36th Parliament, 1st Session

L127 - Mon 25 Nov 1996 / Lun 25 Nov 1996
























































The House met at 1333.




Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): On Friday I attended a book-launching ceremony. The author of the book does not have world recognition. She's a local Sudburian by the name of Lois Dubois. The name of the book is Discover the Secret...to Taking Charge of Your Cancer...and Winning!! Lois is fighting the ravages of cancer. Let me quote from the introduction of her book:

"I am a person who has taken charge of my illness and as a result, have lived a fuller life than I would have thought possible. If this book succeeds in helping one person, I will have reached my purpose in writing it. If it helps more, the benefits will, I hope, produce a chain reaction that will encourage a few more. Only then will a mass of sick patients become people who, in spite of their illness, have other aspects of their life that will help them get through each of life's challenges. There is definitely a difference between being a sick person and being a person with a sickness."

Lois's inspirational book, her poems, thoughts and words of experience, is sure to help others who have found and find themselves in similar circumstances. Although Lois isn't world-renowned, we think the world of her. Good luck to Lois Dubois, Diane Jacques, Terry Fera and all those who battle against cancer. We can and we must, we must, win this war.


Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I want to return to the continuing crisis at the family support plan. In mid-August of this year the Attorney General laid off 290 experienced plan staff and closed the regional offices. He did this for purely political, partisan reasons; namely to help finance the tax cut. The operating costs of the family support plan will be reduced by 35% over the next two years and there will be 40% fewer staff to try and run the office. As a direct result of the decision to finance the tax cut on the backs of these women and children, families who used to receive regular support payments are now not.

To date in my constituency office we have received over 104 cases since the minister announced his cuts. As of Friday last, we have 39 cases which remain open because we cannot get a response back from the family support plan with respect to our inquiries. We fax our cases daily directly to the family support plan, except when the fax lines are jammed, which they have been for more than 24 hours on more than one occasion. The overwhelming majority of our cases are women and children who used to receive regular support payments, whose payors have already had their cheques deducted and whose employers have remitted money to the plan. But once that money is remitted, it goes into a black hole.

Last week we finally had to raise the case publicly of Diane, whose case we faxed twice marked "Urgent." In 15 minutes we got a call back, and she got money two days later. That's not the way we should be operating --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you.


Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): One of the saddest things that can happen to a family and a community happened in Huron county this weekend. Six of our most prominent young citizens were in a car when the car collided and tipped upside down. Three of our youths were killed. Brian Hill, Pam King and Neal Atchison are dead. Three others are in serious condition at University Hospital.

I was asked prior to this to talk about CPR so that I might gain awareness and education for CPR, which is cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is a basic life-supporting mechanism. I believe that when the car was found on Saturday night, some of the youths who first came to them helped with CPR.

The ABCs of CPR are to open the airways, allowing the air to reach the lungs; they must start breathing by supplying an air exchange from oxygen in the air to supply the blood; and they must cause circulation -- the blood flow must be sufficient to carry the oxygen to the tissues.

Everyone should be trained in CPR. As a result of this, the government of Ontario announced that funding would be available to install defibrillators in ambulances across the province. They have in fact been installed in Huron county. As of October 10, these life-saving devices were available in ambulances across Huron county and other regions of the province.

My condolences to the families.


Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): The Minister of Transportation has just fired 600 inspectors whose job it was to police construction safety for our highways. By getting rid of 600 inspectors, who will ensure highways are built to standard? Who will inspect the work of private contractors to ensure they are not cutting corners and doing substandard work on highway construction and repairs?

It seems the Minister of Transportation is about to put the foxes in charge of the henhouse. Yes, he's going to let the private contractors set their own standards and inspect their own work. The private contractors are laughing all the way to the bank, and the Ontario taxpayer will be victimized with substandard highways and additional bills from these same contractors for repair work when the roads fall apart.

The firing of 600 inspectors coupled with the dumping of 1,700 kilometres of highways on to local municipalities will mean the end of our uniform road system in Ontario. With no inspectors to ensure standards are met, the provincial government has abdicated a fundamental responsibility to the taxpayers, who will receive less value for their tax dollar in highways that are more hazardous. It is clear the minister is more interested in making the highway construction firms happy. Today he has made them very happy at the expense of the road users and taxpayers of Ontario.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Yes, we have snow. Anybody who watched the Grey Cup yesterday will know that it's snowing all over Ontario. But even more importantly, it's snowing in Sault Ste Marie and Algoma.

The Mountains of the Midwest, the best skiing this side of the Rockies, will be open this weekend and we're inviting everybody to come on over, come on down, come on up and ski in Sault Ste Marie, ski the Mountains of the Midwest just north of our city. Bring the whole family. We have tubing, we have skating, we have cross-country skiing and, yes, we have the best of accommodations.

While you're there, take advantage of the wonderful hospitality of the people of Sault Ste Marie and Algoma, and visit with us. We have all kinds of things that you can see, not the least among them the bushplane museum.

When I left Sault Ste Marie this morning, it was snowing. They've been making snow on the hill for the last two weeks. It's nice and powdery, the best snow you'll find anywhere. So if you're getting into the winter spirit after watching the Grey Cup yesterday in Hamilton, take the time to call ahead and come on up to Sault Ste Marie this weekend and ski at the Mountains of the Midwest in Searchmont.



Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough): I am honoured to present this statement on behalf of the member for Victoria-Haliburton. The Lindsay Boys and Girls Club believes every kid has potential, a statement that my colleague from Victoria-Haliburton believes in, as I do.

In 1992, the Boys and Girls Club of Ontario started a scholarship program. From an initial $4,000 and four awards, the program has grown to over $40,000 and 41 awards being given out in 1996. On November 10, Tracey Medina and David Stubbs from the Lindsay Boys and Girls Club were recognized by their corporate sponsor as recipients of this fine scholarship.

As a club volunteer, Tracey helped in children's programs and organized special events and field trips, serves as the editor of the club's paper, and some day would like to work with socially and emotionally disabled children. David is currently the chairperson of the club's youth council and very active in the day care and junior drop-in program. Some day he also wishes to pursue a career with the Boys and Girls Club.

On behalf of my friend Chris Hodgson, MPP for Victoria-Haliburton, let me congratulate both of these individuals. He is proud and honoured to have two such distinguished constituents working so hard to make their community a better place.


Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): Last Thursday during private members' hour we had two bills that were being forwarded, and both were passed. One concerned the Ontario College of Early Childhood Educators and its development. That was passed unanimously by this House. But when our House had the choice to send this bill to committee, what it did was to send it to committee of the whole House. For those of us at home, we realize this is sending it into orbit, so it likely will never come down and will never become part of law and part of legislation here. This group in this House did the purely and crassly political thing of not supporting it.

May I tell you, Mr Speaker, that this Thursday, we as members of the House on all sides have the opportunity to pass another private member's bill, that of our colleague Pat Hoy, who is bringing in legislation regarding safety on school buses. The most notable thing about this is that it will double the fines for those cars that choose to just zoom by stopped school buses when their lights are flashing.

Every day in Ontario more than 810,000 children ride 16,000 school buses. It's incumbent on us to ensure the safety of the children in Ontario. May I tell you that we don't want this House to do the purely crassly political thing. We want this bill sent to a standing committee so we can make sure it does become law, because they are all our children.


Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): This morning I attended a press conference which brought together a number of community groups sponsored mainly by the Alliance for Employment Equity. They are challenging the constitutional validity of Bill 8, the so-called Job Quotas Repeal Act, on the grounds that it violates the right to equality as guaranteed under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's based on a number of myths that have been perpetuated by this government.

Myth 1: The so-called disadvantaged groups are treated equally. If they have the qualifications, they will get the job. Fact: Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, members of racial minorities and women have continued to face disadvantages which are largely generated by forces of discrimination.

Myth number 2: The Employment Equity Act is a quota system. Fact: The Ontario Employment Equity Act did not require quotas.

Myth: The Employment Equity Act is inconsistent with merit. Fact: The Ontario Employment Equity Act is consistent with merit.

Myth: The Employment Equity Act has been replaced by an equal opportunity plan. Fact: The current provincial government repealed the Employment Equity Act but it has been replaced with nothing.

There are a number of myths around which I have no time to elaborate, but I want to invite those who are watching today that this issue is going to court tomorrow. Bring yourself and a friend to the Ontario Court, 361 University Avenue, 10 am, Tuesday, November 26, and give your support to that group.


Mr Terence H. Young (Halton Centre): Once again it gives me great pleasure to inform this House of the tremendous accomplishments being made by Ontario's universities. Today I would like to congratulate the faculty, staff, students and administration at the University of Toronto for being recognized for the third year in a row as the best university in Canada by Maclean's magazine.

President Rob Prichard attributed the success to their students, faculty and private donors. The generous assistance of private donors enabled the university to contribute a greater percentage of its operating budget to student aid than any other university in the country. This level of commitment ensures that no qualified student will be turned away from U of T because of financial need.

For six years, the Maclean's rankings have raised the level of competition among our universities. It is this kind of scrutiny which will push them to improve upon their already high levels of achievement in the future.

I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating the University of Toronto for its continuing success and encourage Ontario's other universities to do their best to unseat them next year.



Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): In the Common Sense Revolution we promised to get rid of the barriers to job creation, investment and economic growth. I am pleased to tell the members of this House that later today we will be introducing legislation that helps us to meet those goals.

The new 1996 Development Charges Act will ensure that these charges will no longer be a barrier to economic growth, to jobs and to new development in this province. The new act will create new jobs in the construction industry and it will help to make homes --

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Oh boy, I can see these cheques being --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. I can't hear the member. The member for Cochrane South, heckling is out of order, and it's particularly out of order in the aisle.

Hon Mr Leach: The new act will create new jobs in the construction industry and it will help to make homes more affordable for the average Ontario family.

Exactly one year ago we began the fundamental review of the existing Development Charges Act. When that act was passed in 1989, it was supposed to bring consistency and accountability to the way local governments pay for new infrastructure. Development charges help to pay for roads, water and sewer systems, for recreation centres, for parks and libraries, and for cultural centres and administrative buildings, all the things that municipalities thought were necessary for new families and new businesses to thrive and grow and prosper.

In the seven years since the act was passed, there's been a growing concern that the system just isn't working the way it was supposed to. In some municipalities, development charges have become so excessive they have turned into barriers -- barriers to economic growth, to home ownership, to new jobs in construction and to the competitiveness of Ontario businesses. Let me give you just one example. Development charges can account for as much as $20,000 on a $160,000 home, and that's 12% of the cost. That wouldn't be all that bad if that charge reflected the actual cost of bringing services to that new home.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): It's sure payback. That's what the Tories are all about.

Hon Mr Leach: But there's a growing sense today that development charges are too high. Some things shouldn't be paid for just by new residents alone, by young families buying their first new home -- the member opposite would like that to happen -- or by businesses that are trying to expand and grow. It's hard enough for most people to try and pay for a new home without being asked to kick in for a new museum at the same time and then pay property taxes for all the services already in the community.


High development charges have made new homes unaffordable for the average family in Ontario. They have contributed to the high cost of new rental housing. But that doesn't mean development charges aren't needed. They are needed. Development brings in new residents and new businesses to municipalities, and those people expect certain services. More people bring more pressure on services like roads, sewers and water, libraries and recreation centres. It makes sense to have new development pay for some of these growth-related costs, but newcomers shouldn't be expected to pay for gold-plated services.

We will make some critical changes to the act that address the needs of developers and new home buyers, that meet the needs of municipalities.

To address the question of what doesn't have to be built now we will reduce the scope of eligible services. Development charges will no longer be imposed for facilities like a new city hall, museums, theatres or tourism facilities. Instead, these will be paid for by general tax revenue.

To control the standards by which facilities are built we will increase municipal accountability and responsibility. In the future, municipalities will contribute 10% of the cost of services like new roads and water and sewer systems from general revenues and 30% of the cost of services like new libraries and community centres. They will be asked to think about the benefits and burdens of building that will affect the whole community and they'll have to think about long-term costs and long-term responsibilities before they target new facilities and new services for development charges.

Municipal councillors will have to look at what they already have in their communities and make that existing capacity part of their calculation for development charges for new services. They'll be asked to base their charges on the actual benefits of these new facilities to their new residents and businesses instead of letting new developments and newcomers bear the full cost. We will also require local councils to do a background study of the long-term operating costs of any services being considered for development charges.

This new act isn't just about new homes. It's also about industrial growth. Last week we read about a developer who had to pay over $200,000 in development charges to put up 100,000 square feet of industrial space. With this new act we will be exempting from development charges the first 50% of expanded floor space in any new industrial expansion.

During the last year we've talked about these issues with municipal leaders and we've talked to the people from the development industry. I believe we've come up with a workable balance. The new Development Charges Act will give municipalities what they need to support new growth. It will meet the needs of the development industry, but most of all this new act will serve the needs of the people of Ontario. The legislation we're introducing today will go a long way towards funding growth in a way that's fair and equitable to everyone. This new legislation promises to make new homes more affordable, create jobs and growth in the construction industry and stimulate the overall economy of this province.

The Speaker: Responses.

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): We're in the Christmas season. You've certainly given a great big gift to the developers of this province, Minister. I wish David Crombie was in the House today, because normally when the government makes a good-news announcement they're here. Why isn't he here? Because you've gone exactly 180 degrees in the direction Mr Crombie doesn't want you to go.

Let's see what Mr Crombie of your famous Who Does What panel says about this: "Development charges are a critical and essential municipal revenue source for financing growth-related capital infrastructure. Any amendments to the act to reduce the scope or permitted level of development charges will mean higher municipal taxes or user fees." That's what this is really all about and you know it.

Mr Crombie also goes on to say, and this is the irony of the whole situation: "It is also noted that the permissive nature of the act does not obligate municipalities to impose a development charge. For these reasons, the subpanel strongly recommends that municipalities should continue to decide on the level of development charges in accordance with the act."

Let me just ask you one thing. You are the minister who went to AMO these past couple of years and said: "We want to start a new partnership with the municipalities of Ontario. We want to be equal partners in the development of this province." Well, it sure doesn't sound like much of an equal partnership to me if in effect you are making that many new regulations to what is essentially a permissive act to start off with. You don't trust the municipalities, and that's why you're bringing this act forward at this time.

You are the person who said, and I'll just quote to you from last year's AMO's conference: "You won't have to wait for the province to legislate every time you want to do something new. This will give you flexibility to deal with a rapidly changing world, new developments and things you haven't even envisioned yet. Municipal authority to tax and make laws will be broadened," broad governmental powers to do those things without spelling out every little thing in minute detail.

That is exactly what you're doing in this act. You are going to tell municipalities what they can or cannot charge for. If you really believed in the autonomy of local government, you would simply allow municipalities to work with the developers and let them make their own arrangements and their own deals. We all know, however, you don't believe this.

The other thing that is kind of interesting about this is that you're the great believer in the Crombie commission and yet here you are cherry-picking: one idea that's a good one, and another one, such as this one, which you are not only totally renouncing but where you are going exactly 180 degrees in the opposite direction. It just doesn't make any sense at all. As a wise individual in this House said not too long ago, "A tax is a tax is a tax."

Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): Who said that?

Mr Gerretsen: We could quote Hansard for that. Both the Premier and the now Speaker used to say that.

Here we are talking about increased taxation. We're talking about the property taxes of our province going up unduly. That's really what everything is all about. Whether we're talking about your general tax cut or the tax scheme of a 30% cut for most individuals who are making $100,000 or more or whether we're talking about the new user fees, a tax is a tax is a tax.

You have done this for one reason and one reason only, and that is in order to give something back to the developers of this province. The development industry must be very grateful for what you're doing for them.

You are ignoring Crombie, the committee that you set up yourself. You are not giving the municipalities the kind of flexibility that you said you would give them, that you told them you would give them in Bill 26, that you've been talking to them about over the last two AMO conferences you've attended.

Basically, Minister, I want you to come clean. I want you to tell the municipalities of Ontario: "We don't trust your decision-making powers. We'd love to download everything on you and we're going to download everything on you. We're not going to give you any more grants and subsidies." Tell the municipalities in this province that you're not going to give them any more subsidies or grants in the next couple of years because basically you don't believe in municipal government; you basically believe that everything should be regulated from above.

This is shameful legislation. You didn't listen to AMO. Where's AMO today? Are they sitting in the galleries? No, because they don't believe in it. Where's Mayor McCallion? Where is she? She doesn't believe in it either. Mr Minister, withdraw this --

The Speaker: Thank you very much.

Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): This government is travelling at illegal speeds day in and day out. They're introducing one bill after the other, giving very little time to the opposition parties to reflect and respond and giving very little time to communities to reflect on the daily changes that this government is introducing, causing a great deal of confusion, in my mind, that I don't believe is good for this government or good for the people of Ontario.

What this government is introducing today seems reasonable at first blush, although we haven't seen the bill and it was hastily called and we went and we got that briefing very, very quickly, again at illegal speeds. But we have a response here today and the response is the following: Yes, some of these charges are going to now be picked up by the municipalities. Some municipalities will pick up 10% of the cost for certain things and 30% of the cost for other things. Who do you think is going to pick up that cost for all these new services? It's the taxpayer of Ontario, through the municipalities the taxpayer funds. This government has stopped funding municipalities for the last couple of years. In the two years this government has been in power it has cut municipal funding by 43%. When they say municipalities will have to pick up the cost for new services, who is going to pay for that? When they say "municipalities," they mean the taxpayer. That's what wrong with this balanced approach this government has introduced today.


They also have introduced something else: the mandatory exemption of industrial expansion for the first 50% of increase of the floor area. That's a tax break. That's a giveaway to their wealthy friends. As if the income tax cut was not enough for their wealthy friends, they've brought something in today that's going to assist them further to have a tax break.

Who do you think is going to pay for that expansion? When services are needed, it's not the big industrial sector that's going to pay for it; it's going to be the taxpayers and they're going to be paying for it through the cost of funding municipalities, naturally. It's the taxpayers who are going to be footing the bill, as the private sector is going to have, yet again, an early Christmas gift, although from this government they're on holiday it seems for every day of the year.

We've had a number of things in the past that have been done by various people. In a report done for the Golden task force, Pamela Blais estimates that urban sprawl costs the GTA taxpayers $1 billion a year. That in my view is something the government should have done in terms of implementing a report that deals very clearly with where we're wasting the money -- $1 billion in urban sprawl. If it wants to do something about the cost of new development, it should repeal Bill 20, its urban sprawl legislation, and bring back a system that will promote more compact development. We would have had in my view greater savings had we done that than by doing what this government is doing. We are not going to be saving any money. The private sector is going to save a great deal of money, the industrial sector is going to save a lot of money, but the taxpayer is going to foot the bill.

If this industrial sector is expanding its operation beyond the 50% point, that industrial sector is going to be taxed that extra 5% or 10%, because the first 50% is exempt. That in my view is a tax break for the wealthy. The minister says they need that to be able to expand further and to create more work. What this will do is to give a tax break to the wealthy and will allow urban sprawl to continue, something that we attack as environmentally not very good, I argue, and something that will be very costly economically, socially and environmentally for the whole province.

I think this minister should reflect very carefully on what he has introduced today, as we will once we get this bill, and we're going to let the people of Ontario know that user fees are coming and that municipalities are going to have to spend more money because of what this government is doing as they get less and less from the government to do what is needed.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Standing order 62(a) provides that "the standing committee on estimates shall present one report with respect to all the estimates and supplementary estimates considered pursuant to standing orders 59 and 61 no later than the third Thursday in November of each calendar year."

The House not having received a report from the standing committee on estimates for certain ministries and offices on Thursday, November 21, 1996, as required by the standing orders of this House, pursuant to standing order 62(b) the estimates and supplementary estimates before the committee, of the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Office of Francophone Affairs are deemed to be passed by the committee and are deemed to be reported to and received by the House.

Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Could you explain that, please?

The Speaker: No, I couldn't.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I beg to inform the House that I have today laid upon the table the Ombudsman's case report in the matter of Ms C and the Ministry of Community and Social Services, pursuant to subsection 21(4) of the Ombudsman Act.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): I would like to inform the members of the Legislative Assembly that we have in the opposition members' gallery today Mr Michael Farnworth, member of the Legislative Assembly for Port Coquitlam from the province of British Columbia. Welcome.

Further, we also have in the Speaker's gallery today the Information and Privacy Commissioner for the province of British Columbia, Mr David H. Flaherty, who happens to also be the brother of the learned colleague from Durham Centre. Welcome.



Mr Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South): My question is for the Minister of Education. I want to raise with him the issue of the ads he placed in papers during the course of the weekend. I've got a copy of one here placed in the Toronto Star on Saturday. It takes up almost the entire page. It must have cost a lot of money.

Minister, my question for you today is a very simple one: How could you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that should have gone directly into the classroom, on full-page, feel good but say nothing ads? How could you waste this money that should have been spent in Ontario classrooms?

Hon John Snobelen (Minister of Education and Training): I want to thank the honourable member opposite for the question. I think, from the response that we have been getting over the course of the last day or so, that the public I have talked to across the province is very happy to hear a message: that Ontario is returning to some really clear, high standards for student achievement in our school system.

I believe that message is being well received across this province and I believe it's this government's obligation, and in fact we're fulfilling on that obligation, to inform the public of the direction in which we are taking education, a direction that emphasizes those standards of achievement that are critically important for the future of our students.

I think this ad contrasts very well with ads that have been taken by previous governments that were merely political dogma. This ad is there to inform the public. If you'll notice, sir -- you may not have taken time to notice -- it does not even include the minister's name unlike other political documents released by other parties.

Mr McGuinty: The minister I guess, as expected, is putting his own particular spin on it, but everybody who knows anything about anything knows that this is pure self-serving, old-fashioned politics and it's as simple as that.

We tried to find out exactly how many tax dollars were diverted from the classroom to pay for John Snobelen's self-serving ads, but his officials refuse to return our calls. Minister, I can understand why you would want to hide that figure. If I were you, I would be embarrassed. If I were you, I would be ashamed to know that I wasted somewhere between a quarter and half a million dollars on self-serving newspaper ads when at the very same time I was preparing to cut hundreds of millions more from schools.

Minister, given your past lectures to school boards on spending dollars outside the classroom, how can you possibly justify blowing a quarter to half a million dollars on newspaper ads? That money could have paid for one heck of a lot of textbooks, supplies and other educational materials. How could you do it?

Hon Mr Snobelen: The honourable member opposite is wrong, wrong on several fronts. Let me say first that our costs of these newspaper ads are about $135,000, which I think is a very minimal amount to spend to inform the public of these new, clear, high standards for achievement in our school system.

Perhaps the member opposite thinks it's bad news that we believe that by the end of grade 1 students should be able to read public signs and read simple story books. Perhaps the member opposite thinks that's not a message that the public of Ontario and the parents of Ontario need to hear. I think it is.

Mr McGuinty: That's $135,000 that should have been spent inside the classroom. To make matters worse, it's not the job of this minister to advertise that kind of stuff. We have people in the province who report on these kinds of things: the media. In fact, I've got a copy here of the Sunday Toronto Star, and it's extremely straight up. It says, "Snobelen's `Rigorous' School Curriculum," and it points out in a very simple and understandable way everything the minister's trying to do. You know what he paid for that? Not a cent. You didn't need to spend a dime on these things. The fact of the matter is, you're not announcing anything new anyway. Free of charge, the newspapers had already covered your announcement, and those stories had more detailed information than your self-serving ads.

Minister, given your actions this weekend, given your decision to waste at least $135,000 on self-serving newspaper ads, will you admit that you were wrong, that you made a mistake? Will you admit that this blatant waste of educational dollars was the wrong message you wanted to send to students and their parents, who were astonished to learn that you had money for ads at the same time that you were making education cuts?

Hon Mr Snobelen: I want to say to the member opposite that I am proud of this announcement. I am proud to share these high standards with the public of Ontario. I'm proud that our work here to inform the public of what's going on in education is not a political message and it doesn't even contain the minister's name, directly opposed to what your government did in the past, sir. I'm very proud that in the announcement, if you had read it, sir, you would have found that this ministry is inviting the public to hold it to account. We intend to have a report on what the ministry's doing twice a year. I think that's public accountability and I think it's commendable.



Mr Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South): My second question is for the Minister of Correctional Services. In this weekend's paper I read about one of the jails to be closed by you, the Ontario Correctional Institute. Let me tell you about the OCI. It's lauded by experts internationally as one of the best-developed treatment centres in the world. Why? Because this centre treats inmates rather than just warehouse them. What that means for us is that when these people get out of jail, they're far less likely to be a danger to the public.

Minister, I'd like to ask you today, given their impressive record of rehabilitating prisoners, why are you closing the Ontario Correctional Institute?

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I've indicated on a number of occasions that the per diem cost for incarceration in this province is the highest of any provincial jurisdiction in the country, an average of about $124 per day. We recognize the good work the institute does; in fact, we are going to be enhancing that through the infrastructure changes I have announced. We're going to have a new focus with respect to education and social programming; it's going to be done in other institutions indeed. Again, it ties in very effectively with this government's efforts with respect to doing more for less in terms of taxpayers' dollars. We're very optimistic about the results we can achieve with the program we've announced.

Mr McGuinty: Minister, if something ain't broke, you're not supposed to fix it. This isn't a question of saving money; it's a question of public safety. Every one of these prisoners will be back among the public within two years' time. If they don't receive proper rehab, many will be released only to wreak havoc once again. Let me tell you about the OCI. According to one study, 35% of sex offenders from the institute commit no new crimes, compared with 80% of offenders from other jails who have received no treatment.

I want you to tell me how it is that your decisions to cut the cost of keeping prisoners, to close OCI and build prisons with no teachers and fewer councillors won't lead to more crime. Tell us how that's going to work.

Hon Mr Runciman: In fact, we do think it will work. Our answers are not comparable to Liberal answers, certainly, which during their tenure in office was to throw money at everything and double the spending of this province.

The fact is that through the program we've announced there's going to be a 33% increase in educational staff, a 20% increase in life skills and social program staff under the new infrastructure program. The reality is that provincial inmates are incarcerated for an average of 70 days, not a long time for formal education, and we are going to focus on the education building blocks -- literacy and numeracy -- which will aid offenders when they return to the community.

Mr McGuinty: Minister, you're not going to be able to replicate what's going on at OCI elsewhere. There's something very good taking place there. It's exemplary, it's recognized internationally, and we ought to be supporting it, not shutting it down.

You're talking about saving money, as usual. You're going to replace the OCI with so-called superjails. You're going to fire 1,400 jail guards and you're going to replace them with video cameras. Your plans to simply warehouse prisoners, all of whom will be back on the streets in less than two years' time, are going to cause more crime. We can't afford your savings.

Furthermore, how can you ignore a study that estimates $1.2 million can be saved in jail costs for every 100 inmates who go to the OCI because they reoffend at lower rates? Are you willing to tolerate more crime just to save money? Even at that, it's only money on a short-term basis.

Hon Mr Runciman: I'm not sure where this member gets his expertise with respect to corrections and the recidivism rates, but the fact is that under the program we've announced there's going to be a wider distribution of treatment and programming for inmates right across the system. We're trying to do a much more effective job than has been the case in the past. We recognize the efforts of the institute, but we're going to broaden those opportunities for inmates right across the system. We intend, at the end of the day, to have results that are much improved with respect to people returning to the system and costing the taxpayers additional dollars.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My question is for the Solicitor General as well. It concerns the events at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Too many questions remain unanswered regarding the sequence of events that led to the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash Park last September.

The Solicitor General denies political involvement, but the evidence of political involvement grows every day. Copies of the OPP logs have now become public. The police logs describe the political interference at Ipperwash. For example, the police logs show that on the night Dudley George was killed, Marcel Beaubien was at the command post for quite a long time. The log records show that Marcel Beaubien advised that he had sent a fax to the Premier advising the Premier of his intentions and that he wanted a phone call regarding his intentions.

Minister, you've always said there was no direct involvement, but your own police logs show there was. When are you going to call a public inquiry to finally get at the facts and the truth about Ipperwash?

Hon Robert W. Runciman (Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services): I've indicated on a number of occasions that there are criminal proceedings under way; a number of civil actions have been initiated; there is a possibility of an inquest following the completion of these various other undertakings. I don't think anyone on the government side has ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry following the completion of all those matters.

Mr Hampton: We're not talking about an inquest here; we're talking about a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the government's story, which keeps changing. The Premier says he had no knowledge of anything other than what was in the newspaper, but we see from the police logs that there was direct contact with the Premier's office. The Solicitor General says he has no knowledge, but it's very clear from the police logs, which were reported on the weekend, that there was knowledge back and forth, there was discussion back and forth, there was information being shared back and forth.

It's a simple request, Minister. You have changed your story time and again in this Legislature on what happened at Ipperwash. It's time now to have a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this, to find out why someone died on September 6, 1995, and to find out about who was involved in it. Will you have that public inquiry?

Hon Mr Runciman: I think it's premature to conclude that the answers won't be provided following the completion of the criminal proceedings, the civil actions and, as I indicated, the possibility of an inquest. I don't think it would be responsible for anyone on this side of the House to commit to an inquiry at this stage in the process, until all of those proceedings have been completed.


Mr Hampton: This is not about those proceedings. We had the Premier in this House say that he would make available the faxes and the information that came from Mr Beaubien to the Premier's office. We've had the Solicitor General stand in this Legislature and say that he would make available, that he's not trying to hide anything. That all took place more than a couple of weeks ago, yet the government has produced nothing. In fact the Premier now says, "This might be subject to some information restrictions."

That's what we're asking for here. We want a public inquiry to clear up what happened between the Premier's office and Mr Beaubien and what happened between the Solicitor General's office and Mr Beaubien when Mr Beaubien was at the police command post the night Dudley George was murdered. That's what we want to know. We've heard from the police. We want to know what took place between your office and the Premier's office and Mr Beaubien, and you have not been forthcoming on any of that information. You have not provided those faxes, you have not responded to any of the questions in this House. We want a public inquiry to finally get to the bottom of your involvement and the Premier's involvement. Let's have the public inquiry.

Hon Mr Runciman: The member says I have not been forthcoming. He posed the question, I think about two weeks ago, with respect to faxes. My staff have reviewed the inquiry that he put forward and I'm informed that the ministry log records one piece of correspondence in September 1995 from Mr Beaubien expressing concerns that taxpayers pay for police training. We have no further documents from Mr Beaubien at that time. The only other contact that I'm aware of with my office were calls re my travel arrangements for September 12 to meet with the residents in his community to hear public safety concerns.


Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): My second question is to the Minister of Labour. We'll get back to Ipperwash again because it's not going to go away. My question to the minister is this. You passed your legislation which now allows scabs to be used in workplaces across this province. I want to remind you of what's happening out there.

In Ottawa we have some of the most vulnerable people in society, the people who are cared for by the Ottawa Valley Autistic Homes and the Ottawa-Carleton Lifeskills authority. They are now using scabs. They are now saying to the dedicated workers, who used to look after autistic individuals and who used to look after individuals who are developmentally delayed and need a lot of help, that they have to accept less than $9.50 an hour, that they have to take a wage cut. Since those workers believe their work is more important than $9.50 an hour, those employers are now using scabs, scabs who are untrained, scabs who know nothing about how to care for autistic individuals.

Minister, what are you going to do to repair the situation that you have created out there?

Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): I would just like to remind the leader that actually as a result of the changes we have made to the Labour Relations Act, in spite of the fact that we have had numerous agreements come to a conclusion this year -- in fact we had well over 3,000 -- we fortunately have had in this province labour peace, and certainly the changes that we have made to the Labour Relations Act have contributed to the labour peace. They have also contributed to the fact that the workplace parties are becoming more self-reliant in the resolution of their own disputes.

Mr Hampton: It's an interesting definition of labour peace that the Conservative government has. In fact, already this year 1.4 million person-days have been lost to lockouts and strikes, a lot worse than it has been.

I want to tell the minister, at the Ottawa-Carleton Lifeskills the 120 workers there have been locked out. This is not a strike situation. This is where the employer has locked them out and has said, "You take a wage cut below $9 an hour." With respect to the Ottawa Valley Autistic Homes, again it's an employer lockout. With respect to the Steelworkers Local 5297 in Ottawa, 300 people, it's a lockout by employers.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Question.

Mr Hampton: With respect to IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union with Cineplex Odeon, it's a lockout and they're demanding an 80% wage cut.

Minister, do you call that labour peace in the province of Ontario?

Hon Mrs Witmer: Mr Speaker, through you to the leader of the third party, I would simply share with you some information. You've talked about the fact that there are person-days lost and you feel that those days are too high. I would remind you that both Manitoba and British Columbia have higher rates of person-days lost as a percentage of total time worked for the first nine months of 1996, and I would also share with you the information that BC bans the use of replacement workers. So for you to suggest that it's the replacement worker ban that is contributing to the problems, that is not the case.

Mr Hampton: I draw the minister's attention again: 1.4 million person-days lost in Ontario as of September 30 of this year -- 1.4 million. That's what has been lost.

I want to give her some other examples. For example, Goldcorp in Red Lake, Ontario, 186 workers, and the employer is using scabs, an employer which has a terrible environmental record, not just in Canada but in the United States and elsewhere, which owes millions of dollars in back taxes and by its own admission operates the most unsafe mine in Ontario. Again, a situation where the employer is using scabs. CAW Local 252, Bramalea Rebuilders, 75 workers; again, the employer is using scabs. Or let's go to Metropolitan Toronto Association for Community Living, 800 workers, and again, scabs are being used.

Minister, is this a labour and employment record in Ontario that you are proud of? Are you proud of using scabs to lower people's wages and working conditions?

Hon Mrs Witmer: I would respond to the leader of the third party in this way. You are deliberately distorting the facts. As I have just pointed out to you --

Mr Hampton: On a point of privilege, Speaker: These were all reported in the newspaper. The minister --

The Speaker: Minister of Labour.

Hon Mrs Witmer: I would point out to you that when it comes to the loss of person-days that both Manitoba --


The Speaker: Minister of Labour.

Hon Mrs Witmer: I would point out that when it comes to the number of person-days lost, both Manitoba and British Columbia have a much higher rate than we do in this province and, as I indicated to you, British Columbia actually has a ban on replacement workers, so obviously that's not having an effect. I would also tell you that our strikes this year in 1996 in the first 10 months are only 113 compared to 129, which will probably result in us having one of the lowest number of strikes in the last decade. Now, the one point that you need --

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): You brought violence to those picket lines.

The Speaker: Member for Hamilton Centre.


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

Hon Mrs Witmer: The one point that you seem to conveniently not be addressing is the reason for the person-days lost high number that you say is so high is the fact that for the first time in the history of this province OPSEU was given the opportunity to strike. That was you that gave them the right.

Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: As I understand your ruling, it is now in order for the opposition to observe that the Minister of Labour deliberately distorted this situation. Is that correct?

The Speaker: With respect to the member for Algoma, if you accuse a member of distorting the situation, I'm not going to rule you out of order, no.



Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): My question is to the Premier and it has to do with the Ipperwash Provincial Park incident where a native died for the first time in 100 years in a land claim dispute. As more and more information comes out, it is clear there was extensive political interference by your government in this very sensitive police operation.

The report on the weekend from the paper points out that your member Mr Beaubien arrived at the police command post only hours after the beginning of this, informing the police he was going to phone you, Premier. Mr Beaubien goes on to state later on that he doesn't mind taking controversy if the police services can't handle this situation.

The report goes on to point out that the Solicitor General's office didn't feel the situation was being handled properly. Then Mr Beaubien states, and you have not denied this and I assume it's true, that he sent you, Premier, a fax outlining his intentions -- in other words, what Mr Beaubien was going to do with the police involving the natives in this particular situation -- and was awaiting a reply back from you.

In light of all of this inappropriate, unacceptable political interference by you and the rest of your government members, will you now agree to a public inquiry so we can get at the root of this political interference by you and your government?

Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): I am tempted to refer to deliberate distortion of the facts because that's what we've just heard from this member repeatedly on the whole situation of Ipperwash. Let me make it very clear that there has been no political interference and that to draw any other conclusion is a distortion of the facts.

I want to make it clear and repeat that as far as police operations, there has been no interference in anything that's gone on -- we've indicated that to you -- either by myself or by any members of our staff. As has been indicated by the Attorney General and by the Solicitor General, because there are a number of cases pending here, as soon as we're advised that it's appropriate, we're happy to release information and we've not ruled out a public inquiry.

Mr Phillips: Here's the problem, Premier, and I'll be as direct as I can with you. We asked you if you knew of what was going on at Ipperwash in terms of the police buildup. You said you did not, nor did your staff. We then found out that wasn't the truth. We found that Mr Beaubien had informed your staff. You said you weren't aware that Mr Beaubien had visited the police command post. In fact, he had on several occasions and had been in touch with your office. You said you would release the faxes that Mr Beaubien sent you -- that's what you told the House -- and now you refuse to release them.

The problem is that frankly we don't trust you on this matter. We want to see a public inquiry into this matter so we can get at the root of this political interference in this. I gave you the examples. It's here for you in the paper, Premier. There was political interference. Mr Beaubien was at that police command post on at least four occasions, was there without any question, and was telling them he was in touch with you.

I repeat, Premier, because we don't want you to wait a year and then say you're not going to have a public inquiry: There is enough evidence already to call for that public inquiry. Will you commit today to a public inquiry so we can get at the root of this political interference?

Hon Mr Harris: There's absolutely nothing that I have seen printed in the paper or heard, other than any deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, that would cause me to conclude other than that there's been no political interference, there's been no intervention. There has been a member very concerned, as would any member be, about a difficult situation in his riding, trying to find information for his constituents. However, we've indicated we're very unhappy with what happened at Ipperwash. Surely nobody is happy with that.

When the law cases are settled, or if the lawyers tell us it's appropriate to release information sooner, I've said I have no problem with any of the information being released. As soon as the lawyers tell me we'll not be interfering with the justice system or a fair trial for anybody who is now being tried or any of those cases, I'd be happy to do so.


Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Attorney General. For three months now you have been deliberately distorting the facts with respect to the family support plan in this province and the bungled mess that you caused.

I have another case today. This is another case of a family support plan file that has been lost in the black hole of Downsview. Susan Wilkins, a brand-new registrant, had a court order for $1,300 per month for the support of her three children issued in July. The papers were filed with the family support plan on August 2. She has not received one penny. She's called numerous times. My office has faxed the MPP line. None of us has received a response.

On Monday last she called her ex-husband's employer and found out that they'd not even received a garnishee order at this point in time, these many months later. She called your office. Your office checked with the family support plan and were told they couldn't get an answer until they found her file. On Wednesday they called and told her that her file was at Downsview, that it would be ordered, it would arrive on Thursday, she'd have her answer. It's Monday -- no answer. She's left messages at your offices today to try and get an answer. Minister, she's got three children. She and her children are owed over $7,500. Her husband is --

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Attorney General.

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): I will check that and find out what the status of that case is and report back to the member.

Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): Maybe while the minister is checking that case, he can check this one as well, another case where we have a problem due directly to the cuts you made to the family support plan office in August by laying off 290 staff and by closing the regional offices.

Rob Sutherland has a court order which is adjusted when he goes on UIC. Specifically, his support is reduced to $100 and the WCB, that he normally pays from the pension of $450, is cancelled when he is on UIC. Since August, he's been on UIC. Every two weeks we have been faxing his UIC stubs from my office to the family support plan to prove that he's unemployed and to try to get the support payment adjustment. To date, the adjustment has not been made. He is owed $450 for August, September, October and November.

The additional problem is that he's been trying to open a new UIC claim. He was told by his UIC worker last week that the UIC cannot open his claim because the justice department cannot reach the family support plan office in order to confirm the details of his support order.

I say to you, Minister, can you tell me why you're financing the tax cut on the back of Rob Sutherland and his 11-year-old son?

Hon Mr Harnick: Again I can't comment on an individual case, but what I can tell you is that the Mothers Against Fathers in Arrears were very clear and want me to remind you --

Ms Martel: For four months they've been faxing statements every two weeks.

Hon Mr Harnick: -- that your own government chose to ignore this very issue and failed to pass legislation that was needed then and is needed now.

Ms Lankin: That is not the same issue. You are deliberately distorting the facts.

The Speaker: Order. Members for Sudbury East and Beaches-Woodbine, come to order, please.

Hon Mr Harnick: I might also tell you that last week, $8.3 million was paid out of the family support plan. So far in November, 88,224 people have been recipients of $27 million that has come out of the family support plan.


The Speaker: Order. I'll warn the member for Sudbury East; I'm warning the members for Cochrane North and Windsor-Sandwich too. Come to order.

Hon Mr Harnick: As a result, you can see that considerable increases in money are being paid out of the family support plan and I would hope that everyone will receive their money and begin to receive it in a timely way.

The Speaker: New question.

Ms Lankin: It's your responsibility. Why don't you make sure --

The Speaker: Member for Beaches-Woodbine, that's the final warning.

Ms Lankin: Well, first --

The Speaker: No, no. That's the third and final one.


Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington): My question is for the Minister of Labour. It's been brought to my attention that last Thursday there was a press conference here at Queen's Park hosted by the NDP labour critic and members of the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Network of Injured Workers. It's my understanding that at this press conference several unfair statements were made regarding the government's plans to reform the Workers' Compensation Board, unfair allegations regarding the deindexation of pension benefits for injured workers. Will the minister clarify this important matter for members of the House?


Hon Elizabeth Witmer (Minister of Labour): I want to indicate that we do take the issue of reform of the workers' compensation system very seriously. Unfortunately, the issue of deindexation was treated in a very inaccurate manner last Thursday. There was the implication that it would be this government that would be totally responsible for deindexation. We know that is not the case. The deindexation first occurred under the NDP through the introduction of Bill 165, when you removed $18.1 billion from the hands of 125,000 injured workers. I think it's absolutely essential that we correct the record.

Mr Arnott: I participated in those hearings on Bill 165 and I'm shocked that the NDP would blame the Progressive Conservative government for a policy that they initiated while they were in power, in an effort to arrest their flagging popularity.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Cochrane South, come to order. The member for Halton Centre, come to order.

Mr Arnott: My supplementary to the Minister of Labour is this: Is she aware of any other unfair allegations contained in the information package, distributed with the endorsement of the NDP last week?

Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): Are you giving $6 billion to your corporate friends?

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

Hon Mrs Witmer: Unfortunately, there were many errors in the presentation of the material on Thursday. One of them was the fact that our assessment rates were low. That is simply not the case. At $3, our assessment rates are the second-highest in Canada. We are second only to Newfoundland, which has a higher rate.

Also, there was mention made that the board had a surplus this year of $510 million. Yes, that is so, and fortunately that's good news, but what they did not mention is the fact that between 1991 and 1995 the NDP removed over $1.65 billion from the WCB investment fund to cover their annual benefit costs. This unsustainable policy threatens the future benefits of injured workers, and we simply cannot allow that to continue.


Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): My question is to the minister who doesn't want to be in housing, the Minister of Housing.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): There is no minister by that name. You'll have to come up with the correct title in order to put your question.

Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside): He did.

The Speaker: Order. There's only one Minister of Housing, and that's not what I heard. If you want to put it correctly, you can.

Mr Curling: To the Minister of Housing. Is that all right, Mr Speaker?

The Speaker: That's fine.

Mr Curling: This morning, I sponsored a press conference where the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada and the Coalition to Save Tenants' Rights released this report on the affordability of rental housing in Ontario. The results are clear: More people are having a harder time paying their rent than ever before. More than 220,000 people in Ontario are spending half their income on rent. With the cuts from your government since taking office, those who rely on social assistance are getting hit on all sides. About a third of tenants are on some form of social assistance, and you're hitting them again with the rent hikes that will come with your bill.

It's an absolute fallacy that your tenant protection bill will help tenants. Only you say that it's going to be more affordable. You're taking rental units --

The Speaker: Thank you.

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): That's a very interesting report. If there was ever a document that showed that the existing system isn't working, it's this one. All the numbers in this report relate from 1990 to 1994 and they do show that tenants were not getting a good deal, that rents were out of control. Who was in power from 1990 to 1994? Not this government.

I can now point out to you that there was a report put out by CMHC that indicates that the demand for rental housing in Toronto between 1996 and 2001 will drop. The situation is getting better.

Mr Curling: When this minister stands up and says it is affordable for people to have rental units here, you know it is not affordable here at all. Tenants are finding it very difficult to rent. You have called this tenant protection legislation. This is really a tenant harassment act. How does a tenant go to a landlord when they have roaches, when they have poor heating facilities, when the stove doesn't work? Could you tell me that? Will you withdraw this Bill 96 that does not protect tenants but gives a wealth of opportunities to landlords?

Hon Mr Leach: Again, all the numbers and all the information the member is referring to are based on a report using data between 1990 and 1994. The bill we've introduced is correcting much of that and is bringing in a system that is fair and is equitable and works. It works for tenants and it works for landlords. The availability of rental units is increasing. It's up by 50% in the last month, which shows that people have confidence in the direction this government is going in.

The Speaker: New question, the member for Fort York.

Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): My question is to M. Leach, the Minister of Housing. Minister, last Thursday you tabled the landlord protection act, the act that will cause rents to go up for thousands and thousands of tenants. Oh, it will do that, Minister. You've taken controls off the apartments when tenants move out, and your own economist, M. Lampert, said that over a five-year period 70% of all tenants move -- that means 70% of all tenants will get a rent increase -- and you've made tenants sitting ducks, who will be facing anywhere from 7% to 10% increases.

This study done for the co-op housing federation by Lapointe Consulting points to a growing affordability problem. This study is very relevant. It says that 36% -- listen, Minister; you're not listening -- of all tenant households now have trouble affording their rent. It's a very recent study. Some 36% have trouble affording their rent. That's 540,000 households. What do you say to the 540,000 households whose rent will go up and up under your plan?

Hon Mr Leach: Again I'll have to point out for the members of the third party that this is a report that's based on information from when they were in power. The data are absolutely irrelevant to what's going to happen with the future. We're bringing in a system that is going to bring fairness and equity back into the rental housing business. If they would get real recent results from CMHC, which were released last Friday, they would show that the availability of rental stock is increasing and things are getting a whole lot better for tenants.

Mr Marchese: The minister is not listening. That's a big part of the problem. This study is very relevant and it says -- I don't know how he can discount it -- that 36% of all tenant households have trouble affording their rent. How can you discount that? They're real figures. That means it's a reality. The reality hasn't disappeared. The only way this bill will make rents go down is if it means the market is suddenly flooded with affordable rental housing.

Well, that's not going to happen. You are not building, you and your government. You've destroyed the Rental Housing Protection Act, which means more rental housing will disappear, and the private sector is not building. They've told us that. Phil Dewan, the head of the landlord lobby, says this legislation will not make them build and developers and landlords told the legislative committee last summer that gutting rent controls won't make them build either.

I asked you Thursday and I'm going to ask you again: Name the landlords or developers who are going to build affordable rental housing in the GTA because of your legislation. Just name one.

Hon Mr Leach: I can tell the honourable member, and I said this when we went to hearings last August, that this legislation, on its own merit, is not going to create a housing boom. We never said it would; in fact, we said just the opposite. What we said it will do is that this legislation, in conjunction with the other changes we're going to make that you didn't bother to address, like addressing the property tax situation, which is the biggest drain that tenants face -- 40% of their rent goes in property taxes and that issue has to be addressed -- that, in conjunction with two or three other changes we're proposing to make, will generate growth. We have commitment to see that growth happen.



Mr Wayne Wettlaufer (Kitchener): My question is for the Minister of Finance. Minister, on Friday I read in the newspaper that you've reiterated that Ontario is not interested in harmonizing our provincial sales tax with the federal GST. But then I also read that the federal government is still working on its harmonization plans. Now, we are or we aren't. Is Ontario continuing to talk with the federal government about harmonization? If not, why not?

Hon Ernie L. Eves (Deputy Premier, Minister of Finance): We have received no new offer from the federal government for many months now on sales tax harmonization. The offer that is on the table, and the one that quite frankly the three Atlantic provinces agreed to, would in our estimation shift approximately $2 billion of taxation from the backs of businesses on to consumers in Ontario. That is not on as far as we are concerned. It would also broaden the base considerably on items that would be subject to tax that are not taxed now in the province, and that's unacceptable.

Mr Wettlaufer: Recently the premiers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland were in Toronto and they announced that harmonization would create an Atlantic advantage for their investors. If the deal is not good for Ontario, how can it be so advantageous for those three eastern provinces which have chosen to participate?

Hon Mr Eves: First of all, as the member knows, I presume, and other members know, the federal government is paying those three Atlantic provinces almost $1 billion to subsidize them for their lack of revenue over the next four years, which they will be losing. Secondly, you may have read or heard in media reports last week that one particular department store chain in New Brunswick alone has closed five stores and claims that they're looking at closing another seven stores simply because of the cost of implementing the new combined, harmonized PST-GST tax.

Things like home heating fuel for the average consumer in those Atlantic provinces will go up $160 a year. The price of purchasing a new home will go up by $3,000 or $4,000 a year. Other personal services will go up substantially because items are now being taxed that weren't being taxed before. That in fact is leading to the loss of jobs in those three Atlantic provinces. We are not interested in losing jobs in the province of Ontario; we're interested in creating jobs.


Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is to the Attorney General. Minister, on Thursday in response to a question in the House, your colleague the minister responsible for women's issues acknowledged very clearly the fact that in January your government was aware of the problems you were going to incur as a result of shutting down the regional offices and opening up your 1-800 office out of Downsview. You had a document January 18, a business plan that clearly told you there was going to be a reduction in service. People, women and children 90% of the recipients, would have been affected. Your colleague brought it to your attention as well in January.

Can you explain to this House how you allowed this gross mismanagement and incompetence with regard to the handling of the shutting down of these offices and the damage that you have inflicted on women on children? You knew in January, as your colleague acknowledged on Thursday. What have you done about it?

Hon Charles Harnick (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs): What we have done about it is we have ensured that in the first three weeks of November, $27 million was paid out to 88,224 recipients. Last week $8.3 million was paid out to 27,425 recipients. This weekend, 297 MPP inquiries were dealt with, out of which 12 required follow-up, which is being done this morning. We also are able now to process more than 5,000 transactions a day, up 25% in productivity over where we ever were. So that's what we've done to date.

Mr Agostino: The response and the attitude of this minister shows clearly the arrogance and the incompetence of you as minister and of your ministry in handling this particular transition. Minister, how can you sit there and continue to tell us the plan is working? In my own office we have over 80 cases that are still outstanding. You knew in January but you deliberately allowed the battering and beating up of women and children in Ontario to continue because of your incompetence and your failure to fix the plan.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Hamilton East, it's out of order to suggest that the minister deliberately allowed the battering and beating up of innocent women. I would ask that you withdraw.

Mr Agostino: I withdraw. What the minister has done is deliberately allow women and children to suffer in this province as a result of the change you have made to the plan. One quick example: I have a constituent from Thorold, a gentleman who called my office. He gets $200 a month withdrawn from his bank account to go to his wife and two children he is paying support to. Two weeks later this $200 cheque was sent back to him to put back in his own bank account. They're not getting the money.

Minister, will you do the honourable thing in view of the fact that you have known since January and resign and allow this plan to get fixed by another minister who is more competent than you are?

Hon Mr Harnick: We are taking steps now to take a plan that didn't work very well, that was $1 billion in arrears, and we're moving it into a new plan that we hope will provide much better coverage for people who depend on the plan. We are now processing cheques within 24 to 36 hours. Under the old plan, where so many of these cheques were being done manually, this could take up to a week. As I've indicated, we have increased by 25% the productivity in allowing us to increase productivity to put more cheques through the system. We're contacting 2,000 employers who have over five payors on their payroll in order to make sure that they send cheques through properly so they can be involved in electronic banking and thus enhance the ability to speed up payments and thus make the plan a better plan.


Ms Marilyn Churley (Riverdale): I have a question for the Minister of Municipal Affairs. On November 7 you were questioned in this House about a phone call your executive assistant placed on your behalf to the firm Cassels Brock and Blackwell. The phone call concerned a letter that a lawyer with the firm, Brian Donovan, had written to the Who Does What subpanel on education financing on behalf of a group of parents from Franklin community school in my riding. They were concerned that a panel which was in a position to be advocating some drastic changes to the education system in this province was operating in the dark in secret locations, with secret terms of reference and with no representation from the education sector in Metro Toronto.

Your response to the question that day was that the concerns of these parents "seemed so frivolous." Minister, can you tell this House today what supreme authority gives you the right to deem the concerns of those parents, concerns that might shortly be before the courts, frivolous?

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I think when anybody wants to try and take somebody to court for providing advice, it doesn't seem very appropriate to me. I also think it's very appropriate that when you get a letter from a law firm that's threatening to take legal action on a process that's under way, it's an appropriate thing to do to call that law firm and inquire what this is all about. And that's what I said before. We called the law firm and said, "Are you serious?" The law firm --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister.

Hon Mr Leach: The principals of the law firm said they didn't know anything about the matter and that's the last we heard of it.

Ms Churley: Minister, I can assure you this is not the last you will have heard of it. You don't seem to understand how serious this situation is. This is about citizens' rights to due process being denied, because at the very least an implicit threat was made on your behalf.

This is the situation: We'll never get to know whether the courts would have agreed with your assessment of these concerns as being frivolous because the actions of your staff, operating on your behalf, had the effect -- claims Mr Donovan and he's saying this. As you know, he no longer has a job there. He was pulled off the case by the firm after that phone call made on your behalf. The Franklin group never had the chance to make their case for an injunction because of the action of your executive assistant acting on your behalf. It sent a chill through the firm of Cassels Brock and Blackwell. We don't know what was said, but it had at the very least the appearance of a threat. Minister, what was said in that phone call to Cassels Brock and Blackwell?

Hon Mr Leach: The lawyer in question is still a lawyer. I assume there was nothing to stop him from proceeding with the action. There's nothing to stop him now from proceeding with the action if he feels it's appropriate.


The Speaker: Order.


The Speaker: Member for Cochrane South. Minister?

Hon Mr Leach: There's nothing to stop the individual in question from taking action now if he chooses to.

Ms Churley: They've reported, Al. It's too late. The subcommittee reported.

Hon Mr Leach: Then you could obviously see that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the action. There's no way you can take action against somebody from providing advice. The Crombie panel doesn't make any decisions; it makes recommendations and provides advice. We make the decisions.



Mr Toby Barrett (Norfolk): I wish to question the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Last week, Minister Villeneuve attended the 1996 convention of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. I also attended, as did other rural MPPs from both sides of the House. I have received feedback from farmers as a result of your presentation, Minister, to the OFA. Much of the input I received concerned crop insurance, safety net programs and how the plans for the development of AgriCorp are coming, to take responsibility for these kinds of programs. What feedback have you received with respect to AgriCorp and also with respect to other deliberations at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture?

Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): I want to thank my colleague for that question. Yes, I was very pleased to attend the Ontario Federation of Agriculture annual meeting last week. It was one of the most successful annual meetings the federation has ever had, with a very large attendance.

On AgriCorp, the agricultural community is quite prepared and able to take into their own hands and look after what they need. I certainly feel that's where the responsibility lies.

I want to congratulate the OFA president, Tony Morris, for his acclamation. I want to congratulate the new and returning executive who were elected last week. I promise, as do all of our colleagues, to work with the OFA for the betterment and continuing to keep our food producers on the leading edge, which is where they are.

Mr Barrett: The minister will no doubt remember that in the Common Sense Revolution's rural economic development task force we promised Ontario's food producers that we would work towards strengthening Ontario's Farm Practices Protection Act, more commonly referred to as the right-to-farm bill.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Would you come to order, please. Thank you. Go ahead.

Mr Barrett: A few months ago the Ontario Federation of Agriculture submitted a draft right-to-farm bill to the minister. Could the minister tell this House if any work is being done to ensure that farmers have proper protection against nuisance complaints?

Hon Mr Villeneuve: Yes, the OFA did present a draft bill and it's certainly in the direction this government wants to go. We must provide more protection to our farmers and our food producers. They are a very important sector of our economy. Any country or any province that has let its agriculture go down will stand to suffer. This government has brought in new money, $15 million of the Grow Ontario program. We've brought in a rebate on sales tax, $20-plus million.


Hon Mr Villeneuve: It's difficult to get the attention of the NDP, particularly because they always have their own agenda. I want to remind them that they were the government that shut down two of our five agricultural colleges and then gave us a $50-billion debt to boot. That's what they did, and now they sanctimoniously try to give us advice. We have to take it with a little grain of salt.


Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): My question is for the Minister of Health. Last year you announced an 18% cut in hospital budgets. You know and I know and all members of the House know that this has resulted in nurse layoffs, replacement of registered nurses with less qualified staff and difficulties in access to services.

Minister, let me tell you about Angelina Marrone.

Hon Noble Villeneuve (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, minister responsible for francophone affairs): Put it on Hansard.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Minister of Agriculture, would you come to order, please.


The Speaker: And the member for Hamilton East, come to order.

Mrs Caplan: I'll tell you about Angelina Marrone. This 69-year-old grandmother was admitted to hospital on November 2 with chest pains. It was determined almost immediately that she required an angiogram to diagnose the severity of her heart condition, but the doctors encountered obstacle after obstacle. In the interim, her condition worsened and she was transferred to an intensive care unit in the same hospital on November 15.

Her family is here today in the gallery. They have just learned that she is being transferred to a hospital where she can get her angiogram, but they are concerned because she has already been bumped twice. They want to know what you say to her and to her family and others. Is this what people can expect --

The Speaker: Member for Oriole, thank you. Minister of Health.

Hon Jim Wilson (Minister of Health): I know the federal government has cut health care, but we have not. Second, there have been no cuts to the cardiac program at all through hospital budgets; it is a fully protected program. We have increased cardiac surgeries in this province by 19%, or almost 1,500 surgeries, and we have the shortest waiting lists in Canada.

This government has got rid of waste and duplication, and soon we'll take other steps to make sure that we have a more efficient system and that we drive dollars towards patient care. We've done that in cardiac, and we've taken great strides to reduce the waiting list and increase the capacity so we have a better system and people can be looked after on a timely basis. You don't tell your constituents we've cut health care, because you know that is blatantly untrue.

Mrs Caplan: There's $1.3 billion in hospital cuts, and that's the truth and that's what gets you in trouble.

Hon Mr Wilson: It's federal government cuts by $2 billion. Stop playing games.

The Speaker: The member for Oriole and the Minister of Health. Minister of Health, you must withdraw that last comment. You can't tell somebody it's blatantly untrue.

Hon Mr Wilson: I withdraw.

Mrs Caplan: And resign.

The Speaker: Member for Oriole.


The Speaker: I might have a problem with that one, but at least you withdrew. Thank you.



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

"Whereas the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee has recommended that North York Branson Hospital merge with York-Finch hospital; and

"Whereas this recommendation will remove emergency and inpatient services currently provided by North York Branson Hospital, which will seriously jeopardize medical care and the quality of health for the growing population which the hospital serves, many being elderly people who in numerous cases require treatment for life-threatening medical conditions;

"We petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to reject the recommendation contained within the final report of the Metropolitan Toronto District Health Council hospital restructuring committee as it pertains to North York Branson Hospital, so that it retains, at minimum, emergency and inpatient services."

I have affixed my signature.



Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have petitions forwarded to me by Karen Rabideau, who's the union counsellor of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union, Local 93B. The petition reads as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the Harris government has begun a process to open the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Ontario; and

"Whereas this act is the single most important piece of legislation for working people since it is designed to protect our lives, safety and health while at work and allow us to return home to our families in the same condition in which we left; and

"Whereas the government has made it clear they intend to water down the act and weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse; and

"Whereas this government has already watered down proper training of certified committee members;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act or erode the rights of workers any further and ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."

I add my name to theirs.


Mr Harry Danford (Hastings-Peterborough): I have a petition on behalf of a number of my constituents.

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas we believe that provincial interest in public libraries in Ontario is fundamental to the rights of all Ontarians;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to maintain the provincial interest in public libraries by ensuring the continuance of the following:

"(1) grants to ensure that all Ontarians have equalized access to library materials and services;

"(2) coordination of resource-sharing programs such as interlibrary loan and Internet access;

"(3) policy to ensure the future of the network of Ontario public libraries;

"(4) provincial assistance directly to libraries at the service level, for example, through Southern Ontario Library Service and Ontario Library Service-North;

"(5) legislation that maintains the autonomy of public library boards."

I affix my signature.


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

"Whereas the government of Ontario appears to be moving towards the privatization of retail liquor and spirit sales in the province; and

"Whereas the LCBO provides a safe, secure and controlled way of retailing alcoholic beverages; and

"Whereas the LCBO provides the best method of restricting the sale of liquor to minors in Ontario; and

"Whereas the LCBO has an excellent program of quality control of the products sold in its stores; and

"Whereas the LCBO provides a wide selection of product to its customers in modern, convenient stores; and

"Whereas the LCBO has moved forward with the times, sensitive to the needs of its customers and its clients; and

"Whereas the LCBO is an important instrument for the promotion and sale of Ontario wines and thereby contributes immensely to grape growing and the wine-producing industry;

"Therefore, be it resolved that the government of Ontario abandon its plan to turn over the sale of liquor and spirits to private liquor stores and retain the LCBO for this purpose."

I affix my signature and hand this petition to Lauren Kennedy of St Denis Elementary School in St Catharines.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly from the municipality of Sault Ste Marie and it goes like this:

"Whereas occupational health and safety is a priority for the workers in the city of Sault Ste Marie and district; and

"Whereas occupational injuries and illnesses impact not on just the injured parties but on the community as a whole; and

"Whereas the WCB direct payment for most workers will be intimidating and the human and financial cost of injury and disease will increase and be moved over to the workers and their families; and

"Whereas the proposed changes to the act weaken the rights of workers under the law, including the right to know, the right to participate and especially the right to refuse;

"Therefore, be it resolved that the city of Sault Ste Marie petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario not to alter the Occupational Health and Safety Act and WCB act without proper consultation and not to erode the rights of all workers and to ensure strict enforcement of the legislation."

This was moved and seconded by Councillors Ed Szczepanik and Wayne Deluca, and I add my name to it.


Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition signed by approximately 350 residents in my riding. This petition concerns school councils and the general approach of the government to education, and I'll file it now.


Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I have received another petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario with respect to the removal of rent control and I wish to read it to the House.

"Whereas the government of Ontario has announced its intention to remove rent control from apartments that become vacant so that landlords can charge whatever rent they want; and

"Whereas the government's proposed law will eliminate rent control on new buildings and allow landlords to pass on repair bills and other costs to tenants; and

"Whereas the government's proposal will make it easier for landlords to demolish buildings and easier to convert apartments to condominiums; and

"Whereas due to the zero vacancy rate in Metro Toronto the removal of rent control will cause extreme hardship for seniors and tenants on fixed incomes and others who cannot afford their homes;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario to keep the existing system of rent control."

I agree with the petitioners and I will affix my signature to it.


Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): I have a petition from 20 people who are urging this government to stop the cuts to the Ontario poor and urging the people of Ontario watching to express their conscientious objection to the tax cut. This is a petition to the Legislature of Ontario and it reads:

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

I affix my name to this petition.


Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): It's my pleasure to rise today to present a petition to the Legislature of Ontario and also to the Minister of Transportation, Al Palladini, Solicitor General Bob Runciman, and the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, Mr Bill Saunderson:

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

"Whereas the snowmobile clubs are very conscious of the safe operation and maintenance of their machines;

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

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

"Whereas the current MTO-issued registration numbers 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 Ontario for 1990, chapter 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 pleased to sign my name to this petition.


Mr Pat Hoy (Essex-Kent): To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the 800,000 children who ride the school buses of Ontario are at risk and their safety is in jeopardy from unsafe drivers who are not stopping for school buses; and

"Whereas the current school bus law is difficult to enforce since not only is a licence plate number required but positive identification of the driver and vehicle as well, which makes it extremely difficult to obtain a conviction;

"Therefore, be it resolved, that we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

"That private member's Bill 78 be passed. The bill doubles the existing range of fines for identified drivers and establishes vehicle owner liability.

"We ask for the support of all members of the Legislature."

I have affixed my name to this petition.


Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I have a petition signed by members of Local 358 of the UFCW and the UBWW, United Brewers Warehousing Workers. The petition reads as follows:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas it is vital that occupational health and safety services provided to workers be conducted by organizations in which workers have faith; and

"Whereas the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers have provided such services on behalf of workers for many years; and

"Whereas the centre and clinics have made a significant contribution to improvements in workplace health and safety and the reduction of injuries, illnesses and death caused by work,

"Therefore, we, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to oppose any attempt to erode the structure, services or funding of the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers; and

"Further, we, the undersigned, demand that education and training of Ontario workers continue in its present form through the Workers' Health and Safety Centre and that professional and technical expertise and advice continue to be provided through the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers."

As I'm in support of this petition, I add my name to theirs.



Mr Bill Murdoch (Grey-Owen Sound): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the NDP government under former Premier Bob Rae passed legislation, Bill 181, the Ammunition Regulation Act, placing restrictions on the sale of ammunition in Ontario; and

"Whereas the provisions contained in Bill 181 are time-consuming, onerous and create unnecessary red tape; and

"Whereas the records for which these provisions have been produced do not track criminals; and

"Whereas Bill 181 was passed in only one day, without any discussion with law-abiding gun owners such as farmers, collectors, hunters and recreational shooters, who understand and have a deep respect for the power of firearms and ammunition and the need to maintain the use of their equipment in the safest of conditions; and

"Whereas Bill 181 will do nothing to combat the use of illegal ammunition;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to repeal Bill 181, protect the rights of responsible firearms owners and work for tougher penalties against weapons offences."

I have also signed this.


Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): I have a petition that's been signed by 3,000 people:

"To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the Health Services Restructuring Commission has recommended the closure of two acute-care hospitals in Sudbury; and

"Whereas the overall number of available beds will be reduced by approximately 35%; and

"Whereas the reduction in beds will affect Sudbury's ability to remain the referral centre for health care in northeastern Ontario; and

"Whereas there will be a large number of layoffs in the health profession, impacting the quality of local health care and our Sudbury economy; and

"Whereas the global annual budget for Sudbury health care will be reduced by 25%;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to rescind the Health Services Restructuring Commission's recommendation to close two acute-care Sudbury hospitals."

To date, there have been 18,304 signatures, and I affix my name to it.


Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I have a petition here signed by literally hundreds of people from my riding and the riding of Algoma to the Legislature of Ontario. It goes like this:

"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, 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 sign my name to this because I agree with it.


Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): I have a petition here concerning public libraries and public library boards, signed by approximately 29 residents in my riding. I'd like to file it today.


Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I have a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

"Whereas the Rent Control Act protects Ontario's 3.3 million tenants and allows for security and stability in their homes and communities; and

"Whereas lifting rent control in Ontario would leave tenants with uncontrollable rent increases and financial instability; and

"Whereas the Progressive Conservative government is considering changes to the Landlord and Tenant Act favouring easier and faster eviction by landlords;

"We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to save rent control."

I affix my signature to this petition.



Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): I beg leave to present a report from the standing committee on estimates.

Senior Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Journals (Mr Alex D. McFedries): Mr Curling from the standing committee on estimates reports the following resolutions:

Resolved that the supplementary estimates of the following ministries and offices not selected for consideration are deemed passed by the committee and reported to the House in accordance with --


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Dispense? Dispense.



Mr McGuinty moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 97, An Act to Accelerate the Use of Alternative Fuels in Motor Vehicles used by the Government of Ontario and its Agencies, Boards and Commissions / Projet de loi 97, Loi visant à promouvoir l'utilisation de carburants de remplacement dans les véhicules automobiles utilisés par le gouvernement de l'Ontario ainsi que par ses organismes, ses conseils et ses commissions.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Any comments?

Mr Dalton McGuinty (Ottawa South): Yes, very briefly. My private member's bill would require that government, over the course of a seven-year period, phase in the use of environmentally friendly fuels so that in seven years' time, 75% of all government fleet vehicles used by agencies, boards and commissions will be using environmentally friendly fuels.


Mrs Pupatello moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill Pr76, An Act respecting the Windsor Utilities Commission and the supply of heat energy within the Corporation of the City of Windsor.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.


Mr Leach moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 98, An Act to promote job creation and increased municipal accountability while providing for the recovery of development costs related to new growth / Projet de loi 98, Loi visant à promouvoir la création d'emplois et à accroître la responsabilité des municipalités tout en prévoyant le recouvrement des coûts d'aménagement liés à la croissance.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Brief comments by the minister?

Hon Al Leach (Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing): I would just like to say that I feel honoured to be able to introduce a bill that brings some balance and equality to the Development Charges Act after the mess we've been in for the last seven years.


The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Just before we move to orders of the day, I want to say that earlier today I ruled in order the Minister of Labour's comments with respect to -- and I forget exactly the phrasing -- "deliberately distorting the facts." Having reflected upon this while I was in the chair and heard exactly the use of it in the following 25 minutes of question period, I think it would be prudent on my part to suggest to the members of the House today that I think in future I would in fact rule that out of order. I thank you for your understanding --

Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): Make them all withdraw.

The Speaker: -- and equally thank you very much, member for Cochrane South.



Consideration of 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.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): The member for Oakwood had the floor. Further debate?


Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I welcome the opportunity today to participate in the debate on Bill 82. I have had the opportunity since this bill commenced with debate to listen to a number of other speakers on this very important issue. I will be referencing some of those comments in my remarks later on.

I want to first of all give the House some idea of why I am participating and why I think this issue is important. I was elected in 1987, in September, and from that point on I have always had an involvement in cases involving support issues. I suspect a part of that has been that Sudbury had a regional office until mid-August of this year and so, in more cases than in other parts of the province, people looked to us when they were having difficulties, when they were having trouble accessing the plan.

I want to commend the Liberal Party because it was actually the Liberal Party in April 1987 which first brought in the Support and Custody Orders Enforcement Act which for the first time ever allowed for enforcement action on behalf of the public by the province of Ontario. Up until that point, there was nothing in place in this province under a previous Conservative government to allow for any enforcement action whatsoever to be taken, predominantly on behalf of women and children. We all know there are recipients who are males who are looking after their children, but we also all know that the majority of the cases do involve women looking after their children or women who receive support payments for themselves.

I commend the Liberals for moving forward on that. We at that time, as did the Conservatives at that time, supported the Liberals in introducing that office and, for the first time ever, making sure that government played a direct and distinct role in assisting women and children and families to receive support payments. That was an important first step in the province, for the first time in the history of this province. From that point and in the last almost about 10 years, both the Liberals and our government made both changes in policy and changes in legislation to build upon that foundation.

Quite contrary to what was said here in the House by the member from, I believe, Brampton North, that from the moment this plan was started there were problems and that's why it was broken, I want to remind him that everyone knew from the moment this plan started that there would be arrears that would be showing, that would be arrears that for many years had not been collected, but that surely it was far better for the government to assume a direct role in trying to collect arrears and in trying to ensure that support payments flowed than for their government to wash their hands of the whole matter and not be involved in a public way at all.

So quite contrary to where I believe the member was heading, I believe it was a very important first step. I also believe that other governments have taken steps to improve upon that situation, which as the Attorney General's own business plan says, is the best enforcement agency in this country.

Having said that, in 1988-89, I put in an appeal to the Ombudsman's office on behalf of 48 women who were having very specific problems in trying to get federal garnishments, particularly with respect to CPP or UIC. We worked with the Ombudsman's office over a period of months to try to get the then Liberal government to make some changes and to speed up the process which involved the justice department in order that women who needed garnishments from federal sources could get them in a timely and appropriate fashion.

But never since I have been a member, and that has been since September 1987, have I seen the kinds of calls, the kinds of distress that women are now in who are trying to use the family support plan -- never -- and I have been a member for almost 10 years now. That is attributed directly to the cuts this Attorney General made in August of this year when, in a single day, he laid off 290 experienced staff and announced that the regional offices of the family support program would be closed. Within four days, in the Sudbury office we went from a staff of 40 to a staff of 11 and some of those people were GO Temp staff. Two weeks after that, we were down to under nine.

That's what the office operated on, primarily supervisory staff including the regional manager, from that time on because the front-line staff took the package and were out the door in four days. That happened not only in Sudbury but in every regional office across this province. We also saw in Sudbury that within two weeks the over-the-counter service access was shut down and many women and children, many payors, many lawyers, many employers who used to access the Sudbury office for assistance were denied that access and referred to Downsview, which as we all saw in a video three weeks ago is not functional, nor will it be for many months yet to come.

I can say in terms of my experience with this plan that I have always in our office dealt with women and children who have had problems and I have never seen problems to the extent we are seeing now, where we receive two and three new calls every day, daily, from people who used to receive regular support payments and now are not because of the cuts this Attorney General made.

I was amused as I listened to some of the comments being made by the Conservatives and the reference they used to this system being broken, because in truth anyone who has followed this matter, and I have, since the inception of the plan cannot say with any legitimacy in this House or anywhere else that the plan is broken or that it's so seriously flawed that nothing can fix it.

I was disturbed by those references for two reasons.

First, I remind this House that over the last 10 years, since the Liberals first introduced a plan, there have been a series of incremental changes which have improved on the plan, brought more families in to receive support, allowed for greater enforcement than there ever was, and I agree with that.

I have to remind members again in this House that despite what the Conservatives said about the plan being broken, the fact of the matter is that under 42 years of Tory government it was never a high-priority public issue for you folks. There was never an Attorney General under the former Conservative regime, which went on for 42 years in this province, who thought support orders were so important that the state should become involved in ensuring that support orders were met, in ensuring that enforcement took place on difficult issues. For the Conservatives to argue that somehow the plan is broken, that somehow the plan is seriously flawed and can't be fixed, I have to remind all of you, where were you in the 42 years when nothing happened on this issue under previous Conservative regimes?

Second, the comment that the plan is badly flawed or it's broken directly contradicts everything the Attorney General had printed in the business plan earlier this year with respect to this very plan. Members will recall that in early January or early February of this year, the Attorney General released the business plan with respect to the changes he wanted to implement in the family support plan and he said as follows: "Ontario is the only maintenance enforcement program in Canada which fully offsets the cost of services and provides a similar amount as net return to the government." He also went on to say in his own business plan about this important family support plan, "Ontario is the most `cost per case' efficient program in Canada."

In numerous other points in the business plan, the Attorney General and the Attorney General's own staff commented upon how efficient and effective this plan was, the best enforcement agency anywhere in Canada, so how is it that several months after releasing a business plan that praises the family support plan, a business plan written for the Attorney General, I assume approved by the Attorney General and his political staff before it went out to the public, how can it be that we see such a dramatic change in attitude of the Attorney General, and how can it be then that several speakers who got up and read the speech that had been prepared for them by the Attorney General's office could in fact contradict so clearly what had been said about this plan only a few short months ago?


I have to say that the only reason I believe we are starting to see those references now to "flawed and broken" in the Attorney General's comments and in the comments made by other speakers on this bill is that we are in a crisis now, and the changes he made were done directly to lead to that crisis so that he could make a number of changes which I believe will be extremely detrimental to women and families in this province. But he will gain acceptability for that, he will gain public acceptance for that change because the people who are caught now in the current crisis, which I believe he deliberately created, will assume that it's much better to opt out or do other things than it is to try and hold the state accountable for helping them receive support payments or for helping them try to collect arrears.

I think it is most regrettable -- frankly I think it's shameful -- that we now have a crisis that has been deliberately put in place by the Attorney General, a crisis I think which is only there to help him move forward some of the more difficult and, frankly to my mind, unacceptable parts of this legislation in order to get it through. It reminds me of comments that were made very early on in the term of the Minister of Education and Training to his own staff when he said, "We'll have to create a crisis in education in order to implement the changes we want." I think the Attorney General has taken a page out of that book. I sincerely regret he has done that, because I think the consequence of that has been to leave thousands of families across this province right now in acute financial distress, families that used to receive ongoing support payments on a regular basis without a problem until his cuts.

The bill has to be looked at in the context of the crisis because, as I said, the crisis will undoubtedly allow some of the meaner and nastier pieces of this bill to go through. There are two that I want to comment on in particular because they are the two pieces of this that I am most concerned about if they are to be implemented in the shape and the way they appear in Bill 82 as it stands. The first one is the provision to allow payors and recipients to opt out of the plan, and the second is the change which provides the director with the discretion to write off arrears and to determine that there will be no further enforcement taken on cases.

In the first case, the provision to opt out of the plan worries me greatly. Not only is it quite a change from the very firm position we took in government when we said the program had to be mandatory in 1992, but frankly I see nothing in the Attorney General's bill which will deal with coercion. That was one of the reasons we made sure that the bill we put forward would include everyone, because there are no methods in this bill -- and maybe they will appear in the regulations; God knows, because this House won't see them -- there is nothing in place in this bill which will stop that kind of activity. I worry about that because there have been more than one recipient in my office who has had virtually no contact, nor does she want contact, for whatever reason -- it's not my business to know -- but for whatever reason does not want to have contact with the payor again. The plan stands as an independent force between the two of them, ensuring that money flows, ensuring that she is able to look after herself and her family.

What I find so curious is that the position that's being taken by the Attorney General now is quite different from the one which was taken by him in December 1990, when he, as critic, looked at our bill and said very clearly that there should be the involvement of the director in the plan, that payments should be made to the plan, and the director and the staff of the family support plan should be directly responsible for ensuring those payments went out. He said in the House on December 18, 1990, to this end: "I will be introducing two amendments to the bill. The first amendment seeks to allow those persons who are currently meeting the provisions of their support and custody orders to pay them directly to the director, without automatic collection. It is the responsibility of the director to forward these payments on to the support recipient."

Clearly, in 1990, the now minister but the then critic for the Attorney General felt that there was an important public-policy, public-responsibility role for the government to play. The way the government would play that would be to ensure that payors, even if they weren't having their payments garnished and sent in by the employer, should at least have the option to send them in to the director themselves.

I don't understand why the position being taken by the Attorney General now in Bill 82 is different from the one that he was so concerned about, indeed the one he moved an amendment on, in December 1990. I can't describe why he's making such a change and why he feels that the plan has no legitimate role to play in terms of making sure that moneys are flowed in and then flow back out, be it from an employer or from the payor directly. I am only left to assume that it has something to do with the very significant cut in staff that the Attorney General made in August 1996, when overnight he issued layoff notices to more than 44% of the family support plan staff.

While the Attorney General likes to say in this House, "We have doubled the number of front-line staff," he conveniently neglects to mention that he has done that at a cost of cutting 40% of the staff in total and he is also doing that by making people who are going to work on the front line assume the jobs that two and three other people used to do under the former plan. I have to ask him, if the former staff, when they were staffed up to full complement, couldn't enforce arrears collections, how is this plan going to operate and do the same when it's operating with 40% less staff?

The real reason, I think, that the opting-out provision is here, that people can send cheques directly to the recipient without going to the plan, has nothing to do with whether that's a good idea and the Attorney General agrees with it; it has everything to do with the fact that there just won't be enough staff left to cope with the 1,200 new court orders which come on to the plan every month, in and out, of every year. I think that's the real motivation behind the change.

I worry about that, because I think what will happen is you will have people who will decide to opt out because they look at the current crisis they are in and they decide it's better to operate directly with their ex-spouse than to try to work through the plan. Then when they want to go back on to the plan, they will have to pay a fee to do that. But during that whole point in time, they will be in a position -- not all of them, by any stretch, but any number of them will then be in a position to be coerced around other matters that are not monetary, including custody, for example. There is nothing in this bill that would stop those kinds of coercive activities from occurring to those people who opt out.

My second most serious concern around another very important piece of this bill has to do with the discretion which is now afforded the director of the plan to determine which court orders are going to be enforceable and which are not and which arrears are going to be collected and which are not. Again, I think that what's happening here, the first problem we have, is that there will not be enough staff left in the plan, given that 40% of the staff are going to be cut, to do effective enforcement. Even with the other changes that the Attorney General wants to bring forward, I don't believe there will be enough staff to do that kind of work.

My second major concern is that I really believe the Attorney General is more interested in, two years from now, being able to stand up and to say that the plan now has only $300 million or $400 million worth of arrears, so, "Our plan has worked; the changes we have made, the centralization at Downsview, have actually resulted in much less arrears and much more money being collected."

But I think two years down the road, when the Attorney General wants to stand and say that, we will be able to point to the fact that the director of the plan, who is being given the authority in this bill to write off arrears, to determine which cases will be enforced and which won't, will excessively use that power and start to write off millions and millions of dollars of arrears from the point of time from which the bill is passed on to get to a much lower figure. I think that's what's behind the change.


I find that really unacceptable because the people who really need enforcement action the most are the families who are in arrears, especially significant arrears. I want to mention to the House a case I heard that I had given to me about three weeks ago where a woman finally, after eight years, has just discovered that her ex-husband has been found, that a garnishment was put on the employer and that payments were being made. The problem is that this all started to go into effect in August, so even though she knows from the employer of her husband that payments are being made and arrears are starting to be made, because of the crisis at the plan she hasn't seen any of those cheques, hasn't seen one after eight years of finally seeing that there would be some enforcement action taken.

I think that under the government's plan she'll never have to wait eight years, because after two or three years without any enforcement the director is going to decide that case is not enforceable, it's not worth spending either public money, if the plan is still in the public hands, or in the case of a collection agency it's not worth their while, because they're not going to make a big profit on it, to actually put the staff dollars and resources in place to try and enforce that court order. There are thousands of women in this province who I have no doubt are in the same boat.

That is why under our government, and frankly under the Liberals, the cases did not become closed and inactive and shut down permanently. That is why we kept those cases open, because at a certain point in time that person is going to return to Ontario and enforcement action can be taken, or he's going to get a job and a garnishment can go to the employer in that case and try and start to collect arrears and ongoing support, or things will change that will allow for the first time ever those families to get money.

What I fear is happening with the changes proposed by the Attorney General under this section is the ways and means for the Attorney General to wipe out and wipe off the record hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of arrears so that in two years he can stand in his place in this place and say: "See how well all our changes are working. See how well it has worked to have a centralized operation at Downsview." I fear that is the motivation behind that change, and that will mean thousands of families that deserve and need court-ordered support will never see it.

My concern about the bill overall is with respect to the ability of the Attorney General to implement the changes when he has been completely incapable of managing what was supposed to be a transition from mid-August until now. I have to speak about that as well, because when I look at the business plan, the business plan issued at the beginning of February this year made it clear that if the Attorney General was to proceed in reducing the staff to the extent that he wanted to and in cutting the regional offices, there would be chaos in the plan. The plan says very clearly that recipients would see this as a backward step, that recipients would see a reduced service level over the time of the change, that the plan had to, from day one, be fully staffed before the change took place, that you couldn't lay off people in mid-August and start to hire them in mid-November like this Attorney General has done.

There were numerous suggestions that came from front-line staff to say, "If you want to cut operating expenses of the plan by 35%, here are the ways and means we can do it without laying off the experienced staff, without closing the regional offices." The Attorney General ignored those many suggestions that came from his dedicated front-line staff. The Attorney General ignored the advice that came from his own senior management staff about what the impact would be if he laid off all the people in one day and closed the regional office. The Attorney General in this province ignored that advice from his front-line staff, from his senior management staff, and instead thought it was all right to throw thousands of women into financial distress in the way that he has, women and children who used to receive regular support payments, month in, month out, without a problem.

We have raised numerous cases in this House to try to get attention to this matter, to try to show how wrong it was and it is for this Attorney General to finance his portion of the tax cut on the backs of these families, because that's what it was all about. It was a blatant, partisan, political move to finance the tax cut, to take out his share of what was owing to finance the tax cut and to offer it up to his colleague the Treasurer. He did that on the backs of all of these families who used to receive support on a regular basis.

I have 104 cases in my office now. I have 39 where we have had no resolution because we can't even get a call back from the family support plan. I have women who call every day, who are receiving eviction notices, who are receiving notices from Hydro, from Bell Canada that the services are going to be cut off, who are going to food banks now because they do not have the funds they need to put food on the table for their families. I have never in my nine years as an MPP seen anything like it, not even with respect to workers' compensation, which is another issue and a number of other cases that we do a lot of in my office.

I blame the Attorney General for the financial crises that these women and children are in, and I ask him, and I would ask some of you to ask him, why it was that he thought he knew so much better than his front-line staff and his management staff about what was going to happen if he did what he eventually did. Why did he think he knew better than everyone who operated within the plan, everyone who understood all the complexities, all of the senior staff who had operated with the plan for a long time? Why did he think he knew so much better than they? And why did he move to cause so much crisis for people right across the province?

In fact, the system that he talks about, that he says with much pride is now working, the telephone system and the amount of money that is going out, is really a farce. Last week in London there was a most interesting meeting that took place, about 30 women there who were talking about their concerns, and they made it clear that the telephone system which he has trumpeted about in here on a number of occasions doesn't work at all.

Here is Mrs Taylor. Wendy Taylor, a mother of two, had support payments regularly for 14 years. They stopped when the London office closed. She said she's had problems getting through to a support plan worker on the toll-free line for months. On Monday, she said, she finally got through, "...but the woman on the other end of the phone line said I'm not on file and hung up. After 14 years they don't have a file on me? I don't think I've ever been treated so rudely in my life."

This was the same circumstance for Michelle Murphy. She placed a call to the family support plan Tuesday after reading in the London Free Press that Harnick had said the plan's problems are fixed. The woman who answered the phone said Michelle was not on line and could not help. Michelle said, "They may be answering calls, but they still can't do a damn thing for you."

That was the same kind of case that was raised in here today by my colleague from Beaches-Woodbine. It's the same kind of case that I raised in here on behalf of my constituent, where since the end of August my office has been faxing in every two weeks on a regular basis his UIC stubs to prove that he is on UIC, and we have not yet been able to get his court order varied. That's because not only are the phone lines not working, there is not enough staff in that place to cope with what's happening.

We also know that while the Attorney General, I believe it was today, said that some $20 million had been collected and disbursed by the plan in the first three weeks of November, that figure falls far short of what this plan did in April, May and June of this year. In April, the plan disbursed $34 million to recipients, $4.2 million to FBA; $44 million in May to recipients, $4.2 million to FBA; in June $39.4 million out to recipients, $5.6 million back to FBA.

Regardless of what the Attorney General has said in this House, this plan is falling far short of what it used to be and it probably explains why we as an NDP caucus haven't been able to get from them the monthly stats on the disbursements, even though we asked for them every day last week. My concern with the bill is that, as we saw with this transition, the minister will be completely incapable of making the provisions work because there won't be enough staff at the family support plan to implement them.


The Acting Speaker (Ms Marilyn Churley): Questions or comments?

Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel): I have a few comments with respect to the remarks made by the member for Sudbury East. She appears to be dealing with two basic issues: one is the bill itself, which is basically a bill that makes enforcement measures in Ontario tougher, and the second is the transition between a decentralized system to a centralized system.

The bill has been put forward to protect women and children around this province. Since 1990, when I was first elected, many of the complaints that I heard in my office were from women who were having difficulty enforcing their rights to collect from their spouses. Any family lawyer, whom I'm sure the member has spoken to in this province, or certainly many of us have spoken to in this province, will tell you the system has not worked. The problem with respect to enforcement has clearly been a joke. In fact, many legal people, when they act for spouses, whether husbands or wives, will do what they can to keep it from being an order; in other words, rely strictly on the issue of being a separation agreement. Why did they do that? Because they then had control of their own actions. Garnishment proceedings could be taken almost instantaneously.


Mr Tilson: Well, they could get it in three days. My goodness, it took three months sometimes to get action when you start off a process to register your order. That was totally unsatisfactory. There were all kinds of people who simply didn't want to be part of the process.

With respect to enforcement, I again emphasize what this bill is doing. It will suspend drivers' licences for defaulting payors; it will report to credit bureaus parents who fail to pay their support; it will expand the definition of income to include advances, commission, severance and lump sum payments; and finally, it will take action against defaulting payors and those who help them in sheltering assets.

Mr Mario Sergio (Yorkview): I wish to congratulate the member for Sudbury East on her comments with respect to the unfairness that is built into this particular bill. Instead of the bill proposing to improve further the assistance to families and children, I think it goes a long way to take away whatever protection they have now. I wonder, and I think the member for Sudbury East has said it very well, how we can offer more protection when we are eliminating those service agencies that offer support to women and children.

The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act was meant to improve the system as it is. What we have seen here is solely a change in the name, taking away the improvement that the bill was supposed to do.

They have eliminated two thirds of the staff, so how can we offer a better service to women and children when you eliminate two thirds of the staff? They have closed many of the regional offices -- as a matter of fact, all of them -- and they have centralized all the services, all the system, in one particular office. They have created a 1-800 number to reach across the province for service and stuff like that.

Instead of giving more assistance, more help, to those people in need, what we have created is a terrible mess. We have created a bureaucratic nightmare. If the people are calling our office in droves, it's because they do not receive the assistance that the bill was supposed to give. I wish to commend the member for Sudbury East.

Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): I just want to briefly congratulate the member for Sudbury East for clearly outlining, as she has done, the problems that exist with respect to this area of support and custody orders in enforcement of these payments.

I know that members opposite want to try and pretend that this piece of legislation is all of a sudden going to fix all the problems we have. I think it's important to note, as the member for Sudbury East herself pointed out, that there have always been problems in this area. None of us is standing here claiming that the system was perfect. Any of us who have had any dealings at all with this system know there have been problems historically, but the sheer reality that the government members want to try to ignore is that the actions that have been taken by the Harris government and the minister now responsible are causing the kind of havoc that we see in the system now.

The system was working to the extent that it was allowing women, largely women as we know, who were entitled to payments from their spouses to get those payments. Now we have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of situations in which that is no longer happening, and it's not happening simply and only because of the staff cuts and the changes that this minister and this government have brought about. It's as simple as that.

People are seeing here a very clear example of what the Mike Harris revolution is all about because now we are able to see that those "nameless bureaucrats" this government likes to attack are actually people who in this case were providing good and useful service. When you take those people out of the system, when you cut the system up, as this government is doing, you have the effect that the member for Sudbury East has pointed out, which is that thousands of women are no longer getting the money they are entitled to.

Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): It's interesting to listen to the response from the member for Oakwood, who points out that while there were problems in the system and there are problems in the system, no plan is perfect. Well, nobody's trying to reach perfection. I think we fall back on it. If it's broken or there are problems, the only way -- it has to be an absolute model of perfection. Well, human beings aren't perfect, so why go to that ideal state?

What we're trying to achieve here is to fix up a problem that was, in my estimation from talking with constituents, a major fundamental problem not only in terms of enforcement but the dollar amount. If the NDP believes it was such a great plan back then and everything was working reasonably well, one reality I'd like to pose a question on is why the amount of outstanding arrears owed by those fathers who weren't paying their required amounts into the plan was $905 million. I find that an astounding figure. They say the plan was working reasonably well. Then why was there this outstanding amount? In my estimation, that was one of the fundamental root causes as to why the Attorney General had to introduce a new model of administration.

The other standard response is: "You can't ever change the number of people dealing with an issue. You have to have the status quo number. In fact, you have to increase it." I probably will be hearing an argument from them soon that you have to have a ratio of one bureaucrat to each new case coming in, so when you have 1,500 per month, you'd have to add 1,500 new people.

Those are some of the reasons why we've been dealing with this problem.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Sudbury East.

Ms Martel: Starting backwards, in response to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, maybe you can explain to the public why your minister cut the staff by 40%, because that's what he did on August 1. He went in and issued layoff notices to over 40% of the staff, and those people aren't going to get their jobs back.

The second thing that he does is to try to fool the public by saying there are going to be all these new front-line staff. He conveniently neglects to mention, of course, that the front-line staff are now going to be doing the jobs that two and three other people used to do, quite separate and apart from the additional responsibilities which are going to be laid on them when and if this bill is passed.

Maybe you can explain why he cut 35% of the operating grant to the family support plan -- that will happen over two years -- and we have been left with the chaos that we have. The fact of the matter is, even though members across the way don't want to admit it, that as a direct result of that cut and the cut in staff, thousands of women and children who used to receive regular support payments across this province are not. Every single case we've raised in this House has been that similar circumstance and that similar situation.

I say to the member for Dufferin-Peel, who said again that the system has not worked, if he looks back to the enforcement that went on and the money that was collected, we went from collecting $19.9 million in 1987-88 to $367 million in 1994-95. Was it working well? Not as well as it could have been. Was it better than anything we'd had in place before? It sure was, because before, under 42 years of Conservative government, we didn't have anything. We had no enforcement mechanism whatsoever. Women and children had to take their chance in court, pay for lawyers, deal with the sheriff and try to seize what they could because this was not a huge public policy matter for you folks when you were in government for 42 years.


The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Hastings: It's interesting to join this debate in terms of Bill 82, which I obviously favour because it's going to make some major changes and rectify some of the problems we've been dealing with for the past few years.

As mentioned earlier, the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, replaces the 1992 Family Support Plan Act, which is the current legislative mandate for the Ontario support plan. I must say I am really proud of the Attorney General, to see a new act giving Ontario some of the toughest payment enforcement measures in North America.

The NDP caucus across the floor continuously talks about the fact that the old plan was working, working really well. The member for Sudbury East just alluded to the fact that they had increased the amount of support payments from approximately $19 million up to over $300 million. However, even if that figure is true -- and I can't challenge her because I think probably looking at the historical pattern, that would have occurred -- you still have to take into account, in my estimation, that the family support plan is broken. It's not working. The opposition knows this. Our critics know this. We know that the women and children who are expecting to receive these enforcement payments for their financial livelihood know that fact too. They know the plan is broken because many families have been without support for over two years. I could show the member for Sudbury East specific cases in my own office.

The NDP say everything's practically fine, that there were hardly any problems with the family support plan until the Attorney General started to tamper with it. If the plan is so great and it's working so marvellously well, I still come back to the figure which the member for Sudbury East conveniently ignored, and that is the amount of outstanding arrear payments: $905 million. That is a huge figure. Judging the plan's past history and success, I guess we have to now put a new definition of success into any dictionary, and that would be that if you have increased the amount of payments, you are successful, and you just sort of ignore the $905 million that is still outstanding.

It is estimated that at the current rate of collection, even by our own best efforts, with the assorted problems of implementation we have, we are going to end up having a system owing about $1 billion in early February 1997. I ask you, should taxpayers be expected to pick up the bill when far too many fathers easily dodge their responsibilities?

Why does the Attorney General have to fix problems with the family support plan? Again, I want to reiterate that fundamental fact, that fundamental reality, that there's about $1 billion currently outstanding in child support payments. That $1 billion means that women and children are denied the support they need. They suffer and are often forced into poverty. We recognize that fact as much as any member across the way.

The single mothers of Etobicoke use their support payments to provide food, shelter and clothing for their children. It is imperative that they receive the support payments to which they are legally entitled. Under the NDP, 77% of the plan's cases were not in full compliance, another interesting fact when you define success. For the benefit of the NDP, "full compliance means that all payments are fully up to date."

A third problem with the family support plan as it was is that the current caseload of 148,000 is growing at a rate of about 1,400 cases per month. That's an astounding figure. It shows what's happening in our society in terms of relations between the spouses and how that spills over, adversely affecting children and families of all ages. Many people notice how easy it is to default on their payments without any chances of getting caught under the NDP plan, so they cease paying, leaving children to suffer.

Bill 82 ensures that women and children in Ontario get the justice and the financial support to which they are entitled. Under this act people who do not meet their family support responsibilities will be subject to a number of new enforcement measures. These include driver's licence suspension, credit bureau reporting, third-party enforcement, private sector partnerships to recoup debts, garnishment of joint bank accounts, better tracing and locating of defaulting payors and, finally, seizing lottery winnings. In addition, the government will also screen judicial appointments and appointments to any agencies, boards and commissions to ensure that the province does not appoint people who fail to provide and pay for their child support.

These tough enforcement measures are consistent with legislation created in other jurisdictions. Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and more than 20 American states have some form of licence suspension or licence withholding to collect support arrears. Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have introduced legislation to suspend drivers' licences to collect support arrears.

Concurrent with these legislative changes, service improvements are being put in place, and this is the most difficult part to deal with in terms of the transition. These service improvements include the following: increasing the number of staff who are available to answer calls; introducing one-stop shopping so that one client server can respond to a client's inquiry; making it easier for customers to call or fax during a 24-hour period; providing greater consistency in specialized services by consolidating all operations into one location.

A transition team is in place to implement our government's improvements to the family support plan. I can speak from experience that my constituents who were not -- and I emphasize that word again -- not receiving support are now breathing easier because of the improved service, quite a contrary reality to what we're constantly hearing over there. I'm wondering why that is, and I'll deal with that in my follow-up remarks.

I must say that one of my constituents, Ms Genevieve King, was in danger of losing everything. She had spent all of her life savings to maintain her house, utilities, phone and cable. She had not received one penny from her ex-spouse in over two years, long before our government was elected. I can inform the House that she is now receiving the support to which she was entitled over two years ago, support that was long overdue.

I have an example of another constituent, Cindy King, who was in a similar situation. She called me from a pay phone at one time, because she lost her phone service, to ask if there was any way of receiving her support payments. I can't tell you the joy I experienced, and I was personally involved with this one, when she got a call from my office that her household phone had been relinked and she was finally getting her payments.

I'd like to say, finally, that maybe one of the problems the opposition constantly hectors us about in the changeover is that they are not trained to deal with it in a more constructive way. I listen day by day in this House to some of these people who are used, I believe naïvely in a way, as pawns to support a political justification, a political modus operandi, that if we just left everything the way it was there'd be hardly any problems, even though I come back to the point that there's another $905 million that's not being enforced. There are no payments being received. The test of this new plan will be in the next two to three years in terms of getting that amount down through these new mechanisms of payment for an enforcement of the support orders that are outstanding.


The other thing I would like to add is that I believe provision is in the act for two spouses to work together on sorting out their finances for their children and whichever spouse is to be the receiver of financial aid without going into the support plan. To me, that's one of the best innovations in this legislation in terms of reducing that rate of 1,400 cases monthly in dealing with this problem.

Nobody said that in going to a new operation there weren't going to be problems, and I think the Attorney General has done the best he can. Certainly we're all human and maybe we haven't got the technology in place yet, but I think if the members of the opposition would work more with the staff of the Attorney General's ministry and try to get some of the most outstanding emergency cases down instead of using them as political criticism points only, then we would get through some of this, so that as we come into the Christmas season some of these families won't be standing out there in the cold, as is pointed out constantly by the member for Sudbury East.

I would simply like to add that this, I believe, is a good bill in terms of getting us into a new operation, getting up the technology and getting, above all, the amount of moneys outstanding over the last several years reduced significantly. That will be the litmus test, I believe, in terms of showing that this will be good legislation passed by this government.

The Acting Speaker: Questions and comments?

Mr Jean-Marc Lalonde (Prescott and Russell): I'm glad to hear that some of the members of the government recognize that we have gone a little too far too soon with this amalgamation or the centralizing of the program.

Mr Hastings: Who said that?

Mr Lalonde: Well, you just said the technology's not in place yet. We tried to put the technology in place a little too soon because we did not analyse the system before we centralized all the services right here in Toronto. In eastern Ontario we have closed the office in Ottawa. Just in my riding alone -- I'm looking at the list I just received from my riding office -- 31 persons called last week to say they haven't received their payment yet, and most of them, their husbands have had their paycheque deducted.

Why have they not received their amount of money as yet? It's because the government hasn't got the technology in place as yet. I'm looking at one person here -- I won't name the name, but this one is $9,750 in arrears. This is in monthly payments. I don't think the government has the technology in place and I still say, once again, it's a shame to try and reduce the number of employees when we don't have all the services in place. I know the goal of the government is to reduce the number of jobs, but to reduce the number of jobs, really, when the technology is there. We don't have it yet.

At the present time in my riding alone we've been getting calls that the hydro has been cut to their apartment, there have been rent arrears, the people are getting thrown out of their apartment because they haven't paid their landlord. But I'm still saying that the government recognizes that it has made a mistake. Let's hope they will do everything in their power to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I nearly leapt to my feet and objected to the imputation of motive in the speech by the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, but then, looking at the source, decided there wasn't any point in trying to make that point in a point of order. He has suggested that the only reason we are concerned is to try and make a political point, and he's wrong. We are concerned because people who were getting their money are not getting their money now and it's causing them a lot of difficulty.

The member is quite right. There are hundreds of millions of dollars outstanding in support payments. That is why we will be supporting the increased enforcement that's in this bill, even though we are sceptical that some of those measures will stand up to a challenge in a court of law. We will be supporting them because we think it is our job as legislators to do what we can to ensure that these dollars are paid, since they are the entitlement of those deemed to be recipients under support orders.

The member also needs to know that if he thinks the Attorney General is going to be able to measure his success by dumping all the hard-to-collect cases off the rolls, $450 million, in his own words, that he deems to be uncollectible, and by dumping off all those people who've become so discouraged by the plan, because of the mess he's made of it in the transition, and therefore those dollars won't be collectible by the plan, anyone is going to believe that's success, the member is wrong.

If the Attorney General put these measures into place and saw over a period of a couple of years how many of those outstanding dollars were collected with these new measures and then made some determination as to whether it was appropriate to deem some of those uncollectible, we might be impressed. But we know what he's trying to do. He's trying to show that he's more efficient and effective by writing off hundreds of millions of dollars that aren't owed to him, that are owed to women and children.

Mr Tilson: The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale I think has emphasized the crux of this whole issue, that there has been a whole slew of problems with respect to this legislation. It's not going to go away overnight. It's not going to just happen with a snap of a finger. It's going to take some time. We are changing the system substantially. But when you look at the problem with the system now under the old plan, support payors owe nearly $1 billion in arrears to women and children. Only 23% of cases are in full compliance.

Mrs Boyd: Twenty-nine per cent.

The Acting Speaker: The member for London Centre.

Mr Tilson: No payments are being made in almost half of all cases. There's always been a limitation to phone access. There are nearly 50,000 calls a day, only 6% of which were answered in the past. Clients were unable to reach the staff member responsible for their file. This is under the old system that we're changing. A case often travelled through 13 different staff before they became resolved, and 8,000 pieces of mail arrived every day. There's a huge and growing caseload.

You can see from all these facts that we have to change the system, that the system has to be changed. The bill that's before this House, of which particularly the members of the third party are saying they will be supporting or have indicated they're going to support some of the enforcement parts -- clearly the system that exists now does not work, and that's why this whole process is being changed. The decentralized system was flawed, and we believe the centralized system is going to alleviate many concerns in this province.

There's a huge and growing caseload. In November 1996 there are 150,000 cases and 1,400 new cases are being added each month. The system has to be changed.

The Acting Speaker: Further questions or comments?

Mr Sergio: Does the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale want his two minutes?

The Acting Speaker: No. He will be after you.

Mr Sergio: I am pleased to take a few minutes and --

The Acting Speaker: Is this questions and comments?

Mr Sergio: No.

The Acting Speaker: Excuse me. There's one more two-minute response, if the member for Oriole would like to take it.

Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole): Yes. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The comment I would make after listening to this debate is that the family support plan is more broken today than it has ever been in its history. That is because in its zeal to cut money from the family support plan and other programs to fund its tax cut this government has placed women and children who are already in a vulnerable and difficult situation in an impossible situation. We all recognize that the family support plan needs to be fixed and repaired and put in a way that will better serve women and their children, because of the delinquency rates we have seen in this province, where some 75% of spouses have walked away from obligations to their children.

However, this government did not move in a thoughtful way to fix the plan. They closed the regional offices, cut $38 million from the supports, and when they were faced with chaos stood up and said, "There have always been problems with the plan."


The reality is there have always been problems with the plan, but the Harris government exacerbated those problems, have hurt women and their children, and are standing there today trying to say to people that it's not their fault. I say to them, it is their responsibility and they must be accountable to the women and children and spouses in this province who are not getting the support cheques and to those spouses who are paying those funds and not seeing them directed to their children. They too are angry.

That was not a problem that existed before this government cut the legs out from under the family support plan and didn't move in a thoughtful way to fix it in a way that would see that women and their children got the support they were entitled to and that was needed. For that, they will be blamed, and appropriately blamed.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, you may sum up.

Mr Hastings: I appreciate the remarks of the member for London Centre regarding how she analyses the state of the family support plan. She's very knowledgeable on the subject, as I know she operated a facility for women who were battered etc.

I'd just like to reiterate to other comments made by the member for Oriole, who is very good at getting into the game of blaming, I hear often in this House the status quo solution: If you didn't cut, didn't make any changes, everything would be practically fine. The alternative solution then is, if you only increased the amount of staff, you'd be able to solve the problems faster. At the rate of the increase of the numbers per month, heck, you'd have a staff probably of about 20% of the total civil service in the province to solve the problem.

When the member for London Centre made her remarks, it twigged an idea in my mind, that for those families affected by the changes and the transition of the family support plan to the newer administrative arrangement, I will personally be dealing with probably a good number of cases where utilities are about to be turned off, phones reduced or cut off, to see if we can make arrangements for those folks who aren't getting their payments to get the third parties, such as the utilities or Bell Canada or whatever, the landlord, to extend some consideration to these people who are drastically affected, particularly when you get the consent of the people involved to be able to show the data that justify that they do have actual support payments there.

The Acting Speaker: Your time is up. Further debate?

Mr Sergio: As I was saying before, I'm delighted to join the debate on Bill 82. It's a very important bill. With this introduction, let me say that the government is trying to divert the main focus from the intent of the bill on to legislators and the unaware public, from the very real problem that we have, both as servants of the public and the public that should be receiving that particular service from the family support plan. It is indeed what we have heard, especially in the last few days, a chorus of problems associated with the delivery of service from the family support plan today.

We don't need a new plan with a fancy name; we need, indeed, some services, a system from the government on behalf of the many women and children it is supposed to represent. What we need, indeed, is a Premier, a minister, a government that can understand, that can grasp the consequences imposed upon the families and children as a result of the changes that Bill 82 entails.

We cannot reach an improved system with less resources. This is an area where we cannot do more with less. In August 1996 the government proposed reform to the family resource centre. Actually, they call it the responsible family office; it should be called the irresponsible government office. What it does is the opposite of what they said they would do to protect and offer assistance and service to the many families.

How can we in all honesty address fairly the content of the bill when it involves cutting two thirds of the staff, when it involves closing all the regional offices around the province, when it involves centralizing all those services into one location -- we have heard the horror stories from that office in Downsview -- when it involves creating solely a 1-800 number for people across the province to get some assistance and help?

We have a changing of the guard here, we have a change of Speaker, so now we have Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, how can we take this particular proposal seriously when they have created a bureaucratic mess? It takes now up to six, eight weeks of delay trying to get not only some service, some assistance, but an answer from the family support service plan. It's all because of the cuts, because now we have created an overly overloaded system. It is being staffed with inadequate and inefficient staff, if I may say, and I'll tell you why. When I say that, I don't mean to be disrespectful to our staff who are involved. They are on the front line, serving the many clients and the many needs.

This is creating a truly unnecessary burden on families and children. It's creating a lot of unnecessary anxiety, not only to get what they are entitled to, but look at the particular time the situation happens to be in. We are facing a long, cold winter, we are facing the holidays, and I don't have to tell you what children and parents, mothers, go through, especially at this time of the year. I won't go into details as to how a mother feels when she cannot afford to give their kid some of the things that other kids receive during a festive season.

Truly, I call on the Attorney General to concede that the so-called reform of the family support plan is a complete failure and should be stopped, should be halted immediately. Let me tell you why. You have heard horror stories from other members of the House. I just want to give you some of mine that I get on a daily basis, that we receive in my office on a daily basis.

This plight comes from one of my constituents who has been trying since the month of July to get an answer, to get some assistance, to speak to a human voice, to speak to someone at the family support centre. Finally, around 6:45, 7 o'clock one day, he finds this message on his cell phone. It says: "This is the family support plan returning your call. I am sorry I did not reach you. I regret I cannot leave you my name and I do not have a number I can leave either. I hope this matter can be resolved."

Can you believe that? On top of that, to make matters worse, the caller wants to leave the address with my constituent and the caller spells out the province, spells out Ontario, spells out the address of the family support service.

Can you believe that, Mr Speaker? How would you feel if one of your constituents were to call your office and say, "This is what I've been getting after four months, from July, and I have a very serious particular problem and I want some help, some assistance"? He finally got it, but not until he got frustrated and called the local MPP's office, my office. We were able to serve that constituent and others, but my point and the point of our members here is that this should not be necessary. This should be normal service that our constituents, our taxpayers, the residents of our province should be receiving on a daily basis without delay.


I question whether the Attorney General, in his wildest dreams, could find the most minute hint of customer service in this reply or whether he will just concede that this so-called reform of the family support plan is an abject failure and should be halted. I request that the Attorney General act quickly to address the justifiable concerns of those who must deal daily with the consequences of his ill-fated, ill-timed and poorly planned action. We have heard from the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale that there are some $905 million in arrears and that by February 1997 this is going to be even bigger, that it's going to be over $1 billion.

It's not a question of dealing with constructive ways or comments, as the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale said, here from our side. We are. The problem is that the government is not listening. In all honesty, if we have a system that is failing the people of Ontario, mothers and children, why the government would go and make all those cuts, making the system even worse to administer, doesn't make any sense. We find absolutely no common sense in that way. The question is that we're being neither up front nor helpful and, if I may say, and I hope this isn't unparliamentary, we're not being honest with the people of Ontario.

To make that point let me read to you something one of our most-read correspondents, Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun, says:

"Just what did you think Harris was talking about?

"To be sure, there are many valid criticisms one can level against the Harris government, but they are based on things the Tories did say they would do.

"They did say (on page 3) that they would protect health care funding, spending on classroom education and priority areas of law enforcement. Well, even supporters like me" -- that's Goldstein talking -- "are having a hard time understanding exactly what all that means right now.

"For example, when the Tories promised they would not touch `a penny of health care funding' surely they knew the public would take that as an indication they were not planning a major upheaval such as the mass closing of hospitals."

To be fair, I'm going to finish the sentence. "Well, since the Tories clearly were thinking about closing hospitals, they should have said so. It's not that this is a bad idea -- we should have started 20 years ago -- the point is the Tories should have been up front.

"Same goes for education reforms. For example, in their pre-election document `A Blueprint for Learning in Ontario' the Tories promised to address the desperate need for more English as a Second Language teachers in Metro, a need directly created by federal immigration policies. So far they've done nothing." This comes from one of your supporters in the Toronto Sun.

I think the message is quite clear. The message that we are getting and are trying to get across to the government is that the people of Ontario do not want a USA style of government. They do not wish to have US-style policies, a US-made style of social service assistance, or a US-style health system or education system. Neither do people wish to have an Ontario with a US-style society.

So, Mr Premier, stop the persecution, stop the oppression and guide yourself to govern with compassion and dignity and a sense of responsibility. The people of Ontario are not asking for much. They are asking for equality, fairness and justice, and I don't think we should give them any less.

To complete my remarks, I would like to say that the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act is quite irresponsible. What we need is a responsible government to deliver those services that people are entitled to get.

The Acting Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?

Mrs Caplan: I'd like to compliment my colleague Mr Sergio, the member for Yorkview. I think he pointed out in his comments what we are all experiencing in our constituency offices, and that is the enormous frustration of a government approach to the family support program that has resulted in phone calls not being answered, people being unable to get a person to talk to them, women and their children not getting the money they are entitled to, and men who have in good faith seen the dollars flow to the family support office and never get to their ex-wives and their children whom they want to support.

So the frustration that the member for Yorkview spoke so passionately about is something that I think each and every one of us on both sides of the House has experienced. I see some members of the government caucus here as they listen very carefully to what we have to say, and I know they are experiencing the same thing in their own constituency offices.

The reason this happened is because the government was determined to cut, and they were determined to cut for the purpose of funding their tax scheme. As a result, they cut the family support program, which already had problems, they cut the regional offices, they cut the staff, and then they exclaimed that they were surprised that there was no one to answer the phone, that the computers were not up and functioning, that the offices were not only non-functional but dysfunctional. And when the phone calls started in their constituency offices, as my colleague pointed out to them, their response was, "This has been a problem for a long time." Well, as my colleague pointed out and as we all know, they created the problem that exists today and they must stand accountable, and this legislation is not going to fix it.

Mr Silipo: I also want to commend the member for Yorkview because, like many others who have stood up here during debate of this piece of legislation and during question period, he has pointed out the experience that he has had first hand with constituents in his own riding, people who are experiencing the breakdown that has occurred in the plan. The reality is -- I know members from the government side simply want to pretend that these are not the facts, but this is what's happening -- that as a result of the cuts in staffing that the government has put in place in this area, we are seeing that people who were receiving payments before are no longer receiving those payments. You can work it around however you want, but that's the sheer reality. The system is not working because you have broken it. The system isn't functioning. It's not putting into the hands of people who deserve it, people whose money it is, not because of huge systematic problems -- those are there. We know that they're there, that those have been there and we can agree some changes need to be made to fix those.

As I said earlier and we will continue to say, we are not standing here saying the system was perfect. It was not and it was not, but the reality is that it is in far worse shape today as a result of the actions of this government than it was before, and the actions of this government were clearly to cut almost 300 staff from the service, people who were providing the flow of that money into the hands largely of women so they could take care of themselves and their children. That isn't happening and the only thing we have as the way to deal with that is to continue to raise these cases one by one as we get to know them.


Mr Tilson: The member for Yorkview, as do most of his colleagues, in opposition at least, is trying to give the impression that these problems developed in August and he knows that's not the case. He knows that enforcement of this whole issue of support has been an absolute failure since its inception and it cries out to be changed. In fact, very few of his comments were made with respect to the enforcement part of the bill. Most of his comments had to do with the transition stage, and it's not going to be easy.

As I indicated with respect to the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale, as to the problems we've had with respect to this legislation, the original piece of legislation, as you know, was proclaimed in 1987, and prior to the introduction of the SCOE act as many as 85% of the support orders were in some degree of default. In 1988 the caseload was 25,600. In 1992, when the NDP changed the legislation, that caseload became 93,500. The two significant changes of the NDP were the universal application and the automatic deduction for support from wages. That hasn't worked either because in August 1996 there's a caseload of 148,000. It's not working, and that's increasing at 1,400 per month. If we don't do something, if we continue on with the plan you people thought up, it would just become a complete shambles.

So don't blame us for these problems. We're changing the problems. We're going to make the system work. The reason for the bill is that we need more effective tools to target child support and that's what we're going to do.

Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): The member identified many of the problems that exist at the present time with the plan and of course the reason we have so many of these problems is the government's absolute obsession with cutting absolutely everything. Most people out there I talk to, even those who support the government, believe the government is moving far too quickly and far too drastically and not taking into account the ramifications of its actions.

One of the best examples of this is the family support plan action by the government. They were obsessed with cutting costs so they decided they would close the regional offices. They did not put into place an alternative for those regional offices and so the situation that exists there can only be described as chaotic at the present time. It seems to be a classic case of total incompetence on the part of the government. Things are just out of control in this particular office.

Many of us in the opposition have been standing to ask specific questions in the House and some general questions about matters related to support and custody. The government members no doubt are also getting a large number of telephone calls at their constituency offices. They will say not; I suggest if you went past the members and talked to their staff, you would find out that in fact that is the case. The difference now is it's much more difficult to resolve the problems for them. A second significant difference is that we now have both spouses agreeing that the support and custody office is the problem. Before, it was one spouse fighting with another spouse over matters related to support and custody and payments. Today they are both phoning the office, one saying, "I am paying," the other saying, "I am not receiving, though I know my spouse is paying." That's what this issue is all about. That's why people are concerned.

The Acting Speaker: The member for Yorkview has two minutes to respond.

Mr Sergio: Indeed, that is why people are concerned. I would like to thank the members who have taken the time to comment and respond to my brief presentation: the member for Oriole, my colleague from Dovercourt and the members for Dufferin-Peel and St Catharines.

Let me say that we on this side wish absolutely nothing less than a system that would deliver the assistance really that the people need out there, especially at this particular time of the year. There's no question that the system needs some improving, needs some changes, but what we are saying as a constructive argument and not to score points, as the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale said -- this is not an issue to play political games. This is not an issue to score political points on. This is very real. It's a very serious issue. The problem we have with it and with the government, if we continue to come back on to that, is because we cannot say that indeed you are going to improve the system when you are proposing to cut two thirds of the staff, you are going to be closing all the regional offices, you are going to be concentrating all the services from one particular office and then tell people that you want to offer that particular service: "You call this 1-800 number."

I gave you previously in my presentation one particular instance where some of my constituents have been calling and it's just impossible to get a human voice over there. The reality of the matter is that next year we expect still more cuts to the Attorney General's office, something like another $115 million. How can we say constructively that the proposed changes are going to be doing a better service to those people who expect service from the system?

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Silipo: I am glad to join this debate, a debate that I have to say I wish were being done in a different context. As we've had occasion to mention more than once, all of us could readily agree that making changes -- the minister here calls this the family responsibility act. But making changes to the system that enforces the payment of support between spouses -- and, as we know, that means largely from men towards women -- is something I think we could all readily agree, as others of my colleagues have traced the history of the system from its introduction in 1987 by the Liberal government to the changes that we made in 1992 and now these changes, is a system that has worked because there was nothing prior to 1987, and a system at the same time that requires some improvements.

There are measures, particularly some of the stricter enforcement measures in this bill, that I personally like and I know that many of our colleagues are quite comfortable with. But when I said I regret the context in which we are having this debate, it's because we know what has been happening in the last number of weeks, in the last number of months particularly, as a result of changes that were made by this government and the current Attorney General to the system and to the plan.

We know we had a system that was collecting payments from spouses and then turning that money over to the spouses as required by law. Then the government comes in and, as part of its cost-cutting schemes, decides that in this area, just as in many other areas, they have to make cuts. Why? They like to say because they want to make the system more efficient. They use the fact that there was a greater caseload in 1995 than there was in 1992 as somehow being something that was bad rather than seeing it as a great example of the fact that the system was working, that we had more people on the system as a result of actions we took as a government to ensure that women who were owed money from their spouses were getting that money.

The way to do that was by having a system that provided for the automatic deduction of those payments. Yes, that increased the caseload. That was the point. That's exactly the point. That's how you go about ensuring that people who are owed money so they can take care of themselves and their children get that from their spouses: by having a system in place that provides for those payments to be made indirectly. That's a point I want to come back to because it's significant.


We're seeing here in this bill one of the things we don't like: the departure from the basic principle that payments made indirectly into the plan and then from the plan to the spouse to whom those funds were owing. I reiterate this point: The fact that there has been in the period from 1992 to 1995 an increase in the caseload is an indication that the plan was doing what it was supposed to do: to get money from one spouse who was required by law to pay it to the other spouse, and we'll continue to repeat that it's largely from men to women so they can take care of themselves and their children.

I would think that's a system we want to uphold, that we want to make sure that basic premise of it is not only upheld, but if it can be expanded we ought to expand that. Why? Because when you have that system in place it means you don't have spouses using the question of the payment of support as a reason for an ongoing fight or dispute between them.

I raise this issue as someone who, before coming to this House, did a little bit of work as a lawyer in the area of family law. I want to tell you that one of the most troubling things I found in that area was how it was more common than uncommon that spouses decided to use questions of custody, support and support payments as a way to continue the dispute and the fight between them. It was one of the things I found most difficult to deal with as a lawyer. One of the points, one of the basic tenets behind this plan was to try to remove that part of it, to say that both parents, to the extent that they were determined in law, had an obligation to their children regardless of whatever issues led to the breakup in the family, that when it came to support there had to be in place a mechanism that took the dispute out to the side, that said regardless of what happened, regardless of the history, regardless of what led to the family breakdown and separation or divorce, as the case might be, there was an obligation to ensure that children in particular continue to be supported financially. That continues and needs to continue to be an obligation parents have.

There was a basic element in the plan that is important to maintain and expand. When we look at this legislation, and as my colleague the member for London Centre and my colleague for Sudbury East earlier on have outlined, one area that troubles us in this legislation is the opting-out provisions. One of the things this will do is to revert back into the system only those cases that continue to be problematic. I recall the member for London Centre making the point very explicitly the other day that this, among other things, will be a problem not just for the people receiving the funds but for the people making the payments, because it now becomes a tool the employer is able to use against that person as an employee.

I say to my colleagues across that if they are really serious about having a plan that actually protects people and at the same time tries to reduce -- not increase but reduce -- the amount of confusion and conflict, they ought to look very seriously at that particular piece in the legislation and move away from that.

I want to say, coming back to the basic point, that we have in place a system that has been largely working, a system that has been providing for the gathering of the funds and the distribution of the funds in a sensible way. Yes, there have been problems, yes, there continue to be problems, but the system has been functioning. The amount of money collected has steadily gone up and the amount of money paid out has steadily gone up. We can use numbers here all we want, but that's the sheer reality. When you strip it down, when you bring it down to its basic tenets, that's what's left: The system was working and it incrementally increased the number of people who were able to get the payments they were owed and to therefore be able to take care of themselves and their children.

I want to just say on that point again that when the government members said they wanted a system in place, in many areas where government is involved or not involved, that they wanted to help create a society in which people are able to take care of themselves, here's a case in point. Here's a system that actually has been working. Here's a system that actually has been providing a way in which people can take care of themselves and their families.

Then what do we see? We see the government coming in and saying, "It's time to cut, folks." In this case, 290 staff cut from the plan, eight regional offices closed. What happens? We begin to see the system breaking down. We begin to see the system no longer able to do what it was set up to do.

The member for Dufferin-Peel has on more than one occasion today talked about this increase in caseload. You would think that if there were a real concern that somehow the increase in caseload was a problem, the last thing you would see is the government and the minister moving in to cut the staff who are running that program. You want to make changes, you want to make improvements? Absolutely. But you don't get rid of 290 experienced staff, people who know how the system works, who know what has to be done. You don't shut down eight regional offices, throw the whole system into chaos and leave people in the position where the only way they can get any action, the only way they can get money owing to them, money that is largely still being paid into the system but that they can't get out of the system, the only thing you leave them is to go to their MPPs.

Even when people call up the plan, there's nobody there to answer the phones. When people look for the files, the files are no longer there. They're in boxes. They're sealed off in offices somewhere where no one can get to them. This is the kind of chaos, this is the kind of turmoil this government is causing.

The worst of it is that it's not even necessary. This is not a situation in which you have a problem the solution to which is to shut the system down. You want to make improvements? You don't need to create this phantom crisis to make improvements. Bring a piece of legislation forward, make the arguments about what improvements you want to make and let's get on with the discussion, but don't destroy the system in the meantime, don't destroy the parts of the system that have been working. That's what we have seen here. That's what we are seeing and those are the stories we are telling on a day-to-day basis in this Legislature.

Quite frankly, the only thing the Attorney General and the Premier have left us in the opposition benches on this one is to continue to stand up day after day, as the minister responsible for women's issues invited us to do some time ago, and bring the cases here on the floor of the Legislature.

That's not the way it should be. This should not be a body that has to resort to dealing with case work, as important as that is, as crucial as that is for the lives it touches. There should be a system in place that allows those individual problems to be resolved, that allows, yes, through MPPs' offices where necessary, us or our staff to pick up the phone, to call the requisite office and to get the changes and the actions necessary to resolve the cases. But that isn't happening and the reason it's not happening is because this minister and this government have basically disembowelled the system. They have gotten rid of the most experienced staff. We are seeing now that the nameless and the faceless bureaucrats that this government so likes to attack are actually people providing service.

I hope that people across this province are beginning to take note that when we approach a problem by saying, "We're spending too much money here. Let's just cut. We have too many bureaucrats. Let's just cut a few hundred, a few thousand" -- many thousands, as this government is going to do -- now we see what that means in a real way, in a practical way.


What it means in this case is that people who are owed money are not getting it. People who pay funds into the system so that their children are able to be brought up are not seeing that money go towards the upbringing of their children. That's something that this government, no matter how you explain it, is just not able to sell your line on. There is just no way you can get out of it.

I have to say I'm surprised, as I see the Attorney General stand up day after day and try to defend his position on this. He likes to talk about the improvements he has made. I heard him talk the other day about the 70 or so additional staff that he has now brought back into the system, realizing the fact that he laid off 290 staff has caused the havoc that it has caused. But I still don't hear him admitting it. I still don't hear him saying clearly: "You know, on this one at least, we made a mistake. On this one, we quite frankly screwed up."

He doesn't have the courage to say that. The Premier doesn't have the courage to say that. They don't have the courage to admit that here the crisis that they wanted to invent has turned out to be a real one, but one of their own making, one which has resulted in the destruction of a system that was by and large working, a system that was putting money into the hands of people who needed it, deserved it and to whom it was owing, a system that they now have to be accountable for and have to be responsible for.

You know, this surprises me. It surprises me to see this Attorney General particularly involved in this, not just because of his attacks on us when we were in government and his trying to get us to do more and more to improve the system, but because, having worked with him in the past, I'm surprised that he would agree to the kind of destruction of the system we have seen. I don't usually get personal about these things, but I find it very, very surprising and somewhat troubling to see this Attorney General having agreed to these kinds of staffing cuts, because I'm sure he would have had some realization of what this would have done.

Perhaps he didn't, in which case I think it would be incumbent upon him, upon the Premier, to clearly admit that on this one they messed up and that what they need to do is to reinstate the changes that they've made, reinstate the staff, get the system back up on its feet and running and not continue to scramble around as they have been doing.

But I have to say I don't expect that to happen, because when I look at the approach that has been taken here, I see that it's not atypical of what this government is doing. In fact we know that inventing crisis has become the way in which this government operates. We heard from the expert in the government, the Minister of Education, who talked about the need to invent a crisis in education, and he's done it; he's done it in spades.

He's done it in spades in terms of the cuts to the classroom. Remember the promise, "No cuts to the classroom"? Well, you try to find one classroom across this province that hasn't been affected by the cuts, and double that in terms of the cuts that are yet to come. We will see that the Minister of Education was correct in only one thing, in saying that he was going to help create a crisis in education, that this was the only way to make change, in his view, and that's what's happening.

We see it perhaps on a smaller scale, but I think just as importantly, in what is going on now through the discussion around the future of the greater Toronto area. We see the Minister of Municipal Affairs putting out -- not even putting out a report; I was going to say putting out a report, but that's the point, there has not been a report -- just putting out rumours about doing away with the local municipalities in Metropolitan Toronto, not even having the decency to put together an official position that says, "This is what we're going to do," completely ignoring that we are dealing here with a quarter of the population of the province and just causing all sorts of havoc as people now are scrambling, trying to come up with all sorts of ideas and models to fit into some crazy time line that they are involved in.

The point is this: This government it seems has become expert at creating a crisis, at creating a situation in which the only way they feel they can bring about change is by breaking down completely that which exists already, whether it's in education, whether it's in questions of governance in municipal affairs, whether it's in health care: "Just break it all down. Then we will be able to tell people that there's a crisis, that it's all broken, and we will come in and be the saviours."

I think people are beginning to see through that, are beginning to understand that you don't make change by completely destroying all the good that is there in the name of making change. That kind of concept that comes, I think, from the sense of revolution they want to bring about will only bring about chaos, will only bring about confusion, will only bring about hurt and will only bring about pain. That's what's happening here as we see hundreds, if not thousands of families who were receiving payments now no longer receiving those payments.

I know it pains the members across to continue to hear us say that, but we are going to continue to make that point because it's important that they understand it, and it's important we feel that the people across the province understand that what the Mike Harris revolution is all about is breaking down everything in this province, breaking down all that has been working, and that even when there is a situation in which money is being paid for the support of women and children -- not government funding but private funding -- somehow they've got to destroy that, they've got to tear that apart in order to bring in their new scheme which will allow them over the course of a couple of years to be able to say that somehow they've reduced the caseload.

It's not in reducing the caseload that you deal with the problem here, because the problem here is not how many hundreds or how many thousands of cases you have on the system; the problem here is making sure that people who are owed money as a result of support orders get those funds. The system that exists now ensures those payments can be made by removing the parties from the conflictual situation they've been in and by making an indirect payment that ensures money flows from those who are responsible to pay it to those to whom it's owing.

I would think that's the kind of situation this government would want to see if they truly believe in having people able to take care of themselves and their families, but it kind of makes you wonder if that's really what they want or if what they want is a situation in which there is in fact more dependence.

They'll be able, as has been mentioned already, over the next couple of years to say, "We've reduced the caseload," but how will they have done that? They will have done that by having people opt out of the system. They will have done that by leaving to the discretion of the director, not just what he or she can enforce but also the ability to write off arrears. It'll be interesting to see those numbers over the next few years in terms of how much money has been written off. I'll look forward to seeing that report a couple of years from now, because it will show us that millions of dollars will have to have been written off for this government to even have an inkling of an ability to come forward and say, "Now we've made the system better."


Here you have a situation in which what are needed are, yes, perhaps some tougher enforcement mechanisms to be put in place. I think we would all agree that in this particular case, perhaps above all types of situations where money is owing, we need to put in place the most stringent regulations we can to ensure that people are living up to their obligations to support particularly their children. I think there would have been ready agreement across this House for any measures that would have added to the strength of the plan, to the strength of the system, in being able to enforce those provisions.

The kind of situation that's been created, the kind of crisis that's been created that has resulted in thousands of people no longer receiving the money they were receiving before, because the system, at least to that extent, was working, is something this government needs to be accountable for, needs to answer to and that we will continue to hold it accountable to.

The other comment we need to make is to remind people why all this is happening. It certainly isn't happening, as we've been saying, because the government wants to make the system more efficient. If that were their purpose they could have brought in the legislation, they could have brought in other changes to make the system more efficient; they didn't have to cut the system, they didn't have to cut the staff. The reason, of course, the 290 staff and all the chaos that's ensued have taken place is because that was part of the Attorney General's contribution to the deficit cutting.

Why is the deficit cutting uppermost in the mind of this government? They say it's because they want to create jobs, jobs that we aren't seeing. We know, and people across the province are realizing more and more, that it's because they need to find the $5 billion annually and the $20 billion over the course of the term to fund the tax cut; to fund a tax cut that's not going to, by and large, help those families that are affected by this plan but is going to benefit only the wealthiest citizens in this province; to fund a tax cut that will mean only higher taxes for the average family across the province and will mean, yes, lower taxes for the wealthiest citizens in the province.

The worst of it is that for them to find that money, which they have to go and borrow, I remind people -- these are the people who believe in reducing the deficit, and they're borrowing money to pay for this tax cut that is going to result in higher taxes for the average citizen when they factor in local taxes, increased fees at colleges and universities, increased fees for medicines for seniors -- all those additional costs will mean that at the end of the day the average family will be worse off, the overall debt of the province will be higher and service after service will be gone from this province.

In education we are seeing cuts to our classrooms, higher class sizes, fewer teachers rather than more teachers, even though there are more students year after year in our schools. In post-secondary we are seeing students having to pay 20% more.

We are seeing seniors having to pay for their medicines. We are seeing hospitals being closed. We are seeing cuts to the whole health care system. We are seeing service after service disappearing. We are seeing the face of this province completely changed.

We are seeing the crisis approach being spread throughout the province by this government. We are seeing the Mike Harris world. We are seeing what the Mike Harris revolution is all about.

What it means at the end of the day, in sheer, simple terms, is that the small part of our population which is very wealthy will be better off and the rest of us will be worse off than we are today. That's the Mike Harris revolution.

Coming back to the family responsibility act in particular, we will see here in this area, as we have seen for the last number of months, people who are entitled to receive money from their spouses not able to get those funds. Why? Because the system has been shut down, because the staff that were providing those services are no longer there, because when calls are made to try to find the files of those people, they are told that those files are locked up in offices that have yet to be opened.

People find out that the information that they need isn't there, isn't available, the staff isn't there to be able to do the work that they have to do and people are not getting the money that they are entitled to. As a result of that, people are in danger of losing their homes, people are not able to put food on the table, people are having all sorts of stresses, all sorts of pain that they are being put through, and that's something this government needs to continue to answer to.

They can pretend as they stand here that this legislation is going to solve everything. It will make some improvements, there is no doubt, but nothing short of reinstating the staff in those positions will ensure that the system begins to function again. What we need are not more cuts. What we need is a system that allows people to take care of themselves and their children. Here, the family support plan was doing that. The family support plan was providing a vehicle through which parents were able to carry out their responsibility towards their children.

The actions of the Premier, the actions of the Attorney General, the actions of the government caucus, the actions of the Tory government have caused havoc in that system, have meant that people who are entitled to get those funds are no longer getting them. The children who are entitled to get those payments through their parents are no longer getting them. I know it's going to tire members across to hear us repeat that tune, but that tune we will continue to repeat because it's important they understand that they are causing this pain, that they are causing this havoc, that they are putting people in jeopardy and that they are responsible for that hurt they have created across the province.

The Acting Speaker: Comments or questions?

Mr Tilson: The member for Dovercourt, like his colleagues, has indicated, why are we doing this? The reason we're doing this is that we're getting 8,000 pieces of mail a day, we're getting 50,000 telephone calls a day. The member for Dovercourt is suggesting, why don't we hire more staff? Quite frankly, with that increasing amount, no amount of increased staff would solve that tremendous amount of mail, the tremendous number of telephone calls that are coming in each day, of which only 6% -- and this is under your system, this isn't under our system -- of those 50,000 telephone calls a day were being answered. So the system clearly didn't work.

What we need in this province is more effective tools to target child support defaulters. What we need are better tools to target self-employed payors. What we need are better mechanisms to uncover situations where payors are hiding assets and income. What we need is a better use of technology, for example, phone systems that can deal with these 50,000 calls a day, which are increasing. What we need is direct access to multiskilled staff with more enforcement powers. That's what we need in this province.

We can't continue on with the process that was initiated back in 1987 and which has gone through the member for Dovercourt's government to the present time, because this system clearly has become so overburdened that it's sinking; in fact it's sunk. We've had to completely reform the system. Yes, there are some difficulties that are occurring now. We will solve those problems and we will put forward a bill that will have enforcement that we believe will assist the women and children of this province in recovering the badly needed funds and resources they need to maintain their lives.


Mr Bradley: I appreciate the previous member's speech on this, the member for Dovercourt, because he outlined some of the background of why we're in this circumstance today. He put it in a general context and I, if I get the opportunity to speak later on today, will do the same.

I think he was very wise in pointing out that all of this is driven by the obsession of this government with a very unwise tax scheme, a tax scheme which is going to deliver the most money to the very richest people in our society at the expense of those who need government services, the most disadvantaged, the poorest people in our society.

I'm glad he pointed out, because a lot of people still don't recognize this, that the government is going to have to borrow the money to give a tax cut because we're running a deficit now, so if you don't have the money now to give the tax cut, that means you have to borrow more money or make even more drastic cuts in government expenditures.

I know it sounds good to the crowd who supported this government. I know it sounds good when you get up at the fund-raiser -- and I see there was another sop to the friends of the government today, the developers were given an early Christmas present -- but I know when you get at the fund-raiser they like this, except it has an effect on people, in this case very vulnerable people in our society. Those of us who have monitored what's going on in our constituency offices know that some of the most bitter confrontations are between ex-spouses over the issue of family support. One thing this government has been able to do is unite both those spouses in their annoyance with this government and their desperate annoyance with a government that has made a problem far worse with its obsession to cut the regional offices and to centralize.

Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): I just want to make a couple of comments. I continue to be amazed in this assembly at the way in which the government, rather than fessing up that there was a problem with the family services plan and the way in which it was functioning, attempts to blame previous governments for their problems.

I'd have a lot more respect for the Attorney General and the member for Dufferin-Peel if they'd say: "Yeah, we screwed up big time. We laid off 290 people and closed eight regional offices and shipped all the files to Downsview and they're sitting there in cardboard boxes and we wonder why there's a buildup." I'd have a lot more respect for the government if they would admit what they've done and admit that it was causing a serious problem and they would address it, if they really would honestly address it, but I suspect the real problem is they've decided that the best defence is a good offence. The trouble is, it's not a very good offence.

There are very few people out there in the province who don't understand what's causing the problem here. It was simply that the Attorney General was given his marching orders on reducing his budget by so many dollars and he had to make some tough decisions -- we all know what that's like -- and he made the wrong decision. He decided that he was going to close the regional offices and lay off 290 people. There's nothing complicated about it.

But what I find so offensive -- and you'll notice that every time the Attorney General speaks in the Legislature, the temperature in this chamber rises by about 20 degrees because he's not dealing in a straightforward and honest way with the issue, and that's what makes the opposition members very angry at the way he's dealing with the problem. The member for Dufferin-Peel is doing the same thing. It's nobody else's problem; it's yours. You caused it; you solve it.

Mr Hastings: It's interesting to listen to the members opposite about if we'd only fess up and admit that it's only our problem. I think the reality is around here that there are certain problems we're encountering with the transition phase and we're going to overcome them in time, but their solution is the traditional status quo: "If you'd only hire" -- I think I mentioned this ratio before -- "about one to one, so every new case would get a new worker and eventually you'd have it all solved."

I guess of the whole society -- you know, it sounds so absurd that if you applied their logical thinking coming on to this, you'd have a one-on-one ratio so the total number of divorces in Ontario would have to be equal to the total number of workers. That's not what they're suggesting, they say, but on the other hand, they like to talk about the point that this was done to finance a tax cut. I guess the reverse logic of that would be that if we only increased the amount of money on everything, increased the number of people handling these cases on this item and borrowed more money for everything else, there would be no problem. We'd have the traditional status-quo-hugger solution to everything that they have over there.

I admired the member for Ottawa South, Mr McGuinty, who introduced a bill today that indicated that at least there's one member in the gliberal opposition party who is thinking finally and introduced a bill dealing with alternative energy sources. It's too bad some of the other members wouldn't look at his leadership in terms of trying to deal with the realities. He's struggling with them. But over there we always get the traditional non-dialogue: "Just spend more money."

The Acting Speaker: The member for Dovercourt has two minutes to respond.

Mr Silipo: In summing up, it's clear that just in this short exchange the real division that exists in this House is so evident. Again, I thought I said relatively clearly that we've recognized there are areas in this plan that need to be improved. We're not quibbling with that. We have some problems with some of the provisions of the legislation, but I continue to make the point that if the government were serious about making the changes, they could have brought the bill forward and made the changes. They didn't have to decimate the system in the meantime.

To the member for Etobicoke-Rexdale I say we're not talking about increasing staffing here. We're complaining about the 290 staff you laid off --

Ms Martel: The 40% cuts.

Mr Silipo: -- the 40% of the staff you cut from the system. That's what's causing the problems. That's what's resulting in the situation we have now, that women who were getting payments before are not now getting them. People who were getting payments that they were entitled to before are no longer receiving those cheques. That's directly as a result of the 40% in staff cuts that you have brought about.

As my colleague has mentioned, the one thing we have a right to expect when that happens is that you have at least the decency to admit that that was something that was wrong and that you'll take steps to fix it. Don't put us, and more importantly don't put those women and children, in the position where we have to bring their cases to the floor of the Legislature as the only vehicle left for you to do anything about it. That's a crazy way to run the province. It's an even crazier way to run people's lives.

I want to say to my colleagues across, if they're serious about making improvements to the plan, yes, we'll deal with this legislation, but deal also with the chaos that your staffing cuts have caused to the system and, more importantly, to the women and children in the system.

The Acting Speaker: Further debate?

Mr Bradley: I wish I didn't have to speak on a bill of this kind. I wish it would be the kind of bill that would satisfy all members of the House and could be proceeded with quickly. But there are so many problems with the family support plan in the province today that our constituents are asking that we bring them to the attention of the Legislature.

I suspect, on a very non-partisan basis, that if one were to talk to the constituency assistants -- not to the members who have been given their marching orders by the Premier's office and who want to get into the cabinet, not that group, but the people who are actually on the front lines in the constituency offices -- they would tell you how chaotic the system is today.

Let's look at why it happened. It happened because the government was obsessed with making drastic cuts very quickly and without looking at the consequences. If you're going to change things of that nature, there may be a debate in the House about the advisability of centralizing as opposed to regional offices. I happen to think it was an advantage to have the regional offices because people could then visit those offices in person and actually speak to another person and try to resolve a problem. But putting that aside -- and it's very difficult to put that aside because I don't agree with that move. But even if you had as a government prepared for this change -- you talk about a transition period. If you want to know what the government members have been told to say, you listen to the jargon. It's a "transition period." That's what they've been told. That's on the sheets that governments give out to their members. All governments do it, I assure you. It's not just this government that does it. Government members are given the sheets and told the line that the government is giving.

The fact is, this is chaotic. The fact is that it's reflecting total incompetence in dealing with this specific issue, and the consequences are the greatest for some of the most vulnerable people in our society -- that is usually women in this case, but spouses who are looking after the children and require financial support to be able to do so.


I remember discussing this problem with the Attorney General of the day when the Family Law Reform Act was before the Legislature in 1977. I remember asking on that occasion, "Wouldn't it be wise for government to set up a program where not the taxpayer at large but those responsible for the children will be held accountable?" I remember a response coming at the time, I won't say from whom -- let's say the government in general -- that "It will cost you too much to be chasing these people." Indeed, it isn't a cheap process, I think anybody knows, but in the long run it saves the government money. If that's the bottom line, it saves the government money because the taxpayers are then not supporting these children. Instead, it is those who are responsible for those children who must financially support them.

Any program of this kind is going to be complicated. Everyone recognizes that. I don't want to pretend there's a simplistic answer or a simple answer to it; there isn't. But I think the action the government has taken to simply shut the doors of the regional offices, lay off hundreds of people and then expect that somehow the problem's going to be resolved was foolish, ill-considered and reflects upon the government badly in terms of mismanagement.

I get from my constituency office each day -- I just went through some of the files today. They're not all family support, but I can remember when perhaps the Workers' Compensation Board represented the largest number of calls. Today by far the plurality -- if not the majority of calls, the largest plurality -- is on family support problems.

As I mentioned in my remarks earlier, one thing this government has been successful in doing is indeed bringing two spouses together, because they're both angry. That's reflected in many of the comments I'm getting through here. I'm going to read some of them without mentioning names. You always have to be careful in the House that you don't, so I'll use Mrs X and Mr Y in each one of the cases and I'll try not to personalize except that I want to show you the kinds of problems that are existing.

Here is a woman who has not received a support payment since September 9. She has called family support on two occasions, and on one of these occasions spoke to a person who told this woman that the money had been received at the family support office and would be deposited into her account. This has not happened. This woman cannot understand why it is taking so long for family support to send the money if it has already been sent to them. So we make an inquiry in that regard and try to resolve the problem, but again it's not easily resolved because it's difficult to get through to anybody except by fax.

Here's another individual. He was laid off a few months ago. It's been difficult to find another job, so he went to court to have his family support payments reduced. As of November 1, he was supposed to be paying $150 every two weeks, or $300 a month. He's found out through a UIC telemessage that they've deducted $266 off his first cheque this month already. In other words, he's gone through the process, he's had different circumstances -- I won't get into the minute detail -- but again it's not being reflected by the family support office. It's taking so long and there isn't a regional office to deal with.

Here's a person whose ex-wife is waiting for support money which has been deducted from this person's paycheques. Mr Y works for a government agency and over $1,000 is deducted each month from his cheques to pay for support. His ex-wife is now owed $2,500. So you can see what's happening: The money is going into the system but it's not getting to the people who need it. The Attorney General gets up each day when he has questions addressed to him and states that somehow the problem is solved because they're paying out so much money.

Here's an individual who is concerned that no one ever gets back to you from the family support plan. This is not because the people who work there are miserable; it's because they're so overworked because the government was obsessed with cutting the number of people working there. It looks good when you go to the fund-raiser and say, "Look how many people we've cut."

He has tried accessing the family support plan, even doing so at 2 am one morning, and still it was the same recording on the phone. No response to that either. He has a court order and yet the employer is still taking substantial amounts off his income. They're demanding credit he thought he had coming to him for child support.

In other words, time and again with these cases -- it's difficult to get into the detail of them, but here's one that's rather revealing, that I think will be helpful to members, because this person watches the Legislature.

This woman -- I'll call her Mrs X -- called again. She called back in mid-October and I did send a fax, says my assistant, to the family support plan. Of course there's been no response either to Mrs X or to me, so that is what I had to tell the woman. She let me know again that her husband is not a deadbeat dad. He has often shown her the pay stubs of the money coming off his cheque. She has just received a cheque for $25, which she called before, and which -- she received three like that. She said her husband is not in arrears, which is what family support told her when she did get through to them once.

This woman has been using e-mail and the Internet to get through to the Attorney General's office and she's also watched Charles Harnick when he's been replying to opposition members asking questions about family support. She said it just annoys her so much to see Harnick stand there, beat about the bush and then say that as soon as they get the money, it goes right to the client. It does not and we all know that.

It goes on and on. I could go through many of these cases, and these are calls that come into the constituency office. These aren't people who are normally calling the constituency office to complain; they have a specific problem and they would like their members of the Legislature to help in resolving it. Why is that? Because they're unable to resolve it through the family support plan office itself, the support and custody office, and that is the problem.

Michele Landsberg on the weekend, in the November 23 edition of the Toronto Star, mentioned some problems. She says, "Tory Clowns Have Bungled Support Plan." There are days when I agree with Michele Landsberg and there are days when I don't agree. She mentioned only New Democrats who had raised this in the House. I'm sure the only reason Michele mentioned New Democrats is she just wasn't aware of all the Liberals who had risen in the House to raise these issues. She just wasn't aware of that, I know, because being fair-minded, I know Ms Landsberg would have mentioned that.


The Speaker: Order. Would the members come to order, please, particularly the members for Durham Centre and Etobicoke-Humber.

Mr Bradley: One thing I think there would be consensus on is that the real problem with this support and custody office is the problem with this whole government. If you ask people out there, even supporters -- I have friends who are Conservatives; I have lots of friends who are Conservatives, many of whom even today admit they voted Conservative last election. I certainly compliment them when they do that.

When I say, "So what do you think of the government, what do you think about the present Harris regime?" they say, "It's far more like the Reform Party than the old Conservative Party I knew." They say, "The old Conservative Party was very practical, very open-minded, yes, it was Conservative enough to satisfy me, but boy, when I look at this crowd they look more like the Reform Party or the revolutionaries from south of the border." I have to agree with them.

The second thing they say is, "Even though they're my party and my government and I supported them, they're moving too quickly, they're moving very drastically, they're not examining the consequences." That's why we're on this bill. That's why there's a problem with the family support office. The government is obsessed with this revolutionary program it has. Now they're asking me -- these are some of the people who thought maybe a tax cut was a good idea. Everybody likes it; I mean, I benefit from a tax cut personally. But they're now saying to me: "You know, I would like to have government services preserved. I want them to be efficient. I certainly want the government to examine every program and every department to see where efficiencies can be found, but I don't want the government to blindly head into a new direction to simply chop employees from various government offices, such as the support and custody office, and then reap the consequences we see now." Those are really consequences for vulnerable people in our society, women, largely, and children of those women, who are not receiving the support payments to which they are entitled according to this plan.


Now, does this bill have some merit? It certainly does. Many sections of the bill are going to receive the support of those of us in the opposition. We believe that the bill can be of benefit. We think there should be public hearings because we know there are a lot of people, both men and women, who would like to have something to say about the whole system and how this legislation may help or hinder that system. But when it comes down to it they will recognize that the reason we're seeing the acute problems -- not the chronic problems -- with this plan is because the government is obsessed with giving a huge tax break to the richest people in our society, because they are the people who will benefit the most.

The people who are earning over $200,000 will have back in their hands the most money of anybody. The person at the bottom end of the economic ladder is not going to get the most cash back; people such as bank presidents -- and they may be nice people, I don't know -- corporate heads and others who make hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, are going to get the money back. I even thought maybe Conrad Black, if he pays taxes in this province, will benefit by this. I'm sure eventually that will be reflected in the editorial opinion of all the newspapers he happens to own.

I see today -- the Speaker will be interested in this because he's interested in how this issue will be covered in the press and how the press will receive it -- there's the annual dinner of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Toronto, and Conrad Black, PC, QC -- "PC" is probably right; it says I think "QC" -- will be the special guest. It says, "Conrad Black controls or influences more than 500 newspapers in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Israel and the Cayman Islands, with a combined circulation of more than 13 million." So indeed he's powerful, and I wonder how he is going to --

The Speaker: It's kind of interesting. I'm going to find it very interesting how you tie that back to Bill 82, the bill that we're debating today.

Mr Bradley: If our society is to see a fair coverage of this issue we will have to see it from many different viewpoints. If Conrad Black imposes his viewpoint, then how can it be balanced?

Mr Jim Flaherty (Durham Centre): Conrad Black and Michele Landsberg. I like that influence.

Mr Bradley: I know the member for Norfolk agrees with me. How could it possibly be balanced if only Conrad Black owns all these newspapers? But I digress and I don't want to digress, because we're dealing with a serious problem, and overall the problem is this obsession with the tax cut.

I talk to people and I'm sure, Mr Speaker, you're the same in your riding. When you run into people in the street they must ask you the question, "Why on earth would a Conservative government that believes the deficit is a problem, and I think everybody agrees with that, borrow more money to give me a tax break, and why would that government put itself in a position of then having to cut even more from essential services such as the family support plan in Ontario?" You've got them flabbergasted out there.

I was in a discussion with some very conservative-minded economists in an establishment in St Catharines just last Friday. All of them were lamenting the fact that a government they thought would be good for the province was embarking upon a bizarre tax scheme which would have dire consequences for so many in our society.


Mr Bradley: The Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation interjects, and I say to her that if we were not embarked upon this --

Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): Who said that? I didn't.

Mr Bradley: Well, I saw her lips moving anyway. I say to her that if it were not for this tax scheme, she would have enough money in her department that she would be able to provide appropriate funding for recreational purposes in this province and she would not have to have her parliamentary assistant, the member for Brampton North, bad-mouthing that society, calling the people involved with recreation and sports in this province welfare bums or something.

Now I know that will go over well with the Premier's office. I know the member for Brampton North sees himself -- South. I'm sorry. I apologize to the member for Brampton North. The member for Brampton South sees himself as a rising star in the government, and indeed when I want to know what the Premier's minions are thinking, I listen to the member for Brampton South, because he can tell me exactly what the Premier wants to hear. With others, though, that's not always the case. The member for Grey-Owen Sound -- that's not always what the Premier's saying. My friend the member for Sarnia the other day -- I sent the headline over to the Premier; I don't have it any more. It says, "Boushy Denounces Health Minister," or something like that. I thought that was quite reasonable. I'm glad to see members of the back bench speaking up. They don't have the power that the Premier's advisers have.

With regard to Bill 82, it's my view that some of the measures in here are good, and I want to say that to the parliamentary assistant, who I think should be in the cabinet, by the way, rather than some of them. I won't get into that, but I think he's a capable person. When I look some days across the floor and I don't see him in the cabinet and I see others performing, I wonder how that can be the case. But I want to say to the parliamentary assistant that some of the measures contained in this legislation are going to be helpful.

I hope this bill will pass. I hope it will be modified appropriately from time to time when it goes before committee when good suggestions are made about its contents. But the problem that exists cannot be solved by this legislation alone. It must be solved by the government admitting that it made a mistake. I believe the government should reopen regional offices and deal with people on a face-to-face basis. I believe it should put the appropriate staff in there. I think that will be most helpful to the disadvantaged people, to the vulnerable people, the children and the women of this province who are the recipients of these payments to look after the children of broken marriages. I think if the government were to admit that and re-establish those offices and put the necessary resources in, many of the problems would be reduced; never eliminated, but reduced.

The Speaker: It now being almost 6 of the clock, this House stands adjourned till 1:30 of the clock tomorrow.

The House adjourned at 1758.