L116 - Tue 29 Oct 1996 / Mar 29 Oct 1996
The House met at 1331.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): TVO provides quality programming to northwestern Ontario and is essential as a service provider in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation region.
Because of this government's actions, the Wawatay radio network will not operate today in protest of the government's plan to privatize TVOntario. Since 1984, TVO has carried the Wawatay radio network on its satellite video signal. This partnership provided Wawatay with an economical means of providing a native-language network radio service across the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. Distribution of Wawatay's broadcast signal will not be viable without the assistance of TVO. First nation communities in the northwest are concerned that the sale of TVO would more than likely lead to the elimination of Wawatay's native-language broadcast services.
Wahsa distance education, which is also distributed through the TVO system, will also be jeopardized if privatization by the Harris government proceeds. Wahsa provides an opportunity to students in 23 first nations to complete their high school education without the expense and emotional stress of leaving their homes and families. The services that are provided in northwestern Ontario and to the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation by TVO are unique and essential to the healthy development and future of our region.
Because of the minister's actions, the airwaves of Wawatay radio network will be silenced today to show what can be expected if the government continues with its privatization plans. Minister, your decision to sell Ontario's network will result in the elimination of first nation language services for 35 northern first nation communities.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I think it's time the Minister of Education and Training exercised his primary role as an advocate and proponent of our education system. The minister appears to be unaware of the high quality of education in Ontario. Our quality education system is being threatened for political and financial reasons as a result of this.
It's time the provincial government recognized the high quality of education presently offered to students in Ontario and refrained from further unsubstantiated derogatory comments on the provincial education system.
We must recognize the serious impact on students of further funding reductions to education. Cuts hurt kids.
Parents and ratepayers support and value local governance of their education system, and it's not just they who feel this way. The Minister of Finance stated in June 1996, "School boards are accountable to their community and the government is confident that they are in the best position to determine the priorities of their constituents."
I hope the minister will also acknowledge the value of locally elected school boards as advocates and representatives of local communities.
It's time the Minister of Education entered into realistic and meaningful consultation with all --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): Inflammation of the joints, heart disease, kidney disease, facial rash, memory loss: The list of symptoms is long and frightening. This disease can affect any organ or system in the body and can affect any man, woman or child, and there is no cure.
October is Lupus Awareness Month, the disease of a thousand faces. Lupus is a disease in which the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissue.
More people have lupus than AIDS, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, sickle-cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis combined. Data show that between 1.4 and two million people have been diagnosed with lupus.
For the vast majority of people with lupus, effective treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce inflammation and maintain normal bodily functions. New research brings unexpected findings each year. The progress made in treatment and diagnosis during the last decade has been greater than that made over the last 100 years.
With hard work, determination and a little luck, I am confident a cure can soon be found.
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): On October 22 the disabled community lost a very special friend. Rhona Mickelson, founder of Star Tracks Performing Arts Centre and Talent Agency for the Disabled, passed away from heart failure.
At the age of three, Miss Mickelson was playing with her dolls when an improperly constructed patio roof gave way at the family home at San Antonio, Texas, caving in on her. The resulting spinal injury left her a paraplegic and required the use of a wheelchair.
In university, she noticed during film studies that able-bodied actors were used to play the roles of people with disabilities; thus the idea for a talent agency for the disabled was born. Her efforts opened doors for people with disabilities in the world of film, advertising and employment. She found work for people with disabilities as models, in magazines, films and commercials. Rhona Mickelson lived on a disability pension and supported Star Tracks out of her own pocket.
Rhona was a personal friend who was always there for me, with a smile, with a laugh, with optimism abounding.
Whatever damage was caused from the accident, the spirit of a remarkable woman survived. There are examples of courage everywhere, from the tenacious desire of Terry Fox to the determined perseverance and courage of Rick Hansen. Rhona Mickelson personified all that and more. Her unfailing spirit and selfless concern for others is a remarkable legacy that will never be forgotten.
Rhona, you are among the leaves, the trees -- you will always be among us.
Our deepest sympathies go out to her sister, Penny, brother, Stephen, and father, Harry.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Earlier today I attended a press conference which called attention to the lack of action by the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services with respect to allegations of abuse against youth in correctional facilities, and in particular the death of James Lonnee at the hands of another youth while both were locked in a single segregation cell at Wellington Detention Centre.
Many citizens in the province are outraged by the lack of action by the minister and they are fearful that youth who are incarcerated may continue to experience the kind of abuse and mistreatment which has been alleged in a statement of claim against the minister by a number of these youths.
A campaign has begun to bring the attention of Ontario citizens to the seriousness of this issue. The treatment of youths who are in custody, who are at the mercy of the correctional system and those who run it, should be of great importance to all of us. How do we expect youthful offenders to accept responsibility for their actions and change their behaviour when they experience abuse and degradation at the hands of those who are supposed to care for them and teach them other ways to behave? How can we expect parents and members of the community to support law enforcement agencies when such allegations are made and the minister accepts no responsibility for either those under his authority or those under his care?
You will see that many of us are wearing black ribbons today. These ribbons are in memory of James Lonnee and all youth who have suffered abuse and mistreatment within the correctional services. They remind us of our responsibility as citizens to ensure that the rights of those who are incarcerated by the province are protected by the province.
Mr Jim Brown (Scarborough West): Doing more for less. That's what we're all trying to do, at home and here in government.
The Scarborough Board of Education has heeded our call on behalf of Scarborough taxpayers. The Scarborough board negotiated nearly $4 million in private sector donations so that every student in Scarborough will soon be surfing on a state-of-the-art, high-speed interactive wide area network. I am told by school board officials it is the largest donation ever made to a public school board in North America.
Scarborough educators realize how important it is for our young people to have access to the technology leading us into the 21st century and beyond.
Silicon Graphics Canada, a world leader in computer technology, will provide equipment, licensed software and expert support valued at $3 million. Shaw Communications contributed $750,000 to provide high-speed fibre optic cable to eight schools, with every other school in the city of Scarborough linked to these sites. The University of Toronto will provide access to some of its information technology services and donate $100,000 to partner with a Scarborough elementary and secondary school. In the spirit of cooperation, Scarborough will share its technology with at least 23 other boards across the province.
The Scarborough board should be commended for being able to do more with less. They are looking to the future with optimism, showing us how limitless are the possibilities when we all work together for the taxpayer and for the kids.
AGRICULTURAL HALL OF FAME
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): I'm pleased to inform the House that on Wednesday, October 30, the Kent County Agricultural Hall of Fame Association will hold its eighth annual induction ceremony. The Kent County Agricultural Hall of Fame is the first of its kind to recognize the achievements and services of both men and women within the realm of agriculture. This year, five new members will take their place of honour in the hall of fame.
Helen Coatsworth has kept west Kent and wider readership informed for more than half a century, has been a long-time member and office holder of the Women's Institute, and at age 89 years is still writing weekly columns for the Wheatley Journal.
Ed Chinnick has been involved in many facets of agricultural development, including his key role in the formative years of the Western Ontario Breeders Association.
Paul King has had an impact on agriculture locally, nationally and internationally, including service as president of the International Seed Trade Federation.
Lewis Sherman dedicated his life to the betterment of agriculture, including the Ontario Farm Products Appeal Tribunal.
John E. Smith was responsible for many innovative ideas beneficial to the fruit production and marketing industry.
All of the achievements of these unselfish people are too numerous to mention but have had a tremendous effect within the realm of agriculture and rural communities within and beyond the borders of Kent county.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): John Greyson is a Toronto filmmaker whose film Lilies -- certainly controversial but highly acclaimed, nominated for some 14 Geminis -- opened on Friday night at the Carlton Cinemas. Of course, Mr Greyson was there, as is to be expected, and of course he spoke, introducing his film.
Well, it was a scenario that could have been scripted by Kafka or Huxley, because in Mike Harris's brave new world what did John Greyson, this acclaimed filmmaker-director, get for introducing his film and for noting that it was one of the last films to be funded by the Ontario Film Development Corp, a fund now gutted by Mike Harris's Tories, and calling upon people in the audience to let their displeasure and concern about that be known the next day on Saturday during the Days of Action here in Toronto? John Greyson found himself arrested by two of Metro's finest for trespassing, at the behest of the ownership and management of Carlton Cinemas.
This is bizarre. This is an incredible infringement upon the rights of a cultural spokesperson to speak out as we expect them to. It's something about which I expect the Minister of Culture, if we dare call her that, would express outrage. I call upon the Attorney General to ensure that those frivolous, absurd, illegal charges of trespassing are at the very least stayed, and preferably withdrawn, by his crown attorney.
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): Canadians are known across the world for their deep respect of the democratic process. In my riding is a constituent I know all members of this House will appreciate, as he has demonstrated his commitment to democracy for over 50 years. Mr Harold Syme, now in his 80s, has worked hard as a volunteer for a great many candidates in his lifetime. He has chosen candidates who best represent his values. Individuals such as Clifford Case, Lex MacKenzie and John MacBeth have benefited from his guidance and hard work.
Today, as a senior, Harold is concerned about the state of this province and the generations who will succeed him. As a result, he has again chosen a direction that best represents his values. He wants a sensible approach to getting this province back into shape while continuing to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have access to essential services. The approach he backs is the approach taken by this government.
Harold was recognized by the Premier this weekend for his dedication towards making Ontario a better place to live. As a beneficiary of his assistance, I too express my appreciation to Harold Syme for his contribution to this province and this country, and for his support of this government.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I'd like to introduce to the members of the Legislative Assembly, in the Speaker's gallery today, Mr Liam Jewell, who was a participant in the 1996 Olympic games in kayaking. Welcome.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: It's really odd that this place is so hot before question period has even started. Surely we could do something about the heat so that it's not cold one day and too hot the next. It's time you started moderating the place around here.
The Speaker: That's not a point of privilege, actually. It may be a point of whining; I'm not sure.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Wait a minute. When he complimented you it was a point of privilege.
The Speaker: That was a point of privilege, that's right. Actually, we've opened the windows. That's the best we can do.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): In the absence of the Minister of Transportation and the Premier, my question is for someone who knows something about unsafe trucks, the Deputy Premier. This government's record on truck safety is a disgrace. Four out of five Ontarians are scared to drive on our highways, as they should be; 95% of Ontarians still feel that trucks are unsafe on our highways. Your government has been in power now for 18 months. Can you tell me why there are more than 100 persistent violators -- trucking companies -- still on the road today, 18 months after you've taken office?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): I have a potential conflict with respect to this question and would refer this question to the Chair of Management Board. I presume the honourable member knew that. Thank you very much for the --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): You can't answer and refer.
The Speaker: The member for Beaches-Woodbine is right. He didn't answer. He referred the question because he said he had a conflict.
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet and Government House Leader): This is a topic of concern to the minister and this particular government because obviously there have been safety concerns, there have been unfortunate accidents, unfortunate incidents over the past many years, frankly, and it's about time somebody came to grips with this. Indeed, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Minister of Transportation introduced legislation to raise the fine for vehicles, and I believe this increase in minimum fines will have some impact. Having said that, I know the Minister of Transportation is still studying this issue, looking at more effective means to address the concerns on our roads.
Mr Gerretsen: The OPP constable, who is a member the Truck Troopers, stated this morning in the media: "These new fines are going to be insignificant. We don't think $400 is much of a deterrent for companies."
Back in February the Minister of Transportation promised to bring in demerit points for drivers of unsafe trucks and tough new fines within three months at the very latest. That's what he stated. Yesterday, nine months later, in addition to weak new fines, as they have already been described by the constable involved, the minister told us to be patient with demerit points.
Minister, in those nine months people have died. When is your government going to take real action, instead of bogus photo ops and public relations exercises, to get the unsafe trucks off the road?
Hon David Johnson: I just remind you of real action this government has taken: Ontario now has the highest minimum fines for safety-related offences, such as defective brakes at $400 here in Ontario -- only $300 in Quebec; mandatory training for wheel installers; higher maximum fines of up to $20,000; air brake training for truck drivers; 35 more enforcement officers have been put into place across Ontario.
Finally, over seven years, which go back to the previous NDP government and to the Liberal government before that, overloaded gravel trucks were permitted to drive on our highways, and the minister has now lifted the axle weight moratorium to prevent that from happening. There is a specific piece of action taken by this government not taken by the two previous governments.
Mr Gerretsen: The public is demanding real action. A coroner's inquest held more than a year ago made 31 recommendations that they felt could save lives and prevent more tragedies. Minister, can you tell this House how many of the 31 recommendations actually have been followed? When are you going to change the practice whereby mechanics of trucking companies can give safety certificates to their own fleets? When will you institute automatic suspensions like we have for other driving offences?
Hon David Johnson: I will simply reiterate that in my capacity as Chair of Management Board this government has taken the issue seriously. We are most concerned about safety on our streets and have implemented all the activities I mentioned previously. The Minister of Transportation is studying further means. I believe there will be further legislation coming forward. I tell you again that this government takes the issue seriously. I look forward to further action in this regard.
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): My question is to the Minister of Correctional Services. I have in my hand a copy of the statement of claim that was issued by 12 young offenders who are suing you and your government for the treatment they received at Bluewater and the Elgin-Middlesex centres. This document contains some very shocking allegations about the way your government treats children in its care.
Apparently ministry staff manipulated these youngsters by inciting them to riot. After the riot they shackled the children outside in the cold for hours without proper clothing. It seems that some 40 young persons were handcuffed behind their backs, shackled and then taken to the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, where they were forced to run a gauntlet of guards armed with batons. They were beaten, stripped, left naked in cells for hours, denied medical attention and forbidden to shower for days. One youngster was kicked in the head until he was unconscious.
Minister, these are the children we're talking about, children in your care, children whose safety and security depended on you and your officials. You are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in your ministry. What is your explanation?
Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): The member asking the question is a lawyer. He is well aware that these are unproved allegations and we will be submitting a statement of defence.
Mr Gerretsen: We're talking here about kids who were stripped naked and beaten by ministry staff. This sounds like something out of Amnesty International, yet for months you've been refusing to comment on these disturbing events, supposedly from fear of jeopardizing the ongoing investigations. You have squelched a report by the child advocate about the ill treatment of these children. On a personal level, I find your apparent lack of concern for these children very troubling. Even if only half of these allegations are true, that would be extremely serious indeed -- allegations of torture, beatings, cruel and inhumane treatment, allegations of blatant disregard of these youngsters' human rights and dignity and the use of excessive force.
In light of these serious allegations, I ask you to stand in your place and commit to ensuring that these investigations are wound up quickly and to holding a public inquiry immediately so that we can get to the truth. Will you commit today to holding a public inquiry as soon as the investigations are over?
Hon Mr Runciman: I indicated when this issue was initially raised that we had to await the outcome of the police investigation. That's a question that should be posed to Chief Fantino in the city of London, whose force is conducting that investigation. The parallel internal ministry investigation will be completed I think within a short time frame following completion of the police investigation. They are trying to do them as individuals are interviewed and the police indicate they will no longer have contact with that person, and the ministry can go in and conduct an interview and pursue that particular avenue.
I am as frustrated as anyone. I have indicated that in terms of seeing a completion of this, but this is a police investigation and I am not about to direct the police with respect to how they conduct an investigation. I should point out, Mr Speaker, if you give me another moment, that I understand the London police have dedicated a significant number of officers in an attempt to expedite this matter.
Mr Gerretsen: We know that parents of some of the children in your custody are calling your office frantically -- we've heard about that earlier -- fearing for their own children's safety. We know that the office of the child advocate has been making these allegations known to your office for months. We also know that James Lonnee, one of the shackled children transferred to the Elgin-Middlesex centre, actually died in jail, murdered under the supposedly watchful eye of one of your staff.
Minister, your avoidance of giving us clear answers on this issue can no longer be tolerated in light of these public allegations. Will you commit to holding a public inquiry on these disturbing events and finally to taking responsibility for the tragedies that took place?
Hon Mr Runciman: I want to dispute the member's comments with respect to the child advocate. In fact, we have a letter from the child advocate, who indicates that she is pleased with the response the ministry has made in terms of immediate and long-term strategies to address recommendations outlined in her report. I think we're moving as expeditiously as possible on a whole range of fronts related to the young offenders system and the corrections system as a whole. I think we're doing this in a very appropriate and responsible way.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is also to the Solicitor General. That interpretation of the child advocate's comments is a -- I can't say anything else, but it misrepresents what she was talking about, what she was referring to. It has nothing to do with the activities that flowed from Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, James Lonnee -- and I can go on -- Vanier, Metro West Detention Centre.
My colleagues and I have been raising these issues with you. We wear black ribbons today in memory of James Lonnee and of the children who were abused while in custodial care in your ministry. You have on every occasion stonewalled answering questions; you've deflected questions; you have hidden behind the veil of investigation after investigation. There are more investigations going on in your ministry now than I can even count. Minister, you've got to break through this, because we heard today that the youth who are no longer in custody fear for the safety of those remaining Bluewater and Elgin-Middlesex youth who are still in custody. Further than that, parents are worried about their children who are in your care.
Minister, when will these investigations be completed? When will you make public all of the details? We cannot continue to have you stonewall with respect to these important issues of custody of children.
Hon Mr Runciman: There have been a number of investigations; there's no doubt about that. But I think that many of these are going to bear fruit in a very positive sense with respect to the future of the corrections system both on the youth side and the adult side.
I have just today received a report from Norman Inkster, the former head of the RCMP, who conducted an internal review of the management and accountability procedures within the ministry. I have not had the opportunity yet to review Mr Inkster's recommendations, although I think generally they are favourable in terms of the initiatives we are undertaking. I intend, as promised, to release that report publicly, hopefully this week.
Ms Lankin: According to the coroner's office, James Lonnee was the first youth who has ever been murdered in a correctional facility. This is serious and of an import beyond any of the partisan to and fro that takes place in this House. Parents are worried about their children who are in custodial care of your ministry, and the public is concerned about what's going on in our institutions.
The statement of claim today claims that these youth suffered violations of their constitutional rights under sections 7 and 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were all violated. All of those are international covenants in force in Canada.
I've seen the spectacle of you standing here in your place answering questions and rewriting ministry policies. Minister, we have to have a full, clear airing of all of these issues. There has to be a public inquiry and public review of the steps you've taken before parents and the public can be satisfied. Will you agree to that?
Hon Mr Runciman: I remind the member that there is a mandatory inquest with respect to a death in custody, and that will occur. We have undertaken a number of initiatives with respect to recommendations that were made to the previous government in terms of improving training and hiring processes for correctional officers. We have already instituted those, which will give significantly more input in terms of training when individuals go into the adult stream or the young offender stream, that kind of training which was missing and was pointed out by Judge Inger Hansen when she looked at the whole question of Bell Cairn.
We have also issued an RFP to take a look at the corrections culture and human resources challenges which we know have been there for many, many years, systemic problems which past governments failed to come to grips with.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Minister, this is an issue of your ministerial responsibility and, frankly, your ministerial incompetence. In this whole sad saga, all you've done is try to blame previous governments for events which occurred during your tenure of office.
You've set in motion numerous investigations, none of which has resulted in any action except the charging of young offenders with mischief. You've not released the child advocate's report. Your internal investigation isn't complete; you keep extending its time period. No senior officials in your ministry have been disciplined as a result of your not being informed about the allegations of abuse at Elgin-Middlesex. Now you're being sued by the managers who were the subject of those allegations because of your inaction. You're being sued by the youth who allege mistreatment within your facilities. Frankly, increasingly you're being seen by the parents and the rest of the population as being both unable and unwilling to take these matters seriously.
Your announcements concerning the hiring and training of corrections officers mean nothing when you've also announced that you're going to get rid of 1,200 jobs in correctional services. Who is going to get hired and trained?
You are the minister. When are you going to accept responsibility for what's happening in your ministry and the safety of youth who are in the custody and care of you as the minister?
Hon Mr Runciman: I think I've already answered the question.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training. Yesterday in the media the Minister of Education was blaming school boards and teachers for his cuts to education. I want to ask the Minister of Education a question about a particular board: the Lakehead Board of Education.
The Lakehead Board of Education did not increase property taxes even though you cut their budget significantly. As a result of your cuts they made a decision to reduce their special education classes by 50%, and one mother, Beverly Rizzi, told us her daughter is in a grade 8 class with 41 students.
I would like to know what you think the Lakehead Board of Education should have done differently. They're your cuts. You're the one taking the money away. Where would you have made the cuts? What decisions would you have made differently?
Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I thank the leader of the third party for the question. I could make a couple of suggestions that have been made to our government on where reductions might be found outside the classroom. For instance, I would refer them to the Sweeney report, which your government asked for, that said 47% of expenditures in our system happen outside the classroom. I might refer them to submissions that were made to us by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association last year which looked at various areas where up to $1 billion could be reduced from our spending without hurting the classroom. I'd ask them to have a look at what reductions might be made from some instruments we provided for school boards last year to make reductions, some of those being in school administration and other areas. That's what I would suggest to the board.
Mr Hampton: This is more of the same. Everyone in Ontario recognizes that this government is cutting education and affecting students in the classroom except the Minister of Education. He's more interested in spin-doctoring than in education.
Let me try again. You say that school board trustees, elected by the same people as you -- they're locally, democratically elected -- are not cutting properly. Let me use the example of Tilbury District High School, operated by the Kent County Board of Education. A young woman named Kim Wright went back to her high school this past week and found that instead of two guidance counsellors there is now one, and that guidance counsellor is hard pressed to deal with all the kids who need her help; classes and grades have been doubled up; when a teacher is sick, the class is cancelled instead of a supply teacher being brought in; and students are afraid they will have to go to another high school to get their classes.
Minister, you owe it to people. They're your cuts. You're the one taking money out of education to finance your phoney tax scheme. How would you have cut differently? You owe it to those boards of education. How would you have done it differently at Tilbury?
Hon Mr Snobelen: We had a report from the Ontario Public School Boards' Association last year which indicated there were reductions available, which they recommended, that would total up to $1 billion. Of course our reduction last year on the operating side amounted to $233 million, about a 1.8% reduction. I believe those reductions can be made without affecting classroom size, the quality of education or the way it's delivered in the province.
Our government is very clear about the fact that we will have a more accountable and a higher-quality system of education, and most important, a more affordable one. Unlike the leader of the third party's government for five years, we are unwilling to send the children of Ontario a bill for their own education by raising the debt of the province.
Mr Hampton: Again I ask the minister to answer a specific question. I've given him examples from two boards of education and all I've gotten back is more spin-doctoring.
Since you've become the Minister of Education these are the things that have been cut in school systems. Libraries and resource centres have been cut because obviously you don't think they're important. Custodial services have been cut. Transportation has been cut. Lunchroom supervisors have been cut. Teachers' preparation time has been cut. And that's all coming out of children and their classrooms. Special education has been cut.
You had on Saturday literally tens of thousands of people here in the streets of Toronto opposing your education agenda. So I think you owe it to people.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Government members, come to order.
Mr Hampton: You're the one who's taking the money out of the --
The Speaker: Order. Would the government members please come to order. I have great difficulty hearing the question.
Mr Hampton: You're the one who took $800 million out of education last year. You're the one who's proposing to take $600 million out of education this year. Where would you cut? You owe it to these boards to give them a hand. Where would you make the cutting decisions?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I want to be very clear about this. This government said to the people of Ontario, and has acted on that commitment to the people of Ontario, that we would have a system that was more affordable, that we would find savings inside of our education system that did not affect the classroom, and those savings are available. They're available and they've been pointed out to the previous government that they're available in countless studies that point to the waste outside of the classroom.
Let me give you one quote: "What the Metropolitan Toronto School Board needs to take a look at is how much money is going into administrative resources in school boards that don't even run schools. Maybe that's what should be looked at in this community, to save money and provide more resources to the kids in the classroom." If you're wondering who that's a quote from, it's from the previous Minister of Education, a member of your government, sir.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): My question is likewise to the Minister of Education. I'd like to read you a quote: "Not only have there been some instances where classroom education may have been affected and should not have been, but there have also been tax increases at the local level that are not acceptable to this government." Do you know who said that, Minister? You did. You finally admitted that kids are affected in the classroom, that students indeed are paying the price. For 17 months you said you had a plan to protect the students from your cuts. Minister, tell me today what you're going to do now that you've admitted that your cuts are hurting students.
Hon Mr Snobelen: To the honourable member opposite, I want to thank him for the question. I'm sure he'd understand if I enjoyed the quote from the member for Windsor-Riverside more than the quote he just read, but that's the case.
This government takes very seriously any reductions in our system that affect the quality of education. We have doubled our investment in information technology in the classroom. We have a course instituted at the EQAO which will be measuring quality across the province. We now have a College of Teachers. We have taken a variety of initiatives over the course of the last 15 months specifically to improve the quality of education, the measurable difference in quality of education across the province. Anything that affects classroom education is unacceptable to this government and we will take the actions necessary to make sure that does not happen.
Mr Patten: Minister, you haven't addressed the adverse way in which people are reporting back how students are affected. You have no problem announcing cuts, you have no problem taking $1 billion perhaps out of education totally and you have no problem obviously in creating a crisis.
Minister, tell me, what are you going to do about the students at Nottawa Central school in Collingwood? This school has no wheelchair ramps, no cafeteria, no gym, no money for repairs. The hallways barely meet the fire code for width. Kindergarten students are forced to share washrooms with senior students and there are more students in portables than there are in this crumbling school. What are you going to say to these students? What are you going to say to the parents of these kids? We hear that more money is coming out. How are you going to protect those kids in the classroom?
Hon Mr Snobelen: I thank the member opposite for the question. Obviously our government is very concerned with classroom education. We are monitoring the response of school boards across the province to what was a very modest reduction in operating costs last year -- about 1.8%. We believe quite clearly that there is evidence those reductions can be made without affecting classroom education. Of course, we are monitoring those situations and we intend to take the action on both the funding side and on the governance side that is required to make sure every child in Ontario has the opportunity for a quality education. We will do that. Previous governments have failed to do that.
Specifically regarding your question, I believe it's somewhat ironic you would ask that question today inasmuch as we are reviewing and will be bringing out a program that will have a quality of schooling across the province that is not matched, in this decade certainly. We are looking at innovative ways to make sure we have the classroom structures we need going on to the next millennium. The reason I find it so ironic is that your government, and their government, sat idle on the issue of capital funding while 8,000 portables were brought into our system over the last decade.
FAMILY SUPPORT PLAN
Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): My question is for the Attorney General. A group of 35 people assembled in Waterloo last night to fight the changes you made to the family support plan. Once again it was confirmed that you haven't fixed the problems, that you've created new problems.
For instance, Susan Harris said she'd been receiving regular payments for over a year. She has three children. Her last payment was October 9. She should have received her next payment last Friday. This may not seem a big delay, but Susan lives from cheque to cheque. The family support office told her that her payments are on schedule, but they don't seem to have the money. She has proof it's been paid. So where is the money? Susan now has an empty fridge and no food to feed her kids.
Minister, I ask you again, how much longer are women and children in this province expected to do without the money they depend on to buy food for their kids?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): As I've indicated before, I'm not going to respond to an individual case. If the member wants to provide me with details, I am prepared to look into it. But as I've indicated before, we're reorganizing the plan so that once and for all it can work, to the better benefit of those who need it. We're in the course of the reconstruction of the plan and I would hope that within the next couple of weeks we will have the difficulties we've been experiencing completely worked out so that the plan will begin to work better, so that our new centre can be opened and we can get cheques to people faster and be able to deal with --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Minister, order. Supplementary.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): People can't wait for the minister to fix these things. As a direct result of your laying off 290 staff and closing eight offices of the family support plan, we have raised examples again and again in this House of women and children who are going without because of a decision you made in order to try and finance the tax cut, and that's the reality, Minister. You may not want to answer to the individual cases, but we tried to fax this case through to your office starting yesterday and the phone lines are jammed, so I will raise it with you again today; the fax lines are jammed so I've got to raise it today.
Lisa Miller from my riding received regular support payments since August 1994. The last cheque she received, of $326, was on August 27. She's got two kids, a six-year-old and a four-year-old. She had to go to Coats for Kids, which is a clothing depot, last week to get winter coats for her kids. She had to go to social assistance last Friday and get financial support from the public because the money she is entitled to from the payor is not coming in. Minister, when are you going to realize the effect of your cuts and why are you financing the tax cuts on the backs of these women and children?
Hon Mr Harnick: It should be noted that the member has provided me with a number of difficulties, almost every one of which we have answered. It's interesting to note that almost every one of the complaints that this member has brought to us has been a complaint of long standing. They're indicative of very serious problems that have existed with the plan for a long time and we --
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): No, that's not true.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): You're a liar.
Ms Lankin: That's not true. Tell the truth. Start telling the truth, Charles. It's outrageous you stand there like that.
Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Apologize.
Ms Lankin: Withdraw that. That's not true.
Mr Hampton: You are a liar.
Mr Pouliot: Somebody's lying. What a bunch of ripoffs.
The Speaker: Order. I ask you to withdraw. The fact is that you were out of order. You cannot accuse another member of not telling the truth. To the member for Beaches-Woodbine, you can either --
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): The Attorney General --
The Speaker: Order. Member for Cochrane North, come to order.
It's simply out of order. You either withdraw or don't. It's your decision.
Ms Lankin: I'll withdraw, Mr Speaker.
The Speaker: I ask the leader of the third party to withdraw as well.
Mr Hampton: I withdraw, Speaker.
The Speaker: The member for Lake Nipigon as well.
Mr Pouliot: I shall withdraw, Mr Speaker.
The Speaker: And the member for London North.
Hon Dianne Cunningham (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, minister responsible for women's issues): Whom did I accuse?
The Speaker: Member for London North, I heard your accusation.
Hon Mrs Cunningham: I'll withdraw.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Mr Speaker, I said it too. I withdraw and I meant it too.
Mr Pouliot: Mr Speaker, the Attorney General --
The Speaker: To the members of the third party, I can ask the Attorney General. If that's what he said, he has a chance to withdraw it. I did not hear him and I did not hear the member for Welland-Thorold.
Hon Mr Harnick: Mr Speaker, what I said --
The Speaker: No, I just need to know if you said it or not, and you can withdraw or not.
Hon Mr Harnick: I didn't say anything of the sort. What I did say was that we have answered the requests that have been made and the vast majority of those complaints have been endemic of the problems with the family support plan for a long time.
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): My question is also for the Attorney General. In the past there has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding between the municipalities and the first nations along the Grand River watershed about proposed developments. Along the watershed there are 12 jurisdictions, Ontario and Canada. This often means that there is a lack of communication between all parties. There are frequent misunderstandings. Could you please explain how the recently signed Grand River notification agreement will improve this situation?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. The member for Lake Nipigon, you know you can't -- withdraw, please.
Mr Pouliot: I already did. The record will attest to that.
The Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon, will you please withdraw. This is the final offer. Please withdraw.
Mr Pouliot: I will withdraw indeed.
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): The Grand River notification agreement is something that the member for Algoma began negotiations towards in 1994. I'm pleased to say that agreement was signed on October 3, 1996, in Brantford by the 14 jurisdictions involved. It allows for reciprocal notification among parties and provides them with an opportunity to comment on proposals in which they have an interest. This agreement is consistent with our government's approach of helping communities remove barriers to economic development as set out in our aboriginal policy framework. It also supports the framework's principles of openness, equality and stability in relationships between aboriginal people and their neighbours.
I'm pleased to say that we continued this initiative because it was a good one and it was a good agreement for the communities along the Grand River.
Mr Preston: Why is the signing of this agreement so significant and how will it improve relationships in my community?
Hon Mr Harnick: This agreement is the first of its kind in Canada. It's an important first step in establishing relationships based on goodwill and cooperation. The agreement is about being good neighbours and communicating with one another and showing mutual respect for each other's concerns regarding development of the lower Grand River watershed. Having opportunities to share concerns early in the development process will lead to better relations between first nations and municipalities in the Brantford area.
Again, this is the first agreement of its kind in Canada. We're very proud of it and the benefits that will accrue from it.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: While all members of the assembly welcome the statement that has just been made about the agreement, surely you would agree and the minister would agree that it should have been a ministerial statement and not a question in the House.
Mr Preston: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I have the right to ask any question of any member I want in here and I don't need --
The Speaker: To the member for Algoma, the government can decide how its questions are put and what subjects they're on.
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South): My question is for the Minister of Environment and Energy. Early on Sunday morning of this week there was a fire in an abandoned chemical laboratory here in Toronto. In that building were some 200 to 300 abandoned containers of highly toxic chemicals. Some of these containers ruptured or exploded and released their poisons into the air, endangering everyone and anyone in the vicinity. To date, we're not sure of the extent of the damage caused and the injuries sustained.
You are charged with ensuring that precisely this kind of thing doesn't happen. You and your ministry are supposed to track down abandoned toxic chemicals and see to their safe disposal. What I want to know, Minister, is why did you not fulfil your duty in this case?
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Environment and Energy): If the member had been here yesterday, the member for Riverdale asked me this specific question and we talked about it.
I want to clarify to the member for Riverdale that the Ministry of Environment was not allowed on the site until 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon and was there last evening and will be removing all of the toxic materials and worrying about going after the owner of that building later to recover the costs, which are expected to be rather minor because the amount of material there is not very significant in terms of the quantity. The problem is being addressed by the ministry and I'm proud to say that we are being active --
Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): What are you doing?
Hon Mr Sterling: They're taking the material away. Didn't you hear me?
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): It seems those are his comments, all you are going to get. You should put your question.
Mr McGuinty: I want to suggest to the minister that one of the reasons he did not discover this is because he slit his own ministry's throat when he agreed to laying off 752 staff people and cutting the ministry budget by 35%.
I want to elaborate on this scenario a bit more. Several homeless young people were living in this abandoned building. We now learn that three young people have been admitted to hospital for chemically related injuries sustained in this fire. Three youths are in hospital today with toxic chemical injuries because your ministry failed to do its job in terms of providing the necessary protection.
Minister, do you feel any responsibility whatsoever for the chemical injuries sustained by these kids?
Hon Mr Sterling: I guess the government of today and the governments of the past should all feel responsibility in dealing with toxic wastes, which have been neglected by previous governments to deal with the real problems of getting rid of these wastes.
Basically what has happened over the past 10 or 20 years is that governments have continued to put off the decisions as to how to deal with PCBs, for instance, which I believe were part of the waste material here. They put off the decision and put off the decision. As a result, we have literally thousands of storage areas in this province where PCBs are stored.
Mr Crozier: What are you doing?
Hon Mr Sterling: This government is going to face the problem and deal with PCBs so this particular kind of problem will not come up in the future. We will be the first government, the government after the NDP government and your government, sir, which continued to ignore the problem and allowed it to grow. Therefore, I believe we should all take responsibility on this and come to some reasonable conclusions as to how to deal with these wastes.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): My question is to the Minister of Transportation, but in his absence I'll ask it to the Chair of Management Board. Early this fall your government released a pilot project, an area maintenance contract in the Chatham area, in order to privatize all the winter and summer road maintenance in that area, the idea being that you give the pilot out and you give it a chance to operate so you can assess: Do we go forward or do we make modifications?
We find out yesterday that the Minister of Transportation announced six new area maintenance contracts are going out to tender now and you intend to privatize the entire system, from what we understand, within a three-year period.
My question is very simple. You haven't had the pilot project operate because it hasn't started. What kind of studies or what kind of reports do you have that prove you're going to save any kind of money for the taxpayers of Ontario by privatizing winter and summer road maintenance?
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet and Government House Leader): We have had the benefit of the previous tender process, the previous RFP process from the pilot project around Chatham, and that's been very, very beneficial. We've gone through the process of doing the RFP and we've learned from that particular process.
The government, the Ministry of Transportation, through the business plan process, have reviewed this whole general area of how to provide excellent services, winter maintenance and summer maintenance, to ensure high standards on our roads in Ontario, have set those standards and are now proceeding to save the taxpayers some $4 million to $5 million by implementing across the province of Ontario increased involvement from the private sector but at very high standards to ensure safety for the motorists of Ontario.
Mr Bisson: You have no numbers to prove that what you're saying will happen. If you look at every other jurisdiction where privatization has happened, in every case we find that it costs the taxpayers more money in the end. In British Columbia, when they set out to do this and it was studied five years later, they were supposed to save the taxpayers $160 million. What do we find out at the end? It cost them another $100 million in addition to what it cost in the first place.
What's more interesting is that I have here a report called the Highway Operations and Maintenance Program Review. It's authored by whom? By the Ministry of Transportation of the province of Ontario. I want to read from what the conclusion was when it came to privatization: "Total contracting of highway maintenance operation is not appropriate," if only for the fundamental reason that it does not generate significant economic savings.
Minister, your own ministry says you're not going to save any money. How can you go forward with this particular plan to privatize? Is this really an ideological drive by this government and is it really about giving big business more opportunity to come to the trough and make bucks at the taxpayer's expense?
Hon David Johnson: First of all, we have indicated very clearly that if there isn't a saving to the taxpayer, we will not be proceeding.
But I think we must remember that even at the present time, summer and winter maintenance of our roads is already about 60% privatized. We're proposing to increase that, but not on the British Columbia model. You've raised the prosect of the British Columbia model. It did not work, and we learned from the experiences in British Columbia, so we will not be going that way.
We will be ensuring high safety standards. Part of this process is to maintain high safety standards for the people of Ontario, and we will be receiving bids in various areas. The estimate is $4 million to $5 million in saving for the taxpayers of Ontario.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): My question is to the Minister of Environment and Energy. My constituents in the riding of St Catharines-Brock are very concerned about their environment. They've been asking me how they can be involved and what they can do for the betterment of their community. I'd like to ask you about the use of voluntary agreements by your ministry and specifically how these public and private sector agreements benefit the people of Ontario.
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Environment and Energy): My ministry is using voluntary agreements as just one tool to achieve some policy objectives through cooperation rather than the intrusive behaviours of past governments. We view these voluntary agreements to be in addition to the regulatory environment that industry and businesses are required to meet. Therefore we are going to have the ability not only to bring pollutants down to a standard but to bring them even lower than that.
These agreements are seen in addition to rather than instead of government regulation. These voluntary agreements, as the former Minister of Environment and Energy would point out, were instituted by the previous government, and we're carrying on a good policy.
Mr Froese: I recently had the opportunity to present, on your behalf, an environmental award to Zehrs Market at the St Catharines Pen Centre store for using cutting-edge technology to reduce silver discharges in their photo development lab. I would like to know how, under the pollution prevention pledge program, the St Catharines Pen Centre location of Zehrs Market was singled out for recognition.
Hon Mr Sterling: I'd like to thank the member for participating in this program that honoured the St Catharines Pen Centre location of Zehrs. They were given a certificate of pollution prevention achievement for achieving the highest level of participation in the pollution prevention pledge program.
Specifically the photo finishing department of Zehrs received the award for implementation of the environmental code of management practices for mini-labs and for the installation of state-of-the-art, at their expense, onsite silver recovery equipment. The changes made by this company have resulted in a discharge reduction of 99.9% of the pollutants. I think they're to be congratulated by all.
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): My question is to the Minister of Health. The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance has been the target of your government's drastic spending cuts, resulting in the closure of one of Chatham's two hospitals. This is creating a panic among the already underserviced residents of Chatham and surrounding area.
Can you assure this House and the people in my community that there will be no closures of the remaining hospitals in the area, namely, Sydenham District Hospital in Wallaceburg and the Four Counties General Hospital in Newbury?
Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): At this time the ministry is not involved in a substantive way in the local hospital restructuring.
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Chatham and the health care leaders there who, I am told, although I've not received anything official from the area, are voluntarily looking at a merger of two of the hospitals in the city of Chatham. It's a most unusual occurrence that I think the local people should be congratulated on because they're way ahead of the politicians on this one. They know they have to restructure their system.
Mr Hoy: Mr Minister, the member representing Chatham-Kent said you were pleased with the report and that the community did not have to be dragged to the altar on this one, so obviously you know something more than what you're stating here.
The alliance estimates its losses of all revenue as high as 28% over the next three years. Will you guarantee that Chatham will receive its full and fair share of funding, $31 million that is required for capital projects, to ensure quality health care at Chatham's remaining hospital?
Hon Mr Wilson: When we receive the official request for capital funding, we will certainly consider it. I'm very encouraged by what I've heard from the area so far and I would ask them to keep up the good work. They're ahead of many other parts of the province in the direction they're going. They're finding those efficiencies and getting rid of the waste and duplication in the system, and I congratulate the local people for doing that.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): My question is to the Minister of Finance. Minister, I want to seek your assistance today on an issue that affects 25 non-profit organizations in the heart of my community. You may know from reports on CHCH-TV and in today's Hamilton Spectator that there are 25 non-profit organizations that face possible eviction, depending on the outcome of a review currently taking place within your ministry.
The operators of Jackson Square provide office space to these 25 non-profit organizations at no charge as part of their contribution to volunteerism in our community. The adjacent Hamilton Eaton Centre had its assessment rate cut on vacant offices it had on the third floor. The operators of Jackson Square are seeking to have this office space they give free of charge treated the same way. If this doesn't happen, we could lose these organizations from our community.
I'd like to ask you today, if that request is denied, will you ensure that you review the policy so that these 25 non-profit organizations can remain and our community can benefit from their contribution?
Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): I'd be very happy to take the question from the honourable member under advisement and get back to him with a response.
Mr Christopherson: I want to thank the minister. That's exactly what I was seeking and I appreciate any help that he can offer to these non-profit organizations.
Mr Gary Fox (Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings): My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I have been receiving quite a number of calls from my constituents regarding the restructuring proposal for Kingston-Frontenac and Lennox and Addington. Could the minister please inform the House of his recent decision regarding municipal restructuring in my riding of Prince Edward-Lennox-South Hastings?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I'm pleased to inform the House that yesterday I approved two restructuring proposals from Kingston-Frontenac and from Lennox and Addington. These are the first restructuring proposals to occur since the municipalities were given broader restructuring powers earlier in the year. They were local solutions to local problems.
I commend the residents of the two counties and their elected leaders for all the hard work and effort they put in to these restructuring proposals. I would also like to thank all the members from the Kingston area for their ongoing advice and assistance in making these proposals become a reality.
Mr Fox: Mr Minister, could you please tell us why these restructurings are so important for Ontario and what the results will be?
Hon Mr Leach: It's indeed a pleasure to respond to the member. Aside from the fact that these were local solutions, the two restructuring proposals will have a number of benefits to the local residents. The proposals will result in fewer but very much stronger municipalities, and the total number of municipalities in the two counties will be reduced from 30 to 10. That's a reduction of two thirds. In the meantime, this will mean that municipalities will be able to better coordinate services and reduce unnecessary overlap and duplication, resulting in great savings to the taxpayers of that area.
IPPERWASH PROVINCIAL PARK
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the minister responsible for native affairs and it has to do with the Ipperwash situation. You had responsibility for providing the government with advice around handling this issue. It now is clear, from evidence that your ministry has presented, that there was evidence there was a burial ground in the park. At the time of the occupation, which was around Labour Day 1995, were you aware that within the government there was evidence that there was a burial ground in that park?
Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Certainly it has always been our position that if there is a burial ground there, we are prepared to take whatever steps have to be taken to respect that burial ground. That has always been our position. We have conveyed that to Chief Bressette. We have indicated that we will try to accommodate Chief Bressette in any way we possibly can to ensure that site is respected. That's always been the position of the government and that's been conveyed to the chief.
Mr Phillips: This is an extremely serious matter for the people of Ontario. You will know that you did not answer my question, and I'll ask it again. You had the responsibility, on behalf of the native people of Ontario, for providing advice to the people who were dealing with that situation. It now is clear that within the government of Ontario there was evidence -- written evidence -- that there was a burial ground within that park. My question is very clear and very important: At the time you were providing advice, around Labour Day of 1995, were you aware that within the government of Ontario there existed evidence there was a burial ground, and did you tell the government, in its response, about the fact that this burial ground did exist? It's extremely important you answer the question clearly. Were you aware and did you provide advice at the time?
Hon Mr Harnick: It has always been our position that if there is a burial ground in that place, that burial ground will be respected. There have been allegations about a burial ground there; there is no definitive answer as to whether there is a burial ground there. We have indicated to Chief Bressette that we would endeavour to take whatever steps had to be taken to prove the existence of a burial ground and to ensure that sacred land would be protected. We have conveyed that to the chief, we have made that position clear from the outset, and that remains the position of the government today.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I have a question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. You are looking at restructuring of municipalities, and one of those areas we understand you are examining -- you yourself have said it's one of the options -- is the potential of amalgamating the different municipalities in Metropolitan Toronto into one municipality.
One of the things that puzzles me about this, and that I want to ask you about, is why you are in the process of making decisions as a government on this issue, as seems to be the case, even before you receive the recommendations of Mr Crombie, given that you set up that commission and his work specifically to give you advice on this issue. Could you confirm that you're in the process of making decisions prior to receiving his report?
Second, if indeed you are going to move to one regional tier in Metropolitan Toronto, how are you going to ensure that the tie-in that needs to be there between local municipalities and individual citizens, which local municipalities have concerns about, is maintained in a structure that's as large as two million people being governed by one tier of municipal government?
Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I can advise the member opposite that there have been no decisions made. We are dealing within our government with that issue. We expect to be making some decisions in the very near future, and the representatives on the Crombie panel will have some advice to provide us. When we get that advice, we'll consider it and then we'll make a decision.
NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I would like to serve notice that I did not receive an answer to the question on Ipperwash, which is extremely important to me, and I'll be requesting from you an opportunity for the minister to appear in what we call a late show here, which is an opportunity for a fuller answer from the minister.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I also have dissatisfaction with the answer from the Chair of Management Board.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario re cuts in health care:
"Patient care is in jeopardy as a result of a crisis in our health care system due to underfunding and cutbacks. Doctors are asking for common sense to prevail with the government and are calling for the level of funding to match the level of care Ontarians need.
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That the government of Ontario stop cutbacks and underfunding of the health care system and match the level of funding to the level of care Ontarians need."
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition from the Minister of Labour's own backyard, specifically the Waterloo Regional Labour Council.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario; and
"Whereas this act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left; and
"Whereas the government has made it clear that they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse; and
"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act or erode the rights of workers any further and ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."
As I am in agreement with this petition, I add my name to theirs.
Mr Douglas B. Ford (Etobicoke-Humber): Further to a previous petition which already has my signature, I present to the Parliament of Ontario today my fourth petition on condominium overcrowding containing many more names.
"Whereas the present Condominium Act of Ontario does not give the condominium corporations the legal right to limit the number of people who occupy each unit in the complex, thus causing overcrowding situations in many buildings; and
"Whereas this overcrowding creates excessive demand on services and facilities of the condominiums leading to tensions, violence, fire and health problems, increased maintenance expenses and depreciation of values;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"We strongly recommend that the Condominium Act of Ontario be amended to give condominium corporations, through their own rules and regulations, the legal right to limit the number of persons per unit and a right of entry to ensure adherence to the rules. The rights of condominium owners and taxpayers must be considered and supported in order to alleviate the inequitable situation."
I endorse the intentions of this petition.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): The people of Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario continue to be outraged by the decisions of the Health Services Restructuring Commission and certainly are not prepared to accept the conclusions. I have a petition signed by Florence Richardson that I'd like to read to the Legislature.
"To the Ontario Legislature:
"We do not believe you have made the best choice for the health care system in northwestern Ontario. We are deeply concerned with the speed and the amount of bed reductions you have dictated.
"We are also concerned with your intention to close three hospitals out of the five currently operating in Thunder Bay. These hospitals, although seeming to be concentrated, are in fact providing essential regional service. By reducing the total number of beds from 954 to 526, and in the process eliminating psychiatric and chronic care hospitals, the 428-bed reduction will leave the lives of our families, friends and ourselves at risk.
"If it was your intention to act on behalf of the interests of the public, we, as members of that public, ask you to reflect upon your conscience, for you will be ultimately responsible for the error in this decision."
I sign my name to this petition.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition from the department of work environment, University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas we recently heard that the province of Ontario is planning to eliminate the Occupational Disease Panel in the near future, we urge you to reconsider this decision. Several of us have worked with the panel over the years and have always been impressed by the extremely thorough and rigorous way they have approached the difficult and often contentious task of determining the work-relatedness of disease; and
"Whereas the integrative research reviews of the scientific literature developed by the panel are highly regarded and often cited by the international occupational health community; and
"Whereas the Ontario workers' compensation system has been described as a model for how scientific research can be successfully used in the development of occupational health policy; and
"Whereas we in the United States know the true cost of the contentious, protracted and often seemingly arbitrary results produced by a workers' compensation system that relies on the courts to arbitrate these matters; and
"Whereas the Ontario model is not only more rational but also more cost-effective for the community at large;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned, hope you will reconsider your decision and maintain this highly regarded and valuable institution."
I add my signature to theirs.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition which was presented originally to the member for Simcoe East and I'm presenting it today on his behalf. In accordance with the standing orders, I'll summarize the petition by saying that it has to do with the law relating to mistreated animals and it's been signed by approximately 1,400 people in the riding of Simcoe East, and I present it today.
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY
Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
"Whereas the 800,000 children who ride the school buses of Ontario are at risk and their safety is in jeopardy from unsafe drivers who are not stopping for school buses; and
"Whereas the current school bus law is difficult to enforce since not only is a licence plate number required but positive identification of the driver and vehicle as well, which makes it extremely difficult to obtain a conviction;
"Therefore, be it resolved, that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"That private member's Bill 78 be passed. The bill doubles the existing range of fines for identified drivers and establishes vehicle owner liability.
"We ask for the support of all members of the Legislature."
I affix my name to it.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Simcoe Centre): I'm presenting this petition regarding the spring bear hunt on behalf of the member for Simcoe East. It contains over 240 signatures, some of which are from my own riding. It is addressed to the Parliament of Ontario and reads:
"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 80% of the orphaned cubs do not survive the first year; and
"Whereas 95.3% of 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 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."
I affix my signature to the petition.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I have a petition against the $2 user fee that is charged to seniors and it's addressed to the assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Minister of Health has started to charge seniors a $2 user fee for each prescription filled since July 15; and
"Whereas seniors on a fixed income do not significantly benefit from the income tax savings created by this user fee copayment or from non-health user fees; and
"Whereas the perceived savings to health care from the $2 copayment fee will not compensate for the suffering and misery caused by this user fee or the painstaking task involved to fill out the application forms; and
"Whereas the current Ontario Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, promised as an Ontario opposition MPP in a July statement to Ontario pharmacists that his party would not endorse legislation that will punish patients to the detriment of health care in Ontario;
"Therefore, we, the undersigned Ontario residents, strongly urge the government of Ontario to repeal this user fee because the tax-saving user fee concept is not fair, it is not sensitive or accessible to low-income or fixed-income seniors, and lest we forget, our province's seniors have paid their duty by collectively contributing to the social, economic, moral and political fabric of Canada."
I'm affixing my signature to this document.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's a pleasure today to present my petition for the fourth time to the Parliament of Ontario.
"Whereas pregnancy is not a disease, illness or injury;
"Whereas abortion is not therapeutic;
"Whereas abortion is never medically necessary;
"Whereas the Canada Health Act does not require elective procedures to be funded;
"Whereas there is no right to publicly funded abortion;
"Whereas it is the responsibility and the authority of the province exclusively to determine what services will be insured;
"Whereas there's mounting evidence that abortion is indeed hazardous to women's health;
"Whereas the availability of abortion at public expense leads to the use of abortion as a means of birth control;
"Whereas Ontario taxpayers funded over 45,000 abortions in 1993, at an estimated cost of $25 million;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Parliament of Ontario as follows:
"That the Ontario provincial government remove abortion as a service or procedure covered under the provincial health insurance plan."
I'm pleased to affix my name to this petition.
NORTH YORK BRANSON HOSPITAL
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital;
"Whereas this recommendation will remove emergency and inpatient services currently provided by North York Branson Hospital, which will seriously jeopardize medical care and the quality of health for the growing population which the hospital serves, many being elderly people who in numerous cases require treatment for life-threatening medical conditions;
"We petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to reject the recommendation contained within the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital, so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."
I have affixed my signature.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Ontario Progressive Conservative government has passed a resolution urging the government of Canada to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada to ensure that convicted murderers serve their entire sentences; and
"Whereas convicted first-degree murderers are allowed to apply to the court for a reduction of the parole ineligibility period; and
"Whereas victims' families must relive the horrors of the original crime through a jury hearing for this early parole and relive this every time the killer is given rehearings for early parole; and
"Whereas the provincial government must bear a large degree of the costs involved with a jury hearing;
"We, the undersigned, ask the Attorney General of Ontario to request the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to reconsider his decision under Bill C-45 and to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada."
I agree with this petition and I have so signed it.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I have a petition here from the Kingfisher Lake first nation regarding the Harris government's destructive policy to privatize TVOntario, and it reads:
"We, the undersigned, strongly protest any plans to privatize TVOntario. The privatization of TVOntario would jeopardize Wawatay radio network's native language programming and Wahsa distance education services because both depend on TVO's distribution system."
I am pleased to support the chief, council and residents of Kingfisher Lake in their efforts, and I attach my name to this petition as well.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I have a further petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the Liberal government of Canada has passed C-68, An Act Respecting Firearms and Other Weapons; and
"Whereas we welcome real gun control and support those portions of Bill C-68 which provide tougher penalties for the criminal use of firearms, new offences related to firearm smuggling and trafficking, and a ban on paramilitary weapons; and
"Whereas existing laws requiring the registration of handguns have done little to reduce the number of crimes committed with handguns or lower the volume of handguns smuggled into Canada; and
"Whereas the national gun registration provisions of Bill C-68 will result in a massive misallocation of the limited resources available to law enforcement agencies, with no practical effect on the traffic in illegal firearms or the use of guns by violent criminals; and
"Whereas the gun registration provisions of Bill C-68 will take police officers off the street and involve them in bureaucracy rather than fighting crime and will make the task of real gun control more difficult and dangerous for police officers;
"We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the province of Ontario to continue to urge the government of Canada to repeal from Bill C-68 those provisions for a compulsory registration of all firearms."
I have signed this petition.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I also have another petition, signed by the residents of Sioux Lookout and the New Life Assembly ministries. Pastor Mike Davis and his congregation are also concerned with what this government is doing to TVOntario and to our first nation communities. The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, strongly protest any plans to privatize TVOntario. The privatization of TVOntario would jeopardize the excellent educational and information programming provided by TVOntario. The sale of TVO would also jeopardize Wawatay radio network's native language programming and Wahsa distance education services because both depend on TVOntario's distribution system."
That's signed by a good number of people in Sioux Lookout, and I also attach my name to that petition.
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
"Whereas the community of Barrhaven lacks any secondary schools to educate the large number of students living in this area;
"Whereas Barrhaven is the most rapidly growing community in Ottawa-Carleton;
"Whereas the National Capital Commission's greenbelt severs the community of Barrhaven from Nepean, forcing many students to take potentially dangerous, unsupervised, long-hour trips on public transportation in order to travel to school;
"Whereas Nepean's high schools are significantly overcrowded;
"Whereas both the Carleton Board of Education and the Carleton Roman Catholic Separate School Board have undertaken significant cost-saving measures to help reduce the construction costs of these high schools;
"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
"We strongly urge the Minister of Education to recognize the unique educational needs of Nepean and provide the funding required to build both of the proposed high schools for Barrhaven."
I've affixed my own signature thereto because I'm in complete agreement with the petition.
NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Pursuant to standing order 34(a), the member for Cochrane South has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Chair of Management Board concerning privatization of road maintenance. This matter will be debated today at 6 pm.
Also pursuant to standing order 34(a), the member for Scarborough-Agincourt has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his questions given by the Attorney General concerning native affairs and Ipperwash. This matter will be debated today at 6 pm.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I talked briefly with the Attorney General, who is unavailable tonight and said it would be fine with him if we dealt with it on Thursday night. I wonder if I might get unanimous consent of the House to move that to Thursday night.
The Speaker: Unanimous consent agreed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
COURTS IMPROVEMENT ACT, 1996 / LOI DE 1996 SUR L'AMÉLIORATION DES TRIBUNAUX
Mr Tilson, on behalf of Mr Harnick, moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 79, An Act to improve Ontario's court system, to respond to concerns raised by charities and their volunteers and to improve various statutes relating to the administration of justice / Projet de loi 79, Loi visant à améliorer le système judiciaire de l'Ontario, à répondre aux préoccupations exprimées par les oeuvres de bienfaisance et leurs bénévoles, et à améliorer diverses lois relatives à l'administration de la justice.
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): Last week we spent two days on clause-by-clause of Bill 79, which is the Courts Improvement Act, and several amendments were made. We had some debate on some of the issues and I will now proceed to make some comments with respect to Bill 79 with respect to the third reading of that bill. I would again like to highlight a few of the purposes of Bill 79 and report on the amendments that were made in committee, which have been made since the second reading of this bill.
Bill 79, as I indicated during the second reading debate, has four distinct purposes. Firstly, it creates the office of the case management master, which will allow for the expansion of civil case management. Secondly, the names of Ontario courts will be changed to clearly reflect their function and status and make them more recognizable to the public. Thirdly, the bill gives charities more flexibility in their affairs by allowing the Attorney General to make regulations to relieve charities of the time and expense to obtain court approval for non-controversial issues. Finally, fourthly, the bill will make a number of housekeeping and other minor amendments to the Courts of Justice Act and the Children's Law Reform Act.
At the outset, I would like to bring your attention to the amendments made to the bill by the standing committee on administration of justice last week.
There were two legislative drafting errors, which were corrected, dealing with the composition and mechanism of the appointment of the Family Rules Committee and the Charities Accounting Act.
Another change concerns the regional courts management advisory committees. The committees are composed of judges, lawyers, court administrators and members of the public. These committees provide advice and recommendations on any matter that affects the operation of the courts.
I would like particularly to single out the member for London Centre and former Attorney General, who spoke at some length during second reading debate. I believe members of the committee and certainly this side of the House respect the knowledge and information that she had available to give at that time. She spoke at some length during second reading debate and at committee about the need for some mandatory requirement for meetings of the regional courts management advisory committees. The Courts of Justice Act currently requires that these committees meet at least four times a year. In our view, this requirement was no longer necessary since the members of the committee should decide the number of meetings that are required. However, we certainly understood and she made quite clear her position with respect to the meetings of these various committees. The bill was therefore amended to require that there be at least one meeting per year. I'm sure this doesn't satisfy the complete concerns of the member, but hopefully it offers her some satisfaction.
Another amendment to the bill was the renaming of the Trial Court of Ontario to the Court of Ontario. The Court of Ontario is the overarching court which links both the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Both of these courts have appellate functions, and as a result it was considered inappropriate to refer to the overarching court as a trial court.
Lastly, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice will remain the president of the Court of Ontario but will no longer be referred to as the Chief Justice of the Court of Ontario.
During the committee debate, I said that we believe the current names of the courts were intended by Mr Scott, the former Attorney General, as interim steps only in a process that was never, and likely could never be, completed. Therefore, in order to properly reflect the true function and nature of the Ontario courts, Bill 79 renames the Ontario Court (General Division) as the Superior Court of Justice, and the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) as the Ontario Court of Justice. We believe these changes will go a long way in satisfying the concerns which have been raised by the judiciary and will clarify the various levels of Ontario's courts.
All of these amendments that were made at the committee were relatively minor.
Bill 79 allows us to move forward with a key recommendation of the Civil Justice Review. As you are aware, the Civil Justice Review is a joint project of the ministry and the judiciary. It also includes members of the bar and the public. It was created to consider the issues of delay and cost in the civil justice system.
The central recommendation of the first report of the Civil Justice Review, which was released in March 1995, was the implementation of a province-wide system of case management. Case management involves the setting of firm time standards and the judicial monitoring of cases from commencement to resolution. Judges, rather than lawyers, will determine the pace of the litigation and we believe this will help move cases through the system faster.
Case management masters will play a crucial role in the development of case management in working with teams of judges to ensure that time standards are met and costs are kept to a minimum.
The introduction of the office of case management masters and the expansion of case management throughout the province represent only part of the government's civil reform package. I am happy to list some other steps that have been or are being undertaken.
On March 11 of this year the simplified procedure rules came into force for cases under $25,000. These new rules are aimed at speeding up the process and lowering the cost of cases at the lower end of the monetary spectrum. The electronic filing project in Toronto, business process engineering, short- and long-term technology strategies, continuation of the Toronto alternative dispute resolution projects and other mediation strategies form part of the reform of the justice system.
Lastly, I am pleased to say that work has begun on the consideration of new regulations to be made under the Charities Accounting Act. These discussions will include lawyers, chartered accountants and representatives of the public. As we have noted earlier, the function of the regulation will be to allow charities to deal with certain non-controversial matters without the time and waste of resources involved in making formal court applications, as is required now, at least prior to this bill.
The amendments of the Charities Accounting Act which allow the making of regulatory guidelines will cut through unnecessary red tape and encourage people to volunteer their time for worthwhile charitable organizations.
Those are essentially the comments I'd like to make with respect to this bill. In closing, I would again like to acknowledge the input from members of the opposition during the proceedings before the standing committee on administration of justice that led to the bill which is now before the House in the current form it's in.
I can't emphasize enough that the support from the third party was appreciated. The member for London Centre, Mrs Boyd, took the time to really consider this bill. We certainly appreciate the non-partisan approach to a bill that will allow us to improve the efficiency of Ontario's civil courts.
Bill 79 represents only the tip of the iceberg. The present government will continue to improve the civil justice process in Ontario. I expect there will be more issues and improvements that will have to be considered as a result of the final report of the Civil Justice Review, which is expected very shortly.
In closing, I would like to thank all those individuals who have given their time and energy to allow us to come forward with this legislation. Their dedication has resulted in the provisions you see before you in Bill 79, as amended, and we will continue to consult with these individuals as we move forward with the implementation of case management and the other objectives I have touched on today.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I am pleased to be able to address this bill briefly this afternoon, as I did on second reading, and to express some of the concerns that remain about this piece of legislation, or perhaps about some of the other legislation that has not been forthcoming while this legislation is proceeding.
First of all there are many components of this bill that I believe would develop a consensus in this House. There would be some considerable support, since all three parties have certainly indicated the need for some of the changes that are being made. For that reason I don't expect this to be particularly controversial.
What I am concerned about, however, related to the court system and not addressed in this bill, are the very significant cuts to the budget of the ministry of justice, or the Attorney General's department as we call it provincially. Last April in the budget the government announced some $120 million in justice cuts, of which $60 million and 606 jobs came out of the Ministry of the Attorney General. You cannot have that drastic and that rapid a reduction without affecting the services that are provided to the justice system. As is the case in so many other ministries of this government, we're seeing an ideological desire to see government downsized extremely rapidly and drastically, and for that reason I think we're going to see some problems arising in the court system.
Mr Harnick, the Attorney General, promised there would be no reduction in core services at the time the Provincial Treasurer announced these substantial cuts. Yet despite the promises to attack what you would call hard-core crime, Mr Harnick announced that 70 crown attorneys, or 15% of the prosecutors, would in fact be cut.
This doesn't sound like a law-and-order government to me. They portray themselves as a law-and-order government, but when it comes down to investing the necessary funds to carry out the responsibilities of the justice system, we see them abdicating that responsibility by making rather significant cuts.
Here are some statistics that I think will be of particular interest to members in the House and will convince the government members, I'm sure, to reconsider this bill, withdraw it and start over again: Over 50,000 criminal cases were lost in 1990 due to unreasonable delays in the justice system, and right now there are fewer provincial court judges in Metro than there were at that time and the backlog is growing. Surely you require those justices to carry out the responsibilities of the courts. If we do not have them, we can only anticipate that the backlog will continue to grow.
Again according to press reports, court delays and backlogs at this time threaten about 50% of criminal cases in Ontario, mainly because they're taking too long to come to trial. There have been decisions of the court that said if these cases take too long in coming to trial they might even be dismissed. Much to the chagrin of many of us who observe the court system, but nevertheless it's a fact, when the government is making these cuts we're bound to see this happen in the future.
According to ministry statistics 49% of the 1,105 outstanding General Division cases in Metro have been in the court system for more than eight months and about 30% of cases in Peel have been in the system for that length of time. In response to this potential crisis Dave Moran, executive assistant to the Attorney General, has stated the ministry may use a team of experienced prosecutors and go in and blitz the backlog regions. We shall see if indeed that happens. But certainly there is a problem out there. A lot of people are going to be concerned that people who may be guilty ultimately will be let off because their case has not proceeded through the courts.
It's clear to us in the opposition that there is a shortage of personnel in the most serious problem in Ontario at this time. There are as of September 23, 1996, only 461 prosecutors in Ontario, down from 481 earlier in the year. The government has not replaced 20 crown attorneys lost through attrition this year, and indications are that this trend will continue and the crowns who on staff now will face an ever-increasing caseload.
Roy McMurtry had something to say about this. I well remember that Mr McMurtry, a former attorney general, a distinguished member of this House and member for Eglinton, has been critical of this government. He has called for more judges and staff for the Ontario Court of Appeal, stating that it will be unable to resolve cases within the case management framework recommended by the Civil Justice Review.
Chief Justice McMurtry has stated that the US appeals courts have at least four to five times the number of judges, law clerks and lawyers for the same caseload and that Ontario has fewer appellate judges per capita than any of the other Canadian provinces.
This is Roy McMurtry; this is not somebody in the opposition. This is a Progressive Conservative, and I must say the word "Progressive" should always be in front of the word "Conservative" when speaking of Roy McMurtry. That is his evaluation. I always took into account his views when he was in the House previously. I thought he came forward with some reasonable initiatives that were supportable. He is not a member of the Reform Party. He is not a member of the right-wing fringe that now dominates this government, with the present whip shaking his fist, showing that he has full control over his caucus in this regard.
These problems will not be addressed by the creation of new court facilities, by changing the names of the courts or by spending public funds on new signs, letterheads and official forms. I'm glad to hear one thing, that as a result of the pressure from the opposition the government is now not going to spend money on new letterheads and signs and forms. That's something positive we've been able to achieve. I could just imagine how they were getting the presses and the sign makers all set to change all of these at a great cost. Now we find that they're not doing so.
Perhaps with some of those savings we'll have some money to make up for the very deep cuts that have been made in the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Despite the fact that the minister has made representations -- and I've supported those representations -- his colleagues have cut him off at the knees and have taken away a lot of the funds he needs to carry out his responsibilities. I'm very sympathetic to him in that regard and to all the rural Conservative members here who are worried about that, and justifiably so.
Whatever reason there is, there's no justification for the waste of what could be $2.5 million of taxpayers' money on signs and letterheads for the courthouses. So here we are, we've played a role, we've stopped the government from doing this. The printing presses have been stopped, I'm told, and the sign painters have been told that the government will not proceed. It is nice to know that the opposition can certainly have some effect in that regard.
The Attorney General can demonstrate his real commitment to reinvesting in the justice system by investing in sufficient staff to handle the growing caseload and court backlog in a timely, efficient and professional fashion. That would do more to build public confidence in the justice system than any name change or new facility could accomplish, and I hope the government moves in that direction.
As I said, we find some parts of this bill to be supportable. It's not a revolutionary bill the way some of the bills we see coming into this House are revolutionary. This has less to do with dogma, this has less to do with ideology than most of the agenda of this government. For that reason, we're quite conciliatory. In fact, I anticipate this bill will be completed this afternoon, as we can be very reasonable about that.
The bill on VLTs is another matter. I'm not going to speak on it this afternoon, but it's another matter compared to this. I'm drawing a comparison with this bill, which has a consensus in this House, which really represents Conservative policy. I think people would agree that this is nothing different from what the Conservatives would have promised or what we'd anticipate they would do. However, the VLT bill is another matter, because it was not in the platform and not found anywhere. That's why it's taking a little longer to be considered by members of this House.
In this case there isn't a secret report from the police to do with this bill that should be produced before this bill goes further. I compliment the parliamentary assistant; he's provided all the information that's needed for this bill. That sets a good example for the Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations and the Solicitor General, who should be providing the secret report from the police on criminal activity in gambling to this House. We have a good example, by my good friend the parliamentary assistant to the Attorney General in this case providing the information. Would that, as they used to say in Latin class, the government would do the same on the situation with the VLT bill. "Would that" I think was the ablative case. My former teacher, Vince Dugo, would have told me that indeed that was the case. I cannot confess to being a Latin scholar, but I do remember the ablative case; I think it was the ablative case anyway.
I wish the government would use this pattern in other bills. I know the critic for the New Democratic Party, the member for London Centre, spoke at some length the other day and was very constructive in her remarks. She found a few things she thought needed fixing, but she was very constructive in her remarks as well because she recognized that there was no secret report the government was hiding on this bill, as it is on Bill 75. She understood that this bill was in keeping with what the government probably said it was going to do, unlike Bill 75, the VLT bill, which will allow for video lottery terminals in every bar and every restaurant in every neighbourhood in Ontario. I wanted to get that in one more time, that that's what that bill is going to do.
I anticipate we'll have a few speakers from this side. The member for Kingston and The Islands, who has had some experience in the courts, I know will want to offer some opinions on this, I think more informed than those of many of us who don't have a direct dealing with the court system on a daily basis and hope not to be in court for any purpose other than the swearing in of new judges.
That reminds me of another aspect of this bill that is important: the appointing of masters. I hope this won't be done on the basis of patronage positions. I hope there isn't a long lineup of Tories out there looking for jobs in the court system who will be looking for the job of master because we started to see a move away from that. When Ian Scott was the minister of justice, we started to see a system put in place. When the member for London Centre was minister, we reviewed the judges. There was a panel out there that looked at them and said: "Okay, it doesn't matter whether these people" -- I'm on to the judges now, not the masters -- "are Liberal or Conservative or NDP or have no political affiliation. How do they fill the job? What qualifications do they bring to it? What resources personally do they bring to that particular job?" I think that was positive, because it was bringing to an end the politicization of the system.
I would have thought, for instance, my good friend the member for Ottawa-Rideau, a former judge himself in the court system of Ontario, may have had some inside track on such a job because he was a Progressive Conservative. I'm told that over the years in the federal system from time to time there were political considerations, when Brian Mulroney was appointing Tories and other parties were in power and probably appointed, once in a while, highly qualified people who were of their own political lineage. I understand that. I don't think anyone even objects to the fact that, for instance, Mr McMurtry, whom I mentioned, has his esteemed position, because he's a person of quality, a person of high qualification. That doesn't matter in this case; it's simply a matter of looking at how qualified the person was.
I worry a bit about the masters, whether there might be a tip of the hat to those who are in keeping with the Reform Party, sorry, the Conservative Party that sits across from us. Is that a Freudian slip, when you say that?
Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Yes, it is.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Yes.
Mr Bradley: That's what it is, a Freudian slip. I hope that doesn't happen.
Anyway, you can tell I have an intricate knowledge of the details of this bill this afternoon. There are a few lawyers in the House who have no doubt advised the minister on this matter. I simply make this plea in the latter part of my address, because I certainly don't intend to speak for 90 minutes on this occasion; more like 20 minutes would suffice --
Hon Norman W. Sterling (Minister of Environment and Energy): Niagara Escarpment Commission.
Mr Bradley: To which? Oh, the Niagara Escarpment Commission. I don't think the court system will work the way the Niagara Escarpment system works, but I want to compliment the member for Carleton, who is here today, the Minister of Environment and Energy, who now has responsibility for the Niagara Escarpment Commission. As he heads out the door, I implore him to appoint people who are going to protect the Niagara Escarpment, as I know he wants it protected. The door opens; he has departed.
I hope they are non-partisan appointments, because I think this system works better when the only component is not what a person's political affiliation happens to be. In other words, there are a lot of other considerations. Good people out there -- I remember when the Liberal Party was in power there were Conservatives who were appointed to various positions, New Democrats, people who had no political affiliation, and indeed there may have been some Liberals who were appointed at that time as well --
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): No.
Mr Bradley: The odd person. I know that will surprise you, but that did happen. I think it's particularly in the --
Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Was it a mistake?
Mr Bradley: I don't consider it a mistake. Mr Villeneuve, the Minister of Agriculture, says, "Was it a mistake?" I don't think so. I think appointing people of various backgrounds is very important, and that's why I hope the government, when it's appointing these masters -- and the former Attorney General tells me it's a somewhat detailed, technical type of job, so she has assured me that we're less likely to see partisan appointments in this case. But I hope the presidents of the Conservative associations across Ontario have not got their list ready for the position of masters, because I know this government has stated its desire to see people off the public dole. We don't want to see several Tories entering the public dole in terms of all these appointments that are made simply because they are Tories or they went to the fund-raisers or things like that. I can't believe that in 1996 that could possibly happen, but I certainly implore the government not to do that.
Finally, as we always say, I reiterate for members of the House the need of this government to put the necessary resources into the court system, the justice system, to ensure that it's working efficiently and effectively, because if you want to be known as a law-and-order government, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk both. That's a saying that we use, I guess, in the 1990s now. In other words, you have to be prepared to invest the funds in the justice system to ensure the safety of people in this province, to ensure that we will not see people going loose, people escaping the justice system simply because their case is taking too long. I can't believe that all the cuts that are taking place are going to have a positive effect. I think in fact they're going to have a negative effect on our judicial system and that again we will pay the price somewhere along the line.
I want to, as I say, give a sufficient opportunity for my colleagues in the Liberal caucus to discuss this a little later on. I know there's a long lineup of speakers who wish to offer some opinions on this subject, even though I anticipate the bill will be completed this afternoon, to the relief of the government whip. I don't think he may even have to round up the troops at the conclusion of this debate because I say, generally speaking, I think we've got a consensus in this House and I'm pleased when that consensus is developed and pleased to be able to once in a while be in accord with what the government is doing when it doesn't embark upon a revolutionary course but on a truly commonsense course, as it is in this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Questions or comments?
Mr Tilson: The member for St Catharines gave his usual inspiring speech. I would like to correct him on a couple of things.
First of all, the bill deals with the civil courts, not with the criminal courts --
Mr Tilson: Indeed, indeed. He spoke about Chief McMurtry's request for more judges, and I might remind him that that request must be fulfilled by the federal government. The other issue, of course --
Mr Tilson: I'll be looking forward -- perhaps the member for St Catharines will deal with the federal government and the cuts that it's making to the system in all kinds of things, whether it be education, whether it be health. Indeed, that's a problem that we have here in Ontario.
The other issue was that there was only $66 million in reductions. The member spoke of substantially more than that. The Attorney General made this clear in the Legislature last March and April. The difference in published amounts is due to the government move to accrual accounting methods.
The member has spent some time on the masters, and I will say that the whole purpose of the creation of the masters is to eliminate much of the bureaucracy that's been going on in the system. Anyone in this House who is a lawyer knows exactly what lawyers do: They have a tendency to sometimes slow down the process.
Mr Gerretsen: Oh, no.
Mr Tilson: I'll look forward to the member for Kingston and The Islands talking about that, but we all know that happens. In other words, the agenda of many of these trials is in the hands of the lawyers. We're simply saying that's inappropriate. The system moves slowly and we hope the masters will relieve much of that problem.
Mr Michael A. Brown (Algoma-Manitoulin): I always appreciate the comments of the member for St Catharines. One of the most interesting portions of his speech was when he alluded to the amount of information that has been provided to the opposition on this particular bill. As members would know, this bill, while important, is not what anybody could call earth-shattering. This is a technical bill that deals with issues surrounding the courts, and most of those can be supported by members on all sides. However, he pointed out that in Bill 75, a much more controversial bill, we over here in the opposition have been looking for information that the government appears to have and does not wish to provide us with. I talk about a police report on the video lottery terminals, or slot machines as they're more commonly known, that has not been provided to the opposition and the public of Ontario.
As we look at the possibilities of criminal involvement and the mob, so to speak, being involved in video lottery terminals, that is information that any member of the House, and indeed the public, would want to know about. It seems to me that this kind of information is necessary for the people of Ontario to make a reasoned and understood decision on having video lottery terminals in every bar and restaurant in every neighbourhood in the province of Ontario. As we stand here speaking of Bill 79, the contrast with Bill 75 is completely significant. I appreciate the member for St Catharines bringing that to our attention so that we might see the paradox in the government's position.
Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): With respect to Bill 79, I will speak to this bill and not the other bill that my friend opposite was speaking to. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the importance of civil justice in the province of Ontario. We talk often about criminal justice in this place, but the law-abiding taxpayers of Ontario frequently have disputes which arise in the ordinary course of business, and it's absolutely important that we have a civil justice system that functions efficiently.
We have been faced with a system in recent years where a normal civil action would take four, five, six, seven years to get to trial in what has been rather inappropriately called the Ontario Court (General Division), to be quite properly renamed the Superior Court of Ontario in this bill, so that it's, like the other provinces in Canada, a superior court and named a superior court. But to have justice delayed like that for five and six and seven years for cases to get to trial is outrageous and not an appropriate service to taxpayers.
With this bill and with pre-trial masters there'll be some reduction in that, I hope, particularly in the pre-trial stages and in the motions stages. This is absolutely imperative if the government is going to provide the judicial service, the justice service to taxpayers in Ontario, not only to individuals but also to their businesses and proprietorships so that they can have access to the courts for which, after all, they pay.
I'm also pleased that the bill will correct the appellations of judges so that all of the judges in the province of Ontario, whether appointed federally or provincially, will be referred to by the same titles for the first time in the history of this province. I think that's appropriate to avoid confusion, unnecessary differences between different levels of courts, because every case is important.
Mr Gerretsen: I certainly agree with the comments that the last speaker has made and also the comments that my colleague from St Catharines has made. I think we have to recognize the fact that certainly lawyers are probably the category of people who are the most to blame for delays in courts and in the justice system. Being one myself, I know that's probably not a very popular stand to take among my colleagues, but I certainly concur with that.
I think the government could have gone one step further, though, in this bill. It could have, for example, raised the Small Claims Court limit beyond the $6,000 that it is now, and I believe it's $10,000 here in Metro Toronto. It could have raised it to $10,000 or $20,000, because certainly it's almost inexcusable in a lot of cases where people are arguing over $7,000 or $8,000 to have a three- or four-year time delay take place before a matter comes to trial.
There is nothing that puts our system of justice in ill repute as much as the delay factor. The fact that there are competent Small Claims Court judges around, quite often members from the local bar associations --
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): There are?
Mr Gerretsen: Yes, there are -- who could in effect adjudicate upon these matters in a very efficient, quick and expedient manner speaks a lot for itself.
There's absolutely no reason why the government can't raise the limit from the $6,000 to a much more reasonable amount of $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000. It certainly worked when it was increased recently, about five or six years ago, from the $1,000 to the $6,000 limit. People are getting justice in a much more expedient fashion. I think that's what the public of Ontario is looking for.
The Acting Speaker: The member for St Catharines has two minutes to respond.
Mr Bradley: I am always happy to hear from members of the legal profession on these matters. It's very helpful.
I did want to mention why I think we're seeing so many cuts in the court system. It's why we're seeing cuts in the education system and the health care system and services to disabled people and so on, and that is, obviously, it has to finance the tax cut. This government is bringing into effect a 30% cut in provincial income tax. That will benefit the richest people in our society the most. Because the richest people already make the most, they're going to get the most money back from this.
As a result, we have to have this government making cuts, because they would have to borrow, by the calculation of my friend the Liberal critic for finance, some $13 billion in order to give you and me and the people of this province a tax break. I don't know why. No economists I've ever found will tell me that it makes sense to borrow money to give a tax break. They say: "Once the budget is balanced, once we have a budgetary surplus, this may make some sense. But until that time, why would you borrow more money to give a tax cut?"
Well, there's another way of doing it. They can make substantially more cuts. Despite the fact that the Minister of Finance, at the end of the last budget, said the cuts are over, and we saw significant cuts to the justice system in this province, we're obviously going to see more because the Premier says: "That's not enough. What we need are $3 billion more in the way of cuts." So I think we can anticipate that the justice system, about which this party talked so much in years gone by with the excellent speeches being made by some of the members who are now ministers -- we're going to see further cuts in the justice system and further trouble as a result of the tax cut.
Mrs Boyd: I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak again on Bill 79. I want to say to my colleague the member for Wellington that he may have blighted my entire career by being so complimentary about my support of this bill. But he should understand that when the government does something that is right, that is in the interests of the people of Ontario, we will always support.
One of the issues we have when we face a bill like this is, what is in this bill that is going to make the world a better place to live for people in Ontario, and what may not? That is the focus of our attention on a bill like this.
I say to members that indeed much of this bill facilitates a change that has been discussed and suggested with a high degree of consultation, not only among those in the legal profession, those in the judiciary and those in courts administration, because those groups of course internal to the workings of the justice system obviously are major stakeholders, but the Civil Justice Review, the very large and detailed report which gave rise to many of the changes the Attorney General is proposing in Bill 79, was probably the longest and most detailed consultation that has been held on the workings of the justice system in Ontario. It was held with members of the public all over the province, not just those who are engaged within the legal system but those who come to the legal system as consumers.
What is really important about the Civil Justice Review is that it was the first time, in many cases, that those engaged in the legal profession and certainly those in the judiciary heard from the lips of consumers themselves what the justice system looks like to those who are not initiated into the mysteries of that system through legal training. It's important for us to recognize that the kinds of changes that are being implemented are changes that are to shift some of the balance back to the consumer of the system, the person who comes to the legal system to obtain justice. That's an extraordinarily important factor when we look at a bill like this, and it is important for us to be sure that the changes that are included in Bill 79 will in fact have the effect that was intended by the Civil Justice Review.
So we come to the areas where we certainly had some criticisms of the bill as it stands. The first item is an item that was mentioned by my friend the member for St Catharines, and that is the whole appointments process for masters. The real concern we had was that this would be a mechanism whereby a huge pool of people would get the quasi-judicial experience that might enable them to be an obvious pool for the appointment of both federally appointed and provincially appointed judges, and that if there were no appointments process that ensured that people were appointed as masters because of their excellent qualifications, because of their ability not only to understand and know the law but their ability to be administrators, their ability to follow a court process from beginning to end, their ability to be strong but diplomatic with all the players involved to ensure that the timetables anticipated by this bill are put in place and become reality to those who are consumers of the services of the justice system.
It was a great relief to me, quite frankly, that when the minister came to speak to the justice committee he made some commitments to us about the appointment of these people, and his commitment was that these case management masters would be appointed as we now appoint justices of the peace; that where vacancies come available, there will be an advertisement that there is a vacancy and that advertisement will include what the qualifications are for the job; that there will be a committee of people formed to vet the applications for that job and to interview candidates; and that the recommendation that comes to the minister for appointment through the Lieutenant Governor of the province, through the Lieutenant Governor's council, would follow the same process that has been in place for some years by the justices of the peace. I say that was a great relief because it adds a public component to the appointment process and ensures that there will be qualifications for the job that need to be met by people coming forward, but something other than merely holding a party card. Of course these days it's a little hard to tell which party we were worried about, whether it's the federal Reform or the Progressive Conservatives, but it will involve the abilities of the people who come before those committees and there will be a screening process that ensures that people who get these jobs are qualified to have them.
The Attorney General also assured us that the qualification of at least 10 years' experience before the bar would be one of the minimum requirements for this job. That is also an important aspect, because particularly if this pool of people becomes the obvious pool from which judges are then chosen, it is important for those minimum qualifications to be there as they are for judges. It would be a shame to have someone come in and be a case management master with less experience within the courts than is required for a justice and it is found at some point during or following their seven years' appointment that they were subsequently appointed to the bench without having had the opportunity for that kind of experience within our courts. That's very important.
The minister also said the salary is already set. He said these people will be making $110,000 a year. Some members may understand that one of our concerns was that these folks could well be a very expensive proposition, that judges who currently earn in the area of $124,000 at the provincial level or $150,000 at the federal level provided a range whereby these folks might be appointed. The minister said no, that the intended salary was to be $110,000 and that people would be applying for these jobs knowing that was the set fee for this job. That allayed some of the concerns we had that this system, however it worked, might add quite considerably to the cost of the justice system. That is a legitimate concern, because at a time when the Attorney General is being asked to take $66 million out of his budget for administering the justice system it is important for us to be sure we are not adding another layer at a time when we are delayering in virtually every other ministry, in every other function -- adding another level that was going to be terribly expensive.
It will be interesting to see whether high-calibre candidates put themselves forward for these jobs with those kinds of conditions and whether they are able to function in the way that's envisioned by the bill and indeed by the Civil Justice Review. I certainly hope they will because we need that function there, that quasi-judicial function of moving things along, very much. We need to have a system that requires everyone in the system, most particularly lawyers, to follow a timetable that discourages the kinds of delays that have created so much frustration for consumers of our justice services on the civil justice side. It is extremely important that these people be seen as being credible, qualified and convincing to all the players within the justice system and that they have the necessary authority to exercise the kind of control they will have in the way that process works.
That brings me to another area of concern we had. It became very clear in our justice committee hearings that there is a bit of a jurisdictional problem the minister has through the way these people are being appointed. Let me explain that when we suggested these appointments be made through the judicial advisory committee that exists to appoint provincial judges and when we suggested there needed to be a disciplinary process that involved the judicial council, the Attorney General and the members of his ministry explained to us that this would not be appropriate.
Why would it not be appropriate? It would not be appropriate because all of our mechanisms that are set in place by the provincial government -- the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and the judicial council -- are there to exercise those functions with respect to provincial appointees and with respect to the courts that are the responsibility of the provincial government, but the case management masters will not be functioning within that context. They will be functioning within the context of the federally appointed justices, within the context of the federal jurisdictional matters within the courts. So they explained to us very kindly that it would be inappropriate for those committees, either the judicial council or the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee, to have any say around these people.
A question then arises. We are appointing provincially case management masters who are under the jurisdiction of federally appointed justices and virtually all whose work will take place within the federal court system. I don't know about anybody else, but to me that says we have a system where we don't have the kind of accountability the public is demanding within our judicial system. We have heard demands from the public at both the federal and provincial levels in virtually every jurisdiction across this country that judges and justices be more accountable and that the processes put in place under judicial councils -- the disciplinary processes, the selection processes, the monitoring processes, those processes whereby the code of conduct is set -- be more accountable to the public served by the system. We have seen that happen to varying degrees.
We were a leader in this province when we put into place our Courts of Justice Act, which this amends, because we took into account the need for that level of public accountability. A lot of those changes are there, and we have heard from the public a much larger sense that they own and are a part of the accountability system for provincially appointed judges. It's a good thing we have done. It tends to allay some of those suspicions the public has about the behaviour and the conduct of judges, and we indeed have heard much concern about that in our province.
The reality with these case management masters is that they will be neither fish nor fowl. They will be appointed by the provincial government, so the federal government will have no say over their appointment, their qualifications or their pay, and yet the provincial government that appoints them will have very little control over how they conduct their business. That will be entirely up to the federally appointed Chief Justice.
This does not seem to concern the Attorney General, his parliamentary assistant or the bureaucrats in the Ministry of the Attorney General. They believe that the check and balance that's provided by the Chief Justice having that kind of control is sufficient, and they assure us that we ought not to worry because these people are not appointed for life. Let's look at the appointment process. These people are appointed initially for a seven-year period. Once that seven-year period is up, these people are eligible to be reappointed for terms of three years each an infinite number of times, and that reappointment for three years will be on the recommendation of the Chief Justice; no input from any public committee, no input from the Attorney General's ministry, but from the Chief Justice. That is not accountability, in my view, and I think it is a problem.
Similarly, in the discipline area, we believe very strongly that it would be appropriate for there to be a disciplinary mechanism, an accountability mechanism similar to the accountability mechanism that is now in place in Ontario for provincial court judges. These people will be performing many of the functions, and this bill gives them explicit jurisdiction over a vast number of functions that previously could only be exercised by justices.
Justices who are federally appointed have the federal Canadian Judicial Council, and that is the mechanism whereby accountability is ensured for federal justices. Provincially we have the provincial Judicial Council that exercises that kind of accountability for provincial judges. In the middle, we have this quasi-judicial appointment of case management masters who will not have the same level of accountability as the justices or the judges with whom they are to work.
I think that's a problem and I think over time the government will see that it may be a problem. The reason it is a problem is that the job these people are required to do is to exercise control over the professional activities of lawyers as they pursue cases through the court. They will be the ones required to ensure that lawyers follow the rules in terms of the timetable, follow the rules in terms of filing, follow the rules in terms of the process as it goes through, so it is important for us to understand that they are very central to this new vision of how the civil justice system will work.
That is why our party has said all along that while we support this bill, we support the function of case management masters, we continue to be concerned about the accountability of case management masters under the scheme as it has been proposed by the current government, because we have real qualms about whether it will be possible for these individuals whose role is going to be key in ensuring that the changes in the civil justice process actually happen -- they will be neither fish nor fowl. The complaints against them -- and there will be many, because I can assure you it is not easy for people to change their ways; it is not easy for a system to turn itself around and become efficient and follow timetables when it has not done so in the past. It is, I suggest, unfair to these people to put them in a position where any kind of disciplinary action is very much a secret kind of process, a process that does not involve the public, where there can be no public scrutiny of what goes on.
Now the minister says the process will be similar to that of deputy judges and that ought to be sufficient. Let me say as I did when I spoke to second reading, deputy judges are in a very different position than these people. Deputy judges do not work full-time on an appointment that initially is seven years and then is renewable, ad infinitum, every three years. Deputy judges do this work very much on an almost pro bono kind of basis, because most of these folks are fairly senior counsel who make more in a day -- a great deal more in a day -- pursuing their private practice. They are doing it partly to gain experience, partly as a contribution to the justice system, and they perform a very good function. But because they act in a situation that is very much one which sees a lot of effect on the general public, they also have a lot of complaints, and those complaints are generally because people don't like their judgement. That's basically what the complaint usually is. Of course that's not the kind of complaint we are talking about when we talk about case management masters.
With case management masters the real issue will be, was due process followed? Was the exercise of the timetables fair and evenhanded? Was the way in which they managed cases through the system to the benefit of the consumers who are trying to go through the system? Are they accomplishing what was envisioned by the Civil Justice Review? So I would say that with regard to this whole issue of what are complaints, how they go, we will see over time.
The minister said: "Well, most of these people will only deal with lawyers and with court administration and with judges. Most individual consumers will not have a direct contact with these people." That offers scant comfort, because very few people who come to the justice system understand how it works. If they find their case shoved along and they find their lawyer resisting, they are going to feel that somehow the system has not been fair to them. Because they are not hearing the explanation directly from a case management master, they will have to take the view of their lawyer.
As someone who has worked as a lay advocate with people who have real difficulty dealing with both their lawyer and very often the lawyer on the other side and find themselves often feeling as though they are being coerced by a system, I can tell you that it is very scant comfort that case management masters will not have a direct contact with the general public.
The biggest problem we have in our legal system, whether it's the civil justice system or the criminal justice system in this province, is that citizens do not know how it works. It is not a transparent system. They do not understand who the players are.
It was very clear in the Civil Justice Review that one of the requirements that should be there is much greater understanding, much more transparency on the part of the system to those who come seeking justice. It is important for those who come seeking justice to understand who the players are, and yet I can tell you, in both civil and criminal courts most people coming before the bench have questions like: Who's that person? What is the function of this officer? What kind of authority does this person have? Where am I in this picture? The real concern in the civil justice system is making sure that the consumer feels that their need for due process in a very complex system is met.
So it is scant comfort to me for the Attorney General to say, "We don't need any of this transparent accountability for case management masters because they won't have contact with the general public." It seems to me that when someone is such an important player -- and we have to understand that this is a very important layer that is being added -- that is the very time we need to be assured that accountability is there and that it is transparent, and that we can be sure that those who act appropriately are seen to be doing so and those who don't are sanctioned for not doing so. That is the real concern in this whole area.
We also don't have at this point in time any real sense of how this whole new system is going to be phased in, and that's another issue for people. My colleague the member for Kingston and The Islands, for example, says, "Is this just going to happen in Toronto and Ottawa -- people have only talked about Toronto and Ottawa -- or is it going to happen all over the province?"
Well, that's a legitimate question because the masters who were in the system previously, the appointment of which was ended by the previous Liberal government, did not exist in all parts of the province. They existed only in Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor. In fact, I'm not sure that they existed in Hamilton. I know that in London and Windsor there was one master who worked between the two for a number of years. The issue is, is this going to be available? Are we saying this is going to be available throughout the system?
People using the civil justice system in other parts of the province, in places like Owen Sound or Timmins or Kapuskasing or Kenora, very often feel as if they are not getting the same level of service as people in the more highly serviced areas like Ottawa and Toronto or London. The reality is that we hear among district bar associations real concern that the centralization factor will apply in the civil justice system and that people will say, "Oh, we can get through the courts more quickly in Toronto," or Ottawa or London, therefore those litigants who have cases will stop using their local lawyers and will apply to have their cases moved to a centralized area; and given that there has been constant advice certainly to our government -- I can't believe it isn't the same for the current government -- that court facilities and court availability be changed dramatically.
I'll give you an example. For years there has been a suggestion on the part of courts administration that there be no court facility existing in Elgin county, that all the work done in Elgin county be centralized to the London area. There is reason for the district bar to be concerned about that kind of centralization because it means that people are not getting justice close to home. It adds to the cost of seeking justice for those who want to litigate in the civil system and it means a great shift in terms of the kind of work done by various firms.
Some of you may say: "Should we concerned about that? Isn't that an issue the legal profession should worry about?" I would say no, because there are enough blocks to litigation now on the part of those who have legitimate disputes that need to be brought before the courts. The cost of those disputes is high enough but it is important for us to have a recognition that those disputes are probably best dealt with close to home.
I think that's another issue for us. We do not know to what extent these case management masters will be appointed across the province and to what extent they will be concentrated only in the high-volume court areas where the Attorney General needs to make the biggest change to effect the savings he's talking about in the system.
We also had an assurance that the savings from the case management system would be sufficient to buy not only the technical kind of expertise needed but that the hardware and software and salaries and benefits of these case management masters, their offices, that sort of thing, can be obtained out of the savings. I must say that's what the Civil Justice Review said.
The Civil Justice Review envisioned this change as being one of a shifting of resources rather than added resources. They were very clear about that. But I can assure you that if the minister imagines he can make the savings out of this change and hand them back to the general revenue fund, there will be real dismay within the system. That was certainly not the vision that was held by the Civil Justice Review. They were under no illusion about the extensive need for very real technological change within the courts.
The need to ensure that the education and training around that streamlining for those who are active within the court system was an extraordinarily important aspect, and that requires an upfront investment, a real investment into the systems themselves and the training of people to ensure that they can use the systems. It is extremely important for us all to understand that the appointment of case management masters and the cost of their salaries and benefits and offices and parking spaces and whatever else are only a very small part of the investment that needs to be made.
I asked the Attorney General quite bluntly about how he expected to get the capital dollars he requires to put the technological changes into place. It became quite clear that the government is not prepared to do that unless they privatize a lot of operations and hand those functions over to the private sector.
Now, that is not entirely something that could be classified as a necessarily bad thing. It may be an appropriate way to get that investment in and to get it used.
It will be inappropriate if what happens is that we see the same kind of thing happen as we've seen in the family support plan, that the expertise of those who currently work in the courts, the expertise that has been built, that we've paid for through the training of those people, that we've paid for again and again in their salaries and their benefits, would disappear and we would see that expertise lost to us while some privatized operation that has never managed court function immediately takes on that kind of function.
We have already seen this Attorney General take a system that, while it was not perfect and certainly was not working for all of the people who needed it, the family support system -- we have seen him take that system and make an abrupt and sudden change in it that made sure it didn't work for the people it was working for. I would say that in the kind of technological change that is envisioned to make this case management system work, we have to be sure that this same kind of incompetence and bungling does not exist. It is extremely important that this be done in a gradual way, that the systems be put in place in such a way that cases aren't getting lost the way they are in the family support plan so that people who have been satisfied and have had positive experiences with the administration of justice do not become disaffected as a result of that incompetence and bungling. It will be extremely important for us all to be keeping an eye on that.
When we talk about the court system, most of the public comes only with their problems. We know we don't hear about the cases that work smoothly. We don't hear about the cases that go well, but there are some in the system. Yes, there are people whose cases drag on for five to seven years; there are others whose cases get resolved much more rapidly.
We must be sure that in his zeal to put in change, the Attorney General makes sure this change happens in an orderly way, that this change doesn't destroy what was good about the system and create an even bigger mess. We've seen that happen in our experience with the family support plan. It is fine for the government to say, "Well, it's a temporary thing." It's not a temporary thing for those recipients of family support who were getting their money and now don't know how to feed their children, don't know how they're going to make next month's rent or next month's mortgage.
It is really important, as we go through this process and as we support this bill and support these changes, that we have an assurance that they are going to be implemented properly. As someone who has been in government long enough to know that policymaking may be the long suit of the Attorney General's ministry, they make wonderful policy. Implementation is not one of their better accomplishments. Implementation of many of the changes that we put into place was a very rocky business.
One of the things that was identified in the strategic plan of the ministry was an inability to implement effectively really good policy changes. I would say to the minister and to his parliamentary assistant that this is an admitted failure within the ministry. As a result of the strategic planning process, which involved everybody who was working in the ministry at the time, there was a clear acknowledgement on the part of people from the bottom to the top of the ministry that implementation was probably the weakest part of the whole process.
I would urge that the minister and the parliamentary assistant take that into account in putting these changes into place and recognize that it will be necessary to ensure that the talent required to implement smoothly, to implement in a way that solves problems and doesn't create problems is in place. That's going to be very necessary. Given the kind of commitment we heard from the minister, from the ministry staff and from the parliamentary assistant, I have every hope that in fact that will be taken into account and this will be implemented as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
One of the other areas that was important and where the government did in fact make a change in its act -- they were going to repeal entirely the requirement for courts administration regional committees to meet. Our government had said that we wanted them to be able to meet four times in a year because we felt that with the enormous changes that were happening in the court system it would be really necessary to be monitoring at a local level through all the players involved -- the judiciary, the legal profession, the courts administration and the public -- that in fact those changes were being put into place in an orderly fashion.
The government responded to my concern by saying that yes, they will require them to meet at least once a year. They wouldn't go back to the required four times a year, but they would require that they meet at least once a year. I'm delighted that they were prepared to make that change because I think that where regional courts administration committees have worked well, they have assisted the major participants in the system to effect the kinds of changes that need to be effected. Where they have not worked well, where there has been reluctance for the parties to work together, where there has been scepticism about whether or not it is important to approach changes in the system from a team approach, in fact we see some of the more serious problems in the system.
I am delighted that the minister and the parliamentary assistant -- the government -- agreed to a change that would require those committees to meet at least once a year because I think once you get all those players together in the room, we will see the same kind of magic happen that frankly happened in the civil justice review itself. When the parties get together and give their different impressions and understand that there is a misunderstanding both in motive and intention in some of the things that are being done, when there is a requirement that they understand what the concerns are on each side, those parties speaking together can solve the problems.
I'm delighted that at least the minimum requirement of one time a year is there. I hope that the members of those committees will take the momentum and find that there is in fact enough for them to do, there is enough change happening, that it is important for them to be active players in that change, and that it is important for them to be requiring the occasion on which to meet to talk about that sort of thing. It is a wonderful monitoring device.
The regional courts administration committee, for example, is the one that looks at whether or not criminal and civil cases are moving through the system as they are required to do; that is the monitoring body that looks to see whether the changes that are envisioned in the case management model are in fact happening in that jurisdiction and, if they aren't, problem-solves about how to make sure that they will. It is really important, I think, for the ministry to enthusiastically support those regional courts administration committees in the task that they have and for us to understand that it is one way in which there can be real pressure on all the parties in the system to cooperate with the enormous amount of change that needs to be made.
When we deal with a bill like this that has very little resonance in a community that is not concerned with an actual nitty-gritty operation of a court system, it's really hard to get people engaged in the importance of this kind of action. I would stress, as I have on a number of occasions, the reality that this process, if it works as it is envisioned in the civil justice review, if it works the way the minister, in his speech to the justice committee, said he envisioned it working, should make an enormous change in a lot of the dissatisfaction that has been expressed about the civil justice process.
A society is very much measured on the way it offers justice to its community. Although in civil justice issues many people do not understand the complexity and the emotion -- indeed the seriousness -- of many of the issues, it in fact affects many, many people's lives. It may affect their livelihood in a very real way, and certainly many of the disputes involve people who are locked in a dispute around various activities that have a very direct effect on their livelihood. So it is important that this process be smooth, that it be accessible by people no matter what their ability to pay, that it be accessible to people who require the services of the courts, that it be accessible and understandable.
In closing, I simply suggest to the minister and to the ministry that the process of education that began with the Civil Justice Review process needs to be continued. We need to be helping people to understand how the civil justice system works and who the players are, how the criminal justice system works and who the players are, and how the pressure on the criminal justice system affects the civil justice system and vice versa, because for those who are uninitiated it might seem we are talking about a system that doesn't somehow intersect, and of course it does.
We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this country which requires a certain process and timeliness for criminal cases. We have not had a similar kind of thing in the civil justice area. What we see is that the constitutional pressure to move criminal cases through the courts has often taken precedence over the civil justice matters that come before the courts. Justices and judges are fully engaged in trying to ensure that constitutional rights are met within the criminal courts and very often the scheduling has seen a real detriment to those who are pursuing civil issues.
It is really important that as we move forward with the changes that are happening in the courts we be sure there is much more literacy, if you like, about how our courts work, what the pressures are on our courts, what the requirements are for the process that's going to change. The minister is going to need the continued support of the public to ensure that the changes in the court process, particularly the timetables and schedules that are envisioned in case management, actually work. He will get that kind of support from the public only if they understand why this will benefit them.
The Civil Justice Review clearly said there needs to be greater public education around how the courts operate and how the courts can be used most effectively. It is important for us to give, if you like -- and it really annoys the legal profession, I know, when I use this terminology -- consumer education to those who are seeking justice in the province so that they know what to look for, so that they know how they can be positive players in ensuring that their own case goes forward, so that they are not at the mercy of those who, by the parliamentary assistant's words, are the ones who often make the decisions that slow up cases.
One of the biggest myths in the legal profession is that clients are the ones who instruct their counsel. The reality is that this is how it's supposed to be. Clients are supposed to give the instruction to their counsel. Counsel are supposed to carry out the instructions of their clients. But if the client has a limited amount of information, if the client does not understand how the system works and depends upon the lawyer to give them that information and the lawyer has control over that information, it very severely restricts the ability of the client to give instruction. If the lawyer says, "I think we should hold this up for a couple of months; it won't make any difference to your case," many clients may feel unhappy about that, but they may not know that their right is to hear their matter heard or go to the next step very quickly.
In this timetabling and scheduling issue that's involved in case management, if clients are to be part of the solution to the problem in our courts, they are going to have to understand how the system works. The Ministry of the Attorney General has devised a number of very important brochures and booklets to explain to those engaged in the criminal justice system and in the family law area their rights. It is important that we have the same kind of information come forward around the case management system in the civil courts, because otherwise it will be very difficult for clients to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem.
In closing, we will be supporting this bill. We have concerns about how it is actually going to operate. We certainly will be monitoring how it operates. We'll be monitoring how the appointment process goes. We'll be monitoring whether the kinds of results envisioned through the case management model are actually being experienced by those who are seeking justice in the province of Ontario. But we would assure the Attorney General and the government that this system, if it works, will make a big difference. If it doesn't work, if it results in the kind of mess we've seen in the family support plan, then we will be criticizing very severely the implementation of what could be a very good way of resolving some of the holdups in the civil justice system.
The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Further debate?
Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): It's a pleasure to rise in my place this afternoon to address the House on Bill 79. I appeared in the justice committee two weeks ago with the Attorney General to debate this bill clause by clause. We were pleased to have him present there. Our party too will be supporting this bill, though we have some concerns I would certainly like to bring to light today.
One of the main areas of change in this bill is a very superficial change, and that is to change the names of the courts. As members of the House will know, two previous attorneys general a while back had made a change. The Liberal Attorney General, Ian Scott, had combined the three different courts in Ontario into two divisions, as they will remain today, and gave them new names. Now the two divisions remain, but the names are again going to be changed. What this is going to do in many minds in the legal profession, people in the judiciary and many lay people who find themselves in whatever role going to court, whether as jurors, accused or as witnesses, could be confusing.
Why it could be confusing is that in response to the criticism about the added cost of making this name change, the cost of changing signs and changing letterhead, the minister has assured us that he will phase that in over time so that there will not be some additional cost. We would applaud that because there are many more areas of interest that we in the opposition, the Liberal Party, have that the Attorney General deals with in regard to family support and the number of convictions he is pursuing. We don't want to see him wasting money on name changes. To do that, though, he's said he's going to keep the old signs while the courts are renamed and keep the old stationery while the courts are renamed. In a way that's just going to add to the confusion.
I would refer to an editorial that the Toronto Star had July 10 of this year titled "The Name Game." Madam Speaker, maybe you remember this song that was out years ago, "The Name Game"; you weren't even born then, I don't think. It goes: "Okay, repeat after us: The Ontario Court (General Division) will henceforth be called the Superior Court of Justice. And the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) will become the Ontario Court of Justice." The editorial goes on to say that the minister states that he is doing this to try to alleviate the "`public confusion' over the courts' names." But the point is made that if they're going to proceed with business as usual, with the old letterhead and the old signs, yet call then a new name, it is going to be very confusing for people. It seems to me that it really isn't broke when it comes to this, so why are we trying to fix it? What we're going to be very concerned about is that we not spend money to do this.
The editorial goes on to say:
"Harnick should have looked before leaping. Spending money on new signs and letterhead would, of course, be inexcusable at a time when the government is cutting needed services and staff. But changing the name without educating the public will actually make the system more confusing. Where's the common sense in that?"
That is what the Toronto Star said, and we concur. We really think that changing the name here may get rid of a problem the Attorney General has with some of the senior jurists in this province who are upset with him for other cuts that he is pursuing in his jurisdiction and this is the way of trying to maybe get some peace in the criminal justice system in Ontario.
Our justice critic, Bob Chiarelli, the member for Ottawa West, estimates that the cost of changing the signs and the stationery could possibly be as high as $2.5 million. The ministry has denied this, and we certainly hope the ministry is correct. Mr Chiarelli points out that the government will have to incur staff costs for notifying other jurisdictions about the change, as in any jurisdiction there is correspondence between courts in various provinces and various countries, as many of these cases transcend our jurisdictions. To eliminate confusion, to make sure the correspondence and the evidence are addressed correctly, these other jurisdictions will have to be notified. I'm not sure how you're going to do that on the old stationery, notifying: "By the way, please ignore the letterhead. We've now changed our name." I guess there is a middle road here in what you do in incurring expense or creating confusion, so we hope the ministry does well in trying to eliminate confusion but at the same time not incur a greater expense to the public of Ontario.
Some other people are concerned about the name change. One is John McMahon, who is the executive legal officer to Chief Justice Patrick LeSage. He made some comments in a July 9, 1996, article in the Toronto Star about the name changes. He also disputes the notion that the name changes will cost money. He is saying that all the court letterhead and filing forms will be used up before any new supplies are ordered and that there's going to be no additional cost for redesign.
We must talk about the signs. Talking to the Attorney General in the justice committee a couple of weeks ago, I asked him about the signs. He made the point, which I think was quite valid, that many of the permanently etched signs across many of the courthouses in Ontario say "Courthouse." That's all they say, so up to now really there is no confusion. If you get subpoenaed or summoned to court for whatever reason, usually in your locale you know where the court is. It's simply identified, usually by a carving in the block above the door in some of the old courthouses, that it's the courthouse. The individual names aren't usually used.
But once you come inside the court, and especially if you're in a larger jurisdiction such as any of our metropolitan centres here in Ontario -- Toronto, Ottawa, London or Windsor -- as people will know, there are various courts within the courthouse. I would think that once you get your notice that you are being summoned to one particular court, the government is going to have to change the interior signs in the courthouses to direct witnesses, laypeople who want to observe the court and all the staff at the very beginning as to where to go and where to be directed in the courthouses across the province.
There is going to be a cost, even though the government denies it. The Toronto Star contacted a sign maker who for 35 years had experience in providing signs for government here in Ontario. They gave him an example of the sign outside the East Mall courthouse in Etobicoke and, based on that example, he said the cost of replacing the courthouse signs would range from about $1,500 to $5,000 each. Refacing those signs only, and that is sliding in a new nameplate while leaving the outside structure intact, would be at least about $1,000. He said, "I can't see very much less for $1,000."
That means if each court building had only one sign, and several of them have more, as the parliamentary assistant knows, the cost would range from $160,000 to $800,000. Maybe with some volume discounts there might be a bit of a percentage knocked off that, but I think we're still talking some substantial expenditure in doing this, something that's primarily cosmetic.
At the same time, Madam Speaker -- and I know this is of interest to you and that you have brought it up in the House many times, and many members of the House have brought this up -- we are very concerned, in the very same ministry, about the changes the minister has brought forward in regard to the family support plan. In making those changes, the same as this bill, trying to streamline, trying to save money, we have now caused so much disruption in people's lives in this province, especially in this case now of single mothers with children who depend upon the receipt of those support payments on a timely basis every month so that they can keep their households together. The changes this minister has made by closing down those regional offices, I believe, are causing a lot of hardship, and we have the evidence in this House.
When we see the Attorney General weighing in now in other areas such as changing the names of the courthouses, bringing in new systems as to how the civil law will be marshalled through the civil court, we're very concerned that he not botch this up as he has botched up the family support plan. All the members of this House from all parties are receiving hundreds of complaints about the --
Mr Tilson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: No matter how the member from Timiskaming tries, there is no way that he can connect the family support plan issue to this bill.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): It's not a point of order.
Mr Tilson: It has absolutely nothing to do with this bill -- absolutely nothing. I suggest that he stay on the topic of the bill.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Dufferin-Peel, that is not a point of order. I believe he's talking about the justice system. If you listen, there may be some connection made here. The justice system is being discussed.
Mr Ramsay: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
Mr Tilson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The problem with what we're doing in this bill, this bill does not deal with the entire justice system. It deals with a number of issues and we've been quite specific: It has to do with charities, it has to do with the change of names, it has to with case management masters. Again, it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of the family support plan.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Dufferin-Peel, I've heard enough. Thank you. Take your seat.
Mr Tilson: Madam Speaker --
The Acting Speaker: The member for Dufferin-Peel, I've been listening carefully to the member, as always. There's a certain latitude, as we all know, given in debates. I listen carefully, and if members stray too far from the topic for a prolonged period of time, I intervene, but it is my ruling that that has not happened at this point.
Mr Michael Brown: On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I'm a little disturbed that the government appears to be trying to limit debate to only particular issues that they wish to speak to, without allowing members to put it in the context in which you have to place issues of public importance.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Algoma-Manitoulin, that also is not a point of order. I don't see that that's what is happening here. I have ruled the point of order from the member for Dufferin-Peel out of order. Would the member for Timiskaming please continue.
Mr Ramsay: Thank you, Madam Speaker. In returning to the bill and my discussion that the parliamentary assistant was in attendance at in the justice committee a couple of weeks ago, we brought up a lot of points like this though because our concern is that we certainly believe there is going to be an expenditure here that will be incurred by the Attorney General's office in making these name changes through expenditures for new signs and stationery that surely are going to come from trying to alleviate some of the confusion. At the same time, we have seen cuts in the overall Attorney General's ministry budget, and from that we have seen a reduction in crown attorneys across the province, 70 crown attorneys. About 15% of prosecutors are going to be cut. Our concern is that while we are focusing on a bill to change the name of courts but yet their function remains the same, we are not as a jurisdiction vigorously pursuing criminal convictions, as we're letting many charges go that we used to prosecute fully and then punish fully. That's a concern to people.
I would say to the member that this bill certainly fully relates to the whole exercise of the Attorney General's department and where the priorities are of the Attorney General in making these more or less cosmetic changes to the system while at the same time we feel other programs that are under his charge are being neglected. I think it is all related.
As an example, over 50,000 criminal cases were lost in 1990 due to unreasonable delays in the justice system. Right now there are fewer provincial court judges in Metro than there were at that time, so we see the backlog growing. Once again, according to recent press reports, court delays and backlogs threaten about 50% of criminal cases in Ontario because they're taking too long to come to trial. So that's a concern. While we look at getting maybe some new signs and some fancy new names that will add to the confusion, meanwhile we're letting people off the hook. We think that's wrong and should not continue.
According to the minister's own statistics, 49% of the 1,105 outstanding General Division cases in Metro have been in the court system for more than eight months now, and about 30% of cases in the Peel region have been in the system for that length of time. In response to this potential crisis, Dave Moran, executive assistant to the Attorney General, has stated that the ministry may use a team of experienced prosecutors to go in and blitz in the backlogged region. Again, we only hear from the Attorney General's office that maybe they might be doing that blitzing and getting these prosecutions caught up. Meanwhile, the actions we see are these more cosmetic things that are contained in Bill 79. We're going to be changing the names of the court and not putting the money where it's really required, and that is getting these backlogs and prosecutions caught up so that justice will prevail in the province.
It is really clear that there's a shortage of personnel. It is probably the most serious problem in Ontario at this time in this particular ministry. There are, as of September 23, 1996, only 461 prosecutors in Ontario, down from 481 earlier this year. The government has not replaced 20 crown attorneys lost through attrition this year, and indications are that this trend is going to continue, so the crowns who remain on staff are facing ever-increasing caseloads. This is a very big concern.
In addition, I just remind the parliamentary assistant that Chief Justice Roy McMurtry has called for more judges and staff for the Ontario Court of Appeal, stating that it will be unable to resolve cases within the case management framework recommended by the Civil Justice Review. Chief Justice McMurtry has stated that the US appeal courts have at least four to five times the number of judges that we do in this jurisdiction, law clerks and lawyers, for the same caseload, and that Ontario also has fewer appellate judges per capita than any other Canadian province.
I think it's clear that while we worry about changing the name of the courts, we're not addressing the real problem, and that is getting the personnel into our courts and getting our courts open like the Americans do -- night court in the evenings, opening them up on weekends -- to start using the facilities properly rather than like we do at sort of 10 till noon and 2 to 4 or 2 to 5, to really start to use the infrastructure that we've got, bring in more personnel if needed, and get this backlog addressed.
I don't think the people are going to stand for letting people charged with serious crimes be let go in this province, because then law enforcement becomes a farce. It's also a slap in the face of our police, who risk their lives on a daily basis on behalf of all of us out there in investigating and making those arrests and then find that all that hard work is for naught because the judge says the case has not been brought before him and his court in a timely manner and is therefore dismissed. That is very demoralizing to the whole system, especially to our police officers, the men and women who are risking their lives on a daily basis out there, and they deserve better. We should be supporting our police; they've got a very tough job to do. I'm not sure there are too many people in this Legislature who would trade their positions for their positions, especially today and especially in our big cities. It's very tough out there in any aspect of the criminal justice system, but especially for the front-line officers.
I think in respect for them, in respect for the criminal justice system, we should be marshalling the proper resources to make sure the Attorney General's office has the resources to handle the cases that the police and the Solicitor General bring forward so that all these cases can be brought to fruition. We think that's very appropriate.
These problems, we don't believe, are going to be addressed by the creation of new court facilities, by changing the names of courts or spending public funds on new signs, letterhead or official forms. One study commissioned by the association of law officers of the crown has shown that if the government is forced by the staffing cuts to look to outside counsel for legal advice and representation in civil matters, it will end up costing the province tens of millions of dollars, as outside lawyers working on government contracts tend to bill about $169 per hour as opposed to the $110 per hour effectively paid to government lawyers. We think it's pretty serious, it's pretty important, and we ask that the Attorney General, after this bill passes, starts to focus on what we believe are the real problems.
It really is clear that the so-called Courts Improvement Act is a thin disguise for the government's true agenda, and that is to change the names of the Ontario courts for the second time in five years. We think it's a needless and costly change because it does nothing to redress these real problems that I have just outlined.
We think it's also a point in that exercise that it's not going to deal with the fictional -- and I think it is only fictional -- public confusion over the present system. In fact, by changing the names of the courts for the second time now in five years, this bill is likely to worsen and not reduce public confusion as to what the courts are called and what their particular functions are. Perhaps this name change, as I suggested earlier, is a patent effort to appease senior judges in Ontario by restoring their status as Superior Court judges. Maybe there's some other motivation; I don't know.
Whatever the reason, there's no justification for the waste that, as I said earlier, could amount to $2.5 million of taxpayers' money on new signs and letterhead in the 160 courthouses in Ontario. I certainly argue with the parliamentary assistant that I'm sure in the 160 courthouses across the province there is going to be a need for new signage almost immediately if people are going to find their way in the courthouses to the particular courtrooms that they need to go to. I suspect that is going to have to happen.
It's also absolutely inexcusable for this government to be fiddling about with the name changes and spending taxpayers' money on new courthouse signs and letterhead while this court backlog that I've talked about threatens 50% of the criminal cases on the books now in Metropolitan Toronto. I certainly hope the parliamentary assistant passes on these remarks to the Attorney General so that we will know for sure that we will get rid of this backlog and we will not have people whom Metropolitan Toronto Police have charged, and in many cases have in custody awaiting trial, just let off because of the untimely manner in which these cases are being handled.
While the government continues to allow the number of prosecutors to dwindle, Ontario's Chief Justice is calling for more judges and staff to handle the existing caseload. We support Ontario's Chief Justice in that to make sure that the personnel are there so that this backlog can be reduced.
The Attorney General's other feel-good announcement about the improvement of the court sites in Toronto and the construction of new courthouses in other parts of the province at this time is going to do nothing to speed up the resolution of cases that are backlogged right across the province if there are not enough prosecutors to plead these cases or not enough judges to hear them in a timely fashion.
The emphasis now is on consolidating these courtroom facilities, building new courthouses across the province in certain centres, but in the short term that is not going to prevent many of these people who have been charged with criminal offences from getting off scot-free.
It's important that we let the Attorney General demonstrate his real commitment to reinvesting in the criminal justice system by investing in sufficient staff to handle the growing caseload and court backlog in a timely, efficient and professional manner. That would do more to build public confidence in the criminal justice system than any name change or new facility could ever accomplish, as proposed in this bill.
The resurrection of case management masters may be helpful in speeding up the resolution of civil court cases in Ontario. I'm sure the parliamentary assistant is pleased that I have something positive to say here.
Mr Tilson: Yes.
Mr Ramsay: I knew he'd be happy. We welcome any measures that might achieve this goal. I know some of my colleagues in this House have concerns as to your appointment process with these case management masters. It looks as if we're going back to sort of the good old days. Where we've moved on, let's say, in the appointment of judges to a more open process with more public consultation and review, now with these case management masters we're going back to a system of straight appointment, and these people -- let's not kid ourselves -- will have a lot of influence on how some initial decisions are made and how court cases flow through the system.
They will have a lot of power and I think the government should consider rendering this process to one similar to that we now have in the case of the appointment of judges. That would be something the government should be reconsidering so that the general public would have some confidence that the same open democratic system is in place in the appointment of the case management masters. We would welcome any changes that these measures might achieve towards that end.
However, this measure will do nothing to resolve those serious problems unless the government plans to invest proper resources and planning and appoint sufficient masters to handle the vast volume of work. On the one hand we've seen a reduction in the Attorney General's staff, primarily staffers, assistants and prosecutors, so we have to wonder whether we are going to see an appropriate appointment of management masters to manage the caseload in Ontario courts after we've seen the budget cuts. Where is this money going to come from? That's a concern, because the government has already failed to show its commitment to ensuring there is a sufficient number of judges or prosecutors.
It looks like we are adding another position and the position of case management master may be one that could bring some efficiency to the court management system, but if you don't put the resources into all the personnel needed -- these new case management masters and the prosecutors and the judges -- we are not going to see any dwindling of the backlog that really haunts the Ontario court system right now, and as I said, up to a caseload backlog of 50% in Metropolitan Toronto.
We have a lot of concerns about this. On the whole, the idea of bringing in specialists to case manage the workload of the courts is a good idea as long as the resources are there. I wish there was more emphasis on that and all the resources maybe went to that rather than worrying at this time about a name change. It seems to me the name change is superfluous at this time. People tend to know where the courthouse is, but it is going to cost money once people get to the courthouse. So I think it is going to cost some money.
Rather than put the money there, it would be better to have postponed the name change for the different divisions of the court and to put all the resources that would cost into personnel, bring in these new case management masters for sure, beef up the number of prosecutors, eat away at the backlog, and once we got that in balance, then if you thought it was desirable look at the name change. But I think you have bitten off a little too much right now.
I really question whether the Attorney General's ministry is going to have the resources to carry it all out in a timely manner and make sure we don't see people who are charged today and awaiting trial let off without their day in court. I think the people in Ontario deserve a better criminal justice system than that. People should have their day in court. Let me say it is a crime if those people don't get their day in court.
As I said, the police have done a lot of work in those investigations. In many cases we're holding people. They deserve to have their day in court and the general public deserves to know that the investigative work our police forces have done is not going to waste, that the perpetrators who have been charged with these crimes are going to court in a timely manner and are going to get off because they're innocent, if that's the way they're found, but hopefully not get off just because their trial did not come up in a timely manner. That's a big concern of the people of Ontario. I bring those points forward to the parliamentary assistant and I hope he will pass those on to the Attorney General as we continue debate of this bill.
The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?
Mr Tilson: I always enjoy hearing members from the Liberal Party give comment, because it's hard to understand what they're saying. Both the member for Timiskaming and the member for St Catharines indicated they're going to be supporting the bill, yet the member for Timiskaming spent most of his time being highly critical of the bill. I observed him reading the notes from, presumably, their staff and I again point out that the notes he was referring to are incorrect, that the bill deals with civil courts, not criminal, whereas he spent a lot of time in that area. I'll again remind him, as I did the member for St Catharines, that Chief Justice McMurtry's request for more judges must be filled by the federal government. So perhaps he could communicate with his federal cousins in that regard.
He made some comments about the Askov case. I've got to remind him that the Askov crisis, where cases were thrown out because of long time delays, was caused by the Liberal government. Poor old Mr Hampton, the present leader of the third party, had to take the blame for this when he was the Attorney General, but that was really highly unfair because clearly the crisis was caused by the Liberal Party. I think the Liberal Party has a lot of nerve coming to this place at this time saying there is a crisis in the courts when generally a lot of those crises were caused by their party.
The issue with respect to case management is to improve the process of the system to make it move a little better. We have a history of masters in the province going back at least 120 years. While case management masters are not like the office of masters, they're very similar to them. When the Liberals abolished the office of masters they created a crisis in the courts which we've been left to deal with, and we're just doing exactly that: We're dealing with it.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments? I'm sorry, to the member for Cochrane South, I should have recognized you first. Go ahead.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): That's okay, Madam Speaker, we have all been known to slip every now and then. You don't do it often, so we'll let you get away with it.
I listened in the lobby to the speech by the member for Timiskaming and this is what I have to say: The bill in itself is a step in the right direction. Let's be clear here. A number of issues are dealt with in this bill that we would have done if we were still in government: deal with a lot of the problems we find within the court system.
One thing I would like to have heard a little bit more about is the whole concept of case masters. Simply put, case masters will handle cases within the courts to try to speed up the process. The problem is that they're not going to be following any kind of process by which to hire these people. As it is currently, if you hire a justice of the peace or a judge there's a fairly public process, a fairly well scrutinized process in place to make sure the appointed person is not a political appointment, because you don't want political appointees of the government in your courts.
One of the problems with what the government is doing in this particular bill, with the case masters, is that the appointments are going to be done solely at the discretion of the government, and there's really not going to be, within the law, any kind of way to be able to check to find out who the Tory cabinet has appointed to the position of case master. I think that's the highest form of political patronage that you can see in a land where the government ends up controlling basically what goes on in the courts through the process of having to appoint their people in.
I say to the government, not a bad idea to have case masters, but what you at the very least should do is revert back to the process, which is what we do with the justices of the peace, which is that there is a process by which people can apply, there is an interview process of people within the community who are going to be the people in the end who are most knowledgeable about this and that the public appointment be made open, not something behind closed doors where you're able to appoint your political cronies to the positions of case masters, which will be the case with this legislation.
The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments? The member for Timiskaming, you may sum up.
Mr Ramsay: I appreciate the comments from my colleagues from either side of the House to my remarks today. To the member for Dufferin-Peel, who commented first off the mark after I spoke, I just wanted to say to him that my comments about the backlog in criminal cases in Ontario were made to show that where the emphasis by this Attorney General is where he's putting his resources. My point of view is that we have a larger problem in the completion of criminal trials in this province and that that is a more important problem than the backlog and the confusion and delays that happen in civil trials in Ontario. No doubt there are problems in both sides of trial law in Ontario, but for the general public the concern that people have is when resources are not put in place that expedite criminal trials.
With this bill we see the emphasis going to the other side of trial law in Ontario and not putting the resources in the crown prosecutors, in the criminal judges, and continuing on to the facilities to receive those people after sentencing. We've seen the elimination of some of the community-based programs that corrections once supported. We're really seeing a diminishment of law enforcement in Ontario, and that's the point I was making: that the first big piece of legislation we see from this ministry is a bill that changes some names, is going to cause some expenses and marshals through civil law cases a lot faster, but what I'm saying to the member is, that's not the priority of the majority of the people in this province.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate.
Mr Kormos: Here we are, it's 12 minutes after 5. I understand that this is going to be voted on this evening at a few minutes to 6. It's going to be a voice vote. We've got less than an hour left, and I know the member for Kingston and The Islands wants to speak to this. He has some important things to say so I'm going to take a little less than the 30 minutes that I would otherwise be allowed to make sure that member has some time to speak to Bill 79, assuming that he lets me know in time that I've reached that 25 minutes, so I'm counting on him.
It's going to be voted on. Once again, Ms Boyd, who is our critic for justice, speaking on second reading and just earlier today on third reading, has articulated the position of the New Democratic Party caucus. We're going to support Bill 79. We're going to vote for it.
When I heard the parliamentary assistant stand up in response to the member for Timiskaming -- the member for Timiskaming, notwithstanding his concerns, had indicated that he was supportive of the bill. I hope the parliamentary assistant doesn't take some of my comments the wrong way. I know I have to be cautious. I know you may not believe this, Speaker, but yesterday -- this is a brave new world; the learning curve is a tremendously steep one -- I got dinged for saying "bull feathers." That was ruled unparliamentary. I thought it was that old Marx Brothers movie but I realized that was horse feathers, not bull feathers. I said, what about BS? Well, BS was ruled out of order as well. I'm thinking, my God, I'm being muzzled here. This surely can't be a democracy when you can't even say BS in the right or appropriate circumstances. Please bear with me, because we're learning here, and demonstrate the patience you usually do if in the course of commenting on Bill 79 I find myself crossing that murky line as to what's acceptable and what's not acceptable language.
The thrust of the bill is the creation of masters. Their purpose will be to deal with preliminary matters and also with case management, as I understand the bill, in an effort to accelerate cases through the system.
As well, there's been much comment on the change of the names of the courts. There has been comment about the cost of changing signs. It's not just the exterior signs outdoors; there are the indoor signs and the mastheads on all the billboards and so on. I suppose somebody's ego is being addressed by virtue of the change of names, and who am I to interrupt the nurturing of the appetite of egos, be they of the bench or others in our province?
As well, there is the change of the titles of address to judges. I had always felt that at the end of the day "Judge" would be -- I know that's somewhat American, but "Judge" addresses the issue of gender. It addresses the issue of -- there's been a movement towards secularization of the courts. You're aware of it. I know some of the others here are. There was a time even in the Ministry of the Attorney General, in the design of courtrooms, where Superior Court judges had to have bigger offices than General Division judges, and General Division judges had to have bigger offices than Provincial Division judges, and should that ever not happen, boy, shorts got in a knot. But there's been a secularization in the Ministry of the Attorney General, and not without some protest, as I'm told merely by anecdote, on the part of some Superior Court judges. There's been a secularization and apparently all judges' offices in new courtroom design are the same size.
I understand that here we're universalizing the title that judges utilize. Again, to me, and I'm convinced to most of the people in Welland-Thorold, it's neither here nor there. Nor is the name of the courts to most people in Welland-Thorold either here or there. It's something that's not going to affect or impact on their lives in any meaningful or significant way. I assume that judges have been consulted and I assume that judges are happy with this. I suspect that if there are judges who aren't happy, it's the Superior Court judges whose noses are out of joint because the lower judges, the provincial appointments, will now be addressed in the same manner as those Superior Court judges, who make a heck of a lot more money than provincially appointed judges and, according to provincial judges, do a lot less work. But then you speak to a federally appointed judge and of course she or he will adamantly deny it.
I accept all that. I will be voting with the rest of the caucus in favour of Bill 79. Again, I understand that the recommendation given effect to comes out of the report commissioned by the former Attorney General, Marion Boyd, and addressed to her, and that's the first report of the Civil Justice Review, March 1995.
I'll tell you something that concerns me. It's a matter that's arisen in my constituency office month after month, year in, year out. I appreciate here that there's an attempt to use case management masters to accelerate matters through the civil process. Some people know that I'm a lawyer, and I concede, before anybody else accuses me of it, having no familiarity with civil law. I have no experience in that area of law whatsoever. But I'll tell you what I have got experience in, and that's the frequent attendance at my office by people who were or are litigants with huge files, but the single most important piece of paper they bring to me is the account they have received from their lawyers. I'm inevitably astounded. The amount or size of the accounts being tendered by law firms to litigants never fails to shock me. The reason people are coming into my constituency office is because they've initiated litigation. To be fair, although the vast majority of litigation, according to the Civil Justice Review's first report, is breach of contract and not matrimonial, the vast majority of the concerns I have addressed to me are instances of matrimonial litigation -- family law.
I see accounts where litigants -- again, whichever of the two spouses, husbands or wives, wives or husbands -- have effectively had their pockets and bank accounts and RSPs and parents' savings accounts emptied, and who are then midway through litigation and left to hang and dry. Simply, the till is empty, the cupboard is bare, the piggy bank has no more change in it.
I've got to tell you that one of the problems, one of the concerns I have, and I hope it's shared by you, Speaker, is the cost of litigation. I note that in the review of March 1995 they did a survey of lawyers' fees. They indicate that for the lawyers who were surveyed -- and the authors of the review insist that this is a reasonable cross-section of lawyers in Ontario, both in Toronto and outside of Toronto -- the average fee is $195 an hour. I don't quarrel with the fact that (1) lawyers are entitled to make money and (2) lawyers inevitably have overheads, like many professionals, overheads which aren't seen or at least not understood by their clientele. I understand that. Although I have no familiarity with civil law, I operated a small-town law practice for a number of years and hired people and knew what that cost, and bought supplies and paid for report services and libraries and so on.
I'm concerned because I note, and it's worthy of comment, that the legal profession, like at least a few other professions, is one wherein, notwithstanding its claims of high overhead, the pay that's paid to support staff is as often as not closer to minimum wage than any reasonable wage. While appreciating the concern expressed by lawyers about their overheads, I'm concerned as well about the fact that support staff for lawyers is not a particularly well-paid profession, and indeed one that's particularly important to the lawyer's practice.
Earlier comments by some of the members here in the House earlier today did a little bit of not inappropriate lawyer-bashing, talking about how lawyers can --
Mr Kormos: True -- can prolong litigation, can keep things on the back burner.
Mr Baird: Name names.
Mr Kormos: A few of them are probably sitting in the Tory benches.
Hon Mr Villeneuve: Peter, we are all around you.
Mr Kormos: My Tory colleagues would know better than I would. Far be it for me to point the finger. Don't shoot the messenger. I only know what people tell me in my constituency office. I only see the tragic net result of the lawyer who's emptied the pockets and bank accounts of a litigant who puts their future in that lawyer's hands, who entrusts that lawyer with the rest of their life and who ends up with their file in hand when the money has run out. Inevitably, you see, it was a matter of saying, "Don't worry." That's what lawyers of that ilk inevitably tell their clients, "Don't worry." Then they want to know how much you have in your savings account and how much you have in RSPs.
I'll tell you what I'm concerned about. I suppose, because I know in the Tory benches there are more than a few lawyers who continue to practice, notwithstanding being members of the provincial Legislature, one might refer clientele to them because they have MPPs' income and surely they would be prepared to charge lower fees than other private practitioners. After all, the taxpayer is footing the bill to the tune of at least 78 grand a year, and I would expect the lawyers who are practitioners among the Tory benches to take on clients for a fraction of the average fee of $195. By God, I'd expect more than a few of them to take on pro bono cases.
Mr Kormos: That's the pro bono work. Listen to the howls of protest from the Tory backbenchers.
Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): What is that word? What does that mean?
Mr Kormos: Pro bono means fulfilling and meeting your professional responsibilities and serving your community when there's a cry for your skill or for your help, without the criteria of charging usurious fees.
So the case master system does exactly what it purports to do. The Attorney General may well have published data giving some illustrations about what type of acceleration through the system it's designed to achieve, but I'm not aware of any illustrations that are specific, for instance, using half a dozen cases of a variety of types: breach of contract, which the Civil Justice Review tells us are the most frequent sort of cases, or matrimonial. In the absence of that kind of data, it's hard to say how meaningful the appointment of masters is going to be.
I should join in the criticism of the manner of appointment because we have a return here to pork-barrelling that's the old-fashioned, Bill Davis-John Robarts way of doing things.
Mr Baird: What about Bob Rae?
Mr Kormos: Somebody said, "What about Bob Rae?" Well, Bob Rae never got an appointment. He's working for an expensive law firm downtown; he's paying his own freight. So why these people are concerned about Bob Rae beats me.
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Order.
Mr Kormos: But the fact is that it's a return to old-time pork-barrelling of the very worst type. The fact is that over the course of the last two governments -- and credit has to be given to Ian Scott in this regard. Ian Scott was certainly a leader among attorneys general in this province, and it was an approach and a style that was maintained and developed upon by Howie Hampton and Marion Boyd subsequent to him.
Why Speaker, my Speaker has now turned into Ms Churley. The metamorphosis of Speakers --
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Riverdale.
Mr Kormos: Ms Churley, the member for Riverdale. But her friends call her Ms Churley, the member for Riverdale.
But we were trying to address the issue of pork-barrelling. The fact that a relatively --
Hon Mr Villeneuve: You wrote the book on it.
Mr Kormos: Now, Speaker, it doesn't rank with horse feathers or bull feathers. We're talking pork-barrelling. Please, there's nothing scatological about pork-barrelling, by any stretch of the imagination. So here we go. We're talking about pork-barrelling of a type that's been unseen in this province for a good number of years.
The system for appointment of members of the bench has been, as I say, initiated by Ian Scott and the Liberal government of the accord, so I suppose New Democrats take some credit for that; developed and maintained and made sophisticated under the tenures of attorneys general Howie Hampton and Marion Boyd, and I think it's served us well.
My assessment of the bench in this province -- and I'll throw in federal appointments as well -- is that this province is blessed with a bench of superior quality. Earlier Mr Gerretsen, the member for Kingston and The Islands, had to suck up to Small Claims Court judges; I suppose some could accuse me of merely sucking up to provincially and federally appointed judges. But I'll say it again: The province enjoys a bench that's of an unrivalled quality.
The provincial appointments are appointments that take place --
Mr Gerretsen: One hundred and thirty bucks a day; that's all they made.
Mr Kormos: Mr Gerretsen's commenting on what the judges get paid in Small Claims Court. How much is that?
Mr Gerretsen: A hundred and thirty bucks.
Mr Kormos: One hundred and thirty dollars a day. Haven't they ever heard that you get what you pay for? Maybe that's the problem. In days gone by I've had trouble from time to time with Small Claims Court judges. Had I known that, I would have been an advocate of higher pay. But I understand Mr Gerretsen himself has from time to time been a rent-a-judge in Small Claims Court, and he'll speak to that in his own right and on his own time.
There was nothing entirely inappropriate. In fact, everything indicates that the type of screening system and system of assessing qualifications that had been developed over the last 10 years served the judicial system well, served the community well. For the Attorney General in this instance to omit that from this legislation -- it was pointed out to him during the course of and after second reading, and no amendments were forthcoming; it's being pointed out to him again. It's the sort of thing that's been pointed out to him since the birth of this legislation, and the government has clearly refused to introduce an amendment that would submit case management masters to the same sort of screening and test of qualifications as other provincial appointments to the judiciary.
That leads to the inevitable conclusion, as so many have stated it, that this is designed to be a depository, like so many other unfettered appointments by the Tories, for failed Tory candidates. I suppose there's some message inherent in this, but this is the contradiction. You Tory backbenchers don't understand it because you know that more than a few of you are going to be tossed out of your seats come the next election. You don't get it. When you're tossed out of your seats it's not as if you're going to be able to line up for these appointments, because you're not going to be in government any more either. You're going to have to depend upon the largess of Howie Hampton and his cabinet come 1999. I'd suggest that you start placating him now, or for the few of you who might be qualified to assume such a position, be prepared to submit to a hiring and appointments procedure akin to the one that's been developed over the course of the last decade.
When I make note of the determination by the Civil Justice Review of the average fees charged by lawyers, and they are determined to be $195 an hour, I also make note of the observation made by that review. It says, "In addition, we believe that the profession" -- the legal profession -- "needs to re-examine the way in which it charges its clients for the services it renders." I think that's a point well made. The recommendation is this: "We" -- the panel authoring this review and this report -- "recommend that a working group be established in conjunction with the Law Society of Upper Canada for the purpose of addressing the issues involving legal fees and making recommendations to the Civil Justice Review in that regard for purposes of this report."
Masters alone are not going to enhance the accessibility of our civil courts to the types of folks in each and every one of our ridings, be they 130 ridings or 103 or 73 or however many. The fact is that litigation is an incredibly expensive exercise that most litigants simply cannot enter into.
I have coming into my constituency office in Welland-Thorold on a regular basis people who have been ripped off, scammed, what have you, and I've prevailed upon counsel in the community to do pro bono work for them, people like Brenda Harlen, with her law office down at the south end of King Street, a bright young lawyer with long-time family roots in Welland. Brenda has taken on a number of cases at my request pro bono -- matrimonial, Small Claims Court cases -- and she's done an exceptional job with them. She's an outstanding lawyer. Dianne Grenier is yet another to whom I've referred a number of cases. She's over at the Seaway Mall on Niagara Street, an excellent lawyer. Dianne Grenier has taken on a number of cases that I've asked her to, recognizing that these are litigants who appear in my office, these are people who appear in my office --
Mr Tilson: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I have been listening to the member for Welland-Thorold's comments, and I think he's hardly referred to this bill at all. Now he's talking about all his pals back in his riding, and he's running off talking --
The Speaker: Order. I have listened carefully and the member for Welland-Thorold has occasionally come back and mentioned the bill. I ask him to continue.
Mr Kormos: Thank you, Speaker. As it was, I was talking about two outstanding members of the bar in this province, Brenda Harlen, from the south end of King Street, 683 King Street in Welland, down at the corner of King and Ontario Road, and Dianne Grenier, over at the Seaway Mall on Niagara Street in Welland, both of whom I've imposed on to take on cases that have come into my office.
Most recently Dianne Grenier, Seaway Mall in Welland, acted pro bono on behalf of a senior couple who had been ripped off bad by a concrete firm that had poured a concrete pad, charging them, it was incredible, $7,000 or $8,000. They didn't use adequate reinforcing rod, used the wrong grade of stone underneath the concrete. They came to me, and once again I tell you, I have no expertise in that kind of litigation. I prevailed upon Dianne --
Mr Kormos: Precisely. Bill 79 and expediting matters through the court and inaccessibility to the court system and the fact that case management masters are not the sole answer; that that in itself is inadequate; that we're not addressing some of the real gut problem here.
I was telling you about these folks from Welland South and their driveway. They got ripped off bad. But Dianne Grenier and I were capable of organizing a team. I got Eli Katch, from Crowland Avenue. Eli has been pouring concrete in Welland for 55 years. Eli is semiretired now, doesn't do the work; he'll supervise the jobs. Eli, pro bono again, went out and inspected the place over in Welland South, did an affidavit, because it was Small Claims Court, indicating his opinion. He's well known. Eli Katch was the master of concrete, still is, down in Welland -- Crowland really, because he lives on the Crowland side of Crowland Avenue. It was only annexed into Welland in 1957. People in Crowland -- that's where I was born and grew up, in Crowland. I'm not really a Wellander; I'm a Crowlandite. But Eli contributed his expertise, yes, pro bono.
Dianne permitted us to use her lawyering skills pro bono, was successful in Small Claims Court. Ah, but here's the rub: She got a judgement. Mr Gerretsen, from time to time the rent-a-judge, knows exactly what I mean. She got the judgement for these folks. What does she do with it then? Then these folks are embarking on a tortuous course of paying fee after fee after fee -- and I know, I'll do it for you: The previous government increased fees too. There, are you happy? Yes, the previous government increased fees too. But I tell you, one of the ways of addressing accessibility and speed of process in the system, especially with Small Claims Court, is addressing the reality of the fees.
So here we are. These folks are now embarked on the second stage of their struggle, and that is tracking down whatever assets this clown who did the contracting for them and ripped them off in the first place might have hidden away.
I ask the Attorney General this. I say that there is a problem that's far greater than one of case management and one of utilizing masters in terms of making sure cases get through the courts in a speedy and efficient manner. I think one of the considerations is access to the courts in the first instance and certainly access to counsel.
One of the things this government has embarked on doing that's a major impediment in that regard is the staffing of courts, the staffing of court offices. Again, I know we are not dealing here with criminal courts, but the staff in court offices, be they criminal courts or the civil courts, has been put under increased and exceptional workloads, increasingly burdensome, which makes their job all that much more difficult and at the end of the day is inevitably going to impact on efficiencies they would be able to obtain in their own right.
So here we are. I regret having utilized the modest period of time that we're permitted to use here, but I am pleased to have been able to speak about the legal expertise of Brenda Harlen in Welland and of Dianne Grenier.
Mr Kormos: One of the Tory backbenchers wants to know how to spell her name, It's H-A-R-L-E-N, a great young woman who's a brilliant young lawyer and is partners with Mark Evans, who's the criminal practitioner, the outstanding criminal lawyer down on King, and Dianne Grenier, both of whom, yes, in the best tradition of the bar have done pro bono work for referrals from my office.
I should close just on this. I know there's more than a few Tory backbenchers who continue to practise law virtually full-time. They keep their offices going. In view of the fact that they're earning wages starting at $78,000 a year, many of them, plus when you throw in the little pluses, I would suggest to people --
Mr David Turnbull (York Mills): What did you do, Peter?
Mr Kormos: They'd better be careful, because if they ask questions, they're liable to get answers. I would suggest that people across this province go to lawyers who are MPPs and say to them: "Look, I'm already paying your salary. Why are you going to charge me $195 an hour? Why are you going to charge me $100? Why $50? I tell you what, I'll pay the disbursements." That's what people in communities across Ontario should be saying to their MPPs who are also active, practising lawyers: "I'll pay the disbursements because I'm already paying your salary."
If the Tory backbenchers were in any way enthusiastic or serious about real folk getting access to justice, why, they'd be using this opportunity in their careers, because it's a relatively brief one, their incomes as MPPs, to enable them, yes, to do pro bono work for clients, certainly those who are worthy. If Conrad Black shows up at your door and asks for free work, tell him to hit the road. Tell him, "You have Babs come in here and cut a cheque because there's no way Connie Black is getting free legal work." But when folks like the folks in Welland-Thorold who have been ripped off, who have been scammed, who need help in the system come to you, give them a break. They deserve that much.
Thank you kindly, Speaker. You've been most generous with your absence of rulings on my comments today. I was almost going to say "horse feathers," but I declined.
The Speaker: Thank you, the member for Welland-Thorold. Thank you for the compliment, and I'm sure the member for Kingston and The Islands is very happy you didn't use your whole half-hour as you promised.
Questions and comments?
Mr Bisson: I will just make this comment quickly. The member for Welland-Thorold talked about how there are many fees that are going to start to be charged by the courts that weren't charged before, and some of those fees are going up.
I listened intently as some of the government members heckled on the other side and talked about fees that were increased at the time we were the government. But I would say to the members across the way, I'd be very careful about throwing a stone on that particular issue because I can tell you that across the province of Ontario, municipalities, school boards, hospitals, you name it, are going to be raising user fees and licensing fees at every opportunity in order to be able to deal with the government's expenditure reductions that they have going on.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Tory user fees.
Mr Bisson: Tory user fees. A good example: In the township of Vaughan, because the member raised it in the debate, the Minister of Transportation on the one hand is trying to deregulate the trucking industry and trying to remove some of the licensing requirements legislated under the law. In the township of Vaughan, that municipality is increasing licensing fees to truckers, individual trucks, on drivers and on companies. For companies that have five or six or 10 trucks, it's significant amounts of money. We're talking in the tens of thousands of dollars.
So when the members across the way are somewhat sensitive to the issue that the member for Welland-Thorold raised about user fees being charged by the courts with regard to increased fees that will be charged because of expenditure reduction, be aware that because of what this government is doing a lot of people out there in regard to municipalities etc, who have had their transfers cut by the government, are going to be raising those fees to a level we have never seen before. It doesn't do us a lot of good. The taxpayer got a bit of a tax break from the Minister of Finance in the one pocket, but coming out of the other pocket is not only the wallet; they're pulling out the entire lining of the pocket in user fees passed on because of the cuts this government is going forward with. There's no gain in this particular move.
The Speaker: The member for Welland-Thorold.
Mr Kormos: I appreciate the opportunity. I know I've got two minutes, but I want to defer to Mr Gerretsen, please.
The Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Gerretsen: There are some comments I want to make about this bill and about the state of the system of justice in Ontario in general. The government has a responsibility here, as do the law society and the lawyers who practise in this province, to first of all demystify for the general public the whole legal system and the court system we've got operating in this province. It's never been in the self-interest of the legal profession to do this, quite frankly. If there's a certain cloud or a certain mysticism about the whole process, people will be more inclined to use lawyers etc, but I really think the time has come when we've got to demystify the system we operate in.
You're not going to do that just by changing the name of the courts at this stage. I can tell you from practical experience that most people haven't got a clue as to what court they're going into. All they know is if it's criminal court or not criminal court. If they've had any experience with the criminal justice system, they usually know where the criminal court in any municipality is located, but they don't know where the other courthouse is located. Whether you call it the Court of Justice or give it any other name, to them it's still "the courthouse."
It's the same thing with the way in which judges are addressed. It doesn't matter whether you call them "Your Honour," "Your Worship," "Mr Justice," "Madam Justice" etc. To the average person those people are judges, and they just call them "Judge." I would think that with another name change that's now being imposed, once again, we're only making it worse for the average member of the general public. Let's face it, most of the people probably only deal with the legal system, as far as being in court is concerned, once or twice in their lifetime, if that often. I don't think we're doing anything in this bill that will make it easier for them.
Kind of interesting is a quote that was in one of the local newspapers recently. I'll just read this to you: "In an interview yesterday, Barbara Krever, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's ministry, acknowledged that a desire to restore the court's pre-merger moniker played some role in the change." She states, "The new name better reflects the traditional name of the superior court," and she added that some judges felt the old names were confusing. If the judges feel that the names are confusing, can you imagine how the general public feels about it?
To spend money on changing the names of all the different courts and by putting up new plaques identifying their new names etc is a waste of the taxpayers' money. I understand that a change will cost something like $2.5 million. There's been some suggestion made that we will not be changing the names of some of the courthouses or court offices until it's actually required to be done after the nameplates have worn out etc. We will have a province now with about four or five different names that different courthouses will be known by. Can you imagine how confusing that will be to the general public?
The other thing I wanted to briefly touch on is this appointment of the masters. The intent here is to speed the cases along quicker. I totally agree that the speed with which most civil cases have been moved along in the past is totally unacceptable, especially when you look at the fact -- and I looked at some statistics here that stated that -- it can now take a civil case as long as five years to make its way through the court system. That's certainly true, and it can take much longer than that as well, but the average cost of taking a case in the civil court system is $38,000. That's totally unacceptable, and if we can speed the process along so much the better.
Having said that, I think it's also fair to say that in the existing system some judges in assignment courts were able to move the system along quite quickly who gave one side or the other, once it was ready to go to trial, perhaps one further adjournment and then said, "You're either ready to go with your trial on a particular day or forget about it." Not all judges adhere to that system, and we all know that in some cases in assignment court it was easier to get adjournments than in other cases. It's to be hoped that with this new case management master system that's being contemplated to be part of the legislation the process will be speeded along.
I have some concerns as to how these people will be appointed. I would like to see a system in which the local bar association will be asked for their comment not so much on the qualification of different people who may apply for these positions but how they are regarded from a practical viewpoint in their communities, because I think these new positions will be very practically oriented. It's my understanding that it will not be so much about how much law these masters know but about how quickly they can move the process along. In that case knowledge of the law may not be all that necessary. What is much more important is whether people are going to be appointed to these positions who will take a very practical approach to it and get cases moved along.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): He's just going to use that word irregardless of what you say. There's no such word as "irregardless" either.
Mr Gerretsen: Is that right? I'm certainly glad to see the members opposite have woken up from their afternoon siesta and are now ready to contribute to the debate, particularly since it's almost time to vote on the bill and leave.
There is one other situation I talked about a little bit earlier that I want to go back to: the limits of the Small Claims Court. We know that for years the limit in most of Ontario was $1,000, and I believe it was $3,000 here in Metropolitan Toronto. For years individuals, not necessarily the law society, have been asking to have this limit increased. It was increased about four or five years ago when the limit in Small Claims Court outside the Metropolitan area was increased to $6,000, and I believe in Metro it's $10,000. Let me tell you from a very practical viewpoint that the speed with which matters were resolved for individuals involved in having trials in that system, as a result of the increased limits the justice that was dispensed, obviously not always to everyone's satisfaction, was greatly improved. It was always difficult, from a very practical viewpoint, to explain to individuals why a $3,000 or a $4,000 case in the olden days would take two or three years to resolve, would require discoveries and all sorts of other interpleader motions before the matter actually got to court; then if it wasn't settled and actually went to court, quite often the expense involved in having this matter heard was two or three times the amount the actual claim was worth, which was absolute nonsense as far as I was concerned.
By increasing the limits to Small Claims Court most of these cases can be resolved in a matter of two or three months, which I believe is the average time it takes from initiating a case to having it heard by a Small Claims Court judge. I think that generally speaking the public is much better served. Yes, there will be the odd situation, as has already been indicated by the member for Welland-Thorold, that perhaps the quality of justice that was dispensed may, in the opinion of --
The Speaker: Order. I ask the members to come to order. The member for Welland-Thorold, I noticed the House was listening very intently when you spoke, and the member for Kingston and The Islands.
Mr Kormos: I was listening to him, Speaker.
The Speaker: You may well have been. It's difficult to talk and listen. I'm certain you could do it.
I ask the member for Kingston and The Islands to continue.
Mr Gerretsen: I was going to say something very complimentary about that member, but I will cease and desist from doing so at this stage because he obviously was not listening with the same intent we all gave him when he was speaking a little earlier.
The point simply is that if the Small Claims Court limit were increased, the general public, which may at times be involved with that system, would be much better served. This is something that perhaps the Attorney General's department can take another look at. I know there will be certain pressures from within the legal community and the law society that may very well be opposed to this, but we ought to look at not so much what serves the legal society best but what serves the general public of Ontario the best. That should always be the final matter taken into account.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): It's okay, you can quit now.
Mr Gerretsen: No, I won't quit, because I have to say something here about the $120 million in cuts the Attorney General has made to the justice system. We already know that has cost 606 jobs in the Ministry of the Attorney General. That amounts to $60 million worth of the cuts. We also know that 70 crown attorneys have been cut, which is 15% of the total prosecutors in this province. I guess what that really all boils down to is that whereas, on the one hand, within the civil system we are in effect speeding up the process by having these case management masters, in the criminal system we are delaying the process because there simply aren't as many prosecutors available to do their jobs and move the criminal system of justice along as quickly as was the case beforehand. I understand, for example, that the government has not replaced the 20 crown attorneys who were lost through attrition this year, and we've got every indication that this will continue.
In summing up, let me just say that whereas the appearances are here that the system of civil justice in this province will be expedited, whatever has been gained in that aspect has been more than lost on the criminal side, where in effect the number of crown attorneys available to prosecute the various cases that come before the court system are simply no longer available to the system.
The Speaker: Mr Tilson has moved third reading of Bill 79. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now pass and be entitled as in the motion.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Pursuant to standing order 34, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made. The member for Cochrane South has given notice of dissatisfaction with an answer to a question given today by the Chair of Management Board. The member has five minutes to debate the matter, and the minister or parliamentary assistant may reply for up to five minutes.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): The question that was put today is actually quite a simple one. The government last fall released the contract I have here in the House today. It's the area maintenance contract for the snow removal and summer maintenance of the highway system in the area of Chatham.
When it was announced that the contract was being awarded, and prior to the tendering process, it was said by the government, it was said by the Minister of Transportation, that this was going to be a pilot project, that this particular contract would be won, it would be awarded, and then they would give it some time to work itself out. The ministry would then evaluate the pilot project to see: Does it work? Does it not work? Are there savings for the government? Are there not? Are there ways of making it better etc? Only at that point would the government move forward to look at the possibility of going to further moves of privatization.
We found out yesterday that the Minister of Transportation, none other than the Honourable Al Palladini, released six new area maintenance contract bid tenders, which begs a person to ask the question: If the first one was supposed to be a pilot, why are we out there releasing six new contracts afterwards? It's rumoured, by what we're hearing within the Ministry of Transportation, that within a three-year period the entire Ministry of Transportation road maintenance, summer and winter, is going to be done by private sector contractors and no longer carried out by the Ministry of Transportation.
The first part of the question was: "How can the government go forward with this without any attempt to look at what are the consequences for the taxpayers of Ontario?" Clearly there hasn't been any of that that's happened, because the first contract hasn't even started yet and the government has already announced it's going to go forward and do a number of other contracts over a short period of time.
The second part of the question I asked the minister, and this is really where I take exception, was, "Listen, under what reports, under what studies, under what kind of documentation can you prove to us, the taxpayers of this province, that privatizing these particular highway maintenance contracts is going to save taxpayer dollars?" The minister said, "Well, we're going to save $5 million," but he never came back and told us what reports showed him that.
We know for a fact that in areas where there has been privatization of winter and summer road maintenance -- in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and in the northern states of the United States -- all the reports that have been done on those attempts to privatize, which have been in place for a time, have proved that it is cheaper for the Ministry of Transportation to do it itself with the use of contractors balanced off against having some Ministry of Transportation employees.
In the case of British Columbia, they found that when it was originally announced that they were going to go forward with privatization some years ago, they were going to supposedly save the taxpayers of the province anywhere from $100 million to $160 million over the period of the contracts. By that mark, they went forward and introduced privatization in BC. We found out five years after the fact, when the study was finally done, that it didn't save the taxpayers of BC any money; it cost them an additional $100 million.
The same is the case in Quebec. The same is the case in the northern states. In every case where they've privatized the entire ministry of transportation maintenance staff, it has resulted in higher costs to the taxpayers. So I said to the minister, "Why is it you're going forward with this without any kind of review, without any attempt to look at and quantify what the savings are going to be to the taxpayer?"
I then brought to the minister's attention a report that was done by the Ministry of Transportation -- it's entitled Highway Operations and Maintenance Program Review, Final Report, dated May 1994 -- when we were in government. We asked the Ministry of Transportation: "Is there something you can do within the Ministry of Transportation that will save money? Look at all of the options, including privatization." We said to them: "You have to look at all the options. You just can't look at one; you have to look at them all."
The Ministry of Transportation, the people who know this best, went out and looked at all the areas that had been privatized, as I said, contained in this particular report dated May 1994, and as a result made a final report. Their final report said simply this: "Total contracting of the highway maintenance operation is not appropriate even if only for the fundamental reason that it does not generate significant economic savings."
If the Ministry of Transportation people themselves found fit in 1994 to say that it doesn't pay to privatize, that you have to have a balance between private contractors such as we have and ministry employees, what brings the government to the point of coming to the conclusion that the entire privatization made sense economically? I await the minister's response on that question.
Hon David Johnson (Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet and Government House Leader): I will attempt, in the absence of the Minister of Transportation, to respond as adequately as I can. The member for Cochrane South has referred to a report. I believe he's referring to the Highway Operations and Maintenance Program Review. I see him nodding his head. I'm informed by the Ministry of Transportation, to start with, that this particular review is several years old and did not examine the benefits of area maintenance contracts, so that the staff feel that it was not a fair assessment of the initiatives now under way by the Ministry of Transportation. That's my response to that particular aspect.
In general, I will say that the Ministry of Transportation has reviewed this matter, I believe, quite thoroughly from the point of view of their business plans. They've also looked at the kind of reports they've received from British Columbia -- the member for Cochrane South particularly mentioned British Columbia -- and also an initiative in Alberta. So they have studied this very recently from other jurisdictions, as well as the business plans. They believe from all the evidence they have that there will be a saving to the taxpayer and it could be in the 7% to 11% vicinity.
In terms of the first pilot project, the one in the Chatham area, the sort of saving that apparently has been achieved through the RFP, or request for proposal, is in the area of almost $1 million over a three-year period. That is comparing the same level of work that the private sector would achieve as the public sector has at the present time, so comparing the same level of work, about $1 million. The question has come up, if that sort of work changes, then wouldn't that affect one system more than the other? It's not our belief that it would. We feel that is a fair comparison.
A question comes up with regard to whether we should wait to implement further pilot projects or further work, not having proceeded very far down the Chatham test project. The ministry does feel that the very fact of going through the RFP has contributed significantly to their understanding. Now, we don't actually see the work on the road -- the member is wagging his finger at me -- and that indeed is true, but just the fact of having gone through the RFP in the Chatham area has assisted them greatly in understanding.
This particular proposal that the minister has just issued has different components to it. It has an outsourcing component, which involves some 2,000 kilometres, I believe, but it also has what they call a managed outsourcing component. The managed outsourcing component retains the administrative overseeing functions, let's say, of the Ministry of Transportation to a greater degree, the day-to-day supervisory functions, perhaps you might term them, of the Ministry of Transportation. That will be over an area of some 5,000 kilometres, and that's different from the Chatham proposal. It'll also allow for smaller contractors to be involved. Smaller contractors are quite involved in the --
Mr Bisson: Presently.
Hon David Johnson: Presently, yes. I think some 60% of the winter maintenance, some 50% of the summer maintenance, so their contribution is excellent. But what we're attempting to do is raise that level of participation through either outsourcing or managed outsourcing over a broader period of time and over a broader area, in some cases, I guess, close to 100%, and the managed outsourcing may be less than 100%. By doing this, the staff in their analysis believe we can save in the vicinity of 7% to 11%, which will represent some $4 million to $5 million across the province.
The guideline we have endorsed up to this point is that if there isn't at least a saving of 5%, then we're not going ahead with it at that point; it would have to come back for further scrutiny. If the saving is more than 5%, then they'll be implementing; under 5%, we'll say: "Stop. Have another look at it. Is this really the way we want to go?"
I guess with that, Mr Speaker, my time has run out.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): It being after 6 of the clock, I deem the House be adjourned till 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1810.