L077 - Mon 27 May 1996 / Lun 27 Mai 1996
The House met at 1333.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I rise today to ask all members in the House to join me on congratulating Kenora's Michael Smith on breaking his own Canadian decathlon record in winning the gold medal at the Gotzis International Decathlon held in Austria this past weekend.
Winning this international event for a second time in his 10-year athletic career has ensured Michael will be a strong contender at the Atlanta Olympics later this year. Sitting third heading into yesterday's final five events, Michael recorded a personal best of 71.22 metres in the javelin and 52.90 in the discus. During the two-day event, Michael achieved four personal best scores.
Michael has a long list of accomplishments, including a gold medal at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games, a silver at the 1991 world championships and a bronze at last year's world championship. Kenora residents and indeed all of northwestern Ontario are very proud of Michael's accomplishments. Michael has not only put the town of Kenora on the worldwide map, but has been a source of inspiration to many young athletes throughout the world.
On behalf of Michael's parents, Bert and Bernice, his sisters, Michelle and Danielle, and all northern Ontario residents, we wish him all the very best in his attempt to bring home the gold at this year's Atlanta Olympics.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): One of the issues that has been mentioned a number of times in this Legislature and needs to be mentioned again is the plight of parents who are trying to care for disabled children in their homes. I have had a number of phone calls from parents whose children are severely ill, whose conditions include seizures and fevers and many unexpected events, and for these parents the care of their children is paramount. Many of them, as a result, are unable to work outside the home.
One such family has a child, Justin. Justin's parents contacted me to ask a new question, and I'd like to ask that in the Legislature today: When parents are looking after severely disabled children and are unable to hold a job as a result of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week shift, will they be required to go on workfare? This is a very good question. I couldn't answer it. I'm hoping the government will answer it soon.
This is a government that, time after time, says it is not attacking the disabled, it is not further disabling them, but the cost of keeping these severely disabled children in their homes very often is the ability of parents to get paid work or to get the training they need to have that paid work.
Today, in Justin's name, I'm asking the government to consider these parents and these children in formulating policy around workfare.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): It is not often that a member of the Toronto Blue Jays hails from Ontario, much less from the riding of Northumberland, but I am pleased to point out to this House that pitcher Paul Quantrill, one of the Blue Jays' most recent acquisitions, does indeed come from the town of Port Hope, which is in my riding.
Last season Mr Quantrill led the Philadelphia Phillies with a career-high 11 wins, 29 starts and 179 innings pitched. He was second in the club, with a career high of 103 strikeouts. He finished seventh in the National League and had seven starts without a walk and nine with just one. No wonder the Blue Jays wanted him.
Mr Quantrill joined the Toronto team on December 6 last year, and although he got off to a slow start pitching his first game as a Blue Jay, he is now certainly picking up steam. He enjoyed his first victory as a Blue Jay on May 9 by pitching five and one third strong innings of a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers. Given his proven track record, I'm sure we'll see many more wins from Mr Quantrill in the season ahead.
Mr Quantrill is a native of Port Hope, where his father, John Quantrill, operates a large new car dealership. We're all very proud of Paul and his accomplishments and we wish him luck and much success in his major league baseball career.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): This government's headlong rush to eliminate jobs in northern Ontario has gone too far. The recent decision to close the Ministry of Environment's water testing and air quality lab in Thunder Bay is quite simply an unconscionable act which will threaten public safety in the most basic way.
For over 25 years, the Thunder Bay lab has provided essential service to the entire northern area of the province -- analysing drinking water, industrial waste, sewage, rivers and lakes, soil vegetation and fish tissue. The air and water quality of 83 northern Ontario communities is tested in this lab, tested efficiently and quickly, with safety always as the top priority.
Now the government is telling us that this is a service that does not need to be provided by the government, that it is no longer its responsibility to ensure that our drinking water is safe. What has gone wrong here? How can the government truly expect the people of northern Ontario to accept this decision?
This past weekend, Professor David Pearson of Sudbury's Laurentian University urged the government to rethink this decision. In his words, "Our politicians need to realize that monitoring the environment is a basic service to the public."
The people of Thunder Bay need to know whether Boulevard Lake and Chippewa Park are safe to swim in. All northern communities need to know that the responsibility for air and water quality is one the government believes in. I call on the Minister of Environment and Energy to recognize the mistake she has made and reverse her decision today.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I'm going to read from an Internet release, a media release that is run on the WCB home page, dated March 26, 1996. It says that internal controls have led to the charge of fraud against a worker for defrauding the WCB. It says that this worker is alleged to have not reported income earned while collecting WCB benefits and then goes on to name the worker.
How incredible. This worker hasn't been convicted of anything. There's been no proof brought against him. He's only been charged with an offence, and yet the WCB is running a release talking about how this individual has been charged with an offence.
What I find so incredible about this is there are documented cases where companies have in fact defrauded the WCB. I don't see the government, or the WCB under this government, out there with a media release announcing that company X or company Y has been charged and convicted with defrauding the WCB. There have also been cases where WCB's own employees have been found guilty of defrauding the WCB. I don't see the government out there running media releases trumpeting the name of this person who has been convicted. Yet if it's an injured worker, the government suddenly runs a media release.
OPTIMIST IN ACTION WEEK
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): It gives me great pleasure to announce the provincial proclamation for the week of May 26 to June 1 as Optimist in Action Week.
The Optimist organization was formed in 1919 in Louisville, Kentucky. The original motto was "Friend of the Delinquent Boy." In 1924, the first Canadian club was formed here in Toronto. As the organization grew and more programs were added, the need to service all youth was mandated, and the new motto now reads "Friends of Youth."
Every day, an Optimist member strives to set a positive example for our youth. Every year, foundations of character are built for our six million young people. It is all possible thanks to the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of thousands of Optimists found around the world. Optimist Day in Action is a celebration throughout the world.
For over 77 years, the Optimists have found ways to help young people feel better about themselves, learn, be happy and build solid foundations of character.
The government of the province of Ontario recognizes the needs which are being met by the Optimist clubs on behalf of our youth. Their commitments are helping to shape our youth into the future leaders of our communities.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I rise today to let the Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines know that it is completely improper for him to be using his ministerial budget to promote himself in his own riding.
Despite rules to the contrary, and a parliamentary tradition that ministers shall not use government resources to assist them politically in their ridings, Chris Hodgson has been using government equipment to send a mass fax of Tory propaganda to his constituents.
Shortly after the budget was released, a budget that slashed $150 million and 2,100 employees from his Ministry of Natural Resources and millions from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, something that the Minister of Northern Development and Mines should not be proud of, the fax machine in the ministry began to roll, extolling the virtues of the budget.
Minister, I should not have to remind you that your job is to represent the people of Victoria-Haliburton here at Queen's Park, not the other way around. It is clear from the propaganda you were sending out of your ministry into your riding you have decided it's more important to represent Queen's Park in Victoria-Haliburton.
By the way, the next time you decide to send government propaganda into your riding, at least do it according to the rules. After the cuts your ministries have taken, I doubt they have the resources to take on the responsibility of your constituency office as well.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): The Connell and Ponsford District School Area Board in my riding of Lake Nipigon is very concerned about this Tory government's decision to levy a 5% local education tax increase on boards in isolated communities that offer the junior kindergarten program. This is totally absurd.
Isolated school boards are funded quite differently than other boards in the province of Ontario. This government is taking away the right of isolated boards to provide the kind of education that meets the needs of its children. Effectively what you're doing is taking away the jurisdictional capacity of local school boards. If the school board wants to offer junior kindergarten and it is within the constraints of its budget, why can it not do so?
The school board, and only the school board, must decide whether local education taxes need to be increased if the program is offered; not you, Minister of Education. So simply put, with respect to the minister, get off our backs.
COLD TURKEY WEEK
Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): I rise today to inform my honourable colleagues about an initiative which took place in the fine riding of Durham Centre over the past week and a half. At Anderson Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Whitby students participated in Cold Turkey Week, a campaign to help students quit smoking and to help prevent others from starting smoking. I was proud to be the sponsor of that event.
At the outset the participants blew into a carbon monoxide detector provided by the Ontario Lung Association to register their level of lung contamination and were given a "Support Smoke-Free 100%" button by me. They then agreed to stay smoke-free for at least the duration of the week-long event, which culminated in an award ceremony held at lunch-hour on Tuesday, May 21.
Those students who stayed smoke-free as proved by the second test were presented with prizes, which included gift certificates for CDs. I would like to thank Campaign Action on Tobacco for its donations to the event. Of the 84 registered students, 37 were successful in staying smoke-free. That's just over 44%. Those are good results, a 25% increase over last year's scores.
I know that the other members of this House will join me in congratulating the staff and students of Anderson CVI for a job well done.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Please join me in welcoming the fifth group of pages to serve the 36th Parliament of Ontario:
Timothy Bastedo, Muskoka-Georgian Bay; Mark Boushy, Sarnia; Victoria Cafik, Waterloo North; Catherine Clune-Taylor, Scarborough Centre; Sheri Cox, York East; Roman Dzioba, Ottawa Centre; Shannon Ibey, Rainy River; Jonathan James, Brampton South; Matthew Johnston, Halton Centre; Kevin Kingsbury, Grey-Owen Sound; Christopher Kirby, Algoma; Alison Lang, Markham; Kathryn Lee, Lambton; Michael LeSage, Hastings-Peterborough; Carly MacDonnell, Niagara Falls; John MacNevin, Windsor-Riverside; Melinda Marrs, Nipissing; Lamine Martindale, St Andrew-St Patrick; David Meyer, Wentworth North; Sarah Olmstead, Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings; Troy Savage, Carleton East; Corrin Smithson, Dufferin-Peel; Ashley Snell, St Catharines; Christine Warwick, Huron. Welcome.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I rise today to introduce legislation that will crack down on unsafe truck drivers and impaired drivers. This legislation will allow us to get tough against those drivers who continue to compromise the safety of Ontario's highways. We are encouraging good driving and making it very clear that bad driving doesn't pay.
This legislation targets truck and bus drivers who drive unsafely or operate unsafe vehicles, it targets people who drink and drive and it targets people who have not been required to wear seatbelts.
A rise in truck-related safety offences has focused attention on the need for action against mechanical defects and the unsafe operation of commercial vehicles on Ontario highways. Inquests into two fatalities caused by wheels falling off large trucks recommended tougher sanctions against safety infractions. We are increasing the minimum fines for safety-related infractions to between $200 and $400 and increasing the maximum by 10 times, to $20,000. Truck fines will no longer simply be a cost of doing business.
This bill also includes enabling legislation that will allow us to develop a review system for commercial drivers, including truck and bus drivers, in the near future. Together with the fines, these are strict penalties that will act as a strong deterrent to unsafe driving. These measures were first detailed in our road safety plan announced last fall. That plan focuses on three areas: enhancing enforcement, preventing drinking and driving and improving safety in the trucking industry.
This legislation also introduces administrative licence suspension, which is an immediate 90-day suspension for any driver registering over the legal blood alcohol count. I would like to thank my friend the Attorney General for his support and cooperation in making this possible. We will not tolerate impaired drivers. Administrative licence suspension has proven successful in other jurisdictions and will save lives in Ontario. As a result, a reinstatement fee of $100 will apply when those suspended licences are reinstated, to cover the administrative costs.
This legislation will also make it more difficult to receive a seatbelt exemption.
This legislation finally will crack down on those who jeopardize highway safety.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): The first question is, why did it take so long? For the last 10 months the basic message from safe trucking advocates, from your own front-line OPP officers was: "It's the fines. Increase the fines by making them meaningful." Why it would take 10 months to finally do that, when you were told specifically by front-line officers like Cam Woolley and Sergeant Mark Wolfe of the OPP -- the truck troopers, as they're called -- who said, "Increase the fines," is beyond belief.
Next, there's no reference at all to the trucking companies. The only reference is to truck drivers, to the front-line troops in the business. There's no mention of getting tough with trucking companies. We know the real problem with unsafe trucks on Ontario highways is that trucking companies are pushing their employees to put unsafe trucks on the road. Just-in-time delivery is what's causing the problem. Subsequently, the person holding the bag is the truck driver. He or she is being forced by the owners of these profit-making companies -- not all of them, but certainly too many of them -- and that's the root of the problem. There's no mention of it in this statement. I hope the legislation will have some mechanisms to hold trucking companies accountable for safety on our highways.
Another reference we have to make is to the people who have been advocates for safe trucking. As you know, a few months ago the OPP found that 75% of trucks that were stopped near Pickering were unsafe. How many front-line officers will be added to enforce these rules? How many more inspectors will be added, especially when 1,200 transportation department people have received layoff notices or are going to receive layoff notices? Who's going to do the enforcement? We know of the cutbacks in the OPP and the cutbacks in the Ministry of Transportation.
We are very discouraged if we look at what's been happening with another part of road safety: bus safety. Bill 39 has had second reading, and despite the requests of people who are involved with bus transportation -- people who own companies are saying, "You have to be tougher with companies that own buses." They've asked for the minimum level of insurance to be raised to $10 million. Instead, this government, in committee, refused that amendment. They keep the minimum insurance level about the same level as it is for an ordinary automobile, and that is not acceptable considering that you might have 40 to 50 passengers on a bus. This government has refused that amendment to make that minimum level higher.
The second thing this government is not doing in terms of safety on the roads is the whole issue about comprehensive safety audits. Again, in this bill the government is proposing, they refuse to have immediate safety audits before you get your licence for a bus, for instance. They are not listening to the busing companies that are saying, "Have the safety audit presented when you get your licence."
So we certainly support the minister finally listening to the safety advocates, listening to the front-line OPP officers, but you cannot take 10 months to do something which is staring you right in the face. I think what we have to ensure is that the enforcement is there, that there are more OPP officers assigned to inspection, that there are more inspection officers assigned, because all the new regulations in place are no darned good unless you have the front-line people who can enforce these regulations.
Again, the bottom line is that we also have to get a minister who's going to be tough with the trucking companies, because that's the root of the problem: letting trucking companies off the hook and putting all the pressure on the truck drivers, who again are victims in many cases.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): In the Ministry of Environment, one of the changes made was to make the board of directors and officers of the company personally responsible for pollution offences, and we found out pollution offences decreased quickly. This could be done in this particular instance, and I think you'd find the results positive.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): We too welcome the announcement today. Like the Liberals have said, and we wish to echo their sentiment, it's about time, Minister.
I want to take you back to a year ago almost to the day. As soon as they took office, as soon as this minister was sworn in, the wheels literally started to fall off the ministry. We've been urging the minister, vis-à-vis truck safety, to do something, and all the minister has done is shown his teeth. Don't show your teeth if you can't bite. It does fly as a contradiction.
Let me quote to you the mantra, the bible for the zealots opposite. On page 13 of the Common Sense Revolution, it says under transportation, "$300 million will be trimmed from the transportation ministry's capital budget." On the one hand, the minister stands up today with great fanfare and trumpets an announcement which is meagre in consequence. It's a small thing. On the other hand, he trims $300 million out of the capital budget which is directly related to safety. He spent the last two weeks advertising potholes, and he uses $300 million in trimming. Stop advertising, Minister. Fix them.
He cuts the transfer payment to municipalities and talks about truck safety. He coached one of his ministers, one of his colleagues in this den of misery, to cut the OPP. He cut photo-radar. He advertises higher speed. He's insatiable, he's contradictory, and he wishes us to believe that by raising the fines, the truckers -- it's always the driver; there's no shared onus; it's never the owner -- will just start to slow down and do the job that the minister should be doing himself through funding. That's related to truck safety. So 1, 2, 3, 4, and add the winter maintenance, number 5.
In my special part of Ontario Trans-Canada Highways 11 and 17 were shut down for more days than ever before, and this minister had the audacity to cut the winter maintenance budget. We ran out of bread in Manitouwadge. I guess you can always make some if there's some flour. The children in Marathon and Manitouwadge ran out of milk in this great province of Ontario because the winter budget had been cut and the main road, the lifeline, Trans-Canada Highway 17 was shut down for close to five days -- unprecedented. He has to carry the guilt. He has to come clean. Today we're asking for a lot more than this drop in the bucket which serves the propaganda, the allure of this government.
The truck owners, the truck companies may die laughing. Show some courage, Minister. Stand up in your post like a sentry and tell them that you mean what you say and add some clout to the announcement.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I would like to advise the House that we have a special guest in the west lobby, the former Minister of Agriculture and Food, Mr Jack Riddell from Huron-Middlesex.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): A question for the Premier: The mayor of the city of Toronto has come here today asking why you have refused to meet with her on a number of occasions to discuss the concern she has with the possible changes to or removal of rent controls from tenants all across Toronto, especially when over 60% of the residents of her city are tenants. You have said you would consult; you said you wanted to listen to people. Why would you not meet with the mayor of Toronto and Toronto city council?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): Let me first of all assure the member that I have met with the mayor of Toronto on a number of occasions and continue to meet with her on a whole host of issues that concern her and the city of Toronto.
Let me further assure you that any changes that we may make to rent controls will be positive for tenants, far better than anything the Liberals had. Our commitment is that there will be no changes unless we have consulted, including with the mayor of Toronto and others who will have interests. Unless after that consultation we have something in place that we think will be better -- we know it will be better than what the Liberals had because nothing could be worse than that, where we had 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% and 50% increases, but better even than what was left by and we inherited from the New Democratic Party.
The minister has been consulting with a number of people and we -- the minister and the ministry -- are in the process of evaluating all these proposals.
We're well aware of the concern of the mayor of Toronto in this area, and certainly not only the minister but the ministry and the Premier. We are happy to meet with her to discuss any of these issues, as we are on other issues that we meet with her about on a regular basis.
Mr Colle: The strange thing, though, is that the mayor of Toronto specifically asked for two meetings with you to discuss this concern she expresses on behalf of thousands of residents in Toronto. I still haven't heard from you why you refuse to meet with her on this issue of rent control, especially when it affects so many vulnerable seniors and people on fixed incomes. All this consulting isn't any good unless you meet on the specific issue of rent control. I hope you change your mind and meet with her. Will you change your mind and meet with Toronto council and the mayor and realize that it's important enough for you to meet with her?
Hon Mr Harris: I said I'd meet with her, and you want me to change my mind. I've got to get this straight now. I had a meeting scheduled with the mayor of Toronto. Unfortunately, there was a strike on, and though the picketers said, "We're happy to have you go through and meet with the Premier," Mayor Hall said, "No, I will not do that." Some of the mayors did come. Mayor Hall decided she would not at that particular time.
I can tell you that last Thursday the mayor met with the minister to discuss this very issue and it is the minister who has carriage of any positive changes for tenants in the area of rent review. I also indicated to you that I would be happy to meet with the mayor on any issue she wishes to discuss. If she wishes a specific meeting to discuss rent review, I am very happy to do that. So I hope you don't want me to change my mind and not meet with her.
Mr Colle: Talking about changing your mind: In the by-election in York South, the Tory candidate, in a last-minute attempt to rescue himself, issued this pamphlet that says, "Rent control will continue." Am I to assume that this means that your government, Mr Premier, has now changed its mind again and will ensure that rent control legislation is protected and is left in place? Is this now the new position?
Hon Mr Harris: I might say that most of the criticism in the by-election was aimed at the failed Liberal rent control policies that were in place --
Mr Colle: You are the failed. Your guy failed.
Hon Mr Harris: I read all the literature in the by-election and I might say that in spite of the fact that your party was a disaster on rent controls, you had an excellent candidate, ran a good campaign and you won in spite of the dismal record that you have on rent control. Let me say that the pamphlet indicated --
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Member for Hamilton East, quit hollering.
Hon Mr Harris: -- what our position has always been, was in the last election, was pre-election, was post-election and was in this by-election. There'll be no changes to the failed rent control policies that are in place today until we have something better. So we have been working on coming up with something better even than was there in place for tenants when the NDP was there. Getting something better than the Liberals is easy; getting something better than the NDP is a little tougher but achievable. In the fullness of time, we'll come forward with that.
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): My question is for the Attorney General. Minister, there have been rumours at various times that you were planning on cutting the number of crown attorneys. You have repeatedly indicated that isn't the case. I refer, first, to the Toronto Sun article of January 23: "Attorney General Charles Harnick says he won't axe provincial crown prosecutors.... `I have no such plan,'" says the minister.
In this very chamber on April 2, in answer to a question from our leader, you indicated, "What I have said is that there will be no cuts to crown attorneys until there is a reduction in caseload to warrant it." Yet in a speech to the crown attorneys' association last week, Minister, you indicated that in fact there would be cuts.
I wonder, sir, if you might indicate for us if there is a ministry action plan to lay off crown attorneys.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): There is not a ministry action plan to lay off crown attorneys. There has been a plan developed that will be able to ensure that we are able to always prosecute serious crime and deal appropriately with less serious matters.
That is very contrary to the position of the former Liberal government, which caused 70,000 cases to be thrown out of court. At the same time as 70,000 cases were thrown out of court, and I'm talking about cases dealing with sexual assault, drunk driving and a whole myriad of very serious criminal cases, they were putting more money into the system. But unfortunately, they weren't managing the system to ensure that they could make certain that all communities in this province could remain safe. By their mismanagement, 70,000 cases went out the door. What we are doing is developing a strategy and building on what the former government did with the investment strategy to ensure we are able to prosecute serious crime.
Ms Castrilli: Obviously the Attorney General has no plan, and yet I go back and quote from the speech of the Attorney General himself: "There have been inaccurate rumours of mass layoffs of crown attorneys. I can give you my personal guarantee that there will not be any substantial reduction in complement of crown attorneys." Those are your words, and I suppose you stand by them.
I also quote from the exclusive interview you gave to the Law Times earlier this year where you indicated: "We now have the leanest system in Canada. It would be unrealistic to expect that a lower complement of crown attorneys could manage the cases that are already in the system."
That's very interesting: You believe we have the leanest system; you believe there should be layoffs. So let me ask you again, what are the layoffs you are planning?
Hon Mr Harnick: In response, it's very interesting, because it's true. There are no massive layoffs that are being considered. I've indicated that. What we're doing is dealing with the complement of crown attorneys we have now to better deal with and concentrate on serious crime and make sure all serious crime can continue to be properly prosecuted so we don't run into the problems of the former Liberal government, which had no plan to deal with the intake of cases and the proper prosecution of those cases. That's why 70,000 cases under their management, where there was no business plan, went out and created a situation where communities became less safe.
What we are doing is building on the investment strategy, continuing the investment strategy money, which this year is $6 million more to continue a program that had been completed so that we can concentrate on the prosecution of serious crime, unlike the former Liberal government that had no plan and that saw 70,000 cases dismissed from our courts.
Ms Castrilli: I find it interesting that the minister chides former governments about business plans when he himself has none -- very curious indeed. Yet, sir, you say you will continue the investment strategy; you indicated it here now, you indicated it previously to this chamber. You say, however, in your ministry business plan, which was issued in April, that $9 million will be cut from criminal prosecution. The two are inconsistent.
On May 13 you said you had no plan to scale back prosecutions in Ontario. It would interest you to know, I'm sure -- and I'm sure you know this figure -- that we now have 477 crowns to prosecute some 500,000 cases a year. That caseload has not changed, so how is it that you now are contemplating layoffs? Are you not actually putting the public at risk? Will you not give assurances to the public that not one single crown will be laid off until the caseloads are reduced?
Hon Mr Harnick: The public is not at risk, because we are concentrating on our ability to deal with the caseloads and develop mechanisms to be able to do that, not like the Liberal government, which put every community in this province at risk by having 70,000 cases thrown out. They're very touchy about this, because they had no plan.
The issue here is not dealing with reductions, because the reductions to the criminal law division are so minimal that they won't change the way the criminal law division works. It's a reduction to the criminal law division of about 1.1% of the budget of the Ministry of the Attorney General. This is about developing real strategies to be able to assure the public that we can prosecute all serious crimes, so that no drunk drivings go by way of a stay, so that sexual assaults are properly prosecuted, so that spousal assaults are properly prosecuted; not like this former government that saw 70,000 cases thrown out because it had no strategies, and this at the same time as they were putting more and more money into the system without developing any kind of strategy to deal with the problems.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is to the Premier. The Premier and the labour minister have been telling people that Bill 49, the government's package of changes to the Employment Standards Act, is simply a matter of minor housekeeping. This is an insult to working women and men in the province who will no longer be able to collect the wages and benefits they are owed if this bill passes.
This morning a food court cleaner named Mrs Raposo told a news conference how she worked 12 hours a day for more than three years without being paid overtime. Her employer owes her $6,000. Under your new law and its six-month time limit, Mrs Raposo would only be able to recover $500 of what she is owed. Premier, this worker will lose $5,500 of wages that are owed to her. How does your government justify taking that away from her?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): If you have a specific case, we'd be happy to look at it, and if you believe this type of case deserves a look at, this bill is going for hearings. We'd be happy to look at all those. I can tell you that the six-month limitation is standard for the other provinces. There are other provinces that have taken the initiative to streamline a number of these processes in the employment standards, better protect workers, do it more efficiently and, for the last 10 years, two governments sat there and did nothing.
We are now in the process of both housekeeping and making some changes to streamline and, as you know, in a major way looking at changes to the whole area. We're inviting consultation on the housekeeping, we're inviting consultation on this change to bring us in line with the other provinces and we're inviting consultation on any significant changes that we think may take place. The minister is consulting with that now. If you have an individual case you would like me personally to look into, send it over. I'd be happy to do it.
Mr Hampton: It's very interesting. This low-paid worker is going to lose $5,500 of wages that she is owed and the Premier calls it housekeeping and streamlining. The fact of the matter is that this government has not offered consultation on this bill. This government wants this bill passed with minimum public consultation, and when you hear how low-paid workers are going to get screwed out of wages that they're owed, you can understand why the government wants it passed quickly with no consultation.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. I wish the member would withdraw that unparliamentary language. I find the word that you used offensive. Would you please withdraw it.
Mr Hampton: This worker is going to have $5,500 stolen from her.
The Speaker: Order. Would you withdraw?
Mr Hampton: This worker is going to be cheated out of $5,500 that she is owed.
Let me ask the Premier a supplementary: The Premier should be aware that low-paid workers sometimes are owed more than $30,000 before they're able to get their complaint before the Ministry of Labour. Under your Bill 49 they will have to settle for $10,000 or less, even if they're owed up to $30,000. The other option you're proposing is that these low-paid workers hire a lawyer and go to court and jam up the court system that the Attorney General is trying to squeeze cases out of. Totally absurd.
Will the Premier now admit that this bill has important implications for workers in Ontario? Why not withdraw Bill 49 and include all these issues in the minister's overall review of the Employment Standards Act which is supposed to be conducted? Why not do that rather than hurt these workers?
Hon Mr Harris: First of all, the case that you put forward is not being affected by this legislation, according to my understanding, one whit; not a nickel is being lost. The act has not been passed yet. We're going to have hearings on the bill. We've not talked about date of implementation, we've not talked about retroactivity. You raise these pie-in-the-sky examples that are irrelevant. You concern people that need not necessarily be concerned before you even know.
What we are doing is bringing in a number of minor changes, some of them housekeeping, some of them you might argue more than housekeeping, to bring ourselves in line with other provinces to try and streamline the system, to try and make it more effective so that we can better use our resources to help workers.
If you know for a fact now (a) that the bill is going to pass, (b) the results of the hearings, (c) the implementation date, you know more than the Premier and the minister, which is the way you act most days.
Mr Hampton: I think I heard the Premier say again that when a worker stands to lose $20,000 under this bill, it's just streamlining and it's just housekeeping. The reality is that workers -- most of them will be low-paid workers -- from Cornwall to Thunder Bay stand to lose all kinds of money. They stand to lose the wages and they stand to lose the benefits they are owed.
All we ask the government to do is to withdraw this so-called piece of streamlining and housekeeping. If they want to bring it forward as part of the larger consultation on the Employment Standards Act later, that would be fine, but to try to slip what amounts to cheating workers out of wages and benefits they are due and call it housekeeping and cleaning things up is absurd. We're asking the government, if it's really serious, to take this stuff out and put it in the larger Employment Standards Act consultation which is going to be held later on.
What's the government going to do? Are they going to cheat these workers out of their money or are they going to withdraw this stuff?
Hon Mr Harris: The only cheating of workers in this province has been in mismanagement of finances, in mismanaged government and in mismanaged policies. You've cheated workers in Ontario out of jobs, out of hope, out of opportunity and out of the prosperity they should have had. That's what's happened over the past 10 years. That is the only cheating. You cheated children, my children, your children and all children, out of their future with the absolute disaster that you have brought on the people of the province of Ontario.
The Speaker: New question, the leader of the third party.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I wonder what the employees of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Energy would have to say if the Premier got up and said nobody has cheated them out of a job.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): My question is to the Minister of Environment and Energy. The Minister of Environment and Energy will know that she has said repeatedly in this House that the Macdonald report on the future of Ontario Hydro was due at the end of April and still has not been made public, yet we see the president of Ontario Hydro, Dr Kupcis, going to New York to prime foreign investors for the selloff of Ontario Hydro. Here we have the president of one of the largest public utilities in the world travelling to Wall Street to peddle the goods. This raises a lot of questions.
Does the minister think it's appropriate for the president of Ontario Hydro to go to Wall Street to discuss the selloff of Ontario Hydro with foreign investors before the release of the Macdonald commission report so that the public of Ontario knows what is being recommended for the future of that utility?
Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): Certainly we are all anxious to see the results of the Macdonald commission report. While I understand that a report discussed the speech Mr Kupcis delivered in Washington, I would draw your attention to a letter to the editor that he subsequently wrote, and I quote from that letter: "At no time did I tell the audience or the Star reporter that I was confident Ontario Hydro would soon win provincial approval for a controversial plan to sell off parts of the public utility."
This is a very serious matter for the province of Ontario, and I would simply like to assure my colleagues across the way that this is a decision that will be made by the government in due time with thoughtful consideration.
Mr Wildman: The minister will know that her own deadline for the release of the Macdonald report that she says we're all waiting with bated breath to hear about is gone. It's over a month since she said that the report would be available.
The statements by Dr Kupcis raise a number of questions. Have Dr Kupcis and Mr Farlinger and senior officials of Ontario Hydro been briefed on the contents and the recommendations of the Macdonald commission report? If they have been briefed, when is the minister intending to release this report so that everybody in Ontario would know what's being recommended?
Hon Mrs Elliott: Mr Speaker, I can assure you that no one at Ontario Hydro has been briefed as to the contents of the Macdonald report. I believe I indicated when I was last asked about this that the final printing and editing of that report is nearing completion and it will be released to everyone shortly.
Mr Wildman: That raises some interesting questions. As a supplementary, we understand that this week the minister is having meetings with various stakeholders in Ontario in the energy field about your next moves in relation to the privatization of Ontario Hydro. Has the minister been briefed about the recommendations of the Macdonald commission report, or are you waiting until we brief all of the other investors before even you find out what's being proposed by Macdonald?
When are you going to release this so all Ontarians, not just big players in the energy field but all Ontarians who own this major asset, will know what the government is planning for the future of this important utility in this province?
Hon Mrs Elliott: As a matter of fact, I have received the document and I am in the process of reviewing it. We will be meeting with a number of people over the next while to talk about a number of issues with regard to electricity restructuring. Again I would emphasize that this government is committed to ensuring that the province of Ontario has safe, reliable and competitive power for the present and for the future, and we will be seeking advice on how to change this monopoly in an ongoing manner.
SERVICES FOR THE DISABLED
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training. There are six regional schools in Ontario whose mandate is to serve children with significant disabilities. They're called section 68 schools. I'd like the minister to confirm today that he will not change the status of these section 68 schools and, above all, that he will not tamper with the funding of them. These schools particularly serve children with significant disabilities, and those requirements cannot be met within the regular school system.
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): The honourable member brings forth an issue that's been in the media somewhat over the last few days; that is, section 68 school boards. There are in fact six across the province. These boards take care of the most needy young people in the province, the people who require a great deal of assistance. They are usually attached to a health institute and these boards are run by voluntary trustees.
As the member opposite might know, the Sweeney commission suggested amalgamating these section 68 boards with their coterminous school boards, and we are now looking for input from MPPs. I've asked MPPs from all parties to talk to their local areas, including the section 68 boards, and to give information back to our ministry by the end of this month. We'll consider the input from MPPs on all of the issues that were brought forward by the Sweeney commission, not just the section 68.
Mrs Pupatello: In April 1996 the minister said specifically that if we must make changes, we must make them reasonably and after some consideration. Where section 68 schools are concerned, amalgamating them with regular existing school boards is not the answer, because the funding issue is critical. These children are very expensive to teach and everyone acknowledges that. We cannot lose sight of these children by including them under larger boards. That's what they used to do in the 1940s and 1950s.
Whether they come from Essex county affiliated with the rehab centre there, the Niagara Peninsula board, whether it's Ottawa Centre, all of those, they cannot afford to be lost as children. We need to have assurance from the minister today that the funding will not be tampered with. We acknowledge that it's expensive. We also acknowledge that this is how we must treat children with significant disabilities. I would like your assurance today that you will not change the funding formulas.
Hon Mr Snobelen: First of all, I'm a little surprised. The member for Windsor-Sandwich is not referring to suggestions on amalgamation of these boards that were made by this government. She is referring to a report that was made by a former member of her party that suggested amalgamation of these section 68 boards with their coterminous boards. I find it a little surprising that she would bring the subject up in the House today.
On the funding issue -- I will agree with the honourable member that funding is a critical issue for these high-needs young people -- currently the funding model for section 68 school boards is 80% the responsibility of the province and 20% the responsibility of the local school board. I would suggest to the member that we should consider, in the course of funding changes in education, which we've talked about in the House on many occasions, whether there can be an improvement and more resources available for these needy young people. I would not leave out entirely the possibility of having more resources available for these young people, if that's necessary, and I would not stand here in the House and do that today.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. You would know that today Mayor Hall, along with other city councillors and people from Metro, was here at a press conference to speak out to this government and say that they want to see the present system of rent controls saved. Mayor Hall herself, in addressing that press conference, said that the NDP system of rent controls that was put in place by my government was working and that they want you to keep your hands off it.
You're on record as saying that you want to scrap the system entirely and that you believe the system doesn't work. I find it interesting that the Premier stood in the House today in response to a question and said, and I want to quote from this, that he thinks it will be hard to improve on the present NDP rent control system and that anything you guys do, you're not going to put tenants at risk.
I ask the minister this question: Seeing that the cornerstone of the NDP legislation was a system where you had an absolute cap on the amount that rent can go up, would you be in agreement, to keep the system of rent control we have now, with keeping the cap in place and not eliminating the cap altogether? If you do, rents are going to go through the roof for tenants.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): As we've said continually, we're not planning to do anything with the system until such time as we have a system that we believe is better, and we're very close to bringing that forward.
I met with Mayor Hall last Thursday. We talked about rent control. I am meeting with city of Toronto councillors tomorrow evening to talk about rent control. I invite you to the meeting, although you're probably going to be there anyway. We're consulting with everybody; we're talking with everybody. We're not going to do anything until we're convinced that what we have is better and what we will bring forward will be better.
Mr Bisson: You say you're consulting, but when you go as I have to Kitchener, Sudbury, Ottawa, Toronto and different places across the province, including Windsor, tenants come in droves, and when we go canvassing in their apartment buildings they say the cornerstone of the present system of rent control is the cap. They're afraid that your government, in its zeal to move off the rent control system and put in place a system that would be heavily favourable to landlords, would eliminate that cap.
Certainly tenants have been telling you not to remove the cap. I ask you the questions again: Will you keep in place the cap we presently have with rent control, such as was put in place by the NDP, not eliminate the cap? Will you commit to that today?
Hon Mr Leach: No. What I will commit to is bringing in a system that's better than the one we have at the present time. We're going to do that, and I keep repeating that. I have met with the United Tenants of Ontario, I've met with all the tenant associations across this province and I'm trying to find out from them where we can fix it. They've had many great suggestions, and I've continued to assure them that what we bring in will provide protection for tenants, and we continually do that. Why you go out and stir up the fearmongering by talking about 40%, 50%, 60%, 70% rent increases just amazes me. That's the type of system that happened when the Liberals were in power. It won't happen under our government.
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): My question is to the Minister of Transportation. Minister, all the citizens of the Bruce were glad to hear that you are committed to repairing and rehabilitating the highways in the province. However, the government cut MTO's budget in April. Doesn't your recent budget announcement merely replace the dollars that were previously cut?
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): This government places a high value on the highway network, which provides essential transportation links in all parts of the province. We have committed $350 million in 1996-97 to repair and rehabilitate our highways. That's more money than has been spent on our infrastructure in the last six years.
The reduction of $35.3 million which was announced in April is to be achieved through overhead reductions and efficiencies so we can spend more money on the highways in the ground. The reduction in no way affects the planned rehabilitation. In fact, the additional funding announced in the budget enables us to renew some 1,800 additional kilometres of highway pavement and bridges across the province. We are taking the first step to clear the backlog the last two governments have placed as a burden on the people of Ontario by underfunding the rehabilitation during the last 10 years. We are going to undo what they did.
Mrs Fisher: I'm very interested to know we have a common problem: It's potholes, as the opposition might be saying. I would like to ask the minister when the residents of the Bruce might see the minister coming to the Bruce to fill the potholes on Highway 6.
Hon Mr Palladini: Although I have now gained experience filling potholes, I am sure the people of Bruce would rather see the ministry staff road crews repair the potholes. What we have done is to ensure that crews have the resources to do the job. I'd like to assure this House and the people of Ontario that you can expect a much smoother ride in the times ahead. We are going to do what we said: repair every pothole in the province.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. You know that last week an Ontario court told your government to live up to your obligations and ruled against you in an action over the cancellation of the non-profit projects approved by the previous government. The court ruled that you cannot make development consultants sign away their rights to sue for breach of contract before paying them the outstanding bills that both they and the government claim are owing.
In that particular case, Home Quest Consultants -- Mr Wayne Malo, the president, is in the gallery today -- has been owed $29,000 since last July. Many of these housing consultants are small businesses. Will you now, as a result of this court ruling, pay all the other small businesses, the housing consultants, the money that is rightfully owing to them, not only according to their own accord but according to your own ministry's accord? Will you be fair to them and pay them?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): We've always been prepared to pay those bills. We've always told the consultants and the developers that we would pay all the costs they had incurred carrying out those contracts. We have said that continually. What we asked them to do was to sign a release saying that after we paid them, they wouldn't turn around and sue the government. This gentleman has taken that matter to court. The courts have ruled. That's what courts are for.
Mr Gerretsen: Minister, you are wrong. Your ministry people have been saying you'll only pay them if they will sign off and not sue the government with respect to any other items that may be owing to them. Why are you --
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Minister?
Mr Gerretsen: Just a minute. I haven't finished my question yet. Why aren't you being fair to these people?
The Speaker: Order. You had asked the question and sat down. It's the minister's turn to reply.
Hon Mr Leach: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think they'd better change the air filters over there. I think there's a little problem with the oxygen.
Mr Gerretsen: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I did not hear the minister's reply, and I sat down. There's too much noise in the House from the government side.
The Speaker: Order. Would the minister wrap up his answer. Are you finished?
Hon Mr Leach: I answered the question. I said we have been negotiating with all the developers, all the co-op properties that were there. We're negotiating with the operators of the projects, not the individuals who were involved in delivering some of the services, but we assured them all that they would be paid for any costs they incurred up until the time the projects were cancelled, and we are doing that and we will do that.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a question for the Minister of Education and Training. For months now parents and teachers and members of boards across the province have been telling you that your massive cuts to education will harm education in the classroom for students. Even some of your own colleagues said you were out of whack, that your cuts were hurting classrooms. Now your own parliamentary assistant, the member for Wentworth North, has admitted in the press that the Ontario government's $400-million cut to school boards is having an impact on the classroom.
Are you now prepared to admit that you were wrong, that you couldn't take this amount of money out in one year and not affect the classroom, and are you prepared now to deal with the effects of your irresponsible cuts on students' education in Ontario?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I want to thank the leader of the third party for the question, and also, before I address the question, Mr Speaker, with your permission, I'd like to extend my congratulations to the leader of the third party. I understand you christened your daughter last week and I'd like to congratulate you for that. That would be the nice part of the reply, and now the rest of it.
If the leader of the third party will read on in the article a little further, read the whole article, I think he'll find that the member was quoted as saying there are many school boards across the province that have in fact found ways of reducing costs, of providing a better value for the taxpayer without affecting the classroom. We encourage, my colleague encourages, all of us encourage school boards to be responsible for this, to take the actions that need to be taken to provide a better value for taxpayers and a better education for students. We know that's achievable.
Mr Wildman: I'd like to thank the minister for his kind congratulations and just say to him in sincerity that I and all members of this House hope my daughter is able to have the kind of education that her older brothers had in the classrooms of this province.
The parliamentary assistant is quoted in the press as saying he plans to take the problem of deteriorating education in certain Ontario classrooms back to Minister of Education Snobelen for correction.
Since we've been hearing from teachers and students, educators, school boards, parents, many, many people across the province, that your cuts are having negative effects on classroom education despite the commitment you made in the election campaign, and now that your parliamentary assistant agrees and says he wants you to do something to correct this, what are you going to do to meet the proposal of the parliamentary assistant that you correct the problem you've created in classroom education? How are you going to correct this?
Hon Mr Snobelen: First, I believe we have a lot of different responses to our request that school boards make savings outside of the classroom. As the member opposite knows, there have been a number of studies and reports on the education system in Ontario that indicate there are savings available outside of the classroom, and we believe it's the responsibility of this government and of the boards to make those savings to have the system be affordable and sustainable over time.
We'll be encouraging boards to do that. We'll be continuing to monitor board activities and the actions of boards and the teacher federations and other stakeholders in education across the province, making sure that those reductions are found outside of the classroom. We believe that Bill 34, which is before the House now, has some measures in it that will help school boards in this endeavour.
Not only am I committed to making sure that the education system maintains its excellence quality for the benefit of the honourable member's daughter and for all of that generation, but I'm committed to having it be improved by better standards, by a tougher curriculum, by better outcomes for all of the students across the province. That's the commitment of this government to a better education system for the young people of Ontario.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): I'm pleased that the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is committed to doing better for less, but with the reduction in the number of meat inspectors can the minister assure me that the meat inspection will continue to be considered an essential service?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I want to thank the honourable member for that question because, in the ministry's opinion, the ministry is considering this meat inspection as very important and indeed an essential service. We're not reducing our involvement in meat inspection, we're utilizing our staff more effectively, we're doing better with less. We're rationalizing the meat inspection services so that we are increasing efficiency and reducing the cost to taxpayers, and there will even be some federal involvement here. We have been and will continue to do so in consultation with farmers and processors.
Mr Fox: I wonder how the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs could reassure consumers that food safety is not being compromised by a reduction in the number of meat inspectors.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I can assure the honourable member that there is no compromise in the inspection of all produce and meats coming through from the farm. I want to point out that our meat inspectors are certified to the highest standards. Of the 300 or so provincially licensed plants, there are only about 30 of them that are operating 35 hours a week. So indeed when members from the third party suggest that we shouldn't be doing some reduction here and some contracting --
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): No, I am just asking why it is you thought they were essential a few weeks ago and not now.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Maybe the honourable member leading the third party would like to know his party reduced by 30% the number of meat inspectors from 1992 to 1995. We're simply replacing them with contract people that will provide the services. We do not want the situation that occurred during the strike ever to happen again.
UNEMPLOYMENT IN THE NORTH
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): My question is to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. The members of the official opposition from the north are very concerned about the job reductions in the north. If you just look at Sudbury as an example, only a partial list: the regional office of Environment and Energy, a 75% reduction in job force, endangering emission monitoring, endangering vegetation enhancement and quality, air and water quality in Sudbury, to mention only a few; the regional office of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation; the MTO section; the administration section of the OPP moved; the communications section moved; closing of the identification unit.
If you look at all these cuts, Minister, Sudbury and the rest of northern Ontario is taking a proportionate job loss reduction which is beyond comprehension -- hundreds of jobs in Sault Ste Marie, hundreds of jobs in Thunder Bay, hundreds of jobs in Sudbury. For smaller communities such as Englehart, Espanola, Blind River, their very existence may be in jeopardy because of these job losses.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Put your question.
Mr Bartolucci: Minister, my question is a short one and it's rather simple. Did you, as the curator of northern interests, agree with the cabinet decision to cancel these jobs? Can you give me the rationale behind it? And finally, in this part, how are these cuts good for northern Ontario?
Hon Chris Hodgson (Minister of Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines): You raise a very important issue, that when you are downsizing, it makes it stressful for the employees and the employees' families and on the communities that are affected as well. But I can tell you that if there's hope in this -- I think that's what the member is asking for, how he can take back a message to his communities across the north -- it's that we're restoring the fiscal climate in Ontario. We're restoring government's role of delivering services efficiently and effectively, and that's good news for all Ontario.
As well, the reductions are based on the function that will be carried out by the government. We're clearly going back to what is the core function of the government to provide, and we're allowing others to provide services that they're more efficient at. For instance, in many northern communities, the role of government services will be created by the private sector. There will be opportunities there in consulting work and in actually doing tree marking and tree planting. There are industries that have sprung up in the last 20 years that weren't there 30 years ago. You can just look at the forestry section, the nurseries. Those are industries that weren't in existence 30 or 40 years ago. Now there's a capacity in job creation that's taking place there.
So I think that when we look at the cumulative impact, you'll see that it's been fair, it's based on function, and it's even across the province.
Mr Bartolucci: Mr Minister, first of all, it's a ridiculous answer, almost an idiotic answer, but I will allow that, coming from you. But let me tell you, it's based on fiscal responsibility. If it's based on fiscal responsibility, can you please explain to the House why you have a Deputy Minister of Northern Development and Mines who refuses to move to the north to operate out of the north? Do you consider the fiscal responsibility of what's happening now, with eight people from his staff commuting from Sudbury to Toronto on a weekly basis, is a better way of managing a ministry: four people staying in a hotel, four people renting a house, you paying a meal allowance for all eight, you paying transportation allowance for all of them, because a deputy minister responsible for northern development and mines doesn't want to move north? Can you confirm that that's happening, first of all, and do you agree with it, yes or no?
Hon Mr Hodgson: The preamble was interesting. I'll give you a direct answer that if you compare the cost of doing business today under the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and compare it to the travel costs before under the previous two administrations in the last 10 years, I think you'll find that we come out rather favourably.
The role of northern development is a listening post from northern Ontario to have input into decisions that are made at Queen's Park. You want to have that input around the line ministries at Toronto, and it is more economical and more efficient to run it this way, with more input from northerners, than to have a big head office and no input on the decisions that are made, just to hear about the end result. I think your numbers are wrong, and we'll get you the actual facts that it's cheaper to run it this way than the way it was done in the last 10 years.
The Speaker: New question, the member for Cochrane South.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
The Speaker: Order. The member for Sudbury, come to order.
The Speaker: Order. I'll name the member for Sudbury. We can't put up with this. I would ask the member for Sudbury to leave the chamber. Acting Sergeant at Arms?
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): You let them get away with it on the other side.
The Speaker: No, you can't stand up and challenge the Speaker.
Mr Bartolucci was escorted from the chamber.
ASSISTANCE TO FLOOD VICTIMS
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. You would know, as other members of this assembly know, that over the last week to week and a half the city of Timmins has been undergoing fairly difficult times, and the residents in and around the Mattagami River, in regard to the flood that has taken place.
What concerns me is what concerns a lot of people who are alongside of the river, that in most cases the insurance is not going to pay for damages incurred by the flood; as it is an act of God, the insurance in a lot of cases will not pay.
As those particular individuals come before you, as the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to the city of Timmins, will you assist those families and help them with some of the financial difficulties they will incur for the cleanup that will be left at the end of this flood? Will you assist those families?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I sympathize with the people in the Timmins area and all through the north who suffered through that flooding. There was a lot of very serious damage done there. I know my colleagues the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Northern Development and Mines both were up and visited the scene. All the staff in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs were also involved in ensuring that everything that could be done was done.
My understanding is that Timmins has declared a state of disaster and that under the disaster funding program the community will raise funds. They'll bring that program to the province, and the province will do everything it can to assist them in that.
Mr Bisson: I appreciate the care the ministers have taken in going to Timmins to assess for themselves at first hand the damage as a result of the flood, but I have to ask you the question again. As is the case normally when this happens, they will come from the city to you as the Minister of Municipal Affairs and say, "We need assistance to offset the losses to the residents who have incurred financial loss because of the flood." I'll put the question again. Will you look at those applications favourably and assist those families directly with financial assistance to offset the loss they are going to incur because of the flood and the damage caused by that flood?
Hon Mr Leach: It's up to the municipality to initiate that process. My understanding is that the municipality has started to do that. As the municipality brings individual cases, obviously we will help in any way we possibly can, but as you know, it's done on a case-by-case basis. We will review each case on its merit, and when the merit is there, we will certainly assist them.
COMPUTERS IN SCHOOLS
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): My question is to the Minister of Education and Training. Last week the people in my constituency welcomed the minister's announcement in Ottawa of funding for the technology incentive partnership program, particularly parents at the Carleton Board of Education whose children are in school there.
Minister, I want to raise one concern a particular group had with respect to computers in schools. It's with respect to the number of teachers in my area who stated that they, like students, often lack adequate computer resources and access to computer resources. One of the original stated intentions of TIPPs was supporting professional development for teachers. Could the minister tell the House what provisions he has made with respect to integrating professional development into the TIPPs program?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I enjoyed being in Ottawa last week and having a look at the TIPPs program that's being offered in those schools. I was very pleased and I know all my colleagues were and a lot of the people in the education community were very excited when the Minister of Finance announced a doubling of the government's commitment to the TIPPs program. In fact, $40 million is now available for TIPPs programs throughout Ontario. It's extraordinary. It's making a difference in the education system.
We announced last week that there will be 40 projects going forward from the initial $20 million worth of commitment. That commitment of taxpayers' funds has been levered by a private sector investment that's $3 for ever $2 of government money, so this is really a good program.
Specifically to the honourable member's question, there are several of the 40 projects that involve teachers, teacher education and the ongoing development of teachers. Let me mention two of them. TIPPs 91 is a teacher training technology partnership. It's being offered through the learning partnership and it's being offered by the Hamilton Board of Education. It's designed for in-service and pre-service training of teachers and it's offered through Brock University. Another one is TIPPs 10, which is the hands-on program offered by the Learning Partnership, and it's designed to bring technology to teachers.
Some of these projects are very specifically taking on the whole role of bringing technology to teachers.
Mr Baird: Another group that has expressed its concern to me about the lack of computer resources within the educational system in the province of Ontario is students interested in upgrading their skills or entering the workforce. I wonder if the minister could tell this House what efforts he and his ministry have taken on behalf of this group of students in the province.
Hon Mr Snobelen: Once again, it's a pleasure to answer the honourable member's question. I can mention a whole variety of programs in the TIPPs series but I will mention only one of them, and that is TIPPs 51, which is the high-tech partnership. This is a project that's designed to improve the access and training skills in the area of machinery and industrial arts so that students can have better access to both post-secondary education and to the world of work. This is being offered by the Sudbury Board of Education, just another one of the excellent TIPPs projects offered throughout the province.
DELLCREST CHILDREN'S CENTRE
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I have a petition to the assembly of Ontario which reads:
"Whereas the Dellcrest Children's Centre is planning to open a 10-bed custody residence for troubled children and youth at 182 Dowling Avenue...; and
"Whereas the residence is an inappropriate site for the rehabilitation of troubled children and youth because it is within walking distance to illicit drug and prostitution activities; a large number of unsupervised and supervised rooming houses that are home to ex-psychiatric patients, parolees, and our society's most vulnerable and ostracized members; and a number of licensed establishments that have been charged with various liquor infractions; and
"Whereas the Ministry of Correctional Services and the Dellcrest Children's Centre have decided not to hold open discussions with our community prior to the purchase of this house for the purpose of an open custody residence; and
"Whereas the decision to relocate also expresses a total lack and disregard towards our community's consistent and well-documented wishes for the Ontario government to stop the creation or relocation of additional social service programs or offices in an area that is already oversaturated with health and social services for disadvantaged, troubled or disenfranchised people;
"We, the undersigned local residents and business owners, urge the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services to suspend plans to relocate the open custody residence until a full review of the Dellcrest Children's Centre's decision can be conducted, and explore, with us, alternative" solutions and "locations which are more appropriate."
I've signed my name to this document.
DRINKING AND DRIVING
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I have a petition from some residents in my constituency of Nepean and from Mississauga South addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. Would the members with the private conversations take them out the back, please.
Mr Baird: "Whereas drinking and driving is the largest criminal cause of death and injury in Canada;
"Whereas every 45 minutes in Ontario a driver is involved in an alcohol-related crash;
"Whereas most alcohol-related accidents are caused by repeat offenders;
"Whereas lengthy licence suspensions for impaired driving have been shown to greatly reduce repeat offences;
"Whereas the victims of impaired drivers often pay with their lives, while only 22% of convicted impaired drivers go to jail, and even then only for an average of 21 days;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We urge the provincial government to pass legislation that will strengthen measures against impaired drivers in Ontario."
On the day of Mr Palladini's announcement, I'm pleased to affix my own signature.
VIDEO LOTTERY TERMINALS
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): My petition reads as follows:
"Since video lottery terminals will contribute to gambling addiction in Ontario and the resulting breakup of families, spousal and child abuse, and crimes such as embezzlement and robbery;
"Since the introduction of video lottery terminals across Ontario will provide those addicted to gambling with widespread temptation and will attract young people to a vice which will adversely affect their lives for many years to come;
"Since the introduction of these gambling machines across our province is designed to gain revenue for the government at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and the desperate in order that the government can cut income taxes to the greatest benefit of those with the highest income;
"Since the placement of video lottery terminals in bars in Ontario and in permanent casinos in various locations across the province represents an escalation of gambling opportunities; and
"Since Premier Harris and Finance Minister Eves were so critical of the provincial government becoming involved in further gambling ventures and making the government more dependent on gambling revenues to maintain government operations;
"We, the undersigned, call upon Premier Harris and the government of Ontario to reconsider its announced decision to introduce the most insidious form of gambling, video lottery terminals, to restaurants and bars in the province."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in full agreement with its contents.
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): This is a petition that reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, urge that you, as a representative in Peel, take action to ensure that Peel region services receive its fair share of the funds available for social services. With present and imminent cuts to budgets, Peel's allotment must be made in proportion to its population.
"Peel does not receive a share of funds appropriate to its size. In 1994, the amount allocated per child for social service programs in Peel was $96.52, whereas Toronto received $338.18 per child and the average for Ontario was $261.68. An equitable distribution of the available funds is the only tolerable solution."
I know that our government agrees with this position and I'm also happy to sign my support to this petition.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I keep getting petitions against the $2 user fee. This is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Ministry of Health will begin to charge seniors and social assistance recipients a $2 user fee for each prescription filled on June 1, 1996; and
"Whereas health care experts have asserted that user fees for drugs could jeopardize the health of individuals who cannot afford to pay for their medication; and
"Whereas Ontario's ex-psychiatric populace rely heavily on prescription drugs to remain stable, and mental health care providers and the general public are scared of the outcome if these patients cannot afford to buy their medication because of the $2 user fee when it is normal policy to only prescribe them a two- to three-day supply of medication to prevent potential misuse or an overdose; and
"Whereas the perceived savings to health care from the $2 copayment fee will not compensate for the suffering and misery caused by this user fee and will not even cover the cost of extra emergency services nor repeated hospital services. The $2 copayment fee will consequently not lead to cost savings but rather increases in the case of expensive health care services; and
"Whereas the current Ontario Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, promised as an opposition MPP in a July 5, 1993, letter to Ontario pharmacists that his party would not endorse legislation that will punish patients to the detriment of health care in Ontario;
"We, the undersigned Ontario residents, strongly urge the government of Ontario to repeal this user fee before it takes effect on July 1, 1996, because of the potential dramatic increase in emergency and police services and the suffering and misery of human lives -- especially psychiatric outpatients and those who depend on medication for their daily survival."
I'm affixing my signature to this document because I'm in full agreement with it.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a petition that reads as follows:
"Whereas since March of 1996 gasoline prices have increased, on an average of a dramatic 10 cents a litre, which is over 45 cents a gallon;
"Whereas this increase in the price of gasoline has outpaced the rate of inflation by a rate that is totally unacceptable to all consumers in this province because it is unfair and directly affects their ability to purchase other consumer goods;
"Whereas Premier Mike Harris and Consumer and Commercial Relations Minister Norm Sterling, while in opposition, expressed grave concern for gas price gouging and asked the government of the day to take action;
"We, the undersigned, petition Premier Harris and the government of Ontario to eliminate gas price-fixing and prevent the oil companies from gouging the public on an essential and vital product."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in agreement with its contents.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I am not surprised we keep getting these petitions, simply because of the great need to ensure that this government will listen to the members and to the people.
This petition is to the Ontario Legislature and it reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned, are firmly opposed to the erosion of the child care system. We are most particularly concerned about the unregulated child care sector, which represents the choice of most Ontario families, many living in rural areas.
"We urge this government to make its budget reduction in areas where children and families will not once again be the target of cuts. Family resource programs support the informal sector of child care, which includes parents caring for their own children and the care provided by grandparents, home child care providers and nannies."
I'm affixing my signature to this document.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): I have a petition signed by a number of constituents.
"Whereas the people of Ontario are being subjected to the most drastic reductions in service in the history of the province;
"Whereas the Premier has required that the people of the province pay higher user fees and property taxes;
"Whereas the Premier and his ministers have preached restraint to all who have requested funding from the provincial government;
"We, the undersigned, request that the government of Ontario not embark upon an advertising campaign using the taxpayers' dollars and designed to sell the Ontario budget to the people of the province."
I affix my signature to this important petition.
LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a petition from people in Ontario reading 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-producing industry;
"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario abandon its plan to turn over the sale of liquor and spirits to private liquor stores and retain the LCBO for this purpose."
I affix my signature to this petition as I'm in full agreement with its contents.
QUEEN STREET MENTAL HEALTH CENTRE
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I have a petition which is signed by hundreds of residents from the Parkdale and Fort York riding to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"We, the undersigned, beg leave to petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"Whereas the PC government is going to open a 20-bed forensic facility for the criminally insane at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre; and
"Whereas the nearby community is already home to the highest number of ex-psychiatric patients and social service organizations and hundreds of licensed and unlicensed rooming houses, group homes and crisis care facilities in all of Canada; and
"Whereas there are existing facilities that could be expanded to assess and treat the criminally insane; and
"Whereas no one was consulted, not the local residents, not the business community, not leaders of community organizations, not education and child care providers and not even the local member of provincial Parliament;
"We, the undersigned residents and business owners of our community, urge the PC government of Ontario and the Minister of Health especially to immediately stop all plans to accommodate the criminally insane in an expanded Queen Street Mental Health Centre until a public consultation process is completed."
I affix my name to this petition because I agree with it 100%.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): I have a petition about gas prices.
"Whereas since March 1996, gas prices have increased on average a dramatic 10 cents a litre, which is over 45 cents a gallon;
"Whereas this increase in gas prices has outpaced the rate of inflation by a rate that is totally unacceptable to the consumers of this province because it is unfair and directly affects their ability to purchase other consumer goods;
"Whereas Premier Mike Harris and Consumer and Commercial Relations Minister Norm Sterling, while in opposition, expressed grave concern for gas price gouging and asked the government of the day to take action;
"We, the undersigned, petition Premier Harris and the government of Ontario to eliminate gas price fixing and prevent the oil companies from gouging the public on an essential and vital product."
I affix my signature to this worthwhile petition.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The member for Wellington on a point of order.
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): Mr Speaker, last Thursday, May 16, in a question to the Minister of Health I indicated that the amount of money that was budgeted for doctors' pay in Ontario was $8.3 billion. That was inaccurate; I had the numbers reversed. It's actually $3.8 billion. I'd like to correct my record.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
ROAD SAFETY ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 SUR LA SÉCURITÉ ROUTIÈRE
Mr Palladini moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill 55, An Act to promote road safety by implementing commercial trucking reforms, drinking and driving countermeasures and other aspects of Ontario's comprehensive road safety plan / Projet de loi 55, Loi visant à promouvoir la sécurité routière pour la mise en oeuvre de mesures de réforme du camionnage, de contremesures visant l'alcool au volant et d'autres aspects du programme général de sécurité routière de l'Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House the motion carry? Carried.
Does the minister have a short statement?
Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): This bill will promote road safety by implementing commercial trucking reforms such as higher fines, drinking and driving countermeasures such as administrative licensing suspensions and other aspects of Ontario's comprehensive road safety plan.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
INTERNATIONAL FUEL TAX AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 METTANT EN OEUVRE L'ACCORD APPELÉ INTERNATIONAL FUEL TAX AGREEMENT
Mr Johnson moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 48, An Act to implement the International Fuel Tax Agreement / Projet de loi 48, Loi mettant en oeuvre l'accord appelé International Fuel Tax Agreement.
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet): Bill 48 will clear the way for Ontario to join IFTA. IFTA is the international fuel tax agreement, and this is a piece of legislation that I suspect and hope will be supported by all three parties. Indeed, the previous government had attempted to implement IFTA during its jurisdiction and had taken great strides in that direction, but unfortunately, when it came time for the implementation it was determined that the computer system just wasn't there to support this agreement. Consequently, it did not proceed at that point. However, now I am pleased to tell the House that the computer system is in place and we are able to get on with this agreement.
The agreement will eliminate red tape for Ontario interjurisdictional truck and bus operators. Those are the truck and bus operators which operate not only in Ontario, obviously, but in other provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba, and also in the States, which would go across in the United States into New York, Pennsylvania or any number of states. It would significantly reduce their paper burden. This, of course, is consistent with the efforts of the Red-Tape Review Commission that is in operation at the present time.
It is an agreement among participating North American jurisdictions to establish uniform laws for taxing the fuel -- primarily diesel -- used by interjurisdictional trucks and buses. At the present time all of the other provinces are part of this agreement, and the vast majority of the states in the United States are also a part of this agreement. Ontario is one of the last jurisdictions in North America to be part of this agreement.
To meet the IFTA requirements, we have made the necessary changes to the Gasoline Tax Act to permit the calculation of tax liability based on the use of interjurisdictional trucks and buses in Ontario. With IFTA, Ontario-based truck and bus operators will need to register only once, and that one registration will be here in the province of Ontario.
Unfortunately the current system, because Ontario is not part of IFTA, requires those truck and bus operators who would operate in other provinces and states to register in each and every one of those states and provinces. Of course, that is a paper burden as a requirement on the business community.
Not only that, but it requires the truckers and the bus industry in Ontario to keep track of precisely how many kilometres or miles they have totalled in the other states and provinces, and to deal directly with those states and provinces in that regard. There's quite an onerous administrative burden on the trucking industry and the bus industry in Ontario that isn't faced by the industry and other provinces and states.
The industry will also purchase decals only once, and that will be in the province of Ontario, whereas under the current system they have to purchase a decal for every state they might operate in, for every province they might operate in, again an administrative burden.
They will file one consolidated tax return that covers every jurisdiction their vehicles travel through. At the present time, as I alluded to in my earlier remarks, they must file tax returns in each state and province in which they operate. Under the old system they were required to register, purchase decals and file separate tax returns in every province and state their vehicles entered.
The initiative is strongly supported by Ontario's truck and bus industry, I'm delighted to say, and I personally have contacted the primary participants in this industry. For example, the Ontario Trucking Association, which represents apparently about 75% of the Ontario trucking volume by revenue, is strongly supportive of this initiative. The Ontario Motor Coach Association is strongly supportive of this action. Comcar Owner-Operators' Association, another big participant, is supportive. The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the final major participant, is also supportive and urging this government and all the members of this Legislature to support this legislation.
If we are able, as I believe we will be, to come together and support this legislation, then we are on a timetable which will permit the passage of this bill, which will permit the IFTA organization to review Ontario's case. I believe that review will indicate that Ontario should come into IFTA, along with all of the other provinces, along with almost all of the states in the United States, and be an equal partner.
That review will take place over a number of months. Beyond that review, Ontario will be able to set in place a registration process. All of that should take place and be successfully completed by January 1 of next year. Consequently, the trucking industry and the bus industry will enter into IFTA, the international fuel tax agreement, by January 1 of next year.
That is later than the industry would have hoped for a couple of years ago, but I have given my pledge to the trucking industry and the bus industry that the government would do all within its power to expedite this process, to keep it moving ahead. I believe we have the concurrence of the other two parties in doing this, and if so, then I think we can have that in place by January 1 of next year.
If we could do that, that would be a major boost for a very important business sector in Ontario. I think all of us in this Legislature would wish that our trucking and busing industries could be on a competitive, level playing field with their competitors in other provinces and other states. This bill would go a long way to assisting in that regard.
With those comments, I will leave it at that and just hope we are able to come together on this, because even though we're not looking at a final implementation until January 1 of next year, the timing is tight in view of the necessity of the overall organization, the IFTA organization, to review Ontario's proposal and then to get on with the registration process.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments? The member for Cochrane North.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): The member for Cochrane South.
The Acting Speaker: Cochrane South. I apologize.
Mr Bisson: Thank you very much. The member for Cochrane North is a nice person, but I reside in Cochrane South.
To the minister, I, along with my other colleagues, support the intent of what the bill here is bringing forward. Basically all it was was to join the IFTA by January 1996 in regard to that agreement we had talked about in our budget of 1994.
I find it interesting, though, that the minister and the government can move so quickly on something like An Act to implement the international fuel tax agreement, dealing with fuel taxes to put them in line with how they're being dealt with in other jurisdictions, but we can't do it within our own jurisdiction.
I, like many other northerners, am having to pay as much as 65 cents a litre for the price of regular gasoline. When I came in, drove into Toronto yesterday from Timmins, the price of gas at the pumps was about 57 cents at one of the places I went to. It's interesting that you're able to move so fast on a piece of legislation like this, which I think is not a bad one, but I certainly would want to see the minister try to do something to deal with some of the price gouging that's going on within the province of Ontario.
I recognize it is a federal issue, I recognize there is a federal Liberal government in Ottawa and there is a federal Liberal minister who could deal with this, but I would certainly want to see my minister responsible here in Ontario, who happens to be in a Conservative government, do more than just say it's the Liberals in Ottawa who aren't dealing with the question of prices on gas which they have the power to do, but see the minister actively pursue the federal government to try to deal with the question of gouging.
I am sure when the minister himself takes a drive outside of Toronto and pays the prices of gas that we're having to in places like northern and central Ontario, he too will be much appalled at the difference in gas prices we have within Ontario. I congratulate the minister on this piece of legislation, but urge him to go one step forward and say, "Let's push that Liberal government in Ottawa to deal with prices on gas."
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): The comment I would like to make is that I have always been supportive of seeing provincial barriers to trade across this country being lowered so that people not only have the opportunity to work, but that, for example, trucking companies that drive across this country see what would be called harmonization or reciprocity. I understand what this piece of legislation does is achieve that reciprocity between the provinces and I believe that is positive.
I think, however, there are some things the minister could be doing which would create a more positive climate here in Ontario for truckers and businesses and for the consumers. People in Oriole are frankly fed up with gas prices. The gas stations in Oriole today are posting signs of 59.9 and 60.1 for regular unleaded gasoline. This particular bill is supposed to lead to fairer treatment and reciprocity for our trucking companies across the province and between the provinces. While that's fine for the trucking companies, and we certainly feel that is important for businesses, what about the average consumers who are facing what they believe and I believe are unnecessarily high gas prices here in the province of Ontario?
I was here in this House when now Premier Harris and former member of the opposition Norman Sterling stood in their places and said there was a role for the provincial government to take action on behalf of consumers who face unprecedented high gas prices. People are concerned about gouging today, and I call upon Premier Harris and Minister Sterling to put action and truth to their words in opposition and do something about high gas prices as well as this legislation.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): I will join in the chorus of members speaking about the gas pricing issue. Frankly, I find the gas companies' particular attitude is -- and I'm not going to say "gouging," because I don't have any evidence that it is gouging -- but by the same token, it is certainly perplexing to live within the confines of Metropolitan Toronto on Monday morning and buy gas and then head to the cottage Friday afternoon and find it incredibly different than that Monday morning.
You can only assume that it's people going to the cottage. I can't think of any other reason why these prices have dramatically risen in such a short period of time. Then you come back into town Monday morning or Sunday night and you find the gas prices have all gone down. I don't want to suggest collusion; I don't want to suggest it's gouging. But I think it's time, as a protection to our constituents, that a very thorough and vigorous review of what is happening in the gas industry be undertaken.
I am not going to be a public apologist for big business in Ontario. I know full well that the bank industry drives me nuts sometimes as well; the gas companies and oil companies in fact drive me crazy. I don't believe, like I think a vast majority of members on this side of the House, they have absolutely all the answers to all the questions and they do no wrong. I think it's time we as a government took a very active and vigorous approach to what is going on in the gas and oil price industry.
Let me just say finally, I followed it to some degree in the last little while and I keep hearing from the oil executives that when the price abroad goes up, we must raise the price at the pumps, and it seems to happen the day after it goes up. I'm not sure how the oil arrived in one day from those spots around the world, but when the price goes down, it takes months for this price to be reflected at the pumps. I think there's something really wrong here.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments? Minister, you have two minutes to reply.
Hon David Johnson: I think those comments from the members for Cochrane South, Oriole and Etobicoke West bode well for this particular legislation in the sense that all of the discussion was about another issue which may seem related but in actual fact is really not related. At least two of the members indicated that this is a good avenue to pursue. It will in fact promote a level playing field for the trucking industry, the busing industry in Ontario, which is currently being penalized because we have been unable to become a part of this agreement which all other provinces are a part of and which most of the states are a part of. I sense from the comments to this point that people agree that we proceed. Certainly the former government thought we should proceed, and because the computer system was not able to support, they weren't able to proceed, but it was their intent to proceed.
In terms of the comments that have been made with regard to gas prices in general, it's impossible for me to say anything other than it does amaze me as well, I must say, that the gas prices bounce around. The Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations has expressed the government's concern about this, expressed it directly to the federal minister in Ottawa. Apparently some actions are being taken. The minister himself stood up here in the House and indicated that he'd be in contact with the heads of the major oil companies. This government remains concerned about that and hopefully the government in Ottawa will actually do something about that and make some sense out of that whole situation.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I'm pleased to join the debate. This is one of many tax bills that we'll be dealing with, Mr Speaker. As you know, the budget has provisions for changing 13 or 14 different taxes, and this certainly will be one of those bills where we are going to be dealing with changes in taxes.
The bill is interesting. There's one aspect of it that we'll be looking for some clarification on, and that's section 15 where it says: "These amendments authorize the minister to make regulations prescribing conditions and restrictions affecting interjurisdictional carriers and governing the issues and use of decals and prescribing fees for them." That sounds a little all-encompassing, and perhaps during the debate we can have clarification from the government on what they mean by "conditions and restrictions."
I don't think there's much doubt that our future in Ontario depends very heavily on our ability to deal effectively with our trading partners. It used to be that 85% of our exports went to the US; it's now 90%. That always surprises me, because at a time when we talk about becoming more of a global trading province and doing more business internationally, our percentage of exports is increasing dramatically with the US. The last time I looked, our dollar volume with countries outside of the US with which we do business was declining. I just mention that because I think we're missing an enormous opportunity for developing international trade besides the US.
None the less, clearly our economy, particularly Ontario's economy and particularly our auto sector, depends very heavily on our ability to deal effectively with the US, especially the bordering states. Our caucus is very supportive of things which will ensure a very strong manufacturing sector here in Ontario; there's a lot of focus on the auto sector, but all the manufacturing sectors. Measures that will help us to enhance our trade with the US are measures we will be supportive of. This bill appears to be helpful in that area. It appears to be helpful in facilitating transportation between Ontario and our neighbouring provinces but also with the bordering US states. For that reason, our caucus is generally supportive of this bill.
I will say that at the same time as the bill is being introduced, the government has presented a budget that has the potential to undo a hundred times the advantages that may be contained in this bill, or a thousand times. As you look at the investment Ontario is making in the infrastructure -- all of us who talk to our business sector hear it is absolutely fundamental to the future of Ontario's industry, particularly the manufacturing sector, that we have a strong infrastructure, yet I see in the budget that the government plans to reduce its investment in transportation capital. This is the money, obviously, that is put into our transportation infrastructure.
Four years ago it was $1.8 billion; three years ago $1.7 billion; last year, the first year of the new government, it dropped to $1.4 billion; and the plan now, as the government members can see, is to take it to $1.2 billion. Over a three-year period we've seen the investment in our transportation infrastructure cut by a third. One only has to drive the roads of this province to appreciate how it is beginning to crumble. No government that has been in office for 11 months can be blamed for the crumbling, but it certainly can now begin to be held accountable for the lack of investment to fix it.
I understand that the government has to slash spending to find the $5 billion for its tax cut, I understand that's your fundamental philosophy, but already we're beginning to see the price that Ontario is paying for that. We're seeing it in our hospitals, where you've cut their budget by 18%. We're seeing it in the classroom, where for all of us who spent last week in our constituency -- and I certainly was in a number of schools finding the implications of the cuts taking place in education. We're now finding the cuts you're planning in the infrastructure of Ontario.
There is no doubt that it is perhaps easy to cut those things right now. As a matter of fact, your government has planned to cut its spending on capital again next year. You cut it this year by $800 million and you're going to cut next year by another $500 million -- dramatic cuts in the infrastructure of Ontario.
We're dealing with a bill here today to be helpful to our transportation sector and to be helpful to facilitating movement of goods and products around Ontario and to our neighbouring states and provinces. This will be helpful, but it is being undone at exactly the same time by dramatic cuts in spending on infrastructure.
Frankly, the claim, "We're putting together a fund here to invest in roads," is all smoke and mirrors. You can't hide the facts. The budget facts are that you are cutting from the infrastructure spending in this province: You've cut from $3.5 billion to $2.7 billion and next year to $2.2 billion. You are slashing the infrastructure spending. My colleagues say yes; they're nodding.
The end result of all that, of course, is that we are beginning to see our infrastructure crumbling. There's no question of that. You can't cut infrastructure spending almost in half over a three-year period and not find some real, long-term, major implications to that.
I know why you're doing it. You ran on a platform of a 30% cut in personal income tax and you've got to find that money. Sometimes the easiest way to find money -- it's like in your own personal home life -- if you do not have the money is in beginning to skimp on the maintenance of your house, and you don't do the necessary maintenance. Eventually the thing starts to crumble, as we all know. I absolutely guarantee you that the cuts you are forcing into the infrastructure will come back to haunt Ontario year after year. I guarantee you that as we head into the next election, all around us we will see the implications of the reduction of infrastructure spending. You are taking it back to levels we have not seen in at least 10 years, cutting infrastructure spending.
There once was a study done which showed that just to maintain the infrastructure in Ontario required at least $4 billion a year in investments in infrastructure. You are cutting it to about half that. Why? You're doing it to fund the tax cut, no question of that. As we deal with this bill that is designed to say to our transportation sector, "We want to be helpful," and we certainly want to be helpful, designed to facilitate doing business with the other provinces and particularly with the neighbouring states in the US, at the same time you're doing that, you are making dramatic changes in the infrastructure.
Time will tell about the climate you're creating in Ontario. Make no mistake that the future of Ontario rests very heavily on companies and organizations prepared to invest where they see a good, solid future. Time will tell on that, but some things we're now seeing, the lack of investment in infrastructure, I believe a lack of investment in the health sector -- I don't think you can take 20% out of the hospital sector and not begin to have a serious impact; I don't think you can deal with doctors in the way they're being dealt with right now and not see a serious impact.
When you talk to investors about whether they're going to invest in Ontario or Michigan or Ohio or Manitoba or Alberta, what is one huge advantage Ontario has? It is our health care, absolutely without question. When you talk to the major automotive companies, they say: "This is a huge advantage Ontario has. We are paying maybe 2% of our payroll on health costs and in the US we'd be paying 10%. We have an enormous advantage." We are beginning to see the erosion of that enormous advantage.
All the good of this bill, which we're being asked to deal with quickly, and we do not have a difficulty in dealing with it quickly, is being undermined by the roads beginning to crumble.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Literally.
Mr Phillips: Literally. I was on the road early this morning trying to get my wife to the airport. She missed her plane and was very angry with me. The reason was that the roads were jammed, absolutely jammed.
Mr Stockwell: You left late, Gerry.
Mr Phillips: I left a little late, I confess, but not overly late.
For those of us who drive along the 401, there was a chunk of concrete literally that size. All of us know this is happening. As a matter of fact, the Provincial Auditor made a major point of this in one of his recent reports, saying this isn't the time to be cutting investment in our infrastructure. At the very least it's time to be maintaining our investment, but no, this government has decided to slash investment and is slashing it dramatically.
We're dealing with a bill to implement an international fuel tax agreement designed to help with our competitiveness at the very same time that we are undermining it.
I don't think there's any doubt that we, all of us in this Legislature -- I was going to say we on this side; I think all of us in this Legislature -- are perhaps most concerned about jobs, and this bill, I hope, has a positive impact on jobs. It can't be dramatic because it's not a huge step, but it's a step forward. But as I say, at the very same time as that is happening, what is happening on the other side?
The manufacturing engine of Ontario, without any question of a doubt, is the auto sector, and what's happening there? Just-in-time delivery depends on an infrastructure where we have a first-class road system. That is being undermined. Our auto sector has invested in Ontario for a variety of reasons, but certainly our very competitive health care system is being undermined. I'm worried about the impact on jobs of these things.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing in the Ontario budget was the fact that we had been expecting that the government actually was going to have a plan to see jobs created at a significant rate. What did we find? We actually found some very interesting things in the budget.
The first thing was that for the next three years, the government predicts the economy will grow at a slower rate than it has in the last two years. That was quite surprising to many of us. The Common Sense Revolution was sold to the public about a year ago. A year ago, as you know, we were right in the middle of the campaign.
This bill, as you point to the bill, Mr Speaker, is designed to increase our international competitiveness, to see jobs created in the province of Ontario, and we expect to pass this bill. But what does the government predict? Actually, the government is predicting more people out of work. This is the government's prediction on jobs and the number of people out of work. They're actually predicting 25,000 more people out of work in Ontario in 1996 than in 1995, and after three years, in 1998, still more people out of work than there were in 1995. That is quite astonishing, that here we are dealing with bills like Bill 48, designed, we believe, we understand, to see jobs created, but we're still going to see more people out of work in 1998, three years into the Common Sense Revolution, than the year they came into office.
As I say, the economy is expected to grow this year, 1996, by 1.9%; next year, 1997, by 2.8%; and 1998, by 3%. That is a much slower rate than the final years of the previous government. So here we are, the Common Sense Revolution into full swing, the government having control of the agenda, and yet we find the number of people out of work growing, which is shocking, that there are 25,000 more people out of work this year than there were last year, by the government's own admission, the economy actually slowing down in 1996 over 1995 or 1994, even though the Common Sense Revolution is in full swing. We find that the number of unemployed young people is now approaching 30%, an astonishing and I think a disgraceful figure.
But here we have this tax move, and as I said, I think it's important that we deal with this tax bill in the context of all the other tax measures the government is proposing. Those, for those people who follow the budget, are on page 22 of the budget. But what is driving this government is that it has got to find $5 billion to fund its tax cut. That's the annual cost of it, $5 billion. It's 10% of the revenues of this province that have to be found for the tax cut. We all know that there are many people out there, I'm sure, who are cheering the Conservatives on, saying: "Get on with my 30% tax cut. I'm really looking forward to it." But the cost of it is this: For the next four years this government will increase the debt of this province by $22 billion. That is about $8,000 for every household in this province. Every household in this province will owe $8,000 more per household in new debt as a result of this government over the next four years continuing to run significant deficits, and over half of that can be directly traced to the tax cut.
Many of my friends say, "Listen, Gerry, I'm looking forward to the tax cut." I say: "Okay, fine. Do you know where the money's coming from?" They kind of assume the government's running a surplus. I say, "Listen, the government has to go out and borrow, over the next four years, $22 billion just to pay for the increase in debt over the next four years." Every penny has to be borrowed. I say: "You realize you're going to also pay on that over the next four years $5 billion of interest, just on that? Why? Because in that period of time the government is going to have a $13-billion tax cut." It's phased up; it finally becomes $5 billion a year. So it is a phoney fiscal plan in the sense that every penny of it, every penny of the tax cut the government has to go out and borrow to give people the tax break.
I was fascinated by Premier Klein's comments. His advice to the government of Ontario was: "Forget the tax cut. Get your fiscal house in order. Get your budget balanced. Then you've got the funds to be looking at a tax cut." But no, this government has in its wisdom said it ran on a platform of a 30% tax cut, it got elected on a platform of a 30% tax cut and, as we've often said on our side, the day that came out -- and by the way, it was almost two years ago exactly that the then opposition party brought out its platform of a 30% tax cut -- the advice we got then was that it was fiscally irresponsible and could not be done; simply allow the public to look at it and find it for what it is, which is a fiscally irresponsible promise. But, as we've often said, that didn't happen. They got elected and they are proceeding with it. But every penny of that tax cut is borrowed money, money the government doesn't have, money the government's got to go out and borrow to pay for the tax cut.
The reason I go through that is that this is but one of the tax bills. I think it's important to keep this tax bill in the context of the other tax measures that this government has got to implement. We found it interesting that the tax cuts they said were going to be the job-creating tax cuts, namely, the employer health levy -- they said, "We're going to immediately eliminate the employer health tax on the first $400,000 of payroll." That was going to be a big job creator. That's one you've delayed, as the government members know. You don't begin implementing it until 1997. Yet all of us in this Legislature agree, I think, that employment is our number one economic problem. A big job-creating tax cut was going to be the employer health tax, but you've delayed that until January 1, 1997, and then it's implemented over three years, much slower than the government implied it was going to do.
Mr Phillips: The member says, "Not going fast enough." I think your plan is wacky. I said that during the campaign. But you ran on the campaign as saying these were our great job creators. I'm saying to the government members, you can't have it both ways. You can't say, "This is our great job creator and this is going to be the great engine to generate jobs," and then for whatever reason delay implementing it. I think the 30% tax cut is fiscally irresponsible. Every person we talked to said: "This is unaffordable. It will not create jobs at anywhere near the rate you're promising. It will simply mean we've got to borrow, borrow, borrow to pay for it."
I know the reason why you're doing the 30% tax cut. The reason is that the true believers, the Common Sense Revolution believers, say, "The real agenda here is, let's get that tax cut in because we will dry up the revenue sources for government." If you dry up the revenue sources, you dry up government. I think they will be the first to admit it. That is the fundamental agenda of the true believers in the Common Sense Revolution.
They say a secondary advantage is that when you make the cuts, it will be helpful to the economy. Tax cuts, every economist will tell you, have a positive impact on the economy; if you cut taxes, it has a positive impact. But every economist will tell you that the expenditure cuts you're imposing are going to throw so much cold water on the economy.
The tax cuts are going to be used for these three things: First and foremost, they're going to be used to pay down personal debt. Personal debt right now is running at an all-time high in Ontario. Every economist has said that's where it will be used first and foremost; secondly, for savings; and thirdly, people will spend a portion of it, without question. But the first two are going to go into paying down personal debt, and savings.
What we're dealing with in this package of tax cuts are measures that in our opinion are not going to get our fiscal house in order. They are causing you to make cuts in programs you promised you would not make. I don't think there's much doubt that one of the key reasons you got elected was that you said you would guarantee funding -- in fact, those were the words as I recall them during the campaign: "This plan guarantees full funding for health care, law enforcement and education spending in the classroom." Yet the tax cut will force more and more cuts in those three areas, cuts they said they would not make. This bill is part of that total tax program.
I know the Speaker is anxious that I stay on Bill 48, but I would say that because it is a package of bills dealing with budget measures, as the government itself will say, we can't deal with one of these things in isolation. The other parts of the tax program have to be dealt with as part of this package. My apologies, but I don't think we can separate them.
As I say, the biggest risk to Ontario's future, without question, is the 30% cut in personal income tax. I believe that to my core for these reasons: It's going to get our fiscal house in worse shape; it is forcing this government to make cuts in expenditure areas that you promised you would never make.
Just last week, the Ontario Good Roads Association reminded us that the then opposition member, now Premier, promised that he would maintain and indeed enhance spending on our infrastructure, on our roads system. What we found in the first budget this government presented was a dramatic cut -- and it is a dramatic cut -- in infrastructure spending, almost cutting it in half over a three-year period. You can't do that. You cannot cut support for the infrastructure in half and not expect a substantial decline in the quality of that infrastructure.
All of us understand that these are difficult times fiscally and financially, but why are they particularly difficult? It is because this government has said that it is going to cut 10% of its revenues in the form of a tax cut when most people would say, when they look at the finances, "It can't be afforded."
In the budget, dealing with these various matters, the one thing that is important to recognize on the tax front and on the revenue front is that I don't think there's any question that the 1996-97 budget, the one that was presented just a few weeks ago and that is the first fiscal year of this new government, has been put together in a way that I don't think there's any doubt the government will hit or exceed its numbers.
How was it done? It was very clever. The first thing that was done was that a lot of expenses that were due in this fiscal year, 1996-97, were conveniently moved back to previous fiscal years. As a matter of fact, the government called them "restating a prior year of public accounts." That's a clever little way of saying, "What we're going to do is take a bunch of expenses and put them back into previous fiscal years," go back and simply say, "Well, 1993-94, we're going to assign" -- this was three fiscal years ago -- "$450 million of expenses to that year, and we'll just increase the deficit, reported deficit." In 1994-95, two years ago, another almost $300 million -- $230 million in student loans, $82 million for grants to school boards -- "We'll just simply increase the deficit in that year." Last year, the fiscal year that just ended, the government put a whole whack of expenses that are going to be incurred this year -- they're going to be incurred this fiscal year -- into last fiscal year.
The second thing the government did was to delay the implementation of the tax cut, hold it back a little bit, push it back a little bit. Those two things mean that I don't think the government will have any difficulty in hitting its fiscal targets for 1996-97.
The problem all of us begin to get into is that we are sowing the seeds of major problems in the years ahead, for these reasons: You're not going to be able to move expenses back into previous fiscal years. That is over. You get one shot at that. You come in; you get one shot at it; you've done that.
The tax cut -- and I have no doubt you are 100% committed to it; you will do it -- will cost the number you've got in the budget. The tax cut, the cut in personal income tax, will cost $5.4 billion fully implemented. I have no doubt the government will do that. But the problem we get into, as I say, is that this fiscal year is relatively clear sailing, because the government has been very clever in moving expenses into previous fiscal years, blaming it all on the NDP, and moving the tax cut forward a little bit. But we are beginning to sow the seeds of some very major problems.
Again, I have no doubt, because I know what the philosophy of this government is, certainly of the Premier, and that is, as the going gets tough, and it will, the tax cut is guaranteed. You're going to do that because it is a core belief, it's a religion, it's something this government believes in above all.
The deficit has to be met. It means that you will cut more expenditures than you have promised. We've already seen you cut in the classroom when you said you wouldn't, health care when you said you wouldn't, law enforcement when you said you wouldn't and the infrastructure when you said you wouldn't, and you've still got substantial more cuts to make; not announced, substantial more cuts to make.
The reason for going through this is that, as we look ahead, it is inevitable that the moves this government is making are beginning to set us on a course of significant problems. As I say, the government announced a series of expenditure cuts. There is still about $2 billion more in cuts that have to be announced. The Conservative caucus has not been told about them; the public hasn't been told about them. They go well beyond what was promised in the Common Sense Revolution but inevitably have got to be announced and implemented. It's part of this total tax package we're dealing with.
I must say, still a little bit on the games being played, I was interested, because this impacts on the tax one, that the projected debt was supposed to go up by $4 billion this year. That's a cute little game, because the deficit is going up $8 billion; the debt is going up $4 billion. How could that happen?
Mr Stockwell: We borrowed wisely.
Mr Phillips: The member for Etobicoke West said, "We borrowed wisely." They did borrow. The government came into this fiscal year with $11 billion of what's called liquid reserves, essentially cash on hand. You're not fooling anybody for more than a day or so. What the government did was go out and borrow a pile of money. Then they could blame these people -- these are the NDP here -- saying, "Well, you left us with this big debt." You did leave a big debt, but it was several billion higher. Then you say this year: "Well, we're only going to take the debt up by $4 billion. We're very good money managers." The public I think realized that what the government did was it went out and took out a big loan just before the end of the fiscal year. They came into this fiscal year with $11 billion cash -- unheard of. Never in the history of the province have we been anywhere close to that.
Mr Stockwell: We're very liquid.
Mr Phillips: "Very liquid," the member for Etobicoke West said. I will say this: The money was borrowed at good interest rates. No one could accuse the government of borrowing money foolishly in the sense of the interest we're paying on it. In fact, I think one of the things that has been well managed in this province is its borrowing.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Not that we shouldn't be doing it.
Mr Phillips: We shouldn't be doing it. I don't disagree with that, but Ontario has won trophies for borrowing, literally.
Mr Baird: Your government. Your minister.
Mr Phillips: The Conservative members are provoking over there, saying it was the previous Liberal government and what not. I just say once again to the Conservative members, check into the record. I know that Mr Eves and Mr Harris and caucus probably say, "Listen, we're really good money managers and those dastardly Liberals are bad," but go back and check the record, just because they were there then. None of you were there then. They were there when the Conservatives went 15 straight years never balancing the budget. Check the deficits they were running then when Mr Harris and Mr Eves were around in the previous government. The deficits were averaging $2.7 billion, huge deficits. They were taking the debt -- well, I've got the numbers here. I want to give you these just so in caucus some day you can say, "Say it ain't so."
Mr Terence H. Young (Halton Centre): You're living in the past.
Mr Phillips: The member says we're living in the past. Let me just say that every day, Mr Harris, with his very selective memory, says, "Well, gee, we were left with a very tough problem." He was part of the previous government. They went 15 years and never balanced the budget. In their last five years -- this is when Mike was around; he was in cabinet -- here's what was going on: deficit per budget, $2.7 billion. Growth in spending per budget -- listen to this one -- 12%. Every year he was there, the budget went up 12%.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Shame.
Mr Phillips: "Shame," the member says. I agree with it. The growth in the debt per budget when Mr Harris was around before: 11%. Here's an interesting one. The number of tax increases per budget when Mike Harris was in cabinet before: six tax increases every budget. As a matter of fact, they took the tax revenue per budget up almost $600 million every single budget.
I don't know whether I brought it -- ah. I always carry the last Conservative balanced budget around with me: 1969.
Mr Baird: That is when I was born.
Mr Phillips: It was the year you were born, as one of the members said. The reason I go through all of this is that it is a myth. It's a myth that Mr Harris and Mr Eves are the great money managers. I say to you all that the 30% tax cut is going to get you.
The Acting Speaker: Order. I'm afraid the member is fuelling a different debate. I would remind you to come back to the issue, which is on the fuel tax agreement. Thank you.
Mr Phillips: Yes, I was provoked, though. Will you acknowledge that, Mr Speaker?
Interjection: I agree.
Mr Phillips: I will confine my remarks to Bill 48, An Act to implement the international fuel tax agreement.
In fairness to the opposition, I think we cannot deal with tax bills in isolation. I think we are dealing --
Mr Baird: This isn't a tax bill, Gerry. You didn't read it.
Mr Phillips: I think it's a bill and it talks about tax, so I assume it's a tax bill. Maybe the title is wrong and it hasn't to do with tax, but it is a tax bill. The reason I raise it is that we're being asked to deal with a whole package of tax measures. If we try to deal with them in isolation -- as the government itself acknowledges, it is part of a package. I hope that we would be allowed to try and put this tax measure in some context because, as the minister said in his remarks, this is part of their economic plan; it's part of their tax plan. Our concern with the bills -- this particular bill I think has merit, and our caucus certainly is supportive very much of the direction it is taking, but it has to be viewed in the context of all the other things that are going on with tax measures.
I went through putting this into context because the two managers of this government -- I don't think there's much doubt; obviously the Premier is, but I don't think the Deputy Premier. They are the two who were around before and they often will refer to previous administrations. The Premier I think in both his answers today was referring to them. I just think it's important that if they want to go back in history, history didn't stop 10 years ago. History goes back to the time when they had a chance to put their finger on government and have their imprint before. What did they do then? As I just went through, they never balanced the budget; deficits were running at an incredible rate.
The reason I point that out is that I found in the budget a couple of useful tables. The one on page 59 shows the balanced budget. This is straight out of your own budget documents and shows the deficit declining significantly. As a matter of fact, if you go to the 10-year statistics on page 71 of the budget, you can see the deficit in 1987-88 was $2.4 million, $1.4 million and a surplus.
I want to go over that with the members to remind them that in caucus, I'm sure, Premier Harris comes in and says: "Well, we've got to keep on those Liberals because they won a by-election. We can't let them get off the map. Let's blame them for the fiscal problems." I say to you that finally, if you balance the budget in 2001, which incidentally is a year after the next election, it will have been in total 21 years of Conservative governments without a balanced budget until then.
I point out the things that I think the public should be conscious of, that certainly the caucus members are conscious of, the little games that have gone on in the budget to move expenses from this fiscal year into previous fiscal years and move tax revenue losses forward.
I don't know whether one of the Conservative members is asking for more information on that or not, but it is clear in the budget document, proudly, that the government has been able to move hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of expenses back into previous fiscal years.
On the bill, as I say, we very much are supportive of finding ways to help our Ontario industry compete. I believe, and I think most members of the Legislature would probably agree, that we have enormous advantages here to compete around North America. As someone once said, our major cities in Ontario are closer to more major US cities than any US city, because we are geographically located between Chicago and Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, New York and Boston. We are geographically in great shape.
If you talk to manufacturing operations and other operations that have businesses in Ontario and then many US states, they will say that our labour force, the talent and the work capacity of our labour force in Ontario, is excellent and second to none. We have an extremely good education system. Our health care system is an enormous advantage. As I said earlier in my remarks, talk to any of the major auto sector and they will tell you this is an enormous advantage over any of their US plants, the way health care is handled.
By the way, I realize that many businesses have some difficulty with the employer health tax, but right now less than 10% of our health spending in Ontario is funded from the employer health tax; 90% of it comes from elsewhere.
Mr Baird: You voted for our health tax, didn't you?
Mr Phillips: The employer health tax, I'm saying, is a tax that funds a maximum of 10% of our health spending. We have an enormous advantage, on our health sector, in terms of developing our businesses in Ontario.
The reason for all of that is to say that I think this bill is useful, useful to speeding up international trade. I must say, I was impressed with the technology that the new 407 toll road plans to use. It's another way of using and adapting technology to speed up trade. Trucks won't have to stop and pay a toll; they'll be electronically billed, which speeds trade up. Anything we can do, consistent with preserving good environmental standards and health standards, to make Ontario a place where businesses want to invest and grow is good, and this is a small step.
The problem, as I said, is that at the very moment this bill is being dealt with, this budget is dealing with dramatic cuts to our infrastructure. It is dealing with some very significant changes in the quality of life that Ontario has enjoyed. I don't think there's any doubt that the expenditure cuts we're seeing will have a substantial impact on the quality of life in Ontario. The minor advantages in this -- and there are advantages to industry and we will be supportive of this bill -- I think will be dramatically offset by the other measures in the budget bill.
I'm pleased we had a chance to put this into a context. I appreciate that we've ranged slightly on the bill, but on a tax bill, it's required to put it into context. Unfortunately, the good being done by this bill is being offset by substantial measures that will play a much more negative role in a whole series of areas for our manufacturing sector.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): It's always a pleasure to hear the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, who has a very good grasp of the intricacies of budgeting in this province. He's quite right to say that we must look at this whole budget in the context of all of the changes that have happened, the changes in accounting that have happened -- I was very pleased that he pointed that out -- and the changes that have happened in terms of the way in which this government has made most of its cuts outside of a budget and then presents a budget as good news.
This bill is one part, as he says, of the tax regime in this budget. Although in and of itself it may prove to be of some effect in terms of dealing with some of the fuel tax issues that have arisen over many years, that would only happen, as I would remind my colleague from Scarborough-Agincourt, if there is agreement with the federal government. I sincerely hope that our Liberal colleagues in this House will be encouraging their federal counterparts to do their part in this issue.
When we talk about these issues, very often the general public thinks they're too complex for people to understand. One of the reasons I wanted to comment on my colleague's speech is that he lays it all out in a way that helps everyone understand that we can understand budget matters, we must understand budget matters. If we understand it, we must speak out when we see the kind of actions this government is taking in trying to fool people into believing there is a whole different kind of financial trickery going on in Ontario than is in fact the case. I thank my colleague for his comments, and I'm sure the rest of the debate will be equally as interesting.
Mr E.J. Douglas Rollins (Quinte): I'd like to speak a couple of minutes on this bill. The idea that it is a tax problem -- yes, it's been a tax problem for the province of Ontario for quite some time, since there's become a difference in the price of fuel, whether it's been out of province or out of state, if you want to call it. The Americans have long put large saddle tanks on their trucks to use on Ontario roads, and they make sure they're filled up when they enter Ontario. They use our highways.
Our colleagues across the way like to say that the highways are in terrible disarray. If we'd been collecting the right amount of taxes these companies have been getting away with -- through this bill bringing that into being, these people will have to pay tax on the miles they travel and the consumption they use within our boundaries, and then we as a government will receive back some moneys that we can put towards some of those road repairs. And yes, some of them might even be fixed in northern Ontario too, that they say are such a bad job.
Mr Pouliot: Sure, and I'm the Emperor of China.
Mr Rollins: We don't take our trucks as far as China. We generally kind of keep them onshore.
The thing of it is that those repairs are made here in Ontario, made by Ontario people, made by the Ontario taxpayer, but they're used up in good part by people who have not contributed to our fuel consumption tax in the province because they don't purchase it from our outlets here in Ontario. There's no restriction that those companies are made to purchase it here, but this will eliminate that and get us our fair share of tax back and it'll maybe save some of the taxes for other things we need to have.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): Once again my colleague the member for Scarborough-Agincourt is able to give us a very enlightened look at what has taken place with respect to budgetary measures that have been brought forward by this government. He defined that very well for members of the House, and they would have done well to listen to what he had to say, because he is very capable in these matters. He is once again proving that on this side of the House we will respond very effectively to the measures taken by the government, and he has pointed out once again the many myths associated with the initiatives put forward by this government.
He pointed out rightly that the tax regime that will be put in place, the reduction that the government has talked about and only will begin to put in place some time later on this year, will have a very negative impact in terms of the borrowing requirements this government has to undertake in order to finance that huge cut. So let's not forget, let's not take our eye off the ball, that the borrowing requirements of this government will indeed increase enormously, and there is a cost associated with that. I think my colleague rightly pointed out that capital funding, the capital portion of the budget, will have been greatly reduced by the initiatives put forward by this government: $800 million in this year, another half-billion dollars for next year.
Those infrastructure reductions cannot be sustained in this province, and my colleague rightly pointed those out. I think it was an effective statement and, as always, he put forward a very good point of view.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I rise with pleasure to comment on the speech from the member for Scarborough-Agincourt. He laid everything out quite clearly as to what the Tory government in Ontario is doing. This is only one portion of the budget, the implementation of the international fuel tax agreement, Bill 48, but we know that a lot of the agenda of the Tories, as the member has pointed out, is to find ways and means of user fees, taxes and one thing or another to be able to get money to give back to the 10% of the upper-income people in this province. The member has laid this out very clearly.
The comment I would make is, how do you expect to create jobs in the province if you're going to be throwing thousands of people out of work and neglecting to repair the roads when people are paying a big buck for gasoline? We hear complaining in southern Ontario that people are paying almost 70 cents a litre in some areas for gasoline. In northern Ontario, that's been the way of life for the last year or so. There have been no fluctuations between weekdays and weekends on the price of gasoline; we pay the big bucks.
Now we find out that MTO is not going to plow the roads. They're going to send out the OPP to block them off, which is another hardship. They don't want to spend the money on summer maintenance or winter maintenance. These are hardships northern Ontario is going to have to put up with as a result of electing a Tory government.
During last week, constituency week, it's unbelievable some of the names that people are calling the Conservatives on the other side. They said, "What can you do about it?" I say, well, we have to wait three years until we elect another NDP government and everything will be better.
The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Your time has expired. The member for Scarborough-Agincourt, you have two minutes.
Mr Phillips: Just to respond --
The Acting Speaker: Bill 48.
Mr Phillips: Yes, Bill 48. You're very tough.
To the member for Quinte, my understanding of the bill is that I don't think it's designed to raise substantial extra revenue. I think the revenue right now is collected, but through quite a convoluted, bureaucratic way, and I don't think it's designed as a significant revenue generator. I realize the road to Belleville probably has a lot of potholes, but this won't fix the potholes on the road to Belleville. I'm just saying it won't raise much money. You're going to have to persuade your government to deal with it.
I think it is, as I say, part of a tax regime, and I was interested in the budget that virtually all of the government's new tax measures, new program measures, were what's called tax expenditures. Virtually all of the programs that were introduced were ones that essentially resulted in substantially less tax revenue coming in, as opposed to program spending. The only reason I mention that is because one way or another it is money that is being spent. There were about four or five programs, tax expenditure programs. I'm sure that will be the approach the government takes in the future. Rather than spending money on programs, it will spend money by reducing the tax payable.
On this particular bill, we in our caucus are supportive of it. As I said in my remarks, the challenge I think is going to be that every little bit of good that's being done by the bill is being dramatically offset by the negative measures in the budget.
Mr Pouliot: Bonne journée. Je sais que la semaine dernière que vous avez passée avec les gens de votre comté vous a été bénéfique.
A person had to be there. It's one of those moments you do not wish to miss as a parliamentarian. I'm referring -- you've guessed it -- to the participation, the intervention by the most distinguished and able member for Scarborough-Agincourt. Mr Phillips is the finance critic. Aside from being the leader of the official opposition, it is well acquiesced that if you are the finance critic with the official opposition, it is the most important critic role. You are seen as being the alternative to Mr Eves, the present Minister of Finance, the Minister of Finance du jour.
Having said this, it is also acquiesced, recognized, that among all members of the opposition, when it comes to financial matters, the financial affairs of the province, Mr Phillips has the respect, admiration as a critic and also as a fine person and a very dedicated and good member.
Yet, Mr Speaker, it must be for those reasons that you, sir -- a wise fox, you, sir -- who have been here for almost 12 years, exercised extreme patience, for the member said a few words about Bill 48 -- this is the order of the day -- and chose the time to make a budget response. I understand the frustration, for when it was time to respond to the budget, the member, the critic, was not the one chosen by the party. So today, you let him stroke the ice. I can understand a bit of the philosophy, but yet the standing orders, Mr Speaker -- and no one in this House knows them better than you, or should -- have been so patient. If patience is a virtue, in the life after you might become a saint, for this guy here stroked the ice for 15 minutes, went all around the map, talked about Tom, Dick, Harriet, the kitchen sink and said very little about what is in front of us, Bill 48.
Oh, you're about to remind me, sir, in your wisdom that I'm not to do the same, for I am not the finance critic for our party. The chances of me becoming finance critic for our party are just as good as myself becoming the Emperor of China in our next tenure.
It was Floyd Laughren, the dean of the House, the member for Nickel Belt, who in 1994, in part of the budget statement, talks about the very same thing: interjurisdictional streamlining, reciprocal arrangements, making things easier, more expedient and better. Damn it, if I may be so bold; heck. We had a computer glitch. We were well-intended. We were right there. So what is being done today is the completion of what had been started by the previous administration.
It does two things: It tells 57 other jurisdictions in North America, all the other provinces and most of the states, that we can collect diesel, we can collect propane, we can collect gasoline taxes better if we harmonize our collection system and therefore our remittance system.
For instance, if you're a bus operator or a truck operator and you own a few trucks, rather than paying in several jurisdictions -- it makes it so much more complicated; it's time-consuming -- now you pay your tax, you remit the tax in the jurisdiction in which you are licensed and in which you operate. If you are an Ontarian, you give to Ontario and let them take care of it with other jurisdictions. It's commonsensical and therefore we support the international fuel tax agreement.
But to enter this club of 57, you must produce the legislation as a criterion, as a condition of entrance, to become a member of the team. That's what is being done today; really no more, no less. Consequently, commercial carriers, 95% bus and truck, will find the system more practical.
Mr Speaker, I know that you're an avid reader and I know that you don't miss opportunities to scan, to seek all kinds of information, so you would be au courant with one item that has been coming back more and more. Well, you talk about Bill 48. If you mention gasoline, diesel, how can you not be reminded of the practice of the high prices at the pump, prices that have culminated in an unprecedented high in the past few months?
I too, like you, have to keep abreast of the marketplace. I have to keep informed, so like you I follow the commodities, the futures market, anywhere from the Brent, New York, other mercantile markets, I look to futures programs -- three months, six months -- and the impact, the relationship it has with the actual price at the pump as we go down the line, if you wish.
I need not remind you that where I reside, where we northerners choose to live, those prices and their consequences take on extraordinary proportions. The distances are a lot greater than in southeastern, central or southwestern Ontario. We're 90% of the land mass. The riding of Lake Nipigon, with its fine people, is 26% of the overall land mass of the province. It's Canada, it's winter, but it's colder up north, so we warm the cars up. We take more fuel oil -- sheltering, eating, part of all our daily lives.
I'll share something with you. Last week -- it happens to all of us -- it was my birthday.
Interjections: Happy birthday.
Mr Pouliot: Thank you, colleagues. I went to the local office in Manitouwadge, went to the MTO office, soon to be privatized by decree of these people there -- fine office, fine people, the finest -- and I got my little sticker. You know the one you get on the month of your birthday and you affix to your licence plates?
Interjection: The front?
Mr Pouliot: No, no. The back of the car, Mr Speaker, not the front. There's a little square there, and you paste it there and you have the option to do it for, seulement, only one year or two years. Guess what? Where I reside they give us the sticker; we take it for two years. We don't want to burden people, and we too are cognizant that one fewer transaction is better overall, and we don't pay for the privilege of driving the roads through the sticker provision on our licence plate. I'll tell you what: We pay. We pay at the pump. We pay dearly.
Not too long ago, and you will recall, you have a licence, an Ontario permit in good standing, I trust, Mr Speaker, and you used to, like all of us, drive your vehicle with leaded fuel. That was the only fuel available and it was suited for the engine. And I know you to be responsible; in fact, some have said about you, Mr Speaker, that you're spartan, frugal, within reason of course, and went to some -- maybe the odd coupon. Why not? Remember when you used to change your old spark plugs?
Then they cleaned up, because environmentalists, and rightly so, put pressures on companies and so the technology is about to enter the marketplace, and now on the dash it said, "Use unleaded fuel only." But what is it? It's 65 cents, 66 cents per litre now. And increasingly so, when you look at the dash, with the new technology, it says, "Use premium unleaded fuel only," a higher octane. I didn't know what it meant, but I too did some reading like you did, Mr Speaker. I had to, because I went to the pump and I saw 76.9 cents a litre. Being a person of --
Mr Bisson: Modest means.
Mr Pouliot: Everything is relevant, and yes, I can say -- and I'm proud of my background -- of modest means, and I see some people trying to indulge in the poverty game and find those matters farcical. They think they are being comical. Have you noticed that with rich people their jokes are always funny? They indulge in a so-called philanthropy, and sometimes it is surrounded by stupidity. There's nothing worse than a capitalist without capital or a bum with money. We have quite a majority here. We have quite a choice indeed.
That's 76.9 cents a litre I give at the pump, 15 cents a litre difference between the forgotten up north and the privileged down south. Chris Stockwell, the soldier, stood up a few minutes ago and said: "I can't say `gouging' here. I don't know if it's parliamentary or not parliamentary." His pockets are empty. He's been taken to the cleaners. Don't you believe there is a little profiteering, like both hands in the pockets of consumers, that when commodity prices -- Mr Sampson would know that better than anyone. He emanates not from Harvard Business School. He graduated there, then graduated from Chase Manhattan. He knows, but he can't tell. He can't say. They won't let him.
It has been said that if the underworld went into the offices of some major companies, they would come out of there without their shirts. I mean, the voraciousness knows no end. You wait until the next long weekend, Mr Speaker, and we'll do this together. When your family is about to go on holiday, you watch the vultures descend on the pumps and pick your pockets, sir, and they'll pick them clean: The prices will go up four or five cents a litre before the long weekend. But when prices go down on the commodity markets, then they have selective amnesia, then they're a little sluggish. Something breaks down, so the prices don't come down. We all know this. We weren't born yesterday.
But the thing is, we are incapable, as governments, of dealing with the insatiable appetite of those conglomerates. They manipulate, those people, the conscience. And the consumer needs the product. They're monopolistic. They worship at the altar of the cartels. They'll even declare war to ensure supply.
We up north, one more time, pay a little more -- the forgotten. If we need a medical appointment, if we're referred by the family practitioner, we have to go to Sault Ste Marie, 265 miles, 400-and-some-odd kilometres; or Thunder Bay is 400 kilometres as well. We give at the pump. I can't tell the doctor, "Doctor, feel my purse." I'm there for a different reason. When you do that for 25 years, you realize maybe invalids live longer. It's certainly not easy; it's difficult.
Fuel oil once a month, 180 gallons -- "Come and get it, Harry." With those people, you don't question; you say little. In this kind of orchestrated cash system, you know your place. But with those people, it's always la payola. Once a month for the fuel oil, three times a month in the gas tank, with longer distances -- we rely on this government, the federal government, and ask them, "When is the gouging going to stop?" There has to be a little profiteering. We think about it, we suspect it, but we cannot, or we wish not to, find an arena to voice it: the most often thought about when you're at the pump, the least often talked about when you're in Parliament.
Patience is virtuous indeed. We don't mind paying our fair share. We have a pretty good life, when all is said and done. We can look to the future with confidence. We're resource based, and we're not a privileged but a blessed land indeed. We all know that. When asked, "Is there any other place you would rather live?" we almost inevitably, somewhat unanimously, say, "Of course not, but we need to change this and that." That's a normal reaction.
That the government would choose to finish what is almost done in its entirety is a housekeeping matter. That's why I've chosen to talk about gas prices, because I think it has a relevancy. You cannot escape. Whether we're talking about the remittance, whether we're talking about the collection, money changing hands, if we can find a vehicle to make it easier, it is our duty to do so.
The bill is not all that consequential. It's not a bill that excites people. In parliamentary jargon, it's not a bill that is very sexy. It's a bill that has a certain flirtation attached to it, meaning it has some attention without intention, if you wish. It does nothing to deliver an equilibrium vis-à-vis the gouging, the manipulation, the picking of pockets of seven million motorists in the province of Ontario, all becoming sacrificial lambs. If you give at the pump, by way of necessity you have fewer dollars to spend elsewhere. We all know that. Not only that, but the price of gas is an important component in the basket of goods and services. When it's time to calculate the CPI, there is no escape.
Mr Phillips, the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, talked about just-in-time delivery. No need to have five warehouses. The trucks go back and forth; everything is orchestrated; you put it on the assembly line and out goes the product. You burn a lot of fuel, but it's more efficient overall. They're advising their customers now that they will have to adjust the billing. If it was so much a kilo, so much a pound last week or two months ago, they've included a rider saying that if the price at the pump goes higher, the price of delivery will be adjusted to reflect the higher cost of doing business. The bread person, the mail person, the taxicab driver, the bus fares -- no one escapes.
One of the most important components in our daily lives is energy, through diesel, through propane, through gasoline, through jet fuel, through heating oil, and it all comes home to roost. We see before our very eyes the lack of true relationship between spot and commodity prices and the adjustment down the line to the pump at the marketplace.
I'm not about to use parliamentary immunity, but I've heard it said that if it were conducted by an ordinary citizen, words such as "conniving," "price fixing," "thievery" would be used to describe the practice, but if it is done under the halo of sanctity, under the umbrella of corporations, if it is done by people in suits, not in coveralls, extracting the wealth; if it is done by merchants, Mr Speaker. You know, sir, I once read in the Book of Books that the merchants were chased out of the temple, and when I read the Financial Post, I swear they have returned. They're right there.
I too have been to my 12th year and joined the tenure, the honour, of representing to me what is, and I know I'm parochial, the best people, those of Lake Nipigon. It has to be the best job in the world, with daily challenges. This is getting to be a little too much. We can't ask the people that they tighten the belt one more notch.
Last week, constituency week -- a true story. I won't name the person. I respect and value the friendship of that person. The person was just the recipient of a notice. The person works for the Ministry of Natural Resources, one of the thousands of women and men who are in the process of being or about to be axed. Like he said, he felt as if he had been kneecapped, someone had taken a steel bar to him. He's been an employee of the government, working for you and I, all of us, for more than 20 years.
This person is younger than I am. He just turned 50 years of age. He was concerned about application forms, résumé. He's got to find a job. These people told him he was too young to die but too old to work. Not rich. He raised a family. It's only, what, 15 or 20 years that people started to get a somewhat fair return on their labour investment. So family went off to school; those were to be the good years. In fact, he was quite happy because for the last three years his wife, the spouse, had a job and she was working half-time. The kids were grown and on their own, so now it was going to be the good times. The dream was to become reality, with some adjustment. I'm not talking about London Life, Freedom 55. This is a realistic person. He started to know, through reading, a little about RRSPs, which mutual funds. He put some money aside every payday: "Now we can afford it." Well, now he can't. Now he can't, because the dreams have been shattered.
Someone pulled the rug. By way of a letter -- slap -- what he feared most. He was put on a junk pile. So now he rides the big 50 and starts to wonder: "What happens at 50? Would I hire myself? Am I competing with people who are deemed to be better armed, better qualified?" Then, "last occupation," and he has to write down "20-year civil servant." For you and I, sir, honourable indeed, but for some others with an agenda, the word's out there and it's been fuelled. I'm not imputing motive, that if you are a civil servant you are not as worthy as a private entrepreneur.
A little loss; I think he'll be okay. But there are others. In fact it is said that there are some who will even hide the letter and will leave at the same time in the morning, trying to pretend that they still have tenure because they're too embarrassed to tell the loved one.
When we talk about Bill 48, a tax collection bill, we can say yes to expediency, but to get from point A to point B, you have to take some detours. You have to tell the truth. You have to point out the human dimension, that those are real people.
We will be supporting Bill 48. I want to share this with you, and I quote from a colleague: "Gilles, sorry I must leave. I would only hope that the House would sit past 6 o'clock, for there is so much to say about us people up north." I take it that this is one of our colleagues from the New Democratic Party. There are 15 seats in the great northern Ontario, and traditionally and to this day we occupy more than 50%; we have eight of the 15. Of course, Mike Harris -- before the last election the Progressive Conservatives had two seats. After the election, they retained their seats and were unable to make any impact in our special part of Ontario.
I guess the philosophy, the message, differs greatly from Bay Street to Main Street in our hamlets, villages, small towns and relatively small cities up north. But we want to make our voices heard, that we, with our resources, represent the hands that give, that toil, that cut trees, that extract minerals. They only too often represent the hands that take without giving back, without being reciprocal to the extent that would allow us to share some amenities.
We know it's a tradeoff. We know we have to travel longer distances that will put in 30,000, 40,000 kilometres per year on vehicles. We know we will pay more per kilometre. But there has to be at one time a tradeoff. It's nice to be recognized. It's nice to be like others. Heaven will attest that we're striving to do that. There's no complaint. We're very good when it's time to send our resources, at great economic and human cost. There's no problem with recognition then. When we have to send our sons and daughters elsewhere to get a post-secondary education, well, that's okay too.
But let it not be that when we cease or are forced to cease employment, as a grand finale we must export ourselves. We're establishing roots. We are a proud people, a contributor, a maker of wealth, significant in the standard of living. We are not merchants; we are workers, we are providers, truly the salt of the earth. If in doubt, look at our hands. Look at our eyes and you will see the soul of the north to James Bay and Hudson Bay.
I could go on and on talking about the virtues of Bill 48. We started it. The Tories have chosen to go along with a Floyd Laughren initiative, and the marketplace, in a measured way, will respond and rejoice in saying to both, "Job well started and a job finished." I will end my remarks.
Mr Hastings: I don't know where to start in terms of listening to the member from the great north, from Nipigon, talking of a Floyd Laughren initiative. It may have been in the budget of 1994, but why didn't they implement it?
To talk specifically to Bill 48, it deals with trying to reduce red tape, consistent with the philosophy of this government. What do we mean by that? It comes from the bureaucracy, and essentially it reduces the time-consuming efforts of many people who work in the transportation industry trying to figure out who allocates what differentials for fuel tax, under this international fuel tax agreement, to the various jurisdictions they travel through.
This bill simplifies that whole situation so that the Ministry of Finance will undertake the administration of an Ontario-based carrier in the transportation industry dealing with this situation, and we will have people being much more productive in terms of the workers, the companies that are involved in the actual business. Getting on with business is what you may call it in terms of trying to create some more jobs, even in northwestern Ontario, for those carriers that are Ontario-based, which will benefit from this proposal.
I don't know why the NDP didn't just pass this thing when they were over here and get on with it. Then we wouldn't have had to deal today with whether or not you have an Ontario-based education. That doesn't have anything to do with this bill.
Furthermore, it is a delight always to listen to whether it's "un grand spectacle" or an edifying "expérience" from the member for Lake Nipigon, but I wish he'd stay with the benefits of the bill.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): I too would like to join our colleagues in the House in congratulating the member for Lake Nipigon on yet another spectacular performance here today. It's always very nice to listen to him because you hear language being used in ways that you've never heard before. I mean that in a very appropriate way. He certainly paints mental images and pictures for us that I'm sure all of us can relate to.
I too concur with this bill. I think that anything that cuts red tape is to be commended. There are a number of other things, though, that he mentioned in his speech that I think we should pay special attention to, and one is the northern part of this province. I had the opportunity last week, together with other members of this House, to go on tour with the education bill. We stopped in places like Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay. They are only two of the main urban areas of the north, and there's a great area beyond that, but it does make you wonder why people who are so isolated in a lot of these areas, who rely so heavily on fuel costs -- and he spoke about this quite extensively in his speech -- should, in effect, be penalized on a continual basis. It's not just something that happens once, with a fee being imposed here or there, but it happens every time they go to the gas pump.
I would urge this government and the federal government as well -- let them work collectively so that the kinds of hikes that we see take place right before holiday weekends or the kind of disparity we have in this country in fuel prices, across this province of ours, will be put to an end once and for all. It simply isn't fair to the citizens of northern Ontario.
Mr Bisson: The member from Nipigon shared his thoughts in regard to this particular bill, and I've got to concur with the member on a number of points, but the one I'd like to comment on is the relationship of gas prices across this province. I too agree with him that it gets extremely frustrating for people outside of Metropolitan Toronto and the GTA to look at what happens to the price of gas, never mind on a weekend but on a daily basis, when you live in communities like Timmins or Iroquois Falls or Kapuskasing, wherever it might be.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): All of the north; even St Catharines.
Mr Bisson: Even St Catharines, as my friend Mr Bradley has commented. It gets extremely frustrating.
I say, like the member from Nipigon, that we would really call on the government. We recognize that gas prices are not a provincial responsibility, and this is not a criticism of the government here on this particular issue, but we would ask the government to take a look at that issue a lot more closely and to urge the federal Liberal government to move and deal with the gouging that happens when it comes to the price of gas in this province. It is a real problem.
Mr Bradley: The Tories say it's taxes, not the gas companies. The Republicans say that in the States.
Mr Bisson: It's the taxes, not the gas companies, say the Tories.
First of all, on that issue I concur with the member from Nipigon. We need to get the federal government moving on this, and anything the provincial government can do in exercising its power and its influence on the federal government would be really good to get the Liberal government to bring the price of gas down by not allowing gas companies to gouge the consumer, never mind just what happens on weekends, but what happens on a daily basis in the north. On that, I would like to thank the member for his participation in this debate.
Mr Baird: I'm pleased to have an opportunity to respond to my colleague the member for Lake Nipigon. I want to congratulate him on yet another eloquent speech, the great gift that he gives of his oratory to the House. We get calls in my constituency office that the people from across the province take great pleasure in listening to the honourable member's speeches, and I mean that. We do actually get calls, and I've passed the very big compliments on to him.
I also appreciated the member's comments on Bill 48. Like him, I do support the bill.
He also painted a very great picture of northern Ontario. Those of us from southern Ontario always do learn a lot from the member's portrayal of the north and we always appreciate those comments.
He spoke of the forgotten north, and that was most interesting to notice on this side of the House, because I arrived from a small community of Ottawa-Carleton, one of the smaller areas of the province. We sometimes feel forgotten. We sometimes feel forgotten in the ridings in our area, but we look at this House: The Premier's from northern Ontario. The Treasurer and Deputy Premier is from northern Ontario. I look opposite from my place here. I look to the leader of the Liberal Party -- from northern Ontario. I look to my colleague the member for Algoma, the leader of the New Democratic Party -- from northern Ontario. Four of the five leadership positions in this place are occupied by members from northern Ontario, and that points to a very central role they continue to play in the political life of the province.
The member also mentioned in his speech that in his car, his modest vehicle, it says, "Premium fuel only." I went to the parking lot and checked my Chevrolet and I didn't see that sticker. I talked to my friend the member for Northumberland and we checked his Chevrolet. I'd like to offer to help my colleague find it, because I'm sure his car would take the cheaper fuel.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I believe the allotted time has been used. The member for Lake Nipigon for two minutes.
Mr Pouliot: I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and through you, with respect, the member for Nepean, the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, Kingston and The Islands, Cochrane South. There could have been others if the rules would allow for more people to voice their concern about high prices. Everybody has mentioned the high gas prices, except that we differ in style. The Republicans -- oh, that's south of the border -- the Republicans, Reform, Conservatives blame taxes.
Mr Bradley: Which haven't gone up.
Mr Pouliot: With a great deal of wisdom, the member for St Catharines says they haven't gone up. It's companies. Let's tell the truth, let's call it what it is, let's recognize the villain. The snakes are coming out of the bag. They're afraid of daylight. They operate better under darkness. Let's expose them, put them back in the bag. They're gouging. Thief, thief, thief, stealing, stealing, stealing, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, pay, pay, pay -- collect the slots and do it over again.
We will support the bill because it makes the system more efficient. I have enjoyed taking part in this debate and look forward to see the ramifications of this humble, moderate yet necessary piece of legislation.
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): I'm sure the members would like to know about the legislation we're debating today, so I will just address that.
The international fuel tax agreement is an agreement among jurisdictions in Canada and the US that simplifies the reporting of fuel taxes by commercial interjurisdictional carriers. All US states are required to join the international fuel tax agreement by January 1997, and upon implementation in Ontario all Canadian provinces will be members.
The international fuel tax agreement significantly simplifies fuel tax administration and reporting requirements for carriers by centralizing the processing in the carrier's home jurisdiction. A single refund or invoice is then sent to the carrier by the home jurisdiction on behalf of any or all member jurisdictions. Under the previous system, carriers had to register, purchase decals and file tax returns in every province and state their vehicles entered.
All provinces in Canada and most US states are members of the international fuel tax agreement. Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are joining the IFTA in January 1997.
Ontario must be a member of the international fuel tax agreement by October 1996 in order to send out registration packages to all carriers to enable the January 1, 1997, effective date. The IFTA specifies a 120-day balloting process for membership voting. Therefore, Ontario must have its application in to the IFTA the first week of June 1996. IFTA Inc requires that the enabling legislation be passed and attached to the application.
The ability to tax these fuels based on use rather than at the point of purchase is essential for Ontario to qualify for membership in the international fuel tax agreement. What we're talking about is the purchasing in locations outside Ontario before they come into Ontario. The Fuel Tax Act, which taxes diesel fuel, has already been amended to permit Ontario to join the IFTA. Approximately 5% of the interjurisdictional carriers operate vehicles that run on gasoline or propane. Parallel charges are needed to the Gasoline Tax Act to allow the taxing of these fuels on the basis of use by interjurisdictional carriers.
The international fuel tax agreement simplifies reporting by allowing interjurisdictional carriers to file only one fuel tax return per reporting period with the Ontario Ministry of Finance and allowing the interjurisdictional carriers to not have to file any fuel tax returns with other IFTA member jurisdictions.
Joining IFTA will put Ontario carriers on a level playing field with their Canadian and US counterparts. IFTA allows only the base jurisdiction to charge registration and decal fees. Therefore, Ontario-based carriers will pay only Ontario fees and will not have to pay additional fuel tax, decal or trip permit fees charged by other IFTA member jurisdictions. Hence, the IFTA will reduce the administration costs for Ontario carriers.
The date originally announced -- January 1, 1996 -- in the 1994 budget assumed that Ontario would contract its IFTA processing from an established private sector service provider. Subsequently, the ministry entered into contract negotiations with this company. Two disturbing facts emerged from these discussions. First, the company confirmed that it was moving away from the technology the ministry was contracting for and admitted that implementation and support problems would be exacerbated by their many new customers joining the IFTA in January 1996. Second, a visit to a large state that had recently implemented this company's system on January 1, 1994, disclosed numerous serious problems with the system and a lack of service and support from the service contractor.
Faced with this information, the ministry had to reassess its proposal and reluctantly concluded that this service contractor approach had a high risk and would likely result in severe implementation and operational problems for carriers as well as for the ministry. The ministry was forced to re-evaluate the alternatives and found that the most feasible approach was to develop its own IFTA system with the full functionality needed to support our large tax roll. Unfortunately, the time needed to develop this system meant that the implementation of IFTA would have to be delayed until January 1, 1997.
Ontario is the largest province and has the largest interjurisdictional carrier tax roll. As such, it requires a high degree of automation in the IFTA system. Other provinces have different circumstances, such as: much smaller tax rolls, allowing them to develop or borrow small PC-based systems, such as in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick; an existing integrated fuel tax system which served as a base system to which they can add other IFTA modules which they could develop or borrow, such as in British Columbia or Quebec.
The member for Scarborough-Agincourt asked a question and made a remark that I need to address. That was in regard to section 15, under "Conditions and Restrictions." First of all, this deals with the application format, as to what information is on the application; the location on vehicles, such as how the decals are applied to trucks, on one or both doors; what happens if a company buys new trucks and therefore is applying for new decals; and what happens if a company is deregistered and the cancellation process for decals. Some of the other areas it deals with are such examples as when returns are to be filed; how taxes are to be transmitted; the forms to be used, as I mentioned earlier; the refund provisions when interjurisdictional carriers overpay tax; and the bookkeeping requirements as well.
The Ministry of Transportation is certain that Ontario's membership in the IFTA will ensure that our trucking industry remains viable and competitive in the global marketplace. We anticipate that Ontario's trucking industry will benefit through lower administration costs, and this alone should improve its competitive situation. The Ministry of Transportation supports the introduction of the International Fuel Tax Agreement Implementation Act.
The Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Bradley: That was an interesting technical explanation of the contents of the bill. That's why we have parliamentary assistants in this business, because ministers often don't necessarily know the details of a bill, I'm informed. I don't know if that's the case, but I've heard that's the case. I have watched in years gone by when parliamentary assistants have done an excellent job in that regard.
What I was wondering about was that the member in his remarks did not mention gas prices and the gouging of the public by the gas companies. I was very surprised that was not part of it. I know what the excuse will be. If you're a Republican in the United States, the line is: "It's not the big gas companies, it's not the big oil companies raising the costs. You have to understand what it is. It's those awful taxes." It's interesting that taxes on gas in the United States and here have not increased recently, but the price of gasoline in both countries has gone up substantially.
The Republican Party in the United States -- Newt Gingrich in the House of Representatives as the Speaker, Bob Dole until recently, perhaps even until today, the Majority Leader of the Senate -- have both said: "We found the problem. We have found that it is the taxes, so let's cut the taxes." That's the part the government is able to utilize to deal with the highway situation, to deal with the services required, but that's what they're going to cut instead of going after their friends in the oil companies.
When I asked the question of the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations of Ontario, I managed to get out of him precisely the same answer: "Don't blame my friends the oil companies. Blame taxes." That is simply not the case.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I'm pleased to be able to respond to the member for Oshawa. I'm glad he had an opportunity to provide the technical briefing notes from the Ministry of Transportation in terms of the background of this piece of legislation. I found that quite a useful contribution, particularly in light of the comments of the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale in response to the member for Lake Nipigon, who took what I think is an interesting line. It either reveals his complete lack of understanding of the content of the bill or it was simply a pretty useless piece of partisanship that we saw take place in which he went on to say, "If the previous government had so much to do with this, why didn't they implement it?" In fact, he went through a very reasonable explanation of the history on this.
Amendments to the Fuel Tax Act took place in 1993-94, which covers 95% of the commercial carriers who use diesel fuel, the other 5% that rely on gasoline and/or propane to be covered by parallel changes to the Gasoline Tax Act. Those were scheduled to come forward, we know that didn't occur and that there was plenty of time in last fall's session or in this spring session for these rather minor parallel amendments to take place for the application to be submitted in time for a review by the IFTA members, 57 of whom will be reviewing that over the summer period.
I appreciate the honesty with respect to the history on this. I will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate myself because I believe these issues of either interprovincial or interjurisdictional agreements with harmonization of standards are important, with respect to commerce, to eliminating red tape. It's important that they are approached in a way that in this case keeps safety and those issues at the forefront, which this bill does, and we will be supporting it.
Mr Baird: I congratulate the member for Oshawa on his remarks. While I enjoyed the comments of the member for Lake Nipigon and the member for Scarborough-Agincourt, it is appropriate that in Parliament, when we're debating a bill, to see a member from time to time, during rotation of speakers, who has done his homework and his research and is able to contribute a terrific amount of very specific information to the debate. That's always important and is something the member for Oshawa is known for: someone who does his homework and is well researched on the bills we're debating. I would agree with him that in passing this legislation, there would be less red tape and we would see greater efficiencies for people in businesses in the province of Ontario.
Fuel taxes: I noticed one of my colleagues made some remarks with respect to gouging by oil companies. We in Ottawa are waiting for the Honourable John Manley, Minister of Industry, to take on this project. The member for Cochrane South made that same comment, and I agree very much with him in this respect, that the federal government, through the competition policy branch, would take some action on that. That would be the first step.
The oil company executives the member opposite refers to with respect to the fuel tax look to government for leadership, and they see the federal government increasing taxes on gasoline. I think they figure that if the federal government is already in on the game, we might as well join suit, if you follow the line of thinking of the member opposite. If the federal government raised taxes on gasoline as Jean Chrétien did, we might as well raise taxes on gasoline, if you looked at it that way. So we look forward to hearing an announcement from the federal government on this issue, for them to take some action, because the list provided by my colleague opposite had oil company executives from outside Ontario, and regrettably we don't have the jurisdiction there.
Mr Bisson: I too would like to comment on the member's statement here and his speech to the House. I appreciate that the member took some time to take a look at the bill, to look at it in some detail and to come back and respond to this House in a fairly organized way. For that, I congratulate him. At times, members of this assembly -- and I've been known to do that myself -- tend to get up and not do as much research as is needed, so it's certainly nice to see that. I've always found, as a member -- I've been here for some six years -- you learn after a while that it's better to get up and have a fairly good idea of what you want to say.
In regard to the comment -- I'm glad the member for Beaches-Woodbine spoke to that point. The member from Etobicoke got up and tried to accuse our caucus of failing to introduce this bill, that somehow we were asleep at the switch, we didn't want to do it -- "Where were you?" and all that stuff. I'm glad the member opposite, from his own party, set him straight on that and said indeed that it wasn't a question that the former government didn't want to do it; the computers weren't in place to be able to deal with the legislation. Now that they are, we're able to deal with bringing this bill forward.
Our caucus will be supporting this bill as well, because we thought in 1994, in our budget, it was something that needed to be done. It was according to the agreements we had negotiated. So we support that.
The other thing I'd just like to comment on is, the member didn't get into too much detail, but I would just say that if they are going to deal with this aspect of compliance in regard to other agreements, I would ask that the member opposite go and speak to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism and start to take a look at the issues of interprovincial trade as they apply to the province of Ontario. I know the members from Ottawa especially, in that region, will know we have a humongous problem. As a provincial government, the New Democrats had said under our former Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Frances Lankin, that we were going to mirror the policies of the Quebec government as they apply to Ontario. I think it's time we go back to that and try to enforce that so we can deal with some of the other issues. So I would urge the member to do that.
The Speaker: The member for Oshawa has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr Ouellette: In regard to interprovincial trade, I find this is one of the ways we start breaking down barriers, by becoming part of the agreement. Being that we're the final province to come into this, this is an actual way that we can start to break down those barriers in the transportation industry, and this is one of the steps to move towards that.
Also, I think it should be stated that the reason I didn't talk about the price of gas is that the bill doesn't deal with that.
Mr Bradley: Oh, doesn't it?
Mr Ouellette: No. Surprise. I initially started off by saying I would deal strictly with the legislation and not take a hit at the gas, as everybody including our own party has done.
In conclusion, I'd just like to thank the members from the opposition and the third party for their support on the bill, and we look forward to its passage.
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Bradley: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak on the details of this important bill.
Mr Bradley: Thank you. The member for Mississauga South, who is adorned with a new hairstyle this afternoon and looking as engaging as ever, applauds, and I appreciate that very much.
I want to first of all say that there is merit to this kind of coordination that's taking place. Sometimes I don't like some of the agreements, particularly international agreements, that we've become involved in, but interprovincially and internationally, this is one that makes sense. That's why I think there's a consensus in the Legislature this afternoon that the bill will pass with the support of everyone in the House. At least that's my reading of it at this time.
There are other issues that were not dealt with. I understand why the member did not deal with gasoline prices, even though peripherally they have something to do with this bill, I think, and I do want to make some passing reference to them.
My friend the member for Nepean made reference to the fact -- he's learned quickly. They love to do this, to blame somebody else: blame the Americans, blame the federal government, blame the last party, blame the party that was before, and don't assume any responsibility. It's interesting that the provincial government is large as life when there's credit to be taken, and on the front line of taking the credit, but when there's a responsibility to be exercised cannot often be found on that occasion. There is a responsibility that we as individual members have to challenge the big oil companies on their gouging practices as they relate to gas prices.
My friend the member for Quinte, and I won't betray any private conversations I've had with him, knows the business well. Some day when we have a committee dealing with this, I'll be very interested in having him talk about his own experiences and some of his insights, because I have been intrigued by those who have been in the business and are in the business and can tell us what some of the problems are and what some of the potential solutions are.
One of them isn't to attack the taxes on gasoline at this time because that simply gives comfort to the big oil companies. I mentioned previously, in a couple of minutes I had, that south of the border the same debate is going on because the major oil companies have raised the price of gasoline rather substantially over the last few months.
The Republican Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, who is the Speaker of the House -- that means the most powerful person in the House for the Republican Party -- and Bob Dole -- I think he's still in the position but is about to leave the position of Senate majority leader -- came up with a solution. They introduced legislation to cut gas taxes as though somehow that would have some effect on the oil companies, as though that's going to bring the oil companies' portion down; it is not. The enemy in this case, if there's an enemy, is the major oil industry, which has decided it's going to raise prices and take as much money out of consumers in North America as possible.
I've never pretended this is an easy problem to deal with. I've been in this House long enough to listen to ministers from three different government parties give the same answer when asked the question. Somebody should change the briefing note in the Minister of Energy's book because I asked this of Dr Robert Elgie when he was Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations and he gave me an answer about monitoring the prices. Then along came the Liberal government and I heard about monitoring prices then. Then the NDP government and that minister said they were monitoring prices. Everybody's monitored those prices, but no one has really effectively called the oil companies to account. That's why I think it's important that members from all three political parties in this House call them to account.
There have been several questions directed to the government in this regard by members of the Liberal caucus, and I believe the NDP caucus has addressed some of the questions as well. The Minister of Economic Development -- and I think tourism is part of his as well -- was asked the question. He said our prices are as good as they are anywhere in the world. I don't have the exact quote, but he described us as being in a very favourable position across Canada and in the world, North America included. I thought that those who are going to the pump to pay over 60 cents a litre for regular gasoline -- that's what my car takes, regular gasoline -- would be saying that it is a little too high, a little unfair that the prices have jumped this substantially and that there isn't really a reason.
I know that those who were writing this bill probably were thinking about this when they wrote this bill, but what's a mystery to all of us is why it takes so long for the price to come down when the price of crude oil comes back down again. When it goes up, they quickly raise the prices. When it comes down, it takes a long time for that to filter back to the consumer.
We talk about a lot of things in this House. When you go back for constituency week and get to talk to people in your constituency, you find out what some of the real problems are to them, and one of them has been the escalating price of gasoline over the past couple of months.
When I addressed this question to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, I was, from a straight political point of view -- and we are political from time to time in this House -- hoping he would defend the oil companies. He didn't disappoint me because he attacked gas taxes and said they were the real problem and the oil companies weren't the problem. I think when he called them up, one of them returned his telephone call. I was listening to an interview outside with Colin Vaughan of CITY-TV and I think he managed to determine from his conversation with the minister that one of the oil company executives had called back. I didn't get the gist of the conversation, but I didn't see the prices drop immediately and I thought that might have been the case.
One of the strengths this government will claim, and I think there's some degree of justification for it, this government says it has good connections with the big companies, and indeed it has. This government is well-connected to big business. That's why I appealed to the Premier about a month and a half ago to talk to these major corporate giants, to ask whether they believe that when they're laying off hundreds and thousands of people across this country while at the same time making increased profits, that is right. I know the Premier is well-connected to the business community and can speak to these people probably on a first-name basis.
It's the same with the price of gasoline. I would have thought that my good friend from Carleton, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, that my friend the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, who was on Bay Street before and a very nice gentleman in this House, would have had some clout, that the Minister of Energy, having been in business herself, would have had some considerable clout, that Mr Palladini, the Minister of Transportation, would have had some considerable clout in this regard, but to no avail.
So all we had was an apology for gas prices in the province, instead of confronting them, or blaming the federal government or trying to pass it off somewhere else. I think if there's a problem, we have to challenge that problem, we have to try to find some solutions. You can talk about the market all you want. When they're fixing prices, when there isn't a market working out there, that's where government has a role to play.
It reminds me of the newspaper business in this country and I know the Speaker is very interested in this as well, because we all have newspapers around the province that serve our communities. I see that Conrad Black has now taken over -- well, you may as well say control of Southam, because he has the largest portion of Southam now. What's that going to mean? That's going to mean more people turfed out onto the street and that's going to mean he will have more control over these large newspapers. There are people who say, "Well, that's the free market system," but when one person buys up all the newspapers, that's not a free market system any more.
The Speaker has been kind enough to allow me to wander just a little bit into that topic, and I will come back to the bill and some of the peripheral issues with this bill. I know the truckers are as annoyed as anybody else that on long weekends, when there's a great demand for gasoline or other fuels, the price seems to go up. I don't think there's an excuse for that. This bill may be helpful in this regard -- I think the parliamentary assistant is correct in this. The synchronization, the harmonization, the agreement that we see will help in the collection of the taxes and in pricing to a certain extent. But whenever the cost of fuel goes up, the cost of goods and services produced in Ontario increases. Any way we can find to make the system more efficient, and this bill is one of those ways, is one that will gain support from those of us in opposition.
There's one other issue that I don't think was addressed by this bill, which I hope the government will address, and that is gasoline volatility. It's called Reid vapour pressure, and governments have been trying to address this issue. I thought we were going to move forward on it and it appears that there's nothing happening with Reid vapour pressure, that we're having gasoline evaporating into the air.
Not only is it costing people money in the summertime, but also because of a lack of requirements on the oil companies, we have a situation where the atmosphere is getting low-level ozone. The ozone's fine when it's up top; it's not when it's at low level. I know that was not addressed, but the bill can't address everything.
Anyway I appreciate the opportunity to be able to discuss this and I appreciate the parliamentary assistant coming forward with his carefully crafted notes for us this afternoon. Parliamentary assistants often aren't appreciated as much as they should be, and I simply want to say that this afternoon the parliamentary assistant has earned his pay.
The Speaker: Questions or comments? There being none, further debate, the member for Cochrane South.
Mr Bisson: Questions or comments?
The Speaker: That's past.
Ms Lankin: He has a question or comment. Would you like to go back to him?
The Speaker: Is there unanimous consent of the House that we go back? Agreed. The member for Cochrane South.
Mr Bisson: Thank you. I appreciate my whip and other people being generous and allowing us to go back.
I want to concur with the member for St Catharines, because he's 100% right on. Not often do we agree on a number of issues, my Liberal friend and I, but the one thing is that there is a real issue here in regard to what happens to gas prices in the province of Ontario. The member spoke to that directly in his debate and is saying, I think, what we've been saying over and over this afternoon, which is that we have a real problem. We have a situation where gas companies are price-fixing or gouging on weekends, if you happen to be living in and around Toronto, but in places outside of Toronto are really gouging consumers and taking advantage of them when it comes to setting the price of gas.
Just recently, I guess about a month and a half ago, the price of regular unleaded gas in Timmins went from somewhere around 58 cents or 59 cents a litre to as high as 65 cents in one shot. As the member for St Catharines said, there was absolutely no increase of taxes on the part of the provincial or federal government. This was strictly the price of gas going up, because it happens to be that you no longer have a free market system there. You have a number of oil companies that have come together, that have decided they're going to band together to push the price of gas up, and we the consumers have absolutely no power to do anything about it. We can't even shop at the gas station down the street, because what ends up happening is the other gas station has caught up with the rest of them in the same way.
Like the member for St Catharines, I would urge the provincial government to move to get the federal government to deal with the question of price-fixing when it comes to the price of gas. It's clearly a federal responsibility. There is nothing the provincial government can do itself directly. It falls squarely in the hands of Mr Chrétien. I urge the minister and others to go to Ottawa to speak out, to speak on behalf of Ontarians and say, "We recognize that gas companies have got to make a profit, but not such a profit that we pay through the nose, such as we do here."
Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): It's a tremendous pleasure to be in the House this afternoon and find a subject on which all three parties agree. Obviously our government must be moving forward in the right direction in some areas, according to opposition parties. We appreciate very much the sincerity of the support and the comments of both the Liberal and NDP members this afternoon.
I also would like to put on the record, obviously, my concern about the price of gasoline, although it isn't directly an inherent part of this legislation which we're all prefacing our comments on. If it was within the power of the provincial Legislature to provide a remedy on the pricing of gasoline at the pumps, I'm sure that remedy would have been executed long before the term of this government, and neither of the two previous governments were able to do anything about it either because, as has been well expressed, it does rest with the federal government.
But isn't it interesting that the federal members are not lobbied, for some reason, to the extent we are. We don't get the remedy, we don't get a stop put to the fact that we have pure exploitation of people who have to drive, who have to purchase gasoline.
When the member from Timmins talks about how bad it is in the north and he saw his price at the pumps rise from 59 to 65 cents, we saw the same thing here, but at a lower rate. It went from 51 to 58 cents overnight. I think in any other business they would be charged with operating a monopoly or a combine or whatever the appropriate term is.
Please, Prime Minister Chrétien, put an end to this.
Mr Len Wood: I listened very intently to the member for St Catharines and his comments that the oil companies are taking advantage of some people throughout northern Ontario. It only makes common sense if the Premier of this province and the Minister of Energy would call the heads of all the oil companies into their office and tell them very clearly, "What you're doing to southern Ontario, ripping the people off over the last number of weeks and months -- we know you've been doing it in northern Ontario for the last 20 years -- is something that's going to have to stop."
I know that Bill 48 is going to get the support of all three political parties, but I believe it has to go beyond that, and as the member for St Catharines has pointed out and the member for Lake Nipigon in his comments, saying, "Especially in northern Ontario, you don't have public transportation and you don't have other ways and means of getting around other than having two cars in a family, and you have the long winters, you have the high price of gas, and it's very inconvenient, especially for the people who are on fixed incomes, as the oil companies keep raising the prices and taking advantage of the people up there who have no other choice but to use these."
When you're talking about 35 and 40 below temperatures in northern Ontario, which you get for a long period of time in Kapuskasing and Timmins and other areas, even up the Hudson Bay and James Bay coast where my riding takes in, they use vehicles to get around there as well, so you're talking about sometimes six or seven months at the whim of the oil companies that can say: "We want to make more money. We're not making enough profit. We want to make more money, and we're going to raise up the gas prices and rip off the people."
Mr Baird: I'll be very brief, Mr Speaker, given the hour. Picking up on the comments of the member for Mississauga South and the member for Cochrane South in response to my colleague from St Catharines, I would have one perhaps helpful suggestion, since we're all in agreement, generally speaking, on this issue.
The list provided by the member for St Catharines of the oil industry executives whom he asked the member for Carleton, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations to call, all but one of them were for outside the province of Ontario, so this is of course a federal issue. The honourable member for Mississauga South in her statement suggested that people contact the Prime Minister and get him to push this issue on the national agenda, so I would encourage everyone in this House and everyone watching on TV to perhaps call Prime Minister Chrétien -- his number is 613-992-4200 -- to encourage --
Interjection: What number was that?
Mr Baird: It's 613-992-4200. Call right now -- there's a switchboard there -- to encourage him to act on this with Industry Minister John Manley.
Mr Baird: My colleague asks again. It's 613-992-4200. Call now and tell Jean Chrétien you want action taken.
Mr Bradley: The member just proved my point exactly. The member for Nepean, who is trying to get into the cabinet and ingratiating himself with the Premier and other senior officials of the government, wants to do that, and I understand that's part of the game. Some of the other members don't, because they want to be more independent-minded, and there are a couple of ways of getting in. One is to be more independent-minded and one is to -- how could I word this? -- be nice to the Premier. Let's put it that way.
It's interesting. The member for Nepean made my point. My point was that when there's credit to be taken, these people are as large as life when there's credit to be taken to take it, but when it comes to confronting their corporate friends, the big companies, they are not prepared to do so. The member for Nepean would have been here in the House when first of all the Minister of Economic Development said, "Oh, it's not a problem, of course, because our prices are among the best in the world," and then the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, whose job it is to defend consumers in this province, said, "Well, of course it's the gas prices; that's what it is. It's not the oil companies. Why do you pick on the oil companies," said the Conservative Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, "when you know it's gas taxes? That's the real villain."
The gas taxes, of course, have not gone up in recent months. Neither this government nor the last government in its latter days raised it. It has not gone up this year, but what has happened is that the companies have continued to gouge, and the government members, the people at home should know, are over there barracking and defending the oil companies. That's exactly what I expected they would do and that's exactly what they have done.
The Speaker: It being almost 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1800.