L069 - Mon 6 May 1996 / Lun 6 Mai 1996
The House met at 1333.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): This is Nurses Week and I rise to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Ontario's nurses. Unfortunately, as a result of the Harris government's health agenda, there are now very serious problems facing health care in Ontario. Nurses are not immune to these problems.
Last week, the Ontario Nurses' Association released a study of 20,000 staff registered nurses in Ontario. Some 81% of Ontario's unionized registered nurses say that understaffing in the province's health care facilities has led to unsafe conditions for patients, and 94% of unionized nurses, our front-line workers in health services, believe that reform is needed. However, nurses believe that changes in health care must be made in a managed, coordinated way to address the problems of vast waste and inefficiency existing in the current system.
Ontario's nurses are proposing solutions, but is the government listening? The answer is no. As a result of the $1.3-billion cut to hospitals, services for people who need nursing care will suffer as an estimated 15,000 more nurses lose their jobs over the next three years. The dismantling of services and the diminishing of the role, responsibility and respect that nurses deserve must stop.
This government is turning the clock back. Research clearly demonstrates that negative clinical outcomes result from replacing the registered nurse with the less knowledgeable. Nurses are a valuable part of our health care.
On behalf of all members of this House I welcome Jane Cornelius, president of the Ontario Nurses' Association, and the other nurses in the gallery today.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): In his budget in mid-March, Finance Minister Martin announced plans to "offer provinces and territorial governments the opportunity to take over the management of existing social housing resources...." I've been meeting and continue to meet with a lot of co-ops in my area because, I must tell you, they're deeply concerned for many reasons. They ask why we would want to even consider handing over the federal co-op housing portfolio to a province which has publicly stated it wants to get rid of all its social housing responsibilities. What will all of these changes mean and what will their impact be on our daily lives?
Co-op members are part of a caring community of people who own, manage and take care of their homes and those of their neighbours. Offering the administration of the existing federal social housing resources to Ontario will mean the destruction of the stable, well-maintained co-op communities that have been built over the last 25 years and the investment all Canadians have made in this unique type of solid, secure and affordable housing. This is precisely what co-op members fear: the inevitable deterioration of the quality of their homes. Some members may lose their homes, and the entire community will suffer.
The Harris government has already cancelled 400 co-ops and non-profit housing projects and is reported to be planning huge cuts to co-op funding, specifically a reduction in the subsidy allotment to co-ops.
Co-op members are urging the provincial government to think about the social, economic and political costs of their actions and to safeguard co-op funding and maintain the existing level of operations.
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): I rise today on behalf of the Minister of Health to acknowledge that May is Huntington Disease Awareness Month. Huntington disease is an inherent brain disorder, and every child of a parent with Huntington's has a 50-50 chance of developing the disease.
Physical symptoms may initially consist of nervous activity, fidgeting or excessive restlessness. The individual may notice a certain clumsiness, alterations in handwriting or difficulty with normal daily physical skills such as driving. These initial motor symptoms will gradually develop into more marked involuntary movements such as jerking and twitching of the head, neck, arms and legs, which may interfere with walking, speaking or swallowing.
Symptoms usually begin to appear in the prime of life, between 30 and 45 years of age, and over the 10- to 25-year course the disease leads to total incapacitation and eventual death. There is not yet a cure and there is no effective treatment. However, scientists have found the gene that causes this disease. It allows researchers to work on developing improved treatment techniques as well as continuing to search for the cure.
The Huntington Society of Canada was founded in 1973 to fight the disease through research, service and education, and I'd like to thank them for providing this information to me. More importantly, I would like to thank them for the support they provide to people and families living with this disease.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): Both the Premier and the finance minister have repeatedly told the people of this province that the 30% tax cut is the foundation on which the government plans to create over 725,000 jobs. In fact, the 30% tax cut is the only plan the government has in place to create the promised figure of 725,000 jobs.
However, if people and businesses choose, as surveys suggest, to use their tax savings to pay down personal and corporate debts, your job creation plan will fail. If you fail, then the province fails as well.
The government has to face up to the fact that this tax cut may not have the desired effect the government is counting on. Numerous surveys now indicate that consumers would prefer to pay down personal debt, while corporations would opt to buy new equipment and pay down corporate debt with their tax savings.
The government, should this initiative fail, has the responsibility to live up to its promise to create the much-talked-about 725,000 jobs. Failure to do so represents a fundamental breach of a campaign promise.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending an employment information fair at Gerrard Square in my riding of Riverdale. The fair was organized by GREAT, which stands for Greater Riverdale Economic Action Together, and featured job readiness workshops and seminars, business and employment networking, discussions of community economic development and much, much more. Those in attendance were also fortunate to enjoy the works of wonderfully talented local artists and musicians.
The fair was made possible partially because of funding from Jobs Ontario Community Action, which, as members will be well aware, has been axed by this government for no other reason than it was a program of the previous government. That's a real shame, because this event was exemplary of the spirit of community and volunteerism this government is constantly crowing about as an alternative to much-needed services. The fact is that months and months of planning went into this event and hundreds of volunteers spent countless hours preparing for it. They all deserve our thanks and gratitude.
Mr Harris likes to speak fondly about the spirit of volunteering, as if it were a new idea he himself invented. The fact is that people across Ontario are involved in their communities in the fashion demonstrated in Riverdale over this weekend. It's truly an insult to have the generous community spirit in our province used as a smokescreen for cutting the services we all pay for and deserve.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING WEEK
Mr Toni Skarica (Wentworth North): I rise to inform the House that today is the first day of Education and Training Week in Ontario. Education and Training Week continues until May 10, and I encourage all of my colleagues to spend as much time as possible speaking with students, parents and educators in their communities, helping to celebrate their achievements.
There is a wide range of activities that takes place throughout the province during Education and Training Week. Some schools organize literary festivals or hold open classrooms, while other schools conduct environmental activities or science and math demonstrations.
Personally, I will be attending committee hearings on Bill 34, an act that I know enjoys broad support among the members of this House.
Education Week has been observed annually in Ontario schools since 1936, and in 1993 it became Education and Training Week, a title that better reflects all the types of learning that take place in our schools.
This year's theme, "A World of Opportunities," is appropriate, given the changing and challenging times we're facing. It's more important now than ever to support our students. They need to be encouraged in their accomplishments and dreams. They need to know there is a vast exciting world of opportunities out there. Education is not just for the young; it continues for all of us.
One of the most notable aspects of education is that all of us benefit. We profit as individuals because education enhances our personal lives, and we profit as a province as our students become leaders of tomorrow.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I rise today to bring to the attention of the House the extraordinary impact of government cuts on the real people of this province. I'd like to tell you about Connie Nason. Connie is a full-time student in my riding, studying to be a developmental services worker at Confederation College.
The fact is that Connie is trying to build a better life for herself and her two young daughters, Candace and Deanna. Raising two children as a full-time student, she is working very hard to get her family off social assistance but realizes that she needs the help today so she won't need it tomorrow. Her hard work had been paying off, until this government and its shortsighted policies put yet another roadblock in her way. By taking away her benefits, this government is taking away her ability to build that better life away from social assistance. This certainly is not the hand up promised by this government.
Like so many other full-time students, Connie is already carrying a student loan. She has no one else to support her. As a diabetic, Connie needs access to our health care system, access that will be denied if she loses her Ontario drug benefit card. If she's forced to reduce her studies to part-time as a result of the cuts, she'll also lose her secured child care spots that put her children in a safe, nurturing environment as she works to give them a better future.
Far from helping her to help herself, this government's policy will prevent her from gaining the independence she wants for herself and her children. What will this government tell Connie Nason when it takes away the short-term support she needs to gain long-term independence? What happened to the hand up they promised?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I rise today to pay tribute to Bob Ballantyne, who is the director of public affairs for Stelco in my home-town of Hamilton. Bob is retiring from this position after 40 years with the company, 40 years in which, in my opinion, Bob has served not only Stelco well, but our entire community. As the president and chief operating officer of Stelco said, and I quote, "Bob has always been dedicated, very professional and acted with the utmost integrity in all the jobs he has performed."
Bob is known as someone who cares about the community, who cares about the company in terms of its role in our community, and he was always the first to ensure that elected people understood what was going on with the company, understood the role of the company's activities in our community and the context of the importance and the needs of our community.
I think Bob Ballantyne has done a great service, not only to his own reputation but to Stelco and to the entire community of Hamilton, and it's with great pleasure that I rise today to wish him and his wife, Doreen, the very best in the future for a happy and safe retirement, one he has so richly earned.
Mrs Janet Ecker (Durham West): I am pleased to inform the House that today marks the beginning of Nurses Week in Ontario and across the country.
Starting in 1971, the International Council of Nurses has commemorated International Nurses Day on May 12, the birthday of history's most celebrated nurse, Florence Nightingale. Since 1986, Canada has expanded the celebration to a whole week, to boost awareness of the nursing profession among the public. Over the years, it has evolved into a marvellous opportunity to educate Canadians about health issues, and appropriately enough, this week's theme happens to be "Ask a Nurse."
I am certain that all MPPs would agree that Ontario's registered nurses are the bedrock upon which our health care system rests. That was certainly the message delivered today by Helen Johns, the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health, when she spoke to nurses at North York Branson Hospital. Nurses are on the front lines of health care every day. In community health centres, through information hotlines, at home and in the workplace, there are nurses offering the highest of quality care.
In closing, I wish to pay tribute to all nurses, and challenge every Ontarian to try to ask a nurse this week.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I would like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today a parliamentary delegation from the Volga region of the Russian Federation. Please join me in welcoming our guests.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Mr Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent regarding the death of a former member of the Legislature.
The Speaker: Agreed? Agreed.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I stand in the House today to honour the memory of Archdeacon Kenneth Bolton, a former New Democrat member of this Legislature from 1969 to 1971. Ken represented the riding of Middlesex and he brought his lifelong zeal for social justice to his work as a member of provincial Parliament.
Ken was born in England, and at his death at age 89, he was en route from England from what he had fully expected to be his last visit to his two sisters who continue to live in Britain. Ken told his son, also Ken, who was travelling with him, as they boarded an airplane back to Canada for his last flight: "I have seen everything I wanted to see. I have done everything I wanted to do." What a wonderful sentiment for all his friends and family to remember as we mourn his passing.
Ken Bolton came to Winnipeg from England in 1925, where he studied and was ordained an Anglican priest in 1933. Before being named Archdeacon of Bishop Cronyn Memorial Anglican Church in London, he had held charges all over Canada -- Montreal, Walkerton, Hanover, Windsor, Sarnia -- as well as serving as the chaplain of Huron College and an associate professor of pastoral theology at the University of Western Ontario. In his later years, he assisted at St Martin-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in northeast London, where the requiem eucharist will be held for him tomorrow morning.
All his life, Ken Bolton strove to achieve social justice. In his parish work, in his teaching, in his writing, in his efforts with Oxfam, Amnesty International, St Leonard's Society, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Primates World Relief and Development Fund, his enthusiastic hopefulness was a beacon for others.
For younger New Democrats like me, he was quite simply a hero, always there to encourage and exhort the party and its candidates, always at nomination meetings to remind us that New Democrats could win in southwestern Ontario.
Ken reminded us that we needed to be able to win as well as to lose. He himself ran unsuccessfully for a federal seat on two occasions and he won his seat in this place in a by-election result which took everyone by surprise. We all used to joke that we had waited too many years for a similar surprise in 1990.
Ken never stopped working for justice. I remember only a few years ago he and his wife, Lucy, who predeceased him in 1992, worked to create a tenants' association in their retirement community because they believed that tenants in retirement communities deserve the same rights as other tenants under the laws of this province.
When Ken decided to move to British Columbia last year to be nearer his children, we felt a great loss in our community and we were glad that we could use the nomination meetings for the 1995 election as a forum to thank and honour Ken.
Ken will be fondly and sadly remembered by his children, Ken, Robin, David, Margaret and Patricia. They can be very proud of the many accomplishments of their father and I hope they know his intelligence, his faith, his humour and his willingness to take risks on behalf of those requiring advocacy and assistance continue to inspire a whole generation of us who learned from his example.
Mr Bob Wood (London South): I knew the Reverend Kenneth Bolton for over 30 years, and while we did not see eye to eye politically, we always had very good discussions and very good relations. He was a parish priest, a professor and a politician. In all these roles his efforts always were oriented towards helping others.
During his time in this place, he was the correctional services critic for his party and I think his views, while the government did not always agree with them, were always carefully considered and were always respected. The example of service that he gave throughout all of his life is one that can inspire all of us in this House and all citizens of Ontario.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I want to join with the two members from London who have already spoken in conveying our sympathy to the Bolton family on the passing of Archdeacon Kenneth Bolton, who for two years in the late 1960s and early 1970s represented the electoral district of Middlesex South in this assembly. I didn't know Archdeacon Bolton, but people I knew who did know Reverend Bolton certainly found him to be a man of extraordinary talent.
I want to say something about the famous by-election because my friend from Nickel Belt -- it was a long time ago. It was 26 1/2 years ago and the distinguished member of the press gallery Mr Dowd is probably the only person around who would remember that day in September 1969 when the incredible happened. A New Democrat -- more than just a New Democrat; an Anglican priest running for the New Democrats -- won an electoral contest in Middlesex, in the backyard of the then Premier of the province, Mr John Robarts. It is hard today, when we have New Democrats from places like London, to imagine just how Reverend Bolton's victory on that occasion shook the political establishment of this province to its core.
There were a couple of issues in the by-election that were certainly also very important. To give credit to the New Democratic Party, it was a by-election where they managed, most especially with their excellent candidate Archdeacon Bolton, to make medicare a major issue. As Mrs Boyd has said, the reluctance of the then Conservative government headed by Mr Robarts to enter the federal medicare plan was a major issue in the by-election. That the NDP should win Middlesex in that by-election, I think it is fair to say, brought the Ontario government much more rapidly into an acceptance of the medical care plan that was being advanced at that time by the government of Canada.
I don't want to be mischievous, but Reverend Bolton's by-election victory also stimulated what I shall call the Stephen Lewis insurgency that was then well under way in the NDP. Stephen, I think, played a very active part in securing Archdeacon Bolton's victory in that by-election. While there are no records left of -- well, I should say I brought Don MacDonald's book; I won't go into that. But the Bolton by-election win in Middlesex on that occasion 26 years ago was a very, very significant event. I should say, for the record, that the Tories took it back two years later when Bob Eaton won the seat.
Ken Bolton came to this place. Don MacDonald says in his book it was a sensational victory. That it was. He served this assembly well and we commemorate today his distinguished public service, not just in politics but in church work, in volunteer work and, I might add, he was quite an accomplished theatrical personality as well.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I want to thank the honourable members for their kind comments. I will see that a copy of Hansard is sent to the Bolton family on behalf of all the members here.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Premier and it has to do with the budget tomorrow. We fully expect that what was in the paper today will be what's there tomorrow; that is, that we should expect to see what was in the Common Sense Revolution.
The Common Sense Revolution, Premier, you will know, indicates that you plan to add about $20 billion to the debt of the province over the next four years, and we expect those are roughly the numbers that we'll see tomorrow. That, by the way, is about $8,000 per family.
The Common Sense Revolution also indicates what you call the direct fiscal impact of the Common Sense Revolution, and your tax cuts are spelled out in there -- the 30% tax cut that you've committed to implementing over the next three years. That's roughly about $15 billion in tax cuts -- $15 billion. Those are your numbers, Premier. I hope it doesn't come as a surprise. This would be very shocking if that comes as a surprise to the Premier because you campaigned on this, if you remember, the direct fiscal impact. That adds up to $15 billion over the four years that I mentioned. Believe me, I hope that you understand these numbers, Premier.
If the debt and deficit is such a huge problem, and if all of us have to fight the debt and the deficit, and you are going to add $20 billion to the debt and deficit over the next four years, explain to the people of Ontario how we can afford a tax cut that you indicate in your Common Sense Revolution will represent $15 billion in lost revenue to the province.
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): The member raises a figure of the total debt of the province going up by $20 billion over the next five years until we get the budget balanced, and he's quite right; the total debt will go up by about $20 billion. Quite frankly, if we were to maintain the pace of the debt and deficit that we had of about $12 billion a year, without our actions it would go up, over five years, 12 times five years or $60 billion. We have reduced the growth in the total debt going from $100 billion to $160 billion to go from $100 billion to $120 billion.
Quite frankly, we're not happy that the total debt of the province of Ontario will go up $20 billion over this period of time, but the reason it will do so is, as we indicated in our campaign commitment, it will take us five years to get the yearly deficits from $12 billion down to zero. If you look at the numbers of approximately eight and six and four and two, that will add up to $20 billion. All of that will be achieved by reducing the amount of overspending and by the stimulative effects of our tax cuts.
Mr Phillips: Those who listened carefully to the question and answer will know that the answer you gave had nothing to do with the question. I will ask the question again, Premier. You plan to add $20 billion to the debt of the province over the next four years. By your own admission -- this is straight out of your document, the Common Sense Revolution -- your tax cuts, and you call them the direct fiscal impact of the Common Sense Revolution, represent $15 billion of lost revenue. That is the question people in Ontario want an answer to.
If the debt and deficit are so absolutely crucial to fight -- and I might add that I think the people of Ontario are quite prepared to fight the debt and deficit -- if it is such a huge problem, explain to the people of Ontario how the province can afford a $15-billion loss of revenue because of the tax cuts over the next four years. Explain that to the people of Ontario.
Hon Mr Harris: In the preamble, which I think it is important that I talk about, the member repeated that the total debt of the province of Ontario will go up by $20 billion. Clearly, I must repeat that without the actions we are taking, the total debt, had we carried on the way the NDP were heading -- $12-billion deficits a year -- would have gone up over a five-year period by $60 billion. So I'm quite pleased that we have cut that into one third by responsibly dealing with the spending and massive overspending that we inherited over the last 10 years from the Liberals and the NDP.
The second part of the question dealt with if you could get as many people working, paying as many taxes without stimulating the economy and tax cuts, a theoretical number of difference that is there, the $15 billion. Quite frankly, we'll get more than that back over the next five years with more people working, more jobs, more profits, more companies making profits, paying more there, more sales taxes being paid. I understand, I clearly understand that the Liberals believe high taxes are good for Ontario. We fundamentally disagree. That was the fundamental disagreement in the campaign and it is the fundamental disagreement that we have with you today. You like high taxes; we don't.
Mr Phillips: Frankly, the fundamental problem, Premier, is we have no confidence in your ability to manage the finances of the province. When you were last in government the largest single increase in personal income tax occurred under you. There's the last time a Conservative government balanced the budget: 1969. It is a joke to think you can manage the finances of the province.
I'll ask the question again because it's one of fairness. Tomorrow you're going to announce a tax cut. Fully implemented, Premier, people making $150,000 in this province will get a $5,000 tax break. This is a question of fairness.
On Friday, I had a couple in to me: lost their jobs, lost their businesses, broke. You cut $200 a month from them. We have to help them find a basement apartment. I said, "Why is that happening?" Because you have to fight the deficit. Again, Premier, I ask you this question, of fairness. If the deficit and the debt are such big problems that everyone has to fight them -- that couple, that support was cut from $1,000 a month to $800 a month. They've got to move out of their apartment into a basement apartment to fight the deficit.
It's a question of fairness, Premier. If it's that big a problem, how can we afford, with your fully implemented 30% tax cut, to give someone earning $150,000 a year a $5,000 tax break while we are asking people on $1,000-a-month support to move into basement apartments? Can you explain the fundamental issue of fairness to those people?
Hon Mr Harris: Let me deal with the preamble and then repeat it again by way of summary in asking the question. What I cannot explain is how you have the facts so misrepresented, so off-base. If you'll just wait till the budget comes out tomorrow you'll find out what the reductions will be for a $150,000 income earner, a $30,000 income earner and a $50,000 income earner. I can tell you this much without infringing on any budget secrecy: Your numbers are all wet. You are wrong.
Secondly, for the member to say that they don't have confidence in this government -- we understand; you are a government that likes high taxes. You are now campaigning, I guess, in a by-election in York South: "Vote for us for higher taxes. We'll fight the government that wants to bring tax rates down to a level where we can have more jobs, where we can have more people working."
Finally, the member mentioned something about talking to businesses that went bankrupt. Yes, until we get tax rates down, until we get more people working -- and we're confident that this change of direction from the disastrous Liberal and NDP policies will do that -- unfortunately, there are people hurting and there will be more people hurting unless we change direction and bring responsible, accountable government to the people of Ontario. That's what we campaigned on and that's what we're doing.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): New question.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My question is also for the Premier. I suggest that we know this Premier understands about income taxes, because he was, as my colleague says, part of the government that brought in the highest increase in personal income tax in Ontario's history. We know he understands income tax.
The Speaker: Is that who your question is to?
Mrs McLeod: My question to him is about the real and the very immediate impact of tomorrow's budget. We saw the Premier trooping around the province last week trying to sell his budget in advance as good news and having a rather rough job of it, because the fact is that this budget is not good news if you happen to be, for example, a middle-income family and if you're going to be paying higher property taxes, more user fees and higher tuition fees for your children's education.
This budget is nothing but a shell game. The Premier is going to give a tax cut that mostly benefits the well-to-do, and he's taking away that money from middle-income families with higher property taxes and user fees and tuition-fee increases that will be as high as $490 per student this fall alone. Premier, how much of your tax cut do you think a middle-income family with a child in college or university is actually going to end up with after they pay their higher property taxes and user fees and $490 more in tuition?
Hon Mr Harris: Again the member indicates that some 12 or 13 or 14 years ago there was a government in this province that hiked income taxes and that it was a Progressive Conservative government, and I would acknowledge that was the case. At the time, we weren't among the highest-taxed in North America.
But I want to point out this: That hike in taxes at that point in time, that increase, was not enough for you. That wasn't enough for you or the NDP. You wanted that plus -- you, your own government -- 32 more tax increases on top of it. You didn't come in and cut that tax back; you took that plus every other tax increase you could. And then that wasn't enough for the NDP; they brought in another 32 tax increases on top of that.
Also, the member, by way of preamble, talked about my tour last week to the peninsula and to the London area. I want to assure the member that I have never been better received as I travelled the province of Ontario. I want to tell you there was overwhelming support for the tax cuts; I would say about the same as the survey the NDP did, about 90% in favour and 10% opposed.
Mrs McLeod: I have no quarrel with the fact that this Premier understands about taxes. Not only was he part of the government that brought in the largest increase in income tax in our history, he was also part of the government that raised OHIP fees, part of the government that brought in increases in sales tax and even put a tax on personal hygiene products. He was in fact the individual who rammed these tax bills through committee. We know he understands about taxes -- no quarrel there.
My concern is whether this Premier understands that his so-called tax break is not a break for anybody but the wealthy. Premier, take an example of seniors in this province. Take as a specific example a pair of senior citizens who are on a fixed income of $40,000 a year. They are going to receive a few hundred dollars from your tax cut, but they are facing all kinds of new costs. On June 1, they're going to have to pay a prescription fee for all their prescription drugs. If they live in the greater Toronto area, they're going to face a huge increase in transit costs. They're going to potentially be facing higher rents for non-profit housing.
Premier, I wonder if you've done the calculations here. I wonder if you can tell us how much more those seniors are going to have to pay to cover the hundreds of dollars in new health care user fees and higher rents and transit fees because of your government's policies. Do you realize they're going to have less in their pockets when you're done, not more?
Hon Mr Harris: Again, by way of preamble, the member mentioned my party. When it left office in 1985, the total tax revenue coming in to the province of Ontario was about $15 billion. Five years later, when your big-taxing -- and still talking big-taxing -- Liberal government left office, the province of Ontario was taking in close to $34 billion in tax revenue; not total revenue, just tax revenue. You more than doubled it, and clearly that's not enough for you. The NDP hiked tax rates, and now you're supporting those tax hikes as well.
If the member wants to talk about a record of living within one's means or who has consistently fought for tax rates that would be competitive, the tax rates when we left office, even with the increases that were there, were chicken feed compared to the taxes you took away from Ontarians through that period of time.
As to the specific question, individuals, families, those with children, those who are out there working at minimum wage, middle-income earners, working-class Ontarians and seniors will all be much better off on Tuesday than they are today.
Mrs McLeod: It's actually the Premier who likes to talk about records. I want to stretch his memory back a little further. I want to talk about the budget he is going to bring in tomorrow, the first budget his government has actually produced, because I believe this budget is going to do what every single action of your government has done from the day you took office, and that is divide the people of this province into winners and losers. If you're rich you are a winner, because the tax cut is big enough that you're still going to come out ahead even after the new health tax and all the new user fees your government has imposed. But if you're an average working person or a senior or a student, you are going to lose because your tax cut will be snatched back by user fee after user fee, tuition hike by tuition hike, and health care cut by health care cut.
Will you not acknowledge that this tax cut is nothing but a shell game? Will you acknowledge that your tax cut will benefit the most wealthy and leave middle-income families paying higher property taxes, new user fees and more tuition for college and university?
Hon Mr Harris: The member says she wishes to talk about the budget to be tabled on Tuesday. Let me assure the member she, or somebody on behalf of her party, will be given all the time on Wednesday to talk about the budget that comes on Tuesday.
Secondly, you're going to have to rewrite your speech for Wednesday, because everything you have talked about today is absolute and utter nonsense. Every single Ontarian will be better off Tuesday than they are today.
The Speaker: New question.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): My question is to the Premier, and it follows through with the questions he's just been dealing with and his commitment that everyone will be better off on Wednesday. We're dealing tomorrow, Tuesday, with the second instalment of the budget, the first instalment coming on the expenditure side with cuts on April 11. Tomorrow is dealing with changes on the revenue side.
I'm looking at the Common Sense Revolution document appendix, the fifth printing, in which it deals with the revenue, among other things, and on revenue it says in the years 1996-97 through 2000-01, those five years, as the Premier has indicated, there will be a decline in revenues of $20 billion, approximately. The Common Sense Revolution also states that this will produce an economic drag on the economy of about 0.5%; that is, about $200 million to $300 million in additional revenue lost. Will the Premier agree that the cuts in revenue proposed in the CSR, which I anticipate will come forward in the budget tomorrow -- or at least part of that -- will produce a drag on the economy?
Hon Mr Harris: Tomorrow the Minister of Finance will detail the spending estimates for the province of Ontario. The figure the member uses of 0.5% drag on the economy would be an annual impact of all the reductions when they are fully implemented over a two- or three-year period. We have been quite upfront in this. We are downsizing the public sector, and that will have a very minimal but a noticeable and identifiable drag on the economy, as, by the way, will the reduction of the public sector on public sector spending.
I might add, though, that if you just want to deal on the spending and deficit side, the tremendous impact of reducing that spending so we can balance the budget will have a far greater economic impact than any drag of the reductions in spending.
Mr Wildman: I appreciate that the Premier finally, it appears, has agreed that the cuts in expenditures are related to the cuts in revenue on the tax side, that they are part of the same package, that there is only one bottom line. In the past he's tried to argue that the two are not related.
But dealing with the revenue side, in the document the CSR, first it was stated that the tax cut would cost the province lost revenues of $20 billion over five years, then later the Premier said that the tax cut would not cost anything. On March 25, he said in the House: "The tax cut, over the five-year term -- and it is a five-year program that we laid out and a five-year program we plan to implement -- the tax cut over five years will finance itself. We stand by that: We campaigned on that and we are repeating that today."
Now today in the House you're saying that the tax cut, at least in the short term, will cost money, but you're saying that's required as part of the overall cuts and that the spending cuts will help to balance the books.
First the tax cut will cost money, then it's revenue-neutral, and I guess the Premier is now arguing it's a money-maker in that he feels it will stimulate the economy. Which is it? Does it cost money, is it revenue-neutral, or will it actually make money for the provincial treasury?
Hon Mr Harris: The tax cuts are what we call a job creator, and job creators will put more people to work. It will help those who are unemployed, it will help those who are on welfare, it will put more dollars into the hands of businesses, and in the long run, with increased sales taxes from increased spending, with increased revenue, with more people making more money, with more businesses making more money, it ultimately will return more dollars to the province of Ontario. I stand by that. I want you to write that down, I want you to etch it in stone, and I want you to bring it back to me in 1999 or in 2000 when we look at the total revenues of the province versus today.
The member says that today I acknowledge that tax cuts will have an impact on the income of the province. When you asked me in your first question, I acknowledged that the spending reductions do produce a drag on the economy, not near as big a drag as the deficit does, but you have to put it all into perspective. As you reduce the deficit to zero, this will have a far greater impact on the economy than will the modest drag of reducing the spending too so you can balance the books. That's what we are doing.
Mr Wildman: If I listen carefully to the comments of the Premier, he says he believes the deficit is a bigger drag on the economy. It would mean, I would think, if that's what the Premier and his government believe, that the government should be getting rid of the deficit before it gets rid of revenues.
But let's deal with the question of the economic stimulus the Premier alluded to. He said we should etch it in stone. The economic assumptions of the Common Sense Revolution rely on revenue growth because of economic growth in the province projected at 4.5%. We now have projections for the next few years of economic growth in the province at much less than 4.5%. As a matter of fact, for next year it's projected to be about half of that. That means your spending cuts, I suspect, will have a larger impact on the economy than even you are prepared to accept.
Before the standing committee on finance and economic affairs on February 2, the Minister of Finance said that he did not have any revenue growth projections from the tax cut in his numbers. Can the Premier give us assurance today, since he wants us to etch things in stone, that tomorrow's budget will disclose the revenue projections in the medium-term fiscal plan and that he'll be able to clearly show that the revenue growth that you count on coming as a result of economic stimulus you're projecting will in fact happen, and that we won't face a much slower growth rate than you are now prepared to admit?
Hon Mr Harris: I can absolutely, positively guarantee you this: Our projections will be far sounder and far more accurate than any one of yours over the five years that you brought in budgets in the province of Ontario. I can absolutely guarantee you that.
Secondly, let me say to the member that tomorrow you will get the budget, you will get the information, you will get the projections that are there.
Let me acknowledge again, by way of preamble, that the member indicated that there are some advocating, "Balance the books first before you cut taxes." I want to say to you that those who advocate that already have taxes far lower than us and are benefiting from investment in jobs that are going to their jurisdictions. I understand why they don't want a big, powerful, competitive Ontario like we had for 42 years; I understand that. But that is their problem, because big and powerful and the jurisdiction of choice for investment in jobs is the goal of this government whether they like it or not.
Secondly, I want to say to the member that there are others who are advocating, like the Liberals and yourselves, that we should balance the books first before tax cuts. They are people, your party and the Liberal Party, who are prepared to accept 8% and 9% unemployment, 1.2 million on welfare. My colleagues are not prepared to accept that. We are going to create more jobs; we're going to put more people back to work.
NIAGARA REGIONAL POLICE FORCE
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I've got a question of the Solicitor General. I've got a copy of a letter dated February 7, 1996, sent to the Solicitor General from his colleague the member for St Catharines-Brock concerning the Niagara Regional Police Force.
In his letter, Mr Froese writes, "As a result of the reduction in the transfer funds by the province to the Niagara regional government, the region has asked the Niagara Regional Police Force to cut $2 million from their 1996 budget." Mr Froese goes on, of course, to refer to the Common Sense Revolution, which said that funding for law enforcement and justice will be guaranteed. The member for St Catharines-Brock notes that the association is simply asking the government to guarantee that no funds be cut and that funding continue at the 1995 level.
To the Solicitor General, I say that your own government colleague is seriously concerned that the election commitment you and he made to the people of Ontario isn't being kept. Minister, please, how can you keep your election promise regarding policing and law enforcement when cuts to municipalities imposed by this government to pay for this mindless tax break for the rich are filtering down and affecting front-line policing?
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): There's no evidence that any of the transfer payment reductions have impacted on front-line policing. I know the Niagara region situation. There is a discussion occurring with the council and the police services board, but no final decisions have been taken with respect to the budget, how it is eventually structured.
I indicated last week in a question along the same lines that there is the protection built in through the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services. If there is a difference of opinion with respect to the ability to provide adequate and effective policing in any given community, we have the fallback where they have to pass that test, if you will, through a review by the civilian commission. So I remain confident that there will be no impact on front-line policing in this province.
Mr Kormos: The problem is that the Solicitor General replied to that letter on April 16, 1996. In his response to the exhortation from Mr Froese, the Solicitor General wrote, "No sector is exempt from the need to cut costs," referring specifically to the Niagara Regional Police Force, and I assume other police forces across Ontario.
The Solicitor General has as much as admitted that policing will not be exempt from the irrational cutting and axing and slashing by this government. The Niagara Regional Police Force budget is going to be cut by literally millions of dollars, and the Niagara Regional Police Services Board has already cut all the administrative costs that it can. You promised that policing would not be cut. You admit in the Common Sense Revolution that funding restrictions "have direct effects on the ability of police to meet the needs of their communities."
You, Solicitor General, and your government are responsible for the cuts the region of Niagara is imposing on the Niagara regional police. You're breaking your promise; you're betraying the police of this province. What do you say to the police of the Niagara Regional Police Force and the people they're committed to protecting?
Hon Mr Runciman: I'm not hearing from police that we're betraying our commitment with respect to the promises we made during the election campaign. We have committed to a very significant review of the financing and structure of police in this province, the first such review undertaken in almost a quarter of a century.
We're going to take a look at the responsibilities and roles of police officers right across this province. We believe there are efficiencies that still can be achieved. We believe we can remove police officers from some of the responsibilities they currently undertake and free up those individuals for front-line duty.
Police officers across this province realize we have a spending problem in this province. They want to play a role in achieving the solution. I'm finding very strong support, as I travel across the province, among rank-and-file police service officers.
Mr Kormos: The Solicitor General has to understand that the Niagara regional police and their police services board have already been through the process of trimming any fat. Look at what the Niagara Region Police Association reported recently: A sexual assault victim was required to wait 40 minutes before a police officer could respond; a hit-and-run call was not responded to for three hours and then it was put off, deferred to the next day; an older victim, a senior who was a victim of a break-and-enter, had to wait four hours at a neighbour's house until police could arrive to respond to the emergency call.
Solicitor General, last Thursday you said, "When we make a promise, if you will, with respect to the front lines, that is not a blank cheque." The Common Sense Revolution says that funding for law enforcement and justice will be guaranteed. We've got you backing down now. The Niagara regional police know it. They're under attack. They've trimmed the fat; they've eliminated the inefficiencies. When are you going to admit that you simply can't keep your promise to policing because your government is forcing you to comply with its mindless tax breaks for the richest in this province?
Hon Mr Runciman: I believe we will be able to keep our commitment. We're not simply throwing money at problems as the NDP did in the past. We believe there are solutions to this through restructuring, administrative efficiencies, looking at the whole question of financing of police.
If you look at the feelings of the rank-and-file police officer in this province versus when those folks over there were in government, I think they feel very much more positive about the relationship. The police officers -- just recall the blue ribbon day out here when we had 5,000 or 6,000 or 10,000 police officers on the lawn -- could not gain access to the minister, let alone the Premier of this province. They have my ear. We sit down and talk on a regular basis. I'm listening to their problems. We're trying to solve their problems, unlike the NDP, who were in a constant battle with police officers across this province. They have a much better relationship with this government and they're looking forward to a positive future.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the Premier. Premier, you're embarking upon an exercise with this budget, and previous to this budget, which involves some unprecedented cuts in services to people of all ages and from all backgrounds in the province.
At a time when you are making these unprecedented cuts, the people of this province want to know something. They want to know whether you are prepared to assure this House, members of the news media and the public at large that you will not embark upon an advertising blitz the like of which you embarked upon recently after your tax cuts, which cost the taxpayers $350,000. This afternoon, will you give this House and the people of this province an assurance that you will not embark upon an advertising blitz subsequent to this budget?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I would like to say, by way of commenting on the member's preamble, that dealing with unprecedented cuts in services we are reducing budgets, but I believe the services we are and will be providing --
Mr Bradley: Are you or are you not going to start off on an advertising blitz?
Hon Mr Harris: If you just wanted an answer to the question, you shouldn't have had the misinformation in your preamble. I must respond then to the misinformation that was in your preamble.
The people of this province of Ontario will see unprecedented gains in programs and services from this government through doing more with less, through making sure the dollars we spend get right into those programs that help people. I think this will be self-evident when the budget is released tomorrow.
With respect to the second part of the question that had to do with advertising, I have not talked to the Minister of Finance and don't know the final details but, sight unseen, without talking to him, I assure the member we'll spend less in advertising than his government did, just as we spend less in staff, less in spending, less in advertising. There may be some very modest ads, far less than you or others spent, as to where people can get their own copies of the budget, but I assure you that not one single person in this House, other than you or the New Democrats, including every member of the media, will call it a blitz.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is to the Solicitor General. It's been reported that you are planning to charge rural municipalities per household for provincial police services and that the suggestion by officials in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs was that the charge could be up to $220 per household. This was reported to the Peterborough county council last week and has not been denied by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
In your blueprint for social justice and community safety it states, "Police should be given greater priority and support, including the allocation of existing resources." Over and over again, you and your government say there's only one taxpayer. In the Common Sense Revolution, it states, "There may be numerous levels of government, but in this province there is only one level of taxpayer."
It's my understanding that if you go ahead with this charge, which frankly from our point of view is the head tax you allowed under Bill 26, it would affect almost 600 municipalities which currently receive free OPP policing. Is your government proposing that municipalities collect a head tax so that you can keep your campaign promise to maintain front-line policing and cut provincial income taxes?
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): The question of equitable financing for police has been around for some time, certainly faced by your government and the predecessor Liberal government. We have a situation in the province where we have some municipalities paying for OPP policing, and others are not paying in a direct sense.
We have not made any decisions with respect to this matter. We're now in a consultation phase with the policing community, stakeholders and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. We sent out the discussion papers last week across the province asking for feedback on a whole range of issues, and this is one of them. Certainly it's an issue that requires a review, and we're in the process of doing that.
Mrs Boyd: Quite clearly the answer is yes, this is something that's intended by your government. What you're doing is forcing municipalities to do your dirty work, to raise the kind of dollars that you're purporting to the population of Ontario to cut in our taxes.
User fees and taxes come out of the same pocket, Minister, and it's quite clear that as you go along with this whole issue of taking credit for pending tax cuts, you're taking out of our other pocket in ways that were never contemplated by our government. Yes, we talked about disentanglement; yes, we talked about ways to even out the cost of policing, but what you don't say, Minister, is that no government has ever suggested this kind of a head tax to pay for policing, and certainly not a government that said, "We will work closely with municipalities to ensure that any actions we take will not result in increases to property tax."
Which side of your mouth are you talking out of when you say that you're not raising taxes, that you're lowering taxes, when at the same time what you are doing is taking the same kind of dollars out of people's pockets that you promised would be theirs to spend on your economy?
Hon Mr Runciman: I guess the member is trying to get a quick and dirty headline with respect to this head tax wording that she's utilizing. We're getting complaints, as her government did, as the previous government did, from municipalities that are paying for policing while others aren't. I'll mention several municipalities we're hearing from. How about Cochrane North and Kapuskasing? How about Lake Nipigon and Marathon? How about Windsor-Riverside with Tecumseh?
The member talks about speaking out of both sides of one's mouth.
Hon Mr Runciman: They don't want to hear this answer, apparently. She's talking about speaking out of both sides of one's mouth.
There was a memo of understanding signed as part of the social contract stating that all municipalities regardless of size should pay for their police coverage. Also, and this is a quote, "There will be in place a system of fairness where all communities will pay their fair share for policing," Orillia Packet, David Christopherson, Solicitor General.
Another quote: "It is our intention to implement equitable police financing, which means all Ontarians pay their fair share of policing," Ottawa Citizen, David Christopherson.
I'll let the public judge who is speaking out of both sides of their mouth.
Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines. Minister, it has come to my attention, due to the increase in the raccoon population and an increase in the rabies spreading from New York state, that there is a growing concern in residents of eastern Ontario and in speaking with trappers in my area. Is there any possibility, Minister, that you could extend the trapping season for the raccoons till May 15, thus allowing control of the spread and population of the raccoons?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): I'd like to thank my colleague the member for Quinte. This is an important issue that many members of the public are concerned about.
I'd like to let the public know, though, and the member, that there are no known cases of raccoon rabies in Ontario at this point, and this is a priority of the MNR. We've dropped over 1.8 million vaccine baits in southern Ontario as a preliminary step to try to curb the spread.
Trapping in the past has never proved to be a measure that's worked on a large geographic area. In fact, raccoon rabies, like other rabies, is dependent on density of the species.
But I would like to assure the member that if there are specific cases, isolated cases, that we'd look at that as an option along with the vaccines for a localized solution.
Mr Rollins: Minister, I know that all over the whole province, the rabies have been a large population increase, but particularly in eastern Ontario where the borders are extremely close, that's where a strain of rabies has been completely different from what we've ever had before, and it is very, very hard to control. We're going to continue to make sure that there is no stopping trying to prevent these rabies from going on into the rest of Ontario.
Hon Mr Hodgson: I'd again like to thank the member. It's true that MNR does take this threat very seriously. As I mentioned, we dropped 1.8 million vaccine baits last fall around eastern Ontario and the southern border areas.
I would like to clear up one thing, though, that has been reported. Raccoon rabies are no more harmful to the public than fox rabies. The only difference is that one is spread by raccoons, the other by foxes. Sometimes it's reported that it's a more serious health concern.
All governments in the past, all parties that have represented the Ontario government, have recognized the control of rabies as a priority. We've gotten one of the best reputations in the world for control of rabies. In fact, we're called upon by other jurisdictions to lead their efforts for information and baiting. The results speaks for themselves. Last year there were only 328 reported cases of rabies in the whole province of Ontario. That's the lowest number since 1960. In eastern Ontario, which the member speaks of, there wasn't one single case of fox-strain rabies reported since March 1994. I think that record speaks for itself.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): My question is to the Chairman of Management Board. On Friday, the Midland Free Press reported that during the recent five-week OPSEU strike, 53 managers at the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre were paid a total of $725,000 worth of overtime and that the overtime payments for those 53 managers averaged $13,700 per manager, ranging from a low of $3,500 for one manager to $50,500 for another manager.
Minister, can you confirm that in fact 53 managers were paid $725,000 worth of overtime during a five-week provincial civil service strike just a few weeks ago?
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet): What I can confirm, not having been notified of the question in advance, is that during the course of the strike, the management personnel were required to put in extremely long hours, many of the management personnel working right around the clock. Indeed, on some occasions management personnel spent a full 24 hours on staff. It was the policy to pay for overtime.
In addition, the member will know that during the course of the strike, the reduction in the cost to the government was some $10 million a day, but there were offsetting costs. The costs went down by about $10 million a day because of the strike, but those people who were required and compelled to work overtime were paid overtime on the basis of straight time -- not double time but straight time -- and were compensated accordingly. And still the savings to the taxpayer were in the vicinity of $8 million a day.
Mr Conway: The local member of the Legislature, a certain Allan K. McLean, Simcoe East, was quoted in the Midland Free Press on Friday as saying the following about the situation: "I find it totally unacceptable and I just can't believe that this would be possible." Mr McLean is absolutely right.
I want to put the question again to the Chair of Management Board. How is it possible that in Mike Harris's tax-cutting, program-slashing Ontario, a provincial public servant managing public affairs could receive as much as $50,500 worth of overtime in a five-week period, claiming, as he does in the article, that he was paid for every waking and sleeping hour he spent at this particular Penetang psych facility? How is it possible that anybody could claim $50,500 worth of overtime in a five-week strike, the purpose of the strike, from your point of view, being efficiency and budget cutting?
Hon David Johnson: Again I will assure the taxpayers of Ontario that the costs associated with the strike were very minimal by comparison to the cost reductions. The spending reductions during the period of the strike of about $10 million a day greatly outweighed the additional costs, costs which, I might say, are legitimate in terms of paying people overtime. I will reiterate that some people literally were required to work 24 hours a day around the clock. But I will say to the member that I will be happy to look into this particular circumstance. I don't have the precise data on this particular circumstance, and I assure the member that I will look into it. Notwithstanding that, the net result of the strike was a considerable reduction in spending to the taxpayers of Ontario.
TRANSFER PAYMENTS TO MUNICIPALITIES
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, who was working overtime with some of his colleagues in Thunder Bay last Friday when he met with the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association representatives in Thunder Bay.
Last November your government announced a cut of 43% in municipal transfers. On Friday you said: "I've heard politicians say they're planning for no money from the province. I think there are benefits to that approach, setting your sights on zero subsidies. That's not a bad thing to have in the back of your mind as you get down to business."
Are you planning, as a result of the tax cuts your government is committed to, to eliminate municipal transfers from the province? Are you going to give zero subsidies to the municipalities?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): No. What I suggested to the municipalities was that it would be prudent planning to try to be as self-reliant as you possibly can. Being totally self-reliant would be being able to manage your business without having to rely on subsidies from anyone. I think that's a very prudent way to do business.
Mr Wildman: The minister went far further than that in his comments. He's quoted in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, on the front page, that he told northwestern Ontario municipal leaders that "if they don't restructure their way of governing to deal with funding cuts to come, the province will do it for them, at their expense."
You said that if the municipalities don't restructure as proposed -- as required, I guess, under Bill 26 -- the government, your ministry, will cut their subsidies to zero. This was a threat, wasn't it, Minister? Aren't you telling the municipal leaders, "You'd better buckle under and do exactly what this government wants or you're not going to get one red cent from the provincial treasury"?
Hon Mr Leach: I don't think anything could be further from the truth. What I told the municipalities in Thunder Bay on Friday in a speech was that it would be in their best interests to restructure because funding is going to be reduced.
Mr Wildman: To zero you said.
Hon Mr Leach: I did not say to zero. However, they were advised that there are two methods under which they can restructure. One is a triple majority, by the municipalities involved agreeing with the greatest number of taxpayers and the upper tier agreeing; if they do that, the decision is theirs, they are masters of their own destiny. If they choose not to do that and one of the municipalities requests it, if it's requested by the municipalities, the province would assign a commission to review it, and whatever decisions the commission found to be in the best interests of the taxpayers of that community would be implemented. I told the members present that if I were a municipal councillor I would prefer the first method.
PICKERING NUCLEAR GENERATING STATION
Mrs Janet Ecker (Durham West): I have a question for the Minister of Environment and Energy. I rise on a matter of concern to my riding, as it contains the Pickering nuclear generating station. While the community appreciates that Hydro has shut down the plant to repair the faulty valve in the cooling system, questions are growing because the startup of the station has been delayed. Can the minister please inform the House about the status of the repairs and when the station might be expected to restart?
Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): I'm pleased to answer the question from my colleague the member for Durham West. I am pleased to report that the valve has been repaired; that is, the backup valve that was discovered during our routine testing. Ontario Hydro has determined that since power needs are less at this time of year, it will use this opportunity to do some additional repairs and improvements at the plant. In talking with the president -- and certainly my staff continues to talk to the Atomic Energy Control Board to make sure procedures are being followed properly -- we expect that the plant will begin to start up, possibly, at the end of this week.
Mrs Ecker: Last summer the AECB had raised some concerns about the plant. Could you please inform me as to the status of that, in terms of the work they have done, and also if you are prepared to come to the community to meet with them and answer their concerns and questions about what is happening at the station?
Hon Mrs Elliott: Yes. Last fall the Atomic Energy Control Board did indicate that it had some concerns about the plant. It was after that report that Ontario Hydro began a project called the quality of work initiative program, and it was during that time, while those repairs and work were ongoing, that the faulty valve was discovered. The Atomic Energy Control Board, at its meeting in March, indicated that it was pleased with the progress to date and that it was encouraged as Ontario Hydro continued to work at that plant.
I would be more than happy to meet with the constituents in my colleague's riding at any time to discuss issues that would be of concern to them with regard to Ontario Hydro or the Pickering plant.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): My question is to the Minister of Health and it's regarding the Americanization of Ontario health care as a result of his $1.3-billion cut to Ontario hospitals. I'm going to give him an example and ask him to comment on this because it's a very serious erosion of Ontario medicare.
The Credit Valley Hospital had a chiropody foot care clinic. Because of your cuts to the hospital, the hospital has closed the clinic. People who went to that clinic, who had their foot care covered by Ontario's health plan as part of the hospital's global budget, are now forced to go to a private clinic where they are paying between $20 and $25 for a first visit and between $20 and $22 for a second visit. These are the very same people who were going to Credit Valley Hospital's foot care clinic and receiving their services under the Ontario health plan. It was and is an insured service. There are hospitals that still have foot care clinics and provide chiropody services, and now what we're seeing is those hospitals are cutting those services and people are being forced to pay. Is this not Americanization of Ontario health care and is this acceptable to you?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I must have not caught the whole thing here, unless the honourable member is accusing them of going to an American clinic. Chiropody, for example, is not an insured service. Some of the hospitals that were able to do it were providing it in clinics as part of their global budgets, but it is not an insured service. It is provided in clinics, as are physiotherapy and chiropractic services. About 22 of our 23 health professions actually provide non-insured services in the provinces. Doctors and insured medically necessary services in hospitals are the only ones covered under the Canada Health Act. It's one of the reasons the premiers, the first ministers in Canada, have been asking for a better definition of the Canada Health Act -- what's covered and what isn't covered.
Mrs Caplan: It was in the 1960s that a former Conservative government introduced chiropody. It was and has been an insured service provided in hospitals and clinics across the province. Patients have not had to pay for that service. What I'm hearing from the minister today is another example of Americanization, delisting and forcing people to pay for services in private clinics which they received until very recently in the hospitals of this province.
Will you admit that the reason the people in Brampton and other parts of Ontario are now paying for chiropody services in private clinics, services they received just a few months ago in their local hospital, is because of your $1.3 billion in cuts and your Americanization of Ontario health care?
Hon Mr Wilson: I think if the honourable member checks the facts throughout Ontario, a number of these services that are moving out of the hospital are available through home care and homemaking, and $170 million in new dollars we put into that sector are allowing 80,000 more people in Ontario over the next two years access to some of those services that would have been provided in hospitals.
I will say to the honourable member that one thing I know for sure is that about 34 days ago, we took a $2.2-billion hit from your federal Liberal cousins in Ottawa. It is a miracle in this province that we're able to fully keep the health care budget at $17.4 billion. That will be confirmed in the budget tomorrow. If you've got a problem with cuts in certain services in the province, go look in the mirror and talk to your cousins in Ottawa: $2.2 billion out of our budget.
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital; and
"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 recommendation contained within the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital, so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."
I've affixed my signature.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Picking up on the same theme of petitions coming in from members of various congregations, particularly in the core of Toronto, I present a petition to the Legislative Assembly.
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to proceed as quickly as possible with legislation to reduce our provincial tax rates as promised during the last provincial election, and we call on all members of the Parliament of Ontario to support the government in its promise to reduce provincial income tax rates in Ontario."
I'm proud to affix my name thereto.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas we believe that the family support plan is a viable and necessary service provided by the government of Ontario;
"We, the undersigned, hereby petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That the proposed centralization of the family support plan will have a negative impact on the children who are supported under this program and should be cancelled."
I have signed my name, as I agree with it.
Mr Terence H. Young (Halton Centre): I present a petition from my constituents in Halton Centre.
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to proceed as quickly as possible with legislation to reduce our provincial tax rates as promised during the last provincial election, and we call on all members of the Parliament of Ontario to support the government in its promise to reduce provincial income tax rates in Ontario."
I proudly affix my signature.
COLLEGE OF TEACHERS
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I have a petition to the Ontario Legislature.
"Whereas the public secondary teachers of Ontario have taken a workplace democracy vote in accordance with Bill 7 and have rejected the proposed College of Teachers by a 94.8% vote;
"We, the undersigned, urge the provincial assembly to instruct the government to withdraw Bill 31, the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1995."
I affix my signature to this.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a petition from 375 people from the Riverdale area. It reads:
"Whereas the public secondary teachers of Ontario have taken a workplace democracy vote in accordance with Bill 7 and have rejected the proposed College of Teachers by a 94.8% vote;
"We, the undersigned, urge the provincial assembly to instruct the government to withdraw Bill 31, the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1995."
GREATER TORONTO AREA
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): I rise in the House today to join in the initiative of Oshawa Councillor Pauline Beal, who, along with Councillor Dina Dykstra, approached the residents of the city of Oshawa, and 10,244 stated:
"As residents and taxpayers of the city of Oshawa in the region of Durham, we are not in favour of being a part of the greater Toronto area."
I affix my signature.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I have a petition signed by 350 residents of the city of Hamilton which reads:
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas there is less than 1% of old-growth red and white pine remaining in the province of Ontario and the policy for the protection of Ontario old-growth forest that was recommended by the Old Growth Ecosystem Policy Advisory Committee has not been adopted in light of this government's announced cutbacks to the Ministry of Natural Resources in its plan to privatize timber land management;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"To govern and protect Ontario's remaining old-growth forests by implementing the government's campaign promise to establish a province-wide network of protected areas, including the Algoma highlands and Temagami."
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): This is to the Parliament of Ontario.
"Whereas Ontario's forest resources are vital to our economic future; and
"Whereas our forests in remote communities deserve adequate protection from the threat of fire; and
"Whereas in order to protect forests and communities and ensure the safety of fire crews, fire bases must be located strategically for rapid response; and
"Whereas the decision to close the Gogama fire base threatens not only Gogama's economic future but our citizens' property and our lives;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"That the Parliament of Ontario require the Minister of Natural Resources to keep the Gogama fire base open."
This is an eminently sensible request, to which I have attached my signature.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I have another petition from residents of 35 Shoreham Drive. I'll read it to the House.
"Whereas the Rent Control Act protects Ontario's 3.3 million tenants and allows for security and stability in their homes and communities; and
"Whereas lifting rent control in Ontario would leave tenants with uncontrollable rent increases and financial instability; and
"Whereas the Progressive Conservative government is considering changes to the Landlord and Tenant Act favouring easier and faster eviction by landlords,
"We, the undersigned tenants of 35 Shoreham Drive in North York, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to save rent control."
I agree with the contents of this petition and I will affix my signature to it.
COMMON SENSE REVOLUTION
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which reads:
"Whereas Mike Harris said on May 30, 1995, `If I don't live up to anything that I have promised to do and committed to do, I will resign'; and
"Whereas Mike Harris promised on May 3, 1995, `No cuts to health care spending,' but in his November 29 economic statement we see $1.3 billion, or 18%, in cuts to hospital spending over the next three years and a further $225-million cut from the health care budget; and
"Whereas Mike Harris has clearly broken his promise to defend health care cuts in funding; and
"Whereas Mike Harris promised in the Common Sense Revolution that, `This plan will create more than 725,000 new jobs,' but in his November 29 economic statement we see a prediction of only 253,000 jobs created over the next three years and an unemployment rate of 8.6% in two years, which is the same as it is today; and
"Whereas Mike Harris has clearly broken his promise to create significant jobs in the province; and
"Whereas Mike Harris promised in the Common Sense Revolution that, `Aid for seniors and the disabled will not be cut,' but in his November 29 economic statement Mike Harris is cutting the Ontario drug benefit plan and making seniors and the vulnerable pay for their drugs; and
Whereas Mike Harris has clearly broken his promise to seniors and the disabled;
"We, the undersigned, demand that Mike Harris keep his word and resign immediately."
I will gladly affix my name to this petition.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas Transition House in Chatham has provided emergency shelter to troubled or abused youth as well as support, counselling and life skills training since 1990, and operating on a five-year budget of $865,000 they have counselled over 400 youth and served over 20,000 meals; and
"Whereas the city of Chatham and the county of Kent rely on Transition House to meet the needs of its troubled youth and there is no other facility to serve the needs of the community; and....
"Whereas the principles of discipline, self-help and a regimented environment at Transition House have combined with counselling and support to provide youth with the motivation and self-respect to return to school or find jobs; and
"Whereas it has been shown that massive cuts to health services, school systems and social services has a definite impact on statistics of children and youth in crisis; and
"Whereas the government of Ontario has cut its direct funding to Transition House by almost $48,000 annually and placed the existence of Transition House in jeopardy;
"Be it therefore resolved that we, the undersigned, urge the government of Ontario to reverse its decision to cut the funding of Transition House in Chatham."
This is signed by a number of residents from Kent county and I affix my signature to it.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I bring here a petition from a number of residents at Moss Park who are quite concerned about the government's move to scrap rent control. It reads as follows:
"Whereas the Mike Harris Conservative government of Ontario is planning to destroy the present system of rent control; and
"Whereas Mike Harris and the Conservative Party made no mention of scrapping rent control during the election campaign of 1995 or in the Common Sense Revolution document; and
"Whereas a number of Conservative candidates in ridings with very high tenant populations campaigned during the 1995 election on a platform of protecting current rent control systems; and
"Whereas the government has consulted with special-interest groups representing landlords and developers while cutting funding to organizations representing the 3.5 million tenants of this province; and
"Whereas although all renters will suffer, seniors and others on fixed income will suffer particular hardship if rent controls are abolished;
"Therefore we, the undersigned, call upon the Legislature of Ontario to stop the attack on the 3.5 million tenants of this province and keep our present system of rent control."
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I have a petition from Eugene Lefrancois, a trustee with the Injured Workers Resource Centre in Thunder Bay. The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, wish to advise the Ontario Legislature that we are opposed to the government's plan to amend the Workers' Compensation Act. The government has a responsibility to consider and balance the concerns of all workplace parties, not just those of employer representatives, many of whom are not covered under the Workers' Compensation Act.
"Therefore, be it resolved that we, the undersigned, call upon all those who sit in the Legislature to rise up and denounce any plan to amend the current Workers' Compensation Act without the express approval of the Ontario Injured Workers Support Group.
"Be it further resolved that we, the undersigned, call upon the government to cease and desist its current course of action, the reduction of benefits and services, and meet with injured worker representatives across the province. We call upon the government to review those injured worker representatives' suggestions, and if they do not agree with the suggestions of injured workers we expect nothing less than the government explaining why it will not follow the suggestions of injured workers and to prove that their suggestions are not workable."
I am proud to sign my signature to that.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I have a petition from the riding of Oakwood to the Legislature of Ontario.
"Whereas the Harris government is planning to remove rent controls; and
"Whereas the removal of rent control legislation breaks the campaign promise made by the Conservatives during the election; and
"Whereas a great number of tenants are seniors and people on fixed incomes and many have had their income cut by 22% due to social assistance cuts and cannot afford increases in their rent; and
"Whereas growing unemployment and the scarcity of affordable housing in Metro make the removal of rent control an even greater disaster for tenants and for people who cannot afford to buy homes;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario as follows:
"That the government of Ontario keep their pre-election promise and not remove rent controls and continue with the Landlord and Tenant Act and the Rental Housing Protection Act."
I affix my name to this petition.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I have here yet another petition, this time people from Regent Park, in regard to rent control. It reads:
"Whereas security of tenure or the right to remain in our homes is a basic need of all people; and
"Whereas uncontrolled rent increases force many tenants from their homes for both economic and other reasons; and
"As the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Premier of Ontario have both expressed publicly their desire to abolish rent control;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly to protect the security of tenure of Ontario tenants by ensuring that the current rent control system remains in effect."
I affix my name to that petition.
COLLEGE OF TEACHERS
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I have a petition to the Ontario Legislature.
"Whereas the public secondary teachers of Ontario have taken a workplace democracy vote in accordance with Bill 7 and have rejected the proposed College of Teachers by a 94.8% vote;
"We, the undersigned, urge the provincial assembly to instruct the government to withdraw Bill 31, the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1995."
It's signed by a number of residents from Kent county, and I affix my signature.
LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): This petition reads as follows:
"To the government of Ontario:
"Whereas the government of Ontario appears to be moving towards the privatization of retail liquor and spirits sales in the province; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a safe, secure and controlled way of retailing alcoholic beverages; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides the best method of restricting the sale of liquor to minors in Ontario; and
"Whereas the LCBO has an excellent program of quality control of the products sold in its stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a wide selection of product to its customers in modern, convenient stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO has moved forward with the times, sensitive to the needs of its customers and its clients; and
"Whereas the LCBO is an important instrument for the promotion and sale of Ontario wine and thereby contributes immensely to the grape-growing and wine production industry;
"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario abandon its plan to turn the sale of liquor and spirits over to private liquor stores and retain the LCBO for this purpose."
I affix my signature to this petition as I am in agreement with its contents.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
LIONS FOUNDATION OF CANADA ACT, 1996
Mr Carr moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr58, An Act respecting the Lions Foundation of Canada.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LE MINISTÈRE DES RICHESSES NATURELLES
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 36, An Act to amend certain acts administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources / Projet de loi 36, Loi modifiant certaines lois appliquées par le ministère des Richesses naturelles.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): Mr Speaker, I wonder if the right time can show on the clock for the time I have remaining. I believe it was an hour.
Let me recap for the benefit of members who weren't here and who are here today some of the comments I was making on Thursday. They are as follows.
We have the Minister of Natural Resources who brought forward a bill on Thursday last to make some minor amendments to a number of bills under his jurisdiction as Minister of Natural Resources. He does so at a time when the fact of the matter is, his ministry is being gutted both in terms of the money they have available for management of natural resources and in terms of staff they have available to do the same. I find it passing strange that he would consider as a priority a bill that deals with some minor changes to several bills when at the same time he has on his hands in essence the gutting of a very important ministry, particularly in our special part of the province.
On Thursday, I talked about some of the changes that were occurring. First of all, with respect to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, the single most significant change the minister brings forward in this bill is a change that now adds new fees for those people who operate as independent loggers or jobbers in Ontario's forests, something that the minister, when he sat on committee, when he was critic of the Ministry of Natural Resources and was on this side, was very much opposed to. But the only significant, single change he brings forward with respect to that bill is a new set of fees for people who, as a matter of fact, are already operating on the edge in terms of the work they're trying to do in the forests and the work they're trying to do to feed their families.
I contrasted that with the comments he made when he was in opposition about the importance of sustainability, particularly with respect to the ability of Ontario to be able to sell wood products in the international market. The minister, when he sat on this side and was commenting on the then Bill 171, was very fierce in his determination that the bill be strong enough to uphold those principles of sustainability, that we could always be certain Ontario had sound and good forest management practice so that our companies and our businesses could compete in a global market in terms of selling wood products.
I would have thought the minister would have used this opportunity with this bill to reinforce those principles, to put forward some of those things he saw as weaknesses in order to strengthen the act he criticized when he was on this side, but he did not do that. I regret that.
I was going through, on Thursday, some of the things he is doing which directly contradict all of the fine speeches he made when he was on this side with respect to his supporting the principle of sustainability.
We have two problems. First of all, with the gutting of the MNR staff it is very clear to all of us on this side that the staff who remain in the ministry two years from now are not going to be capable of managing the forests. They're not going to be capable of monitoring reforestation, regeneration and cutting practices of the major pulp and paper and forestry companies that have access to timber limits.
Secondly, and far more importantly and more serious for us, is the fact that the direction the minister takes now to give away the timber resources on the crown management units in essence very much puts at risk sustainability of our forests, and we are very concerned about that.
There are three points I want to make in this regard. The first I made Thursday, which is that the turning over or the transferring of the crown management units into the hands of the big pulp and paper and forestry companies really puts the independent loggers of this province at risk, because they will have to go cap in hand to try and get allocations of wood. They may even have to get their licences from the big operators, and I think that puts them in a very precarious situation. I listed a number of comments from a number of people who agreed with me in that regard.
The second problem we have is that we have this transfer taking place in the province behind closed doors, secret negotiations with the big pulp and paper companies to turn over some 8.2 million hectares of crown land to them. There is no consultation going on with other groups and other interests that really have a right, and frankly have a responsibility as well, to be involved in any change with respect to the future of the crown management units.
We know that native organizations, aboriginal communities are not involved. We know northern Ontario communities are not involved, even though they might be adjacent to the crown management units and might like at some point to have access as well to those timber resources.
We know that a number of environmental groups that have a stake in protecting all of the values of the forests are not involved either. That is why as early as January of this year we called on the minister to stop the negotiations that were going on and to set in place a framework which would allow other users of the forests, other organizations and individuals who have an interest, to participate fully in determining what the future of the crown management units is going to be.
We are now at the beginning of May and we are no further ahead in terms of trying to open up this process and ensure that other Ontarians who have a right to use the forest as well can participate in that process.
One of the senior forestry officers at the Ministry of Natural Resources confirmed that it's hard to involve the public when you're dealing with private business discussions. That is the point. The fact is, other people, other forest users have a right to participate in this process. The timber limits are not the minister's to give away. They belong to all of the people in this province, and all of the people in this province have a right to participate in how those timber resources will be used and how they will be maintained for future use by people in this province.
We also know that in Sioux Lookout, for example, one reporter who is following the issue that we raised here in the House last December tried to get into one of the negotiating sessions that were going on in Sioux Lookout between the MNR and McKenzie Forest Products. Reporter Glynn Robinson was barred from attending one of these negotiating sessions.
District MNR manager Al Mathews explained to the Sioux Lookout Bulletin that there would be no role for the people of Sioux Lookout until after the deal was in place. That is going to be too late, because after the deal is done the other people who want to have a say in this important issue aren't going to be able to have that say. They aren't going to be able to make the important changes to ensure that other people have access to forests and natural resources in this province.
Clearly, to me and to our caucus it is unacceptable that the minister would continue with these negotiations and would bar other members of the public, other groups that have a right to participate, from participating. We think that's wrong and that in the end the negative effect will be that the sustainability which we are all concerned about, the ability of Ontario to sell its goods abroad, will be put at risk and that we'll lose by that kind of process.
The third fact is that the move to give away crown management units and the timber on them puts the whole principle of sustainability at risk. It puts at risk all the minister's fine words when he was on this side of the House. It puts Ontario's interests and Ontario's credibility at risk because we are not going to be able to prove to the international community, particularly the environmental community, that we do have sound practices here, that we are practising sustainability when it comes to regeneration, reforestation and cutting. I really think the government has to think about the risk it is putting people at who depend, in terms of their livelihood, on the forest industry in this province.
Let me talk about some comments that other people had to make about this. I referenced Robin MacIntyre, who is on the citizens' advisory board in Sault Ste Marie, last Thursday and I want to reference him again: "You hear a lot of words like `sustainability' being used but it really doesn't mean anything. It's just a trade word. The forest industry hasn't proven that they are able to monitor their own sites and take responsibility for selective cutting."
Probably the most important example of that comes from the work the MNR itself had done via consulting with respect to management of the Lac Seul forest. McKenzie Forest Products right now is the licensee in the Lac Seul forest, and MNR had some work done to determine what the practices were of that company and how they would affect sustainability. That report said: "The large discrepancy between harvest and regeneration activities reflects poor planning and poor implementation of regeneration strategies. The committee interprets this as a pursuit of short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability."
That comes directly from work the MNR had done on a management unit in northwestern Ontario. It was a serious and very important look at what the policies were by this particular company in terms of that forest. That company has a failing grade when it comes to the consultant's review of what is happening around reforestation, regeneration and harvesting on that unit.
If that is the case, if we know that is the fact now, while we have the resources that we do at MNR, before we have the 2,100 people laid off, why are we moving to a system where we will hand over even more crown resources to the big pulp and paper companies with no mechanism whatsoever to monitor what they do, control what they do, ensure that what they do is sound so Ontario will still be in a position to sell its products overseas?
That a government would do that in light of the evidence that is before us just boggles the mind. I have to ask this government, and the minister in particular, to step back from the negotiations going on now, give his head a shake and ask himself how we stand to lose in this province if we have repeat consultants' reports on other management units about other unsustainable forestry practices, and how that will put not only the companies at risk but all the thousands and thousands of people who work in that industry, especially in northern Ontario, at risk as well.
There's one other individual whom I want to quote, and it's interesting that this same individual made his comments after the minister tried to pitch his case several weeks ago at the convention for the Ontario Lumber Manufacturers' Association. I want to quote David Milton, who is with that association. I should point out that the association has 48 corporate members, 800 associate members, and it represents about 70% of the province's sawmill industry. A very significant portion of the sawmill industry is represented by this association.
Mr Milton had this to say about the minister's speech wherein he made the pitch for the turnover of the crown resources, the pitch that the ministry was going to set some new and wonderful standards and we were going to ensure that sustainability would be protected in that way:
"Continued cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources could eventually cripple the government's ability to manage the province's forests, said the head of the Ontario Lumber Manufacturers' Association.
"Association president David Milton said last week that the Conservative government's plan to speed up the long-standing trend towards transferring more forest management duties to the private sector could go too far. `They shouldn't give it all away. They should maintain some core competency within the Ministry of Natural Resources.'
"The government could effectively fail to achieve these goals" -- the goals were forest management and making sure Ontario forests remain competitive -- "if the minister chops too many of the natural resources forestry experts, Milton said later. `The ministry needs to keep some of those people or its policies will lose touch with reality,' he added."
It's not only people on our side, in this caucus, who are very concerned about the changes in the direction the minister is going in now. People in the industry, people whose livelihood will be affected by decisions being made by this government, are also very concerned, and they are speaking out with respect to that concern.
David Milton heads a very important organization in this province, an organization which employs literally thousands of people, particularly in our special part of the province in northern Ontario, and David Milton has made it clear that the government's direction in terms of laying off 2,100 staff and handing over protection and management of the forest more and more to the private sector is a wrongheaded approach. It could only lead to jeopardizing Ontario's position in the global economy. When someone like that, of his calibre, representing the number of businesses that he does, over 800 associate members in this province -- surely that should give cause to the government to step back and listen and review what it's doing, to think again about the consequences of an action it's taking which has to this point in time been behind closed doors and in secret.
In view of the debate we have before us, in view of the bill the minister has put before us, I would have thought that surely he would have recognized the importance of reinforcing the principles of sustainability and would have done everything he could in this bill to make sure the bill reflected those principles and to make any of those changes he talked about while in opposition to make sure the bill was strengthened and reflected those changes. But he has not, and instead we find ourselves in this House today debating a bill that, as a matter of fact, provides for only minor changes but which, when you look at the cuts along with the government direction, will have very substantial negative impact across the forestry industry in this province.
My second concern around sustainability -- actually my third, because I have a concern about how we can sustain our forests when we have the massive cuts we're experiencing, a concern about how we can sustain our forests when we are giving away our timber resources.
But I have a third concern with respect to sustainability; that is, in the context of all the cuts now occurring at the Ministry of Natural Resources, this government will be completely incapable of adhering to the provisions outlined in the class environmental timber assessment, an order which, I point out, has the force of law. A number of those recommendations were released some two years ago, a number of very important changes that need to take place in Ontario to ensure that we continue to have access to markets, to ensure that in fact our forests are sustainable and our resources are sustainable.
While those recommendations have the force of law, in the face of the massive cuts that the minister is intent on implementing in his own ministry, neither this Ministry of Natural Resources nor the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, which is supposed to be the ministry that oversees the work MNR does, will be capable of adhering to the order and the recommendations in it. That again will severely put at risk the sustainability of our forests and the people who work in those forests.
I want to talk a little bit about some of those recommendations and contrast what the ministry was told it should do in the order against the position it now finds itself in with 2,100 people going out the door over the next two years.
I might just begin by referring to the summary at the beginning of the decision, which says as follows: "Simply, our decision speaks to sustaining a healthy forest. We had to be persuaded that the planning process we would approve would be able to manage our forests as a perpetual renewal resource, carefully balancing the need for timber with the protection of equally important assets such as old-growth white and red pine, wildlife, water and recreation."
The board members said as follows in the decision summary: "Our approval is given only if MNR complies with a long and detailed set of conditions, many of which were negotiated by the parties to the hearing. Some of these conditions of approval come into effect immediately. Others impose deadlines for the MNR to complete research and investigations over the nine years our approval is in effect. When our approval lapses in the year 2003, the Minister of Environment and Energy will face the decision to extend or change it. Its temporary term means our approval will be tested in the forest. The successes and failures of the timber management planning process will be demonstrated. The results of monitoring will prove if MNR is protecting non-timber values. The results of research into biodiversity, conservation and landscape management will show if these are more than good ideas and can actually be implemented and produce the benefits that we expect."
The fact of the matter is, as I go through some of the conditions in the order, it is very clear to me, it is very clear to members on this side, that with the massive cuts of the MNR staff, the MNR will not be in a position to comply, nor will the Ministry of Environment and Energy be in a position to ensure that its sister ministry complies, because they too will not have enough staff to enforce any of the recommendations of the order or to ensure that MNR staff are in a position to respond to the order.
Let me just talk first about the planning process itself, because the order made it clear that there had to be a change around planning, and made it very clear that a large number of MNR staff had to be involved in the planning process that went on around timber management. The board recommended: "Each timber management plan, any amendment to a timber management plan and each contingency plan shall be prepared by a regional professional forester assisted by an interdisciplinary planning team and a local citizens' committee. The planning teams shall include representatives of the various programs of the Ministry of Natural Resources, including persons with expertise in the area of timber management, fish and wildlife biology, land administration, parks management, fire management and enforcement. The district manager may assign additional responsibilities to specific planning teams with regard to concerns or interests not represented."
Clearly, the recommendation is for a large number of MNR staff with very important and very specific expertise to be involved in the planning process. The fact is, most of those people whom I have just named are people whose positions are going to be lost over the next two years at the MNR. You can't take 2,100 people, 2,100 full-time equivalents, out of a ministry that only has 4,700 full-time equivalents and expect that the people who have this particular expertise are going to be able to participate in the planning processes outlined in the order. They can't do it. As much as those staff want to participate, as much as they should be participating, as much as they are supposed to participate by law, because the order has the force of law, the minister's gutting of his own staff effectively ensures that the planning teams as outlined in the order cannot be composed in the way they should be. There just won't be the staff with that expertise to participate in the important planning processes.
The board also made it clear that there had to be advisory committees and local citizens' committees established to work with the MNR planning team in the development of the timber management plans in each of the 90 areas across the province. They said, and I quote: "A number of local citizens representing a range and balance of interests shall be afforded expanded opportunities to participate in the timber management planning process through membership in a local citizens' committee. MNR shall establish at least one local citizens' committee for each district, and where needed, one for every management unit in the area of undertaking." There are 90 management units represented in the area of undertaking that was under review by the Environmental Assessment Board -- 90. So not only are we to be looking at 90 teams that are supposed to be leading the exercise on behalf of MNR; those same MNR staff also have an additional responsibility to bring those citizens' committees together and to support them in terms of providing research and other data.
There is no way, on a five-year rotation -- because that is what is expected in each of the management units -- that you are ever going to be able to ask the MNR staff who remain after two years to try to put those committees together, to try to support them, to try to help staff them up, to try to provide them with the expertise they need in terms of human resources, financial resources or the data they should have at their disposal to make good and rational decisions about planning in the management units. It will be impossible for the MNR staff to do that.
Over and above the citizens' committee, the timber EA board also made it clear that other people had interests in the forests. They might not be represented on the citizens' committee or the local advisory committees, but other people such as tourist operators, aboriginal people etc would also have an interest or specific concerns with individual timber management plans. Those members of the public also have to be afforded an opportunity to participate in the planning process, and they have to be afforded that opportunity under the order.
Many MNR districts do that now, but the timber EA group made it clear that that was to be part of the recommendations and also to have the force of law. They said: "The timber management planning team" -- the MNR staff -- "shall make diligent efforts to ensure ongoing public participation throughout the timber management planning process. As affected members of the public are identified, the planning team shall make reasonable efforts to communicate with those persons to solicit their input into the timber management planning process and to facilitate contact between them and the local citizens' committee. In addition, members of the public shall be afforded the opportunity to arrange for meetings with representatives of the planning team and the local citizens' committee at any time during the timber management planning process. Reasonable opportunities to meet planning team members during non-business hours shall be afforded."
Again, a tremendous responsibility for MNR staff, and with the lack of staff there will be at that ministry over the next two years, those staff who remain will not be in any way, shape or form capable of carrying out these important duties -- they just won't. Not only will they lose, because I suspect the majority of them, the vast majority of them, do want to comply with the order, but the public's going to lose as well, because the mechanisms that the EA board set out for them to participate will not be able to be maintained. They will have no effective voice, no effective vehicle to participate in what is for the province of Ontario a very important process to ensure that our forests are sustainable.
I talked about human resources, but a whole number of information resources have to be provided to the teams as well. The MNR, for example, has to provide a forest resource inventory for each management unit -- there are 90 of those. Fisheries and wildlife inventory information shall be made available for each forest management unit for use in the timber management process. A values map representing all the values outside of timber has to be provided in each management unit. And the list goes on and on. So not only do you have the staff who are there to support the process, but you have other staff in behind supporting the effort because they have to provide the data that people need to make informed decisions on. Again, the staff who are left are just going to be in no position to do that. They will not even be able to manage what's going on in the forest. They will have difficulty dealing with, for example, conservation offices, how to deal with the black bear hunt and other things that I want to talk about, but those staff won't be in a position to provide the information people need to make informed decisions. That will be contrary to all of the recommendations that were outlined in the order.
The panel also made some very specific recommendations around aboriginal people and I want to spend just a moment on those. They had a number of aboriginal groups and first nations that came before them over the course of the time the hearings sat to talk about how they have been for a number of years very specifically shut out of realizing any of the benefits that come from being able to participate either in cutting or in working in a mill. They have been effectively shut out from benefiting from the use of natural resources in our province.
The EA board said the following: "The evidence we received on employment, poverty and access to off-reserve timber convinced us of the historical and present-day exclusion of native communities from sharing in the social and economic benefits enjoyed by non-native communities from timber operations on crown land."
Because of that exclusion and because of the concern that was raised by many aboriginal organizations and communities that came before the board, the panel made the following recommendation:
"During the term of this approval, MNR district managers shall conduct negotiations at the local level with aboriginal peoples whose communities are situated in a management unit, in order to identify and implement ways of achieving a more equal participation by aboriginal peoples in the benefits provided through timber management planning. These negotiations will include but are not limited to the following matters:" provisions around job opportunities, supplying wood to sawmills, facilitating aboriginal third-party licences, providing timber licences to aboriginal people, the development of programs to train aboriginal people, and a number of other conditions that are outlined in the report.
The fact is that the district managers, those who are left -- and there won't be a whole lot of them by the time the downsizing occurs at MNR -- will be completely incapable of carrying on any kind of consultation with aboriginal communities. That's a real shame, because clearly, after the representations that were made by aboriginal communities a number of times before it, the EA panel became very convinced that aboriginal people had to have a share in the benefits that we in the non-aboriginal communities take for granted. They made it very clear that MNR had to undertake negotiations, had to make some very serious efforts to ensure that aboriginal people could participate in the same way that other people participate in the benefits from forest resources.
The situation we will find ourselves in is that despite the best efforts of those MNR district managers who remain in the ministry after the cuts occur, they will be incapable as well of doing any solid negotiations, any meaningful or long-term negotiations with aboriginal people to ensure that they also have a role and a place in our economy.
We will continue to see, as we do in many places in northern Ontario, large pulp and paper and forestry companies cutting directly adjacent to first nation communities and no first nation peoples involved in either the cutting or the sawmill or the forestry operations; none, no benefits being accrued to those first nation communities at all. You'll continue to see 85% unemployment in those communities, large social problems in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, many violence problems in those communities, and no opportunity whatsoever for people who want to participate to have the vehicle or the mechanism to do so.
The government will wear that, because they have an opportunity through this order, through the recommendations that were made, to change that, and they will be unable to do that because of the cut in staff that they are carrying out at this important ministry. That's a shame, and I think this government will have a lot to answer for when we look four years down the road and see that the order has not been implemented and that native people have not benefited one iota from gaining access to important timber resources that they have a right to share in as well in this province.
On the enforcement side and in terms of the ability of MNR staff to conduct audits, the ministry will find itself in a position of not being able to comply with the order. The order says very clearly:
"MNR shall monitor the timber management activities of access, harvest, renewal and maintenance for effects, effectiveness and compliance with approved timber management plans and any other conditions imposed on operations by legislation or policy....
"MNR shall undertake long-term scientific studies to assess the effectiveness of provincial guidelines for fish and moose habitat and tourism values....
"MNR shall develop and implement a provincial wildlife population monitoring program within the area of undertaking" -- within the 90 management units.
Time and again, with respect to the responsibilities they have around providing information, the responsibilities they have around monitoring, the responsibility they have around audits -- which in the case of the order is, "Each forest management agreement in the province shall be audited every five years" -- the staff who are left, despite all their best intentions, will not be able to carry out all of the recommendations in the order.
The Ministry of Environment and Energy, which is supposed to ensure that MNR staff comply, will also be unable to even determine what's happening at the MNR, because with the cut in staff that's going on at that ministry, they won't have a clue what's happening in the forests of Ontario and they won't have a clue what the large forestry and pulp and paper companies are doing when it comes to regeneration, reforestation and harvesting practices.
All this government does by those cuts and by that kind of consequence is to put at risk our ability to prove that we are sustainable in terms of our forest management practices and that our products that we sell should be sold in that light as well. That's not going to happen, and we will end up in this province with a serious credibility problem in terms of our position in the international community, be it environmental, be it in the market that we sell into, and we will put at risk as well all of those people in our special part of the province, in northern Ontario in particular, who depend for their livelihood on the sale of forestry products in the province.
The point I want to make in terms of sustainability is that we have a minister who has come forward and made some changes. The most significant change he has made around the Crown Forest Sustainability Act is to impose new fees on independent loggers. When he had an opportunity to reinforce the principles of sustainability, when he had an opportunity to identify the weaknesses he identified in the act when he was over here, when he had that opportunity to make some changes, he went the other way.
We find ourselves in a position today where we will not have the staff who are capable of ensuring sustainability and we have a government that is moving forward to transfer, to give up, to abandon, to give away resources that belong to all of the people of the province and hand them over, through a secret negotiation process, to the large forestry and pulp and paper companies without any other users of the forest having a say in that direction or having a say in what the consequences of that would be.
I think the minister has missed the boat. He had a golden opportunity in terms of actually getting time on the legislative agenda to bring forward a bill, and he blew it, because the direction he's taking, the gutting of the staff he is presiding over makes the bill he brings forward a mockery. He can't even enforce some of the forest management obligations that are outlined in the act or the obligations around other resources in the province -- fish and wildlife, for example -- he can't even ensure that those are going to be monitored or sustained. He puts at risk the larger principle of sustainability, which surely should be very important to this government, because it sure is important to the people who work in the forestry industry in northern and southern Ontario.
I want to spend just a bit of time talking about two other issues that I think are particularly important. The amendments to the Game and Fish Act, the ones the minister has put forward, we agree with. We agree that there should be a change and that there will be a change to limit the licence for the bear hunt to one licence per year per hunter. We also agree with the change that forbids the sale of bear parts in Ontario. Those are two important changes.
But I continue to have very significant concerns about the ability of this ministry to manage the bear population in the province, to even know what the bear population is in the province when it doesn't have any staff to make those determinations and when it doesn't have any staff to deal with poaching or illegal sale. Even though we are banning the sale of bear parts in the province, there will be people who will continue. The MNR staff, in some way, shape or form, will be asked to play a role in that illegal trade, and those staff won't be there to deal with those important issues.
We have some really serious problems, specifically, frankly, at the Ministry of Natural Resources. We do not have good, factual information regarding the bear population in the province of Ontario. We do not have good, factual information regarding the number of bears that are killed annually in the province, and we do not have good, factual information regarding what the allowable hunt should or could be, and how it can be sustained in a number of different parts of the province.
Unfortunately, the bill as presented to us, the amendments that are made, does not come to grips with those important issues, does not come to grips with how we get a handle on dealing with the bear population, what it is, how we can manage it, how we can ensure it's going to be sustained, how we can ensure that the two hunts that take place in the spring and fall will not result in a population that is not sustainable over the long run. There is nothing in the bill that deals with any of those very serious issues.
For the minister to say that we're going to somehow be able to manage what will become the illegal sale of parts -- and we're going to have conservation officers involved in that process because I assume they are going to have to be -- those staff will be incapable of doing that. Those are the same staff that are going to be laid off in the 2,100 people that are going out the door over the next two years. So we're not even going to be able to manage the bill that's put before us, never mind all of the other important issues that we should be dealing with around the bear population in the province.
Let me give you a couple of examples. We know that the MNR does not have good information about the number of bears that are killed each year because there is no requirement for mandatory reporting of the same. We have numbers around the number of bears that are killed through the hunt, but we don't have any numbers because there's no requirement to figure out how many bears are destroyed, for example, as nuisance bears in provincial parks or in other places, and there were large numbers of bears that were killed last summer in particular because they started coming into communities in their search for food. MNR staff in different areas took a different approach on how to deal with that, but there is no mandatory requirement for making sure we have a reporting of the same.
We also don't have any mandatory requirements around those bears that are killed, for example, as a result of vehicles, either by car or by train, and we need to get a handle on what the numbers are, how many bears are killed, because we have to get a much clearer sense of what the population is in the province.
We know, for example, that the source of data on bears comes to us because it's voluntary. Those hunters that are involved in the survey do that on a voluntary basis. They complete it on a voluntary basis, and that doesn't give us very good access to very concrete or solid information about what the population is.
We know there is nowhere near enough research now being done to substantiate the basis for the current allowable annual hunt, and we've got a current study that was based on results from a study that was done many years ago in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence region. We have another study that's under way right now in northeastern Ontario, but no study at all in northwestern Ontario about what can be sustained in terms of a hunt in different regions across the province, and we have got to get a handle on that if we are going to ensure that the bear population is sustainable in the province.
We also know we don't have very good information about the value of the hunt itself, what the economic value is in terms of real dollars, particularly in northern Ontario, because that's where many of the tourist outfitters operate; what that economic value is in the province and what the returns are to us. We also have to get a handle on that. We have to get some very clear sense of what the hunt means, what the revenue is that comes to the province, and nowhere in this bill do we have any provision for that to occur.
The problem you've got is that in the face of the MNR cuts, you're certainly not going to get answers to those problems. You're also not going to be able to monitor the bear population in the way we should, in light of the MNR cuts. We certainly won't be in a position to do the necessary research or the study or the data collection which we have to do to determine what the population is, how we manage it and how we ensure that as we have hunts, both in the spring and the fall, if those continue, that we have in different parts of the province a hunt that is sustainable so we will have a bear population that is sustainable. Nowhere in the changes the minister talks about when he talks about the changes to the Game and Fish Act do we have provisions for any of those very important items.
The third issue I want to deal with also goes back to the ability of the MNR not only to fulfil its forest management obligations, which the minister referenced in his speech, but also to fulfil some very important responsibilities it has in the forest right now in terms of protecting timber, protecting life and protecting private property. I'm speaking about MNR's current responsibility to deal with fire protection in the province.
We on this side are, frankly, appalled at the announcement the minister made in the business plan some two weeks ago. In that business plan he made it clear that of the 19 fire bases in the province, 17 are going to be cut. For the life of me, especially in light of the bad fire season we had last year, I cannot begin to understand why this Minister of Natural Resources would be closing fire centres across this province.
All of us know that the only way to get the fires under control is to have the quickest possible response in the bush. Closing, for example, the station in Gogama and expecting the folks in Timmins to respond will not only really put the people who live near Gogama at risk and put their personal and private property at risk; it will also put at risk the timber and the bush we rely on, that a number of people rely on to sustain their families. It's going to put the forest firefighters at risk as well, because by the time they get to the scene of a fire they're going to have a fire that's raging out of control.
To say that it's adequate, that it's okay, that it's all right that we can expect up to an hour's response time while people travel, for example, from Fort Frances to Lynn Lake, near Atikokan, another base that's going to be shut down, that it's somehow okay that we now have an hour's response time to deal with a forest fire is just ridiculous. It's not okay, it's not all right, it doesn't make any sense, and it certainly is going to put a lot of people and property at risk.
The other thing I found most interesting is that as we reviewed the list we got from MNR, a list of all the MNR facilities in the province and an indication of those that are going remain open and those that are due to close, we noted with interest that of the 19 fire bases that appear in the document the ministry gave us, the document entitled Facilities Operations Impact, the two that remain are in Conservative ridings, one in the Minister of Finance's riding and the other in the riding of the minister himself. I am referring directly to this Facilities Operations Impact which we received from the minister's office the day after the business plans were released -- or the summary of the business plans. We found that passing strange, that those are the only two that are going to remain open.
I have to ask the minister if he might provide to this House some indication of what the responses were to fires in the 17 other bases that are going to close and in the two that are left open. I know and my northern colleagues in this House today know that we had a very serious fire situation right across northern Ontario last year. Tremendous resources were used to deal with that situation, tremendous numbers of Ontario firefighters were involved and tremendous numbers of people had to come from other jurisdictions to help deal with that situation.
I would be very interested in seeing the data with respect to the firefighting and the fire protection action that took place in those 17 bases that are closing in comparison to the two that are left open. I think that would tell a very important story. I suspect those in northern Ontario desperately need to be kept open if we're going to deal in any way, shape or form in an adequate way with the kind of fire season we had last year.
The other thing that really astounds me is that we will go ahead and close these fire bases, and I assume that in closing the fire bases we will also lay off some of the staff associated with those fire bases, and at the same time, if we run into a fire season that we had last year, we'll be put into the unfortunate situation we found ourselves in last year of really having to depend on a lot of outside jurisdictions to help us.
The ministry provided me with some of the financial information with respect to the costs we incurred, although some of the bills are still coming in, so they are estimated costs at this point, for the out-of-province services we had in helping us with the 1995 fire season. The estimates include the overtime costs, supplies, accommodation and transportation. They don't include the actual regular hours where people are working, because that is not billed. There is an agreement between all of the provinces and the States whereby the regular hours that people fight are not billed between the parties, but all other costs are.
Do you know that last year, to deal with the fire season we had, the province of Ontario spent more than $9.4 million on out-of-province services to help us deal with that situation? I'm not saying that shouldn't have been done; of course it should have been. We all appreciate the position people were put in. We all appreciate what happened to a number of communities where people had to be evacuated. But the point I'm making is that this minister has seen fit, in the exercise to cut costs, which is an exercise only to give a tax break to the rich and famous in the province, to look at closing down fire bases and I suspect to look at laying off a number of the staff associated with that.
We spent $9.4 million last year just calling on out-of-province resources to come and help. What's the situation going to be for us in Ontario when those fire bases, those 17, are closed and the staff associated with the same are laid off? What kind of additional and significant and increased costs are we going to incur when we have to bring people from out of province because we don't have the staff here to deal with those very serious situations?
I have to wonder what is driving some of the decisions around the business plan, only parts of which we saw in this House a couple of weeks ago. Who is making any of these decisions? Who is thinking about the risks we are asking people to put themselves and their property in and the additional costs that we might be asked to pay as a jurisdiction when we have to go looking elsewhere to get both the financial and the human resources -- well, the human resources, and certainly the supplies -- that we need to deal with a bad fire season?
I would say to the minister that in terms of any kind of protection around the forests, the protection of timber limits that companies or independent loggers have access to, the protection of private property and the protection of people, particularly those who live in our special part of the province, this minister by his cuts really is putting all of those people and all of that property at risk. I really have to wonder, is the tax cut worth it?
We're really going to have to look this season when the fires start, because they will, at what the costs of that will be: what the costs will be in terms of us having to import people from outside to deal with it, what the costs will be in terms of a response time and a loss of private property, and hopefully not a loss of people's lives because of an inadequate response time because bases are closed. We're going to have to see what happens this summer, because I think between this summer and next, with all the cuts that are going through, you're going to see a dramatic but much more negative situation with respect to this government's and this ministry's ability to deal with this very important matter.
I know a number of my other colleagues want to participate in the debate and many of them can actually talk about very specific examples in their own ridings both with respect to fire bases and with respect to either the district offices or the other MNR facilities that are going to close in their ridings. They can make a much more eloquent case about what that's going to mean in terms of people getting laid off, families having to move and a loss of revenue in those communities.
But I do want to conclude by saying the following. I find it passing strange that this minister would have considered this bill a priority in the face of the gutting that he is involved in in terms of his own ministry, both in terms of staff and in terms of financial resources, to carry out the very important protection of natural resources that his ministry has a responsibility to do. Again, it reminds me of a situation that the Minister of Education and Training found himself in in this House some three weeks ago, when in the face of huge layoffs of teachers across the province, the important issue for this minister and this government was the College of Teachers.
Surely the minister should hang his head in shame that he is part and parcel of a government that is in effect destroying a very important ministry in this province, a ministry that has particular importance in northern Ontario, particular importance because of the large number of people employed in many small communities across northern Ontario and a huge significance in terms of the important responsibilities those staff have in managing forestry resources, in managing and protecting other natural resources that belong to all the people of the province. I just can't believe that in the face of all this he would consider this bill, with its minor changes, to be the most important thing facing the people of the province of Ontario. He should stand up and start to lobby for his ministry, start to lobby for his staff, start to do something to ensure that he is going to be responsible for managing and protecting the natural resources, which belong not just to him and are not his to give away but which belong to all the people in the province, and to ensure we are protecting and managing them for the use of future generations.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Questions or comments?
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I congratulate my colleague the member for Sudbury East in regard to her presentations of last week and this afternoon on this very important bill. I think she hits the nail on the head in regard to what she says in relationship to this bill and to the overall approach this government is taking to a whole bunch of issues, but mainly to this one to forest management.
We are turning over the control of our forests to the forest companies. We are saying, under this bill and under the direction of this government, that we are going to move away from crown units being managed in the name of the people of this province by MNR and we're going to take those crown forests and move them into the control of larger business enterprises.
I have always believed there has to be a good balance between private sector involvement, be it in forestry or any other business, and at the same time, especially when it comes to resources like our forests, the public, which has to play a large role in that. Who but the government of Ontario is to play that role, because that is the entity that represents the people when it comes to those forests?
Many members in this House may not understand what that means. You might think of that, in your zeal to move crown forests over to companies, as being a good thing for the private sector -- quite the contrary. This means that you're going to force out many small operators who rely on crown forests to be able to access timber so that they can go out and sell timber to the forest companies and allow competition to happen within our forest harvesting business. In moving them from crown units like you are doing now and putting them into larger entities, you're going to force out many small contractors in northern Ontario, and I would say in some places in central Ontario, who rely on crown units to get access to wood to make a living and deliver wood to the forest companies of this province. In moving those units over into the larger companies, such as is being done with this bill, you're making this much more of a big business rather than a fair business opportunity for all the people of Ontario, and in the end the large companies will control everything and the small guy yet again will get it on the ear.
Mr Rob Sampson (Mississauga West): I'm pleased to rise for just a few minutes to talk to this subject. You might ask, "What does the member for Mississauga West know about the natural resource policies of this province?" As part of my previous life in the finance community I had a chance to deal with a few private corporations that had significant involvement in the forest products sector of this province.
I remind the member who spoke previously that it was actually the NDP government that started a rather interesting process of trying to determine the appropriate utilization for the significant surplus resource in the form of poplar in northern Ontario. They started a process whereby they entertained a series of proposals from the private sector, which to a large degree went this way: "Mr Private Sector, we think we believe that there's a surplus of underutilized poplar in northern Ontario. We don't know where it is. We think we might know where it is but we really don't know where it is, and we don't know how to properly utilize it, so please come to us and help us, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the government of Ontario, to try to understand what we have in northern Ontario, how much is there and how it could be utilized." These are questions they were asking of the private sector. These are questions that the managers of our resources, as the previous government would have us believe, were asking of the private sector. And by the way, they said: "Should you be lucky to win the award to use the fibre, you've got to tell us exactly where it is, because we don't know. We have no idea."
I would put to you that this is not the format of management we would like to see this province follow in that regard.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): As always, the member for Sudbury East was entertaining. I was interested and I think we all are interested in timber allocation across the province and how that takes place. I think the member for Mississauga West correctly identified the fact that the Crown Forest Sustainability Act came into place under an NDP government and that the privatization through that bill was what the minister is using today.
The question of crown land units: In northern Ontario and even parts of central Ontario, crown land units are the problem in this. They are the problem in that, at least from a government's point of view, the crown forest sustainability licences are basically held by large companies. The smaller ones, the crown management units, as you would know, Mr Speaker, are those that smaller independents use. Everybody in northern Ontario knows that how that wood supply is allocated affects communities, because the community with the sawmill that no longer has the supply of wood is no longer a community with jobs in that sawmill. So it impacts on large groups.
During the hearings on the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, Mr Speaker, you would know that I asked repeatedly at committee that there be an open process for the allocation of wood, and I was refused over and over and over by Mr Wood, who is the member for Cochrane North. So for the NDP to come in here and say, "Privatization is terrible. There should be an open process," give me a break. Give us all a break.
That doesn't take away from the minister's responsibility to fix that problem now. The only thing he's offering is he's offering these private operators an opportunity to pay more money.
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I'm somewhat taken aback by the comments of the member for Algoma-Manitoulin. I could not but wonder where he's been for the last number of years, to be saying those things which are so, to say the least, inaccurate in his comments.
Interjection: And mean-spirited.
Mr Laughren: If not mean-spirited. That's correct.
What's become abundantly clear with the way in which the present government is dealing with issues in the north is that they really don't have very good outreach and communications in northern Ontario, and that's a problem, when you don't have any members up north. I mean, it's true the Premier is from North Bay, but I don't know how much he's involving himself with Ministry of Natural Resources issues. I suspect not very much. I don't know how he could.
So you've got a real problem that's developing in the way in which the government relates to northern Ontario, and there's an increasing lack of credibility in some of the things the government is doing. That's very unfortunate, and I don't think it's simply crass politics, that the government doesn't care because they've got no members up there. I don't think any government is that stupid. But I do think it means the government has not yet learned what's important in northern Ontario, because the Minister of Natural Resources, to give a clear example of someone who's the best example of not knowing what he's doing, stood up in the House and said, "I'm proud of the fact that when we announced all those layoffs, only 45% of them were from the north." Well, somebody had to remind him -- I think it was my colleague from Sudbury East -- that that meant that less than 10% of the population of the province was absorbing 45% of the cuts and that his ministry offered up more cuts than anybody else so that his Tory friends could have their tax cut.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Sudbury East has two minutes.
Ms Martel: I'd like to thank those who participated in the responses, and I'm sorry that the member for Mississauga West has left, because I do remember him in his role at Chase Manhattan helping some of those companies finance some of the new mills they wanted to build, and he did a very creditable job when we was there. But I was involved in many, many sets of briefings that went on over the issue of wood supply for the different mills that were proposed across northern Ontario in particular, and I say to the member that he does a disservice to the MNR staff who were involved in that process -- and it wasn't only MNR staff; MNDM staff were involved as well in looking at wood supply. He does a disservice to those good folks to suggest in any way, shape or form that they had no idea what was going on and they were intent on giving away whatever was there or having the companies themselves find the wood that was necessary.
The fact of the matter is, in more than one case the companies that were involved in the process wanted much more wood to be allocated to them than MNR was prepared to give. I was involved in a number of discussions where those companies were coming before the government and saying: "Give us more wood or we're out of this process. Give us more wood or we're not going to build the mill in Ontario."
The minister at the time had to go back again and again to the advice he was getting from the MNR staff, support those staff and say to the folks who wanted more and more wood: "You're not going to have it. There's a lot of wood. It can be shared among a number of users. It's going to be shared not only with some of the bigger companies, but first nations people are going to have access to it and other non-native communities are going to have access to it. We're not going to be held to ransom by you wanting more and more in terms of building that mill here."
Those were the kinds of discussions that went on, and the MNDM and MNR staff did an excellent job through that whole process in protecting our natural resources in this province.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): I rise today to speak to Bill 36, the Ministry of Natural Resources Statute Law Amendment Act. I'm pleased to do so. I'm compelled, however, to set the record straight regarding this government's commitment to ecological sustainability and the responsible management of Ontario's natural resources.
I find it interesting to listen this afternoon to the member for Sudbury East, who had a great deal to say about the effect the cost-saving measures of this government are going to have on natural resources and the stewardship of natural resources in this province. It's not surprising that the member feels spending a lot of money and having a large staff is the solution to all the problems in this province. It's also quite obvious that isn't the answer, because if spending money were the solution, then we wouldn't have the kind of problems in this province that we have today.
Clearly the people spoke on June 8. They want a government that is responsible, that won't be spending as much money, that won't be spending money we don't have but that will apply some business principles to not only natural resource management but also the fiscal management of our province.
I'm glad the member for Algoma-Manitoulin is here today because I'd like to have the opportunity to set the record straight on a number of things he said during debate last week on this act. He accused the government of not caring about the natural resources in this province. He would like you to believe a Conservative government is a government that doesn't care about conservation, that doesn't care about the environment, doesn't care about the protection of the natural heritage of this province.
Let me set the record straight. The fact of the matter is that it was the last Conservative government in this province that added some 130 -- and let me repeat that: 130 -- parks to Ontario's parks system. This was one of the most significant steps in the history of the provincial parks system and positioned the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a world leader in conservation.
Since that time successive governments, and I refer to the previous Liberal government and the previous NDP government -- it was successive governments since then that accounted for the decline of Ontario in that circumstance. Those two consecutive governments, Liberal and New Democrat, who today are telling us what we should be doing were responsible for the devolution of the rating of Ontario by the World Wildlife Fund to a rating of D+ under the previous NDP government, not what I would consider an admirable track record on the issue of conservation.
Ontario's decline from a world leader did not happen overnight. The previous governments left us with a lot of catching up to do, not only catching up to do in the area of natural resource management, but catching up to do in the area of fiscal management in this province. Tomorrow, when you hear the budget, you should be encouraged that not only will sustainability of the economy of this province be addressed, but sustainability as well of conservation in this province. The people of this province will recognize that we have our priorities straight.
In fact, on April 30, the Ontario government and the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced Ontario Parks Legacy 2000, a new and innovative partnership using public and private funds to help complete a system of parks and other protected areas in Ontario by the year 2000.
While I'm on this topic, I found it shocking that my colleague from Algoma-Manitoulin suggested that the Nature Conservancy would use this partnership to, and I quote, "recycle donated dollars" to purchase previously donated lands from conservation authorities. I'm particularly disappointed at such a cynical view of what I believe will be a very important partnership in the province of Ontario in the interests of natural resource management. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a highly respected national organization that is dedicated to securing and protecting significant natural areas in Canada, and I'm appalled that the member would suggest that this partnership would be misused in any way. There will be time for the honourable member to withdraw his remarks later on in this debate.
On April 1, the Minister of Natural Resources took another significant step in the history of the provincial parks system when he announced the creation of Ontario Parks. Ontario Parks is the first entrepreneurial system of its kind in the province. This announcement, in conjunction with the amendments contained in Bill 36, will allow the parks system to retain and reinvest park revenue. This reinvestment is something that has never before been done in this province, to actually allocate and dedicate funds from the parks system back into the parks system in the province. It's designed to meet the goals and objectives of the existing parks system while managing parks much more effectively than in the past.
The proposed amendments to the Provincial Parks Act will allow the government to operate the provincial parks in a much more businesslike manner. The ability to retain and reinvest park revenue will support the integrity of Ontario's parks system and ensure the protection of our natural and cultural heritage. These changes will also ensure the provision of quality programs and services to the people in this province over the next number of years.
One of the amendments to the Provincial Parks Act provides for the delegation of authority for park management and broadens the ability of the ministry and of the government to work with private partners. Again, much has been said about the fact that this is a sellout on the part of government to the private sector. We suggest to you that the people of this province will realize many more benefits as a result of the partnership with the private sector to bring efficient management to the parks system in this province.
Contrary to what the members opposite have said, this is not an attempt to turn the parks into Disneyland, nor is it intended to compete with private campgrounds such as KOA. As my honourable colleague the member for Algoma-Manitoulin said in his comments, it is true that the provincial parks are not in any way comparable to the KOAs, nor are they intended to be, nor will they ever be. They are unique; they will remain unique and I would suggest that no matter who manages it, whether those parks are managed by government, by the private sector, they will continue to remain public parks and they will remain a natural heritage of our province.
There are four objectives of the provincial parks program: first, the protection of significant elements of our natural and cultural landscape; second, the opportunity for exploration and appreciation of our natural and cultural heritage; third, the provision of recreational opportunities, ranging from daytime as well as wilderness experiences; and fourth, the encouragement of economic benefits through tourism.
With regard to the issue of broadening the ability of government to work with the private sector, Ontario already, as the honourable member may realize, operates five provincial parks in cooperation with the private sector. These are Sioux Narrows, MacLeod, Ferris, Carson Lake and Selkirk. We're currently negotiating with potential partners for other provincial parks, and we believe the same kind of efficient management that now exists in those five parks in the province will be extended to additional parks throughout the province.
Make no mistake: A provincial park remains a provincial park whether it is managed by the province or whether it's managed by a local partner. In both cases, the objectives and the standards of the provincial park system must and will be maintained.
I'd like to now turn my attention to the amendments to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. Before I speak to the amendments, however, I'd like to take a moment to address some of the accusations that have been made by the member for Sudbury East. I'm sorry she's not here.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has been wrongly accused --
Mr Klees: The honourable member takes exception to the fact that I'm referring to the fact that the honourable member is not here. I'll be happy to withdraw that comment. I thought she would be very interested in knowing what the government believes and why we're taking the initiatives that we are.
The Minister of Natural Resources has been wrongly accused of negotiating sustainable forestry licences in secret. As the member for Sudbury East knows all too well -- after all, it was her government that drafted Bill 171 and she should surely be aware of the details of that bill -- all potential candidates for a sustainable forest licence are required to prepare a draft business proposal. Throughout the development of the business plan, potential licensees are required to consult with all stakeholders and address their concerns. The process requires --
Mr Laughren: Point of order. I apologize for interrupting the member, but I was just wondering if the member could tell us whether he knows if the minister's going to be here for this debate on his bill this afternoon.
The Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order.
Mr Bisson: On a further point of order, Mr Speaker: It clearly states in the rules of the House that you're not supposed to mention a member's absence, and I understand that, but in the speech --
The Deputy Speaker: There's nothing out of order.
Mr Bisson: You have to hear the point of order, Mr Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: I'll ask the member to try to be careful and obey all the rules and I would ask him to continue.
Mr Klees: The process, as I was saying, requires that all affected parties are aware of the process --
Mr Bisson: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: You have another point of order?
Mr Bisson: Mr Speaker, the standing orders are very clear. It says that a member is not to mention the absence of another member in the House. Listen to the point of order, Mr Speaker. The member who has the floor, as he proceeded with his speech, mentioned that the member for Sudbury East wasn't here. You didn't rule him out of order; you ruled the member for Nickel Belt out of order, and I'd ask him to withdraw his comment.
The Deputy Speaker: I ask the member to be careful. This matter was not brought up at the time it was addressed. I ask all members to obey the rules of the House. I'm sure you will want to hear the rest of the debate. I would like to recognize the member for York-Mackenzie.
Mr Klees: As a matter of fact, I believe the record will show that I voluntarily offered to withdraw my remarks, which I did. I will certainly be much more careful the next time on that particular point.
The process requires that all affected parties are aware of the process, and the draft sustainable forest licence is subject to a formal 30-day review process.
The member for Sudbury East, in her remarks, made reference to the fact that local citizens' committees have to be brought into the process. She was concerned that there wouldn't be consultation with local citizens' committees. The fact of the matter is, and I think it's important for the record, those local citizens' committee are in place and will be in place with every application.
Furthermore, sustainable forest licence proponents are also required to honour all existing wood commitments and provide a meaningful role for existing local forestry businesses and communities. It's an open process now, it has been an open process in the past and it will continue to be an open process in the future. The member for Sudbury East knows it well.
With regard to what the member opposite has referred to as the giveaway of crown land, this is not true and the member knows it is not true. She knows very well that her statement in this regard is unfounded. The granting of a sustainable forest licence does not convey a transfer in the ownership of crown lands or forests.
Section 36 of the act provides that a forest resources licence, which includes a sustainable forest licence, does not confer or transfer any interest or right of exclusive possession of land to the licensee. In short, crown forest and lands remain firmly under the control of the crown, as represented by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
I remind the member once again that all major licensees are subject to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act and the conditions of the licence are set by the minister. The ministry retains all plan approvals, sets all licence terms and conditions, sets regulations which are enforced, and monitors operations for compliance.
There is a legally binding forest management planning process in place which must be followed, and we will ensure it is followed. Independent audits will be conducted to standards set by the Ministry of Natural Resources. In short, we will set the standards and enforce the law. We will approve the plans and penalize substandard performance. In no way will those standards be compromised by this government.
Finally, I'd like to address the most outrageous accusation made by the member for Sudbury East yet, and that is the accusation that the Minister of Natural Resources does not have the legal authority to grant a sustainable forest licence. I would like to point out that this is a very serious charge. I can only assume that the member is ill informed of the facts or she would not have made that statement in this House. It would appear that the member for Sudbury East has a lapse of memory. As the member knows full well, it was her previous government that drafted the bill and granted the Minister of Natural Resources this authority.
For the record and for the benefit of the member for Sudbury East and her colleagues, let me explain: Subsection 26(1) of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act gives the minister full authority to "grant a sustainable forest licence to harvest forest resources in a management unit." There are no restrictions on his powers under the act to grant a sustainable forest licence based on the nature of the management unit. The Crown Forest Sustainability Act makes no distinction between management units, and the ministry has clear legal authority under the act to grant sustainable forest licences on all units, including former crown management units.
Now that the record has been corrected, I'd like to turn my attention to the amendments to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. Subsection 1(1) of Bill 36 allows the minister to enter into agreements with the forest industry so that MNR can perform certain management activities that are the obligation of the licensee but that the licensee chooses not to perform because they do not have either the ability or the capacity to perform those functions.
The member for Sudbury East suggests this is somehow an imposition on the industry. In fact, she condemns that amendment, suggesting it is simply an imposition of fees. The fact of the matter is that this is a welcome amendment to this act because it allows the smaller players to become involved in this industry in a way that previously they had been precluding from doing. In fact, it was the previous government that effectively closed out much of the activity in this industry to the smaller players. This amendment will level the playing field and help smaller forest companies meet the requirements necessary to obtain a sustainable forest licence, which previously they wouldn't have been able to do.
The second amendment to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act will allow the minister to establish the amounts and timing of forest renewal charges and forestry future charges without the need to make regulations. Currently, the Lieutenant Governor in Council makes regulations relating to forest renewal and future charges. In keeping with this government's commitment to reduce red tape and unnecessary regulatory burdens, we believe this is a step in the right direction. We believe this will ensure that we will be able to make decisions and move ahead in the area of being proactive in this industry and allowing the industry to get on with doing business.
The final amendment to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act will make it an offence to obstruct inspections and searches carried out under the terms of the act. Under the act, there are provisions authorizing employees or agents of the ministry to carry out inspections to ensure that a licence holder is in compliance with ministry standards. Without this provision, those who are unwilling to comply with the act can refuse an officer access to mill yards or areas where records are kept, and we believe that is unacceptable.
I hope I've been able to set the record straight with regard to some of the issues that have been, I believe, misrepresented by some of the previous speakers. I also believe it sets the record straight with regard to this government's commitment to the preservation of this province's natural heritage as well as to the sustainable management of Ontario's natural resources. The amendments to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act and to the Provincial Parks Act are proof positive of our government's dedication to the effective management of our natural resources and the protection of our natural heritage for present and future generations.
Just before I close, I'd like to make one final comment, and that is with regard to the member for Sudbury East's reference to the closing of some firefighting facilities in the province. I'd like to clarify that in terms of the reference once again to the closing of 17 of these locations, it's not 17 of 19 locations but in fact 17 of 45 locations. For the record, I would like to note that the following facilities, the fire attack bases that are operational, will continue to be operational: Sudbury, Parry Sound, Haliburton, Cochrane, Bancroft, Sault Ste Marie, Wawa, Chapleau, Timmins, Sioux Lookout, Geraldton, Dryden, Cochrane, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Moosonee, Geraldton, Nipigon, Dryden, Fort Frances, Kenora, Chapleau, North Bay, Pembroke, Murphy's Point and Bon Echo.
With the many changes that have taken place in firefighting, the people of northern Ontario will be assured of effective firefighting under the management of this ministry, under the management of this government, and I would ask that members keep in mind that the status quo is not acceptable and is not what this government will deliver. The business plans that will be tabled with the budget for this ministry will assure the people in northern Ontario and in this province that they will have effective natural resource management from this government today and in the years to come.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?
Mr Michael Brown: A lot of nice words from the parliamentary assistant -- unfortunately, the information conveyed is a little out of sync with the steps that are being taken. He talked about parks and about endangered spaces. I would just take him to the World Wildlife Fund's press announcement of last week where they gave his government, the government of Ontario, an F. It clearly says that in 1989 -- I wonder who was the government in 1989 -- Ontario began the campaign as a national leader. In 1989 we were the leader in Canada. I won't comment on the fact that we were a D+ in the last year of the NDP government, but going to an F from a D+ is not a step up.
I suggest to the member that we will look forward to the World Wildlife Fund's report next year; we will want to look at your report card. Is an F+ seen to be satisfactory over there? I don't expect it should be. We've seen a 70% cut to the conservation authorities, which manage considerable property, parkland, in southern areas and even in some northern areas of this province and have done an admirable job over the years. I am suspicious that they will not be able, out of their municipal taxpayers' dollars, to maintain those parks the way they always had.
We had a former minister -- yes, he was an NDP minister -- who told me in answer to questions last year that parks weren't closed; they just were not open. I think we're getting the same kind of response from the parliamentary assistant over there about parks, that they're not closed; they're just not open.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Cochrane North.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): Cochrane South.
Mr Gilles Bisson: It might soon be Cochrane North and Cochrane South. I don't know what we'll call it then, under the redistribution of boundaries. Just Cochrane probably would be good enough.
I met recently, over the last couple of weeks, with forest companies around the Timmins area in regard to the issue of approving five-year plans and one-year plans. As the member knows, just for people watching, as a company moves forward with a cut, it does so on a plan of five years. That five-year plan is normally approved by MNR staff, and once approved the forest company can go ahead and start work on its five-year plan. Every year subsequent to that within the five-year plan it needs to be approved by the MNR to make sure it's in keeping with what was put in place under the five-year plan. The member stood in the House and said that the MNR is going to be playing a large role in making sure that happens, that there's compliance to the plan and that it will continue.
The forest industry is telling me the opposite, that ministry officials and other people within the industry are being told that the government's plan is at the very least to remove the requirement that every yearly plan of cut be approved by the MNR. In other words, you will get your five-year plan approved, and at that point nothing will happen until after the audit or if by chance an MNR staff happens to walk into the forest and find something wrong. I say to the member opposite, I think you'd better go back and talk to your people at the ministry because we're being told quite the opposite out there when it comes to what the plans of the government are.
You're basically saying to the forest companies, "We're going to make you self-compliant, we're going to make you not necessarily self-regulatory, but remove a lot of the staff that was in place at MNR to make sure the job was being well done in the forest." The only mechanism we're going to have as the public, after all of this is done and you've done your changes, is the final audit at the end of five years, and by then it will be too late. The forest will be gone.
Mr Stockwell: I was listening with some interest to the comments and remarks that were made by the speaker and the comments that were brought forward by the members of the opposition. It seems abundantly clear to me, and I suppose this government, that there have to be some efficiencies made within ministries that we have on the provincial level. Efficiencies necessarily mean we're going to have to find ways to spend less money and provide services for the people of the province.
I know the NDP opposite are loath to admit it, but the public out there found that they were spending excessively. They found that the deficits they were running up and the taxes they were filing under were grotesquely overstated, and the financing of the books was very difficult to follow because they had so much jiggery-pokery when it came to the accounting methods they used to actually determine what was in fact a deficit and what was a debt. They moved off book issues -- that was debated regularly. They moved debt off book just so they didn't have to show it as a deficit.
Then they went ahead and spent $2 billion, pre-election, that they didn't have. Then they show up with all the sanctity and piousness that only a socialist can muster, after creating this crisis, and condemn the very government that is left with this mess to clean up. Every time we come along to find efficiencies, to create savings, they say, "Oh, you can't do that for heaven's sake, because, my gosh, you're going to have to do things that are different than the status quo." Everyone knows the status quo wasn't working and it was costing us huge sums of money: moving off book items, jiggery-pokery in accounting, wouldn't admit to spending amounts that they had spent, $2 billion that they didn't have, $100 million in the development fund gone, and they stand in their place today and condemn a government elected having to clean up their mess. We're not happy at having to clean up your mess, but we have to clean it up. If you hadn't made it, we wouldn't be here.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The member for Etobicoke West continues to ingratiate himself to the Premier and senior members of cabinet here this afternoon, and I know they'll be taking note of his remarks.
On the speech that was made, I have always said in this House that it's one thing to purvey the propaganda; it's another to believe it. I hope the member doesn't believe the government propaganda that he read to the House. He did his job by reading it, and I give him his credit for that, but I hope he doesn't believe what the government is saying in this regard.
I think it's a national scandal that this government is closing up to 60 parks in this province. One of the things the three governments over the years have been able to establish has been the closing of parks in this province, and even people who aren't close to those parks, who reside in major metropolitan areas, appreciate the fact that they are there to provide necessary recreation at the appropriate time.
You cannot take credit for all the cuts and then turn around and take credit for the services provided. If you wish to take credit for the cuts, that's one thing, and the government can say to its people who believe in that that the cuts are necessary and they want to severely restrict the Ministry of Natural Resources and what it can do. If you want to take credit for it, that's fine, but you can't contend that the Ministry of Natural Resources is going to be able to carry out its responsibilities in an appropriate fashion.
I know that you may please some of the companies by saying, "You can be self-regulatory" -- somebody is sending a note to you now to tell you what to say to me after this -- but I'll tell you, an objective regulator is much better than one with a vested interest. The only vested interest should be the interest of the citizens of the province at large, and my fear is, with what's happening in this bill and in the ministry, that we're moving away from a position that has been established by all three governments.
The Acting Speaker: The time has expired. The member for York-Mackenzie, you have two minutes.
Mr Klees: As usual, I want to thank my colleague from Etobicoke West for his eloquence and his support. I couldn't have said it any better myself. In fact, one of these days I might be able to say it as well as he.
For the record, I do have to just clarify, while we're on the subject of parks, that it was misrepresented that there were some 60 parks closing. That is not the fact. The fact of the matter is that there are 12 that will be closed.
With regard to the comment that was made that the Ministry of Natural Resources will not be able to deliver its services to the people in this province, I want to assure this House, I want to assure the people in this province that that is not the case, that we will deliver the core services that have been identified by this government. They will be delivered with efficiency and they will contribute to the sustainability of natural resource management in this province.
In closing, I'd like to read the words that were spoken by the Minister of Natural Resources this past week when we announced the partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada:
"With this partnership the government is able to move forward to secure significant natural areas for the protection and enjoyment of future generations. This land acquisition will also assist us in research and education efforts to develop a better understanding of Ontario's natural environment."
On behalf of the people of Ontario, we will deliver sustainable natural resource management in this province.
The Acting Speaker: Are there any other members who wish to participate in this debate?
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): The first thing I would like to do is take on the previous speaker from York-Mackenzie and speak to him about the parks issue, because the parks issue is a big concern of mine, especially as a person who resides in northern Ontario and had three provincial parks in my riding; it's now down to one. I'd like to clarify that.
Technically, the member is correct when he says that at the moment they're going to close 12 parks, but what the member for St Catharines was saying, his comment, comes directly out of Management Board's proclamation of a couple of weeks ago that talks about the new business plan for the Ministry of Natural Resources. It talks about focusing on the core business. It says: "Including the provincial parks, the ministry operates 251 facilities. To rationalize this infrastructure, 60 of these will either be consolidated, co-located, closed or partnered."
I'd like to explain a little bit what that means, because while a list was attached of an initial 12 parks that were to be closed, many of my fellow members in the subsequent weeks started to receive calls from the managers, both from the northwest and northeast sections of northern Ontario, who manage our provincial park system, to say: "Oh, by the way, Mr Ramsay, we just want to let you know that besides the initial list of 12 parks that will be closed this year, we actually don't have the money to open a couple of other parks in your riding." So the list grew from the initial 12 to maybe another 15 this year.
The ministry is attempting to talk to either tourist operating associations or municipalities to see if maybe they could work some partnerships with them in regard to opening these parks. Right away 12 are gone, but my bet is, because we're now well into May of this year, that many of the parks in northern Ontario that traditionally open on the May 21 weekend or in June are going to be unable to reopen this year. That is a shame. For the member to say there are going to be 12 closed -- anywhere up to 60 of these parks that have been targeted by the ministry are going to be in some great difficulty.
I'll give you an example of one of the parks in the south end of my riding around the village of Marten River. The Marten River Provincial Park is a wonderful park that was established many years ago. People travelling along Highway 11, which, as you know, is a continuation of Yonge Street -- and especially this year, with the 200th anniversary of Yonge Street, there are going to be a lot of folks from southern Ontario who would like to travel the whole of Yonge Street. I don't know how many people can say they've travelled the whole of Yonge Street. To do that you'd have to go I don't know how many hundreds of kilometres, but you'd be taking a drive that goes farther than from Toronto to Miami in order to travel all of Yonge Street, which would take you all the way up to the Manitoba border. That's quite a trek. I would imagine this year, because of that celebration, we're going to have a lot of traffic going north on Yonge Street, Highway 11, all the way through the Nipissing district and the Timiskaming district, through the Cochrane district, through Nipigon and Thunder Bay, and through the Rainy River district. To see that these parks are going to be closed -- or to try to co-partner them with a few weeks to go before their opening -- is drawing the line too close.
Getting back to Marten River park in the south end of Timiskaming, there are maybe about 10 or 12 tourist operations in Marten River. Basically, it's a gas station with an LCBO agency store, a couple of restaurants and the provincial park. That's it. There are a few residents there and a few of those people who live at their tourist operations. To come to these people on the eve of their busy season, the tourist season of the summer, and say, "By the way, golly, we don't seem to have the funds to open this park" -- a park that, by the way, acts as a magnet for the area, where these tourist operators derive some spinoff -- what's going to happen to this park and to these tourist operators if we're not running that facility this year? To be doing this a month before the opening is downright irresponsible.
I would say to the minister -- and I wish he was here today -- that he better take a second look at his parks policy, to understand not only that we have parks to preserve the very special and fragile environment of northern Ontario, but that they act as a very main and basic economic development instrument in northern Ontario. As my colleague the member for Algoma-Manitoulin and all my other northern colleagues in this House understand and appreciate, whether we like it or not, natural resources remain as the foundation of economic development in northern Ontario. It's very, very important that we preserve and manage on a sustainable basis our natural resources. Yes, like southern Ontario, we want to see our economy move into the information age, we want to see our economy move into the high-tech, modern industries of the future, but we know that the bedrock of our economic development is natural resources and that our economy will be based on that bedrock. We need the stewardship of the Ministry of Natural Resources to be ever present in northern Ontario to ensure that sustainability.
We are very concerned -- all my northern colleagues -- about the parks policy, the potential that 60 provincial parks, many of them in northern Ontario, could be at an end. We think it's irresponsible and it's time the minister took a second look at that.
Looking at the MNR policy and what they're doing in their reorganization in northern Ontario, I think southerners would be very surprised to learn that the Ministry of Natural Resources today is closing firefighting bases. We rely on these fire bases throughout northeastern and northwestern Ontario to suppress mainly a lot of the small grass fires and small forest fires in their infancy. We require these ground crews, in a rapid attack method, to get in there very quickly, before you can get the air bases up and running and get the water bombers in, before a fire becomes a certain size. We require those strategically placed fire bases to act in a very fast and efficient manner, to start on the ground to put out these fires before they become the large, horrendous forest fires that people see, unfortunately, most fire seasons in the news throughout the province. To be starting to close those fire bases is absolutely irresponsible.
We look at the numbers of people involved. Over 2,000 members of the Ministry of Natural Resources are going to be laid off. I must tell you the value of those people; I'll give you a personal anecdote of what happened at my farm last year. Actually it happened during election time. I was able to get a Sunday afternoon off and I was burning some grass at the farm -- this was on the ground. The wind came up and it got out of control. I'll tell you, there was an MNR crew there just within a few miles away. They saw the smoke coming up and they came to my rescue and saved my barn. If those firefighters had not been on the road, been in the area -- because a phone call would not have made it in time for those people to come. It's that sort of service that saves people's residences, that saves people's businesses, that saves our forest resource, that is the lifeblood of northern Ontario. It's an extremely important service for northern Ontarians. I appreciate the fiscal restraints on this government and the desire to reduce the fiscal deficit, but I'd like to talk a little bit about what I call the social deficit.
With all the cuts this government is doing, we are now trading off a fiscal deficit for a social deficit. With all these cuts, we are going to see people being hurt, and we're starting to see that today. What we're talking about today in Bill 36 is the possibility of our natural resources being eroded and the stewardship of those resources being eroded. That will cause two things: an economic development deficit in northern Ontario, but it will start to cause a social deficit also.
We've seen with all the cuts, whether it be in health care, in education, in policing, an increase of what I call our social deficit. We are shortchanging our children in our schools. That is developing a deficit that will be incalculable for years to come. We are lowering the standards to graduate our children out of secondary school as they want to enter some sort of post-secondary education. It is very important that while we are responsible on the fiscal side of governing, we also make sure that the social health of this province is preserved. It is very, very important that we do that.
When we look at health care services, it's the same sort of thing, that while we're starting to close down beds in hospitals and close other services -- and yes, maybe that makes the fiscal deficit look a little better -- we are increasing that social deficit by making it harder for people to maintain and to access those services. In my area of northeastern Ontario we're seeing doctors leave, not just this province but the jurisdiction of Ontario, most of them going to the United States. That is a social deficit that is going to have ramifications for years to come throughout northeastern Ontario, where I live.
The Ministry of Natural Resources is the prime government service in northern Ontario. It is the prime presence of the Ontario government throughout all of northern Ontario. Northern Ontario represents 90% of the land mass of this province and we look to the Ministry of Natural Resources as the steward of those resources. Of that 90% of the land base, over 90% of that is crown land. It's not owned by individuals, it is not patented land, unlike in southern Ontario. It is owned by all of us here, the people of Ontario. We look to the government of Ontario to be the steward of those natural resources, of that land base.
With the announcement about three weeks ago from this government, we see in the north a walking away from that responsibility by the Conservative government of the day. A Conservative government of years ago used to beef up the Ministry of Natural Resources and developed the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, because those past governments understood how important the resources and the people of northern Ontario are.
By the way, I must say to the member that this isn't any sort of charity that I am looking for, because the resources of northern Ontario have generated a world of wealth and in fact contributed to the economic development, since the beginning of this century, of this province as whole; the wealth from towns and cities such as Sudbury, where all the industrial metals, especially nickel, have been developed. The gold mining camps of South Porcupine, Timmins and Kirkland Lake generated a tremendous amount of wealth for this province. Silver, also in my riding at Cobalt, generated a lot of wealth in the north. Now it would appear to northerners that the Ministry of Natural Resources, a ministry that had been seen by them as a partner and a friend to the north, is abandoning that responsibility, is walking away from that responsibility of stewardship in northern Ontario.
We have fish hatcheries and we have tree nurseries that the Ministry of Natural Resources established in the north not only to supplement our natural resources, to help renew and bring them on a sustainable basis, but also strongly to contribute to the economic lives of the men, women and children who live in northern Ontario.
We find this walking away, this retreat from northern Ontario absolutely irresponsible. We look to the ministry to come back to northern Ontario, to not abandon all those people who are going to be laid off, to take their responsibility as stewards of the resource importantly, to make it as a prime directive of this ministry that we are the stewards of northern Ontario, that our prime directive is to take care of those resources, to work with the people of northern Ontario to make sure that those resources are sustainable and that they can sustain a profitable existence for the men and women who work in northern Ontario.
In forest management, what we see is an abdication of that responsibility. We basically see a privatization of that responsibility, and while we believe that it's the role of the private sector to develop the jobs and to develop the profits of northern Ontario to be shared for the wealth of all Ontarians, we do see it as a public utility for the government of Ontario to manage those resources, to control the disposition of those resources and to manage them.
We should not walk away from that. It's the same as Ontario Hydro. The wealth and resources of Ontario Hydro are in the public domain, and while I believe we should be looking for the best possible generators of power in this province and if we've got private sector generators we should be availing ourselves of those services, it is paramount that the public utility keep as a public utility the transmission and distribution of power in this province.
It's the same with natural resources. They're owned by the public and they should be controlled by the people for the benefit of the people.
We see in these announcements and in Bill 36 an abandonment of that responsibility, and I say to the member who previously spoke, to the minister -- and I wish he were here to hear this -- that we ask him to come back to that responsibility, to take his job seriously.
I wish it wasn't so, and I wish the government had a member from northern Ontario who would feel the urgency and the trueness of this that I speak of today as my colleague from Algoma-Manitoulin, my colleague from Kenora, my colleague from Fort William and Port Arthur, all the northern members of this House live and breathe and feel this every day. As we return to our homes at the end of the week, the people we represent work in the resource industries. They derive their bread and butter from these industries today and depend on their sustainability to derive their income tomorrow.
It is very, very important that the government stop abandoning that responsibility. They need to be there and have a presence in northern Ontario, to manage those resources, to keep all the resource companies honest, to work with them in a straightforward manner. It's very, very important.
Two thousand, one hundred people going away from northern Ontario, going away from the resources of this ministry, is shameful. It's shocking to my northern colleagues. In fact, it's shocking to all the colleagues in the Liberal caucus. We believe that the government of the day, the Conservative government, should not be abandoning that responsibility to northern Ontario.
They need to be putting the resources in the Ministry of Natural Resources to make sure that those resources of northern Ontario are in a sustainable condition. It was okay in the past to maybe exploit our resources in an irresponsible way. That's just the way our forefathers had done it. We don't need to make any excuses for the way they did, because they didn't know any better. We know better today, and we know that in order for sustainability to really get off the ground and to continue, it is going to take proper planning and management, but it's also going to take some supervision.
Human nature being what it is, people will try to take advantage, and northerners have always looked at the Ministry of Natural Resources as the final arbiter in managing those resources to make sure that in the end when there are disputes over our natural resources that they come in to referee the dispute, to make sure that they oversee the sustainable extraction of those natural resources.
It is time that this government got focused on northern Ontario, that they start to look at the north as not only just an area where they didn't win any seats in the last election, but an area that provides a lot of economic wealth for this province, an area that provides tremendous sustainability of its resources in the future, an area where this government has an opportunity to be a model of sustainability for the world, to have preservation and balanced exploitation of our resources.
I believe we can do those two things. I know there are some people in the extreme faction of environmentalism who believe everything should be preserved and nothing should be touched. But we're entering a day when we know we can do things better, that we can exploit our resources in a sustainable way, that we don't have to wreak havoc with Mother Nature in order to derive a living up there. Northerners are cognizant of this more than anybody else. We understand that if that tree is not there tomorrow, then our children and our grandchildren are not going to have the job that maybe we enjoy today.
So we understand that sustainability. We look to government to help us be those stewards, to help us put into being new models of governance, to work with us, but instead what we see is an abandonment of those responsibilities.
What we've seen in my riding in the Temagami area, a very contentious area of land use and resource development, is the closure of the district office. Why this government, at this critical time when this land use dispute is going to heat up this summer among the environmental factions and the forestry companies and the local municipalities that want to get on with development, would shut that office down is beyond me. I've spoken to the minister about this and wish he would at least have put into place some substitute before he closed down this office. We need some sort of substitute there; we need some new model of governance. The comprehensive planning committee of the Temagami area has made some recommendations for governance models, and I hope they will have the opportunity soon to discuss that with the minister.
To send that signal first, that "We will close down that office before we develop and give birth to a new governance model where local people, for the very first time, will have a say as to how our resources will be developed," is totally irresponsible. We've got to have those governance models in place. We've got to have the government help us do that. We've got to have the government give us some direction, some guidance through memoranda of understanding so that we can lay out the principles of sustainable development. Then you could start to offload that to local organizations and to people in maybe conservation or forest authority models that we could develop together.
Don't abandon us first and say, "We're closing that office and walking away." Ironically, I say to the member for Algoma-Manitoulin, those 50 jobs are going to North Bay. I'm trying to remember who the member is for North Bay -- ah, it's the Premier. I guess the Premier is going to be getting those jobs out of Temagami, ironically enough. But don't abandon the Temagami area, don't abandon the people there who have worked very, very hard over the last eight years to try to develop a model of sustainability that would keep all sides satisfied that we can have economic growth and sustainability of our resources at the same time.
I know it can be done and I know this government, if it were willing to, has the expertise in the Ministry of Natural Resources to work with local people to make that happen. It can happen, but you just don't overnight get rid of 2,000 who have tremendous expertise in sustainability. These are people who love those resources up there, who have a balanced view of how our resources should be developed in northern Ontario. They have a wealth of information they have developed over the years.
In fact, the ministry says that its information management programs are going to be cut. They're going to get rid of the data acquisition of management activities. They're going to streamline that and downgrade it. That is irresponsible. Today more than ever, in order to have a sustainable forest industry and mining industry in northern Ontario, we need the very best, world-class information data acquisition that we can get. That is very, very important.
This, as well as all the other cuts that have been announced over the last few weeks, as well as some of the changes in Bill 36, has northerners just shaking their head as to what this government is doing. "Why has this government abandoned northern Ontario?" is what I'm asked in my riding when I return every weekend. Why are they not taking the lead to say, "Northern Ontarians, we want to work with you on economic development, we want to work with you on sustainability, we want to be a partner with you in doing this"?
That's the type of leadership we would look to from our government, but we don't see that in this government. We don't seem to see the interest. The Premier is the only member on the government side who sits anywhere near northern Ontario, what I consider northern Ontario, anyway, and that is in North Bay and Nipissing. I know he doesn't have the time, and I don't blame him for that; he's the Premier and he's got to run that. But the people of northern Ontario are asking who is there to help them, to work as stewards to make sure our natural resource base is preserved on a sustainable basis, is developed for the betterment of the women and men in northern Ontario. This is very important.
We look at a whole new industry for the north that's really starting to develop and come into its own, and that is tourism. By the year 2000, we know that tourism will be, and in some countries today is, the number one industry; worldwide, it will be.
Northern Ontario would like to have a good share of that. We think we've got tremendous potential. The highly densely populated areas of Europe crave to have an experience that I experience every day of my life when I'm at home, an experience that I had today when I drove through my riding down to North Bay to catch the plane to come here. I drove through the beautiful woods of northern Ontario, through the Temagami region. At each corner there was another lake or river, the beautiful white pine and red pine and jack pine trees of that north. A lot of the people who live in my riding probably take that for granted. We see it every day. We work in it. We pass by it getting to our jobs, visiting our families.
People in Europe will be craving more and more, as the world becomes more densely packed and more high-tech, that sort of experience. We have a lot of that to offer. We are very lucky. We have been blessed by Mother Nature in northern Ontario and right across this province. This is not the time to be abandoning the tremendous potential attraction that we have that we could be developing even more than we are today. Instead of even the status quo and standing in place, 12 provincial parks are closed. Many more are not going to open. Others I predict will not be opening because it's going to be very difficult to find partners with the resources, the cash flows, to partner with the government in keeping these parks open.
I don't think we should look at parks necessarily as profit centres. That wasn't the original intention of establishing provincial parks in this province. It shouldn't be the intention in establishing new provincial parks in the future. Parks don't need to be profit centres. There are some things that government does that don't have to generate a profit. Preserving our natural resources, making sure they are accessible to ordinary people, to be able to get into the station wagon with a few sleeping bags and a tent, as I still like to do -- it's a wonderful thing to get out into our parks and camp with your family. We've got to keep those opportunities accessible to everyone.
Not everybody can go to a Deerhurst Lodge in the Muskokas. That's another reason we have our provincial parks. It's not just to preserve those wonderful natural resources that we've been blessed with; it's also to make sure those natural resources are accessible to all Ontarians. Those camping rates, those day use permit rates, have to be accessible, they have to be low-cost. I'm not sure you can turn a profit on all those parks. You probably can't. Quite frankly, if you can't, you still have to keep them open. I think that's part of the responsibility of government. I think that's part of the responsibility of the social fabric of this province, that we are blessed with natural resources. When people think of Canada, when people think of Ontario, they think of our trees and water resources first.
We need to make sure that the people of this province and our children have access to those resources, that you can pile the family in the car on a weekend, throw in that tent and those sleeping bags, as I said, and go up to Killbear Provincial Park outside of Parry Sound in the Treasurer's riding, and for maybe just a few dollars a night be able to set up your tent, to light a fire, maybe cook a meal with your family and walk out on the beach and look at the stars at night.
That's a good reason why I'm a Canadian; I like doing that. I enjoy that experience. As my children were growing up, I cherished those summer evenings to be able to do that, to look across Georgian Bay and maybe see some of the thunderstorms over the Bruce Peninsula and the lightning strikes there. Sometimes a whole community would develop on that beach, just watching that show of Mother Nature's fireworks out there. That sort of experience is not something you get from a book. It's not something you get in the big city, which offers a lot of other wonderful experiences. That's an experience that needs to be preserved for people. It needs to be accessible for all Ontarians. I ask this government to put its heart and soul and, yes, its pocketbook to make sure that experience will be available for all Ontarians.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Michael Brown: I commend my colleague the member for Timiskaming on an impassioned speech, a speech that put the case for northern people, northern issues, northern jobs and especially our northern environment, and that raised, in his last few comments, the spectre of what's happened to the provincial park system.
I happen to represent an area that contains, in my view, probably the most tremendous of Ontario's provincial parks. I represent an area that has -- and many in this House would know it -- Killarney Provincial Park -- absolutely magnificent.
If we follow the government's suggestion in this bill, we will understand that what it seems to believe is that the parks should be profit centres and that the price can vary from park to park. With a park that is under tremendous demand, a park like Killarney Provincial Park, which always has waiting lists -- you cannot get into that park, generally speaking, in the summer without a reservation; it is virtually impossible -- that would mean, if I'm a free enterprise type, the price is too low; what we need to do is keep the price going up until we can balance the demand with our limited supply. That would put Killarney Provincial Park, with the kind of demands that are on Killarney Provincial Park, beyond the means of many Ontarians who presently enjoy that park very much.
I wonder. My belief is that the people of Ontario are willing to pay for that in their tax dollar. They're willing to preserve our heritage, they're willing to preserve our access through their tax dollar. They don't want to see these huge fees.
Ms Martel: I would like to congratulate the member for Timiskaming on the comments he made here this afternoon during the course of the debate. I want to focus on two of the items that he raised.
First, with respect to the comprehensive planning council and the recommendations which were just submitted to the minister on April 10, 1996, there are some 39 recommendations which the CPC made to the minister. I haven't had a chance to review the whole document yet, but I suspect a number of the recommendations he made focus on a continuing need for both financial and human resources in the Temagami area in terms of dealing with governance issues, with resource management, with some of the very difficult issues about allocation of resources which have plagued all governments and which all governments have been unable to deal with.
That is why, under the former Liberal government and then carried on under us, we put the advisory councils and then the CPC in place to determine on a local level what kind of responses would be adequate, what kind of responses would be appropriate; how could we deal with very controversial management issues around resources in a way that was sensitive to the local needs, in a way that would ensure there would be jobs for local people and in a way that would ensure that some of the very important values that people across the province wanted protected would be protected.
It is certainly my understanding, from the cuts that were announced in the business plan, that any further human and financial resources that once were devoted to this exercise will now be stopped. That is a serious mistake on the part of this government if we're going to finally have a resolution to what has been a very difficult issue.
Secondly, with respect to the cuts, the minister talked about the situation in his own riding, particularly with respect to the community of Temagami. It's a bloody disgrace that in a community of 900 we would lay off 50 MNR staff. That will totally devastate that community, and a number of other communities across the north will be devastated as well.
Mr Klees: I want to thank my colleague the member for Timiskaming for a most passionate speech. On the basis of his concern for those remaining 18 parks for which we indicated we would be looking for partnerships to manage them, so that we can keep them open, I want to commit to the member here and now that if we don't find partners for those remaining 18, we will manage them ourselves to ensure they remain open for this season.
The member has characterized the policies of our government as walking away from northern Ontario. I can tell you that the way to better characterize it is that we intend to walk together in partnership with northern Ontario; that's the direction of our policy. I can tell you that we care very much about northern Ontario and the future of northern Ontario. In fact, it's because we care that we intend to shift from doing to partnering with the people in northern Ontario, as you had suggested would probably be the most appropriate way to address northern Ontario.
It's the issue of sustainability. Much has been said in debate today about sustainability. What we're ensuring is the sustainability of natural resource management in this province and specifically in northern Ontario. If we don't become much more fiscally responsible and find ways to partner with the private sector, then sustainability is at risk. So we commit to the people of northern Ontario that they in fact have the attention of this government and our commitment.
Mr Bisson: I just want to take a moment to comment on the speech made by the member for Timiskaming. In regard to his whole question in regard to what's happening in Temagami with the cancellation of the 50 jobs at MNR, I want members of this House, and maybe those people watching, to go back and remember the outcry that happened in Haileybury back in 1990-91 when the NDP government of the day, to try to contain costs, had cancelled the relocation of some 150 jobs to the community of Haileybury. I remember it fully well, as the member whose riding adjoins the riding of Timiskaming.
People in that community, rightfully so, were upset with our government and said, "My God, the cancellation of 150 potential jobs in our community has a devastating effect on our community." They demanded and got meetings with every cabinet minister representative from northern Ontario. I can tell you that the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Revenue etc were beckoned and called to that community and held accountable for that decision. You know what, Mr Speaker? You were in this assembly at the time and you remember that the government responded and that those ministers went to that community and answered for the decision before the people of Haileybury.
We have now the Ministry of Natural Resources, under the decision of Mr Hodgson, the minister responsible at MNR, and the Premier of Ontario saying, "We're going to cancel 50 jobs within the community of Temagami," a community of 900. In Haileybury, there were 4,800 people living there; in Temagami, there are only 900. Not a single minister of the crown, not a single member of this government is taking the time to go and sit down with the people of that community and say to the good people of Temagami: "Here are the reasons why we're making that decision. We will be accountable for the decision. We are prepared to sit down and show you why we've made the decision and to be accountable so that it's an open decision." That is not being done, and I say to the members opposite that I'd be somewhat ashamed of that record.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Timiskaming, you have two minutes to reply.
Mr Ramsay: I'd like to thank the members who got up in response to my speech. I have to say to the member opposite, the member for York-Mackenzie, that I find it very hard to believe the desire of this province is to walk in partnership with northerners. First of all, there are about 2,000 people less to walk in partnership with us because you've gotten rid of those people. In fact, the signal to northern Ontario is that those of us who live in the north, 10% of the population, are going to suffer 45% of the cuts you have made to the Ministry of Natural Resources. So we don't see you as walking with us in partnership, but abandoning us in our time of continual struggle that we have with the economy of northern Ontario.
We need the government of Ontario as never before, and the ministries of northern development and mines and natural resources, to work with us to make that transition, to find sustainable ways of keeping our natural resource industries going, to use that sustainable natural resource base to move on to the new high-tech and high-knowledge types of industries. We need that base. We need you as partners. We don't need 2,000 fewer highly trained and highly motivated women and men up there, not working for us and with us.
We feel abandoned, for sure. You ask us why. Well, that's it. When we see the Closed signs and the For Sale signs start to pop up on our parks across northern Ontario, especially in a year when tourists are going to be driving up more and more, we feel abandoned.
When we see offices such as Temagami, which fellow members have mentioned, without a word to anybody in the town, the government just saying, "Fifty people are leaving town, going down to North Bay to work; your office is closed," especially in a highly contentious area such as Temagami, it's irresponsible.
We don't see you as partners right now; we see you as working against us. I guess we'll have to work against you in the next election.
The Acting Speaker: Any further debate?
Mr Bisson: I want to thank, first of all, the members of the House prior to me who have had an opportunity to speak on this bill. I found the comments by all members of the three parties fairly interesting. It brings a different perspective to the bill.
I just want to try to go through this in a bit of an order by which the bill is presented. We're here today because we're debating second reading of Bill 36. The bill is entitled An Act to amend certain Acts administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources. There are primarily three things that the minister brings before this House in this bill. The first thing he brings forward are amendments to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. I would like to hold my comments on that until later on into the speech because that's the crux of the bill as far as I'm concerned in regard to the effect it has on the communities within Cochrane South and the other areas, but the other two areas which the government moves on are amendments to the Game and Fish Act and also amendments to the Provincial Parks Act.
Some of what the government is doing, quite frankly, I can support. I'm saying it here in the House; I've said it publicly in my riding. I haven't got a problem with it. For example, they are making amendments in the bill to replace the Game and Fish Hearing Board with hearings officers appointed by the ministry. Not a big deal. That hearing board was not all that active, was not as active as it needed to be, and quite frankly we can do that under the auspices of what the minister wants to do. I have no problem supporting that part of the bill.
Subsection 2(2) of the bill provides that the act "applies to black bear parts whether or not they originated in Ontario." For example, section 51 of the Act makes it an offence to sell game animals without a licence, so the amendment will allow section 51 to be used in respect of black bear parts.
What that basically means is we're not going to be able to trade in the province of Ontario in black bear parts. Not a problem. I have no problem supporting that part of the bill. That is a trade that shouldn't have been allowed to happen for many years, and I'm glad this government is coming forward with amendments there.
I don't think people recognize, if they don't live in the north, that there are people, not primarily hunters from Ontario but hunters from the United States, who come into northern Ontario for the bear hunt, they shoot the bear and walk away with the paws, walk away with the tongue maybe, and that's about all. The rest of the carcass is left there, and they trade in those parts. I don't think that is a humane hunt to start with and I don't think that is good management of our wildlife, so I support that particular section of the act.
The other part is they're going to allow deer to be killed in defence of property in accordance with an authorization written by the minister. I don't have a big problem supporting that. I would rather see that ability be set out of legislation and possibly in regulation, not have it where the minister himself or herself approves that at every opportunity. I don't think that's a good use of the minister's time. You'd probably be better off trying to set some rules under regulation, or possibly in the legislation, that clearly set out when you can hunt deer on private property, what issues need to be dealt with there.
There is an amendment to subsection 2(6) of the bill that says a person may not hold more than one licence to hunt black bear in any year. Good idea. We shouldn't be allowing multiple licences and multiple kills. If you've got one, that's plenty. That's what we do in moose hunting. You go out moose hunting, if you're lucky enough to get a tag, which is a pretty hard thing to do up in Cochrane South --
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): I didn't get one this year.
Mr Bisson: You didn't get one either. Oh, my God, I know the feeling. I've spoken many times on that issue.
Not a bad idea. You should allow people to participate in a hunt, and a good way to make sure there is a fair amount of tags for other people is to allow only one tag per person. Not a bad thing; I can support that.
Again, in the Game and Fish Act, subsection 2(7) of the bill provides that a licence to hunt black bears only permits one black bear to be taken. I've just spoken on that; no problem. So all in all, the amendments to the Game and Fish Act, I don't have a problem supporting. I would think most people in this House will support it from all three parties; not a bad part of the bill. Give the government their credit due when it comes to the changes they are making there.
Under the Provincial Parks Act, a bit of a mixed review coming from me. I recognize that the government has a belief that the private sector has a larger role to play when it comes to managing government operations. They want to see more weight put towards private sector involvement in managing everything from parks to various services provided by the government. I'm not bent to that side as much as the government is, but I would just want to point out that subsection 3(1) of the Provincial Parks Act amendments you're bringing forward removes a restriction that prevents agreement with unincorporated entities for the establishment or operation of works, facilities and services in provincial parks.
Let's call a spade a spade. What this does is, it says if you're a ministry employee within the Kettle Lakes Provincial Park up in Timmins and the government decides that it wants to privatize the services of that park, maybe not privatize the park but privatize the service put forward by the Junior Rangers and MNR staff who are employed there in the summer, the government will have the ability to privatize. That's basically what this does. Let's call a spade a spade.
Under the Provincial Parks Act there is presently a law that says you can't do that. You're changing that law. You're saying if you're an MNR employee or a seasonal employee of the MNR who works at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, who works in any provincial park in Ontario, the minister will have the right to tender out the services that are presently being done by MNR staff, to be done by the private contractor.
For the Conservative that's not a problem, because it means to say they can save a few bucks. They'll pay their employees less money. Rather than paying an MNR employee $14 or $15 an hour as a seasonal employee to do that job, you're going to be able to get a contractor and have the contractor pay minimum wage. Government saves money. I don't see that as being particularly good for working people. People deserve a living wage; people deserve a fair wage for work rendered. This government obviously doesn't believe that as strongly as I do, so they are making it available to people to privatize and pay people less wages. I don't agree with that, and that part of the bill, quite frankly, I can't support.
The other thing is that under subsection 3(2), the Provincial Parks Act will be amended, and subsection (6) of the bill, to allow the minister to establish and to charge fees and rentals. Have you heard this in Bill 26 before: more hidden taxes, more user fees? Well, it's in this bill. It says basically the minister will have the right to establish and charge fees and rentals in respect of provincial parks without the need to make regulations. Here is something that people should be aware of.
Presently, in the province of Ontario, if the minister wants to sets rates and fees in regard to what is charged in provincial parks, there is a public process. Isn't it wonderful in a democracy that people have the right to know what their government is doing and it is done in an open fashion so that people, if they choose to not support the decision of the government -- such as was the case with us, because we raised fees under the NDP government in provincial parks. I had people come and petition me at my constituency offices in Timmins, Iroquois Falls and Matheson who were opposed to that. They had the right to come. Why did they have the right to come? Because they found out about it, because it was a public process. Under the act it had to be done in an open way. What does this do? It puts it back behind closed doors.
What you're saying is that the minister will have the right to change fees and make other changes in regulation and do that outside of the public process. I say to the government, shame on you. If you Conservatives there are so caught up in saying that you want to have open government, why are you throwing that into closed doors? It doesn't make a lot of sense. All you're going to do is allow the Minister of Natural Resources to do this -- well, you shake your head to the negative, but that's what the act says. Let me read it to you again. Subsections 3(2) and (6) of the bill will allow the minister to establish and charge fees and rentals in respect of provincial parks without the need to make regulations.
That means to say he's got the power to do it. He can sit in his cabinet office and he can draw up an order and say, "This is how we're going to be charging for all of these services," in 1996 or 1997 or 1998. He has the right to do that, and if it happens to be Mrs Bassett who becomes the Minister of Natural Resources, she will have the right to do that. I say the government must retain the right to determine the price for services. That's not the issue. But certainly the government has to be accountable and has to do that in some kind of an open way. To take that away from regulation and strictly make it the power of the minister to decide what happens is wrong. I don't support that and I want that for the record.
The second part here: "Subsection 3(3) of the bill requires specific amounts received by the crown under the act to be held in a separate" --
Mr Bisson: You should listen up because I support this; this is not a bad one. I'll read it again: "Subsection 3(3) requires specific amounts received by the crown under the act to be held in a separate account in the consolidated revenue fund and authorizes the use of these funds for specified purposes." That means to say, for those people who are listening and those out there watching, as the government charges those fees, whatever the difference is -- or is it the whole amount?
Mr Bisson: The whole amount? The entire amount that is charged for those fees that will be put in place by the minister and will be collected by either MNR parks or by those operators who will be running those parks will go into a separate account -- great idea; nothing wrong with that -- to be utilized back within the park system.
Mr Bisson: Hang on. I want to caution one thing: When you get into designated funds, I think that's a bit of a double-edged sword. That could lead to problems further down the road about where we spend our money on different things; but time for another debate. Overall it's open, it's accountable. I haven't got a problem; I can support that part of the act.
"Subsection 3(5) of the bill allows the minister to enter into agreements authorizing or requiring persons to exercise or perform certain powers and duties under the act. A person who enters into an agreement and knowingly contravenes it is guilty of an offence."
I guess I can support that section. If you're going to privatize and you're going to give private sector entrepreneurs the right not only to work in a provincial park but to guard the park and to make sure the park is being used, you're saying those powers that the MNR officials had, you'll give the same powers back to the private sector. I don't like what you're doing, but you may as well give them the power if you're going to do it.
All in all, on those two sections of the bill and the Game and Fish Act I would give you full marks. I think that's good stuff.
With the Provincial Parks Act I've got a problem. I believe the MNR has a much larger role to play in that than you do, and that particular part of the bill I can't support.
In regard to the changes you're making in the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, on the surface it sounds fairly innocent. It says, "Subsection 1(1) of the bill clarifies that the minister may enter into an agreement to perform obligations of licensees under section 27 of the act." Most people don't know what section 27 is. Do you know what that is? That's your licence. What used to be the forest management agreement, the FMA, under the old act is now called a sustainable forestry licence, and it is governed under section 27 of the act.
What you're saying here is that under the crown units that are presently managed by the MNR, which are forests that are not controlled by the forest companies, you're going to allow the privatization of those units, or the management of those units to happen. I will speak to that in greater detail. I have a problem with what you're doing there.
The other part of the act is, "Subsections 1(2) (3) and (5) of the bill allow the minister to establish the amounts of timing of forest renewal charges and forestry futures charges without the need to make regulations." Again, the same thing. It was under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, the law of this land that those charges set aside in regard to the trust funds, in regard to the forestry futures funds, used to be set under the legislation. Again, an open process; a process that the forest companies, the public, the environmental groups, the community groups were able to look at and say, "How much is it?" They could look it up in the act. If there were any changes made, the minister had to be held accountable through a public process. You're taking that and you're putting it on the desk of the minister and you're saying to the minister that he or she can make the changes and there doesn't need to be a public accountability.
I say again to the Conservative members, this is becoming a habit. Bill 26 -- you moved in that way where you gave powers to your ministers to do things behind closed doors, and you're doing it again in this act. If I was a backbencher of the government, I would be somewhat worried about what you're doing there because it is not good practice to do that. It might be acceptable in the private sector that the owner, in his or her office, can make decisions, but that's a different ball game. The business owner owns a business and ultimately is responsible. In the case of government operations, the Minister of Natural Resources is managing it, but he is managing those forest resources on behalf of you and me, the public of Ontario. To take all of those powers and put them into the hands of the minister and say, "You will do that under your own authority," is a problem. I beg to differ with the government on that one.
Specifically to what's happening with forest management in the province, I want to go through a bit of the history, because some of the members of this House may not know -- not because you don't want to know, but because it's not an area of, I wouldn't say interest, but an area you may not have heard a lot about -- the history of where we got to where we are now when it comes to sustainable forestry development, the management of our trees. I want to go through some history. You need to understand what's happened and where you're going, because where you're going is going to bring us back to where we were at the beginning, which was a broken system. It didn't work back in the 1960s and 1970s and it's not going to work now if you try to go back to that.
The history is simply this: Back when we originally started harvesting timber in this province, there were mainly small operators, very small companies and very small jobbers who were out there cutting small amounts of timber within the forests of Ontario.
Mr Speaker, I wonder if you could ask the members of the House to bring their conversations down to a dull roar.
The Acting Speaker: Please continue your debate.
Mr Bisson: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
As I said, in regard to the history, what happened was that originally in the province of Ontario, like all other jurisdictions, we had a situation where the companies were fairly small, the jobbers were fairly small, and in regard to the forest, not a lot of people had a lot of concern about it, because we were more prone to the development side and not too concerned about the environmental or the sustainability side.
What happened over a period of time is that the operators got a lot larger, the companies got bigger, less and less small contractors were in the bush, larger and larger contractors were in there doing work, plus we went to mechanization. When we moved from horse logging and went to mechanization, it meant we changed entirely how we harvested trees in our forests, and we were doing a lot of damage. As a timberjack and a harvester went into the forest and decided they were going to take out mature trees, sure, they were trying to take out just the mature ones, but in the process of extracting the logs out of the forest, they were basically clearing the entire cut. Even though they didn't cut the small trees, they were being bulldozed by the timberjacks and by the harvesters of the day.
It was a Conservative government and a member for Cochrane South, one Alan Pope QC, who was the Minister of Natural Resources back in the late 1970s, early 1980s, who said: "Whoa, we've got to put a stop to this. We need to make forest companies in this province more accountable because of two reasons: If we don't, we ain't going to have a forest industry in the future; and number two, if we don't, environmentalists will take a hold of this thing and we will basically strangle our markets overseas and in the United States, being seen as a jurisdiction that does not harvest timber in a sustainable way, and eventually it's going to have an ill effect on the economy."
The member at the time, the Minister of Natural Resources, Alan Pope, from Cochrane South, the member who held the seat that I now have, prior to myself, introduced a different method of forest management, or I should say timber management. We went to timber management where the forest companies were held more accountable. The government put requirements on the forest companies to say: "When you're out there cutting trees in the forest, guys, you're going to be held accountable. There are going to be rules. There are going to be limits to what you can do. It's going to be prescribed how you do forestry within your particular cuts." They moved to what were called forest management agreements. If you were Malette Inc, if you were Abitibi-Price, if you were Kimberly-Clark of the day, you got basically a forest management agreement with the MNR and you said: "Here's what I'm going to do in the cut that I have, the area of terrain that I control, and here's how I'm going to do it: I'm going to do it according to the regulations set out by the MNR."
That was a good move. That was a general step, a positive step to the future of development of the forest industry. At first, I would say the forest companies were opposed. At first, I would say some of the members of this Legislature were opposed, but I think in hindsight, we look back today and we say that was very progressive legislation for the day. The Conservative government of the late 1970s, early 1980s, under the leadership of Alan Pope, the then member for Cochrane South, MNR minister, moved the government in that direction, and I think we were well served.
What happened over a period of time was that companies started getting better at what they did, and the MNR had a role to play in that. The forest companies basically were held more accountable by the MNR but, more importantly, the MNR played a role in watching what the companies were doing and working with them to develop the technologies of harvesting. We were able to learn what was going on in the forest so we could become better at it.
Over a period of time, a couple of things happened: We got much better at how we harvest trees in our forest, and we also built a stronger understanding, I believe, for the forest companies and how they were seen by the public of Ontario.
I think if you go to people back in the early 1970s and you say, "What do you think of Abitibi, and what do you think of Malette," most of them saw them as lumber barons and said, "They're not doing a very good job of harvesting the timber in the forest," but if you look at what happened through the FMA process and the work that the companies were forced to do, those same companies, the Malettes and the Abitibis and the Kimberly-Clarks, public perception started to change. Why? Because the government made sure that they were held accountable and there were good rules on how you managed timber management.
What ended up happening is those companies, in being able to make better use of the forests and do a better job of managing the forests, ended up making better names for themselves in regard to how the public viewed them.
Along came 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and under the NDP government, Howard Hampton, the then Minister of Natural Resources and the member for Rainy River, said, "We need to move this further, because we are now moving into an area where, for example, in the pulp and paper industry, the markets are affected in other countries by basically how we do the job of harvesting timber in this province."
For example, members may not know this, but many markets in Europe are basically starting the practice of saying, "We will not buy paper from a nation or a jurisdiction that doesn't have good sustainable development of their forests," and will only buy from those jurisdictions that they term as being green. Where we were seeing ourselves go was that the markets were going to shrink for the forest companies and lumber companies in Ontario to where we would be excluded on the basis of our forest practices in some cases.
What happened under the Crown Forest Sustainability Act is changes were made. By and large, those changes were this: There was, first of all, the implementation of what was found through the forest EA, which was a five-year work of I would say a labour of love for some and for others it was just a very long process, basically where we looked at what we did in the forests over the last 20 years. We said, "Let's learn by that, and let's through this EA make recommendations to the government about how we change management of timber so that we become better at what we're doing and we're able to learn." Those ideas and those learned lessons were then put into the new act and regulations and eventually the manuals.
So where now under the act the basic difference is that we manage our forests much better, again at the very beginning, some forest companies didn't like it, but eventually they said, "Hey, this is a step in the right direction," and when I meet with people like Gaetan Malette from Malette or I meet with people out of Abitibi and different companies, they're saying: "This is the right way to go. This was actually a good piece of legislation, a progressive piece of legislation that makes us accountable and makes sure that we all learn from our collective efforts of managing our forests so we become better at it."
Why? Because it makes economic sense. If you're going into the forests and you want to go out and take out trees, let's look at not only how you take out the trees but let's look at how you're going to deal with the whole question of reforestation.
I'll give you a little bit of an example. Back in the good old days of logging, they used to go in and they used to do what was called forest logging. They'd selectively cut a few trees, take out the larger trees, leave the smaller ones in. That was able to be done because the equipment of the day, namely a horse, didn't do a lot of damage in the forest. As we went in with timber jack and narrow tires into the bush and we tried to do the same kind of thing, we ripped the heck out of the forest.
So out of what we did under sustainable forestry development, we learned how to better do the job to where now, for example, in the limits of Abitibi, they're going in and they're repractising those old techniques using new equipment that allows them to do careful logging by which we're able to take out, by and large, only the large trees and leave the smaller ones in there so that 40 years later you have a forest that is in great shape, that is sustainable, and that you're able to go back in and cut it another time so the forest is not as adversely affected under careful logging. These are all principles that were found under the forest EA and other measures and put into the act.
The other thing that happened under the act, headed up by Howard Hampton at the time, was the whole question of the trust funds. It basically said, "As the company cuts a tree, rather than the stumpage fee going directly to the coffers of the government, it will go into a trust fund, and as the company does the work of rehabilitation in the forests, for what they have done, they will allow the money to be taken back to be paid for that," so that you always make sure you have money to pay for the question of forestry.
The whole idea is that we wanted to move to a different method of managing our forests, and the biggest thing we did is we moved from timber management to forest management. In other words, if you wanted to cut trees under the old system, you worried about the tree but you didn't worry about the lake, you didn't worry about the river, you didn't worry about the mammals, you didn't worry about other vegetation. You didn't look at those issues in your forest management plan because they were timber management plans. We moved to a system where we don't only do timber management but do forest management, so you have to take into account all those things when you're going in to do your harvesting.
The point I'm getting at is that what we're going to be moving to over time is no regulation in the bush, very little accountability on the part of the forest companies and very little role for MNR, back to what they used to call "the good old days" where basically you were allowed to rape and pillage the forest at whatever cost you wanted and got away with it. The Conservative government of the day, under Alan Pope, then with Howard Hampton, the Minister of Natural Resources under the NDP government, made huge changes in forest management that made it more accountable. We said that was a good thing, a thing that needed to be done.
The problem is where we're going. This government is saying: "We're going to forget our history. We're basically going to allow companies to become over time as self-regulating as they can push it." I'm sitting down with forest companies and forestry officials in my riding and other places and they're telling me that the MNR is saying to them to look at ways in which they can become self-policing. They're looking at ways the MNR staff can withdraw from the activities of forest management and put that responsibility clearly into the hands of the private sector, the forest companies.
I'll tell you something. They have two problems with your approach. The first one is that it's going to cost them money. Whatever the government withdraws of services presently being done by MNR and dumps them on the forest companies, they're going to have to pay for. That means that in those places that are more marginal -- it's not a big deal when lumber is selling at $410 per thousand board feet, not so much an issue. But as the price of lumber comes down to $350, $325 and $300 per thousand board feet, those forest companies will have a really large incentive, as profits go down, to try to cut.
Where are they going to cut? They're not just going to cut in the mill, my friends. They're going to cut in the forest as well in terms of some of the stuff MNR now does in good forest management. They admit that freely. They say, "Listen, it is to our advantage to do a good job, but if it is not economic, we ain't going to do as good a job." These are the companies saying that, not me.
The other thing is that it really runs into the situation that public confidence built over a period of years in terms of forest companies doing a better job will be threatened by this move. As you move the responsibility for policing and the enforcement of forestry back into the private sector, it means there's going to be less trust in the system than there was with the MNR involvement. I think you're going to polarize politics when it comes to forest management, to the point where you're going to see the environmentalist movement wake up again and say they have to play a larger role in policing what's happening in the bush to make sure that the work MNR was doing before is done by the environmental movement itself in watching what's happening in terms of forest management.
I see it is almost 6 of the clock, Mr Speaker. I move that we adjourn debate for this day and resume debate the next day.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): It being almost 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1758.