L090 - Tue 18 Jun 1996 / Mar 18 Jun 1996
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LE MINISTÈRE DE L'AGRICULTURE, DE L'ALIMENTATION ET DES AFFAIRES RURALES
The House met at 1333.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): The Minister of Health has announced he will restore the government's contribution towards malpractice insurance for Ontario's 23,000 physicians. I hope the minister's actions are not too late.
I asked the minister: "What took you so long? Why did you make women worry? Why didn't you listen to the advice you were given?"
Last December, over six months ago, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario warned you just where your actions regarding the removal of CMPA would lead.
Last month when I raised the issue of the obstetrical crisis you had created, I suggested that you immediately reinstate malpractice payments, yet it took you until today, June 18, to make this announcement. I guess when you're a hothead and you think you know all the answers, like the Minister of Health does, it is very difficult to take advice offered and to admit you made a mistake.
Minister, your dictatorial Bill 26 scrapped negotiations between the Ministry of Health and the Ontario Medical Association, but today you say that this announcement is the first step stemming from a renewed dialogue between the ministry and the OMA.
I only hope that the minister was not too late in understanding that if you want to have a good working environment, it is better to sit down with your partners and try and negotiate rather than arbitrarily imposing what you feel is best and then being forced to recant.
I hope the minister will learn from his mistakes and stop creating crises. I only wonder if your mistake on user fees for drugs and your arbitrarily imposed cuts to hospitals will wind up being an even larger crisis.
LOVE TO READ WEEK
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): On June 7 I joined the grade 7 and 8 students at St Ann's school in my riding of Hamilton Centre to celebrate Love to Read Week, and as a team we created a top 10 list of why students in Ontario should learn to read well.
I want to advise my colleagues in the House that the students are watching today's session live in their classroom and I know you'd want to join me in welcoming them to the provincial Parliament here in Ontario.
The top 10 reasons why students in Ontario should learn to read well:
(10) For your legal and personal protection.
(9) To help you use your imagination.
(8) For entertainment and fun.
(7) To learn different things.
(6) To extend our knowledge.
(5) To know what's going on in the world.
(4) Job and life skills.
(3) To expand your vocabulary.
(2) Writing and communication.
(1) For a better education.
I want to thank the students: Melissa, Daniele, Don, Joseph, Ferdinand, Mark, Jason, Andrew, Nicholas, Anna, Stephanie, Nicole, Izabel, David, Anna, Kathy, Daniel, Cory, Amanda, Brooks, Luigi, Joseph, Kaila, Huy and Jennifer; and principal, Carolyn McCann; principal intern, Sandi Annibale; and the teacher in the classroom, Pat Codispoda.
I want to thank the students who are watching right now and the teachers for the opportunity to be with them. It was an excellent session and I know they've learned a lot by participating and appreciate the welcome that the members here have given them today.
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN
Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent): A few weeks ago it was my pleasure to attend, along with the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, the Honourable William Saunderson, the official opening of Uncle Tom's Cabin historic site in Dresden.
Rev Josiah Henson, a slave in the United States for the first 41 years of his life, escaped to Upper Canada via the Underground Railroad in 1830. With the aid of abolitionists and church groups, he was able to purchase 200 acres of land near Dresden where over the years he established a refuge for other fugitives of slavery.
Under Henson's leadership the British American Institute was established, Canada's first industrial school, dedicated to the advancement of slaves and others in the general population.
As many readers know, the life of Rev Henson provided the inspiration for the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Now operated by the St Clair Parkway Commission, the Henson home and other buildings on the site have been restored in recent years.
The restoration, complete with historic artefacts and improved facilities at the site to accommodate and educate visitors, has resulted in a significant increase in tourists at the location over the past three years.
I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage all members of this Legislature, indeed all Ontarians, to take some time this summer to visit Uncle Tom's Cabin in Dresden with their families, to see at first hand the importance of black history and culture in this province.
Mr Robert Chiarelli (Ottawa West): Members will know that Friday marks the first day of summer, the prime season for the fastest-growing leisure activity in North America, in-line skating or rollerblading.
Unfortunately, 80% of the growing number of injuries in this activity are to skaters not wearing full safety equipment.
This reality hit home with the recent tragic death of Carl Gillis, a young man of 26 years who died of massive head injuries after falling while in-line skating in Ottawa. Carl was not wearing a helmet at the time, a factor which quite probably could have saved his life. Our hearts go out to the friends and family of Carl, a respected staff member of federal cabinet minister John Manley.
It is my view we must do much more to promote proper education and provide more information to the public.
I have in my hand a video recently produced by the Canadian In-Line Skating Trade Association in cooperation with St John's Ambulance and others. Entitled Get in Line, this video includes important safety tips and promotes the use of full safety equipment and the selection of safe skating areas.
This valuable safety video should be widely circulated. I have therefore arranged to have it distributed to all members for their use, and I strongly urge the Minister of Transportation to initiate a province-wide in-line skating education program to help protect our youth.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGER
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): I must say, as an opposition MPP it has been a great concern of mine that this government makes announcements in our constituencies without notifying local members, without inviting local members to be part of those announcements. The latest announcement in Windsor where that was the case, where I was told less than 24 hours before the announcement was to be made, was by the Attorney General for the courthouse in Windsor which, in fact, is the courthouse that we had approved and was already under construction and this government put a halt to. This government put a halt to it, and now they're backing away from full funding of that courthouse.
Today it is my pleasure, because I know I won't be invited to the event on Thursday, to announce that the government will be reaffirming the announcement that our government had already made that an MRI will be funded with operating dollars in Windsor. This is a project that MPPs in the Windsor area have worked for for a long time as part of the reconfiguration announcement, and was funded by the previous government. The government's going to reannounce it on Thursday. The government will be putting $150,000 into operating costs and the local community will be raising $2 million for the capital.
I'm pleased to make this announcement today because I know the minister will be playing the typical Tory game and will not be inviting any of the local MPPs.
Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): I rise today to crush the fear of Ontarians that our great sport of hockey is picking up and moving south to warmer climates like Tampa Bay and Anaheim. In fact, hockey is alive and well in this province, especially in my riding of Grey-Owen Sound. To prove this, look no further than Durham where a new Metro Junior "A" franchise is preparing for its first season. The Durham Huskies have just been approved by the league and will start competing this fall.
Although the team may be new, the name isn't. In fact, the nickname "Huskies" is well known in local hockey circles and is a tribute to almost 70 years of hockey tradition in Durham.
The Huskies will be scouting local talent to fill this team. This should be an easy task, as the hockey talent pool runs deep in Grey and Bruce counties.
For the past seven years, the Owen Sound Platers of the Ontario Hockey League have been delighting fans with exciting hockey action. In fact, five Platers, including Kirk Maltby of the Detroit Red Wings, have moved on to careers in the NHL.
Owen Sound also has the Greys, who recently made it to the finals in midwestern Junior "B" hockey; and in Grey and Bruce counties the western Junior "C" league is booming, with seven teams competing in towns like Hanover, Mount Forest and Wiarton.
Other teams wooing fans belong to the Grey-Bruce Highlander Triple-A system, which operates across the two counties.
So I would like to congratulate the Durham Huskies for joining the proud tradition of hockey in Grey county. Skate hard and keep your stick on the ice.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): The north is angry. They are finally listening to me and the other northern Liberal caucus members. Today, over 180 mayors and reeves from all across northern Ontario have been invited to meet in Sudbury to discuss ways to deal with the Harris government's unfair treatment of the north. These leaders have been drawn together, by necessity, by Sudbury mayor Jim Gordon, a former Tory member and cabinet minister.
This government does not understand how truly different the north is and how their unfair treatment of the north is hurting all northerners.
Northern Ontario has 31% less tax assessment per household than the south.
Unemployment in the north is 18% to 20% higher than the south.
Social and family services programs are 22% more costly in the north.
Winter control costs are 23% higher.
Storm sewer costs are 46% higher.
Parks and recreation service delivery is 57% higher.
Health service costs are 57% more in the north.
The mayors and reeves of northern Ontario realize the damage the Harris government is doing to our cities and towns and are angry over the Tories "Who Does What Panel" because it has no elected northern members. Who better understands who should be doing what in the north than the elected representatives of northern Ontario?
It's time this government listened to the north. Change the composition of the "Who Does What Panel."
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I rise to comment on the decision of the Minister of Health that he would now be paying the premiums for the malpractice insurance for all physicians in the province of Ontario.
I can understand why the minister didn't make his announcement here in the Legislature because there would have been injury to ourselves as we fell off our chairs laughing at the minister. He's been told far and wide that what he should have done was waited until Chief Justice Dubin had made his report on the whole issue before he arbitrarily cancelled the government payment for those premiums. But no, no, this minister went ahead. He doesn't believe in consultation.
I've heard government members on the other side say: "We're not going to make the mistake the NDP government made of consulting with everybody before you made decisions. We know what we want. We're going to go ahead and do it."
Well, here's the Minister of Health; he arbitrarily made that decision, didn't consult with anybody, created a crisis for women in this province, entirely of his own making. He didn't consult on the appointment of members to district health councils all across the province, arbitrarily goes ahead and puts his hacks in those positions without consultation with the district health councils. He didn't consult with anybody when he made changes to the regulations on public laboratories in hospitals.
This is a good lesson, I hope, for the minister and I hope it's the last time he'll be allowed to create a crisis of his own making.
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): I rise in the House today to honour an outstanding teacher in my riding, Mr Robertson. Jim is a member of a team of educators which recently received Nortel's National Institute Award. This award is given to those who encourage interest in science and technology in Canadian schools.
Jim was instrumental in the creation of the NewsOntario project along with his counterparts from the city of London Board of Education and the Simcoe County Board of Education. Jim worked at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute while creating the project and is presently on staff at Glendale High School.
NewsOntario gives students of all ages an opportunity to produce their own newspapers and newsletters via a province-wide computer network. Through this unique project, students become news gatherers, reporters, analysts, editors, typists, layout artists and publishers of their own publications. Not only do students write articles, they post them on the network to be shared across Ontario.
Through NewsOntario students are also able to access stories written by other students to use in their own school newsletters and newspapers.
Through this unique project students from the most isolated parts of the province can get up-to-date news information from schools throughout any of their ridings.
This project is an excellent means for students to not only learn more about their own communities and schools but across Ontario.
Jim has been recognized by Nortel for his efforts to improve the educational opportunities of our children. On behalf of all the residents of Oxford and throughout the province, I would like to congratulate him and all the members of his team for their efforts.
ANNUAL REPORT, OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): I beg to inform the House that I have today laid upon the table the annual report of the Ombudsman of Ontario, 1995-96.
STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Community and Social Services): I'd like to bring forward to the House today this government's vision of the social services system of the future, one that invests in people and helps them to break the cycle of dependency on welfare.
Last week, we announced Ontario Works. Today, I'm announcing the supports that, together with our work-for-welfare program of community service, will help people receiving welfare get back to work.
The total Ontario Works package is built on a vision of people actively working towards becoming self-sufficient and full participants in the life of their communities.
There are three ways Ontario Works will help recipients get paid jobs. The first is a new approach for government that focuses on results -- positive results for people on welfare. Job agencies will be contracted to help people on welfare find jobs, but they will only be paid when they produce results. That means recipients must be placed successfully into jobs.
The second will give people receiving welfare the support they need to find a paid job on their own.
Thirdly, my ministry will restructure existing employment programs to focus energy and resources to better serve people on welfare in getting jobs.
It comes back to our belief that we have to move social assistance in this province from a handout to a hand up. With the right supports, welfare recipients can find their way to self-reliance.
I'd like now to review some of the specifics. Under Ontario Works, job agencies will be paid a deposit of $200 up front to find a job for a recipient. The deposit must be paid back if they are not able to place the person into a job. The job agency receives two more payments, one after the recipient has been working for three months and another after six months. The payment will be a percentage of the welfare savings realized. The job agency will receive a maximum of $1,200 for successfully placing a single employable person into a job.
This is truly a new way of doing business in Ontario.
This government believes in small business, and we know many people on welfare have good ideas for their own businesses that would get them off the system.
Ontario Works will refer recipients with potential business ideas to agencies that specialize in helping entrepreneurs. These agencies will be paid only if they produce results and the recipient's business becomes established.
Through Ontario Works, recipients will also have access to the tools they need to find a job in the 1990s, including computers to generate résumés, fax machines and computer job banks.
The recipients will also be given the chance to participate in job clubs and workshops on ways to find the jobs or to get information about their local labour market. They'll also be referred to available job openings and have access to training staff who will be available to offer advice on finding a job.
Some recipients may need basic education or skills training. These people will be referred to proven basic education and training programs that are already available in their communities. Basic education could include taking courses to complete high school, improve language skills or upgrade reading, writing and math skills.
Skills training must be linked to jobs available in today's labour market. We will not support training for the sake of training.
We know only too well that many employment programs just have not got the job done. Ontario Works is not only a new way of doing business, it's a better way of doing business, because it meets the needs of welfare recipients.
Ontario Works will start up this summer in 20 municipalities that make up phase 1. Building on our experience, we will announce the second phase of Ontario Works this fall, and by 1998 the program will be fully implemented across the province.
Two years ago, we made a commitment to introduce a new vision for welfare for this province. We are delivering. The steps we are taking mark the beginning of the end of the cycle of dependency and new hope for people living on welfare.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I am somewhat perplexed to hear the minister talk of this being a new way of doing business. What you've announced today is clearly the rehashing of a program that has been in place in municipalities across Ontario. I'm pleased that the minister takes great pleasure, along with the minister's and the Premier's staff, in handing out campaign literature. Maybe I want to remind the minister as well that the program he's talking about already exists throughout Ontario.
Three years ago, when I was chairman of health and social services in Hamilton-Wentworth, we, along with the Minister of Community and Social Services, Tony Silipo, had a program in Hamilton called JobLink. Do you know what that did? It was a job club. It did exactly what you are talking about today as being a new way of doing things.
What you've acknowledged today is clearly a failure of any new ideas. What you've announced today is a failure of any new way of dealing with the welfare problem in Ontario. You have taken programs that municipalities have worked on over the years, that previous governments have worked on over the years, and repackaged them.
You talk about the 10 lost years, you love to do that, but you have no problem going back to the programs that worked in those 10 lost years, reintroducing them, repackaging them, and making it look like you're doing something to help welfare recipients. What you've announced today is a joke. It is an absolute joke. You have no new way of helping welfare recipients. You just continue to beat up on welfare recipients. You continue to perpetuate the myth that they're lazy and don't want to work, and you're going to fix them.
You understand clearly from what you've announced today that the failure of this government when it comes to dealing with welfare reform is clearly the failure of this government in relation to job creation. You again fail to understand that the way you deal with the welfare problem in Ontario is by ensuring there are jobs for welfare recipients. We have job centres; we have access to fax machines right now throughout this province for people on welfare; we have access to computer job links; we have access to photocopiers. What we don't have access to is jobs, and this is where you're failing once again.
It's interesting, as we see the announcement, to talk about the bounty you're going to pay to agencies. Two weeks ago, you and your senior hacks and flunkeys denied that there was going to be a bounty, that there was going to be a headhunting fee paid. You denied that you were going to bribe agencies and the placing counsellors into placing people into employment opportunities. What do we see today? You're going to pay agencies a bribe of up to $1,200 when they place an individual into a work setting.
Two weeks ago you said we were wrong. Well, you were wrong. You were wrong when you said welfare recipients could earn back their cuts. In effect, they weren't able to until we forced you to change your legislation. You were wrong when you said seniors and the disabled were not going to have their benefits cut. Still today there are 11,000 seniors and disabled who have had their benefits cut, and continue to, because you have not moved them into a protected category.
Minister, how can you sit there and justify a headhunting fee, how can you sit there and justify an outright bribe to municipalities, to agencies, to place individuals into programs? You have not put one cent into new training dollars for agencies. You have not put one cent into incentives for the private sector to hire welfare recipients. You've done none of that. All you've talked about is giving agencies 1,200 bucks if they can place somebody and displace a paid job. Then you have talked about painting swings and park benches and pavilions, again without really understanding the real welfare problem in Ontario today.
The minister thinks it's funny. The minister laughs. The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of welfare recipients who are unemployed and want a job -- this minister thinks it's funny. Minister, maybe you can point out to us today how many jobs this is going to create. Maybe you can point out today how many new opportunities there will be for welfare recipients.
You have once again failed. You've failed miserably. You've failed welfare recipients in Ontario. What you have done today is very simply repackaged old programs. You have no new ideas. You're totally bankrupt when it comes to finding new ways of dealing with the welfare problem in Ontario. Frankly, I'm flattered that you'd go back to your bag of tricks, pull out a program that we announced three years ago along with the provincial government, and use that as your big announcement. This is disgraceful and it's a shame.
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): It's a great disappointment that the minister, who says his government had this all envisioned and has been working on this for a year, comes before the Legislature last week and then this week -- and today was supposed to be the overall solution. This was going to be the announcement that would link the philosophy of workfare with the actual workplace. And what has the minister announced today? He's announced JobLink, which was announced by our government several years ago. The Tories said it wouldn't work, couldn't work, they wouldn't support it, and that's exactly what they've put in place today.
The link between the workplace and the community and those who need assistance makes a lot of sense, but I don't know why the minister didn't have the courage to come here today and say, "It was the right thing to do. We're going to take what the previous government was doing, we're going to build on that and we're going to keep JobLink in place," instead of trying to be phoney and using all the statements that things are going to be done in a different way.
The other part of the announcement, where he says they're doing things totally differently than has ever been done before -- take a look at Jobs Ontario Training. The fact of the matter is, the payments that are being made were made in stages. The difference between what this government has announced today is that they're going to give agencies money in order to place individuals in jobs that will last maybe six months. There's no guarantee that they're lasting or permanent jobs whatsoever. There's nothing that's provided in terms of direct on-the-job training.
There are no targets that are announced today in the 20 communities. How many people are going to be placed? How many jobs are going to be created? You don't tell us that at all. How much money is going to be saved? You're talking about only reinvesting the dollars saved. How much money is going to be saved? If you're going to do things in such a different way, why don't you come forward, why don't you just level with the people of this province and tell them that this has nothing to do with the real strategy, that this has everything to do with politics and the attack on the poorest people in this province?
The fact of the matter is, if the government was serious about getting people into the workplace, they would be looking at creating jobs. Let's take a look. When this government was elected in June 1995, there were 504,000 people unemployed in the province and the unemployment rate was 8.8%. In May of this year, there are 526,000 people unemployed and the unemployment rate is 9.1%.
The fact of the matter is that the underlying significant problem is job creation. This government's doing nothing about it at all. They're instead more interested in public opinion polls and a tax on the poor because they know it will deliver votes to them. It's sad.
This minister's incompetence on this file, this minister's incompetence on the file dealing with young offenders that's being raised in this House clearly shows he's not competent enough to be a minister. He should be out of cabinet and somebody who has compassion and a strategy to help poor people in this province should be the Minister of Community and Social Services.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): What a difference a year makes on what was Mike Harris's central plank in the election, that they had all the answers around workfare, around getting people back to work. We see today a pitiful announcement from the Minister of Community and Social Services that will do nothing to decrease the number of people who depend on social assistance in this province.
We have seen the very strong position taken during the election watered down to a point where the very best the minister can do today is to come in and announce diluted versions of programs we had put in place, and not even have the decency to give us the credit for the good things we did. He waters those down even more by ensuring that all he's going to do with his six months' work program is move people off welfare and on to the unemployment insurance rolls, so he's shifting off his responsibility to the federal government.
That's not going to help people who are on welfare. That's not going to help people who need to get support. What is going to help them are the jobs you promised to create, and that you are not creating, the 725,000 jobs you promised during the election, which are not coming, and the people of this province will be the worse for it.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Mr Speaker, point of order.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The member for Sudbury on a point of order, briefly.
Mr Bartolucci: During the response to the ministerial statement, the member for Hamilton East was constantly heckled, Mr Speaker --
The Speaker: Order. There's nothing out of order. The member will --
The Speaker: Order. Sit down. I've heard the member's point of order and he doesn't have a point of order.
Mr Cooke: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: The member had the courtesy to wait till after the statements to raise what is a legitimate point of order. Every day we're now having responses to ministerial statements where you keep order for the minister's statement and you let the Tory benches go wild in our responses.
The Speaker: Time for oral question period.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services. It again concerns the coverup surrounding the beating of youths at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
On February 29, teenagers were beaten while they were in the custody of your ministry. You, Minister, did not order a police investigation until more than three months later. You've told this House the reason you moved so slowly to deal with the beatings at Elgin-Middlesex is because nobody told you what had happened. You say your deputy knew about the beatings, but didn't tell you. You say your staff knew about the beatings through phone calls from a parent, but they didn't tell you. You say the Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services knew about the beatings, but that minister now claims he wasn't told either.
So I want to again pursue the issue of who knew what. I ask you whether your acting deputy, your full-time deputy, or the Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services, any one of those, informed the secretary to cabinet, Rita Burak, about the beatings and whether Miss Burak then informed the Premier.
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I've indicated -- the Leader of the Opposition suggests we moved very slowly with respect to this matter -- I think it's been indicated by the child advocate that everything that could have been done was done with respect to a response to the incarceration of young offenders in an adult institution and the concerns she had with respect to maltreatment of those young offenders upon arrival at Elgin-Middlesex. To suggest that there was some sort of slow reaction or coverup with respect to that, I think again I can simply advise her to have a chat with the child advocate, who once again has been saying this for at least two and a half weeks now, but the opposition parties, for whatever reasons, are declining to have that conversation.
With respect to any conversations that may have occurred related to the acting deputy minister and the cabinet secretary, I'm not privy to those sorts of communications.
Mrs McLeod: Minister, the question, a very straightforward question which you rather studiously avoided, was whether or not essentially anyone with political accountability, whether you, the Minister of Community and Social Services, or indeed the Premier, was made aware of what had occurred at Elgin-Middlesex.
Last Thursday, Minister, you appeared to be quite certain when you told this House that the Minister of Community and Social Services had been briefed on the beatings at Elgin-Middlesex. The minister now says that he was simply informed on March 4 that there had been a riot at the Bluewater facility for young offenders. I find that a very strange story, Minister, because the Bluewater riot occurred on February 29.
The Minister of Community and Social Services, on March 4, was called by a deputy minister who had just been informed of the very shocking, very disturbing allegations of the beatings at Elgin-Middlesex. She called her minister to brief him on that fact and yet, in spite of the fact that clearly there was a potentially explosive situation, she chose to tell her minister only of a riot which had taken place some five days before and which everyone knew about. Surely even the minister had read about that riot in the newspaper.
Minister, last week, when you answered the question about when your colleague the Minister of Community and Social Services was informed about the beatings, it did not appear that you were simply talking off the top of your head; it didn't appear that you were making assumptions; in fact it appeared that you were reading from a very carefully prepared note, speaking on behalf of your colleague.
I ask you, Minister, on what basis did you make the statement last week that the Minister of Community and Social Services had been briefed on the beatings at Elgin-Middlesex and do you now know whether the Minister of Community and Social Services or the Premier or anyone with any political accountability was in fact told about this very shocking occurrence on March 4?
Hon Mr Runciman: Just to clarify the record with respect to a question from the member for Timiskaming, and I'll put it again on to the record -- "What I want to know is, when did the Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services talk to your deputy minister, and when did the Minister of Community and Social Services talk to you about this incident?" -- I indicated in my response that it was indicated in the letter from the child advocate that she had had a conversation with the acting deputy in my ministry and the deputy at Comsoc with respect to her concerns, and it was indicated to my office that the Minister of Community and Social Services was briefed. But I indicated in a scrum outside of the House that with respect to the details of that briefing and how extensive it was, they would again have to address those questions to the Minister of Community and Social Services.
Mrs McLeod: This story just seems more and more incredible. The acting deputy for the Solicitor General knew about the allegations of the beatings, the deputy minister in community and social services knew about the allegations of the beatings, the Minister of Community and Social Services was briefed, but the deputy minister somehow forgot to mention that the beatings had taken place and would be in the report of the child advocate. Nobody, including the minister responsible -- yourself, Minister -- the Solicitor General, the minister of corrections, was told about this shocking disturbance.
Minister, I have to tell you that your claims to ignorance seem to be following a pattern. On three very sensitive, potentially explosive issues in your ministry, you have claimed that you are not responsible because nobody told you what was happening. You say that you knew absolutely nothing about the deployment of some 200 heavily armed OPP officers at Ipperwash, which resulted in a fatal shooting, and you claim ignorance even though your staff were present at a top-level meeting the day before the buildup of force took place. You've said that you knew nothing about the OPP riot squad being called in and subsequently battering civil servants on the grounds of the Legislature, and now you say you knew nothing about the beating of teenagers at a correctional facility, a beating of young people within your custody, even though your deputy minister knew about it and even though your hand-picked staff knew about it.
Minister, in all of these sensitive issues you have claimed ignorance. Time and time again your answer to questions is, "Nobody told me." We have to wonder how it is possible for you as a senior minister of this government to be so much in the dark on these important issues. Is this going to be the pattern for the future? Is your response on every sensitive, difficult issue in your ministry going to be: "Don't blame me. Nobody told me what was happening"?
Hon Mr Runciman: I think again everyone who believes in due process should be offended by what the Leader of the Opposition has just said. She said I knew about beatings. Those are allegations and there's a police investigation under way. For two days in a row the Leader of the Opposition has found these people guilty as charged, without respect of due process.
In respect to the other suggestions that the leader is making reference to, she would be the first on her feet to condemn me and condemn this government if we in any way, shape or form involved ourselves in the operational matters of police services across this province. I think what I've said in respect to those is quite appropriate. It's a process that has been followed and has been respected by Solicitors General of various political stripes and of governments of various political stripes. It's a policy and a principle that I believe in and I would hope that members of the opposition continue to believe in.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): New question, the member for Timiskaming.
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): To the same minister, last week I asked you for the complete report of the child advocate's report on this matter. It was released to you and to the Minister of Community and Social Services. You responded, and I'd like to quote: "The Ministry of the Attorney General advised my office and me personally that it would be inappropriate, given the criminal investigation that is under way at the moment, that if we released the reports, that we may indeed jeopardize those investigations."
Yesterday, we learned that the superintendent of the Elgin-Middlesex institution released the report to the managers accused of those beatings. The child advocate has stated that she only released this report to the two ministries. The question is, Minister, how did the superintendent get that report, who gave it to him, and doesn't this release, like you have previously stated, jeopardize the police investigation?
Hon Mr Runciman: I've indicated on a number of occasions that the responses of management with respect to the receipt of the report from the child advocate are a subject of the internal investigation. When those issues were raised related to the response of managers, I indicated that I was broadening the investigation and bringing in a senior counsel from the Ministry of the Attorney General to ensure that all of those very real concerns are addressed by the internal investigation. That's part of the process.
Mr Ramsay: But Minister, this incident happened after you were informed of all of this and said you were taking charge of this, that you were not satisfied with how your officials were carrying out this and that you were taking charge. Minister, you've been grossly negligent on this and continue to be so. Day after day it's getting worse.
Minister, back to the Piper case: You wrote to the Speaker of the day of your concern about the lack of security of the records that the police wanted to investigate. I'll quote from your letter: "Surely it is reasonable and fair to expect that once it is decided and announced that the police will investigate a former employee's conduct on the job, his office would be sealed immediately to protect, to secure all possible evidence for said investigation." Those are your words, Minister.
We know on June 10 that the superintendent, George Simpson, objected to the police having access to his records. How is it that not only did you leave the institution's records unprotected, but also you did not instruct your staff to fully cooperate with the police investigation?
Hon Mr Runciman: As I've indicated in the House, I haven't changed my opinion with respect to the Piper situation or with respect to the concerns expressed related to this matter. That's why I have broadened the investigation to ensure that those kinds of allegations are looked at and thoroughly investigated. If indeed inappropriate actions were undertaken by managers, they will be appropriately addressed in due course.
Mr Ramsay: Minister, this situation is out of control. Your handling of this scandal is getting worse, not better. Your action, or lack of action, has potentially contributed to an obstruction of justice. You obviously no longer have control of what goes on in your ministry. While there is a police investigation as to the alleged beatings at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, there needs to be an inquiry as to how your ministry has handled this situation. Ultimately, the government is accountable to the people through this Legislature. Minister, I ask you today to refer this matter to a legislative committee for a complete legislative review.
Hon Mr Runciman: Again, I'll raise the issue that it's interesting that this particular member, whom I have some respect for, is raising this issue, given his own history in this ministry, the corrections side of this ministry. I quoted in the past about allegations that were raised that he was unaware of.
"I was not pleased with the history," said Ramsay. This is 1988. He immediately referred this to the Human Resources Secretariat for formal investigation. "Ramsay said he plans to issue another directive stipulating his office should be notified in writing whenever such allegations are received through the deputy minister's office."
In another column by Lorrie Goldstein: "Ramsay said he was depressed and horrified when he first learned of the allegations. `Before this,' he said, `I didn't understand how serious this is and what it can do to people.'"
The Speaker: New question, third party.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question too is to the Solicitor General. Minister, yesterday I raised here in the House the very serious issue of managers at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre who may be the subject of ongoing investigations having read the child advocate's report, a report which you have refused to release to the public because, as you have said a number of times, it may jeopardize the ongoing police investigation if details are known to potential witnesses and those under investigation.
When questioned yesterday, you refused to comment about this disturbing series of events, and today you seem to be suggesting that these are just allegations. But you, Minister, have received a letter from the lawyer who has been retained for the managers at EMDC in which he agrees and admits that those managers indeed did have access to that report and did read it. I assume you've had an opportunity to read that letter and also to read the letter signed by Mr Simpson, which clearly was sent to all the supervisory staff at Elgin-Middlesex, giving them access to the report and calling them to a meeting, presumably to discuss the ongoing crisis at EMDC.
Let's be really clear: I'm not asking you to comment on the ongoing investigation; that would not be appropriate. But surely you can tell us who authorized the release of this report to the very managers who are alleged to be the centre of this police investigation when it couldn't be released to anyone else. Did you know about that action? Did you authorize it?
Hon Mr Runciman: As I indicated in an earlier question from the official opposition, the responses of the management staff to the receipt of the child advocate's report are part of the internal investigation. We will act according to the reports that we receive related to that internal investigation. I'm not happy. I've indicated from the outset that I wasn't happy with the response of managerial staff. This is a problem that in my view has been systemic within the ministry of corrections for some period of time. We're going to address it, and we're going to address it quickly.
Mrs Boyd: Minister, that's just not good enough, and no one is going to consider it good enough. The real issue here is that by your inaction, you're essentially condoning the actions of managers in reading what they knew to be a confidential report. It is yet another example of the fact that you're not aware of what's going on in your own ministry.
You are also the Solicitor General and part of your task is to protect the integrity of police investigations. How can you possibly suggest you are behaving in a competent way, as a minister who is the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services, when you allow this kind of thing to go on in the middle of a very serious investigation?
Hon Mr Runciman: I think the government has acted in a most responsible way with respect to all the concerns brought forward by the child advocate and the concerns raised in other forums with respect to the actions of managers in response to the receipt of the child advocate's report.
Mrs Boyd: Minister, I can assure you that had anyone else, any other minister in any other government or anyone else anywhere down the line in a ministry taken the kinds of inaction you've done over this, you'd be screaming obstruction of justice, quite frankly. You would. And you did many times in your role as critic.
How many times do we have to raise the inappropriate actions of your ministry officials, and by you as the minister, before you finally admit you're just not in control of what's going on. The people of Ontario and the staff in your ministry don't have any confidence in you and you know that because we get copies of the letters they're sending you every day.
Yesterday, when questioned by the media, you said: "I think it was on the 30th. I think the Elgin-Middlesex folks received a copy of the report. I think it was delivered directly by the child advocate, but you can confirm that." In fact I did just that and I too, as my colleague from Timiskaming, have the assurance of the child advocate that only the deputy ministers in the two ministries involved received a copy of that report.
Those managers at EMDC now have had access to a confidential document and have had an opportunity to read the evidence against them before they are investigated by the police. They could establish alibis and prepare a defence as a result, and that is an obstruction of justice. These investigators cannot reach conclusions that anybody's going to have any faith in when the evidence may have been tampered with and may have been tainted prior to the investigation.
Again, how did this report make its way to the very managers who may be the subject of an ongoing investigation?
Hon Mr Runciman: I've already answered that question in response to some of the other rhetoric. I think it's quite clear that the people of this province have a great deal more confidence in the way this government is going to respond to justice issues than they had in the predecessor government.
The Speaker: New question.
Mrs Boyd: This is a new question to the same minister. Let's go back to another issue that is very similar and has very much to do with the same issue of obstruction of justice.
It's our understanding that managers at Elgin-Middlesex were directed -- were directed -- to gather ministry documents on the weekend of June 8 to prepare a report for you. It's been alleged that documents were shredded during that weekend while those managers were in the institution, and they point out quite clearly that those are allegations that haven't been proven.
By the way, it's also reported that these managers are begging to be released from that institution, to be reassigned elsewhere, and I have on numerous occasions raised with you concerns about the managers remaining at Elgin-Middlesex and have asked you to reassign them outside of the institution, not only for the good of the young people in that institution, not only for the public good in terms of an assurance that there is no further interference with the investigations, but also for their own good.
You must have known that your officials were gathering information on the allegations that young people had been beaten at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre because the information was for a report to be written for you, and in fact you told us on Monday, June 10, that you assumed that was what was going on and that you assumed those gathering that information had the authority from the ministry to do so.
We've asked you over and over again and you've refused to answer, so finally again, Minister, were you aware that managers who might be under investigation participated in this information-gathering session and did you approve it?
Hon Mr Runciman: No and no.
Mrs Boyd: It's getting worse, because you sounded quite calm and assured on June 10 that this was what they were doing. You told us, "Well, it's part of the investigation," and of course they were doing that. It's very interesting that you say you didn't know that. I understand that there are many different investigations going on into the allegations of ministry staff abusing people in the care of your ministry, but it is really a simple and direct question that we're asking you to answer: Is it your understanding, as it is ours, as it is alleged by those managers, that they were directed by the ministry to go into the institution and gather this information, and is it true that those managers objected to that exercise because they believed very strongly that it might be seen as an effort to interfere with the investigations?
Hon Mr Runciman: When the member for London Centre raised this issue some days ago, I shared her concerns with respect to the allegations. I indicated to her, and I've reaffirmed on subsequent occasions, that this is going to be very much a part of the investigation with respect to how managerial staff responded to the receipt of the child advocate's report. I take those allegations very seriously. Indeed, I'm not going to speculate on who directed whom in respect to these kinds of situations and what happened. This is part of an internal investigation, and I'm sure a former Attorney General will respect that investigation.
Mrs Boyd: As a former Attorney General and a minister in other ministries, I know very clearly how important it is to secure the evidence when there are serious allegations. I can give you example after example where that was the first concern and ought to be the first concern of a minister when informed of a critical incident.
You were informed on June 5, according to your information -- which frankly becomes increasingly more difficult to believe -- of all this sort of thing, and on June 8 and into June 9 those managers were there. They agree they were there. They say they were there at the direction of the ministry and they say they objected to being there because they felt it was inappropriate for them to be there, and they were still ordered to do it.
You cannot escape some responsibility for this. While you claim the cloak of ignorance, perhaps we can believe you didn't know, but you knew and you admitted you knew by June 5. Why on earth, as Solicitor General if not as Minister of Correctional Services, didn't you insist that steps be taken to protect and secure the evidence, or the possible evidence, and certainly the records in a very serious incident? It's beyond my belief that you did not know that those people were being directed to collect that information, but if you say you didn't know that, surely you admit you should have known that. You should have been on top of this, you should have been securing those records and you should have been ensuring that there was no possibility that people would suspect an obstruction of justice. You are responsible, and you can't keep trying to avoid that. Will you do the honourable thing and resign?
Hon Mr Runciman: No.
Mr Joseph Cordiano (Lawrence): I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. It concerns a constituent of mine, Mr Jim Wade, a civil servant who was just terminated by the Ministry of Housing. Mr Wade has cerebral palsy. He had worked for the people of this province for the past 22 years. He had been supporting his wife and a granddaughter.
Twenty-two years ago, an enlightened minister of the then Progressive Conservative government of Bill Davis, the Minister of Social and Family Services, Mr Tom Wells, had the common sense to sponsor a vocational rehabilitation program that gave Mr Wade the opportunity to live and work in this great province. Why have you and your government terminated Mr Jim Wade and robbed him and his family of their future?
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Community and Social Services): I believe I'm correct in hearing -- it was hard to hear; my apologies, I just couldn't hear, but I think you said that this particular gentleman was working for the Ministry of Health, did you not?
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Are you answering the question or referring the question?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: No, no. I didn't hear, Mr Speaker. If I could have the member repeat the question, because I really did not hear that part.
Mr Cordiano: I can't believe this. Do you want me to repeat the question, Mr Speaker? Okay.
I have a question for the Minister of Community and Social Services. If you would listen, it concerns a constituent of mine, Mr Jim Wade, a civil servant who has been terminated by the Ministry of Housing. Mr Wade has cerebral palsy. He had been working for the people of this province for the past 22 years. He has been supporting his wife and a granddaughter.
As I pointed out, 22 years ago an enlightened minister of the then Progressive Conservative government of Bill Davis, the Minister of Social and Family Services, Mr Tom Wells, had the common sense at that time to support a vocational rehabilitation program that gave Mr Wade the opportunity to live and work in this great province. I asked the minister why he and his government have terminated Mr Wade and robbed him and his family of their future. It's a simple question.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I suppose the part of that question that applies is the vocational rehabilitation program, because that gave this gentleman his start. We have not made any adjustments to that particular program. We are working right now with the disabled community to give them more opportunities to assist them to get to work.
Mr Cordiano: It is clear that the true and ugly face of the revolution has now been revealed, a revolution which has become a war against the underprivileged and the vulnerable of this province. Mr Wade and thousands of other disabled people across this province have become the victims of your war. What the former Premier Bill Davis gave Mr Wade -- the opportunity to work and the dignity that goes with a job -- Mike Harris is now stripping away.
Mr Wade is desperate to work, but you and your government have refused to hear his plea, and now Mr Wade and his family are being forced on to welfare. Where's the common sense in this? Clearly this government is engaged in what can only be described as an effort at downsizing.
When are you going to show the people and your colleagues that you're not some sort of incompetent pushover of a minister, that you will stand up and clearly --
The Speaker: The question has been asked.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will consider the source.
We have a number of programs right now to assist disabled people to get back to work.
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: It has nothing to do with workfare, because workfare does not require people with disabilities to participate in the program.
Once again, we are working with the disabled community to provide them with a better range of employment programs to assist them back to employment. That's what I suggest, that we not only have the same programs, that we're looking at how to improve them and provide better programs for the disabled because they're demanding them right now.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is for the Solicitor General and the Minister of Correctional Services. We understand that the superintendent of Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, George Simpson, was reassigned on June 13 by letter by the deputy minister of your ministry. Can you tell us whether reasons were given to Mr Simpson for this reassignment and what they were?
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I indicated yesterday that this is a delicate situation and I am not at liberty to discuss the details surrounding the reassignment of Mr Simpson.
Mrs Boyd: There are a number of suggestions as to why that might have happened. We're led to believe that Mr Simpson was reassigned because of comments he made regarding the alleged shredding of documents at the Elgin-Middlesex centre. On the other hand, we also understand that Mr Simpson objected to the procedures that were going on in your ministry around this investigation on the grounds that those procedures were damaging to the whole process and were in fact possibly damaging to the integrity of those investigations.
So it's rather important to know exactly why someone who was objecting to the very processes that frankly all of us are objecting to might have been reassigned, and whether there was another reason why he was reassigned or whether he was simply reassigned because he was objecting to the processes that appeared to be obstructing justice in your ministry.
Hon Mr Runciman: I can indicate clearly to the member that the reassignment had nothing to do with any objections Mr Simpson may or may not have had with respect to the other processes.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): The Minister of Housing has an answer to a previously asked question.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I rise in the House today to respond to a question put to me on June 11 by the member for Cochrane South. I told the member I would look into the details of a situation whereby a manager in the housing ministry recommended that non-profit housing groups use the services of a particular private sector firm.
I'd like to advise the member that this issue has been investigated and appropriate action has been taken and we agree that it is totally inappropriate for ministry staff to recommend suppliers of goods or services to any non-profit housing group.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Supplementary, the member for Cochrane South.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): No supplementary, Speaker.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): My question is to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Minister, in Bill 46 you've gutted the Farm Products Grades and Sales Act, you've cut produce inspectors by 80%. In the agricultural magazine the Grower you say that these changes were the result of your table talks and you go on to say that the bill reflects the input of the agrifood industry. Later in the same article, the executive secretary of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association says that they are concerned "that the government didn't listen to the horticultural sector, which identified integrated pest management, advisory services and inspection as core business activities for OMAFRA." He goes on to say that the association told your ministry in February "that inspection services preserve orderly marketing, instil consumer confidence, prevent mislabelling of product and protect buyers and sellers from fraudulent activity."
Mr Minister, if the association representing the fruit and vegetable growers, who are most directly affected by this legislation, do not agree with it, tell me, whose input does this bill really reflect?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I want to thank the honourable member for allowing me the opportunity to set the record straight and indeed that food and safety in this province is not being compromised. Let me be perfectly clear: The government in no way has reduced its commitment to food safety. The role these inspectors have played was never one that was dealing with health and safety. The provincial Ministry of Health and the federal Department of Health have inspectors out there. What these inspectors were doing was taking random samples to establish any pesticide residues in order to advise farmers as to what pesticides they should be using and indeed what amount of pesticide they should be using. It may have had some influence, but it was primarily the reason to advise farmers as to what materials they should be using when spraying.
Mr Hoy: Back home we don't turn on the manure spreader until we leave the building.
I'd like to point out that produce inspection not only protects the public from possible harm, but it protects the producers from fraud and hysteria. These inspections give the consumer the confidence that the produce they are purchasing is safe. When these safeguards are not there, the people who are hurt are the farmers themselves.
Mr Minister, how can you tell the consumers and the producers of this province that the government is no longer interested in ensuring consumer confidence in an industry for which this is so crucial a component?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I will reiterate that indeed the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was taking random samples to establish the grading and the quality of the products used. When the member mentions about a manure spreader, the verbal effluent coming from over there would fill those manure spreaders.
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): I have a question to the Minister of Community and Social Services. We already know from your ministry's 1995 study that 95% of all employable social assistance recipients were involved in either working full- or part-time, going to school, taking job training, doing volunteer work or searching for work. Even 41% of single parents were searching for jobs while 15% report they were also doing voluntary work.
Last month in Ontario there were more than half a million unemployed people actively looking for work. Right now, the Ministry of Education and Training is out briefing school boards about new requirements that grade 11 and 12 students will spend 20% to 40% of their time with work experience. We won't even mention community service work being done for inmates of correctional services.
I'd like to ask the minister a very simple question. Of the 54,000 social assistance recipients who are participating in the 20 workfare pilots, how many of these people will be placed by the end of this year and how much money are you going to save in welfare?
Hon David H. Tsubouchi (Minister of Community and Social Services): There are a number of people who were actually participating in a number of activities prior to this year, and of course the member knows that job search is mandatory under his government's policies as well. So I would assume that because it was mandatory to job-search, that they were job-searching and I hope it was a higher percentage than that.
But certainly we hope to have as many people from the 54,000 cases to work as possible, but it also depends a lot on the business plans. We're working with the various communities right now. That's part of what they're coming forward with, to indicate what the particular community placement programs are going to be and what the employment and training programs are going to be as well. That's part of the business plans. That's because we're working with the communities. We're looking for community solutions and that's what's quite different about this program.
Mr Cooke: We know that when the minister goes to treasury board, he has to come up with numbers that say how much he is going to be paying for programs, how many people are going to be on social assistance, what he has budgeted for. So all of this garbage today that he doesn't know anything, he's been studying this for a year, he can't tell us how many of the 54,000 people are going to be placed, how much money's going to be spent on training and how much money's going to be saved is nonsense. What have you budgeted for? How many dollars are going to be saved and how many people are going to be placed?
Hon Mr Tsubouchi: I think we'd be willing to match track records of this government to yours any time in terms of welfare reforms.
We've indicated clearly that we're looking at a program that's going to cost about $450 million over the three-year period, and this money is money we're getting from savings that we've gotten already from social assistance and redirection of the training dollars.
Clearly we have a mandated program here, and the program we're talking about today with the training programs are accountable programs that really are tied to success that in the event that people are successful in placing people back to work, they will get paid. In the event they're unsuccessful, they don't get paid. That's the big difference.
Clearly we've set out what the costs are. We are doing community planning, and the bulk of this does depend on the programs and resources and what the community demands.
WINE INDUSTRY STANDARDS
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): My question is to the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. There was a report last night on the TV news that indicated that Health Canada, the federal ministry that regulates food and drugs, is proposing to change the Food and Drugs Act regulations to raise the acceptable levels of pesticides allowed in wines. Minister, could you please inform the House of your ministry's position on these proposed changes as they affect wine consumers in Ontario?
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): I know the member for St Catharines-Brock, representing a good part of the wine country of Ontario, is extremely concerned about these kinds of issues. I'm pleased to inform the House that we've been following closely the developments in this area and the LCBO currently conducts tests on all products sold through the LCBO stores.
We are quite concerned about the proposed changes in the federal regulations as to new levels, whether or not they are appropriate. As a matter of fact, in one instance the proposed increase would allow 100 times more pesticides than are presently acceptable in wine products sold in Ontario. However, under our particular act the LCBO has the authority to maintain stricter standards than those required by the federal regulators. Consequently, the province can set and maintain its own standards regarding allowable levels of these substances, and we intend to continue to do so.
Mr Froese: Minister, I understand the motivation behind these federal changes to the Food and Drugs Act is related to trade issues relating to GATT and NAFTA agreements. Doesn't this mean that Ontario will in turn be pressured to raise acceptable levels of pesticide residues in wine sold in this province?
Hon Mr Sterling: The primary concern of my ministry and the LCBO is that we provide products to wine consumers in Ontario that are safe and do not pose any health risk to the people in the long term. We feel it is better to proceed cautiously in these kinds of matters rather than jump out and allow these excessive increases in pesticides which would be in the wines we are serving the people.
The LCBO has found, not surprisingly, that wine is consumed much more frequently and in greater quantities than grapes and therefore the LCBO feels that the residue levels should be much stricter in dealing with this product.
Finally, I'm pleased to inform many members of the public and the House that the LCBO has stricter standards than the federal Food and Drugs Act in many, many areas, and therefore we don't feel this is a departure from that policy.
VIDEO LOTTERY TERMINALS
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I have a question for the same minister, the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. This is concerning the act entitled the Alcohol, Gaming and Charity Funding Public Interest Act, which, as in so many of the acts coming from this government, doesn't mean what it says. But I would like to give this minister an opportunity to tell us about the slot machine proliferation plan for this province.
The Minister of Finance, in this minister's absence, talked about the amount of revenue being incidental to the needs of the deficit, and Mr Eves also referred on May 15 to the introduction of slot machines as going in only controlled environments, into racetracks and into charity sites. Yet on June 13 he's talking about any room that is not accessible to minors, and it seems like an escalation only in that one month, perhaps after the minister has done his calculations on his budget requirements.
As the minister responsible, could you tell this House and the public the real scope of slot machine activity, what you call VLTs, that you're planning for this province? What number of machines, what kind of revenue and how much increased gambling activity have you planned for this province under this act?
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): This legislation was introduced to meet an existing problem where we had some 15,000 to 25,000 illegal machines. We are trying to develop the introduction of these machines to fight those illegal machines in a most measured and controlled manner, and I think we've outlined that in our policy by introducing them into very controlled atmospheres first. We will learn from that and then proceed on to the next step if those first experiments prove successful.
Mr Kennedy: It's very evident that the minister is planning to fight this problem in every neighbourhood in the province, because that's what it's going to take, to have bars in every neighbourhood in this province, with slot machines, to meet some of the revenue projections this government is making: your statement to the Toronto Sun that there would be 20,000 machines in this province, and an average yield, based on the machines in Manitoba, suggests over $400 million; the other statements of your ministry that all we're assured of is that the lowest per capita incidence of machines means we could have 40,000 machines in this province.
I refer you also to the budget document of the Minister of Finance that $180 million will be going to charities in their 10% share. That suggests $1.8 billion.
When we're talking about neighbourhood bars, the prospect of combining, for the first time in this province, alcohol and gaming side by each, this is already in your bill. People in the province need to know this, that this discussion of controlled environments means people who are drinking using these machines and spending the family groceries. Again I ask you to come clean and tell us exactly how many machines you have planned, at what rate, and what will happen in this province in terms of bringing gambling to every neighbourhood bar?
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): Do you know the answer, Norm?
Hon Mr Sterling: In fact, I don't know the answer to that question because the approach this government is taking is that we will only introduce these machines in a controlled atmosphere where they can be controlled, where we can ensure they are not being introduced and being played by minors. The fact of the matter is that's the approach we should take. We will say this: We will have fewer of these machines than the eight other provinces in Canada which legally have them, per capita, and therefore we will have fewer machines in our province than eight of the 10 provinces of Canada.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to follow up on the question that was asked earlier. The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has laid off 80% of the province's agricultural inspectors who used to check for pesticide residue on our fruits and vegetables.
At a time when people are worried about health and food quality because of recent problems with American strawberries, at a time when Europe is confronting huge problems with respect to food quality because of issues like mad cow disease, as the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, how do you justify, first of all, putting the markets of fruit and vegetable growers at risk, and secondly, putting a lot of doubt in the public's mind about the quality of food that's being produced?
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I want to reiterate to the honourable member, and indeed to all members of this Legislature, that what the inspectors did was simply verify that the grades and standards of the produce were indeed what they were advertised as. They did some random sampling, and between 96% and 98% of the samples had well within the tolerable residues of pesticides and herbicides. The role of these inspectors was never one of dealing with consumer health and safety. The Ministry of Health and Health Canada are involved in those.
I want to make it perfectly clear that the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was doing some random sampling, and it will continue to do that, with fewer people but they will continue to do that, to advise farmers as to the use of pesticides and the volumes. That was their responsibility.
Mr Hampton: I believe what we got from the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is that since they've laid off 80% of the fruit and vegetable inspectors, the province is less concerned about food quality and the province is less concerned about pesticide residue. That's what we just got from the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
The minister told the press, "Any individuals who feel that there may be a problem are welcome to send their samples in for testing." Is this the new regime in Ontario? Is this the new regime, that people who get food they don't think is up to quality, who get food they feel may have higher pesticide residues than is appropriate, that it's now their responsibility to send it in? Is the minister saying his ministry no longer has any responsibility for food quality or for ensuring that pesticide residues are kept within the limits? Is that what you're saying?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: The honourable member does have some difficulty. When he uses California strawberries and mad cow disease, he is fearmongering. He is fanning the flames of mistrust. He is telling the consumers of Ontario, "Don't trust our food producers." We still have inspectors. They will still be monitoring and they will still be looking at the residues. The fanning of the flames of fearmongering, coming from these people, is simply saying that they do not trust the food producers of Ontario. The food producers of Ontario have a record I am proud to support.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): New question.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): My question is to the same minister, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Like my colleagues opposite, I think there's a concern across the province, particularly over the weekend when it was reported in the Globe and Mail with respect to the quality of pesticides used in California produce. This points to the need for some national leadership in this area. I wonder if the minister could tell the House the status of the 1995 federal budget. The federal Liberal government in Ottawa promised to move forward with a national food inspection agency to deal with all those involved in the production of food and the import and export of food.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: The strawberry problem is very much that of American strawberries coming into Ontario. Ontario strawberries are not on the market yet or are just now starting to come on the market. I can assure my colleagues that Ontario berries are very safe to eat, and yes, I will be going next week --
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I want to hear this out of the other side of the mouth.
The Speaker: Order.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I'm simply trying to reassure the consuming public in Ontario that Ontario strawberries are very safe.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): You fired all the inspectors. How do you know?
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): How do you know?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: How do I know? Quite obviously the doubting Thomases over there want to fearmonger. How do I know? Simply, the American berries are inspected federally. Yes, they did come in with a problem, and that has been made public. If you're going to consume American berries, make sure they're very well washed. There is no problem with Ontario strawberries.
Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The minister has publicly stated that this ministry intends to sell off more than 64,000 public housing units. Very simply, I was wondering if the minister would update us on the progress of the sale and if the minister has encountered any problems in his dealings.
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): Actually it's 84,000 homes, not 64,000. Obviously, as the members can realize, it's an extremely complex situation. The federal government has advised us that it wants to get out of its housing program and it wants the province to take responsibility for the federal program. We want to take a look and see what effect that has on our plans. The staff are working on it now. There are certain units that would be easier to put on the market and give the current tenants the opportunity to buy. We're looking at that. We'll be bringing a more in-depth program forward in the fall.
Mr Sergio: I appreciate the answer by the minister. However, I have to say that it's quite typical of a Conservative answer -- without any factual data. I would like the minister to give some specific information, if it's possible. Is it not true that most of the units are built on municipally owned lands which are leased to the province at very low rates? Secondly, is it not true that many of the buildings were jointly funded by the federal government, which makes it an equal owner of the property?
It appears that the minister wasn't made aware of the situation until only recently. We on this side of the House would like to know when you were made aware of this. Secondly, I wonder if you would provide me with the details of the number of units involved, specifically the number of provincial units on municipally owned lands and the number of joint ventures between the federal and provincial governments. I would appreciate that information.
Hon Mr Leach: That's very public information. I'd be glad to provide the member with that information. There are three or four categories. There is some public housing that is owned and operated jointly by the municipalities, the federal government and the provincial government. There are other projects that are operated just by the federal government and the provincial government, and others that are operated just by the provincial government and the municipal governments. There are also some that are operated solely by the provincial government.
The ones that we have control over we'll be dealing with in a certain way. On others we obviously have to negotiate with our partners in the project. We're doing that. We have ongoing negotiations with them. The numbers of the various categories are public, and I'm surprised that the member would have to ask for them. They've been public for years.
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I have a brief question to the Minister of Health. It was with some amazement that I read his press release today announcing that he's going to pay the malpractice insurance for not just the obstetricians of the province but all doctors in the province. What astounded me was the opening paragraph in his press release, where he said, "Having succeeded in forcing a full review of the Canadian Medical Protective Association, Health Minister Jim Wilson today restored the government malpractice insurance...."
I would remind the minister that this review was announced on May 2, so I'm not sure what he's saying he forced anybody to do. It takes me back to the days of Larry Grossman when he had a deal with the doctors. He was accused of wrestling the doctors to the ceiling. This minister has set a new standard: He's wrestled them through the ceiling, into the attic and up on the roof, because not only has he given them a raise -- I'm now speaking of the obstetricians -- he's now picking up the malpractice insurance as well.
When is the minister going to learn from his mistakes of not consulting with anybody before he makes a decision, whether it's the doctors, the district health councils or the public labs in this province? He thinks that because of Bill 26 he can just go ahead and do everything he wants arbitrarily because he now has the powers. When is he going to stop creating these crises because he doesn't consult before he makes these important decisions?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): The honourable member knows full well that I spend all of my time -- I don't have a family; I don't have time to see anyone else -- talking to doctors and health care providers, literally, although I'm happy to announce that I'm working on the family thing as we speak.
The fact of the matter is that there are few facts here that we have to put on the record, and that is that I spent five months consulting with physicians when I first became minister. In this House we said many times, and I wrote a letter to all the doctors in the province saying: "Look, there's a $1-billion reserve there. It would be irresponsible for this government to pay a 20% increase, $48 million into a fund that has no accountability mechanisms whatsoever." We asked for those accountability mechanisms.
Dr Stuart Lee, the secretary-treasurer of the CMPA, would not return our calls for five months. A funny thing happens, though, when you pull the money. All of a sudden everybody gets worried about the same things the government is worried about on behalf of the taxpayers of the province. So we went through that, and now the CMPA has agreed that Justice Dubin will do a full arm's-length investigation of the whole malpractice fund.
Secondly, the honourable member forgets to read the last paragraph -- very, very important: finally, an indication from the government and the OMA that after having gone through this over the past few weeks and months, we are going to work together in a new era of cooperation. The OMA walked out on you in February 1995. We have them back at the table and we're working together to improve the health care system in this province.
Mr Laughren: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of privilege. It perhaps could be construed by some as an apology to the Minister of Health, because I think perhaps over the last month or so I have not really understood why it was he created the crisis with the obstetricians. Now I understand.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: Yesterday in the House the Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, said in response to a question, "What I saw while I was at home not very well, perhaps having eaten strawberries at the wrong time...." Mr Speaker, he did not say US strawberries. There is no problem with strawberries in Canada, and if anybody's fearmongering, it's the Premier of Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. Oral question period has expired. Motions. The member for Oriole.
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I'd like some clarification from the Minister of Health, who I believe made a ministerial statement instead of answering the question, that he has now recognized --
The Speaker: Order. The member take her seat. You can ask that question tomorrow. You'll get a clarification, I'm sure.
FAMILY SUPPORT OFFICES
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the centralization of the family support plan in Toronto will result in the closure of the Sudbury family support plan offices and a loss of 40 jobs to the regional municipality of Sudbury's economy; and
"Whereas access to the service of the family support plan will be more restricted for many social assistance clients with the introduction of a 1-900 telephone line; and
"Whereas the offices in Ottawa, Windsor, London, Whitby, Thunder Bay and Hamilton will be closed, resulting in a transfer in excess of 100 jobs and the permanent elimination of 78 employees; and
"Whereas the family support plan collected $416 million in support payments in 1995, of which $50 million was returned to the Treasurer of Ontario, and the annual operating costs of the family support plan are approximately $23 million; and
"Whereas legislation and regulation can be introduced to make the program more cost-effective, such as the proposals included in the Sudbury support plan document;
"Therefore be it resolved that the Attorney General of Ontario be requested to review the business plan to centralize the family support plan in Toronto; and further, that we petition the Legislature of Ontario to cancel the centralization plan."
I affix my name as I agree with this petition.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I rise today to present a petition that was collected primarily by my constituent Genesio Paccioco in Sault Ste Marie, and it says this:
"Whereas the Progressive Conservatives are attacking the working poor by freezing the minimum wage; and
"Whereas this will bring hardship to the working poor and their families; and
"Whereas the Progressive Conservatives make no mention in their Common Sense Revolution about this; thus this government has no mandate to freeze the minimum wage,
"Therefore we, the undersigned, request that the Premier and the Minister of Labour repeal the freeze and increase the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour. If this is not acted upon in a reasonable time, the Premier and the Minister of Labour should resign from their positions and call an election."
This is signed by a number of people from the Sault, not least among them Tony Zimbarro, who also helped in collecting it from 43 Henrietta Street. Also, if anybody wanted to speak to Genesio about this, he's in the visitors' gallery today and will be in my office, 325-4014, afterwards. I present this to you and sign my own name to it.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I'm presenting this petition on behalf of the member for Simcoe West. It is addressed to the assembly of Ontario and reads:
"The undersigned wish to see a revision of the judicial system, which we do not think reflects the rights of the victim in dispensing justice.
"(1) We request that the criminal receive sentencing which adequately reflects the nature of the crime in cases of sexual assault. We have enclosed examples of sentencing which insult the intelligence and integrity of the victim and further violate the victim who has had the courage to go to court.
"(2) We request that reliable statistics in comparable sentencing be made part of the judicial process across Canada. In other words, sentencing of criminals is not made at the discretion or on an ad hoc basis by the presiding judge.
"(3) We request that the judicial process be made as simple and as straightforward as possible, without delays and, especially where children will be required to testify, that they have adequate support and that the use of videotape testimony be allowed as evidence. Crime victims are not on trial and are victimized until proven otherwise.
"(4) We request that the media be allowed to publish the names of known sexual offenders as long as the victims sign an informed consent release which would not allow them to sue the media for damages.
"(5) We request that the victims of sexual assault receive automatic compensation from the criminal or, failing that, the victim compensation fund, so that the victim is spared the indignity of having to file a civil lawsuit for compensation for pain and suffering.
"(6) We request that the victim be present during any appeal process when the victim feels that the offender's sentence was unjust or inadequate."
There are more than 100 signatures attached hereto, and I put my signature to it.
LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The petition reads as follows:
"To the government of Ontario:
"Whereas the government of Ontario appears to be moving towards the privatization of retail liquor and spirits sales in the province; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a safe, secure and controlled way of retailing alcoholic beverages; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides the best method of restricting the sale of liquor to minors in Ontario; and
"Whereas the LCBO has an excellent program of quality control of the products sold in its stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO provides a wide selection of product to its customers in modern, convenient stores; and
"Whereas the LCBO has moved forward with the times, sensitive to the needs of its customers and its clients; and
"Whereas the LCBO is an important instrument for the promotion and sale of Ontario wine and thereby contributes immensely to the grape-growing and wine-producing industry;
"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario abandon its plan to turn over the sale of liquor and spirits over to private liquor stores and retain the LCBO for this purpose."
I present this petition from Ashley Snell of St Catharines who attends Dalewood public school in the north end of St Catharines.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have further petitions to add to the thousands I've already presented from workers concerned about this government's attack on workplace health and safety. This is from the United Steelworkers of America, Local 7135, in my home town of Hamilton.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas it is vital that occupational health and safety services provided to workers be conducted by organizations in which workers have faith; and
"Whereas the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers have provided such services on behalf of workers for many years; and
"Whereas the centre and clinics have made a significant contribution to improvements in workplace health and safety and the reduction of injuries, illnesses and death caused by work;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to oppose any attempt to erode the structure, services or funding of the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers.
"Further we, the undersigned, demand that education and training of Ontario workers continue in its present form through the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and that professional and technical expertise and advice continue to be provided through the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers."
I affix my signature in support.
Mr Ed Doyle (Wentworth East): This petition reads:
"We, the undersigned tenants of Stoney Creek Non-Profit Housing Corp, a community of seniors, families and single persons, including those with special needs, are concerned that:
"(1) Our homes will be lost because of the government's cuts to non-profit housing projects which will undermine their financial viability; and
"(2) Low-income families and the most vulnerable in our communities will suffer devastating hardship because of cuts to the number of needy people receiving rent-geared-to-income assistance, and the increased rents for those currently receiving such assistance.
"We call upon you to stop these government actions that seriously jeopardize our futures and the ongoing viability of our non-profit housing communities."
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I have a petition to the Legislature of Ontario.
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to reject the Harris government's proposals to attack injured workers of Ontario.
"We, the people of Ontario, did not intend to vote against our neighbours. We want to build a better community. Injured workers are a part of the community.
"We say no to the Harris plans to cut injured workers' benefits; cut injured workers' pensions and future economic loss (FEL) payments; introduce a waiting period for benefits after injury; refuse compensation for disabilities like repetitive strains and occupational diseases; shift the responsibility from the WCB and employer to the taxpayer; and privatize the WCB at the expense of the injured worker and the public.
"We call on the Harris government to solve the WCB's problems without attacking injured workers.
"The government must put an emphasis on a safer workplace and stop rewarding employers who ignore work hazards; give injured workers the right to rehabilitate and return to meaningful work; give all workers the protection of workers' compensation, especially at the banks, which must finally start paying their fair share; and hold employers accountable for evading their WCB obligations.
"Give workers and injured workers at least an equal say in the system."
I've signed the petition.
SERVICES DE SANTÉ ET DE SÉCURITÉ AU TRAVAIL
M. Tony Silipo (Dovercourt) : J'ai une pétition qui s'adresse à l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario.
"Attendu qu'il est crucial que les services de santé et de sécurité au travail à l'intention des travailleuses et des travailleurs soient fournis par des organismes auxquels les travailleuses et les travailleurs font confiance ;
"Attendu que les Centres de santé et de sécurité des travailleuses et des travailleurs, CSST, et les Centres de santé des travailleurs de l'Ontario, CSTO, assurent ces services de façon fort efficace depuis plusieurs années ;
"Attendu que le CSST et le CSTO ont fait une contribution importante aux améliorations en matière de santé et de sécurité au travail et à la réduction des blessures, des maladies et des décès liés au travail ;
"Nous, soussignés, soumettons la présente pétition à l'Assemblée législative de l'Ontario et l'engageons à rejeter toute initiative visant à affaiblir la structure, les services ou le financement des Centres de santé et de sécurité des travailleuses et des travailleurs ou des Centres de santé des travailleurs de l'Ontario ;
"En outre nous, soussignés, exigeons que des services d'éducation et de formation des travailleuses et des travailleurs de l'Ontario continuent à être offerts sous leur forme actuelle par les Centres de santé et de sécurité des travailleuses et des travailleurs et que des conseils professionnels et techniques continuent à être offerts par les Centres de santé des travailleurs de l'Ontario."
Cette pétition nous parvient de beaucoup de citoyens de Hearst, Mattice et Kapuskasing et je l'appuie. J'y ajoute ma signature.
DRINKING AND DRIVING
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I have yet another petition signed by residents from all over my constituency of Nepean, some 40 in this one.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas drinking and driving is the largest criminal cause of death and injury in Canada;
"Whereas every 45 minutes in Ontario a driver is involved in an alcohol-related crash;
"Whereas most alcohol-related accidents are caused by repeat offenders;
"Whereas lengthy licence suspensions for impaired driving have been shown to greatly reduce repeat offences;
"Whereas the victims of impaired drivers often pay with their lives while only 22% of convicted impaired drivers go to jail, and even then only for an average of 21 days;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We urge the provincial government to pass legislation that will strengthen measures against impaired drivers in Ontario."
I have affixed my own signature thereto.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I have a petition signed by hundreds of people to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which reads:
"Whereas the government of Ontario has embarked on a program to reduce the expenditures for education in the province,
"We, the undersigned, wish to state:
That we are opposed to the reductions in funding for schools across the province;
"That we believe that these reductions will affect classrooms across the province;
"That educational spending is a most important investment in the future of all the citizens of the province and needs to be redressed."
I submit this petition, which would include my signature as well.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): I have a petition here that's signed by hundreds of workers, submitted to me by OPEIU, Local 166, in Kapuskasing and also from the IWA, Local 1-2995, in Kapuskasing. It's addressed to the Legislative Assembly.
"Whereas it is vital that occupational health and safety services provided to workers be conducted by organizations in which workers have faith;
"Whereas the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers have provided such services on behalf of the workers for many years;
"Whereas the centre and clinics have made a significant contribution to improvements in workplace health and safety and the reduction of injuries, illnesses and deaths caused by work;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to oppose any attempt to erode the structure, services or funding of the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers.
"Further, we, the undersigned, demand that the education and training of Ontario workers continue in its present form through the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and that its professional and technical expertise and advice continue to be provided through the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers."
I affix my signature to the petition.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition on behalf of the member for Simcoe East. In accordance with the standing orders, I'll summarize it. This petition relates to the interaction of the freedom of information and privacy act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's signed by one constituent in the riding of Simcoe East.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I have a petition that reads:
"To the Parliament of Ontario:
"Whereas bears are hunted in the spring, after they have come out of hibernation; and
"Whereas about 30% of the bears killed in the spring are female, some with cubs; and
"Whereas 70% of the orphaned cubs do not survive the first year; and
"Whereas 95.3% of the bears killed by non-resident hunters and 54% killed by resident hunters are killed over bait; and
"Whereas Ontario still allows the limited use of dogs in bear hunting; and
"Whereas bears are the only large mammals hunted in the spring; and
"Whereas bears are the only mammals that are hunted over bait; and
"Whereas there are only six states in the United States which still allow a spring hunt,
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario to amend the Game and Fish Act to prohibit the hunting of bears in the spring and to prohibit the use of baiting and dogs in all bear-hunting activities."
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
DELZAP CONSTRUCTION LIMITED ACT, 1996
Mr Murdoch, on behalf of Mr Stockwell, moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr62, An Act to revive Delzap Construction Ltd.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA TRUST COMPANY ACT, 1996
Ms Bassett moved first reading of the following bill:
Bill Pr63, An Act respecting the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company, Montreal Trust Company of Canada and Montreal Trust Company.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
We have two deferred votes. By unanimous consent, there will be a five-minute bell. Call in the members.
The division bells rang from 1525 to 1530.
SAFETY AND CONSUMER STATUTES ADMINISTRATION ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 SUR L'APPLICATION DE CERTAINES LOIS TRAITANT DE SÉCURITÉ ET DE SERVICES AUX CONSOMMATEURS
Deferred vote on the motion for second reading of Bill 54, An Act to provide for the delegation of the administration of certain designated statutes to designated administrative authorities and to provide for certain limitation periods in those statutes / Projet de loi 54, Loi prévoyant la délégation de l'application de certaines lois désignées à des organismes d'application désignés et prévoyant certains délais de prescription dans ces lois.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Will the members take their seats, please. We're dealing with second reading of Bill 54 standing in the name of Mr Sterling. All those in favour will please rise one at a time until their name is called.
Baird, John R.
Guzzo, Garry J.
Rollins, E.J. Douglas
Sterling, Norman W.
Stewart, R. Gary
Leadston, Gary L.
Tascona, Joseph N.
Tsubouchi, David H.
Ford, Douglas B.
Ouellette, Jerry J.
Parker, John L.
Young, Terence H.
The Speaker: All those opposed will please rise one at a time.
Cooke, David S.
Morin, Gilles E.
Bradley, James J.
Brown, Michael A.
Cleary, John C.
Conway, Sean G.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 66, the nays are 39.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading?
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): The justice committee.
The Speaker: Is it agreed that Bill 54 goes to the justice committee? Agreed.
AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE RATE STABILITY ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 SUR LA STABILITÉ DES TAUX D'ASSURANCE-AUTOMOBILE
Deferred vote on the motion for second reading of Bill 59, An Act to provide Ontario drivers with fair, balanced and stable automobile insurance and to make other amendments related to insurance matters / Projet de loi 59, Loi visant à offrir une assurance-automobile équitable, équilibrée et stable aux conducteurs ontariens et à apporter d'autres modifications portant sur des questions d'assurance.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Now we're dealing with Bill 59, second reading, standing in the name of Mr Eves.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry for second reading?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All opposed, say "nay."
The members are here. Do we have unanimous consent to proceed with the vote? Agreed. Would it be the same vote? Agreed.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 66; the nays are 39.
The Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Shall the bill be ordered for third reading? Agreed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LE MINISTÈRE DE L'AGRICULTURE, DE L'ALIMENTATION ET DES AFFAIRES RURALES
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 46, An Act to amend or revoke various statutes administered by or affecting the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and to enact other statutes administered by the Ministry / Projet de loi 46, Loi modifiant ou abrogeant diverses lois appliquées par le ministère de l'Agriculture, de l'Alimentation et des Affaires rurales, ou qui touchent ce ministère, et visant à édicter d'autres lois appliquées par le ministère.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Mr Hampton had the floor last.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Mr Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent that I take the place of the member for Rainy River for the opening speech.
The Speaker: Is it agreed that the member for Cochrane South continue with the debate? Agreed.
Mr Bisson: I will allow the members of the chamber to organize themselves into a little bit of more quiet around here, I guess.
I'm glad today to be able to participate in the debate. It is with pleasure that I have the opportunity today to be able to speak on this bill, as it has a number of effects and consequences, I would say, to the agricultural industry of northern Ontario.
I think a lot of members of this assembly, and I would say probably generally a lot of people within the population of Ontario, sometimes take for granted that the farming industry is mostly located in southern Ontario and that the north may, in the minds of some, not play a very large role when it comes to the question of the agricultural business of this province. I can say, Mr Speaker, as I'm sure you understand and other members of this assembly do, that the north has, through the communities of Earlton and Sudbury and Timmins and Rainy River and in around Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie and Manitoulin, various large and very prosperous farmers in those communities. In fact, a number of communities in northern Ontario are agriculture communities, as you would well know.
There has certainly been a lot of interest in regard to this, which I would consider another omnibus bill on the part of the government bringing forward a number of what the government would call housekeeping orders when it comes to how the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs deals with farmers and farm issues across the province of Ontario.
I just want to say at the outset of this debate that there are some farmers and there are a number of people within our party, and I'm sure the other opposition party -- that there are some things in this bill, quite frankly, that need to be done, and those we will support and we will work with the government on. But there are other directions that the government is taking in this bill in regard to a number of initiatives and repeals of certain acts that are going to have an effect on the farm community and will have an effect on farmers in this province, and I will say not a positive one. I will deal mostly with those. I think the positive ones speak for themselves.
I'm here to bring the concerns of the people of northern Ontario and the constituents of Cochrane South, and I want to do that. In the 52 minutes that I have to bring that forward, I'm going to limit my comments to those particular things.
I guess the first point I would want to make is the whole question of what's happened to the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture. You will know that the Ministry of Agriculture, under the previous government, the New Democratic government of Bob Rae, was headed by Minister Elmer Buchanan, who was a tireless worker. Most people would recognize that Minister Buchanan was commented on, by many people in the farm community, as being the most progressive and hardest-working minister they had seen in a long, long time in the province of Ontario. This is not to take away from our current Minister of Agriculture, but I think he walks into a ministry and, quite frankly, into the shoes of a minister who really worked hard at protecting and speaking out on behalf of farmers.
I think the farm community looked at this government being elected in 1995 because a lot of farmers politically are of a Conservative stripe. Party politics being what it is, a lot of farmers would understand that you vote with the people you belong to, and they voted for the Conservative government in the belief that the farming community would be well served under a Conservative government. They didn't believe that electing a Conservative government would change negatively the initiatives that the NDP government had put in place; in fact, they felt a Conservative government would be fairly sympathetic.
But I can tell you, speaking to farmers across my communities, through Iroquois Falls, through Matheson and Timmins, through Earlton, which I drive through every week to get to Queen's Park, and various farming people in northern Ontario in around the Sudbury area, they're finding in effect that they're being somewhat surprised by the outcomes of what this government has done when it comes to agriculture.
I guess the first thing, where the rubber meets the road, is that the commitment of farming is based upon two facts. A person looking at the Ministry of Agriculture will say, "In regard to policy and the implementation of policy, is the government serious?" Another way you're able to gauge the seriousness with which the government takes the issues of farming is by the funding of that ministry.
You will know that since this government came to power it has cut literally millions of dollars from the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and this after the Premier of the province, prior to becoming the Premier, as a member of the third party and the leader of that party, travelled and made promises to the people in the agricultural community that agriculture would not be touched.
If you voted for the Conservative government, they would slash all those other budgets, would cut welfare payments -- yes, they said they'd do that -- would cut unnecessary program spending in all kinds of ministries, from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, to the ministry of tourism, to the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. They would touch all those other budgets, but they took great pains, the third party, the Conservative party of the day, with trying to reassure and making promises to farmers of this province that they would not -- I repeat not -- touch the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture. That was sacrosanct, that was the holy of holies, that was the one thing the Conservatives of the day, in third place in this House, said they would not touch. That was one. Others were obviously health care and education, but that's for another debate.
But what did they do upon coming to government? Some people would say they lied. I can't say that here in the assembly. That would be unparliamentary. But certainly the government has moved in a completely different direction than what they promised during the election of 1995 and what they promised the people of this province prior to that election. They promised they would not cut the Ministry of Agriculture, and what do we find?
In July 1995, the ink hadn't even dried on the cabinet documents that swore in the ministers of the crown when the ministry announced a cut of some $13 million from the Ministry of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs himself had not been sworn in for more than 60 days, and what is one of the first things he does? He offers on the altar of the Conservative government the Ministry of Agriculture budget as his way of taking part in the Common Sense Revolution's economic agenda. That, after he said and his party said -- because he was also a member of this assembly between 1990 and 1995 -- that they would not touch the Ministry of Agriculture.
Sure, the Minister of Agriculture went around the province and said: "Don't worry. It's only $13 million. We can find it in efficiencies. We're not cutting. We're not going to cut the Ministry of Agriculture any more. These are all things we can absorb within the Ministry of Agriculture budget." I was told by certain farmers in the north, "Oh, well, it's only $13 million, and the minister assures us that they can deal with that without affecting programs that are so necessary to the farm community and to farm businesses across this province."
I remember talking to my friends in Matheson, farmers who operate various farms in the Matheson area and in Timmins, who told me: "Gilles, you're a nice guy, but the Conservatives, that's where I've been at; my family's voted Tory all these years. And it's only $13 million, and that can be absorbed." I said: "Well, watch. This government is bent on the idea that they are going to dismantle many of the services we take for granted in this province because they don't believe government has a role to play when it comes to public services. You watch. You think you're protected at the Ministry of Agriculture? I would bet" -- I said that in July 1995 to my friends in the farm community -- "that the government would cut again."
What happened in November? Minister Eves came to the House and made a statement of finances to this Legislature. What did we find inside that statement? Yet another cut to the Ministry of Agriculture.
I remember the election. Do you? Most people who are watching this debate remember the election. "Not a cut to agriculture" was said in the election. Mike Harris swore on the holy of holies that he would not cut the Ministry of Agriculture, yet when this budget statement came in, in the fall of 1995, in November, what was contained in that little document? Yet another cut to the Ministry of Agriculture -- $13.1 million. Now we're up to $26 million. The minister said in November: "Don't worry, you farmers. Don't worry, people in the farm community. We can absorb these cuts. We can deal with them in efficiencies, efficiencies, efficiencies, efficiencies. Don't worry. Everything's fine. Trust me. Don't worry."
What happened? Yet another budget cut in April. We're getting pretty thin here in the amount of money left at the Ministry of Agriculture. We're getting pretty thin as to how many efficiencies can be found, because the reality is that the Ministry of Agriculture, under the NDP government of Bob Rae, like every other ministry, had been going through for a period of three to four years a restructuring to save dollars. That ministry had not got an infusion of new money over a three- or four-year period and in fact had lost some money as part of the restructuring we were doing as a government under the social contract. The ministry was already fairly lean when the Conservative government took power, because our government under the New Democrats had, as part of our cost-cutting measures in regard to the restructuring plans of our government, dealt with a lot of issues at the Ministry of Agriculture.
I remember the today Minister of Agriculture standing up in this House in opposition and chastising the Minister of Agriculture of the NDP government and saying: "Oh, the NDP can't do that to the Ministry of Agriculture. You cannot impose the social contract on the employees within that ministry because it's going to affect the delivery of services to the farm community. It cannot be part of any cost measures in regard to the NDP government. If we get elected, we'll never do that."
In the budget of 1996 what did we find? We found yet another cut -- $56.7 million. Altogether we have $56.7 million plus $26.1 million that has been cut up to date in the Ministry of Agriculture. How is the Ministry of Agriculture going to be able to deliver the programs to the farm communities of the farmers in northern Ontario and all over this province without the dollars to deliver those programs? Because there won't be any programs is part of the answer, and the other answer is that there won't be any staff, because most of the staff within the ministry are also being laid off.
You would know that in the budget statement of the Ministry of Agriculture back in May or April of this year, when the business plans were announced in this House, of 1,850 employees within the Ministry of Agriculture, 954 of those employees were going to get pink slips -- half -- gone, finis, partis. How is the Ministry of Agriculture going to be able to deliver those services? They won't. They can't. They won't have the staff and they won't have the dollars.
I come back to that party in third place in the Parliament of 1990-95, the Conservative Party of that date. I remember them so well. They stood in this House and said: "We will not touch agriculture. We make a solemn pledge. We promise agriculture will not be touched." We find out the Conservatives are sheep in wolves' clothing --
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): Wolf in sheep's clothing.
Mr Bisson: Something like that. It sounded good anyway. But the point is, we're finding out that they're really chameleons -- very good -- when it comes to how they operate in opposition to how they operate in government. They told people in opposition that agriculture would not be touched and, as a consequence, a whole bunch of rural members were elected across the province on the basis of the pledge and promise made by the then leader of the third party, Mike Harris, and the then critic of agriculture.
What do we get now? If was a rural member in the Conservative Party, I think I would say, "Well, I've got a pretty good base of vote and support in my riding, because it's voted Tory for all those years." But I can tell you, that base of support will erode.
You're not seeing it all today, I'll tell you. I was out in communities along Highway 401 all the way up to Cornwall doing some work in regard to my critic's portfolios, and I've talked to a number of people within those farm communities, and there's a lot of them who are still Conservatives, but they're wary, and they're saying, "Listen, these guys told us they were going to protect us, and we're getting it in the ear." And you say to them: "Well, listen, you've been voting Tory for all these years. If they run another Tory and they put a bell around his neck and they run him down to the ballot box, are you going to vote for him?" They say: "Well, I don't know. They're going to have to prove to me that the faith I put in them in the election of 1995 could be repaid." They really wonder, with the cuts that have been happening at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, how that could be done. That's only the first part.
We know the commitment to the Ministry of Agriculture and this government towards farmers of this province has diminished. You can't argue that you have not diminished the role of the Ministry of Agriculture and the effectiveness of being able to deliver those services.
You've closed throughout the province of Ontario the Ag and Food offices in communities like Matheson in my riding; and you should know that the Ministry of Agriculture office in Matheson was a very important part -- as it was in other communities -- of the community and the services provided to the farmers of that area. In fact, without any kind of consultation with the community, without not any kind of attempt to be able to deal with how you're going to provide these services when you close down the office, one night the announcement's made -- boom -- the office is closed within two weeks.
Pierrette Blok, who used to run that office, who was the mayor of the township of Black River, Matheson, had to transfer away to southern Ontario, give up her position as mayor of that community, because she needed to be able to keep her job, and had to leave. We lost a great community leader -- not the same political stripe as me. Pierrette was a Liberal, probably still is. I'm trying to convert her. I've always been working at that. But Pierrette, a community leader in her own right within the community of Matheson, was uncontested in the last municipal election, a great asset to our people in Matheson, had to leave because of the closure of the office of the Ministry of Agriculture.
When that was announced, I was on the phone with the minister. I talked to the minister directly, I talked to his staff, trying to make different arrangements by which the community was prepared to share some of the cost of being able to find solutions to keeping that office open. They didn't like that, because there was a downloading of services, the way they saw it. But the community was prepared to take a look at what it could do to preserve some of the services for the farmers of that community, even if it meant that office would have gone to possibly a part-time office, in which event Pierrette probably would have lost her job anyway, but at least somebody would have been there to be able to service the community. But, no, closed it was.
We even offered -- and we find out after why the government said, "No." We offered to co-locate the Ministry of Agriculture with the Ministry of Natural Resources in the building in Matheson. At the time both of the ministers were saying, "No, no, no," and I couldn't figure out why at the time. I was saying, "If you've got these two buildings, and you're trying to save dollars as a way of saving money, put them together and you get to share resources in regard to plant cost, you get to share administration cost. The ag rep doesn't have to be full-time. You can cut it down to half-time. You can save over half of the budget."
I couldn't figure out why they wouldn't go for it, and I thought: Well, maybe, they don't like Pierrette. Maybe they're trying to get Pierrette out of there, because some day she might run in the new riding of Timiskaming -- who knows? I don't know what they were thinking of. But the point was, it turns out they were closing down the Ministry of Natural Resources offices in Matheson so that's why they wouldn't allow her to go in there, because they knew full well, in the fall of 1995 when they were dealing with the municipality of Matheson, they were dealing with Pierrette Blok and they were dealing with me, the member for Cochrane South, that the agenda was right from the beginning to abandon the community of Matheson, not only close down the Ministry of Agriculture office, but to close down the entire operation of the Ministry of Natural Resources in that community, leaving Matheson with no ministry presence whatsoever other than the plows that are running down the highways and the sand trucks that are run out of that area.
Now there's even talk of the OPP officers in Matheson being converged into one central location who knows where. That's what this government's commitment is to rural Ontario. Any government presence that we had in those communities is gone, number one. So it means people can't get access to services. But in many cases the jobs within the ministries and the jobs within the OPP are an important part of the local economy, because they're small communities; that's gone. People such as Sergeant Teigen and others within the OPP and all of the people who work in communities like Iroquois Falls and Matheson are a big part of those communities as far as what makes those communities go, and gone they are. Sergeant Lamb, another one: Where will he end up? I just say it's a crying shame.
Now on to some of the other points in regard to what the government is doing at the Ministry of Agriculture. This is really a contradiction to the position the government took during the OPSEU strike. If you remember, when OPSEU was on strike there was a great hoopla by the Minister of Agriculture in regard to meat inspection. The Minister of Agriculture was saying, "Oh, we've got to get those OPSEU people back to work in one way or another because, I'll tell you, those meat inspectors, they've got to be out there inspecting the meat, because if they don't, public safety will be at risk." They were blaming OPSEU for the problem and they were trying to put all the onus and responsibility on to OPSEU when it suited them. "When it suited them" is the key phrase.
I remember and you'll remember and people watching at home remember that the Premier, the minister responsible for Management Board and the Minister of Agriculture all in their own time got up and said meat inspectors are a vital part of the inspection process and we need to have them in place in order to assure public safety. Well, what do we find out? Meat inspectors are being cut back by 80%, along with fruit and vegetable inspectors in this province. Not important any more?
My colleague the member for Rainy River, Howard Hampton, asked the question today and said to the Minister of Agriculture, "Well, what is it?" His answer was, "Well, you know, there's only about 4% of the fruit that could be a problem." So I guess the inference is that it's not a big deal. It's like Russian roulette, eh? You go out and buy an apple or you buy a steak, and there's a 4% chance that the thing is poisoned. Then he has the gall to stand in this House today and to say the member for Rainy River was fearmongering.
If the government thought when the OPSEU strike was on that meat inspectors were necessary for public safety, what has changed between then and now? The only thing you can conclude is that it wasn't a question of safety when they said it was, which I don't believe because I think it is a question of safety, or clearly this government is caught in an ideological bent that it doesn't believe the public sector should perform any services, because they don't believe in the public sector, they don't believe in public services and they want to throw everything into the hands of the private sector because, oh, yes, the private sector does it all best.
I'll tell you, when it comes to running a business, I agree. But when it comes to delivering services to the public in regard to public services as decreed by legislation of this House, I feel much more comfortable having the accountability of the public sector delivering those services.
What are we going to have with the change, the 80% reduction in meat inspectors and fruit and vegetable inspectors in this province? They're going to go out and tell the industry: "Industry, inspect thyself. If you think you have a concern as far as your credibility of selling products to the consumers of Ontario, you go out and inspect it yourself."
There are a couple of problems with that. First of all, I don't want the industry doing it itself. It's a little bit like saying, "I'm going to put the kid in charge of the candy store." You know what's going to happen. The kid is not going to be able to resist temptation and he'll be into the candies. It's a little bit the same thing. If you make the industry responsible entirely for the inspection of meats and fruits and vegetables, what you're going to have is the industry on the one hand with the temptation not to really do very stringent inspection if they can get away with it and only keeping public confidence to the point that it doesn't affect their bottom line. That's what's going to happen with this. That's my first concern.
The second concern, which I find even more interesting coming from a Conservative government, is that they will transfer the cost of meat inspection and vegetable and fruit inspection on to the private sector. This a government that says: "We're the taxfighters. We're going to take away the onerous tax system that we have, and we're going to take it away so that the private sector can be out there creating jobs without the burden of taxes on its back."
Every opportunity this government has had, it's created more and more user fees. That's what they've done with meat inspectors and that's what they've done with fruit and vegetable inspectors. When industry ends up picking up the cost of inspecting, which they will have to do, that means the entire cost will be paid by the private sector companies, which then will be transferred on to us, the consumers. We'll still pay our taxes, the government will get the savings of that because it will not perform the services and out of the other pocket we're going to pay the private sector for meat and fruit inspectors. Does that make any sense? I'd say no; that does not have a lot of common sense.
I wish at least the government were consistent in its arguments, but the reality is that it speaks a good line in the House. They've got this mantra; they're going to fix everything from the 10 lost years. What this government is really all about, and we're seeing it in Bill 46, the omnibus bill of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs: It is intent on destroying public services, it is intent on removing regulations on the private sector and it's going to do that at the cost of consumers. Who's going to benefit in the end? I say the people who benefit are those who stand to gain the most, the people with dollars.
I want to point out to you, Mr Speaker, to other people and to the members of this assembly that the reason government gets into the business of passing legislation and regulation in the first place is to protect the public. The private sector, as far as large corporations, doesn't need that kind of help because money itself is able to buy them that help. If you're a large agrifood corporation and you're out there, you've got the dollars and the power to be able to protect yourself. You can hire the high-priced lawyers, you can move in and take over people's farms because you've got the money to do it, you can even set prices because you're so big, but the individual consumer and the individual farmer and the individual Joe or Jane on the street need the protection of their government. That's why we have legislation and that's why we have regulation.
This government is saying in all it's doing, as in Bill 46: "We as a Conservative government say to heck with the protection of the individual, to heck with them. We are going to put all the power in the hands of the corporations and the big money of this province." They don't need all that power. The people need some of that power. What you're going to have is a return to the good old days.
Not too long ago I was in Cobourg, where I had an opportunity to speak to the chamber of commerce along with the critic from the Liberal Party and a staff member from the Conservatives; I can't remember the person's name. I remember a man there, a Mr Lane, who was I think about 85, 86, 87 years old -- I might be off on the age -- and we were having a chat. He is a staunch Conservative and made the point of showing me his Conservative card, and we were having fun. Conservatives and New Democrats tend to have a bit of fun when they get together because they have an ideology and we like to argue it back and forth. On the other hand, we're not too sure what ideology Liberals follow. They're all over the place. Some days they're on two sides of the same issue.
Mr Lane was taking great pride in talking about his Conservative membership over the 50-some-odd years that he'd had it. I said to him, "Aren't you concerned, as a citizen of this province, as a senior, about what all this is going to mean to you as a person and to the public when it comes to health care, agriculture, all the issues and services that touch you?" He said, "What do you mean?" I said: "You remember the Depression. You didn't grow up in the Depression; you were an adult in the Depression" -- I wasn't; I was born in the 1950s -- "but you as an individual over 80 years old lived in the Depression and you would remember how bad it was."
He went on at great length to tell me, "Bad; you don't know how bad it was," and pointed out all the terrible things that happened in the Depression. I said: "Mr Lane, do you want to return to the 1930s? That is what this government is going to do. When they transfer all the effective power of legislation and all the effective power of government to the private sector, we are returning to a day where the haves will have it and the have-nots won't. That's the way it was in the 1930s. Is that what you want?" He said: "Oh hell, no, I don't want to do that. It was terrible."
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): it's 10 times worse in eastern Europe.
Mr Bisson: No. The problem is that you guys are creating this great, big myth that government is bad, that government is evil and nothing that government does is good. You are so full of it.
We have in our province and in this country the best health care system in the world. If a person gets sick, they can go into a hospital and be treated.
We have a universal system of education that is the envy of the world. If you want to educate your child, it is law to do so and it is paid by the public. If your kid wants to go off to university or college, they have access. It's not how much money mom and dad have in the bank. It's become that more and more, with the cuts you're doing to education and transfers, and the increase in tuition fees. We have a system of social services in this province. When the disabled community or somebody becomes disabled, they're taken care of and they're given some dignity.
You have the gall to tell me that government doesn't work. Come on. Give me a break. You guys don't believe in that because you want to return them all back to the Dark Ages.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Order.
Mr Bisson: If you're able to put them back to the 1930s, you will, and shame on you.
The Acting Speaker: Order.
Mr Bisson: Back to the bill, Mr Speaker.
The Acting Speaker: Yes, I think you got the message.
Mr Bisson: Here are some of the things this government is in the process of eliminating through Bill 46. One of the things they're doing, and I find this interesting -- this is yet another example of this government, which is in the process of trying to give all the power to the private sector, give all the freedom to the private sector to do what they want, to the big businesses of this province. Where we, the people, we figure in this, who only knows.
One of the things they're repealing, and I think it's quite interesting, is the Riding Horse Establishments Act. Just for people to know, the act was established in 1971 to protect horses hired out for recreational riding and to ensure that proper health and care was given to those horses.
There are over 500 riding schools in Ontario. Licensing and annual government inspections are done by the province of Ontario through the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and are very vigorous in regard to making sure that the health and safety of the animals is good and that the treatment of those animals is done in a humane way.
What is this government doing? Gone. And why? I guess they're saying, "We don't care what the horse owners and people are doing in regard to protecting those animals."
I know the minister is talking about trying to set up some guidelines about how all this is going to be done, but this bill, when it was set up, I believe in the 1970s, was set up for a reason. It was set up because there were instances out there where people who owned horses, who were out there operating those businesses, were not treating those horses in a humane way and did not have good conditions to keep those animals in.
We have come to a point in our society where we recognize that animals need to be treated with a certain amount of care and respect, and you just cannot leave bad operators to do what they want. Not all people who deal with horses are bad operators. There are many of them who do a very good job, and quite frankly probably will continue to do a good job without legislation, but you know as well as I do that there will be unscrupulous operators who will take advantage of this move -- not immediately, not tomorrow when the bill is done, but once this bill is done and over a period of time, they will start to take advantage more and more of the situation of not having this act control their actions.
What will happen in the end is that animals will be put at risk. I don't see how that has anything to do with common sense; it has to do with nonsense.
Another thing the government is repealing, which is really interesting, is the Non-Resident Agricultural Land Interests Registration Act. This was enacted, I believe, in the 1980s. I think it was actually passed by the Davis government. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that's when that came into place. The act required non-residents to register their interest if they had property over 25 acres. It required non-residents to register their interest in that 25 acres of farm land in a central registry. The reason was fairly simple: We wanted to make sure that we knew who were the owners of lands over 25 acres, because in my community, for example, up around the Matheson area --
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): Speculation.
Mr Bisson: That's one of the issues. The question of speculation is a big one. But the other issue is that there are properties that have been purchased by people from outside Canada. A lot of them in Matheson actually are owned by German interests, where they took those lands out of farm production to make them basically a gaming farm. I guess that was the idea of what they wanted to do with them eventually, so they could go out and do a bit of hunting and have a place to go, because in Germany their system doesn't work like ours, where you get a licence and go out; you have to be able to go out on private land.
But the point is, there were two things. We wanted to know who was buying up that land so that we were able to know as a question of public policy who it was who was taking it, to make sure that land wasn't all of a sudden gobbled up by foreign interests and then controlled by people outside Ontario, because we wanted to make sure we didn't allow these people to gobble up all the land and then to speculate on the sale of that land at a point that would cost us, the people of Ontario, more money than it's actually worth.
That's why we had that act put in place back in the 1980s. We did that because we wanted to make sure we didn't allow unscrupulous investors offshore of Ontario to come in and gobble up land, to be able to speculate at the resale, so that in the end we the consumers and the future property owners of Ontario, and especially farmers, wouldn't end up getting fleeced by paying two and three times the price of what it cost.
The government will say: "Oh, that's intervention. Marketplace rules dictate. Let the marketplace decide." That's the way the government wants to do things. They really believe in that, the Conservatives. I give them credit. The Conservatives have an ideology and I respect them for that. One of the reasons, I think when you see us in debate, the Conservatives and the New Democrats really get at each other is that each of our ideologies is completely opposite. I respect that the Conservatives have an ideology. At least they've got one. At least the New Democratic Party's got an ideology. The Liberals, on the other hand, well, it's whatever happens, happens in the morning, and what happens in the afternoon, who knows?
Mr Spina: At least we agree on something.
Mr Bisson: The member makes a point. At least we agree. There are actually times I think the Conservatives and New Democrats can work well together on a number of issues, because on a number of things ideologically at times we agree and we're able to work quite well together on a number of issues. In a number of bills that I've spoken on in this House I've given government the credit that was due for things it's done well. Some of the things they've done, I don't have a problem with. They needed to be done and I work with them on those.
But on this one the marketplace in this case was the one that dictated in the early 1980s and prior to that how market lands and farm lands would be resold in regard to price. The problem was that offshore investors were gobbling up the land in some areas, holding on to it for the right time, and then reselling it on the spec market. The new farmer who was trying to get into the business of farming or the farmer who was trying to expand his or her farm paid through the nose, and it was those farmers who brought that concern to their MPPs and eventually to the government of this province.
It was a lot of Conservative members back in the 1980s who pushed for that, because I recognize that in the rural ridings of Ontario the Conservatives have a good, traditional Tory support, and it was those rural areas and those rural members who brought that concern here to Queen's Park, and a bill was enacted to deal with it.
But what we have found is that this group of Conservatives are really in my view not Conservatives. They're Conservatives in ideology, but they're certainly further to the right than most of the Conservative friends I know who have an affinity for the Conservative Party. I would say this is the Reform Party of Ontario. That's why they're removing this legislation.
The Conservatives of the day under Bill Davis saw some need -- if it was Davis who put this in; I'm pretty sure it was. They saw the need to be able to enact this legislation to stop speculation, and this government says: "No. We're going to put it right back into the hands of the private sector. The private sector does it best. Government's no good. Gone it is. It doesn't fit in our ideological game plan." I say you'll rue the day. As a rural member -- it's not going to be all of you, but a number of you in areas of rural Ontario are at one point going to pay the price for this, because it will mean the price of land in some areas will be allowed to go up because of speculation, and that's what you're allowing.
I again say, who benefits? You have to ask yourself every time you pass a piece of legislation in this House, who benefits? Clearly, when we passed the Labour Relations Act of Ontario, who benefitted? Working people. No question. When the government passes this legislation in regard to the Non-resident Agricultural Land Interests Registration Act, who benefits? Big money. Another example: When the government passed Bill 7 that dismantled the Ontario Labour Relations Act, who benefitted? Big money. That's what it is. The government wants to protect big money.
The New Democratic Party of Ontario says: "Make all the money you want, but don't fleece people while you do it. We need some game plans to make it somewhat fair, but we have to remember there are people in this equation, not just dollars, and we need to protect people." We are on the side of working people in this province and professionals who have the same view. It doesn't show it in the polls at this point, but I'll tell you, social democracy will be alive and well fairly soon and we'll return back to some sanity in this province.
Now the other one they're repealing -- and this is yet another example of the government trying to get out of the face of business because they don't believe the public sector or public policy should interfere with any business -- they're repealing the Fur Farms Act. Most people would say, "What is that?" It's an act that licenses and regulates fur farms. It's fairly easy: Those farms where we have mink and other animals used for the making of hats and coats sold abroad and here in Ontario are run according to the principles set out in the Fur Farms Act.
What's this government doing? Ripped, gone. Why? Because they do not believe that the government should be in the face of business. They don't believe government should be in the face of fur farmers in this province because we should leave them to their own devices. If you leave an individual to his or her own devices, over time they will take and they will take more, and eventually they will not have the concern of public interest. Who pays in the end? It's the public. It comes back to, who benefits? Big money. Who loses? Working people. It's always the same story with this government.
Now the other one: I'm quite upset that you're eliminating the Junior Farmer Establishment Act. That program came into play after the war, late 1940s, early 1950s, I'd bet. I remember reading in the legislative library the debates on this one. I encourage all members to take the opportunity to go down to the legislative library and read some of the debates in the past. You'll be quite interested in how things that come around go around, because we're back here again.
I remember reading those debates a couple of years ago when I was looking at that. I had a constituent in my riding who was having problems, who was a new farmer who had taken part in this program. What this program set up under the Junior Farmer Establishment Act did is assisted a young individual who wanted to get into the farming business, the money to offset their mortgage a bit so they're able to make ends meet and are able to help pay their way in the farming business when they first get in.
The Conservative government of the late 1940s, early 1950s, when this was done recognized that if you go into the farming business it is very expensive, a very capital-intensive business to get into. The purchase of land, of equipment, of everything you need, is very expensive. For most young people trying to get into the farming business, it is very difficult unless you happen to carry on the family farm and arrangements are made with your father or your grandfather, whoever might have owned the farm. It's very difficult to get in because large mortgages are involved.
I remember this young farmer coming in to see me with regard to an application he had made -- he thought he was going to get approved, and he had some problems -- and how critical it was for him to get approved for the money available under the farms establishment act. I remember him telling me: "Gilles, if I don't get this worked out, I can't go into the farming business. I want to do what my father did, I want to do what my grandfather did. I want to work as a farmer because it is the best way of life that I know."
I thought: "If you can do it, brother, I'm there with you. I'm going to do what I can." As a good member, as I'm sure Conservative members do as well, I went out and worked, through the ministry and Minister of Agriculture Elmer Buchanan, to get that worked out. Eventually we got his problems with regard to his application straightened out and, quite frankly, some of the problems the ministry caused in the bureaucracy. We got it fixed and the guy got approved.
I remember that when he got his farm all straightened out with regard to the financing, he gave me a call and said: "Gilles, I really appreciate the work you've done for me. I've never been a New Democrat -- in fact, I've always voted Conservative -- but maybe I'll just vote for you." I don't remember what he did in 1995. I don't remember what sign he had out in front of his farm, if he had any, but I'm sure --
Mr Bisson: No, it wasn't Liberal in my riding, my friend. I can guarantee you that. The Liberals came in in last place.
But he was acknowledging how important this program was, the point being that it's gone in this act. Bill 48 says the Junior Farmer Establishment Act is gone, and gone it is, and gone is the hope of many young people in this province to get into the farming business. I'll tell you, if it was expensive in the 1950s to get into the farming business, it is terribly expensive today. Try to pick up a 100-acre or a 150-acre piece of land to start a farm on. Try to buy the equipment you need. It is almost impossible to do unless you've got someone's backing or you've got a really generous banker. Then with interest rates and mortgage costs, to pay that back is really stifling to the young farmer.
I would think one of the things we're trying to do in this province is to encourage people to start businesses, and farms are businesses, great businesses, where we can give the person the ability to start a business. That's the thing that astounds me about this Conservative government. They're the party, supposedly, of business; they're the party to encourage investors and entrepreneurs. At every occasion, this government has killed programs to sustain business.
Gone is the Northern Ontario Development Corp, moneys that were there to help farm businesses, to help manufacturing businesses in northern Ontario -- you name it. They had the ability to access funds to make the bankers happy so they could get loans from the bank to start up businesses. In my riding of Cochrane South, we started a number of businesses -- I don't know the numbers, but at least 40 -- through programs like the Northern Ontario Development Corp and the northern heritage fund.
The way those programs worked was that they weren't a handout to business. If you had a business opportunity, let's say a $500,000 venture, and you were able to raise maybe only $50,000 and the bank wasn't happy with that amount you were bringing into it and said, "Get that share up a little and we might become partners and the bank might lend you money," those programs lent the balance of the money at a reduced interest rate, or in some cases the same interest rate, depending on the deal, to the entrepreneur that allowed the levering of the rest from the bank.
Energreen Enterprises in Ramore would never have operated the years it did if it hadn't been for money from the heritage fund. Companies like Malette Granite in Iroquois Falls would never have got off the ground if it hadn't been for those kinds of programs. Again, we're seeing this government pull the plug on the dreams of many people across northern Ontario.
Mr Ford: How many are losers?
Mr Bisson: No, they didn't lose.
Mr Ford: How many of the 40 or 50?
The Acting Speaker: This is not questions and comments.
Mr Bisson: It's not questions or comments, Mr Speaker, but I will respond. He asked how many people lost. How many times does the bank lend money to an entrepreneur and they lose? At the same frequency as money was lent through the heritage fund or NODC. But do you see bankers say they're not going to lend money to businesses on the basis of some failures? Of course not. That's part of the business, that's part of the risk; that's why banks charge you interest.
For a Conservative government to pull those programs away such as they are in Bill 46 goes against common sense. It goes against what the Tories are supposed to be all about: building opportunities for private sector entrepreneurs. I will put up my record as a government against yours any day when it comes to job creation and the ability to assist small and medium-sized businesses to get off the ground or expand. We created literally tens of thousands of jobs through programs like the Northern Ontario Development Corp, the northern Ontario heritage fund, through Jobs Ontario Training. We created literally tens of thousands of jobs, and how many private sector jobs has this government created over the last year? Virtually none. I say the reason is because they're cancelling programs such as those found in Bill 46. It is truly, truly terrible.
The other thing they're repealing is the Milk Act. No, I shouldn't say "repealing." Sorry; that would be misleading. They're not repealing. The Ontario government, through this bill, is going to be making amendments to the Milk Act. Most people watch this debate at home and say, "What difference does that make?" You just wait. If you're living in northern Ontario, watch the price of milk between now and about 16 months from now, just watch what's going to happen to the price of milk on this one, and watch what's going to happen to dairy farmers in northern Ontario because of the amendments you're making under this act.
I remember this well, because there was a lobby by the large milk producers in southern Ontario and the large dairy producers in regard to the plants in southern Ontario who lobbied the Bob Rae government to make the amendments being done today in the Milk Act. At first, Bob and others in our government looked at it and said: "Maybe it's not such a bad idea. Maybe we can allow this to happen." We, the northern members of the NDP caucus -- our interim leader Bud Wildman, Len Wood, Sharon Murdock, Shelley Martel, Floyd Laughren, Gilles Pouliot, Tony Martin, Howard Hampton -- we all said, "No, you can't do that." Why? Because when the Milk Act was set up it allowed northern dairies, northern milk producers to have the market they need to survive.
The price of milk and the viability of the business is all about the ability to have a market. If you allow this act to be amended the way it's going to be amended, it means that milk producers in northern Ontario are going to go into direct competition with milk producers in the south, who will truck up milk at a cheaper rate, at a loss. They will gladly lose money, but not because northerners are not competitive; if northern dairy producers are going to cut their prices, they're going to allow them to lose money so they can go into the northern market and saturate it to the point that they'll throw dairy farmers out of business.
You nod your head. That's good stuff. I guess northern dairy producers shouldn't exist. I say shame on you.
The whole purpose of an economy is to allow people the opportunity to make a buck, to allow people living in regions the opportunity to have mixed economies, and mixed economies can only happen in a jurisdiction where the government says it's going to make sure those opportunities exist. What the Milk Act did was to allow northern dairy producers first of all to do the work they need to do on their farms to produce the milk, but more importantly it gave them a market to sell the milk in because it said, "If you want to sell milk in northern Ontario, you've got to buy northern products." That's gone.
That is yet another example of the commitment this government has about whom they're serving. Who's going to benefit? You have to ask yourself the question. Any time you vote on a piece of legislation in this House, and we're here representing our core constituencies, ask yourself a really simple question, "Who will benefit?" In this case, is it the people of northern Ontario? Is it the consumers? No. Is it the farmers of northern Ontario, the dairy producers? No. Is it the small dairies in places like Thornloe and Timmins that will survive? No. Who's going to benefit is big money. Again the Conservative Party of Ontario under Mike Harris, the Reform Party that it is, is catering to big business interests, and who's going to lose? It is the people. The working people in northern Ontario and across this province will lose one more time at the hands of this government.
The other thing I want to touch on in the four or five minutes I have left is where farmers are really going to get hit in rural areas and what the government is doing around hydro stabilization rates. This relates directly to Bill 46 in regard to competitiveness of farmers. In the province of Ontario we have a stabilization rate set so that the price of hydro across this province is equal, in the sense that if you're selling hydro to a rural customer in northern Ontario or a rural customer in eastern Ontario or to a downtown person in Metro, the rate of hydro is basically the same -- small differences, but not a lot.
One of the first things this government is going to have to do, through its bid to privatize Ontario Hydro -- they've said that -- is take away the hydro stabilization rate. Do you know what that means? It means that if you live in rural Ontario, if you live in densely populated areas of this province you will pay significantly higher hydro rates than you're paying now. Why? Because the government of Ontario is trying to benefit their corporate friends. They're going to allow the large multinationals to move in, buy up the profitable parts of Ontario Hydro, buy the generation -- we're not talking nuclear here; we're talking hydro generation. They're going to allow them to pick up the pieces of the hydro company that are profitable and operate those areas. This has to do directly with Bill 46 and the competitiveness of farmers.
What it will do is, if you live in a rural area of Ontario you're going to pay more money for hydro because the government has decided that it wants to, in the end, cater to its big business friends. I say the government's got an ideology. They're out there to serve the interests of big business; we in the New Democratic Party are there to serve the interests of the people, who after all are in the majority in this province.
I say yes, you want a majority government. That's the way politics goes. I've been there before; in 1990 we did the same. In the end you have to remember, and I learned this lesson the hard way, why you're here. You're here to serve the people, not just the corporate interests of the province of Ontario. Bill 46 is going to serve the interests of big business, it's going to serve the interests of those people in our society who need the least amount of protection. In the end, who's going to benefit? It will be them. And who will be the losers? It will be us.
I say that when a government purports to be a government of the people and at every occasion and every opportunity and every turn of the page of the legislative calendar is putting in place measures that hurt people and benefit only one sector of the economy, being big business, I want nothing to do with that particular government. I want a government in Ontario that cares about people, a government that tries to seek that balance of saying, "We need to pass laws for the people of this province that protect people and make sure people in the end get a fair shake." I don't see that in Bill 46.
On that, I am not going to support this bill and I want to make clear that the members of the assembly understand why. That's what I tried to outline in this particular debate. I say to those people who are interested, as I am and as many members of this Legislature are, in the rural issues of Ontario in regard to the farming community, I think we need to remember that you got elected on a platform that you would protect farmers, that you would not cut the budgets of the ministry of agriculture. You gave a solemn promise to those people in rural Ontario, and what did you do? You did the exact opposite. That, my friends, is not a very good thing.
I say to the people of this Legislature on the Conservative side who said one thing in opposition and now say another thing in government that you -- well, I can't say "lied," Mr Speaker; it would be unparliamentary. But you certainly changed your position, as we might say, from then till now. I say you will pay the price. You will pay the price for having done that. Since you told us that was a solemn promise, since you said you were not going to cut agricultural spending, I say to the government you should resign. You should call an election and let the people of Ontario decide.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): I wish to take issue with the member for Cochrane South and his comments on the Junior Farmer Establishment Act. The junior farmers act hasn't given out any money since 1967. I don't understand why you'd want to maintain such an obsolete, archaic piece of legislation.
I also wish to take issue with the NDP member's comments on cuts to agriculture. In February of this year, a joint statement from the Ontario federation and the Ontario Agricultural Commodities Council released figures showing that OMAFRA under the NDP reign reduced the share of government support through that ministry from 0.9% to 0.5%: $586 million down to $439 million in that year.
In their brief, the OFA and the OACC compared the 25% cut to the agriculture budget with the 104% increase to the Ministry of Housing. They compare it to a 40% increase to community and social services. Our government is listening and we're on the fast track with respect to helping OMAFRA through the "do better for less" initiative, Bill 46, this agriculture, food and rural business bill. I might add that significant reductions are already under way with respect to both welfare and subsidized housing. Agriculture will truly regain its fair share of government support.
I also want to highlight Finance Minister Ernie Eves's announcement during our 1996 budget of a new $15-million program, Grow Ontario, directed to helping Ontario's farm, food and rural sectors compete at home and abroad. This program is designed to reduce barriers to growth and improve investment in the agrifood sector well into the next century.
I also will mention the $20-million retail sales tax exemption for the farm community.
Mr Hoy: There have been comments made about the cuts to agriculture which I guess could relate very dramatically to this bill, but as I read from the government's own document that they passed out during the election, in regard to government spending they said, in fact, that if all government ministries experienced downsizing similar to OMAFRA, Ontario would not be facing its current debt crisis. They gave high marks to the ministry's efficiencies in grappling with the fiscal problems of the time. However, I don't agree with the way the third party handled OMAFRA, but apparently the government said that was fine; they're in good shape. Had other ministries acted the same, we would not be in this debt crisis. Then of course they went on to pronounce to people that they would not cut agriculture. Those in particular in the agricultural community day after day during the election campaign were told that that would not happen.
Indeed, government members themselves wrote letters to their own government and said, "Let's not cut agriculture." You said you wouldn't do it. A group of Conservatives wrote to their own leadership and said, "You are cutting agriculture, something you said you would not do, and we have grave concerns for that," and well they should have.
Some question was raised about the junior farmers' loan and indeed that program has not been functioning over the years, although there were outstanding loans. I guess one might be able to ask: "What are we going to do for the young farmers in the future? What will this government do for them other than leave them with a list of user fees as they start up their business? New and expanded user fees, is that what the young farmers of Ontario are looking at from the Conservative government?
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I want to rise and compliment my colleague from Cochrane South on his incisive analysis of the bills that are in front of the Legislature. I think the government continues to believe that they can hoodwink people into somehow ignoring the promises that they made in the campaign.
I can remember when we were beginning to deal with the debt and deficit issue, when making very modest cuts but cuts none the less, the howls from the then third party could be heard out on the street. So when they were developing their election platform, and my colleague from Cochrane South was there, as were a lot of the members on this side of the House, they decided to say: "Fine. When we're in power, we will not cut any money from agriculture. We wouldn't do that."
It didn't take a rocket scientist or a political scientist for that matter to understand why they were looking at the makeup of the province and the number of seats they could win in rural Ontario. They were targeting certain areas and thought that this would have great appeal, and obviously it did have great appeal.
But what is the reality? What is the point that my colleague from Cochrane South was making? It's that over two years, this government, the one that said they would not touch funding to the Ministry of Agriculture, have cut by $56.7 million over two years. The total job reduction is 954 out of 1,850. It all is part of this government's line, quite frankly, their BS that they're going to do more with less. You're going to do less with less. You can't cut tens of millions of dollars like that and hundreds of jobs and expect that you're going to provide the same service. Why don't you just admit it? You broke your promise. The member for Cochrane South has called you on it.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the speech which was made and which dealt with many of the issues in this legislation. I was wondering why the member didn't have -- perhaps it's the length of time allocated to him -- more time to talk about the fact, and perhaps he did, that the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is cutting inspectors of the food.
I appreciate the comments he made about that because I have two sets of people worrying about this. First are the consumers who are saying, "I always thought in Ontario, the leading province in terms of population and finances in Canada, that indeed we had the best possible inspection." I remember Premier Davis used to refer to everything as "second to none in the world." I believe that and I think successive governments tried to maintain that, and I give Premier Davis full credit and his agriculture minister of the day for implementing this inspection system.
I think that has served us extremely well and I'm wondering why now we have a situation where the Ministry of Agriculture and Food is cutting those inspectors because not only are the consumers starting to question this, but my friends in the farming community are saying: "You know, we could always say to others in the world or to our own consumers: `We have inspection in Ontario. We feel secure in our food supply because we have those inspectors. If we have anybody in the farming community who isn't following the rules and regulations, we know we have inspectors who will protect our whole industry, will protect the reputation.'"
I feel for those farmers, I feel for the consumers of this province, and I hope that the members of the back bench of the government will be placing considerable pressure on the Minister of Agriculture and Food to restore those inspectors, because it's extremely important for confidence in our food supply. If he retreats the way the Minister of Health retreated today with the obstetricians, I'll be there to applaud.
Mr Bisson: I just want to say to the member for Norfolk that he talked about our term in government. If he had been listening, I did say in my speech that over a period of three or four years we in the NDP government had done restructuring within the Ministry of Agriculture that reduced the overall budget; I did say that if you had been listening. The point I was making was that your party in opposition chastised our government for doing so.
Mr Christopherson: Big time.
Mr Bisson: Big time. And you so much as went out on the election trail two years before and said, "If you elect a Mike Harris government, we will not do as the NDP and we will not cut funding at the Ministry of Agriculture." We did some restructuring with the Ministry of Agriculture, but the programs remained intact. The farmers were able to access those programs. What you are doing, my friends, is simply cutting the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture and eliminating all kinds of services that are available from the Ministry of Agriculture, when you promised in the election that you would not do so.
I'm calling you on it because this was one of your key promises in the last election: You would not cut agriculture, you would not cut health care and you would not cut education. You struck out on all three because you have cut in all of them. In the Ministry of Agriculture, to bring it to a point, you have cut up to now $26.1 million, with another $56 million this spring, for about $108 million. And you had the gall in opposition to say to us that we were doing something terrible to farming? There will not be a Ministry of Agriculture when we're finished.
Yes, to the member for St Catharines, I did raise the question of meat inspectors and fruit and vegetable inspectors. I guess it goes to show you the duplicity of this government and the hypocrisy of this government when during the OPSEU strike they said meat inspectors were so important we couldn't do without them, but the minute they had an opportunity to throw them out the door, they did. They don't care about the people of this province. They're there to serve the interests of big business and to heck with people, says this Conservative government.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): It's certainly a pleasure for me to be able to rise in the House and address Bill 46, the ag, food and rural business bill. Certainly, this is a bill that's long overdue. There are many acts in this ministry that are outdated and many that haven't been used for some time, as the member from Cochrane just found out. He was speaking and making reference to one that hasn't been used in almost 30 years and he thought it was important we should still be supporting it. It's very obvious what's been going on.
Certainly, this bill is going to reduce the level of red tape and overregulation that we've been experiencing in this province for some time. It's going to reduce an awful lot of barriers to the agricultural business here in this province and certainly agriculture is a very important activity in Ontario. It's all about OMAFRA doing better for less, in spite of the comments our opponent made from across the House a few minutes ago.
Agriculture happens to be one of the most important industries in Ontario. It's been the backbone to this province since literally the beginning of time. The advances in agriculture have been exemplary over the years and can be to many other industries we have in the province. It's managed this and given us the lowest cost, the best-priced food in the world and one of the highest standards of living.
If you start looking around the world, you'll find that there are many Third-World countries where most of the population is involved in agriculture.
At the turn of this century, for every family that was on the farm, they were able to produce only enough food for another family that wasn't on the farm; whereas today, for every farmer, they're able to produce enough food for another 100 people. These are the kind of efficiencies, the kind of high-yield farming that's been going on. My hat is certainly off to the farmers of Ontario when they can increase their efficiencies to that extent.
I don't know of any other industry -- possibly some of the opposition would have some suggestions; I doubt it -- that has managed the kind of efficiencies that have occurred in agriculture. I'm certainly, for one, very, very impressed. Maybe it's my bias, having grown up on a dairy farm, that I am so supportive of the agricultural community, but there's no question in my mind they've come a long, long way.
It's refreshing to see the approach this ministry has taken in developing a business plan to put forward this bill. They had round table discussions for a significant part of last fall, consulting throughout the province. To me, this is a democratic way, going about finding it out, what it is the agricultural community really needs and wants, and then implementing that vision. They've identified core needs for the agricultural community: research and technical transfer, investment attractions, market development and rural economic development.
Agriculture has been moving something like the quote from Alice in Wonderland -- when I need great inspiration I look to books such as that -- when the queen said to Alice that if you want to stay in the same place as you are, you have to run just as fast as you can, but if you want to get ahead in this world, you have to run just twice as fast. That's really what agriculture has been doing for some time.
This business plan that's been developed is a real commitment to the ag and food industry and to the rural sector. It has often been said that as agriculture flourishes, Ontario succeeds.
Bill 46 focuses on core business objectives. First, it's to maintain a strong agricultural base, and it's also directed to move into some bold, new directions, things that previous governments have not been prepared to do.
This bill is consistent with the overall government strategy of cost reduction to work towards a balanced budget, job creation and the restoration of hope and opportunity for future generations in this province. The goal in this bill is to find new and more efficient ways to deliver programs and services, moving towards a direct delivery of some of these programs. This can be done by the private sector and by many others in our province.
It's also looking to self-reliance and I can assure you that the farming community in Ontario has been very self-reliant through the years. Contrary to what's been suggested by some of our opposition members, this does not mean elimination of programs and reduction of programs in many cases, as they have suggested.
The government, and OMAFRA in particular, is there to set standards, to set policies and to ensure that those policies and programs are enforced. It's there to steer and to give direction; it's not there to be rowing and giving the day-to-day service and assistance that many of the opposition are suggesting.
I keep using this term OMAFRA, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I find it really quite an embarrassing acronym when you really get right down to it. It's extremely long and cumbersome and it's been the brunt of many jokes in rural Ontario about having rural affairs. This is an example of some of the red tape and awkwardness that the previous government brought into Ontario. There's a total lack of originality in the name of this ministry, adding "rural affairs" to it. I would think that the previous minister, Elmer Buchanan, could have been just a little more original and could have done a lot better in naming the ministry than he did.
We've been hearing from the opposition an awful lot during this debate, and many others, about cutbacks, about reducing the funding. They don't seem to realize the position they've put us in. They talk about reducing staff, reducing programs, reducing service and isn't that terrible. In some cases, it is unfortunate that this is the kind of pressure they have created because of the excess spending that's been going on in the past 10 years.
Today we're taking in approximately the same amount of money that's being spent, outside of interest payments. The interest we are paying, roughly $8 billion, is about equal to the deficit we're working on this year of $8.2 billion. That is the position we found ourselves in, with a debt of $100 billion, more than half of this created in the last 10 years; approximately two thirds of it created in the last 10 years. More has been created in the last 10 years, even in the last five years, than there has been since the beginning of time here in the province of Ontario.
Just to help you out a little, if we had continued at the same rate you had been running at for the last five years, at the turn of the century the interest payment would be up to $20 billion. Yes, I'm sure the opposition couldn't care less: "Just keep borrowing, keep borrowing until we're totally bankrupt," and they'd be really happy.
The Liberals were unable to balance a budget in the good times. The NDP thought they could spend their way out in a recessionary time, but it really didn't work.
Let me give you some examples of what was going on. In Guelph, the Liberals designed a new foods lab. The NDP ended up building it. They were so embarrassed with the size of the grandiose building that they didn't even want to go and have a reasonable opening. It's known in Guelph, as it covers two acres, as the crystal palace -- millions of dollars spent on a building that covers two acres. They've never got more than 60 employees there to work in this building. The reception area, all glass-domed and covered, would house at least 1,000 people for a reception.
A foods lab was needed, no question, and it's a credit to Ontario to have a lab like that, but they got so carried away, like kids in a candy store spending the money, that they built this kind of building. It's totally unacceptable to the needs of the province of Ontario to have a reception area that would handle 1,000 people. Had you built a reasonably sized laboratory, maybe we wouldn't have the kind of debt we have today.
Let me give you another example. The Liberal agricultural minister insisted on building a diagnostic veterinary laboratory in New Liskeard -- I guess because it happened to be his riding -- against all the recommendations coming from the branch director, the assistant deputy minister, insisted on going ahead and building a $200-million lab. Do you know what happened 18 months after its official opening? The NDP closed it, and they were so stuck on successor rights of employees, they never gave an opportunity for local veterinarians to operate that particular laboratory. That is why we have a $100-billion debt in this province today.
I could go on and talk about the geology lab in Sudbury that there's hardly anybody working in, the rope-testing lab that was built in Sudbury, the silviculture lab in Sault Ste Marie, the forensic medicine lab in Sault Ste Marie, the extensive addition they put on the environment lab. A little bit of common sense in building those kinds of structures would have been very much in order. Yes, the need was there, but not to the extent that you people designed and built.
If I may, I'd like to make reference to a couple of the acts and then wind up.
The Livestock Branding Act provides a registry of brands used by cattle owners and a relatively small number of horse owners to permanently identify their animals. By changing the Livestock Branding Act, one of the major goals is to move out of the direct delivery of services that can be provided by others, while fostering industry self-reliance. By replacing the Livestock Branding Act with the Livestock Identification Act, industry will now manage a service it needs. The Livestock Identification Act will be administered by the Ontario Cattlemen's Association instead of OMAFRA, and to me this is a very natural kind of move. Other types of identification may be included as new methods are developed and implemented, and today there are many uses of chips implanted subcutaneously to identify animals.
The Fur Farms Act, which was referred to a little earlier, licenses and regulates fur farms. It will be repealed to eliminate the unnecessary regulations of this particular industry. No other farm practice is licensed similar to the fur farms, and getting rid of this particular act will get rid of excess regulations and will prevent the overlap with the Ministry of Natural Resources. Certainly these animals are at no greater risk, nor is their welfare, than any other animals in livestock production. If there is any reason to suspect these animals are being misused, investigations can be carried out by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and of course charges could be laid under the Criminal Code.
Codes of practice have been coordinated by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and are used by the industry, scientists and animal welfare groups to promote sound husbandry and welfare practices, and the repealing of the Fur Farms Act will not affect these codes of practice.
The Riding Horse Establishments Act was very useful in the days when it was brought in and has served its useful purpose. It's being repealed because the level of animal care has dramatically improved in recent years as the general public has become more knowledgeable about the welfare of animals. Certainly there has been a tremendous turnaround in attitudes towards the wellbeing of animals. This is another act where the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will now be able to inspect. In the past, this has been exempt and they were not able to inspect. Horses will have the same kind of protection in these facilities as other livestock has, and pets, zoo animals etc. It is another example of reducing duplication.
In closing, this bill does not jeopardize programs or service delivery. The goal is to find new and more efficient ways to deliver programs and services. We are reducing red tape, moving out of direct delivery of services that can be done better by others and fostering industry self-reliance. This bill is about reducing red tape and improving efficiencies, which will create an improved business climate for industry. In making these changes, we are streamlining the ministry and reducing costs by over $22 billion. Industry will become more self-reliant and will find ways to deliver the services it needs at a reasonable cost.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I had a hard time listening to some of the statements the prior speaker made, especially about the $100-billion debt. If he goes back through history, he'll find out who created most of that, and it wasn't the Liberals. I'd like to play back to him some of the brainwaves the former Tories had, in oil and gas purchases, in resorts, in land purchases.
The Tories, when they were in opposition, were always whining that agriculture didn't get its share of the budget, and the Tory members were always wanting more. I could play that back to you from Hansard. But I'm telling you, they sure have the record for cutting the agriculture budget.
The members also say that services won't be cut. The previous speaker and the Tory members are going to have quite a time convincing rural Ontario that services aren't going to be cut, with some of the things that have already happened, and more will happen as things unfold.
I would hope that members across the way would take a little time to go back through history and see who created the debt and who did the cutting. I think it would be a good lesson for everyone, because you're not fooling anyone in rural Ontario. I'm sure as we get into the next year, they'll find out more. I think you've got a lot of answering to do.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): Let me make a couple of comments in response to the remarks made by the government member. He said that most of the bill that's before us came as a result of consultation that took place, where the minister and his PA went out and talked to people about the changes they wanted to see. I find it hard to believe -- in fact, I find it unbelievable that the people they talked to said: "I want a whole whack of new user fees in the agricultural sector. I want a whole lot less service in the agricultural sector. I now want to pay for services that, before, I used to receive from the public of Ontario through this ministry."
I find it unbelievable that the member could stand in his place and somehow tell us that as a result of consultation that took place in the farm community, the new user fees implemented through this bill are something the people in rural Ontario want, something farmers want. That is just not believable and it's just not true.
The fact of the matter is that your folks in the third party, when they were on this side, went all around rural Ontario and told folks, in order to buy votes, that there would be no cuts to agriculture. They made it absolutely clear. It was an ironclad promise. People ran on that during the campaign, most of the rural members who won on your side ran on that in the campaign and you have broken your promise. Why don't you stand up in this place and at least admit that is what you've done? That's exactly what has happened. Over the next two years over $50 million is going to come out of the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Finally, it was also your now Premier who ran around the province, again in an effort to buy votes, and told people there would be no new user fees, period, another ironclad promise, and this bill is chock-full of new user fees for people in rural and agricultural Ontario. That's the beginning and the end of it. Why don't you get up and admit it?
Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough): I'd just like to commend my colleague the member for Northumberland for his comments on this bill and the very good reasons why it is being introduced at this point in time. I'd also like to make a couple of comments on some considerations that were put forth from across the House.
The member for Cochrane South made some interesting observations with regard to support of processing and horticultural groups, and I think the safety still remains there. It was well displayed when the minister spoke about it earlier this afternoon and identified what is happening within inspection agencies. Certainly there is no consideration to take away from that high standard that has been maintained and preserved and will continue to be preserved within the industry. Neither the producers nor the processors would even consider -- I emphasize the word "consider," as the member mentioned -- reducing the standards or jeopardizing the domestic food industry that they've brought to this point in Ontario. It is ridiculous even to consider such a thing and make that statement that would bring the producers and processors to that level.
The other thing is to maintain a viable agriculture. For once we've seen a government come forth that has worked with all segments of the agricultural aspect of industries and provides the opportunity for industry to be directly involved in decisions that will work with their industry and preserve it for years to come. I think that is the difference with this government, and for that reason we move forward in this way, to take away redundant aspects and put forth the real, true projects and the support the industry requires.
Mr Hoy: Today we've entered into discussions about inspections of farm produce, more particularly fruit and vegetables, earlier in the afternoon. The question is one of credibility, that the inspection is done properly, that producers are protected and know that inspections are being done so they can maintain the high quality of inspection and belief that their produce is of the best, and of course Ontario's product is in that category. As well, we're talking about consumer confidence that the inspection program is being carried out at all times with the most regard for quality, and Ontario enjoys that today.
I'm reading from the Grower, a horticultural industry pamphlet, which says: "The horticultural inspection program will see 32.5 full-time-equivalent positions slashed to 7.5 full-time-equivalent positions and a major reduction in provided services. The government estimates that the restructuring will garner $1.3 million in savings." I believe that the whole program is $1.6 million, so they're slashing very hard at this program, one that producers have enjoyed to give them a credibility of product which always existed. It's a verification that this is the case and it gives consumers confidence that what they are buying is what is labelled and what is boxed and what is put in bags.
We know full well that Ontario has enjoyed this. Our national reputation for good product is world-renowned. It allows us to make inroads into other markets around the world, and this is what the world is about: new markets, new opportunities and new places to do business.
Mr Galt: I'm glad to be able to respond to some of the comments. The member for Cornwall made reference that they weren't the only ones who created the debt; and, yes, in the beginning of time until 1985 there was approximately $30 billion of debt that was run up. That moved up towards around $50 billion by 1990, and the debt --
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): It was $40 billion; get it straight.
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Order.
Mr Galt: -- and the annual budget doubled during those five years, so I think maybe they could have controlled the budget just a little bit better.
The opposition member from Sudbury East, making reference and kind of laughing at the approach the ministry used in the round table discussions -- certainly a democratic process in developing a business plan and putting priorities forward, and the farmers were certainly more than pleased to develop priorities. They are very realistic in their approach and they know that the government is in trouble financially. They established priorities, and this government is meeting the priorities those farmers established at that time.
The member for Essex-Kent, commenting on concerns about reduction in numbers of inspectors -- it's no wonder we have to cut back on inspectors again because of the budget problem. If there are two people who have a combined budget, possibly a married couple, and one goes out for a few years and spends a whole lot of money and puts the couple in debt, and then the other member comes along and tries to bail the couple out and pay it off, who's the one that's really blamed for the mess? Is it the one who tries to balance the books afterwards and straightens up the mess, or is it the one who's been out spending like crazy, like a kid in a candy shop, spending uncontrollably for several years?
Who's to blame? I would suggest the one who was spending uncontrollably. That's exactly what was going on for 10 years, and maybe it's just about time that both the Liberals and the NDP understood that.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Crozier: It's my pleasure as well today to stand in this place and make a few comments regarding Bill 46. Certainly, I have heard during the debate today that much of this bill is about money.
The member for Northumberland stands over there, not taking the advice of the member for Essex-Kent and getting out of the building before the manure spreader starts, and says that the debt went up $10 billion between 1985 and 1991. He should know full well that it only went up $5 billion above the $30 billion that the Conservative Party had accumulated before that. He also knows that the first balanced budget in 23 years was a Liberal balanced budget; and most of all, that the Taxfighter, Mike Harris, voted for the biggest personal income tax increase in Ontario's history.
It's no wonder that the people I represent in Essex South, which happens to be the most southerly riding in the province of Ontario -- and we have in that riding the township of Pelee, which is the most southerly area in Canada. I'm quite proud to represent that area because, of the eight townships and the five small urban municipalities that I represent, agriculture is probably -- in fact, I could say safely is -- the most important industry in the area. That's why I want to take a few minutes to speak to you today.
I might say, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the bill, that the member for Northumberland said he was embarrassed by the term "OMAFRA." In fact, I have two suggestions for you, and I sincerely hope you take this back, because I think you can do something about it. We were going to rename OMAFRA the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, and that meant that part of your responsibility should be, in fact, the development of rural Ontario, so the word also meant something.
The member for Northumberland, as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Environment and Energy -- and I'll try to get his attention once more -- could do something else for rural Ontario. He could get off his duff and after a year of sitting on the question of semi-raised septic systems, do something for rural Ontario: Allow semi-raised septic beds to be used. They're less costly and just as effective, and we were told in this Legislature just a few days ago that they're going to be another two months looking at this. I can't imagine that.
Our concern is that the minister responsible for that might not even be around here in two months. Then are we going to take another year? I say to the member for Northumberland, you could be very helpful to rural Ontario by going back to your office and getting the minister to put pen in hand and sign the approval for the use of semi-raised septic systems in rural Ontario.
There are other things that we can do, I'm sure, but we're here today to debate Bill 46, An Act to amend or revoke various statutes administered by or affecting the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and to enact other statutes administered by the Ministry. That's a mouthful. It's almost as much of a mouthful as the omnibus Bill 26 that we dealt with earlier this year in that this is an omnibus agricultural bill. It repeals eight acts, amends six more, creates AgriCorp, the Agriculture and Food Institute of Ontario, and crop insurance, so it covers all of those areas, quite a large agenda.
It was mentioned earlier in the debate that in order to get to this point, they went around the province in round table discussions. I repeat the comments of one of our colleagues earlier. I'm sure as well that at these round table discussions, the farm business people in the province of Ontario didn't say, "Yes, in spite of the fact that you're saying you will not cut one red cent from agriculture, yes, you can cut $82 million and you can put a whole range of new user fees on us."
That's incredible, it's unbelievable, and I doubt they said that. I suspect that when the Conservatives went around pre-election and told the farm community that you weren't going to touch agriculture, they did say, "We appreciate that because we are among the most efficient in agriculture in Canada and in the world, and we've done what we can to improve our lot and we appreciate the fact that the government understands."
We know in this place that agriculture receives a very small part of the Ontario budget. We've been told that earlier, that it's now less than one half of 1% of all government spending. However, agriculture and the food industry contribute greatly to the economy. About 5.8% of Ontario's gross domestic product comes from agriculture industries, and I know that full well. As I said, in Essex county we have one of the largest food processors in the province of Ontario, in the Dominion of Canada, that being the H.J. Heinz Co, because of course I come from the tomato capital of Canada. My home town happens to claim that, and we have this huge tomato in the main street to remind everybody of that.
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): And the Tomato Festival.
Mr Crozier: Thank you. I'm reminded that we have the Tomato Festival as well. It's not the only tomato festival in Canada; there's another one held a little east of us, but we were first. And we have the corn fest in Tecumseh, so Essex county is full of fun and food, and agriculture provides all that.
But my point is, as I said, I come from Leamington. It claims to be the tomato capital of Canada and I think the world, but it's the surrounding area that contributes to that. Not very many tomatoes are grown in Leamington; a lot of them have nice steak tomatoes in the garden, but most of the tomatoes are grown in Essex and Kent county that are processed down in southwestern Ontario, resulting in 5.8%, or its contribution thereto, of the gross domestic product in the province of Ontario. It's second only to the automotive industry, and there too I'm proud: Essex South is on the border of the city of Windsor, one of the great automotive-producing cities in the world. As a matter of fact, I even drive one of the vehicles that comes from that city, so I'm proud to say I do that as well.
I want to give you some idea of just what agriculture means to Essex county, to Kent county and to the province of Ontario. These figures come from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs -- we prefer it be called rural development -- in Essex. They are 1993 figures, so we can take these and I'm sure even improve upon them.
Estimated crop and livestock production in the county of Essex, $237.7 million; estimated livestock, milk, poultry and other, $16.8 million; field crop production, and this would include wheat, oats, barley, mixed grain, grain corn, silage corn, soybeans, tobacco, hay, seed crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, other and sunflowers, $92.7 million.
Processing vegetable crops -- I just talked about the great H.J. Heinz Co that has contributed so much to our local community, a great corporate citizen. Tomatoes, cucumbers --
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): Are you getting a pension or something?
Mr Crozier: You know how great they are, don't you? You know why the H.J. Heinz Co is among the greatest.
Mr Chudleigh: Well, you are getting your pension.
Mr Crozier: I worked there for 11 years and I did accumulate some pension, yes, and they haven't taken it away from me either.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, green and waxed beans, peppers, green peas, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin and squash, $18.7 billion. Fruit crops -- we have everything in Essex and Kent counties. You can go to Colasanti's; they grow oranges and lemons. I'm often asked early in the spring when the palm trees are coming out in Essex county.
Fruit crops in Essex county, $7.8 million. The greenhouse and nursery industry -- just to show you how important it is to our area, I suspect, and I hoped I would be able to get these figures that we are now the county that has the most area under glass, in other words in greenhouses, anywhere in the province of Ontario. Just in case I'm wrong, we've had an ongoing battle with the Niagara Peninsula because they're a great greenhouse growing area as well. The greenhouse and nursery business in Essex county alone, $85 million.
Fresh vegetables -- every time I come down here now I have to bring my trunk half full of tomatoes and vegetables. Robert Fisher from Global TV loves the tomatoes that come from Essex county. In fact, he and Paul Vasey of CBC Windsor have dubbed me, and I appreciate it very much, the tomato king. Can you believe that? Isn't that great?
Mr Christopherson: Some things are worth dying for.
Mr Crozier: "Some things are worth dying for," the member says, and it's almost that way.
Fresh vegetable crops, $16.6 billion.
So there we are. I've only outlined part of what is so important to Essex and Kent counties and the surrounding area: agriculture.
Mr Chudleigh: It's $160 million, not billion. You said $18 billion.
Mr Crozier: If I said $18 billion, perhaps I was stretching the truth just a bit. I'll correct that. That's fine. I wouldn't want any billion-dollar figures to sneak in where they wouldn't, because this government, when it comes to talking about money, exaggerates to no end, and I certainly wouldn't want to be like them.
Over a year they've absolutely slashed social services in this province, they're slashing money out of agriculture that they said they would never do and they still talk about $1 million an hour. I suspect that their tax cut has simply added back that money -- the fact that the debt is going to get to $120 billion, this government's plan, that they're going to borrow more money than the debt of the Liberal Party in its five years -- can you believe that? -- just to give a tax cut to the rich. If that figure is still $1 million an hour, it must be because of their tax cut. I can't think of any other reason.
As I pointed out, agriculture is very important to us. I've talked about money, but the agrifood industry provides about 640,000 jobs in the agribusiness in the province of Ontario. That's just slightly less than the 725,000 jobs the government says it's going to create with its tax cut for the rich. Of course they've slowed down the tax cut to the rich, but they can't simply not do it, because that's the only job plan they have. Can you imagine that they say they're going to create with this tax cut to the rich more jobs in all of agriculture in the province of Ontario? I hope they can, but the problem is that they're way behind. They're going to have to create a lot more jobs over the next three or four years than they've created up to now or their job plan is down the tube.
Farm cash receipts -- I'm going to get this figure right -- in Ontario totalled $6.2 billion in 1994. The minister is introducing this legislation on AgriCorp for the purpose, it says, of administering the Crop Insurance Act. We know that it's going to do a lot more than that. That may be the simple explanation they want most to understand, but to use an old agricultural term, we didn't just fall off a turnip wagon. We know what's going on.
AgriCorp will be allowed to perform a number of other duties that it's going to have. Something that AgriCorp will be allowed to perform, other than the duties conferred on it: They'll be responsible for any agreement made between the government of Ontario or any of its agencies and with the government of Canada and its agencies, and AgriCorp will be able to make agreements and deal with any person, it says. I'll have a little bit to say later about this "any person" issue.
Slashing the government's budget and reducing staff to OMAFRA cause one to wonder; you have to really think about whether AgriCorp will be involved in any more programs. I think the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is sincere; I think he's a good person. I've only been here a couple of years and I know he has agriculture's interests at heart and he has the support of a lot of backbenchers, because most them come from rural Ontario, but I really don't think he has the support of the cabinet around the table.
We're concerned that in this downsizing, in this reduction of ministries, somewhere down the road the Ministry of Agriculture may simply disappear and crown agencies will handle all its business. All these user fees will then surface and maybe even a few things left with agriculture, because it is a big business -- maybe the ministry of industry, trade and commerce will handle them. Wouldn't that be awful? Can you imagine, albeit the great business person the minister of industry, trade and commerce and tourism is? We wouldn't want anybody from Bay Street handling that business, would we? I hope this isn't just a move towards abolishing the Ministry of Agriculture.
Fees and service charges: My friend the member for Cochrane South mentioned very briefly fees and service charges. He had a great deal of important information, important things to say about this bill, and I know he didn't feel he had enough time to spend. But fees and service charges are of prime concern to those of us concerned about agriculture. For example, the government has attached a $25 user fee to farmers applying for the summer experience wage assistance program. Can you imagine this? They're charging farmers a fee to help youth and others get employment.
On the other hand, the Minister of Community and Social Services just today said: "Do you know what we're going to do when it comes to welfare recipients? We're going to pay headhunters to get them jobs." But do you know what they do to agriculture? "We're going to charge you to help us employ people." Can you believe that? I can't. Coming from an agricultural community, I can't believe they're going to charge farmers to employ people but they're going to pay city folk to find jobs for other people. It doesn't make sense.
We're talking about food. Well, I think this government has an appetite, a great appetite for user fees. In addition to this $25 user fee, they're going to promote, either directly or indirectly, other user fees. We know already that there are going to be user fees charged by municipalities on parks, libraries, transit, fire department calls. All of this is going to affect our agricultural community, without doubt. We all know that user fees imposed on Ontario farmers could be very detrimental to their economic future.
Ontario farmers will be faced with these user fees at a time when it's devastating, notwithstanding the fact that it was mentioned earlier by the member for Northumberland that productivity has increased over years. For goodness' sake, the only way farmers would have been able to survive is if they had been innovative and increased productivity, with the prices they get today. So of course they've helped themselves, have become more efficient, have become more productive. But imposing user fees at a time like this is certainly no way to thank the farming community for what it's done.
We look at the Agriculture and Food Institute, and we see the words "fees and service charges." Look at the provisions for the appeal board and its powers, and what do we see? We see fees and service charges. If you look at the amendment to the Farm Products Grades and Sales Act, what do we see? They may be able to establish fees and service charges.
At the same time, this government says, "We're going to do more for less." I heard the term "BS" used earlier today, so I guess that's okay, although I'm not inclined to use it very often, but when I really mean it, I can use it. That's just so much farm bull. They're not going to do more for less. They're going to do less and they're going to charge you for it, is what's going to happen.
The food inspectors: That's been a great bit of debate today in the Legislature. There was a lot of talk about food inspection. The Minister of Agriculture told us, "Well, these inspectors aren't here to protect the consumers of Ontario." Well, I beg to differ. I think any inspector in the agrifood industry is there for our protection. They're there to protect quality and they're there also, if it happens that they should discover anything untoward, to be able to take care of a matter like that.
But no, I just read here from some information I have that nearly all the inspectors who help monitor Ontario produce for pesticide residues are being eliminated to save money. But the province's agriculture minister says consumers who are concerned about contaminants in food should send the food to the government for testing. Can you believe that? The Minister of Agriculture of the province of Ontario says if you're concerned about your food -- and for the vast majority, they needn't be -- "`any individual who feels there may be a problem, the individuals or the consumers, they're certainly welcome to send their samples,' said Noble Villeneuve."
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): Just mail it in.
Mr Crozier: Just send your samples in.
Mr Michael Brown: Do you need stamps?
Mr Crozier: No, you need ice boxes, because your food's going to spoil if you send it in, and certainly it'll be bad then. An official at the government laboratory in Guelph who does the testing says it costs between $250 and $1,000 a sample, and fresh produce sent through the mail would not arrive in any shape to be tested. Can you believe it, that a Minister of Agriculture of the province of Ontario would say, "Well, consumer, just send in anything you're concerned about," but send in a cheque for between $250 and -- well, why don't you send in a cheque for $1,000 and we'll send you whatever change is left over. That's ridiculous.
The onus shouldn't be on the consumer to guard against toxic chemicals or any other underquality. It should be the government that's there to protect us. They're simply abdicating their responsibility in the name of downsizing, economy and tax breaks. Boy, I get excited when I read that kind of thing.
When the minister started talking about cuts, his tune changed a little from "We aren't going to touch agricultural spending," to "No agricultural program would be cut." First came the fruit land preservation program. It was axed. Now farm groups say the grain financial protection program will be cut. This really erodes the level of trust farmers might extend to the user fees and other service charges, because what the minister's saying is, "We're going to fight to retain certain areas and we're going to have to charge you user fees to do that," but at the same time, they are making cuts to programs. I don't know what's to be believed, and that's the concern. When I go to Blondes, when I go to Scholars early in the morning, when I go out to the Arner Stop, when I go to Shep's in Harrow, these are the kinds of concerns that farmers bring to me.
Certainly, they want to be part of the solution, as the minister said, not part of the problem, but you know, all they want is for you to be honest with them. They thought the government was honest with them when they said it wouldn't make any cuts at all. There have been cuts. There are farm organizations that have tried very hard and I think do say, "Maybe you've found that we do have to share in further efficiencies in government." But for goodness' sake, be on the level with them. It's time to level with the farmers in the province. Don't play around with their trust.
In Bill 46, we have AgriCorp making regulations, AgriCorp providing for the collection of levies or charges. There seems to be no end to these. I mentioned earlier about "any class of person." Our omnibus Bill 26 had that term in it, "any class of person." As I recall, and it seems so long ago, it had to do with municipal charges. That same wording is used in here. Therefore we really seriously question this government in the area of user fees. Why do you have to have them in there and what intention does the government really have?
My time is nearly up. I've appreciated the opportunity to share my views with you and frankly to share the view of many of the fine farming community constituents I have. All they want to do is to be able to make a living. They do it well. We're the best in the world. All they're asking for in some cases is a little help. But be honest with them. Tell them what you're going to do, why you're going to do it, and I think they'll try and work along with us all.
Thank you. I appreciate the time to share my thoughts with you.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Bisson: I want to make comments on the speech by the honourable member from the Liberal Party. I just want to say that he points out, I think quite well, the effect this legislation is going to have with the transformation of services from the Ministry of Agriculture over to AgriCorp. We know, as the member pointed out, that what is going to happen is that the services that used to be provided by the Ministry of Agriculture will be transferred over to AgriCorp when it comes to the insurance stabilization program and other programs. The result of that is going to be that services that used to be provided by the ministry at no cost in regard to user fees to the farm community are going to result in user fees for the farm community.
I guess it goes contrary to two things, the first part being that the government had promised during the election and prior to the election that they would not cut funding at the Ministry of Agriculture and the new services. Yet again they've cut services and there go more services. Budgets have gone and also service has gone. But probably more important, what we're seeing is yet more costs being passed on to the farmers of the community across Ontario. I don't see that as particularly being very good for farmers and I wonder, as does the member for Essex-Kent, I believe is the riding --
Mr Crozier: Essex South.
Mr Bisson: Essex South. Excuse me. The people who are going to benefit out of this are not going to be the farmers in his community or the farmers in my community. It's going to be those people with big money. Quite frankly, what the government is supposed to be doing is making laws and making programs that benefit the people of this province and not just a chosen few who happen to be contributors to the Conservative Party. With that, I will just say that the member was perfectly right in the comments he made in regard to user fees.
Mr Michael Brown: It's always interesting to listen to the member for Essex South, who brings to us a perspective that's based on one of the better agricultural areas in our communities. But his area is somewhat different than mine in Algoma-Manitoulin, where we are primarily livestock producers. This is a particularly difficult time for people in the beef industry, as members would know. Commodity prices are very low and the government, in this bill, is providing for things that I'm not sure everybody in this place is quite aware of. When you bring in an omnibus bill, there are always these sections that somehow the government backbench isn't completely aware of.
One of the sections that's causing great concern in my area is a section that allows the government to sell what are called ARDA lands. ARDA lands were purchased over a period of time by a Robarts government, I believe, perhaps a Davis government, but certainly by one of the two. They are the community pastures. At a time when livestock producers are being pushed to the wall by general commodity prices, this government wants to go out and sell the community pastures that many of our livestock producers rely on. I find that almost too incredible to believe.
I'm appealing to the government back bench, because I really believe that they probably don't know that provision's in there. I'm saying to them, on behalf of the people in communities like Manitoulin Island and along the North Shore of Lake Huron where community pastures are important, that the government says, "Whoa, we're not going to do this, especially when commodity prices are at near record lows."
Mr Danford: I'd just like to respond to a couple of comments that were made by the speaker, and I appreciate his comments many times. I think we share the same background and I think we share the same feelings, but I think there are a couple of comments that were made that were somewhat inaccurate.
I think the benefit of the AgriCorp program, and it's been discussed with the industry, is clearly defined with who will be operating it, and I think the simple fact of the administration costs at the present time will be able to implemented with the program and the benefits of that go directly back to the farming community. I think that will be the savings and I think that has to be clearly identified. I'd just like to point that out.
I think the other comment that was made about the grain financial protection program is not part of this, and I think that was perhaps a little different issue. I think we're talking about a different issue as contained in this bill. I think there was reference made to that. I don't believe that's correct. So I would just point that out to the member opposite.
Thank you for those comments.
Mr Bradley: I thought the speech was excellent. He's obviously a member, the member for Essex North, who is aware of agricultural issues --
Mr Bisson: South.
Mr Bradley: South and North both are very good at that. The member for Essex South is particularly, although I would not want to downgrade the member for Essex North, who is now Essex-Kent, as being very good at this.
I'm glad he brought out the fact that there have been cuts in the agricultural ministry, because I've been trying to help my friend the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who I'm sure would like to have all of the necessary resources to carry out his responsibilities of protecting the farming industry in the province of Ontario and the food in the province.
Yet I know the others in the cabinet, probably the president of the Treasury Board, of the Management Board, or the Premier and the Treasurer and so on, these are people who are imposing their will on the minister of agriculture, who must be fighting -- I assume he's fighting hard -- for the necessary resources in cabinet; and yet now we find that the government is going to be implementing, according to the member for Essex South, user fees which are going to affect farmers adversely in this province.
The farmers I talk to are facing real challenges, and what they say is they don't need any additional costs being placed on them. I thought that that's what was happening. So now I know why 13 Tory MPPs signed a letter requesting that Mr Harris uphold his promise to protect agricultural funding. I know that.
Mr Michael Brown: He ignored them.
Mr Bradley: I wish he had paid attention to those MPPs. I wish they'd go public, call a press conference. I'll be there to support them on this occasion, as I would always be, because I know their hearts would be in it. I know behind closed doors, the caucus room, they are probably putting forth this case, but the only way that you can teach the cabinet a lesson, let me assure you, is to go public with these concerns and then you'll find you get results.
Mr Crozier: I appreciate the comments of my colleagues on all sides of the House, and if anything was misinterpreted I'm glad it was clarified. It's only in my enthusiasm and my sincerity about my riding that I may have gotten carried away.
I had a post-budget meeting a couple of weeks ago -- and we'd had a visitor to our riding, even though the chamber of commerce told the Tory representative that they had their own MPP and he could explain the budget -- and one of the questions asked by one of the individuals there, and he was a greenhouse grower, was if I knew how much taxes were collected in Essex South and how much government money over the years had been spent in Essex South. I told him, quite honestly, I didn't know that answer, because we come from a very affluent area of the province and we appreciate it. It isn't a case of whether we get back every nickel that we put into the government. The point is, the reason for taxes is to spread the wealth. Unlike a tax cut for the rich, it's to spread the wealth in the province.
All we're asking in Essex South, and all this greenhouse grower was asking, is that the Minister of Transportation look at the Highway 3 bypass. It's in great need of being improved so that the produce can move from the greenhouses, from the fields. A lot of it is exported to the United States. All we need is the Highway 3 bypass looked at and improved so that we can move that great farm produce out of the southern part of the county, much of it to the United States. That's all we ask.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I'm surprised that the other parties don't want to comment on this, but I'm glad to have our turn. I know we have a few more speakers on this.
This AgriCorp bill is, from the minister's point of view, very important legislation, and one that gives us great cause for alarm in fact. While the minister will say from time to time that the two previous governments proposed similar types of organizations, this minister has certainly developed this bill now into, as my colleagues have said, a large omnibus bill that basically amends many acts that have served Ontario farmers well over the years. It's certainly gone beyond the original intention of what the Liberal government wanted to see with an AgriCorp.
One thing we also wanted to do with AgriCorp is not only to develop a crown agency that the federal government would be more willing to put its stabilization and crop insurance money into, but also to move that organization into southwestern Ontario and move it out of Toronto. That was our plan too, and if I remember, we wanted to put that into Chatham so that we would continue the relocation of jobs that we were doing in northern Ontario and also starting to do in southern Ontario, to make sure that rural Ontario received its fair share of the jobs that tend to be around Queen's Park and in this jurisdiction.
I think it's also fair to point out that while this AgriCorp bill goes beyond the original intentions of our government to develop a crown agency to handle crop insurance and the stabilization programs, it also introduces a raft of user fees, brand-new user fees for Ontario farmers. With that, we fear, as we've talked about food testing, possibly a lack of service, because farmers may not access all these services because of those fees. Contrast that with a broken promise that while we are looking to farmers to pay more in user fees, the Conservative government broke its promise to the farmers of Ontario that it would not be cutting the agriculture budget.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): Who said that?
Mr Ramsay: I think Mike Harris said this, and this present Minister of Agriculture had said -- and it is in writing in the Common Sense Revolution -- that there would not be a cut to agriculture, yet we see by this budget of this year that $82 million has been cut from the OMAFRA budget. People in rural Ontario -- not just farmers; it's all the people in the agrifood industry, which is the second-largest industry in this province after the automobile industry -- are very concerned about the direction of this government, especially after they had said they would preserve funding for rural Ontario and for agriculture.
I wanted to touch upon a couple of the areas that bring me great concern about this bill. Actually, my colleague from Algoma-Manitoulin had touched on one. I can give you a personal anecdote about one of these, and that is the ARDA program. As the member had mentioned, the ARDA program was a rural development program started by the last Conservative government whereby farms that were being abandoned by many small, inefficient farmers were consolidated by the government. It was really a time and a type of program where government saw an opportunity to help agriculture consolidate and expand, so they bought up a lot of the smaller farms and made them available to farmers who were growing and developing.
I say to my friend and colleague the member for Algoma-Manitoulin that I purchased one of those farms. It was one of the three farms I had, and one of them was an ARDA farm. It gave me an opportunity at that time to buy a second farm from my home farm, to be able to expand my farm operation. Some of that land -- I tiled all the cleared land. I was able to rent a bulldozer and a big breaker plow. I'm sure the Minister of Agriculture would be interested in this: to picture me driving a D-8 bulldozer with a three-foot breaker plow behind, where I was able to plow under 15-foot tag alders that had grown on the previously cleared land and clear it again. That land I was then able to tile drain and redevelop a piece of land that had been abandoned by another farmer years ago.
It was a very good program. It was a transfer of farm land from farmers who were maybe going to retire, who had a small farm in the old days and milked 10 or 12 cows, say, to farmers of the next generation who were coming along but didn't have the immediate capital to expand. There was an opportunity to rent that land from the Ministry of Agriculture for a while, with an option at the end of the 10-year period to purchase that land, which I eventually did.
Today we have the situation, as the minister would know, where we have an aging farm population. I think the average age of farmers today in Ontario is around 56 to 57 years of age. I looked to the minister to correct me, but he hasn't, so I take it that's what it is. That should be a concern to a minister and other members of this Legislative Assembly for a province that prides itself as being the primary agricultural producer of this country. Not too many people appreciate that perhaps, because we think of the prairie provinces as big agricultural producers, and that they are, certainly on land base, but when it comes to total crop value and diversity of crops, the province of Ontario really is the leader in the whole agrifood industry.
Just to give you an example of the diversity of Ontario agriculture, the state of Michigan, which is very comparable both in latitude and proximity to Ontario, produces about 112 different commodities, yet here in Ontario we produce over 200, and that number is growing with the expansion of the exotic types of horticultural products and livestock products. Ontario is an extremely viable agricultural entity and obviously a part of the economy we need to expand, to nourish, so that not only can that industry nourish us in its food production but also expand its exportation of food around the world and, maybe more important, the expertise, the technical transfer of information we develop here in Ontario.
It's a very important ministry, so we don't like to see any diminishment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, as it's now called, in this province. We think it should be, if you will, beefed up. It should be put back to the funding level it was at so that Ontario farmers and agrifood producers understand that this government, any Ontario government, wants to back this particular industry.
Part of this ARDA program, the way it developed after farmers such as myself decided either to buy the land or not, in many areas the land left over or other land amassed by the ARDA program was developed into community pastures. Many of the different counties and districts of Ontario have these community pastures. There's a big concern for the Timiskaming community pasture right now. I've been speaking to Earl Read from Thorneloe, who is the manager of the community pasture. What Earl tells me -- and he's going to take me out to the community pasture on Saturday morning as part of my duties on the weekend, after being in a parade for the township of Armstrong before that on Saturday morning -- is that the community pasture in Timiskaming has been self-sufficient for three years, so they are paying as they go; the user fees are there and it is a self-sufficient community pasture.
The problem is that when this government, through its business plan, insists that that community pasture divest itself of the land, we're going to find that those farmers in my area, a poorer agricultural area than that of my colleague from Essex South, for example, are not going to be able to afford to purchase that land and that pasture that has been well managed, has been amassed into a very viable community pasture accessed by many farmers, that allows them to put surplus animals on to that farm. We're going to lose that.
What's going to happen is that there's not going to be one farmer in my area who will be able to afford to buy that land. It will be broken up, and maybe other farmers or land developers or other people are going to start to buy pieces of this land. It would really be a shame to see this land broken up, to see the end of this community pasture business. And it is a business. They're running it like a business. It's self-sustainable and paying as it goes.
That would be a real shame, so I would ask the minister to look at cases such as this, to not break up these things. A previous government way back purchased this land; it's a capital expenditure that's been written off. It remains an asset for all the people of Ontario. Today it doesn't cost you anything because the taxes are being paid, all the overhead on this land is being paid. In fact, we could even look at this community pasture business over the years and maybe ask them to start to make a profit on it, and of course that profit should be turned over to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. I would have no problem with that. They could start to generate revenue for the government.
I would certainly ask the minister and the other members up there in the Tory caucus who represent rural municipalities to take a look at this before you start going holus-bolus into all these business plans that are going to disrupt many of these programs, such as the community pasture program that has been very successful across this province.
Minister, I'm very glad you're here and listening to this, and I applaud you for that. You can hear my message directly on behalf of the people I'm speaking for, and I thank you for that. What I'd ask you is to work with the people who are managing these community pastures, to find some alternative, maybe even ask them to try over the next couple of years to generate revenue for you. They're at a point where they're breaking even, as I said. Work with them and they could be generating revenue. That land remains an asset for all the people. It could really benefit areas such as mine where we're not the richest agricultural base and having access to this extra land base for pasture is a tremendous advantage.
I think the minister would agree that if we should be encouraging anything in agriculture in this province, we should be encouraging the return of the beef industry. It's a shame -- the economics have made this happen -- that we're losing the beef industry in this province. There's probably no better place in this country than northern Ontario to have a cow-calf operation. We could be producing calves like they do in Alberta. We could be producing all the calves for this province and they could be coming into southern Ontario, where they should be, to be fattened and fed with the grains we're growing here.
Unfortunately, what we're going to in southern Ontario is more of a cash crop situation. That's giving us environmental imbalances, as we're not creating the byproducts from animal husbandry that we should be having. If you take a look at southwestern Ontario, there's not very much livestock past Woodstock. Basically, everything west of Woodstock is cash crop; everything this side of Woodstock is more the dairy and the beef. We really could be doing something to encourage, and maybe just allowing these community pastures to remain would be a very good idea.
I would ask the minister to look at that, to work with community groups and try to preserve the community pasture base that's there. You're not doing them any favours, Minister, and I'm not asking for a government subsidy. In fact, they're at break-even now. Why don't you ask them in the next few years to start generating a profit on them and put that profit back into the ministry? I think that would be a good start. You'd be asking farmers to run these community pastures as a business, which I think you have every right to do, but please don't break them up.
Another area I want to speak to in Bill 46 is food testing. This, as you know, is a big concern to consumers out there. I know there were questions from the two opposition parties today in question period with regard to the testing of food products in Ontario.
Probably no aspect of government affects people and concerns people as much as the food we consume. I would think the average consumer would expect you, as the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to guarantee that the food we purchase in the stores -- and I like to go shopping every week in my community to meet people; I like to cook and prepare food. I like to feel confident that when I or my wife go grocery shopping, the food we are selecting in our grocery stores and markets and farmers' markets around the province is safe. We, as consumers and taxpayers, should feel that our taxpayer dollars go towards a system that would ensure the safety of our food.
Minister, you know that the concerns of scientists and consumers are sometimes different in terms of what constitutes food safety. But all the areas, whether they're spray residues or different moulds or bacteria or parasites on food, all the various contaminants that can get into our food supply, are of a concern to you as the minister and to all of us as consumers. We think it's very important that we have a very strong and vigilant food inspection system. We in the Liberal caucus were very concerned that after going to court during the strike and trying to convince a judge that meat inspectors were an essential service, shortly thereafter, at the end of the strike, you fired those meat inspectors. We were quite shocked by that and we feel there should be a strong government presence when it comes to food inspection.
The same with horticultural products. Again, we believe there should be a very strong presence both from the federal government, as you mentioned in your response today in questions, and from the provincial government in food inspection. We have the very best high-tech, well-equipped labs in this province to be available for food testing. The member for St Catharines is going to be here shortly and speak to this bill in a few minutes, and I know he knows that's important too. He comes from an area that's very heavily involved in horticultural products, in greenhousing and of course viniculture, as we have expanded our grape-growing capacity and our wine-making capacity.
All of this is very important. It's not just important for us, the consumers in Ontario, but it's very important for the reputation of Ontario foodstuffs around the world to know, as the minister does know and I'm sure is very proud of, as I am, that Ontario and Canada have some of the highest standards of food quality in the world. You don't hear of the episodes and incidents that we hear from time to time in the United States with salmonella entering our poultry, our eggs. They've had to now make permanent laws in the state of New Jersey, for instance, that you can't have a sunny-side egg in a restaurant in New Jersey. It has to be turned over and cooked solid because of the fear of salmonella poisoning. We have a very pure food supply here in this province. We're very proud of that and it's very, very important that we ensure that's there.
The concern is that as we start to privatize a lot of these functions that I think are basic functions of government, core functions, because they are consistent with public safety and security, it's very, very important that we ensure we have the very best food inspection, whether it be horticultural products or meat products in this province. It is paramount, Minister, that we do that. With your AgriCorp bill, we get very concerned that these services and these labs, as you move away from government control, might start to open the door for work that might not be up to the standard we have always insisted on and were very proud of in the province of Ontario.
The other thing, Minister -- and as I said, I'm glad you're here so I can address you directly about this -- is we're certainly going to be watching the changes you make to the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario. When I was minister, I was very, very proud of that organization. I felt it was a very smart way of dealing with and coordinating agricultural research across the province to basically have a grass-roots and cross-section committee of scientific experts, academics and literally people in the field, the farmers and agrifood producers of this province, directly involved in advising the minister of the day how our agricultural budget should be spent.
I know you've changed the name, and you've also changed some of the responsibilities of the agriculture and food institute of Ontario. We certainly are going to be watching to make sure that this organization has the same say, has the same influence on the agricultural facilities in this province and the special agricultural research projects that, quite frankly, Ontario has been a leader in. I think part of the reason Ontario has been a leader in this area is because we've had that overview by the cross-section of people involved in agricultural research in this province giving advice to the ministry. Now they're going to be giving advice to the University of Guelph, which is the current authority and guiding light of all agricultural research, so we're certainly going to watch this and make sure that agricultural research is in good hands and that we carry on to be a world-class leader.
Ontario, as you're probably aware, has been a world-class leader in many areas of agricultural research. Whether it's in artificial insemination or in the handling and breeding and feeding of our pork industry, we know that Ontario has led the way in this research. I want to make sure of the government presence in this research fiscally, that the money is there, and also morally, that the presence is there from the minister's pushing to make sure these moneys are available from the private and public sectors so we can continue the lead.
One issue I dealt with when I was minister was a trade embargo by the United States against Ontario pork. One reason Ontario pork was such a concern to the Americans was that the American processors wanted Ontario raw pork product because it was a superior product to American pork. It was because of our leading research here in Ontario, the tremendous job that pork farmers did and still do in leading the way in breeding and handling of the pork industry that American processors wanted our product. It had a better meat-to-fat ratio than the American product, so they wanted that to process their products down there.
We've been leaders, and that's given an advantage to Ontario farmers and to the Ontario economy. We don't want to see a diminishing at all of this industry. It's important that Ontario lead the way in that industry.
I see, Minister, you're finally repealing the Oleomargarine Act. This act has given many of us heartburn when it comes to that. This act I suppose has pitted one sector of the agriculture industry versus another. I know you haven't been enforcing the law over the last little while, and I certainly haven't raised that, because even though I'm a producer and I was a dairy producer at one time, in the end the consumer should have free choice of the products she or he wants in this province.
I'll give a little anecdote to the minister. As minister I was embarrassed when I was in Washington, talking to the American dairy commission. They were showing me all the different milk products they have down there and I said that soon, as I did, I would have to deal with the issue of 1% milk, that I would have to sign off to give permission to consumers in Ontario to purchase 1% milk because it had to be an order of the minister of the day to allow dairies to produce 1% milk.
I am in agreement that we've got to get out of this sort of thing. If the consumer wants a product and farmers are willing to produce the product, then let the farmers produce it. We've got to listen to the consumers out there. That's what's important.
Right now if you look at the shelves -- it's great when you travel; I wish everybody would travel. When you travel, in every country one thing you've got to go to is grocery stores and you see the products there. In the United States, not only do they have all sorts of variants of milk fat in their milk products but also of milk solids, so if you're looking for more calcium or more other minerals or more protein in milk, you can buy that product in the United States. I think we've got to deregulate that part of it so the consumer can buy the product he or she wants.
Another example is that maple syrup producers were very upset with me because I was going to, and I did, authorize them to blend real maple syrup with artificial syrup. I love, and I told them --
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Shame, shame. What would they say about that in Lanark?
Mr Ramsay: It's a big product now, and they're selling more maple syrup than ever before, and that's what I told them. I love maple syrup and I eat 100% maple syrup on my waffles every Sunday morning, but not everybody, because it's an expensive product, can get that. We had surpluses of maple syrup in barrels in Ontario and in Quebec, so people like President's Choice said, "You know, we could blend 15% of real maple syrup with a sugar product and we could sell a lot more maple syrup." I agreed with them, and that's what's come to pass, but why we have to come to government to do this I don't know.
In this aspect of food regulation, let's get out of regulating what the consumer can buy or not buy. Let the consumer buy what he or she wants to and let's get out of that business. I'd like you to be in there inspecting products and making sure they're safe, but let's get out of the consumer's food basket. When a consumer wants a product and we've got farmers and producers and agriproducers who want to produce that, let them do that. Let's free that up so it can happen.
I conclude with that. I know my colleagues would like to comment on this and maybe the minister or some of his colleagues would like to comment too on some things I've said today.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I listened intently to the comments made by the member for Timiskaming, the riding just south of where I live. I can't help but think the member was trying to entice some reaction about members not participating in this debate, but the member had other things to do earlier. I gave over a one-hour speech in regard to what I think this bill means to the farmers of northern Ontario and I think a number of other members would comment on that. I will not banter with you, but I think your comments earlier on were uncalled for.
I've got to say I agree with one point in your speech in regard to the question of meat and vegetable and fruit inspectors. It seems to me that the government during the time of the OPSEU strike was quite clear and explicit about its support of meat inspection in the province of Ontario. It said if the strike didn't end, if something didn't happen, if meat inspectors didn't get back to work, people in Ontario were going to be at risk, that we needed to be able to inspect that meat, and I agree. I agreed then and I agree now. The government really made this the raison d'être, one issue why they felt the OPSEU strike needed to end.
In this land of Tory economics we find that the government is cutting back 80% of those inspectors. The minister today, in response to a question from Mr Hampton, the member for Rainy River, said the problem only exists in 4% of meats. I guess what he was trying to allude to was that it didn't matter. I think it does, and the government had quite a different position during the strike. They were saying that inspection was necessary, and now that the strike is over the government is saying it is not necessary.
I say to the government that you can't say one thing one day and change your mind that way when you sit in government, because in the end you guys are really a bit much on this one.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions? The Chair recognizes the member for Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and East Grenville.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): You got that right, Mr Speaker. In response to my colleague from Timiskaming, the man who was minister for a period of time and I was his critic, it was very interesting to note that his AgriCorp bill was brought in very shortly before the election was called. Their AgriCorp bill was pretty much the same as ours.
My concern is that today, and again during the honourable member for Timiskaming's presentation -- he was worried about the inspection. The Ministry of Health is responsible for inspecting, as the former minister certainly knows. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for advising farmers. The reason pesticide residues are being analysed is that we can advise farmers that yes, there is a residue that is higher than it should be here, and we're continuing to do that. The honourable member seemed to want to fearmonger here. They bring in the mad cow deal. Well, I'm sorry, we don't have that problem at all. It was brought in by the member of the third party who is running for leadership. I don't know whether or not he's going to use that kind of stuff to get himself elected as leader of his party on the weekend.
California strawberries, for goodness' sake -- we just have a very minuscule amount of Ontario berries that are now available because the season is later. I can assure the good folks in Ontario that Ontario strawberries are very much safe. It's the American berries that we need to worry about, and that is a federal responsibility. I'm not shirking any responsibilities here, but there will be a federal-provincial ministers of agriculture meeting very shortly and we are very much discussing the inspection of produce, the inspection of meats. It should and probably will become a federal responsibility and uniform across the country, as it should be.
Mr Michael Brown: I appreciated very much the comments from the member for Timiskaming, a former Minister of Agriculture and a superb Minister of Agriculture who visited my constituency on more than one occasion in that capacity. I can recall us out on Oliver Runnalls' farm on Berry Island having a look at his beef herd, and over at Bill Clark's in Gordon township having a look at Bill's state-of-the-art dairy operation. That's what I would like to remind the minister of today in particular.
We in our part of northern Ontario, and I suspect all across northern Ontario, are very concerned with the fact that the minister has not seen fit to hold hearings across northern Ontario with the new pooling arrangement for fluid milk. My farmers and producers are concerned and we would like, and would have liked, the ministry to hold hearings on this issue in the northern constituencies. What surprised us is that under the former government there had been a review of this whole issue. The issue had been decided, and nothing was to happen under the old regime, but out of nowhere the minister appears to have directed the board to decide that we would eliminate those pools. That is a concern of my constituents, and those people would like the opportunity to just have some input, to be able to talk about it. They are not necessarily opposed, but they thought there should be a consultation on this very important issue, and we are very disappointed the ministry would not do that.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? Seeing none, the member for Timiskaming has two minutes.
Mr Ramsay: First off, I'd like to say to the member for Cochrane South that I didn't mean any criticism. I was more or less startled when I got up, because I thought we were in rotation with the other parties. I hadn't realized, because I was in committee, that the third party had spent all its time in one speech, so I apologize to the member if he took any umbrage from that.
As I said before, I appreciate that the minister is here to listen, because it's not in every case where we debate a bill that we can directly give our message from our constituents to the minister involved sponsoring the bill, and that's an opportunity that we cherish. We're glad that he's here and took part in the debate and responded back.
I would just like to reiterate that we have concerns with this bill. We have concerns not necessarily with the direction but with the haste that you move with this direction. We want to make sure that you consult, that you work with the people involved and that you're giving the people involved the time to adjust to this, that you're there to make sure that where government is needed to be there to make sure the controls and regulations when it comes to the safety and security of our food supply are in place, they're secured by government employees. We think that's important and we ask you to keep that.
We also ask you to keep your promise to make sure the budget is there for agriculture. It is an industry that I think is just on the cusp of growing again because, as you know, we have a hungry world out there. Many of the expanding countries of the world are having, again, the inability to produce food for themselves. We are well positioned here in Ontario to start to feed the world again, and I think it's very important for the minister to make sure we have a very strong government presence in this industry in this country.
The Deputy Speaker: The Chair recognizes the member for St Catharines.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Thank you very much for the opportunity to address issues related to agriculture in this bill this afternoon, or now this evening, because there are a number of issues which are very important to the farmers in the Niagara region and, I'm sure, across this province.
What I am concerned about is what this bill doesn't address, and I relate it to the tax cut. I think it all can be related back to the tax cut. Let me tell you why I relate it to the tax cut. The government of Ontario has decided it is going to give a 30% income tax cut to the people of this province, with the most wealthy and influential people of course getting the most money from the tax cut. As I've said on many occasions, the people at the Albany Club think this is a great measure.
If the government wanted to give a token tax cut, a small tax cut to show a general direction, a lot of people out there probably would have nodded and said, "That makes some sense to at least show a direction." What I'm getting from people across the province is that they're wondering how good Conservatives like the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and others could contemplate having to borrow 13 billion additional dollars -- that's not million, that's billion -- to finance this tax cut, to give money to Conrad Black and to others in this province who are making a lot of money and are going to be the greatest beneficiaries of this.
I say to members of the Legislature that my good friend the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who wants to have the appropriate resources to carry out his responsibilities, who wants to have an adequate budget, is having that budget robbed from him by the fact that the Premier and some of the right-wing zealots have decided that they must proceed, no matter what, with this 30% income tax cut benefiting the richest people in our society.
Meanwhile, the farmers who have been reliant upon the Ministry of Agriculture for support and adequate services are going to pay the penalty for that ideological initiative of the government. At the same time, the government's going to have to borrow 13 billion additional dollars just within its term of office so it can give the money to other people.
I'm talking to a lot of Conservatives out there who say: "I didn't know that, and if I had known that, I'd be prepared to say: `Noble Villeneuve, you keep the money to look after the farmers. We understand and want you to find certain efficiencies, and we'll support that. We understand that over a period of four years, you're going to have to phase in some changes. We understand that. But we wonder why you're moving so quickly and so drastically with these cuts that are going to hurt farmers and ultimately the consumers of this province.'" That's the Conservatives who are saying that to me.
Some of the Conservatives who are very concerned about the cuts -- not just borrowing the money, but the cuts -- are saying: "I remember when Premier Davis and Premier Robarts and Bob Welch," my good friend the previous member for St Catharines-Brock, "and Tom Wells and all the moderates, Mr Newman, who was the Minister of Agriculture, and other ministers of agriculture, said: `We're going to help farmers in this province. We're going to have an adequate Ministry of Agriculture and Food.'" The ministers of agriculture said, "We know we can count on Premier Davis and even W. Darcy McKeough," who was the Treasurer of the province at the time, "to provide us with adequate funds to carry out our responsibilities."
Now the ideologues have taken over, the right wing, the people who import their ideas from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. The Republican guard has taken over, including the people who advise the Premier. I don't believe for a moment that people like my good friend the member for St Catharines-Brock can be supporting the kind of cuts we're seeing in the Ministry of Agriculture. He was probably one of the people -- I don't know if he signed the letter; I didn't investigate that. I know that Barb Fisher and Bill Vankoughnet and Helen Johns and Bert Johnson and Gary Stewart and Toby Barrett, all members of the Legislature, signed it, and I'm sympathetic with the letter they sent to the Premier of this province, all these individuals, because I know they were fighting for their constituents.
They must have been disappointed, as I am disappointed, the 13 Tory MPPs who signed the letter requesting that Mr Harris uphold his promise to protect agricultural funding. I know they have to be, quietly, behind closed doors, expressing that concern -- not too loudly, if they want to get into the cabinet. If they want to get into the cabinet, the only thing they'll be doing loudly is laughing at the Premier's jokes. Other than that, they won't be saying too much too loudly.
But where they can put some influence -- the Minister of Transportation is here. He sits around the important table over there, the cabinet table, and if you're good to him and make persuasive arguments, I know he will bring the message to the Premier of this province and to the Minister of Finance about the need for adequate funding for the Ministry of Agriculture. I will support those members of the government caucus who are fighting for that, and I'll support them publicly.
We have some problems in agriculture that this bill will address and some that this bill won't address. Not everything contained in the bill is going to be bad. We don't think that. Some of the provisions, as my colleagues have said, have some merit, and others are not so useful. We see user fees coming about.
You might get the tax break, Conrad, or -- we used to say E.P. Taylor in years gone by, but the wealthiest people -- Trevor Eyton. You may get your break, but I'm going to tell you that the farmers of the Niagara region are going to start paying user fees so you can have that tax break, so you can get another yacht or whatever it is that you happen to get. Meanwhile, the poor farmers of Bruce county and of Niagara and of other areas of the province, Oxford, are going to pay the price. They're going to be paying those user fees while the richest and most influential people get a huge tax break.
I don't believe that the more moderate members of the caucus -- and there are some; they're hard to identify some days, but the more moderate members, and I see some of them in the House today -- would agree with that. Behind closed doors, when they get in that caucus meeting, I think they must speak out, of course until the Premier walks into the room, but previous to that, they must speak out.
We have the issue of the food inspectors. This is always a difficult issue for people on farms to deal with. You see, I've always thought we in Ontario could be and continue to be proud of our produce. It's high-quality produce. Our farmers are careful about the way they produce it and they've had the protection of inspectors. But now we see the provincial government withdrawing that. It's all well and good to talk about the cuts, but this is what the Republican guard brings about, the advisers to the Premier, the zealots who talk about what's happened in New Jersey and other places and tell the Premier and the inner circle that this is the course to follow. This is what you end up with: these kinds of cuts.
This crosses party lines. This isn't where it's Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats. It's people concerned, first of all, the consumers. They want to know they're getting good produce. They know they've got it in the past in Ontario and they believe they're getting it now, but they look to the future and say, "What happens when we start losing these inspectors?" It's not just in this field. I think of restaurant inspectors. The Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations is trying to dump a number of inspectors for the drinking establishments in the province. As soon as you take these people away, as soon as you take that outside enforcement branch away, you find that problems arise and people's confidence starts to wane. I don't want confidence in our food supply in Ontario to wane, because I think our farmers have worked too hard and our consumers have built up too much trust to have that dashed by the Minister of Agriculture and Food being forced by his government to cut those inspectors.
Farmers like that. Sure, sometimes they may feel the inspectors are intrusive and perhaps they don't always like to see them show up at the gate. But when the farmers can say to the people of this province, "Look, I don't know what happens in California or Georgia or Chile, but I'll tell you one thing: in Ontario our food is inspected very adequately," that gives us all a good feeling and it gives the farmers some confidence when they're going out to sell their produce. I'm one who buys Ontario product. I make a definite choice and I'm sure many people do, but the average consumer has to know that there is safety there.
I notice there was an article on June 15 in the Globe and Mail which dealt with this, which said:
"Nearly all the inspectors who help monitor Ontario produce for pesticide residues are being eliminated to save money, but the province's agriculture minister says consumers who are concerned about contaminants in food should send the food to the government for testing."
That's not practical. One thing you always said of the Davis regime was that they were practical, not ideological. They would look at something like this and say: "That in theory may sound good, but it doesn't work that way. It's not easily done. Let's do something that's practical and reasonable."
It goes on to say:
"`Any individual who feels that there may be a problem, the individuals or the consumers, they're certainly welcome to send their samples,' said Noble Villeneuve.
"But consumers may find it challenging to take up Mr Villeneuve's offer.
"An official at the government laboratory in Guelph that does the testing said it costs between $250 to $1,000 a sample. And fresh produce sent through the mail would not arrive in any shape to be tested.
"Consumers would probably have to buy coolers and icebags for their samples, and to deliver them through couriers who guarantee overnight delivery.
"Food safety lobbyists ridiculed the suggestion that people should send such items as cucumbers, beans and apples to the government for testing.
"`How dare they suggest the public should do that? How dare they?' exclaimed Bonnie Walter, a spokeswoman for the Pesticide Action Group of Ontario, who called the idea `laughable.'"
The point I'm making is that this isn't one side against another, in my view, nor should it be. It should be consumers and farmers on the same side. I can remember when we used to do the testing, the Ministry of the Environment, along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and when we found certain things that nobody liked to hear about, we put the facts and figures out there. We found our product in Ontario compared very favourably to other product, and I was pleased to see that. People knew it because we were doing the testing, people knew it because we had the inspectors. They had that confidence, and I don't want to see that confidence lost.
There's another area I've become concerned about. We in Canada, certainly in Ontario, have been well served over the years by our meat inspectors and the meat inspection system. I well recall during the OPSEU strike, during the provincial government strike, that there were government members and opposition members up in arms at the fact that there was not an adequate number of people to inspect the meat and for some people, it really hurt their businesses in a bad fashion. Then the government turns around and says, after the strike, "We don't need these meat inspectors." You can't have it both ways. You can't say how important they were during the strike, for political purposes or whatever purposes -- I think the backbench members who brought it to the attention were honest. They were not playing political games; they knew the problem that existed. But after the strike, the government suddenly says, "Oh, we don't need all these meat inspectors."
Look what happened in Britain. It hasn't happened here. I think it hasn't happened here because we've had a good inspection system, a good regulatory system. What's happened in Britain is costing farmers millions upon millions of dollars, maybe billions, because I think they haven't been adequate in their inspections in Britain and the policies they've undertaken have caused great problems for their meat industry.
Here in Ontario that hasn't happened, but it looms out there that something could happen in the future if the meat inspectors are withdrawn and the regulations are changed. Let's keep the quality of life in this province. Let's keep those inspectors. They're worthwhile. People are prepared to pay a little more for food to have it and people are prepared to pay a little more in terms of their taxes to have that safety factor there. That's the difference between Canada and some other jurisdictions. We Canadians have been prepared to pay a little more for a better quality of life. Others say, "Just leave it to the market," or "Leave it to chance." We Canadians haven't done so, and I commend past governments and present governments who have followed that policy and farmers who have been supportive of that policy.
When I see this article in the Globe and Mail, I become concerned both for consumers and for our producers. I want both to feel that our supply is safe.
I looked at some of the cuts that took place in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and I found it difficult to believe. I have been in this House since 1977, and successive Conservative members have stated the importance of having a strong Ministry of Agriculture and Food. But I found out -- and listen, they were difficult economic times; I don't want to pretend they weren't. From 1990 to 1995 agriculture funding was cut by 25% while overall government spending rose by 14%. The member for Cochrane South explained why that was and how they went through restructuring, how difficult it was. One would have thought when they reached that point that the ministry was really not in a position to take further cuts. I'm sure that's why Mike Harris during the election campaign said he wouldn't cut funding to agriculture. He probably believed that sufficient cuts and reorganization and restructuring had already taken place.
The Conservative Party promised that there would be "no funding cuts to agriculture programs under the Common Sense Revolution." I think a lot of people believed that. Obviously, a lot of people in the rural areas did, because there was considerable support for the Conservative Party there. They felt they were going to be protected, but they found out differently a little later on. Since the 1995 election, the Conservative government has chopped about $26 million from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs' budget. These cuts included reducing agricultural subsidy programs by $11.3 million, closing and reducing local field offices and cutting farm tax rebate funding by $4.8 million.
I've always said, even though I represent an overwhelmingly urban riding -- there are few farms in the riding -- that I think we as a society have an obligation to our farmers to do one of two things: We either pay the kind of prices that are necessary to ensure viable farms, or we have to be prepared to subsidize or assist them in other ways. They must have one of the two, otherwise they can't continue to exist.
I have been a strong proponent over the years, and continue to be, of the preservation of agricultural land in this province. My friend the Minister of Agriculture and Food I know has been conscious of this and has certainly been supportive of saving agricultural farm land as much as possible, particularly that which is class 1 and class 2.
In the Niagara Peninsula we have a unique situation. We have good soils but, as important, we also have favourable climatic conditions. From the top of the escarpment to the bottom of the escarpment, the difference in the number of growing days is about 27 or 28 growing days. That means we can produce tender fruit in the Niagara Peninsula. We also have, in much of the Niagara Peninsula, the soils conducive to that.
When I drive along the QEW and see those warehouses going up that don't employ a lot of people -- I know people applaud that sometimes; they say that's progress. I'm going to tell you, driving from the city of Cleveland, outside the city of Cleveland, isn't progress to me. It has no beauty and it's not an attractive sight. The agriculture in our peninsula is first of all important economically, far more important than people will ever concede. Second, it's a tourist attraction in addition to that, because people like going through the peninsula and enjoying much of the rural area.
My friend the member for St Catharines-Brock has agricultural land. I know he enjoys it. His family has been in the farming business over the years, and he would appreciate it and knows the kind of pressures put on him by people to start subdividing or at least giving severances. It's more difficult to resist severances when it's difficult to be a viable farmer. That's why I think we have to help our farmers be viable across the province, because once you start giving severances, it's death by a thousand cuts. That's exactly what happens.
You have the urban people move out to the countryside because they want to enjoy it, but they forget that when you get out into the countryside the odours aren't the same as the city, necessarily, because of the animals or the vegetation that may be out there or the fertilizing that has to take place. They start phoning everybody, including the Ministry of Environment, and say, "This is a pollution problem." Then they don't like hearing the sound of the bird-bangers. The bird-bangers are those noisemakers that clap like that very loudly for a couple of weeks while the tender fruit is out. It's supposed to scare the birds away. Some farmers say they're not all that effective, but at least it's some defence to try to scare the birds away.
When I was Minister of the Environment, they would phone the environment ministry and say, "This is disruptive." I would not interfere in the internal workings of the Ministry of the Environment in terms of its enforcement, but I used to wish that somehow we had other things to do. But we have to respond to these complaints. The urban people didn't like the noise out there, they don't like the smell, they don't like the dust and they don't like the disruption. Well, too bad.
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): So why did they go there?
Mr Bradley: A good question. They went there because somebody granted severances and allowed them to move out there, and we started to put subdivisions out in those areas when we should be putting them in areas designated for urban growth, not in the suburban areas.
In the peninsula we are busy as well building houses for people who work in Toronto. I don't see any benefit in being a bedroom community for Toronto. The people who work in Toronto tend to be more oriented to Toronto, they tend to spend a lot of their money there and they're not always as rooted in the community -- I'm not saying everybody. If you said we were building a housing development in the middle of Vineland or Beamsville or Niagara-on-the-Lake because there are some new industries coming in or some new job opportunities so people from the area want to move into them, I could see that making some sense, but we're not. We're simply building them for other people and using good agricultural land in doing so when there is agricultural land in the province that is not as good and climatic conditions that are not as good that would allow for some growth, and there's a need for some intensification to take place in our urban areas as well.
I want to clearly help out the farmers in our province. I feel very strongly about that. I think we have an obligation not only to the people of our province and the people of our country, but to the people of our world in terms of what we can do in agriculture, in terms of the products we grow. In addition to that, there is money to be made for Canadians to do so. We have to be fair to farmers by supporting them either by paying an adequate price or by assisting them in some other way.
There's a project in the Niagara Peninsula that I'm very worried about. I think it's called the Twenty Valley Reserve. This is an example of a subdivision -- of course they're itching to get it; they'd love nothing better, and excuse me for saying this, than for the rich people and the influential people -- I know that makes you roll your eyes. That's who want to build on the escarpment. They would like to have their estate homes up on the side of the escarpment to look over it and enjoy it.
One thing my friend Norm Sterling did -- I praise him to this day even though I may be critical of him in other areas -- he helped establish the Niagara Escarpment Commission which helps to protect some farm land. I know he supports it today, yet I see the Twenty Valley Reserve proposal for a subdivision coming forward. It's going to land on somebody's desk over there. I hope the member for Oxford, who I think is a person who listens to these arguments in the House and is concerned about preserving agricultural land, will be good enough to pass the word along to the powers that be that that is not a good development, in my view, and maybe in his view when he investigates. I'll leave it up to him to make that judgement.
I see that as the start of further development. I look at Grimsby, and right under the escarpment and right on that great agricultural land we see new subdivisions going in. I sat on a municipal council -- we've all listened to municipal councillors and so on; some are good friends of mine and some do an outstanding job -- but very often there are people at the local level who aren't happy until they've paved every last square inch of agricultural land. They say: "That's progress. We've got to grow and progress." Meanwhile we see -- the member makes the money sign and he's right -- it's money they're looking at, but not necessarily the long-term good of the area.
I become concerned at that, because there are studies out. Dr Joseph Kushner, a Brock University economist of the small-c conservative bent, did a study, along with other professors at the university, on the advantages to municipalities of the additional assessment and found out that there was no advantage -- in many cases a disadvantage -- because the cost of that development to the municipality was greater than the assessment which was gained, the ongoing cost. So it doesn't make sense in many cases.
Promotion of Ontario products: My friend from St Catharines-Brock and I are great proponents of promoting Ontario product. We believe there can be a lot of innovative -- my friend from Niagara Falls wants to be included in this, so he is certainly supportive. We want to see our people have some assistance in promoting our product and promoting it themselves because we think we have good product in the Niagara Peninsula and that it can be appropriately promoted.
That's why we need the LCBO. People will say, "What does the LCBO ever have to with agriculture?" The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is a vehicle we can use legitimately, even with all the international trade agreements, to at least give a fair shake to Ontario wines. There was a time many years ago when the LCBO used to feature a lot of French and Italian and Spanish wines and so on, and they would get the most prominence. Today people have discovered, largely through the promotion we've done and through really hard work by farmers and wineries, that we have excellent wine products in Ontario, but we need the LCBO to continue to do that.
I hear the right-wing zealots say ideologically: "We can't have this; this is a crown corporation. We've got to give it to our free-enterprise friends." I won't get into the other reasons, which are contained in many petitions that I provide, but one reason I want to talk about very briefly this afternoon is that we can promote our own products in Ontario, particularly our wine products.
I want to commend Andy Brandt, who is now the chair of the LCBO, on the work he has done. I thought that was an excellent appointment on the part of the New Democratic government. It was supported by all parties because we all know the kind of salesperson Andy Brandt is and his commitment to the wine industry. I know my friends in the Niagara Peninsula who aren't as ideologically to the right, at least some of them, as perhaps some advisers to the Premier will want to fight for the continuation of the LCBO for that reason alone.
I point out that Mott's is closing. For those who don't know, Mott's employed 175 people in St Catharines, and there was a recent announcement made by the major grape juice processor that its St Catharines plant would close this year, and frankly, it caught us off balance. We thought it would continue on successfully.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): Are you off balance?
Mr Bradley: No. It caught our industry off balance.
We have only a few months to find a replacement processor for some 14,000 tons of grapes a year, which is clearly worrisome. The positive side includes a strongly established market across Canada for Ontario grape juice under the Welch's label resulting from the superior flavour of the Concord and Niagara varieties grown in this province. The state-of-the-industry paper that is enclosed by John Neufeld as the chair of the Ontario Grape Growers' Marketing Board will be very helpful. Here are some recommendations. I don't have time to read them all, but my colleagues and I from the Niagara Peninsula commend this to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs as good reading and some excellent recommendations on how we can help our farmers.
I look at this bill and I say, "What does this bill do?" For one thing, it provides an opportunity, some would say -- I say a detrimental opportunity -- for people to have to pay user fees in this province to pay for the tax cut the Premier and the Treasurer and a few other people have decided is absolutely necessary.
I see cuts in the agricultural budget. I will stand in this House any day of the week and defend the Minister of Agriculture, help him out with his cabinet colleagues and help to speak to the Minister of Transportation about the need for adequate funding. The Minister of Transportation lives in an area where there used to be farms, and probably there still are a lot of farms up there in his area, and he would know the importance of farming, so he would be standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in defending an adequate budget to carry out the responsibilities of that ministry.
I call upon all my friends in the Conservative caucus and the other caucuses to move forward to assist farmers in this province so that we have a viable industry not only this year and next but for many years to come, and when we look back or write our memoirs as individuals wish to -- I won't be doing it, but others may be writing their memoirs -- they can say, "When agriculture in this province needed my assistance, I was there to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the farmers of the province of Ontario."
The Acting Speaker (Mr Ted Chudleigh): Questions or comments? The member for Cochrane South.
Mr Bisson: I want to comment on the member for St Catharines's speech, in which he pointed out that a big part of what this bill is all about is paying for the tax cut, and he's right. The member is totally right that the government in its effort to pass a tax cut on to the residents of Ontario is scurrying around every ministry out there trying to find ways to make savings to pay for that tax cut.
As the member put it quite well in his speech, at some point we have to ask ourselves the question, how badly do we want a tax cut? If it means the tax cut is going to put in want the farmers of this province from all across Ontario, northern Ontario especially for me; if it means we're going to have a lesser system of education, under which our children will find it more difficult to access quality education, especially at the post-secondary levels with higher tuition fees; if it means health care will become a user-pay system, which is quite possible under what the government has done under Bill 26; if it means our long-term-care system will end up being privatized -- because that is the policy of the government, moving to what they call managed care: 90% privatized this year, 80% the year after, allowed 70% in the third year, and finally, all bets are off after -- then I say the price of the tax cut is too expensive.
I agree with the member for St Catharines that what we really need to be doing in this Legislature is dealing with public policy for the people of Ontario. The last time I checked, the definition of "public policy" was policies that benefit the people of this province who find themselves by far the majority, that is, the working people of this province, the retirees of this province and other people who make up the majority.
If we in this Legislature follow the agenda of the Conservative government -- not Al Palladini's, for sure. My friend, I know, is an honourable member. The government is saying it is going to cater to a certain segment of the population that has big bucks and make sure it's good for them and not good for others. I say the price of that tax cut is far too expensive and we should get back to common sense and deal with legislation for the people of Ontario.
Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent): I'd like to take this opportunity to make a couple of comments to the honourable member for St Catharines. It's always one of the pleasures of being in the House to listen to the member for St Catharines. His many years of experience show when he gets up to speak. I must compliment him. He comes from, in his estimation, a predominantly urban riding, yet he certainly knows much about agriculture.
He likes to talk about the tax break and the minuses of the tax break, that all the rich people who are going to get the tax break are going to buy new boats and those kind of things. I just want to remind him that all the farmers will also be able to avail themselves of the advantages of that tax break.
A couple of other things: He talked about meat inspectors and about the scare tactics of meat inspectors. This bill has nothing to do with meat inspectors. There has been a change there but it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the meat; it's just a different way of doing the inspections. He talked about fruit and vegetable inspections and how that was going to have a negative impact. I'm sure he knows, because of his great knowledge of agriculture, standing shoulder to shoulder with Noble Villeneuve and so on, that the inspectors inspect for grading and quality, nothing to do with pesticides. That comes under the Ministry of Health.
Just a last little comment. He did make some reference to the precious agricultural land. I'm from Kent county, and we also have very precious agricultural land. He talked about seeing the buildings along the Queen Elizabeth Way and the industry and what a terrible thing it was. I'd just like to say to him that I would be happy to welcome those industries from the Queen Elizabeth Way that he doesn't like down into Kent county because we have some land we could put them on.
Mr Toni Skarica (Wentworth North): I likewise find it always very educational to listen to the member for St Catharines. He reminds me of the principles of a great speech. A great speech, it is said, has an introduction and a conclusion and very little in between. When I listen to that member, I'm reminded of those very important principles.
The opposition has hinted that somehow the members of the public should be wary of food supplies in the province, that due to Conservative policies the food supplies are not safe. I would ask the members of the public, when they listen to their arguments, to listen to them carefully, to watch the members very carefully, and then, using their eyes and ears, I would say the public has to come to one inescapable truth, and that truth is that the opposition members have ample confidence in the food supplies of this province.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): I appreciate the comments from the member for St Catharines. He is a great orator and always has been, and his comments are always well thought out. But I'm a little bit confused about what he's been saying, especially since the Harris government has taken over. He actually agrees with the former Davis government. He talks about my predecessor, on the Conservative side anyway, Mr Bob Welch.
Mr Bradley: A moderate guy.
Mr Froese: A moderate guy. That's what he said, and he said it again. But if my memory serves me correctly, when the Davis government was in power, the member was very critical of the government and what it did in its policies. Mind you, he expressed his opinions very diplomatically and very delicately, but he was very critical of the Davis years as well. I can only come to the conclusion that after the Harris government has been in power 20 years, he'll agree that what we did was what was required and what was right.
But he's concerned about agriculture, and rightfully so, and I am as well. I have agriculture in my family, in my background. The problem over the years -- I won't have enough time to finish what I want to say -- is that previous governments lacked direction and leadership, and this is exactly what this bill does: talks about core business services, talks about investment attractions, market development, talks about outcomes. How do we measure those things? It talks about proposed performances. I think that's what agriculture is all about today, and I'm looking for his support of this bill.
The Acting Speaker: The member for St Catharines, two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Bradley: Thank you for allowing me to wrap up on this and to comment on the comments. First of all, I would say that I knew when the Davis government was in power that their members would be able to rise in the House and compliment themselves. Members of the government, governing parties -- that's generic -- have a third hand to pat themselves on the back, so the opposition doesn't have to do that. But there were many occasions, I think -- I can't always recall this -- where I was probably complimentary of the Davis administration. Mr Welch did note to me the other day that he couldn't recall too many occasions where I was forthcoming with that praise, but sometimes in retrospect one is able to make a better assessment of a government.
The member for Wentworth North has suggested that the members of the opposition are telling people to beware of the food supply. I think what we're saying is that it's in the future; we have to look into the future when these changes are made. Today and in the past, people have been very confident in the food supply. Farmers could be justifiably proud of that and know that they had the inspection and the inspectors to back it up. That's why we could have that confidence. What I fear is happening in the future is that if the government decides to proceed with these cuts, that could make the consumer more apprehensive and the farmers less secure. That's why I want to support the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in getting adequate funding so he can retain those inspectors.
There were certain aspects about which I was critical of the previous Conservative government. I don't want to suggest to the member for St Catharines-Brock that I wasn't. When the Premier and his cabinet were going to buy a Challenger jet for the comfort and convenience of the cabinet and senior government officials, I stood daily in the House and suggested they shouldn't be doing so. When they bought Suncor, when they intruded into the private sector to buy Suncor at a great cost to the people of this province, I was critical of that.
But there are many policies that I happen to agree with, and that is why from time to time I will send accolades in the direction of the previous Conservative administration.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I'd like to take the opportunity this evening to address some comments on behalf of the farmers in my part of eastern Ontario to Bill 46, the so-called agriculture omnibus bill. My constituency is one that has some agriculture. My colleague Mr Jordan, the member for Lanark and south Renfrew, probably represents more of the agricultural area of the county of Renfrew, but certainly in and around villages like Beachburg and Cobden and Douglas, to name but three in the Ottawa Valley, there is an active agricultural community, and over the course of the last number of years, it's been my pleasure to have worked alongside members of the farm community to hear their hopes and aspirations and, yes, to hear their concerns about what governments of all political stripes were doing or not doing as far as their interests are concerned.
Like the minister from the far part of eastern Ontario, of course I have some experience with interprovincial issues as they touch upon farm matters. As you will know better than most, Mr Speaker, southwestern Quebec is an area of some active agriculture, particularly the dairy sector, and one always has an opportunity to compare and contrast provincial policies between Ontario and Quebec.
Members who have spoken before me have touched on a number of issues. I want to begin my remarks tonight by commenting on a couple of perhaps obscure components of this bill. I look on page 40, and I know, Mr Speaker, your late grandfather would certainly want the Legislature to observe the repeal, at long last, of the Oleomargarine Act. For members of this Legislature, I'm sure even the word must strike them as arcane, but it is an interesting story in the protective interest of Ontario agriculture, Canadian agriculture. I'm sorry my friend from Moose Creek is not here because, I'll tell you, there was a time when no agriculture minister, particularly from the eastern counties of Stormont or Dundas or Glengarry would have the nerve to stand up in this Legislature and say anything but the most positive things about the Oleomargarine Act. We repeal it in Bill 46. It's over and done with, and so ends 110 years of some of the most remarkable protection in Ontario and Canadian agriculture.
In fact, an old prof of mine a few years ago, a very fine fellow named Welf Heick, now retired from Wilfrid Laurier University, wrote a fascinating book called A Propensity to Protect: Butter, Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada. This is a story about the dairy lobby and how, in Parliament and in various legislatures, there was a consistent bipartisan attack on margarine. It is an interesting book, and I'm not going to bore you very much, but I thought it interesting that one quotation from the Farmer's Advocate of 1894 on this subject reads as follows:
"Ministers of Agriculture, Dominion Commissioners, Tories, Grits, Patrons, Yankees, Senators, Knights, Members of Parliament, Ministers of the Gospel, Doctors and Citizens generally were all one in their allegiance and loyalty to the kingdom of the cow."
Well, with the repeal of the Oleomargarine Act, the kingdom of the cow is now open to bidders on all sides. In fact, my friend from Montague is here. He may very well remember -- I know the minister will remember; it's in my time here -- that there were inspectors running up and down the Ottawa River to make sure that that terrible Quebec margarine wasn't invading the Ontario market. It seems kind of comical now, but we did, we had inspectors out there and they were at those interprovincial bridges and they were in food stores in Pembroke and Renfrew to make bloody sure that there was not oleomargarine, which of course was a French product -- God forbid -- invading the exclusive preserve of the Ontario market. So just for the record, let me at least observe the final passage and the funeral rite for the Ontario Oleomargarine Act.
I see as well that we are repealing the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act, ARDA. Again, if you represent my part of eastern Ontario, a formal conclusion and a formal repeal of ARDA is a reminder that there was a time when the Ontario and the federal governments sought to do something about the increasingly depopulated and by and large marginal agricultural lands of certainly my part of eastern Ontario, the upper Ottawa Valley. With Bill 46 we are admitting that this experiment is now formally over, and the repeal of the so-called ARDA is contained in this omnibus legislation.
I don't want to be mischievous, because it's a very pleasant and congenial crowd. I see His Honour Judge Guzzo has arrived. I know better than to tease the bears, but I do have to say -- and I'm sorry that the member for Etobicoke-Humber is gone because he seemed to be a little bit irked at some of the observations of my colleagues the member for Timiskaming and the member for St Catharines. I will excuse the class of 1995 from any of the observations I too will make. But you know, the class of 1990 and the class of 1983, I say to Mr Villeneuve, must bear some responsibility for what they said in the period of, in Mr Villeneuve's case, 1983 to 1995. Because whether it was in Moose Creek, Morrisburg, Maxville or most of the rest of the province, Noble Villeneuve was categorical: "Elect us and there will be no further cuts." I heard him say it. I read it. I read it in the Glengarry News, the Prescott Journal, the Tweed News, the Eganville Leader. It was very declaratory.
I wonder what they're thinking now, I say to my good friend from Hastings, good fellow that he is and very prudent politician, unlike some of his colleagues. I wonder what they're saying now in Napanee, Stirling and Picton. "No more cuts? Well, they just closed our ag office and Noble Villeneuve was the one who turned the key and closed the door and walked away." You see, this wasn't some Grit or some New Democrat making these solemn promises. It was my good friend from Moose Creek.
I look at the budget presented to the House here a few weeks ago and the budget line for agriculture is not going up; it is not standing still; it is trending downwards in a considerable fashion. I understand why. I understand entirely why. The Minister of Finance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has some very severe pressures that must be dealt with, and agriculture must do its share. I've been reading the farm press in the last couple of months, and to watch Noble Villeneuve, the pride of Moose Creek, twist in the wind, where he's now saying, "Well, you know, I said it then, but now we in OMAFRA want to be part of the solution," I don't doubt that he does.
But you see, there's the problem of what he solemnly promised throughout months and years of saying: "Give me the chain of office. Let me sit on the treasury bench and I promise there will be no further program cuts." Anybody who knows anything about government in the 1990s would certainly think that's a very brazen thing for anyone of Mr Villeneuve's intelligence and experience to say, but he said it. He said it often. Now we have of course the reality of June 8, 1995. Now, in places like Fenwick and St Thomas and Stirling and Kapuskasing and six other places, the ag offices, are closed down.
The minister will say, "I will be much more efficient," but you see, I say to my friend --
Mr Baird: Spend more money.
Mr Conway: No, no, this is all about what Mr Villeneuve said and did. I'm not the one who made the commitment.
Mr Baird: What about Renfrew?
The Acting Speaker: Order. A little decorum, please.
Mr Conway: That's true, I said that. The Renfrew office is not yet closed. I hope it isn't closed, but my friends and relatives who work in the Ontario department of agriculture tell me that it's a very active place these days. My friends and relatives in the Ministry of Agriculture tell me that before the maple leaves turn in September we will have much more to report to the good burghers of Hastings and Lanark and Prince Edward and elsewhere. We shall see what we shall see.
I must observe again some of the comments that have been made with respect to Bill 46. AgriCorp: It's true what the minister says, that the Peterson government and the Rae government had AgriCorp legislation. We now see Bill 46, which is the example of the --
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): The wisdom to follow through.
Mr Conway: I say to the rather loquacious member from Scarborough --
Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): Can't you say a simple sentence?
Mr Conway: The rules of the place suggest that you can be loquacious if you have the floor, and I happen to have the floor. I say to the member from Scarborough-Canadian Tire, if he wants the floor, he simply has to stand in his place and join the debate.
I simply note as well that the government has, through AgriCorp, some rather creative plans for user fees. Boy, are there going to be user fees. I hate to say this to my friend the minister of highways. I got my motor vehicle registration the other day. Wow, talk about user fees. "We're not going to raise taxes. Oh, no. We are just going to tax you with a range of user fees that is going to be very impressive." I suspect before the maple leaves turn their autumnal red, farmers of Ontario are going to find out that AgriCorp is User Fee Central, that whether it's lab charges or veterinary services or whatever, there will be an array of user fees that is going to make the good people of Lanark and Renfrew wonder what they embraced when they said, "Give us the Tory agriculture plan and there'll be no cuts and we will have good core programs and business will continue."
I want, in the time permitted this afternoon, to touch on a couple of other issues of concern to me and the people I represent in the upper Ottawa Valley, the farmers especially. There is a very great concern about the future of the Kemptville agricultural college. A memorandum of understanding has been signed between the three agricultural colleges and the University of Guelph. I know from talking to friends of mine in southwestern Ontario and in eastern Ontario that farm leaders do not feel like they are in the loop at all on this one. I have a farm publication -- I'm not even going to refer to it -- where they clearly in their most recent journal indicate a complaint about being kept out of the loop and in the dark about what is specifically going to be the end result of this new arrangement.
If I were at Kemptville and someone told me that now I was going to be thrown in with the University of Guelph, and I knew something about the funding cuts that were going to apply to the post-secondary sector generally, I think I would be getting gas, because that would make me think that --
Mr Baird: Dave Ramsay sits right behind him.
Mr Conway: My friend the member for Nepean is just so jocular. I want to say to him and to anyone else from eastern Ontario that over the course of many decades, because a very strong Tory politician from a place called Kemptville, Howard Ferguson, who was Premier and probably one of the most powerful and, next to Mike Harris, probably even more right-wing than Mike Harris, but none the less when it came to protecting the agricultural interests of eastern Ontario, Howard Ferguson served his region.
There's a very interesting story in fact: how Kemptville came to be Kemptville. I won't bore you with it this afternoon, but the point of my interest here is that if you are a farmer or a farm family and you are living in the Pembroke or Eganville or Killaloe or Renfrew area, Kemptville agricultural college plays an extremely important role in the education of your children and in the ongoing education of adults who are in the agricultural sector.
There is a very legitimate concern that this long tradition of a strong eastern Ontario college at Kemptville is going to be seriously impaired by this new arrangement.
The member for Nepean sits there within an urban community of 700,000 that is Ottawa-Carleton. I don't know that he understands what it is to face the tyranny of distance that farmers, particularly in the upper reaches of the Ottawa Valley, face in terms of accessing government services.
There is no doubt, by the way, what Bill 46, through AgriCorp, is going to be doing for a lot of programs that used to be delivered by real people in community ag offices. There is absolutely no question that farmers in my part of Ontario are going to be given an opportunity on a daily basis to relate to voice mail. I can just see some dairy producer in Westmeath township who's got a handful of trouble on this hands on a phone with one of these voice mail apparatuses that Mel Lastman rightly complains about. Of course, if my farmer in the Westmeath area wants to actually go and see a real person, he's probably going to be told, "Get in your car this winter morning and drive 100 kilometres" someplace, I say to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale.
The reality is for farmers living in my part of the upper Ottawa Valley everything is a 50 to 100 mile drive. Kemptville has played an extremely important role, particularly in allowing farm kids from my area to go and get a good college program within the region, and I'm not at all confident that is going to continue.
I will give the minister the benefit of the doubt. We have a memorandum of understanding and apparently Guelph -- I can just imagine --
Mr Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): Fearmongering, that's what it is.
Mr Conway: The member for Lanark-Renfrew says something about fearmongering. I want to say to my friend, and I don't want to -- I know he's a colleague and I guess I had better defer to age. I just won't remind him of some of his practices and the practices of Mike Harris. It's interesting to me when I see the class of '95. I've had bad days in here and I've done some things for which an apology is owed. Somebody was here today going on about wasting time. You ought to have been here, I say to the member for Etobicoke-Humber, to have watched Mike Harris read for hours the list of rivers and streams and lakes.
Mr Baird: David Christopherson did it.
Mr Conway: Listen, Mike Harris did that.
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): That's justification.
Mr Conway: No, it isn't. But I guess for some of us who have been around for a while it's a little bit difficult to take a lecture about fearmongering and about wasting time from the likes of Mike Harris and company. Now back to my point.
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): Just because it was done before doesn't mean it should continue.
Mr Conway: Well, I want to say that there are some people in here who are making some pretty strong statements, who assume that some of us arrived yesterday.
I want to make the point again about Kemptville because it is important. It has been important and there is a concern on the part of my farmers that it may not continue to play the role it has played in the past.
In the time that remains there were a couple of other issues I simply wanted to touch upon. Last week we had the report of the Macdonald commission on electricity reform and there is a little reference in that very interesting set of proposals that talks about the rural rate assistance program: $125 million approximately of assistance provided to farmers across the province to equalize to some degree their electricity cost. It's not directly in this bill, but farmers are interested to know what, in the new world order, is going to be the fate of a program like the rural rate assistance program. The minister of highways assures me that they have nothing to be worried about, and I take that as a very useful assurance and one that we will just simply tuck away.
There is no doubt that electricity is an issue and the cost of electricity is something that touches the farmers I represent in a very real way. There's a significant input cost. The price increases of the last few years have been a concern. I must give credit to the government caucus. I gather that when Hydro redid its billing codes here a few months ago, Harry, there was a little bit of a dust-up, and I congratulate you for making our friend the member for Guelph understand that there seemed to be, again, some confusion at least, if not worse. I tell you, my office lit up like a Christmas tree when my farmers were saying: "What are these bills about? I thought there was a freeze for five years."
When I tried to phone the Hydro office in Perth, they told me that their lines were busier than they'd been in a while. Now it appears to have been settled, and credit -- because I want to be evenhanded and fairminded -- to, among others, the government caucus, because my friends at Hydro tell me that it was quite the little time in the old government caucus. I can believe that, because it certainly was in some of the quarters where I was present as well.
A final observation again about the situation in which rural Ontario finds itself. The government is engaged now in a revolutionary redesign of the service delivery from the provincial government to the province as a whole and to the rural area in particular, I say, because I see some of my colleagues from eastern Ontario here. It is interesting when you look at the local press in the county towns of eastern Ontario, at the kind of service cuts that are taking place. I mentioned the ag offices a while ago, but the minister of highways is here and the Solicitor General is here.
In fairness, my friend Runciman has taken more of the hit in Brockville than I've yet taken in Pembroke, but if you look at the Leeds county press, I can't imagine it's much fun these days being the member for South Leeds and Grenville or whatever it's called.
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): Or even being Solicitor General.
Mr Conway: I'm not one of the ones standing in here calling for his resignation and I would be the last person to say the Solicitor General is a stupid man. I know him to be quite the contrary. It's because I know him as well as I think I know him that I find the story that's been advanced here in the last couple of weeks absolutely and positively incredible.
Boy, if I were in another business, I tell you -- and if his story is to be believed, then there's an even bigger story than people like the member for London Centre and my colleague the member for Timiskaming are trying to develop, because if you've ever been a minister, you know that the circumstances at issue here are the ones that immediately light up the minister's office and the Premier's office and the cabinet office.
It's not the subject for Bill 46, but I say to my friend the Solicitor General, it is a truly unbelievable and incredible story, and if I was to believe what I'm told and the scandal is not the one that some people here think is the scandal, then something is misfiring to such an extent that people better start looking elsewhere in this story.
About rural Ontario, I simply want to make the final observation, and my colleague the member for St Catharines, with whom I do not always agree -- it's fair to say that he and I don't always agree on some of these issues as to where you draw the line between growth and preservation. Again, one of the things about living in my part of eastern Ontario, for 140 years you've watched governments, federal and provincial, Liberal, Tory and New Democrat, develop schemes that were supposed to solve your economic problems. In fact, the farmers who came to my part of the Ottawa Valley were brought there by the old government of Canada, pre-Confederation, saying that those rock piles up near behind Eganville and Killaloe and Wilno were the best agricultural land in the Dominion. All kinds of Poles and Germans bought the government line and up over the hills they went. I'm sure that when they settled in those bug-infested pine forests and rock pastures they must have wondered.
Mr Jordan: They had faith.
Mr Conway: They had to have had faith, I say to my friend Mr Jordan, because his relatives, like mine, grew out of those rock piles.
It was government advertising that took them there and said, "Great agricultural land," and in some respects not everything has changed. The concern I have is on behalf of those rural communities I represent, and many that I drive through on a weekly basis, and there's much of north Addington and north Hastings that is a lot like north and west Renfrew.
The great difficulty that I see the government is now facing is that it is pulling back the service delivery, the face of the Ontario government in so many of these places. If you lived in Maynooth or Barry's Bay or Douglas or Cobden or Beachburg or Tweed, it was the ag office, it was the department of highways office, it was the Ministry of Natural Resources office that was the service face of the Ontario government. A lot of that service face is now being shut down.
Mr Jordan: It's centralized.
Mr Conway: Well, it's centralized. If you're in Stirling or Picton or Napanee and something you've had for decades is shut down and centralized in Kingston, I don't doubt that there are people who will manage, but you have lost something.
Mr Jordan: The taxes will be stabilized.
Mr Conway: The taxes will be stabilized? We'll see when we add up the service charges. I said someplace else recently that I have a feeling the Ontario government is going to start feeling a lot like your neighbourhood bank. Every time you turn around there's going to be a service charge for walking in the door; a service charge for smiling on Friday; a service charge for using a ballpoint pen; a service charge for asking to see the manager. Some of the old rates will be maintained; taxes won't be increased. The only problem, I say to my friend from Montague, is that my pocket will have been picked to a substantial extent and I won't know whether I've paid out $150 or $250 or $350 of user charges that were not there previously. I don't know that people are going to feel nothing changed.
Mr Jordan: What about the constituency office?
Mr Conway: My friend says, "What about the constituency office?" That's the other observation I would make. I'm going to be interested to see, because there are some very fine representatives of rural Ontario in this government caucus -- and one of the most revolutionary plans of the Harris doctrine is to take a meat cleaver to the legislative representation for rural Ontario. Make no mistake about it; I'm telling you --
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): And northern Ontario.
Mr Conway: And northern Ontario. It's going to be an interesting place in that government caucus in a few years' time when large amounts of rural Ontario lose their legislative representation, and if that plan continues -- the member from Halton North shakes his head. I want to be there the day Mr Villeneuve and, God forbid, my friend Harry from Hastings and Mr Jordan and a variety of other people stand and vote their redundancy. It's not just their job; it's the relative representation of rural, small-town and northern Ontario in this place. Those concerns are out there that I think legitimately attach to Bill 46.
The Deputy Chair: Questions and comments? The Chair recognizes the member for Scarborough East.
Mr Gilchrist: Thank you. It is Scarborough East and not, as my colleague commented, named after one of the more prominent industries in the riding, but I thank him for that recognition even if it is a year out of date. Why should that part of his comment be any less out of touch than the rest of his 29 minutes? I had no appreciation prior to his address here today that he was an expert on agricultural matters, although I had some exposure during the election campaign, going around the province, as he did, offering cabinet posts to other Liberal candidates. I guess one could say he was counting his chickens before they hatched.
It's very telling that we have comments from the official opposition about the proposed enhancements we're making to the delivery of agricultural service in this province. In 82 pages of their election document, with the exception of repealing the bill that forced the unionization of family farms under the third party, there is not one word mentioned about agriculture in their entire election platform. That shows how much they cared about agriculture in this province, one of the most important industries.
Mr Jordan: Oh, the red book.
Mr Gilchrist: The red book, the famous red book.
Mr Jordan: Nothing in it.
Mr Gilchrist: It's pretty heavy for something with nothing in it, but there's nothing of any substance.
We heard a lot of talk about possible user fees. We heard more fearmongering, that it's possible the office in Renfrew may close. For the last few months he's been saying it would close this spring; now he's saying this fall. That's not fair to the people in that community, it's not fair to the minister, who in fact has just increased the telecommunications abilities from that office. We've made a number of enhancements.
The bottom line is, we're going to be delivering the same services for less money. We're doing it more efficiently, as we are in every other ministry of the government. We are committed to the long-term growth of this important sector in our economy and we're going to do it in a business-like fashion that the farmers of this province will applaud.
Mr John C. Cleary (Cornwall): I would like to thank my colleague from Renfrew North for his great speech. I was pleased that he mentioned Kemptville agriculture college, where I spent lots of time many years ago. I know the Kemptville agriculture college played a big role in the development of eastern Ontario and is a college that we need more than ever now if we're going to survive and get back to things the way we're used to, to add value to the food we grow.
I know another thing that the residents of our community are going to miss very much in eastern Ontario is the closing of the ag office. They had depended on that for many years and went out of their way to keep that ag office open. Commodity groups met and they were prepared to finance it, just to give them the building and leave it open, and they were turned down.
I know the farmers in that part of Ontario and all over Ontario. I got to know many of them very well. What they want is a good place to raise their families. They don't want handouts. The residents of Ontario and the farmers want to produce quality, inspected food. They depend on fresh, quality water and also fresh air. All these things are being hit very hard by the Harris government and they will not be used to the same quality that they had.
Anyway, I was glad we talked about agricultural colleges because we've got many good, smart young people who need those colleges if we're going to survive and go into the next century.
Mr Bisson: The member from Renfrew, as I call him, commented in his speech on the government's allegations or assertions that the opposition is fearmongering in their debates against the government and in their questions to the government during question period and used as an example -- and I just heard the comments a little while ago -- the whole idea of the closure of the offices. I would just say, listen, it's not a question of fearmongering, it's a question of reporting your record. If people are fearful of that record, there's not much we can do about it.
The reality is, you're the guys who are doing the cuts, you're the guys who said, "If you elect us, the Mike Harris government" -- you said in 1995 that you would not cut agricultural funding; since coming to government, a $108-million cut. Are we fearmongering in the opposition? I would say no. I would say that is the government's record. The government said when in opposition, the Tory party: "You elect us. We're not going to close down any ag offices. All them ag offices are safe."
As the member for Renfrew pointed out, in the minister's own riding they've closed down that particular office. It was the minister himself who put the key in the door and closed it. He's right. Is it the member for Renfrew, is it the opposition that's fearmongering? I say no. It is the government's own record, and that is the point.
As the government goes on and as the government implements its program, yes, there are people who are fearful because the effects of what this government is doing affect people's daily lives. We see it in this bill, we see it in the new user fees that will be developed through AgriCorp, we see it from the reduction of meat inspectors and fruit and vegetable inspectors. People are fearful of what's going to happen. It's not the opposition that's being fearful. It is the government's agenda that is the fearful point in this debate.
Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough): Just a couple of comments to the member for Renfrew North. I always look forward to his comments. He has an eloquent way of putting some pros and cons to the situation and at times that's very refreshing.
He mentioned ARDA and I was pleased to see that he felt it was a good program, because I think most of us who are familiar with rural Ontario do realize the importance that program has played over the years. But you'll have to remember, naturally, that it was instituted a number of years ago, two or three decades ago. I would also draw to the attention of the members that the last 10 years it has not been active, there have been no properties purchased and we are at a point of time when it is not serving a purpose to the agricultural community in the province.
It was mentioned earlier about the community pastures and that was a good point and that's a fair point, but I think you'll find in the legislation our intention is that it will be looked at over the course of time. While it may be in the bill that that's part of it, that particular part will not be repealed until all those matters are discussed and addressed quite frankly, so I think those things are to be addressed as well.
The other thing about AgriCorp, of course it's mentioned, it's a major portion of this bill and a very important part of it, but I think if you look back, you'll realize that all the parties that have sat in this House over the last decade or so have all introduced AgriCorp and this is very much the same. The member who sits right behind the member for Renfrew North -- and I'll just use Hansard -- when he was Minister of Agriculture said, and I'll quote: "The development of AgriCorp is part of this government's continuing commitment to assist Ontario farmers in meeting today's economic challenges."
Ladies and gentlemen, that's the reason it's being instituted at this point in time. We intend to implement those things that will support the agricultural community.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Renfrew North has two minutes.
Mr Conway: I want to simply say to my friend from Hastings, I don't want to leave the impression that I'm complaining about the windup of the Oleomargarine Act or the repeal of the ARDA Act. I just think, particularly in the case of the old margarine business, somebody ought to at least wave it goodbye and recall its past glory.
Again, the point I want to make around user fees, there's no doubt, if you talk to any farm group or any farmer, they know what's coming. They've been told. The ag offices, the field staff of the ministry, including my friends and relatives, are out there telling them: "It's coming. Get ready." I don't think it's a question of fearmongering; it's just a reality. The test will be the extent of it. But let there be no confusion. People know what's being contemplated.
I want to say, and I didn't in my --
Mr Jordan: It's called restructuring.
Mr Conway: That's right. That's the word you use. You're absolutely right, and I shouldn't -- my friend from Etobicoke West has arrived and it's sort of like the Toronto Islands bill that we have now. I compare that bill we've got now with the kind of speeches that -- nobody made better speeches in here in the old days of the Rae government than our friend from Etobicoke West. There's just a little gap. You win some and you lose some, and I guess the point I wanted to stress is that there have to be changes. I think the government -- Mr Villeneuve -- made some impossible promises. It's not lost on some of us that we have an obligation to point out what he promised and what he's delivering.
I want to say in a very personal and pointed way, the member from Scarborough seems to know a lot of what I did during the last election campaign. Well, I didn't do the things he alleged. I, quite frankly, tragically, spent most of the last election campaign in a cancer clinic with a dying parent. I just say that for the record, so the member for Scarborough East who seems to know so very much and is so anxious to so aggressively put it on the record, knows that's where I spent most of the last 37-day campaign.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate? The Chair recognizes the member for Algoma.
Mr Wildman: I'm not sure exactly how to respond to my friend the member for Renfrew North in regard to his last comment, but I do respect his feelings.
I want to participate in this debate because as a representative of northern Ontario who has a very significant agricultural component in his constituency, and also someone, frankly, who grew up in the same area relatively as my friend the member for Renfrew North, in the Ottawa Valley, I have a significant connection with the agricultural community, not just in Algoma but in Ontario generally. I recognize that essentially as a primary industry, agriculture is the basis, one of the most important bases, of prosperity in this province, and governments that forget that do so at their own peril.
Even as we become more and more urbanized and we forget perhaps the history and the basis of Ontario's development, we must recognize that without a vibrant rural community and a prosperous agricultural industry, the whole economy of this province and the society of this province is threatened.
Conservative governments in the past have understood this and recognized the significance of the agricultural sector and the rural communities of this province, and that's why I've looked with some interest at the performance of my friend from the united counties. The member for S-D-G has come to this portfolio with some significant background in the agricultural area and some commitment to the rural communities of this province. I respect the commitment that the member from Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry -- what else is he representing?
Mr Baird: East Grenville.
Mr Wildman: East Grenville. I respect his commitment to the rural communities, but I think, as the member for Renfrew North indicated in his remarks, the member made some commitments which were almost impossible to keep.
As a member of a party who campaigned before June 8, he said that no cuts would affect the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. This is a member, a minister now, who is representing a government that said agriculture had been shortchanged for many years, that agriculture had not been getting its fair share, recognizing the importance of that industry in the economy of this province. He said that. Not just him, His colleagues who campaigned across the province said the same thing. They said: "Agriculture has been shortchanged. Agriculture will get its fair share under a Conservative regime."
Representing an area that is rural, with a significant dairy, beef, mutton and some egg producers, I had to deal with that --
Mr Ted Chudleigh (Halton North): Chickens.
Mr Wildman: There are some chickens, but not many chickens in my area, mostly egg producers.
Mr Chudleigh: They're associated with eggs.
Mr Wildman: I've heard that.
I had to deal with that in the campaign and people said: "Your government, according to the Conservatives, hasn't recognized the importance of agriculture. Your government has not given agriculture its due. The agriculture budget, as compared to the total provincial budget, has dwindled under the NDP, under the Liberals, and we think that it should be restored." I had to deal with that in the last campaign. It was an important issue. A lot of farmers, a lot of friends of mine over the years, had to make a choice and some of them decided to vote for the Conservative candidate because the Conservative candidate said that agriculture was going to get a better deal under the Conservative Party.
Some of them also looked a little askance at the promises of all politicians, which frankly I think is a problem for our democratic system. They said, "It doesn't really make any difference who gets elected, they'll all say they're going to do a lot for agriculture but it's not going to make any difference." I think that's an unfortunate view, but that was the view of some.
So after the election campaign was completed and we saw a Conservative government elected, some of the people who had supported the Conservatives in the election campaign said, "We're going to get our due." Those people who were somewhat sceptical said, "We'll see." So the question is, what happened?
The member for the united counties was appointed to the executive council and he has made a lot of speeches about the importance of agriculture, which I agree with, but what has it meant in terms of funding? What has it meant in terms of agricultural programs? What has it meant in terms of support for rural communities? As they say, the proof is in the pudding and the pudding has been found wanting.
In my own area, not long after the election campaign, the ag rep retired. She had served Algoma faithfully and worked for the farmers and the agriculture community faithfully for a number of years in Algoma and she retired. So I contacted the minister and I said, "Okay, are you going to appoint a new ag rep to serve the farmers in Algoma district?" I recognize that agriculture in our part of the province isn't as important, perhaps, as agriculture in southwestern Ontario or even in the clay belt of Timiskaming, but it's important in my riding. I said, "Are you going to appoint somebody?" The minister said, "We'll look into it, Bud. We'll look after this," and nothing happened.
The farmers got a little worried and then the minister had his famous tour by telephone, in which he had these talks with farmers from across the province, the electronic hookup. What he got from the farmers of Algoma was the need to re-appoint the ag rep: "We need another ag rep. We don't want to have to go to Sudbury or North Bay to get service from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. We want to have a local district office open with an ag rep who can serve the needs of the farmers of Algoma district."
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Regardless of what it costs.
Mr Wildman: The member says, "Regardless of what it costs." The member, if he knew rural Ontario -- I recognize he represents a somewhat urban-suburban riding -- he'd know that farmers are interested in value for money and efficiency. It wasn't regardless of cost, but there's such a thing as being penny wise and pound foolish. If you have an office in Sudbury or North Bay that is supposed to service Algoma, it's going to cost a lot more, not less, because the ag rep coming out of those communities is going to have to travel a lot farther and is going to have all of those expenses and you're going to have the telephone expenses, all the mail, all of that stuff. It's going to cost more, not less.
That's why the farmers said: "It doesn't make sense. We're not going to get the service and what we do get will not" -- I've got to give the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs credit. He came to me and said: "I think you've got a point. We'd better do something here." He said that there will be another ag rep appointed for Algoma district. I look forward to that. Unfortunately, I'm still looking forward to it. The minister has not yet appointed a new ag rep, but he says he will and I'm confident the minister will fulfil his commitment.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): Bud, he said he'd appoint; he didn't say when.
Mr Wildman: That's right, he didn't say when. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine who is a long-serving stalwart of the Conservative Party in my riding -- his son unfortunately has gone over to Reform, but that happens in the Conservative Party -- came to me and said: "The minister has said he's going to reappoint an ag rep for Algoma. When?" I had to say, as the member for Etobicoke West indicated, that the minister didn't say when. But I was confident, and I am confident, that the minister will fulfil his commitment, that he will appoint a new ag rep.
But there are a couple of other things that have happened with regard to the ministry's budget that cause me significant concern with regard to the commitment to rural communities and to the agricultural sector. Under the previous governments, and I say that in the plural, there was a program called CURB, the Clean Up Rural Beaches program, which was designed to assist farmers to limit the hazardous runoff from agricultural operations that might contaminate water sources and beaches in rural Ontario. This is not so much a problem in my area, but more often a problem in the Bruce Peninsula, southwestern Ontario and so on. This government has discontinued that program. It was a very successful, very important program that made it possible for farmers to get assistance to limit the amount of manure or pesticides and herbicides runoff that might contaminate waterways. This government discontinued it. Why, for a government that says that it's committed to rural Ontario and to the agricultural sector?
We've had a couple of other examples. When the OPSEU workers were on strike, the Chair of Management Board actually took an issue through the grievance procedure, even to court, which argued that meat inspectors were essential to assure consumers that the meat they might purchase was safe and also make it possible for beef producers to market their beef, because without the inspectors the abattoirs could not operate and they might shut down, and that would then hurt the market for the beef producers and other meat producers.
We had a situation where the Chair of Management Board and the provincial government were before the courts arguing that these positions were essential and that the OPSEU workers must be working during the strike. We had municipal leaders in the townships saying: "We're going to hire people to do this job. OPSEU might consider those kinds of workers to be scabs, but we're going to hire people to do these jobs because the farm community needs them."
What happened after the OPSEU strike was over? The minister, the member for S-D-G & East Grenville, got up and announced that he was going lay off most of these inspectors. Why on earth were they essential during a strike if they're not needed now? I guess that was then and this is now. I just don't understand it. I thought that the member -- and I genuinely mean this -- for S-D-G & East Grenville was committed to protecting the agricultural sector in this province. I thought he was interested in protecting the market.
Mr Stockwell: He's not laying them all off.
Mr Wildman: Oh, he's not laying them all off. I guess Mr Johnson made a mistake during the strike in saying that they were all essential; just a small minority of them actually were essential.
Now we see another situation, not just with meat inspectors, but where the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is saying that 80% of the inspectors who inspect produce are not necessary, we don't need them. The minister gets up and says what they were really doing was simply inspecting grades of produce. They were just measuring pesticides residues to advise farmers on whether or not they were using too much pesticide.
Oh, I'm glad to see the minister is joining us.
Mr Stockwell: Hey, that's out of order.
Mr Wildman: I'm sure it's in order for the minister to join us.
The minister says that they were just testing grades and the amount of residue and that this is not really essential. It was good information for the farmers, but it really wasn't necessary in terms of the health and safety of the food and assuring consumers that Ontario produce is safe, as we all know it is. He also indicated, in answering questions about this, that 96% to 98% -- I think those are the percentages he used -- of the inspections indicated there was no problem.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Well within the limits.
Mr Wildman: Well within the limits, as he says. I guess what that means is that as long as we're lucky enough to not run into the other 4% that are beyond the limits, we're okay, we don't need the inspection.
This is a little bit odd, particularly when we see a scare -- and the minister accused us of scaremongering today -- when we see that the strawberries from the United States are indeed a problem. I recognize the federal government has a role in this. Surely if we had an inspectorate that was doing its job, we could assure the consumers and that way ensure that the marketers, the producers, had a market, but instead we're laying 80% of them off, so they won't be able to provide that assurance. I think that's a problem.
Finally, I'll just say that while our government did look seriously at AgriCorp and developed legislation with regard to AgriCorp, this legislation is not the same. It is significantly different, and the intent is quite different. The intent here is to save money. It is to ensure that farmers are not getting the service they used to get without paying. It's to ensure that farmers are to get services if they get them at their own expense, not at the expense of the general taxpayers of the province. Maybe that's legitimate. Maybe that's an approach that should be taken. I don't know.
I'm concerned about areas that might be considered marginally agricultural in that kind of a scenario, areas like my own, but if that's the case, then the minister should be quite frank and say: "Look, we can't afford to provide these services any more without charging for the service. We're going to set up a corporation that is going to provide those services on a fee-for-service basis and the farmers will in fact pay those fees." If that's what the intent is, let's be frank about it.
I say sincerely to my friend from S-D-G & East Grenville I recognize his commitment to the rural and agricultural communities. I think he knows a little bit about my own commitment in that area as well. But he represents a government, a party, that came to power promising to ensure that agriculture did not need cuts and have further cuts.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Cuts in programs.
Mr Wildman: The minister says "Cuts in programs," not necessarily dollars. I understand that's a significant difference, but I think it's unfortunate if this government is going to play upon the natural concerns of rural Ontarians to play their part in protecting the financial viability of this province and to camouflage an attempt to back off on a commitment that was made. The fact is, this party, the Conservative Party campaigned on protecting agricultural programs, on ensuring that farmers got their fair share and in fact we've seen cut after cut after cut since the government came to power.
I hope that the minister will meet his mandate. I recognize that he has a difficult row to hoe, but I hope that farmers and the rural communities of Ontario, particularly more marginal areas like my own, don't pay the price in the process of meeting a fiscal commitment that has little or nothing to do with the real needs of the farm community in Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions? The Chair recognizes the minister from Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry and East Grenville.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I simply want to comment on my colleague from Algoma, who I guess will lose his position as leader of the NDP this weekend. I want to commend him for having done a good job.
I am somewhat sorry that the honourable member attempts to saddle the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs with food safety inspection. Yes, there is inspection done. It's to advise farmers. The Ministry of Health and the different health units continue on an ongoing basis to check food safety, and our Ontario farmers, as you have mentioned, sir, have a clean record, some of the best food you can produce anywhere. I've just returned from Asia and quality is what they want and that's why they're in our marketplace, to look at the food that's produced here in Ontario.
I'm amazed that the honourable member would suggest that agriculture is suffering all sorts of reductions. You know, in the budget -- and I haven't heard it from anyone, but there's $15 million there, Grow Ontario, to be spent in the agrifood sector. There is a rebate of what we estimate to be $20 million on capital expenditures, things that farmers will be building, on construction materials. There's $1.25 million to support a student employment program in rural Ontario. Amazing. The honourable members never touched on that. They prefer to do a bit of fearmongering and trying to blame this government for all sorts of things. But this government has been extremely positive and is sending signals out to the rural communities: "Yes, we support you. We're with you."
Now, an ag rep for Algoma: I must tell the honourable member that the job has been offered. I cannot give you a name because the individual has not accepted. However, your Algoma office will be graced with an ag rep in the very near future. I am proud of that and I'm sure the honourable member is pleased.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): In the approach to Bill 46 from the farm community, and other members have mentioned this in their discussions, they feel that they really have truly been left out of the loop. The government is saying, "Pass this bill." On many issues they say: "Trust us. Pass this bill, and we'll discuss what it really means for you over the summer." This has occurred over and over again.
The issue of meat inspectors was brought up just a moment ago. The reduction has been from 88 to 43, so it's not just a few. Agriculture has a long history in Ontario, and indeed the word "agriculture" is inscribed on the very front of this building. It's right up there at the very top. It's inscribed. It will be there for all time, and so should agriculture. Not only that, but it is so important to the precinct and the area around here. My office is in the Whitney, and the Whitney is named after a former politician, a Premier, and on the scroll beside his name is the fact that he worked so very, very hard for agriculture.
The agriculture community wants to be a part of the conversation on this bill. We've raised a number of issues where we feel that consultation has not existed to the fullest extent, or perhaps not at all, and we are concerned with the proliferation of user fees. When we have in the bill "any class of persons," which was not in our bill back some years ago, it gives the government a broad scope to introduce user fees; indeed one farmer told me that his opinion was that the Ministry of Agriculture could be run totally through AgriCorp.
Mr Bisson: I first of all want to comment that the member for Algoma, as always, brought, I thought, good points to the debate. He always represents his constituents well in making sure that the voice of the constituents of the --
Mr Stockwell: Forget it, Gilles. He's losing his job on Thursday. He can't move you up.
Mr Bisson: I saw my friend Chris Stockwell coming on that one.
The member for Algoma always represents his constituents and yet again has delivered in regard to work he was doing in working with the Minister of Agriculture in dealing with the ag rep, and I think that adds a lot of testimony to the work that Bud Wildman does for his constituency.
But I want to say, because it was raised in the debate, that Bud in his work as the interim leader of the NDP, I must say as a member of the caucus, has done an excellent job. I want to take the opportunity to say publicly in this House and publicly to the people who are watching that Bud, I'm sure, if it hadn't been for personal considerations, would have thrown his hat in the ring, and I'm sure that many a candidate, come this Saturday, would have been watching Bud give his victory speech at that convention. I think Bud not only has the respect of the people of this caucus but also has the respect of the people of our party and I would say the people within this Legislature, and I think that speaks volumes about Bud. On that, I would like to thank the Speaker for allowing me to comment.
Mr Stockwell: Even the limited amount of agriculture workers and owners in the riding of the member who spoke -- there are probably even fewer in Etobicoke besides a few tomato farmers, I suppose.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Food processors.
Mr Stockwell: Processors, that's right. They steal your campaign stakes. That's about the most you can get from there.
But I would note today we've heard quite a bit about the concerns with respect to the crops and the foods in Ontario and about their safety and whether they're safe today and inspected. I've noted, though, as I've heard this -- and not being too knowledgeable with respect to this issue, I've listened to the speeches carefully -- I note the Minister of Agriculture stands in his place and speaks about it and I note the member for St Catharines and even the member for Cochrane South. Having seen them, and I don't know a lot about it, but it doesn't seem to me that they have too much concern about the foods of Ontario.
Mr Wildman: Who?
Mr Stockwell: I don't think they do, because it doesn't appear that they do. It seems that they've survived and lived quite nicely and are prospering very well. They're not missing any meals. The foods that are being offered up seem to be edible and acceptable by most and it seems to me they're reasonably well fed, and I assume that they're eating mostly Ontario foods and they're eating and buying and supplying to their families mostly Ontario foods. So when they stand up and complain too loudly, I think they may be a ringing endorsement to the fine foods that we grow in Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Algoma has two minutes.
Mr Wildman: I guess the member for Etobicoke West was commenting on my girth.
I appreciate the comments made by my colleagues. I want to say sincerely to my friend -- and I mean this and he knows it -- from eastern Ontario, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, that I wish him well in his portfolio. He knows that is a sincere comment. I appreciate his comments with regard to the ag rep in our area and I look forward to the appointment.
We are concerned, all of us, about the viability of agriculture in this province. While the minister is wont to say the members of the opposition are fearmongering, he knows from his experience in opposition the role of the opposition parties. We are sincerely concerned about a commitment that was made to keep agriculture at least at the same levels, if not actually increase programs, and the apparent loss of commitment. I know the minister has a true commitment himself, but I'm wondering whether he is experiencing what unfortunately many agriculture ministers have experienced, perhaps since Mr Stewart, with regard to ensuring that agriculture gets its fair share.
I appreciate the comments made by my colleagues with regard to my being out of work. No, I am not looking for the ag rep's position in Algoma. I am not losing a position; I am voluntarily giving it up. I will be significantly occupied over the next few years. Thank you very much.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate? The Chair recognizes the member for Algoma-Manitoulin.
Mr Michael Brown: I too would like to participate in this debate. It's important for members to understand that the riding of Algoma-Manitoulin has a strong tradition in agriculture on the North Shore and on Manitoulin Island itself. It's one of the strong parts of our economy. Right now, I think members would know that commodity prices, especially in beef, are not good. The community is feeling less than buoyant about its prospects in the near future because of those cattle prices. People should also know that we are significant dairy producers. That is an important part of our local economy, as it seems to withstand the vagaries of the economy better than other commodity groups.
I've represented the area for around nine years now. I had a meeting at the Manitoulin Livestock Co-op with a number of the local farmers from the Manitoulin area a couple of months ago. I don't believe -- I think this is a fair statement -- that over nine years I'd ever heard those very same farmers be as concerned about their future, their livelihood and their place in the economy, not only of our area but of all Ontario.
There were some particular concerns and I want to bring those forward to the minister today. I have, by way of letter and in this House on other occasions, but as he's here, I think we should take the opportunity to talk about the veterinary program, now under review, which is very significant to the districts of northern Ontario and to some of the northern counties.
The critical mass we have in those northern counties and in the northern districts makes it particularly challenging for vets. Because of that, since 1947, I believe, there has been a program through the Ministry of Agriculture that has subsidized the visits of vets. You have to understand that a veterinarian in our area may have to drive 100 kilometres to make one call. You can understand that this is not the kind of business that might be as lucrative as it may be in some of the counties where you don't have to drive quite so far to make a call.
Mr Stockwell: A hundred kilometres?
Mr Michael Brown: A hundred kilometres to make one call, yes. If you intend to go from Mindemoya to Meldrum Bay to visit a beef herd, it's at least 100 kilometres.
That's a challenge, and my farmers are very concerned about that. They are afraid that they may lose the vets who are there, that the vets will find it more prosperous and more lucrative to be in the small animal business, to look after cats and dogs rather than the large animals we find on the farms. I want the minister to understand that the farmers in that upstairs room at the Manitoulin Livestock Co-op in Gore Bay were very concerned about the existence of this program.
One of the things we all know in this business is that when times are good people don't really worry too much about government involvement. In much of Ontario the commodity prices in agriculture are pretty good right now, and therefore we're not hearing a whole lot from those commodity groups. But the beef industry is not one of those buoyant groups.
If you start to attack the programs, like the community pastures under ARDA, if you start to attack the veterinarian programs at a time when farmers are least able to afford to look after themselves, we will be in big trouble. I am just asking the minister if he will have a look at those programs, make sure that the community pastures can remain viable for the farmers of my area and throughout the province and make sure that the veterinarian program remains in place. Then I think we're accomplishing something.
I want to also mention the issue of the dairy pooling. There were four areas in northern Ontario for dairy pools that have now been or are about to be -- I guess in about a year -- amalgamated into one pool for all of northern Ontario. The difficulty with this is that it came absolutely out of nowhere. Northern dairy farmers, northern processors were not aware at all that the government was considering changing this policy. In many ways, it may be the right thing to do. It may provide the consumers with the products they want; it may provide the opportunity for our dairy farmers to sell even more milk; it may provide a great number of things. On the other hand, it may just increase transportation costs across the entire pool for no good reason; it may eliminate the processors, the people who work in the small dairies of northern Ontario. For what? I guess I'm not very sure.
The member for Kenora stood in his place and asked that there be hearings across northern Ontario so that we can understand what the implications of this one large pool for northern Ontario might mean. We were quite disappointed that the minister, who really directed the board to make this decision --
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Oh, come on.
Mr Michael Brown: Read the letter you sent. I don't happen to have it with me, Mr Villeneuve, but the letter really directed the result. It seems to me that this kind of public policy is not in the interest of anyone and that the least the government could have done was to go out and ask the people who are affected, go out and ask the farmers, go out and ask the processors, go out and ask the consumers and see how these --
Mr Wildman: What do the Farquhars think of it?
Mr Michael Brown: Yes, ask Farquhars, Archers in Kirkland Lake, all the dairies across northern Ontario what effect this will have on them and their employees and on the markets they serve.
The fact that the government refused to do that should tell you something, it really should tell you something. It should tell us that the government cannot defend the decision they have made. I find that, the run-and-hide approach, to be unacceptable and I think many of my constituents also do.
I look at the bill. I see user fees. This bill is about user fees. It's about what the market will bear, it's about the kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest critical mass that this government's about, and I wonder where Algoma-Manitoulin fits into a kind of approach like that.
Algoma-Manitoulin was settled over 100 years ago. It was settled by people who came first to lumber and then to farm. They homesteaded, they cut their homes out of the bush, they are the backbone of the economy and I only wish I could see something in Bill 46 that points to a better future for those farmers.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions?
Mr Wildman: I enjoyed the comments of my friend from Algoma-Manitoulin, knowing his commitment to agriculture and the significance of agriculture on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore. I want to commend him for raising the issue with regard to the northern pool and the preservation of the northern pool in terms of dairy products. Nobody understands -- and I say this sincerely to my friend from the united counties -- nobody in northern Ontario understands why the marketing board and the provincial government have decided to have one pool for all of northern Ontario. It is not good for the dairy producers, for the farmers in northern Ontario and it certainly is not good for the processors and their employees.
We run the risk that most of northern Ontario's market for milk will be produced in Barrie, for instance, and that the producers in Espanola, Sudbury, Kirkland Lake, Thunder Bay --
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): Bruce Mines.
Mr Wildman: Actually, there's no producer in Bruce Mines any more. That's gone, by the way -- that all of these will be out of business and we'll have a consolidation. The thing I don't understand is that Beatrice Foods has said they're not in favour of this change. They're not in favour of it. I don't understand who is. The fact is that if we have to transport raw milk to southern Ontario and then transport the finished product to the consumers in the north, the dairies, the processors are not going to pay the cost of that. The farmers, the dairy producers and the consumers are going to pay the cost and it's not going to be good for agriculture or for the dairy industry in northern Ontario.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: I am pleased to comment on my colleague the member for Algoma-Manitoulin's presentation. I think they're getting the pool mixed up with the distribution. The northern pool has been amalgamated with the southern pool at the production end of things by the Ontario Milk Marketing Board, which is now the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. As a matter of fact, I was meeting with the president of the Dairy Farmers of Ontario a half-hour ago.
You see, the distribution is what I believe you're talking about when you mention the pool; that's the production end. At the distribution end, the Farm Products Appeal Tribunal has made a decision that there would no longer be monopolies and there is lead time. I met with Archers Dairy and a number of the dairy processors and there was no run and hide, to my honourable colleague from Algoma-Manitoulin. We had 46 presentations, along with many individuals who wrote letters, so there's no run and hide.
I find it interesting. I have a letter here: "The decision has, without intent I'm sure, denied citizens of the north access to a product available south of the French River. This can only be interpreted as discrimination against those people in the north who insist to use this product. It means changes to legislation, and I would think this should be commenced immediately."
This is written by a member of the Liberal caucus who represents a riding in the Sudbury area. The gentleman's name is Rick Bartolucci. He wants to see Ault Foods and Beatrice compete up there, and I have correspondence to that effect. I just want to tell the honourable member for Algoma-Manitoulin that we did not run and hide on this. We listened to everyone.
Mr Bisson: I come back to the comments that the member made in regard to the question of the Ontario Milk Marketing Board. I say directly to the minister, we as a government, under the Bob Rae government, had to deal with this. The same people who went over there to lobby you to make these changes came to us and said, "We would like to have the changes that you are now putting forward in this legislation," and we said no. Why? Because we said if you allow this to go forward, the cost is going to be that the dairy producers in northern Ontario are going to have difficulty in being able to deal with the influx of milk coming in on the market. What southern dairies will do is flood the northern market at below cost to push the dairies in northern Ontario out of that market, including the dairy producers in northern Ontario. We will stand here, I guarantee you, Minister, over the next year and a half to two years -- in the end what you're going to see is a reduction in the amount of dairy producers in northern Ontario because of what you're doing in this act, and you're going to see a change in price upwards to the consumers of northern Ontario when it comes to milk.
I say it is again a case where the government has chosen sides. You have a choice in this Legislature. You can choose the side of the people or you can choose the side of big business and that's what you're doing. You're succumbing to the pressures of big business and the dairy interests of this province who wanted for a long time to open the whole issue of allowing milk to be transported into northern Ontario. Allowing that to happen is going to be to the detriment of many people in northern Ontario, both the consumers and the dairy producers, and I say it is clearly an issue where this government has chosen the side of big business and not the side of the average people in northern Ontario who are the consumers.
In regard to Mr. Bartolucci and the comments he made in favour of this, listen, the Liberals have taken double the side on this thing for a long time. At least you guys are consistent.
Mr Hastings: Thank you for allowing me to speak for a couple of minutes. Imagine an urban member of the government speaking about agriculture, because we're supposed to have no farmers at all in urban Ontario. But in point of fact, I have one farmer and he is very concerned about the cost of AgriCorp in terms of some of the user fees. Now you'd be saying, "What are these user fees?" He's very concerned about the cost of research dealing with user fees. But on the other hand, he also said to me -- he was watching earlier today and he didn't hear one comment from any of the members opposite regarding --
Mr Ramsay: He watches this?
Mr Hastings: Yes, he watches this, can you imagine? While his grapes and other cash crops are growing.
What he is concerned about, and he didn't hear anything from members opposite, is the fate and future of honey producers in Ontario, particularly with respect to the viruses that are now invading some of the honey production cells. I'd like to hear from the opposition. One of the things we've been listening to is they acknowledge there has to be a little bit of change, but when it comes to the actual change, they don't really want any. For example, we've heard from various members, "Don't remove any of the ag reps," but they've forgotten that you can't use voice mail, because voice mail won't work; and, "We don't like telephones, because who wants to talk to somebody in Cornwall or Sudbury?" If it's 100 kilometres away, they feel as if they're out of touch when in fact most members of the agriculture community are using some of the best technology. I think it's an insult to members of the farm community that you portray them in such a low-tech light.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Algoma-Manitoulin has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Michael Brown: I enjoyed the comments of my friends the member for Algoma, the minister and the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, who just demonstrated why he's an urban member.
I wanted to speak directly to the minister. The minister reads the letter from Mr Bartolucci in Sudbury, talking about Lactantia milk; that's what he was talking about, one particular product that he thought should be available in their market that wasn't. That's what he was talking about. He wasn't talking about the distribution of milk across the entire north. That's what he was talking about; that was the issue.
What I want to talk to the minister about, and I think the other members -- I forgot my friend from Cochrane South who spoke about what could happen to dairy farmers, what could happen to dairy processors. The only winners I can see here are the trucking companies that will be trucking the milk produced in northern Ontario. They will end up five years from now trucking their milk to Mississauga and then trucking it back. There will not be, in my view, a dairy left in northern Ontario. That is something this minister should consider.
Your friends, everybody over there, seems to be in the trucking industry. I understand even the minister has friends -- actually relatives -- who truck milk around. So it seems to me the only people who are very interested in doing business the way this minister is may be the people who want to drive Ontario's highways with tanker trucks. It certainly will not be in the interests of the consumers; it will not be in the interests of the processors. It seems to me that the minister should have had the public hearings we asked for a considerable length of time ago on this issue.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate? Does Mr Danford want to wrap up?
Mr Danford: The matter has been well discussed and I think that's very good for the bill. My comments will be rather short and I would leave it to you -- I move second reading.
The Deputy Speaker: Mr Danford has moved second reading of Bill 46. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour say "aye."
All those opposed say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): I believe there is an agreement to postpone this vote until after routine proceedings tomorrow.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it agreed that the vote will be deferred?
Mr Wettlaufer: It has been deferred until orders of the day tomorrow.
Hon Mr Sterling: I believe the agreement, Mr Speaker, was after routine proceedings.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it agreed after routine proceedings? It is agreed.
MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE LE MINISTÈRE DES RICHESSES NATURELLES
Resuming the adjourned debate on the motion for second reading of Bill 36, An Act to amend certain acts administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources / Projet de loi 36, Loi modifiant certaines lois appliquées par le ministère des Richesses naturelles.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): The last time we had the opportunity to debate this bill, I had done the opening comments, of which I've only got about two minutes left in the debate.
In short, what this bill is all about is giving powers to the Minister of Natural Resources to allow the privatization of the services in the provincial parks of the province of Ontario; yet again another opportunity, another example, where this government has clearly chosen sides. It believes the private sector does it best, that the public sector cannot do it at all, and will transfer those services of the public sector over to the private sector because supposedly they do a better job. More importantly, it means to say that what's going to happen is that I believe in the long term our provincial parks will, quite frankly, suffer as a result of this initiative.
I say again, you have an opportunity in this House on a number of occasions when you're presenting legislation to clearly demonstrate whose side you're standing on. I think this government has demonstrated in this bill, as it has in every other bill that has been introduced in this House, that the government clearly stands on the side of big business and big money with large interests and, quite frankly, does not stand on the side of the average working people of this province. I say to the government, shame. You're here to represent all of the people of the province of Ontario. You're not here just to represent a chosen few.
The result of what you're going to do is yet more transfers of power, additional powers, going to the corporate sector, the sector of the economy that already probably has far too much power at this point, at the expense of all of the people of this province. I say in the end, we, the public, will be the losers and I guess time will tell as to how the voters feel about this particular issue. With that, Mr Speaker, I thank you very much for this time in debate.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I wanted to congratulate my friend from Cochrane South on his four minutes. I didn't hear the rest of his speech but if it was like his four minutes, it was wonderful.
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions? The member for Cochrane South has two minutes.
Mr Bisson: Considering that the comment made by my leader was probably 10 seconds in length, I accept his comments graciously. I thank him very much for his comments and I wish he had been here for the first hour and 20 minutes because I'm sure he would have been much impressed by what I had to say.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Wildman: I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to this legislation that is so important for the management of natural resources in this province, and this of course is of particular interest to my part of the province -- northern Ontario.
I'm very concerned that right now -- I hope members of the Legislature understand -- a very good portion of northern Ontario is on fire. Unlike other serious fire situations, in this particular case, what is burning is the timber that was a major part of the allowable cut for this year. If that timber is destroyed by fire, we are going to see a situation where mills are not going to be able to have the timber they need, the fibre they need, in order to provide the product to the market they are committed to provide. That of course, means loss of jobs and a significant impact on local communities.
I recognize the difficulty the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Northern Development and Mines has in this particular situation, and I mean this sincerely. The minister is not from northern Ontario. He doesn't claim to know the north that well, and he said that to me personally. He has attempted to learn about the north. He represents an eastern Ontario riding that has some characteristics that are similar to northern Ontario, a constituency that is dependent on resource management for the livelihood of many of the people who live there, but it's not northern Ontario.
We have a minister who has presided over the gutting of the Ministry of Natural Resources. For that part of the province that I represent, particularly in small communities, the term "the ministry" has been understood to mean the Ministry of Natural Resources, and in fact the provincial government historically, particularly going back to the tenure of the former member for Kenora, the emperor of the north, Leo Bernier.
The Ministry of Natural Resources was a significant presence across our part of the province that delivered services and managed the resources on behalf of the people of Ontario, crown-owned resources that are the basis of much of the prosperity not just of northern Ontario but of the whole province.
Very few people in southern Ontario understand, I think, that 70% of the forestry jobs in Ontario are in southern Ontario, in manufacturing of lumber, paper, cardboard and all of the other ancillary products from the forest industry.
Forestry, like agriculture, is one of the primary resource industries, the basis of the prosperity of this province, and yet we have a government that claims to be concerned about the economic viability, the economic health of this province that is gutting the Ministry of Natural Resources. I never believed -- it's beyond any nightmares that I might have had -- that any government, Tory, Liberal or NDP, would contemplate cutting the Ministry of Natural Resources staff by 45%. This is after cuts that have taken place under previous governments.
The government continues to say it is going to do more with less. At least with the Ministry of Natural Resources everyone understands that is just plain poppycock. It is impossible for the Ministry of Natural Resources to carry out its mandate with 45% laid off.
It's important to recognize that the layoffs in the Ministry of Natural Resources don't have to do with some kind of study of what is core mandate, as the minister says. It doesn't have to do with some new analysis of the business plan of the Ministry of Natural Resources, as the minister says. It is simply predicated on the basis of an arbitrary decision by the Treasurer, the Minister of Finance and the minister responsible for Management Board that a certain number of staff in the provincial civil service will be cut.
If the government makes a decision to cut, whatever it is, 13,000 or more public sector jobs, there are only so many ministries that can be cut. A very large number of the ministries in the government are transfer agencies essentially: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Community and Social Services. A very large percentage of the budgets of those ministries are simply transferred to other agencies in the broader public sector to provide needed services for the people of Ontario.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: With respect, I do believe that this time is set aside to debate Bill 36 and I think it would be appropriate if you directed the honourable member to in fact debate this bill. I fail to see what relevance the last five minutes have had to the subject at hand.
The Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order. I see nothing wrong with the debate as performed by the member. The Chair recognizes the member for Algoma.
Mr Wildman: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the wisdom of your ruling.
I understand the concern of my friend the member for York-Mackenzie, the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources, but if we are going to properly debate the bill and deal with how the Minister of Natural Resources is going to deliver services in the new business approach of the government, we also have to understand whether the ministry has the staff and financial resources to carry out its mandate at all. That is what concerns me and other northerners today.
I guess the bill really deals with the issue of whether we should pay as we go. Should we in provincial parks have more user fees? Should the provincial parks remain open? Should they be privatized? Should other services that have been provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources in the past continue to be provided or should they be curtailed or provided in another manner? These are all legitimate issues of debate.
Should we be dealing with issues around the bear hunt? How do we deal with tourism and tourism promotion in northern Ontario? These are all issues that relate to the bill, I'm sure the member would agree, but I want to say sincerely to my friend from York-Mackenzie -- and I don't mean this, honestly, in a partisan sense -- that I am very, very worried about whether the ministry staff will be able to deliver, no matter what the government decides is the core mandate of the ministry and what changes it is making in this bill.
As an aside, I point out that right now, as I said, a good portion of northern Ontario is on fire. We have just imported a large number of American firefighters to help us fight those fires. My constituency office has been inundated over the last three days with phone calls from MNR firefighters who have been laid off and who are sitting at home, while we bring American firefighters in to fight the fires in northern Ontario. How on earth can this government justify that? How?
We all recognize that in the past in a very serious fire situation we have imported firefighters from other jurisdictions -- Alberta, BC, Quebec and the American states -- and where they've had serious fire situations, we have sent our staff to help them. But we have a situation today where we have qualified, highly skilled Ontario forest firefighters who are sitting at home, laid off by this government, while we bring in people from other jurisdictions.
Initially, we laid off, what was it, 60 firefighters across northern Ontario? How many crews? I can't remember the number, but it was about 60 firefighters in northern Ontario. We imported initially 70 American firefighters. Does that make sense? Keep in mind, for those firefighters from Wisconsin and Minnesota, we pay their pay and their benefits when they come here, as we should.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): In American dollars too.
Mr Wildman: In American dollars, that's right. We've got our guys sitting at home twiddling their thumbs when they could be out fighting those fires.
The member for York-Mackenzie asks, "Why aren't you discussing the specifics in this bill?" I can discuss the specifics in this bill, but let's talk about what it means for northern Ontario. You're not going to have much of a bear hunt, whether it's in the spring or in the fall, if you burn up the forest. Why are those guys sitting at home? It doesn't make sense. You talk about common sense.
Mr Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew): Yes, we talked about it.
Mr Wildman: Come on, Leo. You know a little bit about this stuff in eastern Ontario. Why are those guys sitting at home and we're bringing in guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin?
Interjection: What's the difference in pay?
Mr Wildman: The difference is that those guys are going to take their pay home and spend it at home. Our guys are sitting on welfare. Is that good for us? Is that good for our economy? Is that good for northern Ontario?
Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): Just relax.
Mr Wildman: Sure, just relax. Don't give a damn about those guys. Don't give a damn about the fact that they could be making a contribution and they want to make a contribution. Just lay them off. Give them pink slips.
We have an enormous resource in northern Ontario, a resource that is the basis of many industries across the province. We have the potential for a significant wilderness tourism industry which is just now beginning to expand in northern Ontario. Europeans and also Americans and Japanese, but particularly Europeans -- Germans, Swiss and so on -- want to come to North America, want to come to Ontario to experience the wilderness. It is our responsibility to protect and preserve that wilderness for ourselves -- for aesthetic reasons, for recreation reasons, because of our responsibility to fish and wildlife and to the habitat of fish and wildlife, because of our responsibility to the forestry industry -- yet we lay off the very people who could help us do that.
Then when we're faced with a fire situation we import people from the US. I recognize that in serious situations we have to import people from the United States to help us, but it doesn't make sense to have Minnesota and Wisconsin firefighters in my part of the province when the guys who are local, who are located in our own area, who live and contribute to our area, are sitting at home twiddling their thumbs thanks to the fact that this government has genuflected before an altar of downsizing.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): The member for Algoma does a good job in terms of talking about the forests in northern Ontario and the situation that's going on in his riding, in my riding and actually right across the north. If anybody noted the memo put out by the Minister of Natural Resources today, we are declared an emergency area, where the forests are literally burning up.
For me to sit here and listen to a member from the government ask what the difference in pay is -- I just do not believe it. Welcome to Mike Harris's Ontario, where our forest firefighters are sitting at home collecting welfare and this member has the nerve to ask, "What is the difference in pay between what our forest firefighters would be getting out there protecting our forests and what an American firefighter would be getting to take that pay back home?" I do not believe that. This just shows you the sensitivity to the north that the Mike Harris government has. To hear something like that in this House this evening -- I do not believe it. And that will go on the record.
The member for Algoma speaks of the King of the North. This was the former Conservative Minister of Natural Resources, the minister who built natural resources. This was the ministry of northern Ontario. We all refer to it as "the ministry," and we know what we're talking about in northern Ontario when we talk about "the ministry." To see this government decimate that ministry, to know that it's decimating the protection of our natural resources, our forest industry, our fish and wildlife -- everything to do with natural resources is now being decimated by this government -- I do not believe it. But I saw it tonight when one member on the government side asked, "What would the difference in pay be?" I cannot believe that comment.
Mr Klees: I'd like to respond very briefly to the member for Algoma. The member knows full well that it is tradition in this province that in the event of a state of emergency -- and the member for Kenora rightly referred to the fact that we have a very serious situation in northern Ontario -- for many years, as the member well knows, it has been the practice that firefighters are brought in from the United States to assist us, as we assist them when they have their concerns.
I'd like to address the kind of rhetoric the member for Kenora had the gall to address this House with when he referred to firefighters who had been laid off by this government and implied -- not implied, but stated categorically -- that these individuals were now at home on welfare. That is taking it one step beyond the limit of reason. The individuals who were laid off by this ministry but a few short days ago certainly are not on welfare today.
Mr Wildman: They are seasonal employees.
Mr Klees: The member for Algoma insists they are. The people in this province know that's unreasonable. The people in this government know that it's impossible for that to have happened given the kind of termination settlements these people have. I'm telling you that once again rhetoric takes over the day for members opposite. That is not what is happening in this province, and I would suggest that it behooves us all to be much more reasonable in this debate as the evening wears on.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): Let's get the facts straight here. The member for York-Mackenzie, you just don't have the facts straight. The facts are that there's an emergency in the northwest; the facts are that there are about 200 fires burning; the facts are that they've brought in crews from the United States and other parts of the province.
The minister and the ministry are saying that all the people who've got the appropriate training are being used, have been called back. It simply isn't the case; it's absolutely not the case. I've had calls from constituents to my riding office consistently, from people who've got the exact appropriate training, who worked last year and the year before, who have taken refresher courses. I will give the name of one gentleman, Russell Travis, who actually has talked to the media in Thunder Bay simply because he was so frustrated to hear the minister and ministry say they were bringing all these people back.
The fact is that there are hundreds and thousands of people across Ontario who are prepared and willing and able to work and fight those forest fires, and for the minister and ministry to say they've brought all these people back is absolutely offensive, because it simply isn't true. I trust the minister will correct himself at some point, hopefully tomorrow when he's back, because it's simply there.
We've got a variety of people who have gone down to the fire centres and said, "I'm prepared to work," and do you know what they've been told? They've been told, "I'm sorry, we've got cutbacks this year." They've actually been told that. They've been told that as recently as this past Friday. That's a pretty extraordinary thing to hear.
Certainly we're grateful for any help we can get in the north to fight our fires, and there is this thing called the Great Lakes forest fire compact in which you do bring in Americans, but let's understand: We pay the salaries, we pay the wages, we pay the transportation. We're spending millions of dollars to bring in people from out of province -- these are just the facts -- and pay for them when we have thousands of our own who are absolutely qualified to do it and should be working. I hope the minister will correct that.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): You may wonder why it would even affect St Catharines, but it's odd that in the last couple of weeks I've been dealing with one instance of an individual who wanted to get involved in the field of firefighting, finds it's a very challenging thing to do, particularly of course in the summer months when the fires occur. This individual was advised by somebody in the Ministry of Natural Resources some time ago that in order to equip himself to be a good firefighter, because it requires some considerable skill, that individual should take a course in British Columbia. There is a special school for forest firefighters in British Columbia. This person, at his own expense, went to British Columbia, took the courses, got I think 93%, and then came back to Ontario expecting that if we had a firefighting situation in Ontario where the forests were ablaze and people would be required to fight the fires, he would be one of the people who might have an opportunity at that job: (a) he was prepared to do so and is an enthusiastic person who wants to become involved in the workforce, but (b) he had also taken the time, effort and energy to become better trained and educated and equipped to do this job.
This person, the last time I talked to the family, had not at this point in time been able to obtain employment. One of the reasons that was mentioned to him was that there had been cutbacks in the Ministry of Natural Resources and for this reason they were not employing people. It's unfortunate, though, that we can bring people from over the border, employ those people, have those dollars go across the border and be spent across the border when in fact our own people in our province who are ready, willing, eager and well equipped to work are unable to do so. I hope the minister does address that particular problem.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Algoma has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Wildman: I appreciate the comments of my friends on all sides of the aisle. The member for York-Mackenzie made a valiant defence, but I don't think he has all of the facts and I hope that he will be able to get them.
Right now we have a situation where there are people who normally are on unemployment insurance over the winter and who fight fire for the Ministry of Natural Resources in the summer. They come off of UI and fight fire. I know that many people will say, well, that's not a particularly good way of doing things, but that's been the case. If they don't get work this summer, then they do in fact go on welfare. These are seasonal employees. Some of them are very professional. You can't put anybody into a forest fire situation and have them fight fire. They have to know what they're doing. It can be a very scary experience. These people have high skills.
I know that my constituency office, and I suspect every other northern member's constituency office, is getting calls from people who have experience in fighting fire and they have called the Ministry of Natural Resources because they know there's an emergency situation and they're being told: "Sorry. We can't hire you this year. We can't take you on because the ministry has laid down guidelines on fewer staff and they're not going to be hiring people."
It is quite true that traditionally the Ministry of Natural Resources has brought people in from other jurisdictions to fight fire in emergency situations, but only after all of our staff have been occupied. We don't bring in people while people are sitting at home in Ontario who could be fighting those fires, and we shouldn't be doing it now.
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I'm very pleased to be able to follow the member for Algoma and the other members of the House who commented on his speech because I think it brings the point home that many of the changes this government has brought, the cuts they have brought right across this province, but especially in this debate, as we centre upon the downsizing of the Ministry of Natural Resources, really epitomize some of the foolishness and in fact, when it comes to forest fires, the tragedy that these cuts are bringing to northern Ontario.
It was evident in the comments that several of the government members were making during the speech of the member for Algoma that there really isn't an understanding of the --
The Deputy Speaker: I'm assuming that you have spoken on this matter previous to tonight?
Mr Wildman: I'd be quite willing to give him unanimous consent.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Miclash: In terms of referring to Bill 36, I have to say that I have a number of concerns when it comes to this bill and I think some of them have been expressed already this evening in what the member for Algoma had to say.
One of the things that I hear most often as I travel throughout northwestern Ontario is that people in northwestern Ontario are feeling that their voices are not being heard. We've just recently heard about the summit of all of the northern mayors and reeves coming together in Sudbury. I heard from a good number of those northern mayors and reeves in my riding saying why they were going to spend the $1,000 to go to Sudbury yesterday: because they felt they were not being heard by this government. Again, I hear that, and over the nine years that I've spent in this House I don't think it's been such a great concern as it is in northern Ontario today.
We have the prime example of the firefighting situation in northwestern Ontario, in northern Ontario, the prime example of what's happening up there. We've given examples of where our own people are sitting on the sidelines. We gave the example of where these people are seasonal employees who will eventually end up on welfare when their unemployment insurance runs out. They're phoning my constituency office. They're phoning the constituency offices of the members from Thunder Bay. They're phoning the constituency office of all northern members to say, "What is this government doing?" in terms of bringing in American firefighters.
For one of the members over there to suggest there may be a pay difference -- maybe the government is saving money. I really can't express my frustration at hearing that comment this evening, to hear something like that when, again, our professional firefighters are sitting on the sidelines watching this go on. I do hope the minister -- and the minister wasn't in the House today; I noted that -- is up there looking for a solution, because he knows the desperate situation that we are in. If we lose that forest, we're talking many, many jobs. We've talked earlier about the number of jobs that are related to forestry not only in northern Ontario, but those related to forestry across the entire province and the spinoff effects of that.
When I think of the lack of communication or the lack of response by this government to northern issues, particularly natural resources issues, I think of the parliamentary assistant as well as he travels into northern Ontario, northwestern Ontario, as he spends an evening on the American side of the Fort Frances-Rainy River area checking their restaurants compared to those in the Fort Frances area. For him to be over there, not paying particular attention to some of the concerns he may have run into that evening had he visited a local establishment on the Fort Frances side, again shows the sensitivity of this government, this minister, this parliamentary assistant, as they travel into northern Ontario and northwestern Ontario. We hear it all the time.
The Sudbury Star of January 14 recorded the parliamentary assistant --
Mr Klees: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I think it's only right I clarify the record. I believe the impression that was left with this House, and if we check the record --
Mr Miclash: That's not a point of --
Mr Klees: It is a point of order, if you let me finish. Reference was made by the honourable member that the parliamentary assistant, in his travels, stayed in the United States. We're talking about the ministry of --
Mr Miclash: He's got his two minutes.
The Deputy Speaker: Order. I have recognized the member for York-Mackenzie on a point of order. I would like to be able to hear his point to know whether or not I should rule in favour of it or against it. Would you please give me your --
Mr Bisson: It's pretty evident what this guy is doing. He's trying to clarify the record, and it's not a point of order.
Mr Miclash: He's got his two minutes.
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Listen and you'll see.
The Deputy Speaker: I'm a very patient man but I'm not accustomed to being interrupted when I'm speaking. The Chair recognizes the member for York-Mackenzie on a point of order.
Mr Klees: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The member made reference to the parliamentary assistant --
The Deputy Speaker: Your point, please.
Mr Klees: Yes. It was not the parliamentary assistant for the Ministry of Natural Resources who was being referred to, and I believe this House was left with the impression that it was the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources. I'd like the record to be clarified.
The Deputy Speaker: Thank you very much. It is not a point of order.
Mr Bisson: Mr Speaker, I've got a point of order too. It's about a three-minute speech to talk on the member's comments. I wish you would take the rules of this House into consideration when listening to what's going on here.
The Deputy Speaker: Your point of order?
Mr Bisson: Well, you can make up --
The Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order. The Chair recognizes the member for Kenora.
Mr Miclash: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and yes, I will correct the record on that. It was the parliamentary assistant to the minister of northern development.
Anyway, let me get back to the Sudbury Star of January 14, where this individual in question, the parliamentary assistant to northern development, said that the Conservatives had a plan and that they would have a plan. What he didn't tell the Sudbury Star at that time was that the plan included a reduction of 2,100 employees from the Ministry of Natural Resources and northern development, the downloading that would go on to municipalities, the municipalities that would become responsible for the cuts, the transfer payments in education and health care. Those were just some of the things he failed to mention during his visit to Sudbury in his interview with the Sudbury Star of January 14.
Let me go on to talk about some of the things this bill will do in terms of the closure of provincial parks. I've reviewed very closely what the ministry is doing in terms of provincial parks in the riding. It was really unique as to how we found out about the announcement. It initially came out in the plan that there would be a number of parks that would be closed in the northwest. The very following day it was really quite interesting to hear from one of the natural resources employees, a staff member, who called us up to indicate that the initial plan was there but he had three more closures that he wanted to let me know about. I asked him, "Why would the minister not include those in his initial business plan?" The employee was just at odds. He said he did not know but he was phoning to tell me, being the employee responsible for that region, that yes, the northwest would face yet another three park closures. As we know, as time has gone on, the minister has realized that mistake and realized how he's made that mistake and has done a reversal in terms of the actual provincial park closures and is now taking a closer look at it.
I go back to my initial point. My initial point was that this minister and his parliamentary assistant are not listening to the views and to the consideration of the problems that northerners would give. When he did the reversal, he suggested that, yes, it was something they had maybe rushed into, that their business plan did not take a close enough look to what could be done in terms of these parks. Maybe a municipality would want to take over; maybe a first nation community would want to take over and take a look at what they could do. The northerners brought to his attention the actual concerns they would have in terms of the jobs that would be presented through the opening of these parks and that there had to be a better way of doing it.
So again, I must say that I look forward to the minister taking another look at parks and what he's going to do with them, whether it be privatization of the parks to ensure that they continue to be left open for the folks to use in northern Ontario or whether it be a combination of Ministry of Natural Resources and other groups looking at running the parks.
It brings me back to the point as well that people are confused when they listen to this minister get up and talk about the downsizing of his ministry, but yet he cannot tell us the actual numbers. When he was asked a question in the House, he could not come up with whether they were full-time jobs that were being lost, whether they were seasonal jobs, and what this would mean to the folks throughout northwestern Ontario.
When I take a look at communities closely associated with my riding, communities throughout the northwest, and I take a look at the Ministry of Natural Resources in those communities and what the business plan of this government will do, I think of the number of jobs that disappear out of the communities. You take a look at Dryden losing six jobs; Kenora, some 27 jobs will be removed from that community, a very small community, a community that depends a lot on government jobs, Ministry of Natural Resources jobs; Nipigon, nine jobs; Thunder Bay, 42 jobs; Red Lake, a community in my riding, another five jobs; Sioux Lookout, 11 jobs. We can go on and on; some 2,100 jobs just gone out of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
I spoke earlier about the protection of the natural resources, something that's near and dear not only to us but to the previous Minister of Natural Resources who built up what a lot of people sometimes felt was an empire, what we refer to as "the ministry," in northwestern Ontario and northern Ontario. That was the ministry that protected the fish and wildlife, protected the timber. Of course, I'm referring to the Honourable Leo Bernier. The Minister of Agriculture will remember him well. This was a Conservative minister who was from the north and had northern issues at heart. We saw him build a very effective ministry, a ministry that has been decimated by this government, whether it be northern development or natural resources -- just decimated.
I remember seeing the former King of the North in the airport in Thunder Bay the evening after the budget. I remember saying to him that he must be beside himself just to see what this government had done in terms of our northern communities, our natural resources and the folks who were employed through those ministries.
Let me go on to another aspect of Bill 36, that being what we're hearing in terms of the forestry industry. The previous speaker indicated that the government played at one point a very important role in the operation of the forestry, in ensuring that the forests of northern Ontario were protected, that they were going to be there for generations beyond. What they have in essence done is begin to turn that responsibility over to private companies. I cannot stress enough the fact that the Ministry of Natural Resources is going to have to take a close look at how it is going to keep an eye on what's happening in terms of their enforcement, what is happening out there in the resource industry.
I go back to the fact that it's not only northern Ontario that depends so much on this resource; it's the entire province. If people take a look at the dollars that are generated by the forestry industry -- a lot of those forests are being burned up today -- they will consider that as being just a little bit more of the entire Ontario picture. We have a government that wants to turn its back on the forests, and when it does that, it turns its back on that industry.
I go on to suggest that the minister must not only take a close look -- and we've seen this government do this on many fronts -- at what the bottom line is going to be. I go back to the comment made earlier this evening by a Conservative member, "What is the cost difference of bringing the Americans up to replace the Ontario forest firefighters?" It points directly to the bottom line. The minister is going to have to get a little bit more involved in terms of finding out what northern Ontario is all about. He has indicated before that he has a lot to learn. I would suggest to him that he has a lot more to learn. It's not just the bottom line that we're talking about. We're talking about jobs in the north; we're talking about protection of the things that are near and dear to us as northerners. I call upon the minister to take on that responsibility.
In closing, I would like to back up my point by reading a number of headlines from northern newspapers. The headlines pretty well indicate how folks in the north are seeing this government, how they're seeing the lack of concern it has for the people of the north and for the resource of northern Ontario.
Let me just go on to the headline from the North Bay Nugget, which reads, "MNR to Implement User Fees to Help Operate with Less Staff."
Thunder Bay Chronicle: "121 MNR Jobs Lost Across the Northwest."
Kitchener-Waterloo Record: "More Than 900 Lose Jobs at MNR."
Thunder Bay Chronicle: "Burning Permits Now Gone" -- an issue that is very important to the people throughout the northwest as they see people burning next door without a permit. Burning permits are no longer needed.
Ottawa Citizen: "Huge Natural Resources Staff Cuts Strike Hard at Eastern Ontario."
Ottawa Citizen again: "Harris Cuts Will Hit Hard in Eastern Ontario."
Sudbury Star: "The MNR Cuts Concern Lumber Manufacturers."
Just a brief outline of what the headlines are saying in terms of what this government is doing, in particular what the Ministry of Natural Resources and this minister are doing, in terms of northern Ontario.
I go back to my initial point, that I think the minister and the ministry are going to have to take a look at what they're doing and get a better grip on the issues in northern Ontario and northwestern Ontario to ensure that we have those resources for our next generation, so that we can regenerate those resources; to ensure that we have access to our provincial parks; to ensure that the folks who make use of those, the folks who depend on them, whether it be the business and the community close to the provincial park, whether it be the seasonal employee in that park, a student employee who comes back to Natural Resources on a regular basis, I think this minister and ministry are going to have to take a very close look at what this bill will do in terms of those services to us in the northwest and to the folks who must depend on them.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Ted Chudleigh)): Questions and comments?
Mr Gravelle: I want to compliment the member for Kenora for his, as always, articulate comments and I want to also thank him as a member since 1987. He certainly has been of great help to me in my first year.
He refers to the inability of the Minister of Northern Development and Mines somehow to understand the problems of the north, and that is indeed true. One looks at the document A Voice for the North, and it's become quite a cruel irony. Indeed, the minister does not seem to have any sense of what is needed in the north, does not understand what consultation means in the north.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): Ah, you're going to hurt his feelings.
Mr Gravelle: Well, there is example upon example for those of you who want to hear it. When you look at the situation in Kakabeka Falls, for example, a provincial park. They've now imposed parking fees in Kakabeka Falls. Here's the Niagara of the North, one of the most wondrous places in tourist attractions in northern Ontario, and we now have parking fees being installed there, which we are very concerned about because we think it's going to simply mean there will be fewer tourists coming to northern Ontario and going to see the falls. I spoke to a constituent and apparently there were only five cars there this past weekend, so the effect is already there. The reason is because people simply can't afford it. The people who go the falls aren't able to do that.
We have these user fees being added on to pay for the tax cut -- we all know the reason why it's happening -- and they're hurting the attraction; this from a government that says it wants to develop a tourism strategy for the north. It just seems a bit of a farce to hear that when we see these things continually being done.
The user fees are being added on in Quetico provincial park and Sleeping Giant provincial park. We already know about seniors and people on fixed incomes who are calling out and saying: "I didn't know about the increase in fees. I could afford to go previously, but now I can't afford to go." It's clear that this minister does not really understand this.
He's up in the north right now because there is an emergency, and I appreciate that. But it's very important for the minister to understand he needs to be there at all times. He needs to be there as a minister from northern Ontario. Unless you're from there, it's clear you simply can't understand or represent the interests of the north. I absolutely wish that he would learn to understand what the real needs of the north are.
Mr Klees: I'd like to very briefly reply. I'm glad to see that the member for Port Arthur does acknowledge the fact that the minister is in northern Ontario, because he does care very deeply about the circumstance. We are looking, and the ministry is doing everything it can, to address the very serious circumstances that are there.
We want to acknowledge the many men and women of the province of Ontario who are there fighting those fires now, as well as those from the United States who are assisting us and are very much part of the force that is looking after this situation.
I'd like to address, very quickly, Bill 36, which is what this debate should be about. It's really about sustainability. Reference is being made by members opposite to an industry in northern Ontario that they care very much about. What this bill does is ensure that this industry is sustainable and remains sustainable, and that's something previous governments have failed to address.
The fact of the matter is that there has been mismanagement in the past. The fact of the matter is that we believe the private sector has a very important role to play, not only in the forest industry, but in the parks as well. We believe that as a result of this bill we will have a much stronger Ontario, a much stronger northern Ontario. We look forward to working with the private sector, to working with the people in northern Ontario to ensure that the industry there is strengthened and continues to be strengthened in the years ahead.
Mr Wildman: I really think the member for York-Mackenzie should go up north.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): As usual, the member for Kenora has articulated the views of people in the north and people of the northwest, in particular, extraordinarily well.
One of the worst things maybe around here is to have some kind of memory. I'm looking here at some Hansard from back in June 1994 where the minister of the time, Mr Hampton, accused the Common Sense Revolution of calling for a 20% cut in the budget of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Also, he accused the Conservative critic, who happened to be Mr Hodgson at the time, of plotting to lay off 1,000 people. I want to tell the people of Ontario that the minister of the day vastly underestimated the damage that the revolution was going to have to the people and resources of northern Ontario.
It's instructive this evening that we have debated an omnibus agriculture bill just before debating the omnibus MNR bill. The farmers of Ontario should have a look at what is happening in the management of natural resources and see the writing on the wall. The writing on the wall in natural resources is, "You pay for everything and then we skim as much money off the top for the Treasurer's pocket as we can possibly get." That is clearly the thought and the process of the revolution as it turns its mighty way through Ontario.
If the farmers of Ontario are not nervous now, they should have a look at the omnibus bills this government is presenting in other areas. They will know it is just about fees, it is just about revenue, it is just about an attack on their livelihood.
The Acting Speaker: Concluding remarks from the member for Kenora.
Mr Miclash: I'd like to thank the member for Port Arthur, the member for York-Mackenzie and the member for Algoma-Manitoulin for their comments. The member for Port Arthur points to the real needs of the north. As well, the member for Algoma-Manitoulin suggested the member for York-Mackenzie should get up to northern Ontario and find out what they're all about.
As we add on user fees to the tourists coming into the region, as we add on user fees to the residents of northern Ontario who make use of the various facilities, the parks and other natural facilities that we have there, I think we'll find that it's going to be more and more difficult to attract these people back.
As well, the member for York-Mackenzie indicated that he would like to compliment the folks who are out there fighting the fires. I too have a lot of respect for them. I spent four summers in the Ministry of Natural Resources and quite a bit of that time on fires. I know what they're going through and I would also like to compliment them on the hard work they're doing. But what concerns me the most are the folks I worked beside for those four summers who are sitting at home right now wondering why they're sitting at home after the experience they've had; something I'm sure he will take back to his minister to take a close look at. We will certainly be providing him with names and examples if he so wishes.
He indicates that the minister cares deeply about the ministry. We're not seeing that, with 2,100 people being laid off from the Ministry of Natural Resources, where you walk in and take a look at the attitude of the ministry and just the total demoralization of the ministry offices as you travel across northern Ontario.
The member for Algoma-Manitoulin has certainly brought up a very important point: that this government does a good number of things, and a lot of them are in the name of fees and revenues, with little concern for the jobs and the people they're affecting.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): I'd like to join my colleagues the members for Algoma-Manitoulin and Kenora and the acting leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Algoma, to talk a bit about the current state of affairs in the old Department of Lands and Forests.
How far the mighty have fallen. It's hard to imagine that we have reached a point where the grand old lady of the Ontario government has fallen on such tough times. She is being undressed in an almost indecent fashion. The last time I checked, something like 35% to 40% of the personnel at the ministry were going down the road. In my area, in places like Pembroke and Whitney, to name but two, a very substantial number of layoff notices have been already issued.
It is interesting, when I hear from my constituents who work at Algonquin Park, that revenues to Her Majesty are going up, understandably, because the amount of activity in and around Algonquin Park is galloping ahead, thanks to some good work that's been done over the years, some capital investments made by the provincial government over the last number of years.
I was struck the other day reading the New York Times by quite an impressive piece in the travel section of that famous American newspaper highlighting the attractions of Algonquin Provincial Park. So at the very time when some of the operations that MNR provides are experiencing some considerable growth, we are seeing a reduction in the support being provided by the provincial government.
I understand, again, the great pressure to take the revenue and try to cut your expenditures. I don't mean this as a partisan observation, as I sit here with a former chancellor on my immediate left. I just have to say that there is a temptation for any government, particularly one faced with the kind of fiscal pressures that are either presented to the current government or in fact have been created by the current government -- to cut and run is a pretty attractive proposition, and worry about the downstream consequences later.
I thought the member for Algoma, the member for Kenora and my colleague the member for Algoma-Manitoulin were eloquent about the fact that substantial portions of northern Ontario are afire and we have now got a very irregular situation in terms of fire protection. The fact that it is in the outer reach of empire, the fact that it's not in more populous southern Ontario, probably explains the relatively minor attention being paid.
Mr Conway: Well, I have to tell you that as long as these fires are burning someplace up in northwestern Ontario, the chance of the concern is probably less than if the fire were burning in the York county forest, if such a forest exists any longer.
The parliamentary assistant, who is by all appearances a constructionist, wants a very narrow debate tonight on things like the Crown Forest Sustainability Act and the amendments we're making to it. I have to admit to a certain conflict of interest. I come from a family -- not my immediate family, but I have some relatives with some interests in the crown timber reserves of this province.
Mr Wildman: I have heard that.
Mr Conway: Yes. My friend from Algoma has not only heard it, but when I was in government he asked a few questions that I'll long remember.
Growing up where I've grown up, you understand something about the political pressures around the sustainability of crown forests. I said to the dean of the House, Mr Laughren, "Do you remember, Floyd, the MacAlpine case of the early 1980s? Our sainted former colleague Jack Stokes singlehandedly undressed some misconduct on the part of the then Department of Natural Resources."
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): So to speak.
Mr Conway: Talking about sustainability, what was the story of the MacAlpine case? A very good young forester who said to Her Majesty, "There is not sufficient crown timber on this tract of crown land in northwestern Ontario to justify what those politicians want to do in Toronto." When, of course, his advice, which was very powerful, supported as I recall by very good statistical information, was overridden and ignored and this public servant made the mistake of having a chat with a then member of the Legislature, boy, did he pay a price. I don't know where that case ended up. I think there was finally --
Mr Laughren: He lost his job.
Mr Conway: He certainly lost his job.
Mr Wildman: He lost his job. He was reinstated, but then didn't take the job.
Mr Conway: After a very long process. I always like to cite the MacAlpine case, and those cases have existed over the years where people have brought very significant pressures to bear on the Ontario government for cutting rights that were not in the public interest. There certainly was a case for some short-term -- I think of a person in my area who used to come to me and say, "Just get me another little cut of pine and, boy, will I get the employment numbers" --
Mr Laughren: Over the next hill.
Mr Conway: Just over the next hill.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Were you able to get it?
Mr Conway: I wouldn't get near that kind of a situation, certainly when I was in government, for the obvious reason: I didn't want to give my friend from Algoma any more information than his fertile imagination supplied.
The history of the management of the crown timber reserves of this province is well documented. It's given us some of the best scandals that we've had, and we've now got a situation where we are going to turn a very substantial amount of the superintendence of the public lands over to the licensees. Well, I understand --
Mr Baird: Your family.
Mr Conway: My relatives. Listen, my relatives are not saints, I'm sure.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Are they rich?
Mr Conway: Well, if you want to know about my relatives and their business dealings, you probably should talk to your colleague the member for Mississauga West. He's had more to do with them in business than I have. Let me just leave it there. If you want to check my relatives out, you talk to your colleague the member for Mississauga West.
But I am telling you, and certainly I grew up knowing what it was to have a very political allocation --
Mr Laughren: Chase Manhattan?
Mr Conway: You got it, Pontiac. Well, Howard did the deal, the famous deal that the NDP used to talk so fondly about.
But seriously, in communities like Whitney, Chapleau, Pembroke, Bancroft and Cochrane, what's happening to the department of natural resources is a very real and serious concern. I heard the mayor of Cochrane on Saturday Report, that CBC roundup show, about two weeks ago, and he was making a very strong case for some change in policy, because as he was reported, if it's not changed, there is going to be, as I remember his articulation of his case, some very serious consequence to the public interest over the next few years.
There's something else going on in these small towns, and I'll speak for the ones that I know and represent, a place like Whitney where --
Mr Conway: My friend from Montague chuckles. There are 1,000 people living in Whitney. There are two employers. There's the McCrae lumber company and there's the Ontario department of natural resources. The Ontario department of natural resources has gone in as a major employer --
Mr Jordan: They survived very well before either came.
Mr Conway: Oh, I've got news for you. That's not necessarily so. But let me just say to my friend from Lanark that we've got a situation now, and I'm not blaming the current government because all provincial governments over the last 40 years have been guilty of this. We are a major employer in that town of 1,000 people and I know the concern about welfare and about dealing with people who rely perhaps on the social safety net to too great an extent.
Let me just tell you the story about Whitney. We go in there as a major employer -- that's all of us here, the provincial government -- and for decades we have developed a very good workforce for the department and they've worked for three or four months. Then as a matter of clear provincial public policy we transfer those folks over to the unemployment insurance roll for the other seven months.
Let me tell you what's happening this year. Two things are happening that are really going to affect that community, and not just Whitney. There are going to be lots of other communities across northern and rural Ontario that are going to be in the same situation. The Ministry of Natural Resources is retreating substantially. There is going to be much, much more widespread contracting out and, at the same time as a lot of these long-time MNR employees are getting either a pink slip or a substantially reduced paycheque, they are also going to be told by the Dominion government that their unemployment insurance benefits are going to be reduced. The combination of those two realities --
Mr Baird: Who is reducing their UI?
Mr Jordan: Because they used it up during the winter. It is gone.
Mr Baird: Who is reducing it?
Mr Conway: The member for Nepean, who is so clever, he's just so -- boy, for a guy who's here just 10 months --
Mr Laughren: One-tripper.
Mr Conway: What I hear about his --
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): Time has nothing to do with it.
Mr Conway: He is just so clever. I just want to say to the member for Nepean that it might just behoove him to go to some of these places like Chapleau and Whitney and Cochrane and to confront the reality -- and I'm not here blaming anybody in particular. I'm just telling you I've been to meetings, and I'm sure my colleagues in other parties have experienced the same reality. So when we go into a place like Whitney, which is about 90 miles from Pembroke where the nearest community college is located, what are we going to say? We can make the speeches about workfare and about tightening the social safety net, but we have some obligations.
Let me just say something for the benefit of the current administration of the department of natural resources. It won't be crossing anybody's mind to think we have as an employer some significant adjustment responsibilities. I'll tell you why it won't be crossing their minds: because these are only seasonal people. That's true. They're permanent, seasonal people.
I should retract a bit of what I said a moment ago. I know from talking to some of the officials in the department, they recognize that something is going to have to be done for a 47-year-old father of three, living in Whitney, who's worked for the department for 30 years and is told: "It's over and, by the way, your UI benefits are going to be substantially curtailed. And, by the way, we're going to make it possible for you to engage a training grant, but, by the way, you're going to have to go from here, Toronto, to Woodstock to get the training program." I hope we understand what we're telling people.
Let me say, I accept entirely that it is a different reality, and when I look at what we have allowed to develop, in some ways I'm a bit surprised that some of those people who work at the sawmills and who work 12 months of the year have not maybe more loudly complained about some of these other arrangements, but they have developed, and the interesting thing is that governments have been both the beneficiaries and the architects because, as I say, in many of these resource towns the department of lands and forests is a big employer.
So we've now got some responsibilities, and I say to the department that there better be a recognition that there are going to have to be some adjustment policies in place for many of these people who recognize that it is a new day and there are going to have to be changes. But we have an obligation, as a provincial government, to ensure that there is an orderly transition to some new opportunity. Just closing the door, making a speech, issuing a press release and saying to hundreds of people "tough luck" isn't going to solve the problem. If one does go back into the history of some of these communities, I can tell you that there are some realities that I don't think we want to rediscover.
I want to say something else, since we're talking about the department of natural resources tonight -- again, this is relatively recent but it certainly affects aspects of the omnibus bill that we're debating tonight -- and that is that my sources tell me that the recent US-Canada agreement on softwood lumber is beginning to cause very real problems for Ontario. It's early days, but a lot of Ontario softwood lumber producers are becoming quite concerned about the administrative apparatus that seems to be attached to that agreement.
I say, with the Minister of Agriculture present, that what we appear to be getting in the new arrangement is effectively a quota. It's interesting because recent bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, to which Canada is signatory, have apparently caused the farm community in this province and country to prepare for a reduction and an elimination of certain of the quota-based supply management systems. But we've now got, I understand on the basis of what I've been hearing in the last few weeks, a developing problem in Ontario with the application of the new softwood lumber agreement.
I made some efforts in recent days to find out what the nature of the problem is. I expect I might have a question for the Minister of Economic Development and/or Natural Resources soon. I realize that this is primarily the responsibility of the government of Canada, but this agreement, at least in its application, is causing some very real difficulty for a number of Ontario producers. Part of the problem appears to be the apportionment of the Canadian allocation and how that's determined, and hence the quota.
There is also apparently a dynamic now at work that will effectively put a whole tier of lumber wholesalers and truckers that are attached to those wholesalers out of business. Let me tell you, that is going to be an issue. I say to you that Ontario softwood lumber producers are going to expect that their provincial government is going to play an active and positive role in protecting provincial employment and protecting the provincial resource.
Again, just a couple of observations around the omnibus bill. Some of my colleagues have talked about the fire situation. Again, I've had some very worrisome conversations with people in the Algonquin Park district about our capacity to fight fire. My constituents, perhaps a little more pointed than I would ever be, observe that there's been a consolidation up at a place called Haliburton. I don't know how that happened, but apparently Haliburton has taken on a significance in the last year that a lot of firefighters in the Algonquin district are a little puzzled about. But there is a concern, in terms with the people with whom I spoke -- and I'll be candid, some of these people are long-standing MNR firefighting types -- that doesn't quite, I suppose, approximate the level of concern that we've heard from the members from northern Ontario, but a very real concern that the changes that have been announced in recent weeks are not in the best interests of good fire protection.
We've got some amendments to the Game and Fish Act in Bill 36. I read Mr Power every week. I think he writes two or three times a week in the Toronto Star on fish and game matters. I want to be diplomatic, but the current minister could ask for no more positive press than Mr Power offers in his Toronto Star columns, and I sometimes worry that there is such a condemnatory tone from certain members of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis the Toronto Star that they obviously don't read the Outdoors column, the fish and game column at least, in the Toronto Star. But I have rarely seen such effusive praise being offered about the fishery of the province. So I simply say that Mr Hodgson certainly enjoys the favour of Mr Power.
That endlessly evenhanded, non-partisan, non-special interest the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, in its evenhanded, non-political, non-partisan way, from time to time observes that the Harris government is doing not a bad job.
A final word, again, about provincial parks. There have been a number of announcements made about reductions and about closures across the province. Again, in my area the single largest provincial park is Algonquin. There is quite a lot of good news around Algonquin. The user interest is going up significantly. The capital improvements of the last few years have made it a more interesting and attractive place, apparently. I was asking my friend the former chancellor what he does for the summer, and he said he likes to go camping. I greatly admire the camping instinct in young, middle-aged and older Ontarians.
I must say that the provincial government, in terms of its parks administration, has to be careful that in its downsizing it does not eliminate from the parks service a lot of the very good men and women who have worked over the years in provincial parks. When I talk to people who come to places like the Bonnechere Park near Pembroke and ask them what it is about the facilities they most like, they are as likely as not to tell me that it is the very knowledgeable, very attentive and very accommodating men and women who have worked for the ministry, who understand the park, understand the opportunities that the park presents. There is a concern, quite frankly, that with the downsizing that's occurring these people in the main are just simply being shown the door and we are going to be providing a less customer-sensitive service in the coming years.
In fact, one of the complaints I hear about Algonquin is that there is so much interest and there's so much demand that we have not in recent years been able to develop responses that have met the requirements of a lot of people calling from Ottawa and Kingston and London. I don't know how widespread a criticism it is, but I certainly hear it from people who very much want to go there, want to spend their tourist moneys in Ontario, that you've got to make this a less bureaucratic, more customer-sensitive registration and related service.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: That is what we are doing. We are reducing the numbers.
Mr Conway: What?
Hon Mr Villeneuve: We are doing exactly what you're saying.
Mr Conway: The Minister of Agriculture says, "We are doing exactly what you're saying." We are going to be interested to see. The previous government had a plan for Parks Ontario, I think it was called. It really never had a chance to mature.
The point I make here is that we've got a very substantial commercial operation that is growing, certainly in my part of the province. I look at the revenue paid to Her Majesty from the crown lands and from the parks operations, and there is a very real sense that Her Majesty's provincial ministers are very anxious to take the revenue, as much of it as possible, and minimize the expenditures.
I gather the new plan is to privatize to the greatest extent possible. We've been down that route before. I will not entertain the House tonight with some privatized parks in my part of the province over the last 15 or 20 years, but suffice it to say there were a number of genuinely comedic outcomes of such a policy. I remember saying: "Hey, this is not the province any more. We are just the landlord and we've subcontracted this down to the Acme Recreation Corp of Orono, Ontario," or wherever. That didn't sit very well with somebody who had gone to a park and expected something other than, in the one case I remember, a very inebriated attendant --
Mr Laughren: Name names.
Mr Conway: I wouldn't do such a thing.
When you're the local member in a place like Renfrew, you're the court of appeal, and people want to know, "What kind of a park system are you running?"
I see by the way, Floyd, that we're going back, we're going to privatize some of the food services downstairs. God bless Joe Dineley; we're going to try it again. Listen, close it down as far as I'm concerned. But it's not that we haven't been there before. This brave new world is not a new world; it may be braver, and it may be better -- it couldn't be worse than some of what we had 10 or 15 years ago -- but we've been there; we have been there.
Mr Laughren: Same with forestry.
Mr Conway: That's right. When we say that Bill 36 is going to give us a leaner, cleaner operation, we are going to basically set standards and draw back and let operators decide the proper balance -- let me tell you, I was talking to a senior Ministry of Natural Resources official the other day who is extremely knowledgeable. I said to this individual, "Explain to me how these sustainable forestry licences are going to work." An hour later, he had done a fabulous job. If it had just been an antiseptic policy discussion, I would have said, "You know, this is probably not bad." Then I imagined the raw politics of the various interests coming together and a much-reduced Ministry of Natural Resources. I'll tell you, the World Wrestling Federation will have nothing on this kind of a potlatch.
We will have to see what we will see. I don't wish anyone ill. I said on previous occasions that we have to look at the way we do business. There are some painful decisions that have to be made. But I say again that the department of natural resources is one of those departments that produces a very substantial amount of revenue to the province, and that revenue derives not just from the resource but from the management in the public interest of that resource.
Those very people who used to say to me, "Well, you know, just let me have one additional cut of pine," when you said to them, "But, you know, Bill, there's no pine left, and the Almighty didn't cut it" -- we have to plan for the long term. We have to recognize that there is a vital public interest that supersedes the private corporate interests of people who are in the lumber business or who are in a variety of other enterprises that I could imagine. Not that they're bad people or bad interests, but they are private interests, and there is a transcendent public interest.
We got Algonquin Park because the government of the day said, "You know, there ought to be a line drawn where these lumber men cannot go and do what they are doing on lands outside of this zone." Thank God people 105 years ago had that foresight. I just hope that a Legislative Assembly 15 or 20 years from now isn't standing in its place and saying, "Who authored this misfortune, the full maturation of which was not evident in 1996 or 1999, but in 2010, we are now reaping the results of a very bad conduct on the crown lands that have, over the decades, sustained the province and provided revenues that have supported a lot of very worthwhile social and economic development programs?"
The Deputy Speaker: Comments and questions?
Mr Laughren: As always, I've enjoyed the comments made by the member for Renfrew North, and in particular his reminding us of having been certain places before. I can certainly remember the whole issue of forestry, which I have an abiding interest in, and why it was that the government took back control of our forests from the private interests out there in Ontario --
Mr Bradley: From the lumber barons.
Mr Laughren: -- from the lumber barons, as it were, although the member for Renfrew North might take offence at that expression. I recall that it was because they weren't doing their job in terms of regeneration. So I would simply say that there's a lot of scepticism across the province about this latest move by the government to turn these same interests back to the folks who didn't do a good job in the first place. Why do you think the government ended up taking over that responsibility in the first place? It wasn't simply because it was simply a power grab; it was because that regeneration simply was not occurring.
I wanted to mention briefly some of the layoffs in some of the various communities across the province. There are some communities in northern Ontario in which the Ministry of Natural Resources is the number one employer. They really are the central nervous system of those communities. There's one such community in my riding called Chapleau, which has a population of about 3,000, where the Ministry of Natural Resources has decided to close down its garage that fixes and maintains equipment and to contract it out to local suppliers. So I made a visit to the local office and said, "Can these people who are laid off be allowed to bid on this job?" No, no, they're forbidden for two years from doing the work they've been doing for the last 20 years, and the reason is because the local entrepreneurs might be offended. Isn't that wonderful for the people in that community?
Mr Klees: I'd like to first of all accept the invitation from the member for Algoma, who invited me up north. I make an assumption that he was inviting me to his retreat. In front of all the witnesses here today, I accept that invitation and I look forward to it.
To the member for Kenora, just for the record I'd like to let the member for Kenora know that I in fact lived in Kenora, just outside of Kenora in Keewatin, a beautiful spot, so I'm not at all unfamiliar with northern Ontario; it's a beautiful place and I hope I can in fact spend much more time there.
I'd like to just make a comment with regard to Bill 36. Unfortunately, previous speakers tonight haven't said very much about Bill 36. There's been a lot of misrepresentation about the intent of this government with regard to forestry, with regard to parks Ontario. The fact of the matter is that what this bill does is allow the Ministry of Natural Resources to enter into agreements with the forest industry to provide services that the forest industry either will not or cannot deliver itself. What this bill does not do is in any way take away from the standards, and in fact it's a reaffirmation that this ministry, this government believes there should be strong standards in the forestry industry and in fact --
Mr Laughren: You don't know what you're talking about.
Mr Klees: The member says I don't know what I'm talking about. Why haven't they talked about the act tonight? Why have they not taken the details of this act and spoken to it, rather than deliver rhetoric, rather than to misrepresent what this act talks about? I think it would behoove us in the time left that we speak to the act specifically. Let's debate the act.
Mr Laughren: You're a born-again heathen.
Mr Miclash: May I also compliment the member for Renfrew North on his comments --
Mr Klees: Mr Speaker, a point of personal privilege: I may be new to this House, but I would ask that the member for Nickel Belt withdraw a comment that I take offensively. He referred to me, Mr Speaker, as a born-again heathen. I believe that is disrespectful to me and to any other resident of the province of Ontario who takes their religion seriously.
Mr Laughren: Mr Speaker, I withdraw it, because he may be a heathen who's not born again.
The Deputy Speaker: I would ask the member for Nickel Belt if he would consider withdrawing the remark.
Mr Laughren: I did.
The Deputy Speaker: Unequivocally.
Mr Laughren: Mr Speaker, I'm having trouble taking this seriously, because all I said was that the member was a born-again heathen. If the member takes offence at that --
The Deputy Speaker: Comments or questions?
Mr Miclash: I would just like to compliment the member for Renfrew North on his comments. As we know, he always brings a great amount of experience to the House, as does the member for Nickel Belt as well, who spoke on the issues as were brought up by the member for Renfrew North.
I think one of the important issues that the member for Renfrew North touched on was that of the softwood lumber tariffs. When he mentioned that, I think of the development of a mill in my riding. The parliamentary assistant is shaking his head. He understands the problem there. I certainly do hope that the Minister of Natural Resources, along with the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, will give that their utmost attention, to ensure that we are allowed to go ahead with that development to make the best use of our resources in northern Ontario.
The member also refers to tourism here in Ontario. Quite often, we hear of Tourism Ontario and the importance, not only the importance in northern Ontario, but the importance in Renfrew North as the member has put forth to us. He talks about the reception our tourists expect when they come to our provincial parks, the reception they expect on behalf of the ministry that has often run those parks in the past and they look forward to that in the future. Again, it all revolves on what we will see in terms of Tourism Ontario and how those people are treated when they come into our parks and are greeted by either the private individual operating or the ministry folk.
But I guess the most important point the member indicated was the long-term viability of our industry and our forestry. I think that's the number one thing this minister and this government must keep in mind, and that is the long-term effects their decisions will have on that industry.
Mr Bradley: I too want to compliment the member for Renfrew North on a very moderate speech, bringing to the attention of the House many of the problems with this legislation and matters associated with this legislation.
I'm particularly pleased to see that he has reminded us that we should not be turning the province over to the lumber barons, who have an interest in making profit from cutting trees. While that is quite acceptable, while it's fine that we have an industry such as that in the province, and I understand that, I don't think you can turn over regeneration of the forests to people who are making a major profit from cutting the forests. We see too many bald forests -- what do you call those? -- clear-cuts in the province.
As soon as you turn it over to people who have a vested interest in cutting trees, you're going to see more trees cut. That's why you must have an independent adjudicator of this, such as the government. I think the government has handled it well, and it's had input from the industry and input from those who have an interest in our forests.
In addition to this, I want to lament, as I think the member wanted to, the loss of staff for conservation authorities who had very important roles to play. I thought this bill might contain some provision for those who are involved with conservation authorities, trying to preserve, as I know the word "preserve" is in "Progressive Conservative; they want to conserve, and I would have thought they would have been supporting this.
In addition to this, I want to ensure that we have parks not only for those who are here presently but for the children and the grandchildren of those who now inhabit the province of Ontario. So please save the parks, and what you're doing with this bill will not.
Mr Conway: I'm interested in hearing from the member for York-Mackenzie, who says that, you know, if you look at the provisions of the bill, it intends a kind of a Rotarian picnic where -- it's too bad Alan Pope's not here, because I just want people who don't know this business to go and talk to somebody like Alan Pope and say, "Alan, what was it like in the early 1980s when the sawmillers and the big multinational pulp boys met in northern Ontario?" It was one hell of a fight, and that's the kind of clash and conflict you're going to get in this dynamic market that is played out on crown lands.
To imagine that this is going to self-regulate -- give me a break. Give the poor minister a break, and the first minister, because I'll tell you, the arbitration will be done in the Premier's office. Anybody who thinks this is not significant business with all kinds of dynamic, it's got a history shot through with the worst kind of partisan, patronage politics, and anybody who knows anything about it understands that we have all made some progress in recent times.
A lot of these communities depend on sustainable forests. There is enormous pressure on any one of us who represents these communities to cut and run because it will keep the employment going for today. What about tomorrow? What about the next decade? What about the next generation? We have, and certainly good, traditional Conservatives perhaps more than any ought to recognize, a responsibility to future generations. I simply say that this kind of legislation is inadequate if it imagines that you can strip down and strip away the competence in the Ministry of Natural Resources and leave actors, some of them huge multinational corporations, to play these forces out in the crown forests in the public interest. I tell you, that's the kind of politics that I thought died with Pollyanna.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Bradley: Not further debate; I would ask for unanimous consent of the House at this time of the evening to have the member for York-Mackenzie give his views on video lottery terminals and drinking on the golf course.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
The Honourable Chris Hodgson has moved second reading of Bill 36. Is it the wish of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations): Mr Speaker, I believe there is a unanimous agreement to have this vote immediately after orders of the day tomorrow.
Mr Laughren: No, after question period.
Hon Mr Sterling: Before orders of the day? Okay, before orders of the day tomorrow. Before orders of the day, Mr Speaker, I believe is the agreement, and that is the case with regard to the previous vote as well.
The Deputy Speaker: Is it agreed? It is agreed.
EDUCATION AMENDMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 MODIFIANT LA LOI SUR L'ÉDUCATION
Mr Skarica, on behalf of Mr Snobelen, moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 34, An Act to amend the Education Act / Projet de loi 34, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation.
Mr Toni Skarica (Wentworth North): Bill 34 addresses important issues of the present, yet also honours our commitment to the future. Its provisions are designed to achieve savings in operating expenditures for education in the amount of $233 million, a figure that represents 1.8% of the total spending on elementary and secondary education in Ontario each year.
The people of Ontario recognize that education in our province must become more efficient, with a greater focus on resources in the classroom and excellence in student achievement. They know that Ontario can deliver the best education to students while bringing its education spending more in line with the spending levels of other provinces.
This bill has been the subject of extensive public hearings in the standing committee on social development. The committee heard from parents, taxpayers, teachers, school board officials and many other interested individuals and organizations. I would like to thank all those who made presentations to the standing committee. I would like to thank all the members on both sides of this House who participated in the hearings.
As a result of the presentations and the hearings, the government did listen, and a number of amendments were made to the bill. For example, section 9 of the bill has been amended substantially. The intent of this section is to enable negative-grant boards to contribute their fair share to our savings strategy. The amendments we have proposed make clear that these boards can make their contribution by other means than a direct payment to the finance minister. Further, the section now includes a sunset clause which stipulates it will no longer be in effect after December 31, 1998. These changes address the concerns that the payment would not be used for educational purposes and give boards more flexibility to determine the type of contribution they will make.
We heard loud and clear from all parties involved, from all presenters, the dramatic need for finance reform in education. This bill is but one step, the first step, towards education finance reform and thus towards a better education system that meets the needs of the people it serves: the children in our schools and the taxpayers of Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments or questions?
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Although the government has made these changes to the bill, as the education critic for the Liberal Party, Mr Patten, will indicate, it certainly has not rectified the major problems with this bill.
What in effect it does is begin the destruction of the education system in this province as we have known it over the years and as it was first constructed by Premier Robarts, under the Robarts plan, Premier Davis and subsequent ministers of education.
We are seeing in this province, despite all promises made to the contrary by the Conservative Party, classroom education being adversely affected. We are seeing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teachers across the province who are being fired from their jobs. People who assist them, particularly now that we have disabled individuals who are integrated into the so-called regular classroom, those aides to the teachers and to those in the school are being lost, as well as those who are additional workers in the education system.
I have parents who come to me and say, "We've lost junior kindergarten," an excellent start for children. It makes a big difference. The Minister of Correctional Services is trying to deal with problems with offenders of all ages in the correctional system, and one of the ways to help them out is to have junior kindergarten, to get people started on the right path in the first place. Objective studies have clearly demonstrated there's a substantial difference in those students who have had the opportunity to have junior kindergarten and those who have not. All you have to do is ask the people who are in the classroom, on the front line, many with years of experience who have worked with these very young children, how they can make a difference in their lives and how society does not have to keep paying the price for neglect of those children. This bill does not address that problem; in fact it makes it worse.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I want to compliment my friend from Wentworth North on his presentation and I recognize that he took significant and sincere interest in the presentations made before the committee by many interested groups. But the bottom line is that at the end of the process, other than a couple of minor amendments such as a sunset clause for the removal of funds from Metropolitan Toronto and the city of Ottawa, the basic changes were not made.
We had a situation where we had presenter after presenter after presenter -- parents, teachers, trustees, interested parties -- saying that you can't take $400 million out of the education system all at once, annualized to be worth $1 billion, and not affect adversely the classroom. The fact is, the classroom is being adversely affected. We're seeing many boards removing or getting rid of junior kindergarten, those that are keeping them changing those programs substantially, and we've seen adult students being forced into continuing education when they could be involved in a program that would enable them to get back into the workforce or to enter into post-secondary education.
So while I appreciate the comments of my friend from Wentworth North and his sincere concern about the positions taken by many who presented before the committee, the fact is that the changes they were requesting, in the majority, have not been made and we still see the bill presented to us for third reading which will have significant adverse effect on classroom education.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Wentworth North as well. I know, as a member of the government caucus, the work and effort and hours that he spent in committee working on this particular bill. Certainly the questions he answered in caucus were well researched, and I will tip my hat to the effort and the work that he put into this. I think he should be recognized for that.
Further, I think we should just set a couple of things straight. The NDP started the process of negative funding. It was under the social contract that they started that program. Their position was very similar to the one offered by the government today. There was a sunset on theirs as well, which was the termination of the social contract. That government never saw the end of the social contract because they were removed from office before it terminated. So this is not a new issue that was started by this government. It was originally established by the NDP under the guise of the social contract where they in fact drafted money from Metropolitan Toronto and used it to disperse about the province with respect to education funding.
As far as junior kindergarten is concerned, this has not been a long-established program. The members opposite talk as if junior kindergarten has been established as a mandatory program --
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Twenty-five years.
Mr Stockwell: I hear the cackling from the member for Ottawa.
As a mandatory program, this was to kick in in the fall of 1994. I say to the member for Ottawa, who was cackling a moment ago, that was when it became mandatory. Let's be clear. There has been generation upon generation of students educated in this province over the years, well educated without junior kindergarten. They've been educated at the highest levels and performed at the highest levels. We have seen a clear deterioration over the last year --
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): Did you attend?
Mr Stockwell: -- again, Mr Speaker, I'm trying to finish -- we've seen a deterioration of our education system to the point where they on the opposite side are defending the status quo. I don't find a lot of my constituents suggesting education and the status quo is the way to go in 1996.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Wentworth North has two minutes to wrap up.
Mr Skarica: All I was going to say basically was that given the nice things that were said to me by the leader of the third party and by the member for Etobicoke West, I think I'll quit while I'm ahead and say nothing.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Patten: I know the hour is late and many members, especially on the government side, are anxious to see people wind up their speeches. But this bill, I believe, is the most significant educational bill that we have seen and that we may see from this particular government and has the greatest impact on their educational system and it's important that I address the issues of this particular bill.
I have heard carefully the comments of the parliamentary assistant from Wentworth North. I too, as the member for Algoma said, believe that as a member he had some empathy with a lot of presentations that were made. Unfortunately he was not in a position to deliver because of course he was not the decision-maker. In the final analysis not very much changed from the times in which we went around the province and we visited numerous communities from Windsor to Ottawa to Thunder Bay and to Sault Ste Marie and we had some very thoughtful, extremely thoughtful, passionate, concerned, well-read, well-written, thoughtful presentations. They had an impact, I know, but the end result was that it became clear, as we see the end result today, that economics really prevailed, that behind these cuts we're not talking about the enhancement of education; we're talking about trying to do less or having less in order to do less, because that's what this bill really is all about.
The minister says that Bill 34 is necessary, it's fair and it's reasonable. I of course must truly disagree. The cuts aren't necessary and they do not serve education. They have been implemented, as we all know, to feed the tax break. This is a money bill. It does nothing for the quality of education, in my opinion. Indeed it hurts it.
The cuts are not even fair. They penalize boards which have been frugal and have already reduced administrative spending drastically over the past five years. The cuts are not reasonable. What's reasonable about reducing accessibility, because that's what has happened.
Many of you will recall that almost every time he spoke the minister talked about accessibility, affordability and accountability. You will note of late he is not using the term "accessibility" very often. He sits right beside the Minister of Transportation, who is trying to make access for people throughout this great province by way of roadways. I know that the Minister of Transportation will hear his colleague seldom use that term any more, "accessibility" meaning that you can have access to all the programs that are available. They indeed will be less.
Bill 34 was to be the result of a toolkit. A toolkit denotes the concept of fixing something. Bill 34, in my opinion, is the dismantling of many of our educational programs. It opens windows of opportunity for the government to reach in and to pull out money totally from education. I repeat that the money being saved is being removed totally from the education portfolio. So when I hear comments of members saying this will enhance quality, it does not. It is being required by the Treasurer, Mr Eves, who needs X amount of dollars to address the deficit and in order to provide a tax rebate. That's why money is leaving education. It's leaving it totally.
I've already talked at length about the cuts during the early debates, but I want to take my time to talk about some of the things that we heard during the hearings into Bill 34 and what the government did not really listen to.
First of all, I want to once again speak to the issue of what I believe truly is an abuse of facts and figures that continue to be issued from the government and by many of its members, and especially from the Minister of Education and Training's office. The minister continues to talk about overspending on education. He also says his education cuts are aimed at reducing administration, administrative waste, but Bill 34 tells us another story. As is often the case, what is said does not fit the words or the deeds.
Of the $400 million that is being cut from education this year alone, $231 million is supposedly directed at administrative cuts, but the cuts are not aimed at administration at all. In fact, $115 million of the $231 million comes from changes in funding for junior kindergarten and for adult education. That is fully 50% of the so-called administrative funding cuts.
The government has not provided school boards with the flexibility they were looking for to find administrative savings. They indeed were prepared to enter into doing so. What did they do? The government targeted program areas and because of that, I believe, got itself painted into a corner.
But what is more insidious is if you look at the annualized cuts to junior kindergarten and to adult education. The 1997 budget year cuts to these two programs will amount to almost $300 million alone. The total impact of this round of cuts will reach more than $800 million, as the minister has already acknowledged. But the government doesn't tell you about the cuts to junior education. It wasn't mentioned either in the campaign brochures. It was mentioned simply that there would be a return to a local option. It did not say there would be a cut in funding of 50%.
Instead, they continue to play fast and loose with numbers. The myth-making about overspending and waste in our educational system also continues. It was just mentioned by the parliamentary assistant. According to the Minister of Education and Training, we have spent $1.3 billion more than the average of the other provinces. I say to you, especially to my colleagues on the government side, this is not true. The parliamentary assistant knows it's not true, the minister's staff knows it's not true, and the minister himself knows it's not true.
Within their calculations, for example, Ontario is not included in the average and the cost of junior kindergarten is included in the total spending side, but the 100,000 junior kindergarten students are not counted in the per pupil figures. In spite of acknowledgements from the minister and the deputy minister during estimates last fall that these figures were not accurate comparisons, why do they still continue to use these figures?
If I say something and someone comes to me and says, "You know, Richard, what you're saying is not correct, it's not true, it really is wrong," and if it was verified, I would say, "All right," I would not say that again. I truly find it strange that after the minister truly acknowledged that these figures were not correct, he would continue, and his office would continue, to perpetuate this absolute myth that indeed Ontario is overspending.
What are the facts? Using the most up-to-date information from StatsCan data, as well as that from the Ministry of Education and Training, one finds that Ontario in 1995 spent about $227 per pupil more than the average of the other provinces. That's what was stated. However, at that time we were spending 42% of the Canadian dollars on 41% of the number of Canadian students, which is a pretty close ratio to educational spending. But in 1996-97, after factoring in the grant cuts, Ontario will spend about $27 above the average of the other provinces, not including Ontario in that average. But by the 1997-98 year, when the full impact of these cuts takes hold, Ontario will be spending $85 less per pupil than the average of the other provinces. We will be below the average. Is that what we should be striving for, submediocrity? Is this the government's notion of equity? Instead of bringing people up to high standards, it seems they are bring people down to subaverage standards.
I also want to touch on the question of classroom and non-classroom expenses as they relate to the Sweeney report. This is another myth-making area of the government, or at least of the ministry or the Minister of Education. The definitions and categories used in the Sweeney report for splitting up spending came from the Ministry of Education and Training. They are the government's figures; they were not done by Sweeney. He says this in his report, so don't try to say the Sweeney report backs up what the government is saying.
The other myth is that the Sweeney task force was commissioned to recommend how the number of boards could be reduced by half. It does recommend that school boards be reduced by half. That is what the ministry wanted it to do. The report simply said, "If you want to have this reduction, this is what you will have to do." So again, it should not be attempted to utilize this impartial support for actions, because it's not there. That was the mandate for the school board reduction task force.
The breakdown of spending into classroom and non-classroom is not playing straight. You can't have a classroom education without many of the non-classroom expenses. In fact, actual administration accounts for only 16%. You'll notice that the term is used interchangeably -- classroom expense; non-classroom -- but to imply that non-classroom means administration -- it doesn't.
Dianne Dalton, education director with the Victoria County Board of Education, highlights the issue here when she says, and I quote: "The plan to streamline expenses by targeting non-classroom costs requires a more specific definition of what those costs include. Costs like heating and transportation in rural communities are not perks."
The government is prepared to go to any lengths, it seems to me, to reach its goal of reducing education spending. It has to, because it has to find the money, again, for the tax break, resulting, though, in pitting people against each other, and that's the unfortunate part. We saw this during the hearings in various communities. Bill 34 continues this kind of divisiveness and some of the divisiveness that had begun with Bill 26. It plays on people's emotions, pitting board against board, English against French, Catholic versus public; it pits parents against teachers and program against program. It is an unhealthy attack on our educational system and it is breeding intolerance and bitterness.
It is not only parents, teachers, taxpayers and the community at large who are concerned about the education of our children; it is also the students themselves. Students have demonstrated across the province, all the way from Dryden to Ottawa to Hamilton. It need not be this way. I believe it should not be this way and it was not supposed to be this way.
According to their election documents, the present government, the Conservative Party, felt that $400 million could be saved by streamlining administrative spending. That may be so, but surely over time. And what of $400 million? Where would that $400 million go? Of course, as you well know, I believe that any savings that might or could be found -- and I believe could be found -- in administrative savings should go right back to improve the quality of education in the classroom, to help the teacher be the very best trained possible, to help the teacher with the latest technologies that are available for increasing and improving education and independent learning as a goal.
This, however, was not the plan for the money. No, they need the money so, as you know, they can give a tax rebate of 30%, the tradeoff being fewer services in return for more disposable income and, ironically, more disposable income for people to pay for user fees for the same service or not have that service at all. The problem with this is that those who need the service the most benefit the least and those who will benefit from the tax cut need the tax cut the least.
Who benefits from the tax cut? According to Revenue Canada, Ontarians earning $100,000 and up will receive more than $1.3 billion in tax rebates. It's almost the same figure the Minister of Education continues to talk about. Isn't that interesting? Ontarians earning $250,000 and up will receive more than $446 million in tax rebates from the government. The $1 billion that will eventually come out of education will equal a tax rebate for approximately the top 3% of income earners in Ontario. That is absolutely incredible.
Who doesn't benefit? Let's start at the beginning, because we know that thousands and thousands of children who would otherwise have been entering junior kindergarten in September 1996 are not benefiting. They are not benefiting now, nor will they benefit later when they find themselves in overcrowded classrooms where the teacher is unable, no matter how dedicated, to provide that essential, individual, one-on-one personal contact, personal instruction, personal teaching.
Nor are adult students benefiting. In their case, they're not benefiting for two reasons: first, because the program funding for their needs has been cut; second, they most likely receive a low income in the first instance, the reason for which they're returning to high school to complete their diploma, and therefore get little or no tax rebate at all.
The teachers who are laid off due to the severe cutbacks will not benefit because they will not be paying any income tax in the first place.
How about the construction trades, which would otherwise have been building new schools across the province to meet increased enrolments and overcrowding? We sure know that the Peel county board is suffering tremendously with the capital freeze. There's no work for construction workers and there are no schools for kids, a lot more portables and increases in class size. Those parents are not too happy. I had a chance of visiting many of them a few weeks back, and they are highly discouraged. Tell me these cuts do not impact upon children in the classroom.
How about the property taxpayers in Metro Toronto and Ottawa -- and the parliamentary assistant spoke of this -- who, due to the minister's education cut in this bill, will be paying for a tax cut a second time, they say, when the Minister of Education comes looking for what's called an equalization payment to the Minister of Finance from their local education property tax.
The fact of the matter is that there is no silver lining attached to these education cuts. They signal storm clouds for education in Ontario. We have not seen the impact of this.
Bill 34 does not reflect at all the input we received from various presenters during hearings on the legislation. During clause-by-clause analysis on Bill 34, the Liberal caucus moved a series of amendments, measures that would have allowed school boards to reduce spending without impacting on the quality of education in the classroom. We proposed amendments to set up per-student expenditure tables that would provide boards with spending ceilings. This would have the effect of recognizing reductions that have already been made by certain school boards. It would also identify administrative spending and allow for targeted reductions to those areas only.
Another amendment was to have early childhood educators work with certified teachers in the junior kindergarten classes. This would have addressed quality issues. Junior kindergarten is an equalizer, as we all know, for less-advantaged children. It would save numerous JK programs. There was the reduction of the number of school trustees and capping salaries of trustees at a maximum level of $20,000 a year etc.
These measures were some real tools that would help school boards to streamline operations while maintaining and improving the quality of education in Ontario. Although I think the presentations and our caucus amendments to Bill 34 made an impact on the government members of the committee, the majority of government members chose, I think against their better judgement. to vote against the amendments.
I would, however, like to express my gratitude to the Conservative member for Brant-Haldimand who, true to his convictions and principles, supported our amendment to bring a mix of early childhood educators and certified teachers into the junior kindergarten program. This, I am certain, would have eased the stress for many boards in dealing with what is for them a dollar-and-cents issue rather than a pedagogical one and an ability to save the program -- in some instances, the only way to save the program.
The official government response to the amendments was quite curious. The amendments were considered to be premature at this point. I received and I acknowledged with a degree of sensitivity the parliamentary assistant saying, "Those amendments you're proposing are very good, but they're premature because they preclude changes in education finance and governance reforms that the government intends to bring forward in the future." Fine. If that's the case, then Bill 34 in its entirety may be premature. The unequal impacts of these cuts should therefore await finance reform.
This government has had little idea of the impact of these cuts on education. I would not say it was intended; I don't believe that is the motivation at all. But there were no impact studies. It's hard to get a straight answer as to how they came up with the supposed savings from cuts to junior kindergarten and adult education. How many students are involved? How many programs would be lost as a result? In spite of the fact that the minister tries to argue that these cuts represent only 2% to 3% of school board budgets, we all know that he had to come back to the House with an emergency fund to repair the damage the cuts were having on many small school boards. They were having a devastating impact on these school boards. In some cases, over 50% of their revenues would be lost because they were highly subsidized by grants from the ministry. But instead of accepting the responsibility for the damage and anxiety caused, the minister passed off the blame to the ministry itself. The minister has failed to properly manage education in this province, in my opinion.
The cuts to education are immediate. Bill 34 was supposed to be part of a toolkit to help boards make cuts. These amendments would have helped boards to direct cuts away from the classroom and away from their programs in the immediate term. But Bill 34 doesn't reflect it because those who are responsible for the legislation, those who could authorize changes if they so wished, were not present for the debate at clause-by-clause. They were not part of the hearings. They weren't there to hear the testimony of parents and teachers and taxpayers and, most importantly, a number of students. They did not make changes, because the cuts were exactly as they wanted them, targeted primarily at junior kindergarten and adult education.
It is clear, however, that all the government seems to be interested in is getting a hold of the money and, I repeat, getting the money out of education. It's not an interest in streamlining for the benefit of the quality of the educational system at all. The cuts are driven by economics, not by education.
Now let's look a little bit at what we heard during the hearings. I'd like to give a few examples of some of the testimony. We heard from presenter after presenter about the value of junior kindergarten. We heard from education experts in early childhood education. We heard from teachers. We heard from principals. We even heard from junior kindergarten students. These presentations come to mind: those of Dr Susanne Eden, Dr Paul Steinhauer and Carolyn Morrow. All three provided, among others, excellent firsthand insight into the role of junior kindergarten. On a personal basis I found it insightful. I learned a great deal from their presentations and I believe the members of the committee did as well. It was very impressive, the information that had not been accessed by the minister for his review of junior kindergarten, some of the studies that were referred to, so we suggested that those studies be passed on to the minister's office.
Dr Paul Steinhauer, world-renowned chief child psychologist with Sick Kids here in Toronto, working for a number of other projects and organizations in the interest of child development, made a significant observation which I think is relevant to this situation. This man, who will take out the time to come and share his views, also made representation at our hearings in the social development committee today. I quote him here:
"I would think that one of the saddest things about the way things are done by governments...is the fact that often practised wisdom from the people who are on the front lines doesn't get through, that government research is usually done by people in the government who have an axe to grind."
That is why I don't give much credence to the minister's own internal review that he has talked about on several occasions. I wonder if it even exists and, given his track record, I'm certain that his review, oddly enough, will come about with the same conclusions he had already formed before.
Something I have learned over my term as education critic of the Liberal Party is the fundamental role of early childhood education to the future success of children. The presentation from Mrs Carolyn Morrow was very poignant. It was a snapshot of junior kindergarten from a parent's point of view. This is what she had to say:
"Obviously, then, the primary reasons to maintain the junior kindergarten program are the socialization and education of young children. However, there are fiscal benefits that accrue directly to the community. By the time the last participants of the Perry Preschool Project researched reached the age of 19 in 1984, the cost-benefit ratio of the preschool program was one to seven: For every $1 invested in the program, $7 were returned to the community.
"On the cost-cutting side, decreased social expenditures resulted from the following, and I list them in descending order of fiscal savings: reduced welfare and other social assistance payments; reduced special education costs; reduced crime costs to victims and the criminal justice system.
"On the revenue side, income to the community came from taxes paid on employment income. This income is cumulative as lifetime earnings rise. In short, public early childhood education programs such as junior kindergarten serve taxpayers' self-interest by reducing the consumption costs of other social services, and benefit the community as a whole."
Who should pay for junior kindergarten? Education in today's society is an interministerial function and by its nature is required to be so. There is a potential for educated students and the educational institutions themselves to provide benefits to every social and economic sector, but it is just this pervasiveness that often clouds the issue of funding responsibilities for junior kindergarten.
If funding for junior kindergarten will not be provided by the Ministry of Education, then by whom? Who can offer it at no cost to parents so that it is universally accessible? That becomes the question. The fact is that nursery schools or other private preschool programs are accessible only to those who can afford them, only to those who have the means and only to those who have the physical or geographical proximity to access them.
The government trumpets that many boards have not cut junior kindergarten. I acknowledge that's true; however, many have. This isn't fooling anyone because it doesn't stop here. Next year we'll see the continuation of these program terminations.
I turn to the presentation of Emily Noble of the Sault Ste Marie Women Teachers' Federation, who said: "In terms of the cuts to junior kindergarten, boards have some really, really tough decisions next year and the year after. The money will not be there. The government has said so."
Dr Eden agreed, saying: "...it really does come down to dollars and cents. I find it hard to know how we could equate attempting to develop quality education in this province with decimating one of the programs that has been so very successful, one of the programs for which there is a need and which can make a difference all the way through the child's academic and social development."
This is rounded out by a quote from Hillary Clinton, the wife of the US President, who once said: "Bear this research in mind when you listen to those who argue that our nation cannot afford to implement comprehensive early childhood education programs for disadvantaged children and for their families. If we as a village decide not to help families develop their children's brains, then at least let us admit that we are acting not on the evidence but according to a different agenda."
I believe this is the heart of the discussion. I say to the minister, be truthful about what you are doing. Admit that you've gone beyond making the program solely a local option, that you have reduced the funding and as a result junior kindergarten is being squeezed out of existence in many boards in many parts of this province. The ministry's projections on savings by way of the funding changes to junior kindergarten is actually based on school boards cancelling the program. Does that illustrate a commitment to the program? If that isn't a hidden agenda, I'm not sure what is.
What is at stake? Dr Steinhauer put the issue in perspective when he said: "I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's no better investment for a society in either economic or human terms than a good investment in supporting children to achieve their developmental potential. If they make it to become healthy, competent and productive citizens, then we all benefit and the province benefits. If they don't make it, then we will all pay for higher care costs, higher mental health costs, higher remedial education costs, higher crime control costs, higher costs of social assistance and a lower quality of civic life."
It has become more and more clear to me in recent days that this government does not support junior kindergarten. We found out just a few weeks ago that the Minister of Education and Training is directing isolated school boards which wish to continue junior kindergarten to raise their property tax by 5% to pay for the program. Even if isolated boards are able to fund the junior kindergarten program within existing resources, they still are mandated and forced to raise property tax by 5%.
The minister has given them an option: Either kill junior kindergarten or raise taxes by 5%. I thought the government wanted to see changes without any rises at all in taxes. Is this some kind of unique brand of common sense? I'm sure you will agree it is not. I don't think this is what people had in mind when the heard the term "local option."
In a letter to the Minister of Education and Training, Paulette Gagné says, and this is from the school boards affected in the north: "The argument, Mr Minister, is that this is not fair to the school boards or the taxpayers. We are asking you, Mr Minister, to remove the imposed 5% local education tax increase to isolate boards who choose to offer junior kindergarten." She goes on to say in the letter: "This is now our fourth letter on the subject and we are still waiting for a response. For your information, there is an education system outside of Metro Toronto."
Ms Gagné has not heard from the minister, yet has received a memo dictating to that board that they must increase the mill rate to their taxpayers by 5% and that the board will remove that amount of money from their particular legislative grant.
The government cuts, it seems to me, are not wise. Some people would say they're stupid. We can be concerned about the economic situation of the province, but we must also be aware of the social impact and the social context. We will fail both economically and socially if we engage in a pattern of cuts where we do not know what the consequences are later.
The same can be said for what is happening in the area of adult education, opportunities for those returning to complete their high school education. The government is simply cutting without producing any studies on impact or any solutions.
There was considerable concern expressed by individuals and educators over the decline in the grant for those 21 years of age and over. Many people feel that the government is once again moving ahead before it actually knows the impact of what will take place.
Contrary to the minister's assertion at the beginning of the hearings on Bill 34, there are no provisions in this legislation to meet the specific needs of adult pupils. The work group on education finance was at least progressive in their thinking in this area by looking at various models for delivering adult education programming. They saw and recognized that one size does not fit all and that you can't meet specific needs with a bare-bone, per pupil allotment.
The government has offered nothing and they know it. They have only taken away. The minister can talk about flexibility but again this is a matter that comes down to dollars and cents.
Bill Conrod from Algonquin College summed up what is at stake in the changes to adult education funding, and he says: "It's strictly a capacity and a financial matter for a group of people who we know do not have the additional cash to participate."
When the minister talks about changes to the delivery of adult education he argues that we have to stop treating these adults like children. But what about treating these adults like students? Let's talk positively instead of using negative images. The minister says the approach is an insult to adult learners. The minister's attitude is an insult to the students and to the adult educators. He has shown no understanding of this group's profile or the adult education student himself or herself.
During estimates the minister alluded to differences between adolescents and adults in terms of costs of instruction. At that time we did not receive a description of the difference and we still haven't. But that's fine because during the hearings we heard directly from adult students who painted a picture for us. Most adult students have had difficulties in high school and they still have these learning difficulties or problems when they return to complete their diploma. They talked about their special needs, the type of environment that works best for them, the type of instruction that works best for them, some of the learning skills they need, and some of the barriers.
Many adult educators talked about the experiences assisting adult learners with literacy and upgrading and vocational retraining. They know only too well the impact that a negative self-image has on individual perceptions of competence and perceived ability to learn. A negative self-image can be dispelled, however, when we can help adults deal with the barriers they encounter, barriers related to attitudes, related to values and self-perceptions, about one's ability to learn.
Probably one of the most important observations we came across in many of the presentations was that the continuing education model versus the adult education model doesn't fit the needs of most adult students seeking to complete their high school diploma.
We heard from Wanda Gould here in Toronto who had returned to high school. She had gone through continuing education programs. She dropped out again. She's now finally succeeding in an adult education program. This is what she had to say: "I'm finally learning how to learn on my own and to discipline myself to learn on my own. That's what continuing education did not provide me."
Adult education provides a larger social role. They look at supporting the individual and they address that individual at the stage in which they are at, at this particular time.
In Windsor, we heard from Bill Callen, a 39-year-old former truck driver who lost his job due to injury. For him, it went beyond skills and self-confidence. In Bill's words, it gave him "a greater sense of belonging in the community; I feel more a part of the community. I'm involved with more parts of the community.... I'm looking to do some volunteer work" for the first time this summer, "which is something that had never crossed my mind until I went back to high school."
Another adult educator we heard from during the hearings said that our biggest contribution is helping the adult learner to believe that he or she can do it. "We know they can do it," he said, "but they have to learn to believe in themselves." I think that's fairly profound.
The question we must ask is what we want to gain out of providing these opportunities for adult learners. One adult educator stated, "The issue to me is really the expectation on the part of any citizen to get a level of education that would allow them to become a participant in their community, an active participant in the economy of the country, a proud neighbour. All of those things we would like to see in our sons-in-law and our daughters-in-law when we talk about our future."
For many returning students, as in the case of Bill Callen and Wanda Gould, their return to high school has had a tremendously positive impact on their lives. These two cases show positive benefits that this program returns to our society and our community. I find it quite incredible that we've had presentations from over 70 groups, the vast majority of which strongly extolled the values of the two programs of junior kindergarten and adult education programming, and yet the government moves forward with its agenda, an agenda that ignores all of that body of wisdom, all of that body of advice. Because as I said before, this is a money bill. It pained me to see people working hard and coming forward with the kind of research and with the kind of thoughtfulness that they did, addressing what they thought was an educational bill, and really their testimony had nothing to say to the economics of it.
There is one area in the bill where the government came in with amendments and the parliamentary assistant identified that. That was in section 9, dealing with the equalization payments from negative grant boards, which are, as everyone knows, those boards which do not receive transfer payments from the province due to sufficient local commercial and industrial property tax. The two significant amendments in my opinion were window-dressing. Instead of making equalization payments, these boards can now enter into an agreement with the Minister of Education to make a payment. So now it's no longer explicitly in the legislation that the payment goes to the Minister of Finance, because that has been taken out. This was an amendment put forward by the government side.
But the intent of the section remains the same. Negative grant boards in the present situation, Metro Toronto and Ottawa, are still expected to remit a total of something in the neighbourhood of $80 million of locally generated education tax dollars to the province. The rationale behind this is that it's unfair for boards that rely on provincial grants to bear the full brunt of the cuts. I for one feel that all of these cuts are unfair in the first place, but there you have it. We need not be doing them.
There is no guarantee that the money that these two boards, Metro Toronto board and Ottawa, provide will be used to offset reductions in education transfers. I have asked, "Where is the assurance for Metro Toronto and Ottawa taxpayers that this money will actually be used for education purposes?" No one can give me that guarantee or even an answer -- not the parliamentary assistant, not the minister nor the minister's office, nor the deputy minister's office nor other officials' offices.
To my mind, there are only two ways this could occur. This is really important because you're going to have a taxpayers' revolution on your back. One way would of course be to require that these boards return the equalization payment back to their own taxpayers. The government likes to support tax cuts; send the money, those equalization payments, back to the taxpayers. No problem. The only other way, it seems to me, would be through an increase in the ministry budget for educational purposes that would be verifiably auditable.
The taxpayers in Ottawa and Metro Toronto will be watching; not only the taxpayers in Metro Toronto or Ottawa, but the taxpayers in all the school boards throughout Ontario, because they will be interested to see the implications of this. Any attempt at coercion or a private side deal, such as the minister had tentatively with the Metro board, will not work this time. Ratepayers in Ottawa have said very clearly that they are not prepared to facilitate the transfer of locally collected education dollars to the general ledger fund of the province. The boards are conscious of how the cuts are hitting assessment-poor boards; however, they do not support giving local property tax dollars raised for educational purposes to the provincial treasury.
I question this also. Indeed, many others are watching -- municipalities, regions -- because if the province can move in on local taxes that are collected for a specific purpose and grab those, think of the implications for municipalities in other areas. I question it because it sets, as I just mentioned, a dangerous precedent for the province -- powers it doesn't have. I'll be looking for some answers on this particular question when we review the ministry's spending once again at estimates next week.
As I wind down, I would like to say that Bill 34, in conjunction with the reductions in the general legislative grants, is imposing an economic agenda on the Ontario education system. It will be regressive in the long term and have a negative impact on both quality and accessibility. This year we are having a debate in relative obscurity on the full impact of the almost $1 billion, because even the first $400 million has not taken effect as of yet. We will see in September. The bill is really a money bill for the Treasurer, money taken totally out of education. This bill will hurt education this year and in the years to come. We will pay dearly, I regretfully submit, and for this reason I will be voting against Bill 34.
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Questions and comments?
Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): Mr Speaker, I have a point of order. Earlier this evening we had a misunderstanding on the deferred voting on the two previous bills, Bill 46 and Bill 36. The three parties have reached an agreement and I would like to advise that we are seeking unanimous consent from the House that we defer the votes on second reading for Bill 46 and second reading for Bill 36 to immediately following question period on Wednesday, June 19.
The Speaker: The member for Algoma on a point of order.
Mr Wildman: Mr Speaker, this wouldn't have happened if the member for Carleton hadn't interfered in the role of the member for Kitchener.
The Speaker: Do we have unanimous consent? Agreed? Agreed.
Comments and questions?
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I would like to compliment the member for Ottawa Centre on his comments. As he indicated a good number of times, these comments came about through a good number of observations from a committee that looked into Bill 34 and a good number of presentations that came to the committee. It is my hope that the minister will pay attention to some of the very good views that were put forth.
The member for Ottawa Centre mentioned Wanda Gould. I happened to be on the committee that day and remember very vividly her story about what adult education had done for her as a person who was looking for upgrading, a person who wanted to get into the workforce. It reminded me of a student who came to my office, actually through the co-op program through adult education, and has now gone on to become a full-time employee of a community service within the community. I cannot say enough about the program and what it has done.
I go back to the specific hearings that we had, hearings from individuals who had actually taken part in these programs and had been very successful. I hope the minister pays attention to that.
In terms of the comments made by my colleague the member for Ottawa Centre with regard to the minister indicating that boards that could show savings would be rewarded and that they would work very closely with any boards that could show savings, we have an instance with the Red Lake Board of Education, which came forth and showed the minister great savings in terms of transportation and still wants an answer from the minister as to what that will bring back to it, an issue I will be bringing to the minister's attention again.
I compliment my colleague from Ottawa Centre on a very good presentation.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I want to compliment the member for Ottawa Centre as well on his remarks and also add that it was a great honour for me to share with him some of the duties in terms of the public hearings on Bill 34 and some of the travel. Certainly it was enlightening for me to listen to the many presentations that eloquently tried to explain to this government the value and the need for junior kindergarten and adult education.
I remember specifically the presentation made by the Prospect School Parents' Association in Thunder Bay, which very much tried to give the viewpoint of what it was like in terms of the community value of a school and what important input the parents and the children and the volunteers had.
I recall as well Jackie Methot in Thunder Bay, a mother with a child with special needs trying to explain to the committee and the government members how crucial it was that the educational needs of her children need to be taken seriously.
Certainly, as my colleague pointed out, there were some amendments put forward by the opposition and by the member for Ottawa Centre that answered many of the needs that were clearly put forward by the presenters, and that in many ways and in many cases were also ones the government members made clear they thought should go forward. He mentioned specifically the aspect of early childhood educators being certified as teachers in kindergarten being one that the government members wanted, and the member for Brant-Haldimand on the government side did support it. It was a shame that the other government members didn't do so.
I think he made it very clear in his statement that indeed what became unfortunately clear to us, as we continued the process and wound it down in clause-by-clause, was that indeed this was a money bill, that the intent of this government was to grab the money. They weren't going to listen to any changes. Even when they recognized that some of the amendments were worthwhile, they said, "We're not quite ready to accept them." That was a shame.
Mr Gerard Kennedy (York South): I would also like to add my appreciation for the remarks from the member for Ottawa Centre. It really does reflect an important standpoint on this bill in terms of the future of public education. It reflects very well the concerns that were brought up to me during the election campaign in York South, particularly about adult education. In the riding of York South 34 teachers have already been laid off in anticipation of some of the effects of this bill and some of the cuts that have already taken place.
When you look at a riding composed of people, many of whom have worked for their whole lives, paid taxes, worked in construction, worked in different jobs, but 20% of whom have only grade 8 education, this is another dead end being handed to them by this government in terms of their lack of confidence and a really outdated idea of what education should be about, not facilitating people's access to education so they can advance themselves in society and instead putting them in a rut and in a dead end.
The same anxiety was shared by a lot of young parents about their kids, about the ability to provide for them, and rather than have regard for the efficiencies that could be gained from JK or from using the school facilities for early childhood education, we find instead a backhand on the part of this government towards the idea of using education, not simply for giving people their statutory 12 years in school but to have them really advance as part of society. Those are some of the concerns that the people in York South are having.
The board in the city of York has managed to make room this year for JK, but at a cost of some 120 teachers in total who have gone from the board. So we know that the sacrifices the boards are going to have to make to pursue those objectives without the support of this government and without, more importantly, the understanding of this government are very, very threatening to them. Further, the people who live in the urban areas like Metro that are faced with the negative granting coming forward under this bill find themselves threatened in terms of dealing with the extra cost, the worrisome agenda that happens in urban areas and again not being supported by this government and being subjected to this unusual tax.
These are the kinds of concerns that the member has already brought up to some extent and I'd like to add my voice to.
The Speaker: The member's time has expired. Further comments or statements?
Mr Skarica: I'd just like to make a couple of comments. Being an outsider to the education system, I received a shock during the hearings in a number of different ways. One came when I was using a slip of paper from the Ministry of Education outlining the operating expenses of all the different school boards. I was using it to cross-examine the various school boards as to how efficient they were.
On the second to last day of the three-week hearings, when I was pointing out to the Sault Ste Marie board that their operating expenses were twice what they were in Wentworth county, they said, "No, no, we've cut to the bone." I said, "No, no, Wentworth county is half of what yours are, and that's cutting to the bone." They said, "No, no, we've cut to the bone." I said, "How do you explain that you spend twice as much in operating expenses than the Wentworth county board or Brant board?" They told me, "Our operating expenses are not the same as Wentworth's operating expenses."
I talked to the bureaucrats: "Is that true? Can we spend $11 billion a year on a system where 157 different school boards have different accounting systems so that you can't compare one to the other?" The answer I got was a simple yes.
We are spending $11 billion a year on a system that has no accountability. I can't compare the Wentworth board to the Brant board, to the Sault board or to any board in the province because they all have different accounting procedures. It's like comparing apples to oranges to bananas.
This system has been going on now for 50 years, 70 years or 100 years or whatever. Why hasn't anybody wanted to reform it? Yet when we try to reform it, when you try to change it, you're attacking children. We're not attacking children. Just because you have an education system doesn't mean you have a blank cheque or a black hole where you throw billions and billions of dollars into the system; that's what we've got and that's what the opposition wants to keep. We did listen to people. We heard that the education finance system was broken and that it's not accountable, and we've put in the sunset clause that will force the government to fix it.
The Speaker: The member's time has expired. The member for Ottawa Centre has up to two minutes.
Mr Patten: I'd like to respond quickly. I'd like to thank the members for Kenora, Port Arthur and York South for their kind comments. I'd like to respond to the parliamentary assistant, the member for Wentworth North.
Nobody disagrees that there are not savings to be found in administration. As a matter of fact, I think everyone agrees that you could find savings in administration. But I will point out to the members on the government side to beware next September. This bill makes cuts in certain areas. It doesn't say, "Strip or cut down on your administration" per se. It says: "You will not get this amount of money for junior kindergarten. You will not get this amount of money for adult education. You will not have new schools this year. You will take this amount from certain areas."
That's where the government got in trouble. If they had said, and the school board association had said, "If you had come to us and asked us, `How can we work with you to find those savings?'" they wouldn't have half the problems they're going to have next September. Because, believe me, when the schools come back, it won't be just from administration --
Hon Bob Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): Come on, Richard. You don't believe that.
Mr Patten: Well, we'll see. They'll also find out if kids from their neighbours are not able to go to junior kindergarten any more and not be able to pay their way.
Mr Speaker, I'll leave it there in the interests of time tonight.
The Speaker: Further debate? The leader of the third party.
Mr Wildman: I won't be speaking at great length since this is third reading and most of the arguments around this legislation were made at second reading, and of course they had full airing in the committee hearings across the province.
When I said I wasn't intending to speak at length, I hope I can keep to that, but my friend the member for Wentworth North provoked me. I was with him in his last intervention into the debate when he was commenting on the remarks of my friend from Ottawa Centre. I was with him right up to the end of his remarks, and then he lost me, unfortunately.
Frankly, he was correct when he said we have a problem. There's a serious problem in dealing with issues around education finance. I think the term he used was that we're comparing apples with oranges and bananas. Indeed, we do have a problem, because there is not any set accounting practice that is accepted by the ministry and all the boards. They all have different approaches to accounting. That's not to say they're being irresponsible; it's just that they don't have the same approach. The problem arises when any of us attempts to make comparisons and to make any kinds of rational decisions on the basis of numbers that apply across the province. I agreed with that. I agree with the issue that the member has raised.
I also agree it would be far better and more appropriate if an accepted and agreed upon system of accounting could be devised and implemented that would give us similar numbers so we would be able to make the kinds of comparisons that are necessary so the people could hold boards accountable for their expenditures and so everyone in education would be able to understand what moneys are being expended in what areas and would be able to determine the priorities properly.
The issue centrally is how we define education finance when we talk about administration. How do we determine what is administration and what is classroom education? That is the central issue that my friend from Wentworth North was dealing with.
Where he lost me, though, was when he said that we have this problem and the opposition parties want to maintain it. I don't know why he said that, because I know he knows that's not correct. The fact is, we agree -- at least I agree, and I've told him this - that we need to have a system of accounting that everyone understands and that can be used in a rational way to make the arguments about what is financing administration and what is financing classroom education.
When I am opposing Bill 34, I'm not opposing it because I'm opposed to coming up with a rational system that everyone can agree upon for accounting in education. What I'm disagreeing with is that you don't resolve a serious problem of accounting by simply taking money out of the system. Maybe you want to take money out of the system, maybe that's where we should be going in Ontario, but that doesn't resolve an accounting problem. That's where you lost me.
The question of education finance is one that has bedevilled governments and education across the province for many years. Frankly, the discussion we've been having which was referred to by the member for Wentworth North has not helped to resolve that bedevilment.
We are trying to grapple with a government's promise not to adversely affect classroom education. That's essentially what the presentations before the committee were about. We've got a number of definitions.
The former member for Kitchener-Wilmot, Mr Sweeney, was appointed by the previous government to do a study on the number of boards in the province and whether they could be reduced. When this government came into power, the new Minister of Education and Training said to Mr Sweeney, "We want to change the way you're going about holding your hearings and having your task force work. We don't want to have a lot of hearings. We want to just avoid a lot of expense, but we also want you to deal with this issue of what is classroom expenditure and what is administration." So after his interim report, Mr Sweeney came back with a report that said, "On average, 47% of school board expenditures are outside of the classroom; 53% on average are in the classroom."
That is where the argument comes to the fore because obviously if you come up with a figure like that, you have to be able to explain what you included in administration or outside of the classroom. It's clear that Mr Sweeney included in out-of-classroom expenditures preparation time, for instance. He also included all of the costs for vice-principals, principals, special education teachers, assistants, remedial teachers, all of those kinds of things. He said, "Those are out-of-classroom expenditures."
Well, okay, that's fine for Mr Sweeney to say, but his resolution, if you want to call it that, or his proposal for how we deal with this issue is not one that is widely accepted in the education sector. I personally don't understand how we can argue that prep time is outside of the classroom. It may be outside of the four walls of the classroom. It may take place in a teacher's officer or in the teachers' room or at home or wherever. The during-the-day prep time, though, will take place probably or usually in the school somewhere, but the fact that it's not actually in the classroom is nonsensical if it's leads to the conclusion, "Well, therefore, it's not classroom education." What is the teacher preparing for? Surely she is preparing to teach students or she is doing remedial work or marking or contacting parents, all of those kinds of things to help students perform better and to achieve more in the classroom. That's what she's doing. If she isn't doing that, then she isn't doing preparation as defined by teachers and educators. So I don't agree with Mr Sweeney that this is something that should be said to be outside of the classroom.
I can understand why he might have argued that principals' and vice-principals' salaries and superintendents and all of those are outside of the classroom, but if that's the case, then we have to determine how much of the time each of those people in positions of responsibility are actually doing administrative work and how much of the time they're doing classroom teaching because some of them do. I think those are the kinds of divisions and decisions that have to be made.
But to have ministers of the crown and members of the governing party get up day after day and just repeat what Mr Sweeney said, that 47% of the expenditures are outside of the classroom, ignores the very difficult issue that the member for Wentworth North raised. We don't have an agreed definition that everyone can accept in the province.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): How are you going to be sure?
Mr Wildman: I'm not sure, frankly, if we can come up with easy agreement on this. Governments have had a committee working on education finance reform for some time and it's just come forward with a report and it's interesting that this report basically says: "Well, we had good discussions. We laid out all of the disagreements and all of the problems, all of the issues. We weren't able to come to a resolution, but here are all of the options." They weren't able to choose one; they just said, "This is where it's at," and threw it back to the minister, so the minister is going to have to come up with something. I don't envy him his position on that. I think he genuinely was hoping that the committee would come forward with a proposal which would be helpful to the government and to everyone involved. They haven't been able to come to a resolution and now he's going to have to deal with it.
But the solution to education finance is not simply to take $400 million out of education in one year.
Interjection: It's too late for that.
Mr Wildman: The member says it's too late for that, it's already been done. I guess it has. It has to be implemented and the minister has admitted that on an annualized basis, it works out to $800 million, maybe up to $1 billion.
The point that all of us heard in the hearings on Bill 34 from parents, from teachers, teachers' organizations, school boards and members of the public was that a government cannot take $400 million out of the school boards' budgets in a four-month period, cut 16.6% of the general legislative grants in one stroke in that period of time and not adversely affect the classroom. It is impossible. This is a government that, when as a party running for office, said, "Classroom education will be exempt." That's a word from your own document: "exempt" from the cuts.
So when we have in this House raised the issue that classrooms are not exempt, what kind of a response are we getting now from the minister and his minions? They're saying: "It's not our fault. We didn't make those cuts; the boards did. It's the boards' fault. We just told them they were going to get $400 million less in total and they made these cuts. So it's the boards' fault, not the government's. You can't blame the government. The government didn't tell them to cut these things. The government told them to cut administration, and when they chose not to cut administration, then the parents and the students and the community should be upset with the boards, not with the government. The government's an innocent bystander that just took all this money out and we have these irresponsible trustees and administrators across the province who are going to harm students by hurting the classroom. It's not the government's fault."
I've had members of the governing party get up in this House and say that: "We didn't make those cuts; it was the boards." It's those terrible boards, I guess. Somehow, they're not with the program. Of course, in the so-called Common Sense Revolution, the Conservative members, when they were running for election, didn't say, "Classroom education will be exempt, as long as the boards agree." They didn't have any parentheses there that said, "But of course, it's up to the boards to ensure this happens." They just said, "Classroom education will be exempt from the cuts."
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): The rest was understood.
Mr Wildman: Oh, the rest was understood. It obviously wasn't understood by the trustees.
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton North): The irresponsible trustees are defying the government.
Mr Wildman: We have the member for Brampton North who says it's the irresponsible trustees. I might be tempted to send that piece of Hansard out to all the trustees in the province.
Mr Spina: Please do.
Mr Wildman: He says, "Please do." I might do it, then.
Mr Spina: Please do, because I've told them personally and directly.
Mr Wildman: He wants us to tell the boards they're being irresponsible. I will tell you this: if any government of whatever political stripe takes a billion dollars out of education in one year, that government is being irresponsible when it doesn't recognize that it has an obligation to the students in this province, to the communities in this province, to provide quality education across this province.
The Speaker: Order.
Mr Wildman: I'm confused, Mr Speaker, because now it seems they're arguing that they're not taking $400 million out.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): You said $1 billion.
Mr Wildman: Just ask the minister. He has admitted that $400 million in four months, annualized, works out to $800 million to $1 billion. He's admitted that that's what it is annualized. Frankly, he said, if we can do that, great. It's not me who's saying it; it's the Minister of Education and Training who said that.
Mr Spina: It's $400 million in one fiscal year.
Mr Wildman: That's right. Annualized, it's $800 million.
Mr Spina: One fiscal year. Forget about annualization.
Mr Wildman: He'd like us to tell the boards to forget about annualization. "Don't worry about it. If it happens, it happens," I guess. My goodness.
Mr Spina: Now I know why they couldn't balance their budget. They didn't know the difference between an annual year and a fiscal year.
The Speaker: Order. Interjections are out of order. Would the member please address through the Chair.
Mr Wildman: The interjections are prolonging my presentation, Mr Speaker. The member, I guess, has been suffering from the aftermath of new math. He doesn't understand that you can't just pretend that annualized budgets don't exist and you can just deal with what happens in this government's fiscal year.
The problem we have now, and it's a very serious one, is that we have at least 26 boards that have decided not to present junior kindergarten next year, not to have junior kindergarten programs.
Mr Spina: Glorified day care.
Mr Wildman: The member says, "Glorified day care," which is an indication that he just doesn't understand early childhood education, as his own minister does. The Minister of Education and Training has admitted that early childhood education and junior kindergarten are crucial for the good, sound academic performance at least for disadvantaged kids -- I would argue for all children, but he has admitted at least for disadvantaged kids.
Of the boards that have continued junior kindergarten, many of them have had to make major changes in the way the program is delivered: every other day, full day, combining with kindergarten, all these kinds of changes, which may or may not be good for kids and pedagogy. We'll see.
What really sticks in my craw, because I represent a large expanse of northern Ontario, is what this government has done with regard to the isolate boards and junior kindergarten. For those who are not familiar with this, an isolate board is a very small board in one of the very small communities in northern Ontario that only has one school and has a very, very small assessment base. Isolate boards get almost all of their budgets from the provincial government.
A few of these boards have been able to work out in their budgets that they can continue junior kindergarten on an optional basis, as this government has made it optional, without increasing their budgets. You would think this government, which is interested in efficiency, would say: "That's a good thing. These boards have been able to continue this program and they're not having to increase their budgets." But no. The Ministry of Education and Training sends out a directive to these boards saying, "If you're going to continue junior kindergarten, you must increase your budget by 5%." You must. They've directed these boards to increase their taxes by 5% if they want to keep junior kindergarten. How on earth can that be justified? This is a government that is supposedly opposed to tax increases, and it is directing these boards to increase their taxes by 5%. I don't understand that. I don't understand why they would want to do that.
The other major area that was presented to us in the hearings was the question of adult education. This is a government that says it wants people to gain skills that will make them productive so that they can provide for themselves and their families, make it in the workplace, go on to post-secondary education and be productive and contribute to society. Yet for those adults who have returned to complete their high school diplomas in a day program, they have basically said to them: "This is not what we want. We don't want you to be in school. If you're going to take courses, you must take just continuing education courses, probably at night. If you're over 20 or 21, you're not going to be allowed to go to the day program." That in itself is discrimination on the basis of age and I suspect will lead to challenges before the Human Rights Commission in itself. You can't tell a person they can't go to school on the basis of their age. I don't understand that.
But at any rate, the minister is now saying that they can go to continuing education. Continuing education is not going to be possible for many of these people because they don't have day care at night. Many of them are going to have to look after their children at home, they won't be able to do it, and as a result they're going to be in the welfare trap. This in itself is a denial of the government's own agenda, what it wants for people, what it believes people should be doing. I don't understand why the government is doing this.
What they are proposing in this bill and with the changes they are making in the funding of school boards is counterproductive. It's not good for the education of students, it's not good for our society, and in fact it's a contradiction of their own stated program. It doesn't make sense.
For those reasons, my caucus will be opposing this legislation on third reading.
Mr Stockwell: "As long as I am leader."
Mr Wildman: We regret that the government did not move to make significant amendments. I would perhaps talk about --
Mr Baird: "I put my leadership on the line."
Mr Wildman: Watch it.
I might be tempted to talk about the negative-grant boards and the comments made in this House by the member for Etobicoke West and others.
Mr Stockwell: We fixed it.
Mr Wildman: He says they fixed it because they've put a sunset provision in. We all know that the reason for the sunset is simply to hold things over so they can take the money until such time as the minister has figured out what he's going to do on education finance reform so that he can get more money from those kinds of boards for the rest of the province.
For all of those reasons, we oppose this legislation, and I sincerely hope the government members, the members of the party who support the government, will do everything they can to encourage the Minister of Education and Training to actually find out what it means, what the significance is of taking $400 million out of the school boards' budgets in this fiscal year and what it means on an annualized basis for students in this province. It is going to adversely affect classroom education whether he likes it or not.
The Speaker: Questions or comments? The member for Wentworth North.
Mr Skarica: I'd just like to deal with one issue that my friend from Algoma raised. He says it's impossible to take money out of education and not affect the classroom. I'd like to talk about what is possible when there's a way.
One of the boards in my area in Hamilton, a Roman Catholic board, is a resource-poor board on that piece of paper I got from the ministry that's basically worthless, for reasons that I indicated earlier. They're in one of the lower operating expenses and they were able to save $3 million because the administrators, the teachers, the maintenance people all got together and said, "Look, we're prepared to take a minor benefit and salary cut in order that the classroom is not affected." They did that, just like we all did in the House. We took a 5% pay cut. I personally didn't notice it. We all took pay cuts. Probably the only person here who took a pay cut and noticed it was the member for Algoma. He took more than the rest of us because he was a minister last year.
There are some things we heard in the hearings that I don't understand. We heard about one board which took a 2% to 3% cut in its overall budget, and its class sizes, we heard, increased 41%. I didn't go to junior kindergarten, so maybe that's why I don't understand this, but how does a 2% to 3% cut in their operating budget translate into a 41% increase in class sizes? I don't understand that.
Another thing we never heard once in three weeks of hearings -- we heard about pink slips to teachers -- was about a pink slip to an administrator; we never heard about one. You were there. The best we heard was that there are six administrators in Toronto making over $100,000 are not being replaced.
The Speaker: The time has expired. Further questions or comments? The member for Algoma has up to two minutes to respond.
Mr Wildman: In the interests of time, Mr Speaker, I won't respond at any length and use all the time. My only comment is not that you couldn't take any money out of education without affecting the classroom; it's just that you couldn't take this much in such a short time out of education and not affect the classroom. I sincerely believe that, and that's what almost everyone who appeared before the committee told us.
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): I rise to oppose Bill 34 because it does nothing for children. It damages the quality of education in Ontario and will do irreparable harm to what we consider to be sacred: the promotion of the future of the youth of Ontario.
Before I get into that, I just want to congratulate the Sudbury unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association who tonight are honouring their 25-year teachers and their retiring teachers. I'd like to refer to Lorraine Dupuis, who is a teacher being honoured with 25 years. I tell you, because it's very relevant to the discussion later on, that this is a former colleague of mine who loves children, who loves the adolescents she teachers, who teaches with a great deal of vim, vigour and vitality, puts forth her best efforts all the time because she wants to bring out the best in children, and she's done that for 25 years.
I'd also like to refer to Maryanne Sauvé, Ron Rowe, Lois Turcotte, John Robb, Bill and Mary Stenabaugh who are being honoured as they retire this evening, each of them having more than 32 years of experience with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association Sudbury unit. These people have dedicated their efforts on a continuing basis because they believe that children are important. They also believe that to do their jobs, they must have the resources to facilitate and bring out the best in each individual child.
Because I wanted to ensure that I get the right perspective of this, I sent out a survey to all teachers in the Sudbury district. I sent out 2,200 surveys and received back 1,166. That's a return rate of 53%, and when you look at the average being 1%, I hope you understand that teachers in Sudbury are deeply concerned with what's happening in education today.
I just want to highlight a few questions I asked in the survey. The first one was, "Do you feel it is necessary for the provincial government to trim educational funding by approximately $800 million?" A resounding 78% said no, that that's wrong.
The second question was, "Do you feel the Ministry of Education's toolkit, which makes junior kindergarten a local option and reduces adult education funding, will provide boards and educators with adequate direction and means for reducing expenditures?" Not surprisingly, 79% of the teachers said no, that that was a wrong direction to take.
The third question was, "Do you feel the government's new cost-cutting strategy affects classroom education?" These are the front-line workers. Well, 99% of the people who responded said, "Yes, it's going to affect the classroom."
The fourth question was, "Do you feel the government's new cost-cutting strategy will increase student-teacher ratios?" These cost-cutting strategies are not supposed to affect the classroom. Well, 93% of the teachers responded, "Yes, categorically, it will affect student-teacher ratios."
Question 4(b) of that question was, "If you answered `Yes,' do you feel an increase in class size would be detrimental to students?" We know that the minister says the cuts he's made aren't going to be detrimental to students. They're not going to affect student-teacher ratios; they're not going to affect class size. Well, the front-line workers disagree with the minister and they disagree with the government, because 93% said that it's going to have a detrimental effect.
We asked them, "Do you have any strategies that you'd like to" --
Mr Stockwell: Front-line workers? Teachers aren't front-line workers.
Mr Bartolucci: Excuse me, but teachers are the front-line workers in a classroom. The member for Etobicoke West may not understand that, but they are. He'd like to tell the teachers in his riding that they're not front-line workers. I hope that he gets up at response time and says that teachers are not front-line workers.
We asked in a further question: "Do you have any ideas that you can give the government? Are you opposed to or in favour of several options; for example, an early retirement package?" Well, 88% said they were in favour of an early retirement package, 85 factor. The reason for that --
Mr Stockwell: What a shock. Say no more. Heart, be still.
Mr Bartolucci: You don't have to get up, Mr Speaker. The nonsense over there doesn't bother us at all. We just allow it. It's like being in a classroom and you get the disrupters, the behaviour problems that, if we allowed this to go through, teachers wouldn't have the resources to deal with. We don't have to worry about that. Those are behaviour problems that this government thinks don't exist in a classroom.
Some 88% are in favour of an early retirement package, and you know why? Because it will give younger teachers an opportunity to work. This government doesn't worry about that; "There are all kinds of jobs out there." When you take $800 million out of education, you're creating employment? The minister stands up and says that young teachers are going to have opportunities for employment. That's ridiculous.
"Are you in favour of job-sharing?" Some 51% said "Yes, we're in favour of job-sharing to allow opportunities for young teachers to get experience." It makes sense. This government doesn't like to listen to perfect sense. They like to implement common sense that doesn't make any sense.
The 11th question I asked was, "In 1993 the World Economic Forum ranked Canada eighth in education quality. Do you feel the Harris government strategy, as outlined in the famous toolkit, will improve Canada's standing?" Some 81% said no.
You know what they said in the comments section, as an example? "More students per class plus less available technology plus a group of underpaid and overworked teachers will equal a miserable ranking for Canada in five years."
Those are only some of the 21 questions I asked, and because the time is almost up I will allow you to adjourn the House. When we continue the debate I will go into how we will pay for the $800 million that will be taken out.
The Speaker: The member for Sudbury adjourns the debate. This House is adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 2400.