36th Parliament, 1st Session

L081 - Mon 3 Jun 1996 / Lun 3 Jun 1996



















































The House met at 1331.



The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I beg to inform the House that the Clerk has received from the chief election officer and laid upon the table a certificate of a by-election in the electoral district of York South.

Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers):

"Mr Claude L. DesRosiers

"Clerk of the Legislative Assembly

"Room 104, Legislative Building

"Queen's Park

"Toronto, Ontario

"M7A 1A2

"Dear Mr DesRosiers:

"A writ of election dated the 11th day of April 1996 was issued by the Honourable Lieutenant Governor of the province of Ontario, and was addressed to Helen Gamey, returning officer for the electoral district of York South, for the election of a member to represent the said electoral district of York South in the Legislative Assembly of this province in the room of Bob Rae, Esq, who since his election as representative of the said electoral district of York South has resigned his seat. This is to certify that, a poll having been granted and held in York South on the 23rd day of May 1996, Gerard Kennedy has been returned as duly elected as appears by the return of the said writ of election, dated the 31st day of May 1996, which is now lodged of record in my office.

"Warren R. Bailie

"Chief election officer

"Toronto, June 3, 1996."

Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): Mr Speaker, I have the honour to present to you and to this House Gerard Kennedy, member-elect for the electoral district of York South, who has taken the oath and signed the roll and who now claims the right to take his seat.

The Speaker: Let the honourable member take his seat.



Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): During the last provincial election, Mike Harris stated that if elected he would "stop imposing southern standards on the north"; this is on page 12 of the Conservatives' document entitled A Voice for the North. Obviously, Premier Harris forgot to share his commitment to northerners with his Minister of Municipal Affairs. Last week, the minister announced his panel to work on the overhaul of, in his words, who does what in the delivery and funding of many government services. The panel, chaired by Toronto's former mayor David Crombie, includes 11 members, 10 of whom reside in southern Ontario and one from the Premier's riding.

If Premier Harris's Minister of Municipal Affairs and, more importantly, northern Ontario's equivalent to Casper the ghost, the Minister of Northern Development, think this is the way to consult with northerners, they're very much mistaken. Northern municipal leaders want to know why they are not being represented on this panel and why the Minister of Northern Development did not insist on a representative from both the northwest and the northeast.

The complex and unique challenges we face in northern Ontario cannot be solved by a southern Ontario panel and a one-size-fits-all government. I'm astounded that the Premier and his Minister of Northern Development would allow any provincial panel to review such an important issue to the north without northern representation.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): Last month in Vancouver and Saint John, women began a march across Canada, a march with a message for our federal and provincial governments. We demand an end to government policies that offload economic problems on to the backs of the most vulnerable women and children in our society.

This Saturday, June 8, at 11 o'clock, the eastern and western caravans marshal in Toronto at Old City Hall and then on to rally at Queen's Park to take our message to the Harris government. I urge as many women and men as possible to attend the rally.

Here in Ontario we've been hit with a double whammy. Not only must we absorb our share of the federal Liberal government's decimation of our social services, such as unemployment insurance or refusal to create a national child care program as promised, but we've had to deal with a stunning array of Harris government policies that disproportionately target women and children, from a whopping cut to social assistance to gutting violence prevention programs and employment equity and pay equity.

The Harris government continues to target women and children to bear the brunt of its cuts so it can give a tax cut to its friends. "For Bread and Roses, For Jobs and Justice" is the theme of this cross-country trek, and never before has there been a more apt time to be demanding all of these.



Mr Bob Wood (London South): I rise today to recognize the Optimist clubs of Ontario and acknowledge their designation of June 1-8 as Optimist Week in Ontario. The Optimist clubs of Ontario have been serving Ontario communities since 1924 with the founding of the first Canadian club here in Toronto. Optimism has grown rapidly since then, and there are now 350 clubs forming four districts with approximately 14,000 members in Ontario alone.

Optimist clubs consist of civic-minded men and women who have come together to provide service to youth and to their communities. They recognize that they must contribute something to the life of the community from which they and their families enjoy daily benefits. The principles espoused by the Optimist clubs can be a positive lesson for all Ontarians.

I would like to ask all members to congratulate the good men and women of the Optimist clubs of Ontario for the important service they provide and to join with me in recognizing the following individuals seated in the west gallery: Helmut Reinhardt, governor, midwestern district; Angeline Wilson, governor, southwestern district; Raymond McKenna, governor, central district; and Yves Berthiaume, regional international vice-president. Please join with me in applauding the efforts of these people.


Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): Yesterday Italy celebrated its 50th anniversary of the Italian republic. Fifty years ago, the democratic state of Italy was born. "La festa della republica," as it is called, marks an extremely important recurrence, as it holds half a century of Italian history, marking the beginning of a new freedom built on a past that had its soil devastated by wars.

Thus Italy and Italians everywhere, in every part of the world, celebrated yesterday with pride the accomplishments of the last 50 years.

The Italian community in Ontario also joined in the celebrations. They celebrated the freedom, the opportunities and the tolerance they have found in their new home.

Italians accepted and enriched those values and built upon that freedom and opportunity. They continue to make their contribution with their hard work, skills and trades, as well as through culture and artistic initiatives.

Equally, Italians are proud of this, our new home, for they and their families have embraced this land and all it holds.

On behalf of the leader of the Liberal Party, our caucus and indeed every member of this House, I would like to extend congratulations to Italy and the Italian community.

Remarks in Italian.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): The Minister of Education and Training goes from community to community in this province and says that $400 million can be taken out of the education budget without affecting the classroom. I want to read part of a letter that's been written to the Minister of Education and Training from hundreds of parents in my constituency.

"We are concerned that the most recently proposed cuts will definitely impact on the classroom. The Fort Frances-Rainy River Board of Education is proposing the dissolution of our behaviour improvement class, removal of all our speech program assistants, twinning and clustering of principals, cutting seven classroom teachers (6% reduction), 10% cut in the elementary budget across the board, elimination of all lunch-hour supervisors, thereby lengthening the school day, as well as busing and supply teacher reductions....

"This board has already surpassed the administration/school costs 40/60 ratio with a ratio of 37% administration to 63% school costs.

"The current grant reductions have augmented adversity... More cuts will directly impact the classroom.

"More education cuts are being anticipated for next year also. We are going from severe crisis to chaos. The cuts to education need to stop."


Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): I have the pleasant duty of officially declaring June Seniors' Month in Ontario. The essence of Seniors' Month is to celebrate the contributions our seniors make to enrich our society with their knowledge, their experience, their wisdom and their understanding. Special activities and events geared to seniors will recognize Seniors' Month across the province.

Seniors' Month coincides with the June 1 transfer of the responsibility for seniors' issues from the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation to the Ministry of Health.

Our government is committed to the seniors of the province, and some of these commitments include the reinvestment of $170 million to expand services to seniors and people with disabilities in their homes -- 80,000 people across Ontario will benefit from these increased services; the expansion of the program to detect breast cancer for women aged 50 to 69; and restoring out-of-country OHIP coverage.

The list continues. As a matter of the fact, the Ministry of Health spent 44.1% of its total budget on services for seniors in 1994-95. People 65 years of age and older number 1.3 million and represent 12% of Ontario's population.

The minister and I plan to meet with representatives of seniors' groups over the coming weeks. We look forward to working with them to ensure that their concerns and solutions continue to be heard.


Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I'm happy today to speak about the town of LaSalle, a significant town in my riding of Windsor-Sandwich. LaSalle is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in North America, with housing starts up 62%.

The problem is, its success in attracting new families has also forced hundreds of students at Sacred Heart School and other schools into portables. There are currently 11 portables at Sacred Heart in LaSalle. The portables have leaky roofs, no screens and no running water. Temperatures reach 100 degrees on some days and students are sometimes forced to wear their coats in winter. Parent groups have had to resort to purchasing fans for the classroom because teachers cannot open the windows. Imagine 250 students inside the school and 210 students outside in portables.

Today I'd like to ask the minister for special recognition of schools that are suffering from overcrowding and that there be some kind of concession or leeway given to schools like Sacred Heart in the town of LaSalle.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Last week Sault Ste Marie played host to the Canadian national gymnastics championships. This week we are hosting the march of women across Canada in the name of justice, an interesting juxtaposition.

Last week we had young people showcasing the best they can be, representing the best that children of this province have the potential to become, given the opportunity. This week we have women arriving in our community from across this country, joining women from Sault Ste Marie and from across Algoma, to send a message to the government of Canada and to the government of Ontario that it is no longer acceptable that while some young people are proving they are the best in the country and in the world, there are others who go to bed hungry at night, in less than adequate housing, in a country that can afford to do better. Governments have chosen to focus on the debt and deficit, something I don't think any of us will disagree with, but are putting the blame on the wrong sector of our society, taking away from those who can least afford it and giving to those who least need it.

It's an interesting statement that in 1996 we still have people, women in this instance, who pick up and leave their homes and their children to cross Canada and make a statement to this government and to the government of our country about poverty.


Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): As parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Labour, I'm pleased to report that today marks the beginning of Occupational Health and Safety Week in Canada. This is a project that Ontario proudly supports.

Over the course of the week, the importance of workplace health and safety will be highlighted at various events and seminars across the country.

Workplace health and safety is a top priority of this government. We're emphasizing accident prevention and education to promote safe, healthy workplaces and communities. We have recently announced training standards for certified members of workplace health and safety committees that are more flexible and responsive to the needs of the workplace.

Last winter $415,000 was invested in a new young worker awareness program for high school students.

We're also providing technical support to unique private sector partnerships. A month ago the Safe Communities Foundation was launched in Brockville with the goal of reducing injuries and illness by 50% over two years.

We are maintaining the current number of health and safety inspectors, which clearly demonstrates the commitment of this government in tough fiscal times.

A safe and healthy work environment is not a privilege in Ontario, it's a right, and violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act will continue to be prosecuted.

As Occupation Health and Safety Week reminds us, we all have roles to play in promoting good health and safety practices. Together we can make this week's ultimate goal of accident-free workplaces a reality.


The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): We have a guest in the east gallery today, the former member for Eglinton, Dianne Poole. Welcome.




Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): The people of Ontario want effective and responsible environmental protection. They also want assurance that positive economic ventures and hard-earned tax dollars are not tied up by costly and inefficient government regulations and programs. This is the underlying principle for everything we do at the Ministry of Environment and Energy, including the comprehensive review of our regulations and approval processes and the business plan announced last week.

Today I would like to inform the honourable members of a series of proposed amendments to Ontario's environmental legislation. These improvements will help us meet our commitment to providing maximum environmental return for the tax dollar. The amendments cover four areas:

(1) The approvals process with regard to certificates of approval. We propose straightforward procedures for activities that have predictable and controllable effects on the environment. The current system requires a specific set of rules and a certificate of approval for each and every project. This is not only unnecessary but costly and time-consuming for everyone involved.

We would establish effective, predictable regulations containing specific rules for certain classes of activities. As a result, an activity carried out under the regulations would not need an individual certificate of approval. The types of activities and the standards to be imposed will be decided through full consultation. For all other activities, the existing approvals process will remain.

This improved approvals process will ensure top-quality protection for the environment at a lower cost to Ontario taxpayers. It will also provide clarity and certainty for industry, municipalities and the small business owner.

(2) The Environmental Compensation Corp. This corporation has averaged compensation payouts of about $69,000 per year over its 10-year life and has cost the people of Ontario almost $3 million to run. This is not a responsible use of taxpayers' dollars. We intend to wind down the business of the corporation.

Environmental safeguards are in place; they remain in place. The owners and controllers of spilled material continue to be responsible for cleanup and compensation. That law is clear and unchanged.

(3) Repealing the Ontario Waste Management Corporation Act. This ends the final chapter of a 15-year, $145-million waste of taxpayers' money in a failed, futile attempt to site a hazardous waste facility.

(4) The recovery of administrative costs. We propose an amendment giving the Ministry of Environment and Energy authority to recover administrative costs for specific services.

The amendments I have just outlined will improve the Ministry of Environment and Energy's ability to meet its responsibility, encourage economic growth and renewal, and deliver better environmental protection at less cost to the people of Ontario.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I must say that what I've observed this afternoon is one more step in the minister presiding over the complete demise of the Ministry of Environment of Ontario. You are now having, from under your feet, the resources taken away to do the job the Minister of Environment is supposed to do in this province. You are weakening the regulations. Any legislation you bring in will not be designed to protect the environment but to protect the interests of major developers and the corporate sector in this province.

What you have done is have the government of Ontario take away all the tools you could possibly have to carry out your responsibilities. The best thing you could have done this afternoon was walk into the Premier's office and tell him you would refuse to make this statement.

One example from the statement is the relinquishing of the necessity for a certificate of approval. To contemplate that this government could possibly have these various initiatives undertaken without a specific certificate of approval is almost unbelievable. A certificate of approval allows for public scrutiny and sets specific standards for specific projects. It is absolutely essential to being able to carry out the responsibilities of your ministry.

Your ministry seems to be turning over its regulations to people who are not committed to protecting the environment in this province but simply to shoving aside anybody who has any environmental conscience in this province.

What we could hear right now is the applause in the boardrooms of the major polluters in Ontario, who will be quite delighted with exactly what you're doing.

At one time this ministry had a lot of resources to be able to carry out its responsibilities; it had good equipment to be able to do so; it had adequate staff to be able to do so; and most of all, within the cabinet and within the province, it had the clout to carry out its responsibilities.

I express sympathy for the minister in terms of the fact that the government is taking all those away from you and leaving you with a shell of a ministry. Then what they will do, I tell the minister, is just cast you aside and start anew with someone else, and you will have done the dirty work for the others in the government who did not want the Ministry of Environment to play a significant role in the government of this province.

We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars cut from the budget of the Ministry of Environment, a budget which when you compare it to other ministries has never been a large budget. We will see taking place much less enforcement of the rules and regulations we have in this province.

That will be to the detriment of the people of this province, those who are concerned about the environment. But I say to the minister in the House, the other people who will lament this are the good corporate citizens who have spent the necessary funds, who have trained the staff, who have purchased the appropriate equipment, and who have an environmental conscience. Those people count upon government to fairly and strongly enforce the laws within the province, and they're the people who will lament this as well as the people who are concerned about the environment, which I contend is the vast majority of people in this province and people of all political affiliations.

You have reduced environmental research in this province. You have eliminated various structures which ensure that the environment is protected. Your colleague the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing presided over changes to the Planning Act which again developers in this province will applaud but which, I assure you, in the long run will not result in good planning decisions made.

I suspect the next thing that will happen is that the Niagara Escarpment Commission will disappear somehow, with its role and responsibility given over to individual municipalities, which of course have a vested interest in the development as opposed to preservation. You've already diminished the role of the Niagara Escarpment Commission by taking away the staff they have had to carry out the responsibilities. You have broken faith as a government with the member for Carleton, my friend the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, who worked so hard to develop the Niagara Escarpment Commission and the very important role it played.

What you are doing today is that you announce very little, but what's not in this announcement is as important as what is contained in it. You are totally weakening any efforts that have been made in this province over the years to protect the environment on behalf of the present generation and generations to come.

Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): We are disappointed that the minister didn't make an announcement on new action to protect our air and our health. With yesterday's high pollution levels, we expected the minister to announce that she may be bringing in a mandatory vehicle emission testing program.

Instead we learn that the minister is bringing forward new legislation to deregulate environmental protection. This is another example of this government doing less. For instance, you have repealed the OWMC Act, but where are your plans to deal with hazardous waste? You have none.

This legislation, titled the Environmental Approvals Improvement Act, is a farce. It is about more deregulation. It is about shutting the public out of decision-making.

The amendments being brought forward and the permit-by-rule concept simply do not take into account the local impact of the new approvals that will be given. Instead of bringing in a smog action plan during Clean Air Month, the minister introduces legislation that could very well lead to more air pollution and more smog. Under the permit-by-rule system being proposed, as long as you meet the guidelines in the rule cookbook, you can pollute. No consideration is given to local impact, and because of this system the local environment could get much worse.

Also, public participation in environmental decision-making, guaranteed under the Environmental Bill of Rights, will be diminished. People will have less of an opportunity to comment on new proposals that could contaminate local air quality. Instead of bringing in legislation to include people in environmental decision-making, this legislation will help to exclude them.


This is not an improvement to the approvals system; this is just the beginning of getting out of the business of approvals. This legislation is being brought forward to deal with the massive cuts that are being made to the Ministry of Environment and Energy. One third of the workforce is being laid off.

This legislation doesn't address the real issues about reforming the process. I agree that reforms to the approval process are needed, but this legislation doesn't even achieve them. For instance, a new company with a new technology is still required to get a site-specific permit, but it is also required to prove its technology time and time again. If you want to improve the approvals system, why not use a technology approval so that new technologies don't have to spend the money every time they seek to set up an operation? We agree on the need for site-specific permits, but why does a company need to prove its technology time and time again?

If this had been real approval reform, the legislation would have dealt with this issue. Instead, this is simply a communications effort, trying to hide the fact that this government is deregulating environmental protection and is simply doing less.

Your government has systematically dismantled environmental protection in Ontario over the last year. You have, for example: refused the local option to protect local air quality; withdrawn Ontario's ban on the construction of new garbage incinerators; killed the successful green communities program; terminated funding for the popular blue box program; slashed funding to the Niagara Escarpment Commission; eliminated funding for municipal household hazardous waste programs; killed the CURB -- clean up rural beaches -- program; weakened numerous clean water regulations under the MISA program; begun dismantling Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights; dismantled Ontario's environmental safeguards under the Planning Act; killed the Ontario Waste Management Corp and the province's hazardous waste reduction strategy; eliminated grants for environmental research -- the list goes on and on. I'm only halfway through.

Minister, you and your government are a hazard to the people's health in Ontario. It is time for you to stand up for environmental protection instead of dismantling the environmental safeguards that have been put in place for decades in the province of Ontario. We know that no one else in your government will stand up to protect the environment and human health, but the least we can do is expect that from the Minister of the Environment.

I say to the Premier who is sitting here today that replacing the present minister with another person who can do your dismantling for you and communicate it better will not work. The people of Ontario are on to you, and this is yet again another example of the dismantling of environmental protection in Ontario.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The member's time has expired.



Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My first question is for the Premier. I have here a copy of the Ministry of Transportation's record of driving and safety violations that have been piled up by Jarsno Equipment Inc from May 30, 1991, until August 31, 1995. The record shows that Jarsno recorded more than 161 convictions or accidents throughout Ontario during that time period.

As you will well know, during the period of time that Jarsno was piling up this appalling record of driving and safety violations, that company was owned and operated by none other than your now Minister of Education and Training, John Snobelen. Premier, I ask why you could appoint someone to your cabinet whom you knew was running a company that routinely broke the laws of this province.

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): When I appointed Mr Snobelen to head up the Ministry of Education, I appointed one of the most capable, brightest people, concerned about young people in this province, concerned about education in this province, quite understanding of the kind of change that needed to be brought from the disaster of the last 10 years. Quite frankly, I did not go back over and read any records of something totally unrelated to that role or of something that, if you're imputing a motive in there, may or may not be true. Given your record, it probably isn't.

Mrs McLeod: I have a transcript of the record, the records of the Ministry of Transportation. This is the disgraceful record of the safety violations that were piled up by Jarsno during the time period I have just described. These records are readily available, Premier. They would surely be part of any routine check you were doing, particularly as you were appointing somebody to your cabinet who had been running a trucking company.

Premier, it's absolutely clear from this record -- and this is just five years; we could not get records from before that period -- that the Minister of Education ran this company with what can only be described as an absolutely cavalier disregard for the laws of this province. The violations that are listed here include speeding and safety violations that endanger motorists, and excess weight offences that are creating equally dangerous potholes on our highways.

Premier, this really is all about the standards you set when you appoint people to your cabinet. So I ask you again, how could you appoint someone to your cabinet who was running a company with such a shocking safety record?

Hon Mr Harris: I have explained to you why I appointed the honourable member to the cabinet, and would stand by that and believe that was a most appropriate decision. I can't comment on any record. It's an arm's-length process from the government of the day, so I have no way of knowing whether that's the best record in the whole province of any trucking company, the worst record, an in-between record. I have no way of knowing whether Mr Snobelen was involved in any of those. Quite frankly, it's irrelevant as far as I'm concerned.

Mrs McLeod: I find that quite amazing, that the standards of conduct by someone whom you are about to appoint to your cabinet are irrelevant. The charges are certainly done at arm's length, Premier, but as I indicated, this is a public record; this is information that is readily available and would have been readily available to you on a quick check. Since you appear not to be aware, I will send this particular copy of the record if the page will take it over, because I want you to see the kinds of convictions that have been registered against Jarsno Equipment.

According to just this abstract, Jarsno was involved in some 28 accidents, had trucks detained on 26 occasions for equipment problems, and was convicted of 107 other violations. Just about every month for the past couple of years, Jarsno has been convicted of operating overweight vehicles, a practice that makes these trucks, as you know, a lot more dangerous to other motorists as well as causing damage to the highways. There are violations there for speeding; there are violations for using defective and improper tires; there are violations that occurred throughout the province, from Windsor to London to Halton region, Newmarket, Kitchener, Woodstock, Hamilton, Oshawa, St Catharines, Niagara Falls, Brampton, Metropolitan Toronto. You know that last week your Minister of Transportation -- he will remember -- announced that he was cracking down against truckers who committed these types of violations. But I think, having appointed someone to your cabinet who had such a shocking record of violations, you are operating by the motto of, "Do as I say, not as I do."

Premier, I ask if you do not see a double standard here, and ironically that the standard you set for the public is higher than the standard you set for a member of your cabinet.

Hon Mr Harris: No, I don't see a double standard. What I see is an opposition party so bereft of any ideas -- I am assuming that everything that I have appointed the minister for and he is responsible for, he is doing a 100% job and there is no criticism of that or of me or of the government or of any other minister, and you're quite happy with everything else -- that now you feel compelled to delve into somebody's background under a former government that has absolutely nothing to do with his portfolio. It has absolutely nothing that I can see to do with any policies the government is taking. So that's what I see: an opposition party leaderless, desperately in need of moving up the leadership convention.


The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): New question.

Mrs McLeod: What I see is a Premier so unconcerned about standards of conduct for ministers he appoints to his cabinet that he doesn't even do the most basic check on their records of conduct in their private lives.

The Speaker: Who is your question to?


Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): I will pose a second question to the Minister of Environment and Energy because I am anxious to raise again an issue which we have raised in the past and on which we have received only evasive answers from this minister, and now this weekend we have a report that Ontario Hydro is justifying the suppression of a safety review of Ontario's nuclear plants on the basis that the release of this report could somehow affect negotiations with private investors.

This is a statement of the freedom of information and privacy commissioner: Ontario Hydro has described to him "current negotiations with potential private sector partners regarding one of its nuclear plants, and submits that unduly critical public releases could reasonably be expected to raise concerns with these potential partners" -- hardly a reason to suppress information about the safety record of nuclear plants from the public, Minister, but it does make it pretty clear that you are planning to privatize at least part of Ontario's nuclear energy system.

Minister, I call on you today once again to provide this House with details of what you're planning to sell off. Are you planning to sell Bruce? Are you planning to sell Pickering? Are you going to sell Darlington? All of them or none of them?

Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): There are no plans at this point to sell any part of Ontario Hydro.

Mrs McLeod: Ontario Hydro has said to the privacy commissioner, in justifying the withholding of the peer review on the safety of nuclear plants, that it is in negotiation with potential private sector partners. It is Hydro's submission -- not rumour, not speculation, Minister; it is Hydro's submission -- that it is involved in "ongoing international negotiations" for a "multimillion-dollar contract," and they don't want to release the report because they don't want those negotiations to be put at risk. Those are Hydro's claims. Those are their statements, Minister. Clearly, whether you know it or not, they have started the business of selling off Ontario Hydro's assets.

I think perhaps you need to remind them that you have an independent commission that is supposed to be doing an independent report on the future of Hydro. I think you need to tell them that it just might be appropriate to wait for the recommendations of that commission before they start their negotiations.

You are Minister of Energy. Were you aware that Hydro had already marched ahead and started its negotiations for privatization before the Macdonald report was ever tabled? Do you approve of Hydro's entering into these negotiations at this time, and can you tell us what the point is of having an independent commission to make recommendations to you when Hydro is already engaged in negotiating the selloff of its assets?

Hon Mrs Elliott: Again I say that any decisions made about the future of Ontario Hydro or any changes to that organization at all will be made by this government as we see fit.

Mrs McLeod: Mr Speaker, I wonder when the minister -- I'm trying to find words that you will consider parliamentary -- is going to be forthcoming with the people of this province about what they fully intend to do with Ontario Hydro and the privatization of Ontario Hydro. Minister, you can't pretend, surely, that you're being kept totally ignorant even of the reports that we are now reading in the press of what the privacy commissioner has been told by Ontario Hydro. We want to know -- the public has a right to know -- what your intentions are.

As the chairman of Hydro says, he is talking about privatization and intends to proceed with privatization as Hydro enters into negotiations with international potential partners for multimillion-dollar deals. Minister, we need to know whether or not Ontario Hydro has already decided what parts of Ontario Hydro it is going to sell off and we need to know if the Macdonald commission, that independent commission that has been appointed, makes a recommendation that goes against what Ontario Hydro is planning to do, whether you are going to accept those recommendations.

You know that any decision to sell off parts of Hydro has enormous and long-lasting impact on the future of this province. You simply can't stand back and let Ontario Hydro forge ahead and do whatever it wants to do. Will you at least assure us today that you will order Ontario Hydro to cease any negotiations it is having until such time as your independent commission report is public and your government's response to it is made public?

Hon Mrs Elliott: Once our government came into power we determined that there was a concern about the rise of Ontario hydro rates. One of the first things we did was to put a zero-average rate freeze to encourage stability for rates in this province. The Macdonald commission is seeking advice and concerns from people across this province about what next steps to take. Once that advice is delivered to the government and we decide to go forward, we will thoughtfully and carefully consider what is best for the people of Ontario. We will consider the rates, we will consider the affordability, we will consider the reliability and we will consider the safety of the electrical interests of the people of this province.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): My question is to the Premier. I am disappointed that the Premier, the first day the House sits after his return from Quebec City, where he encouraged the Premier of Quebec to attend the first ministers' conference at the end of this month, didn't find it useful to make a statement to the House on the discussions he had with the Premier and the government of Quebec.

Considering that the Premier of Quebec and the government of Quebec's main aim is to break up this country, could the Premier of the largest province in the country please make clear what he said to the Premier, what was discussed with the Premier of Quebec and what he expects will be the nature of the discussions in Ottawa with the other first ministers, as a result of his discussions with Monsieur Bouchard?

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): Some of the discussions involved things around: "How are your kids? How's your family? How have you enjoying being Premier for such a short period of time?" In other words, it was kind of getting to know each other and getting to know a little bit about one another. I would say that was actually perhaps the most significant part of the meeting, the first introductory meeting -- very important, I believe, for the premiers of the two largest provinces to get to know one another.

Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): Then you were wasting taxpayers' dollars, Premier. You should have discussed something substantial. It's an important issue.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The member for Essex South.

Hon Mr Harris: I see the Liberals think that's wasting taxpayers' dollars, to get to know fellow premiers and what not. I happen to believe that has been a very effective role played by David Peterson, by Bob Rae and, previous to that, by Bill Davis and by John Robarts, and I think that is an important role. I understand the Liberals don't agree with that, but I'm sure the leader of the New Democratic Party would agree with me.

The second part of the agenda dealt with those areas we felt were of mutual interest to unemployed Quebec workers and unemployed Ontario workers: jobs, policies we could take and what we could do together to improve that. We had very good discussions, I might add, in this area on freer trade between the provinces, removing some of the barriers that exist already in the existing agreement that was signed by your party, particularly with the leadership of former Premier Rae and the former Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology, currently vying for higher office within the party, the member for Beaches-Woodbine.

We agreed that it was going to require initiative at the level of the Office of the Premier in Quebec and here to ensure that that agreement that was signed is enforceable and works better and --

The Speaker: Order. Supplementary.

Mr Wildman: While I appreciate that it is important for the premiers of the two largest provinces in Canada to begin a dialogue and get to know each other and to learn about each other's concerns and the concerns of their respective provinces, I am concerned that the Premier was quoted in the press, I believe coming out of the scrum he and his colleague from Quebec had at the National Assembly, stating in answer to a question about Ontario's view of the possibility of a unilateral declaration of sovereignty by Quebec something to the effect that the Premier of Ontario hasn't discussed that and hadn't thought about it.

Is it the case that as Premier of the largest province in this country, you haven't thought about either the efficacy, the legality, the constitutionality or the possibilities and effects that such an action, if contemplated by Quebec, might have for the country?


Hon Mr Harris: Certainly we've thought about it and thought about the effects, but we have not spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the legality. The meeting I was responding to questions about was between Mr Bouchard and myself. It all flowed out of, "Did you talk about national unity, about separation, about the Constitution?" I said, "No, we did not," and Mr Bouchard said, "No, we did not." Mr Bouchard did not wish to discuss those items and I couldn't see discussing them all by myself.

Mr Wildman: Does that mean that the Premier raised these issues with the Premier of Quebec and the Premier of Quebec indicated he didn't wish to discuss them? If the Premier of Ontario did indeed raise these with the Premier of Quebec, what was the intention, what is the view of this government with regard to the federal government's position vis-à-vis that possibility and the Quebec government's apparent view that it is within the realm of possibility?

Hon Mr Harris: It was very clear from discussions with officials before I went to Quebec City that Mr Bouchard did not wish to discuss the Constitution so I clearly did not go there to discuss it. We had agreed that we would discuss those areas that we felt were of benefit to Ontario and Quebec -- workers, jobs, those who are unemployed, those who were on welfare -- and if there were mutual areas we could discuss and agree upon, we both agreed, officials to officials and then ultimately I with Mr Bouchard, that this would be a productive meeting.

We, in the scrum afterwards, agreed quite publicly to say we fundamentally disagree on separation of Quebec. I am a federalist. At one point Mr Bouchard said, "I don't hold it against Mr Harris that he is a federalist and I am not." That does not preclude the fact that he is Premier of the province of Quebec, will be for a considerable period of time and there are areas that are beneficial to Ontarians that we can discuss and work on, so we did so.

With regard to the federal position, it depends on which day I hear them talking about it.


Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I have a question for the Minister of Health. This weekend Sudbury joined the growing list of communities that will no longer have obstetricians providing care to new patients. All of the eight obstetricians who provide care announced this weekend that they will no longer be taking any new patients as of June 1. On average in my community there are 180 deliveries per month, so the consequences of that action are very dramatic. My constituency office has received a number of calls from women who are terrified that they will not be able to receive the care they need when they need it. This is a crisis in the province. What action are you taking now to guarantee that women will have access to care when they need it?

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I thank the honourable member for the question and indicate, as I did last week in this House, that the government has made an offer to the obstetricians. We made that offer last week. It was a very generous offer responding to their concerns, particularly on the malpractice insurance side, on which we're waiting for Justice Dubin to make his report for a final resolution of that matter, a matter that's long overdue in this province and should have been tackled by previous governments, including the government of which the honourable member was a member. Also, at noon today we had a meeting with the OMA. We're trying very hard to try and come up with some solutions to this problem.

Ms Martel: I'm glad there have been some negotiations and I'm pleased there's the review, but you should have looked at this issue and the impact it was going to have before you announced the review and took the action you did. The fact of the matter is that in my community, at the end of last week, family physicians who are providing care to pregnant women got a letter from all of the obstetricians and all of the family physicians who are providing obstetrical services or who are delivering babies. The letter said clearly that there would be no new patients taken on as of June 1 and suggested that people would have to refer pregnant women somewhere else. The letter went on to say that women perhaps could be referred to Timmins, Toronto or the United States for obstetrical care when they need it.

This is an unacceptable situation. It's unacceptable for women who need care in our community and it's unacceptable for family physicians who are trying to respond to a flood of calls now from their women patients who are terribly concerned about what's going to happen to them after their seventh month of pregnancy. Minister, what concrete action are you taking that you can tell to this House today about what we're going to do to resolve this situation?

Hon Mr Wilson: I can assure the women and children of this province that the ministry takes the responsibility to deliver health care services very seriously and contingency plans are being developed should services be withdrawn. But members should know that we are trying to live within the $3.805-billion budget set by the previous government for physician services. There are 35 specialty groups in the province and the game plan appears to be that each one of them, one at a time now, will start to threaten to withdraw services to try and blackmail the government into more money.

We don't have the $500 million more that the highest-paid profession in Canada and Ontario wants, so we're working with the Ontario Medical Association to fix problems that neither of these parties did anything about in the last 10 years, a completely broken system with respect to physician payments. They allowed the number of physicians to exceed the growth in population. You didn't bank on the money. You started this crazy clawback system which nobody likes. We're working with physicians to try and find --


The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. I'm having a hard time hearing, but I think it's time for the final supplementary.

Ms Martel: Minister, when you were over here you had all the answers to all of the health care problems. You're in the government now, and women in my community have been told that obstetrical care will be withdrawn as of June 1. That's what they're facing in my community; that's what they're facing in Windsor and other communities right around this province. It's not acceptable to be told that females who are pregnant can go and access care in Timmins, in Toronto or in the United States.

I want to know from you today, what are you doing as the Minister of Health, who had all the answers when you were over here, to deal with this very serious and very difficult problem?

Hon Mr Wilson: So that we don't have complete panic as a result of the honourable member's --

Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): You created the problem.

Hon Mr Wilson: I didn't create the problem. That is a complete falsehood on behalf of your government. The issues that we're talking about --


The Speaker: Order. Minister, go ahead.

Hon Mr Wilson: Sorry, Mr Speaker. The issues we're talking about were issues that have been on the table for a number of years in many cases. I can tell the women of Sudbury and Windsor and so on that it is against the law to not provide services, and therefore services will be provided in this province. The physicians themselves know that. Our emergency rooms are open, our ambulances are on alert; 80 more midwives are graduating this year who will be available and general practitioners are still delivering babies. I remind you that we offered that particular group of obstetricians more money last week, including paying their entire insurance premiums, and they declined that offer.



Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): My question is for the Premier. The Premier earlier this week asked me to take it easy on him and I'm very happy to do that today.

My question is simply about the statements that have been made with regard to rent control, and as a new member I have been given some notes: "Rent control has to go," Mike Harris on October 19, and "Rent control will continue." Which of these statements does the Premier acknowledge? In the Mike Harris plan announced, it promised to lower rents. When will this plan take place and how will the Premier be lowering rents for tenants across Ontario?

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): What we have consistently said is that the failed rent control policy, particularly of the Liberal Party in Ontario and, to a lesser extent but still failed, that under the New Democratic Party, has to go.

By the same token, we have indicated that the existing policy is the NDP policy, and given that it is better than the failed Liberal policy, which was a huge disaster, we would definitely not go back to that, but we would leave it in place until we can seek better rent control, something that is better for tenants, providing better apartments, better price, better options, better maintenance. The minister, you see, has been working and consulting very carefully as to how we can do that.

The commitment is to bring in something better for tenants, scrap the failed policies of the last 10 years, and we are committed to do this.

Mr Kennedy: The promise made by the Premier in the election campaign of York South was to lower rent. It is this government that has cut welfare by 20% and affected 35% of renters. It is this government that has made it so much more insecure for people holding jobs that they're fearful from this government's actions on what's going to happen to their rent. It is incumbent upon the Premier to tell people today: When will their rents be lowered, when will the Mike Harris tenant protection plan come into play, and when will the fear brought on by this government be reduced?

Hon Mr Harris: I would suggest to you that tenants have absolutely nothing to fear from this government, this Premier or this minister. If there are fears out there -- and they are fears -- those fears have been brought out, quite irresponsibly I might add, by members mostly of your party. I would suggest to you that tomorrow morning you will have your first opportunity in that caucus to comment on how irresponsible your party has been in raising these fears.

I want to assure you that you might want to ask tomorrow, for example, why did your party vote against the NDP plan if now you think this NDP plan is so good that you think we shouldn't change it? This would be a very good question for the member to ask.

I wish to conclude with a little bit of advice, but mostly I want to conclude, quite humbly, by congratulating the honourable member on his successful election, I want to congratulate the member on his first day in the Legislature, and I want to wish him success and to try to bring some coherence and some common sense to that caucus that hitherto has lacked it.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a question for the Minister of Environment and Energy. Your own ministry states that when the air quality index goes above 32, air quality is unsatisfactory. Yesterday, the air quality index for Toronto was 36. It was 42 in Etobicoke, 39 in Scarborough, 39 in Oakville and 37 in the city of York. Today, Pollution Probe released a new study attributing 380 deaths a year to polluted air in the Metro area.

June is clean air month. The people of Ontario expect you and your government to take action to protect our air. Why don't you and your government commit to a mandatory vehicle testing and emission program?

Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): Thank you for the question opposite. We quite acknowledge that air is a difficult problem to solve in this province. The reasons for polluted air in this province are complex, but it's not just a "made in Ontario" problem, and the solutions to find that will be difficult. The solutions that we are working to right now, the member opposite will know that we have committed to continuing the emission testing program that her government started as a pilot project to determine if this is in fact the way to clean up the air in the province.

Ms Churley: I don't quite understand what the minister meant by "air is a difficult problem to solve." I could say something about air, but I'll pass for the moment. There are airheads and hot air, and I could go on.

Tomorrow, Metro council will be hosting a clean air summit. Metro Councillor Joan King has pointed out that emission testing could be conducted by the private sector without costing the province a dime. Thirty-eight US states have mandatory vehicle emission testing. Vancouver has operated a mandatory testing program for four years. We hear that Quebec is now looking. I don't know if the Premier discussed that with the Premier of Quebec, but they're thinking of introducing a mandatory program for Montreal.

Yet despite all the health warnings we have no announcement from you, Minister, to establish a mandatory testing program to protect our air and health. Instead, we keep on getting platitudes about working with stakeholders and other environment ministers and the federal government. You cannot fall back on the activities of the CCME. These are federal initiatives.

The people of Ontario want you to act to protect their health, Minister. For the sake of those who die and become very ill every year from bad air, will you commit, and I ask you again, today to a mandatory vehicle emission testing program for the Windsor to Ottawa corridor?

Hon Mrs Elliott: Just as a point of interest, it might be useful for my colleague across the way to note that at the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment meeting on Friday, for the first time in many years Quebec was at the table. The Minister of Environment for Quebec in fact signed on to a very important harmonization initiative that we've been working towards for a very long time, and this is good news for environmental regulation across the country.

I say to my colleague across the way, if solving the air problems of the province is such an easy task, why in the five years the former government had the government did it not solve the problem?


Mr Jim Brown (Scarborough West): My question is for the Attorney General. Two weeks ago in my riding, a 15-year-old youth was repeatedly stabbed in the throat in front of some of his friends in broad daylight. He staggered up the street while his assailant followed him taunting his dying body. The youth's blood drenched the sidewalk. He died. The alleged assailant, a 17-year-old, finished taunting the now lifeless body and calmly walked away to catch a bus.

A year ago, Louie Ambas was brutally murdered, allegedly by a 17-year-old youth. Louie died of 54 stab wounds. Louie's brother, Tom Ambas, is with us today in the members' gallery. Tom Ambas's kid brother campaign gathered at least 500,000 signatures on a petition to change the Young Offenders Act. What do I tell my constituents, Minister, and what can I tell Mr Ambas, who are clamouring for changes to the Young Offenders Act to make it more of a deterrent?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I thank the member for Scarborough West for the question. The Young Offenders Act is currently ill-suited to act as a deterrent and thus keep communities safe. Our province has the highest percentage of Canada's youth court cases. In 1993-94, federal statistics show we had 47% of the country's total for violent youth offences. That's 11,000 out of 23,374 cases.

This morning, the Solicitor General and I addressed the federal committee reviewing the Young Offenders Act. Our objective was to point out to them that we needed a system that was going to have built into it deterrents to keep communities safe, and our first recommendation was that young offenders be redefined as people 15 years or under. Until the passing of the Young Offenders Act in 1984, the maximum age for young offenders in Ontario was 15 years old, and since that change in the Young Offenders Act, raising the age, there has been a significant, almost a tremendous increase in offences by 16-year-old and 17-year-old youths quite simply because the Young Offenders Act no longer contains any element of deterrence.

We are urging the federal government to make that change as one of the most significant changes it could implement to keep communities safe and to respond to the needs of victims in the province of Ontario.


Mr Jim Brown: People are also clamouring for increased accountability for those youths who commit crimes. Minister, what else can be done to ensure that those who, despite increased deterrence, choose to commit crimes are held more accountable for their actions?

Hon Mr Harnick: The public demands accountability from young offenders for their actions and also from the parents of young offenders. We need to make changes so that legal aid is not given to young offenders whose parents can afford to retain a lawyer privately. In the fiscal year ending March 31, 1996, $16 million was spent on legal aid to young offenders, and it's the best estimate of the Ontario legal aid plan that parents could have contributed about $3 million to $5 million, according to the director of the plan. The fact that parents can avoid paying for lawyers on behalf of their children when they can afford it is the antithesis of accountability.

We're also looking at what they're doing in the province of Manitoba, where they look at civil liability for parents whose children cause damage and at ways of compensation by being able to access and sue the parents who should be responsible for the deeds of their children. We're taking a look at the Manitoba legislation and we're going to study it very carefully.

At the federal, provincial and territorial meeting that I attended a few weeks ago we asked the Minister of Justice whether he would legislate to include this kind of civil liability in the Young Offenders Act so that we could have a national standard, so that we could develop this piece of legislation together. Unfortunately, he was not interested.


Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism. You and members of your government have been critical of government monopolies that you believe are not in the public interest. As a senior minister in the Conservative cabinet of Mike Harris, do you believe that control by Conrad Black of 58 out of 140 daily newspapers in Canada, many of them in Ontario, represents healthy competition in the newspaper field, is in the public interest and is in the interests of a healthy democracy?

Hon William Saunderson (Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism): I say to the member for St Catharines, this government has no intention of telling businesses how to run their affairs. If the newspaper industry is to go the way he says it has gone, we are not going to say anything about that. We don't believe in interference; we believe in free enterprise on this side of the House. That's what's made this province a great province in the past. It wasn't for 10 years, but it's going to be in the future.

Mr Bradley: I'm not surprised to see that the minister would defend the powerful oil companies in one case and now the most powerful person in the newspaper business in Canada.

I know the minister has been concerned about competition -- the Premier is prompting him now. I'll wait till the Premier tells you what your answer should be. This says, "When the dust cleared, one man, Conrad Black, controlled more daily papers than any person in the country's history, and it happened almost before we knew it, because newspaper ownership in Canada has become so concentrated, some would say saturated, and all 34 properties he bought changed hands privately in boardrooms without the bother of competitive bidding and with no possibility that the new owners will be people who actually live in the communities they serve."

Minister, you as a senior member of cabinet have a situation you are viewing where one individual in this country will have a virtual lock, unprecedented control of an important component of the information industry. As a result of his latest acquisitions of newspapers, bought behind closed doors without apparent competition, it is possible that thousands of employees will be turfed out the door, that the print media power will be concentrated in one man's hands, that community control over newspapers will be eroded and that the Canadian press will disappear.

Are you still prepared to stand in this House and defend what Conrad Black is doing and this concentration of power in the hands of one individual? What advice would you give to any who may have jurisdiction and control over this matter, as your cabinet colleagues seem happy to do on certain occasions?

Hon Mr Saunderson: May I say to the member for St Catharines that I don't agree with much of what he was reading out. I think it's a point of view that recognizes -- an attack on private enterprise, and I don't support that.

I would like to say to the member that his federal government cousins could perhaps listen to what he has to say. But I have to conclude by saying that we had 10 years of intervention --

Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): Do you want them to do something? I think you do.

Hon Mr Saunderson: Will you listen to me? We had 10 years of intervention from first this party, then that party over there.


The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. Will the minister complete his answer.

Hon Mr Saunderson: I'm pleased that she'll let them listen to me, because when they ask their questions, I sit here very diligently and try to listen to every word they are saying.

I would like to conclude, as I was so rudely interrupted last time, that we had 10 years of intervention from those people there and then from those people over there, and they got us nowhere in this province. We stopped being the engine of growth in this province. We are going to be the engine of growth without interference from government.


Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is to the Attorney General. This weekend, the national Women's March Against Poverty entered our province, and next weekend they'll be here at Queen's Park.

One of the major reasons for poverty among women and children is the non-payment of family support by non-custodial parents, so it's rather ironic that this event occurs at the same time as your ministry is trying to get its communications spin on your plans to decimate Ontario's successful family support plan. It's really ironic because, as your own marketing and communications strategy and the business plan for FSP says, Ontario has the best and most cost-effective per-case plan in the entire country, yet however you spin it, you're planning to downsize and centralize that plan that has helped thousands of women and children to collect the support payments that are owing to them.

Your own communications plan admits that the transition period will see a service reduction to clients. Your own plan admits that women's advocacy groups, that all of the stakeholders, will see your plan as a reduction. In fact, your communications strategy says very clearly that it is your plan to close all eight regional offices and two central inquiry sites and to centralize the core business, with a staff reduction of 335 people, in order to meet a constraint figure of $8 million over two years from a budget of $22 million, a budget that that particular plan more than doubly compensates the province for in non-tax revenue through assigned cases.

We heard this morning from a parent who talks about how important those regional offices are in following down these schemes. How are you going to explain to a person like Cheryl Van Weston why you're going to take away the services that have meant everything to her in trying to support her child?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): As I've indicated to this House before, the importance of having a family support plan that works is paramount to this government. The number one goal we have is to increase compliance. We have to make sure that parents pay their child support, and we are exploring solutions that will work in this province.


I need only take a look at some of the comments that have been made by members across the way: Mr Gilles Morin has said, "I've received many verbal complaints regarding this problem"; Mike Brown, "I wish to bring to your attention a matter of vital importance to my constituents who are single parents relying heavily on support payments"; Dwight Duncan, "I have been contacted by a constituent regarding your ministry's 1-800 number; my constituent has experienced great difficulty in accessing this line."

Quite simply, what we are trying to do is look for ways to enhance our ability to collect the moneys that are outstanding, mostly to pay the support that children need in this province. I'm asked by members of the opposition to do something, and then when you go to look at making plans to make the plan better they say, "Oh, leave the status quo; we don't want a situation where we're going to have to adjust employment and maybe change the way we do things," because everybody wants to protect their own little constituency. But it is unacceptable that $900 million remains outstanding to children. We are looking for ways to do better and collect that money, better than either of those two parties has done in the past.

Mrs Boyd: You talk a really good line about customer service, but let's face it, the real driving force here is your government's desire to cut spending. The only way you can do that is to cut your caseload, and your plan clearly says that although everybody will file those enforcement orders, enforcement will only happen when the person complains. If a person complains, then you will enforce; only, your managers will have an opportunity to say, "No, it's not worth our while."

Let me read from the plan: "This will restrict caseload to clients who are truly in need." You also say that your trace and locate activities are going to be centralized, standardized and restricted to what is reasonable, given limited resources. In other words, all sorts of women and children out there will no longer have the same equal opportunity to have their cases pursued that they now have. You are doing less with less, not more with less. When the national women's march comes, how are you going to explain to all those women that you are destroying the most effective family support plan in this country? And you are doing it trying to pretend that you're going to do more with less.

Hon Mr Harnick: If this plan was so effective, why am I getting all the complaints from the member and her colleagues? As of now, today, 6% of calls attempted by the public get through to the family support plan. We are able to deal with 11 phone calls per half-hour. That's a great endorsement of the plan -- hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and we can deal with 11 per half-hour. We have people who answer the phone who can't deal with the problems, who have to say, "I'll get back to you." We're going to end that and we're going to create a system where people can answer the phone and actually deal with the problem at the same time. We have letters coming in to the ministry, to the family support plan. It takes 30 days to turn those around, rather than to have someone receive the call and deal with it immediately, and that's the objective that we have. There is $900 million in arrears, and if that's a ringing endorsement of the plan this member says is the best plan going, then I'm not satisfied and we're going to do better.


Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): My question is for the Minister of Transportation. Over the last 10 years we've seen a serious neglect of the road system in this province. It's staggering the extent to which our vast network of roads was allowed to deteriorate over the last 10 years. I had occasion, particularly in 1993 and 1994, to travel this province extensively. Whether it's the Trans-Canada Highway in the north or Highway 401 down in southern Ontario, it's abundantly clear to anybody driving our roads that they have never been in worse shape. We once had a road system that was the envy of everyone else in North America. I am chagrined to say that is not the case today.

Recently, you announced that you will be committing more dollars to repairing our highway infrastructure, an infrastructure that's an integral part of the Ontario economy. I applaud this reinvestment, particularly the expansion of the budget for the funding of road rebuilding in northern Ontario.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Put your question.

Mr Gilchrist: However, if the ministry's focus is on rehabilitation of our existing highways, does this mean that all expansion will be stopped?

Hon Al Palladini (Minister of Transportation): I want to thank the honourable member for Scarborough East, and I couldn't agree with you more: With the lack of attention paid to our provincial highways in the past decade, we find ourselves in a very deteriorating mode. The Provincial Auditor said that over 60% of our provincial highways need immediate attention to make sure they become viable once again.

I would like to say to the member that even though we have made available over $100 million more to rehabilitation programs for the provincial highways, we have not forgotten about expansion mode. Expansion mode is still part of this government's commitment to our economic growth, which depends on highway infrastructure. We are certainly not going to forget about expansion mode.

Mr Gilchrist: Inasmuch as there's a major project which directly affects our riding, the ongoing expansion of the 401 through the Rouge Valley, and recognizing the cost not just to the trucking industry but to all the travelling public to ensure that the roads are brought up to the standard which was the hallmark of this province prior to 1985, could the minister enlighten the House as to which expansion projects will continue or proceed?

Hon Mr Palladini: I would like to inform the member that whatever projects we had committed to, we are going to go ahead with. To give you a for instance, we're going to go ahead with Highway 401, Milton to Cambridge; the Queen Elizabeth Way, Hamilton to St Catharines; also Highway 403, Brantford to Ancaster; Highway 416 south; and also we're going to be doing Highway 69 from Port Severn to MacTier, to name just a few projects, because this government is committed to economic development, and our highway infrastructure is very key, very vital.


Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I have a question for the Solicitor General. Minister, over the past year you've stated that we have too many people in Ontario jails, and you've also said we've got too many jails; I suspect in the next couple of weeks you're going to close some of those. We also know from various reports that have been released over the past months that our jails are overcrowded and the conditions are very poor; in fact, some of those reports have said they're inhumane.

I understand you're about to close some of the jail supervision programs across this province. In fact, in Sudbury they have had confirmation that this program is going to be closed. As you know, this program gives people who have been granted bail but can't come up with the money or don't have a guarantor some supervision so they don't have to go to jail. You know dangerous offenders don't get bail so there's no threat to society, so why would you be putting these people in jail and closing this system?

Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I read those press reports over the weekend as well, and I guess the member is adding fuel to the fire with respect to the growth of rumours related to decisions that may or may not be taken by this government. I recall the leader of his party having a press conference some time ago announcing with great fanfare that we were going to cut the OPP by 30%, which over the course of time proved not to be the case at all.

Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): Only because the questions were asked.

Hon Mr Runciman: No, not at all. In fact, I indicated in response to a question that all programs the two ministries are responsible for are under review. Final decisions in respect to the area you raised have not been taken. We're certainly considering the concerns. We're meeting with the groups that provide that specific service to discuss the pros and cons of the program. We will make a decision in the very near future, but no final decision has been taken.

Mr Ramsay: As you know, 25% of the people who have been on this program are either acquitted or their charges are dropped, so we know that 25% of the people in this program are innocent, and if you put those people in jail I think you'd be going very counter to what you've been saying in this House for the last year. What you'd be doing is basically giving those innocent people an all-inclusive package into the Ontario jail system. I don't think you want to be the minister of tourism to jails in Ontario. But that's not just sad, it's also very costly, because you know that the bail supervision program costs $3.50 a day to administer and that most jails in Ontario are up to $120 a day to supervise an offender in our jail system.


Minister, when you're looking at rationalizing the system, why would you be closing a system that's very cost-effective and keeping non-violent offenders out of the jail system, 25% who are innocent, and throwing them into jail at a cost of $120 a day?

Hon Mr Runciman: That's a legitimate question. We have had a survey conducted, a report prepared with respect to the success of the program and whether it's accomplishing the goals that were originally set out and what the costs are associated with that in terms of the cost of the corrections system versus the benefit. My staff are now reviewing that report. It's going to be part of the deliberations in terms of making a decision on this program. That's all I can say at this point. No decisions have been taken.

I'm certainly going to weigh the concerns you've raised here today. As I said, they're valid, and we're not going to be cutting off our nose to spite our face in respect to this kind of decision. It has to make sense, it has to make business sense, and it has to be in the best interests of all Ontarians.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): My question is again to the Minister of Environment and Energy. I want to come back to the question around Hydro privatization because I found your answer to the Leader of the Opposition very puzzling. It was our government that brought Hydro under control and froze rates, and it was Hydro's own report that said rates would go up if Hydro were privatized.

I want to come back, however, to the secret document that Hydro won't release. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has said no to Hydro's attempts to suppress the peer review on the safety of Hydro's nuclear plants. Hydro argued that it should be able to keep the document secret because releasing it could jeopardize privatization discussions it was having with private investors. They could not have been clearer. Hydro is eager to privatize. It's so eager to privatize that it's suppressing reports on safety.

Minister, I just don't understand this. Why are you allowing Hydro to secretly hold talks on privatization and at the same time suppress safety reports that get in the way?

Hon Brenda Elliott (Minister of Environment and Energy): It would be inappropriate for me to interfere in the activities of Ontario Hydro as they're undertaking their day-to-day business. What I can say is that with regard to the peer reviews, I had said from the beginning that these are very important documents, that they are designed to be held in secret, that they are designed for frank and open discussion. I have always said and I truly believe, as both governments before me did, that the integrity of the process is dependent on the confidentiality of the documents.

Ms Churley: It's clear that your answer sends one clear message: For your government, privatization comes ahead of public safety, and protecting the peer review report comes ahead of public safety.

Minister, the privacy commissioner said, and let me quote, "Unable to accept Hydro's position that the results of the peer evaluation program should not be disclosed to the very public whose concerns about nuclear safety the program was designed to allay," yet you've chosen to side with Hydro -- and you're accountable -- and suppress the peer review, all because, as Hydro has admitted, it might disturb talks with private investors. This is a very serious situation. The privacy commissioner has said it should be released. Are you disagreeing with the privacy commissioner?

Hon Mrs Elliott: The first and foremost issue is how to maintain the safety of any nuclear facility operated in the province of Ontario. I understand that Ontario Hydro is examining the decision by the freedom of information officer and we will await to see what their actions will be.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I wish to express my dissatisfaction with the Minister of Environment and Energy's answers to both my questions today: my questions on vehicle emission programs and also on the privatization of Hydro and the release of the peer review report.



Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): This petition is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas we believe that the family support plan is a viable and necessary service provided by the government of Ontario;

"We, the undersigned, hereby petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

"That the proposed centralization of the family support plan will have a negative impact on the children who are supported under this plan and should be cancelled."

I affix my name as I agree with it.


Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas secure funding for long-term-care facilities is in jeopardy caused by this government; and

"Whereas residents in long-term-care facilities have the right to obtain good levels of care in order to ensure a healthy and safe living environment; and

"Whereas patients' needs and their wellbeing are being threatened if staffing levels are decreased;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

"We, the residents, families and visitors of Extendicare York" -- that's in Sudbury -- "wish to state that we have grave concern over the March 28, 1996, announcement of funding to long-term-care facilities and would like nursing and personal care staffing levels to remain at 2.25 hours per patient per day at the very minimum."

I agree with the sentiments in this petition and have signed my name to it.


Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): I would like to present to the Legislature a petition signed by 2,259 residents of Ernestown township in Lennox and Addington county.

The proposal of Warden Kelly Hineman for last Wednesday night's meeting involves severing those portions of Ernestown township south of 401 and east of county road number 6 and adding them to the Kingston governance review area, and the balance of Ernestown, including the industrial area, would form a new township with the village of Bath, South Fredericksburgh and Amherst Island.

They would like to express their opposition to Mr Hineman's plan and insist that Ernestown township not be subject to any plan which would include severing the township.


Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the Ontario government has clearly indicated that it `wants to get out of the housing business'; and

"Whereas the Ontario government is reviewing the legal contracts and budgets of every co-op housing project in the province; and

"Whereas the Ontario government has announced plans to make huge cuts to co-op and non-profit housing funding; and

"Whereas the Ontario government wants to replace affordable housing with subsidies to private landlords; and

"Whereas co-op housing is a proven success in providing affordable homes owned and managed by the people who live in them; and

"Whereas the actions of the Ontario government threaten to destroy stable, well-maintained communities which have been built over the last quarter of a century and the investment all Ontarians have made in this type of affordable social housing;

"We, the undersigned, request that the Ontario government sit down with the co-op housing sector to negotiate a deal which will ensure the long-term financial viability of housing co-ops and the continuance of rent-geared-to-income assistance upon which thousands of co-op members depend, and which will promote greater responsibility for administration by the co-op housing sector and less interference by the government in the day-to-day operation of social housing co-ops."

I've affixed my signature.


Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I have a petition to the Legislature.

"Whereas evidence placed before the standing committee on finance and economic affairs illustrates that the stated fiscal plan of the government of Ontario will not work and the government's commitment to deliver 725,000 jobs over the next four years is unattainable, given the current state of the Ontario economy combined with the government's plan to deliver a 30% reduction in personal income tax at the same time as eliminating the deficit, and that the evidence presented to the committee illustrates the contradictions within the government's fiscal and economic agenda as well as the damage it will cause in every community in Ontario;

"We, the undersigned, petition this government to recognize its responsibility to working women and men in this province and abandon its plan to introduce a 30% reduction in personal income taxes. Instead, the government should concentrate on the creation of jobs so the economy will grow, the deficit can be eliminated and the accumulated debt reduced."

It is signed by over 400 residents in the province of Ontario, and I have affixed my signature to the petition as well.



Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure today to present a petition from the citizens of Durham East, specifically from Port Perry, and I would read it as follows.

"To the Legislature of Ontario:

"Whereas the citizens of Port Perry find the existing crosswalk on Highway 7A unsafe for the following reasons:

"The existing sign and pavement markings are not clearly visible to eastbound traffic coming over the crest of the hill only seconds after the speed limit is 80 kilometres per hour;

"A serious accident has already taken the life of one child and injured a crossing guard;

"The crosswalk is heavily used and more than 60 more homes are currently under construction south of Highway 7A;

"Highway 7A is a busy route seven days a week, a route used by both consumers and commuters the same each day of the week;

"All extracurricular school activities and summer sports are located at the parks and schools to the north of Highway 7A, requiring use of the crosswalk throughout the season;

"Therefore, since the Ministry of Transportation has refused to install an overhead lit crosswalk sign on the King's Highway 7A at the entrance of R.H. Cornish Public School, just east of Old Simcoe Road in the hamlet of Port Perry, notwithstanding the Scugog town council has made four separate formal requests since August 1994, including discussions at the Ontario Good Roads Association conference,

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to take the following action."

I affix my name.


Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I have a petition signed by a number of constituents that reads as follows:

"We, the undersigned, believe that rent control abolition would lead to a steep rise in rents due to a persistent shortage of affordable housing in Hamilton-Wentworth. Tenants who are the most affected by ongoing mass layoffs, wage cuts and hiring freezes, and senior citizens on fixed incomes will suffer greatly if rent controls are abolished.

"We are not in favour of any proposed abolition of rent controls by the provincial government and would urge the Legislature to reject any such measures."

I will sign my name to the petition.


Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): A petition to the Ontario Legislature:

"Given that the proposed cuts in income tax will mean even more devastating cuts to social programs, including education and health care, we ask the government of Ontario not to proceed with the cut in income tax promised during the election. The few dollars we would get are not worth the extra user fees we will have to pay, the cuts to services we all use and the hardships it will cause."

I have affixed my signature to the petition as well.


Mr Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): I have a petition from the corporation of the township of Lavant, Dalhousie and North Sherbrooke to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

"Whereas municipalities are facing large premium increases from their insurers; and

"Whereas these increases are caused by large court settlements where the municipality is a codefendant; and

"Whereas the other defendant does not have sufficient coverage to cover its share of the award and the municipality is held responsible to pay the difference, regardless of the degree of responsibility,

"Be it therefore resolved that the township of Lavant, Dalhousie and North Sherbrooke request the province of Ontario to amend the Negligence Act and other pertinent legislation to protect municipalities from `joint and several liability.' A municipality should not be held responsible to pay more than its share of liability."

That's signed by ratepayers and council, and I affix my signature.


Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.

"We, the undersigned, request that the Legislature of Ontario not approve any tax cuts until the causes of poverty and unemployment in Ontario are dealt with effectively and until the province's debt and deficit are paid down."

In agreement with this petition, I affix my signature.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"We, the undersigned, strongly believe that Rainy River and the surrounding areas have waited too long for the new health care facility. Multiple costly studies have placed our project as the number one priority for the district. The issues relating to a crumbling facility, physician retention and distance to a secondary health centre all necessitate a new facility in Rainy River urgently. The funding is available. Move forward with our project."


Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which reads in part:

"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to retain high-quality, accessible, licensed, non-profit child care as an option for Ontario parents and children."

I have affixed my signature.


Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): This is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas most primary care in hospitals is done by registered nurses; and

"Whereas nursing is an honourable profession with a long history of maintaining quality health care; and

"Whereas the health care system in Ontario is undergoing several cost-cutting measures by this government and nursing staff are carrying the brunt of much of this cost-cutting; and

"Whereas health care workers should not have to carry the cost of the entire health care system when the system is utilized by all persons living in the province of Ontario;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

"That registered nurses of Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital would like you to be aware of their concerns regarding the ongoing discussions between the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ontario Nurses' Association.

"We are a non-union hospital. It is our understanding that a wage rollback of 20% to nurses' salaries is being contemplated. We have fought very hard to maintain nursing as a profession. While we recognize the necessity of cutting costs to the health care system, we believe that nurses will be unfairly penalized if this proposal is allowed to go forward.

"Despite wage freezes, there continue to be layoffs of nurses in hospitals. Job security has ceased to exist for us. Nurses are having to cope with increased acuity of patients, heavier workloads and still provide the quality of care for their patients.

"Nurses continue to keep updated in regard to their education in order to keep abreast of changes in the health care field, often at their own expense and time.

"Pay equity originally compared nurses to pastry chefs. We fought hard to dispel this image and to be recognized for our role in maintaining quality health care for our patients.

"Wage rollbacks will put us back into the kitchen as salad tossers. Health care workers should not have to carry the cost of the entire health care system when the system is utilized by all persons living in the province of Ontario.

"This burden must be shared by all as in any democratic society."


Mrs Janet Ecker (Durham West): I have a petition from my constituents which I will read in part.

"Whereas the Progressive Conservative Party is considering the privatization of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly that the board remain a crown corporation," because they have some concerns about what privatization of that organization would do. I would like to table this petition.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the public secondary teachers of Ontario have taken a workplace democracy vote in accordance with Bill 7 and have rejected the proposed College of Teachers by a 94.8% vote;

"We, the undersigned, urge the provincial assembly to instruct the government to withdraw Bill 31, the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1995."

This petition is signed by over 20 individuals from the community of Atikokan.


Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I have a petition here to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the recommendations of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council to close inpatient paediatric beds, the special care nursery and the burn unit at the Scarborough General Hospital, resulting in significantly reduced access to paediatric, newborn and burn care for a large geographic area of Scarborough; and

"Whereas the paediatric unit, special care nursery and burn unit at Scarborough General Hospital provide very cost-effective, quality care;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to: (1) continue paediatric services, including inpatient paediatric beds; (2) continue special care nursery services; (3) continue and combine Metropolitan Toronto's burn care at Scarborough General Hospital."

I have affixed my signature to this petition, along with the other 3,000 names.


Mr Dan Newman (Scarborough Centre): I have a petition here from people from Atahualpa Co-op Homes and Cliffside Court Housing Co-op. It's a lengthy petition and it concludes by stating:

"We, the undersigned, request that the Ontario government sit down with the co-op housing sector to negotiate a deal which will ensure the long-term financial viability of housing co-ops and the continuance of rent-geared-to-income assistance upon which thousands of co-op members depend and which will promote greater responsibility for administration by the co-op housing sector and less interference by government in the day-to-day operations of housing co-ops."

I am presenting it on their behalf.




Mrs Elliott moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 57, An Act to improve the Efficiency of the Environmental Approvals Process and Certain Other Matters / Projet de loi 57, Loi visant à améliorer l'efficience du processus d'autorisation environnementale et concernant certaines autres questions.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.


Mr Wildman moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 58, An Act to amend the Education Act to provide for co-operation among boards / Projet de loi 58, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation afin de prévoir la collaboration entre conseils.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): The bill amends the Education Act to provide that coterminous school boards should negotiate agreements in respect of the joint provision, purchase or use of certain services, equipment and facilities. The bill also provides that coterminous school boards should cooperate to eliminate duplication and achieve cost savings.



Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act / Projet de loi 49, Loi visant à améliorer la Loi sur les normes d'emploi.

The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I believe the member for Hamilton Centre had the floor when we last adjourned.

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to resume my comments on Bill 49. I want to begin by stating that the government labels this "An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act," and I believe during my comments last Thursday I said that at the end of my remarks I would attempt to make the case, and I believe I have made and will continue to make the case, that this is not any kind of an improvement to the Employment Standards Act, but indeed this is taking away rights that workers and unions have had -- and deserve to have -- in this province for a long time. I would remind everyone that this bill was brought in in a way that was meant to suggest it's nothing to be excited about, that it's merely housekeeping, a little bit of clarification; that the real reform -- damage, if you will -- will not be concluded by the government for another year yet.

Of course we realize, with the government caving in to the pressure that we in the NDP mounted here, that this is far more than housekeeping. By agreeing to four weeks of public hearings -- two weeks across the province in the summer, a week here in Toronto and a week of clause-by-clause -- we see a clear admission that this is not just housekeeping, it's not just clarifying anything; there are significant changes contained in this bill, changes that take away, not improve, rights. They don't improve anything except maybe the government's ability to deny workers their rights and turn this into a province that more reflects their beliefs, which are more properly placed in the southern United States, in right-to-work states. We've heard previous members bragging about what's going on with social assistance and other things in Michigan. That's more rightly where their thinking is, and to that degree it may improve things for them and their wealthy and influential friends, but there's no improvement here for the average working person or the unions that represent them in the province.

It was interesting to note just today the article in the Toronto Star by Jonathan Eaton, a Toronto lawyer and freelance writer. He says in part, "Alarm bells should be ringing for many Ontario workers in light of changes to the law recently introduced by the Progressive Conservative government." That certainly reflects the reaction I have been having, personally and in calls to my office in Hamilton and here in Queen's Park, from people all across the province who are now beginning to realize that this is not just a simple housekeeping bill but that fundamental shifts are taking place within the Ministry of Labour and within the laws that govern the rights of workers that were not clearly articulated by this government. If ever there was a minister and a government that misled the people of Ontario and directly Ontario's labour leaders, it's what they said this bill was about versus the reality of what it is truly all about.

In recognizing what's happening, people now are becoming very concerned about what this government is doing and they're very pleased there will be an opportunity during the course of the summer to comment and make submissions on this bill.

I mention again that this is all part and parcel of the government's cutting, slashing and burning of public service to provide the money necessary to pay for their 30% tax cut, and we know that this 30% tax cut is going to benefit the very wealthy and privileged in our society much more than it will the average working person. In fact, over 50% of the $5 billion that tax cut costs will go to the top 10% of income earners.

This is yet another piece of that, and unfortunately the damage along the way is that workers' rights will be taken away and the ability to enforce whatever minor rights are left has been damaged by laying off over 450 people from the Ministry of Labour. It's my understanding that up to 45 people from the employment practices branch alone will be laid off as a result of bringing Bill 49 in place, which is why it was brought in now, by the way, rather than waiting for the year-long reform of the entire bill. All this is being done to save money: Lay off workers and pay for the tax cut that's going to benefit their most wealthy friends in the province of Ontario. That's the name of the game, and I believe that the facts as they come out will not only illustrate that but prove the point.

I move on and talk about the various pieces of this bill. I already mentioned a few on Thursday. There is more.

It's hard to believe that in a bill that was supposed to be a housekeeping bill there are all these significant issues, but there are. I emphasize that for the workers of Ontario this bill is their bill of rights. This law is the only law, the absolute law that provides bare minimum standards for working conditions, methods of payment and rights that workers have in the province of Ontario. This is the absolute bare minimum, and that applies not just to unions but to non-union workers.

I suggest that for non-union workers this is an even more important piece of legislation, because if you have a collective agreement, particularly with one of the larger, more influential unions, you are on the cutting edge of having some of the better rights and protections that exist through the collective agreement. As we know, historically that's why unions came into being. It was an attempt for workers to bargain and speak as one voice in an attempt to balance out the absolute power employers have in the workplace. If you don't have that collective agreement, the only thing you have is this workers' bill of rights. So for anyone watching who either works in a non-union shop or has a relative or a friend who works in a non-union shop, this is of particular concern to you. Without this, without the Employment Standards Act, the workers' bill of rights, you have nothing.


I would suggest it's not an exaggeration to suggest that this is like messing with the Charter of Rights nationally. Can you imagine a federal minister saying, "We've got just a few little clarifications, a couple of commas to change, a few words here and there, not a big deal," only to find out that there are substantive changes within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? For workers in this province, that's what the employment standards law is about. It's your bill of rights and you are losing rights you now have, and this government tried to say there's nothing you need to worry about.

And don't forget, this is only the first small step. The larger reform -- and in the context of this government, any reform means takeaways and denial of rights -- is still to happen. The government's going to take a year to take a look at the entire Employment Standards Act, and at the end of the day we know workers will have even fewer rights than they have now. So this is a phenomenally important journey we're beginning with this government, and the working women and men of this province need to pay particular attention to what's happening.

I'm so very pleased that there will be public hearings in the summer, and I'm convinced there will be a tremendous response by unions, by community groups, by legal clinics, by people who are experts in the field who will point out that yes indeed, workers are losing rights from their bill of rights as a result of the government's Bill 49.

I want to move to the issue of maximum and minimum claims. It seems like a fairly innocuous suggestion, but the reality is that there are significant losses of rights in this particular part of Bill 49. What it says now is that the right to make a claim, if you believe you are owed money from your employer, is once again being capped. Our government in 1991 removed the cap that was there; it was at $4,000. We eliminated that because there was a tremendous amount of criticism for that cap being in place.

The government pulled a cute one, really interesting to watch. The parliamentary assistant last week, I believe, got up and wanted to ignore the fact that right now there is no limit and wanted to talk about where it was before 1991 compared to the limit of $10,000 they're placing on it. Fair enough; they're allowed to put whatever spin they want. But no one ought to be fooled into believing that somehow this government is improving anything for anybody.

The reality now is, regardless of how much money you're owed, you have a legitimate, fundamental right to lay a claim through the Employment Standards Act which is enforced by the Ministry of Labour, and you're about to lose that right if it's over $10,000 -- gone. You do not have that right as it now exists, because this government is taking that right away. That was supposed to be "just a minor little housekeeping matter, nothing too significant."

But you do have the opportunity to take it through the courts. The government says, "We haven't denied you all the rights; you can take it through the courts," and then they move on to the next issue. Let's just take a look at what that means for people. Because they've also eliminated your right to go back beyond six months -- you used to be able to go back up to two years for money owed; now you can only go back six months -- you've now got to make a decision about whether you're going to take your claim into the civil courts or whether you're going to forgo any money above $10,000, just consider it lost money, and go through the employment standards.

I see one of the backbenchers shaking his head no, no, no. Yes, yes, yes. Read your own legislation. That's exactly what this says to people. You have a choice. You either go to the courts or you give up that amount that's over $10,000, particularly if it takes you past the six months, and then you can take it through the employment standards, as you currently can.

What does that mean? It means, first of all, that we're going to be clogging up the court system more than it is right now. It costs more for a court proceeding than it does for any kind of procedure within the Ministry of Labour. It also suggests -- well, it doesn't suggest, it says very clearly -- that people are going to have to pay their own legal fees, a right they once had in law. The bill of rights was there for them, and their right to have those rights enforced and protected by the government is gone, because now they have to pay to hire a lawyer, which they didn't have to do before. We also know that a lot of people are going to have to take even more time off work to attend court proceedings.

More and more, when you look at this issue, you see very clearly that this $10,000 is not some innocuous little thing. It can have significant impact and in most cases it affects people who have the least ability to defend themselves, they have the least ability to access the legal system without having to pay for it because they probably don't have a whole lot of lawyers in the family or living next door to them. That's not the world we're talking about.

When we get down to the Employment Standards Act, we're getting down to the most vulnerable people in our society and we're talking about their rights and their ability to have those rights protected and enforced. That's what's being lost here.

I might add that if they decide to go through the court system, the records indicate they're looking at between three and six years to finally satisfy that claim. For a lot of workers that's a disaster, because these again are the most vulnerable in our society. They're the least of our population who can afford to wait three to six years to get the thousands of dollars that are owed to them.

We also know the government is setting a minimum. What's that minimum going to be? We don't know. They haven't said. So far, Bill 49 will merely give the minister and cabinet the regulatory power to set a minimum. What does that mean? What it means is that the new law allows the government, by regulation -- and regulations are set in cabinet behind closed doors. They are for all intents and purposes -- and I've been there -- secret meetings because nobody else can watch and listen and see what's going on. It's in that cabinet room that regulations are set and the debate takes place, and then they're published afterwards for people to look at. But the actual debate and decision take place in the cabinet room. It doesn't take place here. What Bill 49 does is give the government the ability by law to set that minimum by regulation.

Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Come on, David.

Mr Christopherson: The parliamentary assistant is screaming, "Come on, David. Come on." The fact of the matter is, that's exactly what you're doing but you don't have the guts to say what you're going to set it at. All you do is give yourself the power to set a minimum by regulation. Nowhere in here do you say what that amount is going to be.

What are you hiding? What is it you're planning to do after the light goes off Bill 49 and you can make a regulatory decision inside the cabinet room that you don't want to tell the people of Ontario about? What is it that's there? That's how you're doing this. There's no reason not to tell the people of Ontario what the minimum is. When we talk about this minimum, what does it mean? It means that if they set it at $100 or $250, if you've been ripped off for $250 or less in vacation pay or overtime pay or regular wages or in some other method, you cannot any longer have your right to that money enforced by the Ministry of Labour -- they're out of the business; they don't do that any more -- and you've got to go back to the civil courts. The answer of the government is that you've got to go to Small Claims Court. There we go again, talking about your having to pay legal fees, that you're going to have to take time off work, that you're going to have to go to a court. Before, your rights were enforced by the Ministry of Labour, and we believe that's the way it ought to be when you talk about minimum standards and rights. That's what we're talking about here.


Why are they doing this? The more people they can take out of the Ministry of Labour process, the more Ministry of Labour employees they can lay off and the more money they can save to pay for the tax cut. That's what's going on. There are over 450 employees of the Ministry of Labour who aren't going to be there when this government is finished with that ministry. There's over $40 million being spent to protect workers' rights that won't be there any more. That's the reality. That's what they're doing with this clause.

We know they want to take things out of the ministry and push them into the courts, yet at the same time they tell us they're trying to save money inside the courts. We're probably going to have to follow the whole process through to see what changes they make to the court system to determine just how much workers will lose. We know they've lost already, but if they make further changes to the administration of justice and the court system, it is possible and probably likely that workers and the most vulnerable will not have the same kind of access to justice they have now.

Next I want to talk about the issue of private collection agencies. We hear the government trumpeting the sound that if it's in the public sector it must be inefficient and if it's in the private sector it must be more efficient. An awful lot of them on the government side believe that as an article of faith, in every instance, time after time, no matter what, if it's currently in the public sector and you've got a chance to move it into the private sector, that makes this a better world.

I would be the first to admit there are instances where you would want to look at the private sector to provide certain services, but I also believe there are fundamental services that belong in the public sector because they make for a better society and stronger and better rights for the average working person. That's why this government has so much trouble understanding a lot of these things. They don't think about it from the point of view of the average working person out there slugging it out; they take a look at this from the viewpoint of those who already have the best benefits our society has to offer by way of privilege and access to power and money. From the other world, things look a whole lot different. This government almost always believes -- look at their speeches, listen to their comments, look at their legislation and you will see it -- that if you can move it to the private sector, it's bound to be better.

Let's zero in on this instance. What we're talking about here is the ability and the plan and the intent of this government to move the collection of money owed to employees, to working people, from the Ministry of Labour into the hands of private collection agencies. We also all understand that the sole purpose of any private corporation is to make money. That's why they exist, that's their raison d'être, that's the whole point, and I don't have a particular problem with that. In and of itself, I don't have a particular problem with that. But to set it in its context, I don't ever want to see our police run that way, I don't ever want to see firefighters run that way, I don't want to see our hospitals run that way, and I think there's a case to be made that the collection of money owed workers under their bill of rights ought not be run that way.

Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): So what's your point?

Mr Christopherson: Here's the point: The government is allowing private collection agencies the ability -- and I think this is the key point -- to broker a deal between the employer and the employee for an amount that represents only 75% of the money in question, and then the private collection agency also takes out the cost and they also make sure they've got their profit margin. We've already agreed that's the purpose of any corporation. But the money for that, in my opinion, is likely to come from --

Mr Stockwell: Don't agree if you don't like it.

Mr Christopherson: The government is saying, "No, it can only be by all-party agreement; everybody has to agree." If you're talking about someone who has a university degree, who understands how the world operates, whose first language or most comfortable language is English and who is comfortable taking on their employer, in those circumstances it is indeed possible that you would have a deal that's fair.


The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Would the member for Etobicoke West come to order, please.

Mr Christopherson: That could likely be a fair deal, because that person has a sense of what their rights are and what they may or may not be able to bargain for. That's a situation that doesn't exist now with the Ministry of Labour. The whole point of the Ministry of Labour being there is to make sure as a priority that that employee gets every dime and nickel and penny they're owed. That's why you have a bill of rights, that's why you have a minimum standard of employment and that's why you have a Ministry of Labour to protect those rights. The whole thing is now flipped over.

Let me paint a scenario. When you're talking about people who do not have a union to represent them, who are in a minimum-wage job, who do not have the educational background, who don't pretend for a moment to understand our complex and confusing legal system -- as wonderful as it is, it is complex and it is confusing -- if you're talking about someone who's an immigrant worker, someone whose first language is not English, who is frightened in many cases -- I'm not suggesting the whole world is made up of unscrupulous employers, but obviously they do exist or there would never be a need for employment standards and other protection laws in the first place. Let's understand that we're within that world, that rather despicable world, but it does exist. In that world, people are exploited. I'm not suggesting every worker in Ontario is exploited, but I am saying there are workers who are exploited. That's why there are minimum laws, that's why there's protection. There are workers out there who are terrified of their bosses, terrified for their jobs because, God forbid, as bad as that job is, they can't afford to lose it. How would any of us like to live on the minimum wage? Think about what their world is.

Now there's a dispute, and someone comes in whose sole purpose at the end of the day is to make money off the exercise of closing this file. I submit to the government that an awful lot of employees will face a tremendous amount of pressure -- not illegal pressure; I'm not suggesting that kind of wrongdoing, although that may or may not happen, but I'm not suggesting that -- tremendous pressure to settle for less than they're entitled to in order to get the matter resolved, to get the money they need, because they're not sure of what the alternatives are and they're not sure of what their chances are for success with the alternatives. So I submit there are workers in this province who will not get what they're entitled to as a result of this government's move to privatize that collection.


Again we're talking about the workers' bill of rights, the minimum right workers can expect when they go out to work every day, and this is what's being taken away. All of this is under the umbrella of An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act. There's no improvement there. There's no improvement when workers do not have a representative of the Ministry of Labour come into their workplace with the ability to go through records and ascertain whether this employee is entitled to their wages and then make sure the money they're owed is given to them. That's all this is about. Let's not forget that this is not about some kind of new added benefit for anybody in the province. We're talking about the ability of the average working person to make sure they get what they have worked for. That's what the Employment Standards Act is about.

I believe there's going to be a difference in the attitude of an individual who comes into a workplace whose sole purpose is to make money and profit -- again, I recognize that's fine in its place, but I think there's a difference between someone who goes into that workplace whose purpose is to cut a deal, close the file and make a profit versus someone who is told every day at work, "Your job is to make sure that workers out there get the money and rights they're entitled to." I don't think it takes a tremendous leap of faith to believe and understand that at the end of the day you're going to get a different outcome for the workers with those two approaches.

This government is so hung up on saving money -- we've seen it in health, we've seen it in education, we see it in social services -- that it does not look at the impact on the average person. When there is any kind of loss or shift, of course they trot out the tax cut: "There's your 30% tax cut. When was the last time you had a tax cut?" You all know your mantra and you give it.

But the reality is, for most of the people who have to rely on the Employment Standards Act to protect their rights or to make sure they even have any, they're going to see diddly-squat in terms of any kind of benefit of that income tax cut. We know that. If they're lucky, it's a couple of bucks a week -- if they're lucky. For minimum-wage earners, it won't even be that. By the time we take a look at the increase in user fees and property tax increases and costs in education to offset these tremendous cuts in transfers and when we look at the services that are just plain gone to those workers, this is no fair deal for them. There's no fair deal for them.

That's why this government tries to pretend everything it's doing is only eliminating fat, eliminating inefficiencies. That's what they talk about. But I've given the example here before, as I do with labour issues, on education. I see some students here today. I was in a high school in my riding not that long ago; they're using textbooks 20 years old -- in some cases they're not even using textbooks, they're using photocopies -- and they're giving the textbooks over to the next class before they're finished because there's not enough money.

If you're a worker earning minimum wage and the best you can hope for for your children for a better future is the school system, you tell me how they benefit. You tell me how we benefit as a society when we save millions of dollars in the Ministry of Labour but we leave people vulnerable and we don't make sure their rights are protected. How does that make this a better province?


The Deputy Speaker: Excuse me. There's too much yelling and so on. The rules of debate go from one to the other. The member for Hamilton Centre has the floor. I would ask you to give him attention or voluntarily leave so I don't have to do that for you.

Mr Christopherson: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

We are talking about what this does to the average working person, and particularly the most vulnerable. Earlier on in this constant heckling, one of the things that kept coming through from one of the members was: "Who are the most vulnerable? Why do you say it's them?"

I say that very clearly because if you're in a small workplace and you do not have a collective agreement, you do not have a union to fight for you, and if it's mostly women and it's mostly people who have come here from another place, as all of our ancestors, by and large, did at one time or another, unless you're first nations, and if English isn't your first language, and quite frankly if you're working in a sweatshop -- again, not all workplaces are sweatshops, but they do exist -- if we want to talk about that worker's rights, they're losing their shirt with this one. And it's only the beginning, because the government is going to take another year to take a look at the Employment Standards Act in its entirety, and at the end of that process they're going to lose even more.

There's a belief in our justice system that says it's better to let 10 guilty people go than to wrong an innocent person, yet somehow when we talk about workers, we don't get down to that individual level. If there's one person hurt whose rights are lost or whose rights are not enforced as a result of Bill 49, then the government has every reason, in my opinion, to hang their head in shame. But it's not just one person; it's not just some obscure scenario that can be created. It's a whole lot of working people, union and non-union, who are losing their rights. The government knows that's the case. That's why they caved in and agreed to the pressure on public hearings, because they could not sustain an argument that said: "No, this is insignificant. It's only housekeeping." They could not sustain that argument because it's not true. They couldn't sustain it, and that's why they caved in and gave four weeks of public hearings on this particular bill. That's a heck of a change from where they were when they introduced it.

So for all the catcalls and heckling I hear from the government benches today, by your own government's action you have admitted that this is a big deal. It's a big deal because you're taking away rights that workers are entitled to in this province, and you tried to slide it through just like you did with Bill 7, which actually you rammed through, and as you tried to do with the omnibus Bill 26. People remember that one. This was the same game. The same game was at play, but you got caught out.

Finally, there's an acceptance across the province that for a government that talked about democracy, their track record shows they're the least democratic government we've ever had in the history of Ontario and, I would go on to say, the most mean-spirited government because of what they are prepared to do. Not that they get up every day and say, "How can we hurt someone today?" but they're prepared to allow people to be hurt in order to achieve their overall objective, which is that bloody tax cut that's supposed to be the cure-all for everything. And yet the reality is, for the people who need the public services that are provided the most by governments in Ontario, they lose big time.

I want to move on. The government is also making further changes in Bill 49 that will not allow workers an opportunity to use the Employment Standards Act and the Ministry of Labour if they belong to a union. If you belong to a union, that right is gone; you now have to use the grievance procedure. Before, you had the right to determine which process, through the ministry or through your grievance procedure -- and you could start both -- would best protect your rights, and now you can't. Why? Again, the more people that they can shovel out of the Ministry of Labour, the more Ministry of Labour employees they can lay off, the more money they can save and the more they can stand up and pronounce how successful they were with their 30% tax cut and balancing the budget and all those other things that sound so wonderful but hurt so many people at the end of the day. Besides, given the track record of this government, if they can load a few more costs into the labour movement and put a greater financial burden on them, hey, the way this government looks at unions, that's another win. That's a bonus point. You get a bonus point for doing some harm to the labour movement if you're also achieving the broader political objective of this government. That's what happens when you make that change.


Some will say, "Well, it's not right that people should use two different processes and decide which one's going to be to their greater benefit." Excuse me, but yes that is defensible, because we're talking about rights that people have. That's the difference. We're talking about the right of a citizen of this province to go to work, expect to be treated decently and fairly, to be protected from injury in the workplace, to be sure that they're paid a decent and fair wage and to be sure that if they are unfortunate enough to work for an unscrupulous employer or a dishonest employer there's some method of having the money they're owed given to them and have their rights protected. Let's not lose sight that that's what this is about.

In a civilized society like in Ontario, which prides itself -- at least, we used to -- on the progressive nature of how we operated and designed our society, we said that we'll do everything we can to make sure those rights are protected. So, yes, it makes good sense that if there are two possibilities of having your rights protected, why not allow both those processes to be started and conclude with the one that has the best chance of defending your rights? That's the way it's been. It's still like that in some jurisdictions. But this government doesn't want to talk about Bill 49 as an issue of rights; they want to talk about it as an issue of dollars.

There are some changes in here that affect dollars that we can support. The notion that there was a housekeeping bill that had clarifications originally was supported by the labour movement. There were some things that needed to be clarified. Laws can't stay the same forever; circumstances change, interpretations, jurisprudence. There are many things that change, so it's not unusual, and sometimes a law can be better written through amendments, things you didn't foresee the first time, and some of the things in here are just that. Yes, they will save money for the government and that's a good thing, and they'll clarify questions that no longer will have to go to an arbitrator, in front of a court or in front of an officer from the employment practices branch.

Those are good things, and that originally is what we thought we had on the floor of the House the day this was tabled, but it's not what we're talking about when you look at the issues that I've raised over the past two days of debate on Bill 49. I can assure you that there will be even further concerns raised when we get out across the province, into communities over the summer, give people a chance to do their detailed analysis of these things and study them and think them through, because that's what democracy's about. That's how you're supposed to pass laws, but we know this government doesn't like to do that. Let's not forget, this is the same government that rammed through the anti-worker Bill 7, which replaced the entire Ontario Labour Relations Act -- not amended it; replaced the entire document. Not one minute of public hearings.

Mr Baird: Because you wouldn't give us a committee.

Mr Christopherson: I hear the parliamentary assistant saying to me -- I'll take you on on that issue anywhere, any time you want. You talk about the fact that we wouldn't agree to a few days in the House. Nobody's conned by that. You tried to offer up a few days before Christmas so you could ram through Bill 7. You know that was totally inadequate, totally unacceptable by any measure, given what you tried to do. At the end of the day, this government's accountable. You may sit there nice and smug in power now as all the cabinet wannabes --

Mr Stockwell: Like you didn't sit here smug when you were in power.

Mr Christopherson: -- like the member for Etobicoke West who starts cackling because now there's some suggestion he may actually make it into cabinet.

When we see them sitting there playing those kinds of games it's maybe easy to understand why they don't think there's ever a day of reckoning, but there is. The fact of the matter is that on Bill 7 this government has a majority in the House and they have to answer for the fact that they thought it was okay to ram through an entire new Ontario Labour Relations Act without one day of hearings. You're the government. You're accountable. You have to answer for that. You're the same government that tried to pull a fast one on Bill 49. It's the same government that forced us to do what we did with Alvin Curling over the omnibus Bill 26. You want to go out? Go on. Go out and talk to people about the omnibus Bill 26 and ask them do they feel the government was right in that fight. We all know they don't.

You don't need to worry about my comments. Your track record is enough evidence to make the case that you are not interested in letting people look at laws that affect their rights, because you know you are taking them away and you want to slide it through or ram it through in whatever way you can. The history is there. You can't change it. Rather than learn from it, they continue to do the same thing.

They do the same thing time after time, and in this case the minister put her own credibility and reputation and integrity on the line by leaving the clear message with labour leaders: "Don't worry about this bill. It's only a few housekeeping changes. It's only a few clarifications. You can go ahead and go to your convention, which just happens to be held at the other end of the nation. You can all safely go there and know that we won't do anything in this bill that would actually change an important part of the law. Don't worry. Trust us."

They took the minister and the government at their word, and look what happened and look where we are today. Then the government wonders why the labour movement feels it's under attack by this government and from this government.

As I begin my wrapup comments, I want to go back and make sure we haven't forgotten the issues we talked about on Friday, because we talked about the fact that there will now be the ability to have standards below the minimum now entrenched in law. They do it under the guise of, "Well, as long as the total package is more," but the reality is that we begin to go down the slippery slope where there are no bottom line rights that exist in the province of Ontario for workers. We get into a patchwork where there are some standards below, and then we're going to get into the question of non-union shops wanting to know how they can get in on the game because this looks like a good thing, or the unionized shop down the street has made some kind of a tradeoff and they want the same thing.

The minister has acknowledged in a scrum that yes, that's a possibility some time in the future, that this might apply to the labour movement or to workers who are not necessarily unionized. So that door has been opened by the minister herself. We still haven't heard an explanation of what that might mean. We know they've taken away the right of workers to make a claim that goes beyond six months. It was up to two years. That's gone. It doesn't exist any more. It will be six months under this law.

We know the government is now saying that if it's over $10,000 you can't use the Ministry of Labour, your rights cannot be defended and protected by the Ministry of Labour. We know they're going to set a minimum where if your claim is less than that, if your employer ripped you off for 100 bucks on your vacation pay, you cannot use the ministry enforcement branch, you've got to go through Small Claims Court.

We also know that we don't know what the amount's going to be, because the bill doesn't spell it out. All it does is give the minister the power to set that minimum, and even if they set it at a minimum -- say they set it at $10 for some reason because they believed that was it -- there's nothing to prevent this government down the road from moving that minimum up. We start down the slippery slope, and that's a lot of what the government has been doing with the laws that affect working people and a whole lot of other things.


Then, of course, we always have to take a look at every new measure the government takes when it comes to workers, to the rights of workers and the rights of unions in the context of what it's already done. I've mentioned Bill 7 and how they rammed that through with no public hearings -- none. They've already passed their first WCB legislation, which took away the rights of workers or their representatives to have half the seats on the board, remembering that WCB was an initial compromise back in 1914 that said workers give up the right to sue their employer if they're injured on the job in exchange for a guarantee that they won't lose wages and benefits. That was a deal that was cut just after the turn of the century.

When we were in power we took the next step in fulfilling that bargain by making sure workers had half the seats on the board, since it was a 50-50 deal to start with. That's gone. It doesn't exist any more; it's gone. That law is already gone, and we know that the minister without portfolio responsible for WCB reform is in the process of trying to put together a package that will take away further rights from workers. They killed the public process on that one too and they took the whole thing underground, or meeting with people behind closed doors. That's what they've done with WCB. That's what they're planning to do with WCB.

Of course, the whole purpose of that action is not this business of the unfunded liability, which is a phoney argument that doesn't hold. It's a phoney crisis, just like the Minister of Education wanted a phoney crisis that would exist here. What it's really about is finding the money to give employers a cut in their assessment rates, and it's going to be at the expense of injured workers. That's what's going on with WCB.

The Workplace Health and Safety Agency is completely gone. There was an entity that existed solely to focus on preventing accidents, and contrary to what this government wants to say, the stats will show it was working.


Mr Christopherson: Yes, the Liberals wanted to do the same thing to the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. It's interesting to remember that that agency was also 50% worker representatives and 50% employer representatives. The government can't handle that: How dare workers get out of their place and get uppity enough to think they should have an equal say in WCB or in running the Workplace Health and Safety Agency? How dare workers think that way?

The Tories and the Liberals wanted to kill it. The Tories got the first crack at it, and they did it. That's gone. This government has slashed health and safety training for workers by over 50% and they're going to a system -- and we'll get a chance to talk about that at some point, because we also know they're going to open up the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Where did we find that news? In the announcement of cuts within the Ministry of Labour, so we know there are more rights to be lost there. They're moving to systems and processes that at the end of the day take away rights and powers that workers have worked and bled and died for in this province, and they're going to change this whole world, this whole map, in one term.

The wage protection program: Finally in the province of Ontario under the NDP government there was a law that said: "If workers lose their wages because of a bankruptcy, we as a government will make sure those wages are covered off so you can get on with your life. The devastation of a bankruptcy is enough. Get on with your life. We'll go after the employer to get that money." They've already slashed and gutted that, and I wouldn't be surprised if by the end of this term in power it's completely gone.

Then there's the ministry itself. Over 450 employees from the Ministry of Labour are going to be laid off. These are not paper shufflers. These are not people squirrelled away developing policy papers. These are front-line workers in the Ministry of Labour whose sole mandate is to make sure that the rights workers have are enforced. Over $40 million coming out of the Ministry of Labour; that's $40 million that was being spent to protect the rights of workers that's going out the window. That's got to be great news to some employers in this province. This whole agenda is just the greatest news a number of employers could ever have had -- a gift.

Every day you put another present under the tree, except that it's paid for by workers. Every one of those presents that you give to your employer pals and your wealthy friends is paid for by workers who are losing rights. It doesn't stop; they've gone after the poor, they've gone after the disabled.


Mr Christopherson: That's what disabled workers are, on WCB. Why don't you stand up in your place, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Labour, and tell me how an injured worker is not a disabled person by any definition. That's what you've done, gone after the most vulnerable. That's what this bill is, another attack on the workers of this province. At the end of the public hearings, you're going to understand you cannot continue this attack on working people in Ontario.

The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions?

Mr Stockwell: The member for Hamilton Centre I find to be generally reasonable and convincing in his arguments, but that had to be one of the most pathetic, one-sided, socialist rants I've heard in this place in a long time. I've got to ask the member opposite why in an hour and a half, if this agency was so important to be protected, he couldn't, after being asked 25 or 30 times, tell the Legislature how successful this precious agency was? Why can't you give us the success rate? Why can't you tell us the number of dollars they collected, the percentage of dollars they collected? You know why he can't tell you? Because it's pathetic. They weren't collecting any money. People were going to the ministry, looking for assistance, and were given some placebo by some bureaucrat that, "Somehow we'll bail you out and collect your money," and at the end of the day you didn't collect it.

Now you stand in your place in the Legislature ranting in your socialist, warped vision of the province, telling us we can't do away with a ministry official group. Why? Because they employ people. Do they accomplish anything? No. Do they collect any money? No. Have they been successful? No. Why should we keep them on? Because they employ a few people in the Ministry of Labour. That's all you've got to ask after an hour and a half. Give us the success rate of this ministry, and then we'll have it determined whether or not it's useful.

Finally, he suggested that this government is glib and snubs people with its arrogance. I would only caution the member for Hamilton Centre: Yours was the government that for over one year didn't even deign it reasonable to sit in this place, passing orders in council and not giving the people an opportunity to comment on your legislation. The height of hypocrisy and arrogance; it was arrogance on stilts. No one was as arrogant as your government.

Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I know the member for Etobicoke West is hoping for cabinet, and it's quite a performance he puts on this afternoon.

I would like to make a comment, though, on the comments of the member for Hamilton Centre and his comments on the Employment Standards Act. What concerns me the most is that we should all be picking our targets today. The Liberal record on workers' comp is admirable. I'd like to remind the last government, which is now sitting as the third party, which party it was that indexed the pensions for workers, in particular injured workers, and which party it was that de-indexed the pensions for injured workers -- that from a government that was supposed to represent the workers of Ontario at the time. It was an NDP government that de-indexed those pensions, the indexed pensions that were brought in by a Liberal government. The workers of Ontario will remember that.

The current government is not taking into account those who would be most severely affected by the changes that are represented here. These amendments do nothing to help most of those who are suffering from injuries due to the workplace. They have not addressed the real issues here, in particular those workers who are not represented by a union. They will be the most affected. They'll have nowhere to go; they will not be helped. Ultimately, we look for feedback and we wish the government was more accountable to take care of heir own -- yes, all the people of Ontario, in particular injured workers.


Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I want to congratulate my colleague from Hamilton Centre because he raises issues today that people in this government caucus don't want to hear; that is, that this government, from the day it got here, has been intent on assaulting and attacking workers of this province with its policies and with its legislation. They can't deny it, and what my colleague from Hamilton talked about today was exactly to point that out, to reinforce again and again that attack.

Let me just follow up and reinforce it again. One of the first acts by this government was to freeze the minimum wage. If the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism has his way, he'll have that frozen until we're competing with Atlanta or some other jurisdiction that's got a wage rate of $2.85 an hour.

Then we've got the freeze on pay equity, to deal with women who should have the right to be paid for work of equal value. The government froze some of those payments in July and then, with Bill 26, they went in and stomped on the lowest-paid workers in this province, female workers in female ghettos, and said they had no right any more to try to get proxy. That was shameful. Those are women who work in nursing homes in this province, in child care centres, the same women to whom this government says: "You don't deserve pay equity. You don't deserve to receive equal pay for work of equal value."

Then they went ahead and ended the bipartite structure at the Workers' Compensation Board, ended the bipartite structure at the Workplace Health and Safety Agency and demolished the agency. Now the minister stands in her place and has to defend why it is that workers are going to get even less training on the job. When we're trying to do everything we can to train injured workers so WCB rates can go down, they are responsible for cutting back on certification and the amount of time workers will receive in certification training.

In terms of Bill 7, they not only repealed our OLRA changes, they took us 50 years back and stepped on rights that injured workers and other workers had in this province for at least the last 50 years. This government doesn't like to hear it, but they just continue the assault on workers in this province with this bill.

Mr Baird: The member opposite talked about secret cabinet meetings and how disgraceful it was. Yet when he was in government, he was the first one to attend them, and what happened at these secret cabinet meetings? There was a leaked cabinet document when the NDP changed labour law, and do you know what it said? This is a Ministry of Labour document to the cabinet that was widely available in the early 1990s. It spoke of the government's view, and I quote, "to neutralize opposition from the business community" -- shut them down; don't let them have their say. To talk about secret meetings and talk about this government being glib is quite another thing.

This member said that workers are somehow too dumb, that unless they have a university degree they can't find their rights and find their way through the Ministry of Labour system. I think that's insulting.

If you look at the collection rates, the NDP was the government that separated collections from the regular activities at the employment standards branch. After that separation, the collection recovery rate declined substantially. I invite the honourable member to stand in this place and tell this House what sort of collection rate he thinks is acceptable. We've got to do better for workers in this province.

Then we heard about the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. This agency was promised to be abolished by both this party and the members of the Liberal Party. As to this agency, the Provincial Auditor went in there and found the biggest spree of waste and wild spending he's ever seen. To say it's another attack on working people -- it was to end the boondoggle -- is just beyond description.

The member spoke about textbooks being 20 years old. All of a sudden, all these textbooks became old in the last 12 months. His government refused to tackle education financing, and I think it's important to put that on the record too.

I invite the member to stand in this place and tell us exactly what he thinks is an acceptable collection rate from the Ministry of Labour. Stand in your place and tell us what you think would be acceptable.

The Deputy Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre has two minutes.

Mr Christopherson: First of all, my thanks to my colleagues the members for Windsor-Sandwich and Sudbury East for their by and large supportive comments. I want to move to the two government backbenchers who stood in their places and made comments. First of all, to the cabinet wannabe who stood up and gave us his public cabinet interview, let me say to you that you and your colleague from Nepean are more concerned about defending moving to the privatization of collection agencies than you are about the other issues. Talk about what else you're doing in there.

Mr Stockwell: What is the collection rate?

Mr Christopherson: I'm not going to accept that, Speaker. I sat quietly and listened to you, Chris. I'm disappointed that you're not prepared to offer me the same respect.

This government in case after case, whether we're talking education that's not perfect but needs work or about tenant protection through rent control, uses the argument of perfection as the enemy of the good. The fact of the matter is that you're throwing up smokescreens about where the problems are and offering up a solution that, when you look at it, is much worse than it was.

That's why I point constantly to the hypocrisy of the name of the bill. That's the kind of Orwellian doublespeak game you play. You do it with rent control, you did it with health and safety -- "Oh, we believe it's the top priority" -- and then you systematically move to dismantle those things that are most effective in making the workplace safe.

To the member for Nepean, who is the parliamentary assistant to the Ministry of Labour, don't talk to me about what's insulting. I worked on the shop floor for over a decade. I punched a clock. I've been a union steward. I've gone through the ranks there. The fact of the matter is, no matter how you want to spin it, a lot of people don't know their rights because they don't understand the system. That's why they pay union dues, to make sure they do understand so that governments like this can't take them on and take away their rights. That's the way it happens.

Mr Stockwell: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I noticed in the two minutes the member had to respond he was asked one question -- what were the collection rates? -- and I guess he didn't have time to get to it. I'm seeking unanimous consent from this Legislature to allow the member for Hamilton Centre to answer the one question he was asked.

The Deputy Speaker: It is not a point of order.

Mr Stockwell: Yes, it is. I'm looking for unanimous consent to give the member a chance to answer the question.

The Deputy Speaker: Is there unanimous consent? There is not.

Mr Stockwell: I just want to know if you know. You don't know.

The Deputy Speaker: I would appreciate the member for Etobicoke West coming to order.

Further debate?

Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I'd like to join the debate by voicing my support for the Minister of Labour in the second reading of Bill 49, An Act to improve the Employment Standards Act.

This afternoon I speak to the section of Bill 49 which would require that unions and unionized employers use collective agreement grievance procedures to settle employment standards claims. It is my opinion that this requirement makes a lot of sense. In unionized workplaces, employees, unions and employers already use the grievance arbitration process to settle any disputes related to their collective agreement. It is their own process set up under the terms and conditions of their collective agreement. Employees are familiar with that process, unions know that process and employers know it.

Individual employees receive support and resources from their own union in pursuing their claims. Complaints are then heard by an arbitrator who is chosen by the mutual agreement of the union and the employer. As I understand it, most employment standards complaints in unionized workplaces already follow this route. The powers given to an arbitrator are very clear. I'll read that out under subsection 64.5(6): "An arbitrator or board of arbitration appointed under a collective agreement may, in his, her or its decision, make any order that an employment standards officer, an adjudicator or a referee can make under the act." The powers that are given are very meaningful and they're the same that a referee under the Employment Standards Act has.


It only makes sense that parties use their own process to settle employment standards claims as well. Why should unionized workers rely on an unfamiliar process at the Ministry of Labour when they could use that familiar grievance arbitration process that provides them with direct assistance from their union?

Will these changes be good for workers and their representatives to use the grievance arbitration process? The answer is a resounding yes. Will it be good for employers? The answer is yes again. I believe this is a win-win situation for all concerned.

I'd just like to digress for a moment in terms of other changes that were brought in with respect to the union workplace.

A most significant change to the act will be an amendment to enable employers and unions to negotiate their own standards for hours of work, public holidays, overtime pay, vacation pay and severance pay. These standards may differ from those set out in the act as long as the new standards, as a package, provide greater rights and benefits than are found in the act.

Right now, a union can negotiate different public holidays and a lower severance package without having to balance it against anything else. These changes are going to allow a company to structure its operations with more flexibility, which is really important in today's environment, and will allow a union to more properly represent its employees in the changing environment.

With respect to the collective agreement process to resolve Employment Standards Act contraventions, I'd say at the same time that by using the grievance arbitration procedures, scarce government resources could be focused on the claims of those employees who are not represented by a union and have no alternative means available to them to pursue their employment standards claims. The amendments will mean that the unorganized employees will get better and faster service.

Non-union employees can decide at the outset whether they wish to file an employment standards claim with the ministry or take the matter to court. This prevents duplication and makes the process more efficient. Once these employees have filed the claim, they are allowed time to consult with a lawyer or reconsider their options before their decision not to pursue a court action is final. This is fair to all parties involved, and these changes also protect non-unionized employees who are faced at the present time with making a decision of whether to go to court or whether to file their standards claim. If they choose to go to court, then their standards claim is not even processed. That is not efficient and that's not fair.

In cases where the employee could be reinstated to his or her former position, employees will not have to make the choice whether to go to court or pursue their claim from within the employment standards process. Reinstatement can also be ordered when employees have lost their positions after taking pregnancy/parental leave or, in the case of retail workers, for refusing to work on a Sunday.

The legislation also reduces duplication so that resources can be used to assist those workers who need the help most. That certainly is true in the case of reinstatement, which is a valuable right in which there will be no choice made. The Employment Standards Act, with all its efficiencies and its enforcement mechanisms, will be used to provide those rights.

By no longer investigating and enforcing employment standards claims that are being addressed through other means, the Ministry of Labour can also eliminate duplication and make better use of resources, while encouraging self-reliance in the workplace. In short, this legislation will mean better and faster service for unorganized employees and it will also make it an easier and more efficient process for employers and employees as well.

The legislative amendments contained in this bill will make it easier to enforce the Employment Standards Act and easier for both employees and their employers to understand the act. For example, the amendments contained in Bill 49 will clarify an employee's entitlement to a vacation and vacation pay.

These amendments are also good news for working women, because Bill 49 clarifies pregnancy and parental leave to ensure that this period of service is included in entitlement to vacation and vacation pay. That is a very important area.

This legislation will allow us to streamline the Employment Standards Act to serve its original purpose, which is to provide efficient and effective standards that are easy and clear for employees and employers to understand. What we're looking at here is a change, an improvement to the Employment Standards Act. What we're talking about is meaningful standards.

In a situation that was pointed out in the Lawyers Weekly by Stewart Saxe of a leading Toronto law firm, "The core value of the changes is that they're going to allow a company to structure its operation with more flexibility, and that's really important in today's environment."

He states that the entire high-tech manufacturing sector is impacted by the Employment Standards Act, which is backwards and is not up to the reality of leading-edge technology. In this industry, employees at all levels are given substantial flexibility in their hours of work, allowing them to work perhaps 70 hours a week when things are busy or creativity is flowing, or perhaps as little as 24 hours per week when business is slower.

You need that flexibility in this era of technology and a world market when you have to compete. We cannot be straitjacketed by the changes that haven't been made in employment standards for over 20-plus years.

The present wording of the act in several sections, including that affecting parental leave and vacation pay, has resulted in confusion among arbitrators. Bill 49 addresses those concerns.

The Employment Standards Act, in its current form, is difficult to enforce. No one benefits when necessary legislation can't be enforced.

Bill 49 will also make it easier for employers and employees to resolve these disputes. No one benefits when the dispute resolution process becomes so bogged down that results may take years to achieve. That is one of the problems with the act as it currently stands.

I therefore give my full support to the Minister of Labour and the changes introduced to the Employment Standards Act. I firmly believe these changes will encourage employees, their unions and employers to assume greater responsibility for their own affairs and become more self-reliant.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Questions or comments?

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I listened with interest to the comments made by the Conservative member. It's obvious that the speechmakers at the Ministry of Labour have been working overtime trying to find out the correct amount of spin to apply to what this government is doing.

What the government is doing simply is -- and I'd like you to comment on this -- saying: "We're going to treat workers differently in the province of Ontario as it applies to the Employment Standards Act. If you're a unionized worker, you will be treated one way; if you're a non-unionized worker, you will be treated a different way."

You are saying that under the Employment Standards Act, for example, a non-unionized worker will have to make a choice up front: "Am I going to make a complaint?" Should an employer, for example, say, "I'm not going to pay you for a statutory holiday," you're telling the workers of this province: "What you've got to do is decide if you're going to go through the Employment Standards Act's provisions of making the complaint, and if for some reason that doesn't work out the way you think, you forfeit your right to go to court." It seems to me you're taking away one of the basic rights workers are entitled to.

For unionized workers you're saying, "Take the entire cost of the process and download it on to the workers and their unions as well as the private sector employer," who in the end, by the way, has to pay half of the arbitration cost. What you're doing, again, is demonstrating under the Employment Standards Act that you've provided to download your responsibility, not only when it comes to law, but when it comes to the cost of maintaining employment standards in this province, on to the employers of this province.

The thing you should also realize -- and this is what bewilders me -- is that the government says: "We do this because if we say that unionized workers don't go through the Employment Standards Act and have to go through their collective agreement and eventually to arbitration, we'll save all kinds of money. Therefore, that's why we're doing it."

You should take a look at the stats. The reality is that there are very few workers in a unionized setting who actually utilize the Employment Standards Act as the grievance process. They normally do go through their grievance process. In a very few, limited cases, they go it on their own, but that is necessary to keep in place in order to make sure their rights are protected.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a privilege today to respond to the member for Simcoe Centre, whom I have a lot of regard for. Prior to being elected to the Legislature, he was indeed a labour lawyer. In fact, he's a very knowledgeable person. I know him to be such.

I guess technically you've got to recognize that the rhetoric we heard from the member for Hamilton Centre is more of the same. It's more fearmongering and more misleading and more frightening and terrifying the workers of Ontario. I worked with people in an industrial environment for over 30 years and they would all admit that clearly there has to be more of a balance back in the workplace.

Bill 49 does not alter minimum employment standards in Ontario. Quite the contrary to what was said by the member for Hamilton Centre, this really does bring fairness back into the workplace. In respect to the member's statement, we have to look at the administrative changes and the employment standards, and we have to allow the leadership, both union and management, in the workplace to be involved and accountable for the decisions they're involved in making. You can't have it both ways. A collective agreement is indeed that: It's a collective agreement; it's a contract between two forces. I think all we're trying to do is take out this other optional opportunity to be less self-reliant.

Really, Bill 49 is working at very easily trying to align us to be competitive with the other provinces. Much of what is in the current standards, as I said -- there will be no minimum changes to the standards that we have, but we are bringing them in line to the other provinces of Canada. We all know that in the last 10 years Ontario has become uncompetitive. What people are looking for today is security and jobs. We have to create a balance in the workplace where indeed fairness is what we're working towards.

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I find the comments of the member for Simcoe Centre, particularly as amplified by the member for Durham East, quite interesting and in a way frightening. I believe, if in fact they believe the comments they are making, that it indicates a lack of understanding of the important role the Employment Standards Act plays and has played in this province as a minimum set of standards governing workplace behaviour and conditions and working conditions and rights for some 5.8 million workers in the province of Ontario.

They concentrate many of their comments on unionized workplaces. I'm not sure what the current statistics are on the rate of unionization. I'd maybe ask the ministry officials to shake their head. It used to be around 30%, roughly a third. I'm getting an indication of yes. So we're talking about minimum standards that affect two thirds of the workers of this province that are being fundamentally changed here. Yes, there are some housekeeping changes, and those, the clarifications and others, we could readily agree to. We don't have a problem with those. But there are some fundamental changes to the basic rights of the two thirds of the workers in this province who are non-unionized, who have no one to speak for them, and there's not going to be an opportunity for this to be considered in light of the overall changes to the Employment Standards Act that the minister has indicated will be coming forward in the fall.

I hear the member for Simcoe Centre, again as amplified by the member for Durham East, talking much about competition both with other provinces and with US jurisdictions. I remember the days of debate around free trade. I remember the concerns raised by people in the labour movement that this would lead to a race to the bottom in terms of standards. This government is truly implementing that kind of agenda. It doesn't have to be that way. We can proceed with broadening our horizons and participating in the global economy while protecting the rights of workers. That's what we should be doing.

The Acting Speaker: Time has expired. Further questions or comments? The member for Algoma --

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): Excuse me. Are we going in rotation?

The Acting Speaker: Yes, we are, and you are recognized. The member for Mississauga South.

Mrs Marland: It's all very interesting to me when we discuss the rights of workers, because I would like someday in this House, when any of us speak about the rights of workers, that we're talking about all people who work, not just the third of the workforce that is in unions.

Ms Lankin: That's what I was just talking about, the other two thirds.

Mrs Marland: I'm not responding to your comments, I say to the member for Beaches-Woodbine, because I have to respond to the speaker who had the floor.

The point is that in this place for the most part when we talk about anything to do with employment, everybody, particularly the third party, comes with a narrow focus. It may well be that the member for Beaches-Woodbine, to whom I can't respond, has a broader focus, but the point is that when we look at the fact that a third of our workforce is unionized in this province and we're considering anything to do with safety in the workplace, I hope we all care about safety standards and employment standards for all workers in all workplaces.

When you look at safety standards, it's one thing, but when you're talking about employment standards and you're looking at all aspects of employment, it's terribly important to all of us, in my opinion, to represent our constituents equally, regardless of our own perhaps ideological focus, which sometimes, because of our particular philosophies, might be far too narrow on this subject.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Simcoe Centre, you have two minutes to reply.

Mr Tascona: I'd just like to address the comments of the member for Cochrane South. The Employment Standards Act has not been changed in terms of its core standards. All the core standards remain the same, and in reality what's happened is the standards for vacation pay and for pregnancy leave have been improved. I think the member would like that to happen, and in fact it has happened.

With respect to the procedure, yes, the procedure has changed but the reality in the real world is that any union would want to represent its members and would welcome being able to represent them under the collective agreement process. At any employment standards hearing, you will find a union there to represent the workers who are impacted by -- be it a severance claim or be it for vacation pay in terms of its workers. In fact they will be there, so the changes with respect to the collective agreement are welcome changes.

With respect to non-union workers, the reality is that they make a choice between going to court or going to employment standards. We're making it possible for them to make that decision. If they go to the court alone, that's their decision. If they decide to rely on the government for the employment standards, they can do that also. These are procedural changes, and there are no substantive changes whatsoever.

The member for Beaches-Woodbine mentions the minimum set of standards. Yes, there is a minimum set of standards, but there has been no change. I think the change that is being brought to the union workplace in terms of the global package of benefits is something they would welcome to be able to negotiate. The negotiation process will benefit unions and employers in terms of making it more efficient not only to represent the workers in the unionized workplace but for employers to provide jobs and compete in the new technology.

I say that this change, the improvement to the employment standards, is long overdue and it's about time.

The Acting Speaker: Any further debate?

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I'm going to offer a few comments on this particular piece of legislation, which I think is premature. I think it's premature because the government, through the Minister of Labour and through the government House leader, has indicated that it is going to be proceeding with a white paper which will deal with labour legislation and the Employment Standards Act.

There's no question the Employment Standards Act requires a new look. We're in different circumstances in 1996. We haven't seen significant changes for some period of time, and I think all members of the House would welcome an open, public review of the Employment Standards Act. There's nothing wrong with that, and if it were a true and honest look at all aspects of it to see how we can best improve it, I think representatives of labour and business and others would be very interested in offering the government comments. That's why I think this bill isn't necessary at this time, because as a result of the white paper we will see the government come forward with its proposed changes.


What I see happening in the Ministry of Labour, as I do with many other ministries, is that the Ministry of Labour is not going to have an opportunity to the job it would like to do or traditionally has done in this province. Because of substantial cuts, over 400 individuals who will lose their jobs in the Ministry of Labour and I think over $40 million in cuts, it's quite obvious that the ministry will not be able to carry out the responsibilities it has had in years gone by.

Any one of us who has represented constituents over the years -- and my 19th anniversary is coming up soon, on June 9, as I recall. I have seen over the years the number of people who are making complaints to the Ministry of Labour office increasing. The inability of the Ministry of Labour office, for instance in St Catharines, to deal with all of the concerns that are brought to their attention, by employees for the most part but I guess on some occasions by employers, is quite evident. It's quite evident that the waiting list is a long waiting list and that the amount of time taken to process the individual concerns that are brought to the ministry is indeed a very long period of time.

What we have required is a bolstering of the staff at the local ministry office, for instance in St Catharines, to be able to carry out those responsibilities, to resolve these matters in a much faster fashion than has been the case in the past. The people who are there work diligently on their files to be able to bring about the kind of redress that those who lodge complaints would like to see, but they are certainly limited, and now we see a further cut in the number of those people and in the resources they will have available to them. So that is clearly a step backward as far as most people in this province would be concerned.

We have inspectors, we have mediation officers, a number of people who play a very significant role in our society. We want to ensure that the workplace is a safe place. There are many options that come forward. The occupational health and safety agency was established under the Liberal government, as I recall, some period of time ago. There were complaints on both sides about how that operates. It wasn't as smooth as people would like it to have been, but there was probably an opportunity to improve upon that and maintain health and safety in our province, because of course it's a cost to both employees, in terms of a personal cost and a financial cost, and to employers and the province as a whole when we have people who are injured on the job. We wanted to ensure, through the inspectors we had in the Ministry of Labour and others, that we limited that risk as much as possible. The government, by cutting, is in a position now of contributing to an increase in the number of accidents, as opposed to a decrease, and that's most unfortunate.

The Human Rights Commission, which is part of the Ministry of Labour, has also seen some significant cuts lately, including the St Catharines office. I recall that when the Premier stated in the House, along with the Minister of Labour but particularly the Premier, that the employment equity legislation brought forward by the New Democratic Party would be withdrawn, would be completely reversed by this government, he saw the Human Rights Commission playing a significant role, a much greater role in terms of dealing with those matters. Yet when it came down to it, the government has cut the Human Rights Commission across the province. Again, it is not fulfilling a promise; it's in fact breaking a promise when it does that.

I was not entirely enamoured with the legislation that the previous government brought forward in terms of employment equity, although it endeavoured to deal with some problems that were genuine out there. The idea of the old boys' club or nepotism taking place, particularly in the public sector but also in the private sector, ensured that many people in our society did not have the same advantage that others had of obtaining employment and of obtaining the opportunity to advance up through the ranks. So the legislation had as its goal something that was good. It was well-meaning legislation.

Where I think the quarrel came down was over the matter of whether we should establish -- I hate to use the word "quotas," but I can't think of another word now; perhaps they were goals or targets that they were going to use. But the point I'm making in this whole matter, as I'm stared at by the member for Beaches-Woodbine, is that the Human Rights Commission was stated by the Premier to be the agency which could redress these problems when he withdrew that legislation, and that has of course not happened.

There was a program called POWA, a program to assist older workers, established in this province. It was a good program. I think it was a federal-provincial program. There were many people I felt sorry for over the years who lost their jobs and seemed to be at the end of the line when it came to compensation, when the company went bankrupt or somebody fled somewhere with the funds. The last person to get the money seemed to be the worker in the plant, for instance, if it was an industrial plant, or in the business. That program to assist older workers was a good concept. It has not been funded appropriately over the years and now it seems to be lost, although the member for Grey-Owen Sound has expressed his concerns about the fact the government has not been moving as it should on that.

There are problems for workers in our society. I look back at circumstances where people have lost their jobs. They turn 50 or 55 years old, they're turned out into the workforce and they don't have much of an opportunity today. I keep asking the question, where are the jobs that were supposed to be out there? Where are the jobs that free trade was supposed to provide for our society, for our province, for our country? Where are the jobs that the unfettering of the corporate sector was to provide in our society? I haven't seen them.

Instead, what we are seeing in our society is downsizing, is increasing profits at the expense of employees. It makes us ask the question, where will people work in the future? I think profits are healthy. I like seeing companies make profits. When they're profitable, that means they are contributing to the economy. We always hope people are going to be employed when that's the case. In years gone by, when a company made considerable profit, what happened was that we expected we might see an expansion of the workforce. Everybody cheered that. They cheered the company on. The union people were happy with that; society was happy with that.

The difference today is that we're seeing companies making unprecedented profits while casting the bodies out into the street, because they need even more profits or because they want to improve their performance on the stock market. Very often that's only a temporary improvement that takes place on the stock market, and yet people lose their jobs.

We're seeing that happen in the newspaper business today. I raised a question with the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism about that matter and he chose to defend Conrad Black and the company, in this case, Hollinger. If you're a business person sitting here, you nod your head, on the government side, and say, "This is the way business works and you people in the opposition don't understand that and therefore you have to accept that." Yet I look at what happened in Saskatchewan, where Hollinger bought the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader-Post and a couple of other papers and the first thing they did, even though they were making money, was to cast the employees out into the street. Out came the axe for chops. There are people who actually applaud that. They think that's great. "Isn't this the way business should be?"

I don't think that is the case for most people. I think some of the Conservative members who have been here longer than others particularly would not rejoice in seeing their fellow citizens losing their jobs. As a society we have to address that problem. The Ministry of Labour has a chance through some of its levers to play a role in that, but I think our society genuinely has to address that problem or there are not going to be jobs for people out there, for people who honestly want to work, people who want to make a contribution to our society and yet are going to be denied that.

I look at the banks as another. People will say, "Aren't the banks an easy target?" Yes, I guess they are an easy target, but I look at them as they shrink the hours of service to people and install machines. These are people out there who aren't particularly highly paid -- the tellers and others in the banking business aren't particularly well paid -- but the banks' profits have increased rather substantially in very recent years, in recent months, and at the same time they are laying off hundreds and thousands of workers in this province. I don't think it's satisfactory that that is happening and I think we as legislators should speak out on those matters.


There is the Retail Business Holidays Act decision that was made. Mr Speaker, I know you're interested in that, because it affects all communities in the province. The court has decided that it's not an acceptable act at this time and one of the courts has thrown it out. I hope the government takes advantage of the opportunity to appeal that, because that was an act that was reasonable. I didn't agree with everything in it. I don't agree with the concept of Sunday shopping, but I accept that it's there now and I suppose many of us, now that the stores are open, go into stores on Sunday. I didn't like that, but it happened; it was a transition. But at least the Retail Business Holidays Act allowed us the opportunity to close on the major holidays. I'm not going to be very happy when I see major retail stores in this province opening on Christmas Day, for instance. I don't think that's what many people contemplated happening. I simply inject into this speech the hope that the government will appeal that particular decision.

I know many people out there in the church community will be looking carefully at that. They have opinions on other subjects, and I'm sure they will have an opinion on that as well. Again, that helps workers in our society, as well as some of the small business people who simply don't want to stay open.

I'm also concerned about the downloading of the cost to unions and employers to which the member for Cochrane South referred in terms of the effect of this act. If the unions and the employers have to assume the cost which was previously a cost assisted by the Ministry of Labour, it seems to me we will place our businesses at a disadvantage, and surely that's not what the government wishes to do.

I attribute much of what's happening now to the tax cut. I guess members were wondering how I could possibly work the tax cut into this; the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale was waiting with anticipation to see how I could work the tax cut into this. Let me tell you how. I work the tax cut into it because the government is having to make cuts even greater than it had anticipated because it can't meet its fiscal targets unless it does so. That's because of the tax cut. The tax cut, as we all know, is an income tax cut. It helps those who are the richest and most privileged people in our province in terms of dollars. Those who are at the lower end, while they have a small benefit, will pay substantial increases in property taxes, which do not take into account a person's ability to pay, and individual service charges that you will see municipalities and others charging. They certainly will not be helped.

Because the government is going to have to borrow at least $13 billion, pay $5 billion in interest and increase the debt to in excess of $22 billion over its term of office, it's going to have to find even more cuts than it probably felt were advisable in the first place. My friend the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who wishes to do the very best job with the resources provided to him, has fewer resources provided to him. His job is to defend the government, and he will tell you how he's going to use the resources he has in a better way. I won't ask him to comment. But I do support a minister of agriculture in any effort he may have to obtain the necessary funds to carry out his responsibilities. I do that for all ministers. I see the tax cut behind this piece of legislation as well, and I find that must unfortunate.

What we need in labour relations legislation, employment standards legislation, is balance. First of all, I think the hearings we're going to have on this bill will be helpful because they will allow various people to make representations to the committee on matters related to this legislation and perhaps other legislation. We do need this balance. We do need this input. We do need changes. When an act is way out of date, we need some changes. The best way to do that is to bring labour and management and the public and political people together to try to find that balance. In some cases, governments have tilted the teeter-totter in one level; another government comes back and teeters it in another level. I think what we need is a balanced teeter-totter so that both labour and management can feel that they've had good input, that they have legislation everybody can live with, that leaves us competitive with others, that doesn't put us at the minimum standards but puts us at reasonable standards. I think people of goodwill in all sectors of our society see that as a goal.

This piece of legislation then, I say in my concluding remarks, is premature. I think parts of it which were clearly housekeeping probably would have gone through with a minimum of debate, probably one day's debate, if certain parts of this legislation had been withdrawn and included in the white paper the government is going to present. There wouldn't have been a problem in that regard. But it chose not to. It chose to characterize this as simple housekeeping and minor changes, and now we're going to have hearings across the province.

The government did learn a lesson when it got into its battle over, first of all, Bill 7 and then over Bill 26, that it is not possible, without a lot of adverse reaction, to ram legislation through the Legislature without having the kind of public hearings that are advantageous for all of us who are legislators to hear from both sides. Public hearings aren't just to hear from one side; they're to hear from both sides if there are two contentious sides, and perhaps from a multiplicity of sources. I hope that all legislation that comes forward, including labour legislation, will have that kind of consultative process that will be valuable to all of us.

I wish the committee well in its deliberations this summer and hope the piece of legislation that emerges will be an improved piece of legislation.

Mrs Marland: Mr Speaker, on a point of privilege: I would not want to let this very special occasion in the House pass, because we have with us in the members' gallery Tiana Jean Wildman, Bud's chosen daughter. It is such a thrill for all of us who have known about Bud and his wife choosing this beautiful little angel, and here she is and we can see her in person.

There are times when as colleagues the human part of our personal lives we all can share because we know that is the priority for all of us. We all have been with Bud and his family through the last several years, and this is a wonderful new beginning for their family.

It's also the member for Algoma's 50th birthday today, so we have a double celebration. He's here with Tiana, proving that he's 50 going on 21, I think.

Our best wishes and our love to you and your family, Bud, on this special adoption.

The Acting Speaker: It's not a point of privilege; it's a point of honour, I think. Happy birthday to our leader of the opposition. I remember 50 years old.

Questions and comments?

Mr Christopherson: I want to compliment the member on his thoughtful reflections on Bill 49. I think the government will see that, as much as there are two opposition parties across from it, on the issue of whether there needed to be public hearings, there is one voice.

As parliamentarians, there's a tradition of democracy and openness and input and opportunity for all to be heard on matters that might affect them, and it's clear to us on this side of the House that the government attempted once again to deny that process from taking place.

The best examples that we have of course are the anti-worker Bill 7, when they rammed through a brand-new Ontario Labour Relations Act without any public hearings at all, when indeed their only mandate was around the issue of Bill 40, which we took 18 months through the democratic process. Interestingly, the Minister of Labour, who was then the critic for labour in the third party, said that wasn't enough time. Eighteen months on Bill 40 was not enough time, it didn't allow adequate input, and yet this government saw fit, on Bill 7, which not only repealed Bill 40, but made dramatic changes and took away tremendous rights that workers had -- they didn't campaign on that, they had no mandate for it -- to ram it through without one minute of hearings, not one minute of public hearings. Of course they attempted to get the omnibus Bill 26 through in the final days of the previous session, ramping up into the Christmas season.


With Bill 49, they attempted to do the same thing again, but they've been called on it and now there will be an opportunity for all to be heard. At the end of the day this government has to answer for these anti-democratic procedures they followed.

Mr Baird: I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague the member for St Catharines. He spoke a little bit about the Ministry of Labour but not a tremendous amount about the bill we're debating here today. He mentioned the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which of course falls under my colleague the Minister of Citizenship's ministry.

The member for Hamilton Centre did mention that the two opposition parties stand united with respect to public hearings. I had a very long discussion with the member from Windsor, and we are equally enthusiastic about going across the province this summer on public hearings, I can assure you.

Mr Christopherson: Sure you are.

Mr Baird: I look forward to going back to Windsor. I had a very good, enthusiastic reception from a large group of citizens from Windsor.

The member opposite talked in his speech, though, about the Liberal position. In opposition they voted against Bill 40, said they had to make changes to it, and then when we repealed Bill 40, they voted, with the exception of the agricultural relations part, against every single clause, which suggested there was nothing about Bill 40 that they wanted to repeal.

As well, the member opposite mentioned the Workplace Health and Safety Agency. We recall the red book -- my friends from the New Democratic Party will remember this -- talking about repealing it, scrapping it outright, and then they changed their mind.

He also mentioned the banks, the oil companies and so forth. We wonder why he won't go after the federal government on these issues. I come from Nepean -- that's very near the nation's capital, Ottawa -- and there are many rumours around Ottawa speculating about future Senate appointments. I can appreciate the member opposite might not want to burn any bridges in that regard.

Mr Bradley: You are right.

Mr Baird: That's certainly understandable, so perhaps that could explain some of the motivations opposite.

Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): I'd like to take a few minutes to support my colleague the member for St Catharines in his comments on this bill and also to mention that any time that we try and tinker with labour standards, it goes beyond just housekeeping and in fact goes beyond tinkering.

Minister Witmer and the Premier have both said that these are merely housekeeping amendments, and yet the Premier went on to say: "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." That's part of what we're doing today, arguing that these are certainly more than housekeeping.

One I'm particularly concerned about that goes far beyond housekeeping will allow employers and unions to negotiate standards for hours of work, public holidays, overtime pay, vacation pay and severance pay that may fall below the minimum levels established in the Employment Standards Act. It's that I'm most concerned about, because if unions and employers, particularly employers, are allowed to negotiate standards that are below the act, that's disturbing. The best way, in my opinion, to keep a balance is to have reasonable standards. If you consider them to be standards in the act, I don't think it should be allowed that you can negotiate below those standards. That's the point I wanted to make.

Mr Bisson: I want to commend the member for St Catharines, always on the left of his party and I guess a little bit closer to me in regard to where most issues need to be. I commend the member, because I can tell you that the left is in vogue. It will be returning soon to a neighbourhood near you. After a couple of years of having these Tory guys around, I think a lot more people will be looking at an alternative.

The ironic part about this legislation is, if I was in a situation now where there was an organizing drive going on in the workplace I was in, I would now sign a union card, because what this government has done is it has taken away rights of workers through various pieces of legislation, including what they're doing under the Employment Standards Act. What in effect you're doing -- in a way it's a bit of a help to the union movement in the sense that you're giving the union another argument why people should sign a union card -- is that you're saying, "We're going to treat workers differently under employment standards based on if they're unionized or non-unionized." To put it simply, if the worker is at a unionized setting or the worker decides to sign a union card, that worker will be protected under the arbitration process, and the union has the dollars to be able to protect that worker's rights. In 90% of cases, that's what happened anyway under the old act.

What's different about what you're doing is that you're saying those workers who are not in a unionized setting are going to be losing rights because they have to make a choice up front: Do they want to go through the employment standards process, which will be much gutted not only through what you're doing here but under the reforms that you're going to bring next year? The ministry will also have less capacity to respond, because it will have less staff to be able to deal with it. If the worker can afford it, then that worker can go to court, but most of us understand that most workers can't afford to do that.

So I say to the government across the way, if there's anything in here that's a help to the union movement, it is that if I was in an organizing situation now where my employer was in the process of being organized, I would sign a union card on the basis of this, because it's the only way you'll be protected under the law.

The Acting Speaker: Thank you. Your time has expired. The member for St Catharines, you have two minutes to reply.

Mr Bradley: Thank you to the members for Essex South, Hamilton Centre, Cochrane South and Nepean for their comments. Ultimately I think what comes out of this is that the unorganized workers in the province will be impacted the most by this legislation. If unions and organized corporations negotiate agreements that lessen minimum standards, inevitably small and unorganized workplaces will be forced to follow suit, and I think that would be most unfortunate.

The member for Nepean, of course, as I read in the Toronto Star, is trying to work his way into the cabinet. It said that he was. The member for Etobicoke West, who is a good friend of mine, I notice is now defending the government position, and I'm going to try to help him get into the cabinet. I'll speak to the Premier for him. The member for Nepean also mentioned there was a seat in the Senate open. I wasn't aware of that, but I'm sure there will be a call coming to someone in the Legislature somewhere along the line in that regard. I'm not holding my breath until it comes to my office.

Ms Lankin: But you are available?

Mr Bradley: I have a job right now at this time and I'm enthusiastic about my present position.

Also there was a mention of, why do we not go to our federal friends? It's interesting how the government picks and chooses. Today the Solicitor General and the Attorney General -- I'm sure because they truly feel this way, but also it's good politics -- were out after the federal Minister of Justice on an item. So it was convenient for the government, except that when I asked the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism not to defend the huge corporation known as Hollinger and the gas companies the other day, the huge oil companies, he clearly on behalf of the government took the side of the big companies, which I expected. But I hope that in this legislation you'll take all viewpoints into consideration, not just those of the corporate barons.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate? The member for Beaches-Woodbine.

Ms Lankin: I'm actually pleased to be following the member for St Catharines in this debate. I just wanted to say, in case anyone from Ottawa is listening, I'm sure if the call for that Senate seat came to his office, he would make himself available, as enthusiastic as he is about his current occupation and vocation.

Mr Baird: Maybe you should give his number.

Ms Lankin: Yes, he should have a 1-800 number: CALLJIM.

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate in the House. I believe this is a very important debate. I believe the piece of legislation that we have before us in the House is in a sense a bellwether or a warning of what is to come with the changes to the Employment Standards Act that will be coming forward in phase 2 of the minister's processes. We see her this summer introducing a white paper, a discussion paper for reform, which she indicates will be followed by legislative reform in the fall.


In front of us now is a piece of legislation that I would argue has some very meaningful changes, some of those changes which should be included in the overall review so that we can see what the balance is going to look like at the end of the day.

I'm very concerned about the proposed changes. Let me make it clear from the beginning that there are in fact a few housekeeping changes and clarifications set out in this bill with which I have no quarrel and which I would, I think on behalf of my party, indicate that we could give full support to. But there are some very significant changes contained in this bill that give me great cause for concern.

We are talking about the Employment Standards Act. The Employment Standards Act sets out minimum standards affecting working conditions and a variety of issues, including things like hours of work, paid statutory holidays, minimum severance, minimum vacation, minimum leaves around parental leaves, a number of basic workplace provisions, things that many of us would take for granted. That piece of legislation covers virtually every working person in this province.

There are some 5.8 million to six million working people in the province of Ontario. You've heard much discussion here about the effect on unionized workplaces versus non-unionized workplaces. I will come to that in my contribution to this debate, but I do want to indicate to people that unionized workplaces make up about 30%, just under a third or so, of all working people in this province. So that's somewhere under two million. That leaves approximately four million people who are covered by this legislation who have no collective agreement, who have no other way of protecting minimum working conditions than the Employment Standards Act.

So this legislation covers all working people and all workplaces. But particularly for those four million people who are not in a unionized workplace, who have no organized voice, who have no access to representation on their behalf to protect their working standards, their rights, their issues in the workplace, as Jonathan Eaton in the Toronto Star said today, the alarm bells should be going off for people right now in the province of Ontario. Because in a way that is not very clear to the public, in a way that has been described by the Minister of Labour and by the Premier and others, as I've heard Conservative members participating in this debate make reference to, as merely housekeeping, merely clarifications, merely minor changes -- I don't believe that's a very fair representation of this bill. I am particularly concerned that this proceeds at a time when the public is not aware of it.

Excuse me. It's always awful to get a coughing attack in the middle of a speech, right?

My concern rests with some of the provisions I've referred to as being major changes to the Employment Standards Act, and I want to highlight some of those, if I may, and indicate why I believe they are more than housekeeping.

Mr Bisson: There's more water coming.

Ms Lankin: It's not water; it's a cold I have.

Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): May I ask if we could stop the clock for a second, Mr Speaker.

Ms Lankin: No, it's okay. Let me proceed at this point.

In addition to some of the comments that have been made by a previous speaker, there are a few key areas of the bill that I would like to highlight in particular.

First of all, the bill involves a reduction in the time limit to file a complaint from two years to six months. Now, what does this mean for ordinary working people? Why is this, in my view, significant as opposed to minor housekeeping?

Currently there is a two-year time limit on when you can bring forward a complaint. If you are a worker, and I indicate to the members opposite that most employment standards complaints, particularly of a significant nature, are brought forward by workers either after they've been fired or after -- excuse me; I'm going to get cough candies and water sent to me. Thank you very much. It may not be possible for me to continue, Mr Speaker. I'm not sure what to do here. Just give me a second.

Mrs Marland: I move that we take a five-minute recess. We often have done that while we've waited for speakers to arrive, and I'm sure the member for Beaches-Woodbine --

The Acting Speaker: Is it agreed? Agreed. We'll take a five-minute recess.

The House recessed from 1726 to 1731.

Ms Lankin: I'm going to attempt to continue. I'm not sure whether my voice will hold. If it doesn't I might at that point ask for unanimous consent to stand down the remainder of my time. I'll ask my colleagues to assist me; if I end up in another coughing spell and can't get those words out, then they'll know what my intent is. I'm armed with Kleenex, water and cough drops, so I will try to continue through.

I began talking about time limits. Let me continue on that point. The government's bill cuts back the current time limit within which a worker must file a complaint, which is currently two years, to six months. Why should this be of concern and why is this of significance, as opposed to simply a housekeeping amendment, as the government would want to characterize it?

For the majority of workers, particularly workers with significant complaints, with significant concerns about violations of employment standards, these are most often brought forward after a worker either has quit or has been fired from his or her place of employment. I ask the members to check into that and take a look at it.

I speak as someone who spent a number of years in the trade union movement representing workers and a number of years as a negotiator negotiating collective agreements to bring about standards that improved on the basic standards in the Employment Standards Act. Through that period of time I've had a fair amount of experience with how the act works, and how it applies to unorganized workplaces when we've gone in and attempted to organize them, and have seen some travesties of the way in which workers' rights have been trampled and of the way in which people have tried to seek redress through employment standards or have not been aware of that route or what route was available to them or how to go about it.

An arbitrary time limit of six months will deny justice to many workers in this situation. It's not as if this somehow brings about efficiency or streamlining or any other buzzword that the government caucus seems to be throwing around with respect to any changes they're bringing forward; what this does is set an arbitrary limit on when a worker can or cannot bring forward a complaint. If you become aware of how you could pursue your rights under the Employment Standards Act six months and two weeks after the event has occurred you're out of luck, under the new bill under the new Ontario Tory government, as opposed to the current two years.

I have been aware of cases in which workers did not find out the fullness of what had occurred in terms of their rights having been violated or how to proceed with that until longer than two years. Under the current act they were already out of luck, but you're cutting this back to six months, and I would argue that that's not only an arbitrary change but one that has nothing to do with efficiency. What it is designed to do is cut down on the number of complaints that will be brought forward or will be pursued. It is contributing to savings in the Ministry of Labour by cutting back on workload, and the only way it cuts back on workload is to deny workers access to the system, access to pursuing their legal rights, again, by setting a very arbitrary time limit on that.

Along with this time limit is this imposition of a maximum dollar amount in terms of what can be claimed. Irrespective of what the violation is, irrespective of what would be owing to a worker to make that worker whole in that situation and restore the worker's rights, irrespective of what the worker legitimately is owed or, let me put it the other way, what the worker has illegitimately been cheated out of by an unsavoury employer in this situation, irrespective of that, you put an arbitrary maximum amount on how much that worker can collect.

That amount is $10,000. For a lot of people listening, that may sound like a lot of money. They might wonder: Does that really cause a problem? Is there anyone who would be owed more than that? Is this an unfair burden? Is this simply some way of streamlining and standardizing and bringing the act in line with other pieces of legislation? No, it is not the latter, and yes, it does present a very unfair burden. Let me give you two examples of workers who are affected by these arbitrary changes in terms of the time limit and the maximum amount that can be claimed.

There was a press conference held a week ago by a coalition of people who were concerned about the changes the government is making to the Employment Standards Act. They brought forward some examples, and I'd like to highlight two of the examples for you.

The first was a story of a domestic worker. Domestic workers work in someone's house, usually doing either work with children, involving perhaps a nanny position, or some housekeeping duties. There could be a number of definitions around, but we're talking about someone who is working in a person's house, in home employment.

A woman was working for one employer for 17 months. She started that employment in 1993. She routinely worked 15 or 16 hours a day from Monday to Friday and also very long hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Her employer did not pay her on a regular payday. She did not receive a statement of wages. These are all provisions that are currently in the Employment Standards Act; I should make that clear. At the end of her employment with the employer, she was owed one month of unpaid wages. The employer also kept and controlled all of her documents, including her passport and her bankbook. During this period of time this worker was not aware of what her rights were, what protection she had under the Employment Standards Act.

I want people to understand that this is not an unusual circumstance, this is not an unusual case. I spent a number of years involved with some people who were very active in the women's movement in trying to reach out and help organize and bring together groups of women who were working in these domestic positions, because there routinely were violations of their very basic employment rights, not to mention in many cases other horrors we can talk about that people in this line of work were being subjected to in their employment situations. Certainly not everybody -- I'm not making that case -- but many; this is not an uncommon situation.

Once this woman did become aware of what her rights were and, with some assistance, tried to proceed through the Employment Standards Act to get resolution to her concerns, the employer disputed every claim she had made along the way and every statement she made. Fair enough, but in the end, and despite the fact that this was an extremely difficult case, the referee who had to sift through all of this information actually found in favour of the worker and she was awarded almost $23,000 in overtime pay and unpaid holiday pay -- $23,000 this worker was owed.


Under this bill, first of all, the limit is $10,000 and she will face a really untenable choice because your answer to me would be: "Well, $10,000 if she proceeds under the Employment Standards Act, but she could choose to go to court because she's owed that much more. Why wouldn't she go to court?" Don't forget, we know she is owed this much money because she has in fact proceeded under the Employment Standards Act, has had all that work done in sifting through, a referee sorting through all this information and coming to a conclusion about the situation faced by this particular worker.

I don't know how you would expect this worker to be able to take her claim forward to a court of law. We're talking about a domestic worker, someone who has no economic security beyond the situation she faced, and I've already outlined for you how wages were held back and how her passport documentation and other things were withheld from her and held in trust of the employer at the time she was there. She's very vulnerable. I think you would all admit to that fact. This very vulnerable worker, you're suggesting, would have the means and the wherewithal to pursue her complaint through a court of law? Legal aid doesn't cover these things and she has no independent financial resources. How could she pursue this through a court of law?

Your bill is going to deny her and other workers who may be in that situation thousands and thousands of dollars that are legally owed to them. In this situation, it's an invitation for an employer under these kinds of circumstances to continue the abuse. You have limited the exposure of an unsavoury employer. I am not making the case that all employers in the province would proceed in this direction, but surely you know as you mutter under your breath, you've got to agree with me at least that there are employers who violate the Employment Standards Act. If there weren't, we wouldn't have the act, we wouldn't have the enforcement provisions that are there and we wouldn't have cases that have proceeded and been awarded in the worker's favour. We know there are unsavoury employers and those kinds of situations.

This is a licence that you are providing them, because you're limiting their exposure in terms of what they would be liable for. In almost every one of these cases you will find the worker in a situation of being marginal to the world of employment and/or vulnerable, like the worker I just described, with respect to visa and passport documents being held by the employer. You find people who are in a situation where it is very difficult for them to exercise their rights and where very rarely will they have the economic wherewithal to be able to pursue through a court of law to get all of what is owed to them. You must think about that. You must think about that limit you are placing on them.

Let me give you another example from the stories that were brought forward that day. This is the case of a garment homeworker. This is someone who sews, probably on a piecework basis is the way it's done, and does that at home and that goes off to some garment manufacturer. I think we all know stories of how that operates. That work is parcelled out in large amounts and the person is referred to as a garment homeworker in that situation. This particular woman worked an average of 50 to 60 hours a week, sewing for a very well-known label by the way, and did that for more than four years.

Here's a situation where the current law already places an arbitrary sort of limit on what the worker could receive. Under the current law, she can only go back two years, even though she's been doing this for four. Now that she's aware of her rights and bringing forward a complaint, she can only go back for two years. That's the limit in the existing legislation. Within that two years it turns out that she's owed $22,460. That money is legally owed to her. That money was illegally withheld from her. She was cheated out of that by the employer in this situation.


Ms Lankin: I don't know why it upsets you for me to use the word "cheated." It's been found through the process of employment standards that she was not provided with what was legally hers, therefore what was legally hers was withheld, therefore there was an illegal action on the part of the employer. They cheated her out of $22,000-plus for unpaid wages, vacation pay and termination pay.

I make the point and acknowledge that if there were no limit, she would be owed much more than that. I don't know whether the numbers are the same average every year, but if this was two years you could maybe double it and say it could be as much as $40,000. I don't know that to be the case because I don't know the hours involved in the two years that aren't covered under the claim.

Under the changes you are making under Bill 49 she can only collect for work done in the six months immediately prior to the claim she has put in. She's going to lose thousands and thousands of dollars. This is money she earned in long hours that she worked, sitting in her home sewing sleeves or pant legs over and over again, hours she put in that she's owed for that she won't be able to get.

What are her chances of hiring a lawyer to go to court? That's the alternative you've provided. Please understand that this limit you've put in has nothing to do with housekeeping, has nothing to do with efficiency. It is a licence to exploit beyond a limit of exposure and it is a ripoff of people who already have been proven to have faced violations of their rights by unsavoury employers because you have stopped them from having any effective recourse to reclaim the total amount owing to them. We have to ask what you're trying to do, because in these situations the people who are going to be the most affected obviously are going to be the most vulnerable of workers. Why would you allow that situation?

Many other provisions within the bill are very troublesome. There is a requirement, for example, that workers in unionized workplaces, the 30% of the workforce that is unionized, with a complaint with respect to a violation of an employment standards provision must proceed now, through their union, through a grievance procedure. I have no idea why the government feels that is a fair way to proceed.

Let me tell you how it works in many unionized workplaces with respect to grievances and how they proceed. The unions' money only comes from the dues they collect from members of the union, by the way. This is the workers' money to provide representation for them on a whole range of issues. When a grievance comes forward, in many local unions there is a grievance committee that will sit down and take a look at all the grievances that have been filed and make a decision on which grievances to proceed with based on a whole range of factors. Sometimes local unions or even national or international unions don't have the resources to proceed on all grievances that would be possible. Sometimes they have to come to some decisions about what to prioritize and what to proceed with.

Why should the protection of basic legal rights which are in legislation as opposed to rights that have been bargained for in a collective agreement be thrown into the mix other than to download the cost of pursuing those kinds of claims in 30% of the workplaces, download those costs on to the workers' union dues they have paid centrally into their union? That is a cynical way to achieve your cost-cutting agenda.

There's another issue, and I think this one concerns me most of all: the issue government members refer to as achieving flexibility. This is where we can take a number of issues that are currently minimum standards. They are the floor of what all workers, irrespective of union or non-union, receive around issues of vacation and hours of work and a number of other things. Now, in a unionized situation, you're saying those issues can become bargainable. In other words, the employer can put on the table takeaways from basic, legislated, minimum standards as we know them today. The language in the legislation, some sort of fancy machinations of -- but the overall package that you end up negotiating has to be at least as good as what the minimum standards are. You can have a bit more here, a bit less there, but you'll end up with at least as good as.


Who is going to be able to make that judgement? We've asked that question of the Minister of Labour. She had no answer for how you could make that assessment or who was going to be responsible. How do you dispute that judgement? What is the benefit of higher severance versus less vacation? To whom is that issue more important and how can someone else judge what an effective tradeoff is?

I'm sorry to say this, but this is a sham that you should put this forward in the language of seeking flexibility and internal responsibility, greater responsibility for the workplace parties. This is nothing less than driving down the minimum standards of protection for workplaces in this province. This is nothing less than step one towards right-to-work legislation and provisions in the province of Ontario. The member for Durham East speaks to this every time he stands up in response to a speaker in the Legislature on this issue and says, "But we have to do this because we have to be competitive with other jurisdictions."

There are a lot of ways you can be competitive, sir. You don't have to be competitive on longer working hours. You don't have to be competitive on lower wages. You don't have to be competitive on violating workers' rights. You can be competitive on having a strong, healthy, well-educated workplace that is producing good, sound products. You can be competitive by having value added production, by bringing increased technology and innovation in your workplaces. There are lots of ways of being competitive.

What this government is about with the bill and the provision in this bill that's before us, with what you've done with respect to the Labour Relations Act, with your move to cut social assistance so that the poorest of income earners, social assistance income earners, have been depressed, then you freeze the minimum wage, then you take away the measure of pay equity for the lowest-paid women workers, all of that is to force down the wage rates to create a pool of unemployed, underemployed, low-paid people who are striving to find employment opportunities, competing with each other, and you enter into the mix flexibility to be able to bargain below the minimum standards that are contained in the Employment Standards Act.

Don't try and convince this Legislature or the people of this province that this is merely housekeeping. There is a sinister agenda contained in this piece of legislation. We know that you're moving ahead quickly with it right now because you have to get your cost saving out of the Ministry of Labour. You've already given 45 employment standards officers their layoff notices and you have to reduce their workload.

Even beyond that, this agenda fits with the direction you are going, which is to completely undermine the power and/or the effectiveness of trade unions in this province, to completely undermine the minimum standards protecting working people who are not unionized, to create a class of people who are underemployed, who are unemployed, who are poorly paid, who are competing with each other for jobs, all to serve your agenda which allows corporations to make more profit -- not to be competitive, not to reinvest in the creation of employment, not to create the 725,000 jobs that you promised. We are seeing that promise evaporate on a daily basis.

None of these measures contribute to a healthy economy where working people have a sense of respect and dignity, a sense of what their rights are, a sense of a government that's prepared to protect them. None of this contributes to that. It contributes to your Common Sense Revolution, which has very little common sense as its basis. It contributes to your pals, to your buddies, to the wealthy. The rich get richer. It's an old cliché but it's true: The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. I'm very sorry to see this day having arrived in the province of Ontario.

The Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr Christopherson: I want to compliment the member for Beaches-Woodbine on her speech. She clearly has pointed out, as we are all attempting to do, to the public that not only is this not just a misrepresentation in terms of the bill being housekeeping, but indeed it fits into a broader agenda and a broader plan, a political plan by this government. The member for Beaches-Woodbine has articulated that very clearly.

I felt most strongly about her closing comments, where she put all of it in the context that this government is attempting to water down the rights of workers, water down the protection that's there, not because it believes it's going to help workers, but because it believes that's the only way we can be competitive. They see that word as being the be-all and end-all.

You know, what's ironic is that I don't think anyone in this House disagrees that we ought to be competitive. The question is, in what way do we want to be competitive? This government has decided we will be competitive at the lowest common denominator with those economies that have the least amount of protection and benefit to workers.

Instead, what we think ought to be done is a stronger enforcement of the rights that workers should have so that we can all benefit from the strong economy and the natural gifts we have from our geography and location and natural resources in the province of Ontario. It's wrongheaded to say that workers have to give up a decent standard of living, that we have to give up on our environment in order to be competitive. We can compete with any economy in the world based on value added and have decent paying jobs so that we can all benefit, not just the very few, your friends, who are the ones you represent.

Mr O'Toole: It's a privilege to respond to the comments made by the member for Beaches-Woodbine. Would that her voice had not lasted.

However, to address two points, I want to make it very clear that the collection aspect was one of the failures of the NDP system. Their decision to separate collection was devastating. The collection of those judgements that had been rendered had fallen substantially. If I may draw the member's attention to the act itself, the legislation, we're making amendments to ensure that collection will become a primary focus of these amendments or changes. I might add also that those delinquent businesses that should be punished will be addressed. The director is authorized to collect a reasonable fee, not the government paying to collect it. We're talking about collecting it; we're talking about delivering it to the workers.

I also want to look at the competitiveness question. I'm disappointed in the opposition, which doesn't have more confidence in its union leadership and in the leadership of the small business sector of Ontario. Indeed, the small business leaders and the union leaders are the ones who should be making the choices in the workplace. I draw your attention to the advantage this act will be giving. I'll read section 3 here: "A collective agreement prevails over section 58...of the act if the collective agreement confers greater rights relating to hours of work, overtime pay" -- the point is that no less than the current standards will be achieved in the collective bargaining process.

We're talking about having the workplace parties make the decision in their workplace to be competitive and to secure jobs for the people of Ontario. We're trying to give the union leadership and the management team the opportunity to work together to create jobs for Ontario.

Mrs Pupatello: I would like to comment on the discussion provided to us by the member for Beaches-Woodbine. I congratulate her because what she has pointed out in particular in her closing remarks is that this is a discussion about an issue which is very much like what the government has done since it took office last June 8.

They have managed to capitalize on what is popular and what is marketable where the public is concerned. It's very comparable to the mantra they went through the election with -- absolutely successful as a marketing strategy; a total failure when it comes to governing. A perfect parallel would be the discussion with workfare, such a sellable feature during a campaign; absolutely got you, the Conservatives, elected as a government.

What it ultimately means in terms of governing is totally unmanageable and unworkable, as many municipalities across Ontario are proving. What really does work is making opportunities available for people to get off the welfare system because they need to find real jobs, but what sells well, unfortunately, across the public, what is very populist, is just mantra, just statements.

When it comes to actually governing you'll find, as the Minister of Housing has recently found, that to say you're going to sell off the terrible public housing -- he's finding a much more difficult job of it now that he's had to actually investigate. As quoted yesterday in Toronto's Sunday Star, he's got reservations and second thoughts, simply, people not lining up at the door to buy them. How very easy it was to waltz through a campaign with the mantra, the very public, easily marketable slogans and phrases that are totally unmanageable and impractical when it comes to governing.

What I can say in relation to this bill is that it does not meet the real needs, does not offer real solutions for workers.

Mr Bisson: I want to commend the member for Beaches-Woodbine on yet again bringing to light what this government is doing with employment standards. She says it quite clearly. What the government is doing is eliminating the level playing field that exists in workplaces across the province of Ontario on behalf of workers. What employment standards does is say that every employer in Ontario, regardless of if they're unionized or non-unionized, must offer minimum standards when it comes to hours of work, statutory holidays, level of pay and a number of other issues.

What the government is doing is twofold. It is saying that it will divide how it treats workers. If you are a unionized worker you will be treated better because your union will be able to protect you under your collective agreement; if you're a non-unionized worker, well, if you've got the bucks you can go to court. I don't know a lot of low-wage earners who can afford that particular option at the rates lawyers charge in this province, and the ability to go to legal aid has been taken away by this government.

The other thing it does is it allows, as the member opposite said, for the employer to try to make the situation of competitiveness of his organization better. By doing what? By taking away the benefits of workers. The employer will go to the worker and he or she will say: "Sit down with me. I want to negotiate a lower standard with you. Rather than having overtime paid at 44 hours, as set out in the Employment Standards Act, overtime will be applied at 48 hours. Isn't that wonderful? That makes us competitive." That would allow them to be able to save the cost of their operation, but at what expense?

What you're going to do is pit worker against worker, employer against worker, and you're going to ratchet down by that premise the ability of workers to deserve the pay and the benefits they're entitled to under the act. I say shame to this government.

The Speaker: The member for Beaches-Woodbine has two minutes.

Ms Lankin: I want to thank the members for Hamilton Centre, Durham East, Windsor-Sandwich and Cochrane South for their comments with respect to my participation in this debate, and may I actually thank all my colleagues in the Legislature who facilitated a five-minute recess while I was having a bit of a coughing spell. That's why we're a couple of minutes past 6 o'clock and I truly appreciate that.

May I say to the member for Durham East in particular that in response he highlighted two issues. The first is the issue of collection. I agree with him that the backlog in collection was a significant problem, a significant issue for working people who had found themselves in a situation where their rights had been violated, and that had been proved through the employment standards process with the referee. But I say to you, your fix isn't a fix. This is an ideological response: "Gee, we have a problem in the public sector. Let's privatize it." So you're going to go to private collection agencies. What do you think will happen when those workers face a private collection agency coming and saying, "Well, gee, you know, we can't get it all from the employer; why don't you take a little less," that brokering we know will happen in terms of taking less or X number of cents on the dollar?

If you're serious about fixing this backlog and if you're serious about this not being taken away from working people, then commit to an amendment in that area that will make it impossible for that to occur, that will not have a situation where workers will be faced with harassment to take less than the full settlement owed them by this private sector collection agency.

Secondly, you talk about no less than current standards would be negotiated. Says who? It says you can negotiate less here if you negotiate a bit more there, as long as the whole balance is at least as good as, but we don't know who's going to make that decision. If it's the member for Durham East, save the workers of Ontario. Let me tell you, this is not good for workers. Let me tell you, we will be voting against this bill.

The Speaker: It being past 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.

The House adjourned at 1805.