out on behalf of the young people of Ontario.
As Bernie progressed from being in opposition to being a member of government, he was struck down by the early stages of Alzheimer's, which eventually I believe led to his ultimate demise. I was concerned, as I was travelling on the committee with Bernie, about the fact that I saw the early signs of this, and I did personally, on 10 or 12 occasions, call his assistant to express my concern about his health. I want members of the Legislature to know that each and every one of us does have an obligation to each other, regardless of party, to look out for each other in terms of these kinds of sicknesses which strike us.
I believe Bernie Newman was a tremendous MPP, not only in terms of what he did for his constituents. He was a compassionate man. He loved his job. His family should celebrate his life, because this was indeed a great MPP, a great member of the Legislature, and my party would like to express our condolences and sympathies in celebration with his wife and his five children.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I'd like to thank all members for their kind words, and I will see that the Newman family will get a copy of the Hansard.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Minister of Finance. He knows that yesterday the Provincial Auditor's report indicated that the number one problem the Provincial Auditor sees is cheating on taxes in the province. He indicates that it's a large and a growing problem. If you look at the auditor's report and other work that we've done here, it looks like the magnitude of the problem is probably that we are losing up to $3 billion a year in tax revenue in the province of Ontario. Importantly, he also says that he is very concerned that the law is not being enforced -- that's what he said -- and that people are losing confidence in the system. As I say, it was his number one problem that he outlined yesterday.
Now, we've seen one indication from this government on how you deal with people whom you see cheating, and that was your welfare approach. Just recently all of the members got this poster. We are asked to go around to public buildings and staple it up so we can hunt down welfare cheats in the province. It says, "Help Us Stop Welfare Fraud." Phone this number if you even suspect someone of welfare fraud.
This tax evasion problem is 10 times the size of the welfare problem. Can you outline for us the approach that you're taking for dealing with this particular problem?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance and Government House Leader): We take the comments and the recommendations made by the Provincial Auditor yesterday on this past fiscal year and the state of retail sales tax collection in the province of Ontario very seriously. The member will probably know that the government is, and has been, in the process of changing its computer system to try to assist in that regard. But that is not by any means the sole solution to the problem.
I take very seriously the Provincial Auditor's remarks with respect to the appointment of more auditors being required to police, if you will, people who abuse and cheat the system. Indeed, they are really taking money from honest, hardworking, taxpaying Ontarians who do not abuse the system and who do not cheat the system. We are indeed planning on looking at those recommendations of the auditor and following the recommendations of the auditor to try to reduce the amount of fraud and abuse in the system.
Mr Phillips: The problem is the double standard that many people see in this province. Every one of us has an interest in stamping out fraud. Every single person in the Legislature and Ontario does. But we see one approach that you take, and that's with people on social assistance. You literally ask us to go out and post in public buildings a kind of wanted poster and you say that people who cheat on welfare need to be prosecuted, they're crooks.
Then we heard yesterday the Premier say, about people who cheat on taxes, that it's human nature to cheat -- human nature to cheat. So on the one hand people who cheat on welfare are crooks and you have to prosecute them, but if you're just cheating on taxes it's human nature. We today have had calls from many business people saying, "I am trying to operate a business honestly, and for the Premier to say it is human nature is wrong."
Can the minister explain this apparent double standard: that on the one hand you're a crook if you cheat on welfare, but it's just simply human nature if you cheat on taxes?
Hon Mr Eves: Indeed, the Premier did not say it was just human nature. That is one part of what he said, if you'll read the rest of his quote in the same sentence: "The Premier said tax cheating is `regrettable' and `unfortunate, but that seems to be human nature...around the world and something we want to correct.'" Why didn't you finish the rest of the quote? I'm sure the honourable member wouldn't want to leave a mistaken impression of what the Premier said.
Having said that, I have just got through saying to the honourable member that we take the recommendations of the Provincial Auditor very seriously and we look to implementing them in trying to resolve the problem of abuse that we have in the system. I might point out to the honourable member that one of the reasons we have the overwhelming abuse in the system is the fact that you two parties over there raised taxes 65 times in 10 years.
Mr Phillips: This is typical of this government. You want us to go out around in community centres and on posts out in the community saying, "Hunt down welfare cheats," but the Premier says it is human nature to want to cheat on taxes.
It is because of this double standard that we have so much trouble in believing this government can in any way believe this is acceptable, to say that it is human nature to cheat on taxes. The Premier never said it was human nature to cheat on welfare. They were crooks, and we're going to go after them, hunt them down.
I want you to say to the people of Ontario, people who cheat on taxes are just as much of a problem as people who cheat on welfare -- it is 10 times the size of the problem -- and we are going to see the same concerted effort by this government that you took to track down poor people on welfare who may or may not be cheating.
Hon Mr Eves: Yes, you will have it. I noticed the member didn't read my quote from yesterday out of the paper: "It's not fair to the hardworking, taxpaying Ontarians that some abuse the system and don't pay their fair share.... It's our responsibility and our function to make sure that that is corrected." And we will do so in spite of you two parties over there, who created the situation and the climate in the first place.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): My question is to the Minister of Finance as well. I was absolutely shocked when I read today --
Mr Duncan: Oh, they laugh. They laugh. For a gang that sees fit to employ convicted con artists to sell its message, they ought not to laugh. That's what we're all shocked about, and we don't think it's a laughing matter.
According to the Toronto Star today, Jamie Watt, the former aide to Mike Harris who resigned in disgrace in July when it was revealed that not only did he have a criminal record but he also concealed that record from the Premier's office, is once again on the government payroll. We understand Watt has been hired on a contract basis by the Finance department to help develop a communications strategy for your November economic statement.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Put your question, please.
Mr Duncan: Do you feel it necessary to hire someone convicted of 13 fraud and forgery charges stemming from a $19,000 swindle of 14 victims to help sell your plan for drastic cuts? Why --
The Speaker: Order. The question has been asked.
Mr Duncan: Why would you hire somebody like that?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance and Government House Leader): The member for Windsor-Walkerville perhaps is one of the few people in the world who can stand in his place and say he's never made a mistake in his life. I, for one, am not in that category. Maybe he is. He's a very rare individual indeed if he is.
Mr Watt indeed made a serious mistake many years ago when he was a young man. He has paid for that mistake through the court system. He has made financial restitution. He is also a very talented individual. He has been hired on a short-term contract by this government to advise us.
I see the member for Oriole chuckling away over here. Does the name Patti Starr ring a bell? I mean, talk about a double standard.
Any mistake Mr Watt has made in the past, Mr Watt has paid for. He is a talented individual in the communications field. He has been hired on a short-term contract, through a company he works for, as an adviser to the government.
Perhaps the member for Windsor-Walkerville could tell us if he's ever made a mistake in his life that he's not proud of. Could you stand up here and tell us that, please?
Mr Duncan: The answer is just mind-boggling. It's not a mistake. It's criminal. The Toronto Star article states that his selection was defended by your staff and that you personally okayed the contract. My supplementary is simply this: How much is this convicted swindler being paid? How much is he being paid, how long will he be on contract and what are his precise instructions with respect to your communications strategy?
Hon Mr Eves: I notice the member for Windsor-Walkerville didn't answer the question I asked him, but I will answer the question he asked me.
Hon Mr Eves: Look at the members over there, how holier than thou they are, standing there. They've never made a mistake.
To answer your question very directly, which is more than I can expect from you, the company we have retained that Mr Watt is associated with is called En-Tech Associates, out of Oakville, Ontario. They are a management consultant firm and we are paying them on a short-term contract of no longer than two months, no more than, depending on the amount of work done, $14,000. Does that answer your question?
Mr Duncan: The minister's arrogance is simply breathtaking, to suggest that I should be answering a question when it was he and his department that hired a convicted fraud artist. Could it be that only someone convicted of fraud could sell your Common Sense Revolution of broken promises on health care to seniors and the disabled? How did you decide to hire somebody? Surely there's somebody over there who doesn't have a criminal record who could help solve this. What does that say about your credibility and the credibility of a government that would hire a convicted fraud artist to sell its financial plan, a financial plan that hasn't even been discussed at all in this House?
Hon Mr Eves: No more than a couple of weeks ago his leader was crying about rehabilitating people. Now we should never, ever give anybody who has ever been convicted of any offence another shot; never, that's it. Where is Lyn McLeod now that we need her?
Mr Watt is a very competent, capable individual. He works for a firm we have hired to give us some communications advice for no more than two months. I've answered the question very directly to the point that I don't know what more the honourable member can ask for. I know he's probably surprised he got a direct answer, but he got one.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mr Bob Rae (York South): To the same minister, I congratulate him for setting up a halfway house at the Frost Building.
I have a question on another subject to the same minister. It concerns the issues I raised yesterday on the subject of the proposed user fees. I'm going to the Minister of Finance because it really touches on the issue of financial fairness.
According to our calculations, and they're the calculations we go on from the Common Sense Revolution bible, to which we all pay such obeisance, someone with an income of $25,000 would get a tax break of $586, fully applied. Their extra drug costs would be $713, which means that their net loss under the Tory plan would be $127. If you're a senior with $150,000, your tax break will be nearly $10,000, and your net saving would be $5,700.
How can the minister justify such a policy -- because what you're doing with the drugs has to do with an additional cost imposed on people? Why are you giving such a break to seniors making $150,000, but to those making $25,000, they end up giving you back -- you back, you, the person who's the champion of setting the people free -- $127? What's the fairness in that?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance and Government House Leader): First of all, there is no Tory drug plan that I'm aware of that has been approved. The leader of the third party is speculating. With respect to the particulars of the same, I would refer to the Minister of Health.
Mr Rae: I'm going on the basis of the answers that were given to me yesterday by the Premier and were given in answer to questions from my colleague from Oriole by the Minister of Health.
If you have no plan, how is the Minister of Health so sure that certain people are going to be affected in such-and-such a way and such others are not? I see him shouting over an answer and I know the Minister of Finance well enough to know that no amount of heckling is going to ruffle even a single hair on his head.
I would say to the minister that if he is standing in his place and saying that the government has no plans to bring in user fees for drug costs, he's directly contradicting the comments made by the Premier in this House and outside. The Premier has admitted it is the government's intention to bring in user fees for drugs. He said it twice. He said it yesterday and he said it outside in the scrum.
My question to the Minister of Finance is again on this question of fairness. Your tax break, even with the health care levy -- and we don't know how you're going to do that because it's not legal right now -- is going to provide a net saving of nearly $6,000 for a senior making over $150,000, but for a senior making $25,000, they're going to end up paying you $127. I'm asking you a very simple question: Why are you punishing low-income seniors in this way? Why are you doing this?
Hon Mr Eves: The only thing that has been said by the Premier is that we are looking at every single program, including the Ontario drug benefit program. He has never said we will be punishing low-income seniors. He has never said low-income seniors would have to pay a fee. There is no accepted, or approved, if you want to put it that way, Tory or government plan. If there was, I would surely know about it, and I do not.
Mr Rae: I'm sure the Minister of Finance knows everything that's going on in government, but can he give us this assurance, therefore, can he give us a categorical assurance that those seniors who are making $25,000 or $30,000 will not have to pay any user fee, any prescription cost, any one-time drug cost, any everyday drug cost, under the new Tory plan? Can he give us that categorical assurance, since he seems to be so sure that nothing of that kind is being contemplated by the government?
Hon Mr Eves: The leader of the third party knows full well I can't speak on behalf of the entire government before the government has made a decision on anything. He knows full well there is nobody who can give that categorical assurance on any question he might ask hypothetically in the House.
Mr Bob Rae (York South): I have a question to the Minister of Transportation on the subject of deregulation. The minister sent out a letter on October 10, 1995, to Mr Brian Crow, who is the president of the Ontario Motor Coach Association, a letter which I know he spent some time thinking about before writing. He said, "As we discussed at our meeting on August 17, the intercity bus industry will be deregulated." He then went on to say, "It is likely that the required statutory changes will be put before the Legislature within the next 12 months."
The experience of deregulation in the United States has been that literally thousands of US communities no longer have service because of the impact of deregulation.
I want to ask the minister what impact studies or what other studies the minister has undertaken to ensure that any deregulation will not deprive the citizens of this province of vitally necessary bus transportation.
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I would like to assure the honourable member that before deregulation takes effect, we are going to be doing things in an orderly fashion and there's going to be quite a bit of input given from the private sector to see just how we can maintain the services in remote areas, like the leader of the third party has explained. I can assure you that the private sector is going to be able to deliver the services not only more cost-efficiently, but most likely better than what presently is in place.
Mr Rae: The minister I'm sure knows the private sector delivers the service now. That's not the issue. The issue is, what are the terms of the licences that are granted to private sector applicants? One of the terms of the licences right now is that in addition to the profitable routes, people provide, as a condition for getting a licence, a service to communities which perhaps on pure market terms would not generate a profit. That's the reason for having regulation.
If the minister says it's all going to be done in an orderly fashion, I wonder why he would have said in his letter that he signed, "I also suspect that the time frame for deregulation might well need to be tighter than originally contemplated."
That would seem to indicate that the government plans to move quickly on the basis of this ideology of which it is now so clearly seized. I want to ask the minister again specifically, what assurances can the minister give to those seniors and to those other citizens who are living in smaller rural communities that they are going to continue to be served by the private motor coach industry in the province?
Hon Mr Palladini: I would like to share with the leader of the third party that this government is committed to removing barriers to job creation, and deregulation is going to remove a lot of barriers, it's going to create a lot of opportunities for people to open up businesses. Before anything does get implemented, we are going to make sure that the services the leader of the third party is referring to will be in place.
Mr Rae: Perhaps the minister can clear up this confusion which I think his approach is still generating. If you don't believe in regulation and if you intend to deregulate and to abolish the Highway Transport Board -- employees of the Highway Transport Board have already been given their notice, so clearly you're intending to abolish it -- if that is your policy, if that is what's now in place, can you please tell the seniors in the smaller communities, apart from your ideology, specifically how it is that you plan to ensure they will continue to have transportation services?
Hon Mr Palladini: There are already services being done in remote areas by private enterprise. As far the Ontario Highway Transport Board, all that was was an NDP bone that was thrown to people that isn't really going to be serving any purpose. We are committed to doing the right things. This government is committed to removing barriers for job opportunities and small businesses to flourish.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): To the Minister of Health: During the recent election campaign, your party promised to cut the income tax rate by 30%. Ontarians were sceptical about that promise and you, your party, your Premier, were asked to sign a pledge to the people of Ontario so that they could witness in writing your commitment to keeping that promise. Almost every member of your party signed that including you and your Premier.
During the election, you also promised to protect health care and health care funding. People are sceptical about that commitment, and apparently with good cause. In the gallery today we have Rose Kulimouski. She has gathered a petition because of her concern and the concern of seniors around this province that you are going to be introducing user fees or copayments, whatever you're going to call them today, for drug plans.
I'm going to give you an opportunity to do what you did to those who were interested in a tax cut and sign a pledge today that you will protect health care and health care funding. I'm going to send this over to you; this is a health care protection pledge.
It says, "I hereby pledge that there will be no further cuts to the health care budget in the November 1995 fiscal statement. Further, I guarantee that the Harris government will not make additional cuts to health care as a result of revenue shortfalls."
Minister, will you sign this pledge today?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I find the idea of signing a pledge, after we just had an election campaign and I personally went around this province and went door to door in my riding -- my word was accepted by my constituents, as it was by the people of this province.
I helped, along with hundreds of people, to write the Common Sense Revolution and the health care commitments made there, and we fully intend to live up to the commitments contained in the Common Sense Revolution. We've been doing that and we've been working very hard to find administrative savings and to reinvest health care dollars back into health care, back into front-line savings, something you should have started 10 years ago, 15 years ago in this province.
Mrs Caplan: I'm frankly surprised that the minister won't sign this pledge. I have a copy of the taxpayer pledge they signed during the campaign. You said during the election campaign that you wouldn't make cuts to health care. I thought that meant you wouldn't make cuts to health care. The people of Ontario thought that meant you wouldn't make cuts to health care. When you said you wouldn't introduce new user fees, they thought that meant you wouldn't introduce new user fees or copayments, or whatever you're going to call them today.
I agree with John Downing, who wrote in the Toronto Sun today, "We expect the government to honour the revolution pledges but when you decide not to, it just compounds the insult when you fib."
Minister, will you now come clean and tell the people of this province, admit to them, since you refuse to sign this pledge, that you never had any intention of honouring your health care commitments during the election campaign?
Hon Mr Wilson: Before this member, a member of the Liberal Party, proposes to lecture me about health care and trying to maintain quality services in this province, I highly recommend that she talk to Mr Martin and Mr Chrétien, who will, in a very few months, be hitting health care and education in this province, social services, with a $1-billion cut.
We owe it to the taxpayers and the people of this province, who expect health care services to be there when they need them most to now prepare our programs, to review our programs and to prepare for the huge cut that Ottawa is going to download on us in just a few months.
I take our responsibilities and our commitments in health care very seriously, as we do our commitments to the taxpayers of this province. It is incumbent upon us to continue to review our programs to get rid of waste, inefficiency, bureaucracy we don't need, the thousands of bureaucrats you people carried for years that we don't need, and they themselves are telling us we don't need all of these people or their programs.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The question has been answered.
Hon Mr Wilson: We intend to, and we will, live fully up to our pledges, and at the end of the day we will be prepared to accept the cuts coming from Ottawa because we realize there is only one taxpayer in this country and this province, unlike --
The Speaker: Order. New question.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Finance. I want to follow up on the issue of Mr Watt. I actually regret that the earlier question that was asked took the tone it did. It seems to me you must have decided that the best defence is a good offence, and you were pretty blustery and hard-hitting in your responses. But I think there is an issue here of importance and one that should be explored, so I hope perhaps we can have a civil exchange on this.
I have a concern about, first of all, the way in which this contract was let, but I guess it's a question of both consistency and integrity. I think everybody knows the facts surrounding Mr Watt and that in July he was forced to resign from the Premier's office because he didn't want to be subjected to the OPP security clearance test. Perhaps I'll correct my words and say that he wasn't forced to resign; he chose to resign.
My question to the minister is, and could he tell me please, why was it not all right for Mr Watt, with the record that he had, to work full-time in the Premier's office, but it is all right for him to get a contract, an untendered contract, from this minister to help him sell his economic statement?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance and Government House Leader): The member will know, having been in government a relatively short period of time ago, that all ministries, including the Ministry of Finance, from time to time engage consultants in accordance with the Management Board guidelines, which this is certainly in accordance with. She also knows that from time to time governments get advice from various consulting firms.
For example, my predecessor, Mr Laughren, last time I checked, used management firms to the tune of no less than five times in recent years. He had three full-time communications people working on his staff. He had as many as 22 political people working on his staff. We have one communications person working on our staff. We have 12 political people working in the entire Ministry of Finance. That's a little different from 22 and three.
We have chosen to hire a management consultant firm not just with respect to the fall financial statement or economic statement, but with respect to many other issues that the Ministry of Finance is dealing with at this time. We think we need them on a short-term basis. It is well within the Management Board guidelines, as she well knows, and on that basis we have hired this firm. And, yes, Mr Watt is associated with this firm, and, yes, Mr Watt will be supplying some of the advice offered through this firm.
Ms Lankin: That was a very long answer, and I hope you'll give me the latitude to pursue that with some supplementary questions.
Let me say to the minister that, first of all, he really did avoid what was the gist of my question, but I understand in the points that he made that he is suggesting that with all the bravado we hear about the downsizing of political staff, in fact, the way you decided to go about this is to contract out some of this work to political cronies instead of hiring political staff. That's your choice and I understand it. But let's make the contrast quite clear here.
I appreciate the fact that he informed us that this is a contract of up to $14,000 and up to two months, and that is under the $25,000 guideline for tendering. I'm worried about a trend here.
In the Ministry of Community and Social Services, there was a political Tory consultant hired on an untendered contract under $25,000. In your ministry, and everyone knows Mr Watt was in fact one of the key campaign strategists behind your last campaign, now he's been brought in and hired.
Would the minister please give to us and to the public copies of the contract for the firm that you have hired that employs Mr Watt on this contract, and the details, and in the Ministry of Community and Social Services for Jan Dymond's contract, to show us in fact what Tory hacks are being asked to do on these contracts and what we're paying for and what we're getting for it?
Hon Mr Eves: First of all, the member leaves the impression that my predecessor never, ever hired anybody with a contract that was untendered for any advice of any kind whatsoever, and she knows full well that nothing could be further from the truth. He did this on a regular basis, despite the fact that he had twice as many political staff as I do, despite the fact that he had three times as many communications staff as this minister has --
Ms Lankin: These are all Tory consultants that you are hiring. These are your campaign strategists.
Hon Mr Eves: Obviously, the honourable member doesn't want an answer. She prefers to talk as opposed to listen.
I have given you a very direct, straightforward answer. You may not have expected it. I've told you exactly what the terms of the agreement with En-Tech Associates are. We have totally complied with the Management Board guidelines. You've got your answer and you're still not satisfied. Is this part of the new rat pack team, or what?
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): My question is to the Minister of Education and Training. Last week the Ministry of Education and Training announced the elimination of the OAC year of study for students entering grade 9 starting in 1997. What steps is the ministry taking to address the impact this announcement will have on the curriculum and programs offered at other grade levels?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I want to thank the honourable member for the question. It was my privilege to stand up in the House two weeks ago and announce that we will initiate a four-year, post-grade-8 secondary school program in the province. That program will begin with students entering grade 9 in September 1997.
We intend to develop a curriculum and a program that will enhance the quality of students who are graduating and intending to attend university in the province of Ontario. Those are already high-quality standards in the province and we believe we can enhance them. But as I said in the House two weeks ago, it's our intention to also pay attention to the graduation of those students who will not be going immediately to university. That represents some 70% or so of students in our high schools.
We intend, while we review curriculum, to enhance the guidance and career education opportunities; we intend to implement a new transition-to-work program for those students; we intend to expand the co-op education program in Ontario that's already enjoyed by some 60,000 students; and we intend to expand the Gateway to Opportunities information package that's available to students. We believe that'll create the best opportunity for students in the province of Ontario who are bound for university and who are bound for the workplace.
Mr Stewart: Thank you, Mr Minister. It's a pleasure to be able to hear your answers for a change.
What is the ministry doing to address the impact of two graduating high school classes entering the first-year programs in the post-secondary system in September 2001?
Hon Mr Snobelen: We have addressed the issue of the double cohort of two graduating classes in the same year, and that's part of the purpose of our announcement some two weeks ago, to make sure students, parents and educators in this province had a lot of notice of our intentions, because we believe that notification period will help the Ministry of Education and Training, the universities, the colleges, the parents and the students to do all the things that can be done to mitigate the impact of that year.
We also have placed on our advisory board that'll be taking us through this transition the colleges and universities so they can work with the Ministry of Education and Training in order to make sure that we have the same opportunity to enter college and university for the students in that year as for every other student in the province of Ontario.
PROTECTION OF PRIVACY
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): The province of Ontario has been rocked in recent years by allegations of abuse of young boys by the staff of St Joseph's Training School for Boys and St John's Training School over a period of some decades. During the course of proceedings, and precisely on April 28, 1995, a court order was issued requiring that ward files of former students --
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Who's the question to?
Ms Castrilli: I'm sorry, to the Attorney General. My apologies --
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I figured that out.
Ms Castrilli: I had his attention.
On April 28, 1995, a court order was issued requiring that ward files of former students of St John's Training School be transferred to 45 Oaklands Avenue here in Toronto and that they be kept secure. This action was taken to ensure that there was controlled access during the ensuing criminal and civil proceedings.
It has been brought to the attention of the St Joseph's and St John's Training Schools for Boys Helpline organization that information from some of these ward files have in fact been found in curbside garbage alongside 45 Oaklands Avenue. These ward files contain sensitive and privileged information dealing with medical reports, committal orders, psychiatric reports, progress reports and potentially the nature of the individual claims.
As the Attorney General, the court order places responsibility for security of these files clearly on the minister. I would ask the minister to explain to this House how the security in this case was breached and how sensitive documents ended up in the trash.
Hon Mr Harnick: It was only yesterday that copies of certain documentation were delivered to the Ministry of the Attorney General. Several of these documents, I might tell you, have no connection with any of the material placed in the possession of the Ministry of the Attorney General. No details have been provided as to the circumstances under which the documents came into the possession of the person who delivered them to the Ministry of the Attorney General.
I am very concerned about this, and obviously we are making inquiries. We too wish to get to the bottom of where these documents came from and how they came to be delivered to the Ministry of the Attorney General. We are quite concerned about this and are looking into it.
Ms Castrilli: I'd like to point out to the Attorney General that Thomas Marshall, the general counsel for the Attorney General, wrote to Helpline executives two days ago, that is, prior to the receipt of the documents, and I quote from the memo where he describes the security: "Files are accessible only by Brian Lee," the memo says. "They are under lock and key and locked in two basement offices. The door to the basement is also accessible only by Brian Lee. The front door and the other doors referred to are equipped with deadbolts. Only Brian Lee has access to the basement area."
We know that this sensitive information was found in the garbage in August or September of this year, despite this very intensive security that seems to be in place. The concerns of the Helpline organization -- and you can understand that these are people who have already been victimized in their youth, and this kind of action continues to victimize them -- are with privacy, with the right to fair trial, with the notion that very sensitive information -- to them -- has been made available.
Can you tell us what specific action you're taking to investigate this incident? Do you plan, for instance, to call in the police?
Hon Mr Harnick: This matter came to the attention of the ministry yesterday. There is a court order that indicates where and how this material was to be stored. It was stored according to that court order. As the member notes, it was stored under lock and key. There was perimeter and internal security available on the premises.
We believe that these documents have emanated from a source outside of this storage facility. I have indicated I am looking into that. We don't believe this material came from the storage facility and we are making inquiries to find out where it came from. If I am able to obtain that information, I will certainly advise the member.
The Speaker: New question, third party.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is also for the Attorney General. I think all of us are aware of how serious this matter is. I'm rather puzzled by the statement by the Attorney General that he thinks these documents emanated from somewhere else. That is very serious, because the whole purpose of the document retrieval and storage was to ensure that it was the only set of documents and the only set of documents that was used. So I think that, in and of itself, ought to be of great concern to the minister.
I would say to the minister that for the past five years, there have been strong efforts to try to move forward with the investigation and the prosecution of individuals who were accused by former residents of St John's, and that that process is ongoing. I wonder if the minister is able to assure us today that there is no jeopardy to the ongoing prosecutions, to the ongoing police investigation, and indeed to the whole effort to try to resolve, through a non-court process, the pain and the damages that have been caused by the abuse that occurred at St John's.
Hon Mr Harnick: I certainly share the member's concern and I hope very much that none of those discussions or potential settlements outside of the court process will be jeopardized. I truly hope that is the case.
All I know at this particular time is that the kind of material we have been shown is not material that we had in storage in this facility. That is what I know at this time. We are investigating and making inquiries as to where this material emanated from. As I've indicated, if I'm able to obtain an answer, I shall advise the member.
Mrs Boyd: Have the police been called in to investigate in this case? It seems to me that this is potentially a very serious matter. There have been ongoing problems in the security of documents in this case, the Grandview case, the St Joseph's case and, indeed, in a lot of the other matters which have arisen since these began to be investigated some five years ago.
Have the police been called in, in order to investigate how these documents could have been found; where, if they didn't come from the storage area, they could have been kept, since these were supposed to be the only documents that pertained to these particular wards; and whether indeed the minister will undertake to report back to this House when the findings of that police investigation are completed.
Hon Mr Harnick: There are investigations going on to determine where this material came from and if indeed any of this material could have come from the storage facility. Mr Marshall, who is dealing with this matter and is most familiar with it, does not believe this material came from that storage facility. As I am advised in the course of this investigation he is undertaking as to where this material came from, I shall keep the members informed.
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): My question is to the Minister of Transportation. My riding of Bruce is in the snowbelt area, and many of my constituents are concerned about what they believe to be the reductions in the level of snowplowing that will be done to our provincial highways this winter. Winter driving is a necessity for most people in my riding and they are understandably concerned about their safety. Can you assure them the budget reductions will not jeopardize their safety?
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I would like to thank my colleague for her question and certainly assure her and her constituents, indeed all Ontarians, that what we have done is we have maximized our dollars by using private sector management strategies, new equipment and modern weather forecasting. We are using that base of knowledge and expertise to put people and equipment on the roads when they are needed. Quite simply, when it's snowing, our people and equipment will be on the roads. They won't be there when it's not snowing.
Mrs Fisher: Mr Minister, you have often spoken of the ministry's budget of $130 million for winter maintenance. As we all know, winters vary greatly in severity. Are you confident that if this is a severe winter, $130 million will be sufficient to provide all the necessary plowing needed?
Hon Mr Palladini: The Ministry of Transportation is aware and does acknowledge that any winter can be a lot worse, or better. No one can predict. That is the very reason we have implemented these efficiencies.
In winter maintenance, like any other business, you have your fixed costs and your variable costs. People in business know that you always try to keep your fixed costs down so you can stay in business in good and bad times. In winter maintenance, we have minimized the fixed costs of things like patrolling, but we have not capped the costs of the extra people and equipment we will bring when they are needed.
We have the flexibility to react to severe weather conditions, and reducing fixed costs helps ensure that we will put the money to use when we do need it. So if it's a bad winter, we're still going to be spending the money.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): A question for the Minister of Transportation -- I hope you got the right note on this one, Al -- and that is, in the auditor's report yesterday it was noted that 60% of Ontario's roads are substandard. That is, over 30,000 kilometres of roads in this province are substandard. I'm wondering, Mr Minister, how could you in October have cut $5 million from that part of the ministry whose job it was to ensure that the standards are being met?
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I would like to thank the honourable member for the question, because certainly I do agree that our highways are a major part of our economic structure, and without good highways, number one, it's not good for safety, and certainly it's not going to be good for business.
As far as the infrastructure being the way it is, I can certainly assure you that it was your government and the previous government that helped to make it what it is today. So we are going to be committing that we'll take a look at what has to be done in order to make sure that the province of Ontario will have the safest roads not only for safety but for economic growth as well.
Mr Colle: Since you've taken over as the minister, you were basically doing I don't know what when $5 million or $6 million was cut from snowplowing, sanding and salting. What did you say in cabinet when they recommended that cut, what did you say in cabinet when the emergency patrol was cut and what did you say in cabinet when $5 million was taken out of ensuring that the roads met certain standards?
Was it your job in cabinet just to be a cheerleader and a yes man or did you ever stand up and say, "My roads have to be maintained and they have to be safe"? Did you ever stand up and say no or were you always a yes man trying to beat the other ministers to see who could cut the most? Did you ever stand up to protect the safety of the roads, to stop the cuts? Did you ever say, "Not this time"?
Hon Mr Palladini: These are savings that we are talking about, and we are not cutting the standards that this government is committed to. Now, we are going to be utilizing that money when we need to utilize the money. I wish that the honourable member, once and for all, would understand how a business does run. Maybe he's never been in business and therefore he doesn't know how a business runs. This government is going to do things for all Ontarians in a most cost-efficient way when we will be there to deliver the services.
COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health has told the Legislature on a number of occasions that he is interested in health care restructuring. As he knows, there were a number of health organizations around the province that were actively working on restructuring at the local level.
In my part of the province one of those bodies was called Unicare, which was a comprehensive health organization that had devised a plan to pull together a number of disparate bodies to save some money and also to do some efficient long-term health care planning and health care delivery.
They've been waiting to hear from the Minister of Health now for six months as to whether or not he is going to approve the project and work with them or, if he's not willing to approve the project and work with them, what alternatives he has in mind. Can the minister tell us what his intentions are with respect to the Unicare Comprehensive Health Organization project?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I appreciate the question from the member for Rainy River and I wish that I could give him a definite answer today, but I can't. I'd be happy to, in a confidential way, share some of the mail I've been getting from his constituents, which are both pro and con CHO for Rainy River and for your constituents.
Also, I apologize, but you're somewhat caught up in our review, our reform of primary care and the delivery of primary care services in this province, which is a commitment we've made with the Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Medical Association, community health centres, health service organizations and many other players in the system right now.
We're all sitting down and trying to best figure out the most cost-effective way of delivering, and in some cases redesigning, primary health care services. Unfortunately, and I do apologize, a final decision on your particular project is caught up in that process. I will try and make a determination with respect to the Unicare CHO as soon as I can.
Mr Hampton: I appreciate the information. This project is important though, not just for the residents in my constituency, but for people all across northern Ontario. The member for Algoma has a similar CHO project in his constituency, and a number of communities across northern Ontario which have difficulty recruiting physicians, which have difficulty in terms of organizing their budgets so that they can meet the needs of the community, want to know from the Minister of Health what some of the possible directions may be. The fact of the matter is, all of these communities have great difficulty in terms of recruiting physicians. Knowing what kind of model they're going to operate under may help them -- in fact, I would argue, will help them -- in that kind of work.
Many of these communities see opportunities to save money within the health care system but they haven't gotten the signal from the Minister of Health. They're ready to move ahead. They want to provide guidance and leadership for a whole host of other communities in northern Ontario. So for those communities that are having these difficulties recruiting physicians, planning their health care budgets for the future, what does the Minister of Health have to say?
Hon Mr Wilson: I have had the final report since July, and I admit that, from the people in your area of the province. I know it has been endorsed by 12 or 13 different municipalities and it has the support of the local people.
But let me remind you, in all fairness, this issue of a CHO goes back to 1989, so I'm probably going to take a shorter period of time giving you a determination on this than either of the two previous governments. There was a feasibility study done in 1989, in my understanding. If it was so easy to move this way with respect to primary care, whether it's your area of the province or other areas of the province, then I would have been able to make that determination upon coming to office.
I will undertake to the honourable member to get back to you just as soon as I can. We are caught up in discussions right now with the Ontario Medical Association about physician resource questions, physician distribution questions. We have 76 areas of the province that are in fairly desperate need of more physician resources. Those discussions are ongoing. I hope they'll conclude within the next few weeks, and we'll know better where we stand with respect to physicians in the province, primary care providers and community health organizations.
NORTHERN ONTARIO HERITAGE FUND CORP
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): My question is for the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. Having worked in the financial area, I was interested in the Provincial Auditor's report that was just released. This report indicated that they had several problems with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. Among these were concerns about severe losses of funding incurred through bad investments to companies and the collapse even after being the recipient of taxpayer dollars. What are you, as minister, going to do to stop this from happening again?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): We agree with the auditor's report. It was disturbing to see the abuses that have taken place in the past. I just want to assure the member that we are in the process of reorienting the heritage fund and making sure that we take into account the auditor's recommendations as well as, as we promised during the election, refocusing its mandate to stop abuses in the corporate welfare scheme.
Mrs Johns: Where is the new heritage fund heading?
Hon Mr Hodgson: As I mentioned, we're reviewing the fund in its entirety and we will take into account the auditor's recommendations. The new heritage fund will be for the benefit of all northern Ontarians rather than a select few corporations that are favourites of the government of that day.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs -- a non-partisan question. A lot of the questions are partisan in this House. It's non-partisan because I'm looking for his assistance because I know he knows the farming community and the business well.
There is a proposal coming to you from the regional municipality of Niagara which would allow a very lenient severance policy in the Niagara region, which would mean you would have a lot more urban dwellers out in the rural area with all of the complaints that you know, as a farmer, arise from that and, second, who would be demanding urban services out into the rural area. This very lenient policy was initiated because they are concerned about their future, and I know you have met with them and you are concerned about their future.
Minister, would you undertake to not automatically approve this very lenient severance policy but rather to look at a number of other options that might be available, perhaps with some help from the members for St Catharines-Brock, St Catharines, Lincoln and so on?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I wish to thank the member for St Catharines for his question and his concern regarding agriculture, particularly in the tender fruit area. It's an area that's very fragile and one where we're very much oriented towards working with the regional municipality, with the elected people in order to establish exactly what is best for that community.
Remember, those taxpayers and farmers have rights as well, and they should very much have some input into what is in the future for them. I have just received a draft copy of that report. It will be studied and it will be discussed; it's certainly not automatic.
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance and Government House Leader): I move that, notwithstanding any standing order or special order of the House, in addition to its regular meeting times, the standing committee on general government be authorized to meet to consider Bill 8, An Act to repeal job quotas and to restore merit-based employment practices in Ontario, in the evening on Thursday, November 16 and 23; and to meet from 10 am to 10 pm on Friday, November 17 and from 10 am to 6 pm on Friday, November 24; and to meet from 10 am to 6 pm on Monday, November 27, 1995, and that consideration of Bill 8 be concluded no later than 6 pm on Monday, November 27, 1995.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch Hospital;
"Whereas this recommendation will remove emergency and inpatient services currently provided by North York Branson Hospital, which will seriously jeopardize medical care and the quality of health for the growing population which the hospital serves, many being elderly people who in numerous cases require treatment for life-threatening medical conditions;
"We petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to reject the recommendations contained within the report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."
It has been signed by many constituents, and I have affixed my signature as well.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I have a petition here for the Premier, Mike Harris, and the Minister of Community and Social Services, Mr Tsubouchi, and his government from a whole host of constituents in Sault Ste Marie who are very concerned about the situation surrounding the issue of non-profit housing. It says:
"Mike Harris would like to do away with public housing. This action would take our homes away from us. Where does he expect us to live?
"We, the undersigned, oppose this action."
I certainly agree with them and oppose it as well and I've signed my signature to it.
COMMUNITY-BASED JUSTICE OPTIONS
Mr Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas during the 1970s the government of the day developed measures that curbed the growth of government by involving local communities in the provision of legal services; the criminal justice field began to recognize the benefits of community-based justice options; privatization was considered more cost-effective while strengthening government ministries through community participation in the justice system;
"Since this time, non-profit agencies across Ontario have developed effective programs and present a strong local face to the justice system while supporting partnerships with an ever-widening community base. Community programs have proven to be effective in comparison to directly operated government services. Community-based options reduce the cost of incarceration while promoting public safety.
"Whereas community-based justice programs such as community service orders, diversion alternative measures, bail supervision etc have proven value; the screening and supervision of accused and offenders within well-defined programs contribute to public safety; for over 20 years community-based options have made a positive contribution to the welfare of community in Ontario;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We believe these programs must not be viewed as dispensable. As with many recent cuts, short-term fiscal expediency holds no long-term value. Creditable links with the community and quality programs for the citizens of Ontario must be maintained."
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I have Rose Kulimouski's petition, signed by over 4,000 Ontarians, addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Common Sense Revolution states that a Conservative government `will not cut health care'; and
"Whereas the Conservative government has already cut $132 million from the budget of the Ministry of Health when, on July 21, 1995, the Finance minister announced a series of spending cuts designed to reduce the deficit; and
"Whereas there have been suggestions that hospitals will face a reduction in funding from this government when it cuts its support to all transfer partners in the next years;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, call on the Minister of Health to restore the $132 million that was cut on July 21, 1995, in order to maintain the promise made by this government to protect health care funding and not cut health care, to reaffirm this government's commitment to no new user fees, and to ensure that the health care budget will stand at $17.4 billion for every day of the life of this government."
I affix my signature to this petition.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. It reads as follows:
"Whereas the Ministry of Labour has introduced Bill 7 to drastically amend the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act and other labour legislation which were brought forward by successive Progressive Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic Party governments in recognition of the legitimate rights of employees in Ontario;
"Whereas the implementation of Bill 7 will undermine the fundamental, democratic rights of employees to organize and to have access to collective bargaining;
"Whereas employers have raised concerns about how Bill 7 will result in an increased number of strikes; and
"Whereas the Minister of Labour is proceeding with Bill 7 without consultation with employee groups and without conducting public hearings;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to urge the Minister of Labour to withdraw Bill 7."
This was dated November 2 and is signed by a number of residents of Hornepayne, Ontario, and I support their sentiments.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I have a petition to the Parliament of Ontario.
"Whereas drivers who ignore school bus stop signals endanger the lives of children and are difficult to prosecute,
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"The car model, colour and licence plate number of the vehicle should be sufficient to impose a fine, without school bus drivers or others being forced to also identify the driver in court."
I have also signed that petition, and it has 770 names.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I have a petition that's signed by 1,200 individuals and it's addressed to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Whereas the Premier of Ontario, the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, as well as the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, have made statements that suggest the provincial government intends to repeal the Public Libraries Act in order to impose fees for the use of public libraries, to eliminate provincial conditional grants to public libraries and to eradicate public libraries boards; and
"Whereas at an information forum on library user fees and partnerships held by the Friends of the Kingston Public Library on Wednesday, October 18, 1995, the crowd of over 100 people were greatly concerned about the shortsighted thinking of this government; and
"Whereas the majority of participants felt that taxation was the fairest means of charging Ontarians for library services, and that an annual user fee or fees for services will stop those in the community who need access to library programs and services -- most preschool and school-age children, job seekers and those needing information to retrain for a changing working world; and
"Whereas the suggestion that the loss of the provincial, conditional grant to public libraries may lead some libraries to endorse or enlist corporate sponsorship for programs or services may remove the library from being politically neutral and having impartial standards of free public library service; and
"Whereas the eradication of library boards as the governing body of public libraries will compromise the intellectual freedom public library boards have always preserved and eliminate citizen involvement in setting policies at the community level; and
"Whereas public libraries make too important a contribution to the ongoing economic strength and quality of life in Ontario for these principles to be cast aside;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"To oppose the repeal of the Public Libraries Act, the imposition of fees for the use of public libraries, the elimination of provincial, conditional grants to public libraries, the eradication of library boards and to support free public libraries as the foundation of a literate, informed and prosperous population."
I've affixed my signature to the petition.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I have a petition concerning affordable and quality child care.
"Whereas the Tory government has decided to replace our current child care system with one that lacks compassion and common sense and is fraught with many dangerous consequences; and
"Whereas the concept of affordable, accessible and quality child care is a basic, important fundamental right for many members of our community who are either unemployed and enrolled in a training program or are working single parents or where both parents are working; and
"Whereas if our present provincial government is sincere in getting people back to work, they should recognize the value of the child care component of the Jobs Ontario program and acknowledge the validity of the wage subsidy to the child care workers;
"We, the undersigned residents, business owners and child care providers of our Parkdale and High Park communities, urge the Progressive Conservative government of Ontario to immediately suspend their plans to implement cuts to our present child care programs across our province and restore funding to their previous levels."
I've affixed my signature to this petition.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): The people of northern Ontario continue to express their outrage over the winter road maintenance cuts.
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
I'm proud to sign my signature.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I too have a petition from a good number of small communities in my riding: Grassy Narrows, Dog Creek, Rat Portage and others. It says:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Ministry of Transportation is intent on reducing northern winter road maintenance services; and
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure the safe passage of drivers."
I too have attached my name to that petition.
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I have a petition here today.
"Whereas such downgrading places the lives of northern residents at undue and unnecessary risk;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to disallow these reductions in service and to guarantee that winter roads across the northern regions of the province receive the necessary maintenance to ensure safe passage of drivers."
I too will affix my signature.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
ADVOCACY, CONSENT AND SUBSTITUTE DECISIONS STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE L'INTERVENTION, LE CONSENTEMENT ET LA PRISE DE DÉCISIONS AU NOM D'AUTRUI
Mr Harnick moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 19, An Act to repeal the Advocacy Act, 1992, revise the Consent to Treatment Act, 1992, amend the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 and amend other acts in respect of related matters / Loi abrogeant la Loi de 1992 sur l'intervention, révisant la Loi de 1992 sur le consentement au traitement, modifiant la Loi de 1992 sur la prise de décisions au nom d'autrui et modifiant d'autres lois en ce qui concerne des questions connexes.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? Carried.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): The purpose of the bill I am introducing today is to repeal the Advocacy Act, amend the Substitute Decisions Act and repeal the Consent to Treatment Act and replace it with the Health Care Consent Act.
This will reduce government interference in the private affairs of individuals and ensure that decision-making is in the hands of individuals and their families.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
WORKERS' COMPENSATION AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY AMENDMENT ACT, 1995 / LOI DE 1995 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR LES ACCIDENTS DU TRAVAIL ET LA LOI SUR LA SANTÉ ET LA SÉCURITÉ AU TRAVAIL
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 15, An Act to amend the Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act / Projet de loi 15, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les accidents du travail et la Loi sur la santé et la sécurité au travail.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to debate and comment on this second anti-worker bill that the government has introduced.
I'd like to begin my comments by reading from yesterday's Hansard the quotes from the minister, where she says: "Bill 15 has two fundamental objectives. The first is to change the governance structure." It then goes on to say, "The second objective is to put the system on a sound financial footing."
I noted with interest when I was reading through the minister's comments in detail that she goes on shortly after to say:
"Many people ask: How did we ever get into such a mess in the first place? Why were steps not taken to deal with these problems before they reached the crisis proportions that we have today? Unfortunately, a large part of the blame for the lack of progress in tackling the WCB's many problems can be laid at the feet of the board's present governance structure. To put it simply, the governance system is broke."
I've been trying to think of parliamentary language I can use to describe what I think about the accuracy of what is contained here. It's simply not the case. To suggest that somehow decades and decades of failing to ensure that employers who have a responsibility to pay the WCB premiums have done so is somehow the responsibility of a board that was in place for a mere few months is to stretch the truth, to say the least.
The fact of the matter is that the current structure, the one this government is taking such great delight in decimating, is indeed a bipartite structure, and that simply says that the board is 50% made up of worker representatives and 50% made up of employer representatives. That makes a great deal of sense, because we know that when labour and business work together in common goals, they can achieve great things. They can increase productivity, they can increase profits, they can increase job security, they can increase wages, and also they can deal with other problems and issues that are of equal importance to working people in this province, such as the WCB.
But this government can't handle the idea that workers would have an equal say in matters that affect their lives, matters that they rightfully have a say in.
We're not talking about the day-to-day management of a business. We're talking about the operation of a public entity that was created in 1914 to ensure that workers who were hurt on the job through no fault of their own wouldn't lose wages as a result of being off work, and in return, employers, nor anyone else for that matter, could not be sued by that worker or any of their representatives. It was a tradeoff.
It makes a great deal of sense that workers would then, in the running of that system, have an equal say. At least it makes a great deal of sense to everyone except this hard-line, ideologically driven, right-wing, Republican-style party that now forms the government in this province, because surely there's no relationship between this party and anything that Tories in the past believed in. And if you didn't believe in where the Tories were in the past, there's no bloody way you're going to understand the dynamics of a modern-day workplace and indeed modern-day workplace democracy, which is a phrase you continue to try to abuse by spinning it in your Orwellian way to mean something other than what you're really doing with it, and this is a prime example.
We know that the Workplace Health and Safety Agency had exactly the same fundamental structure, a recognition that if you're going to talk about preventing accidents in the workplace, there's certainly nobody more interested or who has a greater investment in succeeding in preventing workplace injuries than workers. After the WCB was deemed not to have paid enough attention to accident prevention, this agency was created to take that mandate out of the WCB and have it stand alone, and when it stood alone, there was an agency with its own board to run it. Using a modern-day, real-world application of workplace democracy, there was a 50% worker representation and a 50% employer representation.
We know -- the evidence is there and I haven't heard anybody in the government dispute it -- that accidents are down as a result of the work of that agency. They provided that operation, that part of the WCB mandate that was formerly with the WCB, cheaper than the WCB did, while lowering accidents. We also know that they trained more managers and more workers than ever before -- record levels.
By any objective analysis, that sounds like a success story: business and labour working together on an issue that benefits workers and benefits business. They're running an efficient operation, they're succeeding in their mandate beyond any attainment by the previous governance structure, and they're training people, which is the key to preventing accidents in the workplace, training more people than ever before.
One of the first things this government did was kill it. They just killed it outright. There can be no other explanation for that than, ideologically, from that far-right-wing, la-la land of Newt Gingrich and other Republican-type thinkers, that a balanced 50-50 board can't exist, can't exist in their world.
They have to get rid of it because workers are out of their place. Workers ought to know their place in a Mike Harris Ontario, just like the poor ought to know their place in a Mike Harris Ontario, women ought to know their place in a Mike Harris Ontario. So workers were out of their place because they were 50% of the decision-making: absolutely unacceptable to this government. They killed it and that's one of the key goals of Bill 15, which this government takes such great pride in.
That's what this means when we talk about governance structure being changed. It means pulling back on opportunity for workers to have a say in an issue that affects their very lives and putting workers in their place, because that's the way this government runs.
Over the past week and a half, in light of the government's refusal to let anyone except their friends have comment on their anti-worker Bill 7, I've been holding hearings and allowing people who have been affected by this draconian legislation some opportunity to have their say in public and have it put on the record and to allow this government to be held accountable. I have yet to be in a community where WCB changes and cuts have not been raised and recognized as a fundamental part of this government's anti-worker attitude.
While this legislation today may be the tee-up, to use language the government understands -- this tees up what they're planning to do next spring -- we ought not be fooled by thinking governance structure is something that working people ought not to care about, that it's a technical thing that has to do with the daily operation of government and it's deep in the bowels of the outfit, that it doesn't mean anything. It means a lot. What it really means is workplace democracy. That's workplace democracy, giving workers an opportunity to have a say, a fair say, dare I say an equal say, in matters that affect their very lives.
On both those fronts this government wiped out that democracy, just like you wiped out democracy when you refused to let anyone comment on your anti-worker Bill 7 -- nobody, not one word, not one minute of anybody affected by that draconian legislation. You eliminated democracy for all intents and purposes in this place just like you're snuffing out democracy in terms of workplace democracy as it relates to governance issues, which means decision-making and, as you see it, it means workers not being in their proper place, and now that you've got a majority government, you're going to fix that one but good, and that's what this is all about.
I would also point out that the Liberals think this is a keen idea too. So let's start keeping these things in mind when we're talking about who's representing workers and who really is prepared to stand up and say this is not fair for working people. Let's not forget that the Liberals and the Tories are in bed on this one. They both can't handle the idea that this kind of democracy should exist.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Speak for yourself.
Mr Christopherson: Well, we woke them up, woke up the Liberals. Whenever they're held to account on their real record they tend to wake up. The rest of the time they just go back into a coma.
They were also in favour of killing the occupational health and safety issue. So again, to working people in Ontario, take a real good look and listen carefully to who is prepared to stand where when it counts, when it really, really counts.
I want to move now to the issue of the finances which, as the minister has indicated, is her second objective, putting it on a sound financial footing and again attempted to lay -- I find I'm so disappointed because coming into this Legislature I had the greatest respect for the Minister of Labour as an individual. We worked together on a number of things and I found her to be a person of very high integrity.
But there have been so many things, particularly the way Bill 7 was put through, and then when I see things like this that really, really concern me -- that may not matter to the minister but it happens to be the truth. When I see that the attempt here is to say that a large part of the blame for the lack of progress in tackling the WCB's many problems can be laid at the feet of the board's present governance, they were only there for a few months. That is so patently untrue. Okay. Got away with that one.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): Nobody's listening.
Mr Christopherson: See, that's the point. See, the honourable member from the government ranks, one of the wannabe ministers, said, "Nobody's listening," and that's what you're counting on, isn't it? You're counting on that, just like you did with Bill 7.
Mr Christopherson: Well, we woke them all up. That's good, because they ought to be paying attention when they're going after workers this way.
This government did what they did on Bill 7 and jammed it through because they thought nobody was looking. They thought nobody cared. They felt they could go ahead and jam anything they wanted through. I want to say that they're going to find out you can't do that to working people and expect to get away with it. You just watch what's going to happen.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): What are we going to see?
Mr Christopherson: You just go on back to sleep and I'll just talk here and you'll wake up in due course, I can assure you.
Here we have the minister saying that somehow years and years and years of the unfunded liability increasing is somehow the fault of the new board, and therefore that's the best cheap cover they could come up with for killing the governance. It just doesn't hold. It's not true. It's absurd to suggest such a thing. I really am disappointed that they would attempt, because nobody's going to believe it.
What's the next piece of the magic little world that the government's trying to create? They're talking about this great crisis that exists. Everything is a crisis. Nothing is just a problem or a serious problem or a priority problem. There's no ranking; everything jumps to crisis.
We know, because the record is there to be seen, how this government views what they tell the people of Ontario when it comes to a crisis, because we've got the Minister of Education on tape talking about having to create -- and I'm paraphrasing -- a false crisis to justify the kinds of actions they've already decided they want to take and, I would add, for their own pure, hard, right-wing ideological reasons. We know.
I heard somebody suggest earlier on that that minister ought to have been fired because he told a cabinet secret. I think there's merit in that because obviously every minister's been told, "However you position things, make sure that it looks like a crisis and therefore the draconian nature of what we're doing will seem like the only real, responsible course."
Of course, as we all know, when it comes to finances, what's really driving all this is the 30% tax cut for their wealthy friends that's going to cost this province up to $5 billion that they have to borrow. They don't have enough money to pay for disabled workers injured at the workplace, but they will find enough money to make sure their wealthy friends get a 30% tax cut. They think people aren't going to see through it. They think people aren't paying attention. Let me assure you, in terms of what I'm hearing and seeing when I'm out around the province talking to people, they're listening, they're watching and they will react.
We have the issue of the government trying to create a crisis. Again, all I want to try and do is deal with the facts. Let's take a look at what the facts are with regard to their phoney crisis. First of all, they talk a lot about the good old days. Remember the good days? That was when they had the multi-stakeholder board, which was before real worker democracy was brought in. That was the good old days and that's what they want to go back to.
Funny thing about the good old days though, when you look at the finances, when you get past the front of a crisis and you look at the reality. My, my, my, look at this: In 1985, there was a 31.8% funding ratio and then, in 1994, we have 37.4%. It's up. It means that there's been an improvement in the financial status of the WCB. So under the one, which is the good old days for Tories, it wasn't as good as it was just last year.
What else do the facts tell us? The facts tell us that in 1994 there was an operating surplus, and currently their quarterly reports are showing that they're also running an operating surplus again in 1995. That sounds kind of strange for something that's supposed to be a crisis. Bear in mind, we are not arguing here that there isn't a problem. What we are arguing is that there is no phoney crisis that justifies going after workers and slashing benefits that they're entitled to. That's what we object to, and we will continue to object to that.
What else? Well, there was a proposal put before the board, the FIP, the financial improvement package. That package would have done a couple of things. First of all, it would have saved the WCB $400 million annually. So a plan was brought in by the current board, the one that you're abolishing, where they worked together, worked with the management team at WCB, because they realized that action needed to be taken, the problem needed to be addressed -- the problem, not the crisis -- and then came forward with a proposal that would have the effect of not only saving the $400 million annually, but by 2014 would have eliminated the unfunded liability.
It seems to us that would be a plan, you would think, that would receive unanimous support. Unfortunately, the proposal was brought forward in the latter part of the mandate of our government and I suspect some people saw that there may be changes in the wind and therefore it didn't go through.
I'm not casting aspersions on the employers' side; I don't know the individuals. But I do think what's interesting is that it was the worker representatives who were prepared to accept among themselves, unanimously, as I understand it, this proposal. This proposal gave a plan that would have eliminated the unfunded liability, provided $400 million a year in annual savings, and in effect dealt with the issue that this government says can only be addressed by going after workers.
So the facts do not support either the premise or the action of this government. It's all a cover and a front to go after worker benefits, because that's how they're going to achieve their fiscal targets. That's how they're going to achieve their primary target, which is that 30% tax cut which their very wealthy friends will benefit from a lot more than working people will. That's the game plan as we see it.
There were still, however, other issues to be dealt with within the WCB, very complex. No one, I think, questions the complexity of the WCB: the variables, the calculations, the actuarial charts, all of the things that come into play, as well as the reality of modern-day workplaces, be it in an office or in a store or in a factory, a shop of some sort, or out on the road, all the various places where people work. It's very, very complex.
So in addition to the financial improvement package which would have dealt with the immediate funding issues, we said, "Let's put together a royal commission that would properly and adequately and thoroughly look at this most complex issue and provide a series of recommendations that would address many of the outstanding issues that are there as well as some of the more modern-day pressing issues, RSI and a number of other things that really haven't been factored in in the past in as big a way as they need to in modern times."
Contrary to popular positioning of saying royal commissions are a waste of time or it's just a way of not addressing a problem or other sorts of things, the reality in the history of our province, in the history of our nation, is that some of the most defining issues and defining blueprints of what it is to be a proud Ontarian or a proud Canadian have come from royal commissions.
And so we said: "This is important enough. Workers' issues are important enough to us that they deserve a royal commission to be looked at properly so that the benefits that workers were guaranteed in the bargain of 1914 can be kept."
There were three very distinguished and honourable people who were appointed to that -- one from labour, one from business and another from the academic/economics world -- and they conducted extensive public hearings across the province, up to and until the new government.
We know how much this government dislikes and cannot stand the idea of public hearings on things that they've already made their mind up on. They don't even want to suffer people who are going to say something they don't agree with if they've already decided. We know that's what happened with Bill 7. You'll never be able to deny it. That's a stain on your record that will stay there all throughout history.
So the record is there of how you refused to allow people to have input. The royal commission was right out there in public view, dealing with all the issues, and it was going to offer up perhaps a game plan that's different from the one you've already decided you're going to follow: the game plan that has all of your fiscal targets being met on the backs of injured workers. That game plan would be shown for what it is if this was allowed to continue.
So what do they do? They're very good at one thing. They're good at killing things. They know how to kill things real quick, make the decision, send out the news release, talk about being responsible and being the grown-ups in this situation and doing the right thing, all under the guise of their crisis. And the reality is, every time they've done that, somebody in this province has lost rights that they've either had for decades or new rights that they'd finally been able to achieve in the last few years. It happened again today with your legislation. It's a negative government. All you do is cut, cut, cut; kill, kill, kill. You don't create anything. You don't offer a vision. You don't do anything except cut and kill, and that's what they did with the royal commission. Gone.
So what did they replace it with? Well, let's remember how this government likes to do business. Remember Bill 7? No public hearings. Jam the legislation through the House, even though they were in such chaos that at three points they were voting against their own amendments. That's the kind of ridiculous, disgusting procedure that was followed here. But they feel they got away with it, so onward they go. That's the way they like to do business. So let's look at what they did with the royal commission.
They killed it. They killed the royal commission, took control of that process, which was in the hands of three public figures of great respectability, took that control away from them, gave it to one of their own, the junior minister from Burlington, and then he went underground. He went underground; hasn't been heard from since.
Mr Christopherson: My colleague from Welland-Thorold says, "He's hiding out." Well, given what he's likely to come up with, I suspect that's a good idea. He's on the lam. But he went underground. Gone. And he took the public's right to have a say in this with him, and down he went into the ground.
Who he's talking to, we don't know. What sort of things are they looking at? We don't know. What are the various options that are available to the government? We don't know. What is the background information? We don't know. Nobody knows, because this government is governing the way it likes: in secret, with total control.
So that's what's going on with the work of the royal commission, what was the work of the royal commission; now it's one of their ministers, and off it's gone to have more of their secret meetings, as they did with Bill 7, choosing and picking who to hear from and not giving the public an opportunity to benefit, because in the 1990s the public doesn't accept that things are just done. Even if they disagree or totally agree, they like to hear the debate. People in Ontario today like to know what the options are, and that's the exact opposite of how this government deems it has a right to rule its fiefdom, which we know as Ontario and it calls its own. That's what they did with the royal commission.
Let's talk a little bit about the unfunded liability, just a little bit before I leave all of the finances entirely, because this is where the government likes to go on this one. They go straight to the bottom line, blow it up, put issues around it that aren't necessarily always the facts -- in fact, in many cases they aren't -- and then throw it out there, spin it around, and if it takes hold, then they can continue to do what they're really doing.
Mr Christopherson: My colleagues are saying, "The big lie." Sometimes you have to wonder if that's not what's at play, because in so many cases, time after time -- I mean, you talked about employment equity, that it was a quota law. It wasn't.
Mr Tilson: Sure it was.
Mr Christopherson: No. See, there you go, "Sure it was," because if you lose that one you've got nothing.
If they lose the crisis issue, they lose the argument, so they refuse to let go of the crisis, whatever that is, and in this case it's the unfunded liability. Well, let's talk about that. What does that mean? First of all, that refers to dollars that workers are entitled to who have already been deemed to have been entitled to benefits, and that's a projection of the cost of those benefits during the time that they're expected to receive them. That's what that is.
But what is it not? It's not money that was borrowed and therefore is a debt. It's not a debt in the sense that when you borrow you have interest payments in addition. This is not that, as much as the government wants people to believe that. This is money that, quite frankly, should have been put into the WCB as part of the bargain of 1914 because it represents benefits that workers are already entitled to. That's what that represents.
Another fact: The fact of the matter is the WCB has never borrowed money. They pay their bills with the revenue that comes in. They have an investment fund of $6 billion, and quite frankly, if the bargain had been properly kept throughout the years, then this government wouldn't have the ability to spin-doctor the issue so that somehow it can justify going after workers to pay for money that workers are already entitled to. That's the greatest shame and that's the greatest sham of all of this. This is money that workers are already entitled to as a result of being injured on the job through no fault of their own and a part of the bargain and the pact that was made with workers in 1914. That's the reality of where we really are.
Now let's take a look at what might be in the offing, because Bill 15 is the first step, and we've talked about the two pieces that the minister says are important. I believe that on both those issues, if it's the facts alone that speak, the government's case doesn't hold, in terms of the structural change to the board, in terms of real workplace democracy and also the whole question of the finances: who's at fault, who's owed what and what ought to be done about it, what's necessary. I believe that if the facts alone were to determine this, then their arguments and their case would not hold at all.
I'd now like to move to the work, and it's related. In fact, it's a shame they aren't being done together, this bill and the one that will flow from the underground work of Minister Jackson. But let's remember that the government needs to put its hacks and pals and friends on the WCB so it's guaranteed a majority to carry through whatever dictates come out of the Premier's office that everybody else is expected to kowtow to, including the WCB. That's really what the political agenda here is, as opposed to the social policy issue, and we ought not lose sight of that. That's why this bill had to come in now rather than wait until Minister Jackson's report is brought forward to the House.
Let's take a look at the issues that are linked to this, the unspoken issues. We have the 5% cut to disabled workers. I have raised time and time again and will continue to do so the absolute hypocrisy of this government to run on a platform that says it will not hurt the disabled as a result of the cuts that it will make if the people of Ontario give it power. Yet one of the first things they announce is, disabled workers are going to lose 5%.
What I fail to understand, Mr Speaker, and if you can help me I'd appreciate it -- figuratively speaking. Here we are, "We won't hurt disabled people." Okay, fair enough. "But we're going to cut disabled workers." So somehow disabled workers are not the same as disabled people. Those are the facts. You're going after disabled workers. You said you wouldn't hurt the disabled, and I haven't heard what the difference is between the two. That's the first thing you did.
What else is in the offing? Well, you know, worker, because employers haven't paid the full amount that they needed to to pay for the benefits of the deal of 1914, the tradeoff -- because employers haven't done that, because successive governments haven't forced them to do that, you, worker, are going to have to take a cut because we want this unfunded liability number brought down.
So, a little pat on the head, you'd better understand. You're not a disabled person. You don't qualify as person in this province because you're a worker, so you're at least a second-class citizen, and with this government, perhaps third or fourth, and it's your fault that somebody else didn't do what they were supposed to do. Therefore, we're going to correct it by taking away benefits you're entitled to. That's what is coming up in the spring. That's the kind of work that was stolen from the royal commission, given to Minister Jackson, and then went underground. They're talking about that now as we speak -- don't know with whom exactly -- but that's what's going on.
What else? Three-day waiting period. Talk about a fundamental violation of the agreement in 1914 where workers gave up the right to sue anyone in order to be guaranteed that their wages would be covered so that they could pay their rent or mortgage, put food on the table, clothes on the backs of their kids, if they were hurt in a situation that was no fault of their own. That's what that deal was. We cannot lose sight of 1914 because that's when the original deal was cut, and that's the deal that's being violated so blatantly and so terribly by this government. We can't afford to lose sight of that.
Now they're saying, "Yes, you were supposed to be covered from the first minute, but because we got this great spin story going on, we're going to look at three days where you get nothing." Just like that, three days where you're not covered. I suppose the argument from the government is that since all workers are fraudulent, or will commit fraud if given a chance, and since they're all faking all their injuries in work, we've got to find a punishment that goes after them. That's the mindset that's over there. That's a mindset that says: "If you're a worker, then you must be capable and desirous of finding a way to beat the system. All of you."
I wouldn't stand here and suggest that all workers are angels. I used to work in a factory, punched a clock. Working people, contrary to the belief of this government, are people just like anyone else, and among them are people who will beat the system. There are people who will commit fraud. There are also business people who will commit fraud and there are bankers who commit fraud, but I wouldn't suggest for a minute it's all of them by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I happen to believe the vast majority do not.
But I'm prepared to say that about workers also. The vast majority are honest, decent, hardworking people who are doing the best they can to manage in very difficult times with issues swirling around them that quite frankly nobody is fully explaining adequately. Lord knows, this government doesn't want to take the time to explain things, as we saw with Bill 7.
But the premise of this government's action on the three-day waiting period and around their fraud squad in initiatives there, it's all to leave the impression in the mind of the public --
Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I would just like to correct the information that is being disseminated. When we brought in our anti-fraud measures, they dealt not only with workers but also with employers and also with suppliers.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): That's not a point of order.
Hon Mrs Witmer: It is a point of order.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Mr Speaker, could you rule on this, please, on the point of order?
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): I'm sorry, member for Algoma, I don't know why --
Mr Wildman: Could you please rule on whether or not that was indeed a point of order?
The Deputy Speaker: I don't know why you're standing up.
Mr Wildman: I'm standing on a point of order.
The Deputy Speaker: You can't stand under a point of order. You must stand on your own.
Mr Wildman: Can a member correct the record of another member or not?
The Deputy Speaker: I'm ruling that it's not a point of order. The member from Hamilton.
Mr Christopherson: I want to thank the minister for giving me an opportunity to have a couple of drinks of water. Beyond that, I don't know what else was accomplished.
Hon Mrs Witmer: The truth.
Mr Christopherson: No, I'm sorry, Minister. It's a further indication that you don't like to hear things that are contrary to your own beliefs. You can handle all kinds of debate unless it starts to peel away like an onion what's really going on. You can't handle that. That's why, Minister, you wouldn't have hearings on Bill 7, because you know that we could have blown your arguments out of the water.
Mr Christopherson: So they want me to come back to Bill 15. Well, I told you before, you're not going to be let off the hook on Bill 7, ever, and the history will reflect it, I guarantee you, as one of the darkest days of your term.
To pick up where I was in terms of explaining what I believe the members of this government see in their mind's eye when they think worker, and when they talk about fraud and when they talk about a three-day delay, why else would you bring in a three-day delay, an absolute violation of the pact of 1914 that said, "You as a worker will not lose a benefit, will not lose wages if you're injured on the job, but lawfully and totally you give up the right to sue anyone"? That has been violated here by suggesting that the first three days don't count, and therefore it's to suggest that all workers are not legitimate when they claim for workplace injury.
What other explanation can there be? There isn't a fiscal one. The workers have done nothing. It's not money they haven't paid, so why would they be expected to pay the unfunded liability on their backs? It doesn't fit. Why else would you do things like the three days if you didn't honestly believe that about working people? I think it's consistent with the way you view unions, because you view them the same way. You can't possibly get into, as a government totally -- all of you together -- you can't seem to get into where the real world of working people is and the things that matter.
So we see the pattern of what this government's planning to do in the future. They're going to pop out of their little hole with their proposals and probably jam them through in some fashion, although I've got to believe they're going to be a little more sensitive in the future, just because of the politics of it. But having stood in this very spot as Bill 7, the disgrace of that process, went down, I am now of a mind that anything is possible. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
But we know that they're going to look at disentitlements, they're going to look at narrowing the gap so more workers can't claim. Where they go after that, nobody seems to know, because virtually all of the social structures in this province have been attacked, and in many cases mortally decimated, by your cuts elsewhere, because contrary to what you believe, the world is not just one series of bottom lines with people trying to beat the government for cash.
There are those of us who believe that there is a great deal more to what government does and how it works on behalf of all the people, not just the very wealthy ones who don't need the programs and supports of government because they've got enough money to buy anything they need. That's fine, I'm not saying they shouldn't have it, but I'm saying that they ought not to get more when others are getting less who don't have that opportunity, and that's what you're doing. That's the overall picture and this is just another piece of it.
You're going to cut 5% from the benefits of disabled workers. Remember, earlier I said that the whole purpose of the cuts elsewhere in the government service was to pay for their 30% tax cut, which we all know the wealthy will benefit from much more than working people. So they're taking away from the poor, they're taking away from women, they're taking away from workers, and they're giving it to those who already have. That's what's obscene. Not that people already have, but that they're taking from those who don't have to give those who do more. That's what's obscene about all this.
So a 5% cut to disabled workers, and guess what? They're going to give back 5% to business. Hard to believe, but that's the pattern. They just take the template and move it from issue to issue. Do you remember they said they don't like redistribution of income? This is the most massive redistribution of income this province has ever seen.
The problem is that you forgot to bring in Robin Hood. You brought in Mike Harris instead, and Mike Harris has got it backwards.
Mr Christopherson: Yes, you're applauding. That's it, applaud. It's good to take away from the poor and give it to the rich. This makes a lot of sense. We're going to take away from disabled workers and give back to business. That's fair? By some definition, that's fair, because that's what's happening.
What else has happened with this government? We know the kind of cuts to people on social assistance, the very poor and vulnerable -- almost 22% cut from the most vulnerable in our society -- because this government's been able to blame them: "It's your fault you're poor. It's your fault we've got a deficit. Therefore, we'll go after you."
What have they also done since they've been in government? A small matter that my colleague the member for Beaches-Woodbine mentioned yesterday, as I was reading her Hansard, and I think it needs to be raised again: They gave back, opened up the wallets of the people because it's the people's money, the people's treasury, opened up the wallets and gave $50 back to every corporation in terms of a filing fee that we brought in. Yes, there have to be cuts, but one tries to do them in a fair way. That's what's missing here. It's not that there are changes and not that there are cuts; it's the absolute, blatant unfairness.
They took that $50 and gave it back as one of their early symbolic messages to their friends: "Don't worry, pals, we'll take care of you. We promised we'd take care of you." Then every time people begin to protest about it, it's always full-time union organizers who are doing it and full-time protesters, completely missing the fact that it happens to be the very people you're stomping on who are standing up and saying, "Stop doing this." No, they give that 50 bucks, which is tax-deductible, back to their friends.
That's an example, because sometimes billions get lost. People will understand that they gave back to their friends, and to anyone who's in business, $50. Not that we shouldn't help small business, but where's the fairness? Where's the fairness?
I also want to talk about how all of this fits with an anti-worker agenda that is also killing the very jobs this government promised or committed that it would or could create. In their cuts, in the massive cutting they did in every community across Ontario, there were important investments being made in each community; hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of jobs that were already set to go, killed -- killed because it doesn't fit their idea of what ought to happen.
But I would suggest -- and I guess I become more and more cynical with this government as time goes on -- many of these are good-paying jobs, they're decent-paying jobs. This doesn't fit their idea of where working people ought to be either. They want McJobs for everybody. They want everybody to be barely getting by so that as they try to become more competitive -- which is not a bad goal in and of itself; in fact it happens to be a very important one -- but their way of making us competitive is to try to have the working people of Ontario live at a standard of living and receive wages and benefits that are comparable with Third World nations, which is an insult to the people of Ontario. We can do a lot better than that. We can compete at the high end of things. We've got the education system, the health system, the infrastructure.
The United States would kill for the kind of infrastructure that we have, because they follow the very agenda you're on. You're about to make the first down payment on that with your announcements on transfers as you drop things down to the municipalities and they can't do the things that allow our infrastructure to be strong so that we can compete; so that we can compete with high-paying, well-paying, challenging jobs where people feel good about themselves, they feel good about the company they work for, they want to help make better productivity because they're benefiting from it, they know they have something to contribute.
In other words, you build on the best things about the working people of Ontario. But if you don't happen to believe they're there, if you don't believe that working people are capable or should be seen in that way, you won't build that kind of Ontario. You'll follow that mean-spirited, hard-line agenda that says the only way to prosperity is a balanced budget tomorrow.
When we talk of dollars and who gets what, don't lose sight of the tax, because while all these cuts are going on, $5 billion of that borrowed money is to give their very wealthy friends a huge tax cut. Instead of taking all the money that we can muster to deal with our debt and deficit but do it in a way that doesn't decimate the things that make this a great place to live like you're doing -- that doesn't have to happen.
If you didn't have that $5-billion tax cut in there and you weren't trying to out-Ralph-Klein Ralph Klein and out-Manning and the same with Newt Gingrich, if you weren't in that kind of competition with who can jam it to the working people and who can get to that balanced budget first no matter what -- because that's the goal -- if that's not where you were, then you would take the time to build on what is great about this province. It's our people that are the foundation of this province.
We refused when we were in government, and we refuse now, to believe that the only way you can achieve prosperity is to massively attack the benefits and rights and protection that working people have, that the most vulnerable in our society have because that's what you've done.
Mr Christopherson: You can heckle all you want from your government benches, but the facts are there. If you make $150,000 a year in this province, two things happen: One is you're very fortunate, and that's fine. Secondly --
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Order, please. Take your seat. If you want to address the House, the member for Algoma, I would ask you to do it from your seat.
Mr Wildman: Oh, I was just leaving, sir.
The Acting Speaker: Thank you.
Mr Christopherson: If we had a government that was prepared to recognize the benefits and the value working people can make, and we built on that, then there wouldn't be so much despair out there.
I don't know what the government members did during their constituency week. I've been travelling the province, talking to community leaders, talking to the people who have been affected by this agenda. There's a lot of pain out there; there's a lot of hurt; there's a lot of fear.
Interjection: It's on the benches of the third party.
Mr Christopherson: Well, I hope the microphone picked up that heckle because that's exactly my point, that you think this is all a big game. You think it's a big game and you're prepared to ignore when people rise up over what's going on because it's unfair and it's unjust and it's unnecessary, because you believe you have some kind of divine right by virtue of majority government to do whatever you damn well please. Well, it doesn't work that way in this province. Contrary to what the government would like, this is still a democracy where people are entitled to have their say, to have input into what's going on and to be listened to, and you won't do that.
To give you the benefit of the doubt, you don't seem to understand what you're doing to Ontario's society. You may think you're going after people who deserve to be got after, whether it's cheats, or fraud and people who refuse to work, or however you view things, and you seem to think that everything you're doing is going to hit dead on that very small percentage of our population that lives that way or believes that. Most of us in this place don't live that way or believe it and most people in the province don't, but you've cast the net so wide, you've slashed so much, almost indiscriminately, that the decades of building Ontario for working people, for disabled workers, for the poor, for women who are faced with abuse -- you should hear. That's what they didn't hear when they wouldn't go out on the road and listen. They should listen --
Mr Christopherson: Well, they laugh. They should listen to women who work in the community trying to support women who have to leave abusive situations who are now afraid to leave or are contemplating going back because the support network they have to have to break out of that kind of world -- and that's got to be frightening -- is gone.
Mr Christopherson: The member beside me from the government says, "What's this have to do with Bill 15?" I think it has everything to do with Bill 15 because it speaks to the vision, or lack of one, that this government has and the attitude this government has about working people and about those who are not wealthy. There are two categories: Those who are wealthy and their friends, and then there's the rest of us. But it hasn't worked that way in Ontario. We've made gains. We've made progressive gains that have made this the envy of the world. That didn't happen by accident. No one government did it. No one government can claim the credit for making this the envy of the world to live in. It was a process of gains and then listening to people and determining how we can make the next step, and sometimes it was quick and sometimes it was not as quick as it should have been, but it did indeed happen, and slowly but surely we built.
Even when the Tories had the 42 years of reign, which interestingly was longer than any of the Communist reigns in the Soviet bloc -- I'm not making a comparison; merely the time comparison. They were in power that long: literal, absolute power. They didn't take this attitude over those years. During some of the terms they did under certain people, but by and large --
The Acting Speaker: Order. There are too many conversations going on. I can hardly hear the debate. The member for Lake Nipigon, I would suggest you take your seat. Also the member for Hamilton Mountain, please take your seat now. Take your seat, please.
Mr Pouliot: On a point of order, Mr Speaker --
The Acting Speaker: Take your seat, please.
Mr Pouliot: -- I don't wish to usurp the member's time. I'm sitting there quietly.
The Acting Speaker: Take your seat. If you don't take your seat, I will ask you to leave. Please.
Mr Christopherson: By and large, the governments in this province have recognized the need to build and to make Ontario better. Nobody has governed the way you're attempting to.
Some of you may feel that's worthy of going in your lobby and applauding one another, but I can assure you that certainly for my party, but I think the majority of Ontarians, that's not the case. They're frightened. Even on the things you have a mandate to do, you're going too far, too fast. You're causing major disruptions. Not disruptions that don't matter; disruptions to an entire society, a society other places in the world literally die for.
You're doing it so indiscriminately, just slashing around, with no seeming appreciation of how everything is linked in Ontario and how all the structures you look at with such disdain mean something. The very institutions you put a bull's-eye on, yes, they have to be changed, and yes, we have to run them more efficiently, but you're not doing that. Before you've even had time as a government to truly understand -- and I'm not suggesting that I fully understand it, but certainly I think I do more than some of you, only because I've been here for five years, and after you've been in power for that length of time, I think you would have that appreciation, but you can't have it now.
Even for those veteran members who are now in cabinet, you really have to be at that table for a fairly long period of time to truly understand. But you can't gain that experience overnight, so what do you do? Well, you move slowly; you listen to people; you fully comprehend what's going on.
Look at the one mistake that nearly put tens of thousands of disabled people -- a regulation was passed. You've suggested it's a mistake. Fair enough. But even that should have been an alarm bell to what can happen if you don't fully understand what you're doing. Unfortunately, to be very blunt and very honest, a lot of what's going on is not that innocent.
You've come in with an agenda that you can only implement effectively if you divide the people of Ontario. If you divide employers and employees the way you've done over Bill 7, that unprecedented era of labour peace where we were finally seeing workplaces working together -- gone. And all the labour turmoil in this province, in my opinion, has to be laid at your doorstep, because it wasn't there before you did what you did with Bill 7 and the way you did it. The idea that all you did was repeal Bill 40 is not true. It's much more than that and you gave no one a say. You did things in that bill you didn't talk about in the election and then you wouldn't let people comment on it.
The 5% cut to disabled workers and the dismantling of true workplace democracy suggest to me that's there not a lot of innocence on the other side, but there does seem to be an awful lot of meanness on the other side, because you're prepared to do to our Ontario what you have to, to implement that agenda. You know what? I don't care what the agenda is if the means of doing it is what you're doing to Ontario and dismantling all that's important about this province and all the love and compassion that helped build this province. You're dismantling it piece by piece by piece.
Then they wonder, why are there protests everywhere they go? Why is the Premier being hounded? Why is all of this happening? It's happening because you're governing in a way that is totally unacceptable to people, but you refuse to see it. You've got excuses for everything and, unfortunately, by the time the people could really do something about it, you will have done so much damage. That's why there's such despair and why it's so hard to find hope in the province of Ontario, because working people in particular, if they don't have anything else, have to have hope. You're killing that.
The proof, in closing my comments, is in what you're doing with Bill 7. The proof is in what you're doing with Bill 15. Unfortunately, the proof will continue to show itself as this mean-spirited, divisive agenda of yours continues to divide this great province.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Hon Mrs Witmer: It's unfortunate the member opposite was not here yesterday and instead was on a leadership tour around the province, because we made it quite clear yesterday when are talked about Bill 15 -- I did personally -- that what we were talking about is restoring hope and optimism to this province. We will improve Ontario's ability to attract new investment and desperately needed jobs by doing two things.
I read yesterday, and I'm going to just quote again, we are going to restore "the long-term financial viability of the...board" and we are going to make "the system serve the interest of workers and employers in a more efficient, caring and cost-effective manner." We know that if we establish that type of climate at the board, we are going to create more prosperity for all people in this province.
I would also suggest that it was Mr Rae's and the NDP's Bill 40 which destroyed democracy. You had no secret ballot vote for workers. You did not allow them full and complete disclosure on what union membership means. You did not allow them a cooling-off period to decide whether or not. We have restored democracy to the workplace for workers. We have given them a secret ballot vote. We have done what you did not do. We gave rights back to workers after you had taken the rights away.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): It was the appropriate time that I come in to respond for these couple of minutes. I would love to invite the minister and every member of this House to spend not a day, but one hour in my constituency office, to see the plight of those people who come and seek work.
Hon Mrs Witmer: We all have them and that's why we're trying to fix the system; that's why I used the "caring."
Mr Sergio: Mr Speaker, yes, I'm trying to address the remarks through the Chair, also to the minister -- to see the plight of those people. Those are people not fully recovered, ready to go back into the workforce. Those are the kinds of people who, through no fault of their own, are in a particular situation where they cannot go back to work and they see that there is no work out there, that benefits have been cut off; they've been practically eliminated. This is the type of answer we get from the government side.
As it's proposed, this particular bill, it's putting those people in even a worse situation. I sincerely do hope that we have time to bring this to the forefront, have input not only from members of the House but from the public as well. I hope the government will not ram it down the throat as it did with Bill 7 and that we have the possibility to do exactly that. For my people in my area, it is of major concern. This legislation, this bill, is a major concern for people in my community.
Hon Mrs Witmer: It is throughout the province.
Mr Sergio: I am glad to hear that, that this is a big problem throughout the province, but the problem is that it's not addressing the needs of the people who work throughout the province.
Mr Pouliot: I too listened and was moved, listened intently to the accurate remarks conveyed by the member for Hamilton Centre, and he so rightly, so to a T described to us, for our benefit, what is truly the Tory agenda.
It started with the poor, the less fortunate. Then they moved up the food line -- the disabled, the women -- and their appetite being insatiable, now the injured workers, people in the middle class who indeed pay their wages.
What we're faced with here is systematic and deliberate. It is nothing short of economic cleansing, and the word isn't too strong, to satisfy the appetite of people who have the ability to distance themselves from the field. With those people, the less fortunate say little. Those who don't have a voice say nothing at all. As you move up the food line, those who can voice a few words say little but they always pay, and they can take that to the bank.
It's obvious that the Premier's office has a stranglehold on caucus. They're like lemmings. A sorry lot they make, surrounded by 82 zealots who read the manifesto of the Common Sense Revolution, and they believe in it to the point where they'll go off the cliff. They will go off the cliff. They convey a sense of ridicule to what is a very, very serious matter, that of a human dimension through the accurate and true remarks conveyed by the member for Hamilton Centre.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I wish to respond. Yesterday, in the same 90-minute time allotment, the member for Beaches-Woodbine mentioned my comments pertaining to the Provincial Auditor's report and she said that it was part of the big lie, that there was somehow a manufacturing of a crisis.
I look at the 1993 auditor's report, where he made a recommendation, "We recommended that a strategy to deal with the unfunded liability be developed and implemented as quickly and effectively as possible." Two years later, the unfunded liability has fallen from $11.5 billion -- that's a debt the people of Ontario owe -- to $11.4 billion. At that rate, it will take hundreds of years to get the problem at the WCB cleaned up.
So I commend this government for taking the action to deal with that problem and I most strenuously disagree with the member for Beaches-Woodbine, who used the first part of the third party's time in suggesting it's part of a big lie, because it's not.
The unfunded liability of $11.5 billion in 1993 was addressed by Bill 165 and it fell to $11.4 billion, but no real action was taken by the previous government on this issue. We are taking action. It's part of a strategy to get the Ontario economy on track again. It's part of a strategy to create jobs in this province. It's part of a strategy to deal with our problems, and not just paint over them, to genuinely try to make an effort to improve the situation.
The fact is also that the WCB is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in operations and that it has not been able to put in place a strategy to deal with that particular crisis. That is what the Provincial Auditor said in his report. That's why this government is taking real action now. That's why this government was elected to bring about the real change that the people of Ontario so desperately wanted during the last election campaign.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre, you have two minutes to reply.
Mr Christopherson: In my two-minute reply, first of all I want to thank the member for Yorkview for his comments. I believe that his sense of things is shared by us and is exactly the one that is both accurate and the one that this government refuses to admit is the truth. I appreciate him taking the time to be here and to add his words to the debate.
My colleague the member for Lake Nipigon, I'm always at a loss for words when I respond to anything Gilles has said because it stands on its own. I mean that obviously in the most positive way, Gilles. I can't comment on how you went after them because I could never do it as well. I'm just very pleased that you were willing to be here and join in my part of this debate.
To the member for Nepean, I give you this, that unlike the Minister of Labour -- who has left the chamber and that's too bad; it was nice that she was here through most of it, but she's left -- I will at least give you that you attempted -- although not very well, I might say -- to deal with at least a factual exchange in debate on what you think is really happening. Unfortunately, your boss, the Minister of Labour, felt that the only thing she could do was to change to a different spin issue and talk about the voting issues, which, again, they've played all kinds of games with.
But I didn't hear the honourable minister attempt in any way to take on the argument or to deny the picture that I have painted on behalf of this caucus as to what this bill is about and what your agenda is about. All they ever do is respond with more spin, more rhetoric, more mantra, but they never deal with the facts, and when the facts are dealt with they will always lose.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill 15, An Act to amend the Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Reform of the WCB is absolutely essential. Speaking from my own experience as a businessman, speaking as a former employer, speaking as someone who has created jobs in a firm developed through my own initiative, speaking as someone who worked day and night for years -- and the honourable member for Lake Nipigon has said, "For profit." I ask you, is "profit" a dirty word?
Speaking as someone who worked day and night for years to generate enough business to have a little bit of a profit, to pay the weekly salaries of a staff, a staff with whom I shared a sense of commitment and with whom I shared a sense of family and, yes, a little bit of profit-sharing too -- as a matter of fact, 10% of the profit that we generated in our firm went for profit-sharing -- I think it's fair to say that I speak with some experience on this matter.
While on the subject of experience, I would like to point out that this government has within its ranks many experienced, successful small-business people, men and women with hundreds of years of combined business experience, men and women with real-life experience in generating business, men and women with real-life experience in creating jobs, with real-life experience in employing men and women and, in doing so, helping these men and women to support their families.
I am very proud of the men and women in this new government who have used their own initiative, who have used their own energies, who have used their own time and money to build businesses and create jobs. I am raising the experience factor because the time has now come to separate fact from fiction in this House.
It is time that the reality factor was brought forward to allow the people of Ontario an opportunity to see and learn which party in this House is speaking with the knowledge of experience, which party in this House, through the real -- life experience of its members, has shown day in and day out over the years which party members are truly committed to the betterment of all segments of the population of this province.
It is time for the people of Ontario --
Mr Gerretsen: Are you talking about us, Wayne?
Mr Wettlaufer: Now the Liberals don't know which direction to go. I'm speaking about us, the government.
It is time for the people of Ontario to learn which members of this House are only committed to creating an illusion of concern, to creating an imaginary image of themselves in the media as defenders of the poor and disadvantaged. These illusionary defenders of the poor and downtrodden permitted the workers' compensation system of the province to deteriorate to the point that the employers who pay the premiums know that neither they nor the injured workers are treated fairly; the injured workers who come in to my office and complain that they're waiting for nine months, a year, five years, 10 years, for an appeal to be heard, that they are not treated fairly. The injured workers know the system doesn't treat them fairly, and even the WCB employees themselves know that the system doesn't treat the employers or the injured workers fairly. In short, the WCB isn't treating anyone fairly.
The members of the opposition, and in particular the members of the third party, have elevated their image-creating skills to the level of an art form. They are forced to pursue their pretence of concern because of the realities they created in this province when they were in government. Let it not be forgotten that it was these two parties which raised taxes on the working men and women of this province 65 times in a decade -- not 10, not 20, not 30 or 40 or 50, but 65 times in a decade. It's true. Over the past 10 years, when these two parties were in power, they raised taxes 65 times. On whose backs did these two parties raise these 65 taxes? The workers'. The 65 taxes were placed on the backs of the vast majority of hardworking men and women of the province. But they would like the Ontario taxpayer to forget this fact. The members of the third party, the previous government, would like the people of Ontario to forget that they ran the deficit of this province up by $50 billion or more in five years.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): Ever hear of Brian Mulroney? What about your buddy who is struggling so hard to get jobs?
Mr Wettlaufer: That's federal. We're talking provincial. You're irrelevant. This $50 billion that they ran up the debt brought the total accumulated debt of the province of Ontario to $100 billion, a new record for a provincial government. Never before in the history of any province has a government been so successful in destroying the economic foundation of the province in such a short period of time, as was the previous government.
Regardless of how many times the third party would like to pretend otherwise, it is this massive debt, this massive $100-billion economic millstone which has been hung around the economic neck of this province which continues to hurt people, which continues to hurt families, which continues to hurt children, which has jeopardized not just communities but the entire socioeconomic future of this province.
But today the members of the third party, the members of the previous government, want to create the illusion that their hands are clean. They want to create the illusion that they are innocent of the problems which have beset this province. They want to create the illusion that they had nothing to do with creating the massive money shortage this government has to face. They want to create the illusion that their multibillion-dollar job creation fiascos were not outright disasters. They want to create the illusion that they created a positive business environment in this province, despite the fact that over 60,000 businesses throughout the province emphatically disagree with them.
They want to create the illusion that the WCB needs only a little fine-tuning, when there are hundreds and thousands of injured workers waiting for months and years for benefits to which they are legally entitled. But during their administration, the WCB thought that it was more important to build a $700-million building which was not necessary. A $700-million building was more important during their administration than paying the workers the benefits to which they were legally entitled.
They want to create the illusion that they are the protectors of the social safety net. They want to create the illusion that the health care system, the social service system, the care of the injured worker, the care for the handicapped, the care for the disadvantaged and the care for the elderly were being protected by their government, but these are illusions.
Regardless of how hard the former government tries to hide the reality from the people of Ontario, the fact is that under what can only politely be referred to as the incompetent mismanagement of the province's purse-strings and the incompetent mismanagement of the WCB by the former government, these essential services face the very real possibility of being totally destroyed.
Although the members of the former government like to hoot and holler, or rather bray and bawl like buffoons, at every opportunity as they attempt to disrupt this government from taking the actions which must be taken to rebuild the economic foundation of this province, it must be pointed out to them that they are fooling very few taxpayers. They are fooling very few voters. Today they fool only a few with their sanctimonious screaming in this House. Today they represent only a few.
The third party has lost its credibility with a vast majority of people in this province. It may come as a surprise to the members of the third party to learn that they were devastated in the last election. The number of seats the third party has left in this House is the clearest of all possible messages the people of Ontario could send them. That message was, "Get out." The people of Ontario didn't believe them any more. The people of Ontario didn't trust them any more. The people of Ontario didn't want them running the government any more. The voters of Ontario made it perfectly clear that they'd had enough of their bungling of the province's economy. The voters of Ontario made it perfectly clear that they did not like being saddled with a $100-billion debt. Even their historic --
Mr Hampton: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Does this have anything to do with the bill which we are debating?
The Acting Speaker: The member for Kitchener, please proceed.
Mr Wettlaufer: Even their historic support base, the majority of union members, lost confidence in them as a government.
I do want to point out that the Kitchener riding is primarily a blue-collar, working-class riding with many unionized men and women. I met with hundreds of these fine people during the campaign. Many union members cast their vote for me. I am very proud to represent the people of the Kitchener riding: workers, both union and non-union workers. I am pointing this out because it is getting boring hearing the members of the third party pompously preach that they and they only are the protectors of the hardworking people of this province.
I am as interested in them, I am as concerned about them, and all the members of this government are as concerned about them as any of the third-party members. The men and women who form this new government are hardworking, honest, caring people who have as much concern and compassion as any government in the history of this province, but we have challenges, challenges heretofore unknown in Ontario.
The challenges the men and women of this government face are the most serious faced by any provincial government, and the immediate challenges facing the men and women of this new government are (a) to stop the horrendous damage the former government has inflicted upon the economic sector of this province, (b) to strive to maintain a social safety net which was being choked to death due to the sheer political ideology and the economic incompetence of the former government, and (c) to recreate a positive business environment throughout the province in order to attract new businesses and to allow existing businesses the opportunity to flourish in order that those businesses can create jobs. It is for these reasons that the Workers' Compensation Board must be reformed.
Imagine, if you can, the reality that the WCB has an unfunded liability of $11.4 billion -- an $11.4-billion unfunded liability. This is approximately a 400% increase over the past 10 years, up from $2.7 billion only 10 years ago. This is the largest unfunded liability of any WCB in the country, but the member for Hamilton Centre, who has chosen to leave the House, doesn't consider that this is a financial crisis.
Pray tell, what is a financial crisis? If an $11.4-billion unfunded liability is not a crisis, what is? Let me repeat that: Ontario has the largest unfunded liability of any WCB in the country.
Along with this massive unfunded liability, Ontario has the second-highest premiums in the country -- think about that for a second: the second-highest premiums in Canada -- and yet, despite these high premiums, the WCB has been dipping into its long-term reserves over the past few years simply to pay its yearly operating expenses.
How much longer do the members of the opposition parties think that the WCB could have survived dipping into its long-term reserves? If for no other reason, the fact that the WCB is having to go into its long-term reserves to meet its operating expenses is as clear an indication as there can possibly be that the entire structure was being eaten away and could not have survived over the long term. Any first-year business student understands this.
This government made it perfectly clear during the election campaign that the WCB was going to be overhauled. In our CSR publication we stated, "The WCB will have to be revamped altogether to restore business confidence, protect workers and bring fiscal sanity to the board's operations." The key words are "revamped altogether." We did not say "tinkered with" or "fine-tuned"; we said "revamped altogether."
I can tell you that in order to revamp a system, you must start at the top, at the very top. The top of the WCB is its board of directors. That is where the changes have begun. The board is going to be revamped. The bipartite system did not work. Let me repeat that: The bipartite system did not work.
Let me give you an example: The inability of the previous bipartite board to make a decision on a financial improvement package, a financial package which would have resulted in a savings of $400 million, is a clear indication that the system did not work. That's right. The figure is $400 million, not $400,000, which in my mind would have been more than enough justification to throw out the bipartite system. But $400 million in savings were lost due to the board's inability to make a decision.
Yet both members, the member for Windsor-Walkerville of the Liberal Party, one of the many leaders in waiting of that party, and the NDP member for Hamilton Centre, stated in their responses to the introduction of the bill that they want to keep the bipartite board structure. I guess the loss of a potential $400 million in savings is okay with them. It's not a crisis to them, I guess. It may be okay with them, but it's not okay with me.
The member for Windsor-Walkerville complained that the new board doesn't provide equal representation from labour and management, and so did the member for Hamilton Centre. That's right, it doesn't. The new board will include other parties whose areas of expertise are also essential to the effective operations of the board. Medical professionals and insurance specialists will be added to the board.
This may not make a great deal of sense to the opposition, but if something doesn't work, the answer is not to blindly continue. You can't throw billions of additional funding at it to make it work better. You can't hope that the money is going to solve the problem. That's how we ended up with a $100-billion provincial debt. But the member for Hamilton Centre, the NDP's Labour critic, thinks that's not a financial crisis. No, if there is a decision-making problem with the board of directors, you get rid of the board and replace it with one that will work. That is exactly what we've done, and are doing, under the reform bill.
Deadlocks must be broken. The best way to ensure that deadlocks do not break the system is to expand the interest base of the decision-makers, and that is what the multi-stakeholder-structured board will do. Despite how the member for Windsor-Walkerville and the member for Hamilton Centre may like to rant and rave about this change in the board structure, the fact is that these changes are necessary and must be put into effect.
The member for Hamilton Centre stated that government does not want workers or employees to have any say, any influence --
Mr Wettlaufer: Well, he's confused. It's the workers and the employees of this province who brought this government into power. It is the workers and employees of the province who are the taxpaying backbone of the province, and it is this sector, above all sectors, that cast its votes for us. The member for Hamilton Centre and the entire NDP caucus might want to do a short memory search before they take off on their tangent of workers or employees not having any influence or decision-making. They had direct influence on June 8.
I can tell the NDP caucus that during the election I took the time to meet with a number of agencies, such as the Victorian Order of Nurses, and I learned how their government threatened to shut these agencies down if they did not buckle under to the government's 80-20 rule. According to the representatives of this agency, that government forced the VON to unionize against its will, against the will of the nurses who provide the much-needed community services. In fact 23 agencies in the Kitchener area, representing hundreds of other volunteer-based agencies, such as the Red Cross, faced the same jackboot tactics of the previous government.
Mr Pouliot: Madam Speaker, on a point of order: With respect to the member, the term jackboot is offensive to members of the third party. It's excessive. There's no need. Would you kindly restore decorum and good manners in this House, please.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): I give the member for Kitchener this opportunity to apologize. The member has suggested that it's offensive.
Mr Wettlaufer: I do dearly apologize to the honourable member from Nipigon, who has repeatedly used that exact same phrase in this House over the first three months of the legislative sitting, and I looked straight at him when I used that phrase. So I ask him to apologize for having used it repeatedly for the last three months.
Mr Pouliot: Madam Speaker, I don't wish to prolong this. I respect the member's time, but there are limitations. What the member has done is committed an accident. I mean, he's gone beyond the threshold. You, Madam, who are highly educated, you whom I respect, along with other members of the House, have that capacity and the power to have him, not de-facto-like, but just issue a simple apology. It's not the end of the world. Members of our party feel rather vexed. Tactics such as goose-step and --
The Acting Speaker: Could the member for Lake Nipigon please take his seat. I would suggest that all members in the House be respectful of each other and listen to each other's speeches. You all have an opportunity to respond. I would say to the member for Kitchener again that a simple apology will suffice and I ask him to do that, please.
Mr Wettlaufer: I do apologize. But you don't have to believe me, Madam Speaker, when I say these things. You can just ask the workers and the employees of these agencies, all of whom were very, very thankful that the NDP was thrown out of power.
Let's eliminate this pretence right now that it is the NDP that is interested in what working men and women think, when the opinions of the men and women from community-based organizations such as the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Red Cross, to name a few, don't mean anything to the NDP. It makes no sense for the NDP to continue its charade of pretending to represent their views.
If you want to see who truly represents the views of the working men and women across this province, simply take the time to count the number of seats each party holds in this House. It's the working men and women of the province who put us here, and it is the working men and women who put the NDP and the Liberals there.
The bipartite board goes; the multi-stakeholder board replaces it. The Minister of Labour has pointed out a number of other major areas of change that the WCB must undertake. In doing so, the minister brings forward terms which have not been heard in this House for many years.
"Financial accountability." Ah, music to my ears. Can you imagine the sheer audacity of a government that actually wants to have an agency financially accountable? Why, it's unheard of. Do you think this may start a new trend in government? I hope so. Had the term been introduced by the previous government, the province would not be facing a $100-billion debt, and the member for Hamilton Centre thinks that's not a crisis. A $100-billion debt not a crisis?
Financial accountability is one of the things I promised my constituents I would work for if they voted for me. Here I am, and here it comes. Four hundred million dollars in missed savings may be all right for the opposition parties, but make no mistake, it is not all right to the people of Kitchener, nor, I suspect, to anyone else in this province.
The first step to bringing financial accountability to any operation is to establish a financial strategy which it must follow. The minister has accomplished this basic step by requiring that the new board develop a five-year strategic plan, a statement of priorities and investment policies. That is just good old-fashioned planning. It is absolutely essential that this process be put in place and adhered to.
In order to provide flexibility, the minister is requesting an annual update of the strategic plan. Circumstances do change, and to ensure that the board's strategic plan meets with the changing times, this annual analysis of the five-year plan ensures that the board is consistently working with current information.
"The board must give the minister an annual statement setting out its proposed priorities for administering the act and regulations," and "The board must give the minister an annual statement of its investment policies and goals." Thank you, Minister. Thank you for introducing a professional financial system of accountability, which is not only common sense but which also makes good sense.
During the past few months, I have continually heard members of the opposition and the third party consistently attack this government by stating that they believe the people of Ontario did not think our party would go as far as it has or as fast as it has.
Well, I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that this is not the case. Throughout the election campaign, I delivered 23,000 copies -- not 2,300 copies, 23,000 copies -- of the Common Sense Revolution in my riding. To give you a comparison, I understand that those 23,000 copies exceeded the 20,000 copies of the red book that the federal Liberals distributed across the entire country during the federal campaign and that our 23,000 copies was more than 10 times the number of copies of the provincial red book that the Liberal candidate distributed in the Kitchener riding during the campaign.
I won my election, and this government won the provincial election, not because the people of Ontario did not know we were going to do what we said we were going to do and as fast as we said we were going to do it. I won my seat and my colleagues won theirs because the people of Ontario did know the steps this party was going to take if given the opportunity to form the government, and reform of the Workers' Compensation Board, a quick reform, was one of those steps.
Unfortunately for the third party, the people of Ontario also knew what a second term by the NDP would mean to the province. That is why they were relegated to the position of the third party, and, unfortunately for the opposition party, the people of Ontario knew what the Liberal Party did not know, that is, what direction should be taken, what direction the government had to go to put this province back on a firm foundation. Make no mistake about it, the people of Ontario knew exactly what this government intended to do and will continue to do.
Reforms to the WCB are absolutely essential. The reforms outlined by the Minister of Labour, Mrs Witmer, are very positive steps which follow very solid organizational principles. I applaud her for her efforts. Thank you, Minister. I support the reforms outlined in Bill 15.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Gerretsen: It's always very interesting to listen to the member from Kitchener because he certainly wakes up a lot of people, not only in this House but also, I'm sure, out there. There's a fallacy that has been talked about in this House on a number of different occasions, and that is how much of the public debt was racked up during exactly which administration, and I'd just like to correct that.
Interjection: Fifty million for the Conservatives.
Mr Gerretsen: No, no. There was $50 million for the NDP over the last five years; everybody agrees with that. There was $10 billion racked up during the Peterson years, from 1985 to 1990, and there was $35 billion racked up by the Davis government and the governments before that.
Mr Wettlaufer: Over 40 years.
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Order.
Mr Gerretsen: As a matter of fact, the last balanced budget we had in the province of Ontario was in 1989, when the budget came in at a $90-million surplus. Now, that's number one.
Number two is this whole notion about what public consultation is. We've heard it in this House now on a number of different occasions, that the members of the government party somehow seem to leave the impression that just because there was an election on June 8, that gave them the right to change almost every law in the country and there has to be absolutely no public consultation about anything.
Whether we're talking about Bill 7, whether we're talking about the so-called quota law, whether we're talking about this bill, whether we're talking about any other piece of legislation, they somehow feel that everybody who voted for them voted for the Common Sense Revolution, and that every last statement that's included in that document is somehow part of their mandate and that they can do so without any further public consultation, which is absolute nonsense. The people of Ontario will bear us out in that regard in due course.
Mr Hampton: I have just this to say about the member for Kitchener's speech. Sometimes people are entitled to their own version of history and sometimes people go too far. This member seems to want to forget that Canada came through a very difficult recession. He seems to want to forget that when his party was in government in Ottawa, they ran up a deficit of $42 billion and the debt for all of Canada close to $600 billion.
Now his government is employing some of those characters who helped manage Canada into the hole down here to work for this government, and he calls it fiscal responsibility. The member is welcome to his fantasy land, but that's what it is. The reality is that these changes to the Workers' Compensation Board have everything to do with right-wing Republican ideology that says, "Workers don't have a place."
The member should note that when the Conservative Party left power in this province in 1985, the unfunded liability at the board was in fact $5.4 billion, and since that date the unfunded liability has roughly increased in line with inflation. So if you want to look at where the core of the unfunded liability comes from, look at what the Davis government left behind in 1985.
Finally, if you look over the last few years, new claim costs have actually decreased by 8%, overhead costs have decreased by 8%, the average target assessment rate has also been going down and the unfunded liability has been going down for the first time in the history of the board.
As I said, this member is welcome to his world of fantasy land, but if he looked at the facts at all, he'd see that his speech is totally out of touch.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): I'd like to say just a couple of things in response to the comments from my colleague from Kitchener.
Unlike the other two parties that would have us believe history is something other than what my honourable colleague has recounted, the numbers certainly don't lie. It has nothing to do with inflation. If the third party now recognizes, albeit too late, that they inherited a problem back in 1990, now is not the time to take exception, when we have the courage of our convictions to set a bold new course to reform WCB so that small businessmen, such as my former colleagues in Canadian Tire, no longer are vexed with double-digit increases in their WCB premiums at the expense of jobs in this province.
In 1988, the net unfunded liability was $7.3 billion. It's now $11.4 billion. If you recognize that you inherited a problem, the time to have dealt with it, the time to bring in better management, was back in 1990, not to decry the steps we're taking today.
In 1985, there were 3,000 employees in WCB. They're processing 10% fewer claims today, but there are now 5,200 employees. It's scandalous mismanagement.
Quite frankly, that anyone would challenge the merits of going to a businesslike approach to doing business in the WCB simply confirms what the people in this province saw going through the election campaign: that there was only one party that had the specific policies and program to turn this province around, to create jobs, to create an atmosphere promoting excellence and growth in this province. It was the PC Party, it was the Common Sense Revolution, and I applaud the comments and the suggestions of my colleague from Kitchener.
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I too would like to make a couple of comments, one or two of which I hope will set the record straight. First of all, my mother told me a long time ago that if you can't say anything good, then don't say anything at all. I'm going to say something good if you listen.
My friend from Kitchener has changed that a bit. He took 30 minutes and didn't say anything. That's basically what it was, because he didn't have anything good to say, and he had an opportunity to say some good things about his bill.
But to add to my colleague from Kingston and the Islands and the figures, right here in the Common Sense Revolution it says that you're going to go from a $90-billion debt to a $121-billion debt. That's three times what he accuses our party of having increased it by.
Do you know how he's going to do it? He's going to borrow the money for his tax cut. For every $8 that they save in reduction in spending, and we all agree with reduction in spending, he's going to give $5 back. The Premier has said the province is bankrupt. Did you ever give your shareholders a dividend in a Canadian Tire store if it was bankrupt? I doubt it.
You're going to borrow $20 billion to give a tax cut and you're going to pay $5 billion of interest and, lo and behold, they're going to borrow that too. I can't believe it.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Kitchener, you have two minutes to reply.
Mr Wettlaufer: I think I touched a nerve. As usual, the members from the Liberal Party aren't even fashioning any semblance of reality. They talk about borrowing. We're not borrowing to pay any kind of a tax. Anybody in business for the last five years knows that they have been taxed so heavily that they have had to cut jobs. All they are going to do is to create jobs with those tax rebates. They are out to lunch.
As a small business person who has had trouble struggling under the burdens that government has handed to us over the last 10 years, particularly the last five years, it has been very, very difficult. But it's very important to point out that the Liberal government, when it was in power from 1985 to 1990, had unprecedented income from the great economy that was going on all through the world. But what did they do? They increased spending 200% in that period of time such that we could not save money for a rainy day.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I am happy to stand and make some comments about this bill, Bill 15.
I think that the minister has come far short. The government has failed to deal with the real problems at the WCB in a comprehensive fashion. By introducing this bill, the government is attempting to quickly deal with the symbolic aspects of the reform that's necessary. I think some of it has to do with meeting the perception that change is actually happening and that fundamental change will occur in due time.
I think we would be entitled to hear from the government precisely what it is that it will do when it comes to dealing with the fundamental issues which are not dealt with by Bill 15. Yes, the government deals with what it says in its news release in bringing about a new governance for the WCB, the transitional plan, accountability, introducing value-for-money audits, fraud and revenue loss curtailment and dealing with the Workplace Health and Safety Agency.
Let me deal with some of these items, because I think it's important to understand where the government has failed to deal with the real issues that have to be dealt with in respect of benefit levels, assessment rates and the question of limited entitlements to workers.
I have been in this House for almost 11 years now as a member, and during the time that I've served my constituents, the Workers' Compensation Board has been nothing but a real nightmare. For most workers in this province, having to deal with the WCB has been a major disappointment in their lives. Many of them have been misdealt with by the entire bureaucracy and they, as a consequence, end up in a constituency office like mine.
I say to members of the House, it has become quite a burden on everyone to deal with the delays associated with a claim to the WCB, the lack of justice surrounding the fair and adequate compensation that needs to be covered for workers who are injured on the workplace. I tell you, there's a long history, and it goes back over successive governments.
Now this government has had an opportunity to deal with some real problems. The previous government thought it had its way of dealing with it; we disagreed. The royal commission that was appointed would have been a colossal waste of time and effort. We think it would have been a boondoggle for many, many years. The issues surrounding what needed to be done were on the table, clearly recognizable by most objective observers who saw the need for real change and reform. It is absolutely critical that in this province of ours we have a WCB that works on behalf of both injured workers and employers, and works to create a more positive economic climate. After all, that will help both workers and employers and investors.
Now, we come to Bill 15. Bill 15 fails to do what --
The Acting Speaker: The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, your voice is very loud. Keep it down.
Mr Cordiano: -- fails to do any of those things.
Let me deal with some of the aspects of Bill 15 that I think are inconsistent with the government of the day's pre-election promises.
For example, in the election campaign, Mike Harris said: "WCB premiums are just another tax on jobs. Our first step will be to cut them by 5% and provide relief to our hard-pressed employers." Where is the 5% premium cut? Where is the cut to premiums? Where is that promise that was made during the election campaign?
This vision that was put forward by the Conservative government during the election campaign to help spur investment, to help bring about a better, more positive economic climate for investment, part of that was the 5% cut in premiums. Now, it's simply not anywhere: not in Bill 15, not in any of these statements that were made by the minister with respect to the WCB.
They tell us that the Minister without Portfolio -- does he have a limousine, by the way? Yes, he does, I think. The minister is entitled to all the perks and privileges of a minister. He's working on it. Somewhere hidden in the bowels of the government bureaucracy, he's out there in some back room talking to a bunch of people about what it is that they really ought to do with the fundamental issues surrounding WCB.
I say to the government, that's not good enough. We don't call for a royal commission, but by the same token, it's not good enough to deal with these very, very important matters regarding the WCB behind closed doors. It's simply not good enough, and I would hope that the minister presents his ideas and his new reforms that will be brought about for change to this Legislature and its committees, and furthermore consults with the wide array of people from across the province.
I think it's absolutely essential that he do that, and going through this period of consultation, that he make provision for that consultation process to be as wide as possible and include as many people as possible. I think otherwise he will fail utterly to be inclusive and to make real progress for the economic changes that are ahead and that we must meet with respect to the future.
The other point I wanted to make was with respect to a statement that was released as part of the press release package announced by the minister, and this deals with accountability. There is a question and answer part of this release which goes something like this. The question: "Will the financial accountability requirements adversely affect injured workers?" and this is the answer: "No. The WCB will continue to judge each case on its individual merits."
Again, I go back to the commitments that were made during the election campaign by the Conservative Party, and one of the commitments says this, referring to benefit levels: "We will follow the lead of Manitoba and New Brunswick in reflecting income realities. We will reduce benefit levels from 90% to 85% of net salary."
That's a clear commitment that was made by this government to reduce the benefit levels of injured workers, when in fact in this statement the minister points out that benefits will not be adversely affected. So injured workers will not lose any benefits that they have already achieved.
Well, which one is it? Is it the commitment that was made during the election campaign that benefit levels will not be cut, or is it the commitment that is now being made by the minister in her press release that they'll continue to judge each case on its individual merits and that benefits will not be cut? What is it that the government is precisely saying?
There's a huge inconsistency here, and I think we deserve an answer, a very clear answer, from the minister around benefit levels. I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that the injured workers of my riding are very interested in that answer, and the injured workers right across this province in each of the ridings that are represented here, particularly by the back bench of the Conservative Party, will want to know where you stand on that very basic, fundamental question.
Will their benefit levels be reduced, or is this the case, is this the new reality, as issued by the press release, that, no, benefits will not be reduced? Then I ask how it is that the government will exact greater efficiencies out of the WCB and at the same time meet the benefit level requirements of injured workers.
I go on to deal with, in my remarks, the fact that Bill 15 again falls far short of what is needed in terms of fundamental reforms of the WCB. I think it's clear to us on this side of the House that this government is essentially moving quickly in a number of areas because it needs to make certain commitments good. But by doing so it is not making good even its own commitments that were made during the election campaign, failing to make those commitments, failing to meet the promises that were made during the election campaign, and I point out but two of those in this legislation that was brought forward.
I say to the members opposite who are part of the government, WCB is a real fundamental issue to the people of this province, both in economic terms and socially as well. We have a situation where there are many injured workers, some of whose benefits go back to the period before 1975, and they have depressed benefits. That is a matter that has to be dealt with in terms of the reassessment and in terms of the reforms that will be taking place with respect to benefit levels. There are inequities now with respect to those benefit levels, and I think that can be included in the reform package that should be brought forward.
We will be making a number of amendments, bringing forward those amendments for the government's consideration. I would hope that they would seriously consider some of those amendments, because I think they will improve the legislation and at the end of the day at least meet some of the requirements that are out there for the vast public that is affected by this, because everyone who is working today is affected by the Workers' Compensation Board. Everyone is seemingly covered by this.
It's a non-profit insurance plan which goes back to the beginning of the century. Others have covered the history of that, so I won't go into detail on that. But I think we have to remember that it is an agreement between workers and employers that the workers will be covered in lieu of lawsuits against employers, and as a result of that, there is a continuing requirement on the part of the government to recognize that we are dealing with an insurance plan that has to meet the needs of workers, that has to meet the needs of employers, and at the same time bring forward the economic positive benefits of what can be described as a non-profit insurance plan. After all, that's what the province needs: a plan that is efficient, a plan that works for everyone.
With respect to the government's changes, the previous government talks about the equal representation on the Workers' Compensation Board of directors and points to that as the most democratic way of dealing with the problems. I happen to agree that there has to be equal representation from both employers and labour, but I would also add, and I think that the government is attempting to move in this direction, to have other parties that have an interest in the WCB board of directors and its goings-on, to have representation from other stakeholders. I understand that the government is addressing this in its statement, but I would add that we must get away from what amount to partisan appointments.
I'm not too impressed with the government's performance thus far in terms of making appointments. They have shown us to this day already, early on in their mandate, that they are willing to be partisan in their appointments and in fact to stand up and be defiant about those partisan appointments.
There are numerous examples that have taken place just recently, such as the Solicitor General's appointment of his former campaign director to an important board. If that's the kind of example we're going to see in the future, then the hope that we will have a non-partisan board that is made up of a multinumber of stakeholders -- we will not see a non-partisan board in the future at the WCB and we'll get back to the days when the party in power would appoint its special appointees of the same political persuasion. I would hope that we're not moving in that direction and I urge the government to be very careful in its appointments and in fact allow all members of the House to review those appointments.
I would also hope that the government be more open, as I say, when the final reforms are being considered, that the government would allow a committee of the House or would allow the Legislature to be the final arbitrator with respect to having reviewed those reforms and making decisions around what changes are appropriate and what changes should be brought about.
If the government is truly intending to go on the path of non-partisan political appointments, then I think that it would be very appropriate for the government to open that up and to certainly make appointments that do not reek of the smell of partisanship as we've seen thus far.
I think it's entirely inappropriate that the government has made those kinds of appointments, and I think it needs to look very closely at the actions of various ministers with respect to those appointments. There is a whole slew of other appointments that we're beginning to see across all agencies, boards and commissions where this government is appointing its favourites. So I would hope that the government takes seriously the board of directors of the WCB because it has an important function that it carries out.
I would like to close my remarks by simply saying that reform of the WCB is of fundamental importance to the people of the province of Ontario. It is one of those agencies that cannot be overlooked in terms of its relevance to the economy and must include all stakeholders, genuinely must include a wide range of people from across the province because it affects everyone right across the province.
I would ask and urge the government to take seriously its reform and make those more available and include members of this Legislature and include stakeholders from across the province in terms of its consultation process. We've not seen the proposals that will ultimately be included in those reforms. The government refuses to even talk about those reforms, saying that they'll be dealt with at some later date by the Minister without Portfolio.
That's not good enough, and I think this bill simply doesn't go far enough. Again, I think it's not appropriate to deal with this in a piecemeal fashion. It should be dealt with in its entirety and it should be dealt with all at once and, at the same time, give members of this House the opportunity to scrutinize precisely what those reforms are, not two or three days of committee hearings, not two or three weeks.
This is very important. Firstly, you must consult; secondly, it must be carefully scrutinized through the committees of this Legislature to make public those hearings. I think that's very critical in terms of the WCB.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments? Seeing none, further debate.
Mr Hampton: I want to make a few comments about this bill, and I first of all want to start off with talking about the direction which it comes from.
It's very clear that the bee that is really in the bonnet of the Conservative government here is that it doesn't believe that workers have legitimacy in the province, that workers should be permitted to participate in this kind of important body, the WCB. So where you used to have a bipartite board where workers had some representation and you knew that workers' views would be heard and listened to, now that will not exist.
Again, I think you don't have scratch the surface very far to discover that the reason the bipartite board has to be done away with is because that would give too much recognition to workers. It's the same with the health and safety agency. The health and safety agency was working very well. By all objective accounts, it was being very productive in terms of the training of workers and the training at job sites of people who were knowledgeable about worker health and safety. Accident rates were actually coming down, I think by every objective test that was being done. However, if you want to put workers in their place, you can't allow them to have equal representation on a board of directors or board of trustees of such an agency.
So now we go to this multi-stakeholder board. I will say it here, and we'll experience this: We're really going back to the days when people appointed to the board were very much patronage appointments. The government somehow thinks they can pass this off as running a businesslike board. Let me tell you, when appointments to the board become patronage appointments, it becomes very unbusinesslike. That was the kind of situation that got the Workers' Compensation Board into trouble in the first place, back in 1985, when the really dramatic increases in the unfunded liability occurred.
So now we're going backwards. We're going backwards from a representative system where workers actually have a voice at the board to a patronage system where people get appointed to the board as a reward or for their contributions to the Conservative Party. How anyone can try to pass that off as somehow moving towards businesslike principles or businesslike operation in my view totally defies definition.
I want to deal with this issue just for a bit longer. There was a very interesting article in the Toronto Globe and Mail on November 14. Anyone who reads the Globe and Mail knows that it is certainly not, by any means or any stretch of the imagination, a radical newspaper. In fact, I think we'd all agree it is on the right wing of the newspaper spectrum. But this is a piece dealing with the general direction the government has taken with respect to its labour policy, its policy on workers.
The title of the article -- it's written by Mr Roy Adams, who's a professor of industrial relations at McMaster University -- is, "Why Harris's Labour Policy is Bad for Ontario's Economy." I'd like to quote from that.
"Why is labour-management cooperation so important today? Over the past few decades, a new philosophy of production organization has been replacing one that has dominated through most of the 20th century.
"Under the old system, management, aided by experts, analysed and organized production and then specified tasks for employees to perform. Managers were the officers of an industrial army, and employees the private soldiers; their role was a passive one, to do as they were told.
"The new philosophy" -- which is gaining more and more strength in our economy today -- "begins with the proposition that people engaged in production on a daily basis learn a great deal about it, and if that learning can be tapped the result will be significant gains in productivity and quality. The new philosophy calls for employees to participate actively in analysing and designing production. Instead of order-givers and order-takers, managers and employees become partners in the pursuit of excellence. They enter into a `productivity coalition.'
"For such coalitions to be firmly established, employees need a high degree of assurance that their interests will not be adversely affected by their involvement. And for that to happen in a sustained way, they need to have an independent representative they trust and with whom management consults continuously, to achieve a consensus on issues of mutual concern.
"A great deal of evidence accumulated over the past decade indicates that companies which take that approach are more competitive than those that cling to the old ways of doing things; and that over time, they drive out their command-and-obey rivals.
"The Harris government's policy does nothing to stimulate labour-management cooperation. Rather, it encourages management to do all it can to maintain unilateral control and thus to suppress worker participation. It helps to perpetuate an obsolete system of production organization to the detriment not only of labour but also of business and, indeed, all of us. It is exactly the wrong stuff.
"If Premier Harris were seriously interested in the long-term prospects of the Ontario economy, he would set up a royal commission to investigate the emergence of this new system of production, with a view to recommending legislation that's appropriate to instituting it broadly and sustaining it.
"The issue needs a lot of public exposure and debate. Instead, we get the accelerated passage of a vengeful act, condemned by most labour relations experts, and without consultation. This episode is the antithesis of the good government on which the Ontario Tories once prided themselves."
I want to dwell on the comments there because I think they are particularly germane to this bill, as they were to Bill 7. The message, the very clear message this government is saying, is that in the whole area of labour relations, workers need to be put in their place. We need to go back to this old command-and-obey style of economy, this old command-and-obey style of operation. That's very clear now in the Labour Relations Act, it was very clear in the dismantling of the health and safety agency, and now it's becoming very clear with the Workers' Compensation Board.
The message of this government is that workers have no legitimacy in terms of cooperation, codetermination or the overall decision of policy in terms of health and safety or in terms of the Workers' Compensation Board. Again, it's a march back into the past. It's a march back into the Dark Ages, and yet this government that is so right-wing and so ideologically driven refuses to look at any of the objective evidence that is being offered by all kinds of people as to how wrong this direction is and how destructive it will be.
If workers and the Workers' Compensation Board are being told, "There is no room for you here; you don't have any representation here," don't be surprised if workers start to react in a negative way to this regime that you're trying to put in place, this command style of operation. Workers are the victims. They are the people who become injured when health and safety fails. If they have no role to play in the operation of a health and safety agency, if they are not to be represented, don't be surprised if they react in a negative way when you try to move back to this old, negative, command-and-obey style of operation. Let us remember again, these are the people who will be injured. These are the people who will be disabled. If they have no role in the operation of this board and the direction it takes and the policies that it sets, don't be surprised if they react in a negative way.
If you continue this snowball that you have started, don't be surprised if the productivity in our workplaces goes down. That is a clear message from labour relations experts; it's a clear message from industrial relations experts. Moving back to a command-and-obey style of operation in our workplaces is an inherently destructive process. I want to dwell on the attempt again to create a big lie because, once again, that is very much what the government is engaged in. The government is trying to create, in almost every aspect of Ontario's economy, this horrible picture of the future. They're trying to create this image and say to people, "If we don't do these radical cuts, we're facing doomsday."
Let's look at some comparative figures. Canada's population is about 27 million people. Canada's deficit, even if you take the federal Liberal government's most advantageous -- okay? -- prescriptions and predictions, is about $37 billion. Ontario's population is 11 million people, and even if you take this government's worst doomsday scenario, our deficit is only $10 billion. Canada, by your scenario, is in much worse shape. Much worse shape. Mind you, none of you were saying that when you formed the government of Canada two short years ago. None of you were saying that. You were busy running up $45-billion deficits a year and busy running up a $600-billion debt for the country.
So when you come here and you try to create this scenario of doomsday you're trying to deny your own history, you're trying to deny what some of you who are now elected in this House left behind in Ottawa. So it's nonsense. It will take a while for some people to see through it, but all anybody has to do is to look at those comparative figures and they will see what a load of baloney you are trying to shove off on people.
You want to pretend that negative impacts of free trade didn't happen. You want to pretend that didn't wipe out some jobs in Ontario in the period 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992. You want to pretend that a worldwide recession didn't happen and you want to pretend that governments over the last five years haven't had to deal with some very serious situations. The reality is all those things had to be done. None of those things have created a doomsday scenario. The worst prospects this province faced were in 1990 to 1992. In fact, our relative position is far better now than it was then. So I say again, the doomsday scenario that you are trying to create is a lot of baloney. In fact, our relative position is much better than it was in those very difficult days of 1992 and 1993.
Let's go back to look at some of the specific numbers with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board. In fact, when your government was last in power, you did leave behind a pretty serious situation, a $5.8-billion unfunded liability. That unfunded liability has grown. The first time that unfunded liability started to come down was last year, as a result of some of the changes that were made -- and I'm not here to talk about what the Liberals did or what we did. The fact is some changes were made and the fact is those changes were beginning to produce a number of positive and productive results. I would argue that if they were left in place and if the bipartite board were left in place, they would have continued to have produced some productive and some positive results.
Instead, what you have done is you have marched blindly, as I say, back into that command-and-obey style of operation. That command-and-obey style of operation is not going to get you any cooperation and it's not going to get you the kinds of results that we all want and need in this province.
I just want to deal for a minute in terms of who is paying the freight here. It's ironic -- well, no, it's not ironic; it's predictable. It's unfortunately predictable that from this government what we're getting is this: Workers are going to have to deal with a reduction in benefits.
Workers are being told: "Even though you are in the most unfortunate position, you are going to have to give up something. Even though you are the people who are disabled, you are the people who are injured on the job, you will have to give up something." Okay? That's what the government is saying about this so-called crisis, this doomsday scenario it's trying to create. But while they're saying that out of one side of their mouth, they're saying to their wealthy friends, "We are going to give you a huge tax reduction."
It seems to me that if you're trying to get people to work together, there is no way that you can take injured workers, who are in the most difficult social and economic situation in the province, and say to them, "You will take less," and at the same time you will say to the wealthiest people in the province, "You can have more." Somehow the doomsday scenario falls apart again. It would seem to me that if there is a doomsday scenario there, you must be saying to everybody, "You can't have more."
But again, that's just an illustration of how phoney this doomsday scenario really is. There is no reality behind this doomsday scenario. It is a political creation, created for ideological reasons by a government that is the most ideologically driven, I think, of any I've seen in this province in the last 25 years. Instead of looking for consensus, instead of looking for ways to get people to work together, instead of working for cooperation, it is simply a matter of finding scapegoats, finding victims, whether they be people on social assistance or injured workers or the unemployed, and sticking it to them.
So I would say, and I would plead with the government, take a look at what you're doing. Listen to some of those people who are out there who are trying to offer you constructive advice and constructive help. Listen to some of those people, like Professor Adams, who's saying: "Look around at the developing world economy. Look at what is happening in other economies in terms of the attempt to move towards a more cooperative model." Look at the advice they're trying to give you. Don't proceed on the basis of what was the accepted wisdom 15 or 20 years ago.
I want to say just a few words about injured workers in particular. In my constituency I have a lot of pulp and paper mill workers, sawmill workers, people who work in mines, people who work on the railroad, people who generally work in a resource-based economy. The historical reality in the past has been that you find your most serious workplace injuries in those kinds of situations. People working in logging, for example, face a very risky type of work -- people working in paper mills, people working in sawmills.
The most serious cases, the most serious situations you have walk into your constituency office, are people who have been injured on the job in those situations, and by and large they are people who would give almost anything to be able to go back to work. You will see in many cases people who will go to their physician and ask for a prescription of painkillers just so they can go back to work, knowing -- knowing -- that in the longer term they won't be able to continue this. That's the reality in many of these situations.
The focus, though, of our government was to try to promote safe workplaces.
I want to deal with one particular place that's in my constituency, the paper mill that's in my home town, which for the last three years has been the safest paper mill in all of Canada, and to give you some of the experience of that workplace.
That paper mill sat down and worked jointly with the unions, with their employees, to develop a very strong worker health and safety agenda, and they did it through the health and safety agency. As a result of that, they became the safest paper mill in all of Canada. As a result of that, their workers' compensation premiums went down. As a result of that, their productivity in the mill went up -- an excellent formula. It's a very profitable mill.
But what was the key? What was the key was that willingness to sit down in a cooperative model with the trade unions in that paper mill and with the employees in that mill and recognize the legitimacy of those workers and those unions, and recognize that the trade unions, the labour movement employees, workers, need to be listened to, need to have their legitimacy, their currency, recognized in the workplace, need to be represented in terms of health and safety. When that happened, when they recognized that need to give currency, to give legitimacy to those workers, everything else flowed from there.
I've picked one factory, one plant, but consider the direction, I say again, you are taking. Nothing you have done in labour relations, nothing you have done in health and safety, nothing you have done in workers' compensation will lead in any way towards the development of that cooperative model. In fact, what you're doing is you're tearing down the prospects, the possibilities of a cooperative model.
I say to you, again, the result will be that you will destroy the kinds of mechanisms, the kinds of processes we need to have in our factories, our mills, our workplaces, wherever they are, and at the end of this process, at the end of this experiment you will inherit, you will receive the negative outcomes.
Where do we go from here? At least with this bill I understand there may be some hearings and you may get a chance to actually hear from some people out there about how in the longer term to promote better labour relations, how in the longer term to better promote a cooperative model and how in the longer term to actually solve what is a tough and difficult issue.
But simply looking at this as something where you slash here and burn there and reinstall the command-and-obey type of structure, and thinking that is going to be the simplistic solution, I'm afraid is not going to work for you, and unfortunately it's not going to work for the Ontario economy, which is something we all want to happen.
I could go on, but I know some other folks have some comments they would like to make, so I will finish now. The cabinet may have its mind made up, but I would hope that some of the government members would actually take time over the next few weeks, when there will be some type of hearings on this bill, to actually talk to some of those folks out there who want to recommend the more cooperative model for you.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Wildman: I just want to commend my colleague the member for Rainy River for putting forward a very reasoned approach. I would hope that government members, if they don't agree, will at least consider seriously the comments he has made about the possibility of a more cooperative approach to labour relations and to dealing with things like occupational health and safety and workers' compensation in this province.
The suggestion that it is unacceptable, as apparently it is for the government, to have a 50-50 balance on the board of the Workers' Compensation Board, where workers are represented in equal numbers with employers, is very unfortunate. The attempts that have been made over many years by many governments of various stripes to deal with the problems of that institution and to deal with the needs of injured workers and the needs of employers who are paying the freight have not been very successful.
The changes that have been made, as my colleague from Rainy River has pointed out, over the last couple of years have finally started to move in the right direction. It would take some time, and it will take some time, to deal with the unfunded liability, but frankly to cut workers in their benefits by 5% is not going to make much difference in terms of the underfunded liability and simply is punishing the injured workers. It is part of the whole context of this government's approach, which is based essentially on the view that the poor have too much money and the rich don't have enough.
It really turns Marxism upside down. It's a rather strange approach. The old saying for Marxist-Leninists used to be, "Make the rich pay." This government's approach is, "Make the poor pay." I think it would be much better to follow the approach of my colleague from Rainy River.
Mr Hastings: It's most interesting listening to the proposition from my honourable colleagues opposite that reverting back to a more traditional multiparty type of representation on the board of directors of this organization won't work. Well, if that won't work, what's happened in the last 10 years or so in terms of this 50-50 ideal balance that they talk about in terms of having employers and workers represented at the WCB board evidently hasn't worked that much either, because if it had, this particular Labour minister and this government would not have had to make the major recommendation involved in Bill 15.
This so-called cooperative model they're talking about is actually a recipe for deadlock, for gridlock, and the best illustration of that situation is the recently demised, I hope, Workplace Health and Safety Agency, which had this bipartite-type model which led to absolute gridlock after many efforts on the part of both parties.
It didn't work -- that's the reality -- because we end up with a management representative of that particular agency failing to sign off on the generous severance situations that were provided by the labour representation of that agency. If that's cooperation, then I guess I've got a different definition of what that term means.
Absolutely, the model we've had for the last 10 years hasn't worked that well. That's why we're going back to trying the other one. It may not work as well either, but at least let's try to get out of the gridlock, out of the deadlock, in decision-making we've had at the WCB and the absolute failure in terms of accountability, financial and otherwise, which I'll go into tomorrow in detail.
Mr Pouliot: The member for Rainy River has been there, has worked in a mill, long and hard, eventually got a law degree. His father before him worked for many years in a paper mill. His brother still works there. Oh, he's upset. He doesn't see the need to change the composition of the board. The member shared with us his anxiety about stacking the deck with friends, with hacks and bagmen, with people who have served their cause well. He fears that, and I share his concern.
He's appalled and shocked when a worker, a person is down and a government chooses, when she or he is at their most vulnerable, to pick their pockets, to descend and clean the carcass -- 5% less.
People have been hurt. I worked 20 years in a mine. Twice I suffered from cyanide poisoning.
Mr Pouliot: Oh yes, can you imagine being among the less fortunate and having my pockets cleaned by another 5%? It's not going to redress what is wrong. It's simply taking advantage one more time of the people who can least defend themselves.
There's still time. If only the backbenchers would break away from their chains --
The Acting Speaker: The member's time is up.
Mr Pouliot: -- would shed their shackles and do what's right for the workers of the province.
The Acting Speaker: Take your seat, please. There's time for one more question or comment.
Mr Baird: It's funny that the honourable members opposite get up and talk about parts of this bill that aren't even there. We suggest that they can't find a lot to complain about in the bill. I know my friend from Lake Nipigon knows that.
I say to the member for Rainy River that if you look at the problems with the current WCB, simply ignoring them is not going to solve the problem. Simply tinkering with the problem is not enough.
I think it's important to get on the record again, I say to my friends opposite, that in 1988 the unfunded liability of the board was $7.3 billion; in 1989 it rose to $8.4 billion; in 1990 it had risen to $9 billion; in 1992 it had risen to $11 billion. By 1993 it was $11.5 billion. It just kept getting worse and worse.
The previous government, and I'll give some credit, took some action to get the unfunded liability under control. In two years it had gone down by $100 million, and that was some progress, because we didn't see it from our friends in the official opposition. My friend from Lake Nipigon says they were getting there. At that rate it would be 230 years before we got there.
Mr Baird: I know my friends opposite. They dream of the next century with Premier Bob Rae back at the helm, but even he's not going to get terms, I can assure you of that.
This legislation is the first step in beginning to get some financial control of the WCB. The multi-stakeholder board will bring some balance to the board. It won't be a recipe for confrontation.
I note that the experience was recently borne out in British Columbia, where the NDP government there was forced to suspend its bipartite board. It didn't even work in the NDP lotus-land and they suspended the board. These actions, I think, are most reasonable and they're all designed, all part of the government's program, to create hope and opportunity and jobs. I congratulate the member for Rainy River for not taking the full 30 minutes. He's the first member not to do so and I commend him for it.
Mr Hampton: In response, one of my colleagues handed me some information that I suggest the Conservative members might want to look at. We can thank the member for Nepean for citing the increases in the unfunded liability. The greatest increase in the unfunded liability of the board occurred between 1984, when it was $2.4 billion, and 1985, when it $5.4 billion.
Yes. Under the Conservative government the unfunded liability more than doubled in the space of one year. What I also want to draw members' attention to is that what the member for Nepean forgot to mention was that in fact through the 1990s the actual acceleration in the rate of the unfunded liability was coming down. It was actually dropping down. If you put it on a bar graph it shot up from 1984-85, then it accelerated and then it started to drop.
I would ask this question of the members opposite again: If the reforms were working, if they were working in actual workplaces, if they were working in terms of a drop in the unfunded liability, if they were working in terms of some of the rates that some employers were actually having to pay were starting to drop, why would you want to interfere with something which was starting to show success?
The only reason, when you dig through all this, is its ideology. This government does not want anything left around which recognizes the legitimate place of organized workers, of workers' organizations, either in terms of the health and safety agency, the Workers' Compensation Board or anything else.
The Acting Speaker: It being past 6 of the clock, the House is now adjourned until 10 o'clock tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 1803.