36th Parliament, 1st Session

L125 - Wed 20 Nov 1996 / Mer 20 Nov 1996
















































The House met at 1331.




Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): Today we are joined by firefighters from throughout Ontario, including those from the city of North York, who have gathered here to express their concern about the policies of the government.

With the introduction of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, the government has chosen to disregard the legitimate concern expressed by firefighters throughout the so-called consultation process which the government indicates led to this legislation.

Firefighters are dismayed by the provisions of the bill, such as significant changes to the classification of management personnel, the resulting changes to their collective bargaining units, modifications to hours of work, and wage issues. These are some of the main concerns about the Fire Protection and Prevention Act being brought to Queen's Park today.

Furthermore, Ontario firefighters are also here today to share with us the serious reservations they have with regard to proposed changes to workers' compensation legislation by the Conservative government. In both instances, these changes will have significant impacts upon firefighters and how they do their jobs.

I call upon the Premier, the Solicitor General and his colleagues in the government caucus to listen and act upon the concern being expressed by the dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line every day in this province.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): Yesterday, the Minister of Community and Social Services, in an incredible fit of arrogance, told this House that the biggest threat to women in this province is the size of the deficit. What a vile thing that is to say. Tell that to the families of the 29 women killed over the past year by abusive spouses. I really hope the minister didn't really mean what she said and that she will rise in the House today, withdraw that remark and offer an apology to the people of this province.

Since the minister raised the issue of the deficit, perhaps she could cut back on the sanctimony and explain why, if the deficit is such a preoccupation of this government, you are going to borrow $20 billion to give a tax break to your rich friends. What a twisted sense of priorities it takes to cut back on services for abused women so that the top-earning chief executive officer of a bank, who earns $3.1 million annually, will get a tax break of $206,000 over the four years it takes to implement this tax cut.

Evictions are up. Bankruptcies are up. Food bank use is up. The strain on social service agencies, themselves dealing with reduced funding, is way up. It's high time this government stopped blaming others and took responsibility for the plight of the vulnerable in this province.


Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): I would like to draw Drug Awareness Week to the attention of members. This year's campaign theme says it all: Choice, Consequence and Responsibility.

The abuse of alcohol and other drugs touches the lives of 74% of the people in Ontario. It is estimated that it costs $3.3 billion a year in direct and indirect costs. Of particular concern is the use of alcohol and other drugs by youth. According to a 1995 Addiction Research Foundation study, the use of substances is increasing among students in grades 7 through 13. This includes alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

The Ontario Drug Awareness Partnership includes the Ontario Drug Awareness Partnership; the Addiction Research Foundation; Concerns, Canada; the Council on Drug Abuse; the Ontario Secondary School Students' Association; Parents Against Drugs; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; St Vincent de Paul; and some 75 Drug Awareness Week committees.

The Ministry of Health awarded a grant of $110,000 to the Ontario Drug Awareness Partnership to produce campaign materials and assist local committees with community events. Over 72,000 campaign items have been distributed to Drug Awareness Week committees throughout the province. With this help, communities can address substance abuse locally.


Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): As most members of the House know, on Sunday the city of Hamilton will be hosting the Grey Cup. It's the first time since 1972 that the premier Canadian sporting event has been held in our great city.

This event could not have occurred without the work of many citizens, the hundreds of people in the community who have worked hard over the past year, including the co-chairs of the Grey Cup committee, Ron Foxcroft and Marnie Paikin. They and their committee have worked endlessly to ensure that this Grey Cup festival on Sunday becomes the best the CFL has ever seen.

There are many activities that are planned, including parades, beer tents and multicultural festivals. There's a week of fun not only for football fans but for Hamiltonians, Ontarians and Canadians from coast to coast. We certainly welcome our friends from out west to the city of Hamilton, our friends from Edmonton and the rest of western Canada who will be joining us for the game, as well as our friends from Toronto.

It was a pleasure, and I say this reluctantly, the Argos won last Sunday because it will ensure that this Sunday's game will certainly be a greater success, having a large contingent from the city of Toronto, and they will be welcomed with the usual warm Hamilton reception that Toronto fans get to Ivor Wynne Stadium.

I want to thank Mayor Morrow, city council and the organizing committee for the great work they've done and invite everyone across this province and in this Legislature to participate in the events for the rest of the week and enjoy a wonderful Grey Cup on Sunday. I won't tell you who I'm cheering for, but it may not be Toronto.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): All members of the House will know the valuable contribution that TVO makes to education and culture in this province, particularly to children's programming, so most of us are quite alarmed at the prospect that this government may be contemplating privatizing that television network.

I am also, though, concerned and want to join with others who have raised the issue of what this might mean for the communication services of the Wawatay Native Communications Society that serves 20,000 first nations people living in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation area.

Wawatay, as you may know, is a non-profit, multimedia organization that serves the Ojicree of that region. They use the signal of TVO for their distribution system. The distance education serves students in 23 first nations, helping them to complete their high school education without having to leave their home communities. Without the important service provided by TVO on a non-profitable basis, this very important service could be jeopardized.

I hope that all members will join in ensuring that TVO remains and continues to serve the aboriginal people.



Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): I rise today to address the House concerning our most serious public health problem in Ontario: smoking.

Since the early 1990s, smoking rates among children have been increasing sharply. I believe that all members will agree that as a society we should do everything possible to discourage children from starting this filthy habit that many adults find impossible to kick.

Recently Dr Richard Schabas, chief medical officer of health for Ontario, released a report on smoking entitled Tobacco: Sounding the Alarm. The report recommends that the provincial government make all places where children go smoke-free, set up a toll-free telephone number to help people quit, help sport and cultural organizations replace tobacco sponsorships at their events and make all workplaces smoke-free. I personally believe that we should set a goal of making all workplaces smoke-free by the year 2000. This would give workplaces a reasonable time frame to adapt to the change.

Governments should also consider making cigarettes more expensive through the reinstatement of taxes on tobacco. Most children do not have a great deal of money, and more expensive cigarettes mean that fewer children will start smoking and fewer children will keep smoking until they're addicted.

The minister and his chief medical officer of health have my complete support in adopting any measures that would prevent children from becoming smoking addicts and dying prematurely from lung cancer, heart disease and strokes.

I urge the government to take immediate action to begin implementing these recommendations.


Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): This morning I attended a rally on the front lawn of the Legislature to recognize national Child Day and to remember the tragic death of James Lonnee, who was murdered this summer while being held in detention. The rally was held to increase awareness of the abuse our children are suffering in Ontario jails.

It is often said that a nation is best judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Ontario as of late has a failing grade. From the Bluewater riot to documented beatings and abuse of young offenders at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre and the death of James Lonnee, we in Ontario have failed our children.

When our children break the law and are sentenced we expect them to be returned to family and community whole and safe, and hopefully, with the right treatment program, better for the experience. What we don't expect is our children being returned to us in a pine box.

We hear and see abuse of children from around the world on our nightly newscasts and we cringe at this. I think we become smug sometimes and feel these things don't happen here. Well, they do happen here and are still happening today.

We need a public inquiry into how Ontario still handles its young offenders. It is time for the Solicitor General to take responsibility for young offenders and that we have that inquiry.


Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): This week is Restorative Justice Week all over Canada. It is a week that marks our efforts to try and deal with the issue of those who have committed crimes in our society, have been convicted for those crimes, have been incarcerated and then have to make their way back into society.

It is important for us in Ontario this year, as we mark this week, to recognize how seriously the current government is failing in its task to add to the restorative nature of justice. Rather, we see a government bent on a punitive measure of justice which does not seek to reunite those who have committed crimes against society back into the community, a government that is determined to blame, that refuses to protect the prisoners who are within their own custody and that constantly tries to dodge its responsibility.

It is particularly poignant that in the middle of this week, a day that is also national Child Day, we have a government that continues to avoid the responsibility it has for dealing with alleged beatings and the death of a child in custody in this province. It is important for us all, as legislators in this place, to insist that the Solicitor General and the government assume their responsibility.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Twenty-five years ago the first female pages were appointed to the Ontario Legislature. This was an important day for all of Ontario and, more important, for the four young women from the county of Durham.

Christine Tukendorf, Betsy Scott, Dianna Tax and Annette Hoekstra were the first female pages. Alex Carruthers was the MPP for Durham at that time. The criterion to be a page was that they had to be an outstanding student. That tradition continues today. From that time, all pages, male and female, have made a significant contribution to the routines and traditions of this Legislature.

Today I am pleased to welcome Jacqueline Bakker, a student from Knox Christian School in Bowmanville. Jacqueline is the first female page from Durham East since my election. I would also like to welcome Mr and Mrs Will Bakker, Jacqueline's parents, who are present in the gallery today.

I would ask all members to join me in recognizing the 25th anniversary of the first female pages appointed to the Ontario Legislature.



Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I rise to inform the House that later today I will table amendments to the Retail Business Holidays Act that will remove Boxing Day from the list of days that most retail establishments must be closed.

The bill I will table, called the Boxing Day Shopping Act, will end the confusion that now reigns on the day after Christmas. Store owners will now be free to decide whether they will be open or closed that day and consumers will have the choice of whether to shop or not.

Also, employees will have the choice of whether to work or not. The bill ensures that the right of employees to refuse to work on Boxing Day will be protected through amendments to the Employment Standards Act.

As a government, we have always said that we want Ontario to be open for business. Now people will be able to do business on what is often the biggest shopping day of the year without worrying about being charged with an offence, and the police can focus on their primary job, fighting crime.

This is also a job creation measure as it will increase hours for Ontario's retail workers. It has always been the position of this government that less regulation means more jobs. We hope to have this bill passed into law in time for this coming Boxing Day.

In addition, in the new year we will transfer the responsibility for this legislation to the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations where it has always belonged.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank Mr Tim Hudak, MPP for Niagara South, for his diligent work on this issue over the past year and a half.

Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): Well, Minister, that's quite a statement. All we seem to be getting is sort of cheesecake statements around here, and I think our caucus is asking "Where's the beef?" from this government.

As you know, we've got the stands packed here with firefighters today who are coming and talking to members of the Legislative Assembly. I and the rest of the members of my caucus were expecting an announcement on that, and specifically the deletion of section 9 of Bill 84, the firefighters' act. These are the onerous labour relations aspects to this bill that's a poison pill that's killing this bill. It's hurting our firefighters in Ontario, and it's going to hurt fire protection in this province.

We're expecting you to come up with something of substance today. Where is the beef? Where are the other government initiatives? Where's the WCB bill we've been waiting for? Where's the rent control bill? Where's the big Metro bill? None of this is coming through, and I bet the House leader here, with a couple of weeks coming before Christmas, is going to want to rush through all this legislation when we could be starting to debate this today. We're not getting this at all.

As far as shopping on Boxing Day is concerned, I'll tell you I don't think people are going to be shopping for Christmas this year, let alone Boxing Day, because there's no jobs, there's no money, and the retailers know that.


This government believes in the trickle-down theory: "We're going to give back this tax rebate to people." Well, they're not spending it. And you know why? Because they are afraid for their jobs. They're not even sure they are going to be employed the next day, because their neighbour who used to work for the Ontario government, she isn't employed any more. So people are afraid and they're not spending. The whole thing is backfiring.

Saying that retailers can legally open on Boxing Day -- the good folks of Ontario aren't going to be there, or maybe they're going to be waiting this year and will do all their Christmas shopping after the fact on Boxing Day. Maybe it is a good thing for the retailers that he's done that.

The people of Ontario can't afford today to pay full value for all their goods because they're just very afraid for their jobs. You've pulled out millions and millions of dollars from the Ontario economy and the people of Ontario are suffering because of that. You're cutting their jobs and the economy is starting to lag. To say that this one little initiative to now legally allow stores to open on Boxing Day is going to help create jobs in the economy, this one day a year, isn't going to do it. This isn't going to do it at all.

Yesterday you came in with a little pat-on-the-back announcement saying that your campaign manager was doing a very good job on the parole board in not keeping all the bad guys out on the street any more.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Was that his campaign manager?

Mr Ramsay: Well, his campaign manager is the person who's doing this, I think; a very highly trained individual, I'm sure, who also knows how to run campaigns very successfully down in Leeds-Grenville.

We're not getting the substance. We're not hearing about the truth of Ipperwash. We're not getting the investigations from the Elgin-Middlesex beatings, and we know the beatings were there because the child advocate has documented those beatings. We're not hearing that.

We're not hearing on a number of issues from the Solicitor General the job that he should be doing. If you had been here just a while ago, I made a statement in this House about a rally that was held outside today. It's national Child Day. Specifically it was held in memory of the death of James Lonnee. We are not getting to the bottom of this issue.

You stubbornly have refused on every issue we've brought before this House to hold a proper, open and accountable public inquiry so the people of Ontario would finally get to know what's really going on in your ministry and also to finally find out who's in charge of your ministry, because it's apparent you're an absentee minister when it comes to running that ministry.

Minister, what I say to you today is, this is nice fluff, it's nice icing on the cake, but we'd like to see some real substance from you. We'd like to see you doing your job to make sure there's proper police protection, and now that your government has made the mistake of bringing in video slot machines all over this province, to make sure the protection is there so that organized crime doesn't get into every community right across this province. That's what we're looking to you for. You were the tough guy over on this side in opposition, saying you were going to straighten all this stuff around, and all we get are piece-of-fluff announcements here. We want the public announcements, the public inquiries on these incidents that have happened in Ontario.

With the firefighters here today, we'd like to see a deletion of section 9 of Bill 84 to get those onerous Labour Relations Act pieces out of Bill 84 so that Ontario firefighters can do their job with the respect they've always had. They've never had a job action in this province, they've never put a life at jeopardy in this province, and they never will. You should not insult them like this.

Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): It's becoming a habit for this minister to stand up and make announcements to try to divert people's attention from the very poor job he is doing in running his ministry and the number of outstanding issues that are there. The minister is smiling and laughing. He thinks it's funny that the people of Ontario find the job he has been doing absolutely despicable in terms of real protection.

We have a minister who stands up and talks about the Retail Business Holidays Act as though, first of all, it were needed. As we all know, the act was knocked down and it is not necessary to have a separate act on this. This is real fluff, real window dressing.

For this minister to stand up and try to claim that this act is going to create jobs -- "This is a job-creating measure," he says -- is ridiculous, because it may add a few more hours to a week, given the kind of part-time economy that is building in this province. It is absolute nonsense. It is completely anti-small business. It is particularly geared to the large corporate entities that are trying to take over small business in this country. It is for the large operations that can afford to stay open and can afford not to have time with their families. It is not for the small business people who have very little time to spend with their families anywhere and who cannot compete with the kind of wealth and privilege that larger corporations have.

This is not a happy kind of a situation and to suggest, as this minister does, that this is going to increase the consumer spending of the population of Ontario, as my colleague from Timiskaming pointed out, the lack of confidence that the people of Ontario have that is being reflected in poor retail sales is not going to be resolved by your adding one more day to the retail calendar in this province. What is needed on the part of the government is a real effort to understand that people are not buying because they are not sure they will have a job.

Those people who work in government, those people who work in municipalities, all those operations that are dependent upon the kinds of grants they have from government, ought to be wary of whether or not they'll have a job tomorrow, or whenever the finance minister gets around to making his next economic statement. Everyone in this province is waiting with bated breath to know when the next shoe is going to drop and how many jobs will disappear as a result. If this minister wants to pretend that this useless act, adding one more day to the retail calendar, is going to make any difference to consumer confidence, he's dreaming.

One of the most offensive pieces of this particular statement is the comment about how this will save policing, will allow the police to get back to their primary job of fighting crime. Well, every time this minister starts talking in this vein we know he is trying to divert the attention of the people of Ontario from the very real problems that are faced under the various operations that come under this minister. My colleague from Timiskaming mentioned a number of them: the Ipperwash affair; the issue around youthful offenders; and a long saga of events --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Sorry, member for London Centre. Can I get some order, please? It is very difficult to hear the response. Thank you.

Mrs Boyd: -- the long saga of unresolved issues in this province, including the Ipperwash affair, including the treatment of young offenders since February 29 in this system, and, for all we know, at other times; the ignoring by this minister of the fact that the many reports he has asked for have not been handed in: the Drinkwalter report on the parole board; the report on Bluewater; the various reports he said he would consult with people on that he hasn't even released. Yet he has the nerve to stand up in this place and try and present himself as bringing forward a bill today that has meaning to the people of Ontario, the people who are really concerned about issues around justice in this province.

This minister ought to be aware that, although the protection is there under the Employment Standards Act now for employees who might be forced to work on Boxing Day, we are looking at that whole act being under review. Employees in this province are in danger of having many of the rights they currently enjoy under the Employment Standards Act removed. How can we have any confidence that this right will not also be removed?

We have little respect for the statement that the minister has made today and want to expose it for what it is: window dressing.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I'd like to take this opportunity to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the Speaker's gallery today members of the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario. Please join me in welcoming them.

Also today, from Prescott and Russell County Board of Education and Pleasant Corners Public School, two grade 8 students, Andrew Phillips and Andrew Ferguson. Welcome, gentlemen.

Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I know that you would want to draw to the attention of the House the fact that Her Worship Mayor Hazel McCallion is also present in the House today.

The Speaker: Welcome to the mayor of Mississauga as well. I know full well that we didn't introduce her to know she was in the gallery. Thank you.




Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): Today, on national Child Day, my question is for the Minister of Health. I want to talk about 18-month-old Quincy Mutter. She was born with a heart condition. At the time it was not considered serious, but over that period of time she's been admitted to Sick Children's Hospital numerous times with high temperatures of as much as 104 degrees and a number of viral infections.

The situation is obviously serious and the parents are concerned. The family physician has stated that the child needs to see a specialist. They say that the baby's weak heart has made her susceptible to all of these health problems. For over a week they have searched to find a paediatric cardiologist and have not been able to find one. Mr and Mrs Mutter are in the gallery today. They are scared and they are mad. I'd like to ask the minister, what does he suggest they do?

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): The honourable member didn't have to wait till question period to tell me about this case. By simply telling me earlier today, I could have already been working on it on behalf of the parents. My office, along with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, will make every effort to find a paediatric cardiologist for the child if that is what's being requested by the child's physician.

Ms Castrilli: That's just the problem. They have gone to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. They have asked for the referral service. They have been given two names, one of a doctor who has already refused to see them, one of another who said, "Well, maybe in April or March." Quite frankly, they can't wait that long. They are extremely concerned about their child. This is a nightmare for them and for parents in this situation. The responsibility is yours. What will you do to end this crisis?

Hon Mr Wilson: The responsibility of providing medical services in this province is shared between the government and the physicians of the province. You've not said the --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Hold on. Minister.

Hon Mr Wilson: A paediatric cardiologist at the best of times in this province and this country is a very busy physician. I don't know the reasons why the two cardiologists who have been contacted by the honourable member or by the family which the honourable member is representing today or the family's doctor can't see this particular patient, but I'd be happy to look into this matter immediately.

Ms Castrilli: The Mutters will certainly be very happy to hear that, and we hope we can get some solutions and not just empty rhetoric. But the problem remains: We can't keep coming to the Legislature with individual situations. There is a crisis out there, a crisis that the minister must address.

It is unfortunate that even the editorial staff at the Medical Post in yesterday's editorial said that for the first time in their history they've called for the resignation of a Minister of Health.

This is very serious. This is a crisis. I hope the Mutters will be able to sleep better tonight but, Minister, you've got to do something. Frankly, if you are not capable of doing it, will you not ask the Premier to step in and resolve this situation as quickly as possible for the health of all our children?

Hon Mr Wilson: Unless the member is prepared to say why the paediatric cardiologists can't see this particular patient, it's very difficult for me to answer. I can tell you that at the best of times in the history of this province and this country, paediatric cardiologists are very busy doctors. She's not indicating in her question today that it has anything to do with the current relations between the government and the OMA. As you know, we're at the table trying to solve those problems. So I'd be happy to look into this matter, as we do on a regular basis for patients who have difficulty finding a particular specialist. That's part of the services offered by the case workers at the Ministry of Health, it's part of the services offered by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and that system was put in place many years ago. It was the same system the Liberals used when they were in office and the same system the NDP used, and I'd be happy to use it in this case.


Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): My question is for the Attorney General. Yesterday, the Minister of Finance had the audacity to say that his tax cut had no effect on child poverty, even though we have some 350,000 children who are currently listed as living in poverty in Ontario.

The family support plan we know is a crucial part of the fight against child poverty in Ontario, but we also know that this program is now in utter shambles and money is just not getting to the kids for basics like food and rent.

The minister says his new family responsibility office is up and running. If this is true, can he tell me why a request for proposals on a contract to analyse the family support plan restructuring program was only issued two weeks ago? Why wasn't this done before he closed the regional offices and left women and children to fend for themselves?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I appreciate the question from the member. The technology that exists in the family support plan is a system known as MECA. MECA is a system that has been overloaded, and the technology was deemed by the auditor back in 1993 to be ineffective. The former government didn't want to deal with answering the complaints of the auditor. What we are now doing, as part of the restructuring of the plan, will be to upgrade the technology as the --

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Out the door, Charles. You've got no credibility.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Lake Nipigon, it's easier for me if you heckle in your seat rather than standing. Thank you.

Ms Castrilli: I want to be very clear. This document deals with the basics of the new office. It talks about what computers they will use. It even says the technology won't be purchased until June 1997. It's been four months since the Attorney General closed down the regional offices, fired hundreds of staff, lost or delayed thousands and thousands of files, and only now, in November, are we thinking about the kinds of computers to buy, and it won't be finished until June. That's another six months away. I don't think the Attorney General's answer is satisfactory. How can he sit idle when he knows that the situation is serious and that children are living in poverty and that it's his ministry that's responsible? How does he answer that?

Hon Mr Harnick: We are continuing to make use of the existing technology that was part of the way the old plan operated. We're now making the transition to the new plan, and as part of that process we will be implementing and adding the technology that was recommended three years ago by the --


The Speaker: Order.

Ms Castrilli: We've heard these answers before, and the plan isn't getting any better. The fact is that women and children are suffering, and I'd like to give you a specific example. There's a woman in Ottawa called Céline Dorion. She called our office. She stated that last summer she was interviewed by the CBC as part of a show on deadbeat dads because her own husband owes her something in the nature of $20,000. Last week, after hearing nothing for months, she finally heard from the family support plan. They told her, and this is a direct quote, "People who do interviews against us are not a priority." That ministry official then hung up on her.

So here we are with Christmas just a few weeks away, and Céline Dorion is justifiably worried about her children. She has had no money for months. She is owed $20,000. Her kids are concerned about rent and food, let alone the luxury of gifts.

Will the Attorney General stand in his place today and admit that the family support plan restructuring has been bungled?

Hon Mr Harnick: Without knowing any of the details of the particular case, it sounds very much as a case that has been --

Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): You are bullies and they are bullying people too.

The Speaker: The member for Oriole, order.

Hon Mr Harnick: It sounds like a case that has been in difficulty for quite some time.

I can tell you that only 23% of all cases that are now in the family support plan are in full compliance. The bill that we will be introducing today will go a long way to helping someone who's had long-standing problems with this plan. It will allow families who don't want to be in the plan to opt out, it will make use of the new technology and, most importantly, it will provide enforcement tools that will finally begin to collect some of the $1 billion in arrears that has been allowed to accumulate.



Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Solicitor General. Today is national Child Day. Members on this side of the House are wearing black ribbons in memory of James Lonnee, a youth who was murdered at Wellington Detention Centre, and in memory of the alleged abuse of other youth at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre and Bluewater.

This morning there was a rally to call for justice for children and youth in detention. It was a plea for your government to comply with minimum international rights standards for youth who are held in custody. Youth in the care of your ministry have been beaten, mistreated and verbally abused. James Lonnee came forward and tried to tell people about what was happening in your ministry. He paid the ultimate price: He was murdered.

Minister, you have given us no clear indication that youth in the care of your ministry are any safer today than they were six months ago. There have been no public independent assessments of what's happening in your ministry. When are you going to provide us with detailed reports so that you may be held accountable for all the things that are going on in the corrections part of your ministry?

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I have indicated with respect to the Bluewater matter, the other matters, the tragic death of James Lonnee, that we know there are police investigations involved in those situations. They're not yet complete. Until they are complete we cannot finalize the internal reviews as well. Certainly I would like to see those completed as much as anyone in this province would, but the police, in my view, are moving in an expeditious way to try to conclude their investigations and we will simply have to await the conclusion of police investigations before the other internal reports can be made public and completed.

Mr Hampton: We know all about this minister sending out directives and we know all about his calling for this investigation and that bit of research. The fact of the matter is that nothing has been done. This minister gives assurances and then young people in his custody are murdered. He gives assurances and young people in his custody are beaten and abused.

Your assurances that your ministry has sent out directives and instituted new training isn't good enough any more. You aren't trusted and you aren't believed by a whole large group of the public out there. A public inquiry is necessary to ensure the safety of children and youth in your custody.

I ask you again, what have you done to reassure parents and the public that children and youth in your care in correctional facilities are safe from the kind of abuse alleged to have occurred at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre and Bluewater and the tragic death of James Lonnee? What have you done to take care of these problems?

Hon Mr Runciman: I have indicated in the past that we're moving on a whole range of fronts related to the corrections system, both on the young offender side and on the adult side of the system as well, new training programs that in terms of the review and hiring practices of correctional officers are also going to put them into streams so they can specialize with respect to young offender training or adult training if they're going to serve in one or the other of those divisions.

We're also looking at a dedicated facility for young offenders which will be the first in this province to try and alleviate overcrowding problems that have existed with previous governments, which they failed utterly to deal with.

We are looking at complete changes with respect to infrastructure in the corrections system, which again the previous governments failed to deal with in a substantive way. So I think we're moving in a very substantive way, a very meaningful way, to correct problems that have existed in this system for many years.

Mr Hampton: The press conference was held this morning. June Callwood, who's a founder of Justice for Children, was there. She doesn't believe you any more, Minister. Mary Birdsell, James Lonnee's lawyer, doesn't believe you any more. Les Horne, a former child advocate, doesn't believe you any more. This is your record. You have not released the child advocate's report. Your internal investigation keeps being postponed. No senior officials in your ministry have been disciplined as a result of your not being informed of the allegations of abuse at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre. You are being sued by the managers who were the subject of those allegations for your inaction. You are being sued by the youth who allege mistreatment within your facilities, and you are seen by the employees, parents, youth and the general public as being both unable and unwilling to take these matters seriously.

You're the minister. You must take responsibility. Will you today commit to a public inquiry so the public can be made aware of the true facts that led to the death of James Lonnee?

Hon Mr Runciman: I'm sure the leader of the third party is well aware that when a death in custody occurs there is an automatic inquest, and that inquest will occur with respect to James Lonnee's death.

The member makes a suggestion or an allegation that the general public are upset with the way this government or this minister are dealing with justice issues. I want to say, quite the contrary. That's not the feedback I'm hearing, not the feedback the members on this side of the House are hearing at all. In fact, they're very much pleased with the direction we're taking on justice issues, dramatically different, I agree, with respect to the member from the third party.

These are needs that have not been addressed for many years with respect to, for example, more focus on victims of crime. We've done a host of things to deal with victims. You can talk about strengthening the ability of police to deal with law enforcement and the security questions in our communities. We're doing a significant number of meaningful things in this area, much more than the previous two governments did.



Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Attorney General. In order to finance your phoney tax scheme, you decimated the family support plan. You laid off 290 experienced staff, you closed the eight regional support plan offices and now women and children across the province aren't receive the child support payments they used to receive regularly.

Minister, today is national Child Day and you should hear what children from Kitchener said last night about what you have done to the family support plan. These are all messages from children.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Attorney General.

Mr Hampton: This is what those children had to say.

The Speaker: Leader of the third party, time's up. Attorney General.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): What? What time?


The Speaker: I didn't hold that sign up. The member next to you held the sign up. Your time keeps going.

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): We are starting to embark upon a transition to a new plan that will start to pay and collect the $960 million that's been allowed to accumulate in payments that women and children are not receiving.

Fifty thousand phone calls a day have been coming through to the plan for many years, and those people have not been calling to compliment the plan on getting money to them. It's misleading to say that this problem started yesterday or a couple of months ago. Annually $100 million has gone uncollected because the plan --

The Speaker: Order. Supplementary, member for Sudbury East.

Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): What is misleading is this minister trying to tell people this office would be up and running by the end of October when it won't be operating until at least next year.


The Speaker: Member for Oriole, I heard exactly what the Attorney General said and I heard what the member for Sudbury East said.

I suggest to the member for Sudbury East that you can't accuse the minister of misleading the House. It must be withdrawn.

Ms Martel: Mr Speaker, I'll withdraw it.

This minister can't continue to fool the public and pretend he isn't directly responsible for the financial misery that thousands of women and children are facing across the province now. You, Minister, were directly responsible for laying off 290 staff in August. You were directly responsible for closing the eight regional offices, all this to finance the tax cut on the backs of these women and children who used to receive regular support payments. Maybe you don't want to hear what the kids have to say, but let me tell you some quotes from some of the children we met with last night:

"We need winter clothing and boots and we have to wait for mom's money," said Melissa and Sarah Bell.

"Hi. Help us. Our names are Josh, Amanda and Craig. We need you to send the support to our mom so we can get the clothes, orthodontics, school supplies and glasses. Mom can't do it alone."

"Please send Dad his support. We need school supplies, clothing, boots for winter, and we're hoping that Christmas comes this year. Does it come to your house?" Mike, Amy, Travis and Emily.

I'd like the minister today to tell these children and all other children across the province who are suffering because of your cuts why you are financing tax cuts on the backs of these kids.

Hon Mr Harnick: As I indicated, these are not new problems. We are introducing for second reading a bill that we believe will provide enforcement that for the first time will start to eat into the $100 million that accumulates in debt from this plan each and every year. I tell the honourable member that on November 18 we sent out $1.9 million to 6,104 recipients. That's a plan that is working and getting money out to women and children.

Ms Martel: I don't know whom the minister is trying to kid. Thousands of women and children out there are not receiving their regular support payments. We're getting calls every day in our constituency office from people who are in financial distress because of your cuts. Why don't you assume some responsibility for that?

Let me tell you about some of the bills the women who were at the meeting last night can't pay, since you don't seem to think this is a problem. Susan Murray has a bill from Cambridge and North Dumfries Hydro. If she doesn't pay this week, it will be cut off. Louanne Ringle has a bill from Bell Canada. If she doesn't pay this week, her phone service will be cut off. Jane Cardy has a notice here from Waterloo North Hydro, "Pay up this week or your hydro will be cut off." We got a notice to Anne Parker in the Ministry of Community and Social Services saying she should pay her overpayment now. We've got an eviction notice for Jenny McKay because she hasn't been able to pay her rent.

The minister has got to understand that as a direct result of his cuts to staff and his closure of the regional office, families who used to receive regular support payments are now not. What are you going to do about it and why are you financing the tax cut on the backs of --

The Speaker: Thank you. Attorney General.

Hon Mr Harnick: We are endeavouring to continue to increase payments on a daily basis. We've done that by a 25% increase in --

Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): Tell that to her landlord.

Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): Tell that to this woman's and her kids' landlord.

Ms Martel: Her hydro's going to be cut off next week.

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): I have a lot of people coming into my office who are in similar circumstances because of your --

The Speaker: Member for Cochrane South, I'm warning you, as well as the members for Cochrane North, Sudbury East and Welland-Thorold. I'm telling you right now, that's the warning. Please come to order. That's the warning.

Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: My office has just received a call from the office of the Minister of Health. The caller was very angry that we had dared raise the matter in the House without giving prior notice. That is bullying tactics. Just for the record, the family did call the --

The Speaker: Order. Minister of Health.


The Speaker: Order. A point of privilege?

Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): It's question period, Mr Speaker.

The Speaker: I understand it's question period, member for Kenora. It was your member who stood on the point of privilege. Point of privilege, Minister of Health.

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I witnessed the phone call. That did not occur as the honourable member accused. The honourable member's office said they knew nothing about the case. We're now on the phone, right there, to the paediatric cardiologists at Sick Kids and we're trying to do the best we can for the family.

The Speaker: Thank you. I am in the process --


The Speaker: If you want to take another point of privilege, go ahead.

Ms Castrilli: In fairness, that doesn't deal with the point of privilege. My office was called and told that the minister's office was very angry that we were raising this matter in the House without prior notice. Since when do we need prior notice --

The Speaker: Member for Downsview, it's not even a point of privilege and, quite frankly, it's using up very valuable time. I understand that it's -- I would prefer to deal with this after question period, and it would probably suit everyone's needs.

Attorney General.

Hon Mr Harnick: We are taking steps to improve this plan so that we can get money to women and children and --

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): There's the rest of the bills, Charlie. There's the bills from last night.

The Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, come to order.

Mr Christopherson: There's the bills.

The Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre, I'm warning you to come to order.


The Speaker: Member for Hamilton East.


The Speaker: Members of the third party, would you please come to order. Thank you.

Mr Gilles Pouliot (Lake Nipigon): Charlie, pay up. Pay up. Women and children --

The Speaker: Member for Lake Nipigon, I have now warned you as well.

Mr Pouliot: But they don't have a voice, Mr Speaker.

The Speaker: And now I'm warning you again.


The Speaker: As my record in this Legislature will attest, I'm a very patient person. New question.

Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): There are women and children --

The Speaker: Member for Sault Ste Marie -- I am going to name the member for Sault Ste Marie.

Mr Martin: Well, you named everybody else.

The Speaker: Well, then, I will name the member for Sault Ste Marie.



Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I have a new question concerning the Ipperwash incident. You will recall, Premier, that in September 1995, three months after you became Premier, for the first time ever in Canada, a first nations person was killed in a land dispute. There are many questions about your government's role in this affair.

What we do know is that your member, Mr Beaubien, the Conservative member for the area, told the police at the command post, four hours before the shooting, that he had sent a fax to the Premier advising of his intentions and that he wanted a return call regarding his intentions. This fax becomes very important. On November 6, Premier, you said all that was in that fax from Mr Beaubien were things that were on the news that night. On November 6, Premier, you said you would release a copy of the fax that Mr Beaubien sent. Will you table that fax now?

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I have not seen the fax, first of all. I don't believe it was a fax to me. I understood there was a fax that had come into the office, or at least there was the allegation of that. My understanding is that any of the faxes have not contained anything that really wasn't public knowledge. I personally have no objection -- you can have all the faxes you want -- but we have lawyers looking at whether release of any information jeopardizes any of the court cases that are there. If they determine it does not, we'll be happy to release it before.

Mr Phillips: A week and a half ago, Premier, you promised you would look into this matter and you would get back to the House quickly on the matter. You promised you would look at it and you would table those faxes. Frankly, one can only reach the conclusion that your staff have looked at them and they do not confirm what you told the House on November 6. You told the House on November 6 that all that was in those faxes was what was on the daily newscast and that you would have no difficulty in releasing them.

There is only one conclusion we can reach: Your staff have looked at those faxes, they contain privileged information, they confirm that Mr Beaubien, representing your government, four hours before the shooting, leaning over the shoulders of our OPP who were trying to do a job -- he was there daily, constantly, leaning on their shoulders, telling the police he was in touch with you, Premier, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. On November 6, you promised to release those faxes. What other conclusion can we reach but that you are trying to cover up what is in those faxes?

Hon Mr Harris: Let me set the record straight on a number of things you have indicated. Mr Beaubien was not representing me nor my office nor the ministry; Mr Beaubien was representing his constituents, both native and non-native, who had very grave concerns. There were concerns about safety, there were concerns about the park, there were concerns about neighbours adjoining the park. So Mr Beaubien, quite appropriately, I believe, was seeking all the information he possibly could.

I can tell you I think there's a freedom of information request that has come in and is following the normal process, not only from the freedom --

Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): You said you were going to release the fax.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Hamilton East, I'm warning you now. Please come to order.


Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I've got a question to the Minister of Community and Social Services. Earlier this week she tried to sweeten up the workfare deal for municipalities by promising to finance them to the tune of $450 million. Is $450 million to implement workfare going to put food on the plates of the one in three Metro Toronto children who rely on social assistance? Is that going to put roofs over the heads of children in the 13 Toronto families who are evicted from their home every working day as a result of taking a 22% cut to their social assistance?

Tell us how your workfare program is going to address the vicious crisis of child poverty and child hunger here in Toronto and across Ontario.

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): The honourable member across the way may wish to cast his mind back to some months ago when we announced Ontario Works, when we talked about the fact that we had a budget for $450 million to implement Ontario Works because we believe that our municipal partners deserve the financial support. I would like to announce, while I'm on my feet, that we have the 10th community, Oxford county, which has just been approved to join the other communities in offering Ontario Works across the province.

I believe that $450 million is a worthwhile investment to get individuals on social assistance back into a job. Our government believes that the best support for any family is a job, and that is the goal of this plan.

Mr Kormos: The minister should know that an organization called Campaign 2000 released a proposal this week for a social investment fund that would provide a decent standard of living for all children.

This government has $450 million to spend on their workfare program. They've got $17 million to spend on their Web net hi-tech ad program. They've got $22 billion that they're going to spend to finance a tax cut for their rich friends.

Minister, today is national Child Day. Do you care enough about the hungry children in this municipality and province to call Ottawa today and commit Ontario to participating in a social investment fund to eradicate child poverty in Ontario?

Hon Mrs Ecker: This government prefers to measure our commitment by the actions and the steps we are taking rather than by the hyperbole we are getting from the other side of the House today, with all due respect to their concern, and I know they are legitimately concerned.

Mr Kormos: No. Children are hungry. One in three children in Toronto is on social assistance and you cut their allowance. You are starving children. You are putting them on the streets.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Welland-Thorold, come to order. Minister.

Hon Mrs Ecker: We do believe that a decent standard of living is extremely important for families --

Mr Kormos: Children are on the streets and you don't give a tinker's dam.

The Speaker: Member for Welland-Thorold, you'll have to come to order or I'm going to name you next time. Thank you.

Hon Mrs Ecker: We do believe that a decent standard of living is extremely important for families and children. We are attempting very hard to maintain those programs that help do that despite the $2 billion we're losing from Ottawa --

Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): When is it going to happen in Ontario?

Mr Kormos: You're not prepared to respond to the crisis. Speaker, children are hungry in this province and living in poverty at an unprecedented level and she's not prepared to do anything about it -- $22 billion.

The Speaker: I've warned the member for Welland-Thorold a number of times and I have no option left but to name the member for Welland-Thorold. Mr Peter Kormos.

Mr Kormos: What about the starving children? You don't care. You're putting them out on the street.

Mr Kormos was escorted from the chamber.

The Speaker: Minister.

Hon Mrs Ecker: It's unfortunate that my colleague across the way is not going to be in the House to hear our commitment to working with Ottawa.

The Speaker: It's a fairly long-held tradition in this place that we do not comment on whether someone is in or not in the House. I caution the minister that is inappropriate.

Hon Mrs Ecker: If I have caused the honourable member offence, I withdraw that comment.

The honourable member made reference to children being hungry, which is one of the reasons we have invested $5 million in partnership with the private sector for a breakfast program. The members opposite may be concerned because their program wasn't working. We want to make sure ours is.

The final point that I think is worth mentioning is that we are quite interested in working with Ottawa, despite the pressures they're putting on our budget, to have an integrated child benefit. We would like to talk to them about that because we believe that may well be an appropriate solution for child poverty in this country.



Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training. Over the past several years Ontario students have written several national and international aptitude tests. In 1993 and 1994 Ontario 13- and 16-year olds participated in the Canada-wide school achievement indicators program, and in 1991 13-year old students participated in the international assessment of education progress in math and science tests. In both these tests Ontario was only able to keep pace with the average. In fact, in the IAEP test, when comparing Canadian provinces Ontario English students tied for second-last and Ontario French students placed last. It's my understanding that the results of yet another international test were released today.

Ontario spends more on education per pupil than almost any other jurisdiction in the world. My question to you is: Do the results from this international test prove that our students' performance match our spending?

Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I want to thank the member for Scarborough East for the question. I hope my colleagues opposite share our interest in and our concern for the test results of students in this province. In fact, the results of the third international math and science test were released today. In this test over half a million young people, nine and 13 years old, from 41 countries participated, including Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Ontario as provinces inside Canada.

Unfortunately, I have to report that the TIMS results confirmed the trend of other international and national tests over the last few years. While Ontario students hovered around the international average, our students fell below the Canadian average in both subjects at both age levels, a performance that I'm sure is not satisfactory to anyone concerned and something we wish to address.

Mr Gilchrist: When our IAEP test results were released in 1992, then Premier Bob Rae was quoted in the paper as saying: "The tests show clearly that we have problems. I don't think anyone in the school system can look for excuses." He said: "It's a question of focus and a question of how we can get the system to do its job."

Minister, national and international tests show that Ontario produces average students. I don't think, and I certainly would hope that no other member in this House believes, that these results are acceptable. What are we doing to ensure that Ontario's goal of being the best in the world is achieved?

Hon Mr Snobelen: As has been pointed out by the former leader of the now third party when he was Premier, this is a matter of concern, I think, to all the people of Ontario. Certainly it's not a partisan issue and I think it's one that needs to be treated in a non-partisan fashion. I know it's of concern to my colleagues and I know it's of concern to my colleagues across the chamber whom I've talked to privately on this matter.

These results are not an indication that Ontario students are average or that Ontario teachers are average, in fact quite the opposite. But we do believe we need to improve our system of education in Ontario to provide for more exceptional results by our students and to use the talents of our teachers better. We are moving now to establish a rigorous and demanding core curriculum which we believe will help to improve our test results nationally and internationally. We're making sure that our dollars spent on education are focused on the classroom where they make a difference with young people. And we're certainly enthusiastic about doing testing on an ongoing basis across the province using the EQAO. I believe there'll be a better future for the students of the province of Ontario and I expect those results to go up in the near future.


Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): On this, national Child Day, I have a question to the Minister of Health. It concerns a nine-year-old girl living with her parents on a dairy farm in North Dundas county south of Ottawa. The nine-year-old girl's name is Kayleigh Boyd, and Kayleigh suffers from Rett Syndrome, a very serious neurological disorder that has imposed very significant challenges not only Kayleigh but on her family, which is continuing to care for her in their farm home.

Kayleigh is covered under the Ontario drug benefit program, but there's a problem. The problem is this: She requires a special formula because she's tube-fed. She has to be tube-fed. The special formula contains milk protein and she's allergic to that product. Her doctor, a well-known paediatrician in Ottawa, has prescribed an alternative that is medically acceptable and, as it happens, is cheaper; it's about half the price of that which has been suggested by your officials at the Ontario drug benefit program. But the alternative has not been approved by your officials. Will you, for the health and wellbeing of this nine-year-old girl, use your influence to approve the alternative?

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I would be happy to look into the matter. As you know, the Minister of Health doesn't directly approve the alternative. The medical committee that's called the Drug Quality and Therapeutics Committee, which is the same committee that's been around for many years in the province, makes the final determination. I will certainly expedite the process, though.

Mr Conway: Minister, this family is going to extraordinary lengths to look after their nine-year-old daughter at home. They have the option to have that child institutionalized, where the cost would be $80,000 a year and there would be no question about any of this nourishment that nine-year-old Kayleigh must have for her health and wellbeing. If you are part of a Common Sense Revolution, will you use the powers vested in you to rescue this nine-year-old girl and her family from this bureaucratic Bermuda Triangle that continues to cause them so much grief and so much hardship?

Hon Mr Wilson: Yes, I will do everything humanly possible to help them.


Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. On a number of occasions in this House I have raised questions to you with respect to the provincial capital funding required for the four child care centres located in Toronto schools that are being rebuilt. I've point out to you that without the capital funding coming from the province, these child care centres will not be rebuilt. There are 200 families that are at risk of losing their child care spaces.

Specifically, though, on October 17 I asked you a question, and I'm quoting from Hansard: "What I would ask from you today is for a commitment that you will agree to meet with the Toronto board officials and the parents of these four centres." Your response: "Either I or my officials would be quite happy to meet with them."

Last week a member of your office staff met with the parents from the Eglinton centre. The other parents were refused admittance to that meeting; the Toronto board was refused admittance to that meeting. In fact, your office has said to those other parents and to the Toronto board that they will not get a meeting. Minister, that's not what you committed to. Will you today commit to me you will instruct your staff to set up such a meeting that either you or they will attend?

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I appreciate the honourable member's concern. Yes, I did give a commitment that either I or my staff would meet with the families involved, and I will instruct them to do so.

Ms Lankin: I appreciate your taking action on this and I hope you will take swift action because, as I pointed out to you, the clock is ticking. We are in danger of losing these child care centres. The architectural plans are going forward. They have to be approved and the school board has to make a decision on what they're going to build and whether there will be a child care centre there or not. It will not happen without the provincial funding.

I've pointed out to you that the $40 million in new operating money that you have put in place in this year's budget which you've put a freeze on and not spent is really just the $40 million in capital that you cancelled. You've got the money sitting there. There are four months left in this annual budget year.

Minister, will you agree to convert $1.6 million of that $40 million from operating into capital? That's all it takes, and you would save the 200 spaces that currently exist. You would make sure these families still have child care for their kids.

Hon Mrs Ecker: As the honourable member knows, the auditor had raised some concerns about capital spending in the child care area under the previous government, and I guess before I would authorize capital funding, there are some concerns that would need to be addressed.

The first one is that I am not aware of the individual circumstances of these 200 families, but if there are those that need fee subsidy, we are continuing to fund millions of dollars worth of fee subsidy of which Metro unfortunately is not matching its 20% share, so that has increased the waiting list for fee subsidies. Secondly, I understand that if they are parents who can afford to pay what they like to call the full fee, there's a vacancy rate in Toronto of about 2,000 spaces. Both those factors are very important before we take taxpayers' money for more capital spending.



Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): My question is for the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. Yesterday you announced one component of this government's equal opportunity plan, a Web site on the Internet.

As the minister knows, I have a keen interest in this area and have been working with Trevor Wilson, an entrepreneur who is pioneering a business case for equity here in Ontario. He has worked with several companies such as IBM and National Grocers and many others. He's also working in countries like South Africa. Mr Wilson is currently developing a Web site, and I wonder how your ministry site will complement the works and efforts of individuals such as Mr Wilson.

Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): I'd like to thank the member for Niagara Falls for his question. I know he has a keen interest in and strongly supports this government's plan for equal opportunity.

The site that was announced yesterday is just one component of the equal opportunity plan, but it's based on partnership. There's even a section on the site which is dedicated to the sharing of best-practice models. This site and further announcements that are going to be made fulfil the promise that we made to the people of Ontario both during the election and last December that equal opportunity is a priority with this government.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Fort York, it may be, in your opinion; it may be. But I need order. Thank you.

Mr Maves: I'm glad that businesses and individuals in my riding will have access to this Web site and the education it will provide them so that they can take advantage of the economic benefits the plan has to offer. I wonder, Minister, if you can explain how the equal opportunity plan and the Web site differ from the previous government's approach.

Hon Ms Mushinski: I'd be happy to answer that question. The opposition said that business wasn't interested in equal opportunity. They couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, business has bought into equal opportunity in a big way. Over 125 organizations and individuals, such as Manulife Financial, IBM Canada, the Canadian Abilities Foundation, Motorola Canada and the Richard Ivey school of economics and business at Western, have participated in the development and creation of this Web site. Indeed, it is their Web site. They weren't coerced into participating, they weren't threatened with fines and pending legislation, yet they --

The Speaker: Thank you.


Mr David Ramsay (Timiskaming): I have a question to the Solicitor General. It's another example of how this government is lowering safety standards to save money.

I want to ask you today, Solicitor General, why you and the Ontario fire marshal are putting hundreds of thousands of Ontario tenants who live in pre-1976 apartments at risk. As you know, the retrofit section of the Ontario fire code allows for unrated solid wood doors, as they give good protection, but the fire marshal is willing to allow these hollow, tubular-core doors, which are dangerous and don't afford the 20-minute fire protection that's in the code. Why are you allowing the fire marshal to put lives at risk?

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I'll take the question as notice and get back to the member as quickly as I can.

Mr Ramsay: This is another example of this minister not doing his job, because I know that representation has been made to your office and members of your personal staff have met with representatives about this issue and you should be briefed on it.

As you know, Minister, it's a serious issue because on January 6, 1995, fire broke out in a high-rise building at 2 Forest Laneway in North York and six people died in that fire. At that time, the coroner's jury recommended increased penalties for non-compliance with the Ontario fire code and to require high-rise apartment building owners to complete the retrofit requirements for doors.

Historically, Ontario fire chiefs have relied on the Ontario fire marshal's office for advice on how to enforce the code. Understandably, the chief of North York will not accept hollow core doors any longer. Minister, when are you going to start protecting the lives of tenants instead of the bank accounts of landlords?

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Attorney General and it again concerns the comments that the Attorney General has made. I want to ask you directly. Hansard shows that on November 7, 1996, you came into this Legislature, you referred to two members of the third party, and then you made this remark: "I said there was a break-in." "...there was a break-in." Do you deny making those comments in this Legislature on November 7?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I've explained the comments that I've made and my explanation stands.

Mr Hampton: We've been asking lawyers around the province to review the Attorney General's comments -- they are, after all, in Hansard; they're part of the public record -- and this is the comment we received:

"The Attorney General is the chief administrator of the laws of the province. As such, the office of the Attorney General must remain free of the partisan considerations that may dominate the Legislature. An Attorney General, for instance, must be scrupulous in avoiding any comments that might jeopardize the prospects of a fair hearing for any future criminal proceeding."

This lawyer then goes on to say: "Harnick's reference in the Legislature crossed this line. It was wrong to disclose the identity of two members of the Legislature. It was wrong for him subsequently to say, `break into an office,' and it was wrong for him to further add, `Ask Kormos what he did with the security guard.'"

You have clearly crossed the line in terms of behaviour and conduct that is appropriate for an Attorney General. Minister, will you resign?

Hon Mr Harnick: As I've said, I've explained my remarks and my explanation stands.


Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): On a point of privilege, Mr Speaker: In response to a question raised by the member for Downsview, I hope she will inform the family that Dr Goldbloom at Sick Children's Hospital would be happy to see the child at their convenience, or immediately.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): New question.

Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, at a recent speech --


The Speaker: Member for Kenora, come to order. The Minister of Health rose on a point of privilege because the member for Downsview had risen on a previous point of privilege. That wasn't a question; that wasn't rotation. He was not standing on his answer. If the member for Downsview had not risen on a point of privilege, I wouldn't have recognized the member then, I would have waited till after question period, but she did.

New question, the member for Hamilton West.

Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I welcome the answer from the Minister of Health. The parents of the child are watching the proceedings --

The Speaker: That's great, but what's your point of order?

Mr Sergio: It's coming, Mr Speaker.

The Speaker: I need it now. Stop the clock, please.

Mr Sergio: My point of order is that it is fine to get some assistance from the health minister, but it's terrible that we have to come to this House to seek some assistance --

The Speaker: Member for Yorkview, come to order. That's not a point of order. A point of privilege, the member for Downsview.


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): So you stop the clock for the government, eh, Speaker?

The Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre, come to order, please.

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): Why is the clock stopped?

The Speaker: The clock's stopped because there is now a point of privilege, a point of order. I'd recognized the member for Hamilton West to allow her to put her question. The member for Downsview.


The Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre, come to order. The member for Cochrane North. The member for Sault Ste Marie. I'm going to name the member for Sault Ste Marie. On a number of occasions when they've stood in this place, the government members, I've stopped the clock as well.

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): You show me in Hansard where you've done that. This is entirely unfair.

The Speaker: The member for Beaches-Woodbine, come to order. If you'd like me to, I will.

Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): Mr Speaker, pursuant to your instructions earlier, I was going to wait until the end of question period to fully raise my point of privilege and have you rule on it. I'm grateful for the minister's attention to this matter, but that wasn't the point of privilege I raised. The point of privilege I raised was that we received a call in my office from the minister's office indicating that we couldn't raise an issue without giving forewarning to the minister. The reality is that the family did try and got nowhere with the minister's office and they turned to us. I don't believe we should be giving warning to the government of the things we want to raise in this House --

The Speaker: I'm not denying that you raised that point of privilege. I just gave the Minister of Health the same opportunity to raise a point of privilege on the same issue. It's only fair. I'm going to finish question period. Can I take your privilege up after question period?

Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I'd like to take this up now, Mr Speaker.

The Speaker: Okay. The member for Scarborough.

Mr Curling: When the member rose on a point of privilege, you ruled it was not a point of privilege, and then you accept a response on a point of privilege. You said it wasn't a point of privilege. I'm confused.

The Speaker: I'll be happy to explain the situation, if you'd like, after question period. The point was that it wasn't a point of privilege. The Minister of Health rose on a point of privilege. I am obligated to hear a point of privilege, and I offered at the time to defer it till after question period. I offered the member for Downsview to hear it after question period. The member said no, so I heard on the same point of privilege or a similar point of privilege.

Now, the member for Hamilton East.


Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): My question is to the Minister of Community and Social Services. Minister, at a recent speech you gave to the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association you suggested that the mandatory component of the Ontario Works program was no longer a requirement. Has there been any change in the mandatory aspects of Ontario Works and can you please tell me, if in fact there is no change, does the mandatory nature of the program affect welfare recipients specifically? How does it affect them?

Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I can understand the member's confusion, having read some of the media reports, but there has been no change in the policy of Ontario Works. Social assistance is a mandatory program for municipalities to offer in partnership with the province. Workfare or, as it is otherwise called, Ontario Works, is the new social assistance system in Ontario, so therefore each municipality must provide a program of employment supports, community participation and employment placement as part of their partnership with us.



Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): My petition is to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and it was gathered by two Sudbury firefighters, Marc Leduc and Mike O'Reilly:

"Whereas the firefighters of Sudbury and Ontario are very concerned about Bill 84;

"Whereas we feel Bill 84 is unfair;

"Whereas we feel Bill 84 is discriminatory;

"Whereas we feel Bill 84 endangers the wellbeing of the people of Ontario;

"Whereas we feel Bill 84 requires extensive changes;

"Whereas we feel Bill 84 needs broad provincial public hearings before implementation;

"We, the undersigned, therefore petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to demand the Solicitor General to rewrite Bill 84 before being enacted into law and after extensive public hearings across Ontario."

I sign my name to this petition, as I agree with it.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): "To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas child care is an essential service and children should not be used to make money; and

"Whereas reducing current standards to minimal building codes compromises the safety of children; and

"Whereas providing funding to the private sector will lead to reduced accountability for tax dollars; and

"Whereas children's growth and development could be in serious jeopardy without trained professionals caring for them; and

"Whereas reducing monitoring inspections and increasing staff-child ratios will result in poor-quality child care programs; and

"Whereas staff wages are a major indicator of quality, and proposed reductions and wage subsidies will have a negative impact on child care; and

"Whereas the need for parental choice in child care is recognized;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislature of Ontario to reconsider the directions proposed in Improving Ontario's Child Care System, the report released by Janet Ecker, as we feel it will have a negative impact on the families of Ontario."

I attach my signature.


Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): I have a petition which is signed by a number of parents from Niagara-on-the-Lake, part of my riding, who are concerned about education in our community.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the provincial government is planning to make significant changes to the delivery and governance of education in this province; and

"Whereas we as parents believe that school councils should play an important role in education, with clearly defined responsibilities limited to their particular school communities; and

"Whereas we as ratepayers are extremely disturbed that consideration is being given to abolish school boards and eliminate decision-making by locally elected representatives;

We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly that the present structure of school boards within the province of Ontario continue to have a major role in the governance of schools to deal with broad policies as advocates for the students in their community, to provide cost-efficient educational services and to be directly accountable to the parents and local ratepayers."


Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is bringing down one of the most devastating pieces of legislation. I have a petition to Premier Michael Harris, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Al Leach and members of the Ontario provincial Legislature which reads:

"We, the undersigned, protest this government's actions against tenants described below.

"The Rent Control Act protects Ontario's 3.3 million tenants. Rent control allows for security and stability in their homes and communities. Uncontrolled rent increases leave tenants, their families and other communities open to eviction, personal distress, and contribute directly to social instability. We want this government to stop any actions that would allow uncontrolled rents.

"Further, this government is considering changes to the Landlord and Tenant Act favourable to landlords for easier and faster evictions. This is unacceptable to Ontario tenants and damaging to Ontario's communities.

"This government also plans to get rid of public housing and has halted the creation of basement apartments and a new supply of affordable non-profit housing. These types of housing are necessary for low- and moderate-income tenants to obtain accommodation they can afford. The government must cease all actions that reduce the affordability and availability of these kinds of housing.

"This government has eliminated funding for United Tenants of Ontario, five municipal tenant federations and other important tenant services at a time when they're attacking all tenants' rights. Funding for those groups must be reinstated so that Ontario's tenants' rights are protected. A consultation process with tenants' organizations should be initiated immediately to develop a plan for suitable funding for services to tenants."

I affix my signature to this petition.


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have in my hands 251 petitions signed by over 3,300 members of CEP, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. These petitions were forwarded to me on behalf of those members by Joel Carr, the national representative, and Ed Nelson, the Ontario regional vice-president. The petition reads as follows:

"Whereas the Harris government will introduce legislation to amend the Workers' Compensation Act and distribute a discussion paper about changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act; and

"Whereas the expected changes include erosion of the right to refuse unsafe work, workers will be forced to apply to their employer for WCB benefits and employers will decide if the claim is valid; reduction in power of the joint health and safety committees; and eliminate compensation for certain injuries and diseases; and

"Whereas the Workers' Compensation Act is a vital protection for all workers in Ontario; and

"Whereas the Occupational Health and Safety Act has prevented untold numbers of accidents and saved thousands from illness and diseases;

"We, therefore, demand full public hearings throughout the province of Ontario on the Workers' Compensation Act proposed changes, and no changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workers' right to refuse and joint health and safety committees."

I add my name in support with theirs.



Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I have a petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

"Whereas the administration of Families Against Deadbeats, Renate Diorio, Heinz Paul and Danielle McIsaac, are in total support of Bill 82, presented by the Honourable Charles Harnick to the Legislative Assembly on October 2, 1996, outlining the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, to replace the Family Support Plan Act, 1992;

"Whereas the changes will relieve the taxpayers of Ontario and provide proper enforcement required to collect and administer child support payments and orders;

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

"We support and agree with all of the changes outlined in the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, set forth by the Honourable Charles Harnick as Bill 82, and urge the Legislature to pass this bill into law as soon as possible."

I agree with this petition and I'm signing it.


Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): I have a petition that reads as follows:

"Whereas the Conservative government of Mike Harris has closed three out of five hospitals in Thunder Bay and two out of three hospitals in Sudbury; and

"Whereas drastic funding cuts to hospitals across Ontario are intimidating hospital boards, district health councils and local hospital restructuring commissions into considering the closing of local hospitals; and

"Whereas hospitals in the Niagara region have provided an outstanding essential service to patients and have been important facilities for medical staff to treat the residents of the Niagara Peninsula and will be required for people in Niagara for years to come; and

"Whereas the population of Niagara is on average older than that in most areas of the province;

"We, the undersigned, call upon the Minister of Health to restore adequate funding to hospitals in the Niagara region and guarantee that his government will not close any hospitals in the Niagara Peninsula."

I affix my signature, as I'm in complete agreement with this petition.


Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): I have a petition here addressed to the Legislative Assembly.

"Whereas the proposed changes to secondary schools as outlined in Ontario Secondary Schools 1998, the detailed discussion document, makes it easier for students to drop out; and

"Whereas the types of courses offered, as outlined in the discussion document, will not meet the needs of minority students; and

"Whereas there is too much emphasis placed on workplace education, as outlined in the discussion document; and

"Whereas, as outlined in the discussion document, students who are at risk of dropping out will continue to be at risk; and

"Whereas there is a lack of minority teachers to act as teacher advisers, as outlined in the discussion document; and

"Whereas there is reduced time for ESL courses, as well as English courses, as outlined in the discussion document; and

"Whereas the proposed anti-discrimination education, as outlined in the discussion document, is virtually meaningless;

"We, the undersigned, wish to express our great dismay and opposition to these proposed changes and urge the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training to reconsider these ill-advised changes."

This petition is signed by 20 residents, mostly of Toronto but from a number of areas in the province, and I affix my signature to it.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): I wish to present a petition on behalf of Charles Harper and Larry Davidson of the Port Perry Snowmobile Club.

"To the Legislature of Ontario:

"Whereas the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs contributes in a significant way to the tourism economy of Ontario;

"Whereas the snowmobile clubs are very conscious of safe operation and compliance of all regulations with their machines;

"Whereas the snowmobile operators spend thousands of dollars on their machines;

"Whereas the expensive modern machines usually have decals with names and other lettering;

"Whereas the current MTO issues registration numbers that are not complementary to the other lettering on the machines;

"We, therefore, petition the Legislature of Ontario to amend the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act, Revised Statutes of 1990, chapter M.44, regulation 804, section 23, subsections (3), (4) and (5), and allow the operators to affix their own registration numbers at their own expense."

I am proud to affix my name along with other members from the Port Perry area.


Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): I've got a petition signed by over 50 concerned parents of Orléans.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the most efficient family support payment system, for all the families in Ontario, is one that provides timely and adequate service; and

"Whereas recent delays in support payments are unacceptable to residents of Ontario;

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

"That the government of Ontario promptly implement a level of service that will ensure timely distribution of family support payments, including arrears, to recipients in order that they may provide quality care for their children."

I also affix my signature.


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have petitions from the Ontario Federation of Labour, United Steelworkers of America, Canadian Auto Workers and Canadian Union of Public Employees.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the Workers' Compensation Board has about $7.6 billion in assets and the WCB's unfunded liability has been decreasing for the past two years; and

"Whereas the Mike Harris government is using scare tactics about WCB finances to justify attacking workers' compensation benefits and the rights of injured workers; and

"Whereas the Tories are planning to take $15 billion from injured workers and give $6 billion to employers, including the government's rich corporate friends; and

"Whereas the government has developed its plans in secret, meeting with insurance company executives and big business lobbyists without holding a single public hearing; and

"Whereas the government needs to listen to people saying that taking money from injured workers and their families, lowering incentives for employers to make workplaces safer and rolling back the clock on justice for workers is not the way to make Ontario a better place to live;

"Therefore we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to hold full, province-wide public hearings on any WCB reform; to encourage participation in communities all across Ontario; and to tell the Tory government to stop attacking the standard of living of working families."

I add my name in support with theirs.


Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): "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 affix my signature.



Mr Laughren from the standing committee on government agencies presented the committee's 25th report.

The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Does the Chair wish to make a statement?

Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): No, Madam Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: Pursuant to standing order 106(g)(11), the report is deemed to be adopted by the House.



Mr Runciman moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 95, An Act to permit shopping on Boxing Day by amending the Retail Business Holidays Act and the Employment Standards Act / Projet de loi 95, Loi visant à permettre l'ouverture des magasins le lendemain de Noël en modifiant la Loi sur les jours fériés dans le commerce de détail et la Loi sur les normes d'emploi.

The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): The Boxing Day Shopping Act removes December 26 from the list of holiday closing dates. This will allow businesses the choice of whether to be open or closed, will allow their employees the choice of whether or not to work and will give consumers the choice of whether or not to shop on Boxing Day. This bill includes amendments to the Employment Standards Act in order to maintain the right of employees of retail businesses to refuse to work on December 26. Through this legislation the government will demonstrate that Ontario is open for business.




Mr Harnick moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 82, An Act to establish the Family Responsibility Office, protect the interests of children and spouses through the strict enforcement of support orders while offering flexibility to responsible payors and make consequential amendments to certain statutes / Projet de loi 82, Loi créant le Bureau des obligations familiales, visant à protéger les intérêts des enfants et des conjoints grâce à l'exécution rigoureuse des ordonnances alimentaires tout en offrant une certaine souplesse aux payeurs responsables, et apportant des modifications corrélatives à des lois.

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): Madam Speaker, I believe we have unanimous consent from each of the parties to divide the opening debate time allotment as many ways as we wish. Is that --

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): That's not quite said correctly. Each party's leadoff could be split among multiple critics.

Hon Mr Harnick: Each party's leadoff can be split among multiple speakers.

The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): I want to be very clear on what we're moving here. You're asking that each party's leadoff be split in whatever way each party wants to split that leadoff time?

Hon Mr Harnick: Exactly.

The Acting Speaker: This is for all three parties. Agreed? Agreed.

Hon Mr Harnick: I'm pleased to present for second reading the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996. This act replaces the Family Support Plan Act, 1992.

As I have said in earlier statements to this House, Ontario's family support plan is broken. As Attorney General, I am committed to fixing it. I'm committed to ensuring that the children and women of this province get the support payments that they are legally entitled to receive.

Every member of this Legislature knows that there are problems with the current family support plan, and every member knows that the roots of those problems go back a long way, all the way back to 1987. That's when the former Liberal government set up SCOE, the support and custody orders enforcement program. This was followed in 1992 by the former NDP government's Family Support Plan Act. Both these efforts, while well intentioned, were flawed. Neither one was successful in achieving what our government considers to be the bottom line for these programs: getting support payments to children and women as quickly as possible.

What we have today is an inadequate family support plan. It is a plan that is broken. It is simply not working in a way that properly meets the needs of children and women.

Just how broken is the family support plan? There are cracks, I believe, in the very foundations of the old plan. Its service to clients and its enforcement of support orders in many cases is non-existent.

Access to the family support plan has always been difficult. As I've said before, the plan gets 50,000 calls a day, with only about 6% of callers getting through at any one time. Some 8,000 pieces of mail arrive every day. Many are complaints from clients about their inability to get through on the phone lines and the fact that recipients are not receiving their payments.

Three years ago the family support plan caseload was 97,000 cases. There are currently more than 150,000 cases, an increase of approximately 40% over the past three years, and the caseload is growing at an average rate of about 1,400 cases per month. The way the plan is currently structured, it is not able to keep up with the needs of the children and women who depend on it.

This poor access to the old plan by its clients was bad enough, but the old plan was also ineffective in enforcing support orders. Today defaulting payors owe children and women nearly $1 billion in support payments. More than three quarters of the plan's cases, 77%, are not in full compliance. Prompt, regular payment of support obligations happens in only approximately 23% of cases. This is totally unacceptable, and our government has refused to accept it.

Let me be clear. The problems of poor client access to the old family support plan and skyrocketing support arrears are not problems that began in June 1995. They are problems our government inherited in June 1995. They are problems we made a commitment to fixing in the Common Sense Revolution. They are problems we are fixing in the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act.

Patching up the old plan won't work. Ontario needs, and we are providing, a new support payment program. On August 15, 1996, I announced the restructuring of the family support plan. The problems we inherited from the previous government are making the transition from the old plan to a new plan very difficult, but we are committed to moving ahead and putting a plan in place that really meets the needs of Ontario's children and women.

Throughout the transition we have made, and are continuing to make, processing payments our number one priority. In September a computer problem caused a delay in processing about 5% of family support payments, affecting 7,000 of the plan's 150,000 recipients. I publicly apologized to those recipients and immediately took corrective action. We fixed the computer problem, we increased telephone access, we brought in extra staff, and with our partner, the Royal Bank, we worked overtime to break the backlog that the computer problem created. We promptly got money flowing again to those 7,000 families.

We have also set up a dedicated team of experienced enforcement staff to respond to cases that members of this Legislature bring to our attention. As of November 13 the team has dealt with nearly 1,700 cases. Updates of that number indicate that we have dealt with, I believe, over 2,000 of those cases to date. Whatever the nature of a complaint or whoever makes it, we are acting swiftly and promptly to deal with it.

There is a common misperception about the old family support plan's operation that I would like to dispel. The misperception is that the regional office structure provided clients with easy access to the family support plan. This was not the case.

A key component of the new program that our government is putting in place is moving the regional office operations to a consolidated location in Downsview. The reason for this consolidation is that the regional office structure that previous governments operated made no sense. Only clients living in the eight cities where the regional offices were located had counter access to the program. Fewer than 60 people visited each regional office on any given day. Many clients said they preferred to contact the program by phone and indicated that they went to the regional offices because of their difficulty in getting through on the program's telephone lines.

In spite of clients' preference for telephone access to the plan, previous governments did not make the necessary investment in a telecommunications infrastructure that would meet clients' needs. Under the new program that we are putting in place, our government is making that investment in telecommunications. We have almost doubled the number of telephone lines, from 15 to 27. The number of staff now responding to telephone inquiries is over 40, compared to 18 in August, when we began the transition. We are installing a state-of-the-art call centre capability that will give clients direct access to the plan and to a client service associate who can help them.

Under the old regional office structure that was previously created, the majority of client calls to the program was not received at the regional level. At central inquiry, agents received the calls but they did not have the capability to resolve the cases and the issues. These central inquiry agents then referred issues back to the regional offices. Under this unwieldy assembly-line system, at least three people -- the central inquiry agent, the regional manager and a regional staff member -- got involved before a client got any action on her or his case. It should be no surprise that we inherited a system where delays in responding to client calls were a routine occurrence.


I might also tell you that what was supposed to be happening at the regional offices pertained to issues of enforcement, but because of the antiquated way that people decided to deal with cheque processing, most of the people at regional offices spent all of their time sorting cheques by hand. That, in a modern-day world where we do electronic banking, where we have immediate access and transactions could be processed almost instantaneously and certainly within 24 to 36 hours, was not what was happening at the family support plan regional offices.

Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): So what's happening now? What's happening to the cheques now, Charles?

The Acting Speaker: The member for Sudbury East, please come to order.

Ms Martel: I can't take this. You should talk to some of these children.

Hon Mr Harnick: I can tell you that the regional offices were not doing the job that they were set out and constructed to do.

Ms Martel: So you laid them all off.

Hon Mr Harnick: We have eliminated this assembly-line approach to handling client calls and are replacing it with one in which highly skilled client service associates will provide one-stop shopping for clients. We are nearly doubling the number of front-line staff, 97 client service associates compared to 40 --

Ms Martel: You cut them down by 40%, Charles. Why don't you tell the public that?

The Acting Speaker: Order, please. The member for Sudbury East, order.

Hon Mr Harnick: -- under the old family support plan operation. Most of the new staff have been hired and are currently training for their new role. Their training will give them the skills to handle a variety of tasks that, under the old plan, several people had to carry out. And most important, they will have the knowledge, the tools, the technology and the authority to resolve client problems directly. These reforms and this change to better serve clients of the plan are long overdue.

We are also moving to reduce the systemic delays that we inherited in the receipt and disbursement of support payments. For example, the old program relied too much on the postal system to receive and distribute payments, with the government in the middle, transferring funds from payors to recipients. This further delayed payment processing.

Ms Martel: Who's going to pay all the bills brought in today, Charles? Are you going to pay them?

Hon Mr Harnick: Requiring payors where possible to use electronic banking will eliminate delays caused by cheque handling and mail service.

To this government, providing one-stop shopping, making maximum use of technology and giving our staff the skills and tools they need to serve clients properly and effectively is just common sense. As we move forward in establishing a new and truly effective support enforcement program in Ontario, problems are surfacing that were hidden in the old regional office structure. For example, we found there were delays in registering court orders and in processing mail received from clients. We are acting promptly and decisively to correct each and every one.

Ms Martel: They're not being registered at all. You don't even have the staff to do that. Who are you trying to kid?

Hon Mr Harnick: The operational changes will improve service to clients, but the foundation --

Mrs Margaret Marland (Mississauga South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: As you know, interjections are out of order. The member for Sudbury East has been in this House three minutes and she's made eight interjections. We are on rotation. She will have an opportunity to speak to this bill.

The Acting Speaker: That is not a point of order. I'm sorry. I didn't hear the last interjections. I have asked the --

Mrs Marland: I would ask her to do so.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Mississauga, now you're interjecting. I've asked the member for Sudbury East to come to order. I'd ask her to do so again. The member for London Centre.

Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): On a point of order, Madam Speaker: There is no quorum.

The Acting Speaker: Is there a quorum, Clerk?

Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees (Ms Deborah Deller): A quorum is present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: Attorney General, please proceed.

Hon Mr Harnick: The operational changes will improve service to clients, but the foundation for the kind of truly effective support enforcement program that our government is committed to creating is tougher enforcement measures. The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act provides this foundation.

The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act creates a new Family Responsibility Office. This new office will oversee the establishment of the new family responsibility and support arrears enforcement program, a program that will really meet the needs of children and women in Ontario. It will ensure that children and women in this province get the justice they deserve.

The new act contains three critical building blocks. These three building blocks are tougher enforcement measures; automatic filing with opting out; and mechanisms to enable participation by the private sector. The first building block in the new program's foundation is a series of new "get tough" enforcement measures. They will be among the most stringent you will find in any North American jurisdiction.

The fact that there is a large number of support orders in arrears is a clear indicator that far too many payors are not taking their support orders seriously or are actively avoiding paying.

I would like to highlight for the members some of the key enforcement measures that will be available through the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act.

It's interesting to know that over the last six years we have accumulated, on top of the $300-million debt that existed in 1992, an additional almost $600 million more; we're at $960 million. If one takes a look at the existing family support act, you cannot find in that act enforcement measures that could possibly make that act succeed. That's why there is almost $1 billion owing to women and children.

The first enforcement measure I want to talk about is the suspension of drivers' licences, which is dealt with in part V of the bill. The new Family Responsibility Office will have the authority to suspend the driver's licence of people who refuse to meet their family support responsibilities.

Payors in default will receive a notice that they have 30 days to contact the Family Responsibility Office to make payments or to arrange a payment plan to avoid licence suspension. If the payor who is in default does not make a satisfactory payment arrangement, or pay outstanding arrears, the Family Responsibility Office will advise the Ministry of Transportation to proceed immediately with the suspension of the payor's current licence, unless the payor receives an order from the court requiring the director to refrain from suspending the licence.

I would like to make it clear that licence suspension will not depend on the defaulter renewing his licence. Steps will be taken to suspend it immediately. Once a licence is suspended, it will not be reissued until all arrears are paid or there is a satisfactory repayment plan in place.

Suspending the licences of defaulting payors is consistent with trends in other jurisdictions. Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and more than 20 American states all have some form of licence suspension or licence withholding to collect support arrears. Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have also introduced legislation to suspend drivers' licences to collect support arrears. In March 1996 the federal government announced that it is proceeding with a new federal licence suspension initiative with respect to federal licences and passports to collect support arrears.

Alberta's early experience indicates that licence suspension is a highly effective enforcement measure. After being in place for only one year, licence suspension in Alberta resulted in the collection of $1.4 million in support payments that otherwise might not have been collected.

In Manitoba, when the first approximately 100 notices went out to people, 93% came forward and entered into plans to begin money flowing where no money had been flowing before.

I can assure this House as well that no driver will suddenly find their licence revoked without any warning. A payor who is in default will receive 30 days' notice and will have an opportunity to establish a repayment plan before a licence suspension takes place. A support payor who is in arrears will not necessarily have to make an immediate payment of all the arrears to keep a licence. However, a support payor who is in arrears will have to negotiate an acceptable repayment plan within a specified time period of the arrears, maintain payment of ongoing support and take responsibility for his default.

People who have child support obligations often continue to build up credit card debts while neglecting their support payments. Pursuant to section 47 of the bill, the Family Responsibility Office will have the right to report to credit bureaus the names of people who are not making their support payments. This will make it harder for them to add to their debt and will reflect negatively on their credit rating. This will be very useful in enforcing payments by people who are self-employed. It will also help prevent them from purchasing luxury items on credit before they have paid their child support obligations.


Pursuant to section 43 of the bill, the new Family Responsibility Office will have the power to register support orders as security interests under the Personal Property Security Act. This will provide notice to commercial lenders that an individual has a support debt. When an asset is sold, child support will be given priority over subsequent registered and unregistered interests.

Amendments to the Creditors' Relief Act which are found in section 66 of the bill will give priority to all support arrears over other judgement creditors.

Defaulting payors are often helped in avoiding their obligations by third parties who shelter their assets for them. Through third-party enforcement provided in section 41 of this bill, the Family Responsibility Office will be in a position to ask the court to order production of financial statements and make orders against those who shelter the assets and income of defaulting payors for the purpose of avoiding support orders.

In implementing this important new enforcement tool, we are aware of the need to protect innocent third parties. Third parties will be added to a default hearing or will be required to file a financial statement only if the court is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so; that is, where there is some evidence of the sheltering of assets or income. Any order for payment that is made against a third party will be limited to the actual amount of the sheltering of income or assets and only when there is a finding by the court that the assets were sheltered. Financial information that innocent third parties file will only be used for the court process, including enforcement of any order made, and will be sealed by the court in order to protect confidentiality.

A loophole that has existed until now has allowed support payors to shelter funds in joint bank accounts with other parties. The old family support plan was not able to garnish these accounts. Under section 45 of the new legislation, the Family Responsibility Office will have the authority to garnish 50% of the money in a joint bank account.

Again, we have built in protections for innocent third parties. When a payor is in arrears, the Family Responsibility Office will send a garnishment to the payor and to the payor's bank. When there is a joint bank account, the bank will notify the Family Responsibility Office that the money is in a joint account and also notify the third party. Third parties will then be able to file a dispute if they are claiming ownership of the funds that the Family Responsibility Office has seized.

After receiving the money from the bank, the Family Responsibility Office will hold it for 30 days. If a third party does not file a dispute, the Family Responsibility Office will then pay the recipient the moneys that are owed. Where a dispute is filed, the court will hold the hearing and decide who owns the money. The onus will be on the third party to prove ownership. If the court finds in the third party's favour, the money will be returned to the third party. In addition, the other account holder can bring court action seeking repayment of seized funds from the support payor.

Another tough new enforcement measure covered in section 46 of the bill will involve the seizure of lottery winnings of $1,000 or more. The Ontario Lottery Corp will deduct the arrears owed under a support order from the lottery winnings and pay the deducted amount to the director of the Family Responsibility Office if the payor wins a prize of $1,000 or more.

We've also found that the definition of "income source" under the old family support plan was much too narrow. It meant that the plan could not get access to other sources of a payor's income through automatic deduction. Under section 1 of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, we are expanding the definition of "income" to include other moneys which are in the nature of employment income. Income will now include all commissions, advances, severances and lump sum payments. This will enable the Family Responsibility Office to be much more effective in obtaining the money that is owed to children and to women by those who are intermittently employed or have non-standard employment arrangements.

Pursuant to section 54 of the bill, the Family Responsibility Office will have much better methods to trace and locate defaulting parents. It will also have greater powers to obtain information about their assets and income. This will mean that if a payor cannot be found, the Family Responsibility Office will have the authority to gain access to information in order to take effective enforcement action on behalf of children and women in Ontario.

Finally, people who do not pay their child support will be ineligible for Ontario government judicial appointments and appointments to agencies, boards and commissions. We will screen all provincial government appointments to make sure that they do not appoint people who do not pay their child support. This does not require a legislative amendment; however, I am highlighting this initiative to further illustrate that the government is taking the issue of non-payment of support very seriously.

The second building block, automatic filing with opting out, gives responsible people the choice of making their own private arrangements to provide support for women and children without the necessity of government intervention. By doing this we are honouring the following commitment made in the Common Sense Revolution: Parents who have reached amicable separation settlements and who have no dispute over support payments should be able to opt out of the government-mandated program. As a result, the Family Responsibility Office will be able to focus its resources and expertise on problem cases.

When children and women do not receive the money that is legally and rightfully theirs, they suffer. They experience hardship. Often they are forced into poverty and on to social assistance. Make no mistake: Our government believes that people who do not meet their family support payment responsibilities deserve the full condemnation of society.

At the same time, we know there are many responsible people in Ontario who abide by the law. They fulfil their support obligations. Their payments are never in arrears. They do not need to have government officials peering over their shoulders when they make their payments. Section 16 of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act makes it possible for these responsible people to opt out of the program. This opting-out provision means that the expertise and resources of the Family Responsibility Office can be focused entirely on the problem cases: those where children and women are not receiving their support payments because deadbeat parents are not acting responsibly.

I know that some members of the Legislature and some advocacy groups have expressed concerns that this opting-out provision may put women at risk. I want to assure the members and the people of Ontario that we have put safeguards in place to protect vulnerable spouses. I am very aware that there are situations where a vulnerable spouse could be subjected to coercion or abuse or who, for a variety of reasons, may be in an unequal bargaining relationship. These spouses may want to remain in the program for a number of reasons, including their desire not to have contact with the payor or because they fear they will not otherwise receive payments from the payor.

To protect women in those situations, subsection 9(2) of the bill will give judges the authority to prohibit spouses from opting out of the family responsibility program. In addition, any recipient who has opted out will be able to return to the family responsibility program immediately, at any time and for any reason.

As I previously stated, the caseload of the program is growing at an average rate of 1,400 cases per month. In order to enable the Family Responsibility Office to focus its resources and expertise on those cases which truly require the service, section 7 of the bill gives the program the ability to close cases where enforcement is unreasonable or impractical.

Enforcement will cease only where it is clear that recovery is not possible. For example, this will occur in cases where the support recipient continues to accept direct payment from the payors, thus circumventing the program, or in cases where the support payor is serving a term of incarceration greater than five years and has no assets available to satisfy the support obligation. This measure will eliminate the wasting of resources on cases where there is virtually no possibility of recovering the arrears.

The third and final key building block, covered in section 4 of the new legislation, provides powers to the Family Responsibility Office to enter into private sector partnerships. This is consistent with our government's commitment to the people of Ontario in the Common Sense Revolution to review all core businesses and to enter into partnerships with the private sector where they can provide services more effectively and efficiently. Such partnerships might include, for example, using private collection agencies to collect the money that defaulting payors now owe to Ontario's women and children.

In the debt collection business, the older the debt, the tougher it is to collect it. There are two major reasons for this: The person owing the money cannot be located, or has no income or assets that can be used for payment. Using these criteria we estimate that about half of the nearly $1 billion in arrears, owing, may be collectible. We intend to collect as much as we can for the rightful recipients.

As I've indicated, in addition to these legislative changes we have already begun to deal with the problems that have characterized the family support plan since its inception. We've taken steps to improve service to our clients. Our goal is to answer calls promptly and to get support moneys into the bank accounts of families as quickly as possible. The program has continued to process and distribute support payments at the level established before the consolidation began. In the first two weeks of November, we have paid $20 million to children and women in this province. On November 18, we sent out $1.9 million in one day, processing cheques for almost 6,104 people.


In closing, the old family support plan is broken. It is inadequate for the children and women of Ontario who count on it. Through the three critical building blocks contained in the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act -- much tougher enforcement measures, automatic filing with opting out, and private sector partnerships -- our government is sending a very clear message to people who default on their family support payments: Not paying child support, not complying with a court order is no longer acceptable in Ontario.

In the Common Sense Revolution, we promised we would crack down on defaulting parents who are not fulfilling their family support obligations. By not doing that earlier, we ran the debt to women and children to $1 billion. We made that promise to the children and women of Ontario. I am happy to announce that the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act keeps the promise we made and makes the Family Responsibility Office one of the toughest plans in North America. I believe it will make this office effective for the first time in the history of family support collections.

Mr Bruce Smith (Middlesex): It's certainly a pleasure to rise today and speak on Bill 82, a bill to establish the Family Responsibility Office. It's certainly a pleasure to join the Attorney General in the discussion on this important initiative on his behalf.

As many members know, issues centred on family support are mainly and often very difficult, due in part to emotionally charged circumstances and the personal sensitivities encompassing the issues. For these reasons, I do not dismiss the frustrations which often accompany change, frustrations which I recognize as being very real.

As I alluded to in my opening remarks, I am pleased to speak to this bill standing in the name of the Attorney General, and particularly so because the bill not only reflects commitments identified in the Common Sense Revolution but, most important, it attempts in part to fix a plan that's in need of improvement and a plan which can work better for the children and women of this province who truly need it.

The government is creating a Family Responsibility Office, an office that will provide Ontario with some of the toughest support payment measures in North America, measures which are drastically needed, given the nearly $1 billion of child support payments which remain outstanding. Fully some 78% of the plan's cases are not in full compliance, a scenario which is tragic for the women and children owed support in this province.

Logically, one might conclude that a plan of this nature would run effectively and achieve its desired outcomes. However, this has not been the case and achieving the desired outcomes has best been described historically as problematic, problematic from the perspective that over the past nine years three out of four women never received family support they were legally entitled to.

I think it's also important to reflect for a moment on the historical experiences of the previous government with this plan, but I do so not maliciously, as I think we can assume that the NDP's intentions were both forthright and directed towards women and children for the best reasons. For that reason, I think it's important to set aside any political biases that we might have in that regard.

Having said that, I've read Hansard to review some of the circumstances in the questions posed to Attorneys General, as we have heard in the House concerning family support for the past few weeks. In 1991 Attorney General Hampton, in responding to questions, emphasized solutions based on enforcement targets and public awareness. In 1993 Attorney General Boyd, in a similar vein in responding to questions, emphasized solutions based on enforcement and collection. As I said, my comments are not intended to be malicious, but ones which reflect the ongoing problems that have been experienced in this particular plan. I must say from personal experience, since being elected in June 1995, inquiries concerning family support problems have been the most predominant of all inquiries in my constituency office, paralleled only by those inquiries concerning the Workers' Compensation Board.

The point I wish to emphasize is that the issue of enforcement, collection and securing timely support payments for women and children in this province has been problematic from the outset and certain remedies have been pursued. Having said that, I wish to bring us back to the present and Bill 82 and clearly emphasize the government's objective with respect to this bill, which is (1) to crack down on defaulting parents and (2) to give the system some real teeth with respect to enforcement procedures; as I said earlier, the toughest in North America.

Toughening enforcement measures is the next logical step in the reform process, a process which will enable the Family Responsibility Office to focus on specific problem cases and at the same time provide opportunities for private sector involvement in examining ways to collect arrears. As the Attorney General said earlier, the focus is on tougher enforcement. People who do not meet their family support responsibilities will be subject to a number of enforcement measures. These include driver's licence suspension by suspending drivers' licences for those who refuse to meet their family support responsibilities. A payor who is in default will receive adequate notice and opportunities to establish a repayment plan before a licence is suspended.

Credit bureau reporting: The office will report to credit bureaus the names of parents who do not pay their child support. This will affect their credit ratings. It will be very useful in enforcement against self-employed individuals. It will hinder them from purchasing luxury items on credit before they have met their child support obligations. Currently a number of banks and mortgage companies refuse to approve loans until arrears are paid.

Third is obtaining financial statements and making orders against persons who help support a payor avoid enforcement by sheltering their assets. In addition, the garnishment of joint bank accounts, the expansion and definition of income sources, improved tracing and location of defaulting payors as well as the registration of support orders under the Personal Property Security Act will enable and assist in the better enforcement through this office.

As the Attorney General alluded to, the seizing of lottery winnings of more than $1,000 to pay outstanding child support is a needed approach. As well, private sector partnerships, including the entering into partnerships with the private sector to collect outstanding support payments. Of the nearly $1 billion in arrears owing, the government estimates as much as $400 million is still collectible.

The government will also screen judicial appointments and appointments to agencies, boards and commissions to ensure the province does not appoint people who fail to pay their child support.

One of the important features, I believe, in this legislation is the automatic filing, with the right to opt out. Under the new legislation, automatic filing of support payment cases with the office will continue. However, recipients and payors, where both agree, will now have the choice of opting out of the system. This recognizes that responsible parents who continue to pay their court ordered or agreed upon support do not need to be supervised by the government. It also ensures that the Family Responsibility Office will be able to concentrate effectively on cases in default.

One of the important features of this bill states that recipients who opt out may immediately return to the system at any time. To protect vulnerable spouses from coercion, abuse and unequal bargaining relationships, judges will have the discretion to prohibit parents from opting out of the system.

There is another important player in this program, and that is the federal government. Child support enforcement by provinces can be strengthened if the federal government makes changes. The Ontario government will continue to push Ottawa for changes to allow the provinces on-line access to federal data banks for current information, including income tax information, employment insurance data and pension plan information, to assist in locating the assets and incomes of people who owe child support.

To conclude, the transition period has been admittedly challenging, but I believe the Attorney General has responded responsively by developing a long-term strategy to address family support payments. Under the old system, only 6% of the phone calls to the plan got through. We are now processing 5,000 transactions per day, a 25% increase in productivity. By example, these efforts resulted in the payment of approximately $20 million in payment to women and children in this province over the first two weeks of this month.

I believe the Family Responsibility Office, which will provide one-window access to information and service to its clients, accompanied by a $1-million investment in technology, will serve women and children in this province very well. I fully support this bill and appreciate having had the opportunity to speak on this issue for a few minutes this afternoon.


Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): It gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak today on Bill 82, a piece of legislation to reform the family support plan which, everyone knows, even my colleagues in the opposition, was not working well for the people it was intended to help.

The family support plan, which was developed in 1992, had as its objective a very worthy one: helping women and children who were not receiving the support needed to financially assist them. While its goals and objectives were very honourable, it was fraught with problems. The current caseload of approximately 150,000 cases has approximately 1,400 new cases every month. The arrears total almost $1 billion, which have accumulated since the support and custody orders enforcement office was set up in 1987. Persistent problems with the clients' ability to contact the plan and receive service have been ongoing since 1987.

Children and women are suffering. Due to the tremendous backlog in cases, children and women are being denied the support they need and which they are entitled to. Nearly half the parents registered with the family support plan are not paying any money at all to their children. They have abandoned their responsibility and they have abandoned their children.

I have heard members of the opposition accuse the Attorney General of neglecting his responsibility to help those women and children who need assistance, and I say to all of them that this new legislation does just exactly what women and the public want us to do. It builds on previous governments' attempts to help those women and children by adding stronger enforcement measures for parents who do not meet their obligation. It focuses its resources on those parents who are not meeting their responsibility and allows responsible people who have reached amicable separation settlements to opt out of the plan.

Parents who adhere to their responsibilities and want to ensure that their children are looked after do not need to be supervised by the government. By allowing them the ability to opt out of the plan, the government's resources can then be focused much more effectively on those cases which are in default: on the women and children not receiving the support they so desperately need and on those deadbeat parents who refuse to own up to their responsibilities.

While the new legislation allows the right to opt out for responsible parents, it also allows a judge the discretion to prohibit parents from opting out in cases where they may be suspected of coercion, abuse and unequal bargaining. It also allows re-entry into the plan in the case where defaults begin to occur again.

We campaigned on a promise to crack down on defaulting parents and give responsible parents the ability to make their support payments directly, without government interference. This new legislation introduces some of the toughest enforcement measures in North America. It includes the suspension of drivers' licences for those who refuse to meet their obligations. Credit bureaus will now be contacted and given the names of parents who do not pay their child support, thereby curtailing their ability to buy luxury items while their children suffer needlessly.

The legislation permits government to seize lottery winnings; to include commissions, salary draws, advances and lump sum payments as income sources; to tap into 50% of joint bank accounts of the default parent and the new partner for support arrears. It allows us to include private sector partnerships to collect outstanding support payments and provides better methods to trace and locate defaulting parents.

We've all heard from women who have tried to contact the Family Support Office only to find that they couldn't get through. Fifty thousand calls are made to the Family Support Office every day. Of these callers, only 6% actually get through. Of the 8,000 letters received every day, the majority are complaints from clients about the lack of telephone service. It's obvious to anyone that the plan hasn't been working well and is not serving its clients. It needs radical change. These problems didn't occur overnight. They have been ongoing since 1987.

The Attorney General has introduced a number of changes to improve service for its clients and this bill does just that. Unfortunately, though, as with any change, there is a transition period in which things just don't go as well as we hope or expect.

Our goal as a government is to help those women and children by making it easier, not more difficult. By consolidating services under one roof, quicker and more effective service will be delivered. This legislation is a good piece of legislation. How can anyone oppose a piece of legislation that supports women and children, that includes tougher enforcement measures, that asks all parents to own up to their responsibilities by supplying for their families?

I submit that this bill fulfils, as promised in the Common Sense Revolution, to crack down on deadbeat dads and help these women and children who have been denied the support they need. I hope all members of the Legislature will vote for this bill and for the women and children who have asked for our help.

The Acting Speaker: Questions or comments?

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The bill is timely and the situation is timely. If I could look at my constituency office and see how many calls are coming in on various problems, the number one right now is unquestionably on family support problems. They have taken over from workers' compensation and other items, although the health questions are coming in quite rapidly as well.

I'm just looking at some cases here, and the frustrating part is that we have got both spouses who are agreeing that the money should be coming from one spouse to the other, but somehow it's not making it there. Ordinarily, in months gone by, the problem was one spouse wasn't paying and the other would phone to complain. It all goes back to the fact that the government is so obsessed with cutting funds so it can fund the tax cut that it has cut these regional offices off before they centralize and find a different way of handling these.

Now, let's put aside whether it's wise or not to close the offices. I think it is a bad decision to close the regional offices, but put that aside for a moment. If you were going to close them, at least it would have been a good idea to get something else in place first. We have absolute chaos out there.

When you can bring both spouses, who have perhaps been on less than good terms in years gone by, on the same side on an issue, you know you've got a problem, and in each one of these I'm looking at here that I just got faxed over from my constituency office, that's the situation. One spouse is paying, shows the stubs that the amount is being taken off, and the other spouse is saying, "I'm not getting the money." This bill may be of some help in that regard, but the whole office has to be cleaned up, and very soon, in addition to this bill.

Ms Martel: In response to the comments that were made, let me say the following. First of all, I heard any number of members from the Conservative Party say this plan had historical problems, long-standing problems, the plan wasn't fixed, it wasn't working, it has to be fixed etc.

Let me remind everyone in this House that under 42 years of former Conservative governments, the Conservatives did nothing -- nothing -- with respect to court-ordered support payments. There was no plan under 42 years of Conservative government in this province, and while there may have been problems under the plan established first by the Liberals and then amended by us, it sure has been a heck of a lot better than the complete lack of action taken for 42 years under former Tory governments.

I find it just appalling that the minister can stand in his place today and talk about problems with the plan and completely ignore the serious crises that women and children are in in this province right now, directly as a result of your decision to lay off 290 staff, directly as a result of your decision to close the regional offices, all to save 35% so you could hand some money back to the Treasurer so you could finance the big tax cut.

We have raised, day in and day out, cases of women and children who are not receiving the regular support payments they used to. The London paper today has five more cases of women who used to receive regular support payments and now are not since the regional office has closed and since this Attorney General laid off 290 staff. For you to come in the House today and to say, for example, that we have so many more new front-line staff is just a farce. Why don't you tell the people that you are cutting the staff by 40% and that the new front-line staff are going to have to carry out the work of two and three people who used to do that work before? We are in a crisis and this government has done nothing to resolve that for women and children.


Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I'd like the House to recognize a couple of people who are in the House who are interested in this topic. One is Regina May from Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears. Heinz Paul and his daughter are here representing Families Against Deadbeats to support this legislation. Hopefully members will recognize those people.

Much of the criticism of the two-minute responses given by the members before me was with respect to this changeover, and there's no question that there are going to be problems with this changeover.

Ms Martel: Problems? It is chaos. Come on.

Mr Tilson: Well, we're trying to solve a problem. Whether you recognize that or not is your business, but the fact of the matter is we have a problem with respect to the whole administration of the family support plan.

One of the items -- and I only have a very short period of time. I remember the Attorney General, when we were in opposition -- he was the critic for the Attorney General, who is now the leader of the third party -- asking: Why do you put everybody in it? Why would you have every last person in the plan? There's a whole pile of people in this province who actually agree on things, but you want to deal with everybody.

Mr Gary Carr (Oakville South): You were in cabinet. You sat right here and did nothing.

The Acting Speaker: Order, please.

Ms Martel: The minister is doing nothing. A crisis for you? look at the bills I got last night from Waterloo.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Sudbury East, come to order. Member for Oakville South, come to order.

Ms Martel: Who is going to pay the bills from the women last night who are not getting their payments? Who is going to pay, Gary? You?

Mr Carr: -- the Deputy Premier, the most powerful man in that government, and he couldn't do anything.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Dufferin-Peel, proceed.

Mr Tilson: Thanks very much, Madam Speaker, for getting order.

Ms Martel: You did nothing for 42 years. It was the Liberals who brought in the plan.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Sudbury East, come to order.

Mr Tilson: I simply would like to congratulate the Attorney General for taking the bull by the horns and solving this terrible social problem. I believe that problem is going to be solved.

The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments?


The Acting Speaker: Take your seat. All the members of the House, please come to order. In particular, the member for Sudbury East and the member for Oakville South, come to order, please.

Mr Carr: Floyd, you were the most powerful man, Deputy Premier.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Oakville South, come to order now.

Ms Martel: Talk to them. Talk to the women we talked to in Kitchener last night.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Sudbury East, come to order.

Okay. You're using up your debate time. Thank you.

Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): Madam Speaker, thank you very much for allowing me a couple of minutes in response. I'm very pleased to see that the member for Dufferin-Peel has told this House, has told the people out there that indeed there is a problem and they are trying to do something about it. The problem is that they haven't recognized the real problem that is out there. The problem is that instead of trying to solve, they are creating more crises, they are creating more problems and they are doing nothing about it.

What has happened in the House today is a result of the actions of the government. That is why the actions of today bring to the attention of the House the need to do something, not simply say that they are doing something. It is to do something about it. When citizens of Ontario are forced to come to Queen's Park to get action, then it means the system is no longer working for the people of Ontario. We on this side, the government on the other side, it reflects on us that we are not doing the job. Today they happen to be in power and it is most unfair that they have been preaching restraint with compassion, doing more with less. The people of Ontario don't want to know about that. When it comes to services, especially health services, they want to have a response. They want to be able to access those services. That is why what is happening here today is because of the problems we have.

While I'm pleased that the government recognizes there is a problem out there, I exhort the members, especially those not in cabinet, to get after Mike Harris, the leader, and the ministers, and say: "We have a problem. Let's show the people of Ontario that we care and we are doing something about it."

The Acting Speaker: The Attorney General may sum up.

Hon Mr Harnick: I have listened with interest to the comments of my colleagues, and I think it's important to note that there are 200 people now working very diligently at the family support plan office where, on Monday, $1.9 million in cheques was disbursed to over 6,000 people.

We had a problem that the member from Sudbury raised about Sudbury Hydro not sending its cheques in, and there was a problem. The problem was that they didn't want to send the cheques to a post office box, as the plan had instructed.

Ms Martel: They can't, Charles. Why don't you tell them that detail. Every week they send them by courier.

The Acting Speaker: Order, the member for Sudbury East.

Hon Mr Harnick: When the next month came along, those cheques were sent to the post office box and by electronic banking they were disbursed within 24 hours, so there are some real improvements being made.

This bill will facilitate a part of the problem that nobody from the former government wants to talk about, and that's the fact that we had a plan that accumulated a debt of $960 million as of today because the plan didn't have any enforcement mechanisms and tools to meet the modern-day reality. What we are trying to do is to create a plan that provides better service to clients, that has access for clients to the plan and that has an ability to enforce orders that courts are making. We haven't had those tools in the plan to date, and we intend, by this bill, to try to collect some of the money that for the last six or seven years has increased by $100 million a year. That's money that women and children didn't receive.

The Acting Speaker: The member's time is up.


The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Just take your seat for one moment.

Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): Here you go again. You wonder why the opposition is angry at you. It is that kind of nonsense that has got you in trouble.

The Acting Speaker: Member for Nickel Belt, come to order, please.

Mr Tilson: Madam Speaker, on a point of order: During the two-minute responses, I must say I had about 10 seconds. The Attorney General had about the same amount of time for responses. The rules are quite clear, specifically rule 20(b): "When a member is speaking, no other member shall interrupt such member, except on a question of order."

My point of order is that three members particularly from the third party are continually interrupting members on this side of the House.

The Acting Speaker: You're quite right; that's what the rule book says. However, I will point out that during your two-minute comment period, members from both parties, including yours, were heckling each other at the same time. I am sorry, but to all the members, when you have a two-minute response, that is your time. I can't stop the clock during that time. I have a choice to be on my feet to call the House to order. You're losing time. So it's up to you to try to keep order during the two-minute response, and I implore you to do that for the rest of the debate.


Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview): I rise today to speak to Bill 82, which with typical Tory flourish and exaggeration has the lengthy title of An Act to establish --


The Acting Speaker: Order, please. Take your seat for a moment. Members from both sides of the House, please come to order.

Ms Castrilli: This act bears a lengthy title, which we've become accustomed to with the Tories in their haste for exaggeration: An Act to establish the Family Responsibility Office, protect the interests of children and spouses through the strict enforcement of support orders while offering flexibility to responsible payors and make consequential amendments to certain statutes. But the issue before us today is really one of child and female poverty, a problem that is growing and requires our urgent attention in a democratic society that believes in fairness and justice for all its residents.

Let me say at the outset that the best remedy for child poverty is parents with jobs and parents who take their child support obligations seriously. But the fact is that many parents face poor employment prospects while others simply refuse to pay child support even when they can. The effects on children can be devastating, as it can be on their mothers. Therefore there must be a policy of zero tolerance for parents who default on child support. Children deserve and need to get financial support from their parents. If parents don't pay, everybody else does.

Improvement to the current system is greatly needed by the thousands of women and children in poverty because of the failure of individuals to honour their support obligations. My party supports any measures that will enhance the ability to enforce support orders that are intended for families, to care for their needs. While these may be physical in nature, they often have profound psychological and social consequences when denied or delayed.

We agree that the family support plan needed an overhaul. Enforcement mechanisms were weak, computer deficiencies were all too common and women and children suffered as a result. But the most significant problems were a lack of resources and a massive caseload. Let's look at the facts: 97% of parents ordered to pay child support in Canada are fathers. Of these, about 76% of support orders are in arrears. Ontario fathers currently owe about $1 billion, which grows by millions of dollars each year. It costs the province approximately $300 million per annum in social assistance payments to families who are not receiving the support payments to which they are entitled by law.

A more specific picture is given by the staff at the family service plan in Ottawa who write, and I will quote this letter if you don't mind:

"We would like to draw your attention to the recent government proposal to revamp the existing family support plan. The plan is primarily staffed by women, and the main goal of the plan is to collect child support payments from defaulting payors, and funnel the money to women and children. At a time when the federal government is recognizing the importance of child support, the Harris government is planning to close the regional offices of the family support plan, centralize and downsize, claiming that the existing plan is a failure. This once again is an attack on the most vulnerable in society, women and children.

"Even though current case workers in the plan have over 1,200 cases each they often give out their private numbers to clients so that they may have direct contact. They often take the time to speak with clients directly and assist them at the counters of the regional offices."

Bill 82 is hardly an endeavour to protect and enhance the interests of children and spouses. It is a cost-cutting initiative by a desperate government determined to find the cash to pay for its tax cut. The minister has mishandled the restructuring of the family support plan with such proficiency that he has become desperate to deflect criticism.

This bill attempts to do just that by providing the appearance that the so-called reorganization is well-thought-out, controlled and, yes, even righteous. It is an attempt to divert attentions of the members of this House and the public from the very real problems experienced within the family support plan created directly by the government's thoughtless rapid move to downsize, decentralize and consolidate the plan. It is an attempt to divert attention from the very real harm being inflicted upon women and children by the delays caused by a rushed, ill-conceived implementation.

The family support plan will now be called the Family Responsibility Office, or FRO for short. But does this name change create a better system for women and children? Does it achieve more support for women and children, or does it instead indicate that it will seek to place the full responsibility on the backs of families? Women and children are wondering whether this is an intentional act by a callous government or whether it is simply another accidental casualty. Clearly, there is a dangerous lack of vision and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society.

The key issue here is that when child support isn't paid, women and children suffer. They suffer by not being able to afford to heat their homes, to put food in their stomachs and place clothing on their backs. In many cases, these families are forced to seek help through social assistance in their constant struggle against poverty. This government does not realize that its hurtful actions and policies have rebound effects both psychological and financial. This issue demonstrates once again the government's attack on the most vulnerable. A generous person might say this attack is not intentional, but it is nevertheless real.

In the weeks since the government's hasty closure of all family support plan regional offices, MPP offices and the media right across the province continue to be overwhelmed with cases of clients desperately seeking information on the status of their cheques and their files, many of which are months in arrears due to computer problems, backlogs and reduced staffing.

Let me read to you just one of the letters that have been written to the minister from women desperate for help. Carolynn Ioannoni from Niagara Falls writes to the minister:

"I have not received my October payment yet, and it is weeks overdue. The attempts I have made to get through to an assistance line and actually speak to a person have been futile. I have been trying to get through for over a week. This is both time-consuming and frustrating, so now I'm coming to you for assistance.

"To make matters worse, my ex-husband is now receiving notices from your office stating that he is in arrears. His wages are automatically garnished for his child support and his work has deducted this support, as it does every month, and sent the payments in weeks ago. I hope the changes you are making, geared to make this plan more effective, come into effect soon. Until then, I am asking for your help in finding my children's support."

The minister is trying to convince us that his restructuring initiatives are an attempt to eliminate waste, save money and improve efficiency, yet instead, the family support plan dismantlement project is proving to be a political and financial disaster that shows how not to ram through ideologically driven policies to fund a lucrative tax cut.

Those directly involved in the administration of the plan give the most damning evidence of this. Staff at the office of the public guardian and trustee -- no less than the public guardian and trustee -- wrote to us on September 17:

"This is regarding the closure of regional family support plan offices which has resulted in a massive domino effect of bumping and displacement in the Attorney General. Not only have the closures resulted in job loss, but a loss of confidence in the government and its services.

"Where are all our tax dollars going? The government closes the family support plan offices, which was generating income that went back into government treasury, sends the surplus employees away, realizes there's a backlog and hires an outside agency to tackle the backlog. What happens when the new proposed plan doesn't work? They spend our tax dollars to decentralize again. The government is playing games with our lives."

That is from the office of the public guardian and trustee.

In addition to all this, the minister has chosen to be extraordinarily partisan in his management of this issue, stating as he did in the House on October 2 that the problems with the family support plan have been ongoing since 1987. But his partisanship, unfortunately, has been based considerably on incorrect information, particularly with respect to the historical problems of the family support plan. I know all members of this House will want a factual account of the history of the family support plan. Informed decisions require us to have all the facts at our disposal. The public of Ontario deserves and expects informed decisions from all of us.

We begin with 42 years of inaction by the Conservatives, successive governments that did nothing to ensure that women and children received the payments to which they are entitled. To help overcome this deficiency, the Support and Custody Orders Enforcement Act was brought in by a Liberal government in 1987. It allowed the province to do a number of things to enforce support and custody orders, due to the huge number of parents who were in arrears or had defaulted on their child support obligations.


After 42 years of inaction it's obvious there would be a huge caseload, and the support and custody orders enforcement agency, or SCOE, developed a backlog. So in February 1990, the then government approved a plan for the automatic deduction of support orders from the income of persons ordered to pay support. However, this plan was never implemented because of the election call that came that spring.

Following the election, the NDP introduced the Family Support Plan Act, or FSP. This built on the Liberal policy and provided for automatic deduction of support orders from income. Support orders would be filed with the FSP office and sent to the employer of the payor. The employer would then be obliged to deduct the payments owing from the wages of the payor. The FSP came into effect on March 1, 1992.

Unlike the proposed Liberal plan, however, the NDP legislation did not provide for a mandatory removal from the plan of those cases that have been in good standing for a defined period of time. Cases in good standing would not have been included under the Liberal plan. The inclusion of these cases by the NDP added about 25% to the caseload, to which my party objected strenuously at the time.

As well, under the Liberal plan enforcement by the family support plan would not have taken place until notice of default was registered. Under the NDP legislation there was total administration of the program by the family support plan from the moment an order was made. For this reason, my party also had serious concerns about the staffing and administrative resources this would require, and that the NDP may have gone too far without committing enough resources to make the plan work.

Ultimately, it turned out that we were correct, as the family support plan has been consistently plagued by bureaucratic delays and mistakes. Many defaulters are successfully avoiding the system. For instance, federal sources of income were not garnished.

Therefore, let's clear up the minister's statement that the family support plan has been in a mess for 10 years. The fact is that there have been problems with the enforcement of support orders for many years. These problems are due directly to the fact that 75% of people required to pay child support choose to default or are in arrears. The Liberal government tried to address these issues in 1987, but SCOE was only an enforcement office. It was not a centralized agency to collect support payments directly from wages, and therefore cannot be compared to the family support plan.

When it was clear that the support and custody orders enforcement was not working, the Liberal government did decide to introduce a plan. After the election the NDP proceeded with a plan but made it more bureaucratic and wider in scope than the Liberal plan would have been. As a result, it was unable to cope with the caseload which has since plagued it.

Therefore, I remind members of the House that the record shows that the family support plan has not been in a mess for 10 years. How could it be, when it was only operational since 1992? The system in place now is quite different from what existed 10 years ago, which was nothing. And that is exactly what successive Tory governments did for single parents and children in need of assistance for more than four decades: nothing.

The current system is in need of reform. As I have stated, approximately three quarters of family support orders in Ontario are in arrears. In addition, as of last December only 24% of cases were in full compliance and 31% in partial compliance. This means that a whopping 45% of the cases involved no remittance whatsoever. This amounts, as I said, to about $1 billion in outstanding child and spousal support while the caseload increases by 1,400 each month.

This situation forces the government to provide about $300 million a year in welfare payments to keep many families afloat, yet the total annual budget of the FSP was only about $23 million.

Let me quote the minister in order to illustrate the enormity of the plan's workload. He stated in this House on October 2: "With a caseload of approximately 148,000 cases and an average of 1,400 new cases every month, the family support plan is ill equipped to handle its caseload. The plan receives up to 50,000 calls a day to its offices. Of these calls, only 6% of the callers actually get through. Almost 8,000 letters arrive daily, most of which are complaints from clients about the lack of telephone service."

While the minister acknowledges the problems, what is really interesting is that he responds to this inequality between workload and resources by slashing two thirds of the staff, closing all regional offices in the province and relying on a 1-800 phone line as the sole information link for desperate parents. Does that make sense?

The resulting turmoil was simply passed off as the cost of change, but it represents much more than that. It is indicative of how this government manages change: without plans, without forethought, without due consideration to the consequences. This is a very scary realization when one considers that the same government is now preparing to ram through the amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto cities, has already rammed through VLTs and is planning the elimination of school boards.

Again the response of those in the field is instructive. Staff at one regional office wrote:

"Though there has been no increase in staff over the past four years...receipts have risen from $166.4 million in 1991-92 to $420 million in 1995-96, an increase of 252%. We have to ask what would be the commonsense thing to do? The answer is to build on the strengths already apparent in the system -- a well-trained, committed staff, who know their business, before eliminating 335 jobs, closing offices in seven smaller cities, and denying clients what little direct access they have to the program. Why not improve access to the local offices by reducing caseload to a manageable limit? Were this the case perhaps the phone lines would not be quite so jammed."

It has become obvious that this restructuring has been a massive flop, as one serious problem has followed another. There have been ongoing delays of six weeks or longer in sending out cheques to mothers and children; a huge computer glitch resulted in the delay of 7,000 cheques and is yet to be resolved; desperate parents are becoming frustrated with futile attempts at getting through to the family support plan on overloaded telephone lines; there is inadequate staffing to answer questions and resolve problems if and when they finally get through; the results of office closures and delays in service are chaos for the system and reduced support for a quarter of a million children.

Let me tell you about a case in my own riding of Downsview. Cynthia Italiano is another example of many who are experiencing similar difficulties. She was having some difficulty collecting support payments from her ex-husband, who was $1,900 in arrears. She has exerted great energy attempting, without success, to discuss the issue directly with someone in the ministry because of the problems with the new phone system. Nevertheless she found out that the ministry had cashed $900 of cheques from her husband but failed to forward them to her until just recently, after inquiries from my office. She writes:

"I do not mind telling you that because of the delay in payment, I have been finding it increasingly difficult to manage. I am not financially able to support my family without such payments. Risking sounding very hostile, I thought that support payments going through the government were supposed to support the mother" and the children.

Recently my colleague from Cornwall also rose in this House to explain how one of his constituents, Sarah Lenneau, has been waiting for months for the family support plan to update her support payments through garnishing her ex-husband's salary. Ms Lenneau and her ex-husband have been willing to enter into a direct payment agreement, but the family support plan has discouraged this. So instead of being able to pay her bills, her account now stands at $1,800 and rising. To add insult to injury, she has been told that she will not be able to receive any additional information or have her payments corrected until at least December, since the family support plan was in the process of moving offices and files were inaccessible.


These problems directly impact on family incomes and their ability to purchase food and clothing for the winter and to keep a roof over their heads. That is the real tragedy. There are no excuses for bureaucratic delays that prevent parents from receiving the money collected on their behalf by the FSP.

The minister also skates on thin ice when arguing the cost-effectiveness of this plan. Among the many hidden costs of restructuring are overtime payments to outside contract staff, many of whom are not bonded for confidential work, and the use of the Royal Bank, hired to administer the transference of cheques etc, to address the backlog, as the system was unprepared to deal with the new format; at least $1.5 million to cover the cancellation of regional office lease agreements; extensive renovations under way at the new central office, which will cost $966,000, not including the costs of moving; the cost of having non-bonded ministerial staff conduct confidential case work in a weak effort to protect their boss's reputation.

Furthermore, according to the transition plan, the Downsview office was to be fully operational by November 25, yet it is still not fully operational and likely will not be until at least January. What will women and children do in the meantime?

In September, the rapid closure of the family support plan offices resulted in a deluge of child support cheques flooding the Royal Bank, the institution chosen to manage the funds of the plan. The backlog that was created forced the government to ensure that the cost of extra banking staff was covered. What is unclear is exactly how much money is still being held by the bank, how much is dormant, and who is receiving the interest from it -- interesting questions that apparently are not easily answered.

Furthermore, members should know that the family support plan posted modest successes. For instance, in fiscal year 1995-96, the family support plan returned approximately $49.8 million to the treasury of Ontario as recovery of support arrears paid out in welfare or family benefit payments. It costs approximately $23 million to run the program, leaving a net return of more than $26 million.

One is therefore forced to wonder why the urgency in overhauling a profitable plan. Why make hasty decisions that cause such troubling problems? Why fire existing, knowledgeable staff simply to rehire in other jobs and outside of the regions where the women and children need the help? What about public service in our communities and community-based solutions? What about face-to-face contact and its importance in resolving human trauma?

The telephone hotline will be busier as parents are forced to obtain information over the phone from one central office, and there is no assurance that they will get the assistance they need. We are even told that the office may have hired an answering service. How are parents to get any help? Remember our writer from Niagara Falls? She spent more than a week attempting to get through on the hotline without success. Imagine: every day for a week and no results.

The Attorney General family support plan 1996-97 business plan stated that "many of the FSP's existing regional offices are located in small, closely knit communities who deeply depend on government as a provider of support, services and employment. The family support plan's new business approach, coupled with other government program approaches, will result in some very difficult times for these small communities, accordingly a carefully planned government communications strategy should be undertaken." At least they acknowledge the very real negative impact that these changes will make.

Yet staff at the office of the public guardian and trustee stated in a letter to members of this House that "the displacement process will cause a further backlog in the system which the client and the public will inevitably suffer from because the new staff will have no knowledge of the file history, policies and procedures of the office. This will also cause and has already created frustration from our clients, family members, caregivers, agencies and nursing homes we presently deal with."

Staff at the Ottawa family support plan describe the unique service that the regional office provided:

"The government's business plan purports that this centralization will `permit clients to directly access staff of the program.' One clearly has to ask the question how when the only access will be via a telephone toll-free number. The present system with eight regional offices and a central inquiry system is not perfect. In fact employees of the plan welcome legislative changes that will enhance enforcement tools, and computer technology. These are changes employees have been seeking in order to provide better client service.... Clients clearly need better access to the program but is the best solution to close the regional offices and eliminate all face-to-face contact with clients?"

The facts dispute the government's claim that the plan is a failure. In fact, it can be said that while being perpetually underresourced and understaffed, the family support plan has achieved some successes. I find it unbelievable that this government would first lay off staff, close offices, and then seek solutions. Now we find out that they let out the request for proposal on a contract to analyse the family support plan restructuring just two weeks ago, and they haven't even considered such basic items as the type of computer technology that they will need and that will not be in place until June 1997.

It seems this government really has no capacity to approach the business of the province. Slash first, ask questions later. Just one of the many examples is its management of colleges and universities. The government announced $400 million in funding cuts, then released a discussion paper, and finally created a consultation panel. What is there to discuss after the funding cutbacks have already impacted on the manner in which the institutions deliver services and the quality of education our students receive? This is a backward, undemocratic approach to governing which puts no value on consultation and planning, and we see it again in the family support plan.

The Ottawa family support plan office even submitted options outlining extensive recommendations for improving the system while reducing costs. Yet the government abruptly chose centralization, but without appropriate transitional planning to prevent the widespread service delivery problems that families are now experiencing.

It is no wonder that experienced personnel concluded:

"As women, government employees and taxpayers of Ontario, we are insulted by our treatment by this government. We were not consulted with regard to these drastic changes, and we only became aware of them through leaked documents to the media. We ask that you give voice to our concerns over the impending closure of the regional family support plan offices, and force this government to put the needs of women and children of Ontario first, before the bottom line."

There is no more damning indictment of this government's course of action.

The minister in this House has acknowledged problems with the transition, yet has assured us that his ministry has moved quickly and decisively to correct them. Despite these assurances, problems continue to exist every day. The new 1-800 service that the minister tells us will replace adequately the regional offices and deal effectively with public inquiries is so heavily inundated with calls that people are finding it virtually impossible to get through.

I wonder why the minister has stood by and allowed such chaos in the family support plan. The system has deteriorated to such a point that his political office has had to resort to dealing with the problems. This seems to be a costly method of reforming the system.

Clients cannot even obtain copies of their personal files, as is their right under Ontario's freedom of information legislation. Thousands of irretrievable personal records previously housed in regional offices are being haphazardly shipped and stockpiled at the new Toronto location and clients are being told they will not be able to access information until the boxes are unpacked, whenever that may be. Without proper computers, it may be that information will not be available to them till long after June 1997.

If this government is not prepared to provide the family support plan with the resources needed to deliver its services to clients, how can we be assured that it will provide the resources needed to enforce the new regulations? And if the government is not prepared to devote sufficient resources and staff to ensure the plan functions adequately on a daily basis, this government cannot boast, as it does, that it has the toughest support payment enforcement legislation in North America.


There is no question that action is required. Let me also say that there are some merits to the proposed legislation which can be supported. While the legislation will not do all it says it will do, we applaud the expanded definition of income to include new categories of payments such as lump sum, disability pension, workers' compensation, commissions, bonuses, annuities, dividends and income tax refunds. It's a welcome effort to obtain more accurate assessment of total income on which to base payments.

The bill also acknowledges the fact that there are parents who take their financial commitments to children seriously. It allows payors and recipients to agree to opt out of enforcement by the Family Responsibility Office and to enforce the support orders themselves. While we agree that it is essential to reduce the case work where possible, we have serious concerns with this step, however, as it creates the real possibility of coercion by one partner who would rather avoid dealing with a government system. Women who depend on payments by their spouses or ex-spouses are in no position to bargain. We caution the government that it must act to ensure that women and children are not victimized once again by the system.

Our Liberal plan would have removed from the plan payors who had been in good standing for a defined period of time. We still believe this is the smart way to go. The decision should not be at the discretion of the parties. Instead, it should depend on the payor being in good standing for a required length of time and that determination should be made by plan administrators. Any default on the part of an opt-out payor should automatically trigger reinstatement into the plan by plan administrators. This is in the best interests of the women and children involved.

I also endorse the new enforcement measures as outlined by the minister in July. Stakeholders demanded action in this area from the previous government but got nowhere.

I fully support suspending the driver's licence of defaulters; reporting defaulters to credit rating bureaus; garnishing joint bank accounts up to 50% if one of the holders of the account is a defaulting payor; ordering third parties who have a financial relationship with a defaulter to provide financial statements and allowing orders to be made against such parties if they were involved in sheltering the payor's assets or income from enforcement of the support order; registering support orders as security interest under the Personal Property Security Act.

Allowing for the seizure of personal property upon default is also a good measure, as is intercepting lottery winnings of $1,000 or more and requiring support arrears to be paid from them before the winnings are distributed to the defaulter; and giving support orders priority over other judgement debts.

While it is outside the scope of this bill, I would urge the government also to look into the issue of the enforcement of custody orders and visitation orders for non-custodial parents, a growing problem in our society.

As for this legislation, we strongly recommend that it receive committee scrutiny in the public interest. Given the huge interest in this issue that we see in the House every day, that we see in our constituency office every day, and the hardships which have been caused, it is likely that a large number of citizens and organizations are interested in giving their input. Their advice can only strengthen the process and this legislation. It is incumbent on us to seek advice from those directly in the field and directly affected before making a decision. Only in this way can we perform our duties as informed members of the House and responsible legislators.

I'm sure that everyone in this Legislature wants to ensure that children and women are not victimized. It is up to us to develop the best possible legislation to protect their rights and to provide them with the necessities of life. I know we all believe this to be our duty as legislators and I therefore urge everyone here to promote public hearings and to insist on a system that will be fair and accessible and that will not penalize those women and children who are least able to defend themselves. This is our challenge and our promise to them. We cannot let them down.

Mrs Lyn McLeod (Leader of the Opposition): I want to begin by congratulating the member for Downsview for what I think is a very clear and a very thorough discussion of the kinds of concerns with which we approach this issue of family support and the debate about this legislation. The legislative proposals themselves may in fact be less of a focus of our debate than the whole matter of the mess the family support plan is in and whether the proposals presented in the legislation are going to be adequate in any way to deal with the mess of the family support plan.

I'm wearing a ribbon today which was presented to me earlier this morning in recognition of the fact that this is the UN Day of the Child. It seems to me that it's an appropriate day on which to begin the debate about the family support plan, and I want to take from the words of the member for Downsview the most significant of statements, the reason we are all so concerned and the reason this debate is so important. That's the fact that when support payments are not made, women and children suffer. I think it's important that throughout this debate we all remember that our concern is for children and to make sure that children get the support they need.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the specific proposals of the legislation. The member for Downsview has already indicated that we are supportive of a number of the tougher enforcement measures set out in this bill. We have believed for some time that it's necessary to provide more power to act against the self-employed delinquent payor, the payor who can afford to pay and is not paying, the real deadbeats, and to make sure we have the powers to be able to act effectively. We believe that the enforcement measures proposed here are a step in that direction.

The member for Downsview has also indicated our very real concern with one aspect of the proposals here, put forward to deal with a part of the mess that we acknowledge does exist in the family support plan but that we must understand has become so much worse in the last few months, with the closure of the regional offices. There's no question that as the minister puts forward the plan for opting out of the automatic deductions, that is intended to relieve some of the pressure of the 25% addition to the caseload that is created by people who were in compliance. I think the member for Downsview has very accurately stated our concern when the previous government introduced the automatic deduction plan, that although we supported the idea of garnishing, we were concerned that those in compliance were included in that plan.

We do, however, have very real concerns about the way in which this opting out provision is included in this legislation. I heard the minister today speak about safeguards. I don't see the safeguards in the legislation. I hear the concerns of custodial parents who feel they could be intimidated, that they could be coerced into not having the payments garnished. I think there was a sound basis on which to deal with the problem of those people who are in compliance and who don't need to be clogging up the system, that 25% additional caseload that doesn't need to be there. That way was to ensure that people who are in good standing and have been in good standing over a long period of time are not in the automatic deduction plan, but that they are automatically back in the plan if there is any default at all. I still hope, because I think that this is a real concern, that the government will revisit this part of the legislation.

I'm not going to go any further into the history of the plan either. I do find it rather strange that with all the questions we've raised in this House, with all the concerns we've raised day after day, the minister kept echoing his refrain that this plan had been in a mess for 10 years. As the member for Downsview has just said, the program has only existed for four years when it was put in place in 1987 by the previous Liberal government, the first time ever that there had been a plan put in place and a capacity to deal with those who were defaulting on their child support payments.

But there is also no question that there was a problem with the plan. As the member for Downsview said, when that program was put in place in 1987, because there had never been a program before there was instantly a huge backlog, a huge caseload. It has been difficult to deal with that, no question about that at all.

I have a memo dated September 1996 from Linda Waxman, who's the acting director of the family support plan, in which she outlines the problem.

"The plan's caseload of 146,00 is growing by about 1,400 new cases a month. At any one time, we have only been able to answer only about 6% of the calls. Some 8,000 pieces of mail come in every day. Not surprisingly, many are complaints from clients who have not been able to contact the plan by phone."


I want to re-emphasize the statement that was made here and note it carefully: 8,000 complaints a day because clients couldn't contact the plan by phone. It's a fact that only clients in the eight regional offices across the province have ever had access to direct counter service, any alternative to using the phone. So you get 8,000 complaints a day because clients can't contact the plan by phone, and what is the government's response? The government's response is to shut down the regional offices where the clients could go in and get counter service, direct personal service to deal with the problem. You have to ask, where is the sense in that? Some 8,000 people can't get anybody to answer the phone, so you shut down the regional offices where they were getting direct service. Obviously you're going to make the problem much worse.

I think the government at one point did see that there was some value in counter service. Their original plan would have required some 50 people in government offices tucked away somewhere. I'm not sure they'd have ever been accessible, because nobody knew where these 50 people would be, but at least they thought they might need to have some direct service. We haven't seen those 50 people. If they exist, we don't know where they are. Certainly that was not a well-thought-out part of their proposals.

There was also at one time a plan to charge $2 a call to anybody trying the 1-800 number to get help. Thank goodness we've not seen that particular proposal carried forward, because that would have been a disaster for all those clients who have to call repeatedly, some as many as 14 times in the course of a month, just to get an answer to their phone call.

The transition fact sheet from the government makes it clear that "only 60 people a day were going into each regional office." These were people who couldn't get through by phone. They were going into regional offices. There were eight regional offices. That means some 480 people a day were going into regional offices. The government clearly thought that 480 people a day weren't enough to be bothered giving them that kind of service, so it would just shut the regional offices down. Maybe they thought that the regions had a benefit that people in the greater Toronto area simply didn't have. They note that 70% of the enforcement workload was in the greater Toronto area but only half of the staff was there.

Maybe it's not possible to have direct office service in the greater Toronto area. Maybe it can never be truly accessible. Maybe counter service isn't the best route. But why impose the problems of access in the greater Toronto area on the rest of the province? The regional offices were working outside the greater Toronto area. They should have been left alone, and then the greater Toronto area problems could have been addressed as a different and unique issue.

But the problem is not only that we have had a mess over the last months but that we are going to continue to have a mess because the 1-800 number is never going to work satisfactorily. That really is the bottom line. Even if you finally do add enough staff -- and the minister keeps saying they're adding more staff -- to finally answer the telephone, it is still not going to work, because people get frustrated when they can't get through. They get angry when they don't get a return call. They get angry when the information they get on the automated information system is different from the answer they get from a real person when a real person finally returns their call maybe two weeks later.

But the primary reason that the 1-800 number won't work is because it is simply too easy to make bureaucratic, dismissive responses when you never have to deal with the client in person. The common reference to the 1-800 number now for clients, for people who have tried to use it, is that it's 1-800-WHO-CARES, because they don't believe there is a caring, responsive person at the other end of that line.

The regional offices were more than just a counter service. The regional offices did get to know their clients. They didn't have to deal with the routine problems, because those could be handled by phone. They were pursuing the compliance issues. They were actively going after the deadbeat parents, and they were making a difference.

I just want to quote some of the statistics from the regional plan to testify to the success that was being experienced in the regional offices.

"Before March 1992, approximately 93,000 cases were filed and enforced. During the past fiscal year, that number has increased to a total caseload of 142,138 cases; a net caseload increase of 1,092 cases per month," cases filed and enforced.

In 1987-88 the family support plan collected $19.9 million. For the 1994-95 period the plan collected well over $367 million and was able to return $45 million to the treasury in recovered welfare funds.

It's ironical that the family support plan was designated a gold star organization by the Ombudsman's office in public acknowledgement of the plan's ongoing commitment to excellence.

The problem wasn't with the regional offices. The regional offices were providing real support to people and they should have been left in place. They should now be reinstated.

There was a warning given to the government long before the government decided to shut down regional offices. The warning came from taxpayers -- clients -- in my home community of Thunder Bay on February 23, 1996. I'm not going to read the entire concern that was expressed by these people because there isn't time. They pointed out that the work that was being done by case workers prevented hardship for families because case workers were able to intervene and get a much more immediate resolution of the problem than if a family were having to deal by phone with somebody who had no connection with that case or that particular client.

They make the point that if the cases are not reviewed and given immediate attention, they fear that many recipients will give up and look to social assistance for survival. That is a concern all of us have. We know in that same Thunder Bay branch they were able to collect $1 million in support payments per month, and that was money undoubtedly saved from social services.

A number of us, most members of both opposition parties, have been bringing to this Legislature for weeks now the specific cases, the dozens and dozens of cases that have been called into our constituency offices. At any given time over the course of the last two months my office will have had 30 outstanding cases: parents who are supporting their children who aren't getting the payments made; and as the member for St Catharines has said, a new twist to the whole problem of the family support plan, those parents who are in good compliance, the payors who are having their payments deducted regularly and who are angry because their payments are not getting to the children for whom they are providing support.

That's the kind of mess that has built up: 30 cases on average in my constituency office in Fort William. The member for Windsor-Sandwich is going to speak this afternoon. She's been seeing 30 cases at any one time outstanding in her office. The member for Hamilton East would have as many as 56 outstanding cases at any one time.

The minister has said today, "Not to worry." He's been saying that for two months. He's saying, "Don't worry, we're sending out the cheques now." Well, I called my office today, just before I came into the House to speak on this bill, to say: "Is it all right? Are things fixed? Is the problem gone?"

Here's the memo that was sent to the family support office this week, as we send them on a regular basis. Here's somebody who was to have received an increase in support payments in June and still hasn't received the increase. Here's a payor who had his income tax refund garnished on September 6, 1996. He's not in arrears. He doesn't understand why he's having to pay more than he should be paying. Here's a recipient who last received a support payment on October 10, which just covered here September support. To the best of her knowledge, the payor is having his payments deducted regularly and the support is being remitted to the family support plan. She's obviously wondering when she and her children are going to get the money. Here's a recipient who's been experiencing delays since the Thunder Bay family support office closed. To the best of her knowledge, the payor is paid once a month and his employer is remitting monthly. Another one last received support moneys October 31, 1996. The list goes on and on for pages, and this is today. These are the cases that have just come in that are outstanding still today. So the mess is still going on.

There are such significant implications for parents. That's why we have been so concerned, because if the money is not getting to the parent who's providing support, it's not getting to the children.

My colleague from Port Arthur on October 22 read into the record in this House a letter from a Thunder Bay resident: "Winter's on the way and my daughter needs warm clothing. I'm relying on the child support plan to purchase what she needs for the upcoming cold season." It is the children who pay the price of the problems that have been created in this plan.


At one point in time a representative for the Attorney General's office said, "We're going to pay compensation to any parent who has suffered financially as a result of the delays that have been created in this plan." I don't know how they're going to pay compensation, because they have absolutely no accurate records to allow them to make the payments today, let alone to track the loss of income to families as a result of the delays and the total chaos that has been created in the last months.

There is no question that the whole transition was handled in the most incompetent way possible. Our member for Ottawa West outlined it in a question that he asked in this House in September, outlined exactly the problems that had been created in the mismanagement of the closing down of the regional offices, the fact that the process was kept secret from regional staff. Way back in February clients in Thunder Bay were warning the ministry about the implications of closing down the family support plan offices, yet the regional staff were not being given any accurate information as to the ministry's plans.

There were insufficient banking arrangements made for the new system, resulting in thousands of cheques not being cashed or deposited by the bank in a timely manner. The new computer system was not fully operational, and this was back on September 24, when the member for Ottawa West said:

"Fourthly, you have been haphazardly storing and misplacing parts of thousands of client files.

"Fifthly, you inadequately communicated to clients of the plan how the new system would work. They didn't know what was happening. They didn't even know where to send their cheques."

It's a fact that a large part of the mess was created because of total and absolute mismanagement. There was no plan in place, there was no transitional program, and we saw last week that in fact there are still files stacked in unopened boxes. We are not through the transitional period yet; the mess is by no means over.

But my greater concern is that even once the mess of an incompetently handled change is resolved, the plan is still going to experience huge problems, because the government's proposals are simply not going to work. They are bringing in measures that they believe will toughen enforcement, and we support those measures with the one caveat that I've outlined. We think that the enforcement measures may help, but they're only going to help if you can find the non-payors. You can't do that by telephone.

All of the service improvements that the ministry has outlined are technological. They're all dependent upon being able to save money by putting new technology in place. The technology isn't really new; it's more telephones, more telephone lines and hopefully a few more people to answer the telephones, but it is all at-a-distance service. It doesn't involve any direct contact with people.

Who's going to go out and visit the employer in Thunder Bay to try and track that payor who's in default? Who's going to find out what's really going on? Is that person really on sick leave? Is that really why they haven't been able to make their payments for the last months? Has he actually taken off and never been seen again? Do we need to do something a little more active if we're ever going to get support payments to that child? And are employers really going to give this kind of confidential employee information over a telephone on a 1-800 line, let alone to an automated service?

Suppose that some altered way of making payments has to be worked out, because there are often circumstances in which the court orders have to be altered, for good reason, with both parents in agreement. Who's going to go out and negotiate those kinds of changes? Who's going to be the concerned mediator? There's some talk about compulsory mediation. Who's going to be the concerned mediator if there's nobody who's had any contact with the client or the family, nobody who has any knowledge of the people or the situation?

Are they going to set up some kind of a technological conference call, use the ultimate in the new phone technology and still have no direct human contact? I find it hard to imagine that would work with any but the most sophisticated parents, and even then, it's not likely to work when the mediator is some unknown person whose only knowledge of this family comes from a file history.

The goal here surely is to get the support that's needed for children, and yet it was not even enough of a priority for this government to take the time to examine what would really work. There was no money to implement really effective solutions. It was absolutely clear from the beginning that this government's plan was to take money out of family support, not put more dollars into it.

The family support plan, just like every other ministry, was told that it had to do its part for the tax cut; it had to do its share to find the $5.5 billion that was needed for the tax cut. I think the family support plan was given instructions that at the end of its so-called reform there had to be a 15% reduction in overall costs. Don't try to tell us that this was about reform, that this was about improving the plan that is so necessary to parents and to children. This was about cost cutting. That's where it all started, that's what drove the changes and that's why the kinds of changes we're seeing are changes not for the better but for the worse, why they are changes that can't possibly make things better for children and for families.

The family support plan was asked to do more with less, like every other arm of government, and once again the sad result for women, for children, for parents, for families, is that there is only going to be less. There will be less service, there will be less enforcement and, tragically, there is going to be less support for children.

Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): It is my pleasure to speak today on Bill 82. I do so with great concern for the number of people in my riding of Windsor-Sandwich who have been dealing on a daily basis with all the failures coming out of the family support plan. The content of Bill 82 I think in its intent is good. There are a number of areas that certainly would move in the right direction. What I must stress to the government members today in the House is the folly of going forward with this kind of legislation when we can't even clean up our own act as it is today.

We have been trying on a daily basis to provide more and more information to the Attorney General's office to clean up the cases that exist in my Windsor office. Currently, we're closer to about 50 families we are dealing with, and that's just in the riding of Windsor-Sandwich, families who are just about out the door. If they're renters they are in hock. They are going further and further into debt because we simply cannot clean up the system the way it is. So while the Attorney General takes his time to introduce legislation to actually give some teeth to laws and make those deadbeat parents pay when they should pay, what they do at the same time is eliminate the very staff people who are there to implement and to get these parents to pay.

There have been innumerable errors and failures on the part of the Attorney General that have led to an absolutely chaotic situation for many, many families. Here we sit in this House in the middle of November. We're about six weeks away from Christmas. This couldn't come at a worse time for families and for parents, predominantly mothers, who are trying to cope without having their bills paid, let alone think of how they're going to manage through the holiday season with their children.

The worst thing I suppose we could say to the government is, "We told you so," but unfortunately that's about the only thing that rings true today, and that is, "We told you so." We asked the minister, the Attorney General, on his feet months ago, "Confirm for us that you have intention to close the Windsor regional office." At that time, he never did give us an answer. He always said that a decision had not yet been made; that he would be doing what was in the best interests of the children. Let me say that if I had an employee like the Attorney General, I would do one thing, and that would be to fire him, because his decisions have been an absolute disaster for many, many people across Ontario.

The people who used to work in the Windsor regional office really were exceptional. I take great offence at the way they had been treated for months. First of all, if your intention was to fire them all, why didn't you just do it? You dragged it out, month after month after month, so these people didn't know if they were coming or going. You let it go for months. The very conscience that you could do that to people really is totally inappropriate for government.

Second, you never bothered to look at the stats that were coming out of the Windsor regional office; that is, that their compliance rate was well above the provincial average. For the month of September 1995 it was at 73%. The success of the regional office in Windsor was because it's right there in the community for all regional areas. We have major industry in our town, so they were right there with hands on with major employers, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Hiram Walker. Our office was right there in the midst of them, so they dealt one on one.


The staff in the Windsor office knew all the contact people right there on the front line with people who were going to put these payors on the rolls. They knew them; they knew them directly. What you've done, Attorney General, is fire them and what you did instead was hire clerks out of the Toronto office. I don't know if they're on yet. If they are, they're certainly not trained. You hired people at a lesser wage, people with no experience, and the situation grows worse and worse.

There were a number of journalists in my community trying to have a good look. The fact is that they couldn't believe an Attorney General would be this shortsighted. One led by Grace Macaluso started a year ago when Mike Harris's Conservative government slashed welfare and family benefits up to 31%. What this journalist wrote is that they decided to do an in-depth look at what the effects of these cuts were. What they discovered was that across Windsor-Essex county, women were not only the most profoundly affected but also the most vulnerable to poverty.

Let me give you several examples of what my office in Windsor has dealt with with the Attorney General's office. Now, I'll tell you that some of the people who work in that ministry have been very gracious with us. We know them on a first-name basis. We think they're trying to do their best. The reality is that the Attorney General has failed completely and his staff simply cannot pick up the pieces. They have asked us time and time again to continue to fax all these problem cases to the Attorney General. I don't know where this fax line is going -- off to outer space? -- because we never get a response. So we call them again and they say, "Please fax us the list."

Well, two weeks ago the story changed. They said, "Fax us your worst cases." How do you make the distinction between what one bad case is compared to another bad case? The reality is, they're all bad cases. What we saw last week is that it is going into some black hole somewhere. You have file boxes sitting unopened, computers not plugged in. You're looking for people to sort out your computer problems. If I had an employee like the Attorney General, I can only tell you I would fire him.

Let me give you examples of what we faxed over to the Attorney General.

Robert, who works in one of the companies in the mould industry, had arrears which were being deducted at a certain rate. Now that he's up to date, the Attorney General continues to draw huge amounts as though he were still in arrears. The situation has not changed; it's been months.

Ruth, who has been dealing with this, is now $5,000 behind in payments. Her last payment was September 30. None of this is new to the government and the Attorney General stands and continues to say, "Please fax me this." How many times do you want to receive a fax about the same cases? We're up to 50 cases now which have been sent time and time again and have never been rectified.

Let me tell you about Ruth and her arrears of $5,000. As of November 20 -- this is going back from September; we called on a weekly basis from September through November -- she is still $3,750 in arrears. When she finally got a cheque on November 6, it was a cheque in the amount of $1,250. We don't know who's doing what there or how these arbitrary sums of money are being determined to make some sort of payment. The reality is that they're just not being done properly.

Let's meet Cynthia, who hasn't had a payment since September. As of November 20, she is now $1,430 in arrears. Now, the employer for her ex-husband is making the deductions. As many of the members here in the House, it's not that the deductions aren't being made on the employers' part; it's something in the middle, and that thing in the middle is the Attorney General who has failed to get those moneys through to the families who need them. Cynthia is still $1,430 in arrears.

There was quite a story in our local press about a woman named Pam whose last payment was in February 1996. I would like all of us to see how we would possibly manage when our income has been halted since last February, how many of us would be in what predicament today. She's found a new address because her ex-husband moved, found a new job. We've had this new address for months. We've tried to get the new address to the Attorney General but he has failed to get that into the system, and now this person is $4,000 to $5,000 in arrears.

It's not that we haven't tried to contact the office; that 1-800 number simply doesn't work. Here's a woman, Pam, who's valiantly tried on her own to get through and would continuously hit the redial button and left it there for 23 hours before it finally went through, just for her to get through the maze. You can't possibly be proud of this record, to those who are listening today.

Then we were asked to forward the list of the worst. So we had to somehow find a way to pull the worst of the 50 cases in our riding office. We have Nancy, who hasn't had a payment since September. We have someone named Tom whose arrears have been paid up but they're still deducting 50% of wages from him.

It's most interesting that many of the fathers we hear from are very concerned that their children get the money. Predominantly here it is women who are receiving the payments and fathers who are making the payments. The fathers are angry and don't understand why this is happening. They don't have more money to send money twice to the mom. That's all the money they have, and it's simply not getting through to the children.

We have Kenneth in my riding who shouldn't be in arrears but is listed as being in arrears, so he is having huge amounts of money --

Mrs Boyd: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: There's no quorum in the House.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Would the Clerk check for a quorum, please.

Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: The Chair recognizes the member for Windsor-Sandwich.

Mrs Pupatello: We have a very sad case with Patricia, who is in my riding. Patricia hasn't managed to get payments through from the Attorney General -- she's been waiting since September -- and is now facing the threat of her hydro being shut off, her bills not being paid and now possible eviction because she cannot pay her rent on time.

The terrible story of Christine in my riding: She has NSF charges now that total $300 because all her bills were being paid through pre-authorized cheques. Well, they can't stop the cheques, so the money continues to come out and now she is going to have charges of $300. Even when she eventually gets the money that is owed to her, where the Attorney General has failed, she still --

Mr Laughren: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: This is a very good speech that we're hearing, and I think there should be a quorum to hear it.

The Acting Speaker: Is there a quorum?

Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is not present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: Call in the members, please.

The acting Speaker ordered the bells rung.

Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Committees: A quorum is now present, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker: The Chair recognizes the member for Windsor-Sandwich.

Mrs Pupatello: I can understand some of the MPPs from the Conservative Party not wanting to hear the kinds of details we're facing in our ridings. The reality is that we have just finished a constituency week where a number of MPPs spent, I hope, a whole week at home in their home ridings. What did you see when you were at home in your constituency? Did your phone ring like ours has not stopped doing? Has your phone kept ringing as well with a number of cases of women who are threatened with eviction because they can't pay their bills, because your Attorney General has failed? I tell you again, if this gentleman was working for me he would have been fired a long time ago.


On this note, let me tell you that the only thing that is driving this government, whether it be the FSP or whether it be Bill 82, the only thing that is driving you is the tax cut. You have to find money and you have to find it fast. You are decimating the health industry, scaring them along the way, but you are destroying our health care system; you are destroying all of the things that work.

We'll acknowledge that the family support plan needed to be fixed and it could always have been improved. That's like saying that you've got a cut on your finger and in order to fix it you're going to chop off your arm. That's the kind of thinking that is driving this government. You're simply driven by the fact that you have to find savings. But even under the guise of finding savings, you're not doing it in a very thoughtful and planned way. You're doing it far too quickly.

Just as we see that the hospitals cannot possibly take the reduction in funding in the time frame that you've given them and patients are suffering, the same is true with the family support plan. Not only are you trying to find funds fast, but you are not allowing the staff people to plan for you. You have decided that you're just going to holus-bolus shut down every regional office in Ontario. As a result, you have an office in Downsview that's not even open. You have computers that aren't even plugged in. You should have been highly embarrassed last week when you were found out to be so completely unorganized.

There's no business in Ontario that would continue to function if it was driven and organized in the way that your Attorney General is doing, and the same is true with your health system. There's not a business in Ontario that would operate in this way, because you cannot withdraw that level of funding that quickly. If there has been a criticism that every one of you has heard in your own riding, it has been this: It is too much and it is too fast. All of you have heard this.

I remember reading in my Windsor Star the story of your MPP Mr Boushy from Sarnia. What did he say? "The health minister's not my favourite minister." Why is that? This is the same gang that decided to jeer and heckle me every time I asked about mothers who can't find doctors to deliver their babies. This is the gang that went home to their ridings during constituency week and what were they getting at home? They were getting calls from mothers who cannot find doctors to deliver their babies. And do you know what happened? He changed his tune because your Conservative member Mr Boushy said publicly and on record in the Sarnia Observer that the health minister is not doing right by the doctors, is not taking care in the appropriate manner and solving the issue.

Let me tell you that we had some very unusual happenings at home. I have a letter that I probably shouldn't read into the record, but I can't help myself, it was so well done. This gentleman, a doctor, is the president of the Essex County Medical Society. Here's a gentleman who is always very reasonable, has always tried to work with everyone regardless of the circumstance. This is how he was driven. He writes at 1:49 am, so you can imagine the kind of schedule he keeps that at 10 minutes to 2 in the morning he faxes out this letter to the Minister of Health, Jim Wilson:

"Dear Minister:

"As a sensible, calm and reasoned physician who has attempted to guide his medical community through unstable times, always focusing on achievable goals, attempting to avoid rhetoric, I finally have become appalled and even incensed at the recent puerile behaviour of your government. The bullying, threatening tactics directed towards the CPSO and through them towards the physicians of Ontario are more befitting of a childish reactionary and does not reflect the needed statesmanship required to lead us out of this medical crisis. When long-established rules of behaviour and civil liberties can be challenged in an attempt to intimidate a whole community, when short-term insults are deemed more important than long-term solutions, when this government cannot see beyond knee-jerk desperate hysteria, then I respectfully suggest that the leadership within this present government takes a long introspective look, and if indeed it finds itself as hollow inwardly as it appears outwardly, then it should resign."

That is signed by Dr Ian McLeod, the president of our Essex County Medical Society. Let me tell you, when I saw a copy of this letter, I knew that even Dr McLeod has had enough. He has tried valiantly over these last months during his term as president to deal in a reasonable fashion with this government, but this is just one more example where he too has been driven finally to say: "You're not interested in quality. You're not interested in really helping children through this bill. Whether it's the health of children, whether it's support for children, that is not what's driving you."

It is a very simple ideology. You're here to service the tax cut and you've got to find that money somewhere. And where have you decided to find it? The Attorney General has been told to cut staff, get rid of them, get rid of people who knew the clients at Chrysler, Ford, GM, Hiram Walker, who knew them personally, who could put people in the system out of the system, who could make the changes that were required. But those people are gone. You've laid them all off. And what did you hire instead?

I likened it in the last speech about a month ago to Jabba the Hutt from the movie Star Wars, this big blob with this great big centre vortex that just draws everything to Toronto, and that's what you've done. You fire in Windsor, you fire in Thunder Bay, you fire in Hamilton, and then you hire clerks in Toronto, inexperienced people. Moreover, you install a 1-800 line which no one is there to answer. You put these people through a maze so that one of my women who can't get her money keeps a redial for 24 hours and still can't get through on the line, and after 24 hours of a busy signal finally gets thrown into voice mail, never to get a return phone call.

I cannot believe there is a member on the government side who has not had this experience in his constituency office. I cannot believe that you haven't been faced with this. Instead, I think you simply are not giving information to your people in your communities.

It's very much like our member for Durham East: He doesn't want to hear the negative; he doesn't want to hear that the people in the town he lives in don't like what his government is doing. He claimed to his local daily paper: "Gee, no one's giving me any encouragement. I get zero support from my constituents." I say, does it occur to the member for Durham East that maybe he's on the wrong track, that maybe he should go back to his party and say, "Maybe we're doing too much, too fast"? That is the most common phrase heard in my riding. That is the most common phrase that's heard across Ontario everywhere I go.

The simple reality is that you're driven by a tax cut because you feel that money in the pockets of people somehow is going to do more. We have yet to find conclusive evidence of this in any state where it's happened. In fact, your Reform leader, Preston Manning, has been lamenting in the press lately, "Gee, I'm just not getting anyone to fight on this tax break stuff," and his little campaign on a national level doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Your Reform leader in Ontario I hope will soon see the same thing. You have not delivered the promised cuts on the timely basis that you said, and even though you continue to repeat that you're doing what you said you were going to do, you're doing a whole lot more that you said you wouldn't do.

The one that seems to tickle you the most is your cuts to health care. When you go back to your Niagara region, you should ask your hospitals in Niagara if they can take the level of the cuts that the Niagara hospitals have been taking. I attended some classes last week while I was home during constituency week and spoke to nurses, many of whom are working in the system and back at school. These women could tell me stories that would curl your hair about the terrible condition they see for their patients. We have evidence that Sean Conway reported in the House and to our caucus of hospital administrations telling families to hire a private nurse and bring in --

Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: Standing order 23(b) states that the member in debate should speak to the matter in question, speak about the bill that we're discussing here. She's talking about everything, and now she's speaking about the subject --

The Acting Speaker: Thank you. It is a point of order. I was listening very carefully to the member and I'm sure she's bringing her debate into that forum right now.

Mrs Pupatello: Thank you so much, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that.


It seems to me that when we get into the Niagara-Kitchener-Waterloo area some members opposite might get a little nervous, and rightly so. You should go home and speak to the people in your ridings, and not just speak but listen to what they're telling you.

We finally have some Conservative members who are prepared to put it on the line and say, "Don't do this to my community." We have the member for Sarnia, who stood up and said, "The Minister of Health is doing wrong by our doctors and wrong by our patients." There are a number of other examples of that. Our member from Kitchener, certainly one of the members from Kitchener at least, could say that St Mary's General Hospital isn't the hospital that should be closed, that in fact it was the hospital that saved his life. This is one more example of total mismanagement. If the Attorney General worked for me he would be fired a long time ago. Not one business in Ontario could be sustained if it operated on these kinds of conditions.

You actually shut down regional offices before you had a system in place to resume those payments. You have $1 billion somewhere out there. The parents who are calling my office, do you know what they're asking me? Those who are having their moneys withdrawn from their cheque that aren't landing in the hands of their children are saying, "Who's collecting interest on this money?" Where's that going? Is this some other method of collections for you so you can finance your tax cut? Because you didn't tell your constituents during the campaign that when you deliver your tax cut you'll have to borrow the money to do it and incur greater debt.

I came upon a piece of research we had asked the services to get us, the debt-to-GDP ratio, because the Tory members seem to think they're just these wonderful money managers. Let me tell you that you are the worst in history. Never in Ontario have we had such terrible mismanagers of money, a Conservative government. I will tell you this: The Conservatives I used to know would be embarrassed to think that the Reformers who are in power today are so terrible at managing the Ontario government.

The 1996 debt-to-GDP ratio is 31.47%, the highest in Ontario's history. What's so interesting about that figure is that this is a year and a half into your mandate. You've had a disaster so far. If anyone cares to look, I'll be happy to fax you a copy of this. The debt so far has gone up by $10 million. This, while all the cuts are going on. So your ratio has gone up, your debt to GDP. Your interest payment as a ratio to GDP is at 2.63%, the highest it's ever been. God, it's higher than the NDP government's. I want to send you a copy of this.

You dared to run on a platform -- I certainly heard all your rhetoric -- that you were going to be so fiscally responsible. Let me tell you, so far you are the worst in history. This after a year and a half in government, where you've cut in every ministry, even where you said you wouldn't. You are going to announce even further reductions. Your bureaucrats -- the Minister of Finance said: "Stop. You can't deliver the tax cut." But you delivered it anyway, because that's part of your rhetoric. You had to deliver something even if you have to borrow the money to do it. So the reality is that while you're making these massive cuts you're doing nothing about the debt, and we thought that's what was driving you.

Just for information -- I think some people at home will be curious about this, so I'll probably mail it to them as well -- in 1994, 27.5% was the debt-to-GDP ratio; in 1995 it increased to 29.42%; and in 1996, where you are wholly responsible for your cuts, for your spending, for your layoffs, for your joblessness in the civil service, 31.47% is your debt-to-GDP ratio. You can't possibly be proud of this record.

Mr Bruce Crozier (Essex South): What's the net?

Mrs Pupatello: Yeah, really. When I'm at home and I see that even Dr McLeod is driven to the point where he's got to tell the minister, "This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable of government."

When I look at the Attorney General and I ask, how could you close the regional office? It's not as if you didn't know. You were given these numbers before. You knew before. You had all the charts, you had all the graphs. You knew what was working, you knew what wasn't working. Why didn't you fix what was broken instead of chopping off the entire arm in order to service a cut on the finger, which is exactly what you did?

Here we are, very comfortable, all of us, sitting in this House, because we're not worried about our cheque arriving in our bank account on time. We're six weeks away from Christmas and we've got a number of children who still haven't managed to buy the supplies they need for school because their parents simply haven't been able to do so.

If we look at the reports that the Windsor Star did, they reported about a woman named Janet who thought the court order for child support was her ticket off mother's allowance. So far it's been nothing but a useless stub. This is an article dated September 11, which is already a couple of months now: "Last week Harnick issued an apology to any parents experiencing problems and announced plans to immediately expand phone lines and bring in extra staff daily."

May I say to the Attorney General, I don't believe you. No one can trust you. So far you have been an abysmal failure, and we can't see it getting any better. We saw the video last week. You haven't even plugged in the computer lines yet. You haven't even opened up the Atlas Van boxes. How do you think you're going to solve the caseloads here?

Mr Crozier: They're plugging in the boxes.

Mrs Pupatello: They're plugging in the boxes. That may be what the Attorney General is trying to do. The reality is that real people are getting hurt by this. As individual members, we have to be responsible for that. If you've done this inadvertently, you do have time to fix it.

We don't want to hear just general rhetoric. Every time the Attorney General gets asked a question about a specific case, he says, "I'm not in a position to comment on this particular case." We need him to comment on this particular case, because that is the real face on just the numbers.

The Attorney General likes to generalize and talk about millions of dollars. He likes to talk about the hundreds of thousands of cases in the Ministry of the Attorney General and through the family support plan. We want to talk about Janet. We want to talk about Christine. We want to talk about Robert. We want to talk about the individual people who aren't buying boots for the kids this winter, who cannot plan for Christmas, who cannot buy the school supplies they should have bought in September, and I'm telling the members opposite, those children don't just live in Windsor-Sandwich. Those children come from Huron and Niagara, Kitchener and Waterloo, they come from all over Ontario, and every one of us is responsible for getting them the support they're owed.

We've all agreed that you are bringing in Bill 82 because you're determined to go get the money. Why can you not also ensure that your Attorney General does his job and ensures that the money actually travels to its destined place? That is your responsibility. I don't know what more we can do, as opposition members, but to continue to fax and continue to call and continue to beg. If these members are waiting for us to say uncle, I only have one thing to say: uncle. So kindly get your Attorney General working on this, because the families simply cannot afford it any longer.

The Acting Speaker: Comments and questions? I recognize the member for London Centre.

Mrs Boyd: The member for Windsor-Sandwich is always passionate when she speaks about children's issues and was very much so today, and this is an issue around children. It's a particularly appropriate day for us to be talking about this issue, because what the Attorney General has done -- and I agree very much with the comments of the member for Windsor-Sandwich -- is to take the food out of the mouths of children who used to get it.

The Attorney General is quite right when he talks about problems with the plan and about the compliance rate with the plan. No one argues with that in this place. There have been problems, and some of the solutions that are proposed in his bill may make some difference. But what the member for Windsor-Sandwich is trying to get across, which seems to be very hard to get the members of this government to understand, is that there was compliance among a large percentage of people. In fact our figures show 29% in full compliance, not the 22% or whatever the minister said earlier today. Those are the ones who are suffering as a result of the bungling of this minister, as a result of his rush to try and pull the dollars out of this plan, get a 35% saving in this plan and to do that before he had put in place the kind of contractual arrangement he has planned to do between the Royal Bank and at least one other partner in order to offload this plan, to privatize it and to make it a plan that is more like a debt collection than a service to the children and the families of Ontario.

We know that, and so do the people who are not receiving the dollars they received before. They do not believe the rhetoric of this government, and it's good that the member for Windsor-Sandwich exposed them.


Mr Tilson: There have been three members from the official opposition who have spoken with respect to this bill. I was disappointed that more time was not spent on the bill, either providing compliments or constructive criticisms with respect to the bill. The member for Windsor-Sandwich particularly spent a great deal of time on the problems that exist with the system, and I'm disappointed that she didn't spend more time on the actual bill and things the bill is doing.

The member for Downsview, on one of the letters she read, commented on one of the problems with respect to the opt-out and that the current plan is discouraged from doing that. Well, that's one of the things the new bill is going to do. The bill will be allowing individuals to opt out. The leader of the official opposition also commented on that, so obviously that section bothers them.

I would recommend that members of the official opposition look at subsection 9(2) of the bill, that they read that section, because that section indicates that the judge hearing the particular issue can order that being in the plan, they cannot opt out. I would suggest that they read that particular section.

The member for Downsview indicated that there's no question that the system that exists now requires much tightening up. I think it was the leader of the official opposition who indicated some of the items, and I assume therefore she's supporting those items: the suspension of drivers' licences; the expanding of income available to be seized; preventing the sheltering of assets by payors who set up companies with a second spouse so that assets can't be seized; the seizure of lottery winnings over $1,000 or more. Those types of things I think the people of this province will encourage.

Mr Crozier: I rise to support the comments made by my colleagues from Downsview, Fort William and Windsor-Sandwich. In reply to the colleague from Dufferin-Peel, I agree that there are parts of this bill that I support, and that is in the area of enforcement. Anything we can do to collect from a deadbeat spouse should be done, short of putting them in jail and then they can't do anything to pay. But the bottom line here is that when support payments aren't paid, spouses and children suffer. Today, as the member for Windsor-Sandwich has said, as we debate this bill, there are women and children and a minority of male spouses who are suffering because of the system we have in place today.

I would hope that after debate and after, hopefully, the government has had the opportunity to accept some amendments, we will end up with a bill that will do what all of us want to do. In the situation of opting out, under certain present circumstances it may be appropriate for a spouse to opt out of the plan, but what I am concerned about is if then circumstances change and the paying spouse starts to renege, how quickly can we get back in and collect from that?


Mr Crozier: That's fine, if that's part of the bill.

In the end, we think part of this may be an attempt to cut costs. I do think the government has moved too fast. I think they should have waited for this bill to be in place before they closed the family support centres across this province and caused the problem we have today.

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I appreciate having the opportunity to comment on the contributions by the leader of the official opposition and two of her caucus members.

There's a very good reason why people feel so passionate on this side of the House and why people are focusing on the problems that exist within the system, because the problems we are experiencing now every day, the calls into our constituency office, are really problems of a new making. They're not the long-standing problems that this bill purports to fix.

Let me say from the outset that there is much about this bill that I do support. There are many provisions that I think will be helpful, and I think you will see a very constructive approach on the part of our party towards those aspects of the bill.

But let me tell you, there are other aspects which I am dead set against. The ability for the discretion to be held by the Attorney General to close files at any point in time when they're determined to be difficult to collect is a nightmare waiting to happen. You want to encourage deadbeat dads? That's the way to go about it.

There are some significant problems with the bill. But how can we focus just on that bill when every day in this province there are over 1,200 women, 1,200 parents who are calling into the family support plan trying to get the money that they were in fact getting up until August?

The minister stood and told us at first that it was a computer glitch. We now know it was the most botched transition planning I have ever seen a government undertake in this province, and this minister is culpable. It is not the workers who are left or the temporary workers who have been hired into the system. They are working day and night. I've spoken to some of them. I had a really terrible conversation with one of them this week, because she was very upset to be speaking to me as a politician and told me her time was valuable and I should get off the phone. I don't blame her for that. I understand the pressure they're under. The one I blame is the Attorney General -- the Attorney General, who has moved with breakneck speed to lay off people, to take money out of the system and not have a transition plan in place that protects women and children, that protects family plan recipients. That is wrong. That should be stopped. It's your responsibility to stop it.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Windsor-Sandwich has two minutes to respond.

Mrs Pupatello: Of greatest interest to me are the comments we hear that likely don't get into Hansard, although of late we notice there are a number of comments that never get into Hansard that we certainly wish did. Most particularly, though, today during debate this afternoon, the members opposite have yelled out, "My office hasn't gotten any calls." I would challenge the Conservative members that if your office has not had a call about the family support plan, I would like you to be on record. I'd like your name and I'd like to know that you, as the MPP for whatever riding you represent, is on record as not having heard. I believe that if your office is not getting calls, your staff isn't telling you or you're simply not responding to them. I will tell you that a riding boundary line is not what's going to differentiate a family who is in need because money is not getting through to them.

For your comments about what we have to say about the bill -- let me say that Bill 82 is rote. These are not new ideas. These are ideas that come from other jurisdictions and many of them are very good ideas. This is not what we have to debate today, because some things are so obvious that, frankly, in our debate we've got to get on to things you don't understand. What you don't understand is that while you think you're fixing something, the reality is you've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. You want things to be done so that you will have teeth to enforce things, but then you have no staff to do the enforcing -- things that simply do not make sense. And all the while you have a frozen smile plastered on your face, saying, "Look what we're doing for the children of Ontario." It's as bad as the hoax you're playing on kids with the breakfast programs.

I am telling you that little by little the mask is slipping. The real thing that drives this government is simple, and that is the tax cut, and that is your drive to find money and to find it fast. But we will tell you again, it is too much and it is too fast.

The Acting Speaker: It being almost 6 o'clock, this House stands adjourned until 10 am tomorrow morning.

The House adjourned at 1800.